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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Friday Health Focus: Ease Into Spring

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, March 17, 2006

David Armet is a licensed physical therapist.
Spring arrives next week, and within a few weeks -or maybe days, depending on the fickle New England weather - warmer temperatures will lure many folks from their winter posts on couches or recliners to the great outdoors and yard chores.

The "Sport" Of Yard Work

Raking, hoeing, lawn mowing, ladder climbing, fence building, and gardening; with the arrival of the first calm, mild weekend, these tasks beckon.

But after weeks of fairly sedentary lifestyles, the physical movements associated with outdoor work can result in strains and pains.

"Gardening, raking, other outdoor activities; these are physical tasks that in many ways are like a sport," said David Armet, a licensed physical therapist and owner of Williamstown Physical Therapy Inc. in Williamstown.

And like athletes, those venturing outside to labor after an extended period of cozying up to a fireplace should first engage in some warm-up movements and stretches, he said.

S-t-r-e-t-c-h

"Gentle" is the key, Armet said.

"People who haven't been active should take five or 10 minutes to stretch and mimic some of the movements they'll be doing," he said. "People can do some gentle, controlled knee bends to prepare for ladder climbing. We've actually had people get down on all fours to mimic gardening, and gently introduce some of the ranges, the movements, that you will be asking of your body."

Berkshire Medical Center Rehabilitation Center physical therapist Nicole Laporte agreed that warm-up time is time well spent.

Common Sense

"The biggest piece of advice we give people is to use common sense," she said. "If you were training for a race, you wouldn't run the full distance the first time out. People should pace themselves and have an awareness that they've been inactive all winter."

Armet and Laporte advised people to avoid trying to clean acres of yard or attempt other monumental tasks in one day.

"Do a little at a time," Laporte said.

"Set a time limit for work," Armet said. "The idea is not to push to the point of feeling pain or stress but to stop while you are still feeling OK."

"Once pain starts, it's a good sign that someone has overdone it, or are about to overdo it," Laporte said. "They may not feel it right away; usually it's the next day that people realize they've done something."

"Something" might be a new injury or muscle strain, or a flare-up of a former injury brought on by too much physical exertion, she noted.

In many cases, rest brings improvements but...

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," said Armet.

Assess Capabilities

Individuals should make an honest assessment of their physical condition and consider factors such as age when planning spring workloads.

"As a general rule, as we get older, our tissues are not as flexible, our posture has possibly changed," said Armet. "Older folks don't always recover as quickly, or as completely. It's a good idea to take some extra time to accomplish chores."

Proper body mechanics can reduce risk of injury, said Laporte.

"Use good body mechanics," she said. "Lift with the legs, not the back."

She recommended seeking information about proper body mechanics, and suggested that brochures or pamphlets may be acquired from physical therapy offices, chiropractic offices and physician's offices, or information may be found on Internet web sites. Body mechanics are featured at a www.mu.edu/chs/pt/htips.html web site.

Sprains, such as a sprained ankle, may be treated with ice but heat therapy should be avoided, Laporte said. Muscle strains or pulled muscles may benefit from applying ice or heat, she said.

In many cases, with some rest and appropriate care, muscle strains or pulls will improve over a few days time. But injuries accompanied by pain that radiates into the legs or the neck require a physician evaluation, she said.

"These injuries probably require a doctor's care," she said.

Mimic the weather and "warm-up," Armet said.

"A warm-up is a warm-up," he said. "It doesn't have to be just stretching. Bring in some gentle movement-based things. Control the speed. Possess an awareness with regard to capability. Take your time. That's the idea."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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