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Understand Your Low Back: How to Protect and Care for Your Back

Have you ever wondered why some exercises are considered better for your back than others?  Or do you want to understand your back better and have some good strategies to protect your back while exercising or working?

Your spinal joints are small with sensitive nerve structures while your feet, knees, and hips are big with less sensitive structures and more suitable for weight bearing and movement. Learning to move with your feet, knees, and hips while keeping your spine stable is the key concept of core training and protecting your back. 

In this series of articles I will discuss the anatomy of your low back, common causes of conditions like arthritis and other low back pain, and the big idea of core training and some things to avoid for your low back.

 
Your Spinal Cord: Protects and Provides Movement
The main purpose of your spine is to protect your spinal cord. Your spinal cord is the direct link from your brain to the rest of your body. Nerves in various parts of your body tell your brain about what’s going on in that part of the body and send the information to your brain. Your brain then issues a response to that body part.

In short, your nerves relay important information about the state or health of your body and send it to your brain while your brain figures out what to do about the information.

However, the spine also allows for a great deal of movement.  Much of the current research on low back pain has shown that certain movements may cause undue stress on structures of your spine and lead to pain. This article explains how those movements may lead to certain types of degenerative changes [...]

How Massage Can Help Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Pain in your wrist has caused you to have difficulty to type and work. You’ve found that you are starting to have difficulty to do things that you enjoy like cooking, writing, and even holding a cup of coffee. At night you wake up with numbness and tingling in your hand and it makes it difficult to sleep. You have tried using splints and other conservative measures and although they’ve helped a bit you still have pain, numbness, and tingling in your wrist and hand.

Massage may help with the pain of  carpal tunnel syndrome in the short term and may help other long term treatments be more effective.

Massage therapy can best help carpal tunnel syndrome that is related to overuse of the muscles of the forearm and fingers. It may also help with other sites of nerve compression in the neck, shoulders, and arms that can also create symptoms similar to carpal tunnel syndrome.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and How Does it Develop?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a compression of the median nerve in your wrist. The compression can be caused by anything that narrows the carpal tunnel and can be caused by conditions such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. Pregnancy can also be a cause of swelling in the wrist and create carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel Syndrome can also be caused by overuse of the muscles of the forearm and fingers. There are other sites in the neck, shoulders, and arms where the median nerve can be compressed that can create symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Massage therapy goals are to reduce inflammation, reduce muscle tension, and reduce trigger point activity.  

The carpal tunnel is made from the carpal ligament which forms [...]

Pain While You Sleep? 3 Ways to Change Your Sleep Positions to Be More Comfortable

You sleep for at least 8 hours a day. It is common especially as you get older to notice that when you wake up you may feel stiff, wake up with numb hands, or pain in your neck and shoulders. Therefore I am often asked what is the best way to sleep. Most experts agree that whatever position your body tend to go towards is the best.

If you find that you are waking up with pain and suspect that your sleeping position is causing your pain try these sleeping modifications. I have tried these myself and I really thought these were some of the best modifications I have seen.
Back Sleepers: Reduce Stiffness in Your Back and Keep Your Arms and Hands from Falling Asleep
 

Perhaps when you sleep on your back you notice your arms and hands become numb in the middle of the night. Sleeping with your arms at your side or resting on your belly places a stretching stress on your nerves which may cause your arms and hands to fall asleep.

To prevent this you can place two small pillow under your arms. This will help support your arms which will help prevent your arms from becoming numb.

When you sleep on your back your pelvis your pelvis rotates slightly forward causing your back to arch. This may cause your low back to feel stiff and achy while you sleep.

To help prevent excess pressure on your low back it can be helpful to place a pillow under the knees. This may help with stiffness and tension in your low back. 
Side Sleepers: Reduce Pain in Your Neck, Shoulders, and Keep Your Arms and Hands From Falling Asleep
Sleeping purely on your [...]

What Causes Leg Cramps and What to Do About Them

There’s nothing worse than being snug in your bed during a deep sleep when suddenly you jump up in agonizing pain in your leg. Writhing around and trying to find that magic position to relieve your leg cramp while also trying to not make your cramp worse.

Usually the advice that I hear is a condescending “oh just eat more potassium.” That’s just bad advice  because as you get older there are some relatively serious conditions that can cause leg cramps.

This article will discuss what leg cramps are, some causes, and what you can do when they happen and how you can prevent them.
Cramp vs Spasm
A cramp is a sudden, violent contraction of your muscle. While a spasm is a gradual guarding or protective splinting and tightening of your muscles. A spasm is usually due to an injury. A cramp happens when the muscle is quickly shortened.
Why Do Cramps Happen?
The reason for cramps is not completely known. Usually it happens when a muscle is suddenly and quickly shortened.  The muscle groups that are most susceptible to cramps are your hamstrings, back of your calf muscles, and the bottoms of your feet but can also happen in your arms and hands. The common reasons for muscle cramps are overexertion, electrolyte imbalance and other medical concerns such as:

Less Severe:

Dehydration
Muscle overexertion, exercise, or injury
Not enough calcium, potassium, and other elctrolytes in your blood
Sitting for too long with your muscles in a shortened position
standing for long periods on hard surfaces

Medical Conditions

Kidney problems
Anemia
Circulation problems (arteriosclerosis)
Cirrhosis

Hyperthyroidism

Hypothyroidism

Type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes

Neuromuscular disorders 
Osteoarthritis
Parkinson’s [...]

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    What Is Cupping Therapy? A Guide On Conditions Treated and What Research Says

What Is Cupping Therapy? A Guide On Conditions Treated and What Research Says

A little over a week ago, during the Olympics, we saw the media explode with reactions about Michael Phelps use of cupping therapy. We saw articles that poked fun at athletes for using all kinds of crazy treatments. Some said that cupping had little research and worked mainly as a placebo while other articles gave horrible images of cupping gone bad, and  we saw articles that gave glowing reviews of just how amazing cupping therapy is .

This article will tell you what cupping therapy is and what is used for, what the research says, and why athletes use complementary and alternative medicine.

What Is Cupping Therapy

Cupping is used in many different cultures but is mainly considered to belong to Traditional Chinese Medicine. It involves a plastic cup, glass, or bamboo which creates a suction over an area of skin. It is thought to drain excess fluids and toxins, loosen adhesions and lift connective tissue, bring blood flow to stagnant skin and muscles, and to stimulate the peripheral nervous system. Cupping therapy is used to treat a wide variety of ailments such as:

Herpes zoster
Acne
Facial paralysis
Cervical spondylosis
Blood disorders such as anemia and hemophilia
Rheumatic diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia
Fertility and gynecological disorders
Skin problems such as eczema and acne
High blood pressure
Migraines
 Anxiety and depression
Bronchial congestion caused by allergies and asthma
Varicose veins

Dry Cupping

Dry cupping involves creating a suction over an acupoint or sensitive area for about three minutes or more.  The cups may also be moved over the skin with lubricants.

Wet Cupping

Wet cupping involves making a slight incision in your skin and placing the cups over the incision. When I used to work at Rehabilitation Medicine and Acupuncture [...]

When to Use Ice and Heat for Pain and Injury

It can be confusing to know when to use ice or heat for pain and injury. Most doctors and professionals recommend ice and rarely recommend heat.  Ice and heat can be very effective and  cost effective ways to treat your own minor injuries and pain.

Ice and heat can also be used not just for pain but as a means to prevent pain. They both have physiological effects on your tissues. This is different than products like icy hot where it just numbs pain.  Products like Icy Hot are skin irritants and take your brains’ focus off of the pain.  While there is nothing wrong with stopping pain with these products they do little to heal.  Ice and heat  have healing effects on your tissues.

As there isn’t an absolute measure to know when ice or heat should be used, if one doesn’t feel right or makes you feel worse, switch.

Here are some guidelines on when you should use ice or heat.

Acute Inflammation vs. Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation is a normal and necessary response to injury.  Your body sends white blood cells to the site of injury with the intent of cleaning the area from infection and to rebuild damaged tissue.

There are two different groups of  white blood cells for this purpose.  The white blood cells that clean the area are only present for the first twenty four to seventy two hours.  After that they leave.

After the first seventy two hours the white blood cells that rebuild tissue will be there until the area is completely healed.

It is not recommended to use heat on acute inflammation. It will make it worse. Conversely, it is not recommended to use ice on chronic inflammation or pain that is associated [...]

How to Stretch and Warm-Up Properly to Prevent Injury and Perform Stronger

A proper warm up will:

Lubricate your joints which will protect your cartilage and joints to prevent arthritic damage and pain
Make your muscles flexible so they’re less likely to tear
Make your muscles ready to contract so they will perform fast and protect your joints.

There are different types of stretching and some are better for certain activities than others. For example static stretching (when you hold a stretch for a length of time) is not recommended for football because it will make your muscles slower to contract. In football your muscles need to act fast not only because it’s a fast sport but because there are unpredictable factors like someone tackling your legs or you are suddenly bent backwards over another player. Therefore your muscles also need to act fast to protect your joints.

However, in an activity where there is less predictability, like gymnastics, static stretching would be a fine warm up.

This article will cover the different types of stretching and how to perform them.
What Happens When You Stretch
The length and tension of your muscles are controlled by your nervous system, specifically the lower motor system. There are reflex organs in your muscles that set the length called muscle spindles. The purpose of the muscle spindles is to monitor the stretch of your muscles because when a muscle is stretched there is a potential for the muscle to tear. Therefore, when the muscle spindle detects a fast change in muscle length it contracts reflexively to protect your muscles.

When the muscle spindle tone is set short the more a small stretch will trigger the spindle. However, if the tone of the muscle spindle is set long it will contract slower. When the [...]

How to Calm Your Brain During Conflict [Infographic]

Conflict can cause negative emotions to surface such as anger and frustration. These negative emotions can lead to physical effects such as loss of energy, feeling sick, and can keep you from seeing the problem clearly.

By controlling how you react to conflict it can help you to solve problems quickly and effectively – and without ruining your entire day.

I recently had an insurance problem where the computer apparently forgot to send my insurance policy to the insurance company.  A family member needed hospital treatment and the hospital told me that I had no insurance. “What? Of course I do. Let me go figure this out.”  That started a three month process of calling the insurance company and going back and forth. If I did not figure this out it would have left me with a 31,000 hospital bill.

So yeah. I was stressed out. The first two weeks I freaked out and was frustrated with everyone I talked to.  However, I made a terrible mistake. I chose to talk about my problem with friends and family. What this did was cause me to prolong my frustration and only revved me up even more. Three days after this happened I actually became nauseous and sick for an entire day.  After two weeks I laughed at myself because I realized that I was just making the situation worse.

In the book  “Don’t Bite the Hook: Finding Freedom from Anger, Resentment, and Other Destructive Emotions” the author describes a split second where you can feel the emotion of frustration and you can either ignore it or bite it. Once you bite it, though, that’s it. The frustration will open up like a flood gate. I had realized that I [...]

Strategies to Prevent Neck and Back Strain from Poor Posture

Hours spent in one position can place a lot of strain on your body resulting in pain and muscle tension. I am not a big fan of writing about posture because I think way too much attention is given to it and that can make you feel like you have horrible posture and that you constantly need to do something about it.

As Science writer and massage therapist Paul Ingraham notes, you inherently know when your body is in a bad posture and therefore tend to fix and correct it. A better approach to fixing and addressing posture can be as simple as taking more frequent breaks and adding a little more more movement and exercise into your routine.

Check out his article here:  In his article Ingraham explores some of the myths and misconceptions of posture and whether or not you should bother correcting your posture.

A Simple Exercise for Better Standing and Seated Posture

Seated or standing think of yourself as puppet hanging from a string. The string is at the top of your head. This should feel as your spine is lengthening and lifting up. You will feel a natural lengthening and stretching in your low back and you may notice that your chin tucks and there is a lengthening and stretch in the back of your neck.

A common mistake when trying to stand straighter is to pull the shoulders, head, and neck back and to stick the chest out. This produces a hyperextension in the spine and pain and discomfort may be felt in the midback, neck and shoulders.

Here is a nice video for a more comfortable seated posture.  To look at common posture pitfalls that are uncomfortable go to 00:53 in [...]

How to Protect Your Back While Shoveling Snow (Or Stupid Jonas!)

So many times you hear to “lift with your knees” when shoveling snow in order to protect your back. It’s a bit more complicated than that and really it’s better to lift with your hips. Here’s a great video by Dr. Scott Gillman that gives some great tips to shovel snow while protecting your back. It also makes a great and fun workout!(Yes, I used fun and shoveling snow in the same sentence.)

I broke down the steps below for you.

Don’t round your back. This places a lot of strain on your back (especially the disc joints) It also will encourage you to lift with your back.

Also, don’t round your back while twisting. Bending and twisting are the two motions that place your back at risk for disc bulging and herniations. You don’t want that.

Instead bend at your hips while also bending at your knees. Try to keep the natural curve in your spine and your back as straight as you can. Essentially you are doing a squat. You can also tighten the muscles of your torso by thinking of being punched in the gut (breathe while you tighten your torso muscles). This will help you protect your back and keep the natural curve in your spine.

Now lift with your hips. You can think of squeezing your butt muscles. Your knees will naturally straighten.

If you need to throw the snow to the side or behind you don’t twist with your back. Instead, follow the next step.

In the video Dr. Scott Gillman uses a great cue. Move Your Nose with Your Toes! This will encourage your back to be in a good neutral and strong position without twisting your back. The foot will step behind [...]