11 Oct 2018
Breaking a bone easily can be an indicator that your bones have lost strength.
And if you’ve broken a bone due to low bone strength, you’re two to three times more likely to experience more breaks.
For Neil Stirk, who has suffered numerous broken bones over the past 16 years, this has been an unfortunate reality.
In March 2001, Neil had his first major epileptic seizure aged 25. He broke his femur, considered to be one of the strongest bones in the body. He also broke four different bones in his spine, though he and his doctors weren't aware of this at the time. But any doubts about his bone strength were dismissed by healthcare professionals because of his age.
In 2010, following several more broken bones, a consultant spotted Neil’s original spinal breaks from an old MRI scan. But Neil’s bone strength was not assessed until 2017, after yet another break to a fifth bone in his spine.
A scan showed that Neil’s bone density was very low, and he was told he had osteoporosis and was at high risk of breaking more bones.
The impact of broken bones
Neil struggled with the impact of osteoporosis and broken bones for almost two decades before he was diagnosed.
Osteoporosis and broken bones have affected all aspects of my life massively.
"Osteoporosis and broken bones have affected all aspects of my life massively," says Neil. "I've lost two inches in height and I’m now wheelchair-bound. I'm in constant pain, because the original breaks triggered two severe pain conditions. I need carers to help me with almost every task in life. My social life is pretty much non-existent and, sadly, I have lost a lot of friends due to a lack of understanding."
Neil was also disappointed to learn that his epilepsy medication - which was so important to control his seizures - may have had a harmful effect on his bone strength.
But despite the challenges he faces, Neil maintains a positive outlook.
“My experiences have had a positive effect too, in that I’ve reassessed my values in life. I spend my precious time with family and friends who have stood by me, and I’m learning to enjoy new things,” says Neil.
“I’ve begun hydrotherapy and gym sessions in my wheelchair, and I’m looking forward to getting out and about more in my new powered chair. My epilepsy medication has been changed and this year I’ve had my first infusion of zoledronic acid, an osteoporosis drug treatment. I hope that this will help to strengthen my bones and reduce my risk of further broken bones.”
Neil has also been glad to find support from the charity and is working to spread the word about osteoporosis and bone health in any way he can.
Information from the National Osteoporosis Society has really helped me to manage my condition.
"Information from the National Osteoporosis Society has really helped me to manage my condition. To start conversations, I wear a charity vest to my hydrotherapy, gym and physiotherapy sessions. I’ve also been giving out information cards with the charity’s contact details to people who ask me questions," says Neil.
Working towards a brighter future
“Spinal fractures – or vertebral fractures as they are referred to by healthcare professionals – are the most common break occurring due to osteoporosis,” says Sarah Leyland, Nurse Consultant at the National Osteoporosis Society.
“Neil’s is a very unusual situation – having severe osteoporosis at a younger age without any obvious reason, and it is even more distressing for him because the condition wasn’t quickly diagnosed.
Getting osteoporosis recognised and treated is a widespread problem.
“Getting osteoporosis recognised and treated is a widespread problem. People with spinal fractures due to osteoporosis are at an increased risk of future broken bones, which can have devastating personal consequences – as in Neil’s case. But, as up to 70 percent of these breaks go undiagnosed, the opportunity to intervene and prevent further broken bones can be missed,” she continued.
The National Osteoporosis Society is working hard to improve awareness about the clinical significance of broken bones and produces essential resources and education programmes for healthcare professionals.
Last year, the charity published new guidance to assist clinicians in identifying and reporting spinal fractures.
Research and education by the National Osteoporosis Society is vital to help future generations
Neil says: "Because I am a man, medical professionals seemed to not even consider that I might have osteoporosis – especially due to my relatively young age. I think further research and education in the subject – like that being delivered by the National Osteoporosis Society – is vital to help future generations.