Practicing yoga has several important advantages including improving balance, strengthening the muscles around arthritic joints and stimulating bone growth. Individuals with osteoporosis benefit from taking advantage of these many benefits, but it's recommended that they stick to exercises that maintain a relatively neutral or straight spinal position throughout. Extra caution should be taken in this population, as there are several poses that should be avoided.
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Yoga's many advantages make it extra appealing to people with osteoporosis. The strengthening exercises for the arms, legs, and core cause muscles in these areas to pull on the bones they attach to. In turn, this pulling stimulates cells called osteoblasts to build bone strength in these potentially weaker areas.
In addition, improving your balance lessens your risk of a fracture-inducing fall. Despite these benefits, yoga involving end-range flexion, side bending or rotation of the spine is contraindicated in this population as it can lead to an increased risk of a fragility fracture. It is recommended that people with low bone density talk to their teacher ahead of time about their condition or work with a certified instructor to find safe poses.
The Downward-Facing Dog is one of the most commonly seen poses in yoga. It's performed by planting your hands and feet on the ground and elevating your hips in the air like an inverted “V”. While the pose is meant to be done with a neutral spine, many people lack the proper flexibility in their hamstrings to do the pose properly and end up compensating by flexing their low back.
This type of spinal flexion loads the flat part of your vertebrae, called the vertebral body, and can lead to fractures in people with osteoporosis. It is important to ensure that the Downward Dog pose is done by hinging at the hips and keeping the low and mid back straight the entire time. If you are unable to do this without rounding your back, the pose should be avoided or a yoga block should be used to decrease the amount of hip hinging required to reach the floor.
The Plow pose is an inversion yoga exercise meant to give you energy by elevating your heart over your head. This pose is done by lying on your back and lifting your hips towards the ceiling as you attempt to bring your toes over your head and onto the floor.
Unfortunately, this position puts you into extreme amounts of end-range flexion in your cervical and lumbar spine. This type of spinal motion dramatically increases your risk of developing a fragility fracture in these areas. As a result, the Plow pose, along with many inversion poses, should be avoided by people with osteoporosis.
The Seated Twist pose is performed by sitting cross legged and twisting your torso to the side. This type of pose, which facilitates end-range spinal rotation, is also not appropriate for individuals with osteoporosis.
This is because twisting motions may also lead to an increased risk of fracture as they increase pressure on the spine. Individuals looking to maintain trunk rotation should instead lie on their back with their knees bent and allow their legs to slowly drop to each side making sure to avoid forcing to the end of their range of motion.
Seated Forward Fold
The Seated Forward Fold is a yoga move meant to improve hamstring and low back range of motion. This pose is performed by sitting with your legs straight and reaching for your toes as you allow your back to round.
While this position can definitely aide in improving your flexibility, it can also put people with osteoporosis at risk by subjecting them to large amounts of lumbar flexion. Individuals looking to improve hamstring flexibility should instead opt for a more traditional stretch in which they sit erect at the edge of a chair with one leg straight and slowly hinge forward at the hips until a pull is felt in the back of their leg.
One of the many benefits of yoga is its positive impact on your abdominal strength. The Boat pose is one of many exercises that targets this area. This pose is done by sitting and elevating your upper body and lower body in the air in the shape of a "V."
When done correctly, your back should remain completely straight and the bending should occur at your hips. However, many people lack the proper core strength to do this and end up compensating by rounding their spine. This compensation loads the vertebral bodies and can be harmful for people with osteoporosis. The plank pose, in which you strengthen the stomach by maintaining a neutral spine while lifting off the ground onto your forearms and toes, is a safer alternative.