Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Joint pain…”Old Age” or simply Old Habits?

Joint pain…”Old Age” or simply Old Habits?
By Bobby Morrow
I've been doing Personal Training professionally for 8 years now, and learned early on that nearly everyone, no matter their chronological "age", brings some sort of physical (either "health" or "structural") challenge with them to fitness.  Even if they came in initially to "lose some weight", "gain more energy", "feel better", "reduce stress" etc, in many cases it’s those “oh, by the way” physical challenges that need to be addressed first!  For example, if you have “knee, hip, or back issues” and your primary goal is to drop some body fat, simply sticking you on the treadmill and cranking up the speed is not a smart way to start!!
Once I discover that a new client has painful joint issues, I dig a little deeper to see if they had any trauma to those areas like broken bones, sprains, tears, etc from accidents or falls. Sometimes they will report that their Doctor has told them they have knee ligament tears, or bulging discs, or arthritis which is also good for me to know. However, I’m discovering that in many cases even those issues may just be symptoms of something else that’s going on elsewhere in the body.
While educating myself over the years on how to help these folks reach “their goals” it quickly became clear that most of the painful joint issues we begin experiencing shortly after leaving our teens are not due to “old age”, but rather can be attributed to “old habits” or what I call “lifestyle-created posture preferences”.  If you’ve ever noticed a teenager while they’re texting (shoulders and back hunched over, head dropped forward and down), then watch their posture when they stop texting and walk away you’ll quickly realize that it’s not “old age” that’s causing many of our joint issues!
 In my opinion, as well as a high number of other professionals in the field, our bodies tend to fold themselves into the patterns that they find themselves in most of the time during our day (no matter the persons age), creating these “preferences”.  In other words, if you spend most of your day sitting at your desk (computer, car seat, recliner, etc) your body tends to form a preference for that “sitting position”…knees bent, hips flexed, chest dropped, shoulders and upper back rounded, arms rotated inward…by shortening (and tightening) some muscles, ligaments, and other tissues while at the same time lengthening (and weakening) others, making it harder and harder over time to straighten into a full upright posture.
What is happening is that because of our repeated daily habits, our posture is getting out of whack (most efficient alignment) placing undue stresses across those joint areas creating irritation, inflammation, soreness, and even pain when we finally do try to use them more than usual. Left unaddressed these issues could eventually lead to total deterioration of the joint requiring surgery or even replacement.
So what can we do? Well, working with a professional “Corrective Exercise Specialist” to help determine which muscles are weak and need to be strengthened, and which are short and tight that need to be released as well as teach you effective exercises to allow your body to make these corrections more permanent, can be very helpful.  Most CES’s are reasonably priced, require only a few sessions, and are definitely cheaper and less painful than surgery!
However, there are a few things you can begin doing right away that may help get you back on track over time (remember; if you spend 8-12 hours a day in a sitting position don’t expect to counteract that with just a few minutes  of exercises a day, especially if you go right back into those positions the next day!): 
(1) It seems like common sense but try to “sit less”! Even if your job “requires” you to be at a computer all day doesn’t mean you have to sit the whole time. Stand up for 10 minutes every hour. Stand while you are on the phone or sorting papers, files, etc. And as a bonus you will burn more calories while standing than while seated.
(2) Walk over to see a co-worker, rather than simply emailing, texting, or calling them (again, burns a few more calories too).
(3) During lunch or other breaks walk around a little and really loosen up those muscles.
(4) While standing (or seated) do some “rearward arm circles “ (with arms straight out to the sides at shoulder height, circle your arms rearward pulling with your back and shoulder muscles, then relaxing as you circle forward…do 10-12 circles) these are great for releasing those tight shoulder and neck stresses too.
(5) Rather than sitting in the recliner while watching your favorite shows, stretch out on the floor for a while, and during commercials actually “stretch” out your muscles (reaching over your head while pushing your heels away).
Even if you are not able to totally reverse all damage through exercise and better posture, there’s a very good chance you can reduce or eliminate the related pain, prevent further damage, and keep yourself out of surgery for many years to come.
Bobby Morrow is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer & Corrective Exercise Specialist