A Therapist's Tips to Prevent and Manage Osteoporosis

By: Nicholas Steller, PT, DPT

May 15, 2024

doctor sitting with senior woman patient showing her spine scan image

Want to know more about osteoporosis and osteopenia? We'll dive into these conditions and give you some handy tips on preventing future problems and taking care of your bones.

What is Osteopenia?

Osteopenia (low bone density) is the initial stage of bone mineral density loss, which can eventually progress to osteoporosis if steps are not taken to prevent it.

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens our bones. While it literally means “porous bone," it doesn’t mean that our bones are doomed to succumb to the changes that can happen to us silently over time. Our bones are living tissues that are constantly breaking down and remodeling themselves. 

Osteoporosis and osteopenia are typically diagnosed by testing bone mineral density using scans that your primary care provider can easily order. This is important testing because it dictates your risk of breaking a bone in common areas like your hip, wrist or spine. It also helps set the stage for talking with your healthcare team to develop a treatment plan.

Most people will reach their peak bone mass in their mid to late twenties. There are several factors that increase our risk of osteoporosis or osteopenia as we age, such as menopause, genetics and other lifestyle factors. However, there are several things you can do to mitigate this breakdown and assist your body in the constant remodeling it does to our bones.

3 Controllable Factors to Build Strong Bones

1. Talk to your primary care provider

  • They can go over a plan and prescribe things such as vitamin D, calcium and medications that can help if you are at risk or have osteoporosis or osteopenia.

2. Maintain a healthy diet

  • Talk to a dietician if you need further help as they can be an invaluable resource to develop a plan. 
  • Eat foods rich in calcium, vitamin D and vitamin C. These assist with the rebuilding of bone. Examples include but aren’t limited to leafy greens, legumes, salmon and healthy dairy products. 
  • Don’t smoke — it directly correlates with a decrease in bone mass. Smokers also take longer to heal from a fracture. 
  • Limit alcohol to two to three beverages per week. Alcohol interferes with the production of vitamins needed to absorb calcium and the hormones that help protect bones.

3. Exercise

  • Talk to your primary care provider to get a referral to physical therapy if you need help with exercise. 
  • Our bones adapt to the stresses we put them through. Therefore, exercise should be tailored to putting the right stress on our bones. There is good quality research that most exercise is safe when dealing with less bone mineral density. 
  • The exercises should be progressively challenging and increase the load for resistance and weight training at least two to three days a week. Examples include squats, step-ups, chest presses and rows. 
  • Exercises higher in velocity will lead to more power and bone adaptation. Examples include quicker push-ups, marching and quicker walks. 
  • Exercises that are weight-bearing will lead bones to adapt to the stress placed on them. Movements such as mini stomps, step-ups, jumping, jogging and so forth may be used depending on how your body tolerates these things to really stimulate bone adaptation.

There are aspects of aging and bone health we can’t control, but we can take steps to minimize the chances of bone loss and osteoporosis. Talk to your healthcare team to determine your risk and don’t forget to show your bones a little TLC – you’re going to need them. 

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