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.
This week, all the advertising has been reminding us of love, and the outward manifestations of love. But what about an inward focus? How about giving your healthy body some love?
Are your hips 'square'? Do they face forward evenly, without rolling, tilting, or shifting? Or do you feel like one or both is just a little off of neutral position? A balanced pelvis is a vital component to starting and maintaining improvement in other symptom patterns.
As a therapist, one of the first areas I check on my clients is at the hips, evaluating the position of the pelvis. Many clients that are coming in for seemingly unrelated complaints will often ask why this is so important.
The pelvic floor is the foundation of our whole body – if there is a distortion or dysfunction in the alignment of the hips, its effects are noticed in many other areas. A shift in the position of the hips affects our posture, our gait, our digestive function, and travels up the length of the spine to produce compensating shifts in the shoulders and neck, even the bones of the skull.
Because of the way the fascia is connected throughout the body, a shift in the pelvis can produce varied symptoms just about anywhere in the body. Dysfunction in the balance of the hips can lead to any of the following:
- low back pain
- knee, foot or ankle pain
- limited range of motion in the legs or hips
- rib compression, rotation, or restricted breathing
- neck pain or headaches
In sessions with my clients, I’ve been using neural manipulation for a number of years now. Neural Manipulation (or NM) is the practice of using gentle manipulation to find and free restrictions in the nerves. This allows the nerves to regain mobility and restore their ability to communicate with the brain.
Did you know that nerves are actually composed of between 50% to 80% fascia? Because of the way fascia is interconnected, in order to function optimally, nerves must be able to move freely within their surroundings.
Before I started learning NM, I had the belief that neural problems were mostly caused by surrounding tissues creating entrapment or even compression of the nerve. Since then I’ve come to understand that nerves can have internal fascial restrictions as well!
Your nerves supply all the information that the brain uses to control your body; the brain protects this information at all costs. Often, the chronic muscle spasm that we experience that just won’t respond to therapy that is focusing on the muscle is actually due to a nerve restriction causing the brain to create a protective spasm.
Clients seek neural manipulation for a variety of disorders affecting different systems of the body. These disorders can include:
- Neuralgia or nerve pain
- Neuritis or inflamed nerve
- Paralysis and neuropathy
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
- Morton’s neuroma
- Post-zoster pain or Shingles
- Dura mater tension
- Bell’s palsy or facial paralysis
If visions of sugarplums take you to nightmares of scales, or if a brandied eggnog is followed by disrupted sleep, or if holiday gatherings leave you with a headache of epic proportions, your body might be trying to tell you something.
Are you feeling frazzled? Or are you a little over-scheduled, especially with the holidays approaching? When taking a week off in the Caribbean isn’t an option, here are some ways to work some stress-relieving activities into your everyday routine. While some of these might need a little bit of planning, many of them take only a few minutes, no special equipment, and can be added into your day at any time and just about anywhere.
- Take a little time to just ‘goof off’ – even if it’s just a half an hour, that can have a significant effect on your stress levels. Regular relaxation time is vital for physical and emotional health. Read a humorous book, watch a funny movie, go to a park and play on the swings like a six-year-old (or go sledding and make snow angels). Remember, 'getting physical' has the added benefit of producing mood-lifting endorphins.
- Schedule time for a new hobby – or revisit an old favorite. Getting in touch with your creative side away from whatever causes you stress can even help you solve those problems. While one part of your brain is creating, other parts of your brain are working in the background, coming up with solutions.
- Try out a new stress-management ‘routine’ to turn to when you get overwhelmed – whether that be a few minutes of deep breathing, a five-minute self-massage for the face and scalp, or practicing guided imagery to daydream yourself into another location.
- Go on a ‘tech’ fast for a day, a morning, an hour. With television, computers, tablets, and smartphones, we’re bombarded with news and images that are often threatening or downright depressing. Taking a little time to shut off the technology reenergizes us and helps us focus on what we can take action on.
- For the more ambitious, try throwing an exotic travel party. Have each guest bring a dish from a destination of their choice or yours (that way, you aren’t doing all the cooking). Play international music, try activities from other cultures, and enjoy foreign flavor – no passport required.
Do you get frustrated if you don't make progress with your healing? Do you feel like you're taking two steps forward and one step back? Sometimes, being too attached to our plans and expectations can actually get in the way of our healing process.
No, not Napoleon Bonaparte – we want to help you access your inner Emperor Penguin! The weather change this past week has reminded us that it's never too early to start planning for winter weather – and thinking about ways to keep ourselves safe and healthy through the coming season.
Clicking or popping noises, locking or grating sensations, pain or stiffness in and around the jaw and temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can all be symptoms of TMJ dysfunction. Many people also experience headaches, neck pain, or earaches. Bodywork, and particularly the whole-body approach of myofascial release, can be very effective in helping to rebalance the TMJ and the entire cranial vault to reduce or eliminate symptoms.
Because the jaw spans the midline of the body, it is often a place where misalignments between the left and right sides of the body show up - the symptomatic end link in a chain of tension and restriction. A seemingly minor strain or injury can produce a chronic holding or bracing pattern on one side of the body. This holding pattern may lead to secondary or compensatory changes in alignment elsewhere in the body, above or below the original location. These changes can then affect the soft tissues in the neck and shoulders, creating lines of pull that subtly distort the positioning of the bones of the skull, altering the jaw's position and producing the associated symptoms.
With myofascial release therapy, we assess the whole body, looking not just at the direct region of the jaw, but widening our treatment to include other misalignments or soft tissue restrictions and tensions that we notice. As we rebalance these other areas, we often find that the symptoms in the jaw are greatly reduced. In particular, we frequently see a connection with the alignment of the hips - the pelvis serves as a foundation for the entire body, and restrictions and twists here often produce tensions that pull the entire length of the spine to the bones of the skull.
TMJD, like many other symptomatic complexes, can often have several different factors that contribute to its development. In my practice, I have found that myofascial release, with its broad, whole-body approach, is a highly effective method of addressing multiple causes to relieve these symptoms and restore full function.
Part of having a healthy body is having a healthy mind. In previous posts, we've talked about mindfulness, meditation, and 'tuning in' to our bodies and our feelings. But how do we get there? One often-forgotten element of this process is the importance of silence. Thanks to modern technology, we find ourselves able to enjoy almost instant access to a world of information and communication everywhere we go. We can gather the sights, sounds, and people of our lives into a host of portable devices, connecting us in moments. We are enriched by the ability to find answers to questions, contact friends and family, and relive favorite experiences - or are we pressured by that same connectedness? Is what we really need to ‘unplug’ in order to rest, regain energy, and be involved in creative endeavor? In an increasingly noisy world, the idea of intended ‘silence’ is one that has gained new appeal for many people. The idea of a meditative silence has a long history - Greek philosophers, Christian monks, and Hindu and Buddhist traditions all emphasize silence as a path to wisdom, peace, and enlightenment.
Do you have a surgical procedure scheduled? Did you know that receiving manual therapy could be an important part of your pre-op or post-op plan?
When we think we have a gallbladder issue, it's usually after we've doubled over with a gallbladder attack, characterized by severe pain underneath the rib cage on the right side. But this is actually the end game of gallbladder dysfunction. The gallbladder has probably been sending you messages for years, which you either ignored or thought were something else.
Complaints which may be related to gallbladder dysfunction include:
• Pain in the right shoulder or upper back (without radiating pain/numbness down the arm)
• Neck pain or decrease in range of motion (mostly on left)
• Headaches, migraines
• Left hip pain
These complaints are often chronic issues that have not improved with therapy directed to the structure that's been bothering you. If you haven’t seen results with those treatments, then it may be time to look elsewhere. You may have developed restrictions or a loss of mobility in or around your gallbladder. Organs can lose mobility due to one or more of the following reasons: physical trauma, surgery, lifestyle, infection, pollution, diet, or postural dysfunction.
When an organ is restricted and fixed to another structure, the body is forced to compensate. This creates abnormal tension and chronic irritation leading to dysfunction throughout the body.
According to Dr. Jean-Pierre Barral, the founder of Visceral Manipulation, 8 percent of men and 20 percent of women in the US over the age of 40 are affected by gallstones. There are 2 million surgical procedures performed every year to remove the gallbladders. It is however important to realize that not all gallstones produce adverse symptoms. Sometimes even large gallstones can lie dormant for years, and surgery isn't always the primary option.
Many patients have had great success using Visceral Manipulation (VM) to treat gallbladder-related issues. VM is a gentle approach to help free up these troublesome restrictions which may be contributing to gallbladder irritation, improving some of those symptoms that don't usually make us think 'gallbladder.'
Greg Jolly, LMT, has specialized in Visceral Manipulation for over 10 years, and is one of Wisconsin's most experienced Visceral Manipulation therapists.
The fall season is upon us. The children are back in school. The leaves are changing colors and many stores have started getting ready for the approaching holidays. Along with all the busy schedules of work activities, school sports, and homework comes the COLD AND FLU Season.
CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a very effective treatment method where the practitioner will manually apply a subtle movement to the spine and cranial bones in an attempt to bring the central nervous system into harmony. This therapy involves assessing and addressing the movement of the cerebrospinal fluid, which can be restricted by trauma to the body, such as falls, accidents, general nervous tension, and disease states.
By gently working with the spine, the skull and its cranial sutures, diaphragms, and fascia, the restrictions of nerve passages are eased, the movement of cerebrospinal fluid through the spinal cord can be optimized, and misaligned bones are said to be restored to their proper position.
CranioSacral Therapy was pioneered by the late John Upledger D.O., who worked with many children with ADD/ADHD. Dr. Upledger reports that, "In our experience, about 60% of ADD children have craniosacral system dysfunction as a predominantly contributing factor. When therapy is successful, the results are most often dramatically positive. For instance, it is very common for the hyperactive child to relax and fall asleep on the treatment table after the correction is made."
Many of us have been told by our doctor, chiropractor, or therapist that we have a short leg or leg length discrepancy (LLD). Or maybe you have noticed that your shoes wear unevenly or that your pant legs feel different.
Many people have a leg length discrepancy, which can cause back, neck, knee and hip pain as well as other problems throughout the rest of the body. The good news is that 90 to 97% of LLD’s are "apparent" or "functional" due to misalignments in the hips and pelvis and/or muscle imbalances (most frequently in the psoas, the strongest hip flexor). Manual therapy, including myofascial release (MFR), can be very beneficial for treating the muscle imbalances that produce this sort of leg length discrepancy.
Take a look at the image below (the figure on the left) and see how a slight LLD can affect the alignment of the whole body compared to the figure on the right.
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.
Over the last six months or so, much of this blog has been dedicated to the physical body. It only makes sense – we are, after all, therapists, so much of our attention is naturally given to all things structural.
Are you in your body? What does the phrase 'being in your body' mean to you?
Many adults suffer from chronic acid reflux (commonly called heartburn), also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. GERD is a disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter which is a muscle connecting the esophagus with the stomach. Most of my clients describe their pain as under the middle of the chest and as a burning that occurs after meals and often worsens when lying down.
During an attack of GERD the contents of the stomach 'reflux' back up into the esophagus. According to WebMD, “Normally, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter opens to allow food into the stomach (or to permit belching); then it closes again. Next, the stomach releases strong acids to help break down the food. If the lower esophageal sphincter opens too often or does not close tight enough, stomach acid can reflux, or seep back into the esophagus, damaging it and causing the burning sensation we know as heartburn.” Other symptoms of GERD may also include hoarseness, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, unexplained lung infections, anemia, coughing, snoring, sore throat and chest pain.
The conventional medical approach to GERD typically includes life-style changes such as changing the diet to avoid foods that may aggravate the symptoms and reducing stress. Additionally, your physician may suggest antacids, non-prescription H2 antagonists, prescription-strength drugs and even surgical intervention. This approach is centered on reducing the amount of acid in the stomach in order to decrease the reflux.
But if the problem is due to a dysfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter due to weakness or perhaps due to strain from surrounding tissues, why not reduce the stress of these tissues on the sphincter?
Myofascial release therapy and visceral manipulation do just that. We have found that it is possible to improve the function of our organs simply by reducing mechanical and structural stress on them. We use these techniques to locate and help solve problems in the body, to encourage your own natural healing mechanisms, to improve the function of your organs, to dissipate the negative effects of stress, and enhance general health and resistance to disease.
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.
Last week, we talked about ways to keep cool as summer heats up. This week, Linda takes over the blog to expand on one of those methods: Just Add Water!
Imagine a warm pond, still and calm, that has not been disturbed in weeks. It looks brown, dirty and stagnant. You can't even see through the algae-filled water. Now imagine a cool mountain stream flowing over a bed of rocks, the sun shining through water so clean and clear you can see right down to the bottom.
Would you prefer to have the pond water or the stream water in your body? Of course we would all prefer the pure clean water of the flowing stream. But if you are not drinking enough water, the water in your body may be feeling more like the stale, stagnant pond water.
Some interesting water facts:
- The human body is between 60% and 80% water
- Muscles are 75% water
- Our brains are 74% water
- Bones are 22% water
Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it. ~Russell Baker
This past week or two, Mother Nature has finally been flirting with summer, and the summer solstice is just days away. Temperatures are starting to go up, and summertime activities beckon, in the brief spots between rainshowers. In the first joy of outdoor fun, though, it can be easy to overdo it, and our bodies can pay the price. So, what's a Wisconsinite to do when the mercury starts to get too high for comfort? Plan ahead and keep cool with some of these ideas - and be aware of what to look for to prevent or treat heat-related illness.
- Add water! Remember to stay adequately hydrated, especially if you’re being physically active on a warm day - try to drink 8 oz of water every hour. You can also place a wet dishcloth or handkerchief on the back of your neck, where some of your body’s thermal regulators are located. Getting your hair wet (even just the hairline) or spritzing your face or body with a mist of water uses evaporation to cool you off (this is less effective when the humidity is high - and be sure to reapply sunscreen as needed). Soaking your feet or hands in a bucket or sink of cool water will also bring your body temperature down.
- Dress cool. Lightweight, breathable fabrics, like woven cotton or linen, are optimal, especially in light colors, which reflect more of the sun’s rays. And have an extra layer handy for transitioning into buildings with air conditioning set to ‘Arctic’.
- Eat cool. It’s no surprise that frozen treats are most popular this time of year - but it doesn’t have to be ice cream. Frozen grapes and berries can be eaten right out of the freezer. Mint is another food that can cool you - the menthol has a cooling effect whether you use it on your skin, such as with a peppermint foot lotion, or consume it, like mint tea (or, yes, mint chocolate chip ice cream).
What do you think of when you experience pain in your body?
Seasonal allergies can make you miserable – right at the time you'd most like to be out and about and enjoying some of the beautiful spring weather. Most people rely on either avoiding their particular triggers or taking medications to manage their symptoms. While both of these methods can be effective, some people also find relief by receiving bodywork.
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.
Getting your golf game in gear? As spring creeps closer, many are fondly eyeing the greening grass, looking forward to getting back out on the links. But is your body ready for that first eighteen holes?
If you think about it, playing golf can be very physically demanding – rotation and compression, power and torque traveling through the body. Because of the fascial connections weaving throughout the whole body, restriction and limitation in one area can affect our ability to move freely somewhere else, making our game harder than it needs to be, setting us up for strain or injury.
An imbalance in the pelvis, in particular, can really limit our ability to move through the rotation of the swing. If one hip is shifted forward, for example, our center line is already slightly pivoted, shortening our range of movement through the rest of the rotation. That shift forward can also produce lines of tension through the legs and low back, restricting the flow of the body through the swing and affecting the movement through the upper body. This can make the whole swing less fluid and powerful.
Not only can existing restrictions in our bodies affect our golf games, but golfing itself can produce strain patterns and injuries by the time we get to the nineteenth hole. Say the words, ‘golf injury’ and most people would probably think of ‘golfer’s elbow’ – inflammation affecting the tendons and musculature around the side of the elbow, where the muscles of the forearm attach to the upper arm. This is often seen if the grip is imbalanced, but can be produced by other torques and tensions in the upper body as well.
As with many physical activities, the key to optimal performance and good recovery is always that ounce of prevention. Consulting with a professional instructor can help you correct inefficient movement patterns before they cause further strain, while adequate stretching before and after your game reduces the likelihood of injury. Regular bodywork, too, will help open up restrictions in the fascial system and allow you to get a full, easy range of motion. Getting your body aligned and in balance before you grab your clubs will help prevent injury and lead to a more fluid, powerful swing.
A few tips for the sleep-deprived
Everyone’s had them – those nights where you toss and turn, your mind racing, unable to find that elusive combination of body position and mental calm to drift off into blissful unconsciousness. While your body can bounce back from one or two rough nights, if you’re short on sleep for extended periods, the effects can really add up. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to irritability, mood disorders, inability to concentrate, reduced performance and higher risk of accidents, and even potentially long-term harmful effects in your body, including weight gain and high blood pressure.
So, what’s a tired person to do? Here are some tips to help you drift off to dreamland. (Of course, if you’re experiencing long-term, severe insomnia, see your physician to rule out a medical cause, such as sleep apnea.)
- Prepare your body and mind for sleep before you tuck under the covers. Numerous studies have shown that establishing a regular night-time routine cues your body for sleep. As much as possible, be consistent, and keep as close to a regular schedule as possible. Some research indicates that the glow from electronic devices (TV, computer, tablet, smartphone) can stimulate our minds, so it’s often recommended to shut down an hour before going to bed. Many people find the routine of preparing and drinking an herbal tea is a good way to slow their minds, and chamomile tea in particular is often accredited with calming effects.
- Adjust your sleeping environment. First and foremost: darker is better. Your body only produces melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep/wake cycle, in darkness. If your windows let in a lot of ambient light, consider using heavier, light-blocking drapes. This is another good reason to turn off the TV before bedtime – so-called ‘blue’ light is the most disruptive to melatonin production. Another adjustment you may want to consider is changing the temperature in your bedroom. Our bodies need to cool off a little in order to fall asleep and stay asleep, so dropping the thermostat during the night-time hours makes sense for more than just your heating budget. Oh, and keep your clock facing where you would have to move a little bit to check the time. Nothing keeps you awake like watching the numbers tick forward and thinking ‘If I fall asleep right now, I’ll get 6 hours of sleep. Now, 5-and-a-half. Now, 5.’
- Consider counting. Actually, try counting backwards, from 1,000 to zero. Count slowly, though, one number on each exhalation. When I’ve done this, I’ve never made it past the low 800s. (Starting at 100 never worked for me – by the time I was down in the 30s, I’d start getting irritated that I wasn’t falling asleep, and that would keep me awake the rest of the way.) The recitation of the numbers occupies the mind just enough that it doesn’t dwell on stressful or anxious thoughts, and isn’t interesting or challenging enough to keep you awake.
- Keep the bed for sleeping. If you’re just not falling asleep, get up and move to another location. Lie on the couch for a change, try reading a little, write in a journal, or do something not very stimulating. The idea is for your body not to associate being in bed with wakefulness. Some people actually have a divided sleep cycle, falling asleep early for a few hours, waking for an hour or two, and then sleeping again. As long as the total sleep is close to your level for optimal function (7 to 9 hours for most people), a little break in the middle is just fine. So if this is your pattern, allow yourself to be awake a little while without becoming upset, which is not at all restful.
- Keep a notepad and pen handy. If you have a worry that’s bothering you, or think of something important that you must remember to do tomorrow, writing it down can reduce the stress association with it. Often, you don’t even need to turn on the light in order to write – just a few words can be enough to cue your memory for whatever is needed.
Last week, we talked about 'spring cleaning' your body by supporting your lymphatic system. This week, have a little fun using some seasonal veggies to continue that process.
We know it's been a long time coming, but the weather forecast seems to finally be showing some properly spring-like weather in our near future (we won't discuss the extended forecast). After a long winter, there’s nothing like those first moments of spring, when you can open the windows to let fresh air into your house and sweep out the accumulated dust of months of enclosure. If you’ve ever wondered if there were something you could do for your body that would help accomplish that same thing, consider lymphatic drainage.
The lymphatic system is our bodies’ cleansing system, naturally filtering the toxins from our bodies. Lymphatic drainage is a gentle treatment designed to support and improve the flow of the lymphatic fluid along its natural channels in the body. With gentle, repetitive movements, the therapist encourages the lymph flow, working with the natural rhythms in order to filter and process a higher volume of lymphatic fluid for the next day or two after the session.
Because of the lymphatic system’s importance in our immune response, lymphatic therapy can be beneficial during a change of seasons, when we are often susceptible to illness. It is also an excellent preventive treatment, helping to rebalance the nervous system and alleviating feelings of stress and strain.
When our immune system is balanced, supported, and healthy, we are better able to face the challenges of our daily lives. Lymphatic drainage is a great way to boost our immune systems and give our bodies a ‘spring cleaning’. Here's hoping that spring will arrive in Wisconsin soon!
Smartphone thumb. Carpal tunnel syndrome. Tennis elbow. Mousing shoulder. Texting tendonitis. These are just a few common examples of repetitive strain injuries, which affect the daily lives of thousands. When we frequently perform the same or similar movements, especially if we use less-than-ideal body positioning, the body responds with strain, tightening, and inflammation. This, in turn, can produce pain, tingling, numbness, and lack of mobility as the body restricts around nerves and blood vessels.
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) is commonly defined as an overuse injury affecting the musculoskeletal and nervous system. While often associated with the workplace, recreational activities (including use of smartphones, tablets, and laptops) can also contribute to these syndromes. The most common RSIs affect the hand and arm, producing pain, numbness, and tingling anywhere from the fingertips to the whole length of the arm. Since these are soft-tissue injuries, involving muscles, tendons, and nerves, they can be challenging to diagnose accurately, but they often respond well to treatment, especially manual therapy.
RSIs can develop in any situation where the same or similar movements are frequently repeated, and are aggravated when our bodies are poorly aligned. Muscles are designed to work most efficiently when we are in neutral alignment. If we are not acting from a neutral position, our muscles work harder in contraction and often never fully relax, producing chronic tension and inflammation. That tension and inflammation in the muscle and fascial tissue can then compress or restrict nerves, triggering pain, numbness, or tingling along the pathway of the nerve. Other symptoms often include limits to range of motion or reduced flexibility in the affected area, and some people also note decreased strength and endurance. In most cases, symptoms are exaggerated when repeating the motions that produced the injury in the first place.
The most frequent treatments include anti-inflammatory medications (usually for temporary relief), often with rest and splinting of the injured body part to limit aggravating movements. Physical therapy to balance compensatory patterns and/or occupational therapy or ergonomic consultation to facilitate better body alignment in work and recreational activity may also be included. Manual therapy, including myofascial release, can be a key component in treatment and prevention of RSIs. The gentle, prolonged stretching of myofascial release helps the muscles to completely relax, opening space around the nerves and reducing symptoms. This therapy also helps to restore the body’s alignment to neutral, both in the affected area and through the rest of the body, helping to prevent recurrence of symptoms. Self-treatment with myofascial release, especially fascial stretching, is an important element of recovery and prevention.
Prevention is perhaps the most important component of handling RSIs. Whether at work or at home, when using a computer, smartphone, or engaging in any other repetitive-movement activity, be sure to take frequent ‘stretch breaks’ – look at something else, stand up and walk around a little, move in ways that reverse whatever postural pattern you’ve been in. It’s easier to resolve these injury strain patterns before they get to the point of producing symptoms, so stop and check in with your body frequently!
The Science Behind Fibromyalgia and Myofascial Release Therapy
Chronic soreness. Muscle aches. Jaw pain. Difficulty concentrating. Fatigue. Digestive dysfunction. These are just a few of the symptoms experienced by the millions of Americans diagnosed with fibromyalgia. But it doesn’t have to be that way. At Natural Balance Therapy, we have helped many clients with this diagnosis reduce their symptoms and regain their lives – and recent scientific studies are starting to show how and why myofascial release helps ‘turn down’ the exaggerated pain response these clients experience.
Living with fibromyalgia can be a frustrating, debilitating experience. The condition is characterized by chronic muscle pain and soreness, often with the presence of ‘tender points’ at specific anatomical locations. Accurate diagnosis can be challenging, because other symptoms may or may not be present, including headaches, moderate or severe fatigue, abdominal pain or dysfunction (including irritable bowel syndrome), difficulty in concentration or loss of short-term memory, jaw or facial pain, and any number of other sensitivities, including food, light, or sound sensitivity.
Because fibromyalgia can show up with different symptom patterns in different individuals, the effectiveness of various treatments can be unpredictable. Recent studies, however, indicate significant benefits from myofascial release treatment, confirming what many of our clients have already experienced for themselves.
The major common symptom in fibromyalgia is an exceptionally high sensitivity to pain. It isn’t clear how this exaggerated pain response develops, but some studies suggest that the fascial tissue itself is involved, with an inflammatory response to a past trauma that starts a feedback loop between the body and the central nervous system. This circle of pain and fascial restriction becomes near-constant, continually increasing pain sensitivity.
A growing body of scientific studies support the idea that manual therapies, including myofascial release, can be beneficial for ‘turning down the volume’ of the muscle pain experienced by fibromyalgia patients. A recent pilot study took the next step, comparing two forms of manual therapy against one another instead of against a control group. In this study, some patients received a traditional Swedish massage, while others received myofascial release. The patients in the study receiving myofascial release experienced the greatest improvements in perceived pain levels and increased functionality.
If the fascia itself is involved in the development of the heightened pain sensitivity experienced by fibromyalgia patients, it only makes sense to receive a therapy aimed at releasing the fascia and improving fascial health. Myofascial release therapy is also effective in easing many of the other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia, such as headaches, digestive issues, and TMJ dysfunction. The gentler, sustained techniques are also better tolerated by those clients with increased sensitivity to touch. We have seen many of our clients experience significant progress in reducing their overall pain levels and sensitivity, as well as regaining energy and relieving associated symptoms.
By relieving the pressure exerted by the fascia on the nerves, we can help ‘turn down the volume’ of the pain signals sent and received by the central nervous system, helping to break through the pain cycle to allow patients the opportunity to heal at their own pace. As one of my clients recently said, ‘I feel like I have my life back.’
For more information on how myofascial release can benefit patients with a fibromyalgia diagnosis, contact Natural Balance Therapy at 262.746.9090.
Wintry weather got you down? As in, falling down? You're not alone – and sometimes, those slips and falls can leave more reminders than a few bruises and some soreness. At this time of year, the pattern of 'melting during the day, refreezing during the night' can leave some dangerously slick spots on sidewalks and parking lots, and catching one of those the wrong way can lead to a sprain or a strain injury.
A Gentle Approach to Relieve the Discomfort of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a diagnosis characterized by chronic abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, and alteration of bowel habits in the absence of any detectable organic cause. Diarrhea or constipation may predominate, or they may alternate. IBS may begin after an infection, a stressful life event, or onset of maturity without any other medical indicators.
Although there is no cure for IBS, there are treatments that attempt to relieve symptoms, including dietary adjustments, medication and psychological interventions.
Visceral Manipulation is a gentle manual technique designed to increase the range of motion of your organs. Each organ likes to move, just like your shoulder or neck. Most of us don’t realize it, but our organs are compacted together tightly, vying for space within our bodies. Some organs are continuously changing size, such as the lungs or stomach. When they are filling, they compress their neighboring organs. When they are empty, the neighboring organs push back on them and compress them. Organs can undergo degenerative changes similar to joints whenever pressure between surfaces increase. This is not unlike what can happen with the shoulder or spine!
When organs get stuck due to adhesions and can’t move the way they’re designed to move, we believe that that lack of mobility is the origin for dysfunction and pathology. When it happens in the colon, this is often diagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
During a visceral manipulation treatment, the therapist begins by evaluating the tissue and feeling where the patient is stuck. The therapist then uses a very gentle myofascial stretch to free up the adhesions and help the organ move better. It’s as simple as that!
My experience with IBS is that clients that receive visceral manipulation usually report a decrease in symptoms that can last weeks or months! And over time, additional visceral manipulation and myofascial release can be an integral part of your healing journey.
Sometimes creeping up from the back of the neck, or maybe stabbing through the temples, or compressing in the forehead, headache pain is one of the most common medical complaints – millions of Americans see their doctors about headache pain every year. But did you know that you can use pressure points to help reduce pain and symptoms?
Feeling scaly? Dry, irritated skin is common during winter, the result of lower outdoor humidity and dry heat indoors. But healthy skin all winter long doesn’t have to be an unreachable dream. Here are a few quick tips to relieve and prevent ‘winter skin’.
- Use a humidifier to replace moisture in your home. Don’t have a humidifier? Place a few pans of water near heating vents and refill as needed. Houseplants can also help humidify the air.
- Unless you have oily, problem skin, try switching to a heavier, oil-based moisturizer (avoid using on areas of the body that tend to get hot and sweaty). Many people love to use pure coconut oil on skin and hair. A little goes a long way, and although it starts out feeling greasy, it is rapidly absorbed. The oil provides a protective barrier to keep moisture in the skin, and unrefined coconut oil even has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties.
- Whatever moisturizer you use, use it regularly, especially after bathing and washing hands.
- Speaking of washing hands, avoid excessive use of anti-bacterial hand soaps or instant sanitizers – the alcohol content dries skin even more. If you must use sanitizers, try to use versions with moisturizers in them, or moisturize afterwards.
- Use an exfoliating scrub to get rid of dead skin and encourage new growth. Keep it gentle, though, and not more than once or twice weekly, as extreme scrubbing can toughen skin. A gentler option is dry brushing, which can be done daily.
- As tempting as they are on those cold mornings, avoid long, hot showers – hot water strips skin of natural moisture. No matter your shower temperature, be sure to apply moisturizer while still damp, so your skin absorbs more.
- Keep drinking water. Hydration from the inside is every bit as important in the winter months as in summer.
If you say the word `Meditation' to someone, they will often think of a single type of practice – sitting cross-legged and chanting ‘om’. In fact, the word 'meditation' is much like the word 'sports' in that there are countless techniques with completely different intended goals.
One form I often suggest to my clients is the use of a body scan meditation. Our goal is to get in touch with what we are feeling in our bodies at that moment, regardless of whether the sensation is pleasant or not. Unpleasant sensations often have a lot of information about whatever dis-ease we are struggling with. However, we have been conditioned to avoid these unpleasant sensations at all cost: Take a pill! Distract yourself with television! We start to do whatever we can to avoid feeling what we need to feel.
Another form of meditation is the mantra meditation (including the ‘om’ mantra). In mantra meditation, you focus your mind on the repetition of a word or phase, often a holy name. I know of mantras which are supposed to open your heart, increase success or reduce anger. I have a friend who, within a short period of time, went from being alone and sad to meeting her soul mate, getting married for the first time and then having her first child. It was amazing to witness and she claimed it had everything to do with repeating a mantra that suited her needs.
In a recent study in the Journal of Military Medicine, Iraqi war veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) utilized transcendental meditation (TM). TM utilizes a mantra to focus the mind away from whatever repetitive thoughts or feelings we have. The participants in the study reported a dramatic decrease in the symptoms of PTSD with a much better result than the pharmaceutical interventions which are the conventional treatment for PTSD. (It is interesting to note that the military is increasingly utilizing `alternative' approaches to PTSD and other complex issues.)
When we meditate, though, it should not become just another way not to feel, another form of avoidance or ‘checking out’. Rather, it should help us tune in to our bodies more deeply. I primarily teach body scan meditation as I believe that it is the only way to heal on a fundamental level. I also believe mantra repetition has its place. We can't spend our whole day doing body scans, but we can utilize a mantra when standing in a long line at the grocery store instead of allowing ourselves to get angry or frustrated. Also, from a spiritual perspective, holy name repetition can be a powerful tool. Once again, it has much to do with your intention for the particular mediation technique you're using.
Finally, regardless of what form of meditation you chose to use, practice makes perfect. If you do it once and tell me it doesn't work for you, I'll just shake my head in disbelief. This takes a daily commitment for months, years, a lifetime.
Does winter make you feel sluggish, or just a little bit ‘off’? Do you feel like you get every cold bug that goes around? This season is often challenging for our immune system, but there are many things you can do to help your response. We can give ourselves a boost by supporting our lymphatic system, which strengthens the immune response and aids in healing. When the lymphatic system is functioning properly, it contributes to a strong defense against illness. But when the flow of lymph in the body is slow or blocked, we can experience swelling or inflammation, feel more easily tired, and find ourselves more susceptible to infections and colds.
The lymphatic system is a major component of our immune system – the lymph system acts as a sort of vacuum cleaner for the body, filtering out toxins, wastes, and cellular debris. Lymphatic fluid is also the means through which nutrients are delivered from the bloodstream to our body’s cells. The B-cells and T-cells that recognize and destroy bacteria and other harmful cells are stored in the lymph nodes, and travel through the body in the blood and lymph fluid. Surgery, injury, or illness can temporarily overwhelm the processing of the lymph system, leading to swelling, chronic inflammation, and fatigue.
There are many things you can do to support your lymphatic system and improve lymphatic flow. These include physical activity, lymphatic therapy, hydration, and improving skin health.
Physical activity: using a rebounder (or a mini-trampoline) or even just walking and practicing deep breathing can be a good kick-start for lymphatic movement. Unlike the blood, which has the heart, the lymphatic vessels rely on your muscle movement as a ‘pump’ to move the fluid through the system.
Lymphatic therapy: lymph drainage therapy is often recommended as an effective hands-on method to stimulate the lymphatic system. This gentle, repetitive therapy increases the volume of lymphatic fluid moving through the system, helping to nourish and cleanse the entire body, restoring optimal function to help improve immunity and rebuild general vitality. Many people find lymph drainage therapy very helpful in managing the strains of seasonal changes on their bodies.
Hydration: another key component of lymphatic health is drinking enough water. Lymph is, after all, fluid, so sufficient water intake keeps that fluid thin enough to move easily through our lymphatic vessels.
Skin health: increasing detoxification through the skin helps make things easier on our lymphatic systems. One way to do this is to soak in Epsom salts or take a sauna – these help by opening the pores of the skin and sweating out cellular debris and byproducts. Some also add skin dry-brushing to increase circulation and remove the dead outer layer of the skin.
Physical activity, manual lymphatic therapy, hydration and skin health are effective ways to help improve your lymphatic flow. If you’re feeling a bit ‘off’ at this time of year, are having difficulty recovering from illness or injury, or are feeling well but are looking to optimize your immune system function, consider adding one or more of these supportive ways to boost your immune response.
For more information, please visit www.naturalbalancetherapy.com
How is it that our bodies continue to hurt? We toss and turn at night trying to get comfortable, and then rise in the morning feeling tight and sore. We have to continue on with our daily tasks so we push through the day attending multiple meetings/functions, running the kids here and there, and trying to exercise, but our pain becomes a familiar acquaintance.