Unexplained foot fractures may be the first sign of osteoporosis, a bone thinning disease which affects over 28 million Americans and accounts for 1.5 million bone fractures a year.
Osteoporosis is frequently referred to as the “silent crippler” since it often progresses without any symptoms or isn’t diagnosed until a person experiences pain from a bone fracture. Dr. Naftulin, a member of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons, explains that the porous nature of bones in people with osteoporosis makes them more susceptible to fractures, especially in the feet. “Because the bones are in a weakened state, normal weight-bearing actions like walking can cause the bones in the foot to break. “In fact, many patients visit their foot and ankle surgeon suffering from foot pain only to find out they actually have a stress fracture, without having experienced an injury.”
While osteoporosis is most commonly seen in women over age 50, younger people and men are also affected.
Early symptoms can include increased pain with walking accompanied by redness and swelling on the top of the foot. “Oftentimes patients don’t seek treatment for their symptoms for weeks or even months, thinking the pain will pass,” says Dr Naftulin “The best advice is, don’t ignore foot pain of any type. Early intervention can make all the difference in your treatment and recovery.”
Foot and ankle surgeons are able to diagnose osteoporosis through bone densitometry tests, which measure calcium and mineral levels in the bones through low-dose radiation x-ray, or possibly through a routine x-ray. “This is why prevention and early intervention are key; women should make sure bone densitometry tests are part of their wellness examinations when indicated by their physicians,” Dr. Naftulin explains.
If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, it’s important to protect your feet from stress fractures. Wear shoes that provide support and cushioning, such as athletic running shoes, to provide extra shock absorption and protection. Custom orthotics may also be recommended to protect the foot from pressure and provide shock absorption, particularly during exercise.