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Low Bone Density: Osteoporosis & Osteopenia.

Osteoporosis is a condition where bone strength, bone density and bone quality become compromised. This causes the bone to become weaker and less dense, which can increase the risk of a fracture. Osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis, indicates lower than normal bone density but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. 

Low bone density means that your bones are not as strong as they should be. Bones with low density have less mineral content, making them weaker and more likely to break. Bone density can be measured using a test called a DEXA scan, which compares your bone density to healthy levels. If your bone density is lower than normal, but not low enough to be osteoporosis, it’s called osteopenia. If it’s very low, it’s called osteoporosis.

There are an estimated 6.3 million Australians with low bone density, including 1.2 million with osteoporosis. The prevalence of low bone density increases significantly with age, affecting 20% of people aged 75 and over (RACGP) (NPS Australia) (Trusted Health Advice).

Early detection and proactive management of osteoporosis are crucial in preventing fractures and maintaining bone health. Adopting a healthy lifestyle, incorporating specific exercises, and following medical advice can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with osteoporosis. By understanding the risk factors and engaging in preventive measures, you can better protect your bone health and quality of life.

What is the difference between Osteoporosis & Osteopenia?

Osteoporosis and osteopenia both involve reduced bone density, but they represent different stages of bone health deterioration:

  • Osteopenia: This is the precursor to osteoporosis. It indicates that bone density is below normal but not low enough to be classified as osteoporosis. People with osteopenia have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Osteoporosis: This condition is more severe compared to Osteopenia, making bones more fragile and prone to fractures

Causes of Osteoporosis, Osteopenia and Low Bone Density

Osteoporosis is often called the “silent disease” because it typically progresses without any symptoms until a fracture occurs.

Low bone density, including Osteoporosis and Osteopenia, can be caused by various factors. These are usually separated into two categories: modifiable causes (things you can change) and non-modifiable causes (things you can’t change).

  • Modifiable Causes

    • Insufficient Calcium and Vitamin D Intake: Calcium is essential for bone health, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. Low levels of these nutrients can lead to decreased bone density.
    • Sedentary Lifestyle: Insufficient physical activity, especially weight-bearing exercises, can weaken bones.
    • Smoking: Tobacco use contributes to weak bones and increases the risk of fractures.
    • Excessive Alcohol Consumption: Drinking too much alcohol can interfere with the balance of calcium in the body, reducing bone density.
  • Non-modifiable Causes

    • Age: Bone density naturally decreases with age
    • Gender: Females are more likely to develop osteoporosis than males, especially post-menopause due to lower oestrogen levels, which protect bone density.
    • Genetics: A family history of osteoporosis can increase the risk.
    • Medical Conditions: Certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders, and celiac disease, can affect bone health.

How to Manage Low Bone Density, Osteopenia and Osteoporosis

Managing osteoporosis involves a combination of lifestyle changes, medical treatments, and specific therapies to maintain bone health and prevent fractures.

  • Diet: Ensure adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D to support bone health.
  • Exercise:
    • Weight-Bearing Exercises: Activities that involve walking, running and jumping help build and maintain bone density.
    • Muscle-Strengthening Exercises: Resistance training, such as lifting weights, helps strengthen muscles and bones.
    • Balance and Flexibility Exercises: Exercises that challenge your balance, can reduce the risk of falls and fractures. 
  • Medications: Bisphosphonates, hormone-related therapy, and other medications prescribed by healthcare professionals can help prevent bone loss and fractures. For more information on how medication can be used to manage osteoporosis, please consult your GP. 
  • Exercise health professionals – Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists:
    • Customised Exercise Programs: Exercise health professionals can design personalised exercise programs to improve bone density.
    • Education and Advice: In addition to helping with exercise, they can also help you learn more about the condition and provide guidance on safe movements or other techniques to reduce your risk of falling.
  • Fall Prevention: Making home modifications, such as removing tripping hazards and installing grab bars, alongside balance-improving exercises, can significantly reduce the risk of falls

How we can help manage low bone density? 

Move for Better Health’s Physiotherapists offer an OsteoFit program at our Malvern, Magill and Glenelg locations.

The OsteoFit program is specifically designed for those with Osteoporosis and Osteopenia, and those wanting to improve their bone density. This is an excellent way to get started on an exercise program for improving bone density.

The OsteoFit program consists of: 

Your physio will provide education on your condition and how to manage low bone density. They will teach you your personalised exercise program to prepare you for classes, and may go through some home exercises if appropriate
You will complete your own exercise program in small Physio-run classes. Your program may include strength and resistance based exercises, balance exercises, weight bearing exercises, and impact exercises like jumping and hopping
Your physio will reassess you and review your progress so far, guiding you on the next steps after the program is complete

In addition to these sessions, the program includes educational resources, outcome measures to track your progress and may also include a home exercise program if that is suitable for you. 

This program is based on the most up to date clinical evidence in managing Osteoarthritis, Osteopenia and low bone density, and it has been bundled together to make it easy for you to get started. 

This comprehensive program will take approximately 2-3 months to complete, and you are encouraged to attend the exercise sessions at least once per week to ensure you are getting the benefits you need. At the end of the program your physio will provide further advice on what to do next.

To be eligible for the program, you first need to complete a Physiotherapy assessment to ensure this is a suitable option for you.

Find out more

To get help managing your Osteoporosis, Osteopenia or Low Bone Density, get in touch with our team:


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