Osteoporosis is a serious threat to women. It increases the chance of bone fractures over a lifetime, with the spine, hips and wrists having the greatest risk of fracture. Post-menopausal, small-boned women have the highest risk of getting osteoporosis. There are several things you can do to decrease your risk of osteoporosis and stay fracture-free in your later years.
Avoid fractures. Spinal fractures can occur with very little force or trauma and you may not even feel it — only one-third are painful. Often, the only outward sign that a fracture has occurred is a change in posture or loss of height. There are a few simple things you can do to decrease the risk of spinal fractures:
• Strengthen your legs so you are able to lift heavy objects.
• Avoid twisting and bending when carrying a heavy load (like a grandchild).
• Turn your feet instead of your spine.
• Avoid repetitive forward movements like sit-ups and toe touches.
Test your balance. Non-spinal fractures usually occur as a result of a fall. The simple response is, “Don’t fall.” But sometimes, that’s actually not so simple. As we age, our balance systems age as well, making falls more likely. The great news is you can always improve your balance to decrease your risk of falls and fractures. Here’s a simple test to check your balance: stand on one foot. Do not touch your leg with your other foot and see how long you can maintain your balance. Here are some benchmarks for different age groups:
• Under 60: 30 seconds on each foot.
• 60-69: Around 20 seconds on each foot.
• 70-79: About 15 seconds on each foot.
Standing on one foot is also an easy exercise to improve your balance.
Build strength. You can actually improve your bone density through weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening exercises. Target your exercises to the three areas most likely to fracture — your back, hips and wrists.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia and are concerned about your posture, fractures and falls, contact a physical therapist. We can partner with you to design a safe, effective exercise program that works with your life.
Information provided by Elizabeth Trausch, a physical therapist in the Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic.