Osteoporosis or osteopenia is a common disease which affects over one million Australians. It is often known as a “silent disease” with no obvious symptoms. Osteoporosis or osteopenia occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, faster than the body can replace it. As a result, these bones become structurally weak and more brittle resulting in a higher risk of fracture and injury. The most common sites around the body that are affected are the hip, pelvis, spine and the wrist. Physiotherapists are able to assist with maintaining and improving your bone density.
There are a number of risk factors which increase the likelihood of poor bone density. These include early menopause or a family history of osteoporosis. Fortunately there are other risk factors which can be influenced more readily including:
- Inadequate physical activity.
- Low calcium levels.
- Low vitamin D levels.
- Long term medication use (eg. corticosteroids have been shown to affect bone density).
- Excessive caffeine (more than three cups of tea or coffee).
- Excessive alcohol.
Appropriate exercise is a crucial part of management and prevention of osteoporosis. Exercise for maintaining and improving bone density should be regular and varied. Strengthening and weight bearing exercises are great to include in an exercise program. Weight-bearing exercises cause re-modelling of the bone, improving bone mineral density, and strengthening bone. Some ideas to incorporate into your exercise program include brisk walking/jogging, balance exercises, Pilates, resistance training or dancing. These exercises focus on weight-bearing, maintaining muscle mass and strength. Exercises for bone density should be performed at least 3 times per week. Over time, the degree of exercise should increase (weight used, intensity of exercise, duration of exercise are common changes to a program) to challenge bones and muscles.
Additionally, if you have been diagnosed with decreased bone density, consider adding specific balance exercises to your program. Research suggests that regular balance exercises can improve both standing and dynamic balance as well as improving reaction times. With hip and pelvic fractures common from falls, improving your balance can dramatically decrease the likelihood of fractures.
Your physiotherapist may liaise with your GP to discuss whether investigations are required to examine your bone density. Diagnosis of osteoporosis can be made via a dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry test (DEXA) scan. DEXA scans are non-invasive involving a machine passing over your hip or spine. Regular scans for those over 50 or at high risk of osteoporosis should be encouraged to monitor bone density levels. Early detection can greatly assist in the management and preserving bone density levels.
Importantly, if you are concerned about your bone density or the risk of osteoporosis, contact our team at Malvern East Physiotherapy. Our expert team are well equipped to tailor an appropriate weight-bearing exercise program or recommend safe exercises to incorporate into your existing program.