For many people, osteoporosis comes as a surprise – because it is known as the silent disease. But more often than not, there are some warning signs that can be read with more understanding because of the greater knowledge we have today. Taking care of your bones doesn’t mean you should be constantly listening for a knock in the engine, but it does mean that early signs of a problem – or something a little different from usual – should not be brushed aside.

Listen, look, examine, and inform. That should be the bone care mantra. If you are worried about anything being a little off-kilter, or have known risk factors , see your doctor and get a bone density test. Although most hip fractures in older adults occur after some trauma e.g. falling from a standing height, some fractures can occur simply by standing on the leg and twisting.

The following symptoms may be an indication of a hip fracture-

  • Pain in your hip, groin , bottom, knee or thigh
  • Swelling or bruising around your hip or thigh
  • Being unable to walk or stand normally as before

Age still remains one of the biggest risk factors for developing osteoporosis and in its earliest stages osteoporosis does not necessarily show any symptoms. Bone density checks in those with risk factors e.g. advanced age, can be a good indicator of fracture risk.

Bones, Osteoporosis, and good health

When bones lose density and become porous, they can become so brittle that a sneeze can break a rib. Osteoporosis is the result of bones becoming more porous because bone gets replaced at a slower rate than old bone gets removed.

The only way to see if bones remain healthy is to have a bone density test. However, external signs that your bones may be losing strength do exist:

Receding gums

Well, this can be a common issue with ageing. The loss of bone density in the jawbone can cause bacteria to easier penetrate bone and ultimately cause periodontal (gum) disease and receding gums. Talk to your doctor when you notice this happening.

Brittle fingernails

Nails and bones are closely related, so a weakening in one may reflect in the other. If your nails are becoming a problem – breaking and splitting after washing or engaging in any manual work such as gardening, this could be another sign that you should check the current condition of your bones and especially your calcium levels! Necessary for bones and nails!

 Decreased grip strength

This could mean that your muscle strength is weakening – Osteoporosis and muscle wasting go hand in hand in older adults. This could affect all parts of your skeletal structure, not just your hips. A hip fracture occurs most often after a fall. In especially older women muscle wasting also slows down reflexes and you cannot stop the fall by holding on to something or stretching out a hand. Muscle strengthening exercises e.g. Pilates and yoga can help.

Muscle Aches and bone pains

 Vitamin D absorption decreases as we age and this can cause muscle aches, weakness and bone pain. Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and you need to ensure a daily intake of at least 600IU.

If muscle cramps appear it may indicate low levels of magnesium which is also important in calcium metabolism.

A deficiency in both can cause bone loss and osteoporosis and a vit D deficiency can certainly have a negative impact on muscle strength!

Loss of height

An early warning of osteoporosis can be loss of height. This means that your vertebrae may be compromised with the beginnings of bone loss. A loss of height of more than 3 cm may indicate that your vertebrae are getting compressed because they cannot bear the body’s weight. You may notice the hems of your dresses or pants becoming longer and you need to shorten them. This is usually a painless and gradual process.

Dowager’s hump

Compression of the front sections of the vertebrae can cause slouching of the shoulders and a rounded back and is referred to in medical terms as kyphosis. This can also occur gradually and painlessly.


Even with these signs mentioned above, you may still not realise you have osteoporosis until you suffer a fracture. If your bones are quietly thinning, even with the above symptoms, a fracture can easily be caused by a fall, picking up something or even bumping into an object.

Loving your bones also means taking more interest in the rest of your body. Despite the silent nature of osteoporosis there are often signs in plain sight to nudge you into action!

NOFSA (National Osteoporosis Foundation South Africa)

NOFSA is the only non-profit, voluntary health organisation dedicated to promoting lifelong bone health. We focus on reducing the widespread prevalence of osteoporosis while working to find a cure for the disease, and by supporting research and developing programmes of education and advocacy.

Find out more about our work at: