Thursday, November 17, 2016

Don’t Over Do it on Thanksgiving: A Guide to Preventing Common Injuries

Thanksgiving is just a week away. It can be a dangerous holiday; I’m not kidding. After this contentious election, there are sure to be heated discussions, icy silences, and maybe even fisticuffs as Republicans and Democrats gather around the dinner table. But that’s not the danger I am talking about--hopefully thankfulness will win out over politics. Every year, a handful of my clients get hurt preparing Thanksgiving dinner. This article will prepare you so you can prevent injuries that would otherwise upset your holiday season.

Problem #1 – Take a 20 pound turkey, put it in a metal pan, load it with moist stuffing and you can be lifting more weight than you do at the gym. There is a good reason that the gym doesn’t have a weight bench or machine where you bend over as you twist to one side with your arms outstretched holding a heavy weight. That’s a recipe for straining your low back.
  • Possible Solution A – Appeal to the younger, stronger people who are lounging on the couch watching Dallas beat Washington. You’ve done the preparation, let them do the heavy lifting. Before the coin toss, let them know that they will need to hit pause to come into the kitchen and take the turkey in and out of the oven several times. There’s no free dinner!
  • Possible Solution B – Treat this task as a weight lifting exercise. Engage your core as you lean over. Bend your knees a little. Keep your arms as close to your sides as possible without burning yourself on the hot oven. And exhale as you lift or extend.
  • Possible Solution C – Cook a smaller turkey, maybe even a turkey breast or chicken to lighten the load.
Problem #2 – A dinner plate weighs about two pounds. If you are setting the table for a dozen people, that’s 20 or more pounds of plates. If you are like me, you’ll want to be efficient and carry all the plates in one stack with silverware piled on top. This little exercise can hurt your shoulders, your neck, your low back, or your knees, basically hitting the weakest link in your myofascial chain.
  • Possible Solution A – Take several trips and limit each load to a sufficient weight that you are building strength, but not enough to overload your body.
  • Possible Solution B – Follow the guidelines above for using your core and breath to help with the heavy lifting.
  • Possible Solution C – Call on the football fans to help. Maybe it’s the job of the people who are rooting for the team that’s currently in the lead. They don’t need to cheer as much.
Problem #3 – Dirty dishes and pots and pans don’t clean themselves. Most lumbar spines can handle leaning over a sink for only a short time before the ligaments and muscles wear out.
  • Possible Solution A – When leaning over keep your spine straight and bend at the hips. Draw your belly button in toward your spine to protect your low back. When you can’t hold this posture, take a break.
  • Possible Solution B – Avoid a dish washing marathon. Wash a few then sit down to watch a few first downs or Snoopy dressed up as a Pilgrim. Washing dishes only during commercials will give your back a break.
  • Possible Solution C – Start a new trend: Nice paper plates and silver could just be the next cool thing.
You might be the type of family that doesn’t watch football—or even television—on Thanksgiving. In that case, you should have plenty of unoccupied helpers to share the work of putting together and cleaning up after the feast. In terms of how to avoid getting injured in the after dinner family touch football game, I suggest that you take the role of coach.

After hours of planning and preparing for Thanksgiving, you deserve to take some rest time for yourself. Make time on the weekend for a restorative yoga class, a walk in the woods, or other activity that feeds your body, mind and spirit.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Moving Past Pain

Humans shun pain. The pang of a stubbed toe, the agony of losing a childhood friend, the ache of a wrenched knee or twisted ankle, back spasms after a day raking leaves, or the pain of embarrassment when stammering in front of a crowd. From the first throbbing of labor contractions, pain is an inevitable part of the human experience.

As a survival mechanism, our brains unconsciously create patterns of behavior to avoid pain. You don’t have to think about how to avoid putting weight on a sprained ankle. Your body (brain, actually) automatically transfers the weight through different muscles so you feel less pain. Long after an injury heals, echoes of these compensation patterns often remain. Likewise, when we experience emotional pain, our brains create patterns, usually of anger, blame, or denial, to relieve us of the discomfort. The more unconscious the compensation, the more likely it is to persist.

When pain is present, the natural reaction is to try not to feel it. Usually we do this by holding our breath and limiting movement. Feelings are e-motions or energy in motion. Stopping motion is one way to stop feeling. When used for this purpose, consciously or not, not moving is also a great way to get stuck.

We must move through pain to get unstuck. It’s good advice to breathe when stressed, but often breathing isn’t enough to get to the other side. Breath is only the beginning of movement. Here’s another option.

Take a moment to feel your pain; don’t push it away. What shape does your body want to take when you feel? Emphasize that shape with small, slow movements while breathing and feeling. That doesn’t mean to create injury in your body. If you have a back spasm or a sprained ankle or a wrenched neck, you don’t want to make it worse, but you can explore the edges of the pain for the length of a breath. Then come back to a neutral shape, either seated, standing, or lying down and breathe and feel. Go back and forth—undulate—between the positions of where your pain is felt and the positions of neutrality.

By putting energy in motion, your body’s wisdom will uncover the underpinnings of pain so you can move past it. Pain is part of life, so is growing from the experience. It’s what we do with pain that makes us remarkable. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Are We Having Fun Yet?

I recently read YoungerNext Year by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, MD. They make a very strong case for why we need to stay physically active every day. Here’s my take: Our biology is programmed to repair our tissues when we are moving at a moderate pace. On the other hand, when we are sitting around—like the grandparent who stays safe in the cave while the rest of the family is out hunting and gathering—our DNA and brain don’t send the signals to keep us functioning optimally.

Crowley and Lodge recommend exercising an hour a day, 6 days a week at 65% of maximum heart rate. This heart rate is surprisingly easy to achieve, just enough to produce a sweat, but not enough to be breathing heavy. Even at that rate, my first thought of exercising 6 days a week is, “Ugh, that doesn’t sound like fun.” But Michael and I are sold on the logic of it and are keeping each other on track.

Going to the gym is not what I normally consider a good time, but it works for Michael so we go together two days a week. The gym seems boring to me, so I have to change it up, one day on the exercise bike, another on the cross trainer, one on the recumbent bike, sometimes on the elliptical. There is no way I would go by myself—having my partner makes it fun. We also reward ourselves by goofing around on the equipment after meeting the aerobics goals. It’s entertaining to play with the PRX equipment or try some fancy “power clean” moves with the free weights. 

Last Friday was beautiful, so we went for a walk instead and enjoyed the falling leaves, a peaking view of Mt. Rainier, and the crispness in the air.

I also dance twice a week, so that’s four days out of six. It’s been a struggle to get the other two days in, so I have to come up with a laundry list of possibilities.
·        My favorite, of course, is to go to the property and play lumberjack. It doesn’t even seem to be exercise when we’re clearing brush, exploring the woods, or even lugging heavy chains around. That is the key: when activity gets the heart rate up, but it isn’t drudgery. Yesterday, I chopped down a tree with an ax. (It was a little tree, but still!)
·        Running around after my grand-nephews falls in this category, too. Watching TV with them doesn’t count, but taking them to the creek or getting on the floor to play Legos does. It’s time to make another play date.
·        Since Michael’s back surgery, we’ve also been doing a weekly core exercise routine. Routine isn’t quite the right word. Although we have some regular exercises, like plank, we also come up with ideas to challenge each other, a bit like kids who ask: “Can you do this?” It was starting to get a little boring, so I bought a Bosu ball to add some variety. It also helps us work on our balance.
·        A couples times a month, I have a private Pilates session. Even if the Pilates routine isn’t 100% fun, it’s 100% helpful and my Pilates teacher is always enjoyable.
·        Yoga is fun sometimes and sometimes it’s not. I realize that’s my mood—not yoga itself—that makes the difference. When it the physical aspect of yoga sounds fun, I do it. (I try to practice the non-physical, non-exercise aspects of yoga every day.)

Playfulness is an important part of staying younger, particularly when it applies to exercise. I want to be the old grandma in the cave, but the grandma who is laughing joyfully, not groaning because my joints hurt. So I look for fun activities and try to add them to my regular repertoire of six days a week of exercise.

Please feel free to comment and let us know what you do for exercise that’s fun. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Creepy Crepitus, The Strange Scary Sounds You Hear When You Move

I woke up in the middle of the night troubled by a dream that my teeth were crumbling, my bones dissolving. I walked downstairs to get a drink of water, my heart already running fast, when I heard a creaking sound. At first my anxiety amplified, then I realized it was just my knees. It wasn’t a scary sound, but what has become the familiar, occasional creaking as my bony knee caps and ligaments loudly reminded me that I didn’t stretch my thigh muscles as much as I needed to.

Strange noises that come from our bodies—creaking, crackling, crunching, grinding, popping, and snapping—are known as crepitus. My clients find them creepy, or sometimes downright scary, but the noises don’t usually signify as much destruction as people assume. In this article, I’ll explain what these noises mean and what you can do to improve your body’s health so they aren’t so frightening.

“The popping sounds from my knees must be my arthritis. It must be getting so bad that the bones are rubbing together.” I’ve heard that sentiment dozens of times as clients try to give an explanation to grinding. Fortunately, the real reason isn’t as destructive. Granted, arthritis is commonplace, especially as we get older, but it would have to be very advanced to get to the point where bones actually rub together. It also helps to know that arthritis doesn’t correlate to pain. Many people have arthritis that doesn’t cause pain or other symptoms.

A common cause of crepitus is gasses escaping from joints or muscles, like the sound made when cracking knuckles. Unless the sounds are accompanied by pain or swelling or unless they start after an injury, they are generally considered harmless—even if they are loud.

Another cause of a popping sound is when ligaments or tendons snap over a joint. This happens when a ligament or tendon isn’t flexible enough to stretch around the joint, and often occurs when stretching hip flexors. There are nine hip flexors; to thoroughly stretch them all requires a variety of movements. Since few of us (me included) don’t regularly do all these movements, the tendons can lose flexibility. One way of avoiding the snapping is to stop stretching and moving less. I don’t recommend that! My advice for popping tendons is to limit the range of movement to just before the pop and to stretch regularly to this point. You can develop the awareness of sensations to feel for and avoid the pop. When I stretch regularly, my tendons get healthier and over time (it’s not an overnight fix by any means) my pop-free range of motion increases.

A similar noise is caused by calcification of the tendons. It most often occurs in the tendons of the shoulder, but any tendon can be affected. Calcium salts are deposited in the tendons of muscles that are overused when there is lack of blood flow. Chronically tense shoulders are a prime environment. Based on the grinding sounds that I hear when I roll my shoulders, I have a salt mine inside my tendons. It’s not too surprising since I use my arms a lot in my work.

However, I was once able to dissolve the calcifications in my shoulders and had a week of noise-free shoulder rolls. That was after taking a three-day undulation workshop. By simply moving my body fluidly for hours, my shoulders—and knees and fingers and every other joint in my body—worked out all their inflexibilities and crunchies. Knowing the cause of crepitus—and more importantly, knowing that it doesn’t have to be permanent—takes the fright out of these disconcerting noises.

If you want to read about something really scary, click the link to this article I wrote nine years ago titled Scary Sarcopenia about the very real danger of losing muscle mass as we age. But don’t let it give you nightmares either. You can fight the sarcopenia monsters with regular strength training.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dynamics of Soft Tissue Injuries and Healing in Yoga

I was recently interviewed by Eva Norlyk Smith of YogaUOnline to preview a class I am teaching on soft tissue injuries. In the interview, I discuss how dynamic soft tissues are, plus knowing about how they work gives us insights to prevent injuries and speed healing.

You can sign up for the course, which includes two one-hour video segments, plus a yoga practice and a bonus range of motion practice HERE. If you sign up in advance, you have the opportunity to ask questions during the class. I look forward to sharing what I have learned in my practice as a structural integrator and from my researching to prepare for the class.