Saturday, December 22, 2007

6 Tips for a Healthy Holiday

6 Tips for a Healthy Holiday

Ah, yes, the butter tarts, shortbread, stuffing and my sisters amazing chocolate martinis are just around the corner! I am almost drooling on my keyboard as I type this!

So how do you control your holiday eating and maintain your exercise routine (because we all have one, right?)

Here are 6 simple ways to keep your waistlines in check and your energy abundant through the holidays.

1. Before your big feast, have an apple and a glass of water. This way you won’t be starving, and can avoid binging on appies before dinner is even served! And please, do not go for that second helping. If you can’t fit it on the first plate then you can’t fit it in your belly either.

2. Spend some special time with family EVERY DAY by going for a neighborhood walk, have a snowball fight, or just put some Christmas tunes on and dance together. Get everyone up and involved – go ahead – get ‘em up!

3. Eat a green smoothie for breakfast every day. You stock up on lots of vitamins and minerals, and can save the fat and carb calories for later. Start all of your other meals with fruit or vegetables as well. This will fill up your tummy a bit on the good stuff so that you don’t eat quite as much of the bad stuff! For some great green smoothie recipes go to

4. You just know that I have to talk about those chocolate martinis! Please be kind to your bodies and drink responsibly. If you drink alcohol, really savor it. No gulping allowed! Take your time and enjoy every sip. Let it sit in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing it, and really experience the flavor and sensation it provides. Once you are done, move on to a glass of sparkling water with a splash of lemon. Drink it in a fancy glass, and know you are giving your body a special gift – health!

5. Speaking of chocolate, lets talk about sweets. The holidays just aren’t the same without all those yummy, gooey, and decadent treats. Be picky about your treats. If your favorite thing is shortbread, then enjoy a piece of shortbread. The same goes here as for alcohol – really enjoy it. Don’t eat it quickly in one bite because you feel guilty about it. You won’t have time to really savor it and then you will need another (and maybe another). Set a limit for yourself per day, and stick to it. Butter tarts might look great on the plate, but they aren’t so pretty on the hips!

6. Let yourself sit back and enjoy the season. Watch the kids playing with their new toys, chat with your friends or family. Stop doing and just be for a little while. Sit and watch the fire, or the lights on the tree. No one is really going to care if two napkins don’t match (or if you use paper towel for that matter,) so let a few chores slide this season and spend that time doing something that makes you happy!

I hope these suggestions help you have the healthiest holidays ever! Enjoy the season, just savor every treat, and take advantage of your days off to add in some exercise. Give yourself the gift of health this year – you deserve it!

Do you want to use this article on your website,
blog or e-zine? You can, as long as you include this blurb
with it: “Denise Mackinnon is a registered massage
therapist and health and wellness advocate. You can sign up
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Self Massage for Tension Headaches

There is nothing worse than trying to get through your work day with pain at the base of the skull, shooting up the back of your head and maybe even behind your eye. This is a text book referral pattern for an upper trapezius trigger point, and is the most common type of headache I treat every day.

So lets discuss how you deal with this and get on with your day! The first thing you should do, if at all possible, it to take a quick break from whatever it is you are doing. Take a couple of deep breaths, and mobilize your head and neck (turn your head side to side, ear to shoulder, and front and back.) Repeat this a few times, and always stay in pain free range – ie – if it hurts, make your movements smaller, or stop.

Next, you need to massage the area – in the case of an upper trapezius trigger point, you want to kneed the bulk of muscle between the neck and shoulder – you might even feel the headache intensify briefly while you work this area, that’s OK – it means you are on the right spot! You want to apply just enough pressure to feel slight discomfort (it kind of hurts and feels good all at the same time), but not so much that you are cringing in pain. You can pinch the muscle between your thumb and fingers and roll it, or use flat fingers and apply direct pressure, or a rubbing motion.

Follow the muscle from the shoulder area all the way up the back of the neck to the base of the skull. You want to work between the spinous processes at the very back of the neck (you can feel the bumps they make) and the transverse processes at the sides (in line with the ears). Be sure not to apply direct pressure over these areas, but work in between them.

Because the upper trapezius attatches to the base of the skull, it is important to work this area as well. You can use your fingers along the ridge, working back and forth and up and down in small “frictioning” movements, or you can also use an eraser to help if your fingers get tired. Again, be sure to use moderate pressure.

After massaging the area, it is important to stretch the muscle out. If you want to stretch the right upper trapezius muscle, you need to sit nice and tall, looking straight ahead, and bend your neck to the left, dropping your left ear to left shoulder. You should feel a gentle pulling sensation along the right side of your neck and shoulder. Hold here, taking a couple of deep breaths. If you don’t feel anything, you can use your left hand on your head to gently guide the stretch further.

Heat can also be applied to the muscles, either before you start your self-massage, or in lieu of massage, and in conjunction with the stretch just described.

This should be enough to alleviate the average tension headache. If your symptoms do not improve, it might be time to seek some professional help!

I hope this helps you with your tension headaches!

Important Note:

The above information is for tension headache, and may not be appropriate for cluster, migraine or other types of headaches. If your headache symptoms seem unusual or more severe than normal, please contact your M.D.

Do you want to use this article on your website, blog or e-zine? You can, as long as you include this blurb with it: “Denise Mackinnon is a registered massage therapist and health and wellness advocate. You can learn more by going to

The material in this article is intended for information purposes only and should not be used in place of consultation with your medical doctor or other health care professional. Denise Mackinnon RMT is not responsible for errors, omissions, or inconsistencies with respect ot the information contained in this article and does not accept any liability whatsoever for reliance by the reader on the information contained herein.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ice Therapy for Acute Trauma

Ice is an extremely useful tool, and it is, in my mind, essential after acute trauma. Ice can slow bleeding in an area, decrease inflammation, reduce muscle guarding, and provide an analgesic effect (decrease pain).

If you injure an area, by events such as tearing a muscle due to overuse, or direct injury like spraining your ankle, you break little blood vessels in and around the area. Blood then flows into the area, transporting products and chemicals needed to help repair the injury. This extra blood and other products cause the characteristic redness, tenderness and inflammation associated with acute injury.

This inflammatory process is vital to proper tissue repair, but if too much blood enters the area, you can have severe pain and loss of use due to the pressure built up by inflammation, and excess scar tissue formation.

This is where ice comes into play! Ice helps in three major ways:

1. Vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels) – this slows bleeding into the area.
2. Decreased Metabolism – slows inflammation and scar tissue formation
3. Analgesia – blocks pain receptors from firing, so you don’t feel as much pain.

It is crucial to apply ice within the first 36 hours following injury, otherwise the process I just described above will be well underway and you will be too late! You can continue to ice the area for up to 72 hours, depending whether swelling and pain persist.

A great way to apply ice is to freeze some water in a Dixie cup, and then massage the “ice pop” over the injured area. Applying ice for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 hours, combined with compression and elevation (if possible) will give great results. If this isn’t possible, even a quick application is better than nothing.

If your injury is severe, you can apply ice more often. If your injury is relatively minor, or is an acute flare-up of a chronic condition, then you might be fine with just a couple of applications. You are the best judge of what your condition needs.

A few words of caution:
- do not fall asleep with any type of ice on you, as it could damage your skin or other tissues.
- use caution with gel ice packs, as they cool to below freezing. It is best to have a layer between your skin and a get pack – a thin damp tea towel is fine.
- be careful when icing over areas where nerves are close to the surface, such as the unlar nerve in the elbow (funny bone), and the peronial nerve on the outside of the knee.
- you should also be careful if you have a sensitivity to cold, poor circulation, or hypertension.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Low Back Pain - Not Always a Disc to Blame!

There are many causes of low back pain, so I will start by reminding you to see your doctor if you are experiencing sudden, severe or unusual pain the low back area (or anywhere for that matter). This article is focusing on one possible cause – muscular.

There are many reasons for the muscle around the low back to become unwell, leading to pain in and around them. Just a few examples are overuse, repetitive strain, guarding other injured tissues, sports injuries, and muscle imbalances. The most common problematic muscles producing low back pain are the gluteus medius, multifidi and iliopsoas muscles. These names might mean nothing to you right now, but you will have a better understanding of them soon!

Gluteus Medius

The gluteus medius muscle is located in your hip, running from the iliac crest down to the top of your femur (the upper leg bone). If you put your hands in your rear pockets you are pretty much over the gluteus medius muscle.

Gluteus medius helps to abduct your thigh (lift your leg laterally out to the side), and it also helps stabilize your pelvis when you are standing on one leg.

If you have trigger points in this muscle, pain is often felt in the low back area, along the iliac crest and sacrum, and in your gluteals. Pain is often felt with walking, lying on the problematic side, or on your back, and when slouching in a chair.

Here are a couple of tips to help alleviate gluteus medius trigger point pain:
* don’t cross your legs
* avoid sitting for long periods without moving
* sleep on the unaffected side with a pillow between your legs
* do not sit on a wallet.
* self massage the area by leaning into a tennis ball (either against the wall, or while lying on back or side) and gently roll over tight muscle fibres.


The iliopsoas, or hip flexor muscle, is a tricky one, as it is mostly hidden in the front of your pelvis. It runs from the sides of the lumbar vertebrae, along the inside of the iliac crest, and attaches in the inner thigh. It is actually two muscles, but for the purposes of this article we will discuss them as a single muscle.

The hip flexor muscle, for obvious reasons, helps to flex your hip (bring your knee up toward your nose), it is also used during a sit up, and it helps you stand upright!

Trigger points from iliopsoas can cause pain in the mid to low back (the pain kind of runs down your back – or up, depending on your perspective!), upper gluteal area, and front of the thigh and groin. Pain is often worse when standing, and lessened with lying down with support under your knees (slightly flexes the hips to take a bit of tension off the iliopsoas).

If you suffer from this type of pain, It is a good idea to avoid sitting for long periods, especially if your hips are flexed more than 90ยบ, be cautious when embarking on a new abdominal workout, and try to reposition yourself if you tend to sleep in fetal position with your hips flexed tightly.


The multifidi muscles are part of the group know as the paraspinal muscles. These muscles run along your spine, as the name implies, and they refer pain along the spine as well.

The multifidi muscles help the other paraspinals to rotate and extend your spine, and are used when lifting objects, bending, stooping, and twisting. (They can therefore be injured doing these movements!)

Pain from trigger points in the multifidi is often described as a deep constant ache in the spine, no matter what position you are in.

Movements to avoid if you suspect multifidi problems include side bending, rotating and extending the spine. You should also avoid sitting for prolonged periods, and use care when lifting objects: hold the object as close to you as possible, and lift with your legs, keeping a straight back.

Did you notice the common theme with all three of the muscles just discussed? They are all exacerbated by prolonged sitting! A great reason to go for a lunchtime walk!

Massage therapy is very effective in releasing trigger points in these muscles, and I can also show you ways to treat them yourselves! Speaking of home care, warm buddies hot packs are perfect for warming up your muscles at home any time you need to ease those nasty trigger points! Check them out at

Do you want to use this article on your website,
blog or e-zine? You can, as long as you include this blurb
with it: “Denise Mackinnon is a registered massage
therapist and health and wellness advocate. You can learn
more by going to

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Omega 3 Buyer Beware - Don’t be fooled by processed omega 3 products

For the past couple of years, many processed foods have been boasting the label *trans fat free*, as consumers became more aware of the health concerns of ingesting trans fats. The interesting thing is that almost all of these products still contain trans fats, although it must be less than .2 grams per serving to be labeled as trans fat free. (still not good enough, in my books)

In recent months, however, labeling is changing from *trans fat free* to *with omega 3*. This change is in response to media reports on the health benefits of omega 3 fats (which are true).

Sounds like processed food manufacturers are finally taking health to heart, right?


Never, ever believe labeling on the front of a package – If a manufacturer can get you to buy something with omega 3, they no longer need to try to persuade you with a trans fat free statement, and therefore many don’t worry about making it trans fat free!

So you purchase some cookies which are enriched with omega 3’s, thinking you are eating healthy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I checked a package of omega 3 enriched cookies the other day, and the third ingredient was modified palm oil (yup, trans fats). Whole flax seed, and flax seed oil were the ninth and tenth ingredients – almost last!

There are three major problems with this:
1. There are more trans fats then omega 3’s, so it kind of defeats the purpose (ingredients are always listed in order of amount included – the more of an ingredient in something, the sooner it is listed.

2. Flax seeds really need to be ground for us to digest, otherwise they just go right through us, so there is no point spending the extra buck for the fancy omega 3 products if they contain whole flax seeds.

3. Ground flax seeds and flax oil go rancid quickly, and spoil if heated at high heat. If you bake it into something, you could create free radicals, which are very harmful to your health. Now your healthy food isn’t so healthy after all.

We are blessed to have nutrition labels on our food in Canada, and we need to read them. I am not saying that all food labeled with omega 3’s are bad, but many are, and you need to be a savvy shopper! The bottom line is you should question anything that is processed, regardless of the whole grain, fat free healthy label you see on the packaging.

Here are a few tips for healthy shopping:

* Anything with trans fats in it should be considered junk food and off limits, even if it appears to be healthy, or is boasting to be filled with omega 3’s. Trans fats go by the terms modified, hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or vegetable shortening.

* Keep your purchases of processed foods to a minimum (this means anything in a box or package). Make your own cookies, granola bars and muffins, so that you know what is going into them.

* If you do buy pre-made, processed food, please read labels and check for sugar, salt, fillers, MSG, hydrogenated fats, and preservatives. The more you realize how much junk is in your food, the more you will begin to appreciate a good old apple!

* Remember that nothing beats whole foods. If you are looking to up your omega 3 intake, eat some fatty fish like salmon, sardines, or anchovies. Grind up some fresh flax seeds in a coffee grinder and sprinkle them on your salad, cereal or yogurt. Always try to eat the food itself containing the nutrient you are looking for, rather than a supplement or expensive product that has it listed in the last three ingredients.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Balancing Body, Mind and Spirit

There is always a lot of talk in the media about balancing body, mind and spirit for optimal health, yet it is still a very confusing and misunderstood field.

Many of us just ignore the “mind, spirit” components,dismissing them as too *granola* and too weird. Although only focusing on diet and exercise might make you look healthy from the outside, for some people it just provides a beautiful shell, holding inside it nothing but an emotional wreck. On the flip side, there are people who have very balanced spiritual lives, but
do not take care of their physical bodies, which, in my opinion, is just as bad.

Human beings are made up of an amazing mind, capable of doing very complex things; an intricate body, filled with organs, muscles, ligaments, nerves, etc; and energy, spirit, life force,
call it what you will. Without any one of these things we cannot exist. In order to live to our
full potential, then, we must support and nurture each one of these parts equally.

Why bother, you may ask? Lets look at an example – a flower. It is made up of roots, leaves, stem and flower. You might think if you just give it some soil, water and sun it will be fine. In fact, however, there needs to be a correct balance of these things for the flower to flourish. If the plant gets too much water the roots might rot. If it gets too much sun it may wilt and die, and if it is planted in the wrong type of soil, with insufficient nutrients, it may not flower. It is only when all these elements are in balance that the flower can bloom to its full potential. Often times if you move a plant you will “stress it out”, and it may not flower for years after, even with water and nutrients.

Humans are just like flowers (our needs are just a little bit different). We can survive for many years with insufficient exercise, nutrition, mental stimulation and little or no spiritual or emotional support, but we live like a dandelion that seeded itself in a crack in concrete: small, weak and pale. Pardon me for a minute while I get up on my soapbox, and tell you that you need to take care of yourselves – your entire selves. Stop hiding your emotional issues behind your marathon running (I could write an entire report on this one!), stop blaming your lack of exercise on your busy job, stop pretending your over eating is because of your genes. Take responsibility for your body, your mental health, and your spirit.

In our society we seem to view people as weak and crazy if we hear that they are seeing a councilor, or taking a meditation class. If we see someone eat salads for lunch everyday and order dressing on the sides, we look at them and think, “who do they think the are?” Well, these are people who are taking their health into their own hands, and maybe, just maybe, understand the power of prevention – a concept not well known in Western Civilization.

Wow, are you still with me? I hope so – I don’t mean to rant, but we have been handed so much in this part of the world that I think many of us have forgotten that not everything is free or easy, and we just can’t take our health for granted anymore.

So turn off the computer, go for a walk to a beautiful spot, sit down and take 5 minutes to soak it all in. Let your mind wander as your body relaxes, and just “be” in this miracle of life! This is an example of the perfect balance!
See how easy it is!

If you just can't slow down, and need some great music to help you calm down and relax, check out Mark Romero's site at

Monday, October 1, 2007

Trigger Point Talk - An Introduction to Myofascial Pain Syndrome

I am sure that many of you have heard of (and experienced)
myofascial trigger points. They are those nasty little
painful spots in muscles that refer pain into other areas,
cause your muscles to feel weak and tired, and generally
make you want to cry!

As a massage therapist, I loooove trigger points, because
they are fun to locate and release. It is so satisfying to
find one hiding within a taut muscle. You can often tell
they are there, because the tissue will give a little jump
when you land right on the trigger point. The skin around
a trigger point can also break out in goosebumps or sweat,
and if you palpate one bang on, the referred pain pattern can
flare up too, like a beacon saying "here I am - come and
get me!" But I am certain that most of you do not share my

Myofascial trigger points are extremely common. One
research article (Drugs. 2004) states that an estimated 44
million Americans suffer from myofascial pain. Pain of
musculoskeletal origin, (which includes trigger point pain)
is reportedly the main cause of disability in the
working-age population, and one of the leading causes of
disability in other age groups as well. (Am Fam Physician.
2003 Jan 1)

Muscle stress due to acute strain, repetitive overuse,
direct chilling and direct trauma seem to be major factors
in development of active trigger points. (South Med J.

You can probably have a trigger point in any muscle (or
tendon, ligament, scar tissue) in the
body, but they do occur more commonly in the muscles of the
neck, shoulder, and pelvic girdle.

Trigger point pain is often misdiagnosed as joint or nerve
pain (South Med J. 1984), due to its referring nature, and
the fact that it is not at the forefront of a physicians
mind when making a quick diagnosis!

Trigger points can cause tension headaches, tinnitus
(ringing in the ears), jaw pain, low back pain, and
torticollis (Am Fam Physician. 2003
Jan 1). They can mimic the pain and symptoms of sciatica,
tennis elbow, arthritis, and even angina. (These are just
a few examples, not a complete list)

Trigger points can be effectively treated my massage
therapy, and you can even treat them yourself by applying
gentle pressure to the trigger point, and then stretching
and/or mobilizing the muscle(s) out after. (You can search
for a trigger point by palpating around the tender area
until you feel a spot that increases your pain. Then back
off your pressure a little and hold until the pain

Home care is important to prevent reoccurrence. Applying
heat to the area following treatment is important. A hot
bath is great!
Simple stretch, range of motion and strengthening exercises for
involved muscles helps to keep them healthy and avoid
reactivation of trigger points. It is also important to
avoid chilling the area following treatment, as cold can
flare them up again!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Welcome to Simple Health Ideas!

Well, here we are! This is my first post on the new blog, and I want to say hello to everyone interested in better health and wellness! I have been a registered massage therapist for over 11 years now. Being a massage therapist takes a lot of energy, both physically and emotionally, and I have had to learn to take care of my health, and balance my work and personal life to avoid burn out, which is a common occurrence in this profession.

I think I have accomplished this pretty successfully, and so want to share some of my tips and tricks, so that you don't have to try and figure it all out for yourselves!

If you have been struggling to maintain your health and happiness in todays crazy fast paced world, then please come back to this blog again soon and read some simple ideas to make your life and health just a little bit better!

You can also sign up for my free Simple Health Ideas newsletters at