Exercises for Cancer Patients with Osteoporosis

Physical therapy equipment for bone-safe osteoporosis balance exercises
Tools for "bone-safe" balance and strength exercises

Everyone knows “exercise is important for good health”—even when we don’t often do it enough.  A battle with cancer and osteoporosis makes it even more necessary—and more difficult.  So, what are recommended exercises for cancer patients with osteoporosis?

Here is the catch-22 for osteoporosis patients: exercise is dangerous; exercise is vital.  You will likely not build up bone density without serious, significant, regular exercise; but the wrong exercise (or just the wrong method) can very easily make the problem worse, even leading to a fracture.

Exercise Basics When You Have Osteoporosis

Here are some (not all!) of the key considerations for rebuilding bone density through exercise:

  • Cultivating mental awareness of your body’s position in space, and how it is moving, is vital.  This typically requires some training.
  • Excellent spine alignment / overall body control comes first; strength training comes later.  Fixing bad posture or exercise habits will require a coach.
  • Alignment is crucial because weight-bearing exercise and site-specific muscle contraction are necessary.
  • Weight training is important—if guidelines are followed.
  • High-intensity strength training (HIST) is good, as are balance exercises and low-impact exercises. 
  • Proper head posture, which affects the entire spine, must be learned.
  • Repetitive motion exercises and “unbalanced” movements are discouraged (including tennis, bowling, golf, etc.).  Certain types of yoga/Pilates are recommended (especially for their awareness/mindfulness elements), but certain poses or movements must be avoided.
  • No spinal rounding (forward flexion or “crunches”)—vertebrae can be spongy and might collapse.  
  • No spinal rotation (“twists”) or deep side bends.
  • Some key muscle groups to focus on include the:
    • spinal extensors (“back muscles”)
    • gluteus medius (the hip stabilizing muscle)
    • the diaphragm/abdominals (not for crunches, but for proper breathing and core expansion).
  • High-velocity exercises can be very helpful but must be carefully controlled and monitored.
  • Elsewhere we have discussed DXA bone scans and some of their shortcomings; if you do a scan, do not expect visible changes sooner than 6-8 months.
  • A recent study by the American Physical Therapy Association on osteoporosis saw results with “long-duration” exercises averaging “50 to 60 minutes, three times a week, for 40-54 weeks.”

Low-intensity vibration, while not exactly “exercise,” can also be extremely helpful.  Our experts can advise you on this.  A basic “vibration plate” is probably not good treatment for osteoporosis (too much impact), but there are lower-intensity devices that we can discuss with you.

Machines lined up for low-stress osteoporosis exercises
Machines for low-stress osteoporosis exercises

ORW’s New BEST Program

Oncology Rehab and Wellness is happy to announce we have recently launched our newest program, the “Bone Exercise and Strength Training” or “BEST” program.  BEST incorporates exercises for cancer patients at risk of osteoporosis—though, we should mention (again) that this includes almost all cancer patients.  This program is developed and led by Cheryl Guarna, who is also a BoneFitTM-trained professional.  

Our clinic has a wide variety of machines and tools to help with the proper types of exercises, and our staff is well-trained in what exercises are best for your individual current state of recovery.

BEST uses “bone-safe” exercises to improve bone health in particular, but it also brings a wide range of other benefits, all of which are helpful in fighting cancer and other health problems or risks.  Our trained experts will evaluate your specific strengths, weaknesses, and needs, and will develop a customized plan to help you work at your limits—but not beyond.  

For more details on BEST and our exercise program for cancer patients with osteoporosis, see our “Physical Therapy for Osteoporosis” page.  There is also a link on this page for scheduling an appointment.  We would be happy to see you!