Natural Balance Therapy has a team of therapists that has been providing therapeutic treatments to residents, in all stages of life, in southeast Wisconsin for the past ten years, helping them return to a pain-free, active lifestyle. We seek to help people understand their bodies and what is causing their pain and discomfort, as well as teach them what they can do to help themselves heal. Natural Balance Therapy is known for giving people in chronic pain hope and long-lasting results.
A few months back, we discussed one of the common complaints of clients at Natural Balance Therapy: pain or soreness in the upper back, between the shoulder blades. We covered how this pain can be postural in origin, as overworked muscles fatigue from the strain of fighting a forward head carriage, and suggested a couple of easy stretches to help open the front of the chest to ease the strain on the back.
Are you in your body? What does the phrase 'being in your body' mean to you?
Self-care for people on their feet and on the go
If you’re reading this, you’re doing so on some sort of electronic device, either a computer, smartphone, or tablet. But spend too much time in front of the screen, and you may notice some of the following: dry or watery eyes, difficulty focusing, blurred or double vision, light sensitivity, and/or headaches.
These are signs of common eye strain, which can occur when we are intensely visually focused for long periods of time. Although eye strain can come from many causes, including driving, reading, or writing, it is most often seen with extended use of digital devices. Some studies suggest that we blink less frequently when using electronics, which can exaggerate the irritation by drying out the surface of the eye.
We are put into many situations and are given opportunities within our lifetime that allow us the opportunity to grow and learn. When we are in the middle of the situation we may be angry or experiencing another emotion that doesn't allow us to see what we are meant to learn or take away. After the situation has subsided, that is our chance to take a step back, quiet the mind, and open up to the information that we are meant to take away or learn. This may be challenging at first, but the more that you allow yourself to quiet down and listen the more information you may take away from situations. The following is some food for thought as you reflect on your life experiences.
Self-care ideas for runners and weekend warriors
Now that the weather seems to have finally made up its mind to move into spring, we’re able to get back to the outdoor activities we’ve been itching for. For many, running is the activity of choice, others turn to weekend sports, while others fill their ‘outdoors’ time with yardwork and gardening.
No matter what you choose, you may find that your legs and hips are stiff and sore. This is especially true if you, like many of us, have been less active throughout the winter — your body needs time to get used to these new movements and strains. Making sure you take time to self-treat and stretch can make a big difference as your muscles adjust.
Last week, we talked about myofascial stretching and how it is different from ‘traditional’ stretching methods. Today, I’m going to share specific ideas for taking some familiar stretches and modifying them to be fascial techniques. (As always, consult with a medical professional if you have any concerns or questions.)
These four techniques are great for opening the hips and stretching the major muscle groups of the legs. Spending a few minutes with each of these can really help reduce soreness and improve fluid movement through the legs and hips. As we discussed last week, the important things to remember are to go into the stretch just until you begin to feel something, not pushing as far as you can go, and then to wait at that point for at least two minutes to allow the fascia to begin to lengthen and reorganize.
- Stairstep Calf Stretch. This is one of my personal favorites for tightness in the lower legs. Stand on a stair step, holding the railing for balance, and bring one foot back so that just the ball of the foot and the toes are on the step. Gently and slowly lower the heel of that foot just until you feel a sense of stretch or pull along the back of the calf, letting your body weight create the stretch. Hold here for two minutes, then switch foot positions and repeat with the other leg.
- Standing Quadriceps Stretch (often called the runner’s stretch). Grasp your ankle and gently bring your heel toward your thigh, just until you feel a light stretch or pull along the front of the thigh. Place your other hand on a table or wall for balance and hold for two minutes, then repeat with other leg. (If you have extreme difficulty with balancing for two minutes, you may still get some benefit from this stretch by practicing it lying face-down on a yoga mat.
- Piriformis Stretch. The piriformis is one of the external rotators of the hip, and is often involved in limitations to hip movement and sciatic-type pain. Lying on your back, with your head on a pillow if needed, bend one knee and use your opposite hand to gently bring that leg towards the opposite shoulder, just until a sense of stretch is felt in the glutes or posterior leg. Hold for two minutes, and repeat with the other leg.
- Lower Trunk Rotation. Although we often think about stretching front and back, the rotation of our hips and lower torso is frequently forgotten. This stretch is a great way to keep our lower bodies moving fluidly. Lying on your back (again, use a pillow under your head for comfort if needed), bring your knees together. Keeping the back flat, and the feet together, rotate to one side, just until you feel lengthening in the opposite side. If you need to, place a pillow under your knees for support so that you can soften into the stretch (this isn’t about how far you can drop your knees, but feeling that lengthening). Hold for at least two minutes, then repeat the rotation to the other side.
At some point or another, we’ve all done some stretching. In the gym before P.E. class in grade school, as part of an exercise class or DVD, or even just getting up after sitting at a desk for a long time, we’ve seen and done various techniques to open and elongate and soften our muscles.
But have you ever wondered how effective some of those stretches have been? Many of us stretch to prevent injury, to help with recovery, or to reduce pain. Traditional stretching, which is what most of us have experienced, moves a muscle to its end range, holds it there briefly (usually from ten to twenty seconds), and then releases the stretch. While this can be helpful, it misses out on a large component of our body tissue.
The key is in the structure of the fascia, the clingy spiderweb of tissue that wraps over and around and through every muscle, bone, and organ in our body, connecting and separating from top to toe. Fascia is made up of two parts: collagen (structural) and elastin (stretchy). This enables fascial tissue to lengthen and elongate as well as maintain its shape. When we have restrictions and limitations, the collagen component solidifies, ‘gluing’ our tissues together. Traditional stretching, with its brief lengthening at end range, only works on the elastin. Just like a rubber band, though, the tissue will recoil right back to whatever length it had been, without lasting change.
At Natural Balance Therapy, we teach our clients fascial stretching, which is very different in its approach. Fascial stretching enables us to lengthen and elongate the collagenous component of the tissue in addition to the elastin. This makes the stretches more effective, and the results will last longer.
In order to affect the collagen, fascial stretching has several differences from traditional stretching.
The first and most important is the element of time. In traditional stretching, you hold the stretch for ten to twenty, maybe thirty seconds. In fascial stretching, any technique will be held for at least two minutes, and up to five or ten minutes. I like to say softening the fascia is like cooking a tough cut of meat – you can’t just throw it on the grill for a few minutes, but it’s fabulous after cooking for hours in a slow cooker. Fascial stretching is giving your tissue the ‘low and slow’ treatment.
The second difference is actually the ‘low’ part of the ‘low and slow’ idea: unlike traditional stretching, fascial stretching doesn’t push the tissue into end range. Instead, we lengthen until we just begin to feel something – a sense of stretch, a sense of pull – and wait there, holding the stretch gently until the tissue begins to melt, soften, and elongate.
Another difference is that fascial stretching is not a ‘no pain, no gain’ kind of a treatment. While there may be initial tenderness, it should be what you might call a ‘good hurt’, where you can feel things changing and easing as the tissue softens and lengthens.
By treating our bodies gently, we can use fascial stretching to make lasting change in our bodies. This different approach can be an effective tool to help you heal, reduce pain, and prevent injury.
For more information, visit www.naturalbalancetherapy.com
Have you ever heard of or used aromatherapy? Aromatherapy is a holistic approach to wellness that dates back thousands of years. Our ancestors recognized the effect of aromatic plants on the body, mind and spirit. Essential oils used in aromatherapy are aromatic liquids distilled or cold pressed from plants, shrubs, flowers, trees, roots, bushes and seeds. These plant extracts have been used medicinally to kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. There are fragrances that balance mood, lift our spirits, even create romantic atmospheres.