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Physical Therapy and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops when bone mineral density and bone mass decreases, or when the quality or structure of bone changes. This can lead to a decrease in bone strength that can increase the risk of broken bones and fractures.

Physical therapy, also known as physiotherapy, can help to both prevent and manage osteoporosis. A physical therapist creates a custom exercise program to strengthen your bones and muscles over weeks and months. This helps improve your balance and decrease your chance of falling.

Physical therapy can also help rehabilitate an injury due to osteoporosis, and improve your quality of life if you’re experiencing chronic pain.

Physical therapy often involves performing stretches or exercises, usually done in repetition or sets. But physical therapists also use a variety of other techniques to improve movement.

These include:

  • suggestions for lifestyle changes

  • massage

  • heat or cold therapy

  • ultrasound

  • electrical stimulation

During your first appointment, your physical therapist will assess your symptoms and pain levels by asking you questions and performing physical tests. The type of exercises assigned, and the level of their difficulty or repetition, will depend on your specific injury and overall health. Often, exercises will change or increase in difficulty as you get stronger. They may have you perform these exercises in their clinic, but it’s also common for physical therapists to assign you exercises to do daily on your own.

Regular exercise is an important part of keeping your bones strong and healthy. A 2019 review suggests people with a moderate to high risk of fracture or with functional limitations may benefit from working with a physical therapist. They can create a custom program to lower the chances of future injury.

For preventing osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures, the authors of a 2017 study recommend a long-term exercise program designed to improve postural stability, mobility, and movement efficiency. This goes alongside increasing vitamin D and calcium intakes.

Physical therapy can also help people with osteoporosis recover from fractures. Treatments such as ultrasound and electric stimulation may help manage chronic pain. Pain medications and drugs specifically used to treat osteoporosis can also be useful in tandem with physical therapy.

For osteoporosis, the APTA says your physical therapist will likely recommend a combination of resistance and weight-bearing exercises. This regimen will be highly individualized.

Your treatment plan may include:

  • weightlifting, with proper alignment

  • resistance band exercises

  • resistance exercises such as pushups, squats, or yoga poses

  • weight-bearing exercises such as walking, dancing, or stair climbing

  • exercises to improve your posture

  • balance exercises

  • exercises to improve alignment during everyday activities

A 2018 research review identified the two most effective types of exercise for increasing bone density in people with osteoporosis. These were weight-bearing aerobic exercises, such as stair climbing or walking, and resistance training exercises, such as lifting weights.

Resistance training aims to improve muscle mass and bone density. This type of exercise has also been associated with improving quality of sleep and reducing mortality, among other health benefits.

Osteoporosis is a common bone disease, especially among postmenopausal and older women. However, anyone can get osteoporosis. It causes decreased bone density and mass, and can lead to fractures. Physical therapy, in combination with other treatments, may help strengthen your bones and muscles. It can help you improve your balance to lower your risk of falling.

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