Monday, August 31, 2009

Tendon Pain and Exercise

The New York Times blog "Well" had a great article a few days ago titled "Phys Ed: An Easy Fix for Tennis Elbow?" which recommended a treatment for that condition, and had some good information about eccentric muscle contraction exercise.

I will elaborate on the topic of tendinosis versus tendinitis.

Most people will assume a painful tendon has tendinitis, an inflammation injury(the "-itis" part of the word.) Inflammation is typically treated with ice and anti-inflammatory drugs. However a chronic area of tendon or muscle attachment pain is likely to be tendonosis. Tendinosis is a long term condition, possibly from untreated tendinitis, which involves degeneration of tendon tissue. Since tendinosis is not inflammation, inflammation treatments aren't effective.

Unfortunately the article did not mention massage as part of the treatment. While tendinitis, or any inflammation, contraindicates massage, tendinosis does respond well to massage. The direct pressure of massage to the tendon will stimulate the growth of new collagen, and help strengthen and heal the area. Incidentally, this is a big part of clinical "Deep Tissue," which is not just a massage with really strong pressure.

This is the point where I add a disclaimer- I am not a doctor, and the information I offer is not medical advice.

From today's San Francisco Chronicle: "Exercise beats angioplasty for some heart patients" "Studies have shown heart patients benefit from exercise, and some have even shown it works better than surgical procedures." Why am I not surprised?

Some personal workout news: A few months back I mentioned that I starting doing dumbell snatches, a challenging Olympic-style lift. I did a baby 20 pound weight for a month, then slowly worked my way up to 50 lbs. Wow, that's some weight to be heaving overhead with one hand! Now I'm backing down a bit and trying to perfect my technique even more.

Exercise Links
I'm getting more knowledgeable about doing the snatch from the videos on the CrossFit website. Another great exercise site I recommend is BodyTribe Fitness. Both of these emphasis functional, full-body, non-sitting down workouts that I do(or at least attempt.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Two Massage Success Stories, plus Colorful Quinoa

Earlier this summer, I started working with a couple of clients that illustrate the range of what I do in my practice at Positive Massage Therapy.

One is an elite college swimmer who had some tightness and pain impeding her performance. This is a person competing in international events where fractions of a second make a big difference. Focused deep tissue massage and myofascial release enabled to her to "get her kick back." I plan to be cheering for her in the next Olympics.

The other client is a woman in her sixties who had been on medication for severe low back pain for an extended period. Another condition forced her to stop the pain meds, and her back was really bothering her. After her session, she told me her back didn't hurt for the first time since she stopped taking the pills, and there were no side effects.

Knowing my clients are losing their pain, improving at their sport, or escaping from a stressful week is what makes my profession so rewarding.

Very exciting food news- I've discovered the new red and black quinoa at the Palo Alto Whole Foods. I eat a lot of quinoa- big servings at dinner and a few spoonfuls mixed into my breakfast cereal. The extra color makes the grain more interesting- presentation counts for a lot. I've happily learned that I can cook regular beige quinoa with the flashy new varieties and they both retain their colors. Does it get any better than multi-colored quinoa?

Quinoa is excellent nutritionally- balanced amino acids, alkaline instead of acid like most grains, gluten-free, quick cooking, and tasty. People usually know of it as a high protein grain, however while it is true that it the highest, it actually is only slightly higher that wheat and the others.

If you're already a quinoa fan, try mixing the colorful varieties together. If you don't already eat it, this is a great time to start.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stability Balls for Fitness and Fun

A great fitness tool I recommend to everyone is the stability ball, also called a physio ball or Swiss ball. Personally I think it should be called an "instability ball" because it rolls around and changes shape while you do the work of providing stability. The stability ball is just a large, inflated plastic ball, but it can be used for back care, stretching, exercise, and a place to sit. Besides versatility, they are also inexpensive. There are many ways to use them, below are my favorites.

Sitting and Back Care
Sitting is a necessary evil for most people. One problem is the poor posture we tend to assume while sitting, the other is the lack of movement. While sitting properly and ergonomic chairs help, no position held for a long period is healthful. Sitting on a stability ball may help you be in good posture, but the main benefit is that it will keep you from sitting completely still. Muscles and joints get subtly(or not so subtly) worked. The low back particularly will be helped.

An excellent stretch to counteract rounded shoulders and upper spine is to lay supine on top of a stability ball. Squat on the floor with the ball behind you and slowly lean back onto it. Raise your arms up and behind you, and roll backwards until it is under your upper back. The feet stay on the ground.

Your weight is supported, so your muscles can release and you can stay here without effort.

This stretch is not for anyone with an injury or compromised spine, or without the strength to control your position. A larger ball, 75mm and up, will make the stretch more manageable. Putting the ball against a wall so it can't roll away is a good way to start. This modification should also be done by anyone with hyper lordosis of the lumbar area, to keep from increasing the flexion there.

A stability ball can be used in place of a bench or other rigid support to get much more of the body involved in your exercises. Even for familiar exercises, more muscles will be recruited, and most importantly, they will learn to work together instead of isolation. Additionally, because the ball is compressible, the exercises are more dynamic with the force applied creating less stress.

You may find you can lift a lot less than with the same exercise done on a rigid support. Good! That means you're using more muscles that don't get worked with common gym exercises, developing balance, and not propping yourself up with furniture.

One exercise I suggest is a reverse dumbell fly. Lay with your chest on the stability ball and a small dumbell or medicine ball in each hand. From a slight spinal flexion(forward bend) go to a slight spinal extension(backward bend.) With the ball lower on the torso you would be working the glutes, hamstrings, and low paraspinals, but I prefer to make this an upper spine exercise. At the same time you're straightening your upper spine, bring the shoulders back and arms up. Make sure the shoulders are retracting, meaning they are pulled together toward the spine, and the top of the spine is pulling back. Done this way you will be working the muscles needed to counteract the typical rounding forward of the upper body from sitting at a computer.

So, introduce some instability on purpose, and prepare your body for when it happens as a surprise.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Strength and Yoga Anatomy Books

Two good anatomy books I've read recently are today's topic. They are oriented to different specific and non-technical audiences, one for yoga and the other for strength training. Both show the muscles involved in their respective activities and describe technique in anatomical terms.

"Strength Training Anatomy" by Frederic Delavier contains graphically superb and extensively detailed illustrations of athletes doing weight lifting exercises. Not only are the major muscles involved shown, but also pretty much every muscle and bone that would be visible without skin. Proper form is carefully shown and described, with variations for modifying which muscle or muscle part is emphasized. There are also very good explanations of common weight lifting injuries and how to avoid them.

Even though most of the exercises are muscle specific and use single plane of motion machines, while I do exercises involving the entire body, the quality of the book is so high I really enjoyed it. Showing exercises that isolate muscles also helps convey with more anatomical precision what is happening.

The other book is "Yoga Anatomy" by Leslie Kaminoff. It covers a broad scope of hatha yoga asanas and anatomy, but the anatomy is secondary. After some good discussion of breathing and the spine, the book covers individual asanas, detailing the technique and alignment for each. Unfortunately the muscle specifics are a bit vague, at least for my level of anatomical background. For dedicated yoga students and teachers this book will be well worth having, but for non-yogis it won't be very useful.

For someone interested specifically in yoga, or strength training and body building, pick the book with that focus. If you have a general fitness and anatomy interest, I recommend Delavier's book.

A quick garden update- The bean seedlings have emerged with admirable vigor, and I've been thinning them to pick the best.