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Pilates & Osteoporosis

Over 3 million people in the UK are living with Osteoporosis. It is never too early to start looking after your bones.

In this article, we will cover:

  • Defining Osteoporosis and Osteopenia

  • Common causes

  • Preventing and managing Osteoporosis

  • Pilates and Osteoporosis

  • Exercises to help Osteoporosis

What is Osteoporosis? Osteoporosis is a condition which weakens bones and makes them more fragile and likely to break. The word ‘osteoporosis’ means ‘porous bone’. Bones have a thick outer shell with a strong structure inside that looks like a honeycomb. With osteoporosis, the holes in the structure get bigger and the bone 2 becomes less dense. Eventually, the inner structure begins to break down. This leads to bones getting weaker and makes them more likely to break.

These breaks generally occur in the hip, spine and wrist but can happen in the arm or pelvis and as we get older can not only be painful but life threatening. Typically we are concerned when these breaks occur following falls from standing (i.e. not from excessive height or force).
What is Osteopenia? This is when a bone density scan shows you have lower bone density than the average for your age, but not low enough to be classed as osteoporosis.
Osteopenia may not necessarily lead to Osteoporosis, and factors such as diet and exercise can reduce the risk of progression.
Diagnosing osteoporosis Many people being investigated for osteoporosis will have their bone density assessed with a DEXA scan. This will give you a score for each area measured, this is usually the hip and spine. If you have any concerns about your bone density, then you are entitled to request a DEXA scan from your GP or health care provider.

What are the causes of Osteoporosis? There are a number of factors which can cause Osteoporosis such as sex, age and race as well as lifestyle choices, certain medicines and health problems.

Below are just some risks factors:

  • Sex – Women are much more likely to develop Osteoporosis than men.

  • Age – The older you get, the greater your risk of Osteoporosis.

  • Race – If you’re white or of Asian descent it’s more likely you are at greatest risk of Osteoporosis

  • Low calcium intake – A lack of calcium can contribute to the development of Osteoporosis, diminished bone density and an increased risk of fractures.

  • Eating disorders – Severely restricting food intake and being underweight weakens bones.

  • Sedentary lifestyle – People who spend a lot of time sitting have a higher risk of Osteoporosis than those who are far more active. Any weight-bearing exercise and activities that promote balance and strength are beneficial for your bones as is walking, running, Pilates and weightlifting.

  • Medical problems – The risk of Osteoporosis is higher in people who conditions such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Lack of oestrogen in the body – If you have an early menopause (before the age of 45) or a hysterectomy where one or both ovaries are removed, this increases your risk of developing Osteoporosis due to a reduction in bone-boosting Oestrogen.

You can find out if you’re at risk of Osteoporosis by completing the Royal Osteoporosis Society’s online test (opens in new window).

How can exercise help prevent Osteoporosis?

The good news is, bones adapt to the load we place upon them.

The biggest time for change in our bones is during our teenage years when our skeleton is developing. This is the time when we can make the most gains in terms of bone density; by increasing our bone density we can help to prevent fragility and breaks when we are older. It's like banking bone density for later in life.

The most important type of exercise is anything that loads your bones. This includes impact exercises such as running, tennis, dancing, football, netball, gymnastics and crucially, lifting weights.

These kinds of exercises stimulate the bones to develop and increase in density as they respond to the forces being put through them. They respond best to a variety of loading, so a mixture of activities using upper and lower body is best.

Management of Osteoporosis If you’re diagnosed with Osteoporosis, there are ways in which you can manage pain and reduce your risk of further fractures. Your healthcare team may suggest you take medication, make changes to your diet, or tell you to do more exercise such as walking or Pilates.

The International Osteoporosis Foundation Campaign recommends these 5 steps to healthy bones and a fracture-free future:

  1. Exercise regularly.

  2. Ensure a diet rich in bone-healthy nutrients.

  3. Avoid negative lifestyle habits.

  4. Find out whether you have risk factors.

  5. Get tested and treated if needed.

How can exercise help to manage Osteoporosis? People with Osteoporosis may be told that they need to be cautious of their bodies in order to prevent fractures or broken bones whilst also being told to exercise as a way to stay healthy. This can be confusing for sufferers but the right sort of exercise, such as clinical Pilates, can be of huge benefit.

Combining Physiotherapy and Pilates together is a great way to manage osteoporosis but also strengthen the supportive muscles around the spine and hips.

Pilates for Osteoporosis management generally focuses on strengthening the antigravity muscles (calves, glutes, spinal extensors and triceps) which in turn helps to keep your body upright by maintaining good posture and supporting your bones. People who have osteoporosis and hunched spines are more likely to suffer breaks and so reducing quality of life.

Is Pilates good for osteopenia? As with osteoporosis if you have osteopenia then exercise such as Pilates will help to strengthen your bones and muscle strength and improve balance therefore help to reduce your chances of falling.

It’s always a good idea to talk with your doctor or specialist osteoporosis physiotherapist or do not hesitate to contact us about the best and safest exercises for you and your body.


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