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Health Information Women's Bone and Joint Health, Summer 2008

Women: Be Kind To Your Bones and Joints

It’s important to make sure you’re on track for good health if you’re a woman in midlife. In fact, hitting the track could be just the thing to do.

According to Kathleen Weber, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Rush University Medical Center, the midlife years are an important time for women to stay active and eat right for the health of their bones and joints.

Sometimes It’s Hard To Be A Woman

The years can bring bone and joint problems for both men and women. Simple wear and tear can lead to osteoarthritis, and the weight gain that often comes with age puts even more stress on joints.

For women, though, the story is more complicated. To begin with, a woman’s bone mass is generally lower than a man’s. And the decrease in estrogen that comes with menopause brings a higher risk for weak bones from osteoporosis.

Additionally, mechanical differences in the way women’s thigh, hip and butt muscles are engaged — in combination with the angle between the hip and knee — puts them at a higher risk for injuries than men, especially injuries to the knee cap and anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL.

In midlife, women are also at higher risk than men for overuse injuries, such as stress fractures and tendonitis.

Walk It Off

With the extra risks women face, exercise might seem like a dangerous step. But the fact is, being fit is a good defense.

“If you don’t exercise already, start now,” Weber says. “Even 10 minutes a day is a good start.”

A well-designed exercise program including aerobic exercise, stretching and lifting weights can help you avoid injuries. Weight-bearing activities, such as walking, jogging and dancing, can help keep bones healthy.

The secret is to begin slowly with an easy activity, such as walking, and build up to more strenuous exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity — either all at once or 10 minutes at a time — on most days of the week.

If it’s been a while since you’ve been active, talk to your doctor before you begin.

Eating Away At Risk

After about age 25, a woman’s bone mass starts depleting instead of building, and menopause increases loss. This makes a bone-healthy diet essential.

Calcium is the most important nutrient for bones, and vitamin D helps the body absorb it. In addition to finding both in dairy products and fish, some foods and beverages, such as orange juice, are fortified with calcium, and it’s in some green vegetables. Ask your doctor how much of these nutrients you need — it varies with age — and whether you should take dietary supplements.

How Rush Can Help

Weber advises having a baseline bone density test for all women at age 65, or earlier if you are at high risk for developing osteoporosis. This allows you to start treatment as soon as necessary.

For women with bone or joint problems, Rush offers both traditional and advanced care, including the following:

  • Joint replacement. Experts at Rush were instrumental in developing the first artificial knee designed specifically for women. It fits the narrower shape of women’s knees and accommodates the different angle at which a woman’s knee moves over the end of the femur. Rush also offers highly specialized joint replacement procedures for the wrist and shoulder.
  • Joint resurfacing. This alternative to joint replacement preserves bone, meaning full joint replacement can be done later if necessary.
  • Therapies for osteoporosis. These include the latest medications and personalized diet and exercise counseling, such as can be found at the Rush Osteoporosis Treatment Center.
  • Smoking cessation programs. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke can be toxic to bones.
  • Weight management programs. Being overweight puts extra stress on your joints.


More women than ever are healthy at midlife and beyond, notes Weber. It’s not too late to be one of them.

Did You Know?

Because women’s bodies and activity levels change with age, some bone and joint injuries are more common in different age groups.

  • High School and College Age Ankle sprains and knee injuries — including anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, injuries — and stress fractures
  • Middle Age Overuse injuries, lower back pain, stress fractures and knee injuries
  • Older Women Hip and knee arthritis, shoulder rotator cuff injuries and a type of joint inflammation called bursitis


Orthopedic Care and Services at
Rush University Medical Center in Chicago

Rush University Medical Center offers comprehensive orthopedic care services.

Ranked among the very best orthopedic programs in the country by U.S.News & World Report, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, is home to nationally respected orthopedic surgeons who find great reward in the fact that their research, discoveries and leading-edge therapies benefit patients today — not decades from now.

For more information about orthopedic health services and medical care at Rush visit the Orthopedic Care home page.

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