Denise Smith, Owner of Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy: How Injury Prevention Helps Baby Boomers Move Better, Longer and Pain-Free

Phil:  I enjoy playing tennis and competing. I play with players who are still in their 30s, and some are in their 70s. I ask the players over 50, “Why do you play?” They say, “I love playing.” For them, it’s a lifelong sport.

I know there are many people golf is their passion, and they play golf into their 80s, 90s and beyond. Why? They enjoy it. They enjoy the outlet it gives. Other people are into activities like distance running or lifting weights. For them it’s fun. It also keeps them looking, feeling and acting younger. That’s important.

Denise:  One of my patients told me that she read an article about how the only systems that change as we age are our hearing and our eyesight. If you think about that, it’s staggering to believe that those are the only two organs or systems that are affected by age. That sets us up the notion that we can keep doing everything we want to do. You just must believe and trust in your body, and train for it.

Phil Faris: In your practice, you focus a lot on movement patterns. Why are they important and why are movement patterns causing Baby Boomers to experience pain and injuries?

Denise: Movement patterns are what can either help us or hurt us. I know you play tennis. There are certain positions you need to get your body in to effectively hit the ball, correct? So, if you are not in a good position and you try to swing at a ball, you’re either going to miss it, or you’re going to tweak something.

Phil Faris: That makes sense.

Denise: The more you train your body to get into positions quickly and efficiently, the tendons don’t have to work extra hard. The muscles have more power behind them. The joints can transmit forces the way they’re designed to, without just absorbing impact. When you learn a good movement pattern, you can avoid injury. Let’s take squatting, for example. All of us have been in a hurry maybe to pick up our grandchild or a box that’s on the floor, and we just bend over and pick up the box.

Then we say, “Oops, I shouldn’t have done that.” You may feel it for a couple of days. When we squat down the way we’re always trained, you lift with your knees and not your back; it wasn’t hard to pick up that 20-pound bag of cat food. You were learning to put your body in a good position to help complete the activity that you were asking it to do, and it wasn’t that hard. That good movement pattern is what helps you do your everyday activities just as well. That’s just as important as when you’re doing physical activities; you’re exercising, your hobbies, that you don’t get an injury that way, too.

Phil Faris: Can you explain why Baby Boomers may be more predisposed to having deficiencies in their movement patterns than let’s say, a 20 or 30-year-old.

Denise: As we age, we might, unfortunately, have some other disease processes that may be affecting our body that we don’t have control of. Diabetes is one example of a disease process that could create a little bit of a heightened risk of injury. By putting the body in a bad position, you may tweak something faster than you would let’s say if you don’t have diabetes.

Now, if you’re a healthy 57-year-old, no pain, no injuries, no ailments, those movement patterns can change because we stop doing that activity or we stop trusting that we can do it. This happens because we somehow develop a notion that, ‘Well, I’m a certain age. I shouldn’t be lifting these heavy weights anymore.’ We stop trusting and stop training our systems so that we start doubting the way we can move. That neurological system that can automatically respond and helps us change our movement patterns isn’t taxed as much as it maybe was when you were in your 20s and 30s, and you would do pickup games of basketball with your buddies, or go to the gym. We start doubting that we can do something because we have this preconceived notion that we just shouldn’t be doing it anymore.

Phil Faris: Right. I know that in my personal history, I played basketball until age 65. In my 50s, I broke a couple of wrists, and it changed the way I had to shoot. I had to change my game. Then, I had back surgery, which changed my gait. What I found was my body adapted, allowing me to play basketball. It also had some repercussions. I started getting more injuries to the ankles and the knees; because I was using inefficient movement patterns to play basketball in an adaptive form. What I found was that my body’s going to adapt and it may get very, very good at doing something very, very bad for it. That can lead to other injuries. I’m a prime example of that. My desire to get back into playing forced me to adapt less than the best movement patterns, but I was playing. My ego got in the way. Do you run into that with your patients at all?

Denise: All the time. It’s normal, and that’s major. Our body, it is amazing how the body compensates when something isn’t working right. The body doesn’t want to show that it’s not working properly, so it will move things, it will shift joints. Then, the tendons will start to have to overwork, and then the muscles get irritated. There’s this whole process that happens just to keep us upright and doing what we love to do. That becomes a mind over matter thing. Then eventually, stuff starts to break down because the system can only handle compensation for so long.

The tendons start to talk back a little bit, saying, “I’m trying to work as hard as I can, but I’m not in the right position to do this. And now I’m angry about it.”

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Phil Faris

Phil Faris is a Best-Selling Author, business consultant, radio host for Never Too Late for Fitness Radio, and contributing writer for Business Innovators Magazine covering Influencers, Innovators, and Trendsetters in Business, Health, Fitness, and Leadership.