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A Painful Lesson in Bone Health

By Salima Ladak-Kachra

At the age of 25, I slipped and fell on a ceramic floor. The impact of the fall sent an unbearable pain shooting down my back. The pain was so excruciating that I almost urinated in my pants. I could not move my body and for a moment, I thought I was paralyzed. I was also crying uncontrollably. Instantly, I knew something terrible had happened.

After several minutes had passed, I began to feel my toes and fingers. An ambulance rushed me to an emergency department. Doctors were unable to find the source of my pain, nor did they know why I was unable to move. The x-rays eventually showed that I had several crushed vertebrae. The emergency physician was shocked at the x-ray results, saying the damage in my back looked as though someone had struck me numerous times with a baseball bat. He also could not believe that it had not been caught earlier – he said that most people who fall and land on their backs usually have little, if any, discomfort or injury. However, I was an exception to that rule.

I went through excruciating pain, and was not able to walk, shower, eat or dress myself without assistance. I couldn’t even hold a teacup in my hand since my back could not support the pressure caused by simply raising my arm. My hands constantly shook and there was a slight droop on my face on the right side. I began to feel handicapped and disfigured. My back was swollen, red and very tender to the touch.

In the months that followed, I discovered that I had lost one inch in height and my waist size had increased. I had trouble performing daily tasks such as cooking, doing the laundry and cleaning. I felt like an eighty-year-old — fragile and weak. I kept asking, 'Why is this happening to me?' I was so young and had my entire life ahead of me. I had recently been married and was planning on having children in the near future.

With the constant pain in my entire back, I began to suffer both physically and emotionally. I also went through a period of depression that put a severe strain on my marriage. I had trouble communicating and being intimate due to the unbearable pain and low self-esteem. The painkillers left me constantly sleepy and lethargic — but, because they reduced the pain, they had become a necessary evil.

Prior to my fractures, I had seen a few physicians complaining of back pain, but was told that I was guilty of nothing more than improper body mechanics! The apparent risk factors I had for osteoporosis were ignored, probably due to my young age — after all, osteoporosis had always been associated with hunched-over elderly women. I have a very strong family history of osteoporosis. I also have a petite body frame and I am of Asian descent. Throughout my adolescent years, my calcium intake was poor because I had difficulty tolerating dairy products and never focused on being physically active. In addition, my menstrual cycle was irregular virtually from its onset.

At age 20, after suffering through symptoms such as severe weight loss, nausea and headaches, my new family physician ordered comprehensive blood-work and other diagnostic tests. These tests revealed a condition called hyperprolactinemia. This is a condition, that when combined with my other aforementioned risk factors, was preventing me from attaining my peak bone mass. As a result, my bones were thin. It was only the very painful experience of four vertebral fractures that forced the medical system to take an interest in my health.

A bone density examination revealed severe osteopenia, bordering osteoporosis levels in both the spine and femur – these results required immediate measures to be taken. To this day, I still cope with back pain and my body neither feels nor looks as it once did. I still have difficulty cleaning the house, vacuuming, making the bed or being in one position for a prolonged period of time.

Thus, I am adamant about preventing anyone from enduring the same experience that I did, and decided to take a proactive role in my health and also teach others the lessons I have painfully learned.

In order to improve my bone health, I knew I’d have to make a total lifestyle change. I am now eating a well-balanced diet with a strong emphasis on dairy products. My coffee consumption has decreased and I regularly perform weight-bearing exercises to preserve and build my bones. I refrain from heavy lifting and have someone help me with the household chores that have become too physically demanding. I am now very conscious of proper postural techniques such as bending properly and sitting. My energy level is better and my back pain is finally under control.

From my experience, I have now realized the importance of optimal calcium intake, regular exercise and reducing excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption, and smoking. These are only a few of the risk factors that must be addressed to prevent osteoporosis. Young women with irregular menstrual cycles or changes in their menstrual cycles need to seek medical attention to rule out other secondary causes. Osteoporosis is a multi-factorial disease that can happen to anyone regardless of age, gender or ethnic background. More focus on the awareness and knowledge of different osteoporosis risk factors, achieving peak bone mass, and diagnosis of low bone mass in young people is needed. If I had taken these steps, perhaps I would not have fractured my bones.

These events provided me with the motivation to establish The Bone Wellness Centre. I want to be an advocate for osteoporosis and women’s health. My goal is to promote education and counseling so that everyone, especially women, can access any health information and be informed of the risk factors and preventative measures. It is vital for everyone, women and men, young and old, to be aware of all the options available so that they may help themselves. There is no magic recipe for optimal bone health, but there are sensible combinations that one can use to get there. If I can make a difference in even one person’s life, it is a reward that I will hold to be truly priceless.

Reprinted with the permission of the Bone Wellness Centre.


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