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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Menopause, Andropause and now “Somatopause”?

bodybuilder poseWell it’s no secret what menopause is.  Luckily there’s an increasing body of information widely available out about it these days.  Among other hormonal shifts, the primary change in menopause and peri-menopause occurs with estrogen levels.  Estrogen production decreases as women age, and move away from the reproductive stage of life.

Men have an equivalent transition as their androgens shift and the production of testosterone wanes.

Somatopause is not as commonly discussed and the term might be unfamiliar, but depending on your age you might not be surprised to hear what it is.  This is a change that happens for both men and women as we approach later life.  The prefix soma comes from the Greek meaning “body”.  In medicine the term somatic refers to the physical body – the machine: muscles and bones.

If you’re someone who’s nearing mid life or just past it, then you may already have noticed that your body is definitely changing – possibly even before you notice changes in estrogen or testosterone.  In addition to finding hairs where there didn’t used to be any or skin tags in inconvenient places, skin may not be as firm or as thick, but above all, our muscle mass is suddenly not what it used to be.  Many middle aged people will notice that seeing and feeling the results of exercise becomes harder and harder.  It becomes really easy to lose the effects of exercise.  The decrease in muscle mass and the decreased ability to build muscle is what the term “somatopause” refers to.

Somatopause, or this decrease in muscle mass, just like the other two ” -pauses”, is also because of a decreasing hormone.  In this case it’s the human growth hormone (HGH).  The human muscle cell (sarcomere) needs HGH in order to grow.   Our body stops naturally making as much growth hormone as we do when we’re younger.

Does this mean we should all just roll over and become flabby and weak?  We certainly can but it’s not a fate we have to accept silently. At the very least this information should make us want to work a little harder at staying with an exercise regimen.  The “Move it or Lose it” adage definitely becomes louder and clearer the older we get.

Incidentally, there’s some really interesting evidence just coming to light recently that seems responsible for feeding yet another trendy exercise fad.  In recent months you may have heard more and more about high intensity interval training.  The allure of this kind of workout is that it touts much less of a time commitment in the gym (for the busy professionals) but promising to deliver the same or better outcomes fitness-wise.

Well, I’m the first to dig my heels in when I notice the frenzy for a fad taking hold and I always advise caution to all patients considering trying this particular one – no matter what age.  The potential for injury is high when we combine speed or time stress with intensity since neither leave much room for focusing on safe form unless closely supervised.  So, I generally don’t advise anyone to do this kind of training, but I am changing my tune a little bit and here’s why:

Studies have shown this kind of training appreciably stimulates an increase in growth hormone production. So, if  it’s done safely, the high intensity, short spurts of exercise can be particularly useful to those of us approaching somatopause.  The added stints of growth hormone production will aid in the building of muscle mass even in someone who has entered this stage of life where the natural decline of HGH has begun!

If you’re struggling to put on muscle mass don’t forget to think about your nutrient intake but you might as well also consider  kicking it up a notch once or twice a week for the sake of these muscle building benefits.  But don’t leave behind the traditional workouts that you enjoy.  It’s far too important to our brain chemistry to leave those behind.  Workouts of a minimum of 30 min. and longer, will be what give you a good dose of “happy chemicals”.  These will become more important as you add the naturally more stress hormone inducing high intensity workouts, simply for balance. (Take a moment to read this post to learn why it’s important for some people to be especially careful with stress inducing activities – you might be adding fuel to the fire despite your best intentions)

I hope you’ll consider the fact that maintaining and gaining muscle mass at all ages is not just about looks. You will look great and feel much better about your looks but more importantly, it’s very much about life sustaining function that will make all aspects of daily living easier, safer and seamless.  It’s a biological fact that movement is ultimately what sustains life and you can’t move if you don’t have muscle!

 

References:

http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2013/06/21/interval-training.aspx

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10442584

“It’s Probably Just Muscle Pain, Right?”

body art

image credit: wikimedia.org

This is something I hear patients say all the time when they come to see me.  Almost as if to apologize for not having something more dramatic to show for their pain or look for reassurance that it’s nothing too serious.

Guess what? It probably is “just” a muscle and that’s a perfectly adequate reason for your pain.  It may not seem serious if it’s “just” a muscle but it’s not a free pass for you to shrug it off just because it’s not life threatening.  Most of the pain that we experience when we’re talking about the everyday variety of pain is soft tissue based.  This means it’s not commonly coming from your bones or discs unless you’ve had a very distinct physical trauma recently or are in an advanced state of chronic dysfunction which you would already know about from a looong history of pain.  Of course it’s up to the professional you choose to see to find out whether or not there is a more serious underlying cause for your pain.  I can only speak of generalities based on the vast majority of pain that I treat conservatively in my chiropractic practice.

A lot of the pain I see and treat is something that sneaks up on people, for example: the pain that you wake up with after going to bed feeling fine or the pain you discover when you try to stand up from your desk or the couch.  These kinds of everyday pains  are generally being generated by the strain and damage to muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules.  The reason  these structures are stressed and signaling pain is what I’m  always interested in.  The relationship between bones and joints, either during movement or at rest or during transitions from inactivity to activity, are the reasons that the soft tissues of the body start to complain with pain.  Because it’s up to the soft tissues to hold everything together they are the ones that will be the first to notice if un safe movement or positioning is happening.

Sometimes figuring out which combination of movements, habits or positions led to the irritation of these pain generating structures is the complicated part.  Determining these things is usually key to lasting relief.

What I do with chiropractic is restore normal functioning to the joints of the body that have stopped pulling their full weight.  Sometimes the joints stop working optimally because of pain in the soft tissues and sometimes other reasons cause the joints to stop working fully first and then the resulting uneven work load is the reason for the soft tissue pain.  Restoring motion is the first step.  That usually brings a lot of relief from the pain. Then comes the hard work of maintaining that healthy movement on a daily basis in order to keep those muscles from hurting.  Sometimes this requires a complete re-assessment of how to go about the daily tasks that we come to take for granted like brushing our teeth or washing the dishes or even what we think is restorative unwinding on the couch.

Read more about how to stop everyday pain here.