Exercise for Osteoporosis
Pilates is one of the most suitable forms of exercise to support your body after a diagnosis of Osteoporosis. However even when practising Pilates, we need to consider this condition and make some changes to our usual Pilates routines in order to give our bones what they need, rather than engage in activities that may harm us.
Osteoporosis is wide spread particularly in women over the age of 60. When we have Osteoporosis our bones become more brittle and prone to fractures. So once we have been diagnosed it only makes sense that we become a little nervous about falling over on the ice in the winter. However it is not only impact that can cause a fracture. Our postural habits can over time cause micro-fractures that we don’t even feel when they happen. As the front of our vertebrae begin to collapse over time, we become gradually aware that our spine is much more hunched than it once was, causing pain and restricted breathing. This is a long term and sneaky process that is tragically irreversible.
Luckily Pilates can be a real ally to your body and help you keep your bones as strong as possible. Furthermore Pilates can help you maintain a more elongated posture that reduces the stress on the vertebral bodies, hence keeps you tall, more comfortable and able to breath well.
But before we get to how Pilates can help us, lets make sure we know about the one thing we should avoid when attending classes:
Excessive forward flexing. twisting and side-bending of the spine, particularly under load.
Here is the risk that we are facing when joining an average Pilates class without understanding that what we need is more specific. While Pilates offers an awful lot to the osteoporosis body it also tends to classically involve a lot of spinal flexon exercises, particularly the kind where we lie on our backs and lift our legs, head and shoulders to strengthen the abdominals. This is one of the worst things we can do to an osteoporotic spine. There are other ways to strengthen our abdominals if we feel we need to. Compressive forward bending of the spine, as well as excessive twisting and side bending, as is also very popular in Yoga, can very much add to the wearing down of the brittle vertebra and cause an increase in micro fractures and in some cases even significant fractures of the spine or ribs.
While we need to maintain a level of mobility and spinal movement functionality we do not want to engage in repetitive compressive spinal exercises. The risks simply outweigh the gain. In order to maintain optimum bone health when bending down to tie our shoelaces we need to learn how to move our spine with the least amount of compression. This however is something that really needs to be learned in a one to one Pilates setting. In the mean time it makes most sense to simply avoid the repetitive bending exercises in favour of the kind of exercises that actually do us real good.
- Standing Balance and Stability work to prevent falls and promote bone density in the lower body.
Not all group Pilates classes offer a lot of standing work. However when they do they tend to be exactly focused on the above, perfect for someone with Osteoporosis.
If you are able to work with Pilates apparatus like the reformer or trapeze table you will have even more opportunity to challenge your standing balance and stimulate bone density in your lower body.
Yoga traditionally offers more standing activities in group classes, however in Yoga you always have to be careful to not get too ambitions with the depth and ranges of the positions and movements as they easily can cause compression in an attempt to increase ranges of motion.
Simple single leg balances, lunges and squats, including arm choreographies are ideal to make you feel more confident on your feet and prevent falls.
- Spinal Extension exercises to maintain an elongated posture and to reduce stress on the frontal vertebral bodies.
While you want to minimise excessive bending of the spine into most positions, one direction or spinal movement, done carefully and with quality, is vital to maintain that upright shape of your spine and avoid spinal collapse. Small back bends essentially are your new friend. Most commonly these exercises involve lying on your front and pushing the chest and head up with your arms. This is a challenging movement for the best of us, so be gentle and keep the movement small. It would be best to consult a Pilates teacher who can really teach you how to move your spine into a healthy and even extension without causing compression in the lower back or neck.
Again if you are able to work one to one with a Pilates teacher with access to the apparatus there will be plenty of other ways for you to explore, practice and enjoy spinal extension.
Once again Yoga also offers plenty of spinal extension exercises like the cobra, shoulder bridge and back bends of all kinds, however once again Yoga tends to take the movement a lot further than may be beneficial for your. If you keep the movements small and comfortable it may still be a great way for you to maintain that upright posture.
- Upper body weight bearing exercises to promote bone density in the upper body.
Again many of us do not find it easy to weigh-bare on our hands but this can be learned to be done well and with more ease. Exercises on our hands and knees or even in push up positions are a great way to stimulate bone density in our upper body, which is so important as we do not get this from walking and our more day to day kind of activities. By the way, exercises in these positions often are a great way to improve core stability, abdominal and back strength. So should you feel that you are missing out by not engaging with so much of the spinal flexion exercises, this is your opportunity to catch up on that.
Having Osteoporosis ultimately does not have to mean that your movement ability is limited. If you are well informed about what to focus on and what to minimise you can confidently continue to engage in the activities you love and live life the way you love it.