Traveling medical professionals need to take care of their bodies just as much as anyone else. If you are working in travel physical therapy or direct access physical therapy you should be able to apply your own health solutions and outcomes to patients as well as yourself, and offer actionable advice both you and your patients can apply after you’ve moved on to another location to work with others.
That’s why these joint health and bone health tips are worth keeping in mind. These tips are valuable to medical professionals on-the-go, as well as their patients.
Joint and Bone Health Tips for Traveling Medical Professionals
Don’t overdo it
Although exercise is important for joint pain relief, it can cause a lot of harm if a person tries to push beyond their physical limits. As a medical traveler, you may already have a network of coworkers working in PT, or you yourself might work in this specialty. Talking to a coworker, a physical therapist, or a similar professional in the field can help you come up with new, safe ways to exercise and encourage the same in your patients. A tailored workout routine can help you get the most out of your fitness and understand better ways to help your patients exercise in a way that is safe, effective and beneficial for them, regardless of where they are in their journey. If you’re looking for your own ways to get a good workout schedule started, the Paper Airplanes podcast episode Reframing Resolutions talks to a Fusion medical traveler about her morning routine and how she stays on top of achieving her goals, both in physical wellness and mental wellness (because these things are totally connected to your overall health!)
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese puts an individual at risk of developing several health problems. Joint pain is one of them. In fact, an article published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) outlines a study of joint pain and osteoarthritis in an obese population. Quite simply, the heavier someone is, the more pressure is exerted on their joints, whether standing or walking. When you have pressure on your joints and it hurts, it’s not easy to do every day things. Honestly, who wants to get out and about and check things off a to-do list when they’re in pain? That’s why sticking to a balanced diet and exercising regularly can help maintain a healthy weight and relieve pressure on those joints. Encouraging patients to eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight can help their PT recovery too. An article by Move Forward PT outlines a PT’s guide to obesity and how you can help an obese patient become more physically active, teaching them to exercise in fun and pain-free ways.
Choose the right footwear
While I’ve never heard of a medical professional running around in platforms on their shift, I guess there’s a first time for everything. Mostly though, when you’re on a shift, chances are you’re wearing comfy and durable footwear for being on the floor. Your job requires a lot of foot mileage, and the foot contains 26 bones and more than 30 joints in order to function. That’s also a lot of opportunities for damage. But what about when you’re socializing on your own time? Do you switch to something a little more fancy? Are you a high heels kind of person? Heels may be popular for a night out on the town, but wearing high heels frequently can result in joint pain by distributing pressure unevenly throughout the body. In a study published in the March 2012 issue of Gait and Posture, University of Iowa researchers had 15 women walk in three different heel heights: flat, two inches, and 3.5 inches. Researchers used technology to calculate forces on the knee joint. Results showed that the height of the heels changed how the women walked, in terms of speed and stride. They saw that as the heel height increased, there was an increase in compression on the inside knee, which could put them at risk for knee OA. So, while you certainly don’t have to wear your work gear 24/7, it’s usually best to choose more comfortable footwear options whenever possible.
No smoking please
By now, we have all seen the negative health effects of smoking. Numerous articles, studies and tests have linked smoking with a myriad of health complications, the highest being its contributions to respiratory and cardiovascular health problems. Smoking was first indicated as a risk factor for osteoporosis decades ago and several studies have shown a link between tobacco use and decreased bone density. Additionally, smoking has been shown to reduce bone mineral density, putting smokers at greater risk of fractures and breaks. It’s just one more reason to quit. And it’s never too late to start a new, healthier habit to help your bones.
Maintain good posture
Incorrect posture is a common, but overlooked, cause of discomfort. Similar to weight and choice of footwear, posture can easily cause your joints to settle, move or shift into positions that cause back pain, neck pain, and shoulder tension. Repeated motion that is hard on your joints can cause further problems too. This article from the Mayo Clinic discusses some great tips for improving posture in any situation, whether standing, sitting or lying down.
Have you tried a bedtime bridge pose? Lie on your back in bed with your knees bent and your feet resting on the mattress. Inhale, then slowly exhale and curl your tailbone to lift your hips and spine, one vertebra at a time, until your shoulder blades bear your weight. Pause and inhale, then slowly exhale as you roll your spine back down.
Proactively monitor your posture throughout the day, and make sure you’re sitting and standing up straight. It takes some getting used to, but over time, maintaining correct posture becomes natural. So go ahead and stand a little taller in the name of health.
Get enough calcium
Calcium plays an essential role in bone health. Although the best food sources of calcium are dairy: cheese, milk, and yogurt, food allergies have become more common and there are people who are lactose intolerant or allergic to these calcium-rich foods. You can also get this key nutrient from almonds, seeds, and salmon. Now, maybe you don’t want to munch on fish and nuts all day, which is understandable. Food can be fun, and quinoa has 20 to 80 mg of calcium in each serving. Look at this great article full of healthy quinoa recipes (and don’t let the title fool you; they aren’t just for Thanksgiving) to get some meal inspiration. You won’t get bored with your meals. Additionally, calcium supplements are a great alternative if you’re on-the-go and don’t want to worry about your intake.
Keeping active guards against joint pain. Your job keeps you up and moving around a lot, but your patients could be confined to their rooms while in recovery, with a few PT visits in between. Once they’re out of recovery, it’s not uncommon for people to work jobs which require them to sit at their desks for hours at a time. Read the Top 4 Patient Motivation Techniques For Health Improvement to get some ideas on how you can help encourage an active and healthy lifestyle. Help your patients find solutions to get moving throughout the day and have them make a point of standing up and moving once per hour while they’re under your watch. Getting a jumpstart on your day with 7 Quick and Easy Exercises To Help You Wake Up can give you some additional ideas to warm up those joints in the morning. Encouraging activity in and out of the facility can help your patients in the long run. After all, you won’t always be there to help them continue their active journey.
Everyone needs to take steps to protect their bones and joints. Your patients look to you for solutions on how they can make their life comfortable and healthy. Part of that is being active to protect bones and joints. A quick internet search reveals the most common complaint when it comes to bones and joints: knee pain. And tons of people are asking their internet browser, “Why do my joints hurt?” Bone and joint problems are more common than most people think, so when they’re looking for answers and encouragement, walking the walk and talking the talk when it comes to your health is important as a medical traveler.
These tips will help your patients both young and old keep their bodies in great shape for years, and they’ll help you stay healthy as a traveler, no matter where you decide to roam.
Editor's note: This article was re-shared from it's originally written format in May 2019 by Rae Steinbach in collaboration with BetterPT.com. Rae is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing, of course. You can find her on Twitter @araesininthesun