Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones become brittle and are at an increased risk for fracture. Bones are living tissue, and osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone does not keep up with the removal of old bone. Osteoporosis fractures most commonly occur in the spine, hip, or wrist.
There are two types of bone tissue in the body: cortical bone is the hard outer shell of a bone and trabecular bone is the honeycomb-like bone in the center of long bones and in the middle of the vertebrae. Both types of bone are alive and in a continuous state of being broken down and regenerated by the body, and this cycle of bone build up and break down is what keeps bones strong.
In osteoporosis, the balance between bone build up and breakdown is lost and the body starts to break down bone faster than it can regenerate it. The greater bone mass a person builds up as they are growing up, the less likely they are to suffer from osteoporosis. This is why proper nutritional intake of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and other minerals, as well as vitamin D, are important during childhood and adolescence.
Typically, there are no symptoms that occur in the early stages of bone loss. A person may not be aware they suffer from osteoporosis until a fracture occurs, there is a loss of height over time, or posture becomes more stooped.
The diagnosis of osteoporosis can be obtained by a simple bone mineral density test. Your doctor may recommend you have this test done if you are over the age of 65 or you are at an increased fracture risk. In the test, your bone density is measured by a machine that uses low levels of X-rays to determine the proportion of mineral contained in your bones. During this painless test, you lie on a padded table as a scanner passes over your body. In most cases, only a few bones are checked — usually in the hip, wrist and spine.
Physical therapy can help treat this disease in many different ways. Injury prevention is a part of rehabilitation, and ideally people who suffer from osteoporosis should think about treatment before they experience an injury. If you have already experienced an osteoporosis-related fracture or injury, physical therapy can help you get back to an active lifestyle and give insight on how to prevent problems in the future.
Your physical therapist will develop a specific program based on your individual needs to help improve your overall bone health, keep your bones healthy, and help you avoid fractures.
Your physical therapist may teach you:
- Specific exercises to build bone mineral density or decrease the amount of bone loss
- Proper posture
- How to improve your balance so as to reduce your risk of falling
- How to adjust your environment to protect your bone health
Healthy bone is built and maintained through a healthy lifestyle. Your physical therapist will teach specific exercises to meet your particular needs.
The exercise component for bone building or slowing bone loss is very specific and similar for all ages. Bone grows when it is sufficiently and properly stressed, just as muscle grows when challenged by more than usual weight. Two types of exercise are optimal for bone health, weight-bearing and resistance. It is best for a physical therapist to provide your individual bone-building exercise treatment to ensure that you are neither over- or under-exercising.