Answers provided by HSS nurse practitioner Christine Mironenko.
Can people with osteoporosis practice yoga?
People with osteoporosis should obtain medical clearance from their doctor for all exercise routines, including yoga. If you have a history of a fracture, your doctor will likely have specific precautions for you.
Longtime yoga practitioners who are diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia (reduced bone mass, but less severe than osteoporosis) can usually continue their practice with a few safety precautions. All patients should work closely with their doctor to formulate their unique precautions.
Are there any forms of yoga that are preferable for people with osteoporosis?
With the guidance of an experienced teacher, most styles of yoga may be appropriate if precautions are taken in certain postures. Yoga classes dedicated to bone health tend to be more gentle and have a great focus on alignment.
Can yoga be helpful for people with osteoporosis? What are the benefits?
Yes, absolutely. Yoga can improve muscle strength, balance, posture and body awareness, which can all help with preventing falls. This is a key goal in reducing fracture risk, as falls are the number one cause of broken bones in people with osteoporosis.
Weight-bearing exercise is recommended for bone health because, like muscles, bones are stimulated to grow when they are bearing weight. Exercises such as walking are great for the legs, but they don’t put weight on the upper body. Fortunately, in addition to the lower body, many yoga postures also put weight on the arms, shoulders and chest. Stretching and strengthening the muscles around the bones will also help support them.
Are there any poses or movements one should avoid?
- Avoid forward folds or rounding poses. This will cause compression in the front of the spine, a common place for an osteoporotic fracture.
- To prevent a fall, be careful in standing poses. Always use a wall or chair for support in any poses with a risk for a fall.
- Avoid deep twists and deep hip bends, especially combined with added pressure from your own body weight or from your teacher’s hands-on assistance. Compression combined with twists will definitely put fragile bones at risk for a fracture.
- Avoid a rigorous yoga practice, especially if you are new to yoga. Be mindful when you move from pose to pose to prevent unintended twisting or a fall. Seek out a qualified teacher to help you with your alignment.
- Avoid anything that causes pain or does not feel right. Never try to work through pain to force yourself into a pose.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation has developed a nice tip sheet on poses to avoid, as well as recommended poses: https://cdn.nof.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Safe-Yoga-NOF-Flyer-2016.pdf
How should one go about finding a class or a qualified instructor? What should one look for?
Check for yoga classes at a physical therapy center or at your community health center. Find out from your local yoga studio if they would recommend a certain teacher with experience and knowledge of anatomy. You may notice an instructor helping other students with modifications and asking about health conditions or injuries prior to class, and this is a good sign. Your teacher should make you feel comfortable and be approachable enough for you to ask questions.
Always tell your yoga instructor before class if you have any muscle, joint or bone conditions, including osteoporosis.
The Content in this blog post is not intended to be a substitute for your physician’s medical advice. Always seek the advice of your health provider with any questions you may have regarding your health, joint replacement surgery, and yoga or exercise program.
Christine Mironenko, MSN, AGNP-BC, is an orthopedic nurse practitioner in the Postoperative Care Program at Hospital for Special Surgery. She has been practicing Vinyasa yoga for 12 years.