CARs, joint health, and why you should care.

OK, so maybe you have seen me now doing daily CARs on FaceBook Live and Instagram every morning. But you aren’t sure what they are or even if you really want to do it let alone watch and listen… Fair enough… So for the skeptics I’m putting a little bit in writing. First question: “What the heck are CARs and why should I care?”

CARs – Controlled Articular Rotations. Basically the biggest circle you can make with each of your joints. We move cervical spine, thoracic spine, and flex/extend full spine. Then we rotate scapula, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles and toes. But we aren’t just swinging around in a circle…..

Force. Using force by implementing full body isometrics, you can push yourself to find the outer limit of your joint space capacity. We are all born with big, healthy joint space, but lack of use related to a modern sedentary lifestyle, a lifetime of injuries, overuse, or improper mechanics all make that joint space smaller through atrophy over time. It’s not age that makes us less mobile… it’s lack of use. But there is hope…

Joints are tissue. Just like muscle and bone, which are also considered tissues, that we all know we have to stress (through weight lifting or weight bearing) in order to maintain or build strength. Likewise, your joints also need “stress” for the same reason. When you don’t put stress on your joints (and I’m NOT talking bench press stress here), then the brain tells the tissue that its not necessary and atrophy occurs. Don’t use it. Lose it. (see a theme here?)

Second Question: “Why can’t I just use weightlifting, cardio or yoga and pilates to improve joint health?”

While all those are important to address your mental and physical wellbeing, none of them address joint health. Really they are all skeletal or cardiac muscle-related. Both of which can be maintained in a healthy state with high blood flow from those activities. But your joints don’t get much blood flow. They are difficult to maintain, difficult to improve and yet without them, you can’t actually do any of those other things that bring quality to your life be it tennis, walking the dog, throwing a ball with the kids or weightlifting, cardio, yoga or pilates.

Injuries that drive you to your Orthopedic Surgeon though are almost always joint function related. Torn rotator, hip impingement, ACL tear, golfer’s elbow, etc. Most often these occur from too much of your favorite activities and not enough of the baseline work that CARs (and FRC/Kinstretch) provide. Knowing that these injuries take significant amounts of time to heal if at all, surgery is often recommended. And your Orthopedic Surgeon knows that that’s a slippery slope. You stop doing the activities you love, you get depressed sometimes the pain doesn’t quite go away, so you do less. More pain. Less activity. And maybe even more depression. It’s well documented and known pattern…..

So that should put two thoughts in your head…. One, how do I stop the injury in the first place, and two, if I have to have surgery how do I prevent recurrence or migrating issues (both of which are VERY common!).

Start with CARs. Build a baseline. Hold on to that baseline by working your joints for 20 minutes every day. Then look at your injuries, past surgeries, lifestyle and make plan to rebuild, protect and even make yourself better. I’m not here trying to sell a program that you have to do with me for life… I want to teach you CARs so you can self-assess your body every day. You should be in charge and you should know what’s working and know what’s not. I’m here to give you homework should you be released from physical therapy but not feel “right” about getting back to those activities. But bottom line is, I know what it’s like to be told I should stop the activities, and I know how depressing that made me feel. So don’t give up hope… and maybe give those morning CARs on Facebook or Instagram a try.


Your body is not ready…

So yesterday I played tennis for the first time in two months and the little blister on my toe got me thinking this morning. This is not a judgement post as to whether you decided to play or not play during this weird time, but it is about a word of warning to those of you that have not played tennis in a while. Your body is not ready….

Maybe you kept doing your workouts at home, maybe you took up running, maybe you did zoom workouts through your gym, but ask yourself how tennis-specific were those workouts? Tennis is a unique sport and as many a tennis physio will tell you it’s quite difficult to prepare for the rigors of tennis without just using hours on the court to build up some of that endurance. And I’m not talking hours of cardio-type endurance (although that’s important too if your only workouts lately have been walks with the kids), but I’m talking repetitive movements like pushing off your outside leg and hip or whipping your racquet around with your arm and torso. For the amateur tennis player, these are not things we work on off-court.

What’s my point? Before you go rushing out there to play as the courts start to open up again, keep two things in mind. Don’t go out there and try to make up for two months of lost court time by playing every day for four hours a day…. um, yes, we tennis players are all a little crazy like that, me included! (Although as a personal trainer, I’m an anomoly as I kinda dig on those physio exercises that prevent injuries.) Ease back in and give your body time to reacclimate.

Second, start doing some preventative measures now. Think shoulders, hips, elbows and ankles. If you are a tennis player, you probably have an orthopedic surgeon on speed dial or a physical therapist at the very least. Think back to the exercises you were given to keep your weaker or injured parts healthy and get back to doing those asap. It will save you from being sidelined off the courts with an injury after two months off for a pandemic. There are lots of resources out there if you don’t know what to do either. Just do something. Or you might need more than just a band-aide for your toe.

Take care, and play safe.