Health and Wellness with Carrie Jose Should age be a reason for avoiding certain exercises
In last week’s article, I talked about ways to avoid injury when you’re over 50 so that you can continue to stay active by doing the things you love to do. But are there any types of exercise that you should just avoid when you reach a certain age?
The short answer is no. Many people over 50 are surfing, playing tennis, playing hockey, running, and even tap dancing. None of these activities are considered “easy on the joints”, but they do them anyway. Why do some people see age as just a number, while others use it as a reason to stop doing certain things? After 50, the main reason I see people avoiding the activities they want to do is pain. The second most common reason is that they have been told to do this.
Let’s start with the pain. Having been a physical therapist for 20 years, I know a thing or two about what goes on in people’s heads when they have back pain or joint pain. In most cases, the pain itself is not the biggest concern. People are ready and able to tolerate a certain amount of pain at the expense of doing what they really enjoy. We do it all the time in our 20s or 30s and don’t think twice. But as we get older, a bit of fear begins to set in when we are in pain. We have typically seen or heard horror stories from friends or family who paid the price for going through or ignoring the pain all together.
When we’re younger, we’re more likely to approach pain with a wait-and-see approach or go through it. But as we get older pain becomes a bigger concern and we are more likely to seek professional medical help sooner. This brings me to the second reason why people over 50 will simply stop doing certain exercises – simply because they have been told to do so – by a well-meaning medical professional.
Our medical system is overloaded and everyone is doing their best to keep pace. But if you are a musculoskeletal health professional who is not up to date with current medical research, you will likely be giving advice based on “old-fashioned” ways of thinking. An example of this is the diagnosis of all musculoskeletal pain on the basis of X-rays and MRI scans. If your x-ray shows bone-on-bone arthritis, then joint replacement is your only option. If your MRI shows a tear in the meniscus or a bulging disc, you automatically need arthroscopic surgery. But current research challenges that line of thinking and says that 80% of all musculoskeletal problems, even when you’re over 50, can be resolved without procedure. The behavior of your pain is what matters most. Not your age or the arthritis.
The best way to explain this concept is with a case study. I recently started working with a 55 year old woman who was told knee replacement surgery was her only option due to her age and arthritis in her knee. When she questioned knee replacement surgery and could wait, her doctor’s response was to cut down on her activity and stop running and hiking. Studies show that the indication of osteoarthritis on the x-ray alone doesn’t mean it’s the cause of your pain. In other words, it is quite possible that this woman’s knee pain is due to something other than her “bone-on-bone” arthritis. Did she really need to be operated on? And did she really need to stop some of her exercises because of the arthritis or her age? Stopping activities will certainly make arthritis worse. And if she has knee replacement surgery without being sure arthritis is the main cause of her knee pain, she risks not only unnecessary surgery, but also a delay of months to recover. This would further delay his ability to resume his favorite activities. While age is most of the time not a factor in your choice of exercise, it is a factor when it comes to how quickly you can recover from surgery.
So here is what happened. We prescribed her a corrective movement strategy to see if arthritis was the main factor causing her knee pain. And you know what, his knee pain improved dramatically in just a week. Research indicates that while the pain responds quickly to corrective movement performed repeatedly, your pain is primarily due to a mechanical origin, not arthritis. Arthritis doesn’t change that quickly or improve that much in a week. But mechanical pain does. It turns out that this woman’s knee pain was due to mechanical imbalances in her knee joint. And while arthritis was a factor (it made her knee stiff), it wasn’t the main cause of her knee pain. She is only 55 years old, in great shape and soon without knee pain. There is no reason to change her activities right now just because she is over 50 and has arthritis, and there is certainly no reason to have major knee surgery.
As you get older, you should know that age-related changes, like arthritis, are completely normal and should be nothing to worry about. And arthritis, along with your age, is definitely not a reason to avoid exercise. Be sure to educate yourself on these topics and always seek a second opinion if you are told to stop an activity “just because”, or if you are told that surgery is the only option for your pain.
Physiotherapist and Pilates expert Dr Carrie Jose owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch or reserve a spot in our Fit after 50 workshop on June 22, email her at [email protected]