Successfully living with osteoporosis: 33 tips from a spinal specialist

How to get around and be active with osteoporosis

Move safely to prevent osteoporosis injury

Walking, moving, standing and sitting safely can prevent broken bones if you are living with osteoporosis.  Using proper posture during any activity can also limit the amount of compression forces that are applied to the spine and hips, offering a smart and easy avoidance strategy that results in reduced whole body aches that are common in osteoporosis.   Improved body alignment makes body mechanics and posture less stressful and less injurious to the skeletal structure especially the spine which carries most of the body weight.

Safe, reasonable and controlled activity are key when living with osteoporosis.  The following will help you to understand how to stay active to keep your bones healthy.

Avoid the following positions and postures to maintain good body alignment and aid mechanics of movement:

  • Head slumped forward
  • Forward bend from the waist
  • Twisted or rotated spine at any level
  • Twisting and bending of the trunk at the same time
  • Bending forward when coughing, sneezing, straining at stool or lifting
  • Over-reaching or over-stretching while trying to reach something; stay compact

Sitting and osteoporosis

  • Keep the hips and knees at the same level.  Do not have the knees higher or lower than the level of the hips.
  • Place your feet flat on the floor.
  • Maintain a comfortable posture with a natural inward or forward curve to the lower back.
  • Sit upright and stay tall in the chair; do not slump or sag.
  • If needed use a rolled up towel or pillow for support in a chair that does not fit well.
  • Use the automobile headrest at all times.
  • Read while sitting up straight and rest the back by placing the elbows on the tabletop to carry some of the body weight.  Make sure you are close to the table for good support and to avoid leaning too far forward.
  • Use a footrest of box on the floor to support the feet when sitting for a long time.
  • Take frequent breaks to rest the back, while walking around.

Standing and osteoporosis

  • Keep the shoulder back, chin tucked in and head high while sitting.
  • Flatten the abdomen and keep a comfortable forward arch of  the lower back by gently contracting the postural muscles.
  • Keep the feet and knees facing forward.
  • When standing for a long time, rest one foot on a short stool or box; anything that allows the low back to flatten and relax like an open cabinet drawer in the kitchen.   Occasionally switch feet to rest the back further .

Climbing stairs and osteoporosis

  • Slow careful stair climbing is good exercise to maintain bone density, but it is necessary to gradually build up this exercise.
  • Stand tall and keep the abdomen gently pulled in.
  • Point the feet and knees straight ahead, not to one side.  Do not put one foot directly in front of the other, but a few inches apart so each foot is lined up under the hip of the same side.
  • Always hold the banister or handrail  while using the stairs – going up or down.

Bending and turning and osteoporosis

  • Maintain good bending and turning posture with both feet flat on the floor, placed at as shoulder-width distance apart.
  • Allow the arms to hang near the chest, so that upper arms brush against the side of the chest, a hand is used for support.
  • While bending, keep the back vertical and upright in a comfortable straight posture.
  • Bend at the knees and hips, while the back is held upright and head kept looking up and forward.  Do not bend at the waist to avoid a forward bended posture that can apply compression forces that can fracture ribs and spinal bones.
  • Brush your teeth, wash your face and comb your hair while standing upright.  If needed to lower your body, bend the knees and hips and keep the back straight.
  • If it is necessary to rotate position or turn around, do not twist the body or rotate the spine.  Simply pick up the feet and move them to change body position; like you are dancing.   Pivot lightly on the balls of your feet so that twisting of the body is avoided.

Lifting and carrying and osteoporosis

  • Do not lift, move or carry anything that is greater than 10 pounds.
  • If you must carry a heavy object, never bend forward at the waist.  Keep the back upright and the object you are carrying parallel to the ground.
  • To lift an object off the floor, first get close to the object so you do not have to bend over or reach down for it.  Get close by kneeling down on one knee.  Use one hand on the surface of the object you are going to lift of a table top or chair for support.
  • Bring the object close to the body at waist height.  Contract the abdominal and back muscles to support the back.  Breathe out while lifting and straightening up. Stand while using the leg muscles.
  • At the grocery store have the bags packed lightly.  Hold the grocery bags close to the body.  Balance the load by using two hands to carry one bag, or carry two light bags on each side. Unpack groceries on a chair or table rather than a high counter or on the floor to keep posture comfortable.
  • Use a fanny pack instead of pocketbook or purse.

Pushing and pulling movements and osteoporosis

  • Vacuum, sweep, rake and mop while keeping the feet slightly apart with one foot staggered in front of the other, not even with each other.
  • Do not bend forward from the waist.
  • Always face the work you are doing to prevent twisting or awkward movements of the spine and pressure on the ribs.
  • Shift body weight from one foot to the other in a smooth rocking movement, or from side to side rhythmically.

Coughing and sneezing and osteoporosis

  • Support the lower back with one hand whenever coughing, sneezing or straining at stool, or on the thigh.
  • Bend both knees slightly to absorb some of the shock while sneezing or coughing in the standing posture.
  • Do not bend forward while coughing, sneezing or straining at stool.

Osteoporosis is part of getting older, but it can be minimized and made safer if you use intelligent strategies to avoid injury to the spine and other parts of the skeleton.