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Several years ago, while hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon with my family, my wife Esther developed “canyon knee,” also known as “hiker’s knee” or in medical terms, “patellar tendonitis.” Regardless of the term, the end result was that she had severe pain in the tendon below her knee cap and was unable to walk up the trail to get out of the canyon. In addition to ice, rest, bracing, and non-steroidal anti inflammatory medications, the National Park Ranger insisted that she use two trekking poles on her ascent to the rim.

Prior to that experience, I always thought that “walking, hiking sticks or trekking poles” were for show or those in need of a walking aide. Well, I could not have been more incorrect. Needless to say, Esther made it out of the canyon safely and, with the use of our life saving trekking poles; we have lived “happily ever after!” Now, 15 years later, I rarely walk more than 5 miles without my poles.

As a result of this experience, I have been recommending walking or trekking poles to my patients. These poles are an essential part of hiking or distance walking gear, for the novice and expert alike. Specifically, for those over 50 who have degenerative arthritis and pain in their lower back, hips, knees, ankles or feet, these simple devices have been shown to improve the efficiency of the exercise and lessen the impact on the spine and lower extremities. Additionally, using poles reduces the likelihood of ankle sprains and falls during walking. Trekking poles are also a safe option for those with compromised balance. If you want to walk distances for exercise and need a little stability but don’t want the stigma of a cane, trekking poles are for you.

History of the Hiking Stick:

Early explorers, Europeans and Native Americans have been using walking sticks for centuries. More recently, in the 1968 classic hiker’s bible, “The Complete Walker,” Colin Fletcher praised his “walking staff” for its multipurpose use: for balance and assistance with walking and climbing, protection from rattlesnakes, and for use as a fishing rod. Today, these sticks are now versatile poles made from light-weight materials.

Trekking Pole Features:

Trekking poles are made of light-weight aluminum and vary in cost and quality. But, like most things, “you get what you pay for!” These hollow tubes can telescope to fit any person and collapse to pack in luggage for travel. Better poles offer multiple removable tips for various uses, conditions and terrains. For example, abasket to prevent sinking too deeply in snow, mud or sand; a blunt rubber tip for hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete, or the pointed metal tip to grip ice or hard dirt/gravel. Better quality poles offer an ergonomic hand grip and strap and a spring system to absorb shock through your hands, wrists and arms upon impact.

The poles should be properly adjusted to fit each individual. When your hand is griping the handle the elbow should be at a 90 degree angle. Proper use is simple; just walk with a normal gait pattern of opposite arm and leg swing. For example, left leg and right arm/pole swings forward to plant while the left arm/pole remain behind with the right leg .  

This pattern is reciprocated with as normal gait advances (opposite arm and leg). I have been very pleased with my moderately priced poles (Cascade Mountain Tech from Dick’s Sporting Goods ($34.99 per pole). Prices range from $19.99 to 79.95 per pole. dickssportinggoods.com; montem.com; leki.com; rei.com. However, if you travel frequently to hike the State and National Parks, you may want to purchase more expensive poles that collapse and retighten more efficiently. (montem.com; leki.com;) 

Montem Trekking Poles - with close-up of easy adjustable locking clasp.

Research:

There are numerous studies to support the use of trekking poles, especially research that supports their use for health and safety. One study compared hikers in 3 different conditions; no backpack, a pack with 15% body weight and a pack with 30% body weight. Biomechanical analysis was performed blindly on the three groups and a significant reduction in forces on lower extremity joints (hip, knee, and ankle) was noted for all three groups when using poles compared to those not using poles.

Another study confirmed that trekking poles reduced the incidence of ankle fractures through improved balance and stability. Additional studies support the theory that trekking poles reduce exercise induced muscle soreness from hiking or walking steep terrain and another study found that while less energy is expended in the lower body muscles using poles, increase energy is used in the upper body; therefore, the net caloric expenditure is equal as it is simply transferred from the legs to the arms.

Reasons to Use Trekking Poles:

In conclusion, it is important to remember that trekking poles for hiking or distance walking are much more than a style statement. They are proven to be an invaluable tool for health, safety and wellness by reducing lower extremity joint stress, improving stability and balance, and enhancing efficiency for muscle recovery.    

Sources: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. The Complete Walker, by Colin Fletcher

Model: Andrea Molitoris, PT, DPT at Mackarey Physical Therapy

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog

EVERY SUNDAY in "The Sunday Times" - Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in hard copy

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy in Scranton and Clarks Summit. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, visit our exercise forum!

What is an Ice Bath?

Ice baths have become a new trend or fad in health and fitness, especially among elite athletes and some celebrities. However, it is far from a new treatment modality. In fact, the Ancient Greeks employed cold-water immersion for fever, pain relief, relaxation and socialization. In addition, Hippocrates documented the use of cold for medicinal purposes for its analgesic benefits. 

Ice baths, a type of cryotherapy, is also referred to as cold water immersion (CWI) or cold water therapy. This involves immersing your body in ice water for approximately 5-15 minutes from the neck down at 50-59 degrees. The ice baths are commonly used for pain, delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and inflammation and mood elevation. 

In theory, the cold water lowers the temperature of your skin and body by vasoconstriction (narrow) of the blood vessels. When you get out of the cold, water the vasodilatation (widen) of the blood vessels. Immediately, this brings fresh oxygen and nutrient-rich blood back to the tissues to warm the body and in the process, reduce pain, inflammation and promote healing.

Types of Cold Water Therapy

Purported Ice Bath Benefits

Potential Side Effects of Ice Baths

If you have the following health conditions, ice baths may not be the best therapeutic modality for you. Before you consider trying an ice bath, consult with your physician to avoid potentially serious problems:

In Conclusion: What the Science Says

While some studies have shown that subjects report less muscle soreness following CWI when compared  to rest, most studies suggest that the reported effects are placebo. Also, reports of improved circulation, reduced inflammation and improved recovery or performance has not been scientifically validated. In view of this, it is recommended that those considering the use of CWI for pain and inflammation management, reduced muscle soreness, and mood elevation, should consult their physician to determine if the potential risks are worth the purported benefits.

SOURCES: nih; health.com; health.clevelandclinic.org; prevention.com

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog

EVERY SUNDAY in "The Sunday Times" - Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in hard copy

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy in Scranton and Clarks Summit. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, visit our exercise forum!

Holiday shopping is stressful to your body, as well as your wallet, having the potential for a backache afterwards. Driving from store to store, getting in and out of the car, bundled in a sweater and winter coat, the expert shopper carries package after package from the store, to the car, over and over again. Six, eight, or ten hours later, the shopper arrives home exhausted, only to realize that 15, or 20 packages must be carried from the car into the house. This dilemma is compounded by the fact that the rain turned to sleet, and the sleet to snow. Travel by car and foot are treacherous.

You are slipping and sliding all the way from the car to the house while carrying multiple packages of various sizes and shapes. The shopping bags get wet and tear, forcing you to tilt your body as you carry the packages. Of course, no one is home to help you unload the car and you make the trip several times alone. You get into the house exhausted and crash onto the couch. You fall asleep slouched and slumped in an overstuffed pillow chair. Hours later you wake up with a stiff neck and a backache from shopping. You wonder what happened to your neck and back.

Consider the following:

OTHER TIPS:

Plan Ahead: It is very stressful on your spirit, wallet and back to do all of your shopping in the three weeks available after Thanksgiving. Even though we dislike “rushing” past Thanksgiving to the next holiday, try to begin holiday shopping in before 

Use the Internet: Supporting local businesses is important. However, Internet shopping can save you lots of wear and tear. Sometimes, you can even get a gift wrapped.

Gift Certificates: While gift certificates may be impersonal, they are easy, convenient and can also be purchased over the internet.

Perform Stretching Exercises: Stretch intermittently throughout the shopping day…try the three exercises below, gently, slowly, hold 3 seconds and relax, repeat 5 times.

Chin Tucks – Bring head over shoulders
Shoulder Blade Pinch – Pinch shoulder blades together
Back Extension – Stretch backwards

Model: Paul Mackarey, PT, DPT, Clinic Director, Mackarey PT

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog

EVERY SUNDAY in "The Sunday Times" - Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in hard copy

  This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, visit our exercise forum!

Ankle swelling is a common symptom that occurs when your body retains fluid in the lower legs, ankles and feet. Most people have experienced it at some point in their lives and it often resolves on its own with elevation and muscle movement. While it is usually benign and occurs on both sides of the body, in some instances immediate medical attention is required. The most common causes of ankle swelling are:

Prolonged Positions – you have probably noticed swelling in your ankles and feet after a long trip by plane or car. Some may also experience symptoms after a long day at work sitting or standing in one position for an extended period of time. It may be the most common cause of lower leg swelling and easiest to resolve.

Diet- excessive salt in your diet is associated with swelling in the lower legs, especially when associated with other risk factors for swelling such as organ function or obesity.

Varicose Veins – when the valves in the blood vessels which carry blood from the legs back to the heart are damaged, blood and fluid can collect in the lower legs. Prolonged standing or sitting without intermittent movement with worsen the condition.

Pregnancy – during pregnancy, the body retains more fluids than usual and most women experience some form of swelling in the lower legs, ankles and feet.

Medications – certain drugs can cause fluid retention in the lower legs such as: anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, diabetes medications, antidepressants and cardiac medications.

Blood Clots – blockages in the blood vessels of the lower leg can limit the movement of fluid from the legs back to the heart. It is often present in only one leg and associated with warmth, pain, and cramping. It is a serious condition and requires immediate medical attention.

Trauma/Infection – after a trauma or injury such as an ankle sprain, bruise or fracture, the damaged tissue leaks fluid surrounding the affected area. Also, when specific area of the lower leg can becomes infected, as in the case of a cut or splinter in the ankle or foot that has not healed properly, swelling occurs in the surrounding tissues. These situations are often associated with warmth, pain and limited to the side of the injury. Treatment to injured tissues and the infection is required.

Lymphedema – swelling in the lower leg can occur when there is a blockage in the lymphatic system is blocked or when lymph nodes are removed in surgery for cancer. Medications, massage, compression garments, and elevation, can address the symptoms.

Obesity – due to the excessive weight placed on the tissues of the legs, ankle and feet and adipose tissue in the abdomen compressing blood vessels, obesity is one of the most common causes of lower leg swelling. It also complicates all of the above conditions associated with swelling in the legs.

Diseases – such as those of the kidney, heart, and liver are associated with swelling in the lower legs.

Tips to Control Swelling in the Ankles and Feet

Change Positions – on a long plane ride or sitting all day at school or work – get up and walk around every 30-45 minutes. Set a timer on your phone to remind you.

Exercise – regular exercises keeps the muscles and blood vessels in you lower extremities healthier. Also, intermittent movement of the leg muscles throughout the day, even when sitting, serve to prevent swelling. Try ankle pumps and toe curls.

Elevation – when sitting or lying down, try elevating your ankles and feet on a pillow to allow gravity to assist fluid movement in your legs.

Low-Sodium Diet – read the labels on your food and you will be shocked by how much sodium is in most foods, especially canned soups and vegetables. But, there are low-sodium options and don’t add more salt to your food.

Weight Loss – maintaining a healthy BMI is the single best thing you can do, not only for lower leg swelling, but for your overall health and wellness.

Compression Socks – for most people, over-the-counter compression socks will adequately prevent fluid retention in the lower legs. For comfort, begin with the lightest compression possible. 12-15 or 15-20 mm of mercury is a good start and put them on as soon as you get up in the morning, before swelling begins.

When to See Your Physician about Lower Leg Swelling –

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

EVERY MONDAY –  Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog

EVERY SUNDAY in ”The Sunday Times - Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” in hard copy

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: drpmackarey@msn.com

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. For all of Dr. Paul's articles, check out our exercise forum!