Physical Therapy For Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that decreases bone density, making bones brittle and weak. When you have osteoporosis, your bones can break easily. Though it is called a “silent disease,” there may be visible symptoms. For example, some people may notice a loss of height, pain in the pelvis or shoulder blades, or a “humpback.” Osteoporosis and its symptoms can be prevented and managed by a physical therapist who can provide effective, non-invasive treatment plans for these medical conditions. MOSH believes every patient deserves stellar healthcare. Our orthopedic rehabilitation team can offer specialized, expert physical therapists for osteoporosis and bone health concerns.

Osteoporosis And Bone Health

Although osteoporosis is often linked with post-menopausal women, men must also be concerned about bone health. An estimated 10 million people in the United States have osteoporosis, and another 43 million have low bone mass, which puts them at risk for developing osteoporosis. Problems associated with osteoporosis include:

  • Easy bone fractures, usually spine or hip fractures, with or without a fall or outside impact
  • Disability
  • Limited mobility
  • Low bone density
  • Brittle bones and fingernails
  • Receding gum line
  • Weak grip strength
  • Loss of height
  • Increased pain, especially in the neck, shoulders, and pelvis
  • Hyperkyphosis (Dowager’s Hump)

Hyperkyphosis: A Common Osteoporosis Condition

A Dowager’s Hump (Hyperkyphosis) is a common osteoporosis condition that a health care provider will refer to a physical therapist. The Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy estimates that between 20% and 40% of older adults have hyperkyphosis.

Hyperkyphosis is an exaggerated spinal curve that results in the forward-curved posture of the head, upper back, or thoracic spine. Often associated with the elderly, a Dowager’s Hump pushes the head forward and down while the back hunches. For every inch of a forward head position, you put 10 pounds of extra force on the spine. Some implications of hyperkyphosis include limitations such as difficulty getting up from a chair or poor balance and walking speed. In addition, hyperkyphosis may cause pain and dysfunction of the shoulder, neck, and lower back. Currently, there is no medication shown to improve hyperkyphosis. Physical therapy is the only proven intervention used to help reduce kyphotic posture and lessen pain.

Osteoporosis and Physical Therapy

Physical therapists are medical professionals with doctorates in physical therapy, whose primary focus is to improve a patient’s mobility and manage pain. The American Physical Therapy Association states that “physical therapists diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborns to people at the end of life. Many patients have injuries, disabilities, or other health conditions that need treatment. But PTs also care for people who simply want to become healthier and to prevent future problems.”

How does a physical therapist mitigate the impact of osteoporosis and improve the quality of life for patients? PTs will develop a treatment plan tailored to your fitness level and abilities. They will create a program of movements that will:

  • Prevent osteoporosis
  • Strengthen and stretch specific muscle groups to support bones and joints
  • Reduce and slow bone loss
  • Reduce pain
  • Reduce fall risk
  • Improve balance
  • Improve mobility
  • Improve circulation
  • Develop adjustments to the environment to adapt to osteoporosis changes
  • Correct stooped posture and bone alignments used in everyday activities

Physical Therapy for Osteoporosis: What To Expect

On your first physical therapy visit, your PT will assess your symptoms, movement limitations, and pain levels. Then, depending on your age, health history, and diagnosis, your physical therapist will likely recommend a regimen of exercise based on your individual needs. Most of this exercise program can be done at home. These exercises are often used to increase strength and flexibility and are structured in repetitive sets. Physical therapy may also include:

  • Ultrasounds
  • Massage therapy
  • Hot or cold therapies
  • Electrical stimulation (transcutaneous electrical neuromuscular stimulation (TENS) machine)
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Kinetic tape or other therapy equipment or mobility aides

Exercise can seem scary when in pain or experiencing a loss of movement. There is fear of falling or making your pain worse. No physical therapy exercise is going to hurt. There may be some discomfort, but the goal is to end or manage pain, not to create it. Without movement, our muscles weaken, and we lose bone strength. Exercise is vital to repairing and preventing additional damage.

In the case of hyperkyphosis, a physical therapist will work on correcting your posture, preventing further curving, and restoring lost function. Your PT will take measurements of the curve of your spine, range of motion, core strength, balance, gait, and more. These measurements will provide the basis for your physical therapy treatments and goals. Studies show that spinal muscle strength training may modify a rounded back posture. In the rehabilitation process, the therapist will teach specific exercises to help reduce the kyphotic posture, increase breathing capability, and help you perform day-to-day activities without the risk of pain or worsening injury.

Best Exercises and Physical Activities for Osteoporosis

The best way to build bone health is to increase bone strength. The best exercises for osteoporosis treatment and prevention involve weight-bearing aerobic exercises and strength and resistance exercises. Physical therapists often utilize equipment like stationary bikes, weights, and resistance training with elastic bands in their workspace.

Weight-bearing and resistance exercises can be low-impact or high-impact. Low-impact examples include lifting your body weight, standing up from a seated position, or seated resistance band exercises. High-impact activities include jogging or high-energy aerobic exercise.

Other weight-bearing and resistance types of exercise include:

  • Stair climbing
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga or Pilates
  • Dancing
  • Hiking
  • Tennis
  • Swimming
  • Jumping rope
  • Cycling

In our hyperkyphosis example, once the patient has been evaluated and a treatment plan is implemented, the physical therapist will likely prescribe simple, low-impact exercises. These may include chin tucks and other exercises like those described by the Cleveland Clinic. Because each patient and each case of osteoporosis is different, do not engage in a new exercise routine without your doctor’s direction.

Physical therapy can’t heal a broken bone or prevent future fractures entirely. Still, it has been proven successful at proactively lessening the impacts of osteoporosis and aiding in the successful recovery of fractures. If you’re at risk for osteoporosis or experiencing symptoms, get the quality health care you deserve. Don’t let pain or low bone density stop you from enjoying your favorite physical activity. Please make an appointment with one of our MOSH orthopedic spine and neck care specialists today.

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