Did you ever wonder why professional athletes, men and women in superb shape, often suffer from just as much neck, knee, and back pain as many of their fans, sedentary creatures who dedicate long hours to watching their sports heroes on television?
“No matter what motions you make, when you do them again and again, your body gets used to it,” is the conclusion of Dr. Shirley Sahrmann, a physical therapy professor at Washington University School of Medicine. Therefore, if you do a lot of karate, your hips and legs get stronger and more muscled. If you play tennis, your dominant arm gets stronger and bigger. And couch potatoes find their own groove too, with slumped shoulders and a sagging neck. If you’re an active person repeating the same motions, your body will overdevelop certain muscle groups and if you’re sedentary, your muscles atrophy. Either way, you lose the natural symmetry that is the most healthy adaptation of what your body needs.
This is why experts recommend that everyone should see a physical therapist every year, much as people get yearly physicals and dental checkups. Many people go to the dentist every six months but most people neglect to take the same care of the rest of their body.
A lot of people consider physical therapy something that’s only necessary following an injury or to treat an illness. But physical motion experts are slowly moving into the field of preventative medicine, using sophisticated analyses of how you walk, sit, bend, and move to help stave off developing imbalances that can lead to chronic discomfort, injuries and surgery.
Researchers have noted that young children refuse to sit correctly. They slump over in their chairs, arching their backs. Unfortunately, the children don’t realize that the human body has special bones at the base of the spine to help them sit up straight. When young children slump over, they’re abusing their back muscles, a decision that experts know will result in sub-optimal health. Some might argue that childhood slumping is just a temporary phase but many physical therapy experts disagree. Experts know that the bones and muscles adapt to the way they’re used so if a person keeps slumping, their spine is going to become stretched out.
As concerned as experienced physical therapists are about younger children, their true ire is reserved for teenagers. Many experts have carefully detailed how teenagers do not walk in a normal manner. Teenagers tend to shuffle along, bending their hips and knees and kind of sliding their way forward. Of greatest concern is the bad posture that teenagers generally employ. Experts have documented how teenagers sit poorly, with their shoulders thrown back. Despite the risk to their health, this way of walking, standing and sitting is unfortunately considered “cool” by many teens.
Fashion trends are also a grave concern for many physical motion experts. For years, it was quite common to see the gluteal fold being used as a waistline by trendsetter teens. Many experts were puzzled as to how it was possible to walk properly when teenagers were wearing a belt cinching their legs together. Although it can be humorous at times to see teenagers wearing their pants so low that their crotch is at knee level, the matter is quite serious and could lead to long-term developmental problems.
Many people would counter that advances in ergonomics might be able to address issues with posture but some physical therapists disagree. While ergonomics can be set up correctly, it’s often not good enough as experts warn that what people need most is to remain active, far more important than sitting in a perfectly designed ergonomic chair. Furthermore, even people regularly going to the gym to work out must focus on doing everything correctly to avoid adding asymmetry and stress to their body.
The emerging field of medical practitioners who espouse a concept called the “movement system” have a strong focus on how all the joints, muscles, and bones work together to sustain optimal health. Physical experts believe that everyone needs to get a physical therapy examination every year, even if medical insurance doesn’t cover the cost. They defend this idea by saying that medical costs would go way down if people got a yearly checkup by a body expert.
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