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Learn more about Rehab, Sports Medicine & Performance

Rehabilitation

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Modern medicine has lengthened our lives, but unfortunately, many older people physically deteriorate to a level that makes them vulnerable to minor health setbacks.  Frailty is a syndrome marked by weakness, poor mobility, a slow gait, and excessive fatigue.  Frail individuals are unable to adequately recover from physical activity or a challenge to their health.  Minor illnesses send them to the hospital, nursing home, or assisted living center.  Frail individuals are often unable to tolerate beneficial medical procedures and must live with pain and physical restrictions.  Frailty is a problem that responds very well to treatment.

In the 65 year old plus population, frailty syndrome is common.  Fifteen percent of the non-nursing home population is frail and forty five percent is pre-frail.  Frail individuals are far more likely to fall.  Forty percent of the frail and twenty two percent of the pre-frail individuals are hospitalized every year.  Frailty is a marker for adverse health outcomes and a means of identifying opportunities for intervention in patient care.

Physical activity has been shown to be the best preventative and treatment for frailty.  Patients bounce back from surgery much better if they under take a program of prehabilitation exercise prior to surgery.  Research on rehabilitation has demonstrated the benefits of exercise to restore strength and mobility in the frail population.  Take the time to read, One Last Question Before the Operation: Just How Frail Are You? by Paula Span in the October 27, 2017 issue of the New York Times.  Read the article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/health/elderly-surgery-frailty.html

In the senior population, fitness activities must focus on training that maintains functional mobility and an independent lifestyle.  You need to stand up and train to be a more graceful and competent walker.  Practice drills that improve your capacity to transfer from the floor to standing.  Always include balance and reaction exercises that keep you free from falls.  Foremost are strengthening activities that maintain bone density and restore capacity to lift, carry, push, and pull.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

* New York Times, One Last Question Before the Operation: Just How Frail Are You? Paula Span, October 27, 2017

PDFRead about keeping your hip flexors healthy and working well in Mike’s article, Nobody Names Their Child Iliacus.  Video instruction of the exercises in the article is available.  Jeff Tirrell gives five nutrition rules than can be broke.  Find out the correct way to set up your dual action air assault bike.

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PDFFind out if you scalenes are causing problems in Mike’s article, Scalene Salvation.  Read the inspirational stories of some Fenton Fitness members who conquered osteoporosis.

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Remember What You Wrote

Things I’ll Do Differently When I’m Old

Steven Petrow of the New York Times wrote a great article, Things I’ll Do Differently When I’m Old.  As a physical therapist that has guided thousands of 60 year plus individuals through the rehabilitation process, I have some suggestions.

I will work with a professional on developing a sustainable fitness program.  The preventative against age related physical decline is a program of exercise.  Consistent exercise reduces fall risk and maintains independence.  No other modality has a greater impact on health.  Blood sugar levels, respiratory capacity, mental health, and cardiac fitness all respond favorably to exercise.  Do not be a fitness “do it yourselfer”.  Older, deconditioned, and previously injured individuals get much better results when under the direction of a qualified professional.   One way or the other, you are going to spend time and money on your health.  Spend it up front–you will be much happier.

I will not let pain linger. Pain is not a “normal part of aging”.  Chronic pain alters brain chemistry and destroys healthy movement patterns.  Left untreated, pain has the capacity to weaken and spread damage to joints not involved with the initial pain provocation. See a physical therapist and find out what you can do to resolve pain issues before they become chronic.

I will exercise caution with medications that have an effect on the central nervous system.  Many older people take multiple medications that impact brain neurochemistry.  More brain real estate is devoted to movement than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  A steady diet of pain medications, sleeping pills, and anti-depressants takes a toll on coordination, balance, and the ability to safely get around town.  Add in a cocktail or three and you have a dangerous combination.

I will make a sustained effort to recover from any and all physical challenges.   As we travel through our senior years, most of us will experience a health setback that requires rehabilitation.  Full recovery of strength, mobility, and function takes eight to twelve months.  Many physical therapy patients stop all rehab efforts way too soon.  More of the rehabilitation battle is being fought in isolation as reimbursement for physical therapy care is shrinking.  You may be done with formal physical therapy in four weeks, but you need to continue with a restorative exercise program for much longer.

I will not get fat.  Physical therapy patients that are overweight have much more difficulty recovering from an injury or a challenge to their health.  Sarcopenia is the medical name given to age related loss of muscle mass.  Adding extra fat onto a body that is losing muscle creates an environment that makes movement more difficult and pain more prevalent.

I will listen and answer all questions from my health care provider to the best of my ability.  The answers we get from the patient are the clues that lead us to the proper care.  We need to know how your pain / symptom behaves and the effect it has on your life.  Please do not omit any information that you feel is not important or unrelated to your condition.  Do not lie about any aspect of your functional status, medications, mental health, etc…  Your therapist, doctor, or physician assistant cannot help if we do not have all of the information.

I will plan ahead.  In my dealings with older physical therapy patients, these are the three things that make life easier for both the patient and their families.  Do what you can to manage these issues while you are healthy and clear headed.

  1. Have a Will with end of life directives.
  2. Insurance coverage that reduces the expense of long-term care.
  3. Pre-planned funeral services and insurance

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/05/well/family/thing-ill-do-differently-when-im-old.html?_r=0

 

Embrace The Hate

Being Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

“I hate this one.”

“This exercise never gets easier.”

“I do this but I hate this.”

“You like to see me struggle”

These are all common statements from fitness clients and physical therapy patients.  They have complaints about certain exercise activities that are difficult, unsteady, aggravating, and just plain annoying.  The activities that provoke these responses usually involve getting up and down off the ground, single leg biased training, carrying a weight, and / or pushing a sled.

These comments are usually followed by—

“..but I know they are helping.”

“I don’t have that pain anymore.”

“My legs are so much stronger.”

“I hiked in the mountains with my grandchildren.”

To make progress in rehab and fitness, you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  If your fitness regimen involves scented candles, soothing music, and nothing that makes you uneasy, then I doubt it has much value.  Training challenges that restore movement skills, improve strength, and add muscle mass will create some discomfort.  Developing the mindset that embraces the challenge makes all the difference.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Muscle Preservation and Fat Loss

NY Times on Fat Loss

One of the adverse effects of diets is the loss of muscle that accompanies a reduction of body fat.  Muscle is the metabolic engine, injury preventative armor, and longevity enhancing elixir of human biology.  Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times has written an enlightening *article on the best method of losing body fat while holding onto valuable muscle.  The recent research reveals that a program of strength training produces optimal fat loss with significantly less muscle wasting.  Long slow distance exercise combined with caloric restriction accelerates muscle loss.  Your choice of exercise activity can have a profound impact on your physical performance and health.  Read the NY Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/15/well/move/to-maintain-muscle-and-lose-fat-as-you-age-add-weights.html?_r=0.

After the age of 25, the average American gains a pound of fat and loses a ½ pound of muscle every year.  If no action in taken to reverse this trend, the average American will have gained 25-30 pounds of fat and shed 12-15 pounds of muscle by the time they reach 55 years of age.  This 55 year old will stand on the scale 12 to 18 pounds heavier, but the true alteration in body composition is far more dramatic.

America does not have “an obesity epidemic”, it has a “muscle atrophy epidemic”.  We are not so much over fat as we are under muscled.  The simplistic notion of “losing weight” fails to improve health because it accelerates muscle loss.  Middle age muscle loss is the catalyst for many of the illnesses that plague us later in life.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

*To Maintain Muscle and Lose Fat as Your Age, Add Weights, Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times, November 15, 2017

The Wisdom of Frank–Part IV

“Change It Up”

I met my friend Frank when I was 21 years old and working out at a local gym.  Frank was sixty-eight years old and in great condition.  He had been a professional boxer, army fitness instructor, and then a physical education teacher.  Frank was an incredibly well read student of fitness and human performance.  He was stronger, more agile, and fitter than most people in their twenties.  Success leaves footprints, so I was eager to learn from a master.

Frank was big on developing one set of skills for a defined period of time and then switching to performance parameters.  We would work hard on improving strength with squats, cleans, and pull ups for six weeks and then take a break.  The next six weeks would focus on speed and endurance–lots of jump rope, sprinting, and medicine ball throws.  I never got bored and I never got hurt.

The best injury preventative for athletes and fitness enthusiasts is a consistent change in activity.  Look at your training / competition schedule and alter your activity every six to eight weeks.  Better yet, take a week or two away from running, dance, yoga, lifting, baseball, or Zumba.  If you are older or more injury prone, that rest period might need to be stretched out to three weeks.

The popularity of the club system has young athletes playing the same sport year round.  In the clinic, we are treating young athletes with “old person” overuse injuries.  Playing multiple sports is infinitely more beneficial.  Taking layoffs from overused movement patterns and participating in a variety of athletic endeavors gives the body a chance to rebuild and recover.  It is no coincidence that successful professional athletes are the product of multi-sport participation.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

The Wisdom of Frank–Part III

“Leave Some In The Tank”

I met my friend Frank when I was 21 years old and working out at a local gym.  Frank was sixty-eight years old and in great condition.  He had been a professional boxer, army fitness instructor, and then a physical education teacher.  Frank was an incredibly well read student of fitness and human performance.  He was stronger, more agile, and fitter than most people in their twenties.  Success leaves footprints, so I was eager to learn from a master.

Frank said that it is always better to do too little than to do too much.  A training session should make you feel alive and awake, not beaten up and broken.  Frank recommended exercise sessions that involved about forty minutes of training and ten minutes of what we now call “recovery work”.  He often told me to take it easy, go home, eat well, sleep soundly, and enjoy being young.  “When you get to my age you will thank me.”

The latest trend in fitness is throwing your body into the propeller.  Lying on the floor gasping for air is a badge of honor and a sought after result.  As a physical therapist that treats the byproduct of this training method, I urge caution.  Most young athletes can only train super hard for eight to ten weeks a year.  Older clients have a much more limited recovery capacity and are unable to sustain that level of activity before an injury occurs.  The winner in the life long quest for health and fitness is the contestant with the fewest surgical scars.

Training related injuries are a tragedy.  It is easy to get swept up by the emotions of competition and the desire to excel.  As we age, maintaining an exercise habit that keeps us strong and injury-free is even more important.  I frequently remind myself to dial it down and then I say a silent “Thank You”.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Biomarker Reminder

Drs. Evans and Rosenburg are Tufts University researchers interested in the measurable parameters that keep humans healthy and fit over an entire life span.  They have determined that the top four biomarkers are:

  1. Muscle Mass.  The percentage of your body that is made of muscle.
  2. Strength.  Can you use that muscle to push, pull, lift and carry.
  3. Basal Metabolic Rate.  The number of calories your body expends at rest.
  4. Body fat Percentage.  What percentage of your body is composed of fat.

The authors named these top four biomarkers, the decisive tetrad.  They are the prerequisites to maintaining healthy numbers in all of the other essential biomarkers.

  1. Aerobic Capacity
  2. Blood Sugar Tolerance
  3. Cholesterol / HDL ratio
  4. Blood Pressure
  5. Bone Density
  6. Internal Body Temperature Regulation

Drs. Evans and Rosenburg coined the term age related sarcopenia in their 1991 book Biomarkers.  It refers to the gradual loss of muscle mass that occurs as we age.  The keys to aging well, staying durable–no injuries, and maintaining control of all health parameters is maintaining or improving muscle mass / strength and eating properly.  An ongoing program of strength training and nutritional discipline are the foremost components of fitness and health.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Ladder Matters

Moving well is a combination of balance, coordination, strength, and power.  During everyday tasks, you must be able to plant, pivot, and shift your bodyweight over one leg to change directions or decelerate an impact.  Movement is a skill that we all take for granted until the day that it fails us.  “I can’t believe I can’t do that,” is commonly heard from people in physical therapy.  They are unaware of the level of motor control they have lost to age, injury, and a sedentary lifestyle.  The good news is that with some consistent training, most motor control skills can be restored.  For gym members, an excellent method of enhancing movement skills is the agility ladder.

Agility ladders help you move better.  How you move says more about your age than how you look.  Responsive legs that can react to a disruption in balance keep you durable and injury free.  Consistent agility ladder training develops the neural coordination that allows more graceful movement.

Rotation is the movement pattern that creates the distance in your golf drive, the pop in your punch, and the acceleration in your sprint.  Rotation is the missing movement pattern in most training programs.  Ladder drills improve cross body, shoulder, and hip rotation.

Ladders are the rehab bridge that allows the injured athlete to move from a controlled series of movement patterns to the chaos of competition.  Ladders are one of the best power production and injury prevention activities older clients can perform.

As a conditioning method, I call ladder drills “three-dimensional jump rope”.   Move through a few sixty second intervals of continuous ladder drills and your body heats up, respiration increases, and your metabolism is disrupted.  Ramp that up to 90 seconds and check your heart rate.  See video of agility ladder drills: https://youtu.be/CmLXGLeyGfE

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

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