Bill Case, PT, is a second generation Physical Therapist in Houston, Texas. He’s passionate about helping people regain their balance, recover from falls and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Zibrio chatted to him about some of his secrets.
Zibrio: Tell us something that most people aren’t aware of when it comes to their balance. What is the fundemental thing, do you think?
Bill: Postural awareness is absolutely key to staying balanced and preventing a fall. I always tell my patients that posture is the fountain of youth. Bad posture equals pain, loss of movement. Eventually, it’s almost inevitable that you will fall.
Think about it, most people spend their lives sitting, hunched over at a desk or keyboard. When that continues for days, then years, it effects the way our muscles work – or don’t work – to keep us balanced when we want to be upright and move around.
Zibrio: If someone has already got bad posture, is there anything they can do about it?
Bill: Sure there is. You can change the way your body works at any age. When we sit hunched over for long periods of time, the head tilting forward puts a strain on neck and back muscles. Did you know that for every 1 inch forward of the head in a slouched position is like the head becoming 10lb heavier in terms of load on the muscles supporting it?
Motion is your body’s lotion. You have to get out and exercise if you want to maintain your independence and keep doing what you enjoy. If you ignore it, then ligaments tighten, muscles weaken, joints wear out and nerves inflame. In a word: PAIN.
Zibrio: Could you give us an example of an exercise someone could do?
Bill: A simple one to do either sitting or standing: Pull the shoulders back and look straight ahead. Tuck the chin into the chest. You should feel a good stretch in your neck muscles and along your shoulders. Hold it for 5 seconds, rest, then repeat it 5 times. Do this often during the day.
Zibrio: What about balance itself? Do you give your patients balance-specific exercises, beyond posture?
Bill: Yes. Posture is a major part of the problem, but you also need muscle strength and flexibility. You can improve these at any age too. Most people when they age, and especially if they’ve been sedentary for a while, find their hip, thigh and calf muscles have weakened. I like to give them the marching in place exercise:
Stand upright next to a chair with head and shoulders back. Breathe normally, picking the knee up to waist level. Repeat with each leg, as if you are marching in place. Perform this exercise 10–20 times. When it becomes easy, put less pressure on the supporting chair.
A lot of older adults struggle to get up out of a chair, or to walk up and down stairs. You need to do exercises that strengthen the leg muscles. Squats are great general exercises for overall leg strength. it’s a natural movement. While holding onto a chair, the focus is on the stomach, back, and hips to maintain balance and an upright posture.
Standing upright next to a chair for support, maintain a straight posture, breathe out and slowly lower into a squat. Hold for 5 seconds, slowly stand up and relax. Repeat 10 times.
Zibrio: Thanks, Bill. Do you have any last words of wisdom?
Bill: You’ve got to keep moving. There are 640 muscles in the human body that control movement and balance while maintaining posture. A sedentary lifestyle – like most people have – accelerates muscle weakness and poor posture, but daily exercise can reverse that no matter your age. My patients are living proof of it.
Note: A leader in physical therapy innovation, Bill Case invented the
diagonal rotary patterning exercise machine. He is also a national
and international lecturer on orthopedic injuries and a published
authority on exercise, injury, and injury prevention. Bill is a
contributing writer to Self, Men’s Health, Fitness and Prevention
magazines and the coauthor of SPORTS PHYSICAL THERAPY. As
founder and co-sponsor of Houston’s Annual Senior Falls Prevention
Day, he scripted and produced Keep Fit and Moving (DVD) for older
adults to help prevent falls. He can be reached at: casephysicaltherapy and keepfitandmoving