Yoga has become so popular in our culture that it seems to pop up on the Internet, in alternative medicine and even amongst scientists and doctors. It is typically recognized as an exercise that makes our body more flexible and stronger!
There are many types of yoga that target different parts of our body. Some are meant just for relaxation, while others teach us to strengthen our muscles. So the burning question some of us are asking is, “can yoga help osteoporotic bones?”
Yoga is a great exercise and can strengthen and build balance in almost anyone. Yoga is also now being studied for helping to correct unwanted spine curvature like scoliosis and initial results show promise. Some also say that yoga can help increase our bone mass, although research in this area is not yet conclusive and needs more studies.
The caveat with yoga is that many of the poses done in a yoga program can harm osteoporotic bones. Yes… harm… so it seems like yoga and osteoporosis may not really go together like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Here are some reasons why:
- Healthy, strong bones can withstand extra stress acting on the skeleton during certain yoga poses. For example, when we bend forward to touch our toes, the spine curves forward and stretches the back leg muscles, such as during the Downward Dog pose. This puts pressure between the bones that make up our spine (called vertebrae). Osteoporosis can seriously weaken our spine bones, which can then fracture even with a little extra pressure, such as during a forward spine bend.
- Other common yoga poses, such as the Triangle, Half-Twist or Warrior poses require our torso to rotate around the hips. Although they are great ways to relieve muscle tension, the twisting motion, in osteoporotic skeleton, places tension on the spine causing unwanted stress.
Sometimes osteoporosis can lead to several spine bones being compressed and collapsed due to numerous fractures resulting in a permanent forward hunch (called ‘kyphosis’). This osteoporotic hunch can cause chronic pain, disability and negatively influence health and self-esteem. At this point, even simple things like pulling the knees towards the chest while on the back can add stress to weakened spine.
Therefore, if you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis and want to exercise safely and effectively, please avoid drastic movements and poses that place stress on your bones, especially your spine, like forward spine bending, spine twisting, lifting arms above shoulder height or high-intensity jumping.
If you have osteoporosis and are still tempted to do yoga, talk to your doctor to see what they recommend, or at least talk to the yoga instructor and ask them to modify spine bends and twists during the class for you. Just remember that you need to be careful to not place too much stress on your bones, like your spine, to cause them to fracture.
Do you have other questions about yoga and osteoporosis? Comment in the box below.
By Isabel Rodrigues, Kevin Chia, and Dr Luba Slatkovska. Infographics by Kevin Chia.