Countdown to better habits
What physical therapists want you to know — and do
Woman warms up (Tinroof, Getty Images)
10. Sit up straight
Good posture starts from maintaining activation of your transverse abdominals (the deepest layer of your abs). If you have a sedentary lifestyle — or a typical 9-to-5 job — these muscles become less activated as you age, so your lower back loses its main support. That allows the rest of your upper body to slouch forward, applying more pressure through the lower discs of your spine. Eventually, you overload your tissue, which can lead to system overload and failure — or a herniated disc, arthritis or muscle strain. So keep your shoulders back over your hips to maintain the alignment.
— J. Alex McKinney, physical therapist, director of services at Marathon Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine in Massachusetts
9. Change your running shoes
Every 300 miles, you should replace your running shoes. They're designed to minimize impact to your muscles and joints — but after the mileage, the wear breaks down the sole of the shoe, while time breaks down the integrity of rubber material (think of a rubber band hanging around a door knob in the kitchen that becomes dry and brittle after time and easily breaking with stretch). If you don't count miles, aim to replace your shoes every six to nine months. If you start to feel more soreness or achiness in your knees or joints, it's a good time to get new shoes.
— J. Alex McKinney
8. Ice it
Most aches and pains are helped by ice. For the first two weeks, alternate between ice for 10 minutes and heat for 20 minutes, ending on ice. If it still hurts for more than two weeks, see your doctor for additional options.
— Holly Moriarty, physical therapist with Haymarket Physical Therapy & Chiropractic in Virginia
7. Don't shop till you drop
When you're on a shopping spree, remember to carry an equal weight of packages in both arms. This will place less strain on your neck and lower back.
— Alanna Pokorski, physical therapist with Sports Physical Therapy of New York
6. Get grounded
Most Americans get in and out of a car many times a day, so how you do that is very important. When getting out of the car, turn your entire body so that both feet are on the ground before you stand up. This will place less strain on your lower back.
— Alanna Pokorski
5. Do ear exercises
Having problems with your balance? Your inner ear equilibrium center can weaken over time if it is not challenged, just like your muscles do. Moving your head stimulates your vestibular system, which improves your balance. Make an effort to do this several times a day to see an improvement in your balance.
— Beth Cook, physical therapist with Matt Smith Physical Therapy in Las Vegas
4. Pull, don't push
In the gym, you should do more pulling exercises than pushing exercises. Most injuries and painful conditions are caused by weakness of the muscles in the back of the body. That's because the typical gym program focuses on stretching the "glamour" muscles in the front of your body and those you see in the mirror. Pulling exercises include lateral pull-downs, low rows and hamstring curls. Pushing exercises include bench presses, biceps curls and leg extensions.
— Robert Forster, Los Angeles-based physical therapist to 38 Olympic medalists and member of the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness
You need to stretch daily. The connective tissue structures of your body — the tendons, ligaments and fascia — will shorten naturally every day if you don't stretch. Stretching is important in the morning to get your body ready for the ergonomic stress related to daily activities. You should also stretch before and after all workouts to prepare your body for exertion and recovery. Finally, stretching at night will reduce stress and improve rest.
— Robert Forster
2. Extend yourself
We perform forward-type activities all day long, such as sitting, squatting and walking. This allows the muscles and joints in the front of your body to tighten, and the muscles in the back of your body to become weak, leading to poor posture and pain. So it is important to perform extension tasks to combat this, such as arching your back while standing with your hands supporting your lower back.
— Jennifer Szymanski, physical therapist with Sports Physical Therapy of New York
1. Lie down — correctly
Lying on the sofa or propped up in bed will damage ligaments and discs in your spine. Sitting with good back support that maintains the natural curves in your spine is the most critical thing you can do to protect your joints from the stress that builds up and damages joints and ligaments. The best position to avoid damaging your spine while watching TV or reading is in a recliner, which maintains your spine's natural curves. If you don't have a recliner, then try lying on your side instead of your back.
— Robert Forster
Be smart with your smartphone
Phone finger tendinitis is becoming a big problem, notes physical therapist Robert Forster.
Avoid the problem by stretching your thumb flexor tendons before you get started each day, and during breaks from heavy use. That tendon lives in the large fleshy tissue at the base of the thumb (the outer aspect of your palm). Rub there as a warm up, and pull the thumb across the back of your hand toward your pinky finger to stretch it.