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Cathleen Renkiewicz, PT
Exercising Safely With Osteoporosis
The Virginian

Exercising Safely With Osteoporosis

We all have a vision of how we do not want to age stooped over, walking gingerly with a cane or walker, limited mobility leading to difficulty living independently.

Osteoporosis, or “porous bone” is a disease affecting over 44 million Americans, responsible for more than 1.5 million factures annually over 300,000 hip fractures, 700,000 vertebral (back) fractures, 250,000 wrist fractures, and 300,000 fractures at other sites. Of those who suffer an osteoporotic hip fracture, 25% die within the next year, 20% require long term care afterward and only 15% can walk across the room after six months. Vertebral fractures can cause decreased quality of life, chronic pain, loss of height, rounded back posture, difficulty breathing, and decreased mobility and energy.

However, the good news is that fall prevention education and a safe, appropriately prescribed exercise program can help reduce this risk.

Fall prevention includes education concerning risk factors, home and environmental modifications, medication assessment to minimize side effects, and a strength and balance exercise program.

Exercise to prevent fractures is focused on three main components exercises that help increase or maintain bone density and strength, improve posture and body mechanics, and improve balance and prevent falls.

Weight bearing exercises such as walking and standing aerobic exercises stimulate the bones to maintain density and strength. Resistance exercises using dumbbells, weight machines, cuff weights, exercise bands or tubing should target trunk and leg muscles that help maintain balance and control.

Specific balance exercises and activities such as tai chi, and standing leg exercises performed in a safe environment can challenge your balance and specifically strengthen those muscles and systems that support it.

Functional exercises are activity specific exercises such as climbing stairs, repeated standing from a chair and other normal activities that are challenging and improve the strength of several muscle groups at one time.

Not all exercises are helpful, however. Exercises to avoid include those that cause spine (back) flexion such as curl ups and toe touches. These movements can increase the risk of spinal fracture. All exercises should be performed with your best posture.

Movements should be smooth and steady, not jerky or with quick thrusts. Starting with weights beyond your capacity will cause you to struggle and perform exercises with poor, unsafe technique. You should breathe throughout the exercise, not hold your breath.

The safest way to start? Consult your physician and get screened for osteoporosis. An exercise prescription from a physical therapist will provide you with a specific program to safely improve your strength and function and help you stay active. You can reduce your risk of fracture and disability.

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