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Top 10 Pilates Reformer Exercises for Osteoporosis

Top 10 Pilates Reformer Exercises for Osteoporosis

54 million Americans have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis. 

Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by too little bone formation, excessive bone loss, or a combination of both, leading to bone fragility and an increased risk of fractures. Studies suggest that approximately one in two women and up to one in four men age 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis. (National Osteoporosis Foundation [NOF] 2015). Kind of motivates you to try to prevent this disease right? Well, the good news is- the fact that you’re reading a blog on a Pilates page written by a physical therapist means you’re already in the right place to start taking control of your bone density!

Exercises for Bone Density

There are two types of exercises that are important for building and maintaining bone density:  weight-bearing (high or low impact) and muscle-strengthening exercises (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] 2004 2004). However, an unsung hero/third type of exercise that is VITAL in the osteopenic/osteoporotic population is balance! (Falls are the #1 cause of fractures in the osteoporotic population).

Benefits of Pilates

The great news is, Pilates address all of these types of exercises and is incredibly beneficial not only for mitigating your risk of osteoporosis, but slowing down or even reversing bone density loss if you already have degenerative changes. It’s a beautiful combination of weight-bearing exercises (scooter and plank), muscle-strengthening via resistance training (pulling straps, foot work or feet in straps) and balance (standing splits, high-kneeling chest expansion).

Pilates has gotten a bad rap in the management of osteoporosis because people think it’s only about forward flexion (bending – which can be dangerous for individuals with osteoporosis)- and this is NOT TRUE! Yes, there are Pilates exercises that are not safe for individuals with osteoporosis but a well trained instructor will know how to modify the class/program to not only keep the client safe but actually help manage the disease.

Top 10 Pilates Reformer Exercises for Prevention and Management of Osteoporosis:

1. Swan 

It’s great weight-bearing through the wrists and arms and helps strengthen the muscles in the entire back to protect the spine and throughout the shoulder girdle and upper arms to strengthen the bone in the upper arm (A common fracture site).

2. Overhead Arm press/arm jumping 

Weight-bearing through the wrists and arms, muscle strengthening for the arms/shoulder girdle and back extensors.

3. Scooter

Weight-bearing through the femur/hip, strengthening for the entire hip complex/glutes and abs/back, balance in modified single leg stance.

4. Standing side splits 

Weight-bearing through the femur/hip, strengthening for the entire hip complex and abs/back, balance standing on a moving platform.

5. Footwork

Strengthening for the entire leg/hip (the various foot positions address EVERYTHING in the leg!) as well as abdominals.

6. Pulling straps

Strengthening for the shoulder girdle and posterior muscles along the spine/shoulder blades (support upright posture and thoracic vertebrae bone density) as well as glutes (promote hip bone density and play a major part in upright standing/balance).

7. Seated arm series

Strengthening for posterior arm/shoulder/spine musculature which support upright posture and thoracic vertebrae bone density.

8. High kneeling chest expansion

Strengthening for the posterior shoulder and thoracic spine musculature to promote upright posture and thoracic spine bone density and balance in high kneeling posture on a moving platform.

9. Down Stretch

Weight-bearing through the arms and strengthening for the abdominals, low back and shoulder girdle.

10. Feet in straps

Strengthening for the hamstrings, glutes, adductors and abductors of the hip and entire core which promotes improved stability and bone density in the hips/lumbar spine.

Take home message: Talk to your instructor if you are concerned about osteoporosis or have been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis. We can talk about how to manage your Pilates practice to keep you safe and in control of your bone health.

In Strength,

Stephanie Sprout DPT

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