There are many challenges that come your way when you begin to age. One of them is the loss of muscle mass and correspondingly, the loss of bone density. Both processes can be slowed and even reversed through regular strength training but for people with bones that are already weak, strength training is difficult and sometimes dangerous.
What can be done to help people who have weak bones to reverse the negative effects without potentially causing them more harm? The trick is to find a way to strengthen the body without excessive exercise along with some positive daily habits.
What is osteoporosis and how does it affect the body?
Osteoporosis means porous bone, and this is exactly what osteoporosis causes. If you look at a picture of bones with osteoporosis, there are holes in the bones like a sponge. Our bodies are constantly breaking down old bone cells and creating new ones.
As we age, the rate of breakdown can begin to outpace the rate of creation of new cells and this causes the density of our bones to decrease. This makes the bones weak, brittle, and porous.
This makes the sufferer of osteoporosis very prone to fractures, should they fall. The areas of the body that are the most prone to fractures due to osteoporosis are the hip, wrist, and spine and these fractures can affect the quality of life of the sufferer for the rest of their lives.
What can be done to help combat osteoporosis?
If you have been told by your doctor that you have osteopenia, this means that you are at the beginning of the bone-weakening stages. You can take positive actions now to combat osteoporosis and reverse the bone loss before it gets progressed.
If you haven’t been told by your doctor but are worried about your bone density, you can get a bone density test done to see if your bones are beginning to weaken. In fact, it is recommended that all women over the age of 65 get tested for osteoporosis.
Here are some preventative measures that you can take whether you have weak bones or not:
- Eat foods high in vitamin D and calcium. Combining these two nutrients helps to rebuild bone mass. Calcium builds the bone while vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium. Good foods that meet this list are dairy products, green leafy veggies, fatty fish, nuts, and cereals.
- Avoid foods high in sodium which blocks the absorption of calcium into the body.
- Get UV rays from the sun. This is the best source of vitamin D for the body. Fifteen minutes of sun exposure without sunscreen two or three times a week is all you need to get your necessary intake.
- Avoid high alcohol intake and don’t smoke. Both habits will greatly increase your risk of osteoporosis. Even secondhand smoke can contribute to bone loss.
- Get regular exercise, including weight-bearing exercise.
These tips can help you to prevent osteoporosis, but what if it’s too late? Is there any hope for recovery? Fortunately, modern medicine has taught us a lot about how to care for our bones and most people can effectively reverse their bone loss.
The common problem that many people face is when it comes to exercise. They can easily change their eating habits to include vitamin D and calcium. They make sure to drink sparingly and avoid all cigarette smoke. Exercise is another story.
It can be hard to get regular exercise when you are already weak. Not to mention the recommendation of getting regular weight-bearing exercise. On weak bones, this can cause joint pain and be difficult to start at first.
Luckily, there is a way to strengthen your body without high impact exercise but with the same results.
EMS for Osteoporosis – The Alternative to Traditional Weight-Bearing Exercise
The recommendation for people who have osteoporosis with exercise is to start out slowly. You need to use light weights first and low-intensity exercise. As time goes on, you can progress, but this can seem like an impossible-uphill battle.
EMS, or electro muscular stimulation, is a technique that involves sending electrical impulses through your muscles to cause a contraction. There are different ways to administer this treatment. You can attach pads to specialized areas of the body that you would like to target or use a full body suit with electronic pulses sent out all over the body.
When you have osteoporosis, it’s like a catch 22. You need to do strength training in order to strengthen your bones, but you already have weak bones which make this difficult to do. You can suffer from joint pain and muscle pain.
EMS is helpful because it can magnify the amount of work your muscles do without causing too much impact on the bones themselves. Not only relieving pain but allowing the individual to complete more strength training volume resulting in greater improvement.
But the benefits don’t stop there. Osteoporosis is a sure set in for people who have had a spinal cord injury. SCI has been proven to drastically speed up the process of bone deterioration. For this reason, many people suffer from fractures after recovery from a spinal cord injury.
Recently, there have been numerous doctors using EMS treatments on their paraplegic or tetraplegic patients to help combat osteoporosis from developing due to their forced sedimentary lifestyle.
Studies have shown that usage of EMS to improve bone density. One specific case found an 11-13% increase in bone density and a decrease rate of bone loss in the upper and lower leg bones, the tibia, and femur. The EMS treatments were done for a length of 6 months, 5 days a week.
There have been some cases that showed no improvement which led to some disputes about its effectiveness. Nevertheless, doctors still use EMS to give some muscular and bone loading to their patients that do not have the ability to do that on their own. The safety of using EMS on patients with osteoporosis has been proven valid.
Another study done on rats showed that the regular use of EMS on rats with osteoporosis showed improvement in bone quality and density. These findings give us ever more reasons to administer EMS to patients with osteoporosis in order to increase the chances of bone density improvement.
With EMS delivering the added benefits of the relief from joint and muscle pain, reduce muscle spasms, improve muscle tone, and increase strength there is really no real reason not to add EMS to your strength training routine.
By increasing muscle strength, you also decrease your risk of falls that lead to fractures due to osteoporosis as well. Balance training and flexibility should be an integral part of your fitness regime. With your increased mobility, you will feel more confident in each movement you make, and your stronger muscles can help to stabilize each step you take.
There is no doubt that exercising is the best way to reduce your chances of developing osteoporosis and improving your bone density if you already have it. However, EMS can help make that transition easier, speedier, and less painful. It’s always better to work smarter, not harder!
Stephen J. Shapiro M.D, FACS is a board-certified General Surgeon. Dr. Shapiro completed his surgical training at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was Clinical Chief of Surgery at that institution for many years and possesses advanced knowledge of laparoscopic surgery. Dr. Shapiro has lectured around the world about laparoscopy. He is the author of 30 peer-reviewed scientific papers and has authored seven different book chapters.