Limbering and Lengthening

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Stretching for osteoporosis involves both limbering and lengthening exercises, two related but different types of flexibility.

  • Limbering releases lubricating fluid into the joints as you mobilize them by repeating the movement several times.

  • Lengthening stretches the muscles out as you hold a static position for a count of 15-20, feeling gentle pulling in the target muscle, but without pain.

Decreased flexibility may be a common aspect of aging, but it is one that you can do something about, no matter what your age.  Just a few minutes of daily stretching can help maintain flexibility to keep the joints working smoothly and your muscles supple.

Goals of stretching for osteoporosis

  1. Warm up the joints with limbering exercises

  2. Lengthen the neck and the spine to improve posture

  3. Reverse the forward slouch with upper body stretches

  4. Improve walking ability and pace with leg stretches

  5. Discharge tension with bedtime stretches

Flexibility exercises counteract the wear and tear of everyday life, allowing you to maintain a youthful appearance and active lifestyle. By enhancing your mobility, stretching increases your efficiency in all activities so that they require less effort and leave you feeling less tired.

Your ability to stretch depends on genetics as well as your daily habits. The unique structure of bones and the length of the soft tissue (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) surrounding them determine the joints’ range of movement.  Some joints, like those affected by arthritis, may be “stiff” or restricted; others like those of a contortionist, “loose” or hypermobile.

1) Warm up the joints with limbering exercises

Don’t let creaky joints stop you in your tracks! If you feel a bit stiffer when you wake up in the morning, it’s normal. We all lose flexibility gradually with age but taking a few minutes to warm up decreases joint stiffness and increases the range of motion around the joint to help you ease into the demands of your day.

As we age, jumping out of bed in the morning becomes a risk factor for falling. After a period of inactivity during the night the sudden shock of putting the full force of your weight on sleepy joints can cause a fall.

Also, arthritic pain is more pronounced after periods of immobilization. Although the natural tendency is to minimize movement to avoid pain in the arthritic joints, this unfortunately can lead to more pain and stiffness. Limbering exercises help your body move and bend more easily.

Warm up the joints: Stretching for Osteoporosis – Video 1

2) Lengthen the back of the neck and the spine to improve posture (no visuals)

The constant downward pull of gravity and gradual dehydration of the body’s tissues cause us literally to shrink over time but stretching can help by lengthening the muscles.

Lengthen the neck:  It is common to develop a forward head position from our daily activities.  The “neck press” strengthens the muscles of the neck and upper back and realigns the head over the shoulders.

  • Put two fingers on your chin.  Inhale, then as you exhale use your fingers as a cue to retract your chin, i.e. move it straight back, pressing the curve out of the back of your neck.

  • Keep your chin level being careful not to push it down.

  • Release and repeat.

 Lengthen the spine:  To restore and maintain the normal curves of the spine, try this “growing exercise.”

  • Take a deep breath, filling the belly with air, and gradually lengthen the spine as you lift the top of your head to the ceiling.

  • Think of elongating the sides of the torso, stretching the space between the ribs and the hips, decompressing the spine.

  • Fluff up the chest by drawing the air up into the chest cavity.

  • As you exhale, hold the height, and stay tall.

3)  Reverse the forward slouch with upper body stretches

There is a natural tendency for some muscles to be short and tight (in the chest and shoulders), while others are prone to being long and weak (in the midback). Stretching can help offset this imbalance and improve the alignment, as in the “forward slouch.”

From our daily habits, overtime we develop a typical posture of aging:  upper back rounded, shoulders hunched, and the head forward of the body. This forward curve of the spine may also be exaggerated due to spinal fractures from osteoporosis.

Whether from a lifetime of habits of working, lifting, carrying, etc. to the front or from osteoporosis fractures, the remedy is to stretch the chest and shoulders and re-align the head by strengthening the neck and back muscles. (see above lengthening exercises).

Reverse the forward slouch: Stretching for Osteoporosis – Video 2

3) Improve walking ability with leg stretches

As we age, our muscles, tendons, and ligaments naturally get tighter, requiring even more dedicated stretching to keep them supple for walking ability and general agility.  Most of us do not stretch the large muscles in our legs often enough to counteract the daily stresses of prolonged sitting or standing. As a result our steps become shorter, slower, and less fluid. Stretching helps pick up your walking pace.

Stretching the muscles of the upper leg increases mobility in the hip joint and reduces stiffness that may come from lack of use.  It also promotes muscle balance around the pelvis, which keeps it in proper alignment and reduces tightness in the low back.

Go into each of the following stretches until you feel a gentle pull (but not pain) in the muscles. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds without bouncing, allowing time for the muscle to lengthen. Breathe into the stretch, using the exhale to move deeper into the position.

Improve walking ability: Stretching for Osteoporosis – Video 3

 4)  Discharge tension with bedtime stretches

Being stiff is something we associate with old age as it affects the way we look, the way we feel, and the way we move. Stretching before bedtime has the added benefit of discharging tension from the muscles, promoting a feeling of relaxation throughout the body. You are likely to sleep better. These stretches can be done sitting on your couch.

Discharge tension: Stretching for Osteoporosis – Video 4


Disclaimer: The information presented in this article should not be construed as medical advice. It is not intended to replace consultation with your physician or healthcare provider.

For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out the book Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano at


  • Joan Pagano

    Joan Pagano has specialized in strength training for women since 1988 – training, teaching, and writing books on the subject, including Strength Training Exercises for Women (DK, 2014). When the health benefits of strength training started making headlines in the 1990s, and in particular how weight training could protect the bones and prevent osteoporosis, it was a natural segue for her. At that time, Joan was developing and delivering fitness training guidelines for osteoporosis to national audiences of exercise professionals. Currently Joan is recognized by the industry as a leading authority on exercise program design for osteoporosis. She is certified as an Exercise Physiologist by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and is on the Ambassadors Leadership Council for the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Visit Joan at:

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