2004-01-30 / Community

Eye On Physical Therapy

By Tim Rohrs

Tim Rohrs is the executive director of Sands Point Physical Therapy in Rockaway Park.

There are days in my office I feel more like a police officer or security guard than a physical therapist. I closely monitor the door that leads from the gym to the reception area. That door is next to the lockers where patients keep their bags, cell phones, water bottles etc. I often see them congregating by the lockers, maybe making a phone call, grabbing a book for their time on the bicycle, or drinking water. It is game of cat and mouse. A distraction on my part, and the patient has grabbed their belongings and is gone without completing their exercise program. I often joke to other staff to release the bloodhounds and hunt them down.

Unfortunately, the ones that need the exercises the most are the ones that try to avoid them the most. "I can’t lift that", "I can’t walk that long", " I can’t do that". To which I usually answer, " I know, that’s why you’re in therapy". I don’t mean to be flip or sarcastic, but if they could lift that weight, or balance on one leg, or stand up from their wheel chair, I wouldn’t be seeing them. Exercise is the most important component of any physical therapy intervention. According to Martha Pyron, M.D. writing in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Fit Society Page, "researchers found that many bodily functions start to decline at a rate of two percent per year after the age of 30. But, with exercise, this aging process is slowed to a rate of one-half percent per year! This means that a person who does not exercise will have lost 70 percent of their functional ability by the age of 90. In contrast, a 90 year-old exerciser will have only lost 30 percent of their functional ability and still be 70 percent strong!"

Even a flexibility program of just stretching is beneficial. With aging the following changes take place:

95 Erosion of cartilage in heavily used joints — particularly of the knees and hands;

95 Decreased elasticity in joint capsules, tendons, and ligaments with the development of cross-linkages between adjacent fibrils of collagen;

95 Increased dehydration and loss of joint lubricants in connective tissue;

95 Changes in the chemical structure of the tissues protect them from injury.

Older adults are more susceptible to muscle injury and it takes longer for their injuries to heal properly. In many cases, healed muscles may not perform as well as prior to the injury. According to Diane Austrin Klein, Ph.D. "It has been suggested that performing flexibility and stretching exercises stimulate production and retention of connective tissue lubricants and can reduce flexibility losses." So, get out there and move! The choices are endless: Walk the boardwalk; do Tai Chi, Pilates or Yoga. Join a health club, bicycle, and swim.

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