Ensuring the wellness of your bones by eating right exercising regularly is important no matter what age you are, but seniors especially need to be aware of the health of their skeletal system. As people get older, the risk of developing osteoporosis continues to increase. This debilitating condition occurs when the body can't create enough bone to replace lost density (it's living tissue that's absorbed into the body and restored on a continual basis). Those with the disease have brittle, weak bones and often experience fractures and breaks to the hip, spine, wrist or other area due to mild activity.

Despite being a common condition, there are many misleading rumors about it. To better understand the disease, lets debunk these myths and misconceptions about osteoporosis:

Osteoporosis is a woman's disease
This disease can affect anyone, no matter your gender. Additionally, people of all races can develop osteoporosis, making it essential for everyone to take precautions to maintain the wellness of their bones. But there is some truth behind the statement – women (especially older white and Asian females) have the greatest risk. In fact, among the 10 million people who suffer from osteoporosis, about 80 percent are women, while only 20 percent are men.

Menopause is the main factor for this heightened risk. During this time in their lives, women experience rapid bone loss as the bone is broken down by osteoclasts and can't regenerate quickly enough. After menopause, females generally continue to lose about 1 percent of bone density each year. For that reason, it's recommended that women who have gone through "the change" get a bone density test every five years. For those who qualify, Medicare Part B provides coverage for these exams once every two years.

It only affects old people
While seniors are at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, you don't have to be old to suffer from it. Young people can also be diagnosed with this condition, especially those who live unhealthy lifestyles, so it's really never too early to start worrying about your musculoskeletal wellness.

For example, insufficient levels of vitamin D and calcium in your diet can lead to bone loss, as do excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and lack of exercise. People on specific medications or with low estrogen or testosterone levels may also be more prone to osteoporosis, and the eating disorder anorexia nervosa can also incite the disease.

Osteoporosis causes back pain
Many with osteoporosis blame their sore back on the condition; however, it's not actually the culprit behind your back pain. The discomfort is typically the effect of weakening of the spine to the point that it can no longer withstand normal pressure. In such cases, a mild event such as sneezing or bending over causes the spine to break, and people with weak spines may also experience vertebral compression fractures – when one bone presses up against another and causes a break. This fracture is the cause of the pain, and it can sometimes be so agonizing that even small tasks such as walking or simply standing up are unbearable. Along with pain, some of the common symptoms of a compression fracture include loss of height, spinal curvature and relief from the pain when lying down.

If you suspect that you have a fracture to your spine, see a health care professional to come up with a treatment plan. He or she may suggest that you wear a back brace while the bone heals, though it's generally suggested on a short-term basis since wearing one too long can weaken the muscles in the back and lead to more fractures. You might also be prescribed pain medication.

My family members have it, and I will too
It's true that osteoporosis is hereditary, but just because your parents or other members of your family have it doesn't mean you will necessarily develop the condition. There are many steps you can take to avoid osteoporosis, such as:

  • quitting smoking
  • cutting down your alcohol intake
  • making sure not to drink too much coffee.

In fact, a lot of the same things you do to keep your heart healthy and pursue general wellness can spur bone growth. A positive lifestyle that includes plenty of exercise, nutritious eating and a steady sleep schedule are essential. Make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D, which are necessary for bone growth.

If you still have trouble growing enough bone to keep your skeletal system sturdy, your doctor may prescribe you a medication to enhance your body's rate of bone development. There are many drug options on the market, such as Boniva, Fosamax and Actonel, all of which are bisphosphonates that increase density and significantly reduce your risk of a fracture. If you qualify, you may obtain coverage for your medication through your Medicare prescription drug plan.