Whether you’re 16 or 60, you can experience muscle pain and joint injuries. They happen to both men and women, active and inactive alike. And, they can strike when you least expect it, often arising from seemingly harmless bad habits.
But there are a few easy steps you can take to avoid these common injuries. OhioHealth physical therapist Tim Varughese, manager of clinical services at OhioHealth McConnell Heart Health Center, walks us through the parts of our bodies prone to pain and techniques you can try to avoid injury.
“In the McConnell Heart Health Center, one of the most prevalent issues our physical therapists encounter is back pain,” says Varughese. “This can be pain in the neck or lower back, or pain caused by a problem with your spine that you feel in other areas, like your arms or legs.”
Varughese says one culprit is bad posture. “We can spend a lot of time sitting, both at our jobs and on the couch. Prolonged sitting can begin to affect your posture and your core strength, and you may not even be aware of it, especially if your job doesn’t require a lot of movement or physical activity. Then, when you ramp up your activity, like cleaning up storm debris in your yard or playing a weekend softball game, you develop pain that feels like it came on suddenly, but has actually been in the works for a long time.”
One way to combat this, he says, is to sit better and stand more frequently. “Soft, low seating is more harmful to your posture, so choose chairs with good lumbar support that help you sit upright. If you sit for an hour, take a walk break for four or five minutes. Standing desks are also a popular option for work.”
“Foot pain usually has a sharp onset,” says Varughese, “and many people who have foot pain are experiencing plantar fasciitis or pain in the arch of the foot caused by inflammation.”
Usually, foot pain can be traced back to footwear. “Wearing unsupportive footwear like flip flops or flats can put stress on your arch. These shoes are okay for walking short distances or for a leisurely day at the beach, but not the best choice for a day at Cedar Point,” says Varughese. “At the other end of the spectrum, frequently wearing shoes with a high heel can cause your calf muscles to shorten over time, and that shortened muscle can draw the tendons in your heel and arch too tightly, causing pain.”
The prescription for foot pain? Varughese suggests supportive footwear and routine stretching. “Make calf stretches part of your routine, three or four times a week. Also, add floor stretches that pull your toes back. When you’re standing and walking, you want your heel to be in a neutral position. If your ankle tilts in (pronation) or out (supination) it may be a sign of muscle weakness further up your leg, which is a recipe for foot pain. We see this in both active and inactive people, and if it’s not corrected, it can lead to further issues. Get a shoe with good support on the inside of the foot. Any good running shoe shop with an in-store assessment can point you to a shoe or an insert that can help.”
“There are plenty of people who experience knee pain, but are not candidates for surgery,” says Varughese. “As people get older, they often attribute it to arthritis, but knee pain can be the result of weak thigh and hip muscles.”
He says without proper muscle strength, you don’t have the ability to absorb impacts to your knee. “You want those muscles to dissipate all that force, not your skeletal system. Maybe you’ve accidentally stepped off a curb before without being prepared for it and felt a painful jolt. That’s due to your bones jamming together in your knee, which places a lot of stress on the joint. Without proper muscle tone, those types of impacts happen more frequently, and over time you develop painful joint damage.”
Varughese recommends a daily walk of 30 to 40 minutes for building up the muscles you need to avoid knee pain. “If you’re starting from nothing, even five to 10 minutes a day is beneficial, then add five more minutes each week.”
He says you can also add some leg-strengthening exercises to your weekly routine. “Try two or three sets of 10 air squats, or sitting and rising from a kitchen chair. Then try stepping up and down from a single step, leading with the left leg first, then the right, 10 times each side, for three sets. Again, if that’s too challenging, start with fewer reps and add a few each week.”
Varughese says rotator cuff injuries are some of the most common shoulder problems. “They’re more prevalent in people over 50, but they happen at any age. Our shoulders are a complicated piece of equipment, and an impingement of the rotator cuff can cause anything from bothersome inflammation to a tear in the tissues of the shoulder.”
Aside from injury due to falls, Varughese says shoulder pain can be caused by bad posture and lifting loads improperly. “Sitting at your desk rounds your back and can limit the range of movement of your shoulder blade. Blood flow to your shoulder tendons decreases, and that can increase the likelihood of injury. Reaching out to lift heavy loads is dangerous, too, especially with your palm facing down. The weight you lift with an extended arm places a significant amount of force on your shoulder. That pull can create problems in the joint.”
He says sitting up with your shoulders back and your head up can reduce the pressure bad posture puts on your shoulders and help correct impingement. “And when you’re lifting objects, get as close to them as you can.”
If you’re having pain, OhioHealth sports medicine physicians and physical therapists can help pinpoint your issues and get you on a plan to better health. Browse the wellness services at McConnell Heart Health Center or talk with your primary care doctor about starting a fitness plan.