Sunday, December 13, 2009

hip flexor muscle pain and trigger points

The iliopsoas (also known as the hip flexor) is a muscle with important functions, but is hard to access and often harbors painful trigger points. It is located in the front of your body, but often causes low back pain (as well as pain in other areas, discussed shortly.)

This is often the cause of misguided self-treatment, because it would seem logical that if you are feeling an ache in your low back, you should place a heating pad on the low back. This might help relax some trigger points in the no doubt taxed muscles in that area, but if your problem is also iliopsoas trigger points, you need to heat the abdomen and inner thigh area to relax this prankster’s tissues.

The iliopsoas muscle is made up of the psoas major and iliacus muscles (and sometimes the psoas minor). The psoas major attaches to the sides of the lumbar vertebrae and intervertebral discs, and runs down into your inner thigh, attaching to the inner surface of the femur (thigh bone). The iliacus runs from the inside of the iliac crest down to join with the tendon of psoas major. Some of its fibers also attach directly to the femur (upper inner surface).

The main function of these muscles is to flex the thigh at the hip (thus the name hip flexor), and they are important in helping maintain upright posture. They are active during sitting, standing, and walking. The iliacus portion is active when the thigh is flexed during running, and during the last 60 degrees of a sit-up.

Trigger points can flare due to prolonged sitting, especially if sitting with your legs flexed more than 90 degrees (knees higher than hips). Lying on your side with hips flexed up in fetal position also exacerbates iliopsoas trigger points, and can cause pain upon rising out of bed. Trigger points are also commonly flared in these muscles secondarily to trigger points in other surrounding muscles.

Symptoms of iliopsoas trigger points include pain running vertically along the spine from as high as the shoulder blade (but not necessarily that high) down to the sacroiliac region, and sometimes into the sacrum and medial buttock. The iliacus can also refer pain to the groin and front of the thigh.

Pain is worsened with weight-bearing and relieved/reduced by lying with hip flexed slightly. It can often be difficult to get out of a deep chair with iliopsoas trigger points, and sit ups become difficult.

There are many other muscles that refer pain into the back, thigh and groin, so it isn’t a guarantee that your back pain is coming from the iliopsoas (wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple!)

It should also be noted that iliopsoas trigger points are rarely present on their own. Weak abdominal muscles can lead to overworked iliopsoas muscles as they compensate for the lack of abdominal strength. The quadratus lumborum (QL) muscles in the low back act with the iliopsoas to support the torso, and are often involved with iliopsoas trigger point syndrome. Tight quadriceps can pull and shorten iliopsoas muscles, and tight hamstrings can overload them as they fight to deal with the pull of the hamstrings on the pelvis.

Tight and trigger point laden iliopsoas muscles can also affect posture, as you position yourself to ease tension on them. This leads to overloading and trigger point formation in back and neck muscles.

It is absolutely fascinating just how interconnected the muscles in our body are. It is like pulling a thread at the bottom of a sweater, and watching the fibers tighten and scrunch up at the top.

Home care then, should include not only treatment for the iliopsoas, but also muscles in the thigh, back and even neck! Roll out thigh muscles with a rolling pin, foam roller, tennis ball or other hand held massage tool. Use the tennis ball trick (tennis ball in a long sock), to treat back and neck muscles by leaning on the ball against a wall. (Hold tennis ball behind your back by holding the sock, and lean back so that the ball applies direct pressure to tight spots.)

Self massage for the iliopsoas itself isn’t easy, and I recommend having it worked on by a professional. You can perform gentle stretching yourself by lying on your back on a surface high enough to let the leg to be stretched dangle off the end of the surface. (Bed or countertop) Position yourself so that you are sitting on the very edge of the platform. Hug the unaffected leg up to your chest, and lie back so that the stretch leg is hanging freely off the platform. Hang out and relax, letting gravity take the leg into a stretch. If this is too intense, move up on the platform so that your thigh rests on it. This will lessen the extension at the hip and therefore decrease the stretch.

Heat application to the abdomen, down along the front of the iliac crest and into the upper thigh area can help relax iliopsoas muscles also.

Avoid sitting or lying with your hips flexed beyond 90 degrees, or sitting for excessively long periods of time. If you find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning due to back pain, try rolling out onto the floor on all fours, and crawl for a minute. This will slowly stretch the hip flexors before you stand upright.

Runners should use caution when increasing mileage, or doing hill work. Increase distance and intensity slowly to allow your muscles time to adapt.

With a little precaution and care, you will avoid feeling this pranksters tricks!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Exercising in the Rain and Cold

I know it is hard when you look out at the cold dreary dark damp day and have to think about how you are going to get out there and exercise, but weather is no excuse to get lazy!

If you prefer to exercise outside then you might have to make some adjustments to your program, but unless you are in below 20 degree weather conditions, you should still be able to accomplish your goals, or at least maintain your current level of fitness through the winter, while getting fresh air.

If you absolutely refuse to go out in the wind and rain then you still have no excuses, as I will share some easy fitness ideas for indoors too!

Lets start with the beautiful outdoors. Often the hardest part of exercising outside in the winter is just getting out the door. The rain almost always looks much worse from the comfort of your warm cozy living room. Once you are out there, however, it is surprising just how refreshing a little rain can be.

You should definitely invest in appropriate clothes tailored to your activity of choice (Mountain Equipment Coop in Victoria is a great place to start, or your local running or athletic store). A good rain jacket, shoes/boots and a pair of gloves and toque are all essentials. Layering is a really great idea, as you will be amazed how quickly you warm up once you get going on a hike, run or even a brisk walk.

The next step is to find a buddy to work out with. It is so much easier to get out the door if you know someone is going to be suffering along with you! Find a friend, neighbor, coworker, or family member and set a schedule. Make it an appointment, write it on the calendar, and be there. Your health is a serious matter, and shouldn’t be canceled on a whim because someone else calls and invites you for coffee – tell them you have an appointment that can’t be canceled.

Darkness doesn’t cut it as an excuse either. My husband has a light on a headband, and he goes out and runs the lake after dark. It takes a bit of getting used to, but he finds it quite exhilarating. If that doesn’t sound like fun to you (I am scared of the dark, and would be huddled in the bushes crying if I tried the headlamp thing), then find an area that is well lit. Some tracks stay lit into the evenings, and there is nothing wrong with a 20 minute jog around the track, followed by a few reps up and down the bleachers. Many neighborhoods are also well lit, and if yours is not then drive to one that is!

If you really don’t like going out after dark, then set up a circuit in your back yard, or have a family game of soccer – you will be soaked and laughing and muddy and having the time of your lives! Use whatever is available – rest your hands against the doghouse and do pushups, run or walk up and down the stairs, do lunges across the lawn, play catch, whatever you can think of!

We are blessed on the coast with temperatures mild enough to be able to exercise outside year round, but if you are not so fortunate, it doesn’t take much to get a decent workout inside the comfort of your own home.

Obviously you can purchase fitness equipment such as treadmills and weights to use at home, or purchase a gym membership, but I want to tell you about some things you can do for free with no equipment at all, and start right now!

Stairs are a favorite of mine – walk or jog up and down the stairs for 15 minutes, or during commercial breaks of your favorite program. Stairs are also great for doing calf raises and incline pushups on.

Do animal walks down your hallway – on all fours like a bear, and then on all fours on your back like a crab. These are full body workouts that get your heart pumping, but you might feel funny doing them anywhere but at home where no one can see!

Try some good old jumping jacks, squats, lunges, pushups and situps. Even 10 minutes of activity helps maintain fitness levels, so don’t think that because you can’t do an hour that it isn’t worth it. Every little bit adds up.

That is seriously all you need to get your heart pumping, break into a sweat, and keep you healthy over the winter, but you have to do it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

To Ice or to Heat, That is the Question

Ice and heat applications are one of the most inexpensive, easy and effective home care modalities you can employ, and yet still one of the most misunderstood.

My goal with this article is to make it very clear and simple for you. Now keep in mind there are always those exceptions to the rule, but 90 % of the time, what I am about to tell you will work.

Let’s start with ice. Ice is for acute inflammation and chronic overuse injuries that are inflamed. If you have swelling, redness, pain, and or bruising following an injury or repetitive activity, you are probably suffering from the affects of acute inflammation. Ice will help by constricting blood vessels, lessening the amount of bleeding into the injured area, slowing metabolic processes and scar tissue formation, and blocking pain receptors.

It is important to ice within 36 hours after injury (otherwise the inflammatory process is well under way, and ice won’t do much except temporarily decrease pain), and to ice often for up to 72 hours post injury. Apply ice either by massaging an ice cup or cube on and around the area, or applying an ice pack. Duration should be at least 10 minutes, or until the area feels numb, whichever comes first! Then elevate the area if possible, and reapply when the pain returns.

Heat is NOT for inflammation. Heating inflamed tissues will increase inflammation, making the area more painful and swollen – not the desired outcome.

Heat is for trigger points and tired achy muscles. Heat application will help ease the pain of trigger points, increase overall relaxation, aid circulation, and ease joint stiffness. If you are feeling achy, but have no accompanying swelling or redness, hop into the bath, sauna or pop a heating pad on the area. Follow up with some stretching or mobilizing, and a bit of self-massage. Fast, cheap, easy pain relief!

Heat and cold applications can be combined in a process known as contrast bathing for injured tissues that are no longer acutely inflamed, but still healing. To contrast you alternate between heat application and cold application. With elbow tendonitis, for example, you can fill double sinks (or two containers big enough to immerse your forearms in) with water – one warm/hot and one cold. The warmer and colder each is the better, just use common sense not to injure yourself with extremes. Place your arms into the hot for 3 minutes, and then remove and dunk them into the cold for 30 seconds. Repeat this process 3 times (if you have the time), ending in cold.

You can also do this with hot and cold packs on the injured area, or in the shower with a removable showerhead. Contrasting helps speed recovery time, and feels great!

So to recap – Ice is for acute inflammation – swollen, red, tender injuries.
Heat is for muscle aches and trigger point pain, but NOT inflammation.
Contrasting with both ice and heat is for aiding the healing process in tissues that are injured but no longer acutely inflamed.
Simple, right!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blow out the Candle and Light a Fire!

I am sure for many of you a typical day looks something like ours:

We wake up at 6am to make lunches, get ready and run out the door by 7:25. Work a long day, race to daycare to pick up our son (unless I am working until 8:30, in which case my husband gets our son). Then it is off to swimming, skating, or dance, home for a quick supper, bath, book and bed for the little one, and back to work for me to do paperwork, phone calls, laundry, and prep for the next day. (Or maybe write another article!) I can maybe get in a fitness video, or make some protein bars before the end of the night, then flop into bed by 10:00, only to start all over again!

But is doesn’t stop there now does it! Enter the weekend, when you run around to yet more activities, get groceries, mow the lawn, garden, clean the house, and the list goes on.

Sometimes it can feel like the weeks just roll into each other, and a month or two can go by while you are trying to get off the hamster wheel.

You can only burn the candle at both ends like this for so long before something starts to falter – you get grumpy with family, frustrated with work, feel tired all the time, and start wondering if there is more to life.

This summer we decided to blow out the candle. We packed some clothes, toys and food, and took off to a little tiny campsite in the middle of nowhere. There were no amenities other than an outhouse. We had no internet, no phone service, no television, no timetable, no agenda.

On our drive in we saw three black bear – more than some people see in a lifetime. When we saw them we knew this was going to be a special weekend.

We camped right on a big river, where fishermen were catching fish right off the shore. We spent our days hiking the river trails, swimming in the shallows, and relaxing by the campfire.

We played road hockey, soccer, read books, snuggled and chatted, played cards and reconnected. We had nothing to do but be together as a family and enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. I was amazed at how fast life’s “necessities” slipped into obscurity.

It is too easy in this crazy world to get caught up in routines and materialism, and forget to appreciate the simple things like the people you love, the sound of a waterfall, the thrill of bathing in a river, the beauty of the sun sparkling off the water, the intricate dance of the campfire flames.

We jumped out of the fast lane and for three days embraced the peace and tranquility of pure simplicity.
We have carried this feeling back into our daily lives. For example, I am truly viewing my emails in a different light – it just isn’t as important to me anymore to check it three times a day. I would rather take a walk through my garden. Nothing on television is as entertaining than watching your child run free in the outdoors, where there are no limits to their imaginations.

So I challenge you to blow out your candle and just be for a while, even if only for an hour. Pack a lunch and hike to a beautiful spot with someone you love. Take in the smells, sights and sounds, and don’t forget to shut off the cell phone – you can always check messages later.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

7 Tips to Help Low Back Pain

7 Tips to Help Low Back Pain

Many of you have no doubt suffered from bouts of low back pain. It often arrives without direct trauma, or can seem more severe than the minor incident that caused the pain.

The tendency is to assume that you have slipped a disc, pinched a nerve (both of which are less common that you would think), or that your degenerative joint disease is getting worse. The tendency then is to slow down, stop exercising, and protect the area at all costs.

It is common knowledge now that immobilizing your neck with a cervical collar is not beneficial following a whiplash incident, so why assume it would be a good idea following a suspected back injury.

Now I am not saying that you should ignore your back pain and go do something extremely physically taxing, but I am suggesting that you not panic, and proceed with your normal activities of daily living. What you don’t want to do is be fearful of your back as being a delicate little stem that could snap at any minute. This idea is just not true!

So here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with back pain.

1. Degenerative changes in your spine are common, and not necessarily painful. Almost anyone over the age of 40 can probably find degenerative changes on an X-ray. It doesn’t mean you are destined to a life of back instability and pain. It doesn’t really mean much of anything, except that you have probably been walking and bending for about 40 years or so!

2. Only about 4 percent of back pain sufferers have an actual structural problem, such as a herniated disc. (1) Of these, many will heal without medical or surgical intervention. It should also be noted that many people with structural problems in their spine don’t even have pain! (2)

3. Almost all back pain complaints can most probably be attributed to muscle pain to some degree, (3) with myofascial trigger points being the biggest factor. (4) There are even trigger points whose referral pain can mimic sciatic nerve pain, making you even more scared that
something very serious is going on.

4. There is a strong correlation between stress levels and bouts of low back pain. (5) Some researchers believe stress is the biggest factor. Makes sense when you take into account that there is often no logical physical explanation for a low back pain flare up.

5. It is possible to have a major injury to your back, but it is also accompanied by a major and obvious cause, such as strenuous pulling or lifting, followed by immediate and severe pain. In cases such as this, you should seek medical attention.

6. Heat application often helps ease low back pain. This is due to the fact that there is usually no inflammation happening in the area (unless you did accomplish #5 above, in which case hold off on the heat), and the heat helps relax the spasm and trigger points in the muscles.

7. Treatments that focus on relaxing and oxygenating the muscles can help with low back pain. Massage, chiropractic, mobilizations, and yoga, are just a few examples.

The next time you are dealing with low back pain of unknown origin, take a moment to think about these tips. The chances of your pain being from a severe structural issue are actually a lot less likely that most people think.

Your best approach is to view your condition with an open mind, do some self -assessment to see where you are at emotionally, do what you need to help relax the muscle tissue, take a deep breath and stop stressing about it, because the stress could just be making it worse!

Do you see how easy it is to get into a pain cycle – you are stressed, and tense your tissues more than normal, which constricts blood vessels and leads to oxygen deprived tissues. These unhealthy tissues start to form trigger points and send pain signals, alerting you that there is
something wrong. You feel the pain, and think you have “put your back out”. You don’t know how you did it, but are scared that if you do too much it will go out even more, so you tense up more. This causes even more blood restriction, more pain, and yup, yet more stress. And so the cycle continues.

Break the cycle, and get back to your life!

PS – as mentioned above, there are times when a serious low back injury can occur and if you think this might be the case, please see your family doctor. Also, if your pain is progressively getting worse, causing neurological deficits, is accompanied by other strange but seemingly unrelated symptoms, or has continued for well over a month, please seek medical advice.

Notes:
(1) Deyo et al. N Engl J Med. 2001
(2) Splithoff. J Am Med Assoc. 1953 Sarno (p23)
(3) Evans. N Engl J Med. 2001
(4) Davies et al. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, p 24
(5) Waters et al. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2004

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Getting the Most out of Your Next Massage Therapy Treatment


How to get the Most out of Your Next Massage

Having a massage therapy treatment can be one of the most relaxing and rejuvenating things you can do for yourself, and a good massage therapist is vital to the success of your
session.

Don’t leave your needs entirely in the hands of your therapist, however. There are many things you can do before, during and after your session to improve the entire experience.

BEFORE

Time – Give yourself an extra 10 to 15 minutes to allow for unexpected delays in traffic on the way to your appointment. There is nothing worse than speeding frantically to your
massage appointment, causing yourself undue stress and anxiety, on the way to a session, which is supposed to be reducing your stress!

Prep – A warm bath, hot tub, infrared sauna, walk, or stretching before your massage appointment can warm and prepare your tissues for massage therapy, allowing your
therapist to work deeper into the muscles almost immediately, thereby giving you the most time possible on the knots that need it the most!

DURING

Relaxation – Relaxation is an important part of any massage. There are a few things to consider which allow for greater relaxation.

• Comfort - Make sure you are in a comfortable position. Most therapists have a supply of bolsters, pillows, blankets, and even adjustable massage tables, so if you are too cold, too hot, not comfy on the table, or want to change the music playing, or dim the lights, speak up and let your therapist know so that you can be comfortable during your session!

• Breathing - Another important part of relaxation is breathing. Breathe deeply and fully during your treatment, allowing your body to become heavy and sink into the table. Most people find they can help release muscle tension by focusing or “breathing into” an area.

• Mindfulness – One of the great things about visiting a massage therapist over some other health care providers is the personal attention you receive. Because of this
one-on-one attention, it is common to build a more personal relationship with your therapist, which often means you enjoy the company and discussion almost as much as the treatment. While this can be very rewarding and enjoyable, it might at times not be the most beneficial, especially if your therapist is talking about themselves and their life, and not paying enough attention to what is going on with you! If you are feeling like you need to be more focused
and mindful during your session and your therapist is on a verbal tangent, please tell them nicely to shut it!

It is also important to let your mind relax as well as your body during a treatment. Thinking about all the errands you need to run, or worrying about finances during your massage
therapy treatment won’t help reduce your tension headache!

Communication – I know that I just told you that you might want to hold off on conversation to improve relaxation during your treatment, but sometimes communication is vital.
If you have a question or feedback about your massage, it is important to ask your therapist. Massage is a great way for you to find out more about what is happening in your body: which muscles are tight or painful, or how pain in one area is often due to problems in a separate area. If you are experiencing discomfort or other symptoms during your treatment, please report it.

It is also important to let your therapist know what is happening for you at the start of each session. If you usually have a focused treatment on shoulders and neck, but your low back is bothering you that day, please let your massage therapist know so that they can address the areas of your body that need it the most!

Most massage therapists also have a vast array of techniques that they can use, depending on the condition being treated, so if you feel one technique isn’t working for you, talk about it so that your therapist can find the style that works best for you!

Speaking of techniques, there is a big difference between therapeutic and relaxation massage. Although many therapists love doing focused, therapeutic work, there are times in your life when a relaxation massage is just what your psyche needs. I can literally spend an hour working
trigger points out in one shoulder, but if you need a full body relaxation session on a particular day, just say the word!

Treatment Length – The length of your massage therapy session is an important and often overlooked aspect. If you book a 45 minute appointment once a month, and at the end of each session you are still rubbing your neck, you should consider trying a 60 or 90 minute appointment, to fully release all the tension that builds up through the course of the month.

In times of stress or when you need to relax deeply and fully, a 60, 90 or 120 minute full body massage therapy session may be the most nurturing gift you can give yourself.

Additional Services – The only thing better than a massage is a massage with heat. Heat penetrates into the muscles, increases blood flow, and helps stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing you to completely relax and get the most out or your massage. Many therapists provide infrared sauna, hot rock or Thermal Palm massage, and heating pads/ blankets. Ask your therapist what options are available, and take your massage to the next level!

AFTER

You are relaxed and pain free after a great massage therapy session, so what is next on the agenda? If the answer is digging up four old trees in the back yard, lifting hay bales, or going to the gym for an intense work out, you might want to reconsider. It is important to let your body
adjust to the changes made during the session, and allow your body some time in the parasympathetic state to recoup and repair.

Going to work after a massage is OK, as it can actually increase productivity and make your day start off on a good note.

Optimally, a nice walk outdoors, accompanied with water intake, and finished with some gentle stretches or range of motion exercises will leave you feeling amazing!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

5 Ways to Self-Treat your Tension Headache

It seems that you either suffer from tension headaches, or you don’t. Some of you will have no use for this article, as you aren’t bothered with headaches. If you are one of those people, please share this article with a friend or co-worker who does experience headaches, and then take the three minutes it would take to read the rest of the article and do some squats!

There is no conclusive cause of tension headaches, but it seems to have a relation to muscle tension and trigger points within the muscles of the neck, shoulders and jaw.

Repetitive strain, overuse or muscle guarding and clenching can all cause muscles to fatigue and tighten, reducing blood supply and leading to a buildup of metabolic toxins. This can lead to pain, and trigger point formation, shooting pain in and around the head.

So what do you do when a headache hits?

Here are 5 ideas you can try to reduce or eliminate that nasty tension headache, so that you can get on with your day!

1. Mini Break

If your headache hits when you are working at something for a period of time (computer, reading, knitting, dealing with a crying baby, etc), take a break from the activity for a few minutes. Get up, mobilize your neck, head and shoulders, and move your body to get some blood flowing (go grab yourself some water, take a quick walk, or do two of your favorite yoga poses). Close your eyes and let them rest for a few minutes. Dim the lights if possible during your mini break. These are just a few ideas of what to do on a mini break. Some of these might not be options if you are working in a busy office, but do what you can.

2. Stretch

A common headache culprit is the upper trapezius muscle, which is the big bulk of muscle between your shoulder and your neck. Trigger points in this muscle will often shoot up the back of your head and sit behind the eye. An easy way to stretch this muscle is to drop your ear to shoulder. (If your headache is more on the right side, drop left ear to left shoulder – this will stretch out the right upper trapezius, and vice versa).

Drop your chin down to chest, and use your hands on the back of your head to apply gentle pressure, increasing the stretch. Open your mouth wide a few times to stretch out the jaw muscles (many people clench their jaw muscles when concentrating or tense).

3. Massage

Using your fingertips, work in a circular motion over the upper trapezius area, back of the neck, base of the skull, jaws and temples. If your fingers get tired, use your knuckles. An eraser can be very effective to work the muscles in the jaw and base of the skull. Place the tip of a Pink Pearl eraser at the groove just under the back of your skull (slightly to the left or right of centre), and move it back and forth, up and down. This will work the attachments of many muscles that refer pain into the head.

Massage your scalp, as if shampooing your hair. Hair pulling can also help release the fascia of the scalp. Just grab small sections of your hair and give a gentle but firm pull. You can even add a little twist to it!

4. Hydrotherapy

A cool compress to the forehead can be very soothing, especially if you add a few drops of peppermint essential oil to the cloth.

A heating pad or Warm Buddy hot pack to the shoulders and neck can help relax muscle tension, and can be combined with the cool compress to the forehead.

A warm bath, especially if you can dim the lights, and add some essential oils (see #5) might be just what you need to rid yourself of a headache – give it a try!

5. Aromatherapy

Some of the most popular aromatherapy oils for headaches are lavender, sandalwood, peppermint, eucalyptus and rosemary.

Remember to mix your essential oils in a carrier oil (you can even use olive oil!) Use 8 to 10 drops of essential oil to 20 ml carrier oil.

You can use a combination of essential oils, or just one.

Massage oil directly onto your temples, shoulders, or neck, add them to your bath, place a few drops of essential oil onto a tissue and place it under your pillow, by your computer, in your car, or shirt pocket (no need to mix it with a carrier oil for this).

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Definition of Insanity

The Definition of Insanity

As a massage therapist, I need a lot of energy to perform my job at the level I pride myself on. For the past few years, however (since my boy was born), I had been struggling with dwindling energy levels, especially in the afternoon. I initially chocked it up to being so busy with work and family life, and not being 20 anymore.

As my energy dropped, so did my activity level, as I just didn’t have the energy to work out after a long day at the office. Then my food intake actually increased, probably due to the fact that I was sitting around more! Then I was more tired and so the cycle went!

I was also inundated with food allergies after the birth of my son, and this affected my energy levels as well. I started working on the allergies on my own by eliminating foods, and eating a mostly raw, vegan diet.

These measures helped me greatly with my allergies, and also improved my energy levels, and that is when I started really looking at what I was putting into my body, and expecting to get back in return.

So I took it a little further, slowly adding or subtracting things from my life. I gave up caffeine, increased my activity level every day (no matter how tired I was), cut out almost all processed foods (not an easy task!), and began paying more attention to what my body was telling me.

All I can say is wow! I honestly don’t think I have ever felt better. I am still tweaking things, and of course I have my “oops” days (like the bag of Reese peanut butter/chocolate bunnies), but for the most part my diet and exercise plan has been completely transformed. Along with it, my figure, energy, skin, and outlook have transformed also. I have even noticed a reduction in my chronic pain levels, even though I am working more. (Yes, I too suffer from chronic pain – I kinda abuse my body doing my job, and it lets me know!)

So why am I telling you all this? It is because I kept eating and drinking the same things, wondering why I was so tired all the time, thinking it must be my thyroid, or chronic fatigue, or some other disease affecting the way I felt. I just couldn’t accept the fact that it could be all my doing, as I wasn’t eating “that bad”.

I have heard before that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again expecting different results.

The links between diet and chronic disease are well documented, and yet we go on eating and drinking whatever we want, not realizing we are slowly poisoning ourselves, and wondering why we are gradually getting worn down and developing “age-related conditions”, blaming everything else and looking for answers external to ourselves.

We wouldn’t even think of putting bad fuel into our vehicles, and yet we put bad fuel into our bodies every day, and expect them to run clean for years and years. It just isn’t going to happen! (We also overfill our tanks, which whether it is with good or bad fuel, slows everything down and uses up too much energy.)

So stop. Take a step back and really look at your health plan, and start making changes today, one by one.

Here are a few simple things to start with:

1) Clean out your cupboards. You can’t clean out your body if you have trash calling you from your cupboards. Store bought cookies, granola bars, crackers, chips, white flour products, white rice, most breakfast cereals, muffin and cookie mixes, and almost all processed foods should not regularly inhabit your kitchen.

2) Now that your cupboards are clear of bad fuel, fill them up with clean burning fuels. Fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains (try brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, or wild rice), beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, lean meats and low fat dairy.

3) I know I have said this before, but you should always have a supply of veggie sticks in the fridge. Put them in a zip lock on the top shelf (so they are the first thing you see), and have a yummy hummus right beside it so that you have a quick healthy snack always at hand. Peppers, asparagus, snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, radishes, carrots, celery, and rutabaga are a few examples.

4) Exercise every time you think of it for 30 seconds. Do jumping jacks, run in place, do a few sit ups while watching TV, take a brisk walk around the block after dinner. Just add a few short, high intensity spurts of activity into your day. Everyone has 30 seconds to walk up and down the stairs a couple of times while waiting for their toast to pop, or their popcorn to cook.

5) Think about the stimulants you are putting in your body. Coffee, tea, pop, sugar, chocolate. They all give you a temporary burst of energy, but all inevitably end in a crash, leaving you wanting more. Sounds like a drug, doesn’t it? I admit that I am an addict. I love white flour, sugar and chocolate. It is a daily struggle to stay away from those things, but I know that they are literally poisons, and I am so much healthier without them, not only now, but in the future.

6) Before you grab something to eat, take a second and think about what you are about to put in your body. Is it filled with vitamins, minerals, or amino acids, or is it filled with sugar, fat and processed carbohydrates. Fill your tank with real nutrients, and then top it up occasionally with a little junk food if you like.

You need to switch your way of thinking. Sure lots of people drink coffee, eat sugar, and hardly exercise, and look perfectly healthy. Look at the bigger picture though. More and more people are getting cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis, even people who “looked perfectly healthy”.

If you feel like you are out of energy by midday, and can’t accomplish the extra things you want to do, just think about how this lack of energy is affecting the things your body wants to do to help itself heal and maintain optimal function.

You are investing in your health every time you ingest empty foods and sit watching television; you are just investing in a bad stock. That’s insane!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Achy Hamstrings

Achy Hamstrings

I am sure most of you have, at one time or another experienced achy hamstrings. Hamstring trigger points elicit a very annoying, dull, achy pain, often in the gluteal region, down the back of your thigh, and my all time favorite, the back of the knee.

Hamstring trigger points are often exacerbated with walking, rising out of a chair, or sitting. The pain can also make sleeping difficult.

Some common causes of hamstring trigger points are weak gluteus maximus muscles, compression of the muscle at the front edge of a chair, lying in bed or sitting for long periods with knees bent, riding a bike with the seat too low, and swimming the front crawl.

If your gluteal muscles are weak, the hamstring become taxed, as they have to work harder than usual to help extend your thigh (normally a job done primarily by the gluteus maximus, and aided by hamstrings and adductor magnus, which is an inner thigh muscle. This is a good reason to keep your gluteals nice and strong –not to mention a perky butt!

Compression and lack of oxygen to the hamstrings is a very common side effect of prolonged sitting, especially in a chair with a hard, squared off front edge. Solid wood kitchen chairs with no padding are a prime example. This affects shorter people more (and children), because their feet cannot touch the floor, so the entire weight of their legs is pushing into the front of the chair.

Patio furniture is another common culprit in compressing the hamstrings, even in taller folks. Patio chairs made with a metal frame, covered with soft fabric or plastic lining will sag when you sit in them, causing your hamstrings to be squished by the metal frame.

Using a footrest to take the pressure off your hamstrings will help – you can use a phone book, pillow, rolled up towel, whatever works! It is a good idea to use booster seats for small children on hard kitchen chairs, so that they can sit in the booster with their feet on the seat of the chair for support.

Keeping your hamstrings in a shortened position for prolonged periods can also flair trigger points. Lying in bed sick for a few days, curled up in fetal position is a sure fire way to experience hamstring pain. Long car and airplane trips are hard on the hamstrings also, so try to get up and move around as frequently as possible in situations like this.

With spring just around the corner, we will all be hauling our bikes out of the garage. Please check to be sure that your seat is high enough. I often see people cycling down the road and want to roll my window down and tell them to raise their seat. When sitting on your bike, your leg should be almost but not quite straight when bottom pedal is at 6:00 and the top pedal is at 12:00. You need a slight bend in the knee, just to reiterate.

Tight hamstrings can also lead to low back pain. Because the hamstrings attach to the ischeal tuberosities (sit bones), at he back of the pelvis, they can pull the pelvis backward, causing the lumbar spine (low back) to be stretched and flatten the natural curve of the low back. In order to maintain balance, your head moves forward. Other muscles are then activated to maintain this posture, such as the quadratus lumborum muscles in the low back, lumbar spine erector muscles, and even the abdominals. These muscles in turn become overworked and develop trigger points. Guess where they refer? Yup, the low back.

This is one reason why I often also work hamstrings when someone comes in complaining of low back pain. If you focus only on the low back muscles, the pain may ease temporarily, but unless you relax the pull on the pelvis, those low back muscles will just tighten up again.

The bathtub is a great place to stretch your hamstrings. The warmth of the water will ease tension, and relax you in preparation. Sitting in the tub with your legs out in front of you, flex your feet and lean your upper body forward over your legs, just until you feel a gentle sensation in the back of your legs. Hold there, breathing, letting gravity take you slowly further into the stretch. When you no longer feel the stretch, come back up for a second and then repeat. Remember to keep your stretching gentle. No pain no gain is not a motto for proper stretching!

Another great way to stretch your hamstrings is lying on your back, with affected leg stretched up (you can use a strap or belt to help, as shown in the picture, or hold your leg at calf or ankle with your hands). The goal is to straighten and lengthen your leg, relax, breath, and take your time.

If someone you know is feeling pain in the hamstring area, please share this article with them. Their problem could be resolved with nothing more than a footrest or a higher bike seat!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Brief Introduction to Essential Oils

Essential oils are compounds in herbs, flowers, leaves, seeds, roots, bark, fruit and wood.  They are extracted and bottled undiluted, ready to be mixed with a carrier oil, and used in a variety of ways. 

Essential oils are absorbed through the skin into your circulatory system, or inhaled and connect with nerves in your nasal cavity, sending signals to the limbic system.  The limbic system controls things such as heart rate, blood pressure, and memories!  That is why a certain smell can trigger a fond (or not so fond) memory.

If you are in doubt of the power of oils to penetrate your skin, try standing on a clove of garlic for 5 minutes, and then check out your breath.  Yup, garlic!

Each essential oil affects your body in a slightly different way, thereby causing different reactions within the body, like antidepressant, sedative, or energizing.  They can help aid digestion, ease stress, and boost the immune system.

A few words of caution on essential oil use:

Do not use them directly on your skin.  Always dilute them in a carrier oil (I do use tea tree oil directly on my skin, but just a dot on blemishes).

Please do not ingest essential oils, and keep them away from children and pets.

Many oils are not recommended during pregnancy, including camphor, clary sage, jasmine, and wintergreen.  There are many more, but these are some of the more common ones.  Chamomile, geranium, lavender and peppermint should not be used in the first trimester.  (Peppermint is not recommended for the first 20 weeks).

A few oils that are great during pregnancy include bergamot, ginger, grapefruit, lemon, orange, and neroli. 

There are so many ways to use essential oils.  You can add them to oil and use them for massage, place a few drops on a tissue and put it in your pocket, purse, or under your pillow.   Try adding a few drops into your vacuum cleaner bag, or place some on a cotton ball and leave it in your sock or underwear drawer.  Drop a little lemon or tea tree oil onto you dishcloth.  Add a couple of drops to a spray bottle of water and use it as a refreshing body or room spray.  Place some in your bath water.  And we can’t forget the vaporizer – add some to a bowl of hot water and lean your head over the bowl with a towel over your head, breathing deeply (great with Eucalyptus)!

Four of my favorite essential oils are:

·      LAVENDER - good for burns, would healing, immune support, helps with sleep. 

·      PEPPERMINT - helps with indigestion, respiration, headaches, and fatigue. 

·      EUCALYPTUS - assists breathing, and has anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antiseptic qualities.

·      ROSEMARY - stimulating, eases muscle aches, headaches, depression, arthritis, and fatigue.

These are just a few of the many ways you can use essential oils, but even this brief introduction should give you some ideas to play with.