Don’t Quit: 10 Strategies for Living with Osteoporosis

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Pain, fragility, and a diminished lifestyle are all possible outcomes with osteoporosis. It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself; to give up,and give in.

    Don’t quit on life! Here are 10 ways to help you stay positive as you live with osteoporosis.

    1) Do you experience a lot of pain? Be proactive in treating it. A stiff upper lip never cured anything. Until/unless you’ve explore every avenue for controlling and lessening your pain, keep experimenting.

    Many hospitals have what’s called a “pain clinic,” where patients with chronic pain learn coping mechanisms. You might also go beyond standard treatments, and try alternative or complementary therapies: acupuncture is the most popular complementary therapy. A visit to the chiropractor can be helpful, too, but be careful; not all chiropractors have experience treating patients with osteoporosis. Ask before you make an appointment.

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    2) Believe that the positive things you’re doing are helping. Those nasty bisphosphonates that give you heartburn; sweating at the gym; taking supplements and eating a healthy diet – doing what’s good for you isn’t always pleasurable.

    But don’t give up. It can take years to find out if the drugs you take and the lifestyle changes you’ve made are actually helping. While you’re waiting for that next DEXA scan, believe that you’re building healthy bones – or at the every least, preventing further deterioration. A positive attitude and hope for a healthier future can help make that Fosamax easier to swallow.

    3) Don’t give up on your favorite activities; adapt. I love to ride my bike. And when the time comes to give it up – when balance issues and increasingly brittle bones make safe bike-riding a challenge – I’ll simply add a wheel. My 90-year-old mother-in-law rides an adult tricycle all over the neighborhood. She doesn’t travel as far or fast as she used to, but she’s still pedaling, still happy.

    What’s your favorite physical activity? Tennis, bowling, dancing? If your doctor is asking you to tone down your more vigorous activities, for safety’s sake, ask for a referral to a physical therapist. S/he can help you figure out how to modify – not eliminate – what you love best.

    4) Walk. And walk, and walk, and walk. Exercise releases serotonin, the “feel good” hormone, into your blood stream. Fresh air clears your head, and increases the oxygen to your brain, making you feel more energetic. There’s just nothing bad you can say about walking.

    Unless you think it’s boring. In which case, listen to music, talk to yourself, or bring a friend along. Or practice mindful meditation as you walk: notice how the leaves on the trees show their silvery undersides in the wind, or how that squirrel turns the nut around and around as he eats.

    If you think you’ll be bored, you will be; if you believe you’ll have an enjoyable walk, you can fulfill that expectation, too. Get your head straight, put on your shoes, and get going!

    5) If you’re very fragile – too frail for most sports – and you live in an area where walking isn’t an option, see if you can find somewhere to swim. The nice thing about swimming is, you can’t fall down (unless you slip between the locker room and the pool!) If you have balance issues, swimming is a wonderful way to exercise without fear.

  • Many health clubs and YMCAs have impact-free “aquacize” classes, an ideal form of exercise when osteoporosis is so far advanced that fracture is a real and constant danger. And even if you don’t belong to a club, you can sometimes take classes on a pay-as-you-go basis. Check it out.

    6) Gain a little weight. Really. If you’re super-thin, your physique makes you more prone to fracture. In addition, your bones aren’t getting a good workout as you pursue your daily activities; the less you weigh, the less your bones are challenged, the weaker they get.

    If you’ve dieted for decades to stay rail-thin, you might consider whether being a size 2, at this point in your life, is really the best thing for your health.

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    7) And speaking of food, don’t forget the preprandial apéritif. Recent studies have shown that two beers a day (for men) and a daily glass of wine (for post-menopausal women) help build bone.

    8) If severe back pain’s got you down, look beyond drugs. Moist heat, applied twice daily, can help keep lower-intensity pain in check. And TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) involves a battery-operated portable pack that stimulates nerves in your spine, offering pain relief to many who try it. Ask your hospital’s PT department about TENS.

    If you’ve suffered a spinal fracture (which is the cause of most osteoporosis-related back pain), consider surgery. Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty are performed under local anesthetic. The doctor injects a kind of “bone cement” that stabilizes the bones, allowing them to heal.

    Kiva, a new treatment not yet widely available, is similar to vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, substituting a more elastic “cement.”

    9) If you’re unable to work – volunteer. As you get older, it’s important to remain active, and to have some structure to your days and weeks. If there’s nothing you have to do every day, chances are that’s just what you WILL do: nothing.

    Libraries, nursing homes, town recreation centers, hospitals, churches, homeless shelters, and food pantries are just some of the places that may offer you an opportunity to volunteer your services.

    The nice thing is, as a volunteer you can usually work as many or as few hours as you like. Even if you put in just 2 hours a week on Friday morning, remember – anything’s better than nothing. And you may connect with a whole new set of friends in the process.

    10) Check out support groups – or start your own. Whether you’re a “misery loves company” type, or believe “there’s strength in numbers,” sharing your osteoporosis experience with others going through the same thing can be a huge comfort.

    Still, maybe you tried the osteoporosis support group at the hospital, and didn’t like it. Or maybe it meets while you’re at work…

    If you think a support group just isn’t for you, think again: support can take many shapes. And you might have to build your very own.

    I started a support group that meets the first Friday of each month at a local bar. We drink $2 margaritas, laugh, complain about our jobs or kids or spouses, and oh, yeah: sometimes we even talk about our health – all in a relaxed, supportive atmosphere. As one woman says, “It’s a support group without a social worker.”

  • Bottom line: it’s fun. And there’s nothing like a little fun to take your mind off your problems.

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Published On: December 22, 2010