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

Thoughts on why your low back might be killing you!

Does sitting ever drive you completely crazy?  I don’t know about you but I am a mover.  I get so fidgety when I have to do too much work at the computer.  I’d much rather be up and moving around!  Unfortunately in today’s society sitting comes with the territory.

Sitting is just one of the culprits that can start to cause low back pain.  The muscles in the front of the thigh that cross the hip joint are all hip flexors; in other words they lift your leg up in front of your body.  If you think about what that looks like, you can see the thigh perpendicular to the body when standing is the same as when you are sitting in a chair.  Stay in this position for prolonged periods of time and eventually those muscles won’t go back to their full length. The result?  When you stand those muscles pull the front of the hip down to compensate for being shorter than normal.

So what, you ask?  With that pelvis being pulled forward it ‘squishes up’ the lower back, which shortens and tightens those muscles resulting in pressure on the joints of the vertebrae.

The same thing can happen when you have a larger belly than you should have.  I know, you don’t like to hear that but it’s true!  That extra belly takes you out of gravity and pulls your whole body forward and down at the front of the pelvis.  Again this causes undue stress on the muscles and bones in the low back.

When those muscles get tight they cause pain.  As for the joints, there are small joints called ‘facet joints’ which are part of the vertebrae.  They are loaded in pain receptors so when they are unnaturally jammed together, they send lots of messages to your brain that says PAIN!!

So what can you do about it?  We will talk about this more on my next blog.  Meanwhile here is a great stretch to get you started on making some changes:

Give this a try on a daily basis and see if it doesn’t start to help with that low back pain.

To your health,

Julie

 

 

 

 

Stress and the Benefits of Massage

Stress is just part of living.  Some stress is good.  This type of stress is called “eustress” and results in things like motivation, feelings of excitement and improving performance.  The other, more common type of stress  is “distress” which can initially cause the same response but over time plays havoc on our bodies.  (To learn more about this type of stress read, The Effects of Stress.)

In this prolonged situation of distress, we tend to hold our bodies in a tight or contracted state.  Our breath shortens and our muscles start to ‘hold’ onto that tightness.  Often we carry our stress in certain parts of our bodies.  The more common areas are shoulders/neck, low back and the abdominal area. 

At first we don’t really pay much attention to the fact that we are tightening that area.  It is at an unconscious level.  However over time those muscles that are continually contracted start to cause us pain or discomfort.  Hopefully this wakes us up! 

The cycle looks something like this: 

  • We become stressed out about something.
  • We then hold tension unconsciously in certain muscles. 
  • Those muscles are contracting for an extended period of time. 
  • The more they contract, the more waste products they produce. 
  • Meanwhile, when they contract, they limit the amount of blood that flows to them.  This is known as vasoconstriction.
  • Since there is a lack of blood flowing to the muscle, the waste products cannot be flushed out but rather accumulate in the tissues. 
  • This causes an irritation to the nerve endings and the result is PAIN.
  • Along with pain comes more tension.
  • Then the cycle continues to move beyond the original tight muscles into the surrounding muscles.  This is the body’s way of protecting itself.
  • Those muscles start to stay contracted and the pattern starts all over again in those outlying muscles.

As you can see, this cycle can go on and on.  In addition to pain, often we end up with other symptoms like headaches, numbness, fatigue, weakness, stomach aches, or shortness of breath; just to name a few.  Over an even longer period of time, say months or years, we start to develop symptoms that lead us to believe something bigger is wrong with us.  At this point it can be incredibly difficult to reverse this process and yet not impossible by any means.

This is where therapeutic massage comes in. 

Massage that works on a level deep enough to affect the tightness (without going too deep) can be very beneficial.  It assists in bringing fresh blood to the tissues thus allowing the waste products to move out while at the same time bringing nutrients to the muscles to help them heal.  It also works on a neurological level to affect the proprioceptors. 

Proprioceptors are found throughout our entire body.  The ones located in the muscles act as messengers to the brain to tell it to either shut off the contraction or to turn it on; depending on which proprioceptors we are talking about.  Those found in the tendons, near the insertion of the muscle into the bone, are called Golgi Tendon Organs or GTO’s.  Their work is specifically to help the muscles relax by sending messages to the brain to stop the contraction within the muscle.  This is just one simple example in a very complex situation.

In addition to the physical therapeutic benefits of massage there is the emotional.  Often along with stress comes a hurried life with little to no time to stop and take care of ourselves.  The more we push to avoid the situation, the more we create the havoc.  Therefore by allowing oneself time to rest and receive nurturing touch from a professional becomes a necessity rather than a luxury. 

If you have never experienced this type of massage I encourage you to do so.  If you have and yet do not make the time in your hurried life, I also encourage you to do so.  I have been a Certified Massage Therapist for almost 20 years.  To this day I am still amazed at the change is someone’s face, how they carry themselves (shoulders no longer up to their ears, for example), and the type energy they have after receiving a deep tissue massage.  I see them breathe more deeply and take a moment to sit and relax.  Often they seem like an entirely different person than the one that arrived!  Clearly we are not talking about luxury but something very important for our overall health.

I live in Boulder, Colorado where we are fortunate enough to have a great number of skilled professionals.  If you live in an area where your resources are limited, you might consult one of the following associations to find someone in your area.  

This is a gift to give to yourself or to those whom you love!

For more questions, feel free to email me at info@julie-webster.com and I will try to answer your questions.

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