Preventing the Damaging Effects of Stress

Managing stress and overcoming its affects are critical for achieving and maintaining optimal health.  My mantra has always been:  Eat well, exercise properly and manage your stress for optimal health.

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Eat a well-rounded whole food diet full of fresh (preferably organic) fruits and vegetables, staying away from packaged, prepared and genetically modified foods, and drinking plenty of clean, filtered water.

Exercise for balance, as well as strength and cardio.  Our bodies and nervous systems were designed for movement.  Humans are unique in our ability to stand up and walk around on two legs.  In order to accomplish that, our spines curve in and out which allows us to balance in an upright stance.  Advances in technology, however, require many of us to sit far too much and use our bodies in ways that were never intended causing repetitive strain disorders and muscular imbalances which cause skeletal imbalances.  So, when you exercise, it’s important to balance the muscles used repetitively by focusing on their counterparts.  Or cross train.

Stress management is a huge subject, because the causes of stress are so complex.  Stress comes in many forms: physical, mental and emotional.  Physical stress can be caused by such things as poor diet, injuries and environmental factors such as smog.  Mental stress may come from your job, and emotional stress may come from relationships, or even a buildup of other types of stress in the body.  The important thing to remember is that the body itself does not differentiate between the various types of stress – all of it is handled in exactly the same way: stored in your tissues somewhere.

The first step to controlling stress is to know and recognize the symptoms of stress.  But recognizing stress symptoms may be harder than you think.  Most of us are so used to being stressed, we often don’t know we are stressed until we’re at the breaking point.

And, while a little stress every now and then is nothing to be concerned about, ongoing, chronic stress, can cause or exacerbate many serious health problems.

We all experience some form of stress in life.  Mental tensions, frustrations, and insecurity cause the most damage.  Hormones released by stress shrink the vessels inhibiting circulation.  A stressed mind and body means the heart works harder.  Breathing becomes rapid and shallow and digestion slows.  Nearly every bodily process is degraded.  Studies show stress can cause migraines, high blood pressure, depression, etc.  In fact, researchers estimate 80% or more of disease is stress related.

And yet, the antidote to stress is readily and easily available:  Massage Therapy.  Massage helps counteract the effects of stress.  Massage knows no age limits.  It works wonders on the young, the old and the in-between.  It can be especially helpful for the elderly experiencing the effects of aging which can include thinner and drier skin, reduced tissue elasticity, loss of mobility, slower nervous system response, decreased bone mass, sleeplessness, constipation, and a less efficient immune system.

Getting a massage does you a world of good.  Getting frequent massage does even more!  This is the beauty of bodywork.  Taking part in this form of regularly scheduled self-care can play a huge part in 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.  As a wise man has said “The best time to start taking care of yourself was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.”

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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.

Shoulder Pain

The muscle testing protocols I use allow me to unravel the musculoskeletal cause of dysfunction.

Many people suffer from shoulder pain, but, because the shoulder joint is the most complicated joint in the body, it can come from many different sources.  It’s important to get it diagnosed correctly.  Sometimes it’s from a rotator cuff tear, which may or may not need surgery.  Sometimes the long head of the bicep comes out of its groove, causing weakness and discomfort.  A frozen shoulder is quite common, with painful abduction and external rotation. Any of these can be the result of poor biomechanics and joint compression.  Most commonly shoulder pain is from poor posture and improper use.

A thorough assessment, both biomechanical and neurological, is necessary.  Since there is no one cause, there can be no one treatment.  While the muscle testing protocols I use allow me to unravel the musculoskeletal cause of dysfunction, treatment outcomes may be dependent on how willing the client is to do “homework” which is very specific for the individual.

Why is homework necessary?  Most postural problems develop over a lifetime.  So, while I can and most often do correct the deviation during one or a few sessions, in order for the brain, nerves and muscles to hold the corrections, the client must be involved in correcting his bad habits.  It’s that simple.  There is no magic wand.  The benefits of doing your homework far outweigh the disadvantages of not doing your homework, though.

Correcting your posture goes a long way to correcting pain syndromes you may have developed – shoulder pain, back pain, even foot and leg pain!

Call for your appointment today!

 

 

Scar Tissue Affects How Your Body Works

After releasing the scar tissue, I reset her pubus, rebalanced her muscles and watched her awe at being pain free in 8 years.

Last week, I wrote about how “little” injuries can affect your stress levels.  This week, is a twist on that theme.  But, before we start, let me take a moment to remind you that “stress” is not limited to emotional or mental stress, but includes physical stress.

Last week, I saw two clients presenting with dysfunction stemming from the scar tissue of having had c-sections.

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Client I:  Was referred from her chiropractor when adjustments failed to really impact her groin and leg pain.  Her medical doctor had diagnosed her with bulging lumbar discs, and everyone had assumed her pain was “sciatic” related.

Her intake had me questioning whether the disc problem was contributing to her pain, and I was right to do so.  By the time we were done discussing her medical history, I was convinced that much of her pain was due to scar tissue.  Consider for a moment where the incision is generally made for a “bikini” c-section.  Both of this client’s children were delivered by c-section.  Client I is a race-walker and has competed across the country in marathons and half-marathons.  She had to quit due to the pain she was experiencing in her groin and leg.

What I found was the scar tissue from two c-sections was impacting her obliques, medial hip rotators which rotate the hip toward the centerline, hamstrings and peroneals which both point the foot and flex the ankle, lift the outside of the foot and assist in preserving the arch.

Wondering how scar tissue in the lower abdomen could be affecting her lower leg?  Think of ripples in a pond.  I used to be fascinated as a child to watch the ripples in a pond grow after throwing in a pebble:  “When it first starts, you may not even notice how that “little” injury is affecting your stress levels, but over time if not properly dealt with, the effects of that “little” injury grow . . . and grow . . . and grow . . .  Before too long, that “little” injury turns into stress manufacturing pain.”

After releasing the scar tissue, I reset her pubus, rebalanced her muscles and watched her awe at being pain free in 8 years.

Client II:  Has been a massage client for several years.  A nurse, this client often discounts her discomfort as part of the aging process.  She never mentioned having had a c-section, regardless of the numerous intakes we’ve done over the years.  This week she had a new complaint which was a result of a new workstation.  But, it made me wonder . . .

After asking some very pointed questions, I discovered she had a c-section on delivery, and all the puzzle pieces fell into place for me.

The complaint she came in with was in her butt.  Her gluteus maximus, hip flexors, transverse abdominals and rectus abdominals all tested “off-line” or not functioning, while her obliques, gluteus medius and minimus were all taking up the slack of the non-functioning muscles.

After releasing the scar tissue the “off-line” muscles turned back on.  I released the obliques and glutes, then activated the abs, hip flexors and glute max and loved her reaction to feeling the best she ever has!

Both clients had the same underlying reason for their complaints, even though those complaints were very different.

Both clients must do their homework to maintain the improvement.

Is discomfort or pain part of aging?  It doesn’t have to be . . . But, that is a subject for another time.

The Pain Stress Cycle

When it first starts, you may not even notice how that “little” injury is affecting your stress levels, but over time if not properly dealt with, the effects of that “little” injury grow . . . and grow . . . and grow . . .  Before too long, that “little” injury turns into stress manufacturing pain.

Unknown-1

When it first starts, you may not even notice how that “little” injury is affecting your stress levels, but over time if not properly dealt with, the effects of that “little” injury grow . . . and grow . . . and grow . . .  Before too long, that “little” injury turns into stress manufacturing pain.

Chronic pain can limit your everyday activities, affecting how involved you are with friends and family members.  Unwanted feelings, such as frustration, resentment, and stress, are often a result. These feelings and emotions can worsen your pain.

The mind and body work together, they cannot be separated. The way your mind controls thoughts and attitudes affects the way your body controls pain.

Pain itself, and the fear of pain, can cause you to avoid both physical and social activities. Over time this leads to less physical strength and weaker social relationships. It can also cause further lack of functioning, reduced range of motion and pain.

Stress has both physical and emotional effects on our bodies. It can raise our blood pressure, increase our breathing rate and heart rate, and cause muscle tension. These things are hard on the body. They can lead to fatigue, sleeping problems, and changes in appetite.

If you feel tired but have a hard time falling asleep, you may have stress-related fatigue. Or you may notice that you can fall asleep, but you have a hard time staying asleep. These are all reasons to talk with your doctor about the physical effects stress is having on your body.

Stress can also lead to anxiety, depression, a dependence on others, or an unhealthy dependence on medicines.

Depression is very common among people who have chronic pain. Pain can cause depression or make existing depression worse. Depression can also worsen existing pain.

A family history of depression, increases the risk that you could develop depression from your chronic pain. Even mild depression can affect how well you can manage your pain and stay active.

Signs of depression include:

  • Frequent feelings of sadness, anger, worthlessness, or hopelessness
  • Less energy
  • Less interest in activities, or less pleasure from your activities
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Decreased or increased appetite that causes major weight loss or weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts about death, suicide, or hurting yourself

What’s the answer?  Get help.  The severity and length of your pain and dysfunction is the best indication of the direction you should take.  In mild cases of acute pain, massage therapy may be the quickest way to relief.  If your pain has moved into the chronic category, bodywork therapies may help – especially if your range of motion has been affected.  Other alternative therapies such as acupuncture and chiropractic may also help.  Seeing your doctor may also be appropriate.  I have yet to find a medical practitioner with x-ray vision – arranging for radiographic imaging may be appropriate and helpful.

The benefits of massage therapy include reducing/improving:

  • Anxiety
  • Digestive disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia related to stress
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries

Moving up to bodywork therapies increases the benefits to also include improving:

  • Sports injuries
  • Joint pain

Moving up to Myoskeletal Alignment Therapy, increases the benefits to include:

  • Improving overall posture
  • Releasing joint restrictions
  • Returning to a normal, pain free life

Begin your path to wellness by making the call to schedule your session today!