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Greetings to you on this beautiful August day! This month I find myself reflecting on a great man  who was  very important to me personally. Ara Parseghian was my coach at Notre Dame. Somehow, I was blessed to have had him in my life over the years, at times in my role as a physical therapist and always as a friend and mentor. I greatly respected his drive and desire to stay independent up until 94 years old and wouldn't have imagined any less from him. I will not spend this article discussing how remarkable he was as a coach (winning 2 national championships) or as a man ( married for 69 years )  and dedicating much of his life and energy to his foundation which championed the battle against Niemann-Pick Type C.  This foundation  raises both awareness as well as  funds for  important scientific research .   (This  disease took the life of 3 of his grandchildren). His accomplishments are far reaching and have and will forever change the life of countless individuals.
I have chosen  to talk about Ara as an inspiration for this month's enewsletter to  bring hope to anyone who might be struggling with walking, standing and doing everyday tasks. As we begin to age, these seemingly simple movements can feel monumental. Ara proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that exercise is a must as we age. I am not sure if he knew that we all begin to lose up to one percent of our overall strength from 30-65 years of age.  I don't know if he knew that weakness accelerates to 1.5 percent per year after we reach 65 years old. I do know that he had five total hip replacements on one side and his first surgeries were done  well  before physicians had the advanced technology and hardware that they have today. So how was this man able to be so independent and able to travel all over the country with little to no help? The answer is clear to me. Ara believed in hard work and discipline. He knew in order to accomplish all he envisioned, he needed to keep his strength. 
If you ever had the good fortune to visit Ara, you knew he had a daily exercise regime in his home. He had hand weights which he used to strengthen his upper and lower body his entire life. He believed in the importance of hard work in all he did. Most of  us believe  in hard work but do not include physical exercise as something we need to do at least three to five days a week. Ara knew, if he was going to stay as independent as possible, to help as many people as possible, he would need to make a commitment to at least three times a week of strengthening exercises. (Based on what he told me, he actually performed his exercises at least six days a week) His exercise program was safe and did not involve using heavy weights, that might injure rather than help. 

There was a period of time in his early 80's, when he had a few balance issues. He tried to resolve this on his own but when things didn't get better
,  and he realized he didn't have the answers he called and came in for a evaluation and direction. Ara understood that we had the expertise and knowledge he needed ,  and he soaked in every exercise and piece of advice.  Every single time Ara needed help, he would call, get in, and learn new exercises to improve his physical weaknesses. He was someone who would do everything he was told.  Once  he saw the results, he  would add the  new exercises to his daily regime.

I spend so much of my day trying to educate patients on how important regular exercise is to our life as we age. We are all aging
,  and we all would benefit from a personalized exercise program. If you would like to live a long and independent life, I urge you to use this wonderful man as an example. Consistent resistive exercises will give you a much greater chance than sitting around and wondering. Please start today and find a physical therapist, who excels in strengthening others in your age group. I guarantee you will thank me ,  and you will thank Ara as you get older and continue enjoying your family, friends and others (most especially-your grandchildren)! 

Health Information

    Neck pain is pain felt in the back of the neck - the upper spine area, just below the head. When certain nerves are affected, the pain can extend beyond the back of the neck to areas such as the upper back, shoulder, and arm. It is estimated that neck pain affects approximately 30% of the US population each year. Neck pain can be caused by sudden trauma such as a fall, sports injury, or car accident, or by long-term problems in the spine.

    Neck pain most frequently affects adults aged 30 to 50 years. Some studies indicate that women are more likely to suffer neck pain than men. Poor posture, obesity, smoking, repetitive lifting, office and computer work, and involvement in athletic activity are all risk factors for developing neck pain. 

    People with neck pain can have difficulty performing activities such as working, driving, playing sports, or simply turning their heads. The majority of neck pain episodes do not require surgery and respond best to physical therapy. Physical therapists design individualized treatment programs to help people with neck pain reduce or eliminate pain, regain normal movement, and get back to their regular activities.
    How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
    Recent research has shown that physical therapy is a better treatment than surgery or pain medication (such as opioid medication) for relieving many cases of neck pain. Physical therapy treatments often can help people avoid the need for surgery or medication altogether.

    Your physical therapist will work with you to design a specific treatment program that will speed your recovery, including exercises and treatments that you can do at home. Physical therapy can help you return to your normal lifestyle and activities.
    Reduce pain and other symptoms. Your physical therapist will help you understand how to avoid or modify the activities that caused the injury, so healing can begin. He or she may use different types of treatments and technologies to control and reduce your pain and symptoms. These may include gentle hands-on techniques, known as manual therapy, that he or she will perform for you; specific neck movements that you will be taught to perform yourself; and the use of technologies, such as electrical stimulation or traction, as required. Physical therapists examine each person individually to determine exactly what type of approach will help reduce pain.

    Avoid surgery. In most cases, a physical therapist can design an individualized treatment program to help relieve neck pain-even severe radiculopathy (pain that travels from the neck down into the arm or hand)-to help individuals with neck pain avoid surgery. In rare cases, radiculopathy requires surgery to relieve its cause.

    Improve posture. If your physical therapist finds that poor posture has contributed to your neck pain, he or she will teach you how to improve your posture so healing can occur.

    Improve motion. Your physical therapist will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in any stiff joints. These might include "passive" motions that the physical therapist performs for you to move your spine, or active exercises and stretches that you do yourself. You can perform these motions at home, in your workplace, and before your sports activities to help hasten healing and pain relief.
    Improve flexibility. Your physical therapist will determine if any of the involved muscles are tight, and teach you gentle stretching exercises that you can perform at home. He or she also may supervise your performance of special stretches during your physical therapy treatments.
    Improve strength. If your physical therapist finds any weak or injured muscles, he or she will choose and teach you the correct exercises to gently restore your strength and agility. For neck pain, "core strengthening or stabilization" is commonly used to restore the strength and coordination of muscles around your spine.
    Improve endurance. Restoring muscular endurance is important for people with neck pain. Your physical therapist will develop a program of activities to help you regain the endurance you had before the neck pain started.
    Learn a home program. Your physical therapist will teach you strengthening, stretching, and pain-reduction exercises to perform at home. These exercises will be specific for your needs. If you do them as prescribed by your physical therapist, you can speed your recovery.
    Return to Activities. Your physical therapist will discuss your activity levels with you and use them to set your work, sport, and home-life recovery goals. Your treatment program will help you reach your goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible. For spine problems like neck pain, your physical therapist may teach you correct ways to lift objects (called "body mechanics") that will help protect your spine from further injury.

    As your neck pain is improving, it will be important for you to continue your new posture and movement habits to keep your neck healthy and pain free.

    Following Surgery

    In rare cases of neck pain, surgery is necessary to relieve pressure on a nerve or on the spinal cord. If you undergo surgery, your physical therapist will work closely with you and your surgeon to help you regain motion and strength more quickly than you could on your own, and help you return to your daily activities as quickly as possible.

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