Did you know that stress can hurt? Studies show that depression and anxiety can lower your pain threshold, potentially making minor aches and pains into major problems. If you've ever noticed your back pain getting worse when life/work gets more stressful, you've seen this first hand. On top of that, a common symptom of mood and anxiety disorders is something called somatization - a phenomenon where the body produces physical symptoms (pain, stiffness, digestive problems) as a manifestation of stress.
This is very different from saying that your pain is "all in your head." The pain is real, and it's not something that you can just ignore, or think your way out of. Rather, it's a case where resolving your pain will also require you to deal with the psychological factors that are causing or exacerbating it.
By the same token, pain can also cause mood and anxiety problems. People with chronic pain are more likely to suffer from depression, and pain can change how we deal with stress. If your low back won't stop complaining, you may find it harder to deal with the daily stressors that you used to be able to handle.
So, which came first? The stress, or the pain? This is a difficult question to answer. The good news is that dealing with one WILL help with the other. Reducing your stress levels is an excellent way of addressing chronic pain. Getting your pain under control is a great way of reducing your stress.
The first step is to talk to a medical professional. If you've got pain that won't ease up, schedule an appointment with your GP. They can run diagnostic tests and refer you to relevant specialists, and they may have a treatment that can get you out of pain in the short term. If you've got more stress than you can handle, or if you've been in a funk that just won't lift, speaking with a qualified therapist (eg. psychotherapist) can really help.
Outside of that, there are activities that studies have shown to be beneficial for both pain and stress. Light-to-moderate physical activity can be really helpful for many pain disorders, as well as being very effective for a wide variety of mood and anxiety disorders. Yoga and meditation both have many positive studies under their belts as well.
And of course, I've got to mention massage :) Research has shown regular massage to be beneficial for many pain conditions, including arthritis, chronic low back pain, headache, and fibromyalgia. It has also proven to be effective for both anxiety and depression, demonstrating immediate and long-term benefits.
Everyone, be kind to yourselves. I know that talking about anxiety and depression can be hard, but it's worth exploring. There are professionals that can help, and I think that a massage regimen can offer an excellent complement to their treatments. Thanks for reading!
What the heck is a "crick in the neck"? You wake up with limited neck movement, usually on one side. Sometimes it just feels painful and stiff, but other times it feels like bone-on-bone contact. Ouch.
Is it a pinched nerve? A slipped disc? While these things are possible (see your doctor if you have recurrent neck pain, or neck pain that includes other symptoms such as fever or shooting pain down the arm) neck cricks are usually due to an unassuming little muscle that runs from the side of your neck to the top of your shoulder blade. It's called levator scapulae, and (as the Latin name suggests) it's main function is to lift the scapula - raising your shoulder toward your ear.
Levator gets irritable when it's expected to hold heavy purses and backpacks, when you tilt your head to one side a lot (ever use your shoulder to hold your phone?), and when your posture is slumped forward. When this muscle gets angry, it can act like a brick wall that no amount of stretching will fix.
What to do? Ice and heat can help. Start with heat (a heating pad or sock full of uncooked rice, heated in the microwave) for 20 minutes, then switch to an ice pack for 10 minutes. Repeat this a couple of times through your day. You may be tempted to try to stretch it out yourself, but remember that levator scapulae is irritated - anything other than rest and gentle movement will further aggravate the local inflammation, increasing the minor crisis that your pain receptors are telling you about.
What else can you do? You guessed it: massage. While stretching and mashing on your neck will likely result in worse pain if you do it yourself, I know some tricks. I'll work with your neck, gently and slowly, by starting with nearby muscles and connective tissue. I'll give levator a chance to calm down before I interact with it directly. This will be followed by some trigger point work and movement, all within your pain tolerance. By the time I'm done, you should have about 50-75% of your range of motion restored (and sometimes all of it!).
Follow this up with some more of that ice and heat, and you should be feeling pretty good by the next day. If you get cricks frequently, come see me regularly and we may be able to prevent them entirely!
Your back is stronger than you may realise
Most people will experience back pain during their lifetime. It can be disabling and worrying but it is very common and rarely dangerous. The spine is a strong, stable structure and not easily damaged, so in most instances it is a simple sprain or strain. In these cases, most people recover reasonably quickly.
Prolonged rest and avoiding activities can lead to higher levels of pain, greater disability, poorer recovery and longer absence from work. In the first few days of a new episode of back pain, it's sensible to avoid activities that may aggravate the situation, but generally staying as active as possible and returning to all usual activities gradually is important in aiding recovery.
While it's normal to move differently and more slowly in the first few days, this altered movement can be harmful if continued in the long-term. So getting back to normal movement asap is key.
Benefits of massage for back pain
Massage therapy is widely accepted in the medical community as a credible treatment for many types of back pain and research shows that massage has several potential health benefits for back pain sufferers, including:
Bending and lifting is okay
Bending and lifting are often related to causes of back pain, and while an injury can occur if something is picked up in an awkward or unaccustomed way, it’s most likely to just be a sprain or strain. The important thing is to be mindful when bending and lifting, keeping the core engaged and the body in good alignment.
Exercise can reduce and prevent back pain
Exercise is shown to be very helpful for tackling back pain and is also the most effective strategy to prevent future episodes. Start slowly and build up both the amount and intensity of what you do and don’t worry if it’s sore to begin with – you won’t be damaging your back.
There are some very beneficial stretching and strengthening yoga poses that, if done regularly, can really help to ease current pain and prevent further episodes. As many of you know, I'm a BIG fan of yoga, so would highly recommend this option. See the image and link below.
Painkillers will not speed up your recovery
Painkillers should only be used as a short-term option and in conjunction with exercise. They don't help to speed up recovery but rather they mask the symptoms, which can be helpful in the short-term whilst you regain movement but should be reduced as soon as possible.
Surgery is rarely needed
There are some uncommon back conditions where there is pressure on the nerves that supply the legs and the patient gets leg symptoms, such as pain, pins and needles or numbness.
For these conditions, surgery can help the leg symptoms but it is important to understand that it is not always required. On average, the results for back surgery are no better in the medium and long term than non-surgical interventions, such as exercise. So a non-surgical option, which includes exercise and activity, should always come first.
Get good quality sleep
The importance of sleep in tackling back pain has become increasingly clear in recent years. This is because it reduces stress and improves your overall feeling of wellbeing, making you less susceptible to the triggers of pain in the first instance and helping you to cope when it does occur. Aim for 7.5-8 hours a night and, as far as possible, try to get into a regular routine.
You can have back pain without any damage or injury
Many physical or psychological factors can cause back pain, and often a combination of these are involved. They could be:
If it doesn’t improve, seek help but don’t worry
If your back pain does not improve after 6–8 weeks (when you've addressed the points raised above), make an appointment to see your GP or physiotherapist.
Click here for an explanation of these yoga poses.
The winter months can often decrease our opportunities to get out there and do our favourite sports. With the shorter days and dark nights we are more likely to stay indoors, exercise less, and sleep and eat more. Massage can really help to boost the body by assisting our immune system, promoting good circulation, recovering dry skin, enhancing our mood, and promoting a feeling of relaxation and well-being. And if you are still managing to get out there and exercise, you'll get all of these advantages, as well as giving your muscles a well earned treatment.
1. IMMUNE SYSTEM BOOSTER
At this time of year when picking up coughs and colds is commonplace, massage is proven to help boost the immune system. Massage therapy increases the lymph flow which is packed with white blood cells, which then go off and fight infections around the body, boosting our immune system and helping us to fight infections better.
Are your hands and feet often cold? Do your muscles ache more than normal? Massage plays a crucial role in increasing circulation and providing stress and pain relief throughout the colder months. Regular massage enhances blood flow and body warmth, helping to increase the flow of oxygen throughout the body. Treat yourself to a warm and relaxing massage to ease those muscles.
3. DRY SKIN
Our skin gets drier during winter. The balm used during your massage contains natural oils and vitamins to nourish the skin. You’ll not only feel better on the inside but be glowing on the outside too.
4. WINTER BLUES
Massage creates positive changes in the endocrine system where hormones are formed. Regular massage can have long term benefits on your health as your cortisol levels decrease (the stress related hormone) and oxytocin levels are raised (the happy hormone) leading to the release of serotonin and endorphins, relieving the blues/stress and enhancing your mood.
Running around after family, stressful jobs, endless personal obligations, the list goes on. Getting regular massage can be an excellent step towards improved wellbeing. Stress often plays a big part in our lives and to reset the balance it's important to take time out for you. Massage will help with improving your sleep and giving you more energy.
7 signs you need a massage...
We all know that massage therapy feels good and is a healthy reward for our sometimes overworked bodies. But, how do you KNOW when you need a massage?
Massage therapy = less pain, more function, better sleep, and less stress. It’s a no-brainer!
Have you noticed how in order for a workout to be any good these days, it has to be “intense" or “killer"? Diaphragmatic breathing - slow, deep breaths that fill your belly - isn’t sexy. It’s not killer or hardcore or badass, but it's a necessity for health and performance. Think about it; breathing is the very first thing you do when you’re born and it’s the last thing you do before you die. It must be important. Really important.
It balances out your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, allowing your body to function more optimally. It helps reduce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which are more often than not elevated due to stress-filled work environments and a lack of sleep. It's also been reported that diaphragmatic breathing:
As you can see, there are some important benefits to regularly practicing diaphragmatic breathing. You can do it to replace a workout when you're overly stressed, or you can do it at the end of your workout.
Here's how to do it
Pick a comfortable position to lie down on your back, close your eyes, inhale slowly and fully into your belly so that you can feel it rise then exhale slowly and fully so that you can feel your belly sink back down. Try counting to 4 or 5 on the inhale and again counting to 4 or 5 on the exhale. Do this deep belly breathing 3-5 times, and then just completely let go and breathe normally for the next 5 minutes or more. You’ll be surprised by not only how good you feel after you’ve done it, but by how well you'll sleep that night and how recovered you'll feel for your next workout.
If your mind is wandering all over the place (as it tends to do), just bring your attention to the breath - noticing how it feels as it enters and exits your nostrils (cooler on the way in, warmer on the way out) and what is happening to your belly (rising and falling). Focus on completely and totally relaxing your body, especially the face (in particular the eyebrows and eyes) until it feels like your whole body is melting into the floor.
Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Don't worry if your mind remains busy. The point is that you're fully relaxing your body and breathing.
How steadfast are your feet?!
resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.
synonyms: loyal, faithful, committed, devoted, dedicated, dependable, reliable, steady, true, constant, staunch, trusty
Have they been diligently keeping you upright all year? Have you been standing, walking, running, jumping, biking... shopping... all without much thought towards your wonderful feet?
Ah yes, I thought so!
Learn more about your amazing feet and what I can do to make them and you feel great!
Those funny-looking things at the end of your legs are incredibly complex devices. Here are some facts that may give you new respect for your feet:
Benefits of Foot Massage
Apart from a good foot massage giving you a wonderful feeling of rejuvenation for tired and over-worked feet, check out some of the other benefits...
Tranquility and Relaxation
Massaging the feet can alleviate anxiety and bring about a deep state of relaxation. One important point that is situated on both feet is the solar plexus reflex. The solar plexus is sort of a little warehouse where all your stress is stored. When the solar plexus point is pressed on, stress is released and the body can feel renewed.
Improved Circulation and Cleansing
The blood that circulates through the body is responsible for transporting oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells. The blood also cleanses waste and toxins from the body. Because blood flow becomes limited when stress is present, foot massage can be beneficial as it decreases stress and allows the circulation of blood to flow unimpeded.
Balance and Harmony
Homeostasis is when all the body’s systems are working in harmony with one another to bring about a state of balance. A foot massage can encourage homeostasis so that good health can be obtained.
Energy and Rejuvenation
Foot massage is restorative in that it gives the receiver energy. When the foot is rubbed and palpated, all the elements of a foot massage come together to bring energy to the body. According to theories of reflexology, foot massage releases any blockages that can hold back energy that should be flowing through the body freely.
Enhancement of Immunity
Stimulation of reflexes in the feet through massage is an action performed to bring about relaxation and healing. Relaxing the body through foot massage may prevent the harmful effects of stress from taking a toll on the body.
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What happens when you sit all day?
You've seen the flat line on an ECG, when all the doctors rush in? That's what's happening to your leg muscles when you're sitting. More than half of us spend over six hours sitting down every day, and a widening rear end isn’t the only result. Sitting can have short and long-term effects on your health and body, making this seemingly benign activity potentially deadly.
1. Weak Legs and Glutes
If you don’t use them, you lose them! By sitting all day, you’re not depending on your powerful lower body muscles to hold you up. This leads to muscle atrophy, which is the weakening of these muscles. Without strong leg and glute muscles to stabilize you, your body is at risk of injury.
2. Weight Gain
Moving causes your muscles to release molecules like lipoprotein lipase, which helps process the fats and sugars you eat. When you spend most of your day sitting, the release of these molecules is lessened and weight gain becomes inevitable.
3. Tight Hips and a Bad Back
As with your leg and glute muscles, your hips and back will suffer from sitting. Sitting causes your hip flexors to shorten, and your seated position can also hurt your back, particularly if you have bad posture or don’t use an ergonomic chair. Also, poor posture while sitting can cause compression on the discs in your spine which can result in chronic pain.
4. Stiff Shoulders and Neck
As with your legs, butt and lower back, your shoulders and neck will also suffer from prolonged sitting. This is especially true if you're hunched over looking at a computer screen.
5. Anxiety and Depression
Lesser understood than some of the physical effects of sitting, are the mental effects. But the risk of both depression and anxiety are higher in people who sit the most. This could be because the mental health benefits of fitness are lacking when one spends their days sitting down rather than moving. If so, these risks could be mitigated with regular exercise.
6. Other Major Health Risks
Links have also been made to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, varicose veins and deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Sounds pretty bad huh?!
So... get moving!
Fortunately, the remedy is simple: avoid sitting for too long each day and get more movement into your life. The key is to exert your body against gravity.
While just about any movement will do, weight-bearing exercises are beneficial and suitable for most people regardless of fitness level, as is yoga. In addition, standing up as much as possible, preferably with a stand up desk, will greatly facilitate your ability to replicate ancestral movement patterns (ie. much more movement).
As a consequence of sitting, your blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol, and toxic buildup all rise. The solution to these adverse events do not involve a prescription - all you need to do is get up, and avoid sitting down as much as possible. Since many of us live lives that revolve around an office chair, a car seat and the couch, most will need to figure out how to eliminate many hours of sitting every day. As a general starting guideline, try standing up for at least 10 minutes each hour. If you've been sitting down for a full hour, you've sat too long. Think about getting a getting a standing desk - these are becoming more and more popular as people realise how much better it is for your health.
Make Walking a Part of Your Daily Routine
It's recommended to stand up and do exercises at your desk every 10-15 minutes to counteract the ill effects of sitting, however that's probably still insufficient. The answer really is to stand up as much as possible. Standing for 10 minutes for every hour of sitting is really the bare minimum. It would be wiser to strive to sit as little as possible - less than three hours a day would be a really healthy target, but would likely take some time to build up to.
Sitting less can dramatically help to alleviate persistent back pain - a major issue for much of the population.
The combination of high intensity exercise, low intensity activities like walking 7-10,000 steps a day, and avoiding sitting whenever possible, is the key to optimal fitness and enjoying a pain-free, joyful life. It is recommended to walk in addition to your regular fitness programme, not as a replacement for it. But if you're currently doing nothing in terms of fitness, walking is certainly a great place to start!
Fitness trackers can be a helpful way to keep track of your daily activity, with some models having the added advantage to record how much you're sleeping. This can help motivate you to get to bed earlier and get as close to the magic number of 8 hours of sleep as possible. Having good sleep habits really is huge in terms of positive benefits - it boosts your immune system, manages weight loss, and helps to retain memory.
Powerful Yoga Moves
Yoga is another form of exercise in which you're exerting yourself against gravity. And while it's certainly great for increasing flexibility, its benefits do not end there. Yoga also helps condition muscle, build strength, improve muscle tone and increases range of motion. In short, it promotes overall body health. Evidence also suggests it can help improve heart health by reducing known risk factors for heart disease, such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Get a Massage
This can be one of the most effective things of all. Massage can treat every muscle group to the point of increasing performance noticeably as well as relieving pain. I’ve experienced it first hand being both a client and a therapist and there is nothing like it.
We're so used to hearing about having a "strong core" that it's easy to forget just how important it is to maintain strength in the muscles that surround the pelvis. These gluteal (buttock) muscles are responsible for stabilising and holding our pelvis (and therefore legs) in alignment. They also stabilise the lower back, enabling an upright posture and are key players in powering walking, running and climbing.
So when there's weakness in the glutes, there's often instability in the pelvis which throws things out of alignment, contributing to all sorts of issues down through the legs. Glute weakness is linked to problems in the knees, ITB, calves and achilles.
It's easy to have strong hamstrings, quadriceps and calves, but without isolating and working on the glutes, these other large muscles become disproportionately stronger. Another issue can be attributed to tight hip flexors which can inhibit the glutes from firing correctly.
So what exactly are the "glutes"?
The gluteus maximus is the biggest muscle in the human body, by volume. The gluteal muscle group - commonly known as the glutes - includes 3 muscles located at the back of each hip. The glutes are the major components of each buttock. Gluteus maximus is the largest and most superficial (closest to the surface) of the gluteal muscle group, which also include gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.
The good news is that there are plenty of exercises that will strengthen your glutes and provide you with a great looking butt!
Check out this Runner's World article for how to test your glute strength and what to do about it.
Having "tight traps" seems to be the human condition as pretty much all of my clients carry tension in this area and have tight trapezius muscles. They're often the first muscles to bother you when under stress and can ache from the base of your skull, across the tops of your shoulders and down between your shoulder blades.
The trapezius is a broad triangular muscle which attaches to the base of the skull, and lies at the back of the neck, over the upper shoulders and extends down your upper back to your mid back. It is one of the most likely muscles to get sore knots or “trigger points”.
The trap muscles lift the outside of your shoulders to create a “shrug”. They move the head and neck toward the shoulder. The middle of the muscles pull the shoulder blades together, while the lower draw the shoulder blades downward. They support the weight of the arms.
Often these movements are at play when we are under stress, and doing the activities that cause stress. Trap pain is classic stress pain. Your shoulders ache, your neck hurts and it is often deep and achy. You may have a headache, especially in the temples or behind your eyes or at the base of your skull. You may feel burning between your shoulder blades after sitting at your computer without elbow support.
The GOOD NEWS is that there are ways to reduce or avoid this ongoing condition.
What causes Trapezius pain?
You can prevent and relieve pain in your trapezius muscles by exercising them. Exercise brings circulation to the muscles, and it relaxes them.
1. Check for Tightness Throughout the Day
Whether you're sitting at your desk or out for a run, periodically check where your shoulders are. Are they relaxed or are your traps contracted? Are you shrugging your shoulders?
In the ideal state, your shoulders should be in line with your collarbone; not higher or pushed forward. You can easily check this by simply letting your shoulders "fall." You may realize you have them in a shrugged position too often.
2. Do Shoulder Shrugs
To prevent your traps from tightening, and to release tension from the traps, do shoulder shrugs regularly throughout the day.
Exaggerate the movement by pulling your shoulders all the way to your ears, holding them there for a few seconds, and then letting them fall to a relaxed position. You can also loosen your traps by rolling your shoulders in both directions.
Here's how to stretch tight traps, or those that may become tight after a long day of work or training:
Positioning: You can do this sitting or standing. Your neck should always remain inline with your back and the only body part that is moving is your head.
Forward stretch: Interlace both hands at the back of your head and gently pull your head forward dropping your chin toward your chest as if you were nodding, allowing your elbows to fall forward. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.
Side stretch: Gently pull your head to the side so your ear approaches the opposite shoulder. Switch sides. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.
Diagonal stretch: Gently pull your head diagonally forward so your chin approaches the opposite shoulder. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds.
Repeat these stretches for the other side. Go through these stretches 2 to 3 times in one sitting and repeat throughout the day.
Take up Yoga
I can't recommend yoga highly enough. Workout fads come and go, but virtually none are as enduring as yoga (approx 5000 years). Yoga does more than burn calories and tone muscles - it's a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening, balance and stretching poses with deep breathing and relaxation. If you do nothing else, do yoga! If you do lots of other physical activity, do yoga!
If you're keen to give yoga a try or get back into it, my friend Sarah Lei from RunYoga teaches classes in 4 locations in Rotorua. RunYoga classes aren't just for runners - they're for everyone.
Don't currently have the budget or time for a massage? No problem. You can do it on your own. All you need is a wall and a tennis ball.
First, massage yourself by rolling the ball on your traps, with some pressure. You will feel how tight it is and there will likely be one spot that hurts the most. Wherever that spot is, stay there with your tennis ball and slightly push. Hold that for at least 90 seconds or until you feel a release of tension. Repeat this until you feel that they have gotten looser.
Get a Deep Tissue Massage!
If you have the time and resources, get a massage. This will relieve you from tension and make you feel A LOT better!
Deep tissue massage focuses heavily on the area of pain and tension, working to ease the symptoms and facilitate restoration by realigning the muscle fibres and connective tissue, improving blood flow and flushing away toxins. The movements are slow and work deep into the tissue and muscle. This deeper pressure is beneficial in releasing general or chronic muscle tension and pain. Regular sessions will help to increase joint mobility (eg. in the neck and shoulders), improve flexibility and provide longer term relief.