By Kate Silver / July 10, 2017
Aches and pains are often considered a part of aging—but they may not have to be, says David Reavy, physical therapist and owner of React Physical Therapy in Chicago.Part of the problem, says Reavy, is as we age, we move less, and that may take a toll on us physically.
Reavy says that when you are less mobile, your muscles may tighten. Just a single tightened muscle can set off a domino effect that has the potential to impact joints, bones and the way you move. “We get tight in certain muscles and that actually shuts down other muscles,” says Reavy. In other words, your body is one big interconnected machine, and if one area is even a little bit off, it has the potential to throw everything out of whack. That may lead to aches, pains and injuries down the line.
Reavy shared the following tips—which he also shares with his patients—to help:
- Release, activate, then strengthen and stretch. Reavy uses terms “release” and “activate” a lot. He says that releasing (which aims to get the muscle moving again) and activating (which aims to get the muscle firing properly) may help put your body back in balance. “Releasing is the new stretching, and activation exercises are designed to get muscles working properly again,” he says. To do release and activation exercises at home, he suggests investing in a lacrosse ball (you can get a pair online for about $10), which you can use to apply pressure to muscles. Here’s a video of Reavy demonstrating how to use a lacrosse ball to release a tight hip flexor muscle. And here is an example of what he calls a “dynamic warm up” with activations. Once you’ve gone through some lacrosse ball releases and activations, then, Reavy says, you're ready to stretch and strengthen your body, because more muscles will be actively involved and in balance.
- Get off your butt. We sit more as we age, and when we sit, we’re being sedentary and letting our muscles languish. “We’re not meant to be sedentary, we’re meant to move. But technology has created a plethora of problems,” says Reavy. Rather than lazing on the couch in front of the TV, do something. Choose some exercises (like a plank or this “open book” exercise) to counteract the effects of sitting too much, and multi task while catching up on your shows.
- If you’re still on your butt, sit on it correctly. If you must sit, says Reavy, be mindful of how you’re sitting. Don’t slouch. Rather, be sure you’re sitting on your sit bones. Use your abdominal muscles and your lats (latissimus dorsi, or your mid-back muscles) to hold yourself upright. Good sitting posture may help you avoid back pains later on. (Here’s a Mayo Clinic checklist for good posture to avoid back pain).
- Stretch into yoga. Yoga may be great for increasing flexibility and getting the muscles working together. “It teaches people to move again,” says Reavy. Try signing up for a class or look online for different videos you can try at home. The moves can be as easy as touching your toes (or trying to).
- Book a massage. If you need an excuse to get a massage, here it is. Massage is a part of the practice of many physical therapists (including Reavy) because it can address current soreness and also may help prevent future pains. Plus, you just might feel amazingly relaxed and reenergized afterwards.
- Be proactive. You don’t have to have a debilitating injury to visit a physical therapist. Reavy and others in his field regularly work with patients who are healthy to help avoid injuries down the line. “Don’t ignore the little aches and issues you have because eventually it may lead to a big injury.”