Bones stop growing in length between the ages of 16 and 18, but bone density continues to increase slowly until a person is in their mid 20s. At this point the balance between bone demolition and bone construction stays stable. After the age of 35, bone loss increases very gradually as part of the natural ageing process. This bone loss becomes more rapid in women for several years following the menopause and can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of broken bones, especially in later life.
Consequences of osteoporosis
Having osteoporosis does not automatically mean that your bones will break, it just means that you have a ‘greater risk of fracture’. Thin, fragile bones in themselves are not painful but the broken bones that can result, can cause pain and other problems. Osteoporosis does not generally slow or stop the healing process. Bones that break because of osteoporosis will still heal in the same way as they do in people who do not have osteoporosis, which is usually about six to eight weeks.
Broken wrists can be the first indication that you have osteoporosis. They often occur in middle aged women who have put out their arm to break a fall. Healthy bones should be able to withstand a fall from standing height so a bone that breaks in these circumstances is known as a fragility fracture.
Can fragility fractures be prevented?
The older we get, the greater our risk of breaking a bone. Osteoporosis becomes more common as the density of bone decreases and bones become generally less strong and more fragile. Falling is also much more common because of poor balance and co-ordination leading to a higher risk of breaking a hip. Lifestyle changes and keeping active can help to prevent falling. Drug treatments, to strengthen bones, are available for those at highest risk of fracture.