If you are over 20, and I suspect that you are, you may identify with this week’s article. If you have ever awoke with stiffness or acutely realized that you can’t turn or bend a certain way, this article is for you.
In a way, this column is about aging, and how to forestall its effects at least a little bit.
What is the difference between a 9 year old and a 90 year old? The child can bend and flex in any direction, yet the senior will likely break in half if he tried the same thing. As we age, our connective tissue loses flexibility.
This change affects us in various ways. Have you noticed while driving that you now twist your entire trunk to see behind you, rather than simply turning your head? (Or maybe you just beep the horn and hope for the best?) Are you tying your shoes with a knot at the side of your foot rather than in the middle of the laces, because you can’t reach your foot bending forward? Do you have trouble putting on jackets because of limitations in shoulder and arm movement?
Every day I treat patients with painful problems in the back, neck, shoulders, hips, knees elbows, wrists, hands or feet that began with a flexibility issue. Often, by the time they come to see me, they have tried multiple medications, seen another doctor or two and maybe tried massage or therapy.
After 30 years of experience, I have encountered many patients who have failed to respond to other treatments as well as patients that want to keep simple problems from becoming worse. In most cases we are successful in helping them resolve their problem within a few weeks.
While I am glad that I am able to offer solutions to so many patients in pain, I also try to offer suggestions that might help keep people from getting to such a painful state to begin with. In many cases these problems would not have progressed had the patient been working to maintain their flexibility.
Want to test your flexibility?
Stand comfortably with your arms to your sides. Without turning your shoulders or trunk, slowly turn your head around to the left, then to the right. The best way to monitor your amount of rotation is to observe what you can see when you turn the maximum amount in each direction. You should be able to see an object directly behind you by turning either left or right.
Now bend your trunk to the left and to the right, sliding your hand down the side of your leg. You should be able to easily touch your leg below your knee on both sides.
Finally, sit on the floor with your legs straight ahead of you. Without bending your knees reach out to touch your feet with your hands. Can you reach your toes?
How did you do? To increase your flexibility, you can begin a routine of stretching every day. Stretching doesn’t have to be a vigorous, arduous or complicated process. You can start by simply spending a few minutes every day simply stretching in every direction. Remember to do this gently and smoothly.
Anything you do to improve the functional ability of your body improves your health. Most doctor visits and many chronic illnesses have roots in how well we take care of ourselves. Gentle stretching can not only improve the way you feel today, but can contribute to avoiding costly medical treatment in the future. Most people will find that they sleep better and feel more rested. Many people report that if they stretch gently in the morning, they feel more alert and think better.
If you realize during stretching that you feel pain or significant restriction, stop the exercise. Remember that it is easier to fix a small problem than a larger problem. If you are experiencing pain or a problem that is persistent, come see us.
Next week I will discuss simple ways to improve digestive function. Until then, challenge yourself to improve your flexibility. Doing so even a little bit will make you feel better.
Dr. Mark Kestner is a chiropractor in Murfreesboro. His office is at 1435 NW Broad St.