Sunday, March 18, 2012

Osteoporosis: maintain and recreate bone density

This blog is focusing on one of the most common health problems among my older female clients/patients, Osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in women over 50 in the US. A loss of bone density occurs when the body doesn't form enough new bone or reabsorbs too much old bone or both. This is caused by a lack of calcium and phosphate, two minerals vital to bone formation. Other causes include:

  • chronic rheumatoid arthritis
  • corticosteroid use
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • bed confinement
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • alcohol abuse and more
Symptoms include bone pain, fractures without or little impact/trauma, stooped posture (hyper kyphosis) and significant loss in height (6 inches or more).

Bone density loss is commonly diagnosed by performing a bone density test. The dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scans are comparing the patients levels with those of a healthy young woman (T Score) and with those of the patient's peers (Z Score). Negative T-Scores indicate the loss of bone mass with values from -1.0 to -2.5 being diagnosed as Osteopenia (milder form) and values of -2.5 and lower being considered Osteoporosis.

A treatment plan is trying to stop further bone density loss, increase bone density and manage the associated pain. The patient is typically using calcium and vitamin D supplements and medications such as Fosamax, Actonel, Boniva, and Reclast that are designed to increase bone density. In addition patients with low bone densities need to be educated on the importance of impact exercising and be put on an appropriate exercise program

Why is weight bearing and loaded exercising important? Bone is considered a bradytrophic tissue, meaning it has very little or no direct blood supply. It absorbs nutrition like a sponge absorbs water. You squeeze the sponge for maximum absorption. Compressing the bone through weight bearing- and impact exercises accomplishes the same. Studies performed among women with Osteoporosis and Osteopenia showed significant better outcomes in those that were involved in exercise programs involving weight bearing exercises and loading stresses. It needs to be mentioned though that patients with severe Osteoporosis are at a very high risk for hip, wrist and vertebra fractures. High impact exercises have to be avoided at this stage. Exercising under the supervision of an experienced trainer or Physical Therapist is highly recommended.

Exercises I recommend to my patients include but are not limited to:

  • Lunges
  • Squats
  • Step-ups
  • Jumps (milder stages)
  • Hip Abduction (short lever in severe cases)
  • modified Push-Ups
  • Supine Posterior Pelvic Tilts
  • Supine Bridging etc.
I hope this blog is offering some insights into the problem of bone density loss and the importance of exercise to treat this disease. As always, please feel free to contact me with questions and comments. Please like BACK IN FORM on Facebook ( and follow our tweet on Twitter.

A sante,

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Piriformis Syndrome or Sciatica?

Many of my clients come to me asking for help after having been diagnosed with Piriformis Syndrome (PS) aka "Pseudo Sciatica". PS is caused by either a tight piriformis muscle or a spasm of the same causing irritation to the underlying Sciatic nerve. The term "Pseudo Sciatica" already indicates that it is hard to differentiate between true Sciatica and PS, as both cause the same symptoms (pain, tingling, burning, "electrical shock" sensations, and/or numbness down the leg, often all the way to the foot). Some recent studies contribute a tight piriformis or a piriformis spasm to the fact that the muscle is overworked due to weakness in gluteus medius and maximus (buttock muscles). True Sciatica is most commonly caused by the compression of one or more of its component nerve roots due to disc herniation or spinal degeneration in the lower lumbar region.

How can you actually tell the difference? There are two simple diagnostic exercises that give you a very good idea whether you are dealing with Sciatica or PS. If from a sitting position the patient/client straightens his/her painful leg and experiences an increase in pain you very likely are dealing with true Sciatica. If your client/patient pulls up his/her knee (painful side) from sitting position towards the same-side shoulder an increase in pain is only likely in severe Sciatica cases. If the same maneuver is performed towards the opposite shoulder and causes an increase in pain you most likely are looking at a client/patient with PS.

Can Exercise Therapy reduce the symptoms of Piriformis Syndrome?

Unfortunately there are no real scientific studies available that address this particular question. Treatment for PS has traditionally included physical modalities like heat, ice and ultrasound, stretching, and a combination of local anesthetic, corticosteroid and botulinum toxin injections into the piriformis muscle, muscle sheath, or sciatic nerve sheath. Furthermore Physical Therapy included soft tissue mobilization, positional release, and joint manipulation, performed two to three days per week over a three months period.

Recent case studies suggest that exercises strengthening the gluteus maximus and medius and help with movement reeducation can reduce PS symptoms dramatically and in some cases lead to a full symptom resolution within a couple of months.

Exercises recommended in these case studies and have shown improvement in my own PS clients included:

  • Piriformis Stretches
  • Resisted Side Step Abduction
  • Supine Bridging
  • Resisted Clam Shells
  • Myofascial Release of Piriformis with Foam Roller
  • Clock Lunges
  • Clock Single Leg Hops
I hope I was able to shed a little light onto the problem of Piriformis Syndrome vs. Sciatica and my tips prove to be helpful to you or people you might train.

A Sante,