Low bone density is known as osteoporosis when severe, or osteopenia when less so. Although your osteopath cannot cure osteoporosis, we need to know if it affects you. It may change a treatment plan as some techniques may be unsuitable for you. On the flip side of that, it may also change our treatment goals. Weight bearing exercise is one of the best management strategies for low bone density, so improving your symptoms enough that you can engage in such activitiesis a potential way your osteopath can help.
Inside long bones like the thigh bone (femur), bone looks a bit like honeycomb. This is normal, but when the holes are too big, a diagnosis of low bone density may be made.
Bone density is tested using an X-Ray. A number of different areas may be tested, including spinal bones, the thigh bone, or the heel. A calculation is made using this information, and the technician is left with a number that corresponds to bone density in that area. The test is non-invasive and generally quite easy to obtain, through the NHS or privately.
People are often surprised to learn that bone is living tissue. It is constantly being broken down and rebuilt, which makes sense when you think about the fact that fractures can heal. In osteoporosis, the breaking down process happens faster than the rebuilding one.
As bone is living tissue, it can be influenced. If the rebuilding process is too slow, you want to speed it up. As mentioned above, weight bearing and muscle strengthening exercise can help here. The body responds to the demands placed on it, and by asking more of the bone, it should respond with strengthening. Your osteopath can support you in building up an exercise plan: you don't want to do too much too quickly and cause an injury.
There are often hormonal factors in play. Osteoporosis incidence increases with age, particularly affecting peri- or post-menopausal women. Your doctor may prescribe HRT to help with this, although this is not a permanent solution. They may also prescribe bisphosphates, which are a family of drug that helps to strengthen the bone. If your osteoporosis or osteopenia was diagnosed privately, we recommend that you take the results back to your GP so that they can give you a medical treatment plan. We can work alongside this to help manage your condition holistically.
When appropriate, osteopaths can use HVT or manipulation techniques, where a joint is "clicked". Although this is a small and controlled movement, it is relatively powerful, and is not suitable for people with low bone density or particularly brittle bones.
Fortunately, we have a range of techniques available for any one problem. Gentle, repeated movements can have similar benefits to the strong quick ones. Don't feel that your low bone density makes you an unsuitable patient for osteopathy- we can adapt to almost anything.