After a long Wisconsin winter, it’s exciting to feel the warmth of the sun and see new life again! You probably have many plans for activities this spring. Maybe you enjoy gardening, hiking, bicycling, golfing, water sports, or traveling. There are things you can do now to make those dreams a reality.
In my 28 years of practice as a physical therapist, I have found spring to be the most challenging time for people physically. After many months of increased sitting and decreased activity, joints become stiff, and muscles become tight and weak. When we get our first day of warm weather, our spirits soar, and we spend hours outside doing what we love. Usually, we don’t realize until it’s too late that we are going to pay for it with pain or injury. This does not have to be the case for you this year.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to allow you to enjoy those activities without pain or strain. By starting out consciously and wisely, you can continue to enjoy yourself this spring and summer, injury-free.
Warm-up before the activity:
Gentle, repetitive movements performed before more vigorous activity allow joints to be lubricated and muscles to be more flexible. This allows greater ease during and after activity.
You may want to try this warm-up sequence. If kneeling is uncomfortable, try kneeling on a blanket.
Cat/cow in a comfortable range of motion:
Start on your hands and knees in a “tabletop” position. Make sure your knees are set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows, and shoulders are in line and perpendicular to the floor. Keep motion gentle and comfortable.
- As you exhale, using your abdominals to assist, curl your tailbone under and round your spine, releasing your neck and head, making sure to keep your shoulders and knees in position.
- As you inhale, lift your tailbone, allow your low back to sink, keep energy in your arms and your heart open. Your head is the last thing to follow (gently- no pinching in the neck). Repeat, linking your movement with breath. (5-8 slow, gentle repetitions)
Alternating arm and leg lifts: Starting in the tabletop position (as above), engage your abdominals, drawing in your belly button toward your spine. Keep your spine neutral, maintaining length in the back of your neck, with eyes looking at the floor/mat. Lift right arm as you slide your left leg back, then lift from the hip while maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis. Hold and breathe for several seconds. Lower with control and repeat on the other side.
Puppy or Child’s pose (Balasana): Keep knees and hips where they are (puppy), or rock back toward your heels (child).
Rest your forehead on the floor/stacked fists/block to release tension in your neck and back. Breathe gently into the back of your ribs. Feel the back body expanding with each gentle inhale. Feel your body melting and softening with each gentle exhale. Hold for several breaths.
Separating your knees often makes this more comfortable.
Hip extension to open hip: Come back up to hands and knees. Stretch one leg back and tuck toes under, toes resting on the floor. You will feel the front of the hip and back of the knee releasing as quadriceps engage for support. Breathe there for 2-3 breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Stretch after activity: These stretches help prevent plantar fasciitis, hip and back pain.
Wall calf stretch– Place hands on a wall, counter or chair for support. Legs remain hip-width apart.
- Stand with neutral alignment, abdominals engaged to support your spine.
- Keep one leg close to the wall or chair, and bend the front knee (keeping knee over ankle, not beyond).
- Step the other leg straight back, keeping back foot straight ahead. Ground through back heel, keeping back knee straight. You should feel a very gentle stretch in the back calf and most likely in the anterior thigh and hip. If the stretch is painful or extreme, move the back foot closer to the wall.
- Keep weight shifted toward the pinkie toe side of the back foot to maintain the arch of the foot.
Hold 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat on each side.
Hamstring stretch at step: Stand at the base of your stairs. Hold rail for balance. Use good standing alignment with abdominals supporting your spine. Place your heel on either the first or second step. You should feel a gentle stretch in the hamstrings (back of the leg). If not, move your foot to the next step. Hold and breathe for about 5 slow breaths.
Gradually increase activity and balance activity with rest:
When increasing activity in the spring, it’s best to vary your position frequently. If you are bending over gardening or biking, frequently stand up straight and gently lean back. The calf stretch is another great way to gently open the hip and relieve back discomfort. Start with short periods of activity with rest periods. Gradually increase as tolerated. Overdoing and then having to recover for several days does not save you time.
Beginning a yoga practice now will get you ready for this increased activity. Yoga improves joint mobility and muscle strength and flexibility, as well as posture and body mechanics. It also is a wonderful stress-reliever and mood-lifter. I would love to assist your smooth transition to an enjoyable spring by having you in one of our group classes (Tuesdays at 9 am or Wednesdays at 6 pm) or through an individual therapeutic yoga session or PT session (by appointment).
Shelley Carpenter, PT, e-RYT, Reiki Master/Teacher
Mar2020 Shelley Carpenter, Physical Therapist, Registered Yoga Teacher, Reiki Master Teacher is a practitioner at Ommani who offers group (Tuesday and Wednesdays) and individual therapeutic yoga sessions, physical therapy, and Reiki care. Call our office at 262.695.5311 to schedule an appointment.