The Symptoms and Risks of Hormonal Imbalance

It may feel as though you are simply tired or upset after an unusually stressful or busy week. With a hormonal imbalance, a person may suffer from anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, and poor concentration. Irritability and mood swings are also quite common. Hormonal balance is critical for our emotional well-being, so radical changes in the way we feel about ourselves and interact with others may indicate a problem.

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Because hormones affect so many different aspects of how our bodies operate, the outward symptoms tend to be varied and nonspecific. It may feel as though you are simply tired or upset after an unusually stressful or busy week. With a hormonal imbalance, a person may suffer from anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, and poor concentration. Irritability and mood swings are also quite common. Hormonal balance is critical for our emotional well-being, so radical changes in the way we feel about ourselves and interact with others may indicate a problem.

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Some physical indicators of a possible hormonal imbalance include sudden weight gain, acne, hair loss, night sweats, and reduced libido. Women may experience intense premenstrual symptoms, vaginal dryness, yeast infections, and hot flashes. Some women also suffer from unusually heavy, irregular, or painful periods. Infertility may also be the result of a hormonal imbalance.

If a hormonal imbalance is suspected, blood, saliva, or urine tests can determine whether hormones are within a normal range.

Some of the risk factors associated with hormonal imbalance are emotional. Untreated hormonal imbalance can lead to intense anxiety, depression, and lethargy. Irritability, inability to concentrate, and mood swings may also take a significant emotional toll on both the patients and those around them.

There are also numerous physical risks associated with hormonal imbalance, the severity depending on which hormones are not at ideal levels and how long the imbalance is sustained. The dangers of insufficient insulin, for example, are well-documented in studies of diabetic patients. If insulin levels are not controlled, the blood sugar imbalance can lead to serious complications, including nerve damage, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and blindness.

The adrenal glands above the kidneys are divided into two structures that each produce different hormones, all involved in regulating essential body functions. The adrenal cortex synthesizes corticosteroid hormones, which help control metabolism, blood electrolyte levels, inflammation, stress response, and immune response. The other structure, the adrenal medulla, is the source of several hormones that communicate with the nervous system, including adrenaline, nor adrenaline, and dopamine. Adrenal hormone imbalance can result in depression, fatigue, dehydration, and susceptibility to infection.

In the case of hypothyroidism, where the thyroid is producing insufficient hormones, untreated patients may develop heart disease and high cholesterol. Pregnant women with hypothyroidism may have significant complications with their pregnancies, including premature labor, anemia, pre-eclampsia, and other conditions that may threaten the life of their baby.

As middle age approaches, women are at risk for hormonal imbalances associated with the onset of menopause. During this time, the ovaries cease to function, inducing an imbalance in estrogen and progesterone. Untreated, these imbalances put women at risk for osteoporosis, breast and uterine cancer, and heart disease.

Stress Kills

We’ve all heard it, it’s been all over the news lately, and the more science delves into the physiological reactions in our bodies, the more it’s realized that:  Stress does kill.

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It’s not really stress itself that does so much damage, it’s our response to stress.   For that reason, it is vitally important that in tough times you keep up whatever stress reduction programs work best for you, whether it’s running, Yoga, kickboxing, or getting regular massage sessions.

Times are tough right now.   Stress from money concerns is one of the biggest of all stressors and affects your relationships with family, co-workers and friends.

It’s not possible to cut all stress out of your life, and we don’t need to.   Stress, of itself, is not the bad guy; it’s our response to stress that can be so deadly.   Let’s examine what occurs in your body when it’s stressed out:

How Stress Affects the Brain

Stress creates excessive levels of cortisol in the brain, leading to the destruction of neurons, decreased short term and contextual memory and poor regulation of the hormonal response to stress.

How Stress Affects the Immune System

Stress affects the immune system by increasing sympthetic activity and decreasing cellular immunity.   Immune cells migrate to different parts of the body and can worsen autoimmune and allergic conditions.   Over time, this suppresses the body’s ability to fight off infection.

How Stress Affects the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Systems

The effects of stress can create significant damage to the cardiovascular system by increasing the risk of coronary artery disease, elevating blood pressure, increasing artherosclerosis (fat deposits in blood vessel walls), increasing the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), increasing the risk of diabetes and increasing the likelihood of obesity.

The Physiological Response to Stress

Seventy-five to ninety percent of all doctors visits are due to stress-related ailments and disorders.   Chronic stress leads to an out of balance biochemistry with elevated cortisol and suppressed serotonin.   The biochemical markers of stress in turn lead to ill health.   Stress plays a major causative role in both physical and mental health.

Stress has been linked to:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Breakdowns in the immune system
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Cardiovascular disease

How Massage Helps

Some of the benefits of massage include

  • Stabilizing your nervous system
  • Decreasing pain
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Decreasing anxiety and depression
  • Increasing your energy and endurance
  • Increasing your strength and resilience
  • Improving the functioning of your nervous system
  • Improving your body’s ability to detoxify
  • Improving sleep
  • Improving posture, range of motion and flexibility
  • Improving dexterity and fine motor skills
  • Improving balance
  • Improving attention span, concentration, memory, creativity and learning efficiency

Massage increases the oxygen levels in your brain, keeps your internal organs functioning their best and nurtures your skin, all of which helps to slow the aging process.

Stress sneaks up on all of us.  Before you know it, you’ve got tight muscles or reduced range of motion from muscle tension.  The most common reaction I get from my massage clients is “I feel like a new woman/man.  I had no idea all that was going on in my body.”  

Regular massage sessions will play a huge part  in how healthy you are, how healthy you’ll be and how youthful you’ll remain with each passing year.   Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health.  Massage is much more than feeling good for the moment.   The effects of massage are cumulative – the more often you receive massage, the more your health benefits.

More on Knee Pain

Knee pain is a common complaint.  The knee is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body. The knee joins the thigh bone (femur) to the shin bone (tibia). The smaller bone that runs alongside the tibia (fibula) and the kneecap (patella) are the other bones that make up the knee joint.

Tendons connect the knee bones to the leg muscles that move the knee joint. Ligaments join the knee bones together and provide stability to the knee:

  • The anterior cruciate ligament prevents the femur from sliding backward on the tibia (or the tibia sliding forward on the femur).
  • The posterior cruciate ligament prevents the femur from sliding forward on the tibia (or the tibia from sliding backward on the femur).
  • The medial and lateral collateral ligaments prevent the femur from sliding side to side.

Two C-shaped pieces of cartilage called the medial and lateral menisci act as shock absorbers between the femur and tibia.  Numerous bursae, or fluid-filled sacs, help the knee move smoothly.

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Knee pain can be caused by injuries, mechanical problems, types of arthritis and other problems. This article is an overview, since each of these conditions would require an entire article to cover.

Symptoms

The location and severity of knee pain may vary, depending on the cause of the problem. Signs and symptoms that sometimes accompany knee pain include:

  • Swelling and stiffness
  • Redness and warmth to the touch
  • Weakness or instability
  • Popping or crunching noises
  • Inability to fully straighten the knee
  • Injuries

Injuries

A knee injury can affect any of the ligaments, tendons or fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that surround your knee joint as well as the bones, cartilage and ligaments that form the joint itself. Some of the more common knee injuries include:

  • ACL injury. 
  • Torn meniscus. 
  • Knee bursitis. 
  • Patellar tendinitis. 
  • Mechanical problems

Mechanical Problems

Some examples of mechanical problems that can cause knee pain include:

  • Loose body. 
  • Iliotibial band syndrome. 
  • Dislocated kneecap. 
  • Hip or foot pain. 

Arthritis

More than 100 different types of arthritis exist. The varieties most likely to affect the knee include:

  • Osteoarthritis. .
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • Gout. 
  • Pseudogout. 
  • Septic arthritis.  

Other problems

Chondromalacia patellae (patellofemoral pain syndrome) is a general term that refers to pain arising between your patella and the underlying thighbone (femur). It’s common in athletes; in young adults, especially those who have a slight misalignment of the kneecap; and in older adults, who usually develop the condition as a result of arthritis of the kneecap.

Risk Factors for Knee Pain.

A number of factors can increase your risk of having knee problems, including:

  • Excess weight. Being overweight or obese increases stress on your knee joints, even during ordinary activities such as walking or going up and down stairs. It also puts you at increased risk of osteoarthritis by accelerating the breakdown of joint cartilage.
  • Biomechanical problems. Certain structural abnormalities — such as having one leg shorter than the other, misaligned knees and even flat feet — can make you more prone to knee problems.
  • Lack of muscle flexibility or strength. A lack of strength and flexibility are among the leading causes of knee injuries. Tight or weak muscles offer less support for your knee because they don’t absorb enough of the stress exerted on the joint.
  • Certain sports. Some sports put greater stress on your knees than do others. Alpine skiing with its rigid ski boots and potential for falls, basketball’s jumps and pivots, and the repeated pounding your knees take when you run or jog all increase your risk of knee injury.
  • Previous injury. Having a previous knee injury makes it more likely that you’ll injure your knee again.

Complications

Not all knee pain is serious. But some knee injuries and medical conditions, such as osteoarthritis, can lead to increasing pain, joint damage and disability if left untreated. And having a knee injury — even a minor one — makes it more likely that you’ll have similar injuries in the future.

See a doctor if

  • the pain is severe 
  • there is paralysis
  • there is numbness or constant pins and needles in the arms, hands, legs or feet
  • the area is swollen
  • a snapping sound or tearing sensation accompanied the injury
  • there is weakness of the injured body part
  • there is extreme limitation of movement or inability to use the injured area
  • there is malfunction of the bladder or bowel
  • there is associated nausea, vomiting or blurred vision 
  • the person is disoriented, dizzy or cannot perform normal activities because of the injury

 

As an afternote, I have a fun little story to relate:  A couple of years ago, a regular client came in for her regularly scheduled appointment on a day when Tuli (my Airedale Terrier) was with me at the office.  Tuli’s ‘degree’ is in detecting health problems.  Tuli immediately alerted on my client’s knee.  I ran a battery of tests to determine that, indeed, Tuli was correct, even though the client was feeling no pain.  I sent her to an orthopedist for an evaluation, which came back as a meniscus tear requiring surgery.  Following surgery and recovery, my client asked Tuli to recheck her knee.  She passed with flying colors!

Adding regular sessions of hands-on therapies to your healthcare routine before your body starts complaining will help to keep injuries at bay, improve your musculoskeletal health, and help you maintain a state of homeostasis (or the ability to maintain a stable environment in your body).  You can even request a body scan by Tuli!  And, don’t worry, Tuli is 100% hypoallergenic!

 

Treating Knee Pain with Bodywork Therapies

The formation of adhesive scar tissue in the tendons, ligaments and joints is often the primary culprit in long-term pain. Although muscles get injured most frequently, they also heal more easily. Tendons, ligaments and joints, on the other hand, often take months or years to heal and often stay injured for a lifetime.

An injury is present when there is tissue damage. The damage could manifest as a swelling in a bursa or a joint; pinching of a nerve or a tendon; micro-tears in a muscle, tendon, ligament or fascia; or a major disruption of tissue like a broken bone or a ruptured tendon. When there is an injury, a part of the body has lost its structural integrity and is broken in some way.

Knee pain

When musculo-skeletal structures are damaged or torn, the body’s wisdom ensures that the damage, whenever possible, will be repaired. However, to a large extent the degree and quality of this repair depend upon our own participation. The natural mechanisms of inflammation and wound healing are usually excessive for the job at hand. The body over-compensates when it responds to injury. More plasma, red and white cells, blood platelets and chemical mediators are released than are actually needed to allow full healing to occur. Therefore, additional scar tissue is likely to form. This scar tissue often binds together damaged and undamaged structures, resulting in adhesions that can lead to re-injury and to chronic pain.

There are several methods by which we can help the body limit the formation of adhesive scar tissue and/or recover from adhesions that have already formed. Friction and range of motion exercises allow healthy tissue to grow without the reformation of adhesions.  If the injured person is able to collaborate with the body’s healing processes by adequate physical movement, complete healing is more likely. If the person is unable to perform the required exercises by him or herself, it is important to have a therapist assist the person in a full range of motion of the injured part.

Even knee replacement surgery doesn’t guarantee complete knee pain relief. Before and after surgery, sufferers may notice stiffness, decreased mobility and other painful symptoms in their knees. Massage techniques can alleviate some of these symptoms and increase flexibility, both before and after knee replacement surgery.

Recovery after surgery

Knee replacement surgery recovery varies for everyone. The length of time it takes to recover from this jarring procedure depends upon many different factors, not the least of which is the type of surgery performed. New technologies provide lots of different knee replacement surgery options, and many physicians perform partial knee replacement surgeries that are less invasive than total replacement procedures. But even the most effective surgeries will not provide total and permanent knee pain relief, and ongoing therapy may be necessary for many sufferers.

Massaging the pain away

Massage techniques can help to provide knee pain relief when utilized on a regular basis to keep the new joint mobile, flexible and comfortable, and will compliment any other therapies you are receiving, such as physical therapy.

Yoga to help your knees heal

Years of compensation patterns coupled with the lack of proper stretching (and of course, neglecting the scar tissue) result in limitations of movement.

Many people engage in habitual physical activities that contribute to pain. The love for a sport may override the initial whisper of a pain, until that whisper becomes a scream.

When addressing any injury, it is valuable to also address the joints above and below. Nothing could be truer than with the knee. Opening and strengthening the hips in every direction is important for even distribution of weight. After just a few short sessions range of motion and functionality increases while pain decreases, and you may even choose to sit cross-legged!

One of my greatest rewards as both a Board Certified Bodywork Therapist and a Yoga instructor is assisting clients to keep their sport of choice in their lives by prepping their bodies with sport specific healing movements and self-care strategies.

How Hypertension Affects your Health

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often called a “silent disease” because you usually don’t know that you have it. There may be no symptoms or signs. Nonetheless, it damages the body and eventually may cause problems like heart disease

hypertension

It’s important to regularly monitor your blood pressure, especially if yours has ever been high or above the “normal” range, or if you have a family history of hypertension. Because hypertension can cause heart disease, you may also need to be tested for heart disease.

Measuring Blood Pressure

You can get your blood pressure measured by a health care provider, at a pharmacy or you can purchase a blood pressure monitor for your home.

Blood pressure is measured in two ways: systolic and diastolic.

  • Systolic blood pressure is the pressure during a heartbeat.
  • Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure between heartbeats.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and is written systolic over diastolic (for example, 120/80 mm Hg, or “120 over 80”). According to the most recent guidelines, a normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Pre-hypertension consists of blood pressure that is 120-139/80-89. Blood pressure that is 140/90 or greater is high blood pressure, or hypertension.

Blood pressure may increase or decrease, depending on your age, heart condition, emotions, activity, and the medications you take. One high reading does not mean you have the diagnosis of high blood pressure. It is necessary to measure your blood pressure at different times while resting comfortably for at least five minutes to find out your typical value.

In addition to measuring your blood pressure, you need to take into account your medical history (whether you’ve had heart problems before), assess your risk factors (whether you smoke, have high cholesterol, diabetes etc.), and your family history (whether any members of your family have had high blood pressure or heart disease).

If you suspect you have high blood pressure, you need to consult your doctor.  If heart disease is suspected, your doctor may recommend other tests, such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG): A test that measures the electrical activity, rate, and rhythm of your heartbeat via electrodes attached to your arms, legs, and chest. The results are recorded on graph paper.
  • Echocardiogram:   This is a test that uses ultrasound waves to provide pictures of the heart’s valves and chambers so the pumping action of the heart can be studied and measurement of the chambers and wall thickness of the heart can be made.
  • Cardiac stress test: During this test you may exercise on a stationary bicycle or treadmill to increase your heart rate while EKG readings are taken. A stress test can also be combined with an echocardiogram or nuclear medicine X-ray to get additional information.
  • Cardiac catheterization: A catheter, a small flexible tube, is inserted into the femoral artery in your groin or one of the arteries in your arm and guided to the coronary arteries. Your doctor can locate any blockages in the arteries and can also observe pressure and blood flow in the heart.
  • Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves are used to look for blockages in blood vessels in the neck (carotid arteries) or other parts of your body.

Prevent Hypertension with Regular Massage

Stress reactions require major rerouting of blood throughout the body. This is largely controlled by the speed of the heart rate and the tightness or looseness of the various arteries (the tubes that carry blood away from the heart). So the cardiovascular system is particularly sensitive to changes when we’re under stress, and it suffers when that stress is prolonged.

There are many stress-related disorders of the cardiovascular system, and many of these problems are closely interrelated. In other words, having one cardiovascular problem can greatly increase your risk of having others.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a situation where the arteries are chronically tight, rather than flexible and elastic. Having them tighten down increases the force with which blood moves through them, just as squeezing your thumb over a garden hose increases the force with which the water moves through it. Long-term consequences of untreated high blood pressure are very serious; arteries become prone to damage (atherosclerosis), which will raise the risk of blood clots and heart attacks or stroke.

All of these are life-threatening problems that can be prevented or ameliorated by taking action to reduce stress in your life.  Daily exercise, regular massage therapy, and good nutrition contribute a great deal to lessening your stress while prolonging your life.  Swedish massage has been shown to reduce blood pressure, while sports massage and trigger point therapy raised blood pressure.

Staying Healthy Beyond Middle Age

My aunt always said “getting old ain’t for sissies!”.  She had a point.  By age 60, the average person has lost 30% of their muscle mass and chronic disease rates swell in middle age

Aging

My aunt always said “getting old ain’t for sissies!”.  She had a point.  By age 60, the average person has lost 30% of their muscle mass and chronic disease rates swell in middle age (after age 40):

  • Diabetes is the fastest growing disease in America
    • At the turn of the century, only 1% of the population contracted Type 2 Diabetes
    • Currently, 1 in 3 people will contract Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cancer rates continue to escalate
    • Estimated new cases in 2018 1,735,350
    • Cancer is one of the leading causes of death
    • Your risk of developing cancer is as high as 40%
  • Heart disease – the leading cause of death in America
    • 25% of all deaths in the United States are due to heart disease
  • Obesity
    • In California alone, 41% of students are overweight
    • 40% of American adults are considered obese
    • Obesity related health conditions include: diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, some cancers and physical inactivity

There are several factors common to chronic diseases, but the one that really stands out is stress.

Stress is fairly complex and includes physical, emotional/mental and environmental factors.  Perhaps the biggest contributor to stress today is diet.  When I was a child, our farm lands were healthy and our farmed foods were full of nutrition.  Not so much anymore.  When I was a child, we ate a whole food diet that was not genetically modified.  Not so much anymore.  Neither is it so easy these days to control your diet, especially if you eat out, even if you eat an organic whole food diet.

So, what’s the answer?  There is no easy answer today.  Control your weight, control your exposure to chemicals, control your body’s pH balance, control your diet – these will all contribute to your overall health, but won’t necessarily ensure that you won’t develop some sort of chronic disease.  Adding in appropriate exercise will further increase your health – but what’s appropriate?  That is a subject for another article!

But, the most important thing you can do is control your stress.  Add meditation, a Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi Gong practice to your daily routine.  These will do more for you than pre-packaged “healthy” juices or smoothies.  Or, increase the frequency of your massage sessions.

One of the really nasty side effects of stress is that it accumulates in the body, tightening your muscles, reducing your immunity, raising your blood pressure, reducing your pain tolerance, interfering with your body’s ability to properly process what you eat, and disrupting your sleep.  This kind of stress accumulation doesn’t go away on it’s own.

The good news is that massage not only feels good, it’s good for you!  Just a few benefits of receiving regular massage range from reducing blood pressure and chronic pain to improved muscle tone and posture, improved skin tone, reduced anxiety, better recovery time, and improved sleep quality.  Massage should be a part of every person’s routine health maintenance plan.  

Myoskeletal Alignment Therapy and Pain Desensitization

We’ve all seen how pain can reduce strength, flexibility, and endurance, as well as create a sense of fatigue. The brain is trying to do anything it can to avoid what it believes may cause injury. With a built-in adaptive mechanism, it can determine whether the body needs less or more protection at any given time.

In an environment that promotes relaxation under the guidance and reassurance of a qualified bodywork professional, I believe a client’s brain can be trained to associate slow, precise, graded-exposure stretching maneuvers with security instead of pain. Pain is essentially a threat warning, so pain exposure therapy (PET) requires time for the brain to process these bodily changes.

In the myoskeletal application of PET, therapists and clients use active feedback while working at the feather edge of the client’s painful barrier, just above comfort level. Muscle energy, fascial hook, and pin-and-twist maneuvers, encourage the client to engage the painful barrier with active movements and gradually push the discomfort level a bit further with each repetition. By progressively introducing stretch to areas that have been problematic in the past, the nervous system begins associating the new movement with safety instead of pain.

We’ve all seen how pain can reduce strength, flexibility, and endurance, as well as create a sense of fatigue. The brain is trying to do anything it can to avoid what it believes may cause injury. With a built-in adaptive mechanism, it can determine whether the body needs less or more protection at any given time. There is little doubt that traditional stretching routines produce an immediate increase in muscle extensibility due to the viscoelastic nature of muscle, but these effects quickly dissipate. The more permanent extensibility seen in PET is likely the result of two factors: the client’s willingness to tolerate the discomfort associated with stretch, and muscle, ligament, and joint pain gating.

According to the gate control theory, pain sensations are affected by descending modulatory influences from the brain, which can make the stretch either more or less sensitive to pain. When danger-signaling nociceptors are stimulated by excessive stretch, mechanical compression, and inflammation, the stimuli are fast-tracked to different parts of the brain. The brain then quickly interprets the information based on things such as prior therapeutic experiences, elevated mood, and confidence from positive expectations of stretch benefits. If performed correctly, afferent input from muscle and joint mechanoreceptors during a stretch can interfere with danger signals and inhibit an individual’s perception of pain.

Efficiency of movement and improved function are the desired outcomes of any bodywork strategy. Tension, trauma, and even overly aggressive bodywork can result in excessive soreness and stiffness, which compromises fluid movement. Such stiffness typically results from nonoptimal neuromuscular firing due to altered brain maps, rather than passive stiffness based on adhesions, scar tissue, or degenerative changes. Remember that the body’s physical and mental states interact bidirectionally, so we can decrease pain by moving better, and we can move better by decreasing pain.

A PET desensitization approach is aimed at normalizing sensation by providing consistent stimulus to the affected area for short periods of time. The brain will respond to this sensory input by acclimating to the sensation, thereby gradually decreasing the body’s pain response to the particular stimuli. Good clinical assessment and the appropriate application of PET, combined with self-care advice, can be successfully used in conjunction with other therapies to build an effective pain-management program.