Osteoporosis is a term that gets thrown around a lot. However, what is it and how is it managed? The word osteoporosis literally means “porous bone.” Osteoporosis is the most common chronic metabolic bone disease. Today, there are more than 3 million cases every year in the United States! The disease causes bones to weaken and become brittle. However, physical therapy can be used to help strength surrounded muscles and decrease the chances of injuring the weakened bone.
The cells in our bones are constantly breaking down and being rebuilt. The cells work together to replace old cells and keep the bones strong. However, sometimes the balance between the bone cells is disrupted. Osteopenia is usually the first step when bone health is disrupted. Osteopenia is when the mineral content of bone tissue is reduced, but less severely than in osteoporosis. As osteopenia gets worse and the bone becomes more brittle, it develops into osteoporosis.
A bone with osteoporosis has decreased bone tissue and tends to look more similar to a sponge. The bone with osteoporosis is significantly weaker and has a higher risk of injury.
How Serious is Osteoporosis?
According to National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF)
- Approximately 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and another 44 million have low bone density, placing them at increased risk.
- One in two women and up to one in four men will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis.
- The disease is responsible for an estimated two million broken bones per year, yet nearly 80 percent of older Americans who suffer bone breaks are not tested or treated for osteoporosis.
- People with osteoporosis can break a bone from a minor fall, or in serious cases, even from simple actions like sneezing or bumping into furniture.
- Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because you cannot feel your bones getting weaker. You may not even know you have osteoporosis until after you break a bone.
- Osteoporosis-related bone breaks cost patients, their families and the healthcare system $19 billion annually. By 2025, experts predict that osteoporosis will be responsible for three million fractures resulting in $25.3 billion in costs
How can your physical therapist help?
Although osteoporosis is not curable, it can be managed with physical therapy. Diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle are all keys to preventing and managing osteoporosis. Specifically, working with a physical therapist can help decrease the chances of injury. Some interventions for physical therapy for osteoporosis are:
- Weight-bearing exercises- Weight-bearing exercises are when your joints have to tolerate your body weight. The load of the body weight helps to strengthen the bones and maintain bone tissue. Weight-bearing exercises include walking and standing exercises as well as resistance strengthening.
Flexibility and strengthening exercise- Strength and flexibility training helps make sure the muscles surrounding the bone are functioning properly. It helps give the bone additional strength and support, improve general function and muscle control.
- Postural exercises- Postural exercises are crucial to prevent structural bone changes that often accompany osteoporosis. As bones weaken they can lose their shape and increase pain or chances of falling.
- Balance exercises- Even a small fall can cause osteoporotic bones to break. Balance exercises decrease the risk of falling and serious injury.
- Education- Education about osteoporosis is important to minimize progression.
The best news is that osteoporosis and conditions associated with it, are preventable! The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends five steps to improve bone health and prevent osteoporosis and broken bones:
- Get the calcium and vitamin D you need every day
- Do regular weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises
- Don’t smoke and don’t drink too much alcohol
- Talk to your healthcare provider about your chance of getting osteoporosis and ask when you should have a bone density test
- Take an osteoporosis medication when it’s right for you
Sözen, T., Özışık, L., & Başaran, N. Ç. (2017). An overview and management of osteoporosis. European journal of rheumatology, 4(1), 46–56. https://doi.org/10.5152/eurjrheum.2016.048
Zehnacker CH, Bemis‐Dougherty A. Effect of Weighted Exercises on Bone Mineral Density in Post Menopausal Women A Systematic Review. Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy. 2007; 30(2):79-88
Burke TN, Franca FJR, Ferreira de Meneses SR, Pereira RMR, Marques AP. Postural control in elderly women with osteoporosis: comparison of balance, strengthening and stretching exercises. A randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation; 26 (11): 1021-1031.
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