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!
By Andrea McCulloch, RMT
You may be familiar with the song which describes how the “toe bone is connected to the foot bone, the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone, the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone”. A beautifully simple and clear lesson in skeletal anatomy, but there is so much more going on!
We are born into gravity and for the rest of our lives we are in a constant relationship with it. It is sometimes a battle, and gravity very often wins! But our bodies are very specifically designed to engage in this relationship – we have bones that are shaped and placed to bear weight and/or transmit the forces associated with gravity. In theory, if we used our bodies as they are designed, we shouldn’t have a problem with gravity. And I’m not just talking about losing your balance and falling down, I’m talking about the slow deterioration of joints, the “falling” of the arch of your foot, the downward sloping of the shoulders. Of course, there is the natural ageing process, but most of us spend a lifetime developing postures and movement patterns that will potentially speed up that process. How do these dysfunctional patterns develop? Through compensations. These are the acquired patterns that we adopt to keep us moving upright through gravity when we’ve been injured – and it’s not always a traumatic injury. Sometimes the injury is the slow onset of dysfunction related to how we spend our lives – sitting 8hrs a day, for example!
How does this relate to the song? Well, as I said, there’s much more to it than one bone connected to the next – the position and function of one joint can affect joints all the way along the chain. Let’s consider a common area of injury which may result in compensations down the line. “The hip bone is connected to the back bone” – in proper anatomical terms this is the iliac bone connecting to the sacrum. Perhaps you’ve experienced some low back or hip/buttock pain and been told it is your “SI joint (sacroiliac joint)”? This is the joint between the “hip bone” and the “back bone”, and as such it is very important in translating forces between your lower body and your upper body. The sacrum is a wedge shaped bone at the base of your spine and is specifically designed to translate forces (not weight bear) from above, across the wide base at the top of the bone through to the hips. If, through trauma (a fall on the ice), or habitual positioning (seated with legs crossed), your sacrum is knocked (trauma) or pulled (muscles from habit) out of position, it will no longer transmit those gravitational forces evenly through the pelvis. Now, with a sacrum in a dysfunctional position, there is more weight being born on one side. Sacral dysfunction often does illicit local discomfort, and may prompt you to seek treatment.
But in some cases, it isn’t treated and a compensatory gait has already developed, altering the positioning of the hip, the knee, the ankle, and the bones of the foot, allowing them to bear that extra little bit of weight that is coming down the line, keeping you upright in gravity. And thank goodness those joints did compensate, otherwise a lifetime of sitting with your legs crossed would mean you would fall over every time you tried to stand up! But it also means that now these joints are doing more than their share, and here we have the accelerated ageing mentioned earlier. (And don’t even get me started on how altered movement of the sacrum can affect the contents of your pelvis (bladder, uterus, prostate, colon), and even the spine and head!)
And to be clear, it can work in both directions – maybe that old ankle injury has altered weight bearing at the foot, and years later your knee and hip are giving out. So don’t be surprised if after a thorough assessment your manual therapist tells you that even though your pain is always in your left hip, the problem is originating at your right ankle!
Now that you see how your body is a functional unit (not a bunch of pieces operating independently), what advice do I have? Treat it that way! Move! In every possible direction – let your muscles do all of the things they were designed for (how often do you use the full range of your shoulder?) When you move, move the whole thing! When you seek treatment for a specific pain, don’t forget to mention that you repeatedly sprained your ankle when you were younger. Don’t leave out that you have frequent headaches, or digestive issues. Your manual therapist may ask you a lot of questions that don’t seem to be related to your complaint, now you know why!
Maybe the song should be “the foot bone is connected to… everything”!
Bones and joints: bone broth provides the raw materials for building and reparation of lean tissues. There is even some evidence to support regular consumption reducing joint pain.
Does it matter to your body what position you sleep in? Well, yes and no. I would like to give you a short answer, but in order to make sense, I am going to have to take the detour route on this one. Let’s start with a little background and a bit of a review from a prior post (May 2010 “Help Yourself Help Your Neck”).
The musculoskeletal system of our body, meaning the stuff we can actually control in some manner (good luck altering the position of you liver…) is made up of muscles, bones/joints, and nerves. Nerves basically tell our muscles how to move our joints, though this process function is much more complex than that. Muscles are pretty much reactors to what our brain is sending signals through our nerves to do, and since they really only know how to do one thing, and that is to either contract (shorten) or relax (lengthen) to move the joints and nerves that are attached to them, I consider them sort of the “dumb brother” of the three siblings. Here’s why:
Muscles only know how to move (by contracting and relaxing), and when they do, the joints and nerves they are moving are happy. The problem is, when we aren’t moving (most of us aren’t like 2 year olds who are in a constant state of changing position), the muscles still want to contract, and will. And then they get stiff, tighter, and they make you feel stiff and tighter, along with not allowing the joints to get the lubrication they need because of the lack of movement and the nerves may even get a little sensitized because you have been sort of ignoring them.
Now imagine your daily routine. You go to work, you sit at a desk, you look straight ahead most of the day and your back gets slumped until the 5 o’clock bell sounds. You go home, make some dinner, watch some tv or read a book, and then maybe go for a light walk if it’s a nice evening. How much do you think your neck and back muscles have actually moved through their full range of motion (meaning flexing, extending, rotating, and side bending)? My guess (from hearing the history of seeing many clients) is not much. That being said, do you think your body is stiff before you even go to bed? Yup.
So that brings you to the end of your day when you are going to be in a mostly static position for another 8 hours. I’m thinking you shouldn’t be looking for a “looseness miracle” in the morning to make you feel like you are 15 years old again. Proper positioning during night is helpful (see below) but even more importantly is having a good, quality sleep. That means your are rested and relaxed and you have a better chance of waking up without pain. But you need to go to bed a lot more mobile so you don’t stiffen up further during the night or you have no hope of waking up looser! Just talk to a physiotherapist on ways to get yourself looser throughout the day and my bet is your sleep will improve lots.
Specifically speaking though, and keeping in mind the above, I am most often going to recommend side sleeping (possibly with a pillow between your knees if you like that) or on your back (also possibly with a pillow below your knees if you arch a lot in your lower back in this position). Stomach sleeping can lead to a bit of neck problems because you have to breathe and so your head has to be turned one way or the other most of the night, which can stiffen your neck over time. For proper pillow information, check out my other blog (July 2011, “Can You Recommend A Pillow?”) which can affect sleep comfort as well as position.
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.
One day, upon waking up from a nap, I looked to my computer for the time. There, staring me in the face, was a post-it: “BLOG”! So it hit me: I’ll write about napping.
The topic of sleep has always fascinated me, from the hormonal balance of our circadian rhythms, to the metabolic processes that occur during sleep, and even the dreams that we have. While establishing a good sleep routine is critical to your overall health, I am a firm believer in the power of the power nap! You see, growing up in my family was a dream. We were not only allowed – but encouraged – to take a nap if we were tired. My parents were of the belief that a healthy body and mind was a well-rested one. I suppose part of this stems from the fact that my dad worked shift work and my mom suffered from severe migraines. Nevertheless, a goodnight’s sleep and naps are still commonplace in my life.
Napping gets a bad rap, but the average adult could benefit from this often-tabooed activity. While diet and proper energy maintenance can help reduce the effects of the afternoon crash, researchers are discovering that our body’s natural sleep rhythm may dictate a midday nap. Studies have even shown that a 20-minute power nap is more beneficial to the body than taking those extra 20 minutes in the morning.
Ancient Yogis knew the benefits of a cat-nap on the immune and nervous system. And, to this day, many countries include a siesta in their workday. Originally the siesta was intended for family time, and time with friends, not necessarily a nap. Over the years, however, the term has become synonymous with an afternoon nap. Japan has introduced “nap salons”, with some companies covering the fees for their workers as part of their health benefits. And, in China the right to rest in the afternoon is an actual Constitutional right.
Being fatigued can interfere with your mental productivity, your physical alertness, and your emotional stability. All of these impairments can interfere with many activities of daily living and your motivation to stick to your fitness regimen. Not to mention, many people’s clean eating falls victim to fatigue, since we are more apt to reach for sugar or stimulants when feeling sluggish. Sadly, because we are such a fast paced society, our work schedules are now conflicting with our shut-eye time and the natural rejuvenation of a power nap has been replaced by the artificial stimulation of a 15-minute coffee break. But you can reverse the formula; trade your second cup of coffee for a nap!
So, just how long should you nap? This certainly stirs up some debate. It’s a delicate balance between too little and too much. Isn’t everything?! Most specialists say that you should aim for between 15 and 30 minutes. Generally speaking, anything shorter and you might cheat yourself out of any reparatory work, any longer and your body sinks in to a deeper sleep, making it harder to wake up and even harder to fall back asleep later that night. Other research indicates that an hour nap might be necessary for some, to allow the body to go through a full sleep cycle.
Properly managing any length of a nap requires the person to be really in tune with his sleep cycles. This may differ depending on the situation. At work, a 20-minute nap might suffice, while on the weekend a 60 or 90-minute full REM sleep might be in order. Experiment with your own cycle and find the right amount that lets you wake up feeling rejuvenated. Your level of grogginess, or sleep inertia, upon waking can be a good measuring tool, since it’s believed that grogginess comes from sleep cycles being broken, not so much the total time of sleep.
You want to find your ideal nap length so that you can shake the grogginess within 15 minutes. Take your time getting up, and avoid doing anything too challenging. When you wake up, do some mobility exercises and get the blood moving, add in some deep breathing, and a gentle mantra. Then splash some cold water on your face and away you go. ?
Napping isn’t for everyone. Specialists discourage insomniacs, narcoleptics, or people with larger medically sleep deprived concerns from napping. Even if you can’t have a full nap, every little bit of downtime does count. Maybe you need to just “rest your eyes” for a few minutes (which is what my father will say before the snoring sets in). Some people simply can’t nap, try as they might. Good news: meditation can also produce the same resting effects on the brain waves similar to sleep. And in turn, the meditation will help lead to better night sleep. Even a 30-minute massage will give some physical and mental rest!
Despite how well you manage your sleep cycles, there will be days when your busy schedule takes hold and a power nap could save the day. I know it certainly has saved some of mine! So next time someone accuses you of sleeping on the job, hold your head up high and suggest that he does the same.
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