Yes, we are connected

skeletons

Though I’ve been focusing on the feet these last few weeks, if you’re having problems with your feet you may also want to make some other connections. Yes, similar to what we’ve been exploring there are things you can do physically that will help. But our feet are connected to our leg bones, our leg bones are connected to our hip joint. Our hips are connected to our spine and further it goes, up the whole body.

We tend to look where pain expresses itself… and think we will find the solution there.

Some people may have knee problems and look to ‘fix’ the knee when really what’s happening (or not happening) is at the hips or at the feet. Or elsewhere.

Imagine you have a cast on your ankle and how it might feel when you walk. How your body might compensate. You may end up with a sore back or shoulder muscles as you try to move as best you can with a stiff, unable to bend, ankle. We’re not usually walking around with a cast on, but many people don’t really use a lot of their ankle flexion for a whole host of reasons. Shoes, patterns of movement, previous injury, etc. Pain may be expressed in your back or shoulders when what’s really going on is down at your feet.

People will often say, “yes but I had an x-ray or ultrasound and they found this (insert condition here) is wrong with my feet”. Yes, I’ve been there too. Diagnosed with chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet, osteoarthritis in both big toes. Basically, I was told to wear rocker shoes, orthotics, and live with it.

Orthotics absolutely serve a purpose in many cases but I’m not sure of any other body part we are willing to cast or brace for a lifetime. We might need a collar brace, but not forever. We may need to wear a special boot to help with a foot injury or after surgery. The point is we work hard, physiotherapists and others work hard with us, to remove these external or artificial supports. Our feet and some orthotics, in my opinion, should be no different.

After my own diagnosis and subsequently learning that our body will most often adapt to what’s asked of it, I figured there must be another way. I have put some effort and focus on my feet in many of the ways shown last month but what was happening in my hips (lack of strength and stability) also played a part.

There are often many pieces to the puzzle of long-term, persistent or chronic pain.

For instance, why was it my feet didn’t always hurt? Why only sometimes? Some days?

Paying close attention I came to notice that when under stress, under too much ‘load’, my pain was likely to arise or increase.  If I was out enjoying myself, not a care in the world, doing something fun or even necessary perhaps, I didn’t seem to have pain. But at other times, it most definitely kicked in.

The biggest a-ha for me now is to realize that structural degeneration or tissue damage is likely to show up for me and everyone else at some point (Note: Brinjijki et al 2014 study as shown in the table below). Particularly by the time you’re my age (56). I need not ‘fear’ this, or fear making things worse, but rather utilize all the things I know I can do, that might help with the pain I sometimes experience in my feet.

  • Strengthening
  • Stretching
  • Keeping my feet soft, supple, agile
  • Adding load, good stress, to keep the bones healthy
  • Wearing appropriate footwear; allowing for space, mobility, flexibility
  • Keeping my overall ‘weight’ in a manageable range
  • Knowing that my levels of stress, fatigue, diet and a range of other factors may also play a part.

degenerative spine issues

In the month of November, we’ll explore our HIPS (Yes, I switched my focus this month from shoulders to hips. We’ll get to shoulders in December). This is where load and/or gravitational forces are primarily distributed through the body so how well we manage this, matters.

Along the way, I’ll throw in a few morsels about chronic pain that might help you make sense of your own personal experience with persistent pain in the hips, or elsewhere.

I hope you’ll join me.

 

The Evolution of a Practice

SimplifyWhen I used to write about yoga for a local magazine, the numbers of Americans practicing yoga was about 20 million. Today, about 6 years later, that number has nearly doubled, edging up towards to 40 million. Globally, the estimate is about 300 million and the number of over 50s practicing yoga has tripled over the last four years.

People often wonder what this thing called yoga actually is. Difficult to answer in just a sentence but to me YOGA is the exploration, awareness, and response that informs how I (might best) relate to the world inside myself and to the larger world around me.

A large part of this doesn’t involve the physical yoga postures or asana practice, but that’s usually where people begin. It is a good way into the wider exploration. Most, practice on a mat and typically in a group class. Certainly, it’s where I began.

Not knowing anything about yoga when starting out, I first practiced Ashtanga yoga and then when I began teaching it was a somewhat modified Vinyasa practice. Both involve strong, physical, almost gymnastic-like movements linked with the breath. Ashtanga, in particular, is meant to be practiced for 1.5hrs each day, 6 days of the week.

My practice today no longer resembles this in the least. Today, my physical yoga practice is interweaved throughout the day, with broader concepts in the background.

  • Most often it does not take place on my mat.
  • Most often it is less than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Most often it’s a response to whatever I feel might best serve me, at any given time.
  • No special place, clothing, or time.

Which I think might be a helpful way to practice for many who don’t have the time, money, or perhaps ability to get to a studio or gym.

What does this practice look like?

Join me over the next few months and we’ll look at little snippets of yoga, movement, breath practices that can be done in a couple of minutes or combined to make your own personal practice. On your own time, in your own space, that fits into whatever your life demands of you.

Most important to me is to teach people what they can do for themselves. Provide agency. The ability for you to have the tools and the freedom to make choices that enhance your wellbeing and your life.

  • In October we’ll focus on the feet.
  • November will be all about the shoulder joint.
  • In December, we’ll get into the hip joint.

I’ve chosen these particular areas to focus on as they tend to be where problems, pains, issues show up for most people I talk and work with.

You can find me talking about this on Facebook, and Instagram, if you want to follow along.

 

“Are we there yet?”

squishedSummer has officially begun and soon many will be on their long-anticipated holidays. Most likely, it will involve some travel. And at some point the dreaded ‘are we there yet?’ You might think it to yourself or maybe your little travel companions repeat the phrase. On the hour. Time seems to drag. on. forever.

Why is it we dread the getting to, and coming back from, our trips?

Sure there can be unexpected delays or surprises that inevitably happen. But typically it’s the thought of sitting in our vehicle driving for 4, 8, or 12 hours to our destination. Or being crammed into the airplane for hours on end. Uncomfortable, to be sure. Not only being seated for so long but also waiting to eat on someone else’s schedule or getting to the bathroom when the need arises.

Most of us sit, for hours, all day long. Why then, does it feel different or more noticeable when we’re traveling? In an airplane, it’s not so easy to move around, to shift in our seats, when discomfort arises. In our cars, perhaps it’s a little easier with more room and not so many eyes watching us.

On most any day, we tend to listen to the hunger and thirst signals our body sends us, while other ‘discomforts’ such as simply moving, tend to be ignored. Why do we respond to some and not to others?

Which discomforts do we choose to tolerate? 

Little kids fidget, move, express themselves all the time. Until they’re told not to.

How might it feel …

to move and shift, and stretch and dance as you like, when you like? As you feel the need or desire to do so? At any time. Any place. Before, the discomfort pretty much commands that you do so?

When you are uncomfortable, how do you respond? Do you respond?

Hmmmmmm……

 

Low Back Pain – Extremely common, complex in nature and most often, not treated effectively

ape

Last week I wrote briefly about a recently published paper in the Lancet, picked up by the news in the UK, here, here, here, and here. Today, I’ve seen an article in the USA. So, far, one report that I can find, in Canadian news.  One headline from Monash University in Australia goes so far to say:

Global burden of low back pain – a consequence of medical negligence and misinformation

As mentioned, I said I would break down why I believe this is so important. The first paper (three in the series) is “What low back pain is and why we need to pay attention”.

Why should all of this matter to you? Why do you need to pay attention?

The median 1-year period prevalence globally in the adult population is around 37%, so chances are you or someone you know is affected.

And, what’s even more important, is

the way we have been treating people isn’t working.

“Low back pain (LBP) is now the number one cause of disability globally.”

There are a LOT of people who experience chronic or persistent low back pain.  On a purely personal note, I would say it is the most prevalent ‘problem’ people tell me about when they turn up at my yoga classes.

“Rarely can a specific cause of low back pain be identified; thus, most low back pain is termed non-specific. Low back pain is characterized by a range of biophysical, psychological, and social dimensions that impair function, societal participation, and personal financial prosperity.”

In other words, it’s complex.

Of course, there is always a need to rule out those cases where there is specific causes.

“but, this is for less than 1% of those presenting with LBP. Known causes may include vertebral fracture, axial spondyloarthritis, malignancy, infection, or cauda equine syndrome (very rare).”

So if any of these are suspected by presenting symptoms, a clinician is well advised to do testing, imaging, etc. for what are often referred to as ‘red flags’.

If these are ruled out or if you’re not suspect for these specific causes, what then?

“Most adults will have low back pain at some point.  It peaks in mid-life and is more common in women, than in men.”

“Low back pain that is accompanied by activity limitation increases with age.”

“Most episodes of low back pain are short-lasting with little or no consequence…”

“But recurrent episodes are common and low back pain is increasingly understood as a long-lasting condition with a variable course rather than episodes of unrelated occurrences.”

It’s highest in working age groups so the effect to the workforce is impacted. People unable to work, earn income, the possibility of early retirement. “In the USA, LBP accounts for more lost workdays than any other occupational musculoskeletal condition”.

Then there’s a person’s identity. Consequences such as loss of independence, ability to fulfill expected social roles can be impacted. Common themes of worry and fear are identified, along with hopelessness, the strain on families, social withdrawal, job loss, and there’s the navigating through continual healthcare encounters.

Most studies underestimate the total costs of LBP, but the economic impact is comparable to other high-cost conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer, mental health and autoimmune diseases.

Most cases are resolved within 6 weeks, however, there are risk factors for recurring episodes. For people with other chronic conditions like asthma, headaches, diabetes. Those with poor mental health are at increased risk, etc. As one example, a study of Canada’s population with 9909 participants, found that “pain-free individuals with depression were more likely to develop LBP within 2 years than were those people without depression”.

Lifestyle factors are also at play. Smoking, obesity and low levels of physical activity are associated, although independent associations remain uncertain.

Which brings us back to it being complex. There are multiple contributors, “including psychological factors, social, biophysical, comorbidities and pain processing mechanisms.”

We can see the complexity when there is a continual increase of those affected, an increase in our health care expenditures and by the recent opioid crisis that is literally taking people’s lives.

It also seems whatever we’ve been doing in terms of treatment doesn’t seem to be working.

Why is that and what needs to be changed?

Tune in next week… where we’ll get to the second paper, “Prevention and treatment of low back pain: evidence, challenges, and promising directions.”

Note:   For those interested, all references/studies can be found in the Lancet paper, here.

Back Pain – There is Good News

relieve-back-pain

The bad news is you may have or know someone that is experiencing chronic or persistent back pain. The good news is, there is a way forward.

Yesterday, three important papers about back pain published in the Lancet (one of the world’s oldest and best known general medical journals) were referenced in the The Guardian, The Telegraph, the BBC News and the Daily Mail . So current evidence-based information, at last, making its way to the public domain.

In briefly reviewing the papers (published March 21, 2018), the key points for me are these:

Low back pain is now the leading cause of disability worldwide.

“Prevention of the onset and persistence of disability associated with low back pain requires recognition that the disability is inseparable from the social and economic context of people’s lives and is entwined with personal and cultural beliefs about back pain.”

“Most low back pain is unrelated to specific identifiable spinal abnormalities,”

Globally, gaps between evidence and practice exist, with limited use of recommended first-line treatments and inappropriately high use of imaging, rest, opioids, spinal injections, and surgery. Doing more of the same will not reduce back-related disability or its long-term consequences.”

“Recommendations include use of a biopsychosocial framework to guide management with initial nonpharmacological treatment, including education that supports self-management and resumption of normal activities and exercise,…”

Thank goodness this is getting the attention it deserves so it can help people who need it most. And that’s a LOT OF PEOPLE.

Why now, finally? I think it’s gaining traction due to spiraling health care costs along with the opioid crisis that is so prevalent.

Over the next while I’m going to break down and comment upon some of the points and principles presented in the papers, as many form the basis of my work.  In the meantime, if you care to read the papers yourself they can be found here.

Lorimer Moseley, one of the world’s top researchers on pain continues to make the related point that people need an understanding of what pain is and what it isn’t, as he does with a touch of humor in his TEDx Talk in 2011.  Professor Moseley is most known, however, for publishing 260+ papers on pain science and his continued work as Professor of Clinical Neurosciences and Chair of Physiotherapy at the University of South Australia. And one of many leading the charge globally in what he calls a Pain Revolution.

A huge paradigm shift is required as understandably, information about what works to treat back pain and what doesn’t is confusing.  It seems counter-intuitive to ask people who are in pain to ‘just move more”. As the latest interviews I’ve listened in to with Lorimer, he states that with what we’ve learned ‘recovery is, back on the table’.  There is hope. As I mentioned earlier, there is a way forward.

I talk about this all the time with family and friends … who often have a hard time believing what I describe as it is a change from what we have believed for most of our lifetime. 

But, if we really truly want to get people out of this pain cycle (and I will say most any pain cycle) we need to help with the understanding of what the evidence shows and how to best work with it. This will also require huge shifts in our public policy, etc. as stated in the Lancet papers.

“These potential solutions include focused strategies to implement best practice, the redesign of clinical pathways, integrated health and occupational interventions to reduce work disability, changes in compensation and disability claims policies, and public health and prevention strategies.”

So come along for the ride if you or anyone you know is experiencing chronic or persistent low back pain (or any pain, really).  With 1 in 5 experiencing chronic pain of some kind, unfortunately, you won’t have to look too far.

 

 

It’s your life

Consider the ways you need to use and move your body every day.

It's your life

Depending on your life, how much you move throughout the day may be fairly limited or alternatively, you might go through a whole range of movements.

Do you work in an office? Sitting, walking, reaching, writing might be some of the things you do in a day. I suspect sitting, is a primary one. Do you work as a plumber? Your movement needs are different than the office worker. As are what a doctor, teacher, hairstylist, service worker, etc. will be, who are often on their feet much of the day.

What you need to ‘train for’ is different than what anyone else needs to ‘train for’.

What a person needs who sits at a desk all day, is different than what a parent with toddlers needs, versus what a teacher might need.

train for your life

We sometimes get into trouble when we’re doing exercises, that don’t always or altogether correlate so well to what’s actually required in our life. If you’re exercising for basic fitness and enjoyment, that’s fantastic. That in itself is an achievement. But perhaps you might consider adding more to the mix if you’re someone who also experiences pain, fatigue, etc.

This is important:

  • If you’re hitting the gym every day, building strength and stamina but suffer from low back pain because you’re also sitting in a chair for 8 hours a day, perhaps you need to train differently or add something to your training routine.
  • If you are the most amazing yogi but suffer from hip strain or other pain symptoms because during the rest of the day you’re standing on your feet, perhaps you need to look at what you’re training for.
  • If you’re out on the golf course getting your exercise and fresh air daily, but cannot ‘do, or manage’ the rest of your life, perhaps you need to do something else as well.

What happens all too often is the hour of exercise we get at the gym, yoga studio or out on the golf course doesn’t quite support all the rest of what we need to do in our day.

  • If you need to sit, train as best you can so your body can adapt for this.
  • If you need to stand, train what’s required in order to stand a lot.
  • If you are the golfer, train for whatever it is you need to do, besides golf.

But how can you do this and where to find the time?

It’s not always easy, but you can learn to build it into your day. It doesn’t always have to take another hour going to the gym, paying for a babysitter, driving through the snow. There are simple tools, you can use. Anywhere, really. That don’t take up a lot of time.

 

Yoga Tools – Open Your Mind

I’m going to challenge you to change things up this week. Whatever you think you should be doing, (in a movement, in your posture) whatever you’ve been told to do… do the opposite.

15327336_10157994488295226_6548450058877273096_n

As an example, while you’re sitting during the day:

  •  If you have a tendency to hold yourself rigid, perhaps with your shoulders pulled back, chest puffed out front, sitting up nice and tall, as some would say ‘good posture’, allow yourself something different. Perhaps slump a little, let the upper back round a little, feel as if you can soften the area between your collar bones, let your belly be soft and full when you breathe. RelaxI’m not saying this is what you need or you should sit this way all day. But try it for a few minutes and notice what you feel.
  • If you tend to be someone who is generally in a slumped position when sitting, try the opposite. Feel your sitting bones on the bottom of your chair, perhaps even pushing them into your chair slightly. Think about sitting tall, imagining your head feeling light above your shoulders, it lifting towards the ceiling. Collarbones wide, shoulder blades down your back.  Notice what you feel.

Though this is only one example. You might try this way of being, or doing, in a multitude of ways.

In yoga, do you always exhale when forward bending and inhale on the reverse? Try changing it up and see what you feel. What do you notice?

Experiment with doing the opposite of what you think is right for you, what you’ve been told is right for you and see how it goes. If you like, comment below so we can take the conversation further.

 

Change the brain, the nervous system, the body

neuroplasticity-and-technology-4-728The changing of our brain …

One of the most important changes in the last 14 years or so is the field of neuroplasticity.

Scientists once thought that the brain stopped developing after the first few years of life.  Since then, we’ve come to understand this isn’t true of the brain. Research shows our brain is capable of learning, adapting and changing throughout our life.

The changing of our body …

Our white blood cells die after 3-4 days, red blood cells after about 120 days, the dermis of our skin renews every 2-4 weeks. Research shows that changes in the relative level of physical stress cause a predictable adaptive response in all biological tissue.  In other words, changes take place and what’s exciting to me is how we can take measures to influence what happens in our body.

stretchingI’ve also learned it seems we may have been ‘wrong about stretching‘ insofar as we’re not really stretching or lengthening muscles. At least not as much as we once believed. Rather, we’re changing our response to a stimulus via the nervous system.

“your ability to stretch at any range is determined by your nervous system’s tolerance to that range.” – Jules Mitchell

The changing of our nervous system …

Our brain is naturally going to respond in a protective manner to anything it perceives as dangerous.  If we are trying to re-train flexibility or just movement in the body and do so with strong, forceful pressure or stimulus … the brain/body will react by saying … stop! No! Don’t go there. It will send a (pain) signal to safeguard our movement.

stretchHowever, if we move in small incremental ways within a safe and pain-free range of motion, the nervous system will react by saying … this feels okay. Safe. I’m happy to explore this.

This is a somewhat simplified way to explain all that’s going on, but it’s a starting point we can work from. We can even begin by just imagining movement and still create changes in the brain and our nervous system. So we can, really, start anywhere.

By learning to pay attention, moving in a way that allows your nervous system to adapt and create new patterns while it feels safe, you will make progress. 

Change. Big Change. Lasting Change.

It turns out – we are adaptable!

We are adaptable

Tissue can change. Our brain can change.

brain

This provides hope to anyone living with pain, chronic pain, limitation to mobility or perhaps psychological pain (or unease) from stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia. All of which are common problems affecting a large proportion of our 21st Century population.

Pain science

The experience of pain doesn’t necessarily/always correlate with the state of our tissue.

What?

You may have some awful looking images on x-ray and yet not experience pain. You may experience pain, though not even have the limb that pains you (phantom limb pain).

Which doesn’t mean it’s all in your head but that pain is indeed, very complex

Neuroplasticity

Contrary to our understanding up to about the year 2002, our brain can change

Thank goodness. As I continue to age, all hope is not lost!

This is revolutionary in terms of we can keep learning, and also how we can change behavior and adapt.  Most important, how our pain can change.

What does this have to do with how well you can or cannot move? The fact that you have persistent pain or not? Why it flares up?

Together, we’ll explore this (somewhat new) information and answer your questions.

And … learn simple things you can do throughout the day, that is most likely to help according to the latest research.

Do you feel stuck?

babies
It used to be so easy

Look at a baby or a young child for a few moments and you’ll notice they make all kinds of movements, in all kinds of ways.  I watched a video yesterday and thought back to the crazy, wild, wonderful things we did as kids with no thought or consideration about how to move our bodies.

Look at old or aging people and what do you notice? I suspect it would be unsteadiness, stiffness, feet shuffling, bending or moving with great care.  For me, the word rigidity comes to mind.

Rigidity – Not able to be bent easily, not easily changed, not willing to change opinions or behavior.

What happened between then and now, new and old?  What does the future look like in terms of your body’s ability to get around in the world?

Today I noticed a question on a Facebook site, “If there was one thing you could change about yoga what would it be?”  

One of the responses was “Having people talk about flexibility the moment I mention I teach yoga.”

Flexible – able to change or be changed easily according to the situation; able to bend or be bent easily without breaking.

You could also add – the ability to be easily modified, willingness to change or compromise.

People always link yoga with flexibility which can be true. I want you to think of flexibility, however, in a slightly different context than the ‘bendy’ flexible yogi.

You don’t need to have a ‘bendy’ body to do yoga or live your life. However, you DO want to be able to manage the task at hand, whatever that might be for you personally.

You want to have options, multiple ways of navigating rather than narrow lines, restrictions, or rigidity.

How can you do this?  How do you go from feeling stuck and/or experiencing chronic pain to feeling flexible in this context?

That you have options in your body, in your life?

Follow along… and we’ll find a way to bridge the gap.

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