Exercise can help reduce or slow bone loss in people with osteoporosis of the spine. It can also strengthen muscles and improve balance, reducing the risk of falls and injuries.
Strengthening the muscles that support the spine is particularly important for people with osteoporosis in this region of the body.
That said, people with spine osteoporosis need to avoid certain motions and activities when exercising. Forceful twisting movements, high impact exercise, and activities that carry a risk of fractures may be unsafe.
Read on to learn six exercises for osteoporosis of the spine and which exercises to avoid.
Exercise cannot fully reverse or cure osteoporosis, but it does have a range of important benefits for people with this condition. Regular exercise can:
- reduce bone loss, slowing the progression of the disease
- conserve remaining bone tissue
- strengthen muscles
- increase mobility
- improve reaction times, balance, and coordination
- reduce the risk of fracture due to falls
- reduce pain
- improve mood and vitality
- improve overall fitness, which reduces the risk of many other conditions
People with osteoporosis can benefit from combining several types of exercise, including:
- Weight-bearing aerobic exercise: This includes activities that increase heart rate and also involve supporting one’s own body weight. Dancing, aerobics, and brisk walking are some examples.
- Resistance training: This involves using force to push, pull, or lift against resistance. People can use hand-held weights, resistance bands, their own body weight, or resistance machines for this.
- Posture and balance exercises: Practices such as tai chi and yoga involve holding or slowly moving through different poses, which can strengthen the muscles that help with balance.
For people with spine osteoporosis, specific types of exercise can help maintain spine health.
While exercise can be very beneficial for those with spine osteoporosis, it is important to exercise safely, in a way that minimizes the risk of injury or fractures.
In an instructional video, the United Kingdom’s Royal Osteoporosis Society recommends:
- Addressing stability: If a person is not used to exercise, they should ensure they are strong enough to stay stable and balanced before trying more difficult exercises.
- Wearing comfortable clothes: Comfortable clothes and supportive shoes can make exercise easier.
- Finding space: Ensure that there is enough space for exercise and that the room is not too hot or cold.
- Warming up and cooling down: This can help reduce muscle soreness.
- Build up gradually: Start with easier exercises with lower intensity.
Exercising with osteoporosis is generally safe, but there are some movements people should avoid, such as:
- loaded forward-bending of the spine, such as abdominal situps
- sudden, forceful movements, except those that are part of a progressive program that builds up slowly
- forceful twisting motions, like a golf swing, unless a person is used to this sort of movement
- activities that carry a risk of falling
Below are some stretches for people with spine osteoporosis, suggested by the U.K. National Health Service. These can help with maintaining flexibility and can be a warmup before doing other exercises.
Always speak with a doctor before beginning any new exercise routine.
To do this stretch:
- Sit toward the front of a chair.
- Straighten the left knee and rest the heel of the left foot on the floor.
- Place the right foot flat on the floor.
- Keeping the spine straight, hinge forward from the hip until there is a stretch at the back of the thigh. Keep the head and chest up, and the eyes facing forwards.
- Hold the position for 15 seconds.
- Repeat on the right leg.
To do this stretch:
- Stand while holding on to a stable surface, such as a chair or table.
- Step the right leg backward.
- Gently bend the left knee forward.
- Check that the heels of both feet are on the floor and that the back is straight. There should be a stretch at the back of the right calf.
- Hold for 15 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
To do this stretch:
- Stand facing the wall, as close as possible.
- Slide the hands slowly and smoothly up the wall until there is a gentle stretch in the shoulders.
- Keep looking forward and hold for 5 seconds.
- Repeat twice more.
These exercises recommended by the BHOF may help with strength and bone density.
Neck press against resistance
This exercise is suitable for all abilities. To do it:
- Lie on the back, with a pillow under the head to support a neutral spine position.
- Push the head down firmly to straighten and lengthen the spine.
- Tuck the chin while keeping the head facing upward, avoiding any jerky or sudden movement.
- Hold for a slow count of 5, then relax for a few seconds.
- Repeat 10 times or until the neck muscles get tired.
Do this exercise in the morning and evening every day. To progress further, try using a rolled-up towel or foam roller instead of a pillow.
Extensor muscle strengthening
The extensor muscles run alongside the spine, helping to stabilize it. To do this exercise:
- Stand with a straight spine and good posture, with the back facing a wall.
- Place a bouncy ball between the upper back and the wall, holding it in place by leaning gently against it.
- Keep the feet apart and away from the wall, then from the feet, press back against the ball. Keep the spine, hips, and knees straight, pivoting from the ankles.
- Hold for 5 seconds followed by a 2-second rest.
- Repeat until the legs or back muscles feel tired.
People can do this exercise daily, gradually increasing to 15–20 repetitions.
This movement is suitable for all ability levels. To make the movement more challenging, move the feet farther away from the wall while still keeping the spine straight.
A person should ensure that they can lie on their stomach with ease before trying this exercise. To perform it:
- Lie on the stomach while on a bed or the floor. Placing a pillow under the stomach may make the exercise easier.
- Pull the shoulder blades together, and smoothly lift the head and chest while continuing to look straight down. It may take time to be able to lift the head or chest, so this may require practice.
- Hold for 5 seconds, followed by a 2-second rest. Repeat until tired.
A person with osteoporosis of the spine should speak with their doctor before starting any new exercise program. A physical therapist or other exercise professional can also provide expert guidance on exercising safely.
Once a person has started an exercise program, if it starts to make them feel unwell or causes pain, they should stop immediately and contact their doctor.
While there is no cure for osteoporosis, exercise can help in several ways. Physical activity may help reduce bone loss, conserve the remaining bone tissue, and reduce the risk of falls and fractures.
People with osteoporosis can benefit from a combination of strengthening and flexibility exercises. However, they should avoid sudden movements and forceful twisting, as well as anything that increases their risk of falling.
Speak with a doctor before beginning a new exercise program to ensure it is safe.