Saturday, January 3, 2015

Stretching Tight Leg Muscles

It’s best to stretch your leg muscles 3 to 5 times for 20 seconds at a time. Let’s have a look at different stretches for each of the main muscles of the leg. You must always start stretching the larger muscles first. Do not stretch muscles when they are cold, as they are less effective to stretch. A good warmup is ideal before stretching, as it helps get the blood and circulation going through the different parts of the muscles. Stretching should never be painful and is always an individual thing. So don’t compare how far others can stretch, stick within your flexibility and muscle range when you begin. You may discover some muscles are tighter than others while performing all the stretches. The stiffer muscles are the ones you need to stretch more. They are more prone to cause fatigue and injury. Have in mind that these stretches for stiff leg muscles just scratch the surface in correcting muscle imbalances.
  1. Hip Flexors stretch – As shown, you stretch until you feel a slight stretch in your hip flexors.
    Hip Flexors Stretch
  2. Thigh/Quad stretch – Place your freehand against a chair, sofa or wall and stretch out the thigh.
    Tigh/Quad Stretch
  3. IT Band Stretch
    IT Band Stretch
  4. Hamstring Stretch
    Hamstring Stretch
  5. Groin Stretch
    Groin Stretch
  6. Calf Stretch
    Calf Stretch

Why Stretching is Important...

Daily stretching will help you feel better, more youthful and become more limber. Most importantly, stretching leads to improved flexibility that helps to prevent injury, increase circulation and improve overall well being.
Stretching can be done anywhere and at any time. Stretching does not require any special equipment making it perfect for individuals no matter their fitness level or location.

Static stretching is stretching muscles while the body is at rest, which gradually lengthens a muscle. When done properly, static stretching allows the muscle to relax and stretch farther.
To do a static stretch, hold a stretch for a minimum of 15-30 seconds. NEVER BOUNCE. You should feel tension in the muscle, but never pain. If a stretch is painful, discontinue the stretch immediately.
Muscles should be warm when stretched. Do light activity before stretching, stretch after a warm shower and always stretch after activity. Stretching warm muscles increases the long term benefits associated with stretching. A good stretching routine does not require a lot of time. Just five minutes per day can make a difference. Some of the benefits:

  •  Flexibility is the degree to which an individual muscle will lengthen. Lack of flexibility slows movements and makes them less fluid increasing your risk for injury. Stretching is the most effective way to increase flexibility.
  • Stretching increases blood flow to muscles. Increased blood flow increases nourishment to the muscles and removes waste. Increased blood flow also helps to speed up recovery from injuries.
  • Stretching helps improve cardiovascular health. Stretching can improve artery function and lower blood pressure.
  • Stretching reduces muscle fatigue and soreness which occurs because your body flushes out the lactic and uric acids which are the product of your muscles, ligaments and tendons doing work to move your body.
  • Increase Range of Motion: Stretching increases the length of both muscles and tendons. This leads to an increased range of movement, which means your limbs and joints can move further to decrease the likelihood of an injury.
  • Enhance Coordination: Maintaining the full range of motion through your joints keeps you in better balance. This will keep you mobile and less prone to injury from falls.
  • Better Posture: Chronically tight muscles lead to poor posture, which can affect the function of other muscles, internal organs and your appearance.
  • Increase Energy Level: Resulting from increased circulation.
  • Stress Relief: Stretching helps relax tense muscles resulting from stress and the feeling of relaxation brings a sense of well-being and reduced tension.

What are Muscle Knots...

You know what it feels like, a good kind of pain when someone gets their fingers into it, a dull ache that cries out for attention, a sweet spot that once it's found doesn't want to be forgotten, that wants to be kneaded and pressed until it "don't ache no more" ...but what exactly is it?

Our muscles are made up of strands of fibres, and these fibres are made up of threads of proteins called sarcomeres. Sarcomeres are the smallest unit of skeletal muscle cells, a single muscle cell contains about 100 000 sarcomeres, (a muscle cell is smaller than the diameter of a strand of hair). The sarcomeres are responsible for the movement of muscle contraction. However the problem begins when they contact and then instead of relaxing they stay contracted. Not much is known about why this may happen, but some possible causes are injury, stress, emotional and physical fatigue, poor postural habits or working positions. Perhaps it is just that the balance of the body has been disrupted for some reason and this is one way the body lets you know it needs some attention.

When these sacromere contract the fibres won't loosen, and it is for the likening of this to a tangled piece of rope that we call it a knot. When the fibres tighten the blood flow is restricted, and nutrients and oxygen have a tougher time getting into the belly of the muscle, and the waste has a tough time getting out. This lack of lubrication causes the muscles to become dry and the fibres to become even more entangled, imagine a tangled piece of rope, knotted when in the sea, and then left out in the sun, it dries and is ingrained with salt. This further irritates the sensory nerve endings, which increases the contraction and so perpetuates this cycle.

Massage breaks the cycle and through pressure starts to separate the fibres and untangle the knot, thus allowing fluids to move in and waste to move out. Increasing the circulation increases the oxygen and nutrients to the muscle and helps with the untangling process, additionally the sarcomeres are manually stretched and encouraged to stop contracting.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Healing Power of Touch

This picture is from a true story called “The Rescuing Hug”. It’s a story about the first week of life of a set of twins called Brielle and Kyrie…….

They were born prematurely and one of the twins was not expected to live.  While in their own incubators in the hospital,  a hospital nurse fought against the hospital rules and placed the babies together in one incubator. When they were placed together, the healthier of the two, threw an arm over her smaller, weaker sister in an endearing embrace. The smaller baby’s heart stabilized and temperature rose to normal. They both ended up surviving and thriving….
This amazing story has been circling around the internet for many years now and many of you will already be familair with this inspiring story. The powerful thing about this story is that one little baby changed history. After seeing these positive results, the hospital changed its policies and now allows multiples to bed together. One hug started a revolution that now saves the lives of many babies born prematurely as multiples.
The power of touch and love can heal many lives. Hugs and physical contact make a huge difference for people, often life saving and we don’t even realize this.
The healing power of touch...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Bodywork and Emotional Release

We've heard much about the connection between the body and mind, but what's really happening when you suddenly feel a strong emotion or retrieve a memory while getting a massage? It helps to first understand how the mind-body connection works.

The Body-Mind Connection
From an early age, we learn habits about how -- or how not to -- show our emotions. Some emotions such as anger, rage, or even frustration are discouraged. Suppressing emotions may be the difference between being accepted by our parents, friends, and teachers or being punished, criticized, or shamed.

But what happens to suppressed emotions? Where do they go when we're not allowed by parents or even ourselves to show them?

Our conscious mind has many functions. It directs voluntary movement in our bodies. It determines how we feel about our environment, and it makes choices about most aspects of our lives. Because the conscious mind gets information from our senses and directs our muscles to move, it is fully linked to our nervous system. Our nervous system controls our bodies. Further, our unconscious mind -- those things that we think but aren't aware of -- is also part of our nervous system.

When we learn not to show our feelings, they usually go into our bodies. We tense the muscles in our neck instead of frowning, we hold our breath instead of crying, or we clench our jaw instead of yelling. When these patterns are repeated, emotional suppression becomes a habit, the unconscious mind takes over, and the body becomes a storehouse for unexpressed, unconscious feelings.

At some point in almost all our lives, we've experienced a clear example of the mind-body connection. Recall a time when you had to give a speech or played your first music recital. Were your palms sweating, did you feel dizzy, was your heart pounding? In a stage fright situation, you were probably perfectly safe; no one from the audience was going to jump out and grab you, but your own feelings about the situation caused your body to react in a way that was completely out of your control. Were you able to stop the sweating in your palms? Probably not. Your mind took control and expressed your fears in a purely physical way.

Body language is another example of the mind-body connection. Someone who is feeling uncomfortable in a situation may sit with arms folded and legs crossed. They may show little feeling on their face, but their body tells something about what's going on in their mind. Many persistent pain patterns are associated with postural habits that have an emotional component. Think about how you sit or stand when you're feeling depressed or anxious. Postural holding can be entirely unconscious and may become fixed over time.

Finally, breathing patterns often reveal unconscious mind-body connections. Stress, chronic fear, or anxiety will show up as shallow and/or rapid breathing as the body stays in a chronic state of fight or flight.

Bodywork and Emotional Release
With an understanding of how emotions are stored in the physical body, we can understand why bodywork helps release them.

Muscle tension is one of the most frequent ways we hold emotion. Many people seek massage to help relieve tension from chronic stress. By relaxing muscles and reducing tension, massage frees the pattern where the unconscious feeling is being held. Once the tension is gone, the unconscious mind loses its grasp and an emotion may emerge.

People who hold excessive tension often have hypersensitive nervous systems. Supportive touch offered by a trained massage therapist can calm the nervous system, which changes the mind-body pattern. This calming effect creates freedom for feelings to come forth and be released in a safe, supportive, nonjudgmental environment.

What is an Emotional Release Like?
Emotional releases can take many forms. As a client, you may feel sadness, grief, anger, fear. Positive feelings may come up in releases, but this is rare since our culture is more supportive of expressing positive feelings in the moment rather than suppressing them. You may have memories of a particular event, but you may not be able to associate your feelings with anything from your past. You may feel like crying or your feeling may simply come with a desire to take a deep breath.

Some emotional releases are associated with specific traumatic events while others reveal more chronic thought patterns. You may get in touch with old unconscious beliefs or attitudes that no longer serve you, or you may be surprised to learn something about your relationship with your body. What's important to know is that your body is offering you an opportunity to grow and change beyond habitual patterns. If you're getting a feeling that seems to be out of context with the circumstances of the massage, it may be an emotional release surfacing. Pay attention to your feelings and tell your therapist what's happening.

Many bodyworkers are experienced in working with emotional releases. While they're not trained as psychotherapists, they can be there to support you through the release process. By simply maintaining a grounding touch and listening, they are there to support you as you release a feeling that no longer serves you. If you feel supported and safe, you're able to let go of the emotion -- most importantly, don't push it back down in your old way of suppressing. When the emotion surfaces, your body is telling you it's time to let it go.

Most releases surface and resolve quickly. However, if you have frequent strong emotional releases in your massages or if you're feeling more anxious or fearful as a result of the bodywork, it's important to seek the help of a professional counselor.

Many times the release takes both therapist and client by surprise, but if we're prepared for the possibility, it can be a freeing, learning experience. The body becomes the teacher for the mind and if we stay open, we gain the power to make new choices, learn new patterns, and create a healthier, more conscious, life.

Originally published in Body Sense magazine, August/Winter 2005. 
Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Massage Therapy for Chronic Headaches

everyone has suffered the pain of a headache. Headaches can last for a few hours up to several days, and sometimes involve symptoms such as sensitivity to light and nausea. They can impact daily life when they occur frequently or for an extended period of time. The most common types of Chronic Headaches are muscle tension and vascular headaches. Muscle tension headaches produce dull, constant pain on both sides of the head and may also involve an aching neck or sensitive scalp. They generally start slowly and can last from hours to days. Muscle tension headaches are sometimes called muscle contraction headaches because it is the tightening of the muscles of the head, face and neck that causes the pain. This is why tension headache sufferers often describe their pain as tightening bands around the forehead or along the base of the skull.

Vascular headaches are the ones many people describe as pounding or throbbing. They occur when the blood vessels that supply the brain and the muscles in the head swell and constrict. Vascular headache pain intensifies with physical activity and typically lasts from 4 to 72 hours. It may be associated with other symptoms such as vision problems, extreme sensitivity to light, and nausea. Migraines, cluster headaches and headaches that result from high blood pressure are all examples of vascular headaches. In the United States alone, more than 60 percent of the 45 million Americans who suffer from chronic headaches suffer from migraines. The disorder can be debilitating and typically results from high stress levels and/or lack of sleep. Men suffer slightly more from headaches than females, 25 million men on average, compare to females who average about 20 million who suffer from headaches.
Massage is one natural alternative to allopathic medicine that can help relieve chronic headaches while avoiding the side effects that often accompany prescription and over-the-counter medications. Massage therapy helps to relieve both types of headaches by easing muscle tension, relieving muscle spasms, releasing shortened muscles, and relaxing tension held in the muscles of the head, shoulders, and neck. When muscle tension eases, there is less pressure on the nerves and blood vessels that supply them. Oxygen-rich blood circulation improves, which also relieves pain. Massage therapy not only helps the muscles of the body to relax but also effectively reduces the anxiety and mental stress that can cause or exacerbate headaches. Regular, ongoing massage therapy can also help to prevent headaches by helping to reduce overall stress and maintain emotional balance.