724-779-1300

Relaxation Exercises to Help Combat Stress

Relaxation Exercises to Help Combat Stress In my twenty-six years of physical therapy practice, I have often had patients come to me with this question, “My doctor told me that I need to reduce the stress in my life. Do you know of any exercises I can do to relax more?” I certainly have some professional advice to share. I also have enough personal experience with stress to understand as well. You see, we are all human and life is stressful. Yes, even physical therapists struggle with stress. I have seen and treated many places on the human body where stress can physically manifest itself from headaches, jaw (TMJ) problems, neck pain and muscular trigger points to even some kinds of low back pain. Ask a roomful of people in what way they experience stress and some will say “tension headache”. Still others are “gut reactors” and they have stomach aches or GI distress. Still others describe feeling “tired and aching all over.” Stress is unavoidable. Our ancient ancestors had to worry about finding food to eat and whether what they were hunting was going to turn around and start to hunt them! They did not stress over rush hour traffic, the kids overscheduled lives or the looming work deadline but they did have stress. The problem is that although our civilization has greatly evolved since those days, our human physiology is still the same. We are wired for the “fight or flight” response to stress. Our adaptive response to stress remains primitive. This system was highly effective for the ancient “life or death” scenarios and is still our...

“Handy Advice” for Preventing Hand Injuries

Our hands are a remarkable part of our human body.  They permit us to do so many things.  Just think how nice it is to hold hands with someone you love or to touch the face of  your child.  Your hands allow you to work both inside and outside the home.  If you are like most people, you may just take your hands for granted.  At Optimal Physical Therapy and Sports Performance, we often help persons who have experienced hand injury.  It is the hope of this blog to give you some prevention/protection tips to guard those precious possessions.  Here are some tips to avoid the most common causes of hand injuries: 1.  Proper form for carrying groceries  Trying to carry multiple plastic bags at once creates a challenge for fingers, wrists and elbows.  When you do this, you are putting strain on many delicate finger joints by lifting too much weight in an awkward manner.  It is better to carry from the bottom of the bag or opt for paper so that the larger muscles of your arms can assist with the carry.  Remember to balance the loads between both arms to prevent back injury as well.  It is always a better option to choose a cart over a basket at the market even if you are just running in for a few items.  A basket can easily become very difficult to grasp as the weight of its contents increase.  Also keep in mind that when you go to lift heavy gallon jugs or bottles, you should try to use both hands rather than finger grasping the handle.  This avoids significant...

Winter Wisdom for fall prevention

WINTER WISDOM Snow and ice are a reality for all who live in Western Pennsylvania.  For those who have osteoporosis, limited mobility due to age, arthritis or injury, the winter conditions can prove dangerous for falls.  Here are a few simple hints to help you stay safe and healthy through the winter months: Walk this Way:  Wear appropriate footwear.  Use boots or shoes with sturdy winter treads.  Use road salt, sand or kitty litter on sidewalks and driveways. Carry a small bag of this in a coat pocket or keep some in your car so that you can have access to it if needed. For example, you come out of a restaurant and it has become icy.  Ask for help with errands or shopping if it is too slippery for you to think of going outside. Stay Connected:  For many, depression is common in the cold, cloudy months of winter.  Bad weather can mean social isolation to many older people.  Make an effort to get together with friends, family and neighbors.  Invite someone over for tea or coffee, take someone you know who does not get out much to a trip to the store or restaurant.  Give someone a call and connect on the phone.  A little conversation can go a long way.  If approved by your physician, think about adding a vitamin D supplement to your diet to offset the limited sunlight for the winter months.  Vitamin D is vital for many body functions and without direct sun light, it is difficult for the body to make it on its own. Keep your heat on:  Many persons but particularly the...

Snow Shoveling Safety Tips

  SNOW SHOVELING SAFETY TIPS With the first major snow fall of the season, we have already had our first patient who injured their back while shoveling snow.  Here are some helpful hints that physical therapists wish more people understood before they try to clear the driveway, and walkways around their home: Snow shoveling is considered moderate physical activity.  It is aerobic in nature placing a strain on the cardiovascular system.  It is also weight lifting in nature particularly depending on the type of snow, how deep the snow is laid down before beginning and if there is ice on top or under the snow.  Snow shoveling is also repetitive in movement.  Not using proper body mechanics while completing this activity can lead to muscle strain and injury.  The good news is that snow shoveling can be very good exercise if completed properly.  The bad news is that snow shoveling should not be completed by certain persons as it places them at risk for fatal heart attacks.  Who should never attempt to shovel snow?  Anyone with a history of heart attack, heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol should consider hiring someone to shovel for them.  Also smokers and persons who lead a sedentary lifestyle can be at risk.  If you question if you should attempt to shovel, you need to talk with your physician to get medical approval. If you are in good health, there are several things you can do to complete this task safely:  Prior to going outside, do a warm up activity in the house just as you would if you were working out...

Meeting the Demands of Dancers and Gymnasts

The physical demands placed on dancers and gymnasts are unique from any other type of athlete.  Like other athletes, the hours of training and practice can make an individual susceptible to many types of overuse injuries, but the great amount of flexibility and movement of the joints that is required is often a more common source of injury.  Excessive movement of the joints, also known as hypermobility, is often sought out in dancers and gymnasts.  It can be a great asset to these athletes, but if not achieved slowly and with proper training, can lead to injury in growing adolescents.   Hypermobility allows dancers and gymnasts to achieve the extreme positions required of these disciplines, but if not trained properly can lead to joint, tendon, ligamentous and muscular injury.  These injuries tend to occur at the foot, ankle, lower leg, hip and low back.  Gymnasts also are also especially vulnerable to shoulder and wrist injuries due to the fact that the upper extremity is used as a weight bearing joint.   There are many factors that contribute to the stability of a joint.  The capsule and muscles that surround the joint, ligaments and tendons, and the proprioceptive system all contribute to joint stability.  The proprioceptive system involves sensory nerves that are embedded in the joint capsules and ligaments that constantly inform our central nervous system of position, movement and rate of movement.   The joint capsule, ligaments and tendons are often overstretched in dancers and gymnasts, but both the proprioceptors and muscles surrounding the joint can, and need to be, trained to increase the stability of the joint to prevent injury.   Many...

Free Balance Screening

Are you or someone you know experiencing falls or a fear of falling?  Your balance system is made up of three components: the inner ear, the vision system and the nerve receptors in your joints and surrounding tissues.   All three of these systems are in a continuous feedback loop through the brain to help us maintain our balance on level and uneven surfaces.  Some questions we ask patients with balance deficits are if you have had an ear infection recently and have you had your vision checked or had a change in your lenses recently.  After these are ruled out as a cause, we perform a series of tests in the clinic to attempt to grade any balance deficits that can be addressed through exercises and make sure you do not have positional vertigo (BPPV).   Take advantage of our FREE BALANCE...

Bone Health Across the Age Spectrum: What You Should Know

Bones serve our bodies in two ways: Bone serves a structural function in giving us a mobile skeleton which enables us to move and also protects and supports vital parts of our body. Bones also act as a reservoir by acting as a storehouse for essential minerals that our bodies need. Your bone is constantly changing, remodeling itself. It is a very dynamic and important tissue. Bone is always in a combination of 2 competing processes: forming new bone (bone formation) and breaking down bone (bone resorption). At different times in our lifespan, formation will dominate the process but at a certain point, resorption will outpace the formation processes and our bone density will reduce. How well we take care of our bodies during those strong formation years will impact us later when resorption will dominate. There are several things that can be done to help our bones lay down the strongest foundation possible but we have to grab the main window of opportunity for this biological timetable which is the first three decades of life with a strong focus on the adolescent years. By the time we reach 30 years of age, the resorption processes begin to have the upper hand. There is growing concern over the health of bone in American culture. Most people have heard of osteoporosis and the impact this has on primarily older persons. Osteoporosis shows itself later in life but its start actually lies in young adulthood. The more bone mass that we possess as a young adult provides us a safety net for higher bone mass to be sustained later in life...

Is Returning to Yard Work or Exercise Causing You Pain?

With the start of Summer, many of us have continued to work in our yards – planting, digging, mulching, trimming and mowing grass. Unfortunately, these activities can result in pain and movement dysfunctions that can persist and limit the activities that you enjoy or just need to perform. Let us help you get comfortable again and teach you proper lifting techniques and body mechanics to prevent this problem from recurring so you can have a great summer. The Summer weather also encourages us to get involved with outdoor exercise such as sports or a walking or running program. If your fitness activity has caused you to develop a nagging problem that makes you modify or stop your exercise, please call us today to help you feel better and get back to your program. Tennis players and golfers tend to wait to seek treatment until their symptoms are greatly limiting their performance or making them stop. Let us help you stay in your...

Bike Helmets Really Protect You

Do you realize approximately 90% of the fatal bicycle injuries happen in riders that did not use a helmet? The incidence of brain and head injuries in bicycle riders decreases by 60-88% with the use a of properly fitted helmet. The proper fit of a bicycle helmet should have all sides of the head in contact with the inner lining. With the chin strap fastened, the helmet should not slide greater than one inch in any direction on the head. Reflective material for night riders and brightly colored helmets make you more visible to...