ARE YOUR HAMSTRINGS TIGHT?

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Since we are doing the 8- week Hamstring Challenge in my classes this fall I thought I would write a bit about why those tight hamstrings are a problem. They are really relatively easy to stretch and easy to measure the range of motion, so there really is no excuse for not taking the time to do the stretching exercises.  And you will feel the results happening quicker than you think. Stretching only once is a while can stretch them but the results will only be short lived. The stretches must be done over a period of time to see the long term results. After that then a maintenance program can be done.
You can liken stretching the hamstrings to stretching a rubber band. The rubber band will eventually bounce back to its original length unless stretched again. In that way there is a carry over from one stretch to the next.
A study by J. Yimen et al, found that after a 4- week stretching program at home, straight leg raise angle increased by 25%. participants in his study were men in their 20’s who stretched their hamstrings in standing for 30 secs, 6 reps, once a day. You will be doing an 8 week program and performing the exercises twice a day !

WHAT ARE THE HAMSTRINGS?

Your hamstrings consist of a group of three posterior thigh muscles located on the back of your leg which run from just below your knees up the backs of your thighs, all the way to your gluteus maximus. As the name suggests, your “hamstrings” refer to the string-like tendons (that you can actually feel) behind the backs of each of your knees.There are three hamstring muscles on the backs of each thigh, two on the inside of your thigh and one on the outside of your thigh. The scientific names for these muscles are:

  • Semitendinosus
  • Semimembranosus
  • Biceps femoris (long head)

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Your hamstrings actually play a pretty important role in your day-to-day life and can have far-reaching effects on your movement, stability and joint health. Your hamstrings are responsible for:

  • Hip extension
  • Flexing your knee
  • Knee rotation and bending
  • Walking
  • Running
  • Sprinting
  • Jumping (and controlling trunk movement)
  • Deceleration (particularly where your knees are involve

WHAT CAUSES TIGHT HAMSTRINGS?

Imbalanced quadriceps are most often the cause of tight hamstrings. Your quads are a large, strong group of anterior muscles located on the front of your thigh just above your knee. When your quadriceps are stronger than your hamstrings, it creates tension because your hamstrings are weaker. When your hamstrings (or any muscle for that matter) is weak or fatigued, you are more susceptible to injury.

In sports such as soccer or running (particularly sprinting events), your hamstring muscles work overtime to help you extend your legs to run fast or jump. It is somewhere during the point where our foot or leg is fully extended, that we are most susceptible to a hamstring injury or strain.

Runners, cyclists, rowers and soccer players are all at higher risks of developing “tight” hamstrings as all of these activities require quite a bit of strong knee flexion. However, other causes of tightness can also be the result of sitting for long periods of time (Hello, desk job and long road trips!).

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR HAMSTRINGS ARE TIGHT?

You often don’t realize you have tight hamstrings until they start affecting movement or start creating back or knee pain. Tight hamstrings affect the position of the pelvis which can directly affect the posture of the spine and this can cause mechanical low back pain. Poor low back posture could also be a sign that your hamstrings are tight. You will see a flattened lumbar spinal curve if your hamstrings are tight.  You also may notice that you have hamstring tightness if you are doing programs like Pilates or Yoga. Tight hamstrings interfere with normal flow of movement and your ability to get into the correct position to execute your moves.  A quick note – is that your hamstrings are not all “equally”tight. Meaning your right and left hamstrings may be different lengths.  This can cause problems too.  You want them even.

HOW DO YOU ASSESS TIGHT HAMSTRINGS?

This is easily measured by a physical therapist or trainer, and can be done in a variety of ways. My favorite testing method is done while you lie on your back. The hip is bent to the 90 degree position and then the knee is straigthened from there and the angle at the knee is measured. To do a quick test to see if you may have tight hamstrings withoutthe help of  a professional. Sit on the floor with your legs straightened out in front of you. Can you sit with your knees straight while keeping your back in a neutral posture ( meaning good sitting posture with your spine straight)? You should be at a 90 degree angle.

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
Here is the program that we are doing in the hamstring challenge. Give it a try for the next 8-weeks. If you can get measured at the start and then again at the end it would be a great idea and rewarding to see your progress.
Here’s the plan:

Perform the exercises at least 2 times a day
Perform them EVERY day for the 8- weeks

WHAT YOU’LL NEED – a wall, a yoga strap or belt, foam roller

1. Legs Up the Wall: Lay on your side with your knees bent with your sit bones on the wall. Roll onto your back with the legs extending up the wall. Make sure your tailbone is on the floor, that you are NOT arching your back. Flex your feet and tighten your thigh muscles to touch the back of your knees to the wall. Lay there for 10-15 mins (tip- you can use your yoga strap over your feet to help flex your feet more and stretch the hamstrings)

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2. Single Leg Supine Hamstring Stretch: Begin by lying on the back, legs extended and chin tucked in. Place the strap to the arch of the left foot. Inhale and slowly raise the left foot up towards the sky keeping the right leg and hip connected down towards the floor. Grip the strap with both hands and only go to the point where you feel the first initial stretch in the hamstrings. Flex the left foot and contract the quadricep muscles. Stay here for 5 to 10 deep breaths. Repeat on the other side. Repeat 3 times

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3.  Foam Roller: Massage hamstrings by sitting on the roller and rolling up and down them length of the hamstring from gluteals to the knee.

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Let me know how you did in the feedback !  You CAN rid yourself of tight hamstrings and feel yourself moving more freely and maybe even notice pain syndromes disappearing !

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Straighten up Girls !

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Being a 6′ tall woman, I have always been particularly aware of my posture. There is nothing worse when you are tall than to slouch. It draws even more attention to yourself. So I have always worked to keep from “slunching” ( combo of slouch and hunch) forward to hide my height. Afterall, I really couldn’t hide it by slunching. Much like the girl who started to blossom earlier and more voluptuously than the average girl, they rounded their shoulders and slouched forward to hide their ample bosom. Or were you the girl who felt self-conscious, not one of the “in” crowd. Did you try to hide behind your forward posture to get lost in the crowd? Or did your posture problems begin with motherhood? Carrying heavy children around on your hip, hauling large carriers around.
Many of our poor postural habits began when we were developing and growing, some reflect our state of emotions, and some have started as we go through our adult lives raising families. Now we are faced with muscles that are lengthened and weak and other muscles that are tightened and short, a spine that has shifted or changed it’s shaped. Postural pain and syndromes are directly related to the way we hold ourselves to face the world and it’s challenges.

Besides sapping your energy and making it more difficult to accomplish everything you’ve got packed into your day, poor posture has a slew of health consequences that can put a damper on your fit lifestyle; back pain, neck tension, disc herniations, arthritis, headaches, digestive issues just to name a few.
Learning to perfect your posture, can boost your active life and also your efforts in the gym. Why? Because it’s ALL about alignment ladies. The better your posture, the greater range of motion in your joints and spine, the better your muscles are able to work efficiently. When the spine and joints are in their optimal alignment, the muscles can respond without strain. If you are working out in poor alignment you will encourage and strengthen that poor alignment. If you are in good alignment then you encourage and strengthen GOOD alignment. If aligned you will prevent pain and injuries, boost your flexibility, improve your breathing, and after a workout feel more energized.
So how do you do it, how do you change years of poor posture? Well,first you need to have someone evaluate your posture. A licensed physical therapist can do this. They will be able to tell you where your problems are, which muscles are weak and which muscles are tight, and what position your spine is in. This way you can streamline your workout to focus on only strengthening the muscles that need it and stretching the muscles that need lengthening so you can balance your posture.
Once you become aware of your postural habits you can work to improve them during your daily activities and during your workouts. The therapist will be able to tell you exactly how to strengthen your form and which exercises specifically will be effective.
It’s not too late once your posture has changed. Most of the time with the right program you can stop or even reverse these postural changes. So what is this program? Well, I am knowledgeable in many programs and the reason I felt inspired enough to confidently leave the clinical setting and pursue a new career in Pilates is because it’s the best. I saw changes in clients posture and pain that I never saw with any other exercise program. It is really the most efficient exercise program there is for postural changes and back/neck pain issues. Pilates exclusively focuses on alignment, core strength and breathing that can help change alignment like no other. It will not happen overnight OR if you do not practice and follow through with your exercises at home. TRUST ME ON THIS. You cannot change posture by just doing one class a week with no follow-up exercises. Seriously? You know that right? So if you have done 6 or 8 classes and expect miracles they will not happen. Postural change happens with continued practice and dedication. YUP.

So are you in a class? Once you are upright again in fabulous posture you’ll not only look better visually, but feel better and feel more confident.
Interested in an evaluation and possibly a class? Visit http://www.infinityhealth.org for current classes and to register. You won’t regret it.

THE PELVIC FLOOR AND TWO EXERCISES YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT!

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There is a group of muscles that are rarely talked about in your exercise classes or anywhere else for that matter, but they are hugely important for both women and men during daily life, while exercising and while at rest. These are your pelvic floor muscles.

Where are they?
These hidden muscles of the pelvic floor are located in the base of your pelvis. They stretch like a muscular trampoline from the tailbone (coccyx) to the pubic bone, from front to back, and from one sitting bone to the other sitting bone, from side to side. These muscles should be firm and thick.

What do they do?
The muscles of the pelvic floor have 4 main functions in both men and women:
1)They help support the abdominal and pelvic contents from below.
2)They work with the abdominal and back muscles to stabilize and support the spine.
3)They help control bowel and bladder function.
4) They are involved in sexual response and function.
Like other muscles in the body, if they get weak they are no longer efficient at doing their job.

What causes weakened pelvic floor muscles?
Common causes are childbirth, obesity, chronic constipation, aging, a history of back pain, heavy lifting ( body builders or heavy labor), chronic cough, previous injury to the pelvic region, as in a fall or surgery and finally- not keeping them active.

How do you know if they are weak?
•You accidentally leak urine when you exercise, laugh, cough or sneeze.
•You need to get to the toilet in a hurry, not making it there in time or
constantly needing to go to the toilet.
•You find it difficult to empty your bladder or bowel.
•You may have pain in your pelvic area or painful sex.
• In men, erectile dysfunction and dribbling after urinating.

How do I locate and recognize these muscles?
This is relatively easy. These are the muscles you use to hold back gas or stop the flow of urine. While sitting, envision the trampoline shaped muscle at the bottom of your pelvis, squeeze and lift it up, as if you are trying to make a space between the chair and your pelvic floor. Feel the contraction from front to back. Avoid tightening your buttocks and abdomen to do this. If you are lifting up in your chair you are using your glutes and not your pelvic floor.

How do you strengthen them?  THESE ARE TWO EXERCISES YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Although the pelvic floor is hidden from view, it can be consciously controlled and therefore trained, much like any other muscle in your body by doing the contraction mentioned above. Oh and by the way, no one will know you are doing them. So they can be done anywhere.
Here are a couple of exercises that if done 3 times a day, for 3 months can drastically improve if not eliminate your pelvic floor weakness.

THE CLENCH: This exercise works on the holding ability of the muscles, building a strong dam to hold back urine. Exhale as you slowly tighten and lift the pelvic floor and the hold for a count of 10 while breathing naturally. When you release you should feel the muscle relax down. At first you may notice that the muscles do not want to stay contracted for very long. This is a sign of weakness and as you practice this exercise you should be able to hold for longer periods of time.

QUICK FLICKS: This is just as it sounds. You will quickly tighten and lift the muscles and then release, 10 times. This works the muscles that quickly shut off the flow of urine to help prevent accidents.

What is the hardest part about doing the exercises?
REMEMBERING to do them. Go to your smart phone apps and find an app that will ring a reminder for you 3 times a day. SO no matter where you are or WHAT you are doing you can do the exercises. This is fun since you will find yourself doing the exercises while maybe working, cleaning, in the car, shopping, etc ! No one will know you are doing them.

*Remember:
Only exercise the muscles of the pelvic floor, do not tense or contract leg muscles, buttocks or belly. If you are having trouble, do the exercises lying down so there is less stress on the muscles. Bend your knees so you are comfortable and your legs are relaxed.

Keep in mind that these exercises are not just for urine flow problems but help to cover all the other problems listed. Keep in mind when exercising as in Pilates and Yoga, lifting, coughing/sneezing or even just walking, you can practice contracting your pelvic floor.

If your problems persist or are getting worse you should of course seek medical attention from someone trained in pelvic floor dysfunction. There are many treatments available from physicians and physical therapists trained specifically in this area. So there is help out there for you. Clench and flick and you can strengthen up good as new !!

Donna Gambino is a licensed physical therapist, certified Pilates instructor and fitness author. CHECK OUT the her new E-BOOK- “On a Roll @ Home Stretch and Massage” – http://my.bookbaby.com/book/on-a-roll–home

For more information visit http://www.infinityhealth.org for fitness classes and private training in your area.

SPRING CLEANING WORKOUTS

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In Michigan, May is usually the time that most of us are ready to get out into our yards and garages to do some spring cleaning. You have all the right tools for your project but are you prepared physically? In our excitement to make things shine once again we often tend to over-do-it and injure ourselves.

Fortunately, you can lessen your risk of injury before you go down the garden path by making sure you are using proper form while doing spring clean- up. One of the most important things you can do to protect your back and neck is to always make sure you use good body mechanics.

Everyone has heard “bend with your knees and not at your waist” but here are just a few additional ideas to add to your list.

  1. Start with a warm-up. If you are physically unconditioned this is really important. Think of your yard work like a workout. What’s the first thing you do before you begin a run? Warm-up right? So go for a light walk, a slow bike ride, or do an exercise class before jumping out into the yard right after breakfast. Warming up the muscles and joints so they are not cold will help prevent injury. Try 10-15 minutes of low intensity movement before you grab that rake.
  2. If you need to lift something heavy (like those incredibly awkward lawn bags), keep the item as close to your body as possible. Always lift straight up using your legs exhaling while you lift. Exhaling during exertion can lower disc pressure helping to protect them from herniation. Avoid twisting while you lift. Twisting can damage the discs in your back, so turn your whole body toward the load before lifting or setting an item down and bend with your knees to lower it- just like you did to lift. Use a cart to take loads long distances.
  3. If you will be spreading mulch or dirt. Take smaller loads in your wheelbarrow. Instead of bending over to spread the load, use a small “manageable” rake or sit down to distribute it. Using tools that are too big for you can strain muscles. There are numerous ergonomic tools available now at most garden centers. Try on your tools for size and comfort.
  4. If planting flowers -don’t squat. This can put a lot of pressure on your knees and back.  Sit on a pad or small garden stool keeping your back in good alignment facing what you are doing. Hold in your abdominals and lengthen your spine. Don’t lean if something is out of your reach. Just get up and reposition yourself closer. Prolonged awkward positions can cause backs to strain unnecessarily.
  5. When raking up yard debris, soften your knees so that they are not locked, exhale as you pull the rake towards you holding in your abdominals. Make the movement come from your abdominals and not just your arms. Switch arms every now and then too to keep arm strain to a minimum.
  6. If cleaning or trimming something overhead. Be aware and keep your head and neck in good position. If you need to strain to reach use a steady stool to help you get at a better height. Over-arching your neck can cause pressure on these tiny discs and leave you with a sore neck the next day.
  7. Take care of your hands and wrists. Wear gloves and if you will be trimming with garden trimmers take breaks. Marathon pruning sessions can lead to hand pain and even tendinitis in the hand and wrist. Stretch, and vary your activities giving the small hand muscles a break.
  8. Don’t overdo it. Many injuries happen when you are over tired. Spread out your chores doing a little at a time, especially if you have recurring back problems. If you notice your back is feeling tight, consider this a red flag! It will only get tighter from there. Take a break, lie on a foam roller or stretch over a stability ball OR stop for the day.

FUN FACT: Depending on weight, activity and intensity level, it’s possible to burn anywhere from 250-500 calories and hour. But watch out for signs of strain.

It’s very easy to lose track of time when you are working in the garden, especially if you enjoy it. If you overdid it use an ice pack wrapped in a wet towel for 20 minutes at a time. Take anti-inflammatories for pain and perform your stretching and gentle movement exercises. If pain continues for more than a couple days or if you experience radiating pain, numbness or tingling in your leg or arms, see your physician.

If you can follow these easy tips you can keep your entire body feeling happy all season, get your work done and actually get in a great workout out all at the same time. Happy gardening!!

 

Donna Gambino is a licensed physical therapist, certified Pilates instructor and fitness author. For more information visit www.infinityhealth.org for fitness classes in your area. NEW CLASSES starting soon !

Taking Care of Yourself with a Tennis Ball?

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Besides playing catch with your dog or tennis with your kids a tennis ball can be a very beneficial therapeutic tool for the treatment of some common pain issues in your body. 

Very similar to getting a deep tissue massage or using a large foam roller to relax spasms, the tennis ball can be a more point specific treatment for getting deep into your bodies tissues.  Here are a few examples working from head to toe!

  1. Neck Massage:

 Muscle tension at the base of the head is a common reason for headaches. If you have your head tilted down looking at your IPAD or phone all day then you know what I am talking about.  Grab two tennis balls and place them in a sock. Place them at the base of your head, high up on the neck at the bottom of your skull with one ball on each side of your spine. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, nodding your head up and down to massage the muscles. Stop nodding and now just let the weight of your head do the work as you breathe and relax.

   2.   Upper back massage:

Upper back tension is one of the most common problems for people who are at a desk and computer all day. This tension can not only cause headaches but shoulder pain and even pain radiating into the arms. 

Grab the tennis balls. Lay on your back with your knees bent. Place the tennis balls under your upper back between your shoulder blades with one on each side of your spine. Once you find the painful spots in your muscles (called trigger points) stay on those spots, letting your body weight sink into the muscles as you breathe deeply. Wait for the pain to lessen and then move the tennis balls to a new spot down the spine.  Moving down the length of these muscles will help them to relax and lengthen, decreasing your pain.

3.     Low Back Massage:

Prolonged sitting postures can cause back muscle strain.  You can use the tennis balls to help relieve this tension quickly.  Lie down on your back, with your knees bent and place the balls under your lower back, with the balls on each side of the spine.  Lift your pelvis off the floor slightly so that you can move around on the balls to massage the tight spots.  You can tilt your pelvis forward and back or even side to side strumming the muscles to help get a release.  Breathe deeply and let the muscles soften.

 4.  Piriformis or Glute massage:

 If you have ever suffered from low back pain, sciatica, or leg pain that accompanies disc problems then you know how painful this can be. The piriformis muscle stretches across the glutes and when in spasm can press on the sciatic nerve. Take the tennis balls and sit on the floor with your knees bent, put the foot of the painful leg on the other knee. Place the tennis ball under the painful glute, transfer your body weight onto the ball.  Locate the spots that hurt, move around to massage this area, breathing deeply while you massage, until the pain lessens. Then move on to another spot.

 5.      Foot massage:

If you stand all day, wear heels, run, or have plantar fasciitis these are the best stretches to reduce foot pain.  Grab one tennis ball.  Stand up and place it in the arch of your foot. Place ALL your body weight on the foot. Hold for 30-60 seconds and then move the ball under the ball of your foot. Drape your toes and foot around the ball and again place all your weight on it and hold for 30-60 seconds. When you step off of the ball you will be able to feel how you have released the tissue in that foot compared to the other foot. Repeat on the other foot.

Tennis balls are an easy way to help get into the nooks and crannies of your body and release tight muscles.  A big advantage is that you can take them with you in your gym bag, brief case or suitcase.  Give it a try. You will enjoy having the power to treat your own pain when these little muscle spasms become a nuisance.

  By Donna Gambino, licensed physical therapist and certified Pilates Instructor

To learn more of these exercises, find out about classes, private training or Donna’s books, visit http://www.infinityhealth.org

Computers + IPad+ IPhone = I Hurt!

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Our continually changing technology is amazing isn’t it?  The ability to be connected to everyone and have the knowledge of the universe at our finger tips is something we never dreamed of. However, as with any change in our environment there are changes that occur in our bodies to adapt to this change.

As someone who works with people to help them control and eliminate pain, technology has really added a new dimension to my work. The biggest problem created by our new fun devices is the change in posture that occurs from their continual use.

What are the changes? Most of them occur from the positions you get in to use your devices. You know you have seen it- the slumped forward, flexed posture of almost all of America.  Let me list the chain of events that happen in the key areas of your body, so you can decide if you are one of these people.

  1. Forward head posture– This is when the head shifts forward on the spine. This causes more load to be placed on the vertebrae and can cause pinching of the spinal nerves.  The average head weighs about 12 pounds. Did you know that for every inch that the head moves forward on the spine, it increases the effective weight of the head by 10 pounds? Do you have a 42 lb. head because of bad posture?
  2. Rounded Shoulders– This is when your shoulder blades widen as you hunch forward, allowing the muscles to become lengthened and weak.  At the same time, your chest muscles become shortened and tight. This keeps you tied up in a closed, forward flexed posture.
  3. Flexed low back – Since everything above the low back is flexed forward over your device your low back follows right along. A flexed low back causes strain of the muscles, ligaments and discs.
  4. Hip muscle tightness– Sitting for prolonged periods of time causes the hip flexor muscles to become tight.  Tight hip muscles affect your pelvis position, and pelvis position affects your low back. 

Do you see the pattern? From top to bottom it is a cruel chain of events.  Everything is connected and what happens in one area will affect the areas above and below.

So unfortunately you have become a rounded version of yourself, letting your spine curve forward, your muscles lengthen and weaken and all of your joints to take on more stress then they are capable of handling.

 “But I work out each day. I lift weights, I do cardio, doesn’t that help?”  My brutally honest answer to this is- No.  “Form follows function”- meaning whatever position you are in the majority of your day is what your posture will become. Working out for 1 hour in the gym, a few times a week is great for your heart and muscles yes, but good postural alignment must be followed through with consistently in your daily activities and also in your workout. Does your iPad time equal your gym time?  I’ll bet you that if I saw you working out in the gym, those postural bad habits would probably display themselves in your workout routine.

 So what are some things you can to do help combat these postural strain symptoms?1

1. Think- A, B, C– This is a quick posture check list that you can use.

A – Abdominals. Are your abdominals pulled in and up? If you do this, chances are you will sit or stand up straighter, allowing your low back to straighten out of that flexed posture.  Think of the belly button being pulled to the spine.

B- Back – The upper back specifically, pull your shoulder blades back and down. This will open up the front of the chest and make the posture muscles of your back engage to keep you from hunching.

C- Chin– The position of your head is important. Pull your chin toward the back of your body, lengthening your neck and keeping it out of that flexed position.

   2. Adjust your computer/laptop– Adjust your screen so it is at eye level. Have your forearms supported, and your legs at a 90 degree angle. Adjust your chair accordingly. Have your low back supported allowing you to sit tall.

   3. Lift your arm up—When using your phone, lift your arm up to see the screen rather than flexing your head down.  Remember     that 42 lb. head!

   4. Take regular tech breaks– Every hour get up and move. Do a few postural stretches for the neck, chest, hips and low back. 

   5. Take a fitness class – Take a class or a private session with a professional that focuses on your postural problems and correcting them. The more aware you are of what your postural faults are the better you will be at making the right changes that are for your specific needs.

 Donna Gambino, Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Pilates Instructor, and fitness author.  www.infinityhealth.org

 

 

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What Does the Foam Roller Do?

By Donna Gambino, Licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Pilates Instructor

As most of my new clients look at the foam roller I see the question (and sometimes fear) in their eyes- “What is laying on that thing going to do for me?”  This cylindrical piece of foam that my clients have been enjoying for years and that you may have seen in your gyms will help you in many amazing ways.

Foam rollers are routinely used now in physical therapy, Pilates classes, gyms and sports training settings to help clients with pain syndromes, postural problems, back problems, tight muscles and more.  You can use the roller for stretching, strengthening exercises or self- massage. Here are just a few other reasons why you may want to add the foam roller into your fitness routine.

• The roller will help you to improve your body awareness – your joint, limb and body position in space.  This will help throughout your day with all the changes in walking, sitting, standing and strain for your electronic devices.

• Since the roller is unstable you will enhance your balance reactions throughout your body. This will help you to recover quickly when you lose your balance or are challenged in a sport or activity that requires quick movements.

• You will activate the deep core muscles. These muscles help stabilize your spine, strengthening and protecting your back and allowing you to transfer energy out to those hard working limbs. By working on the unstable surface like a roller these muscles fire more competently.

• Your posture is improved by working the core muscles and creating balance between both sides of your body and by encouraging your spine to return to its neutral posture. Neutral posture in the natural position of the spine where all our bones need to be in order to be happy.

• By using the roller for self -massage techniques you will feel deep myofascial stretches and releases in your muscles that will leave you feeling relaxed, lengthened and free of tiny muscle spasms known as trigger points.

• You will also re-educate and strengthen muscles you haven’t used in a long time. Not only will you work your abdominal and back muscles, but the deepest muscles around your entire spine.

• Exercises will be slow, thought-filled and controlled because you are on an unstable surface. Performing exercises more slowly can make a seemingly simple exercise much more difficult. It also allows you to focus on breathing, and executing the moves with precision.

In my Pilates classes we usually begin class on the roller. This allows the clients, after a hard day of work or slouching at their desks to relax, balance out their posture and muscles before beginning their exercise routine.

So next time you are at a gym and see a foam roller, grab a trainer and have them show you how to use it.  You will be amazed at how such a simple foam roller can change the way you feel in a short period of time.

 Note: The foam roller is not for everyone, so please check with your physical therapist, fitness professional or physician to see if you have any medical issues that would not allow you to use the roller safely. 

 Donna Gambino, is author of “On a Roll @ Home, Home Exercises for Core Strength and Massage on the Foam Roller”. To find out more info about her books, classes and training visit http://www.infinityhealth.org

 

 

What does the Foam Roller do ?

7 Pearls of Wisdom from my Mature Clients

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I have clients of all ages (25-75) and I learn something from all of them. There are so many wise statements made during a workout.  Sometimes during the middle of a move a nugget of wisdom will be blurted out.  I think that the stress of a workout sometimes brings clarity to situations.  Another aspect of this is that the mature clients that I have in class that stay the most vibrant and appear the happiest seem to have a certain “recipe” so to speak for maturing.  I would like to share with you what I have learned from them this year on how to navigate through life and stay ageless and happy.

  1. Mix it up! –  Yes, I know – state the obvious. But the people that I see staying the healthiest are the ones that put variety in their exercise routines. Someone who walks, hikes, swims, does tai chi, Pilates, yoga, dances, are the healthiest and have the least joint stress and pain issues. They are also best able to manage their weight.
  2. Have Pain, Deal with it! – Yep, most of the clients I deal with over 50 (and some even before) have some sort of pain issue. They don’t let it stop them from having fun, working out or moving forward. Dwelling on the pain or lying on the couch is not in their frame of reference.  They modify their routines to suite themselves- they don’t change their life due to pain.  I love that. This is exactly what we do in therapy-  if it doesn’t work with your pain issue, there is always a way to get around it and still do what you enjoy.
  3. Not Obsessing over Food– The clients that have it figured out are the ones that know that moderation is important in everything especially eating. They have learned to tweak their diets to suit their maturing bodies and don’t count calories or follow extreme diets.
  4. Know “Pop Culture” and Technology – I know this sounds funny. But the clients that I have that are fun, savvy, can fit into any conversation with people of any age- are the ones who know pop culture. They know the current music, the top celebs, trending styles, what “twerking” is, what the coolest apps are etc.  They know how to use technology. They keep their brains fresh by being challenged by a new IPad or I Phone. They aren’t afraid of Facebook.  They stay connected to what’s going on around them, keeping them in touch with all age ranges.
  5. Letting things go— Some of the best advice I have gotten is from my clients who have been through more of life situations than I have.  They have been through deaths, divorces, losses and disappointments and have gotten through to the other side happy.  One of my clients gave me this quote, and I do not know who said it, but it is a very true statement.

“All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame them, it will not change you. The only thing blame does is to keep the focus off you when you are looking for external reasons to explain your unhappiness or frustration. You may succeed in making another feel guilty about something by blaming him, but you won’t succeed in changing whatever it is about you that is making you unhappy.”

       6.  No Fear— I love when I see someone 70 + who joins my class who has never done Pilates before. Or I hear of someone going to try Salsa dancing or scuba     diving. Someone who will join a travel group or go to a party where they don’t know anyone.  This really says that you know who you are and are confidant.  To me this says you no longer care about the opinion of others and that you are strong in yourself.  It supports the saying from Dr Wayne Dyer- “What other people think of me is none of my business”. I love it.  No fear!

      7.     Lastly- Give of Yourself –  The people that take the focus off of themselves to care for, think of, and give to others are the most happy.   Whether it’s      volunteering to read poetry to hospital patients, organizing museum exhibits, walking in charity events, packing food, working in philanthropic groups, supporting other women, or whatever it is, these women are joyous, happy and driven. They have a purpose. So if ever you are feeling that things are not going well for you, feeling lonely, feeling forgotten- how about giving of yourself to others. You are always rewarded this way.

So thank you to all of you, for your words of wisdom, your peek into happiness and your constant reminder on how to live a happy life. I learn so much from all of you. Love when the students teach the teacher. We can all take a page from your book and give some of these things a try in the New Year. I wish you ALL the happiest and healthiest 2014!

 

 

PREVENTING BACK PAIN AT HOLIDAY TIME !

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Christmas can mean increased back pain for those of you who have a history of back injuries.  Christmas time is loads of work for YOU- Santa’s elf.  As you are decorating trees, climbing ladders, hanging lights, baking cookies, shopping, and traveling it can all lead to increased strain on your spine. Preventing back pain at holiday time means not only being extra careful and using good techniques (or what we therapists call body mechanics) when lifting and decorating, but also incorporating exercises to help prevent back pain at Christmas time.  According to the Product Safety Commission, 11,000 people end up in the emergency room every Christmas due to decorating injuries, which include broken bones, cut, burns and falls. In the therapy clinic I would see many new patients the first of the year for low back strain due to straining  while holiday decorating.  As someone who loves to decorate myself ( yes, I have 5 trees) I have 13 tips for preventing back pain, as well as falls at holiday time:

1. Lift with your legs, when hoisting up packages and boxes of Christmas decorations.Try specifically not to bend, twist and lift all at the same time. Exhale when lifting. This helps to decrease disc pressure that could lead to a herniated disc and also helps to engage your core, which will help keep your back stabilized.

2. When carrying boxes and packages, keep them close to your torso. Don’t try to carry too much.  The lazy mans load does not apply here. If you are shopping, unload some of your gifts into your car during your shopping visit so you are not trying to carry too much and then engaging in awkward postures- as you lug around 15 shopping bags, carry a purse, text and drink a latte.

3. When picking up grandkids, etc, lift with your legs. Do not swing kids around or even sit for prolonged periods of time on the floor playing with new toys. These positions can strain the back. Also trying to shop, cook and decorate holding a child on your hip can be very tiring for the back and the arm. You are unbalanced when lugging a kid around. Put them down and give them a job to do instead.

4. When handling boxes of Christmas goods that are on the floor or on low shelves, kneel or squat, rather than bend and hunch over. This position increase disc pressure and makes you at risk for a herniated disc.

5. When wrapping  Christmas gifts, don’t do it hunched over or on the floor .  Put the gift up on a countertop or table so that it is at waist level and  you can maintain correct posture while having the gifts at this comfortable height.  Standing or sitting on a high stool is best since sitting on the floor usually causes you to strain the upper body and low back.

6. Don’t force yourself into contorted positions while reaching or use a prolonged awkward position to decorate Christmas trees or hang Christmas lights. Find someone taller, or use a stable stepping stool.  Straining to reach as you flex forward can really strain your back  muscles, put increased pressure on your discs and increase your risk for falls.

7. If you must use a ladder, make sure it’s stable and have someone hold it at all times. The most common fracture that occurs when falling off the ladder is heel bone (calcaneal) fractures. Trust me on this one, I have personal experience.  Not an easy injury to heal from.

8. When carrying packages outside, first scan the path you’ll be walking to make sure there’s no ice or anything else you might slip on. If you can’t see over your packages or out in front of you, make two trips.

9. If driving for long periods, stop every 2 hours for some stretches, walking and water. While  sitting for extended periods in your car, be conscious of good sitting posture; no persistent slouching or leaning. Use a lumbar support pillow to help keep your lumbar curve in a healthy position. Feet on the dashboard is not a good position for your body.  Perform some of your Pilates exercises like chin tucks, shoulder shrugs and rolls,  seated pelvic tucks, gluteal squeezes, and spine stretches forward. This will help to keep your postural muscles happy.

10. If traveling by air, get up every 30 minutes and walk around and continue to use your lumbar pillow. Perform the exercises above as well to keep the back from getting stiff. Add in some toe tapping and ankle pumps to keep the blood flowing in your legs too.

11. Watch what you eat: Christmas time weight gain can add strain to the back and cause pain. ( Are you listening Santa? Go easy on the cookies)

12. If you will be standing in your kitchen for a long time baking and cooking, try to either stand on a shock reducing mat or wear supportive shoes to help alleviate  strain to the back while standing. The support of the shoes will help you to stand taller and decrease strain on the legs. Ho, ho, hold in your core to help keep postural muscles in check.

13. Do not skip your workouts. Make time to take care of your body with a PILATES CLASS,  a roller workout, gym visit , or walk. You will feel so much better if you just take 30 minutes a day and move your body.

Happy Holidays and may all your backs be pain-free —  Gift Certificates for Pilates classes or private sessions from Infinity Health are available at www.infinityhealth.org

FALL LEAF RAKING TIPS

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I know what all of you are going to do today !!!  Same as me- rake up the messy yard !!

 So here are some tips using your Pilates Principles to stay back pain free !

  1. Warm up – Take a 5-10 minute brisk walk to warm up your muscles. There is no scientific evidence that stretching before an activity prevents injury BUT Lay on your roller and loosen up your fascia/connective tissue.
  2. Choose the Right Rake – Use a rake that is proportionate to your body size. Using a rake that is too long or too short will cause you to alter your posture and strain your muscles. Consider the rake width. Narrow rakes may make the weight of the leaves lighter but they can also make the job longer. Extra wide rakes gather more leaves but can put more of a strain on your back.
  3. Watch Your Posture – Like any exercise, proper form is important. Muscle pain and strain occurs when you put your body in awkward positions and then try to contract or extend muscles in these odd positions. To maintain proper posture while raking keep your legs slightly bent, your weight centered, and reach with your arms and not your back. ENGAGE your CORE while pulling the leaves toward you. Meaning, exhale as you pull or push anything.  Make this an ab workout.  After every 20 minutes of raking activity stand up, place hands on hips and gently stretch into a back bend ( like swan dive or swimming) for a few seconds 3-5 times especially before lifting anything.
  4. Switch Hands Frequently – You exhaust your muscles with repetitive motion. Switch your lead arm frequently while raking to prevent, or alleviate, muscle exhaustion. ALSO switch jobs occasionally. If you are raking with a partner. You rake for a while, while they do the pick up and then switch.  Take walking breaks to break up the raking repetitive motion. This will give those muscle patterns a chance to relax.
  5. Bend With Your Knees – When lifting leaves keep your back straight and bend with your knees and hips, not your back, when reaching down. The power for your lift comes from your buttocks and legs and abs. Exhale as you lift to decrease disc pressure.  Make the piles small to decrease the weight.
  6. Rake With the Wind – Let Mother Nature give you a hand if possible. Rake leaves with the wind, even if the spot in the yard is different from where you wanted to rake the leaves. Rake them on to a tarp and drag the tarp to your desired destination. 
  7. Use a Tarp – Leaves are lightweight and can easily be moved on a tarp. Rake the leaves onto the tarp and pull one end of the tarp to move the leaves to your desired location. Doing this can save your back constant bending over to pick up piles of leaves to put into a garbage bag or wheelbarrow.
  8. Drink Plenty of Water – Muscles need water to function optimally. When you maintain your body’s water levels during use, you allow your muscles to coordinate with each other properly and support your physical activity.
  9. Wear Good Shoes – Wear supportive shoes with good arch support and skid-resistant soles. Standing on your feet and raking all day can put a lot of strain on your feet and legs. Good foot and arch support can stop some of that strain from reaching your back and skid-resistant soles can minimize the risk of slipping on wet leaves and falling. 
  10. Consider a Leaf Blower ( or handsome lawn boy)  – There are some lightweight gas and electric leaf blowers on the market that are hand held or can be worn like a backpack. Blowing all the leaves into one large pile or onto a tarp can save time and lots of energy.
  11. Wear Gloves – Give your hands a break and wear gloves to prevent painful blisters.
  12. Take Frequent Breaks – Taking your time will make it less likely for injuries to occur. Pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion can cause you to get sloppy with good posture and lifting techniques, setting you up for injury.
  13. AT THE END: Lay on your foam roller afterwards to encourage your spine to come back into its normal neutral posture !!!  Lay there for at least 10-15 minutes.

What can you do if you follow all of these tips and still wind up with low back pain?  ( besides having hired the handsome lawn boy?)

  • Heat and/or ice treatments.
  • Ibuprofen for pain control
  • Epson Salt bath
  • Massage
  • Deep  foam rolling on all the large muscles of the legs and upper back, using a foam roller or tennis balls
  • Propping pillows behind your back and under knees when resting to take pressure off of your lower back.

And when all else fails, see me for a private session to assess your problems, or come to class to work out the kinks.  Movement heals !