Healthy ageing: yoga for osteoporosis and osteopenia

yoga for osteoporosis and osteopenia

Our bones may seem rigid, but they are constantly changing: broken down by bone cells called osteoclasts and rebuilt by other bone cells called osteoblasts. Unfortunately, several factors can cause the osteoclasts to outdo the osteoblasts. Age, for example, causes our bones to become thinner. When the risk of breaking bones is at a critical level, we have osteoporosis. Osteopenia is its precursor. Osteoporosis is sometimes called the “silent decease”, because it doesn’t hurt and we’re not aware of our bone strength until we have a bone density scan. In order to prevent and even reverse bone loss, we have to do weight-bearing exercise, which does not mean lifting weights. Yoga is actually one of the best forms of exercise to prevent and manage osteoporosis. This blog about yoga for osteoporosis and osteopenia will explore how yoga can build strength in bones and help prevent falls.

Osteoporosis and its contributing factors

When you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, literally “porous bone,” your bones have lost mineral density to such an extent that you are at a great risk of fractures, especially of the hip, spine and wrist. Shockingly, almost one third of women have a hip fracture before they are 80 years old. Apart from age, the menopause accelerates bone loss for women due to the reduced levels of oestrogen. Although osteoporosis is less prevalent in men, they are not excluded and often less timely diagnosed.

Apart from age and reduced levels of oestrogen, loss of bone mass can be due to excess stress, too much exercise, rapid weight loss, excess salt, vitamin and mineral deficiency and certain prescription drugs such as steroids.

The progressive loss of mineral density in bones can lead to fractures which are very debilitating, leading to immobility, painful nights, increased risk for infection, change of lifestyle, depression etc.

Many forms of exercise help to build our bones, provided they combine the effects of gravity and muscle activity. So swimming is not bone building, whereas walking is. Exercise in general supports coordination, stability, balance and muscle tone. Yoga in particular is good because it supports all of the above, plus it engages all muscles and bones in a variety of poses. Yoga balancing poses help prevent falls. What’s more, yoga gives you confidence in your body’s movement, relaxation and a sense of well being. Let’s look at this in more depth.

yoga for osteoporosis and osteopenia

Weight-bearing exercise

It’s not only working with weights that helps to build bone. Yoga includes many weight-bearing poses, such as standing poses, inversions and arm balances. Apart from that, bone growth is stimulated through dynamic tension between muscles, which is the case in most yoga poses. This means that one muscle group opposes the action of another and the bones feel double pressure. Holding the yoga poses for at least 30 seconds is considered a good duration for bone building. Holding poses builds endurance and strength, while moving from one pose to the other gives you a different form of resistance training strength. Both boost confidence.

Promoting calm

Yoga’s combination of poses, breathing techniques and relaxation promotes the relaxation response in our body and has therefore a positive impact on the nervous system. Restorative poses are also important to allow muscles to relax completely.

Exercise without drawbacks

As opposed to impact sports such as running, yoga is beneficial for the joints. When osteoporosis starts to manifest, the picture is often complicated by osteoarthritis. This wear and tear of the joints can be aggravated by sports that put pressure on the joints. Yoga movements are not only low impact but can be good for arthritis as well, as they lubricate the joints by encouraging their whole range of movement.

Weight lifting is sometimes advocated to prevent and manage osteoporosis but it is not beneficial for people who have osteoarthritis. Besides, weight lifting does not improve flexibility or balance and can lead to disc-related injuries and lower back pain. 

Posture

When you suffer from osteoporosis, spinal fractures can occur quite commonly during normal activities. The fractures can decrease the spine’s height. What’s worse, if you habitually hold the head in front of the shoulders, this increases the weight in the front of the thoracic vertebrae, which then become more at risk for stress fractures. Fractures in the thoracic spine will lead to severe rounding of the upper back, the so-called dowager’s hump. Yoga can help improve posture, preferably before any fractures occur.

Principles of yoga for osteoporosis and osteopenia

Once you have osteoporosis, avoid inversions that put pressure on the neck and upper back. Also avoid sudden movements, forward bends and balancing poses without the support of a wall or chair. while forward bends increase the risk of vertebral fractures, backbends are advisable.

Suitable Exercises when you have osteoporosis:

Up and down on the toes near a wall.

beneyoga lifting heels

Stand near a wall or chair. Inhale and lift the feet slowly so you balance on the toes. Exhale and lower the feet, using the whole of the exhalation. Do this a few times and then add the arm movement, bringing the arms up and to the side with the inhalation, down with the exhalation. Repeat several times, coordinating breath and movement. This movement is calming and strengthens the feet, ankles and legs.

Tree pose against or near the wall

yoga for osteoporosis balance

(Stand near a wall or chair).

This balance on one leg is traditionally done with the foot against the inner thigh. However, the foot can be under the knee, or one toe can even touch the floor. Choose the position that feels right but avoid placing the foot directly against your knee.

When balancing on the right foot, avoiding leaning into the right hip. Stay tall through the whole right side instead.

Pay attention to the breath in this balance and work up to staying in the position for at least a minute on each side. Try imagining roots underneath your standing foot, and the exhalation going down the leg and into those roots. When you breathe in, feel tall, lifting from the waist up.

Forward bend with the wall

yoga for osteoporosis forward bend with wall

Forward bends are too risky when you have osteoporosis, so instead use a wall to rest your hands. Place the hands high on the wall and walk back slightly until the hips are above the feet. Gently contract the lower abdominal muscles to keep your lower back supported and long. Also avoid sinking down between the shoulders. The whole spine should feel a nice lengthening.

Gentle cobra

beneyoga cobra

To lengthen the spine and counteract kyphosis, it’s good to practice this gentle back bend: an excellent position whether you have osteoporosis or not.

Before raising the shoulders and head, ground the legs, gently engaging the leg muscles and the lower abdominal muscles. Don’t put weight on the hands but lift the shoulders and the head by contracting the upper back muscles. It’s not a big movement.

-Keep looking down to keep the neck long and in line with the upper back.

Child with support

yoga for osteoporosis child on chair

Child’s pose is soothing and relaxing for the back, but because forward bends are counter-indicated, enjoy child’s pose on a chair or sofa. Use a rolled towel under the ankles if the feet are tight.

Finish with a few minutes of Relaxation on the back.

If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, a general yoga class is not advised and might put you at a greater risk of fractures. If you would like to learn how to adapt your yoga practice or indeed start yoga, try to find a yoga therapist with knowledge of osteoporosis. You can contact me or book a free consultation call here: https://beneyoga.co.uk/book-a-free-consultation-call/ . During our call, we can discuss how a yoga programme would help you reverse bone loss, gain confidence and balance, increase strength and flexibility and deal with stress.

You can read more about preventing bone loss in this previous blog: https://beneyoga.co.uk/preventing-osteoporosis/.

Namaste

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Evon

    Your commitment to wellness shines through your words. Focusing on the poses discussed in this blog shows you a proactive approach towards managing osteoporosis. Consistency and mindfulness are paramount when integrating holistic techniques into daily life. Your mindful approach ensures that each action is purposeful, nurturing both body and spirit.

    1. Bene Yoga

      Thank you for your kind words, Evon. All best wishes, Bene

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