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Do You Have Osteoporosis? Physical Therapy Can Help!

With age comes the inevitably, unwanted aches and pains — and humans have come to terms with this. However, not all aches and pains are a natural part of getting older.

According to OASH, Office on Women's Health, in the United States, one in four women 65 or older are affected by osteoporosis. Though most common in older women, younger women are at risk too. 

Osteoporosis, meaning 'porous bone,' is a disease that weakens the bones, making them brittle — so brittle that a fall or moderate stresses such as coughing, sneezing or bending can cause bone fractures. Those with osteoporosis have less bone mass and strength than those without. Osteoporosis-related fractures most often occur in the wrist, spine, or hip. Though the bone disease can affect both men and women of all races, Caucasian, and Asian women — predominantly older women past menopause — are at the highest risk. 

Most often, the reason for bone loss is due to very low levels of the hormone estrogen. As women enter menopause, less estrogen is being produced, making them more susceptible to bone loss.

Bone consists of connective tissue reinforced with calcium and specialized bone cell. For most, the living tissue is constantly being broken down and replaced. When the creation of new bone is unable to keep up with the loss of old bone, osteoporosis occurs. 

Osteoporosis, in many cases, is unavoidable. And although you cannot reverse its effects, there are ways to manage it. According to Health professionals, physical therapy and other lifestyle choices can help reduce life-altering osteoporosis-related injuries.

Identifying Osteoporosis

It is known as a "silent" disease because typically, there are no symptoms in the early stages of bone loss, making it challenging to identify osteoporosis at first. However, once the bones become increasingly weak, the signs and symptoms may include:

  • Loss of height
  • Change in posture (stooping forward)
  • Shortness of breath (smaller lung capacity due to compressed disks)
  • A bone that breaks much easier than expected
  • Lower back pain (caused by fractured or collapsed vertebra) 

When to Seek Medical Professional Help

Regular check-ins with a doctor, especially after the age of 65, is important regardless of symptoms. Early stages of menopause, having taken corticosteroids for several consecutive months, or if hip fractures run in the family, talking with your doctor is recommended. 

Risk Factors

As previously mentioned, women over the age of 65 post-menopause are at the highest risk. Other possible risk factors include:

  • Bone structure and body weight — petite and thin people are at higher risk because of less bone
  • Family history — osteoporosis can be hereditary
  • Eating habits — a lack of calcium and vitamin D are often related to eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia
  • Alcohol use — having two drinks or more a day increases risks
  • Smoking Cigarettes — limits the bodies ability to absorb calcium
  • Hormone Levels

Osteoporosis is more common in those who have too much or too little of certain hormones. These may include:

  • Sex hormones — decrease in sex hormone levels can weaken the bone. 
  • Thyroid hormones — if your thyroid hormones are overactive, it can cause bone loss 
  • Other glands — overactive adrenal and parathyroid glands are also associated with osteoporosis

Diet

Nutrition plays a major role in preventing osteoporosis. The following nutrients are all proven to maintain bone health and increase bone density:

  • Calcium: Those between the ages of 19-50, a daily intake of 1,000 milligrams of calcium is recommended. For women 51 or older and men 71 and older, 1,200 milligrams are recommended. Non-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, and plant-based milk are all rich in calcium.
  • Vitamin D: To help the body absorb calcium, doctors recommend upping Vitamin D intake. Fortified foods are a great source of vitamin D as well as sun exposure. Oily fish such as salmon, breakfast cereals, and egg yolk contain vitamin D.

Complications 

The most severe complications of osteoporosis are bone fractures, particularly in the spine or hip. Fractures of the hip, usually caused by a fall, can result in a disability — increasing the risk of fatality in the first year following the injury. 

Unlike a hip fracture, a spinal fracture can occur even if one has not fallen. The vertebrae bones in the spine can weaken to the point of collapsing. Spinal fractures can result in chronic back pain, a decrease in height, and a hunched posture. Daily tasks such as walking could become difficult if this occurs.

Benefits of Exercise 

No matter your age or health conditions, it is always a good idea to participate in some form of exercise. For postmenopausal women and others at risk of osteoporosis, the benefits of physical activity include:

  • Increased muscular strength
  • Improved balance
  • Improved posture
  • Decreased risk of bone fracture
  • Relief and/or decrease of pain

Exercising with osteoporosis means finding the safest activities for your overall health that are also enjoyable. Just like any medical condition, there is a no-one-size-fits-all exercise program. Medical professionals create individualized treatment plans to best fit your needs.

What is Physical Therapy?

Physical therapy is an effective non-surgical treatment for osteoporosis that works towards restoring healthy movement, function, and bone strength. If you have sustained an osteoporosis-related bone fracture, seeing a physical therapist is recommended. 

Although physical therapy is a recovery initiative, you do not have to have a bone fracture to start a physical therapy program. Getting a head start on physical therapy is a proactive preventive measure if you are at higher risk for osteoporosis. 

Physical therapists create individual programs based on your specific case of osteoporosis. The physical therapist will consider the following things: 

  • Age
  • Fitness level
  • Personal risk of fracture
  • Weight and overall health

By taking this into account, they can build a rehabilitation program ideal for you. 

What Physical Therapy Includes

In most cases, physical therapy includes bone-strengthening exercises, such as weight-bearing or resistance training. 

To help prevent future fractures, physical therapists also help to improve balance — decreasing the risk of falling. Another preventative measure is improving posture. Having a proper posture will lift unnecessary stress off the spine, reducing the risk of spinal fractures. 

The most favourable exercises physical therapists recommend include: 

  • Walking 
  • Light jogging
  • Yoga 
  • Moderate weightlifting 
  • Swimming

How is Osteoporosis Diagnosed?

Your doctor will conduct a bone density test to see how strong or weak your bones are. The most common test is known as a central-dual energy x-ray absorptiometry. This test uses a low amount of radiation.

If you are 65 or older, your doctor may suggest a bone density test to check for early-stages of osteoporosis.

At-Home Physical Therapy

Making changes both at home and in the workplace is imperative to reducing osteoporosis-related injuries. Your physical therapist will help you adjust your work and living to limit risk. Physical therapists will tell you that most exercises can be done from home or close to. Bone strengthening is the most important for increasing bone density.

Making at-home exercise a habit is important. Aim for at least three times per week, for 30 to 45 minutes. 

Movements to Avoid

If you have osteoporosis, avoid the following movements to prevent injury:

High-impact exercises - jumping, running, or jogging can lead to weakened or fractured bones. Avoid rapid movements and choose activities with slow, controlled transitions

Bending and Twisting - bending over to touch your toes, or doing sit-ups, can increase the risk of compression fractures in the spine. Sports that require abrupt twisting, such as golf, bowling, and tennis, are not recommended

Medical Treatment

It is not uncommon for doctors to also prescribe medications to treat osteoporosis. 

Certain medication formulas slow down bone loss, targeting the breakdown of bones — these are known as bisphosphates

Tips For Living with Osteoporosis

Preventing fractures is one of the most important parts of living with osteoporosis. Fractures can cause other medical problems and may make everyday tasks difficult.

The best way to prevent fractures is avoiding falls. Here are tips to prevent falling, both indoors and outdoors:

  • Use a cane for stability
  • Wear non-slip shoes that provide support.
  • Stop at curbs and stairs to check their height before stepping up/down
  • Walk on grass when sidewalks are slippery

At AmeriCare Physical Therapy, we can help you manage that pain with our extensive services. Book an appointment with us today.

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