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Osteoporosis is defined as low bone mineral density caused by altered bone microstructure ultimately predisposing patients to low-impact, fragility fractures. Osteoporotic fractures lead to a significant decrease in quality of life, with increased morbidity, mortality, and disability. Over 50% of postmenopausal white women will have an osteoporotic-related fracture. Only 33% of senior women who have a hip fracture will be able to return to independence. In white men, the risk of an osteoporotic fracture is 20%, but the one-year mortality in men who have a hip fracture is twice that of women. Black males and females have less osteoporosis than their white counterparts, but those diagnosed with osteoporosis have similar fracture risks. The aging of the American population is expected to triple the number of osteoporotic fractures[1] 


Bone tissue is constantly being absorbed and replaced throughout ones life span. Bone mass decreases when the rate of absorption increases the rate of production; typically occurring with advanced age. Peak bone mass is met at the average age of 20. Those who develop less bone mass prior to this time, have a high chance of developing osteoporosis.[2]

Primary osteoporosis has no known definite cause, but there are many contributing factors associated with the disorder. These include prolonged negative calcium balance, impaired gonadal and adrenal function, estrogen deficiency, or sedentary lifestyle. Postmenopausal osteoporosis is associated with increased bone loss due to decrease production of estrogen.[3] Women commonly lose 1% per year after peak bone density has been met, for up to 8 years post menopause.[4] Senile osteoporosis is an age-related bone loss that often accompanies advanced aging.[3]

Secondary osteoporosis is caused by prolonged use of medications or secondary to another disease or condition which inhibits the absorption of calcium or impedes the body's ability to produce bone.[3]

Low calcium intake or absorption can greatly increase one's risk of developing osteoporosis. Life long calcium intake is crucial in building up bone stock prior to peak levels of bone mass, as well as maintain bone mass after the age of 20. Excessive alcohol consumption can decrease the body's ability to absorb calcium.[5]

Bone produces in response to the load applied to it. Physically active individuals typically have higher bone density, than those who have a sedentary lifestyle.[5]

Hormone levels, either too little or too much, can impede on the body's ability to produce and maintain adequate bone mass. Dysfunction with sex glands, thyroid, parathyroid, or adrenal glands is often associated with osteoporosis. [5]


Over 200 million people have osteoporosis and the incidence rate increases with age.  

  • Over 70% of those over age 80 are affected.  
  • It is more common in females than in males.  
  • In the developed world, 2% to 8% of males and 9% to 38% of females are affected.  
  • Worldwide, there are approximately 9 million fractures per year as a result of osteoporosis. 
  • One in 3 females and 1 in 5 males over the age of 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture.
  • Areas of the world with less Vitamin D through sunlight compared to regions closer to the equator have higher fracture rates in comparison to people living at lower latitudes.[1]
  • In the United States alone, approximately 10 million individuals are estimated to already have the disease and 34 million at increased risk for osteoporosis.[6] Fifty-five percent of Americans over the age of 50 have the disorder. [6]


Patients with a diagnosis of osteoporosis should have   

  • Laboratory assessment of their renal and thyroid function, a 25-hydroxyvitamin D and calcium level.   
  • DEXA scan. The World Health Organization (WHO) established dual x-ray absorptiometry tests scans (DEXA) of the central skeleton is the best test for assessing bone mineral density.  

Bone density test results are reported using T-scores. T-scores are relative to how much higher or lower your bone density is compared to that of a healthy 30 year old adult

  • A t-score reflects the difference between the measured bone mineral density and the mean value of bone mineral density in young adults.
  • It is measured in standard deviations.
  • The WHO has defined normal bone mineral density for women as a t-score within one standard deviation of the young adult mean.
  • Scores between negative 1 and negative 2.5 reflect a diagnosis of osteopenia.
  • Scores below negative 2.5 reflect a diagnosis of osteoporosis.

The Fracture Risk Assessment Tool, FRAX,  has become a more accurate way to measure 10years fracture probability.  The FRAX questionnaire takes into account elements that influence an individual's bone quality as well as their bone density. [3]

To learn more about FRAX view this tutorial.

Characteristics/Clinical Presentation

The physical exam rarely reveals any changes until osteoporosis is quite advanced. At that point, loss of height and kyphosis is evident from vertebral fractures.

In healthy individuals without risk factors, experts recommend

  • Start to screen women at the age of 65 years of age and men at the age of 70.
  • Patients with risk factors or a high score on an osteoporosis risk assessment test should be screened sooner.[1]
Bone Comparison of Healthy and Osteoporotic Vertibrae.png

Clinical Signs and Symptoms

  • Back pain: Episodic, acute low thoracic/high lumbar pain
  • Compression fracture of the spine 
  • Bone fractures
  • Decrease in height 
  • Kyphosis
  • Dowager’s hump
  • Decreased activity tolerance
  • Early satiety[7]

Associated Co-morbidities

As many diseases increase an individual's risk of osteoporosis, they also may be seen as comorbidities.[7]

Medicines for Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis medicines can increase bone density and while the increases may appear small this can have a very positive effect on reducing fracture rates. eg Medication can increase bone density in the hip by approx. 1-3% and in the spine by 4-8%, over the first 3-4years of treatment. Medication can reduce spinal fractures by around 30-70% and hip fractures by 30-50% (a positive effect can be seen as early as 6 – 12 months after starting treatment).

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Osteoporosis medicines are grouped into different 'classes' depending on their 'active ingredient'

  1. Bisphosphonates - Tablets (daily, weekly or monthly): Alendronate (brand name Fosamax, or other generic brands), Risedronate (brand name Actonel, or other generic brands), once yearly intravenous infusion: Zoledronic acid (brand name Aclasta).
  2. Denosumab - 6 monthly injection: Denosumab (brand name: Prolia)
    Denosumab works in a different way to bisphosphonates but has the same effect of slowing the rate at which bone is broken down, with similar reductions in the risk of fracture.
  3. Selective oestrogen receptor modulators (SERMS) - Daily tablet: Raloxifene (brand name: Evista)
    • This medicine acts on bones in a similar way to that of the hormone oestrogen, slowing bone loss and reducing the risk of spinal fractures in women who have been through menopause.
  4. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) - The active ingredient is the hormone oestrogen. Some HRT treatments also contain progestogen (combined HRT)
    • Even at low doses, HRT helps to slow bone loss, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in women who have gone through menopause. HRT is safe and effective for most women under the age of 60 who have osteoporosis and who also need hormonal treatment to relieve the symptoms of menopause. It may also be prescribed for women under 60 who are unable to take other osteoporosis medicines. It is particularly useful for women who have undergone early menopause (before 45 years of age).
    • Due to the small increased risk of heart disease, strokes and breast cancer in older women other osteoporosis medicines are more suitable for women over the age of 60.
  5. Teriparatide - Daily injection for 18 months (self-administered): Teriparatide (Brand name: Forteo)
    • This medicine stimulates bone-forming cells, resulting in improved bone strength and structure. It is only prescribed for people with severe osteoporosis when other osteoporosis medicines have not worked and the risk of more fractures is still very high. Teriparatide must be prescribed by a specialist and can only be taken for 18 months. Once the course of teriparatide is finished, another osteoporosis medicine must be started to ensure that the new bone formed is maintained and improved.[8]
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Take note - Medical management isn't the only way to treat osteoporosis. It is also important to include daily exercise, good nutrition (including the adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D), quit smoking, and limit your alcohol intake.[9]

Risk Factors

  • Age 50 years and older
  • Female gender
  • Caucasian and Asian
  • Menopause (especially early or surgically induced)
  • Family history of osteoporosis or fragility fractures
  • Northern European ancestry
  • Long periods of inactivity or immobilization
  • Depression
  • Alcohol (>3 drinks/day)
  • Tobacco
  • Caffeine (>4 cups/ day)
  • Amenorrhea (abnormal absence of menses)
  • Thin body build

Other risk factors - Long term use of long-acting benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants or corticosteroids, low testosterone levels in men and anorexia or poor dietary intake[3]

Physical Therapy Management

Physical therapy intervention for individuals with osteoporosis, or even osteopenia, should include:

Education - top tips easily given to clients

  • Weight bearing exercise, such as walking, can help to strengthen bones
  • Exercises to improve balance and strength will help to prevent falls
  • Follow a healthy diet that includes enough calcium and Vitamin D
  • Wear sensible, well-fitting shoes to avoid falls
  • Avoid rugs and sloppy slippers – both can cause trips
  • Have good lighting on stairs
  • Get eyesight checked regularly
  • Try to avoid heavy lifting – consider home delivery grocery shopping
  1. Weight-bearing exercises
  • Exercises such as walking or hopping, has been shown to maintain or improve bone density in this population.
  • Strengthening exercises, using weights or resistance bands, has also been shown to maintain or improve bone density at the location of the targeted muscle attachments.
  • Maintaining bone health in this population is extremely important, especially in the elderly as there is typically has a decline in bone mass with age.[10]
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2. Flexibility and strengthening exercises

  • These can help improve the individual's overall physical function and postural control. eg Tai chi, Yoga
  • Improving postural control is important to reduce the risk of falls.
  • Falls often result in fractures in frail individuals.
  • Balance exercises are also important to incorporate to further reduce the risk of falls.[11] eg Otago Program

2. Postural exercises

  • These are crucial to prevent structural changes that often accompany osteoporosis, such as thoracic kyphosis.
  • Every osteoporosis program should include extension exercises; chin tucks, scapular retractions, thoracic extensions, and hip extensions.
  • Strengthening the extensor muscles will promote improved posture and improved balance.
  • Flexion exercises are CONTRAINDICATED. Anterior compressive forces to the vertebra can contribute to compression fractures.[3]

3. Back pain

Physical therapist may treat patients with osteoporosis for back pain.

Agility training, resistance training, and stretching have all been shown to decrease back pain and its related disabilities in this population.[12]

4. High intensity training - Research highly supports high intensity training in the prevention of bone loss for women in menopausal years and early stage post menopausal.

  • High intensity training would include body-weight and resistive exercises at a high intensity, similar to circuit training.[13] This type of training is often contraindicated for individuals with low bone mass.
  • Dynamic weight-bearing, high force exercise results with greatest improvements at the femoral neck and moderate results at the femoral trochanter.
  • Dynamic weight-bearing, low force exercise had moderate positive effects at the spine.
  • Non-weight-bearing, high force exercises were shown to have moderate effects at the femoral neck.[14]

Clinical Considerations

  • Manipulations: A strong precaution should be taken before performing manual techniques such as manipulations or joint assessments that may increase an individual's risk for fractures, especially in the spine.
  • Body Weight Supported Treadmill Training: It is contraindicated to use body weight supported treadmill training with individuals who have severe osteoporosis or lower extremity, pelvic, or rib fracture. Severe osteoporosis is considered a T-score greater than 2.5.[15]

Dietary Management

  • Vitamin D.jpg
    The most important nutrients for people with osteoporosis are calcium and vitamin D.
  • Calcium is a key building block for bones. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium.
  • Calcium and vitamin D can be from diet, supplements, or both. (It’s best to get these nutrients from food, rather than supplements).


Team work

Osteoporosis is a major public health problem affecting millions of elderly individuals. Besides causing fractures, the disorder leads to severe psychosocial and financial consequences for the patient. The condition has many risk factors and is best managed by an interprofessional team of healthcare workers.

  • Patient education is vital as many are unaware of the serious consequences of the disorder. Early prevention can help reduce the high morbidity.
  • Attending Physiotherapy for exercise prescription and participation in a supervised exercise program is recommended.
  • Patients should be urged to modify their lifestyle and remain compliant with the medications prescribed.
  • The patient should be urged to quit smoking and abstain from alcohol.
  • The dietitian should educate the patient on a calcium-rich diet and the need to take vitamin D supplements.
  • The pharmacist should assist the team by educating the patient about the benefits of bisphosphonates and their adverse effects.
  • Women over the age of 65 should be urged to have a bone density scan.[1]


  • Elderly falls.jpg
    Osteoporosis is a common and silent disease until it is complicated by fractures that become common.
  • It was estimated that 50% of women and 20% of men over the age of 50 years will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their remaining life.
  • These fractures are responsible for lasting disability, impaired quality of life, and increased mortality, with enormous medical and heavy personnel burden on both the patient’s and the nation’s economy.
  • Osteoporosis can be diagnosed and prevented with effective treatments before fractures occur.
  • The prevention, detection, and treatment of osteoporosis is important [16]

Case Reports/ Case Studies

The Effects of Whole Body Vibration on Bone Mineral Density for a Person with a Spinal Cord Injury: A Case Study


Asymmetric lower-limb bone loss after spinal cord injury: Case report



National Osteoporosis Foundation http://www.nof.org/

Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association www.physther.org/content/67/7/1100.full.pdf

Cochrane Review onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000333.pub2/abstract


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Joann L. Porter; Matthew Varacallo 19.12.2019 Osteoporosis Available from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441901/ (last accessed 27.2.2020)
  2. Mayo Clinic. Osteoporosis. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteoporosis/DS00128 (accessed 28 March 2013)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Goodman. Fuller. Boissonnault. Pathology; Implications for the Physical Therapist. 2nd. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2003. (level of evidence 5)
  4. Mayo Clinic. Osteoporosis Causes. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteoporosis/DS00128/DSECTION=causes (accessed 28 March 2013)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Mayo Clinic. Osteoporosis: Risk Factors. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteoporosis/DS00128/DSECTION=risk%2Dfactors (accessed 28 March 2013)
  6. 6.0 6.1 National Osteoporosis Foundation Report Finds Patient-Centered Care Is Key Element in Delivering High-Quality, High-Value Treatment. 2019. Available from: https://www.nof.org/news/national-osteoporosis-foundation-report-finds-patient-centered-care-is-key-element-in-delivering-high-quality-high-value-treatment/ (accessed 14 October 2019)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Goodman. Snyder. Differential Diagnosis for Physical Therapists; Screening for Referral. 4th. St.Louis: Saunders, 2007.
  8. Osteoporosis Australia. Treatment options Available from:https://www.osteoporosis.org.au/treatment-options (last accessed 27.2.2020)
  9. Mayo Clinic. Osteoporosis treatment: Medication can help. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/osteoporosis-treatment/WO00127 (Accessed 28 March 2013).
  10. Zehnacker CH, Bemis‐Dougherty A. Effect of Weighted Exercises on Bone Mineral Density in Post Menopausal Women A Systematic Review. Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy. 2007; 30(2):79-88. (level of evidence 2a)
  11. Burke TN, Franca FJR, Ferreira de Meneses SR, Pereira RMR, Marques AP. Postural control in elderly women with osteoporosis: comparison of balance, strengthening and stretching exercises. A randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation; 26 (11): 1021-1031. (level of evidence 1b)
  12. Liu-Ambrose TYL, Khan KM, Eng JJ, Lord SR, Lentle B, McKay HA. Both resistance and agility training reduce back pain and improve health-related quality of life in older women with low bone mass. Osteoporosis International; 16: 1321- 1329. (level of evidence 1b)
  13. Martyn-St James M, Carroll S. High Intensity resistance training and postmenopausal bone loss: a meta-analysis. Osteoporosis International; 17: 1225-1240. (level of evidence 2b)
  14. Howe TE, Shea B, Dawson LJ, Downie F, Murray A, Ross C, Harbour RT, Caldwell LM, Creed G. Exercise for preventing and treating osteoporosis in postmenopausal women (Review). The Cochrane Collaboration. 2011;(2). (level of evidence 1a)
  15. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. National Guideline Clearing House. Best evidence statement (BESt). Intensive partial body weight supported treadmill training. http://guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=24531&search=Gait+training+procedure+ (accessed 28 March 2013) (level of evidence 1a)
  16. Sözen T, Özışık L, Başaran NÇ. An overview and management of osteoporosis. European journal of rheumatology. 2017 Mar;4(1):46. Available from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5335887/ (last accessed 27.2.2020)