In orthopaedic care, a focus on activity preservation
- As we age, we lose muscle and bone mass and may develop problems in our muscles, joints, and bones, such as back pain, osteoarthritis, or osteoporosis.
- Regular exercise slows the loss of muscle mass, strengthens bones, and reduces joint and muscle pain. In addition, mobility and balance are improved, which reduces the risk of falling and suffering a serious injury, such as a hip fracture.
- Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about exercises that are right for you and consider focusing on fitness that utilizes varied, daily physical activities that you enjoy.
Keeping people doing the activities they love is an essential contributor to overall health and longevity
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Vail-Summit Orthopaedics
Following orthopedic surgery, the majority of patients are interested in one specific outcome: returning to the activities they love doing.
People often think of overall health as boiling down to eating right and exercising, but there’s more to it.
“It means doing things that give you joy. These types of activities are invaluable to physical and mental health. And this can, in turn, lead to longer life expectancy,” said Dr. Bill Sterett, an orthopaedic surgeon at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics and the Head Team Physician for the U.S. Women’s Ski Team since 1997. “Too often people let activity slide for too long. Then they never get back to them, leading to a degradation of health.”
Too often, Sterett and his colleagues at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics hear patients say things like, “I gave up jogging five years ago,” or “Three years ago, I quit walking after dinner.” When the activities that were once part of a routine become long forgotten, it becomes harder to get the body back to where it used to be, Sterett said.
That’s why Vail-Summit Orthopaedics is focusing its overall and post-surgical care on activity preservation rather than simply returning patients to a baseline level of comfort.
“This is a new era. We’re starting to zero in on the fact that people don’t only want to be pain free,” Sterett said. “They want to be back doing the things they love. This fact can and should inform our approach when considering treatment options. … The art in this practice is to figure out the least amount of intervention needed to keep doing the activities we want to do.”
‘Not trying is failure’
In orthopaedic medicine, when people talk about preserving our joints as we age, what they’re really referring to is preserving and maintaining a person’s chosen activities. Injuries vary, as do the recovery processes for all patients, but Sterett said patience is key.
Patients must believe in their ability to work through the difficult recovery period, which is why Sterett said having a goal activity to return to is beneficial.
“The finish line goes from ‘when I’m pain free’ to ‘when I’m doing the things I love again.’ That can be very motivating,” Sterett said. “Of course, there will be instances when people are unable to perform at preinjury
levels. Based upon our initial evaluation, we can often predict this. In that case, we can be up front with the patient before surgery. Then we can help them understand what they can do to stay active post-surgery. But failing to get to our goal isn’t failure. Not trying is failure.”
Aging is a natural process that takes a toll on various parts of the body, but Vail-Summit Orthopaedics reminds patients that aging should never mean abandoning an active lifestyle. The physicians are helping patients who might not be able to push themselves as hard as they once could realize they can still do things they love and different levels. The main prescription, though, is to always keep moving.
“Health doesn’t happen to us, it needs a coordinated plan,” Sterett said. “After surgery, we lose muscle mass, energy and we hurt. It isn’t easy.”
Weight-bearing and load-bearing exercises have a huge beneficial effect on the heart and mind, as well as muscles. Sterett advises patients to exercise the heart by increasing their heart rate into their particular safe zone for 20 minutes, four times per week.
“Identifying the right exercises for your particular level of activity can be crucial. This is another factor that will vary from person to person,” he said. “My advice in this department is to focus on the quality of the exercise rather than the quantity. Find the balance that is right for your body.”