• Dr. Robert

Walking – Man’s other best friend?

My next blog was to have been about prevention of skiing injuries. Well, the snow didn’t appear. Knowing Reno’s predilection for throwing weird weather at us at the strangest of times, the skiing injury prevention article may be needed in June. We shall see. I then decided to write up a handy guide on cold and heat therapies. Because I try to be as thorough as possible, I got stuck into the research. I am still stuck in it. The humble cold pack is apparently not as humble as I once thought. I also never knew that so many healthcare providers could have so many antipodean opinions regarding when, and when not, to slap on a bag of ice. I also looked into doing an article on stretching and strengthening, something that practically all of us should be doing in some form or other. After going cross-eyed looking at rehabilitation texts and online resources, I realized that, while generic stretching and strengthening programs are excellent for most people without significant musculoskeletal complaints, for the injured person an individually tailored program is the way to go. In such cases, the rehabilitative program should be focused on increasing strength, motion and function, while at the same time decreasing pain WITHOUT PLACING THE PATIENT AT RISK OF FURTHER INJURY (sorry about the capital letters, but I didn’t want you to miss this vital element of rehabilitation). In other words, if you are hurt, then get educated by the right person, be it medical doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, etc. Resorting to google or your yoga instructor or personal trainer is not the way to go (no, I am not having a dig at yoga instructors or personal trainers, but they are not trained in treating complex musculoskeletal injuries).

Now that has all been said, I am going to discuss a generic rehabilitation program that practically all of us, whether injured or not (allowing for the notable exceptions, of course), can and should do. Virtually all of us know how to do this exercise, and we have been doing it most of our lives. It is walking. Yep. Plain old, run-of-the-mill, homegrown walking. The photo above is of legendary actor Sean Connery, 87 years of age and taking a stroll. I tell many of my patients, especially those with chronic low back pain, that they must get up and walk. Yes, I do get scowls from time to time. I do not suggest ambulation out of any sadistic whim, but I do know the research out there (the most recent evidence-based, peer-reviewed research paper that I am aware of regarding walking as a therapy is here), and a quick search of the National Institutes of Health PubMed database (where all published and peer-reviewed medical literature is catalogued) reveals a number of articles all saying the same thing - pain, disability, quality of life and fear-avoidance (not doing something because you fear that it will hurt) are all improved with walking. One caveat is that you may note increased pain while walking, especially when in the early stages of healing from injury, but this is one of the few instances when the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term inconveniences. That said, if in doubt – ask your doctor! Rather embarrassingly for me, I injured my back when I was teaching at chiropractic college and could barely stand. Christyann, being the wonderful carer that she is, had me walking as often as I could, supporting me physically and emotionally while I limped around the apartment complex with my spine in the shape of a boomerang. It hurt. Oh, my, did it hurt. But the more I walked, the less pain I felt, the muscles began to relax, and I was able to function, despite the remaining pain I had and the fear of causing more pain and injury. At the beginning I was not best pleased at having to get up and move, but Christyann’s diligence and motivation, along with the occasional jocular threat of her kicking my butt, got me through the injury.

Walking is something you can do by yourself, it's inexpensive, does not need any special equipment beyond a good pair of shoes/boots, and does not involve medications or surgery. Exercise, including walking, has been shown repeatedly to be a mood stabilizer, and sunlight is a natural antidepressant. Walking gets you to breath fresh air and open up your cramped lungs (I know of what I speak – I have spent too much of my life hunched over a computer), and can help improve your posture.

I have talked the talk enough, and now I have to take my own medicine. Time to take the dog for a walk. Cheerio!

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