It is important to protect the spine by moving properly during exercise and daily activities. Activities that place stress on the spine can increase the likelihood of breaking a bone. For example, people with bone loss in the spine should not:
- bend forward from the waist
- twist and bend at the torso (trunk) to an extreme
- carry packages that are too heavy
- bend forward when coughing and sneezing
- reach for objects on a high shelf
- do toe-touches, sit-ups or abdominal crunches
For some people with a lot of bone loss, simply hugging a friend or picking up a grandchild can cause a broken bone in the spine. So can sneezing and coughing. To help protect the spine during a sneeze or cough, a person can gently press one or both hands against the chest. This helps prevent bending forward which can place stress on the spine.
If you have osteoporosis and experience back pain, you should see a doctor or other healthcare provider trained to treat osteoporosis. Most healthcare providers will want to check the spine for broken bones. You should also have your height measured once a year and have it written in your patient chart. It is best to do this at the same healthcare provider’s office each year. If height loss is equal to or greater than a half inch in one year, it may be a cause for concern.
Strengthening the muscles that hold the spine straight and upright is important as are exercises to keep your spine limber and flexible. These muscles run up and down the back and sides of your spine. They are called your erector spinae muscles.
If you have osteoporosis, you need to remember an important rule when exercising or going about your daily activities: Do not flex or bend your spine forward. Backward bending or leaning back however reduces stress on the front of the spine.
View spine-strengthening exercises that help you hold your spine straight and upright.
View posture exercises that help keep your spine limber and flexible.
When a person develops kyphosis, the posture becomes stooped or hunched. The back also becomes stiff and difficult to straighten. Figure 1 shows that bending forward compresses (squeezes) the front of the spine. This makes it more likely to break a bone in the spine. The figure also shows that leaning or bending backward separates the spine and reduces the chance of a broken bone.
Note the area of “strain” (in Figure 1) may cause muscle discomfort. This figure shows that a person with osteoporosis can gently lean back to comfortably stretch out and strengthen the back.
Try the following two exercises to keep your spine more limber and flexible. This will help you to hold your back straight. These exercises can also make your bones stronger.
- To reduce tightness in your spine and the muscles of your neck and upper back.
- To help get your head lined up over your shoulders rather than stooped forward.
- Sit with your middle and lower back well-supported in a chair.
- Move your head straight back as far as possible.
- Keep your chin level with the floor and look straight ahead. Do not tilt your chin or forehead.
- Hold your head back in this position for 3 or 4 seconds.
- Then relax back into your normal posture for a second or two.
- Now repeat 5 times. Do this exercise several times a day.
Standing Back Bends
- To stretch your spine and muscles for greater flexibility and movement.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your buttocks against a counter or heavy table that won’t move.
- Place your hands at your waist. Pinch your shoulder blades back as if you are trying to squeeze a pencil between them. Then lean back slightly but stay comfortable.
- Your head should stay in its normal position. The underneath part of the chin should be level with the ground. Your eyes should be looking straight ahead.
- Hold for a slow count of 5.
- Then relax back into your normal posture.
- Now repeat 5 times.
- Repeat several times daily.
NOF thanks Richard Baldwin, P.T., for contributing to this article. Mr. Baldwin is owner and director of Downeast Rehabilitation Associates in Rockport, ME. He is the osteoporosis support group leader of the NOF Coastal Support Group and an NOF health professional member.