Saturday, December 29, 2007

Trigger Point Prevention Tip #1--Stay Warm

I received a beautiful, soft, warm scarf for Christmas, and it’s become a staple of my wardrobe. Keeping warm is one of the best ways to prevent the pesky trigger points in my neck from acting up, so I wrap myself in a scarf every time I go outside or even when it’s cold inside. Here are some tips for you to avoid cold weather aches and pains. My next article will expand with more ideas related to biomechanics.

Trigger points are tight bands or knots in a muscle that get activated and create a specific pain pattern. The pain may be distant to the originating muscle, and then can cause a trigger point in that muscle with a cascade effect of soreness. Many things can activate or perpetuate the points, including poor body mechanics, overuse, and cold. Here’s a great website with self-care information,

Once activated, a trigger point can trigger a chain of pain, so you’re better off to prevent them in the first place. Tip #1 is to stay warm. You might think that going from the house to car doesn’t require bundling up; after all it’s only a couple of minutes until the car heater kicks in. However, that’s enough time to cause a cranky muscle that will be easily activated by some other activity. The answer? A scarf wound around your neck.

When you get to the office or back home, keep the scarf on until the room warms up. As the temperature fluctuates in my office, I’ve been putting my lovely, red scarf on and off. And during winter storms, when the electricity goes out, remember to keep your neck covered. We often get under blankets that leave the neck unprotected. Sleeping in a turtleneck may be the answer.

Trigger points also get activated in the hips. If you are susceptible to hip pain, wear a jacket that covers your derriere when you go in the cold. You might assume that going for a walk will warm these muscles, but like the trip from house to car, it can take many minutes for the blood flow to reach all parts of the gluteus maximus (which doesn’t really get worked too much when walking on level ground anyway).

Even though we live in the temperate Pacific Northwest, we still need heavy jackets, hats, gloves, and scarves to keep our muscles healthy. Plan your winter wardrobe accordingly to stay warm and keep the trigger points at bay.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sleep and Health

It’s been two weeks since my last blog post. I figured that I could use the extra time—and sleep—this time of the year, and you could, too. With the days so short and additional tasks required by the holidays, a good night’s sleep has been just what I need to keep up. Adequate sleep is important throughout the year, but long nights beckon and evoke the health benefits of extra zzz’s.

A little research reveals that good slumber has many health benefits. An article from Shape Magazine notes several health problems, including increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and immune system weakness that correspond to lack of sleep.

The Washington Post reports that lack of sleep is linked to poor health outcomes in several studies, including increased risk of obesity and cancer. . One study showed that poor sleep adds to inflammation in the body, which means that a full night’s rest is particularly important when you are healing.

With all the extra germs that seem to surface this time of the year, it helps to pay extra attention to your immune system. This article from WebMD,, gives four tips to boost your immune system.
1) Eat vegetables
2) Exercise regularly
3) Get plenty of sleep
4) Reduce stress

Healing of any type requires the body’s resources. When you’re awake, these resources are applied to activity. When you’re asleep, your immune system can devote itself to the healing without interruption.

Make yourself as comfortable as possible with the support of pillows, warmth, and whatever else you need so your rest can be complete. Snuggle up and get a few extra winks, for good health.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Exercise for Arthritis

Osteoarthritis affects 21million Americans and is caused when cartilage is damaged by injury, overuse, obesity, or muscle weakness. This condition can be quite debilitating, causing many to reduce all types of activity, particularly exercise. However, you can take steps to nourish your joints and help them last longer.

You probably think that I'll recommend glucosamine. My experience is that it reduces symptoms about 50% of the time. It helped speed my recovery from whiplash after an auto accident, but isn’t for everyone. If you decide to try it, you want to get good quality supplements that don’t include fillers. This website gives good information about glucosamine:

What I do recommend is smooth movement. Let me explain why. Arthritis occurs when cartilage, the protective covering on the ends of bones, is damaged. Its major function is to absorb and release synovial fluid, which cushions the impact so bones don’t bear the brunt of movement. Cartilage doesn’t receive direct blood flow, so it depends on movement to circulate fluids. As a matter of fact, cartilage will atrophy and degenerate unless it’s used regularly.

There are many joints in the body to nourish, over 100 in the spine and more than 20 in each hand. This website from the Colorado Springs Orthopaedic Group, includes fabulous pictures that illustrates arthritis in the hand:,

Typical exercise doesn’t address the needs of joints and many times makes things worse. Excessive loading of the joints (for example, pounding on a treadmill) damages cartilage and that can lead to osteoarthritis. Also, most exercise focuses on arms and legs and doesn’t address the spine or hands.

The Arthritis Foundation has created several programs designed specifically to increase mobility without undue strain. The Aquatics Program includes gentle exercises in warm water that are designed to increase flexibility and strength. Tai Chi from the Arthritis Foundationâ includes 12 movements, six basic and six advanced, which improve agility and relaxation. For more information, visit The aquatics program is available at the Julius Boehm pool is Issaquah,

Another option is therapeutic yoga, which gently brings movement to the body in a low-pressure, high-awareness environment. You can search for a therapeutic yoga instructor near you at The International Association of Yoga Therapists, In Issaquah, the Yoga Barn,, has several classes.

Undulation can be used as a specific exercise, especially for those whose activity is limited by pain, or incorporated into every day activities, which is good for everyone. Undulations are small and mild and focus on one simple movement at a time. Believe it or not, you can lubricate your spine simply by swaying back in forth as you sit—as long as you move within your pain-free range. Octopus is an undulation that soothes the joints in the hands. You can learn more about Undulations at

If you have specific questions about arthritis, The Arthritis Foundation has many resources, including a Local Helpful (available in the Pacific Northwest) at 800-542-0295, discussion boards available online at, or the Active Adult Network, which plans outings for people with arthritis to connect and stay mobile.

A bit of proactive exercise now will make it easier for you to move in the future. Just remember, gentle is better than harsh.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Relax and Rejuventate

Part of aging gracefully is knowing when to take a break from the go-go-go of life and give yourself time to regenerate. As mentioned in my Nov. 2 article about recovering from energetic low spots, one of my favorite places is the Olympus Spa,

This women’s-only day spa is one of the best bargains in self-care. For $30 in Tacoma or $35 in the newer Lynnwood location, you can stay all day and take advantage of the steam and dry saunas, whirlpools, mugwort well, and heated energy rooms. It’s lovely to go from bath to sauna to room, letting my body choose the desired temperature. And, because it’s so warm, the spa is particularly appealing to my chilly bones in the winter.

A Koren-style scrub is the signature service at the Olympus Spa, which costs an additional $60 and leaves your skin fresh and smooth. I had the pleasure of going last week with a dear friend. With my skin able to fully breathe and toxins sweat out my pores, I felt lighter and younger.

Having a day to chat and just be with someone you like is also restorative. Friendship is a special gift that feeds the spirit, too.

My friend told me about a spa in Seattle, the Banya, It’s different in that men and women are allowed, so swimsuits instead of birthday suits are the attire. The scrub uses salt and honey. I haven’t been there . . . yet, but will report when I do.

Your preferred regeneration strategy may be to take a walk in the woods or curl up with your cat. Whatever fuels your body and spirit, I encourage you to partake more of it this time of the year when the sun spends more time below the horizon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I Feel Good

I woke up this morning and my first thought was, “I feel Great!” Not Tony Tiger great, but the James Brown, “I Feel Good” singing type of great. I reached out to smack the snooze button, started to undulate, and noticed that my spine felt supple all the way up and down. What have I been doing to deserve this? I need to know so I can keep it up.

I can attribute my suppleness to a new combination of activity, and the fact that yesterday I previewed the first draft of my unduation audiobook, Undulation Exercises. Happening upon the right combination of exercise, just the right things and not too much and not too little, is a happy time.

I started a new yoga class at The Yoga Barn ( four weeks ago. An instructor who develops a well-balanced, complete practice does wonders for the body, mind, and spirit. The Yoga Barn has exceptional instructors. Because of my crazy schedule, I had classes from Lulu, Catherine, and Taran. Each instructor created a practice for that day—nothing off the shelf at The Yoga Barn—and I left each class feeling very refreshed. Variety keeps the “routine” from getting stale. With yoga classes, I’ve been injecting my being with freshness instead.

After a two-month break from belly dancing, due to working on the haunted house and studio time for my audiobook, I’ve returned to weekly classes with Aleili ( Not only is it lovely to spend two hours a week with ladies having fun, but I’m also revitalizing the muscles in my usually tight hips and challenging my brain by learning to count music. (I swear this is fending off Alzheimers. Counting a 6/8 rhythm makes my brain work.)

I’ve also started traditional Pilates on the Reformer and Cadillac with Carmela Ramaglia ( and Kristy Guadalupe. This fun exercise is challenging, because it’s asking my body to work outside its normal pattern as I learn to use my core more effectively. During the workout, it feels like I might be sore afterwards, but I’m not. Kristy says this is because I’m lengthening the muscles while I’m working them. In addition, Pilates is helping my find some muscles that will help with my belly dance “freeze,” which has been impossible for me so far. That’s good synergy.

I’m enjoying all three activities, individually and in combination. They add variety, which is the key to a youthful body and antidote to stiffness. However, I’ve been doing them for the past three weeks. Why do I feel so good today? I can’t help but credit undulation.

Yesterday, I reviewed disc two of Undulation Exercises. I was listening to how the music and words flowed, and the spacing of everything. Of course, I couldn’t help but do the exercises as I listened. They are so fun! I only had time for ten undulations, but those exercises worked out many kinks in my spine.

No wonder I’m so excited about my undulation books, written and audio. No one is more excited to have the audio version than me! If you want to view some undulations, go to

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Scary Sarcopenia

During the holiday season, temptation to eat sugar is everywhere and there’s less time to exercise. Given these circumstances, this article will have good or bad timing, depending on how you look at it.

Adults have a tendency to lose muscle mass and replace it with fat. Yikes!!! The loss of muscle mass starts as early as the fourth decade of life and in the fifth decade, adults can lose 1-2% of muscle a year, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Physicians Assistants. There’s even a medical term for this sad state of affairs—sarcopenia—which has repercussions more serious than an extra wiggle in the walk.

Some people develop low back or hip pain out of the blue. With a sudden onset, you’d expect the cause to be a particualr injury. Instead, they simply lost muscle mass and gained weight to the point where the hip stabilizing muscles weren’t strong enough for certain normal activities like walking up or down stairs. The muscle(s) became strained, which exacerbated injury and weakness and created a downward cycle of pain.

There’s actually a simple solution: exercise more to build (or just maintain) muscles and stay limber. An hour of exercise at age 30, now equals an hour and half for me at age 43. That means I’ll need to plan more time for exercise into my life as I get older. I try to get 5 hours every week with a variety of strength-building, cardio, and flexibility.

The Canadian Women’s Health Network website,, has practical advice. Here’s an excerpt from their site:
“One who does not exercise regularly:
§ gradually depletes her physiological reserves in some or all systems (loss of muscle and bone mass, loss of flexibility, loss of connective tissues);
§ lets fat take over muscle = sarcopenia, which reduces the strength/weight ratio. Strength and velocity are needed for good posture and to help prevent falls (they help maintain balance).

There’s no need to join a gym. Using weights at home (wrist or hand weights, soup cans…) allows a variety of positions and gradually increases the levels of difficulty. Sitting down, standing up, standing on one leg, holding on to a chair with both hands, then with one, then with a finger, then with eyes closed…”

Of course, you may think of needing more exercise as a disadvantage, unless you enjoy your activity. Frankly, exercise bores me, so I have to change it up regularly. My current choices are yoga, Pilates, and bellydancing. My motivation is so bad that I’m paying for classes in all three. It’s nice to just show up and let someone else be the director. Without the classes, I know I’d go home and eat chocolate instead.

Before long, the New Year will be here with its usually injection of enthusiasm for activity. In the meantime, I’m fending off sarcopenia the best I can. Feel free to share what motivates you to stay active.