It is the time of year many people ramp up their activity levels. The warm weather is upon us and longer days have will have people outside taking on all kinds of physical challenges they have no business doing.
As their body exits from its winter hibernation, I sometimes think they left the mind sleeping. What makes a person think that riding for a day, three times a week on a stationary bike prepares them for getting yanked out of the water by a speed boat while holding onto a tow rope? Or that playing 18 holes twice a month gets them ready for 72 holes over 3 days while on vacation?
If you’re currently suffering from an injury that is keeping you from exercising or requiring you to modify what you do for exercise, chances are that you didn’t get to this point overnight. Overuse injuries and injuries that end with “itis” (meaning inflammation) are often chronic issues that have become acute. These injuries are usually tied to a number of small incidents that have occurred over a period of weeks, months and even years.
Most people don’t stop and think about their bodies when they sustain a mild to moderate injury. Minor injuries especially, are rarely given the time and consideration that they deserve. It’s often the minor injuries that turn into major problems down the road.
After working with people with musculoskeletal pain for more than 17 years, I’ve identified three steps that lead to long-term musculoskeletal issues:
Most people deny the seriousness of their injury, especially when it’s something like a sore elbow from a couple of sets of tennis. If it’s not broken or gushing blood, then it’s nothing to worry about, right? Wrong. Thinking that your sore elbow is no big deal or that it will clear up on its own is a mistake. Denying that there is anything seriously wrong enables you to miss a very important window at the onset- the very beginning is when you can do so much to avoid compounding the injury.
We all know that the body doesn’t like pain, so when we experience pain we begin to change our habits and mannerisms in order to avoid it. People who have chronic lower back pain are prime examples of this. When they stand for a certain period of time, or garden, or walk, it hurts their back. What do they do? They start to avoid activities that are going to hurt them. Eventually, any movement or activity that is similar to those that initially caused the discomfort will cause pain as well. It’s a snowball effect that gradually gets worse.
If the stairs hurt your knee, you stop doing step aerobics. The next sacrifice is to cut out squats and lunges. At a time like this is where many folks reach their threshold. It is here where they will seek therapy, surgery or medications for relief.
When people finally do take action against their pain, it is often only enough to mitigate the current symptom. Just enough therapy to calm things down. Or a surgery to repair the damaged part or pills to mask the pain for now….. Unfortunately, this does nothing for all the factors from the previous incidents leading to the major pain.
Don’t blame your aches and pains on the easy cop out, “I’m getting older”. I tell my clients, “it’s not that you’re getting older, it’s that you’ve been doing things WRONG longer”. And pain is the price that is paid.
The cumulative mechanical stress that the body has experienced demands cumulative action to first slow, then stop and finally reverse the damage. Equally important is to recognize that it is never too late to change and it is never too late to recognize what is happening today and keep it from haunting you tomorrow.
A corrective exercise program designed around your specific needs can literally teach your body to move and function differently. Bad old habits can be replaced with good new habits. This gives the body a chance to restore itself instead of breaking down more over time.
The body has a tremendous capacity for healing when given the right environment and provided the right tools. The right exercise, proper nutrition and a healthy mind can work miracles.