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Physical Therapy for Osteoporosis and Bone Strength

By: Stephanie Ruopp

Image source: Blausen Medical Communications | Wikimedia Commons

Have you been told you have – or are at risk for – osteoporosis?

Before you take any extreme measures or head straight to the surgeon, you may want to consider physical therapy for osteoporosis and bone strength.

If you already have osteoporosis, physical therapy can help you restore healthy movement and function to safely strengthen the bones and increase their density. It’s also a proactive way to help prevent osteoporosis.

Plus, a physical therapist will teach you exercises to help you manage your daily activities and decrease the likelihood of having an osteoporosis-related fracture.

And if you’re rehabilitating from an osteoporosis-related fracture, physical therapy will give you a better chance at successful recovery. 

What Is Osteoporosis?

You probably think of your bones as hard and sturdy. After all, they create the framework of your skeleton. But the reality is, they’re made of living tissue that is constantly changing.

From the moment of birth and all through early adulthood, bones continue to develop and strengthen. They reach their peak density in one’s early 20s. 

But after that, things begin to change. Bone cells begin to get reabsorbed and new bone cells deposit formations call osteoids. The density and quality of the bone is slowly reduced.

For those with osteoporosis, the bone loss outpaces the growth of new bone and the bones become brittle and prone to fracture. There are often no symptoms until the first fracture occurs.

The most common fractures associated with osteoporosis occur at the hip, spine and wrist. The chances of these fractures occurring increases with age in both women and men – though more commonly in women.

How Does Physical Therapy Help?

A healthy lifestyle goes a long way toward building and maintaining your bones. Exercise is part of that healthy lifestyle. But certain types of exercise are counter indicated with osteoporosis.

A highly-skilled physical therapist has a keen awareness of which exercises will promote bone growth and/or lessen bone loss, without creating undue stress on them. These exercises will also work toward improving balance and posture.

Improving your balance will help prevent falls, while practicing proper posture takes unneeded stress off the spine and reduces the likelihood of spinal fractures. 

But what about when you’re not actively in physical therapy?

Not a problem. A physical therapist will also help you make changes in your everyday life away from your actual therapy session. You’ll learn the proper ways to sit down, stand up, lie down and even sneeze properly!

Your specific program will be based on factors including overall health, age, fitness level, current fractures, risk for future fractures, and your specific case of osteoporosis (if you’ve already received the diagnosis). 

It’s all very comprehensive.

What to Expect in a PT Session

Similar to building muscle, bones must be sufficiently and properly stressed in order to grow. 

In most cases, physical therapy for bone strengthening will avoid endurance exercises. Instead, they include resistance training or certain weight-bearing exercises – as these are optimal for bone health.

Your therapy session will likely consist of resistance exercises. These could include lifting weights in proper spine and lower-extremity alignment,  working with exercise bands, and balance exercises. 

Then there are resistance exercises where gravity is the force you’re working against. These include:

  • Push-ups
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Prone trunk extension with cushion to protect lowest ribs
  • Single-leg heel raises,
  • Standing poses in neutral spine position

Based on your performance in your therapy sessions, your physical therapist will give you your own individual bone-building “prescription” to ensure that you’re not at risk for overexercising or under-exercising. 

He or she might recommend some weight-bearing exercises as well. These may include (but are not limited to):

  • Dance
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Yoga
  • Racquet sports

Again, it’s important to listen to what your physical therapist recommends in terms of the right kind of movement for your specific situation.

The Ultimate Goal of the Physical Therapist

Whether you’re at risk for osteoporosis, or have already suffered a fracture, physical therapy can help.

Whatever the case, the physical therapist utilizes appropriate movements to decrease your risk of a fall, strengthen your muscles, improve your postural alignment, and build bone or lessen the amount of bone loss at areas most vulnerable to fracture.

He or she will also work to help you avoid exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, or excessive spinal/hip twisting that could contribute to spinal fracture.

For those who have already experienced a fracture and are healing, the physical therapist can develop proper positioning and other pain-relieving modalities to decrease your pain.

And while surgery is an absolute last resort, a trained physical therapist will also have the wherewithal to discuss your surgical options should the need arise.

Looking to Lessen Your Bone Loss?

Less bone density is just a fact of life as we age. 

But living with the negative effects of osteoporosis doesn’t have to be. 

Contact us today to find out how doing physical therapy for osteoporosis could be exactly what you need to strengthen your bones and live a healthier and happier life.

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