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Squat for Strength 

Physical Therapist Ron helwig explains how to strengthen joints with a squat exercise.

Physical therapists help many people struggling with joint pain get back on their feet. As a former patient and current physical therapist at Magnolia Physical Therapy (839 Spain St., 943-8026; 880 W. Commerce Road, Elmwood, 733-0254; 5606 Jefferson Hwy., Harahan; 733-0254;, Ron Helwig has experienced both sides of the physical therapy equation.

  After breaking his ankle playing high school football, Helwig was prescribed a course of physical therapy sessions. "I thought it was neat at the time, so I started volunteering at the place where I did it," he says.

  His interest led him to pursue a Master of Physical Therapy degree from Louisiana State University, which he received in 1999. He earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of St. Augustine earlier this year. In addition to working with patients at Magnolia, he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists.

  While physical therapy is commonly considered part of rehabilitation after surgery or other physical trauma, Helwig points out that it also can be a first line of defense. Much of his work as a manual physical therapist involves retraining muscles to function properly. Changing the way the body moves can take pressure off an aching joint and improve a patient's condition without surgery.

  People suffering from back pain, in particular, are often quick to assume they need surgery, he says. Older patients sometimes have an unnecessarily bleak outlook when it comes to joint pain. "They say, 'I'm just getting old,' and I tell them that's not true," Helwig says. Much of the discomfort of aging can be prevented or reversed by strengthening muscles and correcting form to remove pressure from joints. He encourages patients with limited flexibility to see a physical therapist before undergoing more invasive treatment options.

  The most common joint injuries Helwig sees involve knees and shoulders. Exercises like the squats shown here, demonstrated by Christina Burkenstock, can strengthen joints and prevent joint pain from developing. Squats can help expand range of motion in the knees, but they should only be performed by people without knee pain. Stop at the first sign of pain.

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Stand with knees shoulder-width apart and your back straight. Keeping shoulders relaxed, raise your arms straight in front of you until they are parallel to the floor.

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With your back straight and your chest up, sit back and slowly bend your knees. Stop bending when you feel tension in your thighs. Knees should never extend farther than the toes when doing a squat. Otherwise, you risk straining the knees.


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