Yoga and Osteoporosis

Yoga has been shown to improve, prevent and treat osteoporosis and osteopenia. Both men and women are subject to osteoporosis, defined as “porous bone, characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and an increased susceptibility to fractures, especially of the hip, spine and wrist, although any bone can be affected”. (National Osteoporosis Foundation).

Gloria Rabinowitz’s classes for osteoporosis consist of twelve yoga poses shown in medical studies to prevent and treat osteoporosis and osteopenia. These poses are recommended and are part of a study by Dr. Loren Fishman, Medical Director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City, author of seven books, author or editor of more than 70 academic articles. Dr. Fishman has applied yoga to the treatment of sciatica, scoliosis, rotator cuff syndrome, multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and shoulder pain.

Twelve Poses to Treat Osteoporosis and Osteopenia:

  1. Tree (Vrksasana)
  2. Triangle (Trikonasana)
  3. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
  4. Side-angle (Parsvakonasana)
  5. Revolved Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
  6. Camel (Ustrasana)
  7. Other Backbends: Cobra (Bhujangasana), Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
  8. Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
  9. Reclining leg stretch (Supta Padangusthasana)
  10. Seated Twist (Marichyasana III or Ardha Matsyendrasana)
  11. Recline Spinal Twist (Jathara Parivartanasana)
  12. Corpse (Savasana)

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The following information is taken in part from Dr. Loren Fishman’s Pilot Study And New Book Prove Yoga’s Benefits In Treating Osteoporosis (Huffingtonpost.com)

As a physician and advocate of integrative medicine, I have shown that Yoga can improve upon or substitute for traditional Western medical treatments for osteoporosis, which affects 200 million people worldwide.

Both men and women are subject to osteoporosis; 50% of hip fractures in people over 55 contribute either to death or to nursing home admissions. It’s well-known that physical activity, weight-bearing and strenuous exercise, will help keep osteoporosis and its precursor, osteopenia, at bay. But much strenuous weight-bearing exercise has serious disadvantages, which must not be underestimated when thinking about your health, while Yoga has unique and wonderful advantages.

High impact aerobic activity, and even jumping rope, (which has recently and mistakenly been recommended for osteoporosis) leads directly to osteoarthritis. That foot-pounding, hips flexing, knee impacting, spine-jarring activity takes men and women trying to prevent or reduce bone loss out of the frying pan and puts them in the fire of developing painful, crippling hard-to-control osteoarthritis. Older people are confronted by a dilemma: Too much impact exercise and you will help your bones while hurting your joints. Don’t exercise and your osteoporosis will advance. It’s both ends of the bone against the middle.

While Yoga is no panacea, it does provide weight-bearing exercise with none of the dangers that lead to osteoarthritis. Yoga pits one muscle group against another to generate forces far greater than gravity. Yoga is isometric exercise. It is also weight bearing. Both of these types of activity have been proven to improve bone strength. Unlike most forms of “weight-bearing” activity, Yoga does not damage cartilage or lead to osteoarthritis, another peril of aging. Yoga stretches the muscles, increasing the range of motion that osteoarthritis otherwise inexorably narrows. By improving range of motion, Yoga counters the chief and sometimes terrible impairment that comes with osteoarthritis.

Some Yoga postures seem to have been designed many hundreds of years ago specifically for those who want to keep their bones strong. That’s one reason my co-author Ellen Saltonstall and I wrote “Yoga for Osteoporosis”. In the book we describe which Yoga poses are good for preventing or reversing bone loss safely and give detailed instructions about how to do them. Every pose is presented with three different levels of difficulty: one to be done by beginners, one for intermediate, and then the classical pose, generally for experienced practitioners. Every pose has a list of contraindications, and modifications for people with different levels of physical well-being.

Yoga’s other positive effects that have been demonstrated fairly persuasively (by Western standards) include reducing lower back pain and blood pressure, better coordination, better posture and increasing the thickness of the cortical layers of the cerebrum.. In addition, Yoga improves strength, refines balance and fosters calm. All in all, there are few if any ways as simple and effective for treating osteoporosis.
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