With great sadness we report that Clarence Clemons passed away June 18, 2011 of complications from a stroke he suffered on June 12. The larger-than-life sound of his saxophone brought joy to millions as part of the signature sound of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. He will be missed.

Read the profile of Clarence Clemons
that appeared in the July-August 2009
issue of Arthritis Today.

When you think of a rock star, chances are joint-replacement surgery is not the first thing that comes to mind. But that’s exactly what legendary saxophonist Clarence Clemons endured to correct the joint damage caused by his osteoarthritis (OA) and to get back on the road touring with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Big Man, as he’s known in the music biz, had bilateral hip replacement surgery in 1995 and both knees replaced last fall. No stranger to the disease, both of Clarence’s parents and grandparents had osteoarthritis. As Clarence can attest, joint replacement surgery, however, is no cure-all. Daily stretching, mat and machine Pilates, cardio, and core strength training workouts combined with a high protein, low carbohydrate diet and supplements is how he stays in top physical and mental condition for his high-energy performances with the Bruce and the band. 

Instrumental to his post-surgical recovery, has been West Palm Beach, Fla. physical therapist Benjamin Klein, who worked diligently with Clarence three times a week for five months after his knee surgery.

“Clarence was using two canes to walk when we first met and is now strong enough to move independently,” says Benjamin. “Our main focus was to use a combination of manual stretching and core exercises to restore his full range of motion and flexibility so that he can stand and dance while on stage, as well as function in life. Osteoarthritis sufferers are especially prone to their muscles tightening, which inhibits range of motion,” says Benjamin. “Keeping Clarence flexible, agile and strong is key.”

Balance and Mobility

Clarence's recovery has also included partnering with New York Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy managing director, Luke Bongiorno, who developed a treatment program that has helped restore Clarence's balance and mobility. 

“Getting his body working more efficiently was the chief issue because of his extensive medical challenges,” says Luke, who developed a program that combines core stabilization techniques with Pilates and hydrotherapy, postural retraining and balance. “We also used manual therapy and neuromuscular retraining to teach the deep stabilizing muscles to work more efficiently and prevent them from tightening.”

One of the most instrumental components of Clarence's healing had been his practice of Pilates, which he was introduced to three years ago by Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Pilates Instructor, Sandi Weinberg, who designed his at-home and on-the-road programs.

“Strengthening my core is the key,” says Clarence, who espouses the merits of Pilates and touts its long-term benefits especially for those who have osteoarthritis.

“I cannot say enough about how core strengthening exercises have helped the way my entire body functions,” says Clarence. “Pilates brings strength, flexibility and control to my body, as well as increased circulation and blood flow.” So much so that Clarence is devoted to a daily hour-plus-long exercise regimen, which includes physical therapy and Pilates sessions three times a week when he is not traveling.

While on tour, his modified workout routine includes a variety of core-strengthening exercise using a Resist-a-Ball for abdomen crunches, the Bosu ball for balance and core strengthening exercises and the Pilates Ring (Magic Circle) for resistance and core exercises. The equipment is lightweight and portable enough to transport easily. 

“Everyone in the band exercises on their own, so I have plenty of support,” says Clarence. “I sleep, exercise and play. That's the regimen.”

The Big Man’s at-home workout

Don’t have the equipment at home. You can find most of the equipment mentioned here at your local sporting goods stores or your gym.

1. How low can you go?
Deep knee bend squats using a ball placed between a wall and the small of the back to strengthen quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteal muscles (glutes) and calves.

2. Step it up.
Leg raising exercises using the Nustep machine, similar to a sitting Stairmaster, to raise body using alternating legs. Good for balance while strengthening core, quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and calves. 

3. Get bent.
Leg curls, knee/leg extensions and lunges to strengthen hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps.