Flexibility is a stretch


DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 60 years old and continue to play basketball twice a week. I play through a number of nagging pains and ailments. One problem I have never had is Achilles’ tendinopathy. I attribute this to stretching after I warm up and after I am through playing. If you agree, pass this tip on to others. — Anon.

 ANSWER: I’ll get to your question, but let me take your letter as an opportunity to say something about stretching and flexibility.

 Flexibility is the degree of movement a joint can make. Some people are born with limited joint movement, while others have extreme, even pathological joint looseness. Sporting activities that require more than average flexibility are pitching a baseball, gymnastics, figure skating and dancing. Dancing is a sport that requires great athleticism, strength and flexibility.

 The joint itself determines how great its range of motion is, but so do the tendons, muscles and ligaments that surround the joint. Those structures can be stretched. The best way to increase joint flexibility is through static stretching. Move the arm, leg or whatever as far as comfortably possible, and hold that stretched position for 15 to 30 seconds. Don’t bounce your way into a stretch. That kind of stretching — ballistic stretching — can injure joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles.

 Older people have a vested interest in keeping themselves flexible. When they lose flexibility, they cannot put on shoes, tie shoelaces or dress themselves.

 Besides improving performance, stretching is said to prevent injuries. If joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles are too tight, they suffer from sprains (ligament and tendon tears) and strains (muscle tears). Intuitively, stretching ought to prevent such injuries. Perhaps your stretching has preserved your Achilles’ tendon. I buy that claim. However, I have to confess that evidence supporting injury prevention through stretching is not overwhelming.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have been lifting weights since I was 14 years old. I am now 67 and have never missed a beat. I have a regular training routine, which I vary on occasion. In my early years, I was a competitive bodybuilder with a pretty good physique. Even at my present age, I still maintain a bodybuilder’s physique. My question to you is twofold:

 1. Will I be able to maintain my physique if I continue to train as I have?

 2. Are there any suggestions you may have for me at this stage of my training? — B.K.

 ANSWER: You won’t maintain the physique of a 20-year-old for life, but you can have a physique that few older people have.

 Let me clarify. Age takes its toll. Muscles don’t grow and repair like they do in youth. Your program definitely minimizes those changes. Now that I think about it, you can have a physique that nonexercising 20-year-olds will envy.

 As for your second question, you are better qualified to give me suggestions than I am qualified to give you.

 DEAR DR. DONOHUE: After my second knee replacement, I was put in a convalescent center for rehab. After a two-week regimen of heat applications, I advised the therapist that I would like to try something that used to be used 50 years ago. That is the application of both heat and cold. The therapist finally agreed to using heat under my knee and ice packs on top of it. In one week, I was able to put weight on the foot and knee, and the knee began to work for me. I call the procedure “shake and bake.” Why would a therapist not know of this treatment when my grandma used it more than 50 years ago? Comment, please. (My grandma was from a large family of Donohues. The family is looking for a runaway Donohue who left Rhode Island for New York. Do you have any information?) — B.M.

 ANSWER: I have heard of contrast baths (hot followed by cold) and the application of ice followed by the application of heat. That’s supposed to create a pumping action that drains swelling fluid out of an injured extremity or joint. I know nothing of the Rhode Island Donohues, but would like to meet them. My Donohue relatives are from Canada.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com.