Women of a certain age know that they need to improve bone health to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis (and its pre-cursor Osteopenia) are common conditions when bones lose their strength and become more brittle. It can contribute to pain and fractures. Luckily, ‘weight bearing exercise’ is proven to improve bone strength (as well as diet, quitting smoking and medication). The menopause, certain medical conditions and our diet through our lives can reduce bone strength. A diagnosis is made using a DEXA scan which typically images the low back and hips. Check out the NHS page NHS Osteoporosis for more information.
Yoga and Osteoporosis – scientific research
A 2016 research study involved 227 participants practising just 12 minutes of a yoga routine every day. Researchers measured bone health (via DEXA) at the start and end of the trial. They found that the bone density of the spine increased significantly for participants, whose average age was 68. Density of the hip bones improved too, but not as much. Like any research trial, there were some limitations* and sadly it isn’t as simple as saying “Do these poses and your bones will improve”. BUT this is good news for those of us who practice yoga and have concerns that we might need to do more ‘strengthening’ of our bony tissues.
Yoga and Osteoporosis – a real life case-study
At the end of 2017 I was approached by Anne, a student from my Yoga for BackCare class (Triyoga Ealing). Aged 62, she had recently been diagnosed with osteoporosis and osteopenia and was nervous about starting a yoga practice. She wondered if yoga would be ‘too strong’ for her bones, especially as she also had a history of lumbar disc prolapse and low back pain. The osteoporosis medications prescribed by her GP (Alendroate) seemed to be giving her unbearable side-effects including gum and teeth problems but the GP was insistent she continue with them.** She was keen to seek an alternative way of addressing the problem.
We discussed her case and this recent research study and Anne decided to start a slow but strong yoga practice. Since that time she has been really dedicated and attended two classes with me every week.
A few weeks ago Anne came to see me before class – she was smiling and excited ! Now 64, a recent DEXA scan had showed marked reduction in the condition in both her spine and hips, particularly in the spine (in line with the study above). Furthermore, her specialist had agreed that she no longer needed to take any meds at all and wouldn’t need to be reviewed until 2022. (In this conversation she also sheepishly revealed that she had stopped using the medication about a year previously, against her doctors’ orders.)
As you can imagine, she is over the moon at her recent results and feels that her yoga practice has been central to this change. She also feels her overall health has improved loads in the last year or so, including her physical strength, balance and flexibility. She couldn’t imagine being without her yoga practice now !
Can Yoga help me ?
Clearly the experience of one individual cannot be applied to us all, but this case shows how yoga may have contributed to an improvement in bone health. We do know that weight-bearing exercise (certain yoga, lifting weights etc) can strengthen bone, as when the muscles pull on the bones they stimulate the bone to strengthen. Anne has been a particularly dedicated student in terms of her class attendance and approach to improving her health using yoga, pilates and swimming but every little can help.
The National Osteoporosis Society recommend increasing your activity levels in a focused way. Why not add Yoga to your healthcare regime ? Seek an experienced yoga teacher who can guide you.
Contact Anji for more information
If you have pain or discomfort as a result of osteoporosis – contact me to discuss how I can help. Osteopathic treatment may be able to alleviate some symptoms. As an NHS MSK clinician I am experienced in helping many patients use exercise and manual therapy to help alleviate symptoms and strengthen bodies. I combine my deep knowledge of yoga, anatomy, osteopathy and medical acupuncture to change behaviour and bodies.
* If you want to discuss the limitations of this particular study I’d be happy to go through it with you. But it might not be the most interesting conversation we ever have…
** As an NHS MSK Clinician it is not my role to prescribe (or unprescribe) medications – discuss with your GP or specialist.
Blog post updated April 2019.
Lu, Yi-Hsueh PhD et al, (2016) Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss, Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, April/June 2016, Vol 32