Exercise and Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis

Thursday, 29 March 2012

I want to provide some information for you regarding exercise and osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. I have and do mention in class some of what follows, but it is always important to revisit information.   Hopefully you will pick up some tidbits, and learn something new, or in the very least bring some old information from the back of your mind, to forefront to make some changes to better your health. 

First, let me share some facts about osteoporosis. Primary osteoporosis is the most common form of the disease. Post-menopausal osteoporosis occurs in women within 15 – 20 years after menopause (WITH THE MOST RAPID BONE LOSS OCCURING IN THE FIRST 5 TO 7 YEARS of menopause). Age-related osteoporosis occurs in the elderly, and this is the most common type experienced by men. Secondary osteoporosis occurs as a result of another illness or the use of medications or drugs (INCLUDING THOSE USED FOR SOME FORMS OF ARTHRITIS). Here are some factors that play a role in the development of osteoporosis (some can be controlled, others can’t).

Uncontrollable factors:

  • Gender (women ARE at greater risk)
  • Age (risk increases in those 50 and older)
  • Early menopause (before age 45)
  • Asian or fair skinned Caucasian heritage
  • Thin, small boned build
  • Family history of osteoporosis
  • Previous fracture

Controllable factors:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor postural stability and balance
  • Low muscle strength
  • Low body weight
  • Obesity
  • Smoking and intake of alcoholic, caffeinated or carbonated beverages
  • Stress


Literally, osteoporosis means “porous bones”. Osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis) translates as “thin bones”. As osteoporosis progresses, bones lose mass and their structure deteriorates until they become fragile and susceptible to fracture as the result of everyday activities, like sneezing or bending over to put on shoes. It is known as a silent disease because there usually are no symptoms until fractures occur. Osteoporosis is often referred as a “pediatric disease with geriatric consequences” because poor nutrition and lack of physical activity in childhood can prevent achievement of optimal peak bone mass. Most adults have missed the window of opportunity to improve peak bone mass. And unfortunately there is nothing to undo years of overuse or misuse of our joints.   HOWEVER, even though bones and muscles take longer to become stronger as we age, they don’t lose their ability to do so. Research shows; at any stage of life, exercise is beneficial for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. It CAN slow bone loss and even reverse it to some extent. Studies show that exercise is one of the most useful ways of minimizing the pain and limitations of arthritis and it may even reverse some arthritic changes. So, we all know that exercise strengthens muscles, but what is not so obvious to everyone is that PROPER, exercise also strengthens bones and protects joints. Bones respond to mechanical stress such as gravity, muscle contractions or impact with the ground, by becoming stronger. The skeleton experiences these stresses as challenges to its structure and “remodels” or forms new bone to withstand these challenges. Over time, this means that bones are built to resist the challenges they expect to meet and are capable of changing to meet new, consistently applied stresses. SO, stress is good for bones, but you just need to make sure it’s GOOD stress, not BAD stress. Older adults, people with joint issues and those at risk of developing osteoarthritis or osteoporosis need to be especially careful with Pilates. WHAT ! ? Traditional Pilates can be very risky for people with these conditions. In fact, more than 50% of the traditional Pilates movements are considered unsafe for people at risk for or living with osteoporosis. Something as simple as an abdominal curl is dangerous for those with weakened bones. WHAT ?! The key to maintaining bone strength is to place good stress on bones when we move. Part of putting good stress on bones is building strength in the muscles that surround them and move joints. Attention to PROPER movement mechanics also helps support bones in good alignment, and this can improve the chances of placing bones under good stress. Building strength with attention to proper form and good movement mechanics is vital to maintaining and increasing bone density (which combats osteoporosis and its effects). Pilates done while standing, with an emphasis on optimal weight-bearing, is a top priority. As well, spine extensions, or arching motions for the spine, cause positive responses in the vertebrae. In both cases, bones are being put under stress that causes them to lay down bone mass and get stronger. And the muscles that resist gravity get stronger, too, helping bones align to further reduce bad stress. Specialized classes keep people safe while building strength, flexibility, balance and good posture. There are a lot of ways in which specialized Pilates can improve the quality of day to day life, here are a few reminders:

  • Increased strength and support, especially through the hips and spine
  • Improved overall fitness, flexibility and strength without harm to knee, hip or other joints
  • Enhanced ability to navigate difficult terrain and handle unexpected stresses placed on the body
  • Reduction of bad stress on bones and joints through proper lifting technique).

I hope this was informative and helpful. And if nothing else, in the very least, hopefully you can maybe now have a better appreciation of the method to my madness, and an understanding of why I make you do some of the seemingly crazy things we do in class.

Take care,


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