Broken Bones Can Be a Sign of Osteoporosis

Donnie M., now 72, takes her exercise routine seriously.

Ever since being diagnosed with osteoporosis in her mid-40s, Donnie's been focused on her health. She knows that staying physically active is essential to keeping her bones strong.

Donnie walks two miles near her home in the southern part of Michigan, where she has lived since 1966. And she can easily clock in four to five miles a day during the yearly excursions she and her husband take to Arizona and Florida to escape the Midwest's gloomy winters. "We walk outside sometimes two times a day. We also go day-tripping a lot, and end up walking to see the sites," says Donnie.

Too Many Broken Bones

But just a few short years ago, Donnie's ability to move—let alone complete her daily power walk—was in serious jeopardy.

In the spring of 2007, Donnie broke several bones within a nine-month period. It started with three in her left foot, which broke without any known injury. A few months later, Donnie fell while doing yard work and broke her left tibia (shinbone). This was followed by a stress fracture in her left foot.

While stress fractures in the foot are generally not caused by osteoporosis, Donnie's doctor thought that her group of injuries deserved a closer look. A DXA test (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry) taken to measure bone mineral density revealed a T-score that showed Donnie had been losing a lot of bone mass.

T-scores compare your bone density to that of a normal, healthy adult. A healthy T-score is negative 1 (-1) or higher. For several months Donnie lived in walking casts and did physical therapy to help heal her broken bones.

Taking Treatment Seriously

For Donnie, learning how serious her osteoporosis had gotten was a real game changer.

While she didn't have a family history of osteoporosis, she did have other risk factors, including starting menopause early, at age 37. When that happened, she began losing estrogen, a hormone that protects the bones.

At the time, Donnie's doctor put her on a selective estrogen receptor modulator medication to build bone mineral density. She also began taking supplements, including calcium and vitamin D, and walked regularly during her lunch breaks at the glass container company where she worked.

After Donnie's bone breaks, however, her doctor started her on a new and more aggressive treatment to address her osteoporosis. Thanks to those efforts, recent DXA tests, which Donnie gets every two years, show that her bone mass has improved so much that her status has changed from osteoporosis to osteopenia, which is low bone density.

"Between the treatment and my steady walking, my bones look a lot better."

In Partnership with Her Doctor

Today Donnie is committed to full-time walking. She also works to improve her health by maintaining a close connection to her gynecologist of 15 years. "I have a good rapport with my doctor. I can ask her any questions, and she always checks up on me to make sure I am doing the things I should be doing."

Donnie encourages other women to take their doctors' advice seriously when it comes to lifestyle changes and treatments. "Listen when your doctor tells you about how much walking and weight lifting you need to do. I did slack off on walking, and that is when I broke my bones."

In addition to walking, Donnie also lifts three-to five-pound weights at home three to five days a week and enjoys a host of other activities, such as volunteering at church, curling up with a good book and spending time with her grandchildren.

While her bone health is always top of mind, Donnie accepts her condition and has a positive spirit, which comes from a place of deep spirituality, she says. "Things happen and I take them head-on. It never got me down even when I broke my leg," she says, pointing out that having osteoporosis has motivated her to keep moving. "Because of the broken bones, I exercise daily. It keeps me walking and active."

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