Now that summer has arrived, many people are turning their attention to outdoor activities, whether it's signing up for local charity walks, joining community cleanups or racing after children on the playground. However, the sudden onset of activity could spell trouble if you spent your winter in “exercise hibernation.”
Don't fret With the right feedback from a trained healthcare professional, it's possible to safely participate in the activities you enjoy most. If you're ready to kickstart your activity level after a long hiatus, your first stop should be physical therapy.
One of the best tools in a physical therapist's patient toolkit is a movement screen, which essentially means that the physical therapist (PT) observes your movement patterns to determine the source or cause of dysfunction or to identify a small problem that could grow into a bigger one over time. Or as a recent International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy study explains, by observing a patient as he completes a series of movements, the PT can create a “movement profile” of what he is and isn't able to do.
When looking for someone to conduct a movement screen, it's important to find a physical therapist who is experienced in movement screens and has either developed his/her own protocol or is a certified member of a screening system. During a movement screen, a trained PT will examine the mobility, stability and efficiency of your back, hips, core, shoulders, knees and ankles as you perform a series of exercises in order to identify muscle imbalances, tightness, weakness and other factors that could contribute to injury.
Recent studies have shown that developing a positive relationship with your physical therapist and being an active participant in your own recovery can impact your success. This is likely because physical therapists are able to directly work with you and assess how your pain responds to treatment.
Once a movement screen has been performed, the PT will know whether any problems you're experiencing can be attributed to lifestyle (do you sit at a desk all day?), injury (was that recent tweak to your ankle really a sprain?), or structural (do you participate in a hobby like gardening that requires repetitive tasks?). This information will be helpful in designing a home exercise program that will help you participate in physical activities and sports while keeping injuries at bay. Once you've worked with a PT to identify and address any functional limitations and have safely returned to a healthy activity level, take the time to recognize how far you've come and try to keep it going by resisting the urge to “hibernate” again next winter.