Our coaches, trainers and gym teachers have long instructed us to touch our toes before we touch the court. Most of us almost intuitively stretch before working out, running, or exercising. But what does stretching really do? Does it increase flexibility? Enhance performance? Prevent injury? Turns out, too much stretching may be a bad thing. It all depends on how much you move while you’re stretching.
All stretches involve postures that move your body to its outer limits of motion. Stretches are classified as dynamic or static, depending on whether you are moving – like doing high knees – or standing still – like doing long quad stretches. We often think of those long, static stretches as the standard – you elongate a muscle group and then maintain that elongation for 30 seconds or so. But stretching dynamically, while you move, is gaining popularity because it engages the muscles in a similar way to the workout itself. When you do a dynamic stretch, you propel your muscle through its maximum range of motion, and you stay in motion. Dynamic stretching prepares your muscles for the kind of performance they must give during your workout, and it warms you up at the same time.
New evidence suggests that static stretching, in particular, may be a warm-up tradition based in superstition. A University of Nevada, Las Vegas study found that static stretching tends to weaken the muscles involved in a workout, thus decreasing strength and ultimately performance over time. This appears to be caused by the neuromuscular inhibitory response that takes place in muscles with static stretching. Long stretches make a muscle less responsive to brain signals, which effectively weakens the muscle just as it’s about to perform. But don’t roll away the yoga mat just yet. Static stretching has other proven benefits like increasing flexibility, decreasing elevated blood flow and even restoring calm. Many experts believe that static stretching should play a key role in a cool down after the workout is through, but almost everyone agrees on the benefits of dynamic stretching before a workout.
Studies show that dynamic stretching causes no neuromuscular inhibitory response, it increases flexibility over time, and it helps to prevent injury. Stretching the muscles in ways that mimic a workout is a great way to reduce the likelihood of ligament and muscle tears. So next time you hit the gym, trade your static stretches for dynamic stretches so you can have a safer and more effective workout.
During the colder months, it’s not always practical to maintain your normal workout routine if your morning jogs around the neighborhood are interrupted by rain or wind. Perhaps on overcast afternoons you find yourself dreaming about curling up with a good book. Whatever the case, winter tends to be a more sedentary season. Unfortunately, being inactive and spending a lot of time sitting has the potential to cause a lot of uncomfortable back pain — but it doesn’t have to be that way.
The pain that you feel after sitting for a long period of time comes from pressure that builds up on the intervertebral disks. However, this can be remedied with a few targeted exercises.
Core strengthening is an essential method. To target the lower back, back extensions are a great way to prevent lower back pain. To do this without equipment, lie face-down on the floor and lift your torso and arms together up off the floor. Perhaps a more simple exercise is simply to stand, lower your torso and raise it again to a standing position and repeat, as if you were bowing.
Aside from feeling results within minutes, a strengthened back will afford you a little more happiness and a cozier winter. For additional exercises, read Low Back Pain after Sitting: Cause & Solutions from the Scary Symptoms blog.
A new lawsuit against the New England Compounding Center, brought on by their patients who were injured by tainted steroid injections, has introduced an important conversation in the pain management community. The meningitis-infected shots have tragically taken 32 lives and sickened over 400 more. Paralysis and hospitalizing headaches are some of the symptoms these patients have suffered. Many are wondering if this incident could have been prevented.
Many of the patients who received these steroid injections did not have the conditions that the treatment was purported to address. Steroid injections are greatly overused. This invasive back-pain therapy has not proven useful to many of the patients who receive it due to misuse. Since back pain is debilitating for most patients, many doctors address the ailment with a quick-fix shot. Unfortunately, shortcutting the body’s healing process is almost always not healthy, more costly, and sometimes dangerous. The New York Times accurately states that the shots should not be used until other treatments have been tried:
Though doctors are still arguing, most academic researchers say there is no evidence that steroid injections are useful in easing straightforward chronic low back pain. Professional guidelines say such shots should generally not be used for back pain that is less than four to six weeks old, which studies show almost always gets better with noninvasive treatments. Although many Medicare patients get spinal injections to treat a condition called spinal stenosis, a narrowing of spaces between bones of the spine, Dr. Friedly said, shots are not used for that condition in many European countries.
Shockingly, the amount of spine injections given are more correlated with the number of specialists in the area than the incidence of back pain in an area.
The shots — which may include a steroid and an anesthetic — are often dispensed at for-profit pain clinics owned by the physicians holding the needle. “There’s a lot of concern about perverse financial incentive,” Dr. Friedly added. Mr. Kinnard’s clients got their injections at the St. Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgery Clinic, a limited-liability corporation half owned by doctors, which occupied a floor of one of Nashville’s major hospitals. It gave 5,000 injections a year, or about 20 each business day, and epidural steroid injections are listed on its web site as its “top procedure.”
It’s always important to read procedures and medical specialists before visiting them. Due to their prevalent use, I recommend anyone experiencing back pain to read How Back Pain Turned Deadly on NYTimes.com.
In another installation of DaddyMDGuides, where doctors share parenting advice, I talk about how to handle a child’s head injury.
How do you prevent concussion in children, and what are the signs of a concussion?
When we think of sports injuries, we think of sprains, strains, pulls, and breaks — the usual orthopedic suspects. It’s easy to forget that sports can cause brain trauma, too, in the form of concussions. Concussions are the mildest form of brain trauma, and they are so frequently caused by contact sports that they account for about 5 percent of all sports injuries. Thankfully, the symptoms of concussions, which are mostly minor neurological impairments, usually subside within weeks, days, or even hours. That said, children and adolescents are at particularly high risk for concussions. Because their brains are still developing, children might have a greater harmful impact from concussions. Thus, concussions may make their maturing brains more vulnerable to re-injury and other trauma.
If a child is hit on the head by a projectile, a ball, or another player, parents should be on the lookout for changes in behavior, fatigue, and thinking in their child. Most parents know to watch for concussions when their child has taken an impact to the head, or gets “knocked out.” I frequently remind parents that a child does not need to be knocked out or lose consciousness to have had a concussion, and for that matter, children frequently bump their heads without getting concussions. Usually the most indisputable symptoms of concussions are the neurological ones — they cause children’s brains to work differently. Children might think more slowly, have a poor attention span, and have difficulty completing complex (but reasonable) tasks.
But the neurological signs are often more subtle than physical ones, so it’s important to know the other symptoms of a concussion, too. Signs and symptoms of a concussion can include dizziness, headache, vomiting, confusion, acting dazed, forgetting what happened before or after the injury, and of course, being “knocked out.” After head trauma, parents should be especially vigilant about a headache that gets worse, lasts for a long time, or is exceptionally severe. They should also observe for confusion, extreme sleepiness, or trouble waking up. If the child vomits three or more times, has trouble walking or talking, or has a seizure, get medical attention immediately.
Although serious injuries from concussions are rare, it is important to prevent re-injury in children who have had concussions. I like to recommend parents consider using helmets in all contact sports.
Luckily, children have their own kind of resilience — it takes a stronger force, usually two to three times the impact that an adult might endure, to produce clinical symptoms. This does not mean that children should take greater risks and play even rougher, though, even if they are wearing a helmet. As a parent myself, I know that it is best to keep an eye on children for about two weeks after their symptoms subside before having them to return to play after a concussion. Because children literally have their whole lives ahead of them, it is best to err on the side of caution.
Gaining good posture is one of the most underrated ways to instantly change your appearance, and in time, your health. Standing straight and square makes you look fitter and taller (and it improves your alertness and vitality to boot). But the effects aren’t just skin deep; over time, maintaining good posture will help keep your back strong, reducing back pain and injury. By staying active and being mindful of your form, you can convince your body that it is years younger—and your appearance will follow suit.
Here are five tips that will straighten you out:
How’s your posture right now? Are you slouching because you feel tired at the moment? You can perk up by standing up. Your blood vessels constrict during periods of inactivity, making you look and feel tired. An active, dynamic standing posture will reinvigorate you within minutes. Try lengthening your back while you stand, as if it were being lifted by a balloon tied to the back of your neck.
If standing for a few minutes puts a spring back in your step, imagine how good an hour of activity might make you feel. Trying a new physical activity, especially one that requires attention to posture, will do wonders for your bearing and give you a renewed, youthful vigor as well. Some sure bets for posture improvement are martial arts, yoga, rowing, and even lower impact activities like figure skating and tai chi. With time and practice, that good posture you learned on the rowing machine will bloom into a body awareness that will keep you looking sharp outside the gym.
Planks, sit-ups, and your gym’s weight circuit can do more than just give you a killer six-pack—strengthening your core muscles will help you stay straight all day. Think of it as posture cross-training. You can even get great results from basic body weight exercises like push-ups and bridging if you want to get a workout at home without any equipment.
Professional massages can peel off years of pent-up muscle soreness and foam rollers are like masseuses in a convenient cylindrical form. Daily foam roller use takes stress off of overused muscles, strengthens complementary muscles and helps dissipate knots and tenderness. You can promote healthy back elongation by lying on your back with the roller cushioning your spine and your arms to your sides. Flatten your spine against the roller as you exhale. You can also reduce upper spine hunching by lying with the roller across the farthest protruding part of your upper back (between your neck and the bottom of your shoulder blades) so that tension on the neck is relieved.
Given all of the sitting, slouching and slumping that is endemic to most office jobs, work is a great place to undo all of your posture karma. Don’t let technology take its toll on you—be aware of your seated posture. Your spine should be in contact with the backrest from your tailbone right up to your upper back. Make sure the center of your computer monitor is 6 inches below your gaze. If you frequently read from papers, tablets or smartphones, bring the media up to you rather than craning to it.
Correcting your posture is a fast, cheap, and healthy way to improve your health and your looks. Best of all, it becomes easier and more natural with practice. Make good posture part of your daily health practice, and you’ll stay healthy and looking great for years to come.
This piece was originally written for Inspyr. You can see the original by visiting the Inspyr blog.
Gaining good posture is one of the most underrated ways to instantly change your appearance.
Standing straight and square makes you look fitter and taller, and it improves your alertness and vitality to boot. But the effects aren’t just skin deep: over time, maintaining good posture will help keep your back strong, reducing back pain and injury. By staying active and being mindful of your form, you can convince your body that it is years younger and your appearance will follow suit.
Here are five tips that will straighten you out:
How’s your posture right now? Are you slouching because you feel tired at the moment? You can perk up by standing up.
Your blood vessels constrict during periods of inactivity, making you look and feel tired. An active, dynamic standing posture will reinvigorate you within minutes. Try lengthening your back while you stand, as if it were being lifted by a balloon tied to the back of your neck.
If you want to maximize the age-defying effects of your new stance, those Louboutins have got to go–heels throw off your center of gravity, cause bunions, and lead to back problems down the road.
If standing for a few minutes puts a spring back in your step, imagine how good an hour of activity might make you feel. Trying a new physical activity, especially one that requires attention to posture, will do wonders for your bearing and give you a renewed, youthful vigor as well.
Some sure bets for posture improvement are figure skating, ballroom dancing, rowing, tai chi, martial arts and, of course, yoga. With time and practice, that good posture you learned for the tango will bloom into a body awareness that will keep you looking sharp outside the studio.
Planks, sit-ups and your gym’s weight circuit can do more than just give you a killer six-pack–strengthening your core muscles will help you stay straight all day.
Think of it as posture cross-training. Even fitness novices can get great results from wall push-ups, pelvic tilts, hamstring stretching, and bridging. If your back is too sore to sustain a set of crunches, let a physical therapist be your personal trainer. As part of your treatment, your physical therapist can recommend a regimen of gentle but effective exercises that can be done at home, taking years off of your spine and giving you a bold new bearing.
Professional massages can peel off years of pent-up muscle soreness, and foam rollers are like masseuses in a convenient cylindrical form. Daily foam roller use takes stress off of overused muscles, strengthens complementary muscles and helps dissipate knots and tenderness.
You can promote healthy back elongation by lying on your back with the roller cushioning your spine and your arms to your sides. Flatten your spine against the roller as you exhale. You can also reduce upper spine hunching by lying with the roller across the farthest protruding part of your upper back (between your neck and the bottom of your shoulder blades) so that tension on the neck is relieved.
Given all of the sitting, slouching, and slumping that is endemic to most office jobs, work is a great place to undo all of your posture karma.
Don’t let technology take its toll on you. Be aware of your seated posture. Your spine should be in contact with the backrest from your tailbone right up to your upper back. Make sure the center of your computer monitor is six inches below your gaze. If you frequently read from papers, tablets or smartphones, bring the media up to you rather than craning to it. Not only will this save your back, it’ll make you look about ten pounds lighter!
Correcting your posture is faster, cheaper, and healthier than any beauty treatment and it revitalizes you from the inside out. Best of all, it becomes easier and more natural with practice. Make good posture part of your daily health practice, and you can look years younger for years to come.
Chronic pain has the ability to strip individuals of their productivity, happiness, and well-being. ABC News wrote this great piece about Tiiu Leek and her pain in the workplace, describing how women feel more pain than men do. The article references a relatively new study from The Journal of Pain that showed women generally feel more pain than men. However, this study wasn’t thorough since it didn’t account for confounding factors such as emotional effects or an additional painful disease. Women tend to be better at analyzing and describing their pain to doctors which give the illusion they feel more pain. As a culture, men are expected to complain about pain less as well as talk about their emotions. One’s mental well-being has a huge effect on physical pain, thus conclusive studies are hard to produce. Nevertheless, the findings reflect what I see as a chronic pain specialist. Here is a telling excerpt from the ABC News article:
Meyer saw 13 doctors before she got a proper diagnosis and the majority were men. “It’s very uncomfortable for them to see real emotion: ‘Tell me the facts, m’am, just the facts.’ I see them tune out.”
Now, she consciously spares the doctor the emotional talk. “I can literally be in so much pain I am crying when the staff is in there, but I pull it together when the doctor is in the room and have no tears at all. And it’s not easy to have to do that.”
She said doctors need to listen more to their female patients – “feelings are a part of the equation … Patients shouldn’t have to shut things down.”
Both Meyer and Leek sit on the leadership circle at For Grace, an advocacy organization that educates, supports and empowers women in pain through annual conferences and legislative outreach.
For Grace’s “Fail First” bill recently got through the California State Assembly’s appropriations committee on a 12-5 vote. If signed by the governor, it will allow women in pain much better access to pain medications, bypassing insurance companies.
As for Leek, she has seen marked improvement in her pelvic pain thought exercise and homeopathic approaches. She also tries to surround herself with positive people.
“My career was lost, but not my optimism,” she said. “I continue to live well. I once read that if you can get through your 60s unscathed, you can have a pretty good life.”
Read this article on ABCnews.com
Spending for back and neck problems grew 65% over eight years to almost $86 billion nationally, with prescription drugs the fastest-growing component, according to a new study in the Feb. 13 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
But it doesn’t appear to be helping people much. The portion of people with back or neck problems who said they had physical functioning limitations rose to 25% in 2005 from 21% in 1997, the study found.
“We’re spending more on back pain than people thought, and at the same time we’re not seeing commensurate improvements in health status that we should expect to see from investments in health care over time,” said Brook Martin, the lead author and a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Seattle.
The study examined annual federal survey data of 23,000 people, more than 3,100 of whom reported spine problems.
Back pain can come from a variety of sources, including natural aging processes, injury, excessive or not enough physical activity and carrying too much body weight. It affects most people at some point in their lives. Nearly 53% of patients surveyed in 2005 had nonspecific back disorders, a category that included spinal stenosis, back ache and sciatica. The second largest category was disk disorders with 16%.
Dr. James Bean, president-elect of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and a neurosurgeon in Lexington, Ky., said the study’s findings worry him, but they don’t tell the whole story.
Patients’ expectations have changed as well, Bean said. “People want something done when they’re hurting. They don’t like to be told go home, wait three to six weeks and you’ll feel better.”