Walking on the Beach. How to do it and stay safe!

Walking on the Beach! Benefits and Safety tips – Elena Jara, PT, MSPT

For many of us, when we think of the beach, we consider relaxation, looking out into the ocean, feeling the beautiful sand between our toes and sunshine on our faces. If you li

ve near a beach or plan to visit a beach a beach sometime, you would be pleased to learn that going for a walk on the beach also has some surprising benefits.


Let us take a look at 7 benefits that people may not really realize exist they could gain from a walk on the beach.

1 – You burn more calories.

If you are thinking about losing a few pounds or simply trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle and body weight, exercise should be part of the mix. When you exercise, you burn calories. This activity, in combination with a healthy diet, could place you at your optimal body weight and in turn could also provide you with great opportunities for continued health and well-being. By walking on a beach, with its successive curves and uneven surfaces, your body must work harder to move from one spot to another and use more energy. It is also a challenge to your core and lower extremities to ambulate and balance on the un level surfaces.

2 – Opportunities to vary exercise sessions.

Yes, you can burn more energy and calories by going for a walk on the beach. You can also vary the degree or intensity of the walk, thereby varying the amount of effort and energy exerted. Research shows that there is increased energy expenditure when walking on sand and more than that expended when walking on grass. You could take a brisk walk on the beach where your feet hardly have enough time to sink thoroughly into the sand. This could also be relaxing, refreshing and may also provide a massaging effect for your toes and the soles of your feet.  However, you could also move at a much slower pace while walking on the beach and this intensifies your use of energy because your feet has the tendency to sink deeper into the sand beneath it when you walk at a slower pace. If your feet sink deeper, what happens? Yes, you probably guessed it – it will surely take a little more effort to pull your feet back out and continue your walk.

3 – Tone up your muscles!

The benefits keep getting better and better! Toning and firming your muscles sound good- right? Walking on a flat firm surface provides the same force and pressure and as a person walks on such surfaces, there is no or little need for the tendons or muscles in the legs and feet to vary the amount of pressure provided in relation to the surface a person walks on. However, when walking on a beach with sand passing through your toes, your muscles can put in fluctuating resistance to the sand beneath the feet. This is much harder than merely walking on a flat surface where the expected depression caused by the toes is practically non-existent.

4 – Gain with less pain.

There are certain types of exercises that may wreak havoc on the joints and other parts of the body. For instance, using mechanical exercise bikes or jogging on a treadmill extensively could begin to cause joint pain over time. This occurs because of the amount of pressure being exerted on the joints without adequate time for recovery or relief to the over-worked areas.

On the contrary, a walk on the beach presents you with a less tedious exercise option. Yes, you have less likelihood of burning out your muscles or hurting your joints when you choose the less tedious option of a walk on the beach! Also, running on sand may provide low impact. Sand act as a cushion to the feet and absorbs some of the pressure that would have been totally felt by your feet.

5 – Reconnect with the Earth

Walking barefoot on the beach can enable you to feel the texture of the sand beneath your feet and between your toes. It could be an invigorating experience and a stress reliever too. Nature is all around us and sometimes we are too busy to fully appreciate it.

6 – Soak up some sun!

Yes!!!! Being outside presents an access to natural Vitamin D. Vitamin D is needed for moods and good bone structure. It can also provide some anti-cancer properties. Sometimes schedules and lifestyles including work patterns and personal habits may keep people indoors for extended periods of time daily, weekly, monthly, and possibly yearly.  Benefits of absorbing Vitamin D include minimizing the risk of falls especially in the elderly, minimizing the risk of cardiovascular disease, minimizing the risk of bone fracture, regulating blood pressure and decreasing the risk of colorectal cancer.

7 – Simply being outside and enjoying the view!

You feel the sun shining on your face, smell the ocean drift, feel the cool breeze, and feel any existing stress fade away. Time flies by too because of the relaxing nature of the beach and the tranquility created by the environment.


Here are also some important safety tips to think about when walking on the beach


  1. 1. Can you walk barefoot on the beach?

Yes! walking barefoot on the beach can enable you feel the texture of the sand beneath your feet and between your toes. It could be an invigorating experience and a stress reliever too. However, if you have difficulty walking barefoot on level surfaces secondary to a recovering injury, chronic lower extremity issue or back condition and benefit from shoe wear for support, it’s probably best to wear supportive shoes when walking on the beach. This is not to say you cannot try to go barefoot, perhaps go for a shorter period to avoid soreness or pain. When it’s upwards of 100 degrees outside, the squishy sand doesn’t feel so great (and can even cause burns!). Be sure to bring a pair of shoes with you in case the sand gets unbearably hot.

  1. Check the weather. Sometimes summer weather can be unpredictable.  Double check your weather prior to going out to stay safe.
  2. Save your skin! Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chance for developing melanoma later in life. Racking up more than five sunburns at any age also doubles the risk for melanomaKeep the red at bay by slathering on a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher.
  3. Hydrate and fuel up. Extended exposure to heat and the relaxing effects of waves can easily lead to disorientation and reduced energy. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks down to the sand with you and use them if you intend on walking for a prolonged period.




Take a Hike

Trail hiking is an excellent way to improve fitness throughout the year and New England, specifically Massachusetts, has several opportunities for day hikes, short and long. Trip planning and safety are important to having an enjoyable day.

Just a few things to consider in preparing for any hike:

  • Consider the strength of your party and chose hikes that are appropriate for your physical abilities - the overall distance, amount of climbing and roughness of the terrain.
  • Get a weather report and pay attention to the weather throughout the day - weather is different in the lowlands compared to higher up - prepare for the worst possible conditions and be prepared to change itinerary if necessary.
  • Plan to start your hike as early in the day as possible - be aware of sunrise and sunset - always let someone know your route and when you expect to be back, especially for longer hikes.
  • Consider the season and have appropriate clothing and supplies - keep in mind that trails in spring may have ice or mud, autumn trails may be covered with slippery leaves that can also hide rocks or roots. Winter hiking, with hazards of snow and cold, requires additional preparation and novice hikers should always be accompanied by more experienced trekkers.
  • Be prepared to know what to do if you encounter backcountry hazards - your cell phone may not be functional in the woods, so always know your location. A great resource for hiking is the Massachusetts Trail Guide, Appalachian Mountain Club's Comprehensive Guide to Hiking Trails in Massachusetts, available for purchase at REI or Easter Mountain Sports, or check out availability at your local library. REI and EMS often run local workshops on hiking safety, so check out the websites:  REI.com and emsoutdoors.com.
  • Adequate equipment varies according to the length of the hike, weather and terrain. For most hikes, hiking boots are preferred as they provide better traction and ankle support. Good things to consider having in your back pack for a day hike include guidebook/maps, water bottle, compass, pocketknife, rain gear, wind breaker, wool pullover, waterproof matches, enough food, first aid supplies, whistle, sunscreen, sunglasses, insect repellent, safety pins, trash bag, toilet paper/tissue, flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries/spare bulb.
  • Know your route, stay on the trail and be prepared for what to do if you get lost. Multiple hikers in a group should stay in sight of one another, careful not to allow someone in your group to get too far ahead or lag too far behind.

Enjoying the beautiful outdoors and staying fit can enhance our quality of life. New England has so many beautiful places to see, many resources are available through the Appalachian Mountain Club, The Sierra Club, the Trustees of Reservations and your local town trails committee. So, take a hike, have fun and stay safe.

Backpack Safety – Watch your back!

Over 79 million students in America carry a backpack and an estimated 55% are carrying a backpack that is too heavy. That is more than 43 million students who could be doing damage to their bodies over many years with repetitive poor postures.

Incorrect wear of backpacks and bookbags can also contribute to musculoskeletal problems including pain in the neck, back and shoulders and lead to dysfunctional posture. Making sure our children wear their backpacks properly can help prevent pain and postural issues.

Backpack tips:

  1. Start with lightweight material - make sure the material is light and durable.
  2. Make sure the shoulder straps are wide and padded. This will provide support and prevent the straps from becoming too tight.
  3. The back of the backpack should have padding. This will provide additional support and prevent discomfort.
  4. A waist strap is beneficial, so the bag does not slide. That way, the contents are held closer to the child's body.
  5. Both straps should be worn at all times. Wearing both straps can help distribute the weight more evenly and prevent your child from leaning to one side.
  6. There should be multiple compartments. That way, it will be easier to evenly distribute the weight of the contents. The heaviest items should be packed low and to the center of the bag.
  7. The backpack with contents should only be 15% of the child's bodyweight. For example, if the child weighs 59 lbs, the backpack with contents should only weigh about 9 lbs.

Summer Outdoor Activities


Here are some smart tips while staying active outdoors...….

First is proper shoe wear. Yeah, the flip flops and sandals look great but if you are going for a good walk especially along the beach or uneven surfaces, proper shoe wear is a must. Injury caused by inappropriate shoes can needlessly derail your fitness/outdoor activity. Investing in a quality shoe can help you prevent foot and ankle damage and make your outdoor workout a more pleasant and comfortable experience. Try wearing a sneaker with good arch support and yes they make them stylish! If you really want to wear flip flops or sandals try to find a good brand that provides good arch support such as New Balance, Dr. Scholl's, Vionic, Aeroothotic, Rockport or Teva to name a few.

Second is wearing sunscreen. It does not matter how dark your skin is or how well you tan. The ozone layer is depleting and your body needs shielding from harmful rays. Skin cancer rates are on the rise and sunscreen has been proven to decrease the development of skin cancer. It helps to prevent facial brown spots and skin discolorations. It also helps slow down the development of wrinkled and premature aging skin. Spray on sunscreen is great for the outdoor enthusiast and should be reapplied every two hours in daytime sunlight.

Third is proper hydration. Water is essential for maintaining blood circulation throughout the body and maintains body temperature. As you exercise, your metabolism and your internal body temperature increase. Water carries heat away from your internal organs before serious damage occurs, which can lead to heat stroke. The heat travels through your bloodstream to your skin, causing you to sweat. As the sweat evaporates, this allows you to cool off and maintain a safe body temperature, optimal functioning and health. Try to drink before exercise, during and after exercise. If you exercise in extreme heat or for more than one hour, supplement water with a sports drink that contains electrolytes that contain 6-8% carbohydrates.

So use these helpful tips to enjoy the outdoors, stay fit and safe!

Neck Pain

Are you truly a pain in the neck? Have you ever had that real bad pain in your neck or arm before? You know, you can’t sit for long. You can’t sleep! You can’t work. It can really be something that affects your whole quality of life. At that time, you might feel like you will never get out of the pain you are in, but it’s amazing with some treatment, education, exercise and life style modifications, you can live without neck pain and or pain down your arm. We look at the treatment of neck and arm pain into four moving parts: pain management, activity modification, postural correction and return to fitness/life.

PAIN MANAGEMENT. Most patients that start in Physical Therapy (PT) come due to pain, inability to do what they want and not being very happy. We take our first few weeks and focus on reducing pain through our manual techniques, breathing exercises and general stretching. Stress can be a big factor in recovery, so we talk about positions of comfort and how breathing can help to reduce stress in the body. We also talk a lot about pain, how it’s normal to have and how your body responds to pain can greatly affect your recovery. Finally, we are learning more about what each of our clients needs and wants are and we get them feeling better as soon as we can.

ACTIVITY MODIFICATION. This is where the movement starts. By increasing movement with daily activities, we find most of the symptoms start resolving within 3-5 weeks of starting PT. Many times, we start some modification activities at the same time. Sometimes, doing certain things will make the symptoms worse. You end up doing them and you don’t even realize that what you are doing is making you worse. Along with this, we start to show you how to properly stretch, how to lift and carry without pain and how to do what helps and stop what hurts. Finally, we teach you how to engage your core. It’s amazing how as we get older, we lose the ability to engage our core muscles. When the core is strong, the back and neck are usually is strong.

POSTURAL CORRECTION. We generally start with your normal seated or standing posture. We like to get you thinking about what we call, “plunger posture.” Imagine a clean plunger on your head and as you walked around daily, someone was hovering above you, holding you up with that plunger. This would pull your shoulders back, hold your head up with your chin tucked in and your core engaged. Voila, you have good posture! We then spend time talking about your posture at work, driving, home, etc. Slight edge changes with improving your posture can lead to reduced years of wear and tear on your spine, body and muscles.

RETURN TO LIFE. At this point, pain is less, activity is more. Our clients are learning more about what to do to stay healthy and strong through exercise and return to life activities. We keep working on encouraging better postures, better breathing and more consistency with exercises at home, at the gym or at any time in the day. This is where many who have not exercised before will learn about how to integrate exercise into their life.

We are all about exercise and the positive effects it can have on your health and wellness. We also feel no one should ever suffer with neck or arm pain. No matter how old, young, active or sedentary.

To learn more, Flaherty PT will host a workshop about the effects of neck pain. Kevin Flaherty, PT will present a workshop on neck pain issues on Tuesday, February 19th from 6-7 pm in our Northborough clinic. Call to RSVP to save your spot at 508-393-9000. If you come, you will leave with some easy to do’s at home to keep your neck healthy and strong!

FMS Screens

Flaherty Physical Therapy has been busy conducting Functional Movement Systems (FMS) Screens to a few local community groups including the Melican Middle School football team and a running group in preparation for the fall Applefest road race. FMS screening is a series of seven quick movement tests designed with the purpose of identifying individuals who are at risk for injury or who are attempting to maintain or increase activity level. This testing can help identify areas of weakness, muscle imbalances or certain deficits in mobility. Skilled Physical Therapists are then able to help address these deficits with exercise or skilled interventions to help avoid injury. And of course, we had some fun while doing it!





We were able to provide the participants with guided exercises after the screening to help target their areas of weakness and then gave them handouts so they could follow along on their own at home. A few common trends that we found amongst most were tight hamstrings among the middle school football players and weak core stability. There was room for improvements in squatting mechanics and core strength amongst the running group as well. We look forward to continuing to perform these screens in the neighboring communities to help people achieve their maximum success and avoid injury.

Home Safety Tips for Preventing Falls

Home is where the heart is, but it is also the most common place for falls to occur. However, there are some small changes you can make to your home environment that make a big difference in preventing falls. Home safety assessments done by professionals tend to look at three different categories of factors that influence fall risk:

  1. The first category sums up all ways in which we can keep any space where we walk free of obstacles that can be tripped over. This means getting rid of all throw rugs and tacking electrical cords tightly to the wall, so they cannot be stepped on. It also includes arranging your furniture in a way that allows you to freely access all the spaces of your home. For example, if you use a step stool in the kitchen try not to leave it in front of the stove where you can trip over it.
  2. The second category is related to preventing falls at night. Practically speaking, most of us turn all the lights off at night while we sleep. We also typically use the bathroom one or more times a night. Unfortunately, balance ability stems partially from vision and navigating your way to the bathroom in the dark is a sure-fire way to decrease your balance ability. Bedside lamps, tap lights, or leaving on the bathroom light on at night are good strategies to allow you to use your vision to prevent falls. Also, if you use a cane or walker for balance make sure this is by your bed, so it can be used in the middle of the night.
  3. The third category includes preventing falls where they occur the most: the shower, the stairs, and the entryway. Stepping over a tub and into the shower can be hazardous if you already do not have good balance. Adding grab bars to the area can help give a stable place to hold onto. Making sure there are adequate handrails on the stairs can also prevent falls. Sometimes even two handrails will be necessary to safely use steep stairs. Entryways can often be wet and slippery. Using a non-skid rubber flooring and keeping the entryway free of extra shoes, shovels, and coats can also help to prevent falls.
  4. In conclusion, changing your environment can go a long way in keeping your home happy and healthy. If you still feel you are unsteady on the stairs or while going to the bathroom at night, it may be time to ask your doctor for a fall risk assessment. This can be done here at Flaherty Physical Therapy. We may be able to give you a few simple exercises that will improve your balance and keep you on your feet!

What to do With Your Injured Student Athlete?

It is every parent’s nightmare to watch their kid get injured on the sports field. How bad is the injury? Will they be able to play in time for their next game, or the playoffs? What is the next step to take to help speed their recovery? And how will this affect them in the long run?

We see this all the time in the clinic. 20 years ago, the student athlete might have been out for the season. Now, combinations of treatment, rest, recovery and supervised return to sports has allowed many student athletes to get back on the field much faster and safer.

Our first round of care many times involves a little rest and ice. We follow the acronym:


  • Rest. Resting the injured area and taking a few days off from usual sporting activities allows the injury time for healing.
  • Ice. Ice is a simple way to help reduce pain and swelling. Following an injury, it is a good idea to apply ice for 15-20 minutes, 2-4 times a day on and off during the first 24-48 hours.
  • Compression. Compressing the area with a snug wrap, compression sleeve or brace can help protect the area.
  • Elevation. Too much swelling can negatively affect healing. Elevating the injured area will help reduce the amount of swelling in the area to better improve on recovery.

Some injuries however, need a little more TLC to heal quickly and correctly. If your kid’s pain has not resolved in a few days’ time, it is a good idea to schedule an appointment to see your Physical Therapist. They can perform an evaluation and help decide the correct course of action to take to start recovery, as well as activities to avoid preventing further injury. They are trained in techniques to help reduce pain, resolve swelling, improve motion and strengthen correctly to allow your child to get back to their favorite sport in a gradual and safe manner. They will also work closely with the primary care doctor and team trainer to make sure that the athlete’s recovery is going well.

Injury rates among adolescents are rising as it is becoming more common for kids these days to specialize in one sport year-round. Year round training many times leads to overuse injuries as the athletes repeat the same patterns of movement all year round. Overuse injuries are more common among 12-16 years of age due to skeletal immaturity, growth spurts and general body weakness.

Many recent studies have also shown that there is a lot of benefit from participating in different sports and activities throughout the course of the year to prevent these injuries and promote different patterns of movement. This is another good way to avoid the same repetitive movements that often come with playing the same sport all year long. For example, a soccer player that plays outdoors in the spring, club in the summer, fall town or high school leagues and then indoor during the winter. What if that soccer player could ski in the winter instead of playing indoor?

Either way, at least one month off from active, competitive sports is a general rule of thumb. Usually after the competition season, a month (or even 2!) of active rest is usually what each growing body needs. “Active” rest means that they can work out, swim, rock climb, bike ride, etc. during that period. Something completely different to allow their body to recover and use other muscles it does not normally use.

So, remember the R.I.C.E. principle with any sprain. Think about how your student athlete is training and how can you make sure that the student athlete gets proper rest during the year. Finally, whether it is another muscle strain that has your child sitting out from a sporting event or a more reoccurring ache/pain that has been nagging them, it is a good idea to have them seen by your Physical Therapist to get them back on the right track and improve their athletic performance.

How to Start a Basic Walking Program

Now that spring is here, it is time to get outside and get moving. A simple walking program, as the example below, may be the best aerobic activity to start with, especially if you haven’t been particularly active.

It’s always best to start with slow short walks and gradually increase your frequency, time and intensity. Usually we go out and try to do way too much, too fast. This is the best way to fail your well-intentioned program. First, take things slowly. You should try to go out the first few times and feel like you have completed some walking, but make sure you are not out of breath, exhausted or really sore. Take your time and accomplish finishing the walk feeling good, not above!

Once you can walk a distance without much strain, you can vary the intensity by walking hills, increasing your pace or swinging your arms more. Your goal is to be active about an hour a day.
Adapt this program to suit your needs. lf it is too easy, pick it up a bit. lf it’s too hard, back off. Variety may help – pick two days out of the week for longer walks and have the rest of the walks be shorter. lf you can’t start out walking 15 minutes, start with what you can do and work up from there.

Week Minutes/Day Comments
1 15 3-4 days this week
2 20 3-5 days this week
3 25 6 days a week
4 30
5 35
6 40 Increase Intensity
7 45
8 50
9 55
10 60 Increase Intensity

As always, check with your physical therapist or your doctor before starting new programs. Some times integrating into your program some passive or active stretching can help to loosen you up prior to your walk. By doing this, it warms your body up, helps to get your breathing going a bit and can also help to prevent injuries by being looser before you walk.

Good luck and never hesitate to reach out to your physical therapist to learn other ways to get your body started in a walking program!

Adapted from the book “The Mayo Clinic Diet” by the weight-loss experts at Mayo Clinic

Shovel the right way to prevent injury

It is that snowy time of year where shoveling is, unfortunately, a chore that needs completing. There are, however, some strategies that can help you best avoid back injuries that often come with shoveling.

Shovel. It is important to pick the right snow shovel. The best type of shovel to help avoid stress on the back is one that is lightweight to avoid increased repetitions of heavy lifting and moving. A shovel with an adjustable handle or curved handle will also help reduce the amount of bending needed.

Preparation. Another good idea is to warm up before you go out to shovel. Warm, flexible and loose muscles are less likely than cold, tight muscles to become injured. A few minutes of walking, marching in place, and some dynamic stretches or even calisthenics to target the muscles is a good way to get the body ready for more strenuous activity such as shoveling.

Ergonomics. Use good lifting techniques. Avoid bending from the back, and instead bend your knees and lift from your legs. Avoid twisting your back and if you must lift the shovel, keep it close to your body to avoid extending your arms to throw the snow. Try to avoid throwing snow from your shovel to different areas. It is always less strain to the back when the snow is thrown closer to you instead of farther away. We always think that the less loads we do, the faster we get things done.  Well, when the snow is wet and heavy, heavy loads lead to higher chances of strain. Lighten your loads and do twice as many. This over time helps to protect the back instead of strain it.

Pacing.  As we get older, we generally think like we were back in our 20's. It was nothing for us to shovel the driveway when we were 20 in 20 minutes. Well, as we get older, we need to make sure we pace ourselves properly, so we don't hurt ourselves. Taking some breaks and resting throughout the process is always a good idea. Making sure we are hydrated also is important. Having a tall glass of water beforehand will keep you properly hydrated.

Recovery. Afterwards, make sure you change out of the wet clothes and heat up your body with a nice warm shower. While in the shower, move your body with the heat to stretch yourself out. Shoulders back, neck rotations, mild lumbar bending, etc. are movements that you can do that will help slowly stretch out those muscles that are tight from shoveling.