Osteoporosis and Physical Therapy

Osteoporosis is a disease where the bone density is decreased making the bones in the individual brittle and weak. When you have osteoporosis, your bones can break easily. It is commonly described as a “silent” pathology because no physical symptoms are felt unless a fracture occurs. Some people may notice a loss of height while others may notice a “humpback” or Dowager’s hump–this is called hyperkyphosis.

Hyperkyphosis is an exaggerated anterior curve of the spine that results in the forward-curved posture of the head, upper back, or thoracic spine. Currently, there is no medication shown to improve hyperkyphosis. The only proven intervention that is used to help reduce kyphotic posture and lessen pain is physical therapy.

Problems Associated with Hyperkyphosis

For every inch of head projection, you are putting 10 pounds of extra force on the spine. Some of the implications of hyperkyphosis include limitations such as difficulty getting up from a chair or poor balance and walking speed. Hyperkyphosis may cause pain and dysfunction of the shoulder, neck, and lower back. Patients suffering from hyperkyphosis face significant risk for future spine fractures and broken bones in the arms, legs and other extremities. The condition is serious and can be fatal; reduced lung capacity may result in difficulty breathing, and in some cases, death.

What to Expect When You Visit Your Physical Therapist

So how does a physical therapist mitigate the impact of osteoporosis and improve quality of life for patients with this diagnosis? Studies show that a rounded back posture may be modified by spinal muscle strengthening exercises. Therefore in the rehabilitation process, the therapist will teach specific exercises to help reduce the kyphotic posture and train the individual to avoid forward-bend stresses on the spine during exercise and activities of daily living such as sleeping, bathing, dressing, and housework.

Depending on your age, health history and diagnosis, your physical therapist will likely recommend bone-strengthening exercises, such as weight-bearing activities. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, the following exercises are effective in supporting bone strength:

  • Dancing
  • High-impact aerobics
  • Hiking
  • Jogging/running
  • Jumping Rope
  • Stair Climbing
  • Tennis

Because each patient and each case of osteoporosis is different, do not engage in a new exercise routine without the direction of your doctor.
Physical therapy can’t heal a broken bone or prevent future fractures entirely, but it has been proven successful at proactively lessening the impacts of osteoporosis and aiding in the successful recovery following breaks. The benefits of improving posture will help increase the lung capacity of the individual which will improve breathing.

Where to Start?

If you’re at risk for osteoporosis or experiencing symptoms, speak with your primary care physician or make an appointment with one of our spine and neck care specialists. For additional information, read up on Spine & Neck Care here.