Wrist fractures are “sentinels” of bone fracture risk; in fact, having a low-trauma wrist fracture may be more important than a diagnosis of osteoporosis in determining risk for subsequent hip fracture.
It makes perfect sense — when we fall, the reflex to throw out our hands and take the impact on the wrists protects our hips from being injured far more seriously. As we get older, that reflex isn’t as quick, and thus we have greater frequency of hip rather than wrist fractures.
So how do you know if your wrists are strong enough to stop your fall? And if they’re not — what do you do about it?
Get a grip on your grip strength
To start, figure out how strong your grip is. Grip strength is a marker of overall muscle strength. As studies have shown, muscle weakness as measured by grip strength is a predictor of unhealthy outcomes including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, disability and even early mortality (Correia Martins et al., 2018).
One sign that your grip may be getting weaker is if you notice that opening jars is getting a bit harder. My favorite tool for measuring grip strength is a simple hand held-dynamometer. Simply squeeze the handle of this device as strongly as you can to measure your grip strength. Grip strength norms by age have been well established, so it is easy to see how yours compare (Massey-Westropp et al., 2011).
Exercise to strengthen your wrists
If your wrists aren’t as strong as you’d like, there’s certainly much you can do to change that. But first, understand that dominance has a profound effect on strength of the wrist and the bone mineral density of the wrist and forearm.
You might want to jot down the grip strength difference between your dominant and non-dominant arm and then exercise and non-dominant arm specifically to bring it up to the same strength level as a dominant arm. After all, we might have to stop a fall with either wrist, so we want to have both wrists as strong as possible.
Here are some basic exercise principles to strengthen your wrists:
- The impact of exercise is “site-specific” — that is, if you strengthen the muscles around the wrist, you will strengthen the wrist. That means that you need to load, and thus strengthen, all the muscles around the wrist and arm.
- Simply doing one type of exercise, such as a wrist curl, isn’t going to cut it. It only exercises one set of muscles, so you need to include wrist exercises that involve a full range of motion of the hand and wrist. See our exercise graphic below for ideas!
- As with all exercises, start slow and build up. You do not want to overdo it.
Maintain a healthy skeleton
Of course, your wrists don’t exist by themselves, floating in midair — and anything you do to support your overall bone and body health will certainly help your wrists too. So in addition to wrist-strengthening exercises, you can also do full-body workouts to strengthen your muscles and bones as well as focus on getting the full suite of bone-building nutrients and alkaline diet that support better bones and a better body.
Your wrists are the first line of defense against a fall, so why not give them a helping hand?
Correia Martins A, Moreira J, Silva C, et al. Multifactorial Screening Tool for Determining Fall Risk in Community-Dwelling Adults Aged 50 Years or Over (FallSensing): Protocol for a Prospective Study. JMIR Res Protoc. 2018 Aug; 7(8): e10304. Published online 2018 Aug 2. doi: 10.2196/10304
Massy-Westropp NM, Gill TK, Taylor AW, Bohannon RW, Hill CL. Hand Grip Strength: age and gender stratified normative data in a population-based study. BMC Res Notes. 2011; 4: 127. Published online 2011 Apr 14. doi: 10.1186/1756-0500-4-127
Bone responds to certain levels of physical strain in a really interesting way — it gets stronger.
Any type of strain on bone that applies enough impact or compressive pressure to stimulate new bone growth is called “osteogenic loading.” Our wise body constantly monitors strain, and in the brief moment of impact, when strain is enough to slightly stretch, bend or compress the bone matrix, this impact sends a warning message: high loads are coming, and the bones should grow stronger to carry them. This signal tells the bone-building osteoblast cells to increase their minerals uptake and build bone —which is why we emphasize the importance of having those minerals in your diet or using a well-constructed multivitamin like our Better Bones Builder.
Osteogenic loading basics
Even when just standing upright, the simple act of resisting gravity puts a load on bone, but this is a one that our body is well adapted to. To build stronger bones, a much higher load — that is, greater compression and bending — is needed to encourage our bodies to spend the necessary energy and resources.
The load put on bone can be measured in terms of multiples of body weight. The higher the load, the better able the activity is to stimulate bone growth. Calculations of multiples of body weight look like this for common physical activities:
Swimming: 0 (Your load is actually lessened in water.)
Brisk walking : 1–2
Power jumping: 4+
Resistance, strength training: 4 to 10 (Depending on impact.)
Safe impact training programs for osteogenic loading
Most physical activity loads bone to a degree, but for strong osteogenic stimulation, the load needs to reach around 4 times body weight.
At these higher multiples of body weight, however, safety becomes an issue. Any bone will succumb to fracture under loads that exceed its capacity. When training with high multiples of body weight, professional guidance is mandatory.
Simple ways to enhance your osteogenic loading
- If you have a desk job, stand frequently and walk, or stomp/skip around every hour.
- Walk more, walk faster, jog if you can.
- Practice stepping down stairs with a thud, or walk downhill.
- Do 100 heel drops.
- Turn up the music and kick up your heels in dance.
- Practice jump rope or 1- or 2-legged hopping or jumping, if your knees permit.
- Begin a strength training program, even in a moderate one. Many studies report a gain of both bone and muscle mass with regular resistance training done just twice a week.
I have seen uncounted clients gain significant bone density doing our full Better Bones, Better Program while amplifying our exercise component with serious strength training. We are now documenting a variety of successful exercise programs and will be detailing them to you in this weekly blog and on our new Exercise Evolution Channel. Not everyone is suited to lifting heavy weights, but everyone can and should work to increase muscle mass and bone strength.
Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004.
Jaquish J, Singh R, Hynote E, Conviser J. Osteogenic Loading: A New Modality to Facilitate Bone density Development. A: Jaquish Industrial Research, LLC, 2017.
Westcott W. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports July/August 2012;11:4P209216.
Women often come to me looking for help with osteopenia treatments, and I’m happy to oblige — but usually I have to clear up a few misconceptions first. The biggest one is that there’s automatically something “wrong” just because they were told they had osteopenia after a routine bone scan. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” goes the old saying, and in many cases, osteopenia is mostly a reflection of a woman’s slender body type.
But for those situations where there is cause for genuine concern — women with a family history of osteoporosis, documented menopausal bone loss that exceeds the usual amount of around 2% per year, or a low-impact fracture — there are many ways to reduce bone loss and support bone health.
Looking for natural osteopenia treatments? Here are seven specific actions you can take — without resorting to bone drugs — that have been shown to help increase bone strength and density:
7 ways to naturally increase bone density
#1 Engage in regular weight-bearing exercise. Bone and muscle are a team, and they’re a use-or-lose proposition. We’ve seen dozens of studies that show the bone-building benefits of resistance and weight-bearing exercise, and we recently highlighted one study of high-intensity resistance exercise that got amazing results in postmenopausal women with osteopenia and osteoporosis.
#2 Engage in low-intensity exercise too. Even low-intensity activities like walking a dog for 20 minutes daily have a positive effect on bone health. Add a weighted vest to make your walk a weight-bearing exercise, and you’ll have an easy additional way to help your bones stay strong.
#3 Ensure you have adequate amounts of key bone-building nutrients — especially vitamin D. Calcium (though it’s an important bone mineral) isn’t the ultimate nutrient for bone health, and indeed if it isn’t balanced with other key nutrients, it can be harmful. Multiple studies have identified vitamin D as an essential piece of the puzzle — and they’ve also indicated that many of us don’t have adequate vitamin D stores. I recommend baseline vitamin D testing to determine whether you’re deficient in this all-important nutrient, because true deficiency is a serious health concern (and not just for bones) that needs to be addressed.
#4 Make vitamin K your new best friend. There’s a great deal of new research that shows vitamin K is vital for bone health, and for cardiovascular health as well. Some recent studies have even shown that one form of vitamin K, MK-7, is more effective at building bone than using bone drugs.
#5 And get to know all of the 20 key bone building nutrients. We have mountains of new information on vitamins D and K and their benefits for bone health (and whole body health), but I can also list at least 20 key nutrients that we need to stay healthy. Get to know them — and make sure you are getting enough of them.
#6 Develop an alkaline diet. An alkaline diet helps reduce the chronic, low-grade acidosis that eats away at your bones — something most people on a standard American diet aren’t even aware is affecting them. There’s recent research that shows just how important an alkaline diet is for those at risk for osteoporosis.
#7 Stress less. Amazingly, stress is highly correlated with fracture risk and bone loss (and that’s above and beyond all the other health issues it causes). Taking concrete steps to lower your stress levels is an easy way to address your bone health.
Empower yourself about osteopenia — register today!
If you’ve been told you have osteopenia, I encourage you to join me in my upcoming on-line course, Moving Beyond Osteopenia. I have developed this course to empower each of you with a deeper understanding of osteopenia and osteopenia treatments, what it might mean for you and how to make truly informed decisions about osteopenia treatment and your overall bone health.
This dynamic, information-packed course comes with a live Q&A session with me where I answer your questions and comment on your concerns.
Register today and join us as we dive deeper and find out exactly what it takes to build stronger bones for life!