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Thursday, September 23, 2010

New Research on Massage Benefits

A study was just published measuring stress and immune system hormones before and after a massage session, with very good results.  From the New York Times:
Regimens: Massage Benefits Are More Than Skin Deep
"Volunteers who received Swedish massage experienced significant decreases in levels of the stress hormone cortisol in blood and saliva, and in arginine vasopressin, a hormone that can lead to increases in cortisol. They also had increases in the number of lymphocytes, white blood cells that are part of the immune system.

Volunteers who had the light massage experienced greater increases in oxytocin, a hormone associated with contentment, than the Swedish massage group, and bigger decreases in adrenal corticotropin hormone, which stimulates the adrenal glands to release cortisol. "
By RONI CARYN RABIN
Published: September 20, 2010


The abstract is here:
A Preliminary Study of the Effects of a Single Session of Swedish Massage on Hypothalamic–Pituitary–Adrenal and Immune Function in Normal Individuals
Mark Hyman Rapaport, Pamela Schettler, Catherine Bresee. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. -Not available-, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0634.

It's well established that the presence of stress hormones causes or exacerbates many health problems, and that the presence of oxytocin is associated with improved health and happiness.  This study doesn't prove that massage will make you healthier and happier, but we're making progress.

The Times article uses unusual wording for massage; typically Swedish implies light pressure and deep tissue implies stronger pressure.   Neither term is exactly defined or used the same between different professionals or with the public though.  In an actual massage the techniques are usually blended together, and I ask people what their treatment goal is rather than what type of massage they want.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Testing My New Climbing Rope

In the park playing around:
Rope climbing is an awesome upper body workout, with extra grip emphasis those of us who are also massage therapists appreciate.

I made the rope from an old 11mm rock climbing rope, with three long pieces folded in the center to form a bight at the top.  I spent a long time trying to twist the strands, then figured out it would work just fine to braid them.  Come train in the park and we'll put the "fun" in functional!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Tennis Shoulder, and Exercise Without Electricity

A good fitness article from the NYT:
Phys Ed: How to Fix a Bad Tennis Shoulder
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS
"...the authors... concluded that years of “intensive tennis practice may be a predisposing factor for the development of mild degenerative articular changes in the dominant shoulder.”"
The injury, the reason it can occur, and how to prevent it are discussed.  The readers' comments are quite informative as well.

Tennis is an example of an activity with great health benefits, and also some limitations.  First, it's a fun, social way to get exercise and keep moving.  I like that you are on your feet, coordinating footwork and the racket, and reacting quickly to the other player.  Moving in all directions, especially side-to-side is a big plus.

The downside is that one arm gets used far more than the other, making similar movements constantly.  Particularly bad as discussed in the article is that the primary arm movement involves pullling the anterior shoulder forward- exactly the position that is the most common postural deviation in our society.  A person sits at a desk with the arms reaching forward, then plays a sport that involves more reaching forward.
"It may behoove anyone who plays competitive tennis to consider adopting the rotator-cuff strengthening routines long common in the pro ranks."
This is where Functional Strength Training comes in.  One aspect of functional training is to emphasize full range of motion exercise, and exercises that balance overuse from sports or life activities.  A sport like tennis, together with a complementary strength training program, is an ideal fitness solution.


A couple of days ago I was exercising at the gym when the power went out.  It was funny to see all the cardio machines instantly stop, but my dumbbells weren't affected at all.  Low tech exercise wins again!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Exercise and Upper Spine Alignment

Update December 2013: I have a long blog post just on this topic: Improving a Rounded Upper Back

Recently I observed someone at the gym I've advised before on improving his head-forward, rounded upper back posture(thoracic hyper-kyphosis).  My exercise advice was briefly to exercise the upper back and do much less exercise for the front of the torso but to stretch there instead.

What I saw was a commendable emphasis on working the posterior shoulders, but unfortunately always done with the spine rounded forward.  The loads were actually pulling the spine more forward as the arms pulled back, for instance doing a row.  And if I had to choose, for most people I'd say that improving the spinal curvature is more important than improving the shoulder position.

Generally exercise should be done "spine neutral," meaning the spine keeps its slight natural curves but isn't allowed to bend more.  Indeed, the spine musculature's primary role is in preventing movement(which should be in the hips, shoulders, and limbs), although the thoracic spine does contribute to rotation(transverse plane), and maintaining mobility is good for all the joints.  A rigid spine isn't the goal.

As you work out, first try to keep the spine neutral, then if you tend to round forward, extend the upper spine backwards.  This includes the head, which should pull straight back and not jut forward or tilt upward.

Taking It to the Park
These are rows on a suspension device.  Note the good alignment of shoulders and upper back.  This shows how an exercise that focuses on one movement also works the rest of the body to provide stability.
Medicine ball slams are great for shoulders and core, dynamic stretching, and fun.  The start has the shoulders fully retracted and flexed, opening up the chest.