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Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008 02:28 am

Stretch work

We do the hard work it takes to figure out simple movements that take the stress out of chronic and traumatic injuries before – and after – they happen

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Good for: Relief from sitting hunched over at a desk. Make sure you rotate body away from the bar (or wall) on which you are bracing yourself.
Good for: Tennis elbow, carpal tunnel. Make sure you rotate wrist.
Good for: Stretching out shoulders and abdominals. Don’t arch too much if you have lower-back problems.
Got a fitness problem? Sometimes ... you’ve got to stretch yourself. The most common injuries are sorted into two categories: chronic and traumatic. Chronic injuries occur thanks to repetitive movements, a tennis swing, for instance. Traumatic injuries happen, quite obviously, because of a more sudden occurrence, like taking a hard hit on the sports field or a car crash. Either way, proper stretching for flexibility and body strengthening can make all the difference, helping you pursue your favorite hobbies with less pain and for longer. The point is to strengthen muscles around the injured spot and to counteract the effects of repetitive movement. “After an hour or two of practicing a golf swing, your body literally starts to stay in the form of the drive,” says Chris Frederick, who, along with his wife, Ann, operate Phoenix-based Stretch to Win, a total fitness system. Their days range from working with NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb to penning their most recent book, Stretch to Win (Human Kinetics, 2006). “We teach people how to untwist by doing things as simple as swinging the golf club in the opposite direction a couple of times, which will prevent back pain and allow you to continue to have a good time.”

Ankle sprain
This kind of traumatic injury can occur thanks to hardcore sports action or one clumsy step. The key here is flexibility and ability to react quickly: agility work. Charla McMillian, owner and chief instructor at FitBoot, a basic-training program for professionals in Boston and San Francisco, recommends exercises as simple as standing on one leg for a period of time, then alternating.
For more effect, she recommends the basic single-leg squat for balance and strength; and the inch worm, a stretch that involves bending over with your hands on the floor, then walking them forward and straightening out your body as you do so, then following with your feet — and repeat.
Tennis elbow
Professional tennis players don’t get tennis elbow because they have good form. If you have it, that could mean it has a lot to do with bad form, says Brad Schoenfeld, fitness author and owner of the Personal Training Center for Women in Scarsdale, N.Y. “Injuries like tennis elbow are caused by repetitive motions but also by bad mechanics,” Schoenfeld says. So you’ve got to learn good form and strengthen the surrounding muscles (triceps, biceps, forearm). If your tennis elbow is already in effect, Schoenfeld recommends a three-part, at-your-desk wrist exercise that works the arm from shoulder to fingertips. “It really contains three separate stretches, but they work synergistically together,” Schoenfeld says.
Sciatica/Lower-back pain
It all comes back to the abdominals, especially lower-back pain. The author of Boot Camp Abs (Fair Wind Press, 2005), McMillian says if you want to figure out why your back’s hurting, just look down at your stomach. “Get the ab work done,” she says. “There is no side-stepping ab work, and I’m not just saying that because I wrote the book.”
Her recommendation: Total body crunches, known in the military as atomic sit-ups. You can lighten the load of this advanced exercise at first by supporting your weight with your hands on the ground beside your hips. Basically, you lay down flat on your back and tuck both ends by bringing your knees into your chest and your chest into your knees, then extend it back out.
“The key with ab work is your stomach has to be drawn in, or engaged, the whole way through,” McMillian says. To make it easier, just balance on your backside with your torso upright and kick your legs out.

Runner’s knee Tendonitis is the culprit when it comes to this chronic knee injury, and that is usually caused by pounding the pavement, putting repeated pressure on the knee joint. As with many chronic conditions, it’s possible to avoid this one by varying your workouts and engaging your entire body. Schoenfeld recommends working on the hips with a sit-and-reach stretch. Sit with your back against a wall and extend your legs; then reach forward and try to touch your ankles while keeping your back straight. Bend with your hips, not your spine.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Maybe sitting at your desk and working on a computer doesn’t sound like a period of the day where fitness counts, but you’d be wrong about that.
“Most of us sit all day at work leaning forward, which makes the discs in your back bulge toward the rear, and can end up herniated, so we try and reverse that,” says Ann Frederick, who recommends what she calls the shoulder opener: Put hands on your posterior with elbows behind, opening up your chest; lean backward slightly and slowly extend the distance.
“It reverses what has become short and tight, thanks to sitting at a desk,” Frederick says. “Think carpal tunnel and we think of our hands (reverse wrist curls work well) but, like so many things, it starts closer to the core.”

Don’t fall for it
There is a lot you can do when it comes to dealing with an injury, but the best idea is to skip it altogether. It’s possible, says professional trainer Charla McMillian.
“To avoid injury from a fall, it’s important to be flexible and to know how to fall,” McMillian says. “Try and take it on a large surface area while protecting your head. Putting a hand out is not going to help you at all; you’re going to snap something. “Instead, fall like children do. They are truly surprised, so they let everything go freely, and the body absorbs the impact better. “It’s a simple exercise that can help you stay mentally sharp,” McMillian says. “Motor skills and cerebral skills are linked, so this can help you keep your mental edge, too.”
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