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What Came First: The Aging or The Stiffness?

header photo for blog post about aging and stiffness

This blog post was written by Jordan Wachter a Core Physical Therapy PT.

Like anything else, aging has a host of stereotypes that comes with it. A common one is that as you get older, you’ll inevitably develop things like arthritis, diabetes, heart conditions, and a variety of other ailments. Not all at once necessarily, but things start to add up over time. But it’d be wise to remember something this pearl of wisdom: correlation does not equal causation. What does that mean?

Well, it means that just because two things are associated together doesn’t automatically mean one thing caused the other. A classic example is the rate of shark attacks and ice cream consumption throughout the year. Both would logically increase throughout the summer months and drop off the rest of the year. But eating ice cream doesn’t put you at greater risk of being attacked by a shark. Instead, we have to look deeper. People generally tend to eat more ice cream in the summer. They also tend to swim more during the summer. Both of these example statistics have summer as the root cause for increasing, not because one has an effect on the other.

But what does this have to do with aging? How does aging not lead to stiffness? There are probably many examples out there about how people became stiff and had more pain as they got older. But before we jump to conclusions, look deeper. Rather than the aging itself, there is often something else at play. Let’s use the example of an individual with a stiff back. Their hypothetical issues actually started back when they had a shoulder injury a few years prior.

Because their shoulder hurt, their activity level dropped: they stopped going to the gym and limited their movement to limit their shoulder pain. Over time, their back became stiff because they were not as active and mobile anymore, so their body adapted to that. When they tried going back to the gym once their shoulder felt better, they hurt their back because it wasn’t used to the same level of activity anymore.

Here is another example: an older patient has difficulty walking and getting up and down off the ground. They noticed their balance started to get worse about 10 years earlier, so they tried to limit their walking to sidewalks only when outside. They also haven’t gotten up and down from the ground for about 30 years, when their kids were still little.

Now, they don’t believe they have the strength, flexibility, or balance to get up from the ground on their own to play with grandkids, and they are terrified of walking in the park with them because they are afraid of falling. Instead of training their body to stay active, they inadvertently trained their body to be sedentary.

Although the individual in each example did indeed have more issues as they got older, it should be clear that getting older isn’t what led to their decline, but rather smaller issues that led to reduced overall activity. They had a harder time doing what they used to do not because they were older, but because they had lost the strength, balance, and flexibility that was maintained when they were active. These are things that don’t have to be lost, however. These things can often be worked on even with an injury, and that’s where you Physical Therapist comes in. We can help guide you through things you can do to improve your balance, strength, and flexibility in a personalized way.

Stiffness often arises when we stop doing something, so our bodies adapt to conserve resources. Have you ever met someone in their 80’s or older still doing something active like yoga?

Football season has finally arrived! While not everyone is a fan, it’s one of the most popular sports in the U.S. for a reason. One of the unique things about football is that it’s not considered a “lifetime” sport, one that can be played for the majority of one’s lifetime. Sure, you can throw the football around, but to actually play the game requires a lot of organization and equipment. It also requires a lot of training. With 22 players on the field, they all have different responsibilities they have to train for. If they don’t, it’s incredibly difficult and even unsafe to play because they physical stress put on the body can quickly become more than what it can handle, which leads to injuries.

That’s a principle that isn’t just limited to football, it applies to life in general. When we stop doing something, it’s like we stop “training” for it, which sets us up for injury when we try to do that activity again down the road. We can get away with it in our daily lives when we are younger, but as we get older, keeping our activity level up becomes more and more important.

Want to work with Jordan? Be sure to book an appointment today!

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