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Thursday, December 18, 2008

How I Survived Back Surgery

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(Editor’s Note: Howard J. Cormier is the former long-time county agent in Vermilion Parish. He is now back with the LSU AgCenter as an equine specialist.)

As some of my friends have noted with painstaking detail, I’m not as young as I used to be. With age come injuries. I have hurt my back from multiple falls off the backs, and sometimes the fronts, of horses.

When I was young, I always seemed to recover. Then on Oct. 29, 2007, I twisted my back lifting a bale of hay, and I wasn’t recovering. What was up with that?

I saw a chiropractor who bent, twisted, cracked and stretched me in all kinds of ways. I joined a health club and was diligent in working out. I felt better for a little while, but not long enough.

The chiropractor suggested an MRI, which I thought was a military diet of some kind. It is a fancy X-ray that shows why you hurt like you do. A ruptured disk! The orthopedist said he could fix it with a snip of the tip of the protruding disk. I said, let’s go for it.

But when he got inside, it was worse than expected. He took out the large ruptured disk, took bone from my hip, and filled the hole between my vertebrae. He then screwed things back together with titanium screws while it healed. That was April 30, 2008.

When I woke up, it hurt. Bad. But I had my pain killers, and I surprised myself by actually walking a few steps the day after surgery. I went into the hospital Wednesday and came home Saturday. The doctor said the more I walked, the faster I’d heal.

By early summer, I’d built up to 2.5 miles in 45 minutes, twice a day. Some days I covered 7 miles, but I wore out my tennis shoes and developed heal bruises. So I cut it down to 5 miles. I lost weight and felt great. Some asked if I had liposuction instead of back surgery.

I returned to the gym after the doctor said I could and concentrated on building my core and cardio systems using moderate weights and the elliptical walker.

When I asked if I’d be able to ride horses again, the neurosurgeon said I could only do slow riding, at a walk. It has been seven months since my surgery, and I am galloping again. I’m not 100 percent yet, but I am hopeful that I’ll continue to improve.

I am thankful for the way I feel. I ride with a friend who is 78 years young, who has always exercised to maintain fitness. He is an inspiration to me. For anyone who lives with chronic pain, surgery might be a way to return to an active life, doing the things you enjoy.

A wise janitor once told me that tools rust out much faster than they wear out. Use it or lose it. Our bodies are meant to be used. Exercise of some kind is needed for life. I have tried to be active to heal from my back surgery. I will continue to do it purely for selfish reasons. Besides that, I think we have a responsibility to be an example to the people we serve.

Howard J. Cormier

 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pick the Right Shoes for Exercise

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(Editor's note: Today's blog is based on information from Dr. Paul Sunderhaus, a podiatrist at Mid State Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Clinic in Alexandria, La.)

When you pick athletic shoes to wear while playing sports or exercising, you are looking for the same attributes as with regular shoes: good traction; cushioning inside the shoe; a light, breathable upper; a snug-fitting heel; a roomy toe box; and overall comfort. While these qualities are preferable in regular shoes, they are essential in athletic shoes; the absence of any one can cause pain and even injury.

Most specialty sport-shoe stores have knowledgeable staff to guide you, but you can be a few steps ahead of the game armed with some basic knowledge about your feet and their specific needs. Here is some advice to heed before buying new footwear.

You must consider the athletic activity you plan to engage in while wearing the shoes. Basic sneakers may be fine for playing church-league softball or standing in your driveway shooting hoops, but they will not adequately support your feet for more lengthy and strenuous aerobic activities like running, working out at the gym or fitness walking.

Running shoes tend to have especially good traction to prevent slipping, as well as thick soles to soften the blow to your feet every time they land on the hard ground. Running shoes are generally lighter in weight and designed for straight-forward motion. There are also specialty running shoes that provide unique features such as more arch control and more stability. You need those features for running.

Some models of running shoes look better suited to a space mission than a run in the park, but some of those high-tech looking features actually serve a purpose. Clear inserts – filled with gel, Freon or air – provide extra shock absorption, as do those springy-looking things. These features are especially good for people who tend to get heel pain. They are not so good for people whose ankles twist easily because shoes with extra cushioning tend to provide less traction.

Fortunately, because walking has become such a popular fitness exercise in recent years, you can now find a large selection of walking shoes in most shoe and department stores. A good pair will cost you, but it will be worth it. In general, a walking shoe is made from sturdier materials and will last a little longer than the average running shoe.

Don't assume your walking shoes should be the same size as your everyday shoes. Take into account the thickness of the sock you expect to wear while walking (and you should wear thick, absorbent socks). It is best to bring the socks along and put them on when you are trying on walking shoes. Also, remember your feet may expand or swell as you walk. It may be helpful to actually do some walking around before you shop for the shoes or shop toward the end of the day to get a better fit.

A porous upper and an absorbent inner lining are essential in helping to prevent rashes and infection. They can also help your feet stay cooler, drier and more comfortable as you walk. You might also want to look for shoes that have a removable, absorbent insole to keep your feet drier and less likely to fall prey to rashes and infections.

Keep in mind that if you plan to do a lot of walking on uneven, rocky terrain, you will need walking shoes that provide more protection and stability. Ask the salesperson to point out styles designed for trail and off-trail walkers.

Worn-down shoes are a simple but common cause of pain and injury. Shoes often lose their support and stability before they show signs of being worn out. So no matter what type of shoes you wear or activity you do, if you exercise regularly, it's a good idea to buy new athletic shoes every three to four months.

If you don’t know the best place to shop for footwear in your neighborhood, call a local podiatrist, orthopedic surgeon, physical therapist or your family doctor for advice. You might also check local running clubs and fitness facilities.

Amy Juneau

 

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stretch Your Muscles To Avoid – Not Cause – Injury

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When done properly, stretching our muscles can do more than just increase flexibility. Stretching can enhance physical fitness and the ability to learn and perform skilled movements and can reduce injury. It can also:

  • Increase mental and physical relaxation.
  • Reduce muscle soreness and muscle tension.
  • Improve circulation.
  • Relieve stress.

Some of the most common mistakes made during stretching are:

  • Inadequate rest between workouts.
  • Overstretching.
  • Performing the wrong stretches.
  • Performing stretches in the wrong sequence.

One of the biggest mistakes made during stretching is thinking it’s the warm-up. Warming up is literally the process of warming the body. It is raising your core body temperature. A proper warm-up includes three parts – a general warm-up, stretching and sport-specific activity. It is not a good idea to attempt to stretch before your muscles are warm. An improper warm-up or no warm-up at all can greatly increase your risk of injury when engaging in athletic activities.

Your general warm-up should consist of two parts – joint rotations and aerobic activity. Start with your toes and work your way up, or start with your fingers and work your way down. This method facilitates joint motion by lubricating the entire joint with synovial fluid. It permits your joints to function more easily during your athletic activity. You should perform circular movements, both clockwise and counterclockwise, until the joint seems to move smoothly.

After you have performed the joint rotations, you should engage in at least five minutes of aerobic activity such as jogging or jumping rope. Increased blood flow in the muscles improves muscle performance and flexibility and reduces the likelihood of injury.

Once you have completed your general warm-up, your muscles are warmer and more elastic. You should then engage in some slow, relaxed static stretching. Static stretching is done by slowly moving a joint toward its end range-of-motion. You should feel mild discomfort and a gentle pulling sensation in the desired muscle. Hold this position for 10-30 seconds. Do not stretch to the point of pain, and do not bounce because it could cause injury to the muscle.

Each subsequent stretch of a particular muscle group within in session should progressively produce more flexibility. A set of three to five stretches is sufficient to get the maximum benefit out of the routine. You should alternate between agonist and antagonist muscle groups – for example, quadriceps and hamstrings – and alternate sides. It is also a good idea to start with the neck and progress down to the feet. If you don’t have the time to stretch all of your muscles, concentrate on the ones that will be most used during your workout.

After doing your static stretching, engage in some light dynamic stretching that mimics a specific sport or exercise in an exaggerated, yet controlled, manner.

The last part of your warm-up should include a less intense version of the movements you will perform during your athletic activity. For example, if you are going to jog, then walk briskly or do a slower, shorter version of part of your aerobics or dance routine.

Stretching should also be part of the cool-down after exercising. A cool-down should be done in the exact opposite order as your warm-up. Start with a sport-specific activity, such as a brisk walk, for at least five minutes. Next, do some light dynamic stretches until your heart rate slows down to its normal rate. Then, perform some static stretches. Doing your cool-down in this order can reduce cramping, tightening and soreness in fatigued muscles. It will make you feel less light-headed and better overall. Performing a cool-down immediately following exercise is a better way to clear lactic acid from the blood than complete rest.

Amy Juneau

1/10/2009 2:29:10 AM
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