Strengthening exercises help joint pain

People often seek out fitness and health professionals to address muscle and joint pain. So it is imperative that fitness trainers are educated in providing solutions to these issues by guiding their clients in corrective exercise techniques so that the client may continue to enjoy everyday activities as well as recrea- tional pursuits without pain.

A fitness program designed to help alleviate pain in muscles and joints should start with self-myofascial release using the foam roller in order to release the myofascial restrictions that may be causing limited movement and pain. After the foam roller has successfully released the inhibitions of the muscles, a stretching program should be prescribed in order to prepare the client for corrective strength exercises. This format is important in order to avoid further injury and to prepare the weak and de-conditioned muscles and tissues for more aggressive work.

Corrective strengthening exercises have been shown to stimulate new neural pathways, and therefore improve reflexes and agility. These exercises also help people increase their strength, stamina, flexibility, improve their posture, decrease joint pain, improve their balance and stability, increase their metabolism, increase bone density, and prevent further injury.

Although many types of strengthening exercises can be used in a corrective exercise program, the most widely employed are isometric, single joint, concentric, eccentric and multi- joint kinetic chain.

The easiest type of movement for the neuromuscular system to facilitate is the isometric muscle contraction. An isometric contraction happens when a muscle or muscle group activates and stays activated and contracted — although it doesn’t change in length. Isometric exercises strengthen only in the plane they are performed. Therefore it may be that a single exercise will need to be performed in many different planes and angles. After a client has had muscle and joint pain for a length of time, many muscle groups may not activate properly. By performing an isometric contraction of the muscle that has become dysfunctional, a retraining occurs which allows the client to progress to more dynamic (movement-oriented) strengthening exercises.

Single joint exercises can be introduced after a client has mastered isometric contractions. The single joint movement uses concentric motion (shortening of the muscles) and eccentric contractions (lengthening of the muscles). Think biceps curls done properly with the elbows fixed at the sides. Single joint exercises are introduced first to prevent regression into old dysfunctional movement patterns. Concentric movements (Flexion) are safer than eccentric ones (Extension) because it may be difficult for the client to slow the stretch down effectively.

After the single joint exercises are mastered, it is time to introduce the multi-joint exercises. This more advanced type of exercise uses both concentric and eccentric movements and multiple joints in the movement. A great example would be the squat wherein the hips, knees and back all work in unison to correctly perform the movement.

When the client can control the multi-joint exercises with effectiveness, it is time to introduce the kinetic chain exercises. A kinetic chain strengthening exercise requires coordinated use of many muscles and muscle groups to control movement throughout the body. An example of a kinetic chain exercise is a walking lunge with a bicep curl.

If your personal fitness trainer does not understand the importance of progression based on initial postural assessment and identification of muscular imbalances, then you could be risking injury rather than improvement in the gym.

Everyone learns a little differently, some learn best by seeing an example, others by talking through the movement and others simply by trying it. I usually show, tell and let ‘em try so that each client gets the opportunity to learn in the best way for them.

If a client experiences excessive pain after a workout session using the progressive techniques outlined, regression to lighter weights, using balance aids or using self-myofascial release and stretching exercises is recommended.

It is important also to ensure that the technique for each exercise is correct and doesn’t deteriorate during the set or reps due to fatigue or pain. If the exercises cannot be performed correctly, it is time to stop.

I wish you all the best of the holiday season and hope that you and yours enjoy a healthy, happy new year.

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Jane Riley, M.S., B.A., C.P.T., Certified Nutritional Adviser, can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, 212-1451 or www.janerileyfitness.com.

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