When you think about osteoporosis, you may think of the broken bones that can happen to people with this disease. Other images may include height loss and stooped or hunched posture. In addition to these more obvious aspects of osteoporosis, what many of us do not realize is that the disease can have a great impact on a person’s emotional and social health.
Before we discuss how osteoporosis can affect people’s lives, we should note that not all individuals with osteoporosis have emotional and social issues, and that quality of life difficulties are different in each person. For instance, a person who has had broken multiple bones, has very different challenges than a person who has not experienced multiple fractures.
Many people can live well with osteoporosis and avoid breaking bones in the first place. But if you have had fractures, it’s important to learn about the steps you can take to maintain a good quality of life.
The Power of Positive Thinking
We support you in making a commitment to your health and are here to help. As a first step to help you feel good, start thinking of yourself as having healthy bones and good health. Some people find that just commiting to positive thoughts helps them reach personal goals.
Positive thoughts are also called affirmations or words of wisdom. Some people consider it a type of self-talk. Affirmations can help inspire and motivate you. Many people find that they help change attitudes and transform their lives.
When using affirmations, you can either think or say them aloud. Some people say certain ones over and over. Others set aside a specific time of day for affirmations, such as when they first wake up or just before going to bed. You may want to visualize or have mental images as you read, think or say affirmations. When using affirmations, try to believe the words. And, feel good about yourself.
Another way to use affirmations is to place printed or handwritten affirmations on a mirror, door, cabinet or bulletin board. That way they are available as gentle reminders for you. Some people add art or decorate the pages on which they are written. You can also carry them in a purse, briefcase, notebook or book so they are handy to read when you have a few extra moments. You may want to keep a personal notebook of your affirmations that you can add to over time.
The affirmations below can help you embrace healthy changes in your life. And, of course, we encourage you to create your own too.
I have osteoporosis, but I know that it’s beatable and treatable.
- I plan to live a long and healthy life. Having strong bones is important in achieving this goal, and I am willing and able to do what it takes.
- I stay focused on my strengths. Knowing that I have strengths motivates me to do my best every day for my health and well being.
- I think positive thoughts about my physical and emotional health.
- I seek out and choose to have friendships with people who support me. Having strong, positive relationships keeps me healthy.
- I exercise regularly. My bones and entire body appreciate my effort. I become stronger and more flexible each day.
- I forgive myself for past unhealthy behaviors and focus on the things I can do now.
- I know that what I do today brings strength to my body and soul.
- I reward myself in healthy ways. One of my favorite activities is to take walks by myself or with a friend several times a week. I can focus on the beauty of nature or on pleasurable conversation while I do something positive for myself.
- My bone health is worth my time and attention.
- I love myself enough to take good care of my health.
- My bones are an essential part of my body. Bones give shape to my body, and they support and protect my internal organs.
- I respect and care for my bones and treat them well.
- I am careful with movements and activities. I care enough about my bones to protect them.
- When I think about myself, I see a vibrant and healthy person.
- I welcome people into my life, and strangers become friends. Osteoporosis does not isolate me or keep me from having relationships with friends and family.
- I approach the future one day at a time, and I remember to appreciate each day as I live it.
- I feel good about my bones and my health. I feel good about life.
- I accept help graciously and positively. Everyone needs a little help from time to time. I am grateful that there are people to help me. And, I help others in turn.
- I make my bones stronger by exercising regularly, remembering to get enough calcium and vitamin D and taking my medicine as directed.
- When I take my medicine, I visualize it strengthening my spine, hips and other bones in my body. I see strong healthy bones.
I take pleasure in each new day.
- I plan and take part in activities, gatherings and social events that I enjoy.
- I’m happy knowing that I can have strong healthy bones.
- When I look in the mirror, I remember to STAND TALL. I feel good about myself.
Emotional Aspects of Osteoporosis
When you first learn that you have osteoporosis, you may become anxious. This is especially the case if the diagnosis results from what’s called a low trauma fracture. This means that you broke a bone after an accident that seemed minor or even after no accident at all. If this happens to you, you probably take extra measures to avoid breaking more bones. You might feel that you need to abandon activities that are essential to a good quality of life because of your fear of breaking a bone. You might stop your regular exercise routine or avoid walking outside to prevent falls and broken bones. You may even avoid going to the mall or to the movies where you could be bumped or pushed.
If this is the case, it’s important that you try to manage this anxiety and not allow osteoporosis to interfere with your regular activities. Try and find ways that you can continue to do the things you enjoy. This is critical to maintaining a good quality of life.
Physical activity has many benefits to your bones and good osteoporosis health, muscle strength and overall health.
Physical activity can also have a positive impact on your mental health. While people with osteoporosis will need to modify exercises and movements to prevent fractures, there are many exercises that can be done safely. See if you can get a referral from your doctor to work with a physical therapist (PT). A PT, who has experience working with osteoporosis patients, can help you develop a safe exercise program.
Walking is also a great form of physical activity, as long as you take the appropriate measures to avoid falls. Don’t walk in bad weather or when visibility is poor. Wear secured rubber or other non-slip soles. Take a cane if you need one. Bring a friend or family member if you can.
When you go to the mall, movies or other crowded places, try to go during less busy times. If you find that going out is too overwhelming, tiring or causes back pain, try to take breaks as often as necessary. Don’t do too much at one time. Many people find they can still enjoy the same activities if they break them down into smaller segments.
Unfortunately, people who have already broken a bone due to osteoporosis are more likely to break bones in the future. For many, that second fracture can lead to depression. Several studies show a link between bone loss and depression.
Symptoms of depression may include a loss of appetite or eating too much, having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, feelings of uselessness, helplessness and hopelessness and even thoughts of suicide. If you experience these symptoms for more than two weeks, you should see a doctor. There is no reason for people with osteoporosis to suffer unnecessarily from depression. Medications and counseling are available to help treat depression. Although we do not know always know which condition comes first, we do know that both osteoporosis and depression need to be managed.
Appearance and Self-esteem
Osteoporosis can affect your posture and appearance. Unfortunately, a youthful appearance is important to many of us. Osteoporosis can cause physical changes that exaggerate the appearance of aging. The most obvious change is in the curvature that sometimes occurs in the upper spine from fractures. This curve is called kyphosis. Kyphosis can also cause the stomach to stick out as well as other problems. Despite the fact that kyphosis occurs in many older women, little has been done to understand or control its impact. Clothes are not designed to accommodate these posture changes. And, as people see the ways osteoporosis changes their bodies, they can experience diminished self-esteem.
Social Aspects of Osteoporosis
Of all the ways osteoporosis affects your quality of life, the social consequences may be the least recognized. Managing social limitations is much easier when you’re surrounded by supportive family members and friends. People with large social networks seem to manage their osteoporosis more effectively than those with smaller networks.
Most of us feel the need to be on both sides of a helping relationship. In addition to receiving help, we want to help others. Throughout life, there are times when we help others, and then there are times when we must rely on others for help. It is important to keep relationships balanced by not having one person giving or receiving significantly more than the other.
Osteoporosis can prevent traditional social exchanges of support. Although many people with osteoporosis want to return the favors that they receive, they may be prevented by pain and activity limitations. Instead, they need to identify other ways to reciprocate. Furthermore, their friends and family need to recognize the importance of letting their loved ones with osteoporosis contribute to their relationships in practical ways.
Osteoporosis can affect people’s closest relationships as well as more distant ones. Tension can build between spouses as both try to cope with the limitations of osteoporosis, and intimate relations are often strictly limited or stopped altogether due to the fear of causing fractures. A wife may feel that she puts herself at risk of breaking a bone during any sexual encounter, and a husband may not want to take the chance that he will cause a bone to break. In time, couples may find themselves drifting apart. This topic is rarely covered and physicians may be uncomfortable making recommendations in this area. Couples can look for ways to achieve intimacy without increasing fracture risk.
Many physical therapists have been trained to help with this issue and can offer advice. Some hospitals offer “back schools,” taught by physical therapists that will address this concern.
Managing Your Pain
For some people, recovering from broken bones can be a long and painful process. Sometimes the pain continues even after the fracture heals. Ongoing chronic pain can make it hard to sleep, it can make you irritable or depressed. This, in turn, can make the pain feel worse. If you have ongoing pain, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to control your pain.
Taking an over-the-counter (OTC) medication for pain
OTC medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol®), ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, may help you to manage your pain. These medications can have side effects, especially if you take them at high doses or for a long period of time. Work with your healthcare provider and pharmacist to choose the right pain medication for you based on your individual medical history and needs.
Applying heat or cold
A cold compress or a bag of frozen food (like peas or corn) can be applied to the injured area. Warm towels and heating pads can also provide some relief. Do not use either of these for more than 15 – 20 minutes at a time.
Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS)
This is a method to reduce pain with electrical impulses. A TENS unit sends a mild current traveling through electrodes into your body. You may feel tingling or warmth. A treatment lasts from 5 – 15 minutes. You can ask your physical therapist or healthcare provider about getting a prescription for TENS.
This involves inserting special needles at specific places in the skin. According to ancient Chinese belief, this alters the body’s flow of energy into healthier patterns. Acupuncture is gaining acceptance in this country as a way to reduce pain. Your healthcare provider or health insurance company may be able to tell you about acupuncturists in your area. Some health insurance companies offer coverage or discounts for acupuncture.
This type of therapy uses electronic instruments to measure body functions and then feed that information back to you. A biofeedback specialist uses this information to teach you to control involuntary body responses, such as blood pressure or heart rate. It can also be helpful for managing pain. Your healthcare provider may be able to help you find a biofeedback specialist.
This is a technique to change habits, behaviors and feelings that can result from ongoing pain. It may include rewards for increasing your physical activity, improving your diet or making other changes in your life.
Broken bones can cause pain and tension in the muscles surrounding the fracture. Gentle massage of these muscles may help to decrease the pain in these muscles. Before you get a massage it’s important to get permission from your healthcare provider. Work with a qualified massage therapist who understands your medical history.
Being active is a natural way to reduce pain. When you exercise, your body releases substances called endorphins that can relieve pain and boost your mood. Exercise also has many other health benefits. If you have osteoporosis, you should speak with your healthcare professional before you start a new exercise program. Ask about whether you would benefit from working with a physical therapist.
There are several different relaxation techniques that can help people release muscle tension and shift their attention away from pain. Some examples include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. People can learn and practice these and other relaxation techniques from CDs, videos, books and classes, as well as trained professionals.