Osteoporosis and arthritis are two conditions that can both affect your bones. While their causes, symptoms, and treatments are often different, they do share an important link, as having certain types of arthritis may make you more likely to develop osteoporosis. Let’s look more closely at their complex relationship, and how to navigate treatment for both.
What Are Osteoporosis and Arthritis?
In the case of osteoporosis, your overall bone density decreases, causing your bones to become more fragile and brittle. More than 53 million people in the U.S. are already affected, or are at risk for it due to low bone mass. According to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation, the condition develops when the body loses too much bone material, produces too little new bone to replace that loss, or a combination of both. Typically, a lifelong lack of calcium is the root cause.
Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease,” as symptoms may not manifest until your bone mass has already begun deteriorating. Loss of height, and an increase of bone fractures are two common signs that the condition has already progressed.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for joint pain or a joint condition with symptoms such as swelling, stiffness, decreased range of motion, and general joint discomfort. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and conditions related to it, and it is the number-one cause of disability in the U.S. Two of the most common types are osteoarthritis, which is a gradual wear-and-tear degenerative joint disease, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune inflammatory disease.
How Are Osteoporosis and Arthritis Linked?
While researchers are still investigating the precise cause, there is an established link between osteoporosis and inflammatory arthritis conditions. Specifically, people with inflammatory forms of arthritis such as RA have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. The inflammation itself appears to increase the risk of osteoporosis and related fractures, especially in areas closest to the affected joints.
Rheumatologist Katherine Wysham, MD, adds that inactivity caused by RA can further increase osteoporosis risk. “Our patients are hurting,” she said to arthritis support group CreakyJoints in 2019. “They have pain, which prevents them from exercising. But we know that weight-bearing activity is really important to bones — they respond to that stimulus and become stronger. Without it, the body won’t increase muscle or bone.”
To further complicate matters, some of the medications used to treat RA can also lead to osteoporosis. While corticosteroids such as prednisone can very quickly reduce RA flares, they also pose a significant risk for weakening bones and suppressing their formation or repair. Corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis is the most prevalent form of secondary osteoporosis.
How Are Osteoporosis and Arthritis Treated?
Fortunately, it is possible to treat arthritis while protecting your bones. Lifestyle modifications for promoting bone health may include getting enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet or taking supplements, if needed. Vitamin D aids in the body’s process of absorbing calcium, thereby helping to renew bone material. Strength training and weight-bearing aerobic exercises can also strengthen your muscles and bones, while exercises designed to improve balance can help reduce your risk of fall-related fractures.
Outside of these home remedies, there are many pain treatment options that don’t involve the use of corticosteroids. Here at Alliance Spine & Health, we offer a range of state-of-the-art therapies to treat the cause of joint pain and deliver real relief. From radiofrequency ablation that relieves pain in the joint to platelet rich plasma (PRP) that promotes joint healing, our treatments can help restore your quality of life without the risk of increased bone loss.