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Breaking News: How to Prevent Bone Breaks as You Age

By Martha Michael

Exercise to Avoid Broken Bones

We normally think being bent out of shape is a bad thing. But when it comes to bone health, it’s not just your elbow you want to be malleable. Most of us have a mental picture of bones that look like stiff, brittle pieces held together by muscle joints. But these organs, which are made up of mostly collagen and calcium, are actually flexible, says an article on by Alex Ireland, a postdoctoral researcher in neuromuscular and skeletal physiology at Manchester Metropolitan University.

“Our bones are a living organ that grows and changes shape throughout our life,” Ireland says. “Much of this shaping results from forces which press, pull and twist the skeleton as we move, and the biggest of these forces is caused by our muscles.”

Bending Over Backwards

Whether you’re an Olympic gymnast or you jog for exercise, the impact on your bones is intense. Simply walking can place the force of five times your body weight on your bones, Ireland says. Your bones are bending and twisting with every step, shortening your shin bones in the process. Your body responds to the changes by increasing the size of your bones to lower the chance of breakage.

For example, the arm a tennis player uses to swing a racket can become 20 percent wider and eventually have up to 40 percent more minerals in the bone, according to Ireland.

Bones get larger and stronger from high impact activities, and they also change shape through various forms of exercise. Shin bones begin as cylindrical tube shapes, Ireland says, but with the body’s growth they start to resemble teardrops. A baby’s shin bones gain 40 percent more mass between the time the child begins walking up to about 15 months.

If you don’t become an active individual, you maintain a lot of the bone width you gain as a child, sometimes for decades, but atrophy sets in over time. “This is important, as bigger, stronger bones are less likely to break as we get older,” Ireland says.

When the Bone Breaks

Our upper body is the area where more broken bones occur than anywhere else, according to the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences. People are more likely to break the collarbone, or clavicle, than any others, often because of the human tendency to break a fall by reaching out with the arms.

The ASU site lists the five most commonly broken bones in the body:

  • Clavicle
  • Arm
  • Wrist
  • Hip
  • Ankle

When you’re young, your bones are flexible, like a twig that bends in the middle and breaks on the outer portion, which is a good illustration for a bone fracture. Adults tend to break a bone, whereas kids and teens are more likely to experience a fracture on the outside because the middle of their bones are more malleable.

Bent Out of Joint

If you suspect you’ve injured a bone, get to a healthcare practitioner as soon as possible. If the area is bruised, swelling and painful to the touch, you may have a fracture or a broken bone, which your chiropractor can assess. Sometimes an X-ray or detailed bone scan is necessary to enhance detection of damage that’s too slight for the eye to see. If you have micro-injuries to your bones, it places undue stress on your joints, which a chiropractor can treat to assist in restoring motion to the joint areas affected.

Injuries are less likely to be serious for active individuals whose bones tend to be stronger. If you’ve let your workout regimen fall by the wayside, age and lack of use may cause them to become thinner and weaker.

If you need help developing an exercise plan, visit your chiropractor for a consultation. With routine chiropractic care you also gain a form of prevention from bone breaks and fractures. For instance, a healthy spine maximizes your range of motion, which helps you maintain balance and decreases the chance of a fall. Chiropractic adjustments maintain the health of some very important joints -- your vertebrae -- which need to stay flexible so you can bend over and reach forward when necessary.

Your practitioner can also coach you in choosing appropriate stretching and strengthening exercises to maximize your bone health. He or she may recommend yoga or Pilates.

In addition, you’re already losing bone mass due to age, so you don’t want to compound the problem with smoking, which raises the risk of osteoporosis by 2.5 times the risk for non-smokers, says the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center website. Cigarette smoking is toxic to osteoblasts, which are cells that form bone, and it lowers estrogen, which helps you absorb calcium and other minerals. Vitamin D affects how minerals are utilized, and smoking interferes with its function.

Because bones need calcium and Vitamin D, you need to eat a diet that includes fish, dairy products and vegetables. You can also absorb Vitamin D from heading outside for some sunlight.

No one really knows what’s just around the bend in life, but taking advantage of options to maximize bone health can give you a smoother ride. Sure, some of the recommendations may make little difference, but there are some rules you just can’t bend.

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