Osteoporosis: How physical therapy can help strengthen bones

Joint Health

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Apr 25, 2017

Osteoporosis is a thinning of our bones and is more common in women. It is even more common in postmenopausal women, Caucasians, smokers and those with a low body mass index.

A few key factors can set the framework for our bone health later in life. From what we eat to how we exercise, and even our hormone levels during adolescence. All of these can have a lasting impact on our bone health. If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis you may not be able to completely rebuild bone, but physical therapy can help prevent bone fractures and the progression of osteoporosis.

Aerobic exercise

Studies suggest that people performing aerobic exercise can improve bone density in their spine. This can be very helpful in preventing fractures of the spine and the progression of forward spinal curve. You want to do primarily weight-bearing aerobic activity. Weight-bearing exercises include:

  • Walking outside or on a treadmill
  • Running (if you are able)
  • Elliptical

Exercises such as swimming can be a great workout, but you don’t want to do them exclusively. Swimming puts minimal weight on your bones. Meaning it is less effective at increasing bone density.

Resistance training

Another important component to your exercise program is resistance training, or light weightlifting. Resistance training is site-specific, meaning, if you strengthen the muscles around your hip, your hip bone will improve but not anywhere else. Be sure to complete resistance training for all major muscle and joint areas. Increased strength will improve bone density, and can also help prevent falls. It’s very important to strengthen the muscles that run up and down the back of your spine.

With a physical therapist’s help, you can learn which muscles you need to strengthen in order to support your spine. This will also help improve your upright posture. Resistance training should be initially completed at low levels of resistance and increased as needed. We typically recommend 30 to 60 minutes of resistance training, three to five days per week.

Body mechanics

Possibly the biggest prevention for compression fractures is proper body mechanics, and you can even start practicing before you’re ever diagnosed! A physical therapist can teach you how to perform daily activities without putting too much stress on your spine. Everyday activities like vacuuming, brushing your teeth, getting out of bed and lifting can put extra pressure on the front of your spine.

Practicing good body mechanics helps prevent changes to your spine and will have lasting effects to prevent fractures and the “hunched over” posture associated with osteoporosis.

Other treatments for osteoporosis

You may also talk to your doctor about Calcium, Vitamin D or other medications to assist with osteoporosis management. A physical therapist can be a great partner in your long-term health if you are diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Physical therapists can be very beneficial in demonstrating the safe, effective and proper exercises for your individual needs. He or she will show you resistance exercises and an anaerobic exercise plan that fits your specific physical needs and lifestyle.

If you have questions about osteoporosis, talk to an orthopedic specialist.

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