Most, if not all, people can recognize that the food you eat influences your health and that many health problems that arise can therefore be addressed with changing what you eat. If, however, diet seems too simple to be effective, then I understand why movement likewise seems too simple to be effective. After all, Americans have been conditioned to believe that fixing health problems necesitates solutions based on chemistry, technology, and devices.
I say leave all the fancy gadgets like laser, needling, and cupping for the small, small minority of people who need them for their orthopedic disorders. It’s worth pointing out that even with all the recent technological advances in the fields of medicine and orthopedic medicine, it’s a hard argument to make that overall outcomes are any better. Metabolic disorders and orthopedic disorders currently represent major problems in this country. Specific food is often the answer - and specific movement is too. -- Laura
Your abdominal muscles (in the front of your trunk, not in your back) do the real work when it comes to sit-ups. Many structures are of course still involved with this exercise, though, as with any movement. When someone tells me that sit-ups hurt his back my thought is that repeated joint activity (flexion) causes his back pain. With sit-ups, the spinal joints flex, or bend forward. If repeated muscle activity was the problem causing the pain, we’d expect the pain to be in the abdomen, where the muscles actually are.
Location of pain and provoking factors are just two pieces of the puzzle when it comes to diagnosing, but they do tell me two important things. One, in this scenario the person likely has the diagnosis of joint derangement (versus a muscle or other problem). And, two, it’s unlikely the person will need spinal flexion to get better, since it is clearly provocative. (Thus it’s more likely he’ll need another spinal direction to get his joints working properly again - and therefore be able to soon tolerate all the flexion in sit-ups.) -- Laura
There’s a reason why if I’m treating spinal pathology, or if I’m curious about the relationship of the spine to the patient’s extremity complaint, I a) only prescribe one movement at a time and b) assess the effect of the exercise on the patient’s baselines before allowing it. Even though you may think the spine is in neutral or is not moving when an extremity exercise is being performed, there’s a strong chance that the spine is influenced. Sidelying clams, biceps curls, squats, rows, leg lifts, as examples, can easily impact the spine.
It should go without saying that a strengthening exercise for a hip muscle influences the hip joint, a rhomboid exercise influences the shoulder, and a triceps dip influences the elbow. But we must not forget about the influence on other nearby joints, namely spinal joints. And we must be deliberate when assessing cause-and-effect to determine whether an exercise is warranted. It's not difficult to take spinal baselines, implement an extremity exercise, and then re-test to see if the spinal baselines have changed. Knowing to do that, and how to do that, is where the skill lies. -- Laura
An exercise prescription is a prescription nonetheless. And, as such, I attach a gentle verbal warning when instructing patients what to do. Just as a pamphlet attached to a bottle of pills can tell people what to keep an eye on, I let patients know what outcomes are possible with a certain exercise and what to do in the event things trend toward bad or worse.
While I focus more on the problem area, it’s also possible that doing an exercise for the shoulder can cause mid back discomfort - among other examples. I do my best to anticipate this for patients so they do not get worried or panicked. New, unrelated aches from a new movement (muscle or joint related) typically pass quickly. If not, we can usually modify the exercise to minimize or eliminate the new problem. -- Laura
Of course I am a proponent of general movement and general exercise, but a spectrum of attention to detail does exist. If you want to be smart about your mobility and/or exercise workouts, focus more on the movements that you get less in your day-to-day life, whatever that entails.
If, for instance, you sit all day, like many people do, then biking hunched over in the seated position might not be the best way to get exercise unless you’re smart about it and also move in the opposite direction. Likewise, if you sit most of the day, your hip is usually in neutral rotation or external rotation. If you have that knowledge coupled with an interest in above-average health or desire for athletic performance, you likely want to bias hip internal rotation movements in your exercise routine. (So much hip stuff I see on the Internet focuses heavily on moving hips into external rotation compared to internal rotation, which doesn't make much sense!)
This level of knowledge and personalization is certainly rarely taken into account with general classes (yoga, Pilates, Barre, etc.) - and it’s not expected to be. But if you want to be at the end of the spectrum designating excellent health, this information should be taken into consideration. The first general goal is simply to move. But a second goal is to be purposeful about how you move and focus on balance (eg balance between joint flexion/extension, internal/external rotation, and abduction/adduction). Our joints move in lots of different directions, though our everday routine is usually comprised of only some of them. Therefore, use the time you focus on exercise intentionally to help close any gaps. -- Laura
The McKenzie Method is first and foremost an assessment approach to determine what the patient needs. It is not just a set of techniques or exercises, although the McKenzie Method does also include a treatment approach for those who are found to need therapy. (Most orthopedic disorders can be addressed with therapy vs invasive care.) The assessment (also known as an evaluation) may tell me a patient needs an injection, needs rest, needs surgery, or needs any number of exercise or manual interventions.
I learned skills in DPT school, at various continuing education courses, from other clinicians, etc. I continue to learn various techniques such as Mulligan techniques in order to have more tools to help patients, though I usually find the McKenzie Method treatment approach works best. You can have a zillion skills, exercises, and techniques in your repertoire, but the key is knowing when to use each one - and I find I can best make that determination based on a McKenzie Method assessment. -- Laura
When clinicians think of joint mobilizations, they think of clinicians moving joints at the level of the joint with their hands, which is true. This applies to the spine as well as the extremities. However, joints can be less-precisely mobilized - or moved - without that specific technique. In fact, if my goal for a movement is to move a joint versus, say, stretch something or strengthen something, I call it a joint mobilization. More loosely, we can just call it a movement or an exercise, but the intent is what matters - and the intent is to move the joint in a specific direction (its directional preference).
Sometimes the technique or the force applied by a clinician via mobilization or manipulation is necessary temporarily. But in the large majority of cases diagnosed as joint derangement, patients can learn how to mobilize themselves. In the trickier cases, we might have to figure out how to get assistance from some equipment at their home or from another person. When mobilizations (with or without a lot of force) are necessary as treatment, the results will be better the more often you do them. That said, in order to get those reps, it’s imperative we teach patients how to self-mobilize the best we can. The McKenzie method is predicated on teaching people how to self-treat in order to improve outcomes. My hands aren’t magic and I’m here to teach. -- Laura
So sit-ups flex your spine? So what? We flex our spine thousands of times a day and sit flexed an awful lot as well. As long as you (1) know how to discern if an activity (such as sit-ups) is harming you and (2) know how to correct it if it is, you are good to go. The best way to know if an activity is harming you outside of symptoms is ascertaining if it decreases your motion. (If we’re talking about the low back, that means flexion, extension, left sideglide, and right sideglide.)
I incorporate sit-ups into my workouts as well as other spinal flexion exercises. I like sit-ups with my legs straight and ones with my legs bent. But, what do I also do? I spend 10 seconds every day checking if I have my normal low back motion and also perform prophylactic movements. (I’m lying on my stomach propped on my elbows right now.) If I were just starting sit-ups, I would check right after to make sure they didn’t cause me to lose motion (they never did).
Are there certain things certain people can’t do? Of course. Sit-ups could hurt your back just like brushing your teeth could or a long car ride could; they’re not extra scary. By understanding the concepts of how to keep joints healthy, we don’t have to avoid nor fear specific exercises. I’m here to teach. -- Laura
If you want an awesome golf swing, a great squat, a long triple jump, or even an efficient gait, the component parts need to be working normally. You want these component instruments - joints muscles, nerves, etc. - to be functioning individually before you start to program or re-program patterns. The independent parts will improve as a unit when the swing or squat is practiced - and we don’t want to engrain abnormal unconscious patterns if we don't have to.
Take running as an example. If you’re lacking normal dorsiflexion that can affect how you run. Worse case scenario, that leads to injury at the ankle or somewhere else. Best case scenario, it doesn’t matter at all. Could your dorsiflexion normalize simply by running? Maybe. I am more exact, however; I investigate how to get a patient more dorsiflexion (there are many causes). There are so many moving parts when it comes to the symphony of running and I realize most people who run aren’t going to check all these things. But if your goal is performance and/or you’re interested in investing time and energy in perfecting your running, it behooves you to see to it that the individual parts work well. -- Laura
Most of orthopedics is getting joints moving better, getting nerves conducting electricity and moving better, and getting tendons functioning at full capacity. Rare is the case that true strength needs to be built in a muscle or muscles to resolve a problem. Those scenarios include when atrophy is creating problems (secondary to a number of possible factors) and when there has been injury to a specific muscle. While I often use general “strengthening” exercises as an adjunct to the primary intervention, the intent there is to get the musculoskeletal system moving and working again, not strengthening. Of course, muscular strength, which takes significant time to build, has myriad positive effects on the body, and I wholeheartedly support strength training in general. However, when problems arise, specific distinct solutions are typically called for. -- Laura
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