We get so many clients in clinic saying “I’m getting old, I need to slow down.” And although I am often younger than them at age 37, they are usually only 5-10 years my senior. And I wonder, why is our automatic response to injury that we must be one foot in the grave? Does our demise actually start at 35, or is there another possibility?
At the start of April, we spent four days being inspired by the athletes of the National Masters Athletics Championships, held at the old QEII stadium (now Qld Sports and Athletics Centre) in Brisbane. We worked on over 80 athletes before and after their track and field events, aged between 31 and 87. Each had various complaints ranging from muscle strains to broken bones, arthritis to arthroscopies, and joint replacements to heart failure.
But none of the injuries shocked me – we work with these types of amazing humans every day. People of all walks of life just looking to enjoy movement and exercise. What did strike me was that all of these athletes were there to break something else…. a national record, a world record, or most importantly – their personal best.
The athletes who turned up to compete at Nationals gave me a fresh perspective on the issue of aging. This is what I learned from them.
1. Age is NOT just a number – it’s a challenge. The old adage that ‘age is just a number’ is completely untrue. For every additional lap around the sun, you gather additional wear and tear. FACT. But just like any journey in life, the harder and longer you have to work to achieve a goal the more satisfaction you get out of it – no matter how many bumps in the road. The higher your age, the more of a challenge you have, and hands down the more pleasure you get from improving your performance. Especially in the face of culturally expected ‘demise’.
2. You CAN improve your performance. Whenever you start, and from whatever level, every day you train you get better and better. It’s a correct assumption that at 63 years old you will not beat Usane Bolt. But you WILL improve your 60m, 100m or 200m sprint result if every day you show up and do the training and get a little bit better each time. Yes, you will need to work around some ‘cranky and opinionated’ knee or hip joints, but if you love being on the track you should just do it anyway – the hip will be cranky even if you stay in bed. Our oldest client at Nationals was 87, and he competed in all six track distances from 60m to 1500m. We watched the over 75 men’s pole vault competitors clear 2.7m. I treated an 80 year old woman vying for a national record in the weight pentathlon. It makes you reconsider your definition of vitality.
3. Find the sport that suits you – if you can’t run, then throw! This seemed to be a bit of a catch cry for the track athletes and jumpers moving over to throws events when they struggled with the impact of training. But it serves as a good reminder that we all can find something we CAN do despite illness or injury, and often what we can do well, we love doing. So find what you can do while working around an injury and do more of that.
4. Professional advice for injury management can be both patronising and irrelevant:. You need to find therapists who will find a way to keep you going, not tell you to stop. We hear all too often that clients in their 40’s, 50’s and older who want to stay active are told that slowing down is the recommended way to manage ongoing pain, niggling injuries, arthritis and other conditions. But in the same breath, they are told to maintain their muscle mass and metabolism to fight cardiac disease and diabetes, work on their balance training to reduce falls risk and engage in the community to keep the white matter ticking. Medical practitioners and physical therapists need to better consider the drive and achievements of older athletes, and work to continually give advice that supports performance enhancement and ongoing engagement in sport. We need to educate our athletes about their options for injury management and potential outcomes of their training choices so that they can make autonomous decisions – and then support them to follow that path. We need to help people of all ages and abilities find ways to keep training and competing, rather than steering them away from the physical activity and community that brings so much benefit and joy to their lives.
Sometimes I think that massage is such a humble part of competition day for athletes. At Nationals, we were simply delivering massage therapy to warm up tight muscles, flush out tired muscles, and help recover muscles more quickly before the next event. But for some, having us there was the difference between competing and not. From the table, the athletes were asking, “can you do a quick treatment and apply some tape to de-load my adductor strain to get through a full pentathlon? Otherwise I’m going to have to pull out.”
We also had lots of questions about injury management on the day – “should I keep the taping on my calf tear during my events or take it off?” “How do I manage hip bursitis during warm up to give me the best chance of a PB?” “I’m doing six events over three days, do I come before or after each one for treatment?”
All of these athletes wanted advice on how to keep going, how to manage the delicate balance between rehab and performance – and we had so many come back to say that they felt amazing during their event and the advice we gave helped to make some smart decisions that led to a lot of personal and season’s best performances over the weekend, with several athletes achieving this over multiple events.
We were so proud to be able to give them what they needed on the day, and mostly that was just education. THEY were the ones who put in all the hard work, we were simply there to be their cheerleaders. Which we intend to continue to do every day in clinic, for as long as there are people who love to stay active. Are you one of them?
Now, if you think you could just walk into this and win a medal... think again. Here are some of the incredible results from the 2022 Australian Masters Athletics National Championships. Congratulations to all the athletes!!
Women’s 55 4x100m – 53.19sec WR
M 30 High Jump – 1.91m
W30 High Jump – 1.71m
M30 100m – 10.97s
W30 5000m – 19.12min
W 50 Long Jump – 4.56m
M85 Shot Put – 9.10m
Not all muscles were created equal. Some were given the responsibility of strength or speed and some help us to maintain our balance – most of these are the superficial muscles that we can see working under the skin. Some examples are our quads, biceps or deltoids. It is relatively easy to change their shape and tone with strength training (and emotionally satisfying to see their new definition!).
However, the most important muscles are below the surface, acting like flexible nuts and bolts for our skeleton and holding our joints steady when we move. Known as postural muscles, they hold us upright and ensure that the forces we generate in our large superficial muscles can be efficiently transferred across each joint along a kinetic chain. In the context of the average sedentary work day, it is these postural muscles that are likely to have more of an impact on the development of postural imbalances, biomechanical dysfunction and injuries.
It’s definitely not as satisfying for people to work on the strength of these muscles because they can’t ‘see’ the results in the mirror, but programming for these muscles will no doubt reduce their pain, increase function and mobility, and protect against injury for years to come – and who doesn’t want that as part of their training goals?
Here are just three muscles that will make a huge impact on musculoskeletal health and should be addressed in your programming in EVERY training session. It’s like thinking about nutrition – any meal that isn’t a healthy one is a lost opportunity to improve your health. You’re eating anyway, why not add an apple?
Also known as the ‘boxer’s muscle’ for the way it shows itself on the side of the chest during a jab, this muscle inserts onto the medial border of the scapula and originates from several of your ribs. Besides holding the scapula flat against the ribs so they don't wing out and assisting with protraction (scapula moving forward), what’s more important is the SA’s role in scapulohumeral rhythm. It works with the Lower and Upper Trapezius and Rhomboids to rotate the scapula during abduction of the humerus.
If the Serratus Anterior is weak, the Upper Traps pick up the load and can become overactive, which in turn inhibits the function of the Lower Traps and Supraspinatus. During abduction (taking your arm above your head), this causes the head of the humerus to get jammed into the top ridge of the glenohumeral joint, rather than pulled down neatly into the socket as is supposed to happen. The risk is that the client is then susceptible to shoulder impingement injuries and bursitis as the humerus squashes the surrounding soft tissues.
Watch the below video for a Serratus Anterior activation exercise, which you can use for therapeutic benefit before a workout to improve your shoulder stability, positioning and reduce pain.
The Glute Med, which originates from the ilium and inserts onto the greater trochanter of the femur, is the most important of the gluteal group for pelvic stability. If you haven't head of this muscle yet, have you even had physical therapy?!
When your Glute Med is inhibited, your hip drops causing medial knee rotation: this has a detrimental effect on the biomechanics of the leg and increases the general wear and tear on the hip and knee. For knees that are already struggling, a weak Glute Med takes it from bad to worse. Furthermore, the lumbar vertebrae become misaligned due to the rotation, which places excessive stress on the facet joints and vertebral discs.
To correct Glute Med weakness, be sure to start each training session with basic activation exercises such as Clams or Crab Walks with a Bungee. Once you can activate the muscle consistently, you can move onto side holds, step ups, long GM holds and various versions of lunges.
Watch this video for why side holds are great for your Glute Med, help to reduce low back pain and a simple trick to make sure you are doing them right.
The latest statistic I read from the Chiropractors Association Queensland was that 80% of Australians will experience disabling lower back pain at some point during their lives! That is a telling statistic and one I’d believe given the lifestyle choices we make (read: sedentary).
Your TA is your ‘human weight belt’, wrapping around your torso to support your lumbar spine. Show me a weight lifter who can lift heavier WITHOUT a belt on and I'll eat my own sweaty socks! So of course it goes without saying that if we strengthen our 'natural weight belt', we will see better performance across all sports as well as reduced injury risk.
Strengthening the TA also just isn't about adding more weight - it's about making sure it will turn on in any position, no matter if we are standing straight, bending over, stepping up or down, running or twisting. So to really reduce injury risk and improve performance, we need to do both a wide range of movements in our training, as well as lots of movement that is specific to our chosen sport or activity.
If you run, do your core work on one leg to mimic your single-leg run stance. If you paddle board, do lots of rotation. If you are a power lifter, do your core work in bench press or hinge position. And if you are human, do a little bit of everything so you can get the shopping in from the car or empty the dishwasher pain-free.
Here is a video *from the archives* that leaves you no excuses but to add in a TA core finisher to your next training session (and hating my taste in music!).
5 more muscles...
For those who are REALLY keen to learn, here are 5 more muscles that will help you reduce pain! I can feel another blog post coming on....
As Myotherapists and Remedial Massage Therapists, we provide an alternative to physiotherapy.
If you are a runner, a gym-goer, a social sport player or just generally an active person who is struggling with pain, we can help you get back to the activities you love.
We perform clinical assessment, soft tissue therapy techniques and movement coaching to relieve joint pain and movement dysfunction. We provide pain relief and successful treatment for conditions such as:
- low back/disc related pain, hip pain and radiating sciatica
- shoulder pain, bursitis, impingements and pain radiating into the arm
- runners experiencing hip, knee and shin pain.