Back Exercise Prevents Falls in Older Women
A simple exercise program that involves the use of a weighted back harness can reduce the risk of falls in older women with osteoporosis and a rounded upper back, according to a study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings (2005;80:849–55).
Women with osteoporosis have a tendency to develop a rounded upper back, a deformity known as kyphosis. The posture associated with kyphosis strains back muscles and ligaments and can be a major source of back pain. It also changes the body’s center of gravity and increases the risk of falling, a common cause of injury and death in elderly people.
Approximately one-third of elderly people not living in long-term care facilities fall and are injured each year. Injuries from falling are often more serious in people with osteoporosis. Sprains and strains; fractured bones in the hip, wrist, or other areas; head trauma; and even death are possible consequences of falling. In addition to kyphosis, other factors such as strength, agility, health status, and footwear can affect a person’s risk of falling. Studies have found that the risk of falls and fractures can be reduced by wearing athletic shoes or sneakers, by improving muscle strength in the legs, and by developing better balance through exercise such as tai chi, a traditional Chinese exercise that combines gentle movements and meditation.
Eleven women over age 60 who had osteoporosis and kyphosis but were otherwise healthy were evaluated in the new study. The women first underwent height and weight measurements, back x-rays, bone density measurements, and analysis of posture stability, muscle strength, and the movement of walking (gait). Questionnaires were used to assess physical activity level, back pain, and tendency to fall. The women then received instructions for a four-week exercise program. The program consisted of ten repetitions of back extension exercises once a day to reduce kyphosis and ten minutes of exercises twice a day to improve balance. A back harness worn on the shoulders that suspended 1 kg (a little more than 2 pounds) of weight at the level of the mid- to low-back, known as a weighted kypho-orthosis, was worn by the women for 30 minutes twice a day, including while they performed their exercises.
After completing the program, the women were found to have increased in height by an average of 1.1 centimeters, a sign of improved posture. Their gait, balance, and back muscle strength improved significantly, and they reported that their tendency to fall and their back pain had decreased, and their physical activity level had increased.
These findings suggest that women with a high risk of falls and fractures due to osteoporosis and kyphosis can reduce these risks by following a specific exercise program while using a weighted kypho-orthosis. Both the exercise program, which was not overly time-consuming and not strenuous, and the weighted kypho-orthosis, a simple and safe device, should be considered for people with osteoporosis and kyphosis.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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