Category Archives: Health and fitness

The Deleterious Effects of Sitting on Back Health

You have lately heard that sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing, and the toll on your back health is even worse if you're sitting hunched in front of a computer. Indeed, the disks in your back are meant to expand and contract as you move, which allows them to absorb blood and nutrients. When you sit, the disks are compressed and can lose flexibility over time. Sitting excessively can also increase your risk of herniated disks.

Many internet posts suggest that "sitting is the new smoking", painting a rather drab picture, for most of us, however the fact that we are required to spend a great part of our day in a seated position, shouldn't necessarily mean "we are doomed" (like most of these posts tend to suggest!)

It is important to recognize that continuous standing can also be problematic. The key is MOVEMENT.

Sometimes back pain occurs suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, but oftentimes it occurs only after months or years of poor posture, repetitive motions, improper lifting, tension and strains. In addition to stopping the offending movements (for instance, swapping out your desk chair for a standing desk), the following forms of exercise may help.

Stretching

In  recent study, participants who took 52-minute stretching classes (which emphasized trunk and leg stretches) received as much back-pain relief as those taking yoga classes.

Strength Training

A regular  strength training routine will help strengthen your back and core muscles, which is essential for both relieving pain and preventing injury.

 Yoga

Is particularly useful for promoting flexibility and core muscles, has been proven to be beneficial if you suffer from back pain.

People suffering from low-back pain who took one yoga class a week had greater improvements in function than those receiving medicine or physical therapy.

Tai Chi

Is an ancient form of self-defense that is said to support the balance of "yin and yang" in your body, thereby improving the flow of "qi," or life energy.

Often described as "meditation in motion" or "moving meditation," the activity takes your body through a specific set of graceful movements.  Your body is constantly in motion and each movement flows right into the next. A 10-week tai chi program has been found to improve pain and disability in people with persistent low-back pain.

Additional Steps to Help Remedy Back Pain

Once you understand that back pain is typically the result of poor posture, improper or inadequate movement and/or emotional trauma, the remedy becomes clear — get regular exercise, move often (the way your body was designed to) and tend to your emotional health. You can also try:

 

Vitamin D and K2  Optimize your  Vitamin D and K levelsto prevent the softening of the bones that may lead to lower back pain. Low vitamin D levels are common in people with chronic low back pain
Stay hydrated Drink plenty of water to enhance the height of your intervertebral disks. Because your body is composed mostly of water, keeping yourself hydrated will also keep you fluid and reduce stiffness.
Avoid smoking  Smoking reduces blood flow to your lower spine and promotes degeneration of your spinal disks.
Pay attention to your sleeping habits Studies have linked insufficient sleep with increased back and neck problems. Also pay attention to your sleep position. Sleep on your side to reduce curving of your spine, and stretch before getting out of bed. A firm bed is recommended.
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Do You Have Nagging Pain Between Your Shoulders?

It’s quite common to have patients in clinic with a nasty, nagging pain that presents between the spinal column and the medial border of the scapula.

There can be several reasons for this, meaning, it could be muscle tightness, muscle weakness, myofascial trigger point build up, nerve entrapments, etc. All these issues are manageable, given the right strategy. That being said, even though we get results within treatments, in many cases it’s only a matter of time before the same issue is back, and causing us the same nagging pain that stops us from performing well at the gym, at work, and just in life. So that leaves us wondering, are we treating the source of the problem, or just superficial symptoms?

To explain this further, we'd need to get into a bit of anatomy and physiology. The Rhomboid muscle is one of the many muscles in that area. It's main job is to stabilize the Scapula,  and to foster a solid foundation for the arm to move and transfer energy. If the Scapula is stable, all goes well, and efficient pulling and pushing power is possible.  iI the Scapula is unstable however, our shoulder muscles lose their delivery power and become stabilizers in an attempt to keep the shoulder joint safe. If this happens, we don’t only lose pushing and pulling power, but we lose tons of mobility, and the shoulder itself  tends to become stiff. This is basically a safe-guarding strategy of the nervous system to avoid further injury, so that stiffness is actually a good thing because it’s telling you that something is wrong, and that the wrong thing isn’t necessarily at the shoulder, but generally somewhere else..

So, to put it simply,  when the Rhomboids have been working too hard for too long,  in trying to keep the Scapula stable, they tend to build trigger points which cause all of those nasty pain-like symptoms along the middle of the back on the same side of the issue.

So what now? Well, releasing a weak muscle may only make the entire situation worse as it would contribute to making  this muscle even LESS capable of keeping the Scapula stable. (so basically, it is now weak AND unstable).  In doing this, we would be forcing the Rhomboids to work even harder,  therefore likely  building more trigger points and creating more issues in the shoulder and everything around  it, or  that works along with it. Not good!

So now, this leaves us with the question: Why are the Rhomboids so tight? Why are trigger points being created? So glad you asked!  To answer this, we'll first have to go into a little anatomy: The Rhomboids aren’t the only muscle that influence scapular stability. The middle fibers of the Trapezius muscles – or just the mid-traps – can also stabilize the Scapula medially. The Trapezius (or mid-traps) are more involved in actual movement of the Scapula as they help move the Scapula medially towards the center of the body (towards the spine). These muscles are commonly  weak in  people due to bad posture, too much chest exercises, too little posterior work, sedentarysm, etc. If they aren’t working enough, they tend to leave the Rhomboids working by themselves, causing dysfunctional patterns and muscle imbalances.

So no,  you can’t just release the Rhomboids without activating the mid-traps; you need them working together; you need to down-regulate one, and immediately up-regulate the other. It’s all about balance and homeostasis. If you only massage the area, you’ll definitely get the mid-trap first since it’s more superficial. If you use a lacrosse ball or a foam roller, you still have to go through the mid-traps. If you just constantly rub the area, you might just irritate the whole area even more. Soft tissue release techniques such as Functional release or Active Release Technique (ART) are the only manual therapy that can affect deeper muscles without compromising the most superficial ones. How? It is all about movement, about the relative movement that is provided by both the therapist and the patient. ART uses highly skilled movement techniques that isolates and moves certain muscles while keeping others at rest. This technique applies to muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia, nerves, and even vascular structures.

So how do we know if this particular case applies to you? Well, we don’t know. We must assess and go from there.  Thats said, let us take you through the right assessment and we’ll determine the right technique, and the right rehab option for you. Even with all the information available on the internet, today.. there is sadly no "one size fits all" or fail proof recipe, when it comes to  personalized treatment.

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How Massage Therapy May Help Fight Fatigue and Promote Faster Recovery.

Sleep

It has long been suggested that massage therapy is good for us and that it can reduce our fatigue and increase our energy. While massage does not directly increase energy, it does reduce fatigue and often decreases the symptoms that sap our energy, resulting in our feeling better. Massage therapy has been shown to increase circulation, reduce stress, pain and depression, improved sleep and our immunity – all of which make us feel better, more energized and less fatigued!

Swedish Massage and Deep Tissue Massage

There are many different modalities of massage therapy but most are familiar with Swedish massage, which includes long, gliding strokes that improve circulation – and deep tissue massage. Deep tissue massage uses techniques such as cross-fiber friction to break up adhesions in the muscles; slow, deep strokes and pin-and-stretch techniques to lengthen and stretch muscle fibers; along with ischemic compression on trigger points to release them.

Both of these styles of massage share the same benefits to muscle, as the differences lie in the degree to which they focus on each benefit. For example, Swedish offers greater stress and pain reduction and improved sleep, while deep tissue may do more to reduce pain and muscle tension. Most massage therapists will combine these two styles to maximize the therapeutic benefit for their client by doing Swedish massage in general and using deep tissue techniques on specific areas that need work.

Ischemic Compression

Another technique that has proved to be effective in aiding muscle recovery post-exercise is compression. While ischemic compression is technically what is used to release trigger points, it is done on a very small, point-specific scale intended to release the muscle by releasing the trigger point. Broad muscle ischemic compression applied to the whole muscle or muscle group soon after completion of exercise (after running or weightlifting) has been shown to improve and speed up recovery for further performance and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness.

Increase Energy By Increasing Muscle Recovery

Sports massage is essentially a collection of techniques proven to aid in the recovery of exhausted muscles, either to enable further performance or to reduce or prevent delayed onset soreness. Muscle will recover on its own as a natural process, so all we really need to do to assist this process is increase circulation, flushing out lactic acid and bringing in fresh oxygen rich blood. Swedish gliding strokes and broad muscle compression (think pumping action) all serve to increase circulation, thereby speeding the recovery of muscle tissue and performance. Research has confirmed that athletes who received massage post-exercise recovered faster and with less soreness.

Faster Muscle Recovery Equals Less Fatigue.

Increase Energy By Reducing Pain

Studies have shown that massage therapy can reduce pain and fatigue both from illness and muscle use. Studies in the clinical setting have shown that massage reduced pain levels and improved function by analyzing qualitative data. Overall pain was reduced significantly and improvements in emotional well-being, relaxation, and ability to sleep were all associated with the reduction in pain. We have all experienced pain that interrupts our ability to focus and even sleep, and can understand how this results in feeling exhausted by the end of the day.

By relieving pain, massage therapy relieves fatigue and indirectly improves our energy levels.

Increase Energy By Reducing Stress and Depression

Clinical trials have shown massage therapy to alleviate depressive symptoms in general and to alleviate depression in those with fibromyalgia. There is an overall statistically significant association between receiving massage therapy and improved levels of perceived stress and depression.

As general fatigue and malaise – as well as low energy – are all associated with both stress and depression, alleviating these symptoms through the use of massage therapy, in turn, increases energy in the recipient.

Increase Energy By Improving Sleep

While over one quarter of us suffer from the occasional bad night’s sleep, almost 10% of Americans experience chronic sleep loss, known as insomnia. As a critical function, sleep impacts our mood, our ability to function mentally and make decisions. Even the success of our social interactions are affected by our quality of sleep, all of which greatly impacts our overall feelings of well-being, our energy levels and the levels of fatigue we may experience.

Research has shown that massage therapy can improve sleep quality and duration in children, cancer patients and those suffering from fibromyalgia. And it can certainly aid healthy adults who are stressed out to get a decent night’s rest!

By reducing stress and pain levels and bringing the body into a state of relaxation, many people are able to finally reach a state of healing sleep, improving energy levels overall and reducing fatigue.

Massage therapy reduces the chronic symptoms of pain, depression and sleep deprivation that that sap our energy. Massage helps us to feel better and function more efficiently.

 

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Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate With Weak Glutes?

Lower crossed syndrome, as originally described by Vladimir Janda several decades ago, is commonly sited to describe the muscle imbalances observed with anterior pelvic tilt posture.

Indeed, Janda described lower crossed syndrome to explain how certain muscle groups in the lumbopelvic area get tight, while the antagonists get weak or inhibited.  Or, as Phil Page describes in his book overviewing the Janda Approach, “Weakness from from muscle imbalances results from reciprocal inhibition of the tight antagonist.”

When you look at a drawing of this concept, you can see how it starts to make sense.  Tightness in the hip flexors and low back are associated with weakness of abdominals and glutes.

Lower Cross Syndrome

 

I realize this is a very two dimensional approach and probably not completely accurate in it’s presentation, however it not only seems to make biomechanical sense, it also correlates to what I see in practice everyday.

Yet despite the common acceptance of these imbalance patterns, there really isn’t much research out there looking at these correlations.

Yes.. They absolutely do!

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute WeaknessA recent study was publish in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy looking at the EMG activity between the two-hand and one-hand kettlebell swing.  While I enjoyed the article and comparision of the two KB swing variations, the authors had one other finding that peaked my interest even more.  And if you just read the title of the paper, you would have never seen it!

In the paper, the authors not only measured glute EMG activity during the kettlebell swing, but they also measure hip flexor mobility using a modified Thomas Test.  The authors found moderate correlations between hip flexor tightness and glute EMG activity.

The tighter your hip flexors, the less EMG was observed in the glutes during the kettlebell swing.

While this has been theorized since Janda first described in the 1980’s, to my knowledge this is the first study that has shown this correlation during an exercise.

 

Implications

It’s often the little findings of study that help add to our body of knowledge.  This simple study showed us that there does appear to be a correlated between your hip flexor mobility and EMG activity of the glutes.  There are a few implications that you can take from this study:Kettlebell-Swing-e1419741700687

  • Both two-hand and one-hand kettlebell swings are great exercises to strengthen the glutes
  • However, perhaps we need to assure people have adequate hip flexor mobility prior to starting.
  • If trying to strengthen the glutes, it appears that you may also want focus on hip flexor mobility, as is often recommended.
  • So yes, it does appear that hip flexor mobility correlates to glute activity and should be considering when designing programs.
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Fat loss

My mother used to say " the road to Hell is often paved with good intentions". Obviously, she meant it in a different context as the one I wish to direct it to, but I believe that the point she was trying to make, much like myself right now, is that often times, we mean well and engage in activities, behaviours or  rituals that we think are good for us, but end up making things worse!

I see a lot of this in the health and fitness industry!  Every year, there is a 'new magical diet', a new pill or a new exercise plan, that is always of course, better than the last one!  Granted, it's kind of difficult to ignore all of these fads, with all of the beautiful people filling our Instagram feed with 'flashing abs. I agree, however having been involved in the fitness industry for the last 21 years, and having competed in physique sports for 12 of those years, I can tell you from experience that NO program or supplement you will ever take, will exceed the results you will obtain from good old fashioned 'work and consistency'. The truth is, often time, the most drastic approaches will backfire on you. The body cannot be forced or beaten into submission. You need to work with your genetic makeup, and 'gently nudge' your metabolism for things to  work for you and for long standing progress to be made in a healthy way!

So in short,  there is no ultimate fat loss plan.  I would  recommend  staying clear or IIFYM, Zone, Atkins, Intermittent Fasting, fasted cardio, no carb diet (because of course, carbs are the absolute devil), and instead adopting  a sustainable and reasonable balanced plan for your goals, created by a reputable and knowledgeable personal trainer.  Just pick a program or a trainer  or a program tho, and stick with it..for at  least 6 weeks, before you decide that it isn't working. My guess is, your body just needs time to adjust to the changes before it starts working… ;)

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