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Sleep Posture

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Sleep Posture

Some people sleep better in a soft, supportive bed; others are more comfortable in a firm, hard bed. I read one paper about how hard beds are actually less comfortable, but may lead to a better night's sleep since the discomfort makes you shift positions often (avoid stiffening up and keeping the blood flowing). You need to find what works for you; if you wake up stiff or sore, it is likely that you are sleeping in a position that is causing the discomfort. Ideally, you want to sleep in a neutral position, with every joint neither stretched nor curled.

If you can, learn to sleep on your back! It is the most neutral position (least strain on muscles), and keeps you in good posture (chin tucked, shoulders back, back straight). You want the back of your head to come as close to the bed as possible so your head is not bent forward; sometimes, a thin roll under your neck (or no head pillow at all) will be comfortable. Placing a thin pillow under your knees can help. In fact, if you have tight hp flexors, you may need 2-3 pillows under your knees at first to avoid low back pain and rolling over as soon as you fall asleep. It took me 5 months to learn how to fall asleep and stay on my back, so persistence is the key. More pillows under your knees or placing your arms around a pillow on your chest helped me, as did "practicing" when I didn't have to get up early the next morning. But now, I can easily stay on my back for 6 hours, and the pain in my arms and shoulders has vanished.

 

Side sleeping tends to roll you into a fetal or "desk" posture, that twists the hips, shortens the hip flexors, and rolls the shoulders forward. With 4 pillows, you can almost turn side sleeping into perfect posture! Place a thin pillow under your side, and a thick enough pillow under your head to keep your head level- this makes a hole for your shoulder, to stop it from rolling forward as much. Place a pillow under your top arm, and try to keep it straight. And place a pillow between your legs to level your hips, pulling up your knees as little as possible. For as complicated as all this sounds, it makes me feel like I am curled up,and is comforting for the nights that excessive thinking or sinus issues stop me from falling asleep on my back.

Self Treatment Techniques for the Lower Legs & Feet

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for leg, knee & foot pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.


Back of Calf

There are 2 main muscles in the calf that point your toe and help you "spring off" when you walk or run. The gastroc is the big showy muscle, and is stretched best when your knee is straight. The soleus is under the gastroc, and is the more powerful muscle. Since the soleus doe not cross the knee joint, it is stretched most effectively when the knee is bent to slacken the gastroc... so stretch both ways!

 

Often, either the inside or outside of the soleus is more tight. You can loosen the muscle by providing direct pressure into the sorest point and flexing your foot back and forth. If the sore tight spot is on the inside of the calf, finger (or forearm) pressure works well. If the sore tight spot is on the outside of the calf, it may be easier to pull your calf down onto your opposite knee to provide the pressure.


Tibialis Anterior


Front of Calf

There are 2 main muscles on the front of your lower leg. The Tibialis Anterior lifts the toe, pulling against the often tighter calf muscles. This muscle is in the front, just outside of your shin bone. To loosen it up, kneel with a firm object pressing into its sorest spot, and flex your toes up and down until you feel some relief.

 

The fibularis longus (peroneal) muscle is right to the outside of the tibialis, and runs up the outside of your leg. Sit with a firm object pressing into the outside of your lower leg, and turn your foot in and out (like "rolling" your ankle) until you get some relief.

 

Both muscles can be stretched by pointing the toe and sitting back on your heels (gently!).

 

 

Fibularis (Peroneus) Longus


Shin Pain and Arch Support Muscles

The tibialis posterior muscle helps support the arch; it is located underneath the inside front edge of your shin bone (along with foot flexor muscles). I've read that this muscle can become weak and stop working independently (partly because the opposing fibularis longus pulling down the arch is a much larger and stronger muscle). Strengthening this muscle is not hard, and can sometime help resolve various foot and shin pain.

 

Sit with your right leg crossed over your left, and place the fingers of your right hand between the inside edge of your shin bone (tibia) 4-6 inches above your ankle. With your left hand, pull and point your toes and push slightly towards the floor. While holding your toes in the pointed position, raise your toes away from the floor while also scooping your foot inward. Provide just enough resistance with your hand to that it feels like you are doing little weight lifting exercises with your foot. The right hand is only being used to feel the muscles contract beneath your fingers (not pushing to do therapy). The goal is not to try and use a lot of pressure with your left hand, but to try and only use the muscles under your right fingers (while relaxing the other calf muscles). Once you train these muscles to start working again, many foot issues may be resolved.

 

 


Plantar Fascia and Pain on the Bottom of Your Foot

The plantar fascia runs from the heel to the base of each toe. Tightness in the plantar fascia is good up to a point, since it basically holds your foot together and provides a spring when you walk, jump, or run. But if the fascia is too tight, it may result in arch or heel pain (especially after being off of your feet a while, until walking helps it loosen up again), and may even cause bone spurs over time. There are a couple things you can do that may alleviate pain from tight plantar fascia.

 

When the foot is flexed, this fascia is directly in line and pulling on the Achilles tendon (and vice versa), so doing the calf stretches above will also help stretch out the plantar fascia. Lifting the toes during the calf stretches will accentuate the stretch. Direct massage is also good, either using a golf ball under the foot, or pressing with your hands. Gently moving the foot around under pressure (into and out of the pain zone) may help the fascia to release; if the pain doesn't decrease within 1-2 minutes, discontinue the massage.


I found a particular combination of stretching and massage helped me through a plantar fascia injury. Assuming the pain is on the right sole of you foot, cross your right leg over your left and use your right hand to pull your toes back towards your right knee. With your left fingers, push into the tightest and sorest band of fascia on the bottom of your foot, directing the pressure half way between your ankle and ball of your foot. A burning feeling will result; don't press hard enough to cause severe pain! Hold the pressure for at least 2-3 minutes, at which time you should feel a softening in the tissue and a reduction of tightness. Repeat up to 3-4 times a day.

 

Self Treatment Techniques for the Upper Legs

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for leg, knee, back, and hip pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.


Quads

Your quads may tend to get too tight when you increase the amount of work they do, whether its starting to walk, run, or increasing an activity you've already been doing for years. Hip or knee pain can be caused by tight quads. While stretching is of moderate use (only can deeply stretch the center quad), you can easily loosen them up with direct pressure.

 

Lie face down on the floor and placing a tennis ball, rolling pin, or other smooth object under the sorest spot you can find, halfway between your knee and hip. Curl your leg up and down (bending your knee) until you feel at least some relief. If the pressure is too intense, use a smaller object or do the release laying on a bed to lessen the amount of force. Also roll partly onto your side and look for sore points in the outer quad, which are often sources of knee pain.


Hamstrings

Hamstrings can also be over-used, and are also prone to getting "pulled". Quad cramps can sometimes also either cause or be caused by tight hamstrings. Hamstrings respond well to slow easy stretching; roll your body form side to side to find the tightest spot, and then sit with a gentle stretch for 2-3 min (or longer), occasionally changing directions and easing into and out of the stretch.

 

Another way to release the hamstrings is to sit on a hard chair and place a ball or other smooth object under your leg in the sorest spot. Then lift your leg up and down until you feel relief, leaning forward to adjust the amount of pressure. Remember that there are hamstrings on both sides of the back of your leg!


IT Band and Hip Abductors

The IT band itself is not very “stretchy”; tension is controlled by muscles attaching it to the outside of the leg. IT band problems can be caused by imbalanced in the upper leg muscles, especially a tight outer quad.

 

Lie on your side and place a ball or rolling pin under the IT band, and bend your bottom knee back and forth. Repeat with the object in your hip muscles (between your pelvic and hip bones) to reduce tightness in this area, but rotate your hip to lift your knee up and down off of the floor.


Hip Adductors/Groin Muscles

The muscles on the inside of your thighs can also become tight and limit flexibility. It is hard to treat these muscles yourself with direct pressure, though I was once able to get my elbow into my own thigh for a late-night pain relief session!

 

I've found that long easy stretching can be effective in getting these muscles to let go, especially if you keep moving into and out of the stretch. With the stretch on the left, rotate your body around until you find the tightest or sorest spot, and then lean in a bit. With the stretch on the right, keep your back straight and lean forward.

Self Treatment Techniques for the Low Back and Hip

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Self Treatment Techniques for the Low Back and Hips

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for hip, abs, and low back pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.

Hip Flexors

Your hip flexors lift your legs, and are thus some of the strongest and most-used muscles in your body. They pull the legs up from the inside top of the femur, and are anchored to the inside of your spine & pelvis; if they are tight, they pull your spine & hips forward, which can cause low back and hip pain. The more you sit or sleep with your knees pulled up, the shorter and tighter the muscles get. While it is hard to massage your own hip flexors, stretching them often relieves the pain. There are several hip flexor stretches on the Internet; they can be tricky to do properly and require performing a pelvic tilt (using your abs to pull the pelvic bone upward).

 

My favorite stretch for the hip flexors is easy to perform without much chance of straining your low back. Lie with your butt either on an elevated platform (i.e., foam roller) or at the edge of a bed. Before starting the stretch, pull one knee toward your chest to flatten and rotect your lower back. Then extend the other leg and let it hang for at least 2 min. Repeat with the other leg. Another easy hip flexor stretch is to bend one leg at the waist and knee and rest your lower leg on a chair, while allowing the straight leg to gently stretch for 20 min. on each side.


Glutes

The gluteal muscles (i.e., your butt!) both extend and rotate your hip. Quite often, the outer glutes are sore not from being too tight, but from being too weak and being over-powered by tight hip flexors. To reduce pain in your glutes, lay on a tennis ball, bend your knee, and move your knee back and forth (with your heel staying still- see Left).

 

To strengthen the gluteus medius, lay on your side as straight as possible, point the toes of your upper leg to the ground, and repeatedly lift your leg (see Right). You can also do "clam shells" by bending at the waist and knees, keeping your heels together and on the ground, and raising your top knee. In either case, try to relax everything except for your butt. To strengthen the gluteus maximus, lay on your back with your knees up, contract your butt, and raise your butt off the floor and hold 5 seconds (see Left).

 

To stretch your glutes, pull your foot toward your chest (or rest your leg on a bed and move your chest towards your foot, see Right).

 

Low Back

Many times, low back pain is caused by tight hip flexors either pulling directly o the front of the spine (psoas) or pulling one or both of the hips forward (iliacus), either or which causes strain on the low back. For hip flexor stretches, see my Upper Leg section.

 

Low back spasms can also be massaged directly by lying on your side with a rolling pin or pool noodle between your ribs and pelvis (don't put direct pressure on your ribs!) and doing slow pelvic tilts or bringing your bottom knee to your chest and back down. If you have some help, you can lie on your side with a partner's elbow between your ribs and pelvis, and do pelvic tilts and raising the upper knee toward your chest (direct your partner's elbow to the sore spot with the amount of pressure that feels effective- they are there only to do as you direct, and NOT try to play massage therapist!).


Proper Spine Curvature: Whether you are sitting, standing, walking, or running, having the proper curvature to your low back will improve your overall posture and reduce low back pain. Most people can easily determine their optimal curvature by doing the following exercise.

 

During whatever activity you are engaged in (standing, sitting, walking, running), stick out your butt and put too much curve into your low back. Then slowly flatten your back as much as possible by tucking your lower pelvis forward. Go back and forth between these extremes while imagining someone standing on your shoulders. The spot where it feels like you could best support the weight is likely your optimal curvature! Try to maintain this curvature as you stand, walk, sit, or run (with most people, this will involve teaching yourself to hold a little bit of tension in your ab muscles).

Strengthening Your Abs: I've had many Physical Therapists tell me they hate sit-ups! Many over-zealous pursuers of better fitness focus in sit-ups and push-ups, which tighten and shorten muscles that already tend to be short, strong, and tight (and are thus causing pain in the opposing muscles that are smaller and have to work too hard in a never-ending tug of war!).

 

The rectus abdominus (6-pack) is usually strong enough, but the deeper core ab muscles (transverse abdominus and obliques) often need strengthening. An easy way to do so is to sit upright and to lean backwards about 6 inches (only as far as you can go while maintaining the correct spinal curve- see above). Hold 5-10 seconds, and then "pull" yourself back upright using the front muscles below your ribs. Do 10 sets periodically during the day.


Loosening The Pelvis & Low Back: Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, and do the following exercises. This routine will stretch and loosen the low back-sacrum-pelvis, strengthen the core muscles you need to maintain proper posture, and neurologically train your core muscles to operate independently without co-contracting hip, leg, and other muscles.

Tilt/tuck your pelvis and flatten your back against the floor by only using your core ab muscles. Relax your butt, quads, and the rest of your body. Hold 3-5 seconds and relax; repeat 10X.

Push your tail bone down into the floor (curving the low back) by contracting the muscles in your low back, relaxing your butt, hamstrings, and everything else. Hold 3-5 seconds and relax; repeat 10X.

Pull your left hip up towards your left ear by contracting your side muscles between your ribs and pelvis. Hold 3-5 seconds and relax; repeat 10X. Repeat on the opposite side.

After performing the exercises independently in all 4 directions, slowly make circles with your pelvis ("hula" and Figure 8s). Keep all other muscles relaxed, and spend more time moving in directions that feel stiff or sore.

Self Treatment Techniques for the Low Back and Hip

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Self Treatment Techniques for the Low Back and Hips

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for hip, abs, and low back pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.

Hip Flexors

Your hip flexors lift your legs, and are thus some of the strongest and most-used muscles in your body. They pull the legs up from the inside top of the femur, and are anchored to the inside of your spine & pelvis; if they are tight, they pull your spine & hips forward, which can cause low back and hip pain. The more you sit or sleep with your knees pulled up, the shorter and tighter the muscles get. While it is hard to massage your own hip flexors, stretching them often relieves the pain. There are several hip flexor stretches on the Internet; they can be tricky to do properly and require performing a pelvic tilt (using your abs to pull the pelvic bone upward).

 

My favorite stretch for the hip flexors is easy to perform without much chance of straining your low back. Lie with your butt either on an elevated platform (i.e., foam roller) or at the edge of a bed. Before starting the stretch, pull one knee toward your chest to flatten and rotect your lower back. Then extend the other leg and let it hang for at least 2 min. Repeat with the other leg. Another easy hip flexor stretch is to bend one leg at the waist and knee and rest your lower leg on a chair, while allowing the straight leg to gently stretch for 20 min. on each side.



Glutes

The gluteal muscles (i.e., your butt!) both extend and rotate your hip. Quite often, the outer glutes are sore not from being too tight, but from being too weak and being over-powered by tight hip flexors. To reduce pain in your glutes, lay on a tennis ball, bend your knee, and move your knee back and forth (with your heel staying still- see Left).

 

To strengthen the gluteus medius, lay on your side as straight as possible, point the toes of your upper leg to the ground, and repeatedly lift your leg (see Right). You can also do "clam shells" by bending at the waist and knees, keeping your heels together and on the ground, and raising your top knee. In either case, try to relax everything except for your butt. To strengthen the gluteus maximus, lay on your back with your knees up, contract your butt, and raise your butt off the floor and hold 5 seconds (see Left).

 

To stretch your glutes, pull your foot toward your chest (or rest your leg on a bed and move your chest towards your foot, see Right).

 


Low Back

Many times, low back pain is caused by tight hip flexors either pulling directly o the front of the spine (psoas) or pulling one or both of the hips forward (iliacus), either or which causes strain on the low back. For hip flexor stretches, see my Upper Leg section.

 

Low back spasms can also be massaged directly by lying on your side with a rolling pin or pool noodle between your ribs and pelvis (don't put direct pressure on your ribs!) and doing slow pelvic tilts or bringing your bottom knee to your chest and back down. If you have some help, you can lie on your side with a partner's elbow between your ribs and pelvis, and do pelvic tilts and raising the upper knee toward your chest (direct your partner's elbow to the sore spot with the amount of pressure that feels effective- they are there only to do as you direct, and NOT try to play massage therapist!).


Proper Spine Curvature: Whether you are sitting, standing, walking, or running, having the proper curvature to your low back will improve your overall posture and reduce low back pain. Most people can easily determine their optimal curvature by doing the following exercise.

 

During whatever activity you are engaged in (standing, sitting, walking, running), stick out your butt and put too much curve into your low back. Then slowly flatten your back as much as possible by tucking your lower pelvis forward. Go back and forth between these extremes while imagining someone standing on your shoulders. The spot where it feels like you could best support the weight is likely your optimal curvature! Try to maintain this curvature as you stand, walk, sit, or run (with most people, this will involve teaching yourself to hold a little bit of tension in your ab muscles).

Strengthening Your Abs: I've had many Physical Therapists tell me they hate sit-ups! Many over-zealous pursuers of better fitness focus in sit-ups and push-ups, which tighten and shorten muscles that already tend to be short, strong, and tight (and are thus causing pain in the opposing muscles that are smaller and have to work too hard in a never-ending tug of war!).

 

The rectus abdominus (6-pack) is usually strong enough, but the deeper core ab muscles (transverse abdominus and obliques) often need strengthening. An easy way to do so is to sit upright and to lean backwards about 6 inches (only as far as you can go while maintaining the correct spinal curve- see above). Hold 5-10 seconds, and then "pull" yourself back upright using the front muscles below your ribs. Do 10 sets periodically during the day.


Loosening The Pelvis & Low Back: Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, and do the following exercises. This routine will stretch and loosen the low back-sacrum-pelvis, strengthen the core muscles you need to maintain proper posture, and neurologically train your core muscles to operate independently without co-contracting hip, leg, and other muscles.

Tilt/tuck your pelvis and flatten your back against the floor by only using your core ab muscles. Relax your butt, quads, and the rest of your body. Hold 3-5 seconds and relax; repeat 10X.

Push your tail bone down into the floor (curving the low back) by contracting the muscles in your low back, relaxing your butt, hamstrings, and everything else. Hold 3-5 seconds and relax; repeat 10X.

Pull your left hip up towards your left ear by contracting your side muscles between your ribs and pelvis. Hold 3-5 seconds and relax; repeat 10X. Repeat on the opposite side.

After performing the exercises independently in all 4 directions, slowly make circles with your pelvis ("hula" and Figure 8s). Keep all other muscles relaxed, and spend more time moving in directions that feel stiff or sore.

Self Treatment Techniques for the Chest and Upper back

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for upper back & chest pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.


Upper Back Stiffness and Pain

If you have a pain in the middle of your back or under your shoulder blade, it often comes from tightness in the front of the chest or shoulders pulling you forward and stressing out the back muscles. Laying with a rolled up towel or foam roller along your spine (see Right; a great anti-desk posture stretch!) with your hands overhead for 5-10 minutes stretches out the tight muscles and gets rid of the pain. The vertebrae can also get stuck flexed forward, and rolling on a foam roller perpendicular to your spine can help straighten yo out (also try little half-inch "sit-ups" motions to gently flex the vertebrae).

 

Sometimes you can have an actual spasm in the mid back. Lie on the floor and place a tennis ball on the sore point and move your arm back and forth across your body and up and down at your side (see Left) for 2-3 minutes until the pain eases.

 

 


Releasing the Pecs

In addition to stretching, to get tight pec muscles to relax and stop pulling the shoulders forward and straining the upper back, push into the sorest spot and repeatedly stretch your arm backwards or make large backward circles (like doing the back stroke). Also try not to sleep on your side or slouch at your desk, since your body will tighten up the fascia to support the position you spend most of your time in!

 

 

 

 


Strengthening the Upper Back

 

Once you stretch out the strong front muscles, you have a better chance to strengthen the weaker upper back muscles (rhomboids). Use a rowing machine at the gym or a rubber Theraband at home to do "rows". The rows are most effective if you can first isolate the lower rhomboids and pinch the bottom of your shoulder blades together before pulling your arms back. This also works without weights or bands by just contracting and squeezing the muscles for 5 seconds, relaxing, and repeating 10 times.

 

"Pull-downs" at a gym or pulling down a Theraband looped over a door are also good exercises for the back, strengthening the latisimus dorsi ("lats").

 

 


Releasing the Serratus Anterior

 

Sometimes when your shoulder or upper back has been bothering you for a while, the muscle that wraps around and stabilizes your chest can become chronically contracted and cause pain or interfere with proper motion even after the pecs and shoulder rotators are restored to their proper functioning. To release tight spots in this muscle, use your thumb and first 2 fingers to push into sore spots along the outside of your ribs. Breathe deeply or rock from side to side to stretch & release this muscle.


 

Self Treatment Techniques for the Shoulders, Arms, & Hands

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for arm & shoulder pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.

 


Shoulder Carry Stress

Most people tend to carry stress in the muscles that elevate the shoulder blades. Sometimes, even minor "drama" cause the shoulders to creep up towards the ears! Sleep posture, carrying something frequently on one shoulder, talking on the phone without a hands-free headset, or typing without having the forearms supported can cause the muscles that elevate the shoulder to go into spasm (sometimes chronically) and make it difficult to turn your head. Chronic spasms can cause the levator and upper traps to get "glued" together and restrict proper motion.

 

The easiest way to get the shoulders to release is to press directly into any and all sore spots on top of the shoulder at the base of the neck, and to then rotate and bend your neck and head to "work out the kinks". Using a Theracane makes it easy to work these muscles yourself. Otherwise, sit on the floor and have a helper lean into you with their elbow (YOU pick the spot and how much pressure you want, if they are not a trained therapist!).

 

 

For maintaining loose shoulder muscles, I find a modified shoulder shrug stretch to work the best. Shrug your shoulders up as hard as you can for a few seconds (also try up-and-forward, & up-and-back), followed by pressing your shoulders towards the floor while pushing the top of your head toward the ceiling.

 

Also keep in mind that the serratus anterior muscles that wraps around your ribs can also refer pain to the shoulders (see section on Chest & Upper Back).


Biceps and Triceps

Occasionally, I encounter someone with a persistent "knot" in their triceps or biceps (that can lead to shoulder or lower arm pain), but usually pain in these muscles are temporary, caused by over-use. In both cases, gently stretching and/or pinning and stretching the muscle can help relax the muscle.

 

To stretch the triceps, raise your arm straight overhead and place your palm on the shoulder; for an additional stretch, push your elbow gently up and back. To stretch the biceps, extend your arm straight out to the side, point your thumb towards the floor, and stretch your arm in back of you (turn your thumb pointing down & backwards for an additional stretch). To directly work out any knots, press into the sore spot and flex your arm back and forth at the elbow (see pictures).

 

 

 

 

 


Forearms and Hands

 

Pain in the elbow, wrist, and hands often comes from tight muscles in the forearm. Too much gripping can cause the muscles in the palm of the hand and inside of the forearm to tighten and cramp; frequent gentle stretching of both fingers and hand will help treat and prevent this from occurring (see Right). It is especially important to stretch the fingers as we age, to maintain their mobility.

 

The thumb can also get stiff and sore from gripping and other repetitive motions. It can help to press into sore areas on the inside and outside of the bone near the base of the thumb, and then flex and rotate the thumb until the pain subsides. there are also trigger points in the bicep area that can refer pain to the thumb when a tight muscle pushes on the nerve descending from the spine.

The extensor muscles on the outside of the forearm also tend to get tight and ropy (especially from typing or using a mouse), and can lead to carpal-tunnel type pain. frequent stretching (by extending the arm and bending the hand down at the wrist) can help prevent this from getting too tight. If you are having pain, press into the sore area and flexing the wrist back and forth can help release this muscle (see Above, Left). If you work at a desk, it can also help to use a pad under your wrists (to keep your wrist straight), and to rest your hands on their sides (thumbs up, pinkies down) when you aren't actively typing.

Self Treatment Techniques for the Head & Neck

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Below are some stretches and muscle release techniques for head, neck, & shoulder pain that I have personally used with good results. Feel free to share and try these techniques, but keep in mind that they might not work for you and are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you feel any sharp pain or your problem gets worse or fails to improve, stop the activity! For more details on my favorite way to stretch or loosen my own muscles, review my Self Treatment page.

 


Front Neck Muscles

Two main muscles in the front of the neck can limit turning and bending. Often, one side is tighter than the other, caused from turning your head more in one direction during sleep or having your computer monitor or TV to one side. These two muscles have been implicated in causing tension headaches. By pulling the head forward they increase the strain on muscles in the upper back and neck, which then have to work over-time to keep your head from falling off!

 

To loosen these muscles, grab the big ropy SCM (sternocleidomastoid) at its sorest point, pull, and gently bend and rotate your head until you feel some relief (30-60 seconds; see Right). Also work the scalenes on the front of the neck underneath the SCM, by pressing into them and doing the same head motions.

 

Avoid working on areas close to your windpipe or any area where you feel a pulse. You know you are on a "good" point when the pain or tension begins to lessen within 30 seconds (stop immediately if any pain or discomfort increases!).

 

The traps and levator muscles can also cause neck pain and limit rotation (see Shoulders).


Back of Neck Pain

Pain at the base of the skull is usually caused by either tight traps (holding tension by raising shoulders) or the muscles in the back of the neck having to fight a tug-of-war with tight muscles in the front of the neck.

 

One of the best neck stretches I've come across was recently referred to as the "Mick Jagger chicken-neck strut!" Keeping your head level, push your head forward and then retract and push the back of your head backwards (see Left). This can be done more easily laying on the floor; relax everything and then try to flatten the back of your neck towards the floor. Hold for a few seconds, relax, and repeat.

 

You can also get relief by massaging the muscles at the base of your skull (see Right). Push into the sorest spots, pushing slightly upwards directly into the skull (don't push into the gap between the skull and top vertebrae). Then rock your head sideways or forward/backwards to get the muscle to relax.

 

If you feel pain lower in your neck or feel a bony knot pushing out to one side, push gently first above and then below the vertebrae while slowly rocking your head side to side.

 

Be gentle working with your neck, and don't do anything that causes sharp pain! Less pressure and more time is most effective, and if you do not start feeling relief within a minute, STOP! The idea is to gently encourage the muscles to relax, and not try to beat them into submission!


Jaw & Head Relaxation

The masseter is the big, strong muscle that clenches the jaw. Massaging or pressing into it while opening and closing your mouth sometimes helps, but sometimes too much "work" can irritate the muscle more than relax it. A gentle easy way to relax this muscle is to press your fingers in above the ridge of your cheeks, and then slowly drag down the side of your face (see left.

 

The temporalis muscle originates at the temples and attaches to the jaw, also helping to clench the jaw. It can be less "reactive" and relax easier than the masseter, often encouraging the masseter itself to relax.


 

How To Keep Your Muscles Healthy

Posted by [email protected] on April 21, 2014 at 1:10 AM Comments comments (0)

I've been the “team therapist” for Round Rock Fit since 2008. With their help, I ran the San Antonio Marathon the first year, and hope to run Austin in 2012 (foot injury set me back after the 15-miler in 2010). I am available for brief free therapy sessions or self treatment advice after the Saturday runs, and I have a home office in Pflugerville where I give a $10 discount to all runners (i.e., $60). If you are experiencing pain, I have a self-treatment advice on my web site. If that isn't enough, come see me before any injuries you have get worse!!! While everyone is not the same, loosening up chronically tight muscles will allow you to perform at your own personal optimum. Often, people with tight muscles and no particular pain or problem will show increases in speed and move toward a smoother, more natural gait by going through “Runner's Protocol” on the massage table. If all excessive muscle tension in the legs is reduced, you will run better!

Here are some tips that I have found from my own experiences as well as from working on runners over the years. Much of this I learned from Ken at Therapy Central of Round Rock during the months that I trained and worked with him at his clinic..

 

Hydration: Dehydrated muscles are like dried leather, and are prone to cramping, injury, & exhaustion. Partial dehydration is not always obvious; I used to think I was drinking a lot, but noticed I'd lost 7 ponds after a 10-mile run (almost a gallon!!!). I now drink about a quart of fluids for every 5-6 miles, and have found I recover more quickly and run more easily.

 

Ice Baths: Soak for 15-20 min after long runs!!! It enhances recovery by reducing inflammation, increasing blood flow to contracted muscles, and reduces pain. The ideal temperature for me is 50-55 °F; you don't have to have so much ice that you get the water to 32 °F (usually 15 lbs- or about 2 gallons- of ice in a tub is sufficient).

 

Mix It Up! Not only does cross training build auxiliary muscles that help with running, but it avoids “wearing out” your muscles. In addition to pedaling, swimming, and other activities, unless you are a seasoned ultra-marathoner, doing the exact same motion for hours (and months!) can cause muscle fatigue. I've found that I can run longer with less effort by both walking a bit every 2 miles (when I drink), and by occasionally increasing my stride or running faster for 100 yards- it keeps the muscles more “active” and reduces the chances of cramping. Running along side of the road on the uneven ground also helps by engaging (& strengthening) the muscles slightly differently during each step.

 

Gaining Strength & Endurance: Aerobic capacity and VO2-Max are less important than strength training when it comes to long distance running. When you challenge your muscles by requiring them to produce more power, you recruit more muscle fibers and encourage mitochondrial (cell power-houses) growth in each cell. The more active muscle fibers you have available, the more help you have when you start getting tired. Speed training, hill training, and even targeted exercises in the gym make your muscles stronger, which in turn leads to better endurance. So add some short really hard sessions to your training (and give yourself an off-day to recover afterwards).

 

No Pain, No Gain? You know your body better than anyone else; it is often fine if you are feeling some pain or discomfort and choose to try and “run through it”. But if you get to the point where your form is suffering and you are gimping along and compensating, unless you are in the home stretch of a race, STOP!!! Running improperly will over-stretch and hurt weaker muscles,and allow tight muscles to contract even more. Plus, you may slip into compensation patterns that, even if they work in the short run, will cause more wear and tear on your body and may eventually cause more severe problems. If you are injured, deal with it... sooner rather than later!

 

Proper Form: I recently looked down while pedaling; while I had no pain, I was shocked to see one leg wobbling from side to side at the knee (while the other one looked like a piston in a race car!). I see lots of runners that have “issues” with either one or both legs... get someone to run behind you and give you feedback, or have a professional gait analysis done. It is almost always muscle tension from over-use or a traumatic injury, that causes gait issues that will wear you out before your time. If possible, try to develop a mid or forefoot strike; landing on your heel sends a shock wave up through your knees, hips, and back, and also slows you down. The braking action then requires more energy to spring off for the next step; if you can instead “fall forward” and avoid heel-first landing, you conserve energy, take stress off your body, and might even get faster!

 

Stretching: To me, flexibility is the most important muscle issue; you can always get back into shape next year, but when you lose flexibility and range of motion, it is often very hard to get it back. That isn't to say that you need to be as bendy as a gymnast; a physical therapist told me that tight hamstrings actually help runners (but not too tight to cause problems!). The key is to be flexible enough not to have major aches, pains, or spasms; if you have been running at the same level for years without issues, you are likely flexible enough for how you use your body, but as you ramp up the mileage, overworked muscles are likely to rebel and tighten up.

 

When you do a nice hard stretch, the “burn” you feel is your muscle tightening up to stop the stretch (the “stretch response”). While there are lots of different philosophies of stretching, I've found that long (2-5 min) easy stretches are best for actually releasing excessive and long-term muscle spasm. Stretch only until you feel the start of pain/burn, and then back off and relax into every exhale. Every now and then, ease up more and then lean back into the stretch for a few seconds. You might notice you'll “trick” the muscle into letting go bit by bit, and might even feel a “clunk” as a muscle fiber bundle lets go. After using this technique, I often find that while it takes longer, I eventually reach full range of motion (and by then hardly even feel a stretch!)

 

Sleep Posture: Your hip flexors are anchored on the inside of your spine and pelvis, and attach to the upper portion of your thigh; since they lift your legs, they are some of the hardest-working and most important muscles for runners. Not only do they have to be strong enough to repeatedly lift your legs, but they have to be flexible enough to stretch behind your body when the other leg is moving forward. Sitting for long periods of time and sleeping on your stomach or side with your knees pulled up places the hip flexors in a shortened position, which can tighten them up as the body “shrink wraps” the muscles with fascia to support their most common position. To stretch your hip flexors, lie on your back, pull one knee to your chest, and hang the other leg off the bed for at least 2 min. Also try to sleep on your back (with a pillow under your knees); this is the most neutral sleep posture there is, and will help avoid a host of postural problems. If you sleep on your side, at least put a pillow between your knees to level your hips, and bend your knees as little as possible.

 

 

Injuries: When you are injured, the traditional advice is often “don’t run for 6-8 weeks”. An alternate strategy considers the fact that tissue heal better under load and normal use. While you certainly don’t want to do anything that causes intense pain or makes you ache for hours, strength work during healing often speeds recovery. Immediately start with gentle stretching and range of motion exercises, and as you can tolerate it, build up to walking. When you can walk without much pain, try easy running, but keep the distance down to meters instead of miles! As tolerated, try to build up to a normal-intensity run for 100 m, and return slowly to normal distances. Again, any sharp pains or pains that last more than 20-30 minutes after running means you are doing too much, too fast.

 

Active Release of Muscle Tension: One of the most effective techniques I have learned for releasing muscle tension is to push into the tightest (i.e., most sore!) part of the muscle, and then move it through its normal range of motion. The easiest way to do this is to have someone like me work on you; while deeper pressure gets faster results, I've found that less pressure (and less pain!) will still work in time. It still might not be as pleasant as a relaxing massage, but I've had an 86 year old client survive without crying!

 

Self Treatment: I also have self-treatment options for many of the major muscles. The key is to find the sorest spot in the muscle belly (no nerve pain or pushing on pulsating blood vessels!) and pressing into it with at least enough pressure to engage the muscle and feel the tightness. You can use your hand, a ball, or Theracane to deliver the pressure, and then move the limb in such a way as to flex the muscle fibers where you are pressing (feels like moving into and out of the pain zone). It is important to continue the movement until the pain eases at least somewhat (muscle release), to demonstrate to both the brain and the muscle itself that good things happen when you let go! You can use less pressure, but don't stop until you feel some relief.

This article is written by http://reduceyourpain.weebly.com/healthy-muscles.html 

The Art of Bathing

Posted by [email protected] on January 27, 2014 at 1:50 AM Comments comments (0)

The Art of Bathing

Simple Recipes to Soothe Mind and Body

Article From Associated Skin Care Newsletter

From bubble baths to essential oils to Dead Sea salts, prepared bath products are designed to enhance a bathing experience, but they can be expensive. Instead of spending the extra money on special bath products, try one of these natural, simple bath recipes with ingredients you probably already have in your cupboard or refrigerator.

 

 

Epsom Salts --- Add 2 cups Epsom salts to bath water.Magnesium sulfate, or Epsom salts, has been used for centuries as a folk remedy, and research now confirms its numerous benefits. The second most abundant element in human cells and a crucial component for bone health, magnesium is also needed for muscle control, energy production, and the elimination of toxins. Magnesium eases stress, aids sleep, and improves concentration while reducing inflammation, joint pain, and muscle cramps. Sulfates help to flush toxins from the body, prevent or reduce headaches, and even improve brain function.

 

Most American diets are deficient in magnesium. However, one of the best ways to boost dietary intake is by bathing in Epsom salts, which are readily absorbed through the skin.

 

 

Milk --- Add 2 - 4 cups milk or buttermilk to bath water.Rich in calcium, protein, and vitamins, milk replenishes the skin, while lactic acid found in milk acts as a natural exfoliant. A member of the alpha hydroxy acid family, lactic acid breaks the glue-like bonds between the outer layer of dead skin cells. Soak in a milk bath for 20 minutes, then gently scrub skin with a loofah or washcloth.

 

 

Honey --- Add 1/4 cup honey to bath water.A fragrant, natural humectant, honey helps skin attract and retain moisture. Its antibacterial and anti-irritant properties make it an ideal cleansing and soothing additive to a warm bath.


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