Stretching Out the Pain: Feels Good But is it Good FOR You? – Stop Everyday Pain

yoga-dancer-1024x855Recently I’ve had a few questions from patients who are reading the book.  One that keeps coming up is about whether or not stretching is good or bad for us.  Stretching is a very confusing topic and has been one of scientific controversy for years which makes the answer not so straightforward.

In this first volume of my book series Every Body’s Guide to Everyday Pain™, Put Out the Fire I spend some time explaining that stretching is actually a mechanical stressor and therefore risky for people dealing with everyday pain.  This means that the elongation we cause by stretching can result in stress to the underlying structure.  Usually  when all things – mechanical, biochemical and emotional – are in balance, a reasonable stretch doesn’t cause any trouble.  However, when we are out of balance in any one of these areas and if we are already in pain, then stretching the compromised area is a terrible idea.

We often get away with stretching without consequences during times when we are not in crisis. Unfortunately with this sort of benign experience in mind and due to the fact that stretch-sensation neurologically eclipses the pain of inflammation, the concept that stretching is not good for your pain, is a very puzzling one to accept.

If you stretch a muscle in distress, you are basically signalling to your body that the tightening over-reaction – the one you are trying to find relief from – is indeed justified.  In this case, your stretch will perpetuate the underlying reason for muscle pain and tightness instead of resolving the problem.

The reason muscles grab and get tight is 100% protective in nature.  It is always the most reasonable response to unreasonable conditions.  You may not agree that the conditions are “unreasonable” but your brain and body’s assessment is all that matters during times like this.  If you don’t stop and find out what they’re protecting you from, there may be much worse discomfort lurking around the next corner.

Another interesting point is that the elongation stress associated with stretching can happen without, what looks to us like, a traditional intentional stretch.  Lengthening stress to muscle fibers is something that can be produced with sustained pressure on a muscle or a tendon.  When a muscle bundle is made to deform in this way it’s perceived by the brain as elongation. If that area is already inflamed, it will be a problem.  So, all of you foam rolling or ball rolling advocates beware!

A large part of my mission in educating patients is to highlight the subtleties in movement and posture that matter when we are in pain, but which often don’t seem very obvious to us.  By learning about these not so obvious contributions to pain, we can stop berating ourselves for “falling apart” and acknowledge the way forward. Recognizing the validity in our pain is a vital step towards feeling better and staying out of pain in the future.

An important part of Volume Two – Fix the Fire Damage will include information about exactly how and when to stretch safely and how to solve the problem of muscle tightness for the long term.

Click on this link for more at the original article Source: Stretching Out the Pain: Feels Good But is it Good FOR You? – Stop Everyday Pain

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Should the Show Be Called “Dancing With the Gladiators”?

Aztec_warrior_gladiatorial_sacrificeWhy does our popular culture raise hardship onto a pedestal?  There’s just nothing sensible about that in my opinion.  It is however a very common underlying belief system that patients bring with them through my office door.  Often they come to me with pain that they’ve been trying to “tough out” for far too long. It’s these same people who are also uncomfortable with the necessary suggestions I make for changes in their daily living to accommodate those injuries.  This discomfort with making accommodations to properly care for ourselves seems steeped in shame around the implied acknowledgment of  “weakness”, injury, or less than “perfect” function.

The collective mentality that leads to the glamorization of toughness is badly blurring the line between courageous and foolish.  Dancing With the Stars is one of those platforms for exactly this twisted popular thinking.

For the sake of full disclosure, I’m not at all a fan of the show Dancing With the Stars in the first place.  I abhor the rigidity of ballroom dance.  Dancing to me should be an expression of joy and not something we do for acceptance or rejection by the “tribe” at large. The spectacle of putting inexperienced dancers under the spotlight for sport just doesn’t speak to me, not to mention the fact that the style of “ballroom” in this show is far beyond the real thing.  It’s been elevated to such a degree of one-upmanship for the sake of sensationalism, that it’s laughable.

Unfortunately occurrences on this show somehow make it to the news and earlier this week I was unwittingly accosted by TV coverage about a spate of recent injuries affecting the contestants on the show.  What struck me about the way the story was handled, is that the reporter and then the talk show hosts later in the day, weren’t shy at all to show their thirst for the drama of “disaster”.  The potential for spectacular failure was being amplified and used to drum up interest in the story and the dancing show.

While not entirely surprising, I continue to find it disturbing that we as a society require an ever increasing shock factor to get our attention.  But the aspect that touches my chiropractic sensibilities is the time in the story devoted to the fact that these seriously injured dancers are continuing on in the competition despite things like a rib fracture and a serious back sprain. Why do audiences admire this?

All these sorts of supposedly heroic stories about how “ the show must go on” set a very dangerous precedent.

The inspiration of witnessing someone’s perseverance of spirit through adversities of life is one thing.  Something like that can offer the common person valuable lessons, but Dancing With the Stars is no more than a frivolous form of entertainment.  It conjures up images in my mind of the Roman Colosseum of ancient times filled with salivating onlookers.

Is it really worth it to push through fractures and severe sprains?  What is gained?

I know there are many different sides to this and I welcome some debate.  Feel free to comment or message me with your thoughts.

Are you rooting for the injured dancers or are you secretly hoping to see an epic fail on stage?  What does that say about how you honor or disregard times of weakness in your own daily “performance”?

What do Bats and Sloths Have to Do With Osteoarthritis?

three-toed sloth

Photo Credit: Robert Hosker – Fotolia

Just as much as the rest of us do apparently.

There’s a myth out there (that I’ve been guilty of perpetuating myself in the past) about the fun idea that bats and sloths don’t show any evidence of osteoarthritis — the kind of degenerative changes in the joints that all vertebrates show evidence of at some point in their lives. It’s not a disease. It’s the natural side effect of being inhabitants of a gravity bound planet.

So, what is it exactly?

Osteoarthritis is a condition that results from wear and tear. As we move around upright and against the compressive forces of gravity we exert wear on our joints. Wear and tear causes a roughening of the normally smooth surfaces between joints. Rough surfaces moving against each other increase friction. Friction leads to inflammation and given the perfect set of circumstances, inflammation can reach a point that causes pain. In the case of osteoarthritis, the inflammation and pain starts in the joints.

So, why are we talking about bats and sloths?

The myth that these creatures don’t show wear and tear in the joints despite being vertebrates like the rest of us, comes from the idea that the massive amount of hanging about that they do, eliminates the compressive forces of gravity. While it may decrease it, it probably doesn’t eliminate it, so sorry folks, poor bats and sloths age the same way we do. Maybe the degree of the wear and tear is less extensive for them, but they’re not exempt from gravity.

If you grab a random sampling of people walking down the street and x-ray them, you’ll find all of them have some evidence of wear and tear (and thereby “osteoarthritis”) but not all of them have any pain at all, nor will they necessarily.

So, we can have signs of wear and tear in the joints without pain and it’s not necessarily a predictor for pain but it is a given that you’ll have this happening to you if you don’t already. (That is, if you are human and live on this planet…I don’t mean to box you in…)

If you have pain and a physician tells you that your problem is because of arthritis (i), what he or she is saying to you is that they really don’t know why you have pain, but it’s not bad enough to be terribly interesting. Having visible evidence of arthritis is not necessarily the reason for your pain. It can be one factor but you should not be satisfied with that diagnosis because all it really translates into is: “joint inflammation”. In this case the joint inflammation happens to be accompanied by the changes seen with osteoarthritis, so naturally we want to point and say: “Look! See?”.

Getting a determination of “arthritis” is like saying: “You have pain.”

No kidding?! That’s brilliant!

If you have pain, it’s because you’re experiencing inflammation that is out of proportion with what your body can usually handle. The body’s systems are constantly working to keep inflammation at bay. When we feel pain it’s because these mechanisms have fallen out of balance. The answer is to search out what it is that fell out of balance; what was the trigger? Only then can you effectively work on restoring balance to eliminate the pain.

You will still have evidence of degenerative changes associated with osteoarthritis but that’s not anything special. It’s always good to determine that that’s all there is to see on x-ray, but most of the time it’s a fairly insignificant finding that might not have anything to do with your pain. As much as we would like, it’s just not that simplistic.

How quickly our joints wear down and whether or not we experience pain because of it, varies widely based on genetics which determine our chemical resiliency. Chemistry determines the composition of our bones and joints and the environment in our tissues around them. Chemistry is what governs our reaction to inflammatory triggers. Chemistry is the reason the same amount of wear and tear manifests very differently from person to person.

There are many different ways to trigger wear and tear stress on our joints living on this planet but the bottom line is inflammation. Learning about your individual triggers and finding your balance is what will get you and keep you out of pain.

You’ll find out more about triggers of everyday pain, inflammation and how to find your balance if you follow along with my weekly posts on Stop Everyday Pain

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What Can You Do to Avoid “Sleeping Injuries”?

What Can You Do to Avoid “Sleeping Injuries”?

Back pains

image credit: Fotolia

In my previous post I introduced the idea of how ridiculously injured we can feel after a night of what was supposed to be regenerative sleep.  This is just one but a popular example of everyday pain.  This is the kind of pain that has us wondering: “What the heck did I do to myself?”

As I mentioned in that previous post, I believe that our mattresses and pillows only play a minor role for most of us.  When we are in a state of pain, the mattress and pillows do become paramount and if they are a wrong fit for us, they certainly don’t help the situation, but they are not the main reason we feel pain.  Neither to blame is our sleeping position necessarily.  Pain, plain and simple, is the result of inflammation.  (read a short excerpt from my book about this here) There are a host of things that can cause a build up of inflammation which then causes the experience of pain.

If you’re waking up with it, whether it’s a low grade ache or a sharp stabbing kind of thing, you can bet that inflammation is at play.  Your body is either dealing with a higher than usual level of inflammatory byproducts, or your nervous system was not able to allow your muscles to fully relax and disengage during your sleep.  The over-engagement by your muscles can cause inflammation to pool in those affected areas.  Again the result is pain because of inflammation.

So, maybe you don’t care why there’s pain you just want to know what you can do about it.  Take my word for it then when I say: to manage the pain you have to manage the inflammation triggers.

1. Stop eating your inflammation

2. Help your body get rid of inflammation

3. Keep Calm!

Eating your inflammation

In regards to waking with pain, what you eat right before bed probably matters most but in general if you struggle with pain that seems to come out of nowhere, you should probably consider taking inflammatory foods out of your diet on a regular basis.  There are a lot of resources available about inflammatory foods (sugars, starchy foods, alcohol and red meat for starters). Read a bit more about this in my next post

Get rid of it

If you’re in pain and you’re doing everything else right, it’s worth considering whether or not you are eliminating waste well.  Are you drinking enough water? Are you moving your bowels daily?  A slow-down in our naturally detoxifying activities of urinating and defecating can bog down the body’s ability to flush away pain causing molecules in the body tissues.  The byproducts of just living and breathing are molecules that will cause pain if left to accumulate so, even if you don’t have pain this is a good reason to pay attention to your elimination!

Keep Calm!

Finally, if you’re stressing about your pain or just stressed in general, it’s probably going to add to the pain and that’s not something that’s just “in your head”.  Stress causes the body to crank out all sorts of pain-causing chemical reactions.  If the nervous system is chronically on high alert, your body will be more likely to flare up with the littlest amount of stress and it can turn into a terrible snowball effect if you don’t tend to it.

Of course, if you’re thinking: “well, if I’m not getting quality sleep because of pain then I’m probably going to be more stressed until I get better sleep…”  You’re right.  It can turn into a vicious cycle. This is why it’s not always a terrible idea to take over the counter anti-inflammatory aids (pharmaceutical or herbal) before bedtime.  Sometimes breaking the pain cycle is more important than “toughing” it out.  There will be a future post about what sorts of herbs or nutrients might be just as effective as those common non steroidal anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals.

Don’t put up with it anymore

Some of the most difficult clinical cases I see are with people who have trained themselves to put up with pain on a regular basis.  They’ve taught themselves, physiologically, to be in pain and do it well.  This means it will take increasingly stressful situations to get their attention.  This may seem like a noble goal, but it just makes it so much more complicated to help the body return to a pain free state.  If the body learns not to listen to the usual warning signs the warning signs can go haywire and become unreliable or the body simply won’t know to respond to these warning signs.  Usually pain is just a big traffic sign – trying to show us what needs to change for better balance.

If pain from inflammation happens like how the last drop in a brimming bucket of water makes it spill over, then there are some things that can be going on behind the scenes that will fill our buckets to the brim and set us up to be less tolerant of certain everyday inflammatory triggers.  Two common examples I see are: the naturally inflammatory phase of the menstrual cycle and the 24 hour time span before we get sick with any garden variety upper respiratory virus.  Check out the future posts for more about this….