Archive for Stretching

Take your Medicine – Get a Massage! Research Results Hit the Mainstream

Massage regulars have known for years that massage isn’t just a luxury item. Massage is a necessity to keep you able, moving and ready to face the day. For people with chronic pain, massage is a way to find relief without taking more pills. And research is starting to agree:

Research over the past couple of years has found that massage therapy boosts immune function in women with breast cancer, improves symptoms in children with asthma, and increases grip strength in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome. Giving massages to the littlest patients, premature babies, helped in the crucial task of gaining weight.

The benefits go beyond feelings of relaxation and wellness that people may recognize after a massage. The American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society now include massage as one of their recommendations for treating low back pain, according to guidelines published in 2007.

New research is also starting to reveal just what happens in the body after a massage. While there have long been theories about how massage works—from releasing toxins to improving circulation—those have been fairly nebulous, with little hard evidence. Now, one study, for example, found that a single, 45-minute massage led to a small reduction in the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the blood, a decrease in cytokine proteins related to inflammation and allergic reactions, and a boost in white blood cells that fight infection.

via Don’t Call It Pampering: Massage Wants to Be Medicine – WSJ.com.

This article from the Wall Street Journal shares details of the benefits of massage that have been verified via research. Massage research has prompted it to be recognized as a treatment for low back pain, and they’ve also documented a change in the stress hormone levels, cortisol, that takes place in tissue after just one massage:

New research is also starting to reveal just what happens in the body after a massage. While there have long been theories about how massage works—from releasing toxins to improving circulation—those have been fairly nebulous, with little hard evidence. Now, one study, for example, found that a single, 45-minute massage led to a small reduction in the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, in the blood, a decrease in cytokine proteins related to inflammation and allergic reactions, and a boost in white blood cells that fight infection.

via Don’t Call It Pampering: Massage Wants to Be Medicine – WSJ.com.

In addition, massage is also being touted as an effective treatment for osteoarthritis, and is now being studied in healthy people as well as people with chronic issues or injuries. Massage research is in its infancy, but its a growing field, so take a look at the WSJ article for more information on what has been confirmed and presented in the last few years of research of massage.

The findings presened in the article and elsewhere from research point out the need for a more systemic approach to research of massage and hint and broad benefits to both the body and the mind. Those of you who already receive regular won’t be surprised by this. Those of you who love massage may find it hopeful. And those of you who haven’t tried massage? Well, let’s hope some of this information talks  you into heading onto a table for some bodywork.

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The ONE Thing You Can Do To Feel Better

timer

I’ll bet many of you made resolutions to take better care of yourself, to change bad habits or to improve your self-care regimen. There’s one simple and easy way to make a huge difference in the way your body feels at the end of the day. Breaks. Frequent breaks.

If there’s one thing I talk clients and friends into doing for themselves – one thing that truly makes a huge difference to the body and mind – it’s taking more frequent breaks during the day. When I ask people if they take breaks when they’re at the computer all day, many say, “Oh, yes! I make sure I take a break every two or three hours!”

That’s two or three hours that your body is in one position, doing one or two movements. Two or three hours where you are quite possibly crouched over the keyboard intently focused on your work and ignoring the signs and signals your body is trying to give you to get up and MOVE!

The Nag Confesses

I confess, I am a professional nag. It’s my job to nag my clients and readers to take better care of themselves. I even nag myself as I’m working on my laptop typing this and note that it’s been 30 minutes since I sat down to start writing this.  I realized last night while checking email that I’d managed to loose myself in Facebook, CNN and various blogs for two hours while sitting sideways on the couch with my laptop. I nagged myself, then jumped up and took a break.

What I Mean by “Break”

I don’t mean a 15 minute break. I don’t even mean a five minute break (although if you have the time, five minutes would be ideal). I’m talking about 30 seconds to 2 minutes. You can even do this while you’re on the phone.

If you sit all day: stand up. Lace your fingers together and stretch out your arms overhead. Stretch for a few seconds, then unlace your fingers and lean down into a forward bend (as if you were going to touch your toes). Let your head, shoulders and neck relax for 5-10 seconds. Stand back up, focus on dropping your shoulders and gently stretch your neck out side to side and front to back. Open your mouth and stretch your jaw. That’s it.

You can do more (stretch the wrists and hands with flexion and extension of the wrist, stretch the forearms and shoulders), but the simple act of standing up, stretching your shoulders and neck for a few seconds and leaning into a forward bend will make a huge difference.

You’ll notice when you sit back down you have better posture. Your shoulders will be a little lower, and your back may feel a little more stretched out. Feels good doesn’t it?

If you stand all day: lace your fingers together and stretch your arms overhead as I described above. Then slowly bend forward and reach down as if to try and touch your toes. Come back up, put your hands in the small of your back and gently lean back as if you were looking at the sky. Hold for a few seconds, then bend down again as if to touch your toes. Turn your torso to look over each shoulder a couple of times, then do the side to side neck stretches and neck rotations.

Easy, right? And it isn’t asking you to spend 10-15 minutes an hour stretching out. Don’t get me wrong; if you had the time to stretch 10 minutes an hour throughout the day, your body would feel fantastic, but lets be realistic. You’re much more likely to do the breaks and stretching  if it’s only going to require a minute each time you do them.

Take a Break Every 30-45 Minutes

If you work on a computer all day, and especially if you spend long hours in one position, you need to get up for a break every 30 -45 minutes. Remember, we’re not talking about a 5 or 10 minute break. I’m talking about standing up, stretching out your arms, neck, shoulders and back and sitting back down again. Yes, it’s frequent, but it’s easy, and you can set a timer to keep track of how often you need to take a break.

You’re wondering if I really meant to type that you need a break that frequently, and the answer is yes. You do need to. Your body reacts to the position and physical motions it goes through all day. It makes muscles that are always contracted tighter, and muscles that are constantly stretched out due to posture weaker. It’s as if you’re programming that position into your body’s operating system and rewriting the static state of your bones and muscles even when you’re not working.

So, every 30 to 45 minutes. That is not a typo.

Try it for Five Days

When I talk to clients about stretching I don’t ask them to make a huge commitment. I ask them to try stretching breaks for a week. Five to seven days of short stretch break will make a measurable differences in how you feel. In five to seven days you’ll know if it will help. And you’ll have a tool to add to your toolbox for periods when the body starts to speak up.

I’d love for every client to make a commitment to stretch every 30-45 minutes for the rest of their lives, but that’s hard for some people to agree to. So try it for 5-7 days. Note how much better your body feels. Then work it into your routine for good.

It’s quick, it’s easy, and it doesn’t require a huge commitment.

So this is another nag: start taking breaks every 30-45 minutes when you’re working or on the computer. Just try it for a few days and you’ll see what a difference it will make.

Break Timers Online

You can search for all kinds of break timer software online. Some even pop up with a set of exercises and stretches for you to do at regular intervals. One free break timer I’ve used is the Scirocco Break Timer.  Here’s another I haven’t tried but looks like would work just fine: Time Left. And a third that came up in my google search: Work/Break Timer.

Addendum: This Applies to Hobbies, Too!

Although this post is geared toward those who work in one position for hours at a time, it also applies to people who work on hobbies and projects for hours at a time. If you’re spending time quilting, knitting or weaving (Mom, this means you), take a break every 30-45 minutes. If you’re doing home improvement, painting, playing an instrument, or reading, get up for that break just as frequently. Just because it’s something you love to do doesn’t mean your body will forgive you for being in that position for 3 or 4 hours! So stand up and stretch to prevent paying for it later. It’ll keep you in shape to keep doing your favorite things.

Photo credit: Flickr.com CCL: User wwarby

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Happy, Happy New Year!

The start of a new year always brings with it resolutions. But in reality, all resolutions are about one thing: improving yourself. Whether it’s improving your body, improving your emotional health, improving your career or improving your relationships with others, it’s almost always all about growth.

One easy way to improve your body, your health and your life is self-care. Whether you come to see me for self-care and getting the kinks out to work on chronic issues, or if you use self-massage, stretching or couples massage, start making time in your schedule for you. In as little as 5 minutes a day you can make a noticeable difference in your body and your flexibility and pain levels.

There’s a huge range of problems and issues massage can be used to ease. In fact, I have videos for quite a number of them:

How about getting a handle on that stiff neck? Or, do you want to know a way to clear out your head from colds and allergies? What about issues with insomnia? Getting rid of a headache? Carpal tunnel syndrome issues or forearm and hand pain?

And if part of your resolution concerns your relationship with others, what about using massage as a means to help others in your circle? You could soothe a stressful day with a fantastic foot massage, or give someone a sensational face massage. Something as simple as a scalp massage or forehead/ear massage can make a huge difference to the receiver of the massage.

Massage can be something done every day as a part of your routine to take care of yourself. It’s easy, effective, and keeps the body moving. In the end, isn’t that what we all want for the next year – to keep moving?

Happy New Year!

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TMJ Awareness Month: Massage Resources

I just found out that November is TMJ Awareness month, and I wanted to share a couple of massage resources I have with you. Temperomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ) is a condition in which the TMJ joint (the joint that’s the hinge of your jaw) becomes inflamed. The inflammation, which can be acute or chronic, leads to pain and loss of function in the jaw, mouth, ears and neck. Sometimes, clients report difficulty chewing, or opening their mouth wide. They can also feel pain or fullness in the ears. Clicking and popping sounds from the joint itself can also indicate TMJ symptoms. Migraines, headaches, dizziness and tinnitus can also be a associated with TMJ disorder.

I have a couple of videos that you might want to view. The first is a video that I put together that shows some acupressure points that are helpful for TMJ syndrome. The original is here on a previous blog post: http://blog.massagebyheather.com/jaw-pressure-point-massage/

 

 

Another technique that can also help is lymphatic drainage of the ears. This video can show you how to perform lymphatic drainage on yourself so you can reduce fluid around and in the ears.

 

 

 

And if you can talk your spouse, partner or friend into it, you can add this one to the list:

So, take some time to watch the videos if you or a loved one has issues with TMJ syndrome. Using self-massage gives you a tool to give yourself immediate relief from the pain, and it also gives you another tool to use in your management and treatment of the symptoms.

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Healing the Hunch – Can Exercise Help Dowager’s Hump?

backbend

The New York Times recently included information on kyphosis – the hunched back you’ll sometimes see in seniors. There are many causes of kyphosis including posture, osteoporosis, degeneration or arthritis of the spine, and connective tissue issues.  As I linked to last month, movement is great for joints, and it also appears to be helpful in treating kyphosis, or at least prevents further progression of the curvature.

It turns out that exercise extending the spine and strengthening the spinal extensors seems to keep the hyperkyphosis from progressing and in some cases improves it (extension of the spine is the opposite of bending forward; it’s looking overhead and leaning back as if you were about to do a back bend). Directly from the article:

Certain kinds of exercise may prevent or delay progression of the abnormally hunched back called hyperkyphosis but have not been proved to correct it completely, medical authorities say. It normally progresses with age.

Recent studies suggest that exercises that extend the spine may help manage kyphosis in older people and sometimes improving it, though stronger evidence is needed before a general recommendation is made.

via Can Exercise Help Straighten a Curved Spine? – NYTimes.com.

If you think you’re having issues, make sure to see your primary care provider and work with a physical therapist to find specific strengthening exercises for the extensors. Massage can assist in relaxing the chest, arm and anterior neck muscles pulling on the head and open up the chest cavity to give the spine room to straighten.

Click through to see the full question and answer.

photo credit: flickr.com ccl user lululemon athletica

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Good Weather + Gardening = Ouch! Gardener’s Massage Tips

Spring’s finally here: the weather improves and we want to get out and work in the yard! After this past winter, I couldn’t wait to spend some time cleaning up the garden beds, spreading mulch, and clearing out the yard.

The only problem is the day after all that work, my body let me know I should have been more careful. I have some massage and stretching tricks up my sleeve that I use to repair myself and want to share the same with you.

So, here’s your video for the week – in two parts.  The first has hand and arm self-massage tricks.

This second video has a great low back stretch/opener for use after hauling lots of bags of dirt and mulch, a good stretch for hamstrings and pecs.

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Fuzzy Fascia: The Kudzu of the Body

***Warning: The video below includes images from an anatomy cadaver class. If cadaver photos or video bothers you, please do not watch the link below. However, if you’re like me and fascinated by tissue in general, you’re gonna love this!***

Ever wonder what fascia looks like in the tissue? I mean actually inside the body?

I talk about fascia all the time with my clients. Fascia is the saran wrap that holds us all together. It surrounds every muscle, every bone, every ligament, every organ, and every blood vessel. It channels motion and force through the tissues of the body to aid or impinge movement. Its presence in the tissues of the body is pervasive, and its effect is as well.

Some researchers and bodyworkers think it’s as important if not more important than muscles the part it plays in pain and dysfunction.

I often describe it as the shiny, partially translucent film you’ll see when you’re working with a whole chicken. It attaches the skin to the muscle, and the muscles to one another and to the bones. But in this video, you’ll see what it looks like in the human body itself:

Pretty cool, huh?

Each night, as we sleep, fascia grows tiny tendrils. Movement melts the fascial growth and keeps muscles sliding freely where needed, but if you’re not stretching about as you wake, or if your lifestyle is very sedentary, these tendrils don’t break up.  This causes some of that stiffness you feel in the morning. The stiffness and immobility we attribute to age may be due to lack of stretching and movement more than any other factor.

So, get up, and move it! Get rid of the fuzz and start your day with movement and stretching!

Please note: Although the title of the post refers to kudzu, in no way is fascia a bad thing in the body – it is critical to the function of the body and to movement and stability.  Fascia is a good thing. We just want to make sure we’re moving enough to keep the fascia loose and gliding where needed.

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Feet of Steel – Strengthen and Stretch Daily

Two feet against a sky

For my athletes, marathoners and runners, I’ve got a great link with some well-described stretches and strengthening exercises to prevent injury and keep your feet and ankles strong.  I’ve only listed two here, but click through to see the full list with illustrations.

THE MONOPOLY GAME:

Put 10 small objects on the floor–like marbles or Monopoly pieces–and place a small cup nearby. Using your toes, pick up the pieces one at a time and put them in the cup. Do two sets of 10 with each foot. Compete with your spouse or kids to see who can do 10 in the fastest time. “That’s just so you don’t get bored,” Schneider says. “Strengthening your feet can be only so exciting.”

PLANTAR STRETCH:

Sit down barefoot and cross your right leg so that your ankle rests on your left thigh. Hold your toes and bend them back toward your shin, stretching the plantar fascia. A study showed that people suffering from plantar fasciitis had a 77 percent chance of returning to full activity within three to six months after performing this stretch. Researchers suggest that you do the stretch 10 times at least three times a day (once or twice a day doesn’t produce as strong of an effect).

via Runner’s World.com Helps You Build Stronger Feet and Ankles.

Photo credit sxc.hu user thesaint.

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Calgon 2.0: 5 Minute Hand Spa at your Desk

Need a “Calgon, take me away!” moment? Try this 5 minute hand massage and let your hands relax the rest of you.

I created this video as a way to give daily relief to clients who spend their days on the computer, or who, like me, use their hands all their day at work. I use a lot of these techniques between clients, in fact, to keep up good blood flow in the hands and to counter any stiffness I feel when I wake up in the morning.

At the end of the video, I demonstrate two acupressure points to use to destress and calm the mind. For the point on the pinky finger, I mistakenly describe the point as being on the outside of the pinky nail, when really it is just beyond the inner (thumb side) of the base of the pinky nail. But, if you squeeze the nail as I demonstrate in the video, you’ll be hitting both sides at once.

Enjoy!

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The Nag Speaks: Stretch More – Stretch AFTER

Horse Head

Now, you may not know this about me, but I am a professional nag. Not only do I massage people, but I also nag them, gently, about self-care they know they should be doing.  Here are some examples: “Did you do those stretches we talked about during your last session?”  or “How many times were you able to fit self-massage in since your came in last?”

A large portion of my “suggestions” to people includes stretching. Stretching is a tremendous positive force on the body. It opens up muscles, increases blood flow, keeps tissues moving independently of one another, and allows for more natural posture.

But one of the biggest myths of stretching is that you should be stretching before you exercise.  This article breaks it down: Stretching: When and How to Effectively Stretch | TweakFit.

If you’re stretching when you exercise, make sure you stretch after your workout, not before.  When you exercise, you contract your muscles, and contracting a muscle puts it into a shortened state.  Once you’re done, your target muscles have been contracted and shortened by the workout, and you want to remind your muscles that the short, tight state is not their new homebase.

Stretching lengthens the muscles after a workout, putting them into a more flexible state, and prevents them from resetting their default length to a short state.

Did you catch that?  Stretch AFTER, not before exercise.  (Just a little friend advice from your friendly, neighborhood massage nag.)

Photo from Flickr CCL: jurvetson

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