The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Feet and Osteoporosis

Posted by on Friday, August 31st, 2012

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I ‘m guessing that two thoughts come into your mind when you hear the word “osteoporosis.” One is an image of an old woman hunched almost halfway over, her spine crumbled into a “C” shape. The other is news that some elderly relative has fractured her hip after a fall that seemingly shouldn’t have left much more than a bruise.

It’s true that people often think of osteoporosis in relation to the spine and hips, maybe wrists and ribs. However, it can also affect your feet. In fact, seemingly unexplained foot fractures may be an early sign of osteoporosis.

First, a quick osteoporosis primer:

Osteoporosis means “porous bones,” or that bones are losing their density, becoming thinner and more breakable. Its causes include heredity (some people are just more prone to it); lack of estrogen in women after menopause and a drop in testosterone for men; a calcium poor diet or an inability to absorb calcium; excessive drinking (alcohol); cigarette smoking; lack of vitamin D; a sedentary lifestyle (lack of exercise). Women are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis than men; fifty percent of all women over age fifty suffer from an osteoporosis-related fracture.

Yikes. Remind me to be careful on my fiftieth birthday.

Foot fractures from osteoporosis can come in the form of stress fractures, tiny fractures that cause small cracks in your feet. Stress fractures are painful and can eventually lead the joints to collapse, resulting in arthritis. Anyone of any age can have stress fractures in their feet, but these usually come from activities that put unusual stress on their feet, like a lot of running. A person with osteoporosis, though, can develop stress fractures in their feet just from everyday activities, for example walking in shoes that don’t offer much support, like flip flops or ballet flats. The sooner you deal with stress fractures the better. If you have pain in your feet that seems beyond any normal kind of soreness, you should see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900).

Osteoporosis can also increase the likelihood of traumatic foot fractures. Just as a seemingly minor fall can cause a hip fracture in a person with osteoporosis, a small event can cause a bone in the foot to break. A misstep of a curb, a jar dropped on a foot–in a person with normal bone density, these might just cause a bruise, but in a person with osteoporosis, they can cause a fracture.

If you find any of these problems occurring–unexplained foot pain or fractures from seemingly harmless event, you should not only see a podiatrist, but also your regular doctor to find out if you have osteoporosis. Your doctor can do a bone density test to find out whether your bones are becoming porous.

So what can you do? The general advice for aging people is to make sure they have enough calcium and vitamin D in their diet (the two need to go together to be effective). Exercise is also important for increasing bone strength and protect yourself against fractures. Thinking, “My bones are fragile so I better not move” is exactly the wrong thing to do. Any kind of activity is good–walking, running, swimming, dancing, even bowling. If you have foot issues and are unsure of how much your feet can take, talk to your podiatrist.

Regarding your feet specifically, choose shoes that offer support to your feet and ankles. A podiatrist may recommend orthotics to give extra support to your arches. Even if your foot bones are not affected by osteoporosis, orthotics still can help by providing extra stability that may save you from a fall that could break other bones.

Feet can play an important role in making aging easier and less painful. Avoid the dangers of osteoporosis by taking care of your overall health and paying attention to your feet!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.