Physical Therapy for the Treatment of Osteoporosis

By Ann R. Miller, PT, DPT, ATC, CKTP
Clinical Director, Stowe

Osteoporosis is the leading cause of fractures in the elderly. It is a disease which causes diminished bone mass and leads to a decrease in bone quality which results in increased risk for bone fractures. Fractures can lead to functional disability, chronic pain, and at times, early death.

Osteoporosis is diagnosed by a DEXA (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) scan which is the gold standard for measuring bone density. A DEXA scan is indicated in women over the age of 65, men over the age of 70 and those who have other risk factors for serious bone loss.

Fractures of the hip and wrist are common and can occur due to a fall but sometimes fractures occur in the spine without any trauma or provocative event.

There are many causes and contributing factors for the development of osteoporosis including age related changes, decreased physical activity, calcium deficiency, hormonal influences (diminished Estrogen in females) and genetic factors.

Physical Therapy is essential and beneficial in the treatment of osteoporosis and in the prevention of falls which can lead to fractures. The physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation to determine the appropriate individualized course of treatment. The physical therapist will assess your posture, strength, flexibility/mobility, balance, gait and body mechanics and develop a comprehensive program to strengthen your muscles and bones and lessen your risk of falling. Weight bearing and resistance exercises have been proven to improve bone density and improve your ability to perform daily activities with less difficulty. Balance activities will improve your stability and reduce your risk of falling and sustaining a fracture. Education and exercises to improve your posture and body mechanics will help to reduce the stress on your spine.

The physical therapist will develop and implement an appropriate treatment program and will provide you with the tools to then continue with an exercise program which you can perform independently at home. It is important to perform the correct type of exercises and avoid exercises which could put you at greater risk of injury or fractures. Physical Therapists are the experts in assessing the musculoskeletal and movement systems and providing appropriate interventions.

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