With the New Year just around the corner, many of us set out to achieve some resolutions that often include personal wellness. I thought this would be a good opportunity to provide a little guidance to help you reduce the risk of injuries from any new programs you may be starting or perhaps heeding some of this advice and adding some of these recommendations into your existing routines.
Research shows that it is inevitable that all of us will experience a severe episode of back pain at least once in our lives. This is simply a matter of evolution. However, there are many ways to reduce the chance of back pain, but none of those ways will ever prevent it from occurring. The best yoga class can’t prevent you from slipping on the ice, but having that flexibility may reduce the overall impact from the trauma. This is a conversation I have with every one of my patients. Understanding this distinction goes a long way in accepting the significance of having a multipronged approach to reduce both the experience as well as chances of suffering an episode of back pain. Ultimately, we want to empower our patients to help themselves and see us as a part of their overall wellness approach.
The reality is this. Gravity is real. As such, our daily lives boil down to maintaining a balance between falling over and standing tall. Somewhere in between is where we must figure out how we can maintain proper back health. This will never be identical for any two people. However, we all share similarities of normal wear and tear in our daily lives that should be acknowledged and compensated for in order to reduce the risk of injury. One of the better ways to do this is to incorporate a consistent wellness strategy that may include massage therapy, proper nutrition, meditation, yoga etc. Massage can be many things to many people. Massage for relaxation is excellent in reducing hormone levels that are harmful to our overall health such as cortisol and adrenaline. Too much cortisol can suppress immune system function, increase blood pressure, decrease libido, produce acne, contribute to obesity and more. Having a massage simply to combat our nervous system when it engages in ‘fight or flight’ is an excellent way to reduce your risks of injury. Reducing levels of adrenaline will help to relax tightened muscles as well as regulate your breathing in order to maintain the proper flow of oxygen.
Another form of massage is what we classify as a clinical massage. A clinical massage adds an additional layer of focus into the deeper layers of soft tissue (fascia, muscles, tendons & ligaments) and focuses on areas that we know are commonly being overused. Contrary to popular opinion, a massage does not need to ‘hurt’ in order to be effective. The fact is that we all experience pain in our own ways, so one person’s ‘10’ on a pain scale may be another persons ‘5’. Our therapists are palpating the tissues and trying to ‘match tissue tension’ with the intent of sending a message to the brain that ‘all is well’. Inflicting additional pain on someone is counter intuitive to our primary focus; turning off that fight or flight response. There are times that it can be uncomfortable, but that is typically communicated by the patient to the therapist as a ‘good hurt’. There are certain muscles that are known to be facilitated or in a constant state of tension (hypertonic), while there are other muscles that are known to be constantly inhibited or weakened (hypotonic). A consistent clinical massage is aimed at treating these muscular imbalances in a way that is aimed at returning muscles to their normal resting tone.
Now, all this sounds great, but this is only one element of an overall strategy to avoid back pain. I will even venture to say that it is not the most important part. If someone is truly focused on maintaining long term back health, a regiment of proper exercise specific goals must be integrated into their daily activities. We all brush our teeth on a daily basis, but we also know that we may still have dental issues. Brushing daily simply ‘reduces’ the chances of having any problems. The same logic is applicable with the rest of our body.
Like I eluded to earlier, there is no magic bullet to avoid having an episode of back pain, but here are just two suggestions that I would make to help address the muscles that are under constant duress from our daily activities.
This is an excellent upper back retraining exercise to maintain mobility and flexibility in the chest, shoulders, lats and upper back muscles.
Lean against a wall in a position that initiates three points of contact against the wall: top of glutes, thoracic (upper back) and back of the head. See if you can keep your forearms from the elbow to the back of the hand against the wall while maintaining wall contact. With your elbows bent at 90 degrees, contract your core (abdomen) to keep ribcage against wall and allow arms to rise staying against wall. Take your time. Breathe in and out slowly while focusing on all of your contact points.
TRAIN: Once you see what your baseline is, you can now train daily to improve. Slowly move your arms together against the wall. When the elbows won’t extend any further, bring the arms down towards the ribcage, trying to squeeze the shoulder blades in and down at the same time. I like to give the visual of ‘put your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Addressing the upper back muscles will effectively take the load induced on your lower back from slouching. When we slouch, we reduce the natural lumbar curve in our low back and can cause jamming of joints.
Several months ago, I wrote a post on what I consider one of the best, complete body stretches you can do for yourself. The stretch should not be performed if you are aware of any pre-existing condition that would prohibit this type of movement. Consult with a professional prior to performing this stretch if you are concerned.
It is always our primary goal to help you to feel your very best. Whether you are coming in for weekly or monthly massages or you are coming in as needed, we are honored to be your partner in wellness. As the year comes to an end and the holiday season approaches, please allow us to be the first to say Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from all of us at The Boston Bodyworker. We look forward to being a healthy part of your 2016.