Study: Osteoporosis unlikely to affect balance, cause falls

Most healthcare experts agree that bone loss increases the risk and severity of fractures caused by falling, but new osteoporosis research has asked whether or not the disease may actually cause falls.

A group of Dutch researchers at the Sint Maartenskliniek's Institute for Research, Development and Education put this question to the test. The results of their investigation appeared in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.

The team recruited nearly 100 participants over the age of 75, all of whom were diagnosed with osteoporosis. To validate the existence of the disease in each patient, researchers used dual energy x-ray absorptiometry, which the Radiological Society of North America states is a highly accurate way to test levels of bone density in the body.

All participants were asked to perform one task - to avoid obstacles while walking on a treadmill.

To ensure each person's safety, all participants were strapped into a harness hung from the laboratory ceiling.

The study's authors theorized that a number of osteoporosis-related factors might make it more difficult for those with bone loss to keep their balance during "obstacle avoidance."

These included posture change caused by small back fractures, shifting center of gravity and even the fear of falling itself.

After testing all its participants, the team found that osteoporosis does not appear to affect balance any more than an aging process unaffected by bone loss.

They concluded that while osteoporosis increases the risk and severity of fractures, it does not directly contribute to the inability to move around obstacles in mature Americans.

Previous studies have already established that osteoporosis makes hip fractures, the breaking of long bones and the collapse of vertebrae, more likely.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that 55 percent of Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis.