Archive for November, 2010

How the Body’s Saran Wrap Wreaks Havoc

Fascia is connective tissue – it holds the pieces-parts of the body together.  You’ve seen it if you’ve ever handled raw, bone-in chicken.  If you take a whole chicken and pull off the skin, you’ll see the thin, glossy looking fascia underneath.  It connects the skin to the muscles and you’ll be able to see more of it if you try to separate two distinct muscles from one another.  Fascia wraps each muscle and sits between the skin and the muscles.  I imagine it as the body’s internal Saran Wrap.

Not only does this chicken-skin-stuff sit underneath your skin, but it wraps every internal organ, every gland, every bone, every nerve, every tendon, every ligament, every muscle, and every muscle fiber.  Fascia wraps your body up, gives it a shape and allows movement all at the same time.  It’s as if you’ve got cling wrap holding every muscle, body and tissue in place.  The problem is that fascia responds to overuse and injury just like every other tissue in the body.

I just found a wonderful article about fascia and how it creates pain the body.  Fascia, just like other connective tissue (muscles, ligaments, tendons) can be injured or impaired.  Because all of this tissue interconnects, and travels all different directions in the body, an injury in one place can translate into discomfort, pain or weakness to other parts of the body.  It’s as if you’ve wrapped your body into a solid figure by knitting or weaving all the different parts of you together.  A snag or pull in one place can translate to another area.

This article talks about specific ways in which these Myofascial Adhesions can create issues in the body:

You may feel tingling or cold extremities due to poor blood circulation and/or nerve impingements. You may feel extreme tightness or lack flexibility in certain muscles while having extreme pain or pulling sensations in counteracting muscles. Knots develop over time known as Trigger Points. And then there is the ultimate myofascial adhesion, scar tissue.

via Massage Therapy 101: the mysterious ’Myofascial Adhesion’ – Virginia Beach healthy living |

The more I work on clients, the more I see the importance of fascia because it gives kinetic energy a path to travel through the body.  The body is a complicated system of pulleys (muscles and tendons), levers (bones) and joints (ligaments) that allows movement.  Although it’s the muscles changing shape that drives movement, the myofascial system helps direct the force through the tissues of the body. It spreads kinetic energy from movement up and down the body, enabling us to move smoothly and proceed from one movement to the next by directing force across the tissue.

Injuries, either from overuse, bad posture or microtears in the tissue heal, but they also create small adhesions as they do.  These adhesions change the way the body moves, distributing force slightly differently.  Severe injuries, surgery and the healing process from them also create adhesions.  These adhesions can restrict range of movement, impinge blood vessels or nerves and change movement patterns.

The difficulty in healing from these injuries is that fascia needs movement to work itself out.  Massage can help loosen the adhesions, but long-term injuries and fascial restrictions require movement, either through physical therapy or exercise to keep working on the adhesions that have been created.  In some cases, fascial restrictions remain in place long after the original injury has healed, leaving residual pain and discomfort that may be hard to quantify to a medical professional.

The bottom line is this:  All that stuff that holds you together and keeps you moving smoothly is fragile and it can get tangled up and snagged very easily.  The best way to keep this from happening is to keep moving, exercise regularly and go to your doctor at the beginning of an injury rather than waiting weeks.  The longer you wait, the more adhesions and fascial restrictions may set in.  It’s better to be proactive and keep moving on the front end that to wait until you’ve got a chronic issues that requires a more extensive recovery period.


Turkey Day Tamp Down Massage: Make Room for More Pie

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’ve put together a short abdominal massage routine you can do on yourself to aid in your digestion and create a little room for a second dessert (more pie) or for that second or third Thanksgiving gathering you may have.

Go for a short walk and wait an hour or two after your heavy meal to do this massage.  Abdominal massage keeps things moving in the small intestines and the colon, and helps the body digest food.  This kind of massage is great to use every day and when your digestive system is feeling a little sluggish.  But really, for Thanksgiving, it’s just a way to make room for more pie.

Gobble, Gobble and Happy Buddha Belly (and please share with your friends):


iPhone and Blackberry Hand Massage (Part 3 of the Crackberry Recovery Program)

OK, I’ve told you twice, you need to take more breaks when you use your Blackberry (Crackberry), iPhone and Droid for long periods of time. You’ll get texting thumb! If you’re already on one, check out this video on how to massage your own hands from all that time on the smartphones. So, turn it sideways to see the video below and work on your own hands.

I’m using a tennis ball in the video for part of the hand massage, but you can use any kind of ball with a little bit of give to it. If you only have decorative, ceramic or stone balls, you can use them, but go easy on the pressure so you don’t hurt your hands.

If you find that you need more pressure than you can get sitting down, you can stand up and use your body weight to add some pressure to the tennis ball to give yourself a deeper massage on your palm. Again, be careful if you’re not using a ball with some give to it. Never go too deep on your hands – you only have those two, so take care of them.

Here’s Crackberry/iPhone Addicts Part 1 and Crackberry/iPhone Addicts Part 2 if you missed them. This massage is designed to be done after doing the stretches and massaging in parts 1 and 2, but you can try them out without. After the stretches for the hand in part 2, this feels wonderful.

Here’s the video – enjoy:

Although these videos won’t cure you of your Blackberry/iPhone addiction, they can help your body recover from the stresses. Use them daily if you’re a heavy user. Stay strong!


Crackberry Addict Recovery Program: Part 2

Hey wait, are you still reading this on your iPhone?  Sending a message on a Blackberry?  Bent over your Droid?

I hope you’ve been doing your stretches!  On Monday I posted a short video of stretches for Crackberry addicts and iPhone users. If you’ve tried them out after a session on your smartphone you know how much better your arms and shoulders feel.

Today’s part 2 video includes stretches for the hands and fingers, and they feel good after some time bent over those little phones that do so much.

Stay tuned for part 3 next week that includes massage tips for the hand.

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Cholesterol Lowering Statins Cause Muscle and Joint Pain

Statins are common cholesterol lowering medication.  Millions of people use them.  You may not know that one of the most common side effects of statins is muscle pain and joint discomfort:

Over 20 million people in the United States take statins. Muscle and joint pain are some of the most common side effects of cholesterol lowering statins. These side effects are clearly stated by the drug manufacturers and in some cases, may be serious. [. . .]

The intent of this article is to bring to light those side effects that a massage therapist may encounter. They include but are not limited to muscle aches or weakness, tendon problems, muscle cramps and arthralgia.  via Chasing the Pain.

This recent post in Massage Today brought something to light that I wanted to share: in some cases, medication can cause changes in your body that are perceived as joint discomfort or muscle pain and achiness.  In the case of this article, doctors listed joint pain as one of the most common side effects of statins.

If you’ve recently started taking statins, or noticed a change in your muscles or joints since starting statins, changing cholesterol medication or altering your dose, consult with your physician about it.  While massage may be able to help the achiness or joint discomfort by bringing additional blood flow to the area or loosening muscles that have tightened because of the discomfort, the root cause of the pain, the medication, will still affect the body.  In this case, massage cannot rid the body of the pain and discomfort.

The lesson here is that whenever you make any change in medication, whether it’s the prescription, the dose, the class of drug or the frequency with which you take it, listen to your body.  Make note of changes that can’t be accounted for by other means.  Consider that achiness, soreness, neuropathy and other sensations within the body might be side effects from changes to medication.  Always, always, consult with your physician and pharmacist in these cases.  They are the knowledge experts in these areas, and will be able to help you determine a course of action.

For massage regulars, keep your massage therapist up to date on changes to medication or dosage.  Massage therapists, ask questions about medication changes if sudden, unexplained muscle or joint pain or discomfort becomes a common complaint.   And for those of you currently on statins, just remember to keep in touch with the body, and remember that even small changes can effect the body as a system.  Be aware and listen to the body.

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Crackberry Addict Recovery Program: Stretches

Hi.  My name is Heather.  I’m a Crackberry Addict.  Well, not really.  I have a Droid X that’s my addiction, but I steal my brother’s iPhone when he’s around.  So I spend a lot of time huddled over a tiny keyboard, thumbing and poking at tiny keys and touch keyboards.

As do a lot of my clients.  Maybe even YOU!

Smartphones are incredible tools, but they weren’t designed for long term use, and I know some of you spend a LOT of time thumbing away on the Crackberry.  So, for a just a minute: PUT THE CRACKBERRY DOWN AND STEP AWAY FROM THE DEVICE.

Unless of course that’s how you’re viewing this.  In that case, set it on a surface so you can see the following video (Part 1 of 2) that demonstrates stretches to help with the tight hands, wrists, forearms and achy shoulders of all those hours poking away at the keyboard letter by letter.

If you want to be able to continue to rely on your Smartphone, you’ve got to keep your hands and arms in shape.  More stretches for the hand later this week so stay tuned.  Next week I might put together self massage for the hand! (Useful for lots of time cooking for Thanksgiving, too.)

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Drain your Head and Breathe!

Want to be able to breathe again?  At the end of a cold, or a day full of allergies, it would feel better if there were just less stuff in your head.  Here’s a way to do that yourself.

It’s that time of year, again, and clients are canceling appointments from colds, dust and mold allergies and all the recurring sinus stuff that kicks up in the fall and early winter.  I spend much of my time performing Lymphatic Drainage Massage (LDM) during sessions to try and clear out the congestion and stuffiness in the head.  But this massage is very easy and simple to perform on yourself.

When I feel that tickle start in my throat or my nose starts to feel dry and sneezy, I take about 4-5 minutes to perform a quick version of this on myself.  The two most important keys to keep in mind are to go very, very slow and use very, very light pressure.

Contraindications for Lymphatic Drainage Massage

While it doesn’t feel invasive or deep, LDM can have a profound effect on the body because of its function within the immune system and its use of the circulatory system. If you have any of these conditions or problems, consult your physician before performing this on yourself:

  1. Fever, acute infection, early onset inlammatory disease. You need to wait until the acute phase is over and the fever is broken.
  2. Circulatory system problems, especially thrombosis. If there is any risk of embolism of phlebitis, do not use LDM and see your physician immediately
  3. Cardiac issues such as heart disease, acute angina pectoris or coronary thrombosis (heart attack). Using LDM increases the fluid load on the heart, and compromised cardiac systems should not be subjected to LDM.
  4. Active bleeding, internal or external.
  5. Active malignant cancers, undiagnosed lumps, or tumors whose origins have not been determined by your physician.
  6. High risk pregnancy or late term pregnancy with complications

What to Expect

While you may start feeling the fluid move relatively quickly, this may not remove all of your congestion and it may take several sessions to get things moving.   Some signs that it’s moving the fluid: feeling a change in pressure in your head, ears draining, nose starting to run, tickle in the back of your throat, needing to swallow as drainage starts to flow, ears popping or sound changes volume.   This method helps about 75% of the people who come into my office with congestion from allergies or colds.  Try it out and see if it works for you.

This excellent post from the Association of Bodywork and Massage Professionals site gives a good foundation for understanding more about the lymph system and Lymphatic Drainage Massage.

Enjoy the video!

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How to Setup Your Laptop for YOU and Your Body

How not to work on your laptop
After last week’s post about workstation ergonomics, I realized that many people have to be in the same situation as I am – my main computer is a laptop.  If you’re like me, and use a laptop as your primary workstation, it’s hard to get the computer in a good position for your body.

Here are the complaints that I see in my clients with extended periods of time on laptops:

  • neck pain and shoulder pain (especially on the side that’s the dominant hand used for mousing)
  • cricks in the neck
  • tingling and numbness in the hands and fingers
  • weakened strength in the hands and wrists
  • puffy, full joints in the fingers, hands and wrist in the morning
  • reduced range of motion in the neck, arms or wrists
  • headaches at the base of the skull or at the temples and forehead
  • lower back and mid back pain, especially after extended periods without breaks
  • leg pain in the hip and thigh

No one has all of these symptoms, but increased time on laptops has produced the above-mentioned issues for my clients.  If you have these issues after time on your laptop, it’s time to change your setup so you can work comfortably and minimize the strain on your body.

While you’ll never be able to get your laptop in a beneficial position for your body, you may be able to mitigate the hardship working on a laptop creates on your body with some of these tips:

  1. Decide what you’re going to be doing on the laptop, keyboarding or viewing.  If you’re largely keyboarding, setup the laptop so it’s easy for you to type.  Keep your elbows at 90 degrees.  If you’re going to be doing less keyboarding and more reading or using the monitor, raise the laptop so that the screen is at the proper viewing height.  The top of the laptop screen should be at eye level and about 20 inches from your eyes.
  2. If you’re going to work on your laptop for extended periods of time, or if your laptop is going to be your main computer, invest in an extra keyboard or mouse (or just take them from an older computer).  Plug in the laptop on a table that lets you keep your arms at 90 degrees to reach the keyboard, and mouse, and use a laptop docking station or a stack of books to raise the monitor so that the top of it is just just at or above eye level.  Keep the neck as straight as possible, preventing a downward bend of the head to view the monitor.
  3. Take frequent breaks – at least every 30-45 minutes – while using a laptop.  If you’re like me, and sit with your legs crossed while using the laptop, taking frequent breaks is critical to keeping bloodflow in the legs and actually being able to walk once you unknot yourself from your sitting position.
  4. Number three is so important, I’ll say it again.  TAKE FREQUENT BREAKS.  Yes, more frequent than every 2-3 hours.  Get up, stretch out your hands, arms, neck and back every 30-45 minutes.  Really.  I’m serious about this one.
  5. When you carry the laptop and all its sundry accessories, use a backpack, not a shoulder bag.  Unless you have a netbook that you’re putting into a bag with nothing else, carrying the bag with one shoulder may cause pain and discomfort in the neck, shoulder and upper back, and may also cause numbness, tingling or weakness in the arm or hand.

Side note:  There’s been some media attention to laptop burn on legs lately – make sure you’ve got a laptop desk, book or binder between the bottom of your laptop and your skin/pants if you’re actually using your laptop (gasp) on your lap.

And just so it’s clear, laying on your stomach on the floor or a mattress and using the laptop is about as bad for your body as you can get, so don’t think that’s any better in the long run, either.

Here are the main sources I used to compile this information for you.  The one from Berkeley has some good tips for cheap ways to make using a laptop easier on the body.  And, the video is a good introduction to laptop ergonomics as well.

Ergonomic information for laptops:

(Post script:  I used almost all of the above mentioned tips in the writing and posting of this blog entry.  And it made a difference.  Try it out!)

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Massage Yourself: Lower Back and Hip Massage

It’s unfortunate that the back is one of the primary places people experience pain, tension and discomfort because it’s the one place it’s hard for us to reach ourselves.

Enter the tennis ball, small wonder of wonders.  By using a tennis ball, you can use the pressure of the ball as you place it between yourself and the wall in order to massage your own back.

In this video I demonstrate using a tennis ball to massage your own lower back, but you can use the techniques to also work on the upper back and shoulders as well (I’ll demo that in a later video).

So, try this out on yourself if you suffer from lower back or hip discomfort.  Please note that you should NOT use a decorative ball, a ceramic ball, a wooden or metal ball or anything except a tennis ball.  The amount of “give” the ball has will keep you from hurting yourself if you try to use deep pressure.

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How to Set Up Your Workstation

Do you end the day achy, with a sore neck and shoulders?  Do you have numbness and tingling in your fingers and forearms?  Your desk setup may be at fault.  For many people, the setup of the computer workstation has more to do with the furniture available than the best setup for an individual.

First, take a quick assessment of your posture.  An article from TweakFit suggests putting your heels at the wall and seeing what parts of the body come in contact with the wall:

Counter all the forward slumping over your desk/keyboard and stand with your back against a wall. Start with your heels touching the wall. Try to notice what parts of your body are in alignment. Do your calves also touch the wall? Does your butt touch? Where does your back hit the wall? Is it just your shoulderblades touching? How much space is between the back of your shoulder and the wall? Can you get the back of your head to comfortably rest against the wall?

via Posture Saving Tip | TweakFit.

One of the most important things to notice is whether or not the back of your head touches the wall.  If it does, your neck is in good shape.  If you have to push your head back to touch the wall, you’ve got a head forward posture.  A head forward posture places additional strain on the neck and shoulders and all the muscles of the neck and upper back because they much work harder to hold the head.  If the back of your head touches the wall, your skull is centered over your spine and the bones support the bulk of the weight of the head rather than the muscles working to hold the head up in a head-forward posture.

Because so much of our day is centered around our computers and workstations, we spend a good deal of every day in whatever posture our computers put us in.  But here’s a thought:  put the computer in the best possible position for you instead of the other way around.  One of the things that contributes to a head-forward posture is improper ergonomics (body positioning) at a computer workstation.

Here’s a quick summary of the most important ergonomic tips of workstation setup:

  1. Keep the thighs parallel to the floor.
  2. Keep your elbows at 90 degrees with the elbows on the same plane as the torso, not forward of the side of the ribcage.
  3. If your keyboard height puts your elbow angle at less than 90 degrees, raise your chair, and put a foot rest underneath your feet so your legs are once again parallel to the floor.
  4. Move your monitor so that your eyeline falls at the top of the monitor, with the monitor at 15 degrees.
  5. Your eyes should be at least 20 inches from the monitor.

This picture (also from Tweakfit) outlines the best position for working at a computer.

How to setup your workstation ergonomically

The two most important tips here are these:  keeping the elbows at 90 degrees and keeping the monitor at a good height or level.  Adjust the monitor higher by adding books or other objects beneath it to raise it.   If the monitor is too high, raise your chair and put a footrest underneath your feet.

If the keyboard is too low, try raising the keyboard tray or putting the keyboard on the desk surface (although this will mean that you’ll need to raise the monitor as well).  If the keyboard is too high, use a keyboard tray or raise your chair.  Remember, the best height for the keyboard keeps your elbows close to 90 degrees.

These tips on the ergonomic setup of your workstation will help alleviate the stress bad posture puts on your body.  However, it is also important that you take frequent breaks, at least one per hour, to stand up from your desk, relax your shoulders and stretch out your back.  In a future post, I will link to some software tools that will remind you to take breaks during your day.

Until then, take a peek at your workstation setup and make some adjustments.  Your shoulders with thank you.  And your neck, and eyes, and arms, and wrists, and fingers, and. . .

Other links to check out for more detailed information:

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