Treating Kids with Physical Therapy

Dave Sefton, physical therapist and team leader at our Cedar Springs clinic, works with two very sweet, young sisters

One Happy Family
"One of my daughters has special needs and we've had a few therapy treatments in the past that didn't go well. Not long after starting at Northern we saw tremendous growth in both girls. You made my daughters feel like part of your family and for the first time they looked forward to therapy. Persephone has microcephaly and hypoplasia of the cerebellum, both of which are neurological impairments that she has had from birth. We've seen her gain more in the last 6 months than in the last couple years. She is stronger, more stable, more aware of the world around her, and we've seen an increase in her independence. Serenity, who has neurological impairments that effect her balance and coordination was born with neurofibromatosis. Throughout her therapy we've seen her gain self esteem. Your commitment to my children and willingness to listen has made a huge impact. David and Anna always went the extra mile. The girls are sad they're being discharged because they've had such a great experience."
Marissa, mother of two daughters who received physical and occupational therapy at our Cedar Springs clinic

That story couldn't make us happier. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to help these two sweet girls and to hear their mother discuss such immense progress was the absolute best outcome we could have hoped for.

Helping Kids Grow - Physically and Mentally
It's never easy to see your child in pain. Whether they’ve had an accident, an injury on the field, trouble keeping up with their peers on the playground or playing field, or are having trouble with fine motor skills, you want to do everything you can to protect them and keep them safe. Physical or occupational therapy can help kids feel better and improve their athletic performance, and even their age appropriate skills. When we treat kids and teens we try to make the experience fun so they like coming in to see us and they want to do their exercises and get back to feeling good again. In the process we always educate families on how to keep their kids safe, while still allowing them to have fun and do the things that kids do.

What are the most common injuries we see in kids?
In younger kids, we often see them after sprains and strains, broken bones, and what we might commonly call growing pains or muscle imbalances. Sometimes kids struggle with fine motor challenges in school like cutting paper and handwriting, and our occupational therapy team works with those kids. In teens we get into concussions, sprains and strains from playing sports, and back and shoulder pain due to poor posture. We see a lot more of this due to texting and gaming.

Back Pain in Kids
We actually see a lot of kids that are suffering from back pain and believe it or not, sometimes we can trace that back to an ill fitting backpack. We offer free backpack fitting assessments at our 6 of our locations, all you have to do is stop by with your child and their backpack and we’ll get them all set. A few things to look for when fitting your child for the backpack include:
- Adjusting the shoulder straps so the pack fits snuggly on the child’s back
- Checking where the pack rests on your child’s back
- Does the pack have a waist belt? This can be used to distribute the weight more evenly

When you're looking for a compassionate, knowledgeable team to care for your kiddos, look no further than Northern. Our experienced therapists, occupational therapy programs, youth summer camps, and athletic training programs - all geared towards kids - are designed especially with young ones in mind. Let us help your kids grow!

Crossing the Boston Marathon Off Her Bucket List

By Gina Otterbein, Co-Owner, Physical Therapist, and Athlete

It's true what they say - you get hooked on running, and the journey becomes one that you just can't shake. The Boston Marathon was on my bucket list and that experience will be with me forever. People often say running is 90% mental, and I agree. Sure, there's a lot of training, miles, and planning for the big day, but truly my inspiration, energy and mental focus are what propelled me forward, especially when the race got tough - and it got tough. 

I didn't start running until 2007. I had an energetic dog that needed to release some energy and morning walks seemed to do the trick. My kids were still young and I didn't have a lot of time so I started to jog at the end of our walks so I could make it home to start my day. From there I gradually began running more and more and by the time I was in my 40's I was pretty serious about the sport.

As my running habits progressed I could see Boston at the end of the tunnel. I qualified for the race at the Bayshore Marathon and finished with a personal record of 3:39. Boston would ultimately become my 4th marathon. My training program leading up to the race was pretty intense, but I loved every bit of it. I always tell others that while the road is long, you still have to listen to your body, rest, and recover, or you will get hurt or sick. There is a limit and if you keep pushing the limit or never have a down period, you'll struggle to progress.

Gina is pictured with a Northern patient, Erika, who also completed the Boston Marathon. 

The Big Race - Boston, Here We Come!
The entire Boston experience was jaw dropping for this country girl, and a week that I'll never forget. The race itself is so big, but it's run so smoothly that you could almost forget there were 27,000 other people racing right along with you. The energy was intense all week long and the city was so alive. My first night there I went out for a run and suddenly I was in the middle of a running flash mob involving a guy with a mic, a boom box, and 200+ runners who just rolled along. Now that was cool. The support of the town was amazing too - strangers congratulated me, and people were genuinely excited about the race.

Race Time
My mantra has always been "Faith Overcomes Fear" so when the race gets tough you need to be able to rely on what you know to get through it - this is exactly what happened at Boston. It was not the run I had hoped for, but nonetheless, was an awesome experience with challenges, lessons learned, inspiration and a lot of Faith.

I'd been in the Dominican Republic about a week before the race and although I didn’t “drink the water”, my body just didn't adjust well to the food and the GI issues stayed with me for a few weeks. I started the race feeling ready mentally, but my body had other plans. I've never experienced trouble like this in a race so it was a new challenge to overcome. I kept the faith, adjusted my goals, learned from the experience and fortunately recovered quickly with no injuries. The hardest part of this entire process was staying focused and positive when bad things happened. But at the end of the day I can say that despite the ups and downs I completed the Boston Marathon, and that's a great feeling.

Post Race
After the race I was sore for about 3 days, but beyond that I actually feel really good. I took some time to rest and within five days I was running without pain and it felt great. I've been working with one of our physical therapists who specializes in runner rehabilitation and she's been helpful in getting my strength back and working with me on my form and quality of running. I also took advantage of our massage therapist and that's been really helpful, too. We have a great team of therapists that I can go to anytime.

What's Next?
The Fifth Third Riverbank run is this weekend and I'll be running the 25k. Beyond that I'll start focusing my efforts on a few triathlons this summer. I'll definitely do Boston again, I loved it and want to beat my time from this year.

Think You Want to Run?
I didn't start until well into adulthood, so I say it's never too late. I tell people to be realistic and set your goals with enough time to complete them. I gradually picked up my training over 2 years before my first marathon and 3 years before my first triathlon. Sure you can do it faster, but if you want to prevent injury and continue to have fun, take your time. Be able to adjust your goals based on life too. I suggest seeking the support of other runners, attend educational events, and talk to coaches or experts that help you with the bumps, or sign up for one of our a RunFit 5k training programs - learn from as many people as you can. 

A Personal Thank You
To my husband John, friends, family, my Northern team, clients, running and exercise classmates, and even the strangers in Boston encouraging me on with “Gina you can do this” just because my name was on my arm! I'm so happy I got to share this with so many incredible people who inspired me. You are the inspiration and energy that got me to the finish and made this journey not just a race.

Pelvic Dysfunction & Physical Therapy on WZZM

One in four women suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction, and it’s not just the elderly. As early as the teen years, people may feel unexplained pain in the hips or low back, urinary leakage, or pain in the pelvic region. Often misdiagnosed, the pain can go on for years, but there is a way to treat these conditions and that’s with a pelvic health specialist. We were delighted to have the opportunity to visit the studios of WZZM's My West Michigan and talk to Catherine Behrendt about this topic, with the hopes of reaching people who are struggling with these issues.

Gina Otterbein and Melissa VanKampen, both based in our Coopersville clinic, are two of our pelvic health specialists.

Melissa spoke briefly about our upcoming Healthy Pelvic series, which features three different events focusing on nutrition and a healthy pelvis, childbearing years, and menopause. The first of these three events takes place on Saturday, April 30. You can get more details on our events page.

View the entire segment below.


Check out our previous segments on My West Michigan where we talked about weight lossusing an exercise ball, the 3 minute exercise routine, concussions in student athletes and senior health

Is Sleep for the Weak? FIT4U Challenge Week 7

Who doesn’t like a good night’s sleep or a nap on a lazy Sunday? Sleep is more important than just making you feel better. It’s your body’s way to reset and repair itself. If you're skimping on your nightly dose, here are a few more sleep benefits to think about:
- Repairs the body
- Improves memory
- Increases alertness
- Reduces stress
- Improves mood
- Keeps your heart healthy
- Helps to control your weight
- Reduces risk of diabetes

How much sleep should you be getting?
The following chart sums up recommended amounts of sleep for optimum health. Are you getting enough?

Causes of Sleep Deprivation
Many people have problems falling asleep at night. They can’t turn our brains off, are too stressed out, or just lay there staring at the ceiling. Scientists have proven that our phones and TVs are also a cause of keeping us up at night - are you guilty of doing a little late night viewing? The bright light on our phones suppresses the production of melatonin which helps us fall asleep. Here’s an infographic that sums up some other reasons we are kept up at night.

Image via

How to Get More Sleep
- Keep a set schedule – bedtime and wake up time. This helps your body recognize the difference.
- Create relaxing bedtime ritual
- Avoid naps if you’re having problems falling asleep at night
- Exercise during the day to use up your extra energy
- Keep lights down for sleep
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillow
- Use dimmer lights
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, and heavy meals a few hours before bed
- If you can’t sleep go do something relaxing

New Phone Settings
Since the blue light suppresses production of melatonin here are somethings you can do:
iPhone users - The iPhone now has a flux light setting that lowers the brightness on your phone. To enable this go to Settings -> Display and Brightness -> Night Shift. You can schedule it to sunrise and sunset and your phone will automatically set it every day.
Android users - There is an app called Twilight that does the same thing.
See our previous FIT4U Fitness Challenges where we challenged our team to drink more water, eat more veggies, reduce their sugar intakereduce their meat intake, we talked about the effects of prolonged sitting, and potential health benefits of red wine.

Raise a Glass of Wine to Health :: FIT4U Challenge Week 6

Many of us enjoy a nice glass of wine to help unwind at the end of a long day but, did you know there are also health benefits that come with drinking a glass of wine? 

Why should we raise a glass to wine?
Please note, most of the benefits suggested in this article relate to red wine.

- Weight loss Crazy right? Wine contains a chemical called resveratrol which converts bad white fat in our bodies to “good fat” that the body then uses for energy. A recent study by Washington State University shows that polyphenols like resveratrol helped mice burn more fat through excess body heat.
- Wine could reduce the risk of certain cancers Resveratrol has been shown in studies to slow the growth of cancer cells by causing them to cannibalize themselves, which means they eat away at themselves.
- Wine helps fight off the common cold Research that suggests that wine helps boost the immune system. It has been shown that drinking wine moderately helps you decrease your chance of getting a cold by up to 40%.
- Wine cares for your teeth A 2014 study showed that wine acted like a mouthwash, fighting tooth-decay causing bacteria and preventing cavities. An active component in the grapes has antimicrobial effects on the bacteria of the mouth. 
Promotes healthy aging In the Mediterranean, it’s considered wise to drink wine for graceful aging and to stay young and active as you age. It has been shown through multiple studies that low doses of wine helps slow the aging process down, thanks to the resveratrol!
- Protects your eye-sight Resveratrol has been proven to stop abnormal growth of new blood vessels or angiogenesis. Angiogenesis typically leads to age-related loss of eyesight, or even blinding disorders.

Can you drink too much wine?
Even though wine has all these amazing benefits, everything needs moderation. Too much wine can be just as unhealthy! If you don't drink alcohol, don’t feel that you should start. But for those that do enjoy a drink, consider the occasional glass of red wine.

Please note, our team does not promote overconsumption, underage drinking, or drinking and driving. Always drink responsibly.

See our previous FIT4U Fitness Challenges where we challenged our team to drink more water, eat more veggies, reduce their sugar intakereduce their meat intake, and we talked about the effects of prolonged sitting.

The Effects of Sitting :: Staying Active at Work :: FIT4U Challenge Week 5

Does this sound familiar? You sit all day at work, get in the car where you sit some more, then arrive home only to sit in front of the computer or tv. Sitting has been classified as one of the new cancers of the world. It’s a tough cycle to break because most jobs essentially require us to sit for long periods of time.

Research is finding that this new sedentary lifestyle is contrary to our biological needs and damaging to our well-being. The human body has evolved to be mobile, not sedentary. We sit an average of 9.3 hours a day, which is even more than we spend sleeping. Most scientists believe that anyone sitting more than 6 hours a day is at a heightened risk for many different problems. They say this much sitting may be as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes every day! Even if you exercise daily, some studies are finding that if you repeatedly sit for long periods of time at work, this habit will take years off your life.
“Sitting is so incredibly prevalent that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it. And because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not OK.” – Nilofer Merchant at TED 2013

So what is this doing to our health? The infographic below touches on some key things that sitting does to our bodies, including lowering good cholesterol, burns fewer calories, and turns off electrical activity in the legs.

As the infographic sums up, sitting for long periods of time isn’t healthy. With all these factors, it could potentially  lead to heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

What can you do?
Quitting you day job so you can stand more isn't going to fly. But, here are some helpful tips that’ll help you get moving at work:
- Park further away from your office building.
- Take a walking break in between meetings or during meeting breaks.
- Walk before your morning starts—you’ll energize yourself for the day.
- Avoid elevators and escalators—take the stairs instead.
- Designate 10 minutes of your lunch break for a quick walk.
- Ask your co-workers to join you on a before or after work walk.
- Walk to coworkers’ desks to speak to them instead of sending an email.
- Shake off the stress of your day by walking after work.
- Get out of your seat 5 minutes every hour, set an alarm if you have to.
- If you have the option, try to get a standing desk, one that will raise and allow you to work while standing.

We also created this great worksheet which demonstrates several ergonomic stretches you can do at your desk. Download it here.

See our previous FIT4U Fitness Challenges where we challenged our team to drink more water and eat more veggies, reduce their sugar intake, and reduce their meat intake.

Checking In For a Good Cause

We're so excited to announce a new partnership, effective April 1, with Check-In Angels where you'll get to help us support a great cause each month by doing nothing other than checking in on Facebook at Northern! Its so simple, yet so effective for those in need.

How does it work?
For every Facebook check-in at any Northern location, Check-In Angels will make a donation to a great cause. With thousands of Check-In Angels-empowered locations generating millions of Facebook check-ins every year, that’s a lot of good being done. It's a simple and superb way to help those less fortunate, and the great cause changes each month. Here are some examples of how Check-In Angels has helped in the past.

Isn't that amazing? And that's just the last 6 months! If you want to help too, simply check in on Facebook next time you're at Northern and you will be contributing to the cause!

Meatless Monday :: FIT4U Challenge Week 4

Most people have heard of the Meatless Monday trend, so for this week's FIT4U Fitness Challenge, we wanted to see if our team could have at least 1 meatless meal this week. Seems easy enough, right? This week we're taking closer look at the meatless trend to see if it really is healthier.
*For the purposes of this challenge, "meat" is referencing various types of beef, chicken, pork, and turkey. Fish was considered an acceptable meat to consume.

Health Benefits
You may have heard the news trends indicating that you should eat less red meat and more chicken and fish. But what happens when you eliminate meat from just one meal each week? 
- When you eliminate foods rich in saturated fats (animal-based products such as fatty beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin) for foods rich in polyunsaturated fats (plant-based oils, including soybean oil, corn oil, and sunflower oil; fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring and trout), this reduces the risk of heart disease by 19% and your risk of a stroke by 6%.
- Some studies have link processed meat and red meat consumption to the increased risk of colorectal, gastric, prostate, and breast cancer.
- Recent studies have proven that reducing intake of meat can prevent long-term weight gain.
- Increased life expectancy is seen in those who consume less meat.
- Plant-based proteins have less fat and no cholesterol.

How Do Asian Countries Compare?
In many Asian countries, fish and beans are seen as the main source of protein rather than beef or chicken (as seen here in the United States). Most Asian countries consume almost twice as much fish as Americans do. Eating certain kinds of fish can help boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of some cancers and help lower your risk of heart disease. In this diet, fish and meat are seen higher up on a food pyramid (pictured), while having an emphasis on rice, vegetables, and fruits. While rice may be high in carbs, it provides more than 15 vitamins and minerals. Rice is also glucose-, sodium- and cholesterol-free, making it an excellent heart-healthy choice. The American or “Western diet” however is based more around animal products and processed food. The typical American diet includes a large amount of red meat. Red meats are high in saturated fat, and eating them has been linked to the risk of developing heart disease, colon cancer and diabetes.

So how does their health compare to ours?  The prevalence of obesity in the United States has doubled among adults, due to the high-calorie, nutritionally-empty American/Western diet in combination with a sedentary lifestyle. While Americans do in fact consume moderate amounts of fruits and vegetables, such foods aren’t always in the foundation of our diet. Vegetables in the standard American diet are often not included in meals or are served as a side dish. Some could argue that this has led to Americans' having a higher incidence of obesity, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and high cholesterol and blood pressure. Conversely, populations that have plant-based diets, which emphasize fish and keep dairy and meat consumption to a minimum, have a significantly lower incidence of these chronic diseases and conditions. 

What about Protein?
One of the biggest concerns people have in regards to reducing their meat intake is getting enough protein. This is really not an issue of protein, but rather a subject that most people aren't as familiar with. Greek yogurt, tofu, beans, eggs, almonds, oats, seeds, cottage cheese, broccoli, and quinoa are all full of protein, and in some cases they have more protein than a serving of red meat. Spinach is a great source of protein, so throw a handful in a smoothie or eat some more lentils at dinner. There are so many ways to get your protein in without the meat.

Here’s a fun recipe to try :: Sweet Potato Tacos with Black Beans
- Sweet Potatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ medium red onion, diced
- 1 medium sweet potato, cut into 1/4" cubes
- ½ cup black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 chipotle in adobo sauce
- 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Juice from one lime
- 4 taco shells (hard or soft)
- extra cilantro, for topping

- Heat olive oil over medium heat in skillet
- Add onions and let cook until onions begin to soften, 3-4 minutes
- Stir in sweet potatoes and continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes
- In a separate bowl, combine the chipotle, adobo sauce, honey, and lime juice
- Break apart the chipotle into small pieces
- Pour the mixture into the pan with the sweet potatoes and reduce the heat to medium-low
- Add beans and continue to cook until sweet potatoes have softened, 10-15 minutes
- Serve and add desired toppings like sour cream, avocados, and fresh salsa

See our previous FIT4U Fitness Challenges where we challenged our team to drink more water and eat more veggies, and reduce their sugar intake.

Weight Loss with Physical Therapy and WZZM

If you’ve ever struggled with weight loss or gain, you know what a difficult journey it can be. We were delighted to welcome WZZM, Catherine Behrendt and the crew from My West Michigan to our Grant clinic to talk about how physical therapy can help people who are struggling with weight loss. We not only showed them a bit of our clinic, but also our state-of-the-art pool, which we use for aquatic therapy and pool classes.

Julie Blodgett and Janis Kemper and pictured with Catherine Behrendt of WZZM's My West Michigan

Janis shared part of her weight loss journey and touched on how physical therapy has helped her along the way. She explained that it can be difficult to exercise when you're overweight because you tend to feel pain in your joints. There are ways to alleviate that pain and some certain exercises that are more beneficial than others. Physical therapy can help with those concerns.

See the entire weight loss segment below. If you have questions for Janis, she'll be the featured speaker at our weight loss support group on March 29 at 6pm in our Grant clinic. If you're interested in learning more about how physical therapy can help you on your weight loss journey, feel free to contact any of our clinics for more information.


Check out our previous segments on My West Michigan where we talked about using an exercise ball, the 3 minute exercise routine, concussions in student athletes and senior health

Sugar is the “New Fat” :: FIT4U Challenge Week 3

After challenging our team to drink more water and eat more veggies, this week our FIT4U challenge involved cutting out sugar. Think you could go an entire week with no sugar? It wasn't easy. Everyone loves to grab a cookie at the bake sale or a donut in the breakroom, however, sugar has some dangerous side effects when you consume too much. Sugar is seen in a lot of products these days like pop, cereals, granolas, yogurt, candy, and other sweets. Since sugar is the main ingredient in so many products we consume, we've challenged our team to cut out sugary treats! 

How much sugar is in your favorite food?

What are some dangers of sugar?
- Sugar can be harmful to your heart. Studies have shown an increase in heart disease among people who's diets contain more than 25% sugar.
- Sugar can cause weight gain, especially around the belly. The excess calories are converted into fat and stored for later use.
- Sugar is addictive. Much like alcohol and smoking, people have been known to become addicted to sugar. One soda each day seems harmless but it could lead to an addiction without you even knowing.
- There’s an increased risk of diabetes. Insulin is sugar's little chaperone to the cells, and when too much is consumed, or our insulin doesn't work, our body revolts.
- You can have tooth decay due to the increase in sugar resting on your teeth for long periods of time.

Not All Sugar is Created Equal

Can sugar be good? Well, natural sugars are better for us than processed sugars, but what is a natural sugar? Natural sugars are found in fruits, honey and vegetables because they're bundled with fluid, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. For example, one cup of cherries contains about 17 grams of sugar and a cup of chopped carrots has 6 grams, but both are so full of good stuff that it would be practicing bad nutrition to banish them. “Bad” sugar, on the other hand, is the type not added by Mother Nature, the refined stuff that sweetens sodas, candy, and baked goods. The average American eats 22 teaspoons of "bad" sugar each day, which is the equivalent of a 4-pound sack every 20 days!

Artificial sweeteners are substances that are used instead of table sugar to sweeten foods and beverages. Since artificial sweeteners are sweeter than table sugar, smaller amounts are needed to create the same level of sweetness. The problem is that artificial sweeteners can trick your body into thinking that it's going to receive sugar (calories), but when the sugar doesn't come, your body continues to signal that it needs more, which results in carb cravings and over eating. Research has shown that artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite, increase cravings for carbs, and produce a variety of metabolic dysfunctions that promote fat storage and weight gain.

How to Cut Back On Sugar
The best way to cut back on sugar is to do it gradually. Try a few days with no sweets. Then try a few more days, and work your way up to an entire week. This is difficult for most people so you can try substituting your sweet cravings for other things. 
- Avoid sugary drinks.
- Read labels. Sugar has some alternative names so watch out for those (dextrose, cane juice, corn sweetener, fructose). The grams listed don’t distinguish between naturally occurring (“good”) and added (“bad”) sugar.
- Avoid low-fat items because the fat is usually replaced with sugar and salt.
- Replace sugary candies and sweets with fruits.
- Eat more fiber rich foods to keep you fuller longer and keep those cravings in check.
- Exercise. Even a 20 minute walk each day can help reduce the stress and cravings you may have.

Here are some table sugar substitutes

Congratulations to this week’s winners!

The week 2 drawing winner was Lindsay.

The week 1 secret challenge winner was Terri, and she won a jeans day for the Coopersville staff.