When Pain Gets in the Way of Fitness

By on March 23, 2015
When Pain Gets in the Way of Fitness

By Dr.Ralph Ortiz, DO, MPH –

Is fitness optional?

If there’s an elixir for health and beauty, we’re told, it’s staying active and fit. You’ve probably experienced this sense of well-being yourself during times of exceptional fitness – everything feels better, looks better, and just is better. You have a spring in your step and boundless energy. But is it really essential?

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In a fascinating study originally performed to help NASA scientists predict the effects of “weightless” space travel on the body, five healthy, fit 20-year old men were put on bed rest for 20 days. All experienced profound deconditioning. However, with eight weeks of intensive training, each returned to his original fit state.   This landmark study, launched in 1966, helped physicians understand that bed rest, then routinely prescribed after serious health events like heart attacks, was deleterious. Today most suffering from an acute event or even major surgery are advised to get out of bed and moving around almost immediately.   Activity is that important, and inactivity is that risky.

But here’s the really interesting part: 30 years later, this group of men (now 50) were evaluated again. Over the years, their baseline fitness level had deteriorated to the bed rest stage. In other words, they were very deconditioned. Each was directed to walk, jog or cycle 4-5 hours per week. After six months, gradually increasing frequency and intensity, the men enjoyed the same baseline fitness levels they had 30 years earlier – before bed rest! Lessons (and they’re pretty stunning):

  • Prolonged bed rest (i.e. inactivity) can age us as much as 30 years;
  • The effects of decades of aging on our cardiovascular system are reversible with as little as six months of moderately intense exercise.

While it’s encouraging to know staying strong can take decades off our “fitness age,” if pain or discomfort is a barrier to exercising the way you want, it’s challenging to improve your “fitness age.”

Why fitness is harder after 50

Studies aside, we all know regular exercise is essential for cardiac heath, strength, and flexibility. It improves balance, mood, and boosts energy. Exercise has been demonstrated to help maintain or build bone mass, especially important for women. Yet staying fit poses a challenge for those who suffer from chronic pain.

Two-thirds of those over 50 have regular musculoskeletal pain, and for a quarter, the pain is chronic, according to a survey by ZetrOZ, Inc. Activity and pain relievers can help, but for many, it’s not enough. Staying fit can be hard enough when juggling career, family, and activities – add pain to the mix, and fitness becomes burdensome. Pain creates a powerful negative feedback loop. Experience enough of it, and eventually, you stop exercising. This results in decreased strength, cardiovascular fitness and flexibility, to say nothing of low energy, irritability, and, ironically, more pain.

If pain or discomfort interferes with your fitness regimen, your first step should be a visit to a healthcare professional with expertise in musculoskeletal conditions. Most will recommend an OTC or RX pain reliever (usually NSAIDs), physical therapy, better diet and staying active. For many of us, though, taking pain relievers and trudging through weeks of PT helps but doesn’t fully resolve pain. In fact, according to the survey, 62% of those who manage their conditions through medication and physical therapy find it only “somewhat” effective. Surely there’s something more to be done?

sam® a miniature, wearable ultrasound therapeutic deviceIs there a more effective way to manage pain and discomfort?

There is, according to George Lewis, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer for ZetrOZ, developer of sam® a miniature, wearable ultrasound therapeutic device that aids in the recovery of soft tissue injuries and hence, provides relief for pain. “Americans should not have to live with ‘somewhat effective’ pain relief.” sam® takes the proven efficacy of ultrasound therapy, relied upon by trainers, physical therapists and doctors, miniaturizes it, makes it wearable and delivers true drug-free pain relief.

Ultrasound isn’t new. Ultrasound augments traditional therapies and works to relieve pain and promote healing using gentle and penetrating heat, increasing circulation, and decreasing swelling. Unlike other therapies, ultrasound mobilizes and massages internal tissues. It’s been used by physical therapists for decades to relieve pain and promote healing of many musculoskeletal conditions. But unfortunately office treatments of 7-8 minutes may not be effective since achieving the full therapeutic benefits usually requires greater time and frequency.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have time or insurance coverage to stick to long term ultrasound therapy. The wearable sam® unit is about the size of an iPod, (low intensity and long duration ultrasound)and can be used every day for up to four hours, as instructed by your physical therapist at your convenience. Completing ultrasound treatment outside of the clinical setting allows more time for your physical therapist to use other complementary therapeutic treatments in the clinic.

sam® has been tested in clinical trials – one currently underway with the NIH – and found to provide safe and effective pain relief for muscle spasms, tendonitis, and mild-to-moderate osteoarthritis.

Arthritis onset is typically age 40, and progresses very gradually. By 50 and up, symptoms are most often felt in the knees and back. There is no cure, but symptoms can be managed by maintaining your optimal weight. Being just 10 lbs overweight increases the forces on the knees by 30-60 lbs with each step! Staying fit, anti-inflammatory medications, and for many, ultrasound treatment result in better outcomes overall.

If pain is getting in the way of your fitness plans – take action right away. Good health is our greatest gift, and fitness is the key to staying healthy. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about sam®, which is available with a prescription and is FDA-cleared. For more information, click here. Don’t let pain or discomfort prevent you from attaining (and maintaining) your best fitness level ever.


Dr.Ralph Ortiz, DO, MPH, is founder of Medical Pain Consultants and a clinical study investigator for ZetrOZ



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When Pain Gets in the Way of Fitness