Our Long Island Podiatrist Explains the Impact of Osteoporosis on Women’s Feet

The word osteoporosis means “porous bones” or “bones with holes”. This medical issue leads to decreased bone density, which can make anyone with this condition more susceptible to broken bones. Approximately 10 million people in the United States have osteoporosis, and an estimated 40 million are thought to be at risk of developing it, especially after age 65. But women are typically affected as early as age 50. 

At Massapequa Podiatry Associates, P.C., our board-certified professionals understand that foot pain may start as a small annoyance, but it doesn’t take long before it reduces your quality of life. Learn more about the impact of osteoporosis, especially in women’s feet, and what we can do to help.

Causes of Osteoporosis 

When people hear of osteoporosis-related injuries, their first thought is broken hips, but fractures related to this disease often occur in the neck, spine, lower back, wrists, and feet, too. Your feet carry the weight of your entire body, and each foot contains 26 bones that can be weakened by poor bone density. 

It’s not uncommon for men to develop osteoporosis after the age of 70. But women suffer from the condition much earlier, primarily because their bones are less dense and they experience more hormonal changes. The Office on Women’s Health reports that “of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, more than 8 million (or 80 percent) are women.”

Various factors contribute to developing osteoporosis in your feet: 

  • Being a Caucasian or Asian woman.
  • An insufficient amount of calcium and phosphorus in your diet, and/or your body pulling these minerals out of your bones for other purposes.  
  • Reduced estrogen in menopausal women and testosterone in older men.
  • A more sedentary lifestyle.
  • Chronic medical conditions such as:
    • Diabetes
    • Kidney disease
    • Thyroid problems
    • Celiac disease
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Liver disease
  • Excessive steroid use.
  • Vitamin D deficiencies. 
  • A family history of osteoporosis.
  • Low body weight and eating disorders.
  • Smoking cigarettes and other products. 
  • Consuming large amounts of alcohol.
  • A history of gastrointestinal surgery.

Signs of Osteoporosis in Women’s Feet Older woman holding bare feet possible osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is sometimes referred to as a “silent disease” because there are often no symptoms initially. However, common signs throughout the body include: 

  • Receding gums
  • Weak fingernails
  • Poor grip strength

If the disease grows worse, additional symptoms emerge, such as:

  • Kyphosis or a rounded upper back
  • Back and neck pain
  • Bone fractures
  • Decreased height resulting from spinal compression fractures

Signs of osteoporosis in women’s feet specifically often include swelling, redness, pain while walking, and small stress fractures. Left untreated, these tiny fractures may develop into more complicated displaced breaks that require surgery. Due to bone weakness, such procedures can be especially difficult. 

How Our Massapequa Podiatry Associates Diagnose and Help You Manage Osteoporosis

Remember, foot pain isn’t a “normal” sign of aging, so if you’re experiencing problems, contact our Long Island office right away. We’ll start by conducting a bone mineral density test, sometimes called a DEXA scan. This is a painless test that any physician can order and it only takes about 15 minutes to complete. Then, we’ll thoroughly examine your feet to rule out any other possible causes of your pain, such as heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, various types of issues affecting the big toe, and other conditions. 

Unfortunately, if you receive an osteoporosis diagnosis, there’s not a cure. However, our team will provide you with different strategies to help alleviate pain and prevent injuries.

Pain Relief Options

Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin may help reduce pain. Because older adults are often on more medications and have more health concerns than younger people, it’s important to discuss the use of over-the-counter pain relievers with prescribers to avoid drug interactions and side effects. Also, alternate ice packs and hot compresses throughout the day to help alleviate stiffness and decrease swelling.

Physical Therapy

Strengthening and stretching exercises can help to alleviate foot pain and prevent injuries. It’s also important to select activities that don’t put additional strain on weak bones. If you feel more unsteady than usual, physical therapy can help you retrain your balance to improve stability and decrease the risk of falls.

Properly Fitted Shoes

Avoid walking around in socks or floppy slippers, even when at home. Shoes that are too loose can slide around on your feet and become a tripping hazard. Footwear with slick soles doesn’t provide the right type of traction. One of our podiatrists will examine your shoes to ensure the best fit and advise you on how custom orthotics could be beneficial to improve your gait and balance. 

Home Modifications

Take precautions to reduce the risk of falls. An occupational therapist can conduct an individualized assessment of your home and recommend changes to the environment. This includes a wide range of practices:

  • Keeping floors free from clutter.
  • Ensuring cords from electronics are tucked away out of the walking area.
  • Removing or securing rugs so shoes and bare toes don’t get caught on them.
  • Utilizing assistive devices like canes or walkers to increase stability.
  • Installing grab bars in bathrooms to increase safety while toileting or showering.
  • Ensuring that all spills are cleaned up immediately to avoid slippery conditions. 
  • Installing or securing handrails on stairways.
  • Adding reflective tape to the edges of the top and bottom steps.
  • Purchasing a shower chair or bathmat to increase stability.
  • Improving lighting conditions.
  • Replacing slippery floors.
  • Adding nightlights to areas of the home most frequently accessed after bedtime.
  • Ensuring furniture isn’t used to access high places.
  • Placing a flashlight near the bed with extra batteries in case power is lost overnight.

Hearing and Vision Care

Older adults can experience rapid vision changes, impacting their ability to see and safely navigate their space. The part of the brain most closely associated with hearing also regulates balance, so when things change in your ears, it can also affect your stability when walking.

Managing Your Other Health Conditions

If you have diabetes or another medical condition contributing to osteoporosis, follow your doctor’s advice to effectively manage the disease and reduce its impact on your bone health. Talking to your doctors about how your other health conditions can interact with osteoporosis may also be helpful. 

For example, people with diabetes may have the following issues:

  • Oestoblasts—the cells that develop bone—aren’t as efficient.
  • An increased risk of falls due to diabetic complications such as foot neuropathy (loss of sensation) or vision problems. 
  • Using medications linked to decreased bone density.

Our Recommendations For Osteoporosis Prevention

Is osteoporosis an inevitable result of aging? Not necessary, but women should take additional measures to ensure they enjoy mobility for years to come. Here’s what we often encourage our patients to consider. 

Watch What You Eat

You probably already know that maintaining a healthy weight reduces strain on your foot bones, but it might be surprising to learn just how much diet contributes to good foot health. Choose foods rich in calcium and Vitamin D to help your body build strong bones such as:  

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Canned fish with bones, like salmon and sardines
  • Soy products, such as tofu
  • Calcium-fortified cereals and orange juice

It’s also a good idea to avoid high-sodium foods and carbonated beverages, which reduce calcium in your bones. 

Exercise With Bone Health in Mind

Exercises that promote bone health are especially important to avoid damage from osteoporosis. Activities that can improve balance, increase muscle mass, improve posture and decrease pain are great choices, such as strength training, weight-bearing aerobic exercises, and movements that increase flexibility. 

Please note: it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before starting new exercises. If you have reason to believe that you’re at risk for osteoporosis, it may be wise to have a bone density test as well, as this would be an indication that you should probably avoid high-impact exercises that involve hard-surface running, jumping, jogging, and similar movements. Exercises that require a lot of bending and twisting are also not recommended for people with osteoporosis.

Stay on Top of Your Medical Care

Ensure your doctor knows if osteoporosis runs in your family, discuss the potential of hormones as you approach menopause, and whether you should take calcium and Vitamin D supplements at any point.

Avoid Chemicals That Decrease Bone Density

Alcohol, nicotine, steroids and certain medications used to treat seizures, cancer, gastric reflux, and transplant rejection can all deplete the calcium in your bones. If you need to take these medications to maintain your health, talk to your doctor about what can be done to counteract their impact on bone density.