You might think of osteoporosis as a “senior” problem, something you don’t have to worry about for years. While it’s true that most hip, spine, and forearm fractures occur in people 65 and older, the groundwork for such traumatic (and often life-threatening) injuries is laid much earlier. In other words, the time to act is now: Once you experience a fracture, it’s pretty much too late.
While everyone should be taking steps to keep their bones strong, some people need to be especially vigilant. If your mom or grandma suffered from osteoporosis—or maybe they appeared to shrink a few inches or developed so-called dowager’s hump—then consider yourself extra vulnerable. Other warning signs, however, aren’t quite so obvious. Watch out for these surprising clues that could signal trouble for your skeleton.
01. Receding gums
Receding gums are quite common and can be attributed to a variety of factors, one of which is bone loss. Our teeth are connected to the jaw bone and if the jaw is losing bone, gums can recede. In studies of women, jaw bone loss has also been associated with lower bone mineral density in areas such as the vertebral bodies of the lumbar spine. The standard panoramic x-rays during your visits to the dentist can provide a well-informed dentist with an opportunity to screen you for bone loss. So ask your dentist to share any information and insight he or she may glean from your exam and x-rays regarding your bone health.
02. Cramps, muscle aches and bone pain
Certain vitamins and minerals—including vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and potassium—are imperative to good bone health. Cramps, muscle aches and bone pain can be symptoms of inadequate levels of these essential nutrients. If the body is persistently deprived of these vitamins and minerals, excessive bone loss can occur later in life.
03. Weak and brittle fingernails
Breaking a nail is more than annoying. If it happens frequently, it could mean that your bones are just as brittle. Preliminary studies suggest that people who have low levels of collagen (a strengthening protein) in their nails don’t have enough in their bones, either. Meanwhile, weak nails or vertical nail ridges suggest that your body lacks bone-building calcium.
04. Decreased grip strength
Various studies have shown a correlation between the strength of your handgrip and the density of the bones in your forearms, spine and hip. In fact, in a recent study of postmenopausal women, handgrip strength was the most significant physical test factor tied to bone mineral density throughout the body.
05. Height loss
Loss of height can be attributed to fractures of the spine or slouching, which can both be early signs of weak bones. If the spine breaks without significant force, or if your poor posture stems from weakened muscles around the spine, it’s possible that you’ve begun a progressive loss in bone strength.
06. Heart racing
Your resting heart rate refers to the number of times your heart beats per minute while your body is not doing anything active. Although the average resting heart rate for most people is anywhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute, research suggests that having a resting pulse greater than 80 beats per minute increases your risk for hip, pelvis, and spine fractures. The reason: Your heart rate is a reflection of your fitness level. Resting heart rates tend to be higher in people who are sedentary, and physical activity—especially the weight-bearing kind, like walking—is key to building a strong frame.
07. Low overall fitness
If your general fitness is declining, it’s plausible that bone mass will also decline with time. Studies have shown that weight-bearing exercise can help to slow bone loss, and several show it can even build bone by triggering deposits of calcium and bone-forming cells.
References: womenworking.com, .prevention.com, betterbones.com, mayoclinic.org, bones.nih.gov, everydayhealth.com,