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Your New Year’s Physical Check List

Cross-country skiing (skating style) in Einsie...
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Happy New Year!!  I’m wondering how many people really make New Year’s resolutions these days??  I know I’m always striving for optimal health and do feel a sense of renewed commitment after eating too many Christmas cookies.  It seems most people want to loose weight after the holidays, but I was thinking of putting a new twist on the old New Year’s resolutions.  What about doing a full body scan, asking yourself how you’re feeling, are you having neck or back pain, headaches, have you been falling lately?  You’d be amazed how many people I evaluate who have been in pain for months or years who “just thought the pain would go away!!”  Generally, if you’ve had pain for more than 2 weeks and you don’t feel the symptoms are getting less frequent or less severe, you might want to get it checked out.

So do your body scan: do you have neck or back pain?  Neck pain can stem from many sources.  One muscular source is the upper trapezius.  This is the muscle between your shoulder joint and neck.  This muscle is often strained by poor posture such as prolonged computer work or certain sports like bike riding.  Mine hurt yesterday after 2 hours of Cross Country Skiing.  Neck pain can also come from the small muscles between each segment of your spine following a fall or again from a postural issue.  More serious problems are from joint dysfunction or neurological issues such as disc bulge or nerve root irritation.  These neurologic problems often result in the feeling of burning or pain, or numbness and tingling in the arm or hand.  These are more serious symptoms and people should not delay seeking treatment.

The lumbar spine often has similar muscular or neurological injuries as the cervical spine.  Additionally there may be confounding injuries from the iliopsoas muscle which lies deep in the abdominal cavity running down to the upper inside of your leg.  This muscle is responsible for bending the hip and is often injured with repetitive lifting or squatting, you know, like shoveling!!  This muscle may go into spasm in the front of your body, but the result is low back pain!  You may not even feel the pain in the front of your hip.

Do you have headaches??  Headaches are often muscular in nature or may be stress related.  Additionally, headaches can stem from jaw issues like TMJ or from grinding or clenching their teeth.   Headaches can also be caused by cervical dysfunction which my occur from a cervical joint being stiff, or stuck in a position other that its correct resting position.           What about other joints or muscles surrounding your elbows, knees, or ankles?   People may have overuse injuries after doing too much too soon like shoveling.  Skiing is another sport we are all doing this time of year.  How many of you started exercising 2 months ago to get in shape for skiing all day in deep or heavy snow?  Do your muscles hurt after your first day on the slopes?   How do you tell if it’s just “normal” muscle soreness or if you’ve overdone it?

Lastly, is your balance good?  Medicare is now recommending that any person over the age of 65 who has fallen 2 times in the past year or once with an injury to get screened for falls prevention.  After age 35 we loose 1% of our muscle mass per year.  So, you can imagine that by 65 those of you who are not doing regular exercise may be feeling weak.  Many of us are getting weak in the legs, hips, and buttocks which are the muscles of walking and moving from sit to stand.

Are you doing regular exercise??  Most of us know that we should get regular exercise, 30-60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise such as walking, bike riding, swimming or skiing; something that elevates your heart rate 3-5x/wk.  Additionally, strength training is advised 3 times/week.  If you’ve never been one to exercise at the gym, simply trying to move more can make a big difference.  Try walking 10 minutes 3x/day if you can’t do 30 minutes at one time.  Some of my patients even do circles inside their homes when it’s snowing too much.  Remember, something is better than nothing.  So do your first annual body scan today and here’s to a strong and painfree 2009!

Mary Boyd may be reached at Mountain View Physical Therapy, 290-5575.

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