Removing the Fear from Osteopenia

  • Words like "cancer", "fire", and "taxes", evoke feelings of fear and anxiety in many people. Even a word like "osteopenia" can produce a heart palpitation or a bead of sweat as images of a crippled, hunched-back old lady flash across the consciousness. In reality, many of these scary words do not have to be scary at all when kept in context and perspective. Removing the fear from the word "osteopenia" is a matter of understanding the meaning of the word, the actual risks, and the consequences of unfounded fear.


    The fear of osteopenia is very much like the fear of aging. Like aging, declining bone density over time is normal and inevitable. In this society, we have been conditioned to fear natural processes as if the process was a problem. Low bone density is not necessarily a problem. Looking at the natural history of bone density, you will find that some populations have naturally low and/or declining bone density scores like young women with diabetes, post-menopausal women, and aging men of African descent. The scores of a bone density test are only a statistical numbers based on what is normally expected. What is normal for you, as an individual, is not reported by the bone density test. Maybe your bones are naturally less dense? Now, this does not mean that the numbers should not be taken seriously, just with a grain of salt. By keeping the word "osteopenia" in perspective, you can focus on optimizing your bone health and less on fear.

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    Another aspect of fear in those with osteopenia, lies in the "F" words: fractures, falls, and fragility. Frequently, after a woman has been told that she has osteopenia, her mind automatically envisions falling and fracturing a bone. The problem with this automatic thought process is that low bone mass does not inevitably translate into fragility. Fracture risk comes from many other sources like general health, medication use and chronic diseases. In order to dispel the myth that less dense materials are less strong, I like to talk about balsa wood. This wood is one of the least dense, lightest weight material found in nature, yet is pound for pound stronger than many of hard woods like oak. Balsa wood is a perfect example that fragility is not directly related to mass. In turn, low bone density does not necessarily mean that the bones are weak and in need of treatment. Again, keeping the word osteopenia in context and perspective can help to reduce fear.


    Removing fear is extremely important for improving quality of life and improving activity level. Any apprehension about future falls, fractures, and disability leads to avoidance of activity. This fear-avoidance behavior sets up a cycle of less activity and worsening bone density. Bone density declines as activity level decline. Health also declines with worsening activity level. Overall, the human body is built for movement in order to maintain good health; thus, fear of movement is directly related to less bone density, poor health, and poor quality of life.


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    Unfounded fear about osteopenia is poor for your bone health in many ways. Fear causes unneeded stress and worry. Fear causes avoidance of healthy activities like exercise and hobbies. Fear can lead to chronic pain. Osteopenia is not an unnatural problem, does not inevitably lead to fractures, and is no reason to stop activities. The word "osteopenia" should not be a scary word at all. Sometimes, these labels cause more harm than good.


Published On: January 27, 2011