Use It or Lose It – From Knees to Spine to Shoulders and Beyond
January 05, 2006
By: Jean Johnson for Shoulder1
The effects of aging that people feel in their knees, shoulders, and spinal column start amazingly early. Especially in the area of the spine, it’s not unusual for people in their thirties and forties to experience the signs of pain and decreased mobility. These symptoms, of course, are exacerbated by excess weight that is so easy to put on as the years go by.
More, if the thirties aren’t early enough for joint problems, people in their twenties have already begun to have lung capacity loss rates that can run between 15 to 20 percent. By the time folks mark their 50th birthday, the ability to consume oxygen has made serious inroads on intense physical activity – at least for those who have not compensated with cardio workouts – and particularly for people carrying more weight than their body was designed to support.
|A Little Goes a Long Way|
Costs associated with treating lower back pain run from $25 to 95 billion per year in the United States alone.
Once the muscles are warm under the shower, head rolls, shoulder rolls, and some cat-cow spine flexing can help the cause.
Lift objects from the waist level if possible. If you do lift something heavy, keep your back straight and bend your knees instead of leaning over the item.
Making several trips and carrying lighter loads may take a little longer in the short term, but it over the long haul, it’s a smart approach.
According to the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA), “Age has an effect on unused muscles. As one gets older, muscles can get smaller and weaker. However, exercise helps prevent age-related weakness. Studies on adults more than 60 years old have shown a substantial increase in their strength through weight training.”
While the activities of daily living do benefit our bodies, they don’t take the place of serious exercise regimes, states the AFAA. “Walking the dog, gardening, using stairs whenever possible, or riding a bike to work can supplement an exercise program,” but this type of activity only goes so far and does not prevent injury.
“People who don’t exercise regularly may ski, bike, play baseball, tennis or golf and consequently get hurt because their muscles are not prepared for the physical stress of the activity…. Sedentary people who spend most of their days sitting at a desk or driving long hours need aerobic exercise for their hearts and strength training for their posture.”
In his fifties, Bill Francis of Corvallis, Oregon says his experience confirms the AFAA’s comment. “The first year after we bought our house we were so busy painting and putting the garden in and building a fence that we stopped our formal exercise programs for a good three quarters of the year. When we finally started up again in the late fall I was stunned to see how much strength I’d lost in my arms and legs especially. My wife, Kelly, noticed that her cardio was way off as well,” Francis said. “So the bottom line for us ever since is to somehow keep going with the formal program as much as we can even during busy times.”
Working out. Using it or losing it. No matter where one turns, staying active seems to be the key. In addition to a minimum of three 20-minute cardio workouts weekly to keep heart-lung function stable, a raft of exercises and preventative measures help the musculoskeletal system maintain peak performance as people age.
The AFAA suggests that “muscle strengthening should be done a minimum of two days a week. Unconditioned people should do one exercise per muscle group (2 or 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions).” Conditioned people should do two exercises per muscle group with the same number of sets and reps as the unconditioned crowd.
One rule of thumb for protecting the knees – along with bending them when you lift something heavy – is to back into a car seat first. “I always pivoted on my one leg,” said Spencer Smith of Denver, Colorado. “And wouldn’t you know that was that same knee that bore the brunt all those years that acted up so bad I finally had to have a replacement.”
The “fanny first” method of getting into an automobile seems to have a wide following among those with compromised knees. “I just did it automatically after my knees started hurting,” said Bill Alsup of Portland who is a regular in Argentine tango circles. “It made sense. Why let one bum knee carry the load and the twist when you’ve got another available to help the cause.”
As far as keeping the knees strong, quadriceps exercises are the ticket. Squat work strengthens the quads, as do leg lifts when you are seated on the floor with your back as straight as you can manage. Then there are all the fitness machines designed to keep the muscles supporting the knee joint in tip top condition.
The spine: this flexible necklace of bones on which the body’s movement depends needs special attention. Especially since the spine can start to suffer the consequences of age as early as your thirties. According to the National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a division of the National Institutes of Health, decreased mobility is clearly detectable in people between 40 and 50 years, while after 50 back pain can become a significant hindrance.
“Back pain is more common among people who are not physically fit. Weak back and abdominal muscles may not properly support the spine. ‘Weekend warriors’ – people who go out and exercise a lot after being inactive all week – are more likely to suffer painful back injuries than people who make moderate physical activity a daily habit,” according to NIAMS. “Studies show that low-impact aerobic exercise is good for the discs that cushion the vertebrae, the individual bones that make up the spine.”
NIAMS also points to diets high in calcium and Vitamin D – nutrients that most adults in developed countries are deficient in – as helpful in preventing osteoporosis, a problem that is “responsible for a lot of the bone fractures that lead to back pain.” Finally the federal institute recommends “Tai Chi and yoga or any weight-bearing exercise that challenges your balance.” It also states that “practicing good posture, supporting your back properly, and avoiding heavy lifting may all help you prevent injury.”
“I even flush the toilet with both hands when I remember,” said Kizim Breen of Newburg, Oregon. “I got an injury several years ago, and I notice that my shoulder still appreciates a break. It’s the same with heavy jars and pots in the kitchen. I try to slow down and use two hands to save my body. Especially as a woman – our little hands and shoulders can only deal with so much.”
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons points out that, “What most people call the shoulder is really several joints that combine with tendons and muscles to allow a wide range of motion to the arm, from scratching your back to throwing the perfect pitch. Mobility has its price, however. It may lead to increasing problems with instability or impingement of soft tissue resulting in pain.”
Discussions of shoulder problems range from bursitis, to frozen shoulders, to torn rotator cuffs. And as in the case of the knee, prudent, regular exercise that keeps the muscles supporting the joint toned and strengthened is the best defense against injuries such as these.
We know don’t about you, but here at Shoulder1 we’re off to take an exercise break. First a little warming up with some squats and arm circles, then a nice cardio – dancing about to a few tunes – and then some strength training with hand weights. Out of the closet they come. Up goes the music. The stiffness of the day lifts with each sweep of our arms. Our cheeks flush with a load of fresh oxygen, and we imagine plenty of invigorating fluids flooding our knees, shoulders, and spines. We’re feeling years younger already, and hope you are as well.
Last updated: 05-Jan-06