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

When I listen to my husband and do what he’s telling me, and understand that he’s trying to teach me how to move, the ball will go straight, and it’s amazing. It feels so much better. There’s no jarring. There are no bad habits, and then I don’t get pain in my elbow. It feels much more natural, but it takes practice for me to do that. It takes a little bit of humility to sit back and have somebody coach you and not want to get defensive. Sometimes just letting yourself be taught and be coached is hard, but it’s humbling. It can result in great things.

Phil Faris: It comes down to how important is it for a person to get back the movement that they were looking for. How important is it for them to get back in the game, whether it’s tennis, running, gardening or maybe dancing? If that’s important, then you must invest to retrain your body so you can continue doing it for a long time. Otherwise, you’re going to have repeat visits to either the ER or the physical therapist and having the same kinds of issues show up.

Your approach to treating patients or working with patients is different than the way a typical doctor might. Can you explain the difference and why it’s important that Baby Boomers understand the difference?

Denise: We have this movement that we’re trying to do in our industry. It’s get physical therapy first because of these poor doctors … They’re under such high demand that they don’t always have time to sit and help you figure out why you have something. They just want to treat your symptom. They want to get you a pain pill, or steroid, or give you a cortisone injection, or send you for an MRI or an x-ray. It’s simply because they don’t have time to sit and help you figure out the cause of the dysfunction. As physical therapists, that’s what we’re trained to do. We look at why there’s this compensation happening. We treat the dysfunction.

Injuries, bad things happen. There’s trauma. You fall. Things happen. Those injuries may need rehab. Sometimes there’s a disease process that starts to break down our muscles and tendons, like diabetes. The injuries that we try to focus on are misuse injuries. I think for a long time; the terminology was overuse. I don’t believe that there’s a magical number out there that suddenly, we do an activity 100 times and that number is going to topple us over because now we’ve overused it.

I think it’s more of a misuse. If your hips aren’t in the right position and you are trying to pick up your grandchild, you’re going to tweak your shoulder. You need to learn to square up and get close to the two-year-old and pick them up using the right mechanics, instead of trying just to cheat the system and do what’s quick.

If you keep doing that over, and over, and over again, eventually the tendon is going to be like, “Hey, this hurts me.” Then, that’s when injuries start cascading into something worse. We must stop and look at what is driving the problem here. Once we tackle that, then usually all the symptoms you feel go away.

Phil Faris: How do Baby Boomers recognize, “You know, it’s probably time that I go to a running Academy and learn how to run again.” What’re the triggers that they should be looking for, so they’re not an injury waiting to happen?

Denise: What I hear the most, what finally gets them into the clinic is that … and this is regardless of age, is they have a running-related injury. They’ll have tried everything, compression stockings, Kinesio tape. They’ll have tried everything, and maybe the injury will go away for a little while, but it always seems to sneak back. That’s when they’re starting to recognize ‘Okay, something isn’t working right and my next option is I’m going to see a doctor who’s going to tell me to stop running, and that is not an option.’ Or, they’ve already been told to stop running, and they finally go back to it, and the injury comes right back. They feel great when they’re not running, but as soon as they go back to their activity, it comes back.

That pattern is, I think, applicable to anything. You want to be outside gardening, but it hurts every time you kneel. You try some different positions but really, you’ve got to get down there and pull those weeds out. You need to get on your knees. If they rest and they don’t do it, then it goes away. But, as soon as they go back to it, it comes back. People will start to recognize things are getting worse, and worse, and worse. That’s usually where they’ll come into me. Our big push right now is that we want people to come in just once a year. Just do an annual visit that can be with any PT.

A lot of PTs will do these annual health and wellness visits that ask, “Okay, let’s look at how everything is moving. Let’s look at your strength. Let’s look at your joint mobility. Let’s look at your balance. Are we starting to see anything break down because we can head it off now? Here’s what I want you to work on at home in your gym, in your daily life, to help prevent that.”

Phil Faris:  It seems like what you’re saying is also what I’ve experienced. The first warning shot is getting pain that is different than the normal pain I get when I do an activity.

Being a guy, I’ve been taught to ignore it and just work through it instead of saying, “Wait a minute this is a signal that something’s not quite working right.” If you don’t address the cause of that pain quickly, it’s going to turn into an injury, or something more severe that will take longer for recuperation and rehabilitation.

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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.