In February’s newsletter I discussed the idea that our body is going to decline as time moves forward, it is just one of those facts of life. However, the rate of decline and our ability to control it is highly variable, and this is where a relationship with a physical therapist can help you. Preventative care helps control the rate of the inevitable. We have all heard the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
This could not be more true for how the body responds to getting the right kind of help. We see examples of this truism all the time with preventative care and maintenance for all of our equipment – cars, furnaces, or anything with a motor. Even in health care, the physician has their attention strongly on heart function and blood tests – they are looking for indications of how to prevent a problem. This makes sense since the consequences of not keeping a close eye on this area can be fatal.
Unfortunately, the same mindset is not applied to our musculoskeletal system. The physician, because they have so much to attend to on your yearly medical exam, assume if you do not complain of pain or numbness then the body must be operating fairly well. This conclusion, regrettably, causes a notable loss of opportunity to affect one’s quality of life as we get older. Our body has to contend with a number of forces working against it over time and these do have consequences.
True, it is not like a heart attack where life changes in a second; they are slow and insidious changes which sneak in the back door without being noticed. These stressors like to accumulate over time by building their negative effects on the body with the person noticing greater stiffness, grumpy muscles and joints but “hey, I am getting older and this is just part of the terrain.” Yes, there is truth to that statement. However, there is also truth in this statement, which is one of my favorites- “We are designed well (the engineer knew what he was doing), but we use our body incorrectly (unknowingly), but with some avoidable results if we had the right kind of help and understanding.”
The annual doctor exam, for all the good it does, eventually allows for some significant and predictable problems to slip through the cracks and affect one later if not sooner. In the medical world, they use this untruism quite often, “If it is common, it must be normal.” We see this idea applied quite often with arthritis. You are a 55-year-old patient and mention that your hip is hurting more and an x-ray shows some accelerated wear. The doctor associates it with age and often states (I am generalizing, but this is what I have experienced over 35 years of PT), “You have osteoarthritis and this is why your back hurts, or your knee, or your hip.”
Osteoarthritis causes problems, but it is not like a pregnancy- an all or nothing condition. It is a gray area and can range from mild to severe and its impact on functional activity is variable depending on that severity. However, these changes are a sign that stress (pressure and friction) are concentrating on your hip and causing premature breakdown. Now, there are a number of other tissues (muscle, tendon, nerve, and ligament) which are related to that particular joint too and so affect the degree of friction and pressure on that area over time.
So, to say 100% of the pain is coming from the osteoarthritis is ignoring all these other tissues which are highly able to be part of the source for pain, limited movement, and function. The bottom line is, those people who are interested in how to keep their body working well, by trusting only the annual exam to determine musculoskeletal health, are missing a huge opportunity in preventing not only excessive joint wear (osteoarthritis), but are also missing out on improving how efficient one’s neuromusculoskeletal system could remain over time.
Our neuromuscular system is a big factor in how stress is distributed over our joints. What most people want from their body over time is performance and comfort as they move. This requires the neuromuscular system to stay efficient. Unfortunately, by the time one is getting more direct confirmation that the neuromuscular system is losing efficiency because the joint is hurting, a great deal of opportunity for prevention has been missed.
I opened this talk with the idea of having an ongoing relationship with a physical therapist, and that is where I will close it as well. Physical therapists at Full Potential can assess your neuromuscular system and identify where it is imbalanced, which will result eventually in joint stress and reduced performance. Muscles work efficiently when operating in ratio to their related groups and when these ratios are not ideal, joint and tissue stress will increase. Pain is often a response to pressure and/or tension, too much and inflammation can result. Treating the inflammation will make it feel better, but only the symptom was treated, not the cause of the pressure.
Just recently, in the Superbowl, we saw an example to an extreme degree of what is possible when the neuromuscular system of Tom Brady is kept ideal. He obviously has some very good support systems in place to perform at this level at his age. We can take a page out of his playbook on the idea of preventative maintenance and recognize what is possible by keeping our system in balance.
How could I make all this information more real to you? Get a consult at our office and let’s identify what is not optimal and how it could be handled. How we can educate you on a plan of action that can retrain your neuromuscular system to perform more comfortably and at a higher level. And, the good news here is you become more in control of the rate of aging as we talked about earlier. When you find yourself looking at 60 or 70 or beyond, and feel like you have the knowledge to keep control over your body, that is a real asset. One that is much more valuable than your IRA.
Yes, it is true, there are no free lunches. If you want to feel better by retraining your neuromuscular system it requires time, money, and making it a priority over time with consistency. But, down the road, the rewards are quite significant. Regret is a tough emotion to contend with; looking back and realizing you have missed opportunities is disappointing.
Your first step in this process is to gain an understanding of how what has been discussed applies to you. Schedule a consult and find out the status of your neuromusculoskeletal system, what orthopedic problems are you heading toward and what can be done about it. As our healthcare system becomes more and more about repair and replace, one should seek how a relationship with a PT over time could be one of the best medical friends you could make.
Remember, our bodies were designed well, but like any finely crafted machine, it is the care of it that determines how performance over time will occur. Ignorance of the owner’s manual can be costly and frustrating. Schedule a consult and get on the preventative maintenance road, it is the road with less bumps and more fun.