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Exercise Science

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 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 [...]

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 [...]

Use This Exercise for Healing, Better Rest, and Relaxation

Sometimes I feel pretty stupid telling people breathing is really important. To which I get a reply ” No sh&@!, I do it all the time.”  As Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D, a world renowned leader and pioneer in integrative medicine, explains in this video breathing is an interesting action as it is one of the few functions of your body that is under unconscious control and under your direct control.  The importance of this should not be taken lightly.  

Conscious, on purpose breathing directly activates the parasympathetic nervous system which is the branch that controls the healing and repair of your body.  The autonomic nervous system is the branch that reacts to stress and is often overactive. When the autonomic nervous system is overactive the parasympathetic nervous system doesn’t work as well, thus healing is slowed down a bit. This can manifest in many different ways and stress is associated with many chronic diseases. Breathing is the one tool that you have in which you can directly induce the healing response in your body.

 

Dr. Weil Goes Over 4-7-8 Breathing

In this video, Dr Weil M.D. goes over a breathing  technique called the 4-7-8 method.  In this breathing exercise you start bly blowing out all the air in your lungs. Next, you inhale for the count of four, hold your breath for a count of three, and then exhale on the count of 8. You can do this for up to 4 breath cycles. This encourages a deeper inhale. These are the steps:

Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
Hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale [...]

The Three Elements for Healthy Muscles

Muscle tightness is by far the most common condition that people come into my office for. Muscle tightness and trigger points are often overlooked by most doctors which is too bad since these conditions can cause a wide array of symptoms like tingling in the arms, hands, legs, and feet; headaches, weakness in your muscles, and plain old pain.  Since muscle the primary cause of trigger points is muscle tightness the most common question I get is “if muscle tightness causes this then is it bad if I go to the gym since I am going to tighten the muscle?”

Well, ultimately the answer is that it depends on how you workout or exercise. If you give yourself the proper amount of rest and recovery I would say no.

From the standpoint of healthy muscles and joints  you need a certain amount of strength, flexibility, and endurance.  It is the right amount of not too much and not too little.

Another factor of muscle health is the state of the muscles themselves. When massage therapists talk about trigger points and adhesions we are talking about physical changes in the muscle tissue. These physical changes in muscle tissue affect the ability of your muscles to generate strength, to be flexible, and affects circulation to the muscle depriving them of the nutrition they need.

The most important things that your muscles to need to be healthy are strength, flexibility, and rest.

What Is Strength

Strength is the ability of your muscles to generate force and is important to support the integrity of your joints. There are different aspects of strength: maximum strength and strength endurance. Maximum strength is the most amount of force a muscle can produce and is usually done with one [...]

A Concept of Building Strength No One Talks About

I Had a Burning Question: Can You Train With Very Little Chance of Injury?

I spent eight years working in a very busy pain management/ physical therapy clinic. I have worked with a lot of different pain conditions as well as a very diverse population. From athletes of all sorts like runners, yogi’s, pilates instructors, cross fitters, triathletes. Probably a ton more. One thing I have always seen is that generally most push and push their bodies. Even when it is not healthy.

There are so many sources out there that believe and say that in order to be stronger you must push yourself. But if you injure yourself often and chronic injuries resurface doesn’t that indicate the strength of the tissue is overwhelmed? One burning question that I have always had is, is there a way to train with very minimal risk of injury without overuse injuries.

All the Book Said was “By Pavel” Who the Heck is Pavel?

About five years ago my burning question was answered. As I was browsing at Barnes and Noble one day in the fitness section a very interesting title caught my eye. “The Naked Warrior: Master the Secrets of the Super Strong Using Body Weight Exercises Only.”

I think my brain was just astonished to see the words “Naked Warrior.”  Then I was intrigued by “the Super Strong Using Body Weight Only” since everybody says you can not become strong with body weight exercises.

Curious, I picked up the book and looked at the name of the author and all it said was “By Pavel.” OK. This looks a bit cheesy I thought. Nevertheless I peeked inside.  As soon as I started to read I had felt that [...]