Most people work around eight hours a day while sitting at a desk. This can put a lot of long-term stress throughout multiple regions of the body and can also create tight muscles through the hip musculature.

Three of these muscle groups that get very restricted and tight after sitting for long durations are the hamstrings, hip flexors and gluteal muscles. If these muscles become tight, they can contribute to pain or discomfort through the hips, inner thigh and even in the low back.

Stretching these muscle groups can be simple, effective and efficient during the work day. They can also give your body much needed movement after you have been sitting at your desk for a long period of time.

Here are three stretches to target the gluteal, hamstring and hip flexor muscle groups at your work:

  1. Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
    For this stretch, start by standing at your desk and put one leg in front of the other. Slightly bend the knee of the leg in front while moving your hips forward over the front leg. While this motion is happening, take both arms and reach over your head while looking at the ceiling. This should cause a stretch to be felt through the upper thigh of the leg that is behind you. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds for both legs.
  1. Seated Hamstring Stretch
    To begin this stretch, scoot yourself to the front of your chair. Straighten one of your legs while the other leg stays bent to help stabilize you. Bend your back and reach down to touch the toes of the foot that is extended. This should cause you to feel a stretch through the back of your upper leg that is extended. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds for both legs.
  1. Seated Figure Four Stretch
    Start this stretch by sitting upright in your chair at the desk. Cross one of your legs to where the ankle of that leg is resting on top of the knee of the leg that is still in contact with the ground. Take both hands and rest them on the knee of the leg that is crossed. Then gently bend forward. You should feel a stretch through the back of the hip of the leg that is crossed. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.

The stretches described above should not cause pain, but should help stretch tight muscles through the hip region. These stretches can help keep your hips from becoming tight and can also help with preventing hip and low back pain that can be caused from sitting for a long duration. If you already have hip or low back pain and these stretches are not enough to help with decreasing it while you sit at your desk at work, there may be more of an underlying issue at hand and you may benefit from seeing a physical therapist to help with addressing the issue.

Do you have lower back or hip pain from long days of sitting at work? Find a Foothills Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy clinic near you to get your move back and start feeling your best at work!

A strong and well-conditioned back is much better prepared to bear occasional stress than a weak back is.  Nonetheless, athletes are at a high risk for back pain and injury due to the frequency of strain on their bodies.

According to health reports, up to 20% of all sports injuries involve the lower back or neck. Runners, for instance, are prone to injury of the lumbar spine (lower back) due to repetitive impact with each stride. Contact sports, on the other hand, tend to put the cervical spine (neck) in risk of injury.

After injury has been sustained, back pain therapy in AZ is a proven solution to improve your health and reclaim your ability to function and exercise as comfortably as possible. Physical therapy for back pain can also prevent injury from worsening.

When suffering from back pain, try these exercises to relieve your discomfort. It’s best to consult a physician or physical therapist to discuss your condition and whether these exercises are right for you.

  • Ankle lifts
    • Lay on your back. Alternate lifting your ankles up and down off the floor. Repeat x 10.
  • Cat/Cow stretch
    • Lower yourself to your hands and knees. Slowly round your back upwards into an arch. Then, slowly drop your abdomen toward the floor, pushing your shoulders up and stomach down. Repeat, slowly and smoothly moving between the positions. Repeat x 15.
  • Heel raises
    • Stand up straight with your weight evenly distributed. Slowly raise your heels off the ground until you’re standing on your toes. Slowly return them to the ground. Repeat x 20.
  • Knee-to-chest stretch
    • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Using both hands, pull your right knee into your chest and hold it there for 15 to 30 seconds. Lower your right foot back to the floor. Repeat on the left side. Repeat x 10.
  • Shoulder squeeze
    • Sit on a backless surface. Tuck in your chin and square your chest, then stretch your shoulders backwards to squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for five seconds, release. Repeat x 5.

For more tips on achieving optimal fitness and well being, turn to Foothills Sports Medicine’s physical therapy centers for compassion and expertise. With 15 locations throughout Arizona, we provide communities with the most convenient, restorative and personalized experience possible. Call us today to schedule an appointment!

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Well, okay. Not as cold as the Northeast but for those of us in Arizona, it can feel cold in the balmy months we call “winter”. One of the benefits of living in Arizona is that we do have warmer winters yet, in a short drive or plane flight, we can also have access to skiing and snowboarding.

Typically, Arizonan’s are not used to the cold weather. So off we go to romp in the snow and we can end up completely unprepared to handle the physical and physiological demands cold weather sports bring.   Our kids may be use to the running sports of summer and fall, but sports that take place in the winter offer new variables for our bodies. Variables that, left unchecked, can at the very least cause an unpleasant down-hill experience and, at the most, result in injury.

Having a great winter sport experience is actually pretty simple if you apply these 3 basic practices:

Drink – up

Often overlooked in chilly weather, hydration is a key to winter wellness. During the warm season, we are diligent about getting enough water. We carry water bottles around and stress frequent drinks. This is easy when the heat is telling us that we need to drink, not so when it is cold. It is very easy to become dehydrated when the temperatures drop.  We do not think we are sweating because of the cold but there is still evaporation that occurs.  Also, we lose water with increased urination. This is an effect caused by the blood being routed to the core to preserve warmth instead of the periphery to dissipate the heat.  We also lose water as we breathe. When you see your breath in cold weather, that is the water vapor freezing as it leaves your body.  Before heading out to the cold weather cities, make sure that you are keeping up with the hydration strategies you did when the weather was hot.  Drink at least 20 ounces of water before activity and hydrate at regular intervals. You can keep a camel-back or water bottle inside your jacket (to keep it from freezing). If you find you are working really hard, take time to take in an electrolyte-type of sports drink as well.

Wrap-up

What you wear is as important for fun in winter sports as anything. There is simply no replacement for good, wicking and warming layers, appropriate socks, gloves and head gear.  When layering, think of a base layer that will wick moisture from your skin so the sweat doesn’t cause you to get chilled. Polypropylene, silk, polyester, Thermax, Thinsulate, and wool are all good choices.  Avoid cotton because it traps moisture, so it stays wet and draws heat from you. Base layers come in various weights (lightweight, midweight and heavyweight). Select a weight based upon the outside temperature and your activity level. The lighter weight is better at wicking, the heavyweight has more insulation. Mid layers provide warmth and insulation. This layer should be a bit more lose yet still fitted to aid in the wicking.  Your outer layer should be able to block wind and wetness yet allow for moisture to escape.

Finally, wear a hat, mittens or gloves, socks and shoes or boots that match your activity and weather conditions. To cool yourself if you overheat, you can often just remove your hat or gloves. Keep in mind that wind blocking fabric is also important for hats and gloves.

Train-up

Skiing and snowboarding require different skills than flat land sports. If you and your kids are recreational two-plank or knuckle-draggers,  just a little alternative training can go a long way to shred-it down the mountain.  Balance, core and leg strength need to be strong enough to maintain the proper positions down the runs. Abdominal, back, upper thigh and buttocks muscles must be trained so that they have the endurance to complete turns, control speed and stop effectively. In addition to this, most sports involve a stable foot being planted on a flat, non slippery surface. With skiing and snow boarding this is different. The surface is inclined and definitely slippery. Sport conditioning specialists use devices like exercise balls, BOSU platforms, and slide boards to simulate the demands placed on the body during skiing and boarding.   We may only participate in these sports a few times each year, but the consequences of not being prepared can mean injury that keeps you from favorite activities year round.

One of the best things about living in Arizona is the fact that we have access to all types of out door sports. We can be playing soccer one day and hitting the slopes the next.  We just need to keep in mind that, in order to enjoy this lifestyle, we need to be diligent about how we prepare bodies.

One good thing about Exercise Science is; we’ve come a long way baby. Gone are the days of practice with everyone commencing by lining up for toe touches and quad stretches: holding your ankle up and behind you in an unnaturally, uncomfortable position!

Understanding the proper type of stretching before and after activity is essential to enhancing performance and avoiding injury.  When young athletes engage in physical activity, they are often encouraged by coaches and parents to stretch prior to activity.  The goal is to prepare muscles for sports, to enhance performance and decrease risk of injury, including sprains and strains.  In the past, advice regarding stretching has referred to static (or passive) stretching prior to activity. That is, stretching held for 15-60 seconds in a stationary position to improve the flexibility of one muscle group at a time.  However, recent research confirms the benefits of dynamic stretching prior to physical activity in both children and adults.  Dynamic stretching uses functional, activity-specific motions with constant movement to warm-up.  Static stretching then becomes important in the cool down after activity.

A thorough warm-up period is designed to prepare the body for physical activity by:

  • Increasing core body temperature
  • Stimulating blood flow to the arms and legs
  • Enhancing coordinated movement
  • Improving range of motion
  • Developing body awareness of joint position sense and movement
  • Using movement to expand muscle and tendon flexibility

These benefits of a good warm-up, which were once associated with static stretching prior to activity, are now attributed to dynamic stretching activities.  In fact, evidence now suggests that static stretching prior to physical activity and sports may be detrimental to performance involving vertical jumps, shorts sprints, muscle endurance, maximum muscle contraction, balance and reaction time (McMillian 2006).  Studies have also shown that static stretching can result in less force and power production not only in adults, but also in children, especially in jumping and sprinting performance (Faigenbaum 2006).  Because the goal of the warm up period is to prepare the body for specific functional movements related to a sport, dynamic stretching appears to provide that service without being harmful.

While holding a “runners lunge” prior to practice or a game may be a thing of the past, static stretching is still very important for the cool-down phase and should not be skipped. During the cool-down, athletes are led through a program to allow the body temperature to return to normal levels and prepare the body for the healing process.  During vigorous activity, muscle fibers tear at microscopic levels and need to undergo a reparation process that is essential for building new fibers, and as a result, increasing strength.  As muscles cool down, they tend to heal in the position in which they are left.  This highlights the importance of passive stretching after physical activity: low-load long duration static stretching allows the muscles to stay in a lengthened position as the muscle cools down.  This provides a greater length through which the muscle can contract to generate force during the next time activity is initiated.  Thus, static stretching serves a greater benefit to young athletes post-exercise.

When designing dynamic and passive stretching programs, here are some common considerations:

Dynamic stretching programs (Mann 1999):

  • Move continuously, typically in laps for 10-15 minutes overall
  • Vary the program according to the level of the athlete
  • Start slow and progress to quicker and more advanced movements
  • Avoid movements too intense that fatigue the muscles
  • Incorporate the whole body and imitate movements used in specific sports

Passive stretching programs:

  • Stay in one position per muscle group
  • Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds
  • Repeat the stretch 2-3 times per muscle group
  • Address all muscle groups used in the specific sport

Sources:

Avery D Faigenbaum, James E McFarland, Jeff A Schwerdtman, Nicholas A Ratamess, Jie Kang, and Jay R Hoffman.  Dynamic Warm-Up Protocols, With and Without a Weighted Vest, and Fitness Performance in High School Female Athletes. J Athl Train. 2006 Oct-Dec; 41(4): 357–363.

Danny J. McMillian, Josef H. Moore, Brian S. Hatler and Dean C. Tayler. Dynamic vs. Static-Stretching Warm Up: The Effect On Power and Agility Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2006, 20(3), 492–499.

Douglas P. Mann and Margaret T. Jones, CSCS. Guidelines to the Implementation of a Dynamic Stretching Program. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 1999. Volume 21, Number 6, pages 53–55.

Medicine balls are weighted balls usually from 4 to 20 pounds that can be lifted, thrown, or slammed to improve strength, speed, power and overall body explosiveness. Medicine ball training has been used for decades by strength and conditioning professionals because of their low load and because they can be used almost anywhere including on the sports field or in a rehabilitation setting.  However, traditional strength and conditioning programs – those programs which include lifting large amounts of weight to make athletes bigger and stronger – have largely eschewed medicine ball training because of one main factor; the inability to sufficiently overload the athlete, the cornerstone of any strength and conditioning program.

However, as research continues and the strength and conditioning field has gathered more knowledge, a new age of strength and conditioning is upon us. While loading the athlete is still important, today is the day of functional training. Often an overused phrase, functional training can be defined as training the body in the movement pattern and velocity with which it is used in the sport the athlete plays. More simply, to improve the athlete you must train them to perform the skills that their sport requires and most sports do not require lifting a great magnitude of weight. Medicine ball training fulfills this need; medicine balls can be used in a variety of ways to approximate the body movements that athletes use in actual sport activities. Medicine ball tosses with a twist can be used to simulate baseball and golf swings, chest passes can be used to replicate basketball chest passes and overhead tosses can be used to mimic soccer throw-ins.

Additionally, medicine ball exercises can be performed at a velocity at or near that of the actual activity with which they are simulating. This is in keeping with the strength and conditioning tenet of specificity which states that to improve a fitness variable you must train that fitness variable.

In conclusion, while traditional weight training still has a place in strength and conditioning programs, medicine ball training provides a lot of benefits and should play an important role in a functional strength and conditioning program. If you would like more information on how to incorporate medicine balls into your training program, contact a FAST facility near you at www.fast-training.com.

*Black and white athlete pictures from ptonthenet

Every few years it seems there are buzz words in the fitness industry that gain popularity. Lately it’s the phrase “functional movement”. Although this is certainly nothing new in the arena of physical therapy, it has caught-on in mainstream exercise classes around the country.  The question is…

 What is Functional Movement?

Functional movements take place in multi-planes of motion with the use of multiple joints. These movements require the firing of multiple muscle groups in various positions, ranges of motion and varying intensity to achieve a common goal. For instance, in order to swing a golf club you have to tighten your right hip, rotate your shoulders over your hips, raise your arms across your body while maintaining your head still, allowing rotation through the spine along one axis. Pause, and reverse that entire process in a near mirror image back to the same point at which you started. Another example of functional movement is as simple as bending down and reaching over to pick-up your child and rotating through your core to put him/her in the car seat (or to help down a slide as seen in the photo). Functional training can be utilized after an injury or in preparation for an activity to mimic those actions and break them down into more basic components in order to achieve your “functional goal.”

 Why is Functional Movement Training Important?

Research has shown incredible gains in strength, balance and overall decreased joint pain with functional training. Functional training develops a healthy and well-developed body. It promotes kinesthetic awareness and body control, balanced musculature and a stronger core. Thus, functional training may decrease the number of injuries sustained in an individual’s life and sport.

 Who Can Benefit From Functional Movement Training?

Anyone can benefit from functional movement training. From the simple task of standing up from a chair or getting in and out of a vehicle, to training for your next tennis match, functional training attempts to adapt or develop exercises which allow individuals to perform the activities of daily life more easily and without injuries.

How Can I Tell if I Have Functional Movement Limitations?

There are many functional movement assessment tools. One simple test for the shoulder is to reach behind your back with both arms, one from above your head and one from behind your back, try touching your finger-tips together in the middle of your back. Another movement in the lower body is to assume a lunge position, with feet a good distance apart, then slowly lower your back knee down to the ground and back up again. If you are unable to perform either of these activities, you may want to seek a professional assessment from your local physical therapist.