It’s no secret that men and women are different, from temperaments and interests to biological functions that make them tick. And at Nebben Physical Medicine, we appreciate every one of those differences.
Here, our team of experts looks at what makes the female skeletal system unique and how that can play a role in bone health.
Compared to the male skeleton, a woman’s bones are smaller, thinner, and weaker.
Much of that is due to how you develop. For instance, boys have two or more years of extra growth time during puberty, and they experience growth spurts that can last four years. The growth spurt span for girls is only about three years.
Hormones also play a big role in bone development. Though you have some testosterone coursing through your endocrine system as a woman, you don’t have nearly as much as men. Testosterone is key to a man’s ability to grow and maintain stronger, larger bones.
It’s not all a loss for women, though. Your pelvic bones are much sturdier because of your distinct ability to carry and deliver a baby.
The differences between the male and female skeletons start to have an effect shortly after a body reaches peak bone mass. Both men and women reach peak bone mass around age 20.
For women, age-related bone loss begins in the early to mid-30s. It’s expedited by the rapid decrease in estrogen during menopause. Pregnancy can also impact bone density, and your hormone levels and calcium needs change dramatically.
With all of these changes, you’re at risk for bone loss at a younger age and a faster rate. And you’re also at risk of a wide range of bone diseases, including osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and inflammatory arthritis.
Osteoporosis causes bones to get thinner and weaken over time, making them vulnerable to fracture. Though men and women can both experience osteoporosis, the extreme fluctuations of estrogen levels make women much more susceptible.
Of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis, nearly 8 million are women.
Not only are women more likely to develop osteoarthritis, but they’re more likely to experience severe osteoarthritis. Researchers don’t know why exactly this is the case, but most point to hormonal deficiencies, as with osteoporosis.
There’s also reason to believe that the inherent biomechanical differences (wider hips, more flexible joints, childbirth, etc.) make women more susceptible to this wear-and-tear disease that affects the cartilage protecting your bones.
Inflammatory arthritis conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, also affect women more often than men. These conditions stem from an overactive immune system that mistakenly attacks healthy joints.
Once again, blame hormones. High estrogen levels in women can cause the immune system to malfunction. Estrogen is also known to increase the production of inflammatory proteins.
If you’re a woman, it may seem like biology is working against you — and in some ways it is. But there are a few things you can do to give your bones a fighting chance. Practical ways to fortify your bone health and avoid bone disease include:
Also, make sure your diet is rich in protein, magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins D and K.
If the worst happens and your bones begin to weaken, the team at Nebben Physical Medicine can help. In addition to healthy lifestyle counseling, we provide a full lineup of advanced treatments that help you heal and feel less pain.
Depending on your needs, we may recommend:
If you have more questions about bone health, we’d love to talk with you. Call or click to schedule an appointment at our Clarksville, Tennessee, office today.