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Physical Therapy: A Key Component In Osteoporosis Treatment

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Osteoporosis is a disease that causes your bones to thin and become weak – conditions that make you more prone to bone fractures. If your health care provider diagnoses you with osteoporosis, he or she may recommend physical therapy as part of your treatment plan. A physical therapist can help you in several ways, including treating related back pain and educating you about factors that can contribute to osteoporosis or make it worse.

Measuring Your Risk

A physical therapist not only works with you to improve your bone health and help you avoid bone fractures, but he or she also may discuss with you physical and lifestyle risk factors for the disease. Since you may have no obvious symptoms of the disease until you break a bone, risk factors for osteoporosis of which you should be aware include:

  • Gender. Because women generally have smaller, thinner bones than men do, they are at higher risk for the disease.

  • Age. Women who are postmenopausal naturally are at a higher risk for osteoporosis as they age due to a decrease in estrogen – a hormone the body needs for healthy bones.

  • Underlying medical condition. Thyroid disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and kidney or liver disease are medical conditions that can increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.

  • Certain medications. Corticosteroids, synthetic thyroid hormones, anticonvulsant drugs, and medications used to treat some cancers can thin bones as a side effect.

  • Inadequate calcium in the diet. Studies show a link between low calcium consumption and decreased bone mass, which increases the chances of bone fractures. Being underweight also can make your bones more fragile.

  • Low vitamin D levels. Since your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium for strong bones, vitamin D deficiency causes the body to take calcium that is stored in your bones. This leads to a loss of bone density, which weakens your bones.

  • Smoking. Not only does smoking lower the body's estrogen levels, but it also interferes with how the body utilizes vitamin D – a nutrient that helps your body absorb calcium.

  • Heavy alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol in excess over the long term can lead to weak bones that are more prone to fracture. Alcohol interferes with bone formation and may interfere with the regulation of the hormones involved in calcium metabolism. It also increases your risk of falling.

Treating Your Osteoporosis Symptoms

Whether you are recovering from a bone fracture related to osteoporosis, need relief from osteoporosis pain, or are at high risk for developing the disease, once a physical therapist performs an initial evaluation, he or she will implement a plan of care. Your treatment program may include:

  1. Instruction on how to maintain proper posture. Good posture takes stress off the spine, reducing the risk of spinal fractures. A physical therapist can help you improve flexibility in your back and strengthen weak muscles in your shoulders, trunk, back, hips, and lower legs that can lead to poor posture.

  2. Exercise to improve your balance. Better balance helps to reduce your risk of falling and getting a bone fracture. Your therapist may show you how to do exercises to strengthen your hips and leg muscles, instruct you on single leg balance exercises, or have you catch a weighted ball to improve your balance.

  3. Exercise to build bone and decrease bone loss. Depending on your fitness level and overall health, your physical therapy program may include both weight-bearing exercise and resistance training as bone-strengthening exercises.

Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, jogging, dancing, or any other activity where your feet and legs support the weight of your body, strengthens bone by forcing bones and muscles to work against gravity.

Resistance exercises, including low-impact water aerobics, weight lifting, or the use of exercise bands, strengthen muscles and build bone as you work against another weight or force.

For more information, contact South Shore Wellness Center or a similar location.