Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones lose their normal density and become more susceptible to fractures. Osteoporosis occurs when there is a loss of calcium and mineral in the bones that weakens them. Losing bone density is a natural part of the aging process that begins in your 30s and 40s. People don't die of osteoporosis, but the complications can become fatal in some cases. Often people do not exhibit symptoms until they fall or fracture a bone. After such an injury people tend to reduce their activities, and their general health declines rapidly. The most common place of a fracture is the lumbar vertebra and parts of the pelvis and femur, as well as the wrists.
One in two women and one in four men over 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. Woman are more at risk because they start out with less bone mass, and they lose it at a faster rate as they age, because of hormonal changes with menopause. Although men don't have as much risk, they are often under-diagnosed.
Although some bone loss is inevitable with aging, the best antidote to osteoporosis is prevention-to build bone mass before the age of 25. It's like putting money in the bank, so that once the normal thinning begins to happen, there is enough to spare. Bone loss is gradual for women between 30-65, then if tapers off.
The DEXA scan is a test used to measure the thickness of the bone. A score of -1to 2.5 is a diagnosis of osteopenia, which is an early stage of bone thinning, and a score of _2.5 or below is a diagnosis of osteoporosis. The score means that you have thinner bones that 99% of woman age 25-30 in the peak of their bone strength.
What if you have been diagnosed with either osteopenia or osteoporosis? What steps can you take to keep your bones strong, avoid further loss of bone density and prevent injury?
Diet, weight-bearing exercise, and movement are prescribed for osteoporosis. Studies have shown that calcium and Vitamin D will help to have the raw material available for bone growth, but without exercise, bone strength is still lost. The combination of Calcium, Vitamin D and exercise is the best.
Standard medical advice to people with osteoporosis is to do impact exercise like jogging, to build the legs bones and boost cardiovascular health. But, many people are unable to practice high impact exercises because of other health issues, like arthritis or other joint difficulties. They need a less jarring way to exercise that will stimulate their bones and be safe for their joints. Yoga is great way to address both needs!
How we move makes a big difference in helping the bones stay strong. Bones grow when they are exposed to stress, and that can be either compression stress or tensile stress. Compression stress is what occurs with weight bearing, as in the leg bones in standing poses or arms in Downward Dog. Tensile stress occurs when muscles pull on the bones, from any angle. Yoga poses such as Tikonasana or Parsvakonasana hold the body off center so there is always tensile stress on the bones as we hole the poses. This is why yoga is so good for bone stimulus. We practice a variety of different poses and our bones get different types of pressure and stimulus for growth. We want the muscles to pull on the bones from all sides, and particularly the spine, pelvis and femur. Studies have shown that this process goes into effect within 8-10 seconds. We tend to hold yoga poses for longer than 8 seconds, which intensifies its bone-building effect!
The important benefits for practicing yoga for osteoporosis are: Bone strength, muscle strength and balance. People who are strong, flexible and steady will be less likely to fall.
Standing poses will improve balance, promote strength and open the hips. Seated postures are great for the hip joints because they require a wide range of motion and increase mobility. Backbending poses are good, including simple ones like Shalabhasana and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose). If the spine has developed kyphosis, that is, an excessive convex curvature of the upper spine (also known as a Dowager's Hump), deeper backbends can be painful and even cause injury. Poses can be modified for less experienced practitioners by using props, such as wall, chairs and tables.
It is best to avoid sit-ups and fast paced sequences with sudden forward bending movements. There is a caution about forward bending: for people with weaker bones and kyphosis, forward bending can increase the risk of fracture if it's practiced with a rounded spine.
1) Prevention is key
2) Balancing compressive and tensile stress helps keeps the bones strong
3) Modify poses for each individual student. Be extra careful with forward bends. Work on muscle strength and balance with a variety of poses.
4) Empowerment!!! There are things that anyone can do to help
References: Excerpts from Yoga for Osteoporosis (amazon.com) written by my teacher and mentor Ellen Saltonstall and Loren Fishman. I would like to personally thank Ellen for generously sharing her lectures, research and expertise on this subject with me for this blog!
Published On: September 24, 2010