Exercise-based treatment for osteoporosis an option for patients

Photo by Sharp Health News/Sharp HealthCare. Physical therapist Kristin Schulz (left) and Lesley Bradley demonstrate exercises designed to improve bone health and reduce the effects of osteoporosis. The Osteo-Circuit program is available at the Sharp Grossmont Rehabilitation Center.

Bone is living, growing tissue.

From the moment of birth until young adulthood, old bone is broken down and new bone forms. As we age, bone breaks down faster than it builds, causing it to weaken. If this happens excessively, the result is a condition known as osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis, which means “porous bones,” is a disease that causes bones to become brittle and more likely to fracture or break. It is often called a silent disease because bone loss occurs gradually over time with no symptoms.

For many people, the first indication that they have osteoporosis is a fracture. They may also notice a loss of height or change in posture. Although osteoporosis can strike at any age, it is most common among people age 50 and older, especially women who have entered menopause.

Treating osteoporosis means stopping the bone loss and rebuilding bone to prevent breaks. One of the main ways to do this is through exercise. Sharp Grossmont Hospital now offers Osteo-Circuit™, an exercise-based treatment program designed for men and women with low bone density or osteoporosis. The hospital is one of just two licensed Osteo-Circuit clinics in the United States.

Exercise and healthy bones

Exercise is important for building strong bones when we are younger, and essential for maintaining bone strength when we are older. Exercise works on bones much like it works on muscles — by making them stronger. Because bone is living tissue, it changes in response to the forces placed upon it. When you exercise regularly, your bone adapts by building more cells and becoming denser.

So, how can exercise help people with low bone density and osteoporosis?

“Exercise is medicine,” explains Kristin Schulz, one of the specially trained physical therapists who leads the program at Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s Rehabilitation Center. “A daily walk isn’t enough to strengthen our bones. A structured exercise program improves bone strength while reducing fracture risk, decreasing pain, and improving balance and posture.”

Exercise-based osteoporosis treatment

For people diagnosed with osteoporosis or low bone density, it is important to do the correct exercises to increase your bone health and overall fitness. Osteo-Circuit is designed to address each participant’s posture, body mechanics, strength and balance even if they are not currently experiencing symptoms related to osteoporosis. The program also helps those experiencing symptoms such as pain and those who have experienced a recent injury or fracture or have a history of falls.

Individuals who enroll in the program first undergo a detailed assessment by a physical therapist to determine medical and physical status and to design a customized exercise program. This initial evaluation may also include an assessment of strength, flexibility, posture, functional mobility and gait. Physical therapists also work with patients to identify risk factors that may put them at increased risk of fracture.

Once the assessment is complete, treatment begins. Patients are instructed in daily home exercises and taught proper body mechanics to decrease risk of fracture. Because the exercises are customized to each participant, they can start off very gentle or be more dynamic depending on each person’s current health status.

Individuals with concerns about bone health who are not experiencing symptoms may only require a few visits. Those who require more care will receive an appropriate number of visits based on their own goals and needs.

By the end of the program, patients should feel that the exercises have become a daily routine and will understand how to modify or adjust them as their condition improves. They are encouraged to return between six and 12 months for a reassessment to ensure they are still applying what they learned.

Schulz has noticed great results in patients who have completed the program.

“This program is unique because it offers a positive and reassuring approach designed to enhance confidence and empower patients to take control of their own health,” says Schulz. “The program is supervised, customized, progressive and fun. Because it is so focused on education, patients can take what they learn and make it part of their daily lifestyle — a lifestyle focused on improving bone health.”

Adults who experience a height loss or curvature of the spine should consult their doctor immediately. Those 50 or older who experience a broken bone should ask their doctor about a bone density test. A doctor referral and prescription for Osteo-Circuit are required to participate in this program.

This article features experts from Sharp Grossmont Hospital. For more health stories visit www.sharp.com/news.

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