Why Osteoporosis Increases Your Risk for a Foot Fracture

Osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weakened bones, affects millions of people worldwide. This silent disease often goes unnoticed until a fracture occurs, significantly impacting the quality of life. 

Among the various fractures associated with osteoporosis, foot fractures are particularly concerning. As an experienced podiatrist, Francine Rhinehart, DPM, specializes in helping patients with such foot and ankle issues at her practice in Oak Cliff and Dallas, Texas.

Here, Dr. Rhinehart helps you understand why osteoporosis increases the risk for a foot fracture so you can take preventive measures and seek timely treatment if needed.

Osteoporosis and its effects on bone health

Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn't keep up with the removal of old bone. This imbalance results in porous, brittle bones that are prone to fractures even with minor stress. Common sites for osteoporotic fractures include the hip, spine, and wrist. The feet, which bear the entire body's weight and endure constant stress, are also vulnerable.

Bones are living tissues that continuously remodel throughout life. The remodeling process becomes disrupted in individuals with osteoporosis,  The bones lose density, become fragile, and their structural integrity is compromised. As a result, even everyday activities like walking or standing can lead to fractures in those with severe osteoporosis.

Why the feet are at high risk

The feet consist of 26 bones each, and they play a crucial role in mobility and balance. The constant pressure and repetitive stress they endure make them particularly susceptible to fractures.

In healthy individuals, the bones in the feet can withstand significant force and stress. However, in those with osteoporosis, the compromised bone strength increases the likelihood of fractures.

Bone mineral density (BMD)

Osteoporosis causes the bones to lose minerals faster than they can be replaced, significantly reducing bone mineral density. BMD measures the amount of minerals (mainly calcium and phosphorus) in a specific volume of bone. Low BMD indicates weak bones that can fracture easily.

Altered bone structure

Osteoporosis can also alter bone structure. The trabeculae, the small, supporting struts inside the bone, become thinner and fewer in number. This structural weakness further increases the risk of fractures, especially in weight-bearing bones like those in your feet.

Symptoms and signs of foot fractures

Foot fractures can manifest in various ways, depending on the bone involved and the severity of the fracture. Common symptoms include sudden pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty bearing weight on the affected foot. In some cases, the pain might be mild initially but worsen over time, especially with continued foot use. 

Stress fractures, a type of fracture common in osteoporosis, often present with subtle symptoms that can be mistaken for general foot pain or overuse injuries.

How to prevent foot fractures

Maintaining good bone health is paramount to preventing foot fractures in individuals with osteoporosis. This includes a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, regular weight-bearing exercises, and lifestyle modifications such as quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption.

Weight-bearing exercises like walking or resistance or weight training stimulate bone formation and help maintain bone density. These activities also improve muscle strength, balance, and coordination, reducing the risk of falls that could lead to fractures.

How to treat foot fractures

For those diagnosed with osteoporosis, medications such as bisphosphonates, hormone therapy, or newer agents like denosumab and teriparatide can help slow bone loss and promote bone formation. Regular bone density tests can monitor these treatments' effectiveness and help adjust them as necessary.

Prompt medical attention is crucial in the case of a foot fracture. Treatment may involve immobilization with a cast or brace, physical therapy to restore function, and, in severe cases, surgical intervention. Early diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis can significantly reduce the risk of fractures and improve overall bone health.

By focusing on preventive strategies and adhering to prescribed treatments, individuals with osteoporosis can reduce their risk of fractures and lead a more active, pain-free life. Call or schedule an appointment online today with Francine Rhinehart, DPM, to learn more about foot fractures or for diagnosis and treatment of podiatry issues.

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