Sean McCawley, Fit for Life: The 'gate' to healthy joints
Fit for Life

Sean McCawley, Fit for Life: The 'gate' to healthy joints


 A certain gate leading to my backyard can use a little TLC. The boards are worn and splintering. A long drawn-out sound reminiscent of a dungeon door from an episode of "Game of Thrones" can be heard when swinging it open and closed.

One would think that someone dropped some lumber off a two-story building when this gate slams shut. If you are ever up for some great improv comedy, you can pull up a lawn chair with popcorn in hand and watch me struggle to open the archaic device in my challenging journey to the backyard.

There was a time that I felt the gate was the issue for challenges in venturing to my yard. However, that’s not the case. I’m the issue.

If I took some time to put some extra screws where the wood planks attach to each other, tightened a few nuts and bolts, put a new board in here and there, and may shaved off some wood so the gate can close properly, I might have a normal functioning gate.

This story is similar to a friend of mine who inquired about what could be done to decrease some nagging Achilles tendon pain he was experiencing. Let’s call him Archie. He also explained the fear he had about it possibly “snapping” while playing tennis.

The horrific image of the pronounced, thick Achilles tendon detaching from the bone and curling up underneath the skin not only worried me, but brought me back to the image of my gate, which could snap off the hinges at any moment.

If that were to happen, I would have to do a lot more work replacing the gate than just tightening some bolts. If only I would maintain the gate by tightening the hinges, bolts, and screws. Following that thought, I asked Archie, “What does your exercise routine consist of?”

He answered, “I work around the house and play tennis four times a week. I think that’s plenty of exercise. Should I stretch it? After tennis, it really hurts.”

I said stretching after tennis can be a good thing. However, you also have to think about how many ways the Achilles tendon has stretched, rotated and pivoted in the various planes of motion during a tennis match. Lack of stretching after play may not be responsible for Archie’s Achilles tendon pain. Consistent maintenance of problem areas are the key to longevity.

I told Archie it might help to perform some simple lower body injury-prevention exercises. The keywords here are simple and consistent. As we chatted, we discussed how consistent attention to the muscles surrounding the ankle joint disperse the amount of stress imposed upon his troubled Achilles tendon.

Strong hamstrings, adductors, glutes, and quads will help produce and absorb force as to not to have the Achilles take the brunt of the load. Training the calves and tibialis anterior will reinforce the ankle joint. If Archie could carve out 10-20 minutes per day focusing exercises specific to preventing further injury in his Achilles two or three times per week, the likelihood of future injury could be significantly decreased. A few squats, calf raises and downward facing dog followed by 10-20 minutes of icing the joint could produce optimal results and improve his tennis play.

Archie said he could do this. After our talk, he exclaimed, “It’s kind of like re-tightening your joints.”

I immediately had a vision of my old rickety gate and thought, “Exactly.” Perhaps I should take some advice form Archie and tend to my gate just like Archie is tending to his Achilles injury.

Sean McCawley, the founder and owner of Napa Tenacious Fitness in Napa, welcomes questions and comments. Reach him at 707-287-2727, or visit the website

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