Pilates for Osteoporosis
As people age, they are more prone to being affected by osteoporosis, a disease that causes the bones to become weak and brittle. While it is often considered a woman’s disease, it afflicts men as well. It is estimated that 44 million American men and women currently have either osteoporosis or osteopenia, a thinning of the bone mass that is a precursor to the disease. Research has proven that exercise is effective in preventing and reversing the effects of osteoporosis. Pilates is a form of strengthening exercises that can help to prevent the disease and, when used with modifications and precautions, may reverse some of the effects of osteoporosis.
Exercise and Osteoporosis
One way that has been proven to help keep bones healthy is to exercise regularly. It is important for you to have exercised throughout your life, but research has shown that you can increase bone density and strength at any age.
Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jumping, hopping, skipping rope, running, and jogging are most effective in building bone density in the legs, lower spine, and hips. Strength-training exercises make the muscles and bones in the arms and upper spine stronger. Strength training also makes the muscles better able to support the skeletal system and keep you from slouching. It keeps the body in alignment and helps in the management of pain caused by a stooped spine. It also helps you to maintain good posture to avoid putting unnecessary stress on bones that have been weakened by osteoporosis. This type of exercise also aids you in maintaining balance to avoid falls that can become more common as you age.
Practicing Pilates to Prevent Osteoporosis
Physical exercise is an important step in the prevention of osteoporosis. Even better are those exercises that improve muscle strength and balance, as maintaining muscle protects the bones and improving balance prevents falls. Pilates does both of these things, and so it is a good option for an aging person at risk for developing osteoporosis. Pilates also promotes muscle symmetry, helping to balance out the body. The development of a strong core and pelvis reinforces good posture and can decrease the odds of falling.
A healthy person should be able to perform most or all of the Pilates exercises. If you have a physical condition, be sure to notify your instructor. Many exercises can be modified to be safer for a person with a physical condition such as back pain or stiffness in the knees. Regular Pilates exercises can help to prevent osteoporosis and a number of other physical injuries.
Practicing Pilates with Osteoporosis
A person with osteoporosis can also practice Pilates; however, that person should take extreme caution when doing so and modify some of the exercises. While the Pilates method strengthens core muscles and puts the body into alignment, many of the exercises might cause damage to fragile bones. People with osteoporosis should avoid exercises that call for rolling on the spine or rotating the spine and extension of the neck. Pressure should also not be placed on fragile wrists.
If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis and want to attempt Pilates strength-training exercises, you should advise your instructor about your condition or join a class designed especially for people with that condition. You should attempt only modified versions of the exercises.
Safe Pilates Mat Exercises (Modified Versions)
- Hundreds (with head down)
- Single Leg Circles
- Single Leg Stretch (with head down)
- Double Leg Stretch (with head down)
- Swan-Dive (one only)
- Shoulder Bridge (not too high)
- Side Kick
Unsafe Pilates Mat Exercises (Do Not Attempt)
- Spine Stretch
- Neck Pull
- Spine Twist
- Control Balance
What is Pilates?
Pilates is a method of strength-training exercise developed in the early 1920s by Joseph Pilates to help rehabilitate wounded prisoners of World War I. It is now a popular form of exercise used by a wide range of people, including dancers, senior citizens, athletes, and patients in physical rehabilitation programs.
Pilates focuses on building a strong “core.” The core muscles targeted through the exercise movements are the deep muscles of the back and abdomen. By building strength through these muscles, a balanced control of the body is developed. When the core muscles are developed sufficiently, they work in cooperation with the other superficial muscles of the body to support the spine.
Pilates uses the resistance of gravity and body weight to strengthen the core. The exercises are usually done on a mat on the floor, but can also be done on complex equipment developed by Joseph Pilates. The method focuses on quality of movement rather than quantity of repetitions.
The theory of Pilates exercises focuses on six principles to increase coordination and balance and strengthen the muscles that support the skeleton.
These six principles are:
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis literally means “porous bones.” Although osteoporosis and osteopenia, an early form of osteoporosis, can affect people of any age, it is most prevalent in people aged 50 and older. Osteoporosis is not necessarily a natural progression of growing older. It is a systemic skeletal disease that causes bones to slowly lose their density and mass—their supporting structure. This often happens with no symptoms until significant deterioration has taken place. As osteoporosis progresses, the bones become weak and are vulnerable to breaking. When the bones become too fragile they can break under the stress of performing ordinary tasks such as lifting a light object, coughing, bending over, losing balance, or simply standing.
Fractures are the most common complications of osteoporosis. The disease most severely attacks the hips and spine, causing them to become too weak to bear weight, but it can also cause damage to all bones in the body, including the jawbone and wrist. The loss of bone density makes people prone to stress fractures and compression fractures that can cause loss of mobility, stooped posture, disability, and even death (from complications of surgery to repair the breakage).
Symptoms of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis and osteopenia often have no outward symptoms until damage has already been done to the bones. The disease can be diagnosed by having a bone scan performed by a physician.
Symptoms of Osteoporosis include:
- Back pain
- Loss of height over time
- Stooped posture
- Fracture of the hip, wrist, vertebrae, jaw, or other bones
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Daniels, Dianne. Exercises for Osteoporosis. New York: Hatherleigh Press, 2000.
Lineback, Karena Thek. OsteoPilates: Increase Bone Density, Reduce Fracture Risk, Look and Feel Great! Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2003.
Selby, Anna. Banish Back Pain the Pilates Way. London: Thorsons, 2003.
Williams, Xandria. Fighting Osteoporosis: A Diet and Exercise Plan for Building Stronger Bones Naturally. Minnetonka, Minnesota: Creative Publishing International, 2002.