Reversing Bone Loss and Osteoporosis
The Dangers Of Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by loss in bone mass and an increase risk for getting fractures. The skeleton is still capable of building bone, however the aging process and other factors make it less likely for the body to retain bone mass. After menopause, estrogen levels decline, combined with a reduction in muscle-stressing weight bearing activities reduces the body’s bone formation ability.
The consequences of osteoporotic fractures include diminished quality of life, decreased functional independence, and increased morbidity and mortality. In the US alone, there are between 5-10 million women and 2 million men some as young as teenagers that are diagnosed as having osteoporosis. Every year, osteoporosis causes 250,000 hip fractures and 500,000 spinal fractures. Unfortunately 50-70% of women do not recover fully after a hip fracture and as many as 25% will die within the first year post-fracture. These are very sobering statistics. Although generally patients are recommended to perform gentle exercises such as walking, the powerful benefits of the pool tend to be neglected since swimming by itself does not increase bone strength. However studies suggest aquatic exercise therapy and immersion can help prevent and even reverse bone loss.
A Powerful Solution
Historically, aquatic exercise has never been considered as a viable method to combat bone loss. Because immersion can diminish weight bearing forces by more than 90%, aquatic-based exercise has always been seen as a poor substitute for weight-bearing tasks, such as walking. However, this perspective has changed dramatically for multiple reasons and is now becoming more and more popular.
Patients who are unable to handle gravity’s full force, can easily do so when immersed to chest-level in water. Patients can be directed to exercise in a controlled and progressive manner merely by adjusting the level of immersion. The less immersion equals more weight that the patient is handling on his/her own. Although pool-based exercises provide less weight bearing forces than land counterparts, pain and fear will often prevent patients from exercising. Fortunately, movement in water has natural resistance due to water’s viscosity. This resistance will stimulate bone growth by requiring the muscle to pull against the bone. This makes the pool an excellent choice for patients who choose to not exercise regularly on land, due to pain or other reasons.
Thus if we use the pool for exercises other than swimming, we can take advantage of muscle pull on bone which can help stimulate bone growth. Exercise with viscosity produces drag. and drag produces resistance helping us improve bone density. Furthermore, the pool is a great way to improve balance and regain confidence since there is a decreased risk of falling. Finally, the study of aquatic plyometrics has shown that it is possible to execute speed, power and other explosive activities in water; and we can perform these activities with similar athletic gains without worrying about injuring ourselves.
Some Great Suggestions
We offer some great aquatic exercise suggestions on our website as well as water dumbbells and exercise pools
Jewel demonstrates Warrior II which is great for building strong knees and balance
Our friends at Aquatic Therapy University also has some great suggestions: