SMARTer bodies

Tag Archives: treatments

Yoga for Back Pain? Maybe

Last month The New York Times posted an article about yoga and stretching for “chronic low back pain”. It was based on a 26 week study of over 200 sufferers (the mean age was late 40s). The study concluded that a regular practice of yoga (3 or more times a week) or stretching improved the participants’ condition in over half of the population. While this is certainly fantastic news, and we believe that studies like this are essential in order to educate the general population about the infinite benefits of physical activity, there are a lot of generalizations here that we feel should be addressed.For one, what is stretching and what is yoga? Defining Yoga can bring up many conflicting idealogies and could be its own blog post. BUT what we can say here is that there are SO many different styles of yoga these days that saying you took a yoga class is like describing a car by the number of wheels it has (all cars have 4 wheels and are all therefore created equal, right?). Also, yoga is sometimes not just stretching. Some classes will have you holding deep stretches for long periods of time, some classes will have you flapping your arms around as fast as you can in 3 minutes, some classes will have you moving in and out of poses holding them for only one breath each, some classes focus on breath, some focus on handstands, etc. etc. The point is that it is important to consider what KIND of yoga you are doing and is that type of yoga beneficial for YOU!

What about stretching? According to this study, the stretching group “went to weekly stretching classes built around aerobic exercises, deep stretches and strengthening exercises focused on the trunk and leg muscles”. This distinction is also made later when the writer said that “her study looked specifically at deep stretching that is far more involved than the brief, light stretches most people do before or after a workout” These are important distinctions to point out because they were not just stretching. There was also strengthening involved. Depending on the cause of the back pain, stretching alone may not actually help. What can be said for certain is that if the people in this study were sedentary prior to the study (which the study does not specify), then almost ANY kind of lower impact activity would most likely make them feel better. But what about a case where the activity (or to be technical, the compensation patterns used by the practitioner in said activity) caused the pain? For example, what if someon’s yoga practice was hurting them?  These are all things to think about when evaluating the validity of such studies.

The real question here is… what the heck IS chronic low back pain? According to Wikipedia, chronic pain is pain that persists for longer than 6 months. According to the Mayoclinic, most people in the United States will complain about back pain at some point in their lives. Because it is such a major complaint, especially when it is chronic, and there doesn’t seem to be any one “cure all” method, articles such as this one can become very influential. The problem here lies in the generalizations. “Oh! I have chronic back pain, so I should do yoga!” seems like a reasonable conclusion to come to after reading such an article. But we feel that this is a place where critical thinking is key.

Even though it may be a common occurrence, if you have back pain that persists longer than 6 months the first step you should take is not take up yoga, it should be to go to a doctor. Some people will accept chronic aches and pains as a bi-product of aging, but any sensation of pain that you have is your body trying to bring your attention to something. A useful question to ask yourself is WHY do you have back pain? There are several physical ailments that could cause this: herniated discs, spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, bone growth, etc. All of these ailments are different from one another and require a different solution. To say that yoga or stretching could improve all of these conditions is an overstatement to say the least. Even if your physician does not find a physiological reason for your pain after testing, it is still imperative to investigate the cause of the pain. There is a cause, even if it does not show up on an MRI. Maybe you have an imbalance in your back erectors (muscles) versus your abdominal muscles, maybe you have a functional scoliosis, maybe you have tight hips which are causing you to compensate for movement in your trunk, maybe you have a tight diaphragm, maybe there is a digestive issue. etc. Again, each of these issues has a unique solution that needs to be addressed if the goal is to truly eliminate your back pain for good.

Billions of dollars a year are spent on quick fixes and trial and error “cure all” methods to back pain. Your health is certainly worth a financial investment, but instead of a quick fix, maybe a program that was designed for you would be a better solution. There are a plethora of physical therapists, acupuncturists,  or… you could try us! That’s kind of what we do!

Why Won’t My Neck Relax!

Why Won’t My Neck Relax!

You may feel that sometimes, no matter how much you try to stretch your neck there is no relief.  One of the ways in which this may manifest is if you lay down on the floor without a pillow and it feels like you have work to release.  Maybe your chin juts towards the ceiling.  Maybe your neck feels “crunchy” in the back.  So what do you need to do? Instinctually, you may react to the tightness with attempts to stretch the necks muscles more.

But this situation presents an important lesson that we will touch upon again and again in this blog and in our work:

There is a difference between Stretch and Release.  Stretch does NOT always equal Release!

What if the neck muscles that feel tight are actually overstretched and you are not perceiving the sensation correctly?  To further illuminate, take an internal body scan and see if you can sense if you have very tight pectoral muscles.  This may be a result of sitting at a computer for many hours, reading at a desk, or just holding bad posture.  The chronically contracted muscles on the front of your body are constantly pulling and forcing the back muscles to stretch to their maximum capacity.  The tight sensations in the back are muscles screaming for release not more stretch.

Try working on the pecs with body work, massage, or gently stretching them…whatever works best for you to open those muscles.  Now try actually using the muscles in the back body by contracting the postural muscles.  Lie down and squeeze the scapula together by contracting the muscles in between.  See how far down you can take that squeeze.  This may be difficult, because you are lying down.  But, try alternating squeezing the muscles and releasing the contraction.  Doing this, after opening the pecs, can begin to rebalance your posture and equalize the work of the front and back muscles.  In other words, you will open your tight pecs and give release/relief to the overly stretched back muscles.  Once you’ve alternated the squeeze and release of the postural muscles 3 – 5 times lie down on the floor and see if you feel a difference in your previously “tight” neck.  Is it easier to release your head to the ground with out a pillow?  Do you have an easier time tucking your chin back and keeping it there?

Try this and give us your feedback!

A Healing Touch With Reiki – Give it A Try!

Just like there can be blockages in the digestive system (think constipation) or blockages in the blood stream (clogged arteries) there can also be blockages in the energy flows of your body! It is believed by many holistic health practitioners, including us here are SMARTer Bodies, that these blockages can cause a whole wide range of health problems from insomnia, digestion issues, headaches, to even chronic pain and fatigue, among a long list of other issues!

Eastern Medicine, from India’s Ayurveda, Chinese Traditional Medicine, and Japanese Traditional medicine all have it firmly established in their medicinal body of knowledge, that is collectively thousands of years old, that a keystone of good health is the proper flow of energy in the body.  Reiki originated from Japan and when translated means “universal life energy”.  Reiki is done by an experienced and trained Reiki practitioner who passes their hands over the clients body as well as touching certain key points on the body as well.  What this does is transmit targeted energy from the Reiki practitioner to the patient, and the aim is to unblock those energy blockages that have formed. Think of it like  unblocking a clogged pipe! It’s a very relaxing process, with the patient feeling warmth, a great sense of well-being and relaxation, and a gentle flow of energy in their body.  So it can easily be said that Reiki is about rebalancing the energy pathways, so the body can function at its best!  Reiki is very gentle and therefore can help with almost any condition or illness. If you would like to know more about this ancient and highly effective art, feel free to contact us with any questions that you might have.  Reiki when done by a qualified and experienced practitioner can deliver a wide variety of benefits than can help improve your health and quality of life in a holistic and balanced way!

mel@smarterbodies.com

Achy Painful Hands and Wrists? Watch Out for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!

If you recently have experienced discomfort in your hands, like pain in the fingers, knuckles, wrists, palms or forearms then keep reading!  That discomfort may be a sign of an underlying problem.  So many jobs involve repetitive motions with our hands, which can over time be a source of major discomfort and even injuries. Suffering from pain in the hands and wrists is becoming increasingly widespread, so you are not alone. Industrial occupations like factory work and office based jobs that require typing on the computer for long hours are the two most common professional activities that can lead to aching wrists and hands. This condition, if it last for more than a few weeks, is often referred to as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)!  But this pain does not always have its source in that particular area of the wrist.  So it is safer to refer to this issue as a repetitive strain injury.

Our hands are an amazing part of our body, and they make the uniqueness of the human experience possible. From supporting yourself in different yoga positions, to grabbing a cup of coffee, and writing a note, our hands do miraculous things everyday. The hands are made up of many different bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments that allow us to do a variety of stunningly complex movements. So what is the best thing to do if you are suffering from discomfort in your hands and wrists? Doing different hand exercises and stretches can help a great deal, as well as taking frequent breaks during repetitive motion to stretch your fingers, wrists, and palms. Drinking lots of water is also helpful, because water is essential in ensuring that all of your joints and fascia (connective tissue) are well lubricated for easier motion!   Yoga is also very beneficial, because it strengthens the hands and wrists, as well as the forearms and also increases blood circulation to those areas.  Our heavily industrialized world makes for some interesting challenges. But there are natural solutions, like yoga, fascial release, trigger point therapy and other therapeutic movements that can help!