OSTEOPOROSIS – the basics

The idea for this blog came from an inspiring conversation I had with one of our Reform students, who, after a double mastectomy and the corresponding drugs, which inhibit the production of oestrogen – had developed osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is measured in Ireland through a DEXA scan, with which they test the density of your bones in your hips and lumbar spine. This is the first step in ascertaining if you have osteoporosis, or may be susceptible to develop it.

From the DEXA scan two important scores are determined: the T-score, upon which a diagnosis of osteoporosis is based, is the comparison of your bone density to the mean average bone density of a 30 year old. Your Z-score is the comparison of your bone density to the average bone density of your age group.

The interior of our bones is like honeycomb, this structure gives our bones their flexibility and endurance. The cells of our honeycomb are called osteons. A decrease in bone density means an increase in the cells of our honeycomb – reducing stability and strength. Therefore it follows that if the spaces inside our honeycomb are increasing – we are getting lighter and smaller.

There is a common misconception that osteoporosis is painful. The risks with osteoporosis are fractures or breaking bones if you fall – because our bones have less stable inner structures. Also, in severe cases, without any intervention an increased hunching or kyphosis of the upper back may occur.

Like everything in life, every single person and body is different in what they will respond to, enjoy and engage with in order to live with and evolve from osteoporosis. Being curious, exploring, searching and enquiring will enable a more-rounded engagement with osteoporosis. Some of the most intelligent and leading people working with these themes can be found online.

From Dr Christiane Northrup is a leading pioneer of health-positive aging and is also an Obstetrics/Gynaecology Medical Doctor. Dr Northrup states that you can lose 70% of your bone density and not be at risk of fracture, it all depends on how healthy your collagen. Her advice on getting strong collagen is:

  1. Mental Health: the thought of getting osteoporosis is stressful, which can increase levels of cortisone, making you ‘pee’ your bones.
  2. Get your Vitamin D levels checked.
  3. You have the ability to increase your bone density by increasing your connection with the Earth. Standing barefoot decreases cellular inflammation and helps to build bone density.
  4. Any vertical vectors of force on your bones: standing up, walking, reaching up. This creates a piezoelectric force in your bones and brings in minerals.
    Watch is Doctor Northrup’s short video on improving bone collagen.

Sherri Betz is a leading Pilates educator and Physical Therapist with a specialisation in Osteoporosis. Her website is fountain of great information on healthy lifestyles, movement and nutrition.

Betz, along with Dr Susan E. Brown espouse an alkaline diet – acidic foods pull minerals from the bones in order to neutralise pH values in the blood -one piece of research has confirmed that vegetables such as onions, parsley, garlic, dill, lettuce, rocket, cucumber and tomato improve bone metabolism and reduce loss of bone density. Dr Brown also has a huge repository of videos around bone health from exercise to diet and much more.

So, what does a diagnosis of osteoporosis or osteopenia mean for your movement?

On a very basic level almost every kind of movement or exercise that you enjoy is beneficial for building the density of your bones. A largely sedentary lifestyle has a negative effect on all aspects of our physical and mental health. Regular sitting or inactivity means we are essentially weightless for long periods of time, decreasing the force we are applying to the Earth. Stand up more! This force, through a step, a jump etc. sends a force up through our bones encouraging the building of our bones scaffolding which builds resilience and flexiblity. According to Betz, exercise alone can halt the progression of osteoporosis in most cases. As much as 20% of bone can be built in one year through modifications in nutrition and bone building exercises such as spinal stabilization and other Pilates exercises.

A simple way to know if an exercise is good for building bones is to ask – am I bearing my weight on the earth? – Pilates, yoga, walking, dancing, skipping, running, hiking, golfing, tennis are some examples. Weightless exercises like cycling or swimming are less effective for building bone. Some advocates like Dr. Brown encourage a weighted belt to assist with adding extra ‘weight’ being applied to the force we apply to the Earth.

Within exercise and daily movements through your home – we have to consider the movement of the spine. If bones are essentially weaker, they can, if put into an extreme curled forward position regularly, or with an added load or force, fracture or reduce in size. This is why, in Pilates, we do not do abdominals sit-ups, and at home you should be aware of keeping your back as straight and elongated as much as possible and particularly when we are lifting a load – bend your knees, not your back!

In our next blog we will look closer at specific Pilates exercise that are beneficial, with variations for everybody.