Create an At-Home Workspace to Stay Pain-Free

As millions transition into working from home to help thwart the spread of the coronavirus, maintaining both comfort and productivity has no doubt been an issue for many. 

While in-office workstations are often designed around ergonomic considerations and long-term trial and error, ensuring optimal comfort and health, home workspaces can often fall short in this regard, says Valencia physical therapist Tim Eckard. 

Self Care & Injury Prevention

“While it sometimes feels we’re all sacrificing right now to survive the COVID-19 outbreak, that doesn’t mean we ignore self-care,” said Eckardco-owner and clinic director of Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, Lancaster and Santa Clarita. “That includes focusing on the hours you spend every day working from home, ensuring your workspace – whether at your kitchen table or at a desk in the corner of a spare bedroom – isn’t putting you at risk of pain or injury.” 

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), injuries resulting from work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) due to poor workplace ergonomics account for 34 percent of all workday injuries and illnesses. 

Neck strains, pain in the shoulders or lower back, tendinitis, bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome … Eckard says these and other common ailments and injuries can and should be prevented in the workplace, even when that workplace is in your home. 

Boost Productivity

“These are the types of injuries we associate with poor workplace ergonomics,” Eckard said. “Sitting in fixed or constrained positions most of the day, often repeating movements with the arms, hands and wrists, can take a toll on your body, leaving you more vulnerable to injury to the muscles, tendons and nerves.” 

In contrast, OSHA estimates that the implementation of proper office ergonomics can increase productivity by an average of 11 percent. 

“As a rule, a comfortable workspace is great for productivity and morale,” Eckard said. “Whether your work-from-home stint ends in weeks or months, it’s important to consider workspace improvements with an eye toward longevity.”  

Eckard offers the following basic guidelines for creating a safe and comfortable workstation: 

  • Set your desk, chair, keyboard and mouse in position so your hands, wrists and forearms rest in straight lines and run parallel to the floor. Use a wrist rest for your keyboard and mouse, if needed. Allow yourupper-armsto hang normally from the side of your body, elbows bent at around 90 degrees. 
  • Place your monitor at a height that keeps your head level (or bent forward slightly) and in line with the rest of your body. The top of your monitor should sit slightly below eye level and about an arm’s length away.
  • Ensure your chair offers proper lumbar support, allowing for a slight inner curve of the lower spine.
  • Keep your knees at about the same (or slightly lower) height as your hips, and make sure your feet can sit flatly on the floor. If they don’t fully reach the floor, bring in a footrest to support your feet.
  • Take frequent breaks from sitting. Take time to stand up and stretch for a minute or two every half-hour or so. And, if you can, take a walk over breaks or during lunch.

If stiffness, soreness, numbness and pain persist, or you have a question about setting up a proper workspace in your home, contact the physical therapy team at Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy to discuss options for an initial assessment. 

Your Surgery Delayed by COVID-19? PT Can Help.

In an attempt to salvage supplies and resources during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, many U.S. hospitals and medical institutions have opted to postpone elective surgeries. 

This includes non-emergency surgeries scheduled to relieve pain and repair injuries related to the musculoskeletal system – arthroscopy, ligament and tendon repairs, joint replacement surgeries, and so on. 

Despite these delays, Valencia physical therapist Tim Eckard says those whose surgeries were delayed need not sit back and suffer. 

“Physical therapy can be a proactive way to reduce pain while increasing mobility and function until surgeries can be rescheduled,” said Eckardco-owner and clinic director of Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, Lancaster and Santa Clarita 

The goal of physical therapy, Eckard said, is to help people improve their quality of lives by optimizing movement and reducing pain naturally. 

“In a lot of cases, we can help people avoid the need for surgery,” Eckard added. “But, even if surgery is in your future, we can help you live a more comfortable and active life as you’re waiting to reschedule your procedure.” 

Prehabilitation 

Physical therapists can also help patients prepare themselves for surgery, strengthening their bodies so that they recover faster and without complication. Known as prehabilitation, or “prehab,” the goal is to prepare the body for both the surgery itself and the rehabilitation effort that follows. 

Prehabilitation is based on the simple philosophy that the stronger and more balanced your body and muscles are before orthopedic surgery, the stronger and better off you’ll be after,” Eckard said. “Multiple studies have shown this to be an effective strategy.” 

For example, a study published in the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery found that taking part in a physical therapy program before joint replacement surgery – a prehabilitation program – can reduce the need for post-operative care by nearly 30 percent. 

“When a person has reached the point where they need orthopedic surgery, their bodies have oftentimes become accustomed to compensating for pain and certain impairments,” Eckard said. “By seeing a physical therapist before surgery, we can address any bad movement habits, weaknesses or flexibility issues that can impede the rehab process post-surgery.” 

Pre-Surgery Anxiety 

As surgeries are delayed, this can also lead to great patient anxiety. Working with a physical therapist during this period, however, can help reduce this anxiety while PTs better prepare patients for the mental strain of surgery and rehabilitation. 

“We pride ourselves on being educators, and we don’t take this role lightly when helping prepare someone for surgery,” Eckard said. “We’ll educate them about what to expect immediately after surgery and coach them on exercises they’ll need to know during the rehab process – all of which can ease anxiety.” 

If your orthopedic surgery has been delayed due to COVID-19, and you wish to stay active and pain-free leading up to surgery, contact the team at Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy to schedule an initial assessment. 

Why Flexibility Matters as You Grow Older

Though it often takes a back seat to strength and cardiovascular fitness, flexibility plays a critical role in ensuring one’s able to maintain a high level of independence and mobility during their Golden Years. 

While our muscles and tendons tend to naturally shrink and tighten as we age, that doesn’t put seniors at the mercy of such changes. According to Valencia physical therapist Tim Eckard, muscle elasticity can be maintained and improved at any age. 

“Staying flexible certainly takes effort, but the payoff is you’ll be able to stay more active and independent while you grow older, which should be all our goals,” said Eckardco-owner and clinic director of Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, Lancaster and Santa Clarita. 

Flexibility is defined as one’s ability to move muscles and joints through their full ranges of motion. It’s a critical component of mobility, which also involves strength, balance and coordination. 

Poor flexibility, says Eckard, can lead to poor balance, poor posture, and a greater overall feeling of tension in the body. It also affects daily living and the ability to avoid common ailments and injuries often related to aging. 

“Not only do you need to maintain flexibility to accomplish daily tasks like bending to tie your shoes or reaching to grab something from a high cupboard,” Eckard said. “Flexibility is also critical in allowing your body to safely absorb impact and falls, helping you prevent injury later in life.” 

As staying limber is an essential part of maintaining health and happiness while one ages, Eckard offers the following advice for maintaining flexibility: 

Stay Active

The best and easiest first step in staying flexible is to simply stay active every day. Going for walks, playing with the grandkids, dancing, working in the garden, taking yoga or Pilates classes … they all help keep the body warm, loose and strong. Focus on daily activities you enjoy! 

Warm Up Dynamically

Even when you aren’t necessarily exercising, it’s important to keep your muscles and joints loose by doing dynamic movements throughout the day. Movements like neck rolls, arm windmills, walking lunges, etc., take your muscles and joints through their full ranges of motion, keeping them loose and limber. 

Stretch & Hold

Called static stretching, these bend-and-hold-type stretches (think touching your toes) help increase flexibility by putting light tension on your muscles and joints for 30 to 60 seconds at a time. These stretches work best after a brief warmup or following a workout or activity, though it can also be beneficial (and relaxing) to do them early in the morning or just before going to bed. 

Use a Foam Roller

These affordable tools for self-massage will, when used properly, help release tension that develops over time in the muscles and connective tissues. This, according to the Mayo Clinic, helps increase flexibility and improve mobility. 

Visit a Physical Therapist

Not sure where to start? Whether you’re already active and limber or wish to start down a path toward increased flexibility, visit your local physical therapist. After reviewing your medical history and assessing your current flexibility levels, a physical therapist will establish a personalized strategy for helping you reach your mobility and lifestyle goals. 

Create Heart-Healthy Habits During Heart Month

February is American Heart Month, a time when health professionals like Valencia physical therapist Tim Eckard strive to raise awareness about maintaining and improving cardiovascular health. 

The month also serves as a sobering reminder that, as a society, we must do a better job of preventing heart disease, which continues to be the leading cause of death in the U.S. 

“I believe the stats show about one in every four American deaths is due to heart disease,” said Eckardco-owner and clinic director of Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, Lancaster and Santa Clarita – a statistic confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). 

On the flip side, the CDC also reports that about 200,000 cardiovascular-related deaths each year could have been prevented. If achieved, that would be a nearly 30 percent reduction. 

“In a lot of cases, heart disease can be traced back to factors that are preventable – things like the lack of physical activity, obesity, high blood pressure and/or cholesterol, an unhealthy diet, smoking and so on,” Eckard added. “These are factors related to lifestyle, and they’re all things that can be improved by changing habits.” 

For example, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), fewer than 5 percent of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Yet, daily exercise remains one of the best tools we have in the prevention and control of heart disease. 

“Getting your recommended 150-plus minutes of exercise each week is key to controlling your weight, lowing your blood pressure and strengthening your heart, all important aspects in the prevention of heart disease,” Eckard said. “It also helps improve the way your body reacts to stress, which is another key element.” 

While regular exercise is critical, the American Heart Association notes that its combination with other preventative measures can pack a mighty punch when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease. These include: 

Heart-Healthy Eating

Nutrition also plays a crucial role in preventing heart disease. One’s risk can be lowered by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats, while cutting back on sodium, saturated fats, processed sugars and alcohol. 

Keeping a Healthy Weight

The more body fat you have and the more you weigh, the more likely your chances of developing a number of issues including heart disease. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 represents a healthy weight. 

Managing Stress

Chronic stress can contribute to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular risks. Exercise is a great way to help manage stress, but see your physician for other treatment options. 

Quitting Smoking

This is a no-brainer. If you smoke, you simply must quit. 

“Along with healthy eating, movement and exercise are central to keeping a healthy weight, managing stress and warding off potential disease,” Eckard said. “If there’s something keeping you from regular activity – something like pain, disability or other movement limitations – consider visiting a physical therapist for a solution to living a healthy, active life.” 

Exercise to Ease Chronic Anxiety This Year 

A new year offers the potential for new opportunities and experiences. For those who struggle with general and consistent anxiety, however, the prospect of the new year and the expectations that come with it can be tricky to maneuver. 

It’s with this in mind that Valencia physical therapist Tim Eckard reminds us that one of the most natural and effective ways to ease anxiety symptoms any time of year is through regular exercise. 

“Going for a walk, taking a bike ride, hitting the gym or signing up for an exercise class … they all can be powerfully effective tools for easing anxiety and its effects on your life and health,” said Eckardco-owner and clinic director of Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, Lancaster and Santa Clarita. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), an estimated one in five adults and one in three teens experience chronic anxiety disorder each year. This disorder is defined as anxiety that’s persistent, excessive and routinely triggered by situations that aren’t actually threats. 

Though it’s a psychological condition, Eckard says anxiety can take a toll on one’s physical health. 

“High stress and anxiety have been linked to higher blood pressure and a greater risk of heart disease and stroke,” said Eckard. “Also, those who have high levels of anxiety tend to be more sedentary and avoid challenging situations, which can also have long-term health consequences.” 

So, how does exercise help ease anxiety? Eckard points out four ways this happens: 

Your brain chemistry changes. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals, like dopamine and endorphins in the brain, which contribute toward making you feel calmer and happier. 

General tension diminishes. Whether working out, competing, playing or dancing, moving your body reduces general muscle tension in the body, decreasing your general feeling of anxiety. 

You get distracted. Exercising can have a distracting effect, diverting your mind from the things about which you are or have been anxious. It’s also been shown that exercising outdoors, in nature, can calm your mind. 

You give your brain a boost. Several studies have shown that regular exercise can maintain, and even improve, cognitive function in the brain. That means exercise can actually help you strengthen your ability to weather high-stress situations. 

“On its own, exercise may not completely solve your anxiety issues,” Eckard said, pointing out that those suffering from chronic anxiety should discuss options with their personal physician. “When possible, though, studies show that regular exercise should be part of any natural, long-term treatment for anxiety.” 

And, if you struggle to stick with a consistent exercise regimen, Eckard offers a few tips. 

“Don’t just join a gym. Find an activity or activities you enjoy,” LAST said. “Recruit a friend or friends for some social support, and set a SMART goal. This acronym describes a goal that’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based.” 

Also, visit a physical therapist if pain, discomfort, weaknesses or chronic conditions are keeping you from exercising safely and consistently. Following an initial assessment, a PT can develop a personalized exercise program that best aligns with your individual circumstances and goals. 

5 Fitness Myths during National PT Month

VALENCIA, CA – When only one in three adults get the recommended amount of physical activity their bodies need each week (according to the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition), Valencia physical therapist Tim Eckard says it’s difficult to find fault when an individual is making an effort to exercise … even if the effort’s slightly misguided. 

But since October is National Physical Therapy Month, and physical therapists are the medical community’s preeminent experts in movement, fitness, and musculoskeletal function and injury, Eckard views this month as an opportune time to correct what he sees as a few common misconceptions about exercise. 

“Some of the more common personal goals people make revolve around health, fitness, and weight loss, and we as physical therapists are dedicating to supporting these goals through a number of individualized services,” said Eckardco-owner and clinic director of Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, Lancaster and Santa Clarita. “In doing so, though, it’s important to us that people work toward these objectives in a safe and healthful manner – one which most efficiently moves them toward their goals.” 

In this spirit, here are five exercise myths Eckard finds to be common among many fitness-minded people: 

  1. Stretching before exercise prevents injuries. Perhaps surprisingly, research suggests there’s no connection between pre-workout stretching and injury prevention. In addition, stretching before an activity or competition can actually weaken performance. So instead, warm-up dynamically before a workout by walking, jogging, doing lunges and leg/arm swings, etc. Stretching is incredibly important, but do your stretches independent of your workouts. 
  2. The more, the better. For the more goal-driven crowd, a pedal-to-the-metal approach to fitness can seem the quickest and most efficient way to better health. However, it’s critical workout intensity and length remain in line with one’s current fitness levels and limits. It’s also important to schedule recovery, or off-days, into your routine. Failing to do so can increase your injury risk as well as the risk of burnout.
  3. Cross-training is for athletes only. Cross-training is simply working activities into your regimen that differ from your preferred or usual activities. The goal is to improve your overall fitness level by challenging your cardio, strength, and balance in different ways. Such “training diversification” will help maximize your workout potential while helping to prevent overuse injuries and burnout, so everyone should do it.
  4. Aerobic is more important than strength training. Whether it’s because some are concerned about too much “bulking up” or they feel spending their limited time on ellipticals and stationary bikes will maximize their efforts, cardio is often a focus for those seeking to improve health. It shouldn’t be the only focus, however. Muscular fitness is just as important as cardio for such issues as weight management, bone health, injury prevention, and so on. 
  5. If sore or injured, rest is always best. Wrong again. While rest has a long history as a go-to response to soreness, pain, and injury, research now suggests movement and “active recovery” can actually speed up the healing process, specifically when guided by a physical therapist. 

If pain or injury is keeping you from getting a full dose of exercise and physical activity each week, Eckard suggests visiting a physical therapist. Highly educated and licensed health care professionals, physical therapists are experts at helping people reduce pain, improve/restore mobility, and ultimately lead to more healthful active lives. 

Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy, To Stretch or Not to Stretch? Tips to Optimize Flexibility

Many have grown up with the understanding that, whenever you’re about to work out, compete or otherwise push your body, it’s important to stretch immediately before the activity in order to prevent injury and perform your best. 

Yet, despite these long-held beliefs, Valencia physical therapist Tim Eckard says – perhaps surprisingly – that there’s little evidence to support this theory.  

“Today’s evidence suggests that there’s no connection between injury prevention and stretching – static, or reach-and-hold-type stretching – before a workout,” said Eckardco-owner and clinic director at Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, Lancaster and Santa Clarita. “Performance-wise, there’s also no consistent connection, with some studies even suggestions that stretching before an activity or competition can actually weaken performance.” 

For example, research released by Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism in 2011 found that the vertical jump heights of young and middle-aged men actually declined when participants stretched beforehand. In contrast, the same study found heights increased after warming up dynamically, or using dynamic stretching. 

What is Dynamic Stretching?

“Dynamic stretches can best be described as a lower-intensity version of the exercises and movements you plan to perform during your activities or while you’re competing,” Eckard said. “A light jog, some leg swings, lunges, high-knees, arm and shoulder rotations … all these movements can be part of a dynamic stretching routine, depending on the activity you’re about to do.” 

Such dynamic warm-ups help you break a sweat, sure, but it does so much more. According to Eckard, dynamic stretching ensures your muscles are well-supplied with oxygen, promoting optimal flexibility and efficiency. 

Dynamic stretching, however, can only optimize your current level of flexibility. Static stretching is still vital in maintaining and improving your body’s level of overall flexibility … just not right before an activity. 

So, when’s the ideal time to maintain and improve flexibility through static stretching? Eckard offers the following guidelines: 

Stretch Daily

 Just as you should try to get a certain amount of exercise in each day – both cardio and strength training – it’s also important to dedicate 10 to 15 minutes to daily static stretching. Typical static stretches are held for anywhere between 15 to 60 seconds at a time, with each movement repeated two or more times. 

Eckard suggests setting time aside for stretching either first-thing in the morning or just before going to bed. 

Stretch During Cool-Downs

Cooling down after an activity helps the body transition from a higher intensity to a resting or near-resting state. While slowed-down exercises (similar to those during dynamic warm-ups) may be included as part of a cool-down, this is also a great time for static stretching. 

As consistent tightness in the muscles and joints can put one more at risk of pain and injury, Eckard suggests those who regularly exercise or compete have an annual physical therapy exam. During a PT exam, weaknesses in flexibility, strength and movement can be identified and properly addressed before they manifest into injuries. 

Tips for Preventing Painful Shin Splints this Running Season

The longer days and warmer weather of spring can be invigorating, enticing runners of all levels to up their games. But while this time of year may motivate one to increase the duration, frequency and intensity of their runs, Valencia physical therapist Tim Eckard cautions that if the increase is too sudden, it could put the runner at the risk of a painful condition known as shin splints. 

“Shin splints isn’t a serious condition, but it can be painful and will most certainly hold runners and other active people back from their workout, and perhaps even other things they enjoy in life,” said Eckardco-owner and clinic director of Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, Lancaster and Santa Clarita. 

Known in the medical world as medial tibial stress syndrome, shin splints present as soreness, tenderness and pain along the inside of the shin bone (tibia). At first, the pain may only be felt during a run or workout, Eckard said, but the condition may progress to the point where pain may be felt well after exercise. 

With about 3 million reported cases per year in the U.S., shin splints account for 13 to 17 percent of all running-related injuries. Dancers and military recruits also record a high incidence of shin splints. 

“People who take part in activities that involve high-impact stress on the legs are most susceptible to developing shin splints, especially during a time when the intensity of their exercise has suddenly increased,” said Eckard. “This increased stress can overwork the muscles, tendons and bone tissue in the lower leg, which can manifest as pain.” 

The key to overcoming shin splints, according to Eckard, is to rest. Take a few recovery days off from high-impact activities and exercises, and allow the body to heal. If you experience inflammation, ice can also be beneficial. 

However, it’s important, Eckard added, that runners and others susceptible to shin splints take steps to prevent the onset of the condition. Consider the following tips: 

Avoid overdoing it. When increasing the distance, duration, intensity and/or frequency of an exercise regimen such as running, do so gradually. Slowly building your fitness level over time is safer on the body than making quick, monumental leaps that can overload your shins. 

Wear proper shoes. Not only should you always wear a good pair of shoes, but the type of shoes you wear should fit your foot type. The right shoe for someone who’s flat-footed, for instance, won’t be right for someone with high arches, and vice versa. Also, wear the right type of shoes for your chosen activity or sport. 

Mix up your workouts. We all have our preferred ways of exercising, but mix it up once in a while. Alternate running with, say, cycling or swimming – something that still challenges you but with less impact on the body. 

Analyze your movement. A thorough, biomechanical running analysis performed by a physical therapist can identify movement patterns that may be leading to the onset of shin splints. You may find out that one small tweak in your running form can keep your shins healthy and pain-free. 

See a physical therapist. Besides performing a running analysis, a physical therapist is trained to analyze your entire kinetic chain to identify any imbalances or weaknesses that could put you at risk of pain or injury. From advising you on what shoes to wear to creating a personalized exercise regimen to help you move and perform better, teaming up with a physical therapist is an ideal step for those serious about pain and injury prevention. 

Valencia PT Offers Tips to Keep the Weekend Warrior Healthy, Injury Free

A “weekend warrior” is someone who, due to the hectic nature of a typical workweek, opts to cram most of her or his exercise into weekend workouts, activities, games and/or competitions.

And while Valencia physical therapist Tim Eckard says he’ll never fault anyone for getting exercise, he added that weekend warriors should be particularly cautious as the sporadic nature of their workout schedule puts them at a greater risk of getting injured.

“Days of downtime followed by sudden bursts of activity over a day or two isn’t ideal,” said Eckard, co-owner of Kinetix Advanced Physical Therapy in Valencia, Lancaster and Santa Clarita. “By putting greater stress on the body over a shorter period of time, weekend warriors should be aware that they’re putting themselves at greater risk of acute injuries, such as strains, sprains or worse.”

That’s because inactivity throughout the week can lead to a general deconditioning of the body that may include muscle tightness and imbalances, along with reduced endurance and cardiovascular fitness. A more consistent workout schedule can combat such deconditioning, Eckard says.

But if one truly does struggle to find time to achieve their expert-recommended 150 minutes of exercise each week without cramming them into just a couple of days, Eckard offers the following tips for avoiding injury.

Space It Out – Rather than packing your weekly exercise minutes into two back-to-back days at the end of the week, consider spacing these days out. This can help you avoid some of the deconditioning effects mentioned above.

Warm Up, Cool Down – When the weekend arrives and it comes time to take the field, hit the trails or tee off for 18, always warm up first. Take 5 to 10 minutes for some light resistance and cardio exercises to get the blood flowing. And after you’re done, cool down with some stretching. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water throughout.

Temper Your Intensity – When you’re packing your workouts into just a couple days a week, don’t overdo it. As you’re not exercising as consistently, stay on the safe side by pulling back slightly on your intensity.

Mix It Up – Try not to fill your weekends with the same activities. Mix it up, perhaps focusing on cardio one weekend and strength another – or a variation thereof. This helps ensure your entire body remains balanced, reducing your chances of injury.

Stay Active During the Week – Even if you don’t have time to hit the gym during the week, don’t use that as an excuse to be completely sedentary. Capitalize on brief moments during the week to move around, stretch, and maybe even do some exercising. Take the stairs, stretch during your breaks, stand at your desk, walk during meetings or after work, and maybe even fit 10 minutes of at-home resistance training into your evenings.

Listen to Your Body – Always know your limits. And, if you feel aches and pains or suspect possible injury, stop exercising immediately and see a medical professional, such as a physical therapist. Don’t try to power through discomfort just so you can get through the weekend.