Category Archives: Physical Therapy

  1. Can Exercise Ward Off Cold and Flu Symptoms?

    As cold and flu season approaches, so does the season of illness prevention.

    From getting flu shots to adding a little extra Vitamin C to our diets, prevention often becomes a focus for those concerned with getting sick, missing work and/or school, and optimizing the joy of their upcoming Holiday Seasons.

    It’s based on this mindset that medical professionals such as physical therapists are most likely to get some version of the question: Can exercise boost my immune system?

    The answer, however, is broader than the question itself.

    Boosting the Immune System

    On a more general level, healthy living is the true key to building and maintaining a strong immune system. Habits like eating right, staying hydrated, getting plenty of sleep, and reducing stress account for some long-lasting, immune-boosting benefits.

    But, regular exercise definitely plays an important role, as well.

    Some studies have shown, for instance, that exercise on its own can play a role in reducing the length and intensity of colds and flu. Such research often points to many of the benefits inherent in regular fitness routines as factors that also help ward off illness:

    • Weight management
    • Lower blood pressure
    • Reduction in stress
    • Improved circulation

    Other studies have concluded that regular, mild-intensity exercise can help reduce illness while prolonged, high-intensity exercise can have the opposite effect by making one more susceptible to catching a bug.

    Based on this, if you feel you may be catching something – a cold, a flu or whatever may be going around – the best initial advice is to pull back on the length and intensity of their exercise routine just to be on the safe side.

    Keep getting your exercise, but also take greater care to make sure you’re staying hydrated, eating well and giving your body time to recover.

    If you do get sick?

    According to advice from the Mayo Clinic, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t continue to exercise. They offer the following two rules of thumb:

    The Neck Rule

    If you catch a cold and find that all the symptoms are concentrated above the neck (i.e., nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing and/or a minor sore throat), it’s typically OK to exercise. Simply reduce your intensity. Instead of going for a jog, for instance, opt to go for a walk.

    In contrast, if you find that you’re experiencing symptoms below the neck – things like a congested chest, a hacking cough or an upset stomach – it’s best to not exercise at all.

    The Fever Rule

    Also, if you have a fever or are experience muscle aches and fatigue throughout your body, take a break from exercising. Instead, get some rest, stay hydrated and, if things don’t improve over a couple of days, visit your doctor.

    The bottom line: it’s always your best bet to listen to your body, and don’t overdo it. Pushing your body too hard when it’s fighting an illness could potentially do you more harm than good.

  2. I Stand Corrected! 5 Common Fitness Myths

    When only one in three adults get the recommended amount of physical activity their bodies need each week (according to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition), it’s difficult for we as physical therapists to find fault when an individual is making an effort to exercise … even if the effort’s slightly misguided.

    But since October is National Physical Therapy Month, and physical therapists are the medical community’s preeminent experts in movement, fitness, and musculoskeletal function and injury, we view this month as an opportune time to correct what we see as a few common misconceptions about exercise.

    Good Intentions

    Some of the more common personal goals people make revolve around health, fitness and weight loss, and we as physical therapists are dedicated to supporting these goals through a number of individualized services.

    In doing so, though, it’s important to us that people work toward these objectives in a safe and healthful manner – one which most efficiently moves them toward their goals.

    In this spirit, here are five exercise myths we finds to be common among many fitness-minded people:

    1) Stretching Before Exercise Prevents Injuries

    Perhaps surprisingly, research suggests there’s no connection between pre-workout stretching and injury prevention. In addition, stretching before an activity or competition can actually weaken performance.

    So instead, warm up dynamically before a workout by walking, jogging, doing lunges and leg/arm swings, etc.

    Stretching is still incredibly important, but do your stretches independent of your workouts.

    2) The More, the Better

    For the more goal-driven crowd, a pedal-to-the-metal approach to fitness can seem the quickest and most efficient way to better health.

    However, it’s critical workout intensity and length remain in line with one’s current fitness levels and limits.

    It’s also important to schedule recovery, or off-days, into your routine. Failing to do so can increase your injury risk as well as the risk of burnout.

    3) Cross Training is for Athletes Only

    Cross training is simply working activities into your regimen that differ from your preferred or usual activities. The goal is to improve your overall fitness level by challenging your cardio, strength and balance in different ways.

    Such “training diversification” will help maximize your workout potential while helping to prevent overuse injuries and burnout, so everyone should do it.

    4) Aerobic is More Important Than Strength Training

    Whether it’s because some are concerned about too much “bulking up” or they feel spending their limited time on ellipticals and stationary bikes will maximize their efforts, cardio is often a focus for those seeking to improve health.

    It shouldn’t be the only focus, however.

    Muscular fitness is just as important as cardio for such issues as weight management, bone health, injury prevention, and so on.

    5) If Sore or Injured, Rest is Always Best

    Wrong again.

    While rest has a long history as a go-to response to soreness, pain and injury, research now suggests movement and “active recovery” can actually speed up the healing process, specifically when guided by a physical therapist.

    If pain or injury is keeping you from getting a full dose of exercise and physical activity each week, visit a physical therapist.

    Highly educated and licensed health care professionals, physical therapists like those at our clinic are experts at helping people reduce pain, improve/restore mobility, and ultimately lead more healthful, active lives.

  3. 5 Exercises for Improving Balance & Preventing Falls

    When we’re young, falls are treated as teaching opportunities. “Get back on your feet, brush yourself off and keep moving toward your goals,” we were told.

    But as we age, falls take on a much greater significance. When someone of advanced age falls, they tend to suffer greater distress to their health as well as their pocketbooks.

    In other words, a fall can greatly impact a senior’s ability to live an active, healthful and independent life. In fact, where older adults are concerned, a fall can have a spiraling effect on their overall quality of life during years typically set aside for much-deserved rest, relaxation and fun.

    Unfortunately, though, falls are an epidemic among seniors in the U.S.

    The Fall Epidemic

    According to the National Council on Aging, an older adult is treated for a fall in a U.S. emergency room every 11 seconds, making it the most common cause for nonfatal, trauma-related hospital admissions among this group.

    In addition, the average health care cost for each of these falls is approximately $35,000 per patient.

    Older bodies are simply more susceptible to serious injury when falls occur. And, while there are some things seniors can do to keep their bonds strong and flexible enough to better absorb a fall, the best course of action is to just prevent falls from happening to begin with.

    This starts with improving balance.

    Balance Exercises

    Like strength and cardiovascular conditioning, balance is something that can and should be improved through regular exercise. With this in mind, try these five exercises to help improve your balance:

    Standing March: As the name says, march in place for up to 30 seconds, slowly raising and lowering your knees throughout. Vary the surface on which you march (i.e., hard floor to the back yard) for more of a challenge.

    Heel to Toe: Starting with both heels touching the wall, put one foot in front of the other so the heel touches the toes of the opposite foot. Repeat with the other foot, as if you’re walking a chalk line. Go for 20 steps each round.

    Weight Shifts: With your feet hip-width apart, shift your weight to one side, lifting your other foot off the floor just a few inches. Hold this pose for up to 30 seconds, then shift and hold on the other leg. Increase reps per your ability.

    Single-Leg Balance: Starting with the same stance as above, now left one leg from the floor, banding it back at the knee. Hold for up to 30 seconds, then do the same with the other leg. Increase reps as your balance improves.

    Tai Chi/Yoga: If you feel your balance is strong and you’ve mastered the above exercises, trying a group Tai Chi or yoga class. Such classes are ideal for exercising balance by strengthening your body and core.

    Safety & Physical Therapy

    If you’re new to any of these exercises, help balance yourself initially by leaning on a table, chair back or wall for safety’s sake. Also, make these simple exercises part of your daily routine.

    And, if you’re a senior or soon-to-be senior who doesn’t currently exercise regularly, it’s smart to start any new fall-prevention effort by first getting a balance assessment from a physical therapist.

    Through a balance assessment, a physical therapist can determine your level of functional balance while pinpointing areas of concern that can be addressed through an individualized fall-prevention regimen.

  4. 6 Common Back Pain Myths, Debunked

    Despite being one of the top causes of disability in the U.S., affecting around eight in 10 people in their lifetimes, back pain is an ailment often misunderstood by those affected.

    Such misconceptions can cause those suffering from back pain to seek solutions, potential treatment paths, and even lifestyle alterations that aren’t necessarily in their best interests.

    Back pain can be as frustrating as it is debilitating, especially if past preventative measures and treatments haven’t been helpful. And, this can lead a person down paths that don’t result in the best and most necessary evidence-based treatments.

    These paths can sometimes lead to treatments that are more expensive or personally invasive – and perhaps even unnecessary – such as MRIs and surgery.

    MRIs, shots, surgery, medication, etc., should mostly be considered last resort-type solutions. The fact is, most back pain issues will go away on their own in a few days. And even when they don’t, most remaining cases can be successfully resolved through safer, more affordable and more effective treatment approaches.

    To help health care consumers make better decisions when considering solutions to their back-pain issues, we’d like to shed some light on the following common back pain myths:

    1. Bed Rest Helps with Relief & Healing: Once a common treatment for back pain, research strongly suggests long-term rest can slow recovery and even make your back pain worse. Instead, treatment involving movement and exercise (i.e., stretches, walking, swimming, etc.) often works better to hasten healing and provide relief.

    2. The Problem’s in My Spine: Back pain can be caused by a wide array of issues throughout the body as well as one’s environment. It can be a response to the way you move when you exercise, how you sit at work, the shoes you wear, the mattress on which you sleep, or simply your body compensating for movement limitations and weaknesses. Back pain doesn’t necessarily mean you have a “bad back,” or are predisposed to back pain.

    3. I Just Need an ‘Adjustment’: Those accustomed to visiting a chiropractor for back pain issues often claim to find relief from having their spine adjusted, or “cracked.” While this process can release endorphins that offer some temporary relief, only about 10 percent of all back pain cases can actually benefit from spine mobilization. Exercise is often more effective, as is determining and treating the pain’s source. (See item No. 2.)

    4. Medication’s the Answer: A popular quick fix, medication should never be viewed as a long-term solution to chronic back pain issues. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help get you through in the short term, but many prescription pain meds can be dangerous, addictive, and even make the pain worse in some instances.

    5. I’ll Probably Need Surgery: Of people experiencing low-back pain, only about 4 to 8 percent of their conditions can and should be successfully treated with surgery, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Even 90-plus percent of herniated discs often get better on their own through a combination of rest and physical therapy.

    6. I Need a Referral to See a Physical Therapist: Multiple studies have concluded that physical therapy is one of the safest and most effective ways to both treat and prevent back pain. And in nearly every state, patients can access physical therapy services without first getting a physician’s prescription.

  5. Tips for Reducing, Managing Plantar Fasciitis Pain

    Studies show about three-quarters of all Americans will experience foot pain at some point in their lives. Of them, more than 2 million people who seek treatment each year will learn they suffer from an overuse condition called plantar fasciitis.

    Fortunately, most cases of plantar fasciitis are both manageable and treatable.

    Plantar fasciitis will typically present itself as sharp pain in the heel or in the arch of the foot, most often when you’re taking the first steps of the day. The pain is the result of your plantar fascia – the thick band of tissue connecting your heel to the ball of your foot – becoming inflamed due to overuse.

    The inflammation that causes plantar fasciitis can come from a sudden increase in activity levels (i.e., walking or running much longer distances) or from sports-related activities that require a lot of running and jumping. Other causes may include a lot of standing, walking or running on hard surfaces, not wearing shoes that properly support your foot type, or being overweight.

    It’s estimated plantar fasciitis affects about 10 percent of Americans at some point in their lives, with most being diagnosed after the age of 40.

    Plantar fasciitis pain may come and go for some without treatment, but we never recommend ignoring pain as this is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong. Fortunately, there are some things you can do at home to help relieve the discomfort and hopefully keep the condition from getting worse.

    Tips for the at-home management of plantar fasciitis include:

    Rest: As with any overuse injury, rest is a key component of recovery. Decrease your distances when walking or running, and try to avoid hard surfaces.

    Stretching: Stretch the soles of your feet by gently pulling your big toe back toward your ankle and holding for 10 seconds at a time. Also, wrap a towel around the ball of your foot and, from a seated position with your heel to the floor, slowly pull your toes toward you, stretching the arch of your foot. As tight calves may also make you more susceptible to plantar fasciitis, regular calf stretches are a must.

    Massage: A tennis ball can do wonders as a massaging tool. Roll a tennis ball under the sole of your foot, applying weight as comfort allows. Rolling your foot over a frozen plastic water bottle can also work, with the added benefit of helping decrease pain and inflammation.

    Foot Support: When standing for long periods of time, stand on a thick, padded mat. And don’t take your shoes for granted. Make sure they offer good arch support and that you replace them immediately as the shock absorption begins to wear down.

    If pain persists, however, a more individualized treatment plan from a physical therapist is likely needed. A physical therapist can pinpoint the most likely triggers of your plantar fasciitis pain, then customize a treatment regimen that may include flexibility and strength exercises, footwear recommendations and/or custom shoe inserts, and the possible use of taping or splints to help maintain optimal ankle and toe positions.

  6. Strength Training Critical for Active, Independent Aging

    To the 43 million Americans who have low bone density, putting them at high risk of osteoporosis, physical therapists have an important message: exercise is good medicine. But not just any exercise – weight-bearing, muscle-strengthening exercise.

    “Essential to staying strong and vital during older adulthood is participation in regular strengthening exercises, which help prevent osteoporosis and frailty by stimulating the growth of muscle and bone,” said David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., U.S. Surgeon General from 1998 to 2002. “Strength training exercises are easy to learn, and have been proven safe and effective through years of thorough research.”

    And while this benefit of strength training for older adults is a powerful one, it’s simply just one in a list of proven reasons why seniors should make strength training a part of their lifestyles and fitness regimens.

    While a reduction in strength is often considered an inevitable part of getting older, people of all ages should feel empowered to take charge of their overall health (including strength training) as they age.

    Along with diet and regular check-ups with both a physician and a physical therapist, an exercise regimen that includes elements of strength and resistance training can help slow some of the effects of aging – this, while also allowing one to maintain a high quality of life through activity and independence.

    “The work of scientists, health professionals, and older adult volunteers has greatly increased our knowledge about the aging process and how we can maintain strength, dignity and independence as we age,” Satcher said.

    According to reams of medical research, the many proven benefits of weight-bearing and resistance exercise include:

    Rebuilding Muscle: People do lose muscle mass as they age, but much of this can be slowed and even reversed through strength and resistance exercise. And of course, a stronger body has a direct impact on issues related to balance, fall prevention and independence.

    Reducing Fat: We also tend to more easily put on weight as we get older. Studies show, however, that while older adults gain muscle mass through strength training, they also experience a reduction in body fat.

    Reducing Blood Pressure: Studies have also shown that strength training is a great (and natural) way to reduce one’s blood pressure, even for those who “can’t tolerate or don’t respond well to standard medications.”

    Improving Cholesterol Levels: Strength training can actual help improve the level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in the body by up to 21 percent, while also helping to reduce to levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

    Strengthening Mental Health: This goes with all exercise, including strength training. Maintaining a high level of fitness can combat anxiety, depression, issues with stress, etc. Exercise is also great for memory!

    Whether walking, jogging, hiking, dancing, etc., experts recommend 30 minutes of weight-bearing activity every day. Guidelines also suggest it’s also necessary to set aside another two to three days of strength and resistance training each week, which can include free weights, weight machines, Pilates, yoga, and so on.

    And for the sake of both health and safety, a thorough strength, movement and balance assessment should precede any new exercise regimen, especially for older adults – assessments that physical therapists are uniquely qualified to perform.