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The impact Osteoporosis and Osteopenia has on your bones, and what you can do about it

Bones are vital, often underappreciated parts of our anatomy. Hidden beneath skin and muscle, bones are responsible for giving us our shape, facilitating our movements, supporting the weight of our bodies and shielding some of our precious organs like the ribs for the heart or the skull for the brain. 

Our bones also serve as plentiful storage for calcium and ions and our bone marrow yields our blood cells (haematopoiesis). It holds stem cells for our immune system and impacts glucose metabolism and energy levels. 

What does aging do to my bones?

To perform all these functions, our bone responds by increasing in mass (or bone mineral density) as we mature, peaking in our late twenties. As we continue past the age of forty, our bone thickness begins to plateau and if left unchecked, will even begin to decrease. The loss in bone is due to the inside part of our bones (trabecular bone), known as ‘spongy bone’ becoming more porous. 

If you think of trabecular bone like swiss cheese, as the holes and the gaps become larger, there is more empty space and the overall weight and surface area of the bone decreases, lessening its ability to perform all its jobs.  For many people, this is usually a lot later down the road, but genetics, exercise levels, nutrition, menopause and environment can certainly hurry this along.

How does Osteoporosis and Osteopenia affect my bones?

If you reach a point of having clinically low bone mass (osteopenia) or get diagnosed with osteoporosis you’re likely to run into a host of side effects. This can be losing height, becoming significantly more susceptible to bone breaks and fractures, shortness of breath, or having lower back pain (to name a few). For these reasons, it is important to take care of our skeletal health as we age. Whilst some risk factors like age, ethnicity, celiac disease or gender are not modifiable, lifestyle changes can be immensely powerful in management and prevention of bone loss. 

Lower back pain due to Osteoporosis

Lower back pain is a common side effect of osteoporosis. This can occur due to the development of compressed vertebrae or damaged intervertebral discs. Other possible causes include muscle weakness and poor posture, which can exacerbate lower back pain and reduce the ability to enjoy ordinary life. 

Thankfully, there are several treatments available for managing lower back pain due to osteoporosis. This can include over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as well as physical therapy and exercise programs to help strengthen muscles and improve bone resilience. 

How would exercise physiology help my bones?

Much like our muscles, heart and brains, our bones are extremely receptive to training. Bones will grow bigger and stronger as they remodel themselves in response to how we use them. Just as bones can heal themselves after a break, bones can rebuild as we apply feedback. 

Evidence shows that by applying appropriate amounts of positive stress or impact (like jumping or jogging) through our skeleton, it can encourage vast and noticeable changes in the architecture of osteoporotic bone.  Resistance (weight based) training, has time and time again shown to boost bone function and structure in post-menopausal women. Exercise even helped people grow their bone mass when they were losing weight. Whilst resistance training works the best, aerobic (cardio), mind and body (like yoga or balance exercises) and even low level vibration training showed clinically significant improvements.

What should I do to improve bone health?

Conditions like Osteoporosis benefit hugely from movement and exercise targeted at encouraging bone remodelling. However, they also put you at a heightened risk of breaks, injuries and complications. So making sure you get help from a professional, who understands your condition and how to make exercise safe, enjoyable and effective is paramount. Exercise physiologists are specialists, trained and passionate about using exercise as medicine and can help you get started, no matter where you are on your journey. 

Rehabilitation for Osteoporosis and Osteopenia

To meet our exercise physiologist and uncover the best exercise plan tailored for you and your condition, contact us to book an appointment and hear about the different variety of appointments, classes and consultations available to you. 

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