Don't give up. Don't give in. There's always an answer to everything.
Louis Zamperini's life story has been made into a movie by Angelina Jolie. "Unbroken" is the story about how Louis, a troubled child, learned through running, to never give up and how he learned the drive to push through any obstacle. In World War II his plane was shot down and he spent 47 days floating at sea and then was captured by the enemy and was a prisoner of war.
Many people suffering with chronic pain have had surgery, injections, manipulations, orthotics, and pharmaceutical drugs to try to mitigate the symptoms but are still in some degree of pain. Others have done physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, yoga, and pilates and are stronger and more flexible but still in pain. They are told they have degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, osteoarthritis, stenosis, or chronic fatigue syndrome. They are told it runs in their family and is genetic. They are told that's what happens when you _________(fill in the blank with the activity of choice: run, ski, play football, baseball, soccer, etc.) for so many years. Some are told after countless X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans, blood tests, and physical exams that there is no reason they are in pain and thus nothing can be done except take drugs to try to decrease the pain or seek psychotherapy because there is probably something wrong with their brain. They are told and start to believe that this is as good as it gets and the goal is just to manage their pain with drugs and limit their activities as to not accelerate the breakdown of the body.
The attitude and belief that kept Louis Zamperini alive is also his message to the world:
This is the same message we at Oregon Exercise Therapy tell every new client that walks in our doors. Don't give up. Don't settle. Don't live with it. There is a reason you are in pain and there is a way to become pain free again. You can live a pain free and active life without limitations again and when you achieve that you are given back the ultimate gift: peace of mind.
Dr. C. Thomas Vangsness Jr. has just published a book called "The New Science of Overcoming Arthritis." He is an orthopedist and chief of sports medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine. Here's an excerpt from an interview Paula Span did with him for the New York Times:
Q. It sounds like we’re all headed for osteoarthritis, eventually.
That's a scary thought! Why would we all be headed for osteoarthritis? 100 years ago almost no one had osteoarthritis. What changed in the last 100 years? Did the human species de-evolve so quickly that our joints now can't handle our pampered lives? Did some genetic flaw insert itself into our DNA and quickly spread throughout the world?
I don't think so. I believe our bodies and joints are designed perfectly and the reason why osteoarthritis is on the rise is because we are not using our bodies the way they are designed. We are not moving enough to maintain our musculoskeletal health. As our posture deteriorates so does our body's ability to function properly and this causes the wear and tear in the joints that is causing osteoarthritis.
The interview continues as Paula Span asks:
Q. Why do you say the prevalence of arthritis will get worse before it gets better?
So our bodies can't handle 50 extra pounds? What about all the people a 100 years ago who worked building railroads 12 hours a day lifting hundreds of pounds daily and didn't develop arthritis? Is the body so fragile that it can't handle a couple extra pounds?
I believe the body is designed to handle the extra weight, but the reason overweight people tend to have more arthritis can be found in why those people are overweight. In general, people are overweight because we are not moving enough to maintain an strong vibrant metabolism. Without a robust metabolism, calories are not burned and are instead stored as excess body fat.
What about living longer? Do our body and our joints come with expiration dates? Are they only good for 50 years and then spoil? Where's the internal clock that's keeping track of the days and years?
I've never seen an expiration date on a human body nor have found the internal clock that keeps track of how old we are and when we hit 50 or 60 years old orders the body to start shutting down all systems. I believe our bodies are designed to live well beyond a 100 years without wearing out or breaking down. Osteoarthritis is not caused by age or people in their 20's wouldn't have it and everyone in their 70's would and neither is true.
Dr. C. Thomas Vangsness Jr. went on to say:
Every time you do a heel strike, that puts shattering force up through the bones, increasing the wear and tear. If the muscles stay strong, they decrease the force across the joint. They take up some of that pounding, sort of like shock absorbers.
Really? Science has proven that gravity is necessary for health and the heel strike during walking gait is essential for maintaining bone density and muscle tone. Without weight bearing activity bones and muscles weaken leading to osteoporosis, bone fractures, and balance problems.
"Increasing wear and tear"?
With every step? That just doesn't make sense to me. There are studies that have shown that running strengthens bones, muscles, and cartilage and non-runners have more osteoarthritis than runners do. Wear and tear does not come from exercise or pounding movements, but from misaligned joints and postural imbalances.
Paula asks Dr. Vangsness Jr.:
Q. What kind of exercise do you recommend for people with arthritis?
Nothing pounding? Swimming is best? What happens to people in a weightiness environment? Astronauts for example?
Astronauts quickly lose bone density, muscle tone, and functional capacity from living in a weightless environment. Gravity and its affects on the body are positive and necessary for health. People develop osteoarthritis in the knees because their posture is misaligned and their hip muscles are not doing their jobs and the spine has lost its normal curve. An exercise bike does not restore hip muscles function (but rather locks the hips in flexion) and contributes to spinal misalignments (especially excessive spinal flexion). This strengthens the very imbalances that caused the knee problems in the first place and does nothing to correct the underlying cause of the osteoarthritis.
Swimming is often recommended as a helpful exercise for people with many injuries and pain conditions including osteoarthritis but the problem is swimming reinforces faulty movement patterns. Because of the weightless environment, deep postural muscles are not required to work and the peripheral muscles do all the work. This leads to more postural imbalances and increased wear and tear on the joints over time.
Ms. Span asks about pharmaceuticals...
Q. How good are the drug options?
What caused the cartilage damage in the first place? Is cartilage living tissue? Wouldn't you think the body would be able to repair and heal itself?
Cartilage damage is caused by misaligned joints - a posture problem. Correcting posture is the only way to truly fix the problem. Every tissue in the human body is living and going through a process of birth-death-renewal. The problem in osteoarthitic joints is the faulty movement patterns are wearing the cartilage away faster than the body can repair it. Correcting postural imbalances takes the wear and tear component away and the body is now repairing cells faster than cells are dying and renewal happens.
Q. You’re a surgeon so, not surprisingly, you see surgery as a good option.
What caused the cartilage damage in the first place? If we implant cartilage cells or do partial or full joint replacements, have we fixed the problem or only treated the symptom?
Again, postural imbalances are the cause of the joint damage and without realigning the posture, not treatment, procedure, or surgery will have long term success. As a Postural Alignment Specialist, we like to say, "its the position, not the condition".
Low bone mineral density is associated with balance impairments in a recent study published in the Annals of Epidemiology. The study analyzed 8863 participants aged 40 years and older and looked at their total and head bone mineral density along with their results on a balance test. Those with low bone mineral density were more than twice as likely to fail the balance test then subjects with normal done mineral density. Subjects who were 65 or older were almost four times as likely to fail the balance test if they had low bone mineral density.
What does this mean? Does low bone density cause balance issues and if so, how? Is their something else that is causing both low bone density and balance problems?
I do not believe that low bone density causes balance impairments, but I do agree with the results of the study that the two are related. I believe their is something else that is causing both low bone mineral density and balance impairments. Let's think about what causes low bone density and just as important what maintains bone density. Lack of exercise and weight bearing activity allows bone density to decrease over time, while regular exercise and weight bearing activity maintain bone density. What does this have to do with balance?
Good balance is dependent on healthy, strong, and functional muscles. Little exercise means low muscle tone and poor muscle function which leads to balance problems. Regular exercise maintains muscle strength and function which also maintains the ability to balance.
I'm sure further studies on bone density and balance will eventually lead to this conclusion, but it will take years as research does. Common sense gets us there much faster!
So if you'd like to prevent balance issues as you get older, continue to exercise and do weight bearing activity (not weights as much as body weight exercises that load the upper and lower body) and you will maintain your balance, muscle strength, bone density, and ability to enjoy an active life as you age. What more would you want?!
Humans are a unique species. Scientists tell us that humans exhibit several characteristics/behaviors/abilities that distinguish us from all other animals. But science is showing us more and more that what we once thought of as our “unique” ability is now only “more advanced” than other animals. Humans have an advanced language,advanced ability to make and use tools, advanced ability to manipulate the environment to our advantage, and an advanced ability to create and interact in culture. Geneticists have shown us that 98-99% of our genes are the same as chimps.
With so much similarity between humans and other animals like chimps, what sets us apart?
I think it is our posture.
Olga Kotelko is 94 years old and holds 26 world records for track and field, a sport she took up when she was 77! She is strong, flexible, fast, athletic, and full of energy. Bruce Grierson met Olga while writing his previous book, "U-Turn: What If You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living the Wrong Life?," and quickly realized her she was living her life the way he wants to live. He spent the next several years writing his latest book, "What makes Olga Run?" and came up with 9 rules for living everyone could benefit from.
1. Keep moving.
Move continually, even when you’re not exercising. “When we move, our bodies and brains both work better. We think faster, process information more accurately, and remember more.”
2. Create routines.
"Committing the more mundane parts of our life to habit and routine frees up RAM for the things that matter to us."
3. Be opportunistic.
"Spend your precious energy wisely." Conserve energy when you can, but when you need to go for it, go for it.
4. Be a Mensch.
“Doing good doesn’t just feel good, it works. It’s healthy for the tribe and healthy for us.”
5. Believe in something.
“Belief is a trait of temperament.” People who embrace life’s puzzles as opportunities for problem-solving because of larger beliefs tend to thrive.
6. Lighten up.
“Managing stress is staggeringly important in terms of flipping genetic switches.”
7. Cultivate a sense of progress.
According to studies of life satisfaction and human motivation, we all need to feel like we’re improving. Identify your expectations, adjust them to allow for “small wins,” then improve upon them.
8. Don't do it if you don't love it.
"If it's not fun, don't do it. That's easy - because you won't if it isn't. People can't be guilted into lasting healthy behavior change, Should doesn't work."
9. Being now.
“Not only is midlife not too late to embark on this, providing we rev back up slowly, in some ways, it’s the best time for it. We’re rested, we’re restless, we’re ready.”
Which of these rules do you live by?
What other rules would you add to the list?
Who are your models for healthy living?
Answer these questions in the comments section below.
"What Makes Olga Run?: The Mystery of the 90-Something Track Star and What She Can Teach Us About Living Longer, Happier Lives" - by Bruce Grierson
New York Times article about Bruce Grierson and Olga Kotelko
U-Turn: What If You Woke Up One Morning and Realized You Were Living the Wrong Life? - by Bruce Grierson
About Matt Whitehead
I'm an Egoscue Institute certified Postural Alignment Specialist (PAS) and Advanced Exercise Therapist (AET), certified personal trainer, PatchFitness performer, FiveFingers wearer, trail runner, mountain biker, dad, music lover, environmentalist, and wanna-be slam dunk champion. I will be providing you with the latest posture exercises to help you live, play, and be pain free.