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Strengthen body with pain-free posture

FITNESS FORUM - Copley  News Wire

By Jack Williams

To bring chronic pain to a standstill, body alignment is a good place to start.

Because it's the basis of movement patterns, posture can be the first symptom of physical stress and dysfunction. Especially if it's off-center and compromised by common muscular imbalances, injury or the prolonged wear and tear of daily activity.

Like most of us, Anthony Carey sees postural abnormalities every day. The difference is, he makes a living designing and prescribing exercises to address them - everything from frog pullovers, as he calls them, to static squats.

To stand corrected is to unfailingly practice what he teaches.

In his book, "The Pain-Free Program" (Wiley; $15.95), Carey identifies six common postures that predispose us to problems. It's a product of specializing in corrective exercise for more than a decade, most of it with a business he founded called Function First.

The concept, gaining more credibility as alternative therapies offer options to traditional pain medications, is physical therapy with a twist. Or maybe the new yoga, minus any daunting contortions.

"A lot of the principles are based on yoga," said Pat Campanella, a nurse in her late 50s. "I can see where he took some of those exercises and embellished them to fit a person's needs."

To relieve pain from two herniated discs, Campanella has been following a customized, therapeutic exercise program for about three years. It takes 30 minutes a day, with modifications based on her progress.

Fearing surgery and tired of taking 10 to 12 Motrin pills daily, she came to Carey with equal parts of desperation and skepticism.

"It was my worst nightmare," she said. "I was getting ready for my first trip out of the country, to Ireland. It was already paid for. And here I was, in terrible pain."

Carey, who has a master's degree in biomechanics and athletic training from San Diego State University, analyzed her gait. He looked at her posture. He listened to her complaints.

The next thing Campanella knew, she was practicing a series of floor exercises designed to strengthen the left side of her body. A curvature in her spine known as scoliosis, combined with arthritis in her hips, had led to overdeveloped muscles on the right and weakness on the left.

"I'd been compensating a lot for that weakness," she said. "As a nurse, I'd done a lot of bending, and it was all catching up to me."

A static back stretch and the yoga-inspired cat and dog (to improve the motion of the spine while stretching it) produced quick results. Campanella made it Ireland with an illustrated exercise menu in hand.

"It got me through the trip and solved the problem," she said. "Building those weak muscles is what pulled the disc back in place and released the pressure on the nerve.

"Now I do the exercises when I need to, when I start to get sore."

Reduced pain isn't the only result of better alignment, as it turns out. Moving more efficiently and comfortably, which translates into greater endurance, is another byproduct. So is a possible increase in height.

"I gained a half-inch in a year," Campanella said.

She did it by accepting the theory that seemingly simple and passive movements would effect change if practiced consistently in a precise sequence.

Any sign of pain in such a regimen is a signal to stop.

"One of the biggest mistakes people make with exercises designed to re-educate the body is to push or pull too hard," Cary writes in his book. "As a matter of fact, it can be counterproductive."

He points out that subtle movements influence the way the body's parts move in harmony. You're not trying to create cosmetic changes - bulging biceps, for example, or rippled abdominals.

Instead, you're striving for pain-free form and function. It all goes back to posture - how close we can get to standing and sitting in a way that will promote efficient movement.

"Of course," Carey says, "not everyone will be able to achieve the gold standard, but the closer we come to the standard, the more functional our bodies will be.

"And with improved function comes improved health and well-being."

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