Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Obedian discusses osteoporosis risk factors and treatments.
As an experienced orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Richard Obedian specializes in a number of treatments for osteoporosis, including kyphoplasty, a surgical procedure which repairs compression fractures caused by the disease. In spite of ever-growing technological improvements, surgery is often necessary for osteoporosis patients or patients with low bone density, who number over 52 million in the United States alone. Unfortunately, several of the factors that contribute to osteoporosis have to do with genetics or age, and are therefore unavoidable, but paying attention to bone health can help decrease the risk of getting it.
What is osteoporosis?
Bones consist of living bone cells that remove and replace weakened sections of the bones. If a patient’s body is making too little bone, losing bone too quickly, or both, the patient is diagnosed with osteoporosis. Usually, the patient will not feel his or her bones weakening, and will only notice after breaking a bone or losing height.
Sufferers of osteoporosis are more likely to break bones, particularly in the spine, hip, and wrists. Osteoporosis is also noticeable when the spine starts to bend, causing a hump, or when the patient starts to lose height. Osteoporosis is also detectable using a bone-density test. Dr. Richard Obedian recommends anyone over the age of 65—particularly post-menopausal women, who are at the most risk—consider getting a bone density test.
Unavoidable factors that increase a person’s risk of osteoporosis include a family history of the disease, age, menopause, and naturally low body weight. In addition, the human body’s bone density will peak between the ages of 18 and 25, and a low peak bone density can increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life. For this reason, it is important for children and teenagers who are not at immediate risk of the disease to work on building healthy bones.
While women are at more risk than men, Dr. Richard Obedian seeks to remind male patients above 50 that they are also at risk—in fact they are more likely to break a bone due to osteoporosis than to contract prostate cancer.
While the aforementioned risk factors may make osteoporosis unavoidable, other factors can be monitored. Both calcium and Vitamin D are essential for building and protecting bones, and reaching the daily recommended doses can help. However, it is not the case, Dr. Richard Obedian says, that more doses will help. Going too far beyond the daily recommended dose does not help decrease the risk of osteoporosis, and may even be harmful.
Certain foods can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Wheat bran and beans contain phyates, which reduce the amount of calcium the body can absorb from meals containing those foods. Salty foods and high-protein foods can also cause the body to lose calcium, and therefore should be used sparingly, or compensated for by using calcium supplements. Excessive alcohol and caffeine can also lead to bone loss, and smoking can also increase a person’s risks.
Exercise, and in particular weight-baring exercise, is vital to building bone and muscle strength. High-impact exercises such as dancing, hiking, and tennis will help build bones, but may be risky for anyone who already has osteoporosis. Using an elliptical or treadmill, as Dr. Richard Obedian recommends for physical therapy, decreases this risk and still provides the exercise needed for building and keeping up strength.
Lifestyle changes in line with what is listed above can still help alleviate osteoporosis after it is diagnosed. The most common medication for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis is bisphosphonates, which can prevent the loss of bone mass, but doctors will also prescribe teriparatide, calcitonin, raloxifene, and estrogens. The loss of estrogen among post-menopausal women is a leading factor in their increased risk of developing the disease.
If surgery should be necessary, kyphoplasty is a method of repairing spinal fractures, particularly those caused by osteoporosis. Goals of the procedure include stopping the pain, restoring vertebral height, and stabilizing the bone. Dr. Richard Obedian performs kyphoplasty in order to reduce the risk of damage and increase the odds of success.
Another method is called spinal fusion, in which the surgeon will use a graft—often a bone from another portion of the patient’s body, to fuse together the vertebrae. Until the bone grafts are fully healed, rods, plates, cages, or screws hold the vertebrae in place.
While medications and surgery can help prevent future fractures due to osteoporosis, broken spinal and hip bones cause permanent damage. For this reason, Dr. Richard Obedian is passionate in his work to improve surgical techniques, as well as in advising patients to take proper care in recognizing osteoporosis early.