Yoga for Osteoporosis: What You Need to Know
As a long time yoga practitioner, I simply assumed my bones were pretty strong despite being a petite, white female with a family history of osteoporosis. I was disappointed, then, when my first DEXA scan revealed the early stages of bone loss, or osteopenia. Since then I’ve worked to educate myself about osteoporosis and how best to prevent it.
What is Osteoporosis?
The word osteoporosis literally means “brittle or porous bone.” It is a skeletal disorder characterized by compromised bone strength, predisposing an individual to an increased risk of fracture.
Osteoporosis isn’t like most diseases. There are no tell-tale symptoms that alert you to its presence early on in its progression. Even if your bones are becoming weaker, you likely won’t feel it. That’s why osteoporosis is frequently referred to as “the silent disease.”
For most people, the first indication that they have osteoporosis is a fracture. These fractures may cause a loss of height, and you may notice your spine starting to hunch forward. Neck or low back pain caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra can be another symptom as well as a fracture elsewhere in the body that occurs with no memory of trauma to the area. Dental x-rays that show the loss of bone in the jaw can also be a sign of osteoporosis. The problem is, when fractures occur, osteoporosis is already in an advanced stage.
As you may already know, thin, white or Asian females are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis as are those with a family history of bone fractures. Being post-menopausal or low estrogen levels also increase risk. While these are factors we have little control over, there are some we can influence:
- being sedentary;
- high consumption of carbonated beverages, such as soda;
- eating disorders, especially anorexia;
- diet, particularly low calcium intake;
- taking corticosteroids such as prednisone or glucocorticoids (commonly used to treat asthma and arthritis);
- alcohol consumption.
Nutrients for Bone Building
We naturally think of calcium when think of bone building foods. And while calcium is important for bone health, we also need vitamin A, B12, D, K, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and zinc.
The best sources of calcium come from foods, such as dairy and dark leafy greens. Taking supplements can lead to having too much calcium in the blood. Excess calcium is often responsible for constipation and kidney stones as well as other conditions. It’s best to consult your doctor with regard to the best calcium supplements and the quantity you should be taking.
Interestingly, studies show that American women, who drink more milk, have a higher incident of osteoporosis than women in countries where dairy consumption is low, such as China and Japan. It’s also true that a diet high in protein robs body of calcium. That is why many experts recommend plant based sources, such as almonds and soy-based foods like tofu. A diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains has the added benefit of increasing fiber as well as other nutrients in our diet which are building blocks for our bones.
Weight-bearing exercises, such as hiking, dancing and weight lifting, force your bones and muscles to work against gravity. In the same way, yoga can be beneficial for people with osteoporosis.
Yoga can help to manage osteoporosis in several ways. First, it encourages muscle and bone strength. A small 2009 study found that practicing yoga can actually increase bone density when done consistently and with good form. Next, yoga has a positive effect on your balance, posture and flexibility, all of which help to prevent falls and therefore fractures as well. And finally, yoga is a gentle, safe form or exercise at any age. Staying active is key for overall health, and in the case of osteoporosis, it can help to alleviate pain and reduce your risk of bone fractures.
Poses and Movements to Avoid
If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia, you’ll want to take a few precautions when practicing yoga. Look for a qualified instructor who is knowledgable about osteoporosis. Then follow these guidelines:
- Avoid strenuous forward folds or poses that round the spine. This can cause compression in the front of the spine, a common place for an osteoporotic fracture. And say ‘no thank you’ to hands-on assists. Most good teachers will ask before they do, but it’s a good idea to specifically request “hands off.”
- Avoid deep twists and deep hip bends, especially combined with added pressure from your own body weight. Compression combined with twists can put fragile bones at greater risk for a fracture.
- Seek out gentle, beginner or chair yoga classes, especially if you are new to yoga. In standing poses, use a wall or chair for support (especially when balancing) and be mindful when you move from pose to pose. This can help to prevent unintended twisting or a fall.
- Keep this mantra in mind: “no pain, no pain.” If anything causes pain or does not feel right, back off or stop. You should never have to work through pain to force yourself into a pose.
For more safety guidelines and information about osteoporosis, I suggest visiting https://www.nof.org.
Since that first DEXA scan, I’ve stepped up my yoga routine to include more bone-building poses. To get you started on your own journey towards stronger, healthy bones, I invite you to read, “4 Poses for Building Bone Strength.” Be well!