Many people come to me with low back pain and hip or sciatica issues and there seems to be something they all share, weak gluteal muscles. We have become a population of “sitters” when we were born for moving. If you stand in one place or sit for the majority of your day, you could have weak glute muscles that are contributing to your low back and hip pain.
When we sit for long periods of time the Psoas muscles shorten and will pull on the low back when moving to a standing position. Sitting stretches the glute muscles and can weaken them. If you stand for long periods and have weak glute muscles, it causes the Psoas (hip flexors) to work to stabilize the spine and puts strain the low back. Not only will the back and hips have problems, but without strong glutes to help align the leg bones, pain and discomfort in the hamstrings, calves and feet can occur too.
Several clients have said that they are fine until after a walk and when they get home, the low back or hips start to bother them. This is a strong indicator that glutes are weak and need strengthening.
How do you know if you have weak glutes? Without going into an anatomy lesson, let me give you a simple test you can do to see if you have weak glutes:
Lay on your stomach on the floor and rest your chin on your folded arms. Keeping your legs straight behind you and resting on the floor. Lift one leg, keeping it straight and if you feel the knee bend or your low back (lumbar area) dip, it means other muscles are being recruited to assist the glutes and they are weak.
Ok, now that you know you need some work, (most of us do!) how do you gain glutes of steel? There are numerous exercises to improve glute strength; squats, lunges, exercise machines, etc., but safety is a big consideration and you have to be especially careful if you have any knee problems. I found a great video on some easy exercises you can do at home. I like these because they are simple and won’t cause any stress on the knees. Click here to watch this 5 minute video.
Some other things to pay attention to:
If you get a chance, watch others walking. Can you tell those that have back pain, knee pain or are not using their glutes and leg muscles in synch? As a massage therapist, I have found you can tell a lot about a person just by their walk.
Strengthening your glutes and paying attention to how you walk and use your body can assist with alleviating back pain. In the case of glutes, a little work can make all the difference in the world!
Plantar Fasciitis is pain and inflammation of the tough and fibrous tissues of the sole of the foot. Anything and nothing can bring it on from running, wearing high heels to just stepping off a curb or getting out of bed in the morning. Usually it hurts the most first thing in the morning and then starts to loosen up as the day goes on, but this isn’t always the case. Some people suffer pain for an extended period of time and some only a day or month. There are no clear cut rules for this frustrating source of pain.
All kinds of treatments exist from stretches, taping, orthotics, foot supports, injections and even surgery. What works for one person isn’t necessarily going to work for the next and many times it seems that nothing helps. Rest is usually recommended as well as changing your foot wear.
If you are dealing with Plantar Fasciitis, here are some down to earth ways to decrease and help eliminate the problem:
1 – Walk barefoot as much as possible, especially on grass, soft sand, wood floors and carpet. This will stretch and strengthen the feet and by working the tissues, will increase circulation to the area. By walking on the earth you are also connecting with natural healing energy that has proven to reduce pain and inflammation.
2 – Stretch! Believe it or not, you are connected from the base of you toes, along your soles, up the back of your legs, glutes, back, neck and up over your head to right above your eyebrows. If you have tight muscles anywhere along this area, it can have an effect on your feet. I highly recommend 5-10 minutes of stretching, preferably right after a good walk or any aerobic activity, everyday. Stretching after activity has the most effect and increase in flexibility.
3 – Massage your feet. Use a small hard ball, like a baseball or lacrosse ball. Some people use tennis balls, but they tend to be too soft. You can try a frozen water bottle or wooden dowel too. Rub from the base of the toes to the back of the heel with as much pressure as you can stand. After massaging, stretch the sole of your foot by bending the toes toward your shin.
4 – Keep moving and stay positive. You will hear all kinds of horror stories about pain and suffering. This doesn’t have to be your experience. It is only a temporary problem with many ways of resolving it, so don’t give up and don’t give in to being told you have to accept it as permanent.
There are many medical procedures for helping Plantar Faciitis, however there is also a high percentage of failure too. If you are asking for treatment from your doctor, make sure you follow up any recommendation with your own research and/or a second opinion.
Plantar Fasciitis has been recognized as having psychosomatic origins as discussed in “Healing Back Pain”, one of the books written by Dr. John Sarno, M.D. He talks about how our brain creates pain as a distraction to protect us from painful and unwanted emotions. Based on my observations in the massage room, I agree that our emotions have a big impact on our bodies and how we feel.
If you have over come or are currently working through Plantar Fasciitis, I would love to hear your story.
The other day a client was telling me about her experience with taking a statin drug to control her choloestrol levels. She was having horrible muscle pain and by researching on the internet, she found that her pain might be associated with the drug she was taking. She also learned that statins decrease the amount of CoQ10 in the body, an important antioxidant produced by the body, and can cause increased muscle pain as a result. This pain is usually not helped by taking over-the-counter pain relievers either.
In following up with some research of my own, she is right. There are several good articles about the effects of statins and muscle pain is mentioned in all of them.
Do your own research and talk to your doctor about your symptoms, your options and if CoQ10 would help.. Here is a good link from the Mayo Clinic about statins, their side effects and CoQ10.
Statin side effects
Having several clients on cholesterol medications with pain issues, I hope by sharing this information it might help.
Our bodily functions have not progressed much beyond our Paleolithic ancestors, but our technology and lifestyles have evolved far beyond our current physiology. If our bodies function better on “caveman” eating habits then why do we think have evolved enough to handle the amount of tension and stress that comes into our lives on a daily basis?
One hundred years ago a person processed the amount of information equivalent to a copy of the Wall Street Journal, in their lifetime. Now days it is closer to 13,000 copies and that number is growing daily. The term “information overload” is REAL and it produces stress and tension in our bodies that can become chronic pain.
What this means is that most people are in a “flight or fight” mode, everyday, all day long. This includes sleeping hours. In this mode the body is producing high levels of adrenaline and cortisol which contribute to higher heart rates, increased blood pressure and lack of restful sleep patterns. Being in this state causes a hyper-vigilant tension of the tissues and means that muscles are tight, circulation is decreased and waste products are not flushed as they should be. The resulting pain is the body crying out for help.
Ever wonder why your stomach is constantly upset or why you can’t remember things? Digestion and brain function are affected by the shutting down of functions not directly related to survival.
National Geographic did a great documentary on the effects of stress. You can view it here.
So unless you plan on becoming a monk and living in a remote cave, your levels of tension and stress are not going to change. What you can change is recognizing that pain is a symptom of your body asking for help and taking steps to meet your physiological needs.
Dr John Sarno has written two good books on Tension Myositis Syndrome and how our bodies cause pain when under stress and tension. I highly recommend checking them out. Another book, “A Headache in the Pelvis” talks about pain as the result of tension and how to deal with it.
Basically the recommendation from these sources is to keep moving, recognize the pain as a result of tension and stress, and do self-care. This could be stretching, exercising, yoga, meditation, massage, etc. Just don’t lie in bed and hope it goes away. If you go to a doctor they will most likely prescribe pain medications and studies show a lack of positive results.
Become your own best advocate. Research, ask questions, explore possibilities and don’t be afraid to try something. Dr. Sarno educates his patients and has found that the more pain sufferers learn, the better they work with, rather than against their bodies and become pain free.
If you are reading this, you are most likely sitting at a computer. Now check in with your body, is there a bit of an ache in your upper neck or a knot at your shoulder blade that never seems to go away?
Meet, Levator Scapula!
This muscle is only about two fingers wide but causes worlds of pain for a lot of people. It is tucked under the Trapezius, that big diamond shaped muscle on the back. It connects to the upper portion of the shoulder blade and then separates into individual sections that attach to four of the cervical vertebrae. To make things even more interesting, there is a large group of nerves, the brachial plexus that intertwine among the muscle sections. When the muscle gets tight these nerves get pinched sending pain down the arm and into the hand. These nerves also get impinged if you are always looking down at your cell phone or read with your chin on your chest, but that involves the Scalenes which is another story…
The Levator Scapula is a popular spot for tension to hang out and cause a lot of trouble. The muscle is used for several things; lifting the shoulder blade toward the ears, moving the shoulder blade down, moving the head laterally side to side, rotating the head and neck and extending the head and neck. Little kids use these muscles all the time when you ask them why they did something and they look at you and shrug while saying, “I don’t know”.
When sitting at the desk and using the computer most people have a tendency to shrug the shoulders up, this tenses the Levator Scapula which contributes to that nasty knot that you feel in the upper shoulders.
To decrease and help prevent problems with this little trouble maker here are some tips:
- Stay hydrated. Always drink plenty of water to keep muscles working fluidly.
- Put computer monitors at eye level.
- When working on a laptop, make sure your chin is in neutral position.
- Monitor body position through out the day, especially when under addition stress. Think of the bones stacked on top of each other and arms should hang comfortably from the sides of the body, not up next to your ears.
- Try to avoid having the head turned in any one direction for too long.
- Take breaks to stretch and rotate and move head, neck and shoulders throughout the day to keep muscles more relaxed and circulation moving.
- GET A MASSAGE!
The Sternocleidomastoid, or SCM, is a muscle that connects the skull to the collar bone. If you rotate your head from side to side, you will see that it attaches from behind the ear and runs down the front of the neck and attaches to the clavicle at the front of your neck.
This muscle is beefy and strong and keeps pretty busy, so it is no wonder that it is usually tight and causes problems. Many massage clients will put their hand on the back of the neck when complaining about tight neck muscles or tension headache, not realizing that the real culprit is in plain sight, in the front of the neck.
Let’s talk about all the things this over-achieving muscle does; moves the head laterally (like holding a phone on your shoulder), rotates the head from side to side , flexes the neck (looking down at your cell phone) and assists with inhalation by helping to lift the rib cage (stress contributes to tension of rib cage). Basically, if you are moving your head, this muscle is being used. So those of you that use phones; hand sets and cell phones, read or work on laptops in bed or do work that requires you to look down a lot are the ones that will come in complaining about your sore neck and sometimes a headache.
Unfortunately most massage therapists don’t work this area because it is painful for the client and is awkward to do. Most of the time, the attention is on the muscles at the back of the neck, but when you get off the table, the pain will come back quickly if the real problem isn’t addressed.
Here are some ways to prevent and cut down on problems with your neck…
When the back of your neck is tight or painful, take a moment and check in with your body posture. What is the distance between your chin and chest? Have you been looking one direction or the other for a period of time such as in conversation or looking out a car window? By keeping your chin the same distance from your chest as it would be if you were lying down, you will help prevent shortening of the SCM. This will help keep muscles on the back of the neck from being pulled, over-worked and unhappy. A simple stretch for the SCM is to lie on your bed and let your head hang over the edge but keep the neck supported by the edge of the bed. Close your mouth to increase the stretch, and turn your head from side to side, slowly. After a day at the office, this will help keep the SCM loose and the neck will be more comfortable.
The Sternocleidomastoid is a muscle that is used all the time. By being aware of how you are moving your head, monitoring stress and tension levels and using proper body mechanics, you can help prevent this muscle from being a pain in the neck!
This is the most common question asked by massage clients and the answer is based on several things:
- How physically active are you?
- How healthy is your body?
- What is your stress level?
- Do you suffer from disease or inflammation that causes problems?
- How well do you take care of yourself?
- How long does your body hold the affects of a massage?
- What is your budget?
These are just a few things to consider when deciding how often to schedule a massage. As you can see, there isn’t one answer that fits every body. A good rule of thumb is your level of self-care should maintain your body according to how much you demand of it.
If you are a competitive athlete, you should be getting a massage 2-3 times a week to help with recovery by removing waste products from the muscle cells, keeping muscles pliable and cells hydrated. The more you demand of your body the bigger risk of injury, however on the flip side, if you are sedentary you risk weak muscles that won’t support normal use and you also risk injury. Bodies were made to work and be used.
If you are working out on a regular basis, 20-30 minutes, 2-5 times a week and keeping your body strong by walking, strength training, Pilates, yoga, running, etc., you probably would feel better with a massage once a week or twice a month, depending on your budget and how long your body feels good between massages.
Stress levels make a big difference in your physical and mental health and can cause havoc with healthy bodies when life events, job issues, family problems or health issues crop up. Scheduling massage once a week or every other week during times of increased stress will support you mentally and physically by releasing endorphins and dopamine into your system.
Long-term stress, injury or disease increases the need for massage. Injury usually requires more massage for a short time and then the need decreases as the body heals. Frequency of massage is also dependent on how serious the injury is. Some diseases such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, cancer, stenosis, depression, scoliosis, etc. feel better with regular massage and many clients come in at least once a month or more to keep their discomfort to a minimum.
When deciding how often you need massage, pay attention to how long you feel good after your massage? You can increase the length of time between massages by making sure to keep your body hydrated, keep muscles pliable by stretching, using proper body mechanics when lifting and having healthy ways of dealing with stresses of living.
Budget is a major concern for most massage clients and some questions to ask yourself might be -- Is spending the money on massage now going to help decrease health costs down the road? Will massage alleviate my problem without more expensive pharmaceuticals and/or surgery? How much is your comfort a priority at this point in your life?
Taking time out and spending the money for self-care is a challenge for everyone. Discussing your individual needs with your therapist is always a good idea and pre-scheduling your massages strengthens the commit to self-care. Keeping yourself healthy and your energy charged up, you have more to give others, a happier outlook on life and better quality of life. Massage can be a big help in doing just that!
Just call me QL, for short.
When I hurt, it feels like I am a back muscle, but I am the deepest abdominal muscle and it is easier to reach me from the back of the body. I sit between your ribs and hips, just under those long ropy muscles, the Erector Spinae, that go all the way down your back.
I don’t get much time off because I always working. I help stabilize your spine when you are upright, I assist with turning and twisting and I am nicknamed “The Hip Hiker” because I can raise one side or the other of the pelvis. Belly dancing and Hula are just a couple of things I am good at. I have some other tricky things I do like extending the lumbar spine and helping your diaphragm contract when you cough. If you golf, I help you hit a long drive and in tennis I help your swing either direction.
I am connected to your last rib, down the lumbar spine and along the top of the pelvis and you have one of me on both sides. If you have ever moved heavy furniture or stacked heavy boxes, you probably felt pain in your mid-back, butt or even down your leg because when I hurt and go into spasm I cause all kinds of pain in different places, so it can be difficult to figure out who the culprit is. I am sneaky that way! I am also pretty friendly with other muscles and when I throw a pain party I like to invite my friends, Psoas, Piriformis and sometimes Iliopsoas but we aren’t that close.
Here is a picture of me and a couple of friends:
Here is a video showing how to take care of me.
QL Stretching video
If you do exercises that strengthen your abdominals/core, you are helping me be strong and healthy and I won’t cause you a lot of pain. It was nice to meet you and I will always be here doing my job as long as you take care of me.
I don't have TV or read newspapers. I find that most of the news is bad and I get overwhelmed and depressed. I have to limit my exposure, so I skim headlines on the internet and read just enough to feel like I am in touch but sometimes there is such bad news there is no escaping the negative feelings that are triggered. The shootings of nine people in a church by a mixed up young man was horrible. I want to believe in the best of ourselves but there is still so much of our darker nature that exists.
Sometimes I feel useless as to how I can do anything but just feel sad and pain for the many that are suffering. I am sure some of you have felt the same way. Being only one person, how can you make any difference in this big world?
There are two things you can do that seem insignificant but as Mahatma Ghandi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world" and anything big started as something small, so just focus on your little corner of the world.
1 - Smile at everyone you see.
You might be having a rough day, but are you the only one? Your smile might just make the difference in someone's day that helps them through unimaginable pain or suffering. By smiling you also lift up your own spirits and I bet you end up having a great day regardless of how it started. What about the guy that flips you off as he cuts in front of you? My mother always said, "Kill them with kindness" and I just smile and wave and try not to take it personally. Easier said than done, but I do try.
2 - Give hugs.
Touch is so important to all living things. I have written about how touch affects the mortality rates of infants. Touch is behind the reason we have three times the number of pets than people because most of us feel more comfortable petting a dog or cat instead of reaching out to another person. As a single person I am more guilty than anyone I know...I have four dogs, so I'm not pointing any fingers here.
I learned a long time ago the power of hugging. I had a friend that owned a business two doors down from my business and every morning she came a gave me a hug. At first it was a little uncomfortable because I came from a very stoic family and we didn't hug, but after awhile, if she didn't come to my shop, I would go to hers and get my hug. Numerous times I have not had the words to say to someone that was hurting, but a hug was just what they needed. If a hug isn't welcome, just a touch on the arm or hand will let them know you care.
So this week I am issueing a challenge to all my readers and clients...go forth and make a difference! Smile and hug people. Create the happiest little corner on earth.
If you come in for a massage, be prepared for a hug.
Just for fun, you might want to watch some videos of kids doing hug experiements. Here are a couple of links:
I would love to hear how your week of smiles and hugs went. Please email me or put your experience in the comments below.
You don't actually have knots in muscles. What you do have is a muscle, or group of muscle fibers that is not working properly and in a constant state of contraction, or spasm. The usual places that most people feel knots are upper neck, top of the shoulders, next to the shoulder blade near the spine, low back and in the butt muscle, but knots or trigger points can be found anywhere in the body.
Muscle fibers are long strands of tissue that connect and move bones. These fibers contract and lengthen with use and slide along side each other. When a fiber constricts and stays shortened, it can interfere with the function of surrounding fibers. The constriction causes swelling, inflammation and pain. This swelling is what your massage therapist is feeling and what causes you pain when the area is touched or moved.
When you have a muscle or group of muscle fibers within a muscle that have shortened and are not functioning correctly, it can result in loss of blood flow, lymph drainage and can affect movement. Protein fibers from the muscles can actually intertwine between fibers and they “hook” onto each other, restricting their sliding action. Studies have been done that show trigger points to have a build up of waste products such as lactic acid, pyruvic acid, protein build up from over use of the muscle and the break down of glycogen that feeds muscle tissue. With a lack of circulation waste products can't move out of the area and allow renewal of fresh blood and nutrients to the muscle. This can lead to a larger and more painful trigger point.
Compression of a trigger point helps to release fascia, the thin layer surrounding the muscle and individual fibers and forces elongation of the muscle releasing the spasm and also forces the waste products from the area allowing fresh blood and nutrients in. Accupuncture is another affective technique for treating trigger points. Depending on the size and length of time the muscle has been in a “knot”, will determine whether the trigger point will be chronic or short-term.
Massage to loosen muscles, Trigger Point to address individual problem areas, strengthening muscles with exercise and stretching muscles will help to keep “knots” at a minimum. Relaxing techniques such as meditation and biofeedback or just plain getting out in nature and moving your body will help with stress levels and a lowered level of stress helps the body be more relaxed and supple instead of tight and constricted.
Have you experienced a "knot" and what kind of treatment did you get that worked?
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