In honor of National Osteoporosis Month, our ATI Physical Therapy Women’s Health team is here to tell you two things – one thing you’ve likely heard before, and another you likely haven’t.

First up, drink your milk! (We know you’ve heard that before!) Calcium is an important nutrient that helps to strengthen your bones and prevent osteoporosis. 

Secondly, if you do have osteoporosis, physical therapy is a viable treatment option. Although osteoporosis is a disease that affects your bones, strengthening your muscles through physical therapy can actually help strengthen those bones as well. 

“Physical therapy is one of the most important things you can do to treat osteoporosis,” says Cecile Gibbs, physical therapist at ATI Physical Therapy in Elkton, MD. “PT helps improve muscle flexibility and strength to protect the bones.” 

Who’s affected?

Osteoporosis can affect both men and women; however, the disease is more common in women, particularly post-menopausal women. To see a complete list of risk factors, visit the National Osteoporosis Foundation website. 

When should you begin treatment?

Whether you have a severe or borderline case of osteoporosis or osteopenia (softening of the bones), it’s best to begin treatment immediately, Cecile says. In addition to a physical therapy program and medication, it’s important to take in a lot of vitamin D and calcium to help strengthen the bones. 

How does physical therapy help my bones?

Muscles and tendons place stress on the bone, so by strengthening those muscles, you can protect the bone. Although you cannot “cure” osteoporosis, this can help prevent the disease from becoming more degenerative. 

How long will I be in treatment for? 

Many patients enter physical therapy to be treated for an acute injury that is caused by osteoporosis, not because of the osteoporosis itself. Therefore, patients may be in therapy about four to six weeks to treat the injury. A physical therapist will then work with the patient to create a more holistic at-home exercise plan that features general stretching and exercise to continue strengthening muscles. (If weight training, individuals should use light weights and practice higher reps instead.)