Osteoporosis Exercises for Spine Strength and Posture
Physical Therapy for Osteoporosis Treatment
Find out how working with a physical therapist in a rehabilitation setting can help you to heal after a fracture and serve as an injury prevention measure for those with osteoporosis.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Both the diagnosis of osteoporosis and a bone fracture can have a paralyzing effect: You might find that you are scared to engage in activities that could potentially cause a new fracture or injury. Fortunately, following a rehabilitation treatment plan outlined and supervised by a physical therapist can not only getting you back on your feet, but also help you feel confident about doing so.
Osteoporosis Treatment: Advantages of Physical Therapy
“If a person is afraid of falling or they are afraid of having another fracture, that’s a specific time when they need to get to a physical therapist (PT) because a PT can help divide the world into very safe activity and activity that is more likely to cause a fracture,” says Kathy M. Shipp, PT, MHS, PhD, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. “That’s one of the things that physical therapists can provide — helping people to be maximally active in a safe way. And that is what will prevent future fractures.”
Shipp, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Physical Therapy Association and the National Osteoporosis Foundation, says that while many patients receive most of their osteoporosis management information from their family doctor, not all doctors are aware of the role that physical therapists can play in rehabilitation and management of osteoporosis symptoms. Patients may have to ask directly about some of the services they need as part of their rehabilitation.
Osteoporosis Treatment: PT Rehab After a Fracture
For many people, their first experience with osteoporosis comes by way of a fracture to the spine, hip, wrist, or ankle from an impact that would not have caused injury in earlier years. Even rolling over in bed can cause vertebral (spinal) fractures for some people, says Shipp.
At this point, rehabilitation focuses on pain management immediately after the fracture, and then on returning to an active lifestyle as the fracture heals.
“For both wrist and hip fractures there is a lot of evidence that people don’t return to full function unless they go to PT after the subacute phase (about six weeks after injury),” says Shipp, who reports that studies show six months of progressive resistance exercises done three times a week and supervised by a physical therapist provide the best outcomes for patients with hip fractures.
Not all health insurance programs cover this amount of physical therapy, so Shipp suggests meeting with a PT once a week and then doing recommended exercises in a fitness facility as an alternative. However, supervision by a trained physical therapist helps to prevent additional fractures, she says, so be especially cautious when exercising on your own.
A physical therapist can also help you to find the best fitting assistive device — such as a cane or walker — to use during your healing period. “After a fracture, you might not need to use one for a long time, but a cane or walker can keep up your fitness during recovery and also reduce pain,” says Shipp.
Osteoporosis Treatment: Emotional Rehab
Another element of rehabilitation is managing the emotional impact of fractures and breaks. Therapists, social workers, and osteoporosis support groups can help you cope with the fear and grief that accompany osteoporosis-related life changes and loss of independence, says Lee Bursley, LCSW, Rhode Island Osteoporosis Coalition support group leader and clinical medical social worker.
Osteoporosis Treatment: Physical Therapy Rehab Before a Fracture
Injury prevention is a part of rehabilitation, and ideally people with osteoporosis should work with a physical therapistbeforethey experience an injury, says Shipp. If your doctor has diagnosed you with osteoporosis, you should start making the changes that will prevent an injury now. Such changes include:
- Learning how to lift items without using your back
- Learning how to move without twisting your spine
- Implementing fall prevention strategies at home, work, and on the go
- Identifying exercises that can keep you safely active
- Asking for help with tasks that require lifting heavy items or climbing
Preventing fractures before they happen is obviously best. But if you do suffer a fracture, healing properly and getting advice on how to prevent another one are going to be even more important, and that’s where a physical therapist can be your best ally.
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