Medical Information

Explore detailed information about a range of joint problems and treatments, including medications, surgery, physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Reading this will help you understand more about your own condition. There is also a glossary with explanations of many medical terms used in orthopaedics. You can find out even more by following the links page to other related websites, journals or professional medical associations.

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Osteoporosis – An introduction

This booklet has been produced for anyone interested in finding out more about osteoporosis. You may have the condition yourself, or you may be a friend or relative of someone with osteoporosis. Whatever reason you have for reading this, we hope you will find it useful.

What is osteoporosis?
The word ‘osteoporosis’ means, literally, ‘porous bone’. It is a condition where you gradually lose bone material so that your bones become more fragile. As a result, they are more likely to break even after a simple fall. Osteoporosis is quite common in Britain. Each year there are around 70,000 hip, 120,000 spine and 50,000 wrist fractures due to osteoporosis.

How does osteoporosis affect the bones?
Bone is made of fibres of a material called collagen filled in with minerals – mainly calcium salts – rather like reinforced concrete. The bones of the skeleton have a thick outer shell or ‘cortex’, inside which there is ‘trabecular’ bone which is formed in a meshwork. Osteoporosis causes bone to be lost, leaving gaps in the bone material.

What causes osteoporosis?
Our bones grow during childhood and adolescence and are at their strongest in the late 20s. As middle age approaches the bones very gradually begin to become weaker. This weakening or thinning of the bones continues as we get older.
The process speeds up in women in the 10 years after the menopause. This is because the ovaries stop producing the female sex hormone oestrogen – and oestrogen is one of the substances that helps keep bones strong. Men suffer less from osteoporosis, because their bones are stronger in the first place and they do not go through the menopause.
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