8 Things Every Woman Should Know About Bone and Joint Health

Whether you’re hiking up a mountain, playing outside with your kids, or working up a sweat at the gym, your bones and joints are always hard at work, keeping your body stable, protecting your internal organs, and supporting your muscles. Over time, all that work can take a toll on your body, especially for women.

Compared to men, women have a higher risk for many bone and joint problems, including severe bone loss, fractures, and some types of arthritis. While some of these conditions are more common in older women, it’s never too early to start caring about your bone and joint health. Making the right diet and lifestyle choices now can help keep your bones and joints strong enough to support your body for decades to come.

1. Women have a higher risk of osteoporosis than men.

Over 10 million adults in the U.S. have osteoporosis, and about 80% (over 8 million) of them are women. Osteoporosis is a disease that affects the bones, making them less dense, weaker, and more likely to break. Osteoporosis-related fractures happen most commonly in the wrist, hips, and spine.

Usually, healthy bones are strong enough to support your weight and absorb the force of day-to-day impacts, like playing contact sports or tripping and falling on a hard floor. It’s natural to experience some bone loss as you age, but too much loss in bone density can increase your risk of broken bones. In people with osteoporosis, the bones can become so weak that even mild stress, like stumbling or bumping into furniture, can cause a break.

Women are more likely to be affected by bone loss and osteoporosis because they:

  • Typically have thinner, less dense bones than men
  • Lose bone mass faster after estrogen levels fall during menopause
  • Live longer, on average, than men and have more time to experience natural bone loss

You may also be more likely to experience severe bone loss or osteoporosis if you:

  • Have a family history of osteoporosis
  • Don’t exercise enough
  • Don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D
  • Smoke or use tobacco products
  • Drink one or more alcoholic drinks per day

Osteoporosis is most common in women 65 and older, but it can affect people of any age or sex. No matter how old you are, there’s no better time than right now to start taking steps to protect your bone health.

2. Women are also more likely to experience joint pain and injury.

Though doctors still aren’t sure exactly why, it’s clear that women also have a higher risk than men for some joint conditions and injuries. Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, two conditions that cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. On top of that, women with arthritis tend to face higher pain levels than men dealing with the same condition.

Women also have a higher risk of some joint injuries, including ankle sprains, ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tears, and runner’s knee. Some joint injuries develop over time from stress or overuse. Others happen suddenly after a specific accident or movement. Either way, early care and treatment are vital for helping prevent long-term pain and other complications.

3. You’re never too young to start protecting your bone and joint health.

Your bones are made of living tissue, and your body is in a constant cycle of breaking them down and building them back up. From childhood until about age 25, most people build bone tissue faster than they lose it. As you get into your 30s and beyond, it naturally starts taking your body longer and longer to build new bone tissue. Eventually, around age 50, your bones start breaking down slightly faster than your body can rebuild them, leading to bone loss.

Joint pain and injury also become more likely as you get older. Normal wear and tear takes a toll on your joints over the years, and people over 45 are more likely to experience some sort of joint pain.

If you want to avoid these problems when you’re older, start caring for your bone and joint health as early as possible. Most bone and joint issues don’t happen overnight. They build slowly, although you may not see symptoms until things get bad enough to cause injury or long-term pain. Work on building strong bones, muscles, and joints now to delay or prevent serious problems in the future.

4. Your body needs calcium for more than building bones.

Calcium is an essential mineral that helps your body build strong bones, but it also plays an important role in muscle movement, blood flow, and nerve communication. Adults typically need at least 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium in their daily diet. If you don’t get enough calcium from the foods you eat, your body can start taking it directly from your bones, which can lead to bone loss.

You can find calcium in many foods, including:

  • Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products
  • Leafy greens, including spinach, collard greens, bok choy, and kale
  • Almond milk and rice milk
  • Small bone-in fish, like canned salmon and sardines
  • Fortified juices, tofu, and cereal

5. Vitamin D is just as important as calcium for bone health.

Calcium is the bone-health superstar, but your body can’t do much with the calcium in your diet if you’re not getting enough vitamin D. Vitamin D helps you absorb the calcium you get from food, drinks, and supplements. Without enough vitamin D, your body may have trouble building new, strong bone tissue, which can raise your risk for bone loss and osteoporosis. Recommended daily amounts of vitamin D are 15 mcg (600 IU) for adults 70 and under and 20 mcg (800 IU) for adults over 70.

Foods high in vitamin D include:

  • Fish, including trout, salmon, and tuna
  • Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products
  • Mushrooms
  • Almond milk and rice milk
  • Fortified juices and cereal

6. Exercise can make your bones stronger.

Regular physical activity can help strengthen your bones and muscles, lowering your risk for osteoporosis, arthritis, and other bone and joint problems. When exercise puts stress on your bones, it tells your body to use more calcium to build up bone strength. Over time, the right kind of exercise can slow bone loss and possibly even help build up bone tissue. Building up your muscle strength through exercise can also help increase balance and support bones and joints throughout your day-to-day activities.

The trick is finding a well-rounded workout that challenges all your major muscle groups without pushing your body too hard. Exercises that put stress on your bones usually involve force or impact, so it’s important to protect your joints by choosing an activity that’s right for your fitness level. Exercises that can help build bone strength include:

  • Power walking
  • Jogging and running
  • Dancing
  • Climbing stairs
  • Tennis and other racquet sports

You can also strengthen your bones and muscles by:

  • Lifting weights
  • Using resistance bands
  • Doing body-weight exercises, like push-ups and pull-ups

Talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have or are at risk for bone loss or joint pain.

7. Women should get their first bone density test at age 65 (or earlier).

Osteoporosis is a “silent” condition with little to no obvious symptoms, and many people never realize they have a problem until they actually break a bone. Low bone mass, an early sign of osteoporosis, affects almost 30 million adult women in the U.S. It can develop into osteoporosis if not treated. A bone density test can help diagnose low bone mass and osteoporosis, giving you the chance to start treatment before the problem gets worse.

Bone density tests are recommended for women aged 65 and older. Your doctor may also suggest testing if you’re under 65, postmenopausal, and have an increased risk of osteoporosis. After your first test, your doctor may recommend regular screenings every 2 to 3 years, though you may test more or less often depending on your specific situation.

It’s easier to slow down bone loss than it is to rebuild bones. The earlier you find out you have low bone mass, the more power you have to protect your future bone health and lower your risk of fractures.

8. Early treatment is key for bone and joint problems.

Bone and joint conditions like osteoporosis and arthritis tend to get worse over time, so early treatment is the best way to lower your risk of future complications. If you experience joint pain or other symptoms, don’t wait to talk to your healthcare provider. Treatment may include healthy lifestyle changes, medication, or surgery, depending on your situation.

Carrum Health Can Help

If you believe you need surgery to treat your chronic joint pain, Carrum Health may be able to help. Carrum Health is a surgery benefit provided by employers that often cover most or all of the cost associated for certain orthopedic surgery.

Find out if the Carrum Health benefit is available to you. Check your eligibility.
The information contained on this page is for informational purposes only. No material is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.