If you read no farther, know that you can create change in your bone mass, health, and strength at any age! Osteoporosis is a “silent disease”. It is often not diagnosed until you have a fracture. More commonly now, it is recommended that women have a DEXA scan (bone density evaluation) after the age of 50, and men after the age of 70. But what happens after you receive the diagnosis of osteoporosis, or its precursor, osteopenia? It sounds scary, and you might have been told or heard that you must learn to live with it, that only medications can create a positive change, and worst of all, you might be told what you should NOT do! Instead of being told what not to do, and that you should learn to live with it, let’s look at what Osteoporosis is and how you can be strong, active, and healthy, and make positive changes in strength, mobility, and even in posture!
Bone is living tissue that is constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis is progressive bone loss. It occurs when we are losing more bone than we are rebuilding and gaining. Osteopenia is low bone mass and is an early stage of loss. It is considered a warning sign.
When we are younger we actively build bone. This is the time when we want to do what we can to build our peak bone mass to start at the best possible level. We usually have reached peak bone mass between the ages of 25-30, and after the age of 40, we gradually begin to lose bone mass. There are many factors that enter into our peak bone mass including heredity, gender, race, nutrition, and illness or medications. Here’s the good news: we can take steps to build bone up when we are younger through diet, healthy life style and exercise, and even as we begin to age, we can take steps to avoid severe bone loss. After menopause, because of the drop in estrogen, women do have the potential for more rapid loss of bone mass. Building bone up when we are younger so that we begin from a higher mass is a great start, but even in women who have entered menopause, bone loss may be slowed through proper nutrition and regular and varied exercise.
(Of note, while both pregnancy and nursing cause changes in and place demands on a woman’s body, most women do not experience bone health problems during this time in their life, and if they do, it is often easily corrected.)
It is common to be frustrated by a diagnosis of osteoporosis, to feel isolated because you have been told not to do activities (perhaps you have been told that your favorite exercise class is not “good” for you, but have not been told of other options), or to feel limited by well-meaning and protective family who are trying to help you. You might also be concerned about the side effects of medications that your doctor recommends.
A new diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia can be frightening and overwhelming. Sometimes in that situation, you might think “Well, I will just learn to live with it.”
Here are some choices that you can make to “live with it” in the best way possible, to make positive changes, and yes, even to gain height, lessen pain, and regain bone. Most importantly, there are ways to maintain function and the life you wish to live with good health and safety!
- Education: Ask to have DEXA scan and learn what your bone density numbers are. Work with a Physical Therapist knowledgeable in bone health and treatment options to determine risk factors and to devise a program to address your risk factors. Your PT can help you with body mechanics, mobility, and lifting techniques for your activities at home.
- Nutrition: While calcium is not the only important nutrient in your bone health and mass, studies have shown that adequate calcium intake can slow bone loss, especially in conjunction with exercise. Often you are able to get enough through your food, but if you are not, supplements can help. Vitamin D is needed to help our body utilize calcium and to maintain or grow. Speak with your care provider to have your Vitamin D levels assessed. Protein is a building block of all of our tissues, and is necessary for bone and muscle health.
- Balance, strength and mobility. These factors play into posture, the ability to change postures, maintain positions, and respond to changes in your environment and to different surfaces. Moving with confidence helps you stay safe!
- Exercise: Weight bearing, balance and mobility exercises, and strength exercises are very important in helping to build and maintain healthy bones. Designing a program that meets you where you are, helps you to begin to strengthen and gain, and is interesting to you (if you don’t do it, it does no good!) is important. The body loves variety, and when we help you develop a program, it might include weights, using the wall, trek poles, physioyoga, and more. You are not one size fits all, and your program should not be. What do you enjoy doing and how can we use it in helping you maintain and build bone and strength?
- Stress management techniques: Breath techniques help to manage and change the pressure system of your trunk and canister, creating different strength and postural patterns. Breath is also an important part of mindfulness and stress management, and integral to overall optimal health, and assisting with your body metabolism! It IS all connected.
- Bone Health Tips during pregnancy and nursing: Eat a healthy and well rounded diet, including calcium (remember, it does not need to be dairy based if you do not tolerate or eat dairy). Exercise. Walking is a great form of exercise for pregnant women and new moms, as is yoga and resistance exercise (ask us for tips and exercises to address new mom concerns with muscles, fitness, and bone health!)
Positive change is possible in bone! Remember that it is a living tissue. Working with knowledgeable PTs to address your concerns, to assess and evaluate posture, strength, mobility, and balance, and to help you develop a program that works for you and that can change and grow over time will help you to be your best and to live and move with confidence!
Download our Free Osteoporosis and Bone health Tip sheet here:
Want more information? Ask us for a free 20 minute consultation to learn how Embody Physiotherapy can help you with your bone health concerns at any age or stage!