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5 Daily Habits That Will Save Your Spine

If you are living with back or neck pain, you are among the 80% of people who will experience a significant episode at some point in their life. You will also be happy to know that most cases are not due to a serious health condition. In fact, only about 2% of low back pain cases end up being surgical candidates. If not because of some sort of disease, then why does your back hurt? While some reasons may be out of your control, such as a genetic predisposition to arthritis, many people suffer at the hands of their own daily routine. In other words, back and neck pain are largely preventable. Below are five easy ways to replace bad habits with good ones and take a tremendous load off your spine.

  1. When you get out of bed, try to avoid bending down to put your slippers on. While you sleep the squishy discs between your vertebrae get rehydrated after having the water squished out of them while bearing your weight during the day. By the time you wake up they are engorged, making them prone to injury. Give your discs a chance to settle in and avoid bending forward too much while you go through your morning routine.
  2. Bring your phone up to eye level. Think about how many times you look at your phone each day. You are most likely looking down at it, which creates a lot of stress in your neck and upper back. An easy solution to this problem is to hold your phone up in front of you so you don’t have to bend your neck to see it. This will keep your spine in a neutral posture and help you avoid unnecessary stress on your neck.
  3. Your laptop is best used on your desktop. The desktop computer is on its way out, and laptops are now the norm. The problem with laptops is their name. Laptops are used everywhere in the home – the couch, the floor, the bed – but are rarely used at a table. This means that your laptop joins your phone as a posture buster. Do not use your laptop on your lap or anywhere else that causes you to have to look down to see it.
  4. Don’t be fooled by your couch. The minute you walk through your door after a long day of work, your overstuffed sofa starts calling your name. It’s ok, you can answer the call, just beware that couches were not designed with your health in mind. Comfort does not equal safety. Your couch offers no support for your back or neck, so next time you curl up to watch your favorite show, put a pillow behind your lower back for some support.
  5. Your bed is for sleeping, not entertainment. The worst thing you can do after slouching on your couch is go to bed and read, watch tv, or play games on your tablet. You prop up your neck and back as best you can with your pillows, but even the best of efforts will leave your spine begging you to just lie down and go to sleep. If you absolutely have to read in bed, turn onto your stomach. This will allow your spine to stretch and extend instead of flex and compress.

A pinched nerve in the neck or a slipped disc in the low back may seem to appear out of the blue, but the truth is they occur because of years of repetitive strain on the spine. When it comes to preventing back pain, little things really do mean a lot. Practice these five simple tips daily to keep your spine feeling fine.

Dr. Kip Thompson is a practicing chiropractor in Beaverton, Oregon who focuses on treating the root cause of back pain, neck pain, and headaches through effective chiropractic adjustments and corrective exercises to get his patients out of pain quickly and empower them to prevent problems in the future. Check out Dr. Thompson’s website at www.catalystchiroandrehab.com.

The Best Healthy Zucchini Bread

A go-to comfort food made a bit less guilt-inducing. Yum!

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour OR 1 1/4 cup almond meal plus 6 Tablespoons coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons erythritol OR cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce or mashed banana
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 1 1/2 cups grated zucchini
  • 6 Tablespoons unsweetened almond milk for whole wheat version OR 4 Tablespoons unsweetened almond milk for almond meal/coconut flour version

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously grease or nonstick spray an 8×4 loaf pan and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar or erythritol, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add in the eggs or egg replacer, applesauce or mashed banana, vanilla extract, molasses, and grated zucchini and stir until all the ingredients are just incorporated. Slowly add in the almond milk, stopping when the batter is reasonably thick (see photo above for reference) and completely uniform. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake in the oven at 350°F for about 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool before cutting into slices. Devour.

Recipe compliments of foodiefiasco.com.

Reduce Pain and Heal Faster with Sports Acupuncture

As more athletes seek alternatives to Western medicine, a new discipline called sports acupuncture has emerged. Like many Western acupuncturists, I got involved in this profession after seeking an alternative treatment for an injury. In the years since I decided to pursue a degree in acupuncture, I’ve treated ev­eryone from professional athletes to Olympic hopefuls to marathon run­ners. More and more athletes are seek­ing alternative, holistic therapies to treat their injuries in an effort to ex­pedite recovery and enhance perfor­mance. I have found acupuncture to be a safe and effective option for a host of reasons.

To start, Acupuncture focuses not only on the local symptoms but on the root cause. Secondly, each treatment is individual­ized based on the practitioner’s style, method, and approach to treating a condition, as well as the patient’s pre­sentation, needs, and response. In ad­dition, you are treating the mind and body all together. Acupuncture is also a natural healing treatment involving no medication.

I’ve found acupuncture treatment re­markable for both its effectiveness in resolving all kind of sports and mus­culoskeletal injuries and the speed at which it produces results. For many athletes, timing is vital. Returning ath­letes to their sport safely and quickly can be the difference between them winning a championship or sitting on the sidelines as their dreams pass them by. To this end, we as sports medicine professionals have to be able to think outside the box, and help our athletes do the same.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acupuncture treatment focuses on nee­dling various combinations of the 360 local acupuncture points located along 14 meridian lines, or channels, on the anterior and posterior of the body. The needling stimulates the nervous sys­tem, causing chemicals to be released and an unbalanced meridian to be­come unblocked. This allows the lo­cal blood and energy to reach the site of the injury, which produces healing. Needling also helps the body’s affected internal organs become balanced—re­solving the underlying root problem of the injury.

A fairly new discipline called sports acupuncture includes needling the motor points on an injured muscle, a treatment that causes the muscle to continually twitch (activate) and return to a normal, spasm-free state, thereby strengthening it. Another treatment in­volves needling the ashi points (trigger points) in TCM, which promotes lo­calized blood flow to the injured area, eliminating pain and spasms.

Also called orthopedic acupunc­ture or sports medicine acupuncture, sports acupuncture is used in conjunc­tion with Western rehabilitative treat­ments in order to achieve the best possible outcomes. In some cases, heat modalities, electrical stimulation, cup­ping, or various manual techniques will be combined with acupuncture. These manual techniques can include joint mobilization, soft tissue mobi­lization, massage and stretching. For example, I may pair acupuncture with soft tissue manipulation to treat a spe­cific imbalanced muscle group. In ad­dition, I often have the athlete perform strengthening and proprioceptive therapeutic exercises.

Western sports medicine tends to use a protocol treatment format focused on resolving symptoms. Sports acu­puncture treats both the local symp­toms and the root cause of the injury. The treatment starts with the under­lying problem and works its way up to the local symptoms, as opposed to treating the symptoms first and then working on the root of the problem.

The goal of any sports-injury treat­ment is to eliminate pain, reduce in­flammation, increase mobility by reducing muscle tightness and spasms, and re-activate the injured, weakened muscles. Sports acupuncture is success­ful because it enables the practitioner to directly access the site of the in­jury through the use of needles. Re­sults can include immediate reduction of pain and muscle spasms, decrease in swelling and inflammation, increase in range of motion, restoration of mobil­ity, strengthening of weakened parts of the injured body and the immune system, and quickened healing time. There is no limit to the types of injuries that can benefit from sports acupunc­ture, from plantar fasciitis to ham­string strains to meniscus tears, and many others.

Article originally published in Training and Conditioning Magazine. To view original article in its entirety, click HERE.

George Leung, M.Ac., L.Ac., LAT., ATC., PTA., CKTP., is the practitioner and owner of East/West Sports Acupuncture & Orthopedics in Brookline, Massachusetts. He received his Master’s Degree in Acupuncture with a specialty in sports medicine from the New England School of Acupuncture in Newton, Massachusetts. George is the former Head Athletic Trainer at Brookline, Danvers, and Lynn English high schools, all located in Massachusetts. He has treated athletes with the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots, national- and world-level figure skaters and competitive runners, as well as youth athletes. He can be reached at: gleung(at)ewsportsacupuncture.com. Visit his personal website HERE.

A Healthy Back with NO Exercises – The Alexander Technique Way

“I’ve done no exercises, yet my back feels great!” That is the result of a 100-year-old method called The Alexander Technique. This approach has been used by thousands of people worldwide including Paul McCartney, Sting, Julie Andrews, Aldous Huxley, Linda McCartney, Paul Newman, members of the British Royal Family and Robin Williams. Yet why don’t more people know about this non-invasive, life-changing method called The Alexander Technique?  There are no ready answers, but one might guess its emphasis on observing and changing is not what we’re used to.  Alexander Technique is offered at most music, dance and drama schools throughout North America, Europe and Australia. However, it’s not limited to performers. Using the computer, brushing your teeth, walking to the car or picking up your socks can be a painful chore or can be morphed into grist for the mill. With guidance, everyday actions can be easier and stress free.

At its core, Alexander Technique identifies compressive habits that might otherwise go unnoticed, habits that affect how we feel. For example, if your back hurts as you hunch over the computer keyboard, you might be in the grip of a habit combined with misinformation. In our modern world of “faster stronger more,” the Alexander Technique takes a step back, slows us down for a close look at how we’re doing what we’re doing. Take washing dishes, as another example. Are your legs tensed? Are you bending at a false joint, somewhere in your mid-back? That hurts. Instead, you can learn to use your knees and hips to bend, thus allowing the spine and back to expand naturally.  Are your neck and shoulders chronically tensed?  The root cause is the startle reflex. Learning how to change this pattern is an essential part of the Alexander Technique.

Even our language describing our intentions can be unhelpful. Words affect us more than we realize. Take the word “posture.”  Instead of it producing a positive result, this word is often stiffening. Or the words, “sit up straight.” This phrase usually leads to contraction and pain.  Deepak Chopra said it best: “words are more than symbols, they are triggers of biological response.”  You can substitute the words balance, ease and expansion to assist change. Our stress hormone, cortisol, goes down when we are expanded rather than contracted. How to expand without trying is the essence of the Alexander Technique. It is taught through gentle hands-on guidance and verbal cues, looking at everyday actions such as sitting, bending, reaching, breathing, lifting, standing and walking.  Specialized uses helping the way you approach playing music, singing, acting, practicing martial arts, dancing …well, you get the idea.

Nora NausbaumNora Nausbaum offers both workshops and individual lessons in her downtown Grass Valley office. She has taught the Alexander Technique since qualifying for certification in 1988 at the Center for the Alexander Technique in Menlo Park, CA. Nora is also a professional flutist.  She can be reached at Nora@ATsierra.com or More information can be found on her website at http://www.ATsierra.com.

Guacamole Quinoa

The instructions are three short sentences — it’s SO simple. It’s perfect as a portable side dish, because it can easily be doubled or tripled for a large batch to take to a party, and can be served warm, room temperature, or cold. Additionally, against all odds, it stays bright green for 3 days in the fridge!

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and diced
  • Juice of 1 1/2 limes
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed with a press or minced and ground into a paste
  • 1 Roma tomato, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Directions:

In a medium bowl, mash together avocado, lime juice, and salt. Add remaining ingredients, then toss to combine well. Serve warm or cold.

Recipe compliments of Foxes Love Lemons.

If It Feels Good Then by all Means, DO IT!

Huh? Seems kind of selfish doesn’t it? But what if you were to go with what your body, nature, the universe is telling you to do. In your job, your relationships…even the car you buy. Did you ever do something and it just felt sort of funny or wrong…then it was the wrong thing to do! Conversely, did you ever do something and it felt right? Then it was the right thing to do! We can all benefit from following our instincts.

When I was in my twenties (as in many years ago), I remember someone saying to me, “trust your instincts…they will guide you through life.” It didn’t really ring true to me at that point. However, as the years went by, I have found it to be very true!

Speaking of true – have you ever thought about your “true calling.” By that I mean what it is that is your purpose here on earth? We all wear many hats and your true calling will be varied. For example, you could be meant to have eight children (I hope not for your sake), work with kids, work in construction, be a marathon runner or president of a large company. If you really think about it, your true calling is basically given to you as a series of signs during your lifetime (as there is no such thing as a coincidence). The key to following the correct path is to be open minded enough to see it!

Many people either do not understand this concept or feel that they are very far removed from achieving it. This would be what’s known as a blockage – you may be standing in your own way and stopping yourself from realizing your own true calling. That being said, how do you get out of your own way? The first thing is, once again, to trust your instincts. If something feels wrong, then it is! You can apply this to any area of your life: jobs, relationships, financial decisions, what you choose to wear to the company picnic…anything. I urge you to try to get in tune to your instincts. I find that daily meditation is an important key for me to “tune in” everyday. I simply lay down for about twenty minutes and clear my mind.

How do I do this? Very simply, I count my breaths. I count to one and inhale, then to two and exhale, all the way up to twenty. Then, if I’m not yet cleared, I start again. Through practice I have learned to focus on only my breathing and it clears my mind. I find that this practice, everyday, opens me up to trust my instincts, which in turn attunes me to my true calling. I feel better, make better decisions and always sleep better. All from lying down and taking it easy!

Like anything else, meditation and other habits take practice and patience. The best things, like a Thanksgiving turkey, are done slowly and over time. If you are patient, positive and honest, you will succeed. You will open yourself up to your true calling very easily and you will enjoy doing it.

In our crazy, Type A, super fast-paced, society couldn’t we all use a bit of this? Besides, the idea of slowing down actually not only makes you feel better, it makes you more productive.

What is it that you want in your life? What do you want for yourself? For those close to you? Want to know something? You already have it! You probably just don’t know it! That’s right, you already have everything you need to be happy. All you have to do is open up your mind and your heart to receive them!

Andy Morris established A Better Life, LLC in May, 2011. A Better Life, LLC specializes in utilizing hypnosis, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and Reiki to help you to realize your potential. It is all about replacing some of your current habits, ones that do not work for you, with new habits, ones that do work for you! Our methods are simple, easy, fun and effective. A Better Life is located at 172 State Street in Newburyport, MA. It is managed by Andy Morris, Consulting Hypnotist and Reiki 3 Practioner (Master).

 

Four Ways to Reduce Stress with Chinese Medicine: The Liver

The Liver is the organ system that is responsible for circulating the Blood as well as the body’s energy, called Qi (“chee”) around the body. When either the Blood flow or the Qi flow becomes impeded in any way, the Blood and the Qi become stagnant and the result is pain and disease. There is a Chinese saying, “Where there is stagnation, there is pain and where there is pain, there is stagnation.” The Liver’s main focus is to move and to circulate in order to avoid stagnation.

Many things can impede the flow of Qi and Blood. Stress is probably the most common in our society. When we become stressed, our body tenses up. Maybe our chest tightens or our stomach ties into a knot or our shoulders start to lift up to our ears or our breathing becomes shallow or we overeat or hold our emotions in. All of these things stop the natural flow of Blood and Qi. Some of the possible effects of these stress reactions I listed above may include: heart palpitations, indigestion, headaches, dizziness, obesity, road-rage. Those are some serious consequences all stemming from a stagnation of Qi and Blood.

The Liver also regulates the menstruation because of its important role in storing and circulating the Blood. PMS symptoms are most often a signal that there is stagnation. If you experience irritability, crying, headaches, or cramps, then you can be sure that the Liver is stagnant in some way. In a healthy state, the body has a natural inclination to expand. When we are stressed out or experiencing PMS, the body begins to contract.

Reduce Stress By:

  1. Deep breathing. Either do it intuitively or find a Pranayama class (an ancient form of breath work originating from India)
  2. Exercise vigorously. Most people feel better after a good workout.
  3. Sigh. That’s right, inhale deeply and let out a sigh, it softens and relaxes the Liver.
  4. Everyone’s favorite: have an orgasm.

Spring Fling Potato Salad

The bright, crisp flavors of early spring inspired this perfectly packable potato salad, with just a bit of creaminess to keep the chill off until the danger of frost has truly passed.

Ingredients for the Salad:

3 lbs waxy potatoes (red and gold, cubed)
11/2 cups green peas (frozen or fresh)
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 cucumber (small, seeded and diced)
4 scallions (sliced)
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Ingredients for the Dressing:

3 tbsps balsamic vinegar (white)
2 tbsps pomegranate molasses
2 tsps kosher salt
1 handful fresh basil
3 fresh mint (springs of)
3/4 cup buttermilk (plus additional as needed)
3/4 cup mayo

Directions:

  1. Boil the cubed potatoes until just fork tender, about ten minutes. Drain and reserve.
  2. While potatoes cook, bring a second pot of water to a boil and blanch peas for one minute, then drain and plunge them into an ice water bath to shock and stop the cooking. Set aside.
  3. To make the dressing, place vinegar, pomegranate molasses, salt, and herbs in the small bowl of a food processor and pulse until leaves are minced. Combine this mixture with the buttermilk and mayonnaise in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake until dressing is well mixed. Thin dressing with additional buttermilk as needed.
  4. In a large bowl, place potatoes, peas, cranberries, cucumbers, scallions, and sliced almonds. Toss with enough of the dressing to coat. Chill until ready to serve.

Recipe compliments of Yummly.com.

Three Myths About Core Strengthening for Back Pain

About 20 years ago, the principle of core strengthening started to gain wide acceptance as a strategy for preventing injury and treating various musculoskeletal conditions, especially back pain. This grew out of research studies that demonstrated a change in the timing and firing pattern of various muscles between groups of people with and without back pain. It has been long known that movement patterns change in the context of injury, and that these changes outlast the injury. However, this focus on core strengthening was based on several assumptions:

  • strengthening weak muscles can reduce back pain
  • certain muscles are more important for stabilization than others, particularly the transversus abdominus
  • a unique group of muscles (the core) worked independently of other trunk muscles

Let’s set aside these assumptions and look at the facts for direction about back pain prevention and treatment.

Myth 1: Strengthening weak muscles reduces back pain

If strength is the goal, then how much muscular contraction is required to stabilize the spine? The research tells us that the core muscles should contract minimally. In fact, upon standing the spinal erectors, quadratus lumborum, and psoas are nearly relaxed.  Walking involves 2% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC) of the rectus abdominus and 5% MVC of the external obliques. Then lifting a 15kg (33lb) kettle bell causes these muscular contractions to rocket up 1.5%. [source]  This is all possible because of a complex coordination of minimal muscular contraction to orchestrate a balance of stiffness and mobility. Sweating and shaking at near 100% of your effort (think MVC) is a great way to get bigger muscles, but it wont improve the coordination.

Instead, training/rehab should facilitate coordinated efficient movements like rolling, standing, walking, stooping, and lifting. 

Myth 2: Training the transversus abdominis (TA) is the key to core stability

Early research into the role of the transversus adbdominis (TA) found that when performing rapid arm movements, patients with chronic back pain had a delayed activation of the TA. It contracted a fraction of a second later in those with back pain than those without back pain. Unfortunately, some assumed that the late contraction with causing/complicating back pain and sought to improve the timing by strengthening the TA. This resulted in many back pain patients being coached to perform abdominal hollowing (sucking in the belly button).

In actuality, the TA contributes to spine stability in synergy with all the other deep muscles (diaphragm, obliques, pelvic floor, etc.) It acts with these other muscles as a complete system, controlling abdominal pressure for breathing, talking, singing, laughing, defecating, vomiting…

Assuming that strengthening the TA with hollowing exercises can improve it’s coordination with other stabilizers is almost as bad as assuming that a delayed contraction of the TA is causing back pain in the first place.

Instead, training/rehab should facilitate subconscious efficiency of abdominal pressure system. One really does need to stabilize and breathe at the same time.

Myth 3: The “core” works independently of other trunk muscles

Most “core strengthening” exercises attempt to isolate “core” muscles from “global” muscles.  In fact, these muscles only exist independently in a drawing. When dissecting a cadaver, a knife is used to separate the bundles of muscles.  Thinking of a muscle as separate from an adjacent muscle is useful for studying anatomy but not for understanding function.  When your nervous system thinks, “time to scratch the nose,” it is not performed via muscle-by-muscle activation.  Instead, the nervous system performs a finger-to-nose movement. The neurological wiring is based on the movement, not muscle-by-muscle.

Instead, every training day is “core” day. Every rehab session should train movements, not muscles. 

Dr. Brad Cole  is a rehab physician treating functional, musculoskeletal pain with manual therapy, corrective exercise and other rehabilitative techniques. He practices at Cole Pain Therapy Group with a professional degree in chiropractic (DC), master’s degree in sports rehab and bachelors’ degrees in life science and in business administration. Brad is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA and strive to integrate the scientific principles of athletic functional performance to improve the life of any musculoskeletal pain sufferer. Visit his personal website HERE, and the website for the Cole Pain Therapy Group HERE.

Compelling New Evidence for Sports Massage

An exciting new sports massage study compares the recovery process of exhausted muscles that receive massage therapy to those that recover without massage. The best part is that researchers looked at recovery at a cellular level. This study is rare because it required actually taking a small piece of muscle from each volunteer several times- a major commitment! The New York Times story on the study results is here.

Ordinarily, after muscles are damaged by exercise or an accident, they become inflamed, bringing blood into the area with nutrients for healing, and immune cells to fight off any infection. We already know that after exhausting exercise, muscles are inflamed. Inflammation is a normal part of the healing process. It’s also painful, which is actually a helpful signal from your body to rest and recover!

Inflammation becomes a problem when the response is greater than needed, or when the body becomes trapped in a cycle of inflammation and doesn’t progress with healing. For example, when muscles are slightly torn from a good workout, there is no need for a strong anti-infection response such as would be appropriate for a wound.

Dr. Mark A. Tarnopolsky, the lead study author and a professor of pediatrics and medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario examined how muscles recover after strenuous exercise, comparing muscles that received massage with muscles that did not. The study found that muscles that received massage therapy during recovery from exercise had fewer cytokines, which are a part of inflammation. The massaged muscles also had more active mitochondria, the part of a cell that creates the energy needed to heal. The study authors theorize that massage may suppress the less desirable aspects of inflammation while still permitting cell healing- the best of both worlds! This is great news for athletes and sports massage therapists.

Of course, we already have some methods to combat inflammation besides massage. One can slow inflammation with over the counter Nsaids like aspirin, ibuprofen or Aleve. However, Dr. Tarnopolsky says that overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs may result in a person staying chronically injured. The body needs inflammation to take place as the first stage of healing, and if inflammation is artificially ended, the body cannot skip ahead to the next phase. Overuse of anti-inflammatory drugs may give the body no chance to progress through the stages of healing.

The study suggests that massage might be a better way to recover from the muscle damage caused by exercise. I for one would like to thank the brave volunteers who underwent multiple muscle biopsies so that we can know this!

Jen Jaynes is a licensed massage therapist in Boston, Massachusetts. She has been a professional massage therapist since 2006, and enjoys working with athletes and those who use their body intensively. During massage school, she trained in a western martial art of full contact sword fighting, and learned first-hand how effective massage can be for hard-working muscles. Learn more at her website HERE.