Happy New Year from the Alignment REScue!
I’ve been telling my clients for a few weeks that this is going to be the year of Balance and Independence. This came about because of an event in my family that I will share here.
A senior member of my family recently fell and broke her arm. It was a simple break and did not require a cast, just a sling. This was tough in and of itself of course, but it wouldn’t be a terrible hardship for most people. It wasn’t her dominant arm for one thing. It’s mostly an inconvenience pulling on your clothes, doing up buttons, making a meal, etc.
I know from previous client experience though, that having one limb immobilized can seriously hamper your confidence in walking around. You are afraid to fall because now you only have one arm to break your fall, and if you break that one too, you’re screwed. As well, the idea that someone could knock into your “bad arm” in a crowd is enough to keep most people safe at home on the sofa for the duration of their convalescence.
In this person’s case however, she had had both hips replaced within the past few years. She did her PT, healed, and was for all intents and purposes “good as new.” However, what is not apparent to most people who undergo these types of procedures, the environment that created the osteoarthritis in the first place is still there – the tight muscles, the chair bound hips.
Bones regenerate constantly; this is what allows them to heal and knit together after a break (bones are amazing!). But the same thing is happening all the time. Your bones (and other tissues) literally mould themselves according to their use. This is called ADAPTATION. Your tissues adapt continuously to how you use them most often. Thus, if you sit in a chair for hours a day/years/decades long, your bones and muscles are literally formed to make that the most energy efficient position. While heads of the femurs are replaced and sometimes the socket part (acetabulum) of the joint too, the muscles of the hips are still tight, in some cases underused, often not in the right plane or alignment. In the instance of my family member, I believe the confidence of walking was never fully established post-replacement, but this was masked by the fact that she could rely more heavily on the arms to make up for this lost motor skill.
This is something that the body will do quite naturally, and we might not even be conscious of it. For example, if going up stairs is difficult, we can depend on arm strength on the rail to pull us up the stairs. We can use canes or walkers to lean on (effectively giving us more ground support in lieu of strong hips). We can use our arms on the kitchen counter or various furniture as we navigate our surroundings to help us balance.
The problem only becomes obvious if the remaining limbs become incompetent. Although my relative has the use of two legs and one arm, only one of her four limbs is really functional (and who knows at what percentage that arm is really functional – most of us don’t use our arms to their full range of motion and our shoulder girdles are for the most part operating at a low percentage of their potential). In fact, she did fall again, just walking through a room with nothing to hold on to.
At the same time, another relative had a long-awaited knee replacement. Standard PT in both hip and knee replacement focusses on strength, and getting back a functional range of motion. Unfortunately, the operation was a bit of a shock to this relative and she had a hard time recovering and performing her PT. For some time after the replacement, the pain was too great for her to want to move. So she spent a bit too much time sitting comfortably and well…we know that that leads to more of the same – tight hips/knees, weak muscles, loss of bone density, chair bound joints.
It’s sad to see this happening to people I know, but an important lesson is the fact that this all started years and years ago. Can you get up from the floor unassisted (by either hands or knees)? Can you get down to the floor at all? Are your hips strong enough (and not in that weighted knee extension kind of way) to hold you on one leg during a normal gait cycle with everything in alignment?
What compensations are you making – right now – that will inevitably end up being your downfall?
This is why I dedicate 2015 to a year of Balance and Independence work. I will be focussing my classes and privates lessons to ensure that we age as gracefully and independently as possible. It is NEVER too late to start this work! Each lesson will incorporate something that we can work to improve as the year progresses. Hopefully by 2016 we will have completely new hips and knees and shoulders – now isn’t that a nice thought?
Have a safe and happy New Year – may your bones be aligned.