Springtime: April showers, digging in the yard, hiking, biking, climbing, running, skateboarding, soccer, baseball, park days…..that time of sliding out from under the winter blahs and back into all those outdoor activities. It’s that time for those activities that Colorado affords us the opportunity to do 6 months out of the year by providing us clear skies and the perfect temperature. Of course, if you are a true Coloradan, you have already had the shorts, t shirts and sandals out for months.
Whether you are an extreme outdoor enthusiast or a casual admirer of CO’s beautiful weather, there are steps you should take to shake off the winter cobwebs. Jumping head first into your favorite spring activities can lead to soreness or even muscle and joint injuries. It’s a story we hear all the time here at Body Image Physical Therapy and Fitness. Here are a few exercises that can help with full return to activity and which can also lessen the possibility of needing to see your orthopedist or PT anytime soon:
Back injuries are both common and can be very serious. Dealing with pain from a back injury can take you out of commission for a significant period of time. It is important to take the necessary preventive steps to make sure you aren’t wasting any of your spring days stuck laying down on the couch. Back bends are especially important after bending over in the garden or spending an extended time in a forward bent posture, come back up to erect position slowly, while squeezing the butt muscles isometrically, and then gently bending slightly backwards a few times. This helps with realignment of the spinal segments and encourages the muscles to pull you back into a fully erect position more comfortably.
Pectoral stretches and scapular squeezes:
We also spend so much time with our arms in front of us (think driving, computer work, knitting, holding a book, holding any electronic device, etc) that our chest muscles tend to get short and the postural muscles get too long and ineffective. Spend at least 60 seconds a couple times per day, putting your hands on your doorframe about eye level and leaning your body gently through the doorway to stretch the chest muscles. Then drop your arms at your sides and pull the shoulder blades gently down and together to help activate the postural muscles. This is a subtle motion and the arms should not move when you do this; just pull from the blades.
Quad and Hamstring stretching:
Another 60 seconds on each leg for the quads and the hamstrings will go a long way in loosening up the rest of the body. To stretch your quads, stand erect and bend a knee, bringing your heel to your butt. Keep the knees in line with each other and hold your foot with the hand on the same side as the bent knee. Place your other hand on a stable object in order to brace yourself for balance if you are struggling to hold the position. Next you will want to work on loosening the hamstrings. Simply begin by facing a chair (or any flat surface of a similar height), stepping back away from the chair, keeping all toes pointing forward, and placing one heel on the chair with the knee straight. Keep your body upright, and lean forward but all the way not down (like trying to keep your nose above water).
Calf stretches can be especially important for hiking. Calf cramps are zero fun and can happen easily if you don’t take the time to loosen them up. To stretch your calf you will want to find a wall or some other stable upright structure of some sort. Face the wall and step backward with your right foot, bringing your right heel all the way to the ground. Be sure you are keeping the toes of both feet pointing forward toward the wall. Your right foot should be stepped back far enough to where your left knee bends. Place your hands on the wall for balance. You want to be in a comfortable position, yet still feeling the stretch in your right calf. Hold this stretch for 30-60 seconds. After, switch the position of your feet to stretch your left calf.
When you have tightness in your groin and inner thighs, you may experience pain in both your hips and lower back. The following simple stretch is another great warm up for nearly any outdoor activity. The first step is to stand upright with your feet spread apart and toes pointed slightly outward. You will want to slowly lunge or bend your knee to one side until your knee is roughly over your foot. After holding the position for 30-60 seconds, stand back upright, and repeat the move to the other side.
Taking a few minutes to stretch is a much better option than taking a few days, weeks, or months to heal after damaging your body. Remember to stretch about a minute (watch the clock, please) as your muscles need time to understand they are being required to lengthen. Do not only stretch before engaging in physical activities. Also be sure to stretch after activities to re-lengthen the muscles and do dynamic warm up before activities to get the blood circulating for action.
When you incorporate a routine of pre and post stretches surrounding physical activity, you are doing more than helping to prevent injuries. Increasing blood circulation to muscles, improving your posture, acquiring a greater range of flexibility, reducing overall soreness resulting after strenuous activity are all health benefits of stretching
. However, there is no foolproof protection against sustaining an injury. If you do get hurt during your spring adventures, contact Body Image Physical Therapy & Fitness
to help get you back in action in the shortest amount of time possible.