Osteoporosis is characterized by reduced bone mineral density (BMD) and bone quality, which results in a fragile skeletal structure and an increased risk for bone fracture. Exercise programming should be presented to optimize bone health and to safely prescribe exercise for individuals with low BMD, recommends the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). While many exercises are safe for individuals with osteoporosis, there are several that should be avoided.
Individuals with osteoporosis should avoid activities such as running, jumping and high-impact aerobics. According to the Mayo Clinic, these activities increase compression in your spine and lower extremities and can lead to fractures in weakened bones. It is best to engage in activities that are low-impact and involve slow, controlled movements.
Standing Toe Touch
Although it may seem safe, a standing toe touch is an unsafe exercise if you have a low BMD. The excessive trunk flexion brought on by this movement increases the pressure in the lumbar discs, which can lead to fracture, warns the ACSM. An alternative and safer exercise is the standing hamstring stretch, in which you maintain a flat back. To perform this stretch, place one foot on a 6- to -8-inch step while keeping your other leg firmly planted on the floor. Gently bend at the waist, without rounding the back, until you feel a light stretch on the back of your thigh. You can then repeat the movement with the other leg.
The Plough Pose is a Yoga exercise designed to stretch the neck and lower back muscles. While this exercise may be safe for individuals with healthy bone structure, it should be avoided if you have osteoporosis. The loaded neck flexion generated from this movement can sprain cervical ligaments and increase pressure in the cervical discs of the neck. A safer way to stretch the lower back is the double knee-to-chest stretch, which is accomplished by lying on your back and drawing both knees to your chest. However, with this exercise you must still proceed with caution. Avoid jerky movements or excess flexion of the spine and strive for slow and controlled movements.
The sit-up is the standard abdominal exercise that many people perform on a regular basis, however osteoporosis sufferers should avoid this movement. This dynamic abdominal exercise puts extreme stress on the lower back and can result in fractures of the lumbar spine. Crunches are a safer way to target the abdominal muscles without causing injury.
Twisting at the Waist
Exercises that require bending forward at the waist or excessive twisting at the waist such as golf, tennis or bowling should be avoided. These activities produce high compressive forces in the spinal area and increase the vulnerability to fracture, advises the ACSM. Remember it is best to pursue activities that involve slow, controlled movements with minimal impact if you suffer from osteoporosis.
- "ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription;" Seventh Edition; Lawrence E. Armstrong, PhD, FACSM, et al.; 2006
- Mayo Clinic: Exercising With Osteoporosis