The study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that yoga poses that flex the spine beyond its limits may raise the risk of compression fractures for people with osteoporosis or osteopenia. Researchers looked at the health records of 89 people who complained of pain attributed to their yoga practice. Specifically, patients called attention to poses that involved extreme flexing or extending of the spine. Sure enough, results showed 29 bony injuries among the patients, including not only compression fractures but also slippage of vertebrae and degeneration of disks.
Here's the good news: Patients who followed recommendations to simply modify their poses reduced pain and improved their symptoms. So just because you or a loved one has thinning bones doesn't necessarily mean yoga isn't a possibility. It just means a trip to the doctor is in order to first get the okay to practice yoga and then figure out if any specific modifications are needed. Everyone's body is different, after all, so it makes sense that people respond differently to more challenging yoga poses.
"Yoga has many benefits. It improves balance, flexibility, strength and is a good social activity," said senior author Mehrsheed Sinaki, MD, in a press release. "But if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia, you should modify the postures to accommodate your condition. As people age, they can benefit by getting a review of their old exercise regimens to prevent unwanted consequences."
Indeed, previous research has shown that certain yoga poses may actually help build stronger bones, according to Harvard Medical School. One study showed "significant increases" in bone density in the spine for participants with thinning bones who practiced a custom routine at least every other day for two years. A sampling of the poses practiced, which included the tree pose and locust pose, can be viewed here. The DVD used in the study is available for $24 from sciatica.org, if you're interested in trying it out yourself.
Remember: Always get a doctor's okay before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have any existing health issues.