Aging… and How Physical Therapy Helps

Aging is inevitable. And we are all aware that as the body ages, it also goes through some physical changes. Muscles, bones, skin, and other tissues and organs of the body undergo some anatomical and physiological changes. Changes in muscle mass, bone density, and even hormonal changes can lead to decrease in muscle strength and endurance, and occurrence of joint pains. That is why it is important to plan ahead as we age.

In a nutshell, here are some of the physiological changes that occur in the body as a result of aging…

  • Decline in all stages of information processing. Sensory losses affect stimulus identification and thus may affect mobility or movement.
  • Coordination changes as a result in changes of motor unit size, with deficits particularly in fine motor skills.
  • Decreasing levels of cardiovascular fitness and strength.
  • Decreased joint flexibility due to increased viscosity of synovial fluid, stiffening joint capsule and ligaments, and calcification of articular cartilages.
  • Decreased bone density and mass due to multiple hormonal, histological, and physical factors.

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Medical doctor might spend some time discussing calcium, vitamin D, diet and hormones. They might mention “exercise” briefly and you might be told to stay active. But how do you go about with it?

Well, physical therapy can help seniors stay active and have a healthy, productive life. A physical therapist can devise exercise programs that will help the aging body remain strong and stable and be fit for common daily activities. Physical activities through supervised exercises along with proper nutrition can ensure the aging body to still have the strength, vitality, flexibility, and energy it needs to be active and to stay independent.

Here are some of the ways where a physical therapist can help in the aging population:

  • Prevent deconditioning – As mentioned, aging can cause muscular changes which can lead to decrease in muscle strength. Changes in cardiac and pulmonary functions can also be altered that can cause decrease in endurance and general energy level. A physical therapist can prescribe supervised and home exercises to manage the symptoms of deconditioning due to aging,
  • Prevent injuries and falls – Decreased activities which are common among the aging population can result in frequent falls causing injuries like bruising and fractures due to decrease in muscle strength and stability. Exercises that improve balance, coordination, and strength are important to help prevent, or at least minimize the occurrences of falling.
  • Joint pain relief – Osteoarthritis is common as we age. This is due to the wear and tear that occurs inside the joint. Pain is not uncommon as well as other joint dysfunctions like limited range of motion and joint deformity. A physical therapist has treatment program to help relieve pain, decrease swelling, increase range of motion, and correct or limit deformities.
  •  Improve bone functions – Osteoporosis, which is a decrease in bone strength is also common in aging, with women more affected than men. Frequent bone loading through the forces from gravity [as in when standing] and from muscle contractions can help strengthen the bones as opposed to just drinking supplements like milk as advertised on TV.

Neither medicine nor physical therapy can reverse the process of aging and its consequences. However, physical therapy can help seniors be functionally independent and active through various exercise programs, catered to an individual’s need. Range of exercises that improve mobility, stability, movement, balance, coordination, strength and endurance are prescribed. During treatment and exercises, the therapist monitors the client’s vital signs – blood pressure, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and temperature [if needed] – to ensure that the senior or elderly is challenged in a safe but progressive manner.

Now that we have established the importance and benefits exercise, do note that the specifics of exercises do matter. Your physical therapist can help design an exercise program just for you. The program will be focused on improving your bone health while keeping in mind activities you enjoy doing.

Contact me to schedule an evaluation. Stay healthy…