What can we do about pain?
– sometimes tissues repair but associated protective patterns may not, and that may be creating the persisting pain. Have you developed protective, but harmful, movement patterns? Are there areas of tension, tightness, weakness, compensation, that are not allowing your body to function normally as it once did?
– some tissues don’t repair as well as we would want, so have you learned how to stabilize, support, mobilize, or strengthen the area to make it as healthy as possible?
We all know the urban legend that bad luck or death comes in threes. But have you heard the axiom that death comes by threes? Three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air. While this satisfies my theatrical brain, and the rule of three in drama and story telling, it might not actually be precisely accurate.
True, the body can survive, on average, 3 weeks without food (Ghandi lasted exactly 21 days on his famous hunger strike). But, we can survive a little longer than 3 days without water. Perhaps even up to a week.
As for how long we can survive without oxygen, to be honest, there isn’t an exact number, but there is a pretty basic timeline of what happens to your body and brain without oxygen:
Given that the brain governs our entire body, it goes without saying that keeping it oxygenated is integral to our overall health and wellness. There is a ton of research devoted to oxygen’s role in exercise and post-exercise, everything from VO2max, to anaerobic threshold, to EPOC. High performance athletes benefit a great deal from understanding and enhancing their body’s ability to deliver oxygen throughout their body. But what about the rest of us? Athlete or not, we would all be wise to better understand oxygen’s role in wound healing and recovery.
The body’s ability to thrive, or heal from illness or trauma, is greatly influenced by factors such as nutritional state, immune function, blood flow and volume, hormonal mediators, sleep, etc… but some research suggests that oxygen may, in fact, be a critical rate limiting factor in early stages of repair.
Injury poses two conflicting complications, as the tissue has an increased need for oxygen and metabolic energy, but injury disrupts the normal capillary network, which is responsible for oxygen delivery to the tissue. So, it stands to reason that if you are further depriving your body of oxygen, your body may never meet the demands required for adequate repair and recovery. Let’s look, with very simplified explanations, at some of oxygen’s main roles in wound healing:
There are several metabolic and chemical variables we can manipulate to improve ones oxygen intake, transport, and delivery through the system. There are exercises we can do to improve our respiratory activity, our lung capacity, and even the oxygen transport. In fact, any exercise that challenges your body’s need for oxygen can, over time, improve your body’s uptake and delivery of oxygen. And there are even various oxygen supplementation products on the market. But one free and incredibly easy thing to do is to BREATHE better. I’ve written about this in a previous blog (Just Breathe), and we’ve posted a video on Alternate Nostril Breathing (https://youtu.be/-P6cnNZpdGU), which is a very easy breathing exercise that will help increase the amount of oxygen you are taking in and improve your exhalation, helping you to release carbon dioxide.
In so much as we can improve our oxygen levels, we can also severely hinder it. While there are some conditions that might prevent a person from maximizing their oxygen potential, the single most damaging choice you can make for your overall health is… you guessed it: smoking. Chronic inhalation of tobacco smoke causes irritation, inflammation, and scarring of the lungs tissue. With compromised lung tissue, you can’t get maximal oxygen intake or carbon dioxide output. Further, smoking increases blood levels of carbon monoxide. Yup! The stuff from car exhaust is also found in cigarette smoke. Carbon monoxide has the ability to attach itself to hemoglobin where oxygen otherwise would attach. This further decreases the oxygen delivered to the muscles (and the rest of the body, including the brain). The body tries to compensate for the lack of oxygen by creating more red blood cells. This sounds like a good idea, but more is not always better. In this case, the extra red blood cells can thicken the blood and actually further slow down circulation. It’s a veritable vicious cycle!
Bottom line, if you improve your body’s oxygen levels, you’ll improve its healing potential!
Many thanks to those who came to our seminar series “Understanding and Overcoming Persistent Pain” at the Halifax Library. It was great to help people gain more knowledge about treating and, more importantly, preventing pain. Based on our experience, we know there is a gap in people’s understanding of pain. We wanted to let people know that (1) that they are not alone, (2) that help is available and (3) that it’s possible to regain control over that aspect of life.
Our passion stems from helping people who are suffering with persistent pain live more fulfilled lives. Education, movement, and exercise are key to achieving this. We are firm believers that knowledge is power and it is the first step in gaining freedom from persistent pain.
We were very pleased with the turnout for the last series of workshops and recognize that people want help managing their pain or a loved one’s pain. Here are some upcoming opportunities to learn more:
April 27th at One to One Wellness:
“Health Empowerment: 4 Steps for Shifting From Pain to Performance”
June Seminar Series at the Halifax Library: “Strengthen Your Health”
We will explore different wellness principles and how putting all the pieces together helps to not only overcome pain, but to optimize performance as well. Please come along and bring a friend. If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to ask!
By Tara Patriquin, Massage Therapist
Breathing. Seems simple enough, right? For something that is so innate and natural, many of us could be doing it wrong. I used to be a shallow breather, filling up my chest and carrying all my tension in my shoulders. It wasn’t until I started practicing Yoga, and the art of mindful breathing (Pranayama), that I started to take note of how my breath was making me feel.
Relaxed breathing should see a loose abdomen expand with inhalation, with a mild contraction on the exhalation. The rib cage will spread out to make room for the lungs that are expanding to take in the extra demand of oxygen. So why do many of us do the opposite? Pull in our abdomen and puff out our chests when inhaling? Anxiety? Stress? Habit?
Science has shown us that breathing patterns will change when the emotional or physical patterns change; faster and more shallow when we are anxious or angry, we might hold our breath when we are distracted or in pain, and so on. Studies have also shown that the reverse can be true. We can change our emotional or physical patterns (or at the very least, our reaction to said pattern) by consciously altering our breathing rhythm.
You have likely been asked to slow and deepen your breath during a massage or physio session; thereby, breaking an unconscious pattern and the negative energy that goes with it. In today’s society, we have a tendency to over-stimulate our sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response to stress), and we under-stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest responses). Living in a heightened state of stress has been shown to contribute to a number of illnesses, ranging from heart disease, diabetes, sleep disorders, and a host of pain.
A daily breathing ritual will strengthen your parasympathetic nervous system, providing you with the long list of benefits and reducing the risks associated with having an over-stimulated sympathetic nervous system. Start and end your day with one of these exercises designed to strengthen your diaphragm. The diaphragm is possibly the most important muscle for efficient breathing.
1. Lying on your back with a phone book on your stomach breathe deep in to your stomach allowing the phone book to rise and fall with your breath. When you have taken a deep breath in, hold for 10 seconds and the release, letting the gentle weight of the phone book aid you in letting go of all air before breathing in again.
2. Breathing in to the belly as practiced in the first exercise, plug one nostril and breathe deeply through the open nostril. Then plug the open nostril and breath out the opposite nostril. Repeat several times each side.
3. Breathe through a straw for one minute or until you start to feel dizzy then return to regular breathing. Again, making sure to breathe deep in to the belly. Try this three times.
I have witnessed these exercises work for people with asthma, athletes who wanted to improve their stamina and respiratory endurance, and for those who wanted a deeper meditation.
You can test the strength of your diaphragm using the Snider’s Test. Open your mouth wide and try to blow out a lit match that is six inches away from you. With a strong diaphragm you should be able to do this easily.
There is another simple test that you can do for yourself to measure the general capacity of the diaphragm and lung volume. This one is a favourite among kids. Remember holding your breath under water and having competitions with your friends! For this test you don’t need to get in a pool, but you do need to take a deep breath and see how long you can hold it in. Don’t pass out please! If you can hold it for 50-60 seconds then you are considered to be in good health and to have a good capacity. Of course, these tests are better done with someone else who can watch how the rest of your body is responding to the exercise. It’s no good if while you are holding your breath you are also tensing up through the shoulders and neck, you should be able to perform these tasks with ease, not with tension or awkwardness.
It is interesting to note that abdominal muscles that are too tight can inhibit the freedom of the diaphragm and can in fact cause more anxiousness with deep breathing rather than a sense of relaxation. So, don’t worry about letting your belly hang loose when working on your breathing exercises. The same can be said about tight neck muscles, such as we see with a forward head carriage, since the anterior neck muscles are our secondary respiratory muscles. If this is the case for you, you might want to do the Serenity Roll exercise. Sitting, bring your chin to your chest and exhale fully. Inhale deeply as you roll your head to one shoulder. Exhale as you return to centre. Repeat to the other side, and for about 10 repetitions. Ensure that you are only rolling along the front and avoid tilting your head backwards, and stop at any point of pain, discomfort, or dizziness. This exercise helps relax the neck muscles and to retrain the natural relationship between breathing and the secondary respiratory muscles.
Getting proper oxygen (read: our body’s #1 life force) throughout the body, and the elimination of toxins out of the body, will without a doubt help improve your overall well-being and contribute to a healthier mental state.