Low Back Pain & Posture

As we discussed last time, the position of the pelvis has a lot to do with whether you are going to have low back pain or not.  The more your hips are rotated forward the more undue stress on the low back.  I hope you tried the Iliopsoas stretch to see if that started to relieve your back a bit.  Since the Iliopsoas muscle directly relates to the back and the muscles of the low back, as it starts to get full length back it will start to support a healthy position of the pelvis.  Did you try it?  How did you feel?

In addition to lengthening out the low back, it is important we stretch out the muscles in the front of the thigh that also cross the hip joint.  There are several stretches that can help you with this.  Here is a great one for addressing one of the main culprits:

To stretch the right Rectus Femoris:

  • Bend your right knee and grasp the front of your (right) ankle behind you with your right hand.
  • Bring your right heel to your right buttock while tucking your pelvis under; making sure your knee is always pointing towards the ground. Only go as far as you can and still keep your pelvis tucked.  (To give you the idea of how to ‘tuck’, tighten or squeeze your buttocks.  This will help to pull that pelvis into the correct position.)
  • While holding that position, push the front of your right hip forward, maintaining the ‘tucked pelvis’ position. You should feel the stretch in the front of your right thigh. Hold for a few seconds, relax, and then push the pelvis forward again.

Repeat on the second side.

Once you start to get some length into those short muscles it is then time to start to strengthen the ones on the opposite side of the joint, namely the abdominal and hamstring muscles.  We can talk more about those after you get some length back.

Meanwhile it is incredibly important to start thinking about the initial cause – namely sitting too much.  The new saying is ‘sitting is the new smoking’ since it is so hard on our bodies and health!

Let us begin by looking at what can be changed at your desk.  More and more companies are realizing the importance of getting off that chair and into a standing position.  Maybe you still have to be at your desk working but at least there are now options to do some of your work standing.  Check out these great new tools to turn your desk into a better work place at Varidesk.

Of course in addition to standing, moving is vital!  Rather than go grab a snack on your break, what about taking a walk around the building?  Perhaps start taking the stairs?  Park farther away from the door!  Take a walk after dinner rather than sitting in front of the TV!  Start finding creative ways to incorporate more and more movement into your daily life.  Your body will love you for it!

To your health,

Julie

One More Thought on Jack LaLanne…

As I was speaking with one of my long time clients and friend, I realized that not everyone really knows about all the amazing things that Jack LaLanne brought to the world of health and fitness.  He, my client, still runs about 5 days a week for an hour plus and just celebrated his 68th birthday.  He too is a picture of fitness.

I told him about some of the amazing feats Jack did for his birthdays and he was astounded to learn that at the age of 70, Jack:

  • Handcuffed, shackled and fighting strong winds and currents, towed 70 boats with 70 people from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, 1 ½ miles.

This was just one of many!

In an attempt to inspire you yet again, I am offering you the following video:

Last, if you would like to see the list of feats Jack LaLanne accomplished, GO TO HIS WEBSITE NOW!!

To your health and happiness!

Julie

Posture Book Provides Insight and Education for Healthy Posture!

I am excited to be launching my posture eBook!  I have been involved in posture through my massage training for almost 20 years.  I wrote this book after seeing the consequences of many postural imbalances – pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, emotional responses, stress, a decrease in energy and much more! 

This book will educate you about how to support good posture, which muscles may be involved in your body and how to assess this, descriptive teachings of how to stretch each muscle as well as exercises to strengthen those that are often weak.  In addition, the book includes video presentations of how to perform each stretch and strengthening exercise.  

Here is a video presentation on stretching one of the muscles in the book:

GO HERE to PURCHASE THE BOOK!

Testimonial from D.M. Shepard, Torrence, California

“As I mentioned, I was a personal trainer years ago and I still refer to my anatomy books to diagnose surprise aches and pains.  Suddenly a couple of weeks ago I developed major discomfort in my left groin and lower back so I limped around my business office for a full week before I searched online for treatment for the iliopsoas muscle.  Your video demonstration reminded me that sitting at a desk all day will reduce flexibility, shorten muscles and over time compromise posture.  The best part of your video was the stretch you demonstrated to lengthen the iliopsoas muscle area.  My discomfort was remarkably improved after only one day of stretching and I just about have regained full range of motion.

The trend these days is for people to live longer lives.  As a professional financial advisor, I have to prepare more ‘preventive’ investment strategies for my clients to stay ahead of potential financial problems later in life.

I see the same ‘preventive’ value for regaining and maintaining healthy posture and stretching flexibility, to assure functionality and better quality of life.  Certainly posture and stretches are cheaper than pills and surgery!

Thank you, Julie!”

Why Healthy Posture is So Important!

Regaining Good Posture

Posture.  Just mention the word and we tend to sit up straighter.  We think of our mothers harping on us as children, ‘sit up, don’t slouch!’  Yet do we really understand the consequences of both good posture and poor posture?  Can we imagine how the world would treat us if our posture were different?  No matter what your posture looks like, you are subconsciously being assessed.  Not to mention the role posture plays on the health of your joints, muscles, energy and more.

Let us look at this in greater depth.  The body is designed to work at an optimal level within gravity.  Joints, bones and ligaments are stacked in such a way to use the least amount of energy to hold us upright, to be able to stand or sit effortlessly.

Have you ever watched a young child sit?  Do you notice they don’t typically lean back in the chair but rather naturally sit quite straight with no effort?  What happens as we go through life that we start to rely on that chair back to hold us up?  Or that we stand in such a way as to put more pressure on our entire being?  These are some of the questions that started to arise as I became professionally involved in health. 

I have been a Certified Massage Therapist for 19 years and involved in health education in various ways for 30 plus years.  I came from an allopathic family.  Although I respect this school of thought, I found myself looking for an alternative way to address health.  With an analytical mind, I approached massage from a therapeutic place.  I started teaching treatment oriented massage shortly after graduating.   My practice brought many clients with various pain complaints.  I started really looking at the whole person in regards to their pain and often found that there were physical issues that often played into all or a portion of their complaints.  This brought me deeper into functional and structural assessment.  I was amazed at what I found.

To begin, posture plays a large role in how we approach life.  If we are hunched over or in pain from poor posture, it shows.  We give off signs of lack of self confidence, lack of intelligence, being overly tired, shyness, and more.  In addition, if our posture isn’t optimal, the amount of energy it takes to go through daily life increases exponentially.  No longer can we rely on the structural body to hold us up but rather our muscles now must be recruited to fight gravity, causing us to expend a great deal of energy.  Our entire being is compromised and energy that should be used to enjoy life is used just to hold us up, literally.

So what really happens?  To start, we have become a sedentary society.  No longer do most of us make our living by working in the fields, walking long distances, carrying packages, and so forth.  Instead we spend long periods of time sitting at a desk followed all too often by sitting in front of the computer or television when we get home.  Our bodies have become lazy.  Some muscles hardly have to work much at all in these situations.  Not only do they not have to engage but, allow them to be in a shortened position for a long enough period of time and they will stay shorten indefinitely.  Other muscles, at the same time, will be in an elongated position with some working overtime and others just becoming weaker.  All this results in our muscles being imbalanced and our joints compromised.  Along with these changes, we can experience pain, burning, numbness, weakness, tingling and more.  Depending on the situation, nerves can be compressed and lead to syndromes such as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel.   Low back pain, which is all too common, is often a result of poor posture and muscular imbalance.   Consequently the typical answer to these complaints, often result in surgery or pain medications.  Although this might be necessary under certain circumstances, they should never be the first choice of treatment.

Let’s start with looking at the head and neck.  Under normal circumstances, the head should sit right on top of the shoulders, with the correct position being the ear vertically in alignment with the shoulder joint.  Unfortunately all too often the head starts to jut forward.  Some of the common reasons for this are from slouching, trying to read something that is too small (so you lean forward to read it), lack of lumbar support while sitting or from improper positioning of a computer screen.  Our head typically weighs between 12 – 15 pounds; a lot of weight when you think about it and yet if sitting as it should, effortless for the muscles.  Take it out of that ideal position however and multiple problems can arise.  Dr. Rene Cailliet says that for every inch the head is forward of its’ ideal position adds 30 pounds of pressure onto the posterior neck muscles!  In addition, this position can result in:

  • Added pressure to the facet joints of the vertebrae which have a great deal of pain receptors, thus causing pain perception to increase
  • Constriction of blood flow to the muscles, resulting in unhealthy muscles that become prone to injury
  • Tight muscles that tend to refer pain to the head, resulting in headaches
  • The health of the temporomandibular joint causing TMJ dysfunction
  • Carpal tunnel symptoms

Learn stretches to keep your neck healthy!

Let us move on to the shoulders.  Typically the upper back has a slight convex curve.  When in this position, the vertebrae are stacked properly and the ligaments on either side of the vertebrae maintain this position.  As we start to slouch forward, the shoulders tend to round inward.  The muscles in the upper back are in an overstretched position and are now having to work hard to keep you from falling over forward.  The muscles in the front of the chest are becoming shorter with the potential to compress the nerves that innervate the arms.  One of the most common results is known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.  In addition, the following complaints can arise:

  • Burning between the shoulder blades
  • Chest pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome
  • Arm pain
  • Inability to take a full deep breath

Learn how to stretch and strengthen the shoulder muscles!

Next is one of the most common areas of complaint – the lower back.  A great deal of work has been missed in our country from low back pain and much of it can be avoided.  To begin, we will look at the role sitting plays.  When sitting for a long period of time, the muscles in the front of the hips, known as the hip flexors, are in a very short position.  They are used a great deal during walking so they do not tend to get weak, as the upper back muscles, but they do become very short.  This results in changing the normal position of the pelvis and creating what is known as an anterior pelvic tilt.  A small degree of anterior pelvic positioning is normal for women whereas men’s pelvis should stay neutral.  The issues arise when this position is exaggerated.  The pressure tends to be moved posterior to the discs, putting a great deal of pressure on the facet joints.  Remember as mentioned earlier, facet joints are loaded with pain receptors. 

In addition to sitting, the pelvis can end up in an anterior position due to being overweight, especially when we carry our fat in our bellies.  Belly fat puts a great deal of added weight in front of the body.  The only way to compensate for this added weight is to shift the positioning of the pelvis into that exaggerated anterior pelvic position, once again causing an increase in low back pain.

Along with general pain complaints from the low back, the following issues can arise:

  • Hip pain
  • Sciatica
  • Neurological complaints in the legs

Learn to keep your back healthy and strong!

So what do we do about all this?  It would be great if we could move away from sitting for extended periods of time but this is unlikely.  Rather we need to work within the parameters of our society.  The following is a list of ideas that can have a positive impact on our posture thus decreasing or eliminating the negative results of poor posture:

  • Movement or regular exercise:  By getting the blood to flow throughout the entire body, the muscles are receiving fresh nutrients and eliminating waste products.  These waste products in and of themselves can cause pain.  Also by moving, we are taking the muscles through a greater range of motion which can be a start to add length and strength to the muscles.
  • Stretching:  Working to lengthen the shortened muscles before strengthening the elongated weaker muscles will aid in realignment of the skeletal system.  It is important that specific stretches are given in order to lengthen the appropriate muscles.
  • Strengthening:  Once the shortened muscles are working towards being longer, it is then time to add in exercises to strengthen those muscles on the elongated side of the joint.  This is important to allow the body to regain a healthy posture where the joints and ligaments are able to do their job thus decreasing the amount of energy it takes to remain upright in gravity.
  • Ergonomics:  Assessing the position of the person to the height of the desk, the relationship to the chair, the positioning of the computer and so forth is a key.  Only focusing on ergonomics will not change the posture by itself but rather help to maintain the healthier posture with the aforementioned suggestions. 
  • Diet:  Although not directly involved in posture, it does play a large role in the health of the muscles.  Eliminating fast food, sugar, refined foods, soda, excess caffeine and more will enable the muscles to receive the nutrients need for maintaining health.  A healthy diet will also decrease constriction of blood flow thus allowing the entire body to process waste products at a healthier rate.

These are just some suggestions to creating a healthier posture.   Remember posture is much more than just looking good.  By having a body that is fully supported by the appropriate joints and ligaments, we will have more time and energy to enjoy all aspects of life and to live it to its’ fullest.  Isn’t it time to take a good look at your body?

I am excited to tell you that my eBook, Regaining Good Posture IS NOW AVAILABLE! 

Learn about:

  • Which muscles are potentially short or weak
  • How to assess your own body
  • Which stretches you need to do and how to do them
  • Strengthening Exercises to maintain a healthy posture

Included is a video presentation of each stretch and strengthening exercise. 

GO HERE to check it out!

After reading my article on posture, Dr Phil said this:

“Couldn’t agree more – great article examining in detail the importance of good posture. The advice is all spot on.”

He has a great software product called PostureMinder that you might like to check out!

Testimonial from D.M. Shepard, Torrance, California –

“As I mentioned, I was a personal trainer years ago and I still refer to my anatomy books to diagnose surprise aches and pains.  Suddenly a couple of weeks ago I developed major discomfort in my left groin and lower back so I limped around my business office for a full week before I searched online for treatment for the iliopsoas muscle.  Your video demonstration reminded me that sitting at a desk all day will reduce flexibility, shorten muscles and over time compromise posture.  The best part of your video was the stretch you demonstrated to lengthen the iliopsoas muscle area.  My discomfort was remarkably improved after only one day of stretching and I just about have regained full range of motion.

The trend these days is for people to live longer lives.  As a professional financial advisor, I have to prepare more ‘preventive’ investment strategies for my clients to stay ahead of potential financial problems later in life.

I see the same ‘preventive’ value for regaining and maintaining healthy posture and stretching flexibility, to assure functionality and better quality of life.  Certainly posture and stretches are cheaper than pills and surgery!

Thank you, Julie!”

Life’s Little Changes – The Fat vs Muscle Factor

Fitness

It is a known fact that as we age our bodies change.  Starting around the age of 45 we start to lose muscle mass at a rate of approximately 1% per year.  Although this doesn’t sound like a big deal, it really is.  The reason being is because at the same time our bodies are starting to lose muscle mass, most people are starting to gain weight.  The average American gains 1-2 pounds of weight per year as they age.  Again that doesn’t sound like a lot but if you average that over 10 years, you have gained 15 pounds! 

Let’s look at that.  Muscle is about 18% denser than fat.  In other words, think about weight verses volume.  A pound is a pound but the amount of space one takes up verses the other is the key factor.  For an extreme example think about the weight of one pound of feathers verses one pound of brick.  Since the brick is so much denser, it would take up much less space than one pound of feathers would.  You get the point?

So, if muscle is 18% denser than fat and we are losing mass yet gaining weight what do you think we really gaining?  Fat, of course.  Our bodies are either staying the same size or, in many cases getting physically bigger.  Consequently our ratio of muscle to fat is changing dramatically.

Less muscle means less strength thus decreasing our ability to do even the little things.  I met a woman who could no longer carry her own groceries into the house because they had become too heavy and she was not very old!  Verses the woman who still lifts weights at 68 years old, looks fabulous and carries just about anything and everything she wants.  Big difference.  This doesn’t even address the bigger picture of doing the fun things.  I have a 77 year old friend that plays tennis like no body’s business.  She competed in a league a few weeks ago, played for 3 hours to win the overall competition, and she was playing against women in their 50’s.  Now that’s living!

A decrease in muscle mass does not only equate to less strength.  With less muscle, a decrease in bone density rises thus leading to the potential for osteoporosis.  In addition studies have shown that an increase in strength can:

  • Result in a decrease in arthritic pain[1]
  • Improve balance and flexibility
  • Assist in balancing blood glucose levels
  • Have a positive impact on our emotional being
  • Strengthen the heart
  • And much more

So let us start by figuring out our own ratio of body fat to lean muscle.  There is a means of measuring this called the Body Mass Index or BMI.  BMI is a comparison of your height to weight.  This formula is being used more and more in the medical field and yet it is not necessarily an accurate way to measure body fat, in my opinion.  Take the individual who is very muscular and consequently quite lean.  They will come up on the BMI chart as having too high of a body mass index for their size.  Again this is because of the fact that muscle is so much more dense than fat.  A very small person, with a body fat of say 15%, will appear fat on with this measurement.  Or the body builder that is 5’6” and weighs 240 pounds.  His body fat may be around 12% and yet on a BMI chart he will show up obese.

A better way to determine the ratio is through actual measurement of body fat.  This can be done at a gym by using calibrators where skin is lifted from the muscle and measured on various parts of the body.  It can also be done in a pool by measuring how fast you sink; supposedly a better way and yet not too easily found.  For those of you that don’t have access to these kinds of measurements, I did find a source online that seems pretty accurate.  Simply go here to take that test  

Once you have this information you have the power to change it.  Rather than think, ‘I’m doomed!’ it is time to think positive.   It means you have an opportunity to make changes that can have an incredible impact on your health, your future and how to enjoy the balance of your life.  An Encore Life.  How great is that?

As time goes on and the kids are grown, there is more time to focus on ourselves separately and together with our partners.  It is a time to engage in new endeavors.  To think outside the box.  To explore things that we might have thought about in the past but just didn’t have the time to try.  It is time for an even better life!

Building muscle requires resistance.  When a muscle is challenged physically it puts stress on the bone.  The bone in response creates additional osteoblasts or cells that produce more bone.  The process is known as the piezoelectric effect.  Greater stress = more cell production=denser bones.  And, as mentioned, this is an excellent way to prevent osteoporosis.

Not only will that additional muscle strengthen your bones but it will increase your basal metabolic rate or BMR.  This is the basic amount of energy needed per day to function.  Additional muscle mass = higher BMR = additional calories burned.  Therefore a person with a higher ratio of muscle to fat can and actually needs to eat more.  Now isn’t that a great thing!  Of course what we eat is important as well.  To create these positive changes requires a blend of exercise and diet but for the purpose of this article let us focus on the exercise portion.  The diet will be addressed in a future article.

For now, let us take a look at the ways in which we can increase our muscle mass.  Of course there is the obvious – going to the gym to lift weights.  This is a great way and works fantastically for some.  For others this sounds like a death sentence!  Here are some additional ideas that can be really fun, give you a cardiovascular workout as well and offer resistance training:

Hiking Outdoors is good for the body, mind & soul!
Hiking Outdoors is good for the body, mind & soul!

Hiking up and down hills (my personal favorite).  Although this doesn’t address the upper body it is great for your legs and hips.  You would need to supplement with some upper body training.

Just started doing this... wow what a workout & so fun!
Just started doing this... wow what a workout & so fun!

Rowing.  This fun sport actually uses both your upper body and (to my surprise) a great deal of legs.  Overall it can really offer resistance as well as cardiovascular fitness.

Ok I'm not there yet... you?
Ok I'm not there yet... you?

 

Yoga can be a good form of resistance training, expecially the more challenging types such as Ashtanga Yoga.

Doesn't this look fun!
Doesn't this look fun!

Taking classes such as certain forms of dance, boot camps and so forth.

Why not?
Why not?

Kayaking.  This is more for building upper body strength but it is fast-paced and fun!

This is great to do indoors as well.
This is great to do indoors as well.

Rock Climbing.  Now this one might really take you to a new place!

This is used by all ages.
This is used by all ages.

Even the Wii Fit can offer those that want to stay inside a great workout.

These are just some ideas.  Play around with different types of activities that you enjoy and see if it fits into a strength or resistance training category.  Do not buy into the, ‘well I’m getting older…’ mentality.  Step out and up and make tomorrow even better than today!  You will be amazed at just how much you can change your body and fitness level!  We are only limited by our imagination so be creative, build muscle and head towards a more dynamic, healthy future! 


[1] Study at Tufts University

TV – OBESITY AND HEALTH

Last week there was a statistic in the Daily Camera about the number of hours people watch TV on average per month.  The number astounded me… 151 hours!!!  That equates to about 5 hours per day!  I just can’t imagine.  Not only can’t I imagine, but it has gotten me thinking about the inundation of commercials this puts into our brains.  These commercials teach us about eating fast food and taking lots of medications.

When I was in nutrition school in NYC, we had a speaker talking about commercials.  Although I can’t remember who exactly it was, the impression he left has not gone away.  Basically what he presented was how commercials lure you into thinking that your life is not complete.  Companies present you with these idyllic lifestyles, showing people that are healthy and happy.  They then indicate this would not be the case if it weren’t for a certain drug or food that the people in the commercial are consuming. 

Whether we like it or not, this gets into our subconscious and we start down the path to finding this nirvana that only comes with something outside of ourselves.  It is a wonder we are overweight, obese, taking too many medications and generally not healthy?  Think about it.  

How many hours a day do you watch TV?  What do you gain from it?

I would like to challenge you.  Buy a little notebook.  For at least one week, write down how many hours a day that you sit in front of the tube.  Record the shows you watch and mostly record what is being advertised during that time.  Then, do the following:

  • Ask yourself if the show stimulated your brain in some healthy way. 
  • Watch how much you respond to those commercials. 
  • Do you get hungry for some fast food that would have never crossed your mind had you not seen an advertisement for it? 
  • More than that, do you respond? 
  • Do you go out and eat some junk food that not only doesn’t fulfill you but supports you being less than healthy?
  • Last, do you find yourself thinking that “If only I took that medication I too would feel better!”

Is this the way you want to live your life?  Do you want someone else influencing you what to eat and what medications you are told you need to take?

I believe this process will help you to take back control of your own life.  Once you see how much marketing can influence your thoughts and actions you may choose to do something different. 

Start making a list of things you can do that stimulate your brain, offer you exercise, make you notice the amazing world around us, and provide you with a social setting where you can have great conversation rather than all just staring at the tube together.  Once you have your list, start implementing some of those things into your evenings and weekends rather than watching television.  I think what you will find will be a richer, more rewarding life that provides you with healthy alternatives to the dreaded marketing gurus on TV!