Sports chiropractor pointing at a poster of the human body
Train for Life” (and don’t wear flip-flops!): Wisdom for women over 45 from my fabulous sports chiropractor Dr. Anne Sorrentino

Note from Patricia: I first met Dr. Anne when she led a workshop on avoiding and recovering from shoulder problems (hugely prevalent among women!). I then started seeing her for a knee issue, and once she dealt with that, she quickly moved on to restoring strength and mobility in the rest of my body. She jokes that people come to her to get their TV fixed, and after she does that, she installs cable. Along the way, while working on my neck range of motion or releasing tight spots in my hips (yikes, so necessary!), she generously shared so much insight about caring for our bodies after age 45 that I couldn’t resist asking for an interview. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Question 1: Dr. Anne, one of my favorite things about you is your confidence and enthusiasm about simple things we can do every day on our own to move more easily and feel better, no matter where we are right now physically. What are some things you think that pretty much all women over 45 should be doing (or not doing)?

First of all, as we get a bit older we have to remember we have a longer healing time. We need to reset our baseline and our expectations. A heavy exercise day can be great, but not two in a row. It’s so important to give ourselves recovery time.

We also need to remember to reverse our posture. We spend too much time hunched forward, either driving or bending over a keyboard, phone, or kitchen counter. Set a timer and take regular breaks to stretch in the other direction. You really don’t want that permanent hump in older age to prevent you from moving naturally.

This may sound like a small point, but please don’t wear flip-flops! Their design prevents the foot from going through its full range of motion. This sets you up not only for foot pain, but also for knee and hip pain as the imbalances work their way up the chain.

A pair of flip-flops with a sad emoji

Another small but very important point: get a proper bra fitting. You’re likely not the same size you were when first started buying bras. Many women have not ever been actually fitted. A poorly fitting bra affects your posture, your upper back and your neck, leading to imbalances, pain and even injury. Your boobs should definitely not be on your belly 🙂

A huge point that I can’t make often enough: you need to strengthen the three weakest parts of your body: the lats, glutes and hamstrings. I see this with everyone, even women who are quite physically active. You can do lat pulldowns in a gym, or just pull a resistance band downward from a door anchor or pull-up bar. Deadlifts are a key exercise to activate and strengthen the glutes and hamstrings — if they’re not doing their job, the stress falls on the lower back. With deadlifts, it’s really important to use proper form, or you’ll be injuring yourself instead of helping  — come to me or a trainer to learn how to do deadlifts safely. Once you learn, you can do these for life, and you won’t throw out your back when you shovel snow or pick up a chair, a bag of dog food or a grandchild. Plus you’ll move better, feel better and look better as your legs and butt stay strong and toned, not weak and flabby. Deadlifts are truly my favorite exercise!

The author and a friend deadlifting barbells in a home workout space
Deadlifts with my friend Viviana!

Question 2: Could you tell us a little bit about your background and why you are passionate about helping people move and feel better?

People are always surprised when I tell them I used to work on the “other side” — as a pharmacist! But I realized I wanted to look beyond pharmaceutical-based solutions to physical problems, so I became a chiropractor, and then a sports chiropractor. I’ve also worked as a ski patroller and an EMT. Being an EMT really helped me understand the impact of trauma on the body. Lately I’ve moved up higher into sports training as well as event medicine. This led me to a much better understanding of biomechanics, and I can even predict future injuries by looking at the way someone moves.

Let’s take a moment and talk about movement. Have you ever seen someone walk by and thought, gee, they look old? Why? It’s usually not because of a facial feature, but because of the way the person moves. Bad movement patterns are what make us look older! This is the premise of my motivations. We NEED to move better. Joan Vernikos wrote the book Sitting Kills, Movement Heals. She’s spot on–we need to move more.

Question 3: Many of my readers are in lockdown and/or have recently moved internationally, and they may not have access to some physical activities they enjoy. Do you have any advice for them?

If you don’t have access to a gym or sports you enjoy, practice simple movement patterns. Put on some music and do a simple routine indoors or in the neighborhood. Take 10 minutes each day to focus on core-based moves. And get up every half hour and move around your space.

The hip hinge is a key exercise everyone should still be doing. You learned it when you were two years old and probably stopped by kindergarten. You push your butt backwards, hinging at the hips. Keep your head, shoulders and butt all in a line and no rounding of your back. If you don’t have a trainer available to check your form, hold a broomstick down your back at first, and make sure your head, shoulders and butt stay on it as you hinge forward. You may just be able to do this a few inches at first; don’t worry, your range will increase as you practice. Another trick is to stand with your back to a wall, about a foot’s length away from it, and stick out your butt so it touches the wall as you bow forward. You can also look in a mirror as you do this. If you’re rounding your back, you’ll be causing problems instead of solving them, so take the time to learn this and do it every day — your lower back will thank you!

Another thing everyone should keep in mind is the importance of lateral movement. We always move forward—walking, running, biking. If you can walk or jog outdoors, include some side stepping. For the last hundred yards of your walk or run, do 30 steps to one side and then to the other. Of course you can try this indoors as well if you’re really stuck. Jumping jacks are the greatest warmup exercise because they work everything in the lateral plane. If you have trouble with jumping, start with step jacks.

If you have stairs, take them two at once, driving through your whole foot, not just the toes. Find a low bench (12-14″) and do step-ups. If you practice step-ups, lateral movement, and the hip hinge five or six days a week, and add some jumping jacks, you’ll go a long way toward maintaining and even improving your fitness and ease of movement, protecting yourself from pain and future injuries.

Question 4: Some women who think about improving their fitness (including me back in 2014!) tend to focus on the way they look, or the way their clothes fit. Of course that is understandable — but do you have any comments about other benefits that are even more important?

Of course you want to look good in clothes! We all do. You want to know the best thing to do? Work on your core strength. Strong core muscles give definition to the layers on top and produce better posture, so we look better even before we lose any body fat.

And of course, even more important than looking good is being able to do what we want to do and what we need to do. Some kind of event is going to come up — a hike, a bike ride, a trip to Italy — you want to be able to participate, enjoy it, and… not “throw out” your back. Core strength training is training for life. It’s not hard to do and doesn’t take much time out of your day. Do 5-10 minutes of core every morning before rolling into your day. You can do planks and plank variations, or start with simple curl-ups and crunches like you learned in elementary school. Patricia also has plenty of core exercises in her classes!

Question 5: Do you have an inspiring story of a woman client over 45 who turned her health situation around?

One client I can think of who really made a difference in her life and her body is Carrie in Pennsylvania. I first met her when she was 31, and she never exercised. She was working hard as a food chain manager and she had numerous injuries. Now she can bend over forward and palm the ground, and she bounds up two steps at a time on the stairs. She’s in much better shape now at age 51 than she was at 31. And it’s because she finally processed aging. Now when I recommend exercises for her, she does them. It’s as simple as that — but you have to put in the time and move regularly.

Question 6: You’re a sports chiropractic physician. What is the difference between your practice and that of a typical chiropractor?

The general chiropractor focuses on adjusting and working with the spine and nervous system. The sports chiropractor is a specialist with extensive training in sports-specific movements to better understand sports injuries: how to diagnose them, treat them and prevent recurrence. A sports chiropractor can be identified by the letters after the D.C. — either CCSP, or the higher level, DACBSP. As I say, we live off the spine too! And this is why…

In my practice, I also look at movement patterns: what’s going on with the muscles, nerves and tendons, not just the spine. Does the patient have full range of motion of the joint? Does the patient have “ease” of motion? You might be able to raise your arm overhead, but was it hard to do? Clicking? Pain? Oh my gosh! You just entered my head — sorry about that! 

But, I ask all of the follow-up questions. And I always do hands-on soft tissue work, to release areas with tightness, areas restricting motion. I’ll do a spinal adjustment unless the client declines it. And I always provide take-home exercises for strengthening weak areas.

I should also mention that I work independently of insurance. Unfortunately, insurance dictates how a doctor is supposed to practice. It doesn’t necessarily let you give patients what they need. Insurance for chiropractic care pays for a spinal adjustment, that’s it. If I do anything else, it’s often not covered. For physical therapy, it’s also an insurance model — if you have a problem with your ankle, they can address only the ankle, not the tight hips that may have caused the problem.

Note from Patricia: Insurance covers treatment for acute injuries and chronic health conditions such as diabetes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover services that could help prevent these problems in the first place, including Dr. Anne’s work described here, my own health coaching, and the personal training we both offer. I invest in my sessions with Dr. Anne just like I invest in haircuts, massages, and pedicures to take care of my body — but of all these, Dr. Anne’s services pay off the most in long-term benefits. I can move better and exercise safely and pain-free since I’ve been seeing her, and who knows what injuries I have prevented thanks to her?

Dr. Anne Sorrentino in her consultation room

Question 7: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

When you’ve reached the age of 45 or more, you’ve almost certainly got things layered on top of other layers. I’ve had pretty much every injury or problem myself; I get it. I see it with my patients all the time, and with myself — we think we’re better off than we are. A simple get-up test starting on the floor shows a lot. Can you get up from the floor easily without the assistance of things or people?

To really clean up the problems with your back, hips, shoulders or whatever it is, you’ve got to start with the basics and have patience. It’s like a baby first lying on its back, then rolling over, then crawling, kneeling. BABY STEPS!

And maintenance care is so important. I recommend that patients see me every 4-6 weeks to stay ahead of breakdowns that would go unnoticed with the activities of normal life. Don’t wait until you’re injured or have a short-term goal to see a chiropractor, personal trainer or physical therapist. The #1 predictor of injury is previous injury. Our bodies fall back into old patterns when we’re not paying attention. But if we do pay attention, we can stay active and enjoy the activities we love for many decades to come.

Dr. Anne Sorrentino practices in McLean, Virginia, and also partners with Fit Pro Massage in the same office park. Her clients include elite athletes, “weekend warriors” and anyone wanting to improve their fitness and ease of movement and reduce pain, no matter what baseline they’re starting from. Find out more and schedule an appointment here!

She does provide telemedicine, but she says she recommends you try health coaching with me first to define your goals. Please book your free consultation with me here!

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