Pilates for Osteoporosis – by Anneli McCullagh (Body Control Pilates teacher)
Why be concerned about osteoporosis?
As people age they are more at risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease which causes the bones to become weak and brittle. In the UK it is believed to affect around three million people with 1 in 2 women, and 1 in 5 men suffering an osteoporosis related fracture after the age of 50. Although losing bone is a normal part of the aging process, lifestyle choices like regular exercise and a healthy diet are important to maintain bone strength.
Osteoporosis often develops without any warning signs but if it is in the spine, for example, the front part of the vertebra can be crushed by leaning forwards (spinal flexion), but the back part of the vertebra remains intact – creating a “dowager’s hump”. Other common places for osteoporosis related fractures are hips, ribs and wrists.
There are a whole range of risk factors: if a parent had osteoporosis; if you have come through the menopause; had eating disorders; heavy drinking and smoking; low testosterone (men); prolonged use of steroids; high protein diets; chemotherapy – to list just some of them.
To find out whether you have Osteoporosis (or Osteopenia, the precursor), you have a Bone Mineral Density test, usually one called DXA. DXA uses low levels of radiation to measure bone mass in hip, lumbar spine, wrist, shin or heel.
From your DXA test, you will get a T-score, which compares your bone density with an optimal score. A T-score of -1 to -2.5 correlates to Osteopenia, and -2.5 or more below correlates to Osteoporosis.
Exercise and Osteoporosis
What difference does this make to the exercise that you do? Firstly, being sedentary is a risk factor, so regular exercise is important as it can increase your bone density. Cardiovascular, weight-bearing (ie own body weight) exercise and weight training are all good. Pilates and Yoga can also help. By choosing carefully amongst the exercises, you can gain bone density the same way as with weight training. The muscle is attached to bone by tendons, and as the muscle contracts, they tug at the bones which stimulates bone to grow – the stronger your muscles, the stronger the stimulation. In addition they’ll be able to support your skeletal system better, improving posture and helping to manage pain caused by a stooped spine. Pilates and Yoga also work by improving balance, helping to prevent falls and therefore possible broken bones in the future.
However in order to practise safely a person with osteoporosis should modify what they do, omitting exercises which could put more strain on already damaged bones. Make sure the class you go to works at a gentle pace such as Studio Yoga’s Back from Injury course. Be careful to avoid the following movements:
But exercise is vital – the most important thing you can do to prevent osteopososis, according to the NHS Choices website. Speak to your Pilates/Yoga teacher for guidance and find out what kind of class is appropriate for you. (Your Pilates teacher will need to have done a special Osteoporosis course, followed by course work and an exam in order to be covered by their insurance. Check they have this.)