Update on the crippled ankle: last weekend I used a foam roller on the spot where my hamstrings attach to my ischial tuberosity–the butt bone–and my ankle joint cracked. It’s been getting gradually better ever since. The first thing I do every day is foam-roller that same spot, because it seizes up overnight.
So, how does that work?
This diagram shows the Spiral Line, the specific fascial continuity that I believe has been hobbling my ankle. As you can see, the Spiral Line crisscrosses the body, swinging down the side of the leg, looping under the ankle like a stirrup, and running up the back of the leg where it attaches to the butt bone. Bingo!
A fascial train, (or anatomy train, as Thomas Myers calls them) is a distinct, dissectable pathway where all the fascial fibers run continuously in the same direction, whether they are involved with muscle, tendon, ligament or bone. One of the singular things about fascia is that it does not stretch; it enables movement by continually reconfiguring its fibers. Thus, when your fascia becomes restricted in one place or another, it will tug on everything else connected to it. Ergo, a crippled ankle with no visible ankle-related trauma.
The fact that fascia does not stretch is possibly why, even with a regular yoga practice, my ankle got increasingly worse over time. Stretching your muscles will not necessarily affect restrictions in your fascia. I was able to figure out where to use the foam roller, however, by noting the fact that Triangle Pose with my right leg in front was both satisfying and excruciating.
But how, you may ask, did my Spiral Line get so messed up in the first place?
In a word, stress. Nobody has yet determined exactly how or why your fascia gets gummed up when there is a lot of cortisol running through your nervous system, but so it does. This happens regardless of what your conscious mind is doing. It is so much a product of the obscure obsessions of the subconscious, that stress-related fascial restrictions are worse after a good night’s sleep. At least, mine are.
As you may imagine, this is an incredibly frustrating feedback loop. You rest, you do your yoga, and the pain only gets worse.
Fortunately, there are foam rollers, Rolfers, and bodyworkers who specialize in structural myofascial work. 🙂 Once you get to the root of your problem (in both a physiological and psychological sense, which may take some time), you can start working to break that feedback loop.
This is why the clients of mine who get the best results are the ones who come most regularly. We are re-educating both their fascia and their nervous system. Many clients report that they start to relax as soon as they approach my front door. Which, for me, is a wonderful thing to hear.
Full disclosure: I just did this. Three times. I felt like a real fool.
But I’ve had an inflamed ankle for way too long now, especially considering that my job is to relieve problems like chronically inflamed ankles. I know what’s causing it. I got into this line of work partly because of first-hand experience with intractable pain. I’ve done all the things I advise my clients to do: yoga, bodywork, proper shoes, cutting back (WAY back) on workouts, arnica, even the evil NSAID in a pinch. And I’m still hobbling around like Quasimodo.
So I tried a few rounds of tapping. Spoiler: It did not magically heal my inflamed tendon. It did, however, go a small way toward relieving the chronic tension in my right leg which I believe to be the original cause of the inflammation. I’ll keep you posted.
The ‘science’ behind tapping, such as it is, has been mostly dismissed or ignored by the mainstream medical establishment. Interestingly, the skeptics dismiss it out of hand on the basis that ‘the existence of a human energy field cannot be proven by science.’ But the EFT sites that I perused didn’t directly mention ‘chi’ or ‘human energy field.’ Instead, they present tapping as a way to gently rewire the nervous system.
This makes a certain amount of sense to me, as a bodyworker. The major cause of chronic tension in the musculoskeletal system is stress, i.e. arousal of the hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal axis. When your mind is fearful, it stimulates your brain to release hormones which promote a fight-or-flight response. This, in turn, charges up your muscles, stiffens your fascia, and turns off your immune system. You’re prepared to run, but you’re not handling routine maintenance, much less repairing damaged tendons.
The thing is, most of your neurological activity is not under your conscious control. The vast majority of time we are operating on autopilot, even when we think we’re alert and present and calm. In my case, there seems to have been a macro running in my brain on a repeat loop, telling my right leg to get ready to run. (The left one had this problem for about six years, seven years ago.) And no amount of me telling my leg to chill the heck out has had any effect. If any magic trick can get into my brain and turn off that switch, I’m all for it.
Additionally, I’m beginning to suspect that there is a special and little-understood relationship between fascia and the nervous system. There is still no clinical consensus on what causes fascia to become restricted, with one camp theorizing that it sticks to itself because of physical trauma and repetitive stress, and the other pointing to the nervous system as a controlling agent in fascial viscosity. This may not seem important to you, but I would genuinely like to know whether I’m helping my clients because I’m manually un-sticking their fascia, or because I’m encouraging their nervous system to relax. It makes a difference to what kind of continuing education workshops I attend.
At the very least, tapping seems to activate the placebo effect, which is the best I can do right now, all other bases having been covered.
Have any of you tried it? What were your results? What’s your opinion?
It’s been all over the news: a study published last week in Mayo Clinic Proceedings indicates that drinking more than four cups of coffee a day may be hazardous to your health, particularly if you are under 55.
The researchers found that younger men who passed the 28-cup weekly threshold – which works out to about four cups per day – had a 56 percent increased risk of death from all causes. Younger women who were heavy coffee drinkers had a greater than two-fold increased mortality risk. A cup was defined as eight ounces of coffee.
“The older people, over 55, were not affected by these high amounts of coffee,” study co-author Dr. Chip Lavie, a cardiologist at the in New Orleans, said in a video statement.
This directly contradicts oodles of other recent studies, which have linked a regular coffee habit to a range of benefits — from a reduced risk of stroke and Type 2 diabetes, to a protective effect against Parkinson’s disease.
So what’s that about?
Scientists, of course, are cautious, as are all the journalists who reported last week on this startling bit of news. Here at Practical Bodywork, however, we dare to speculate. And our totally un-researched, gut response was: Duh.
Because drinking coffee isn’t lethal. STRESS is lethal. If you are drinking thirty-two ounces of coffee, every single day, I may know nothing about you, but I can make a few guesses. Just by sheer statistical implication, it’s likely that:
This is assuming you’re not troubled with insomnia, headaches or anxiety, in which case, why are you even THINKING of drinking coffee?
No, assuming that you are a relatively healthy person without a trace of masochism, who savors her daily dose of mild stimulant, there is no reason for you to panic. But if you’re showing signs of even one of the bullet points above, you’re like the race-car driver who cleverly decides to cut his overhead by firing his pit crew.
In plain terms: when you are resting, that’s when your body does preventive maintenance. It uses sleep time, relaxation time and adequate vitamins to check the belts and hoses, change the oil, upgrade the transmission and clean the spark plugs. If you’ve got your foot on the gas, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, I can guarantee you that something is getting overlooked.
Interestingly, the selfsame study disclosed that people over 55 can drink an unlimited amount of coffee with no statistical ill effects. I can only suppose that these people won the BMWs of the genetic lottery; revving their engines only tunes them up.
So coffee almost certainly isn’t Satan. Quitting coffee for the sake of quitting coffee makes no sense unless you’re allergic. But if you’re using ANY substance as a means of ignoring your body’s perfectly reasonable needs, that’s just asking for trouble.
So many of my clients know the drill. Pain wakes you up, you sleep badly, the pain gets worse because you haven’t slept well. Talk about negative feedback loops! It can make you desperate.
Web MD has a great checklist for helping yourself sleep better when you’re struggling with the pain/lousy sleep cycle:
Cut back — or cut out — the caffeine. If you’re overtired, coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas may help you get through the day. But in all likelihood, they’re just worsening your problem, since they disturb your sleep at night. So struggle through a few days without your dose of caffeine and see how you do.
Avoid naps. “Napping during the day just reduces the amount you can sleep at night,” says Roth.
Exercise, but not too late. While physical activity is good for everyone, intense exercise — especially in the late afternoon and evening — can rev your body up and make sleeping at night difficult. So try a more moderate exercise routine and make sure to do it before the evening.
Cut out the alcohol in the evening. A nightcap might seem like the perfect way to put yourself to sleep. But the problem is that alcohol can interfere with your sleep cycles and wake you up later.
Don’t overeat in the evening. A stuffed stomach may make it harder to sleep, says Lavigne.
Make your bedroom a calming place. It’s very easy to have your bedroom become a multipurpose dumping ground. It might be filled with baskets of laundry, your kids’ toys, and a blaring TV. But experts say that you should make your bedroom a more neutral, soothing place. In fact, they recommend that you reserve you bedroom only for sleeping and sex. Get rid of the distractions.
Relax before bed. Don’t do anything before bed that could get you anxious or excited. Avoid doing work in the evening or even getting into serious discussions with your spouse. Instead, try focused relaxation or breathing exercises.
If you can’t sleep, don’t lie awake in bed. Willing yourself to sleep won’t work — you’ll probably just make yourself anxious. So if you’re not asleep within 15 minutes of lying down, get out of bed and do something else. Read a book. Take a bath. Listen to soft music. Once you feel yourself getting tired, get back into bed.
Get up at the same time every day regardless of when you went to sleep. It’s one way of getting yourself onto a schedule.
One of the more counter-intuitive remedies is getting out of bed and doing something else if you can’t sleep. Sleep researchers are discovering, however, that eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is not the historical norm for mankind. Before the advent of electricity, it was normal for people to wake up in the middle of the night for an hour or two, and go back to sleep again for another four or five hours. This is called ‘the watch.’ Many people stress themselves out needlessly when this happens to them. So the next time you wake up at 2 AM and can’t get back to sleep, tell yourself that this is fine and normal, and notice what thoughts come up. You may even come to enjoy it.
If you’re having sleep problems related to chronic pain, don’t discount the option of getting a massage every now and then! It’s been proven that even the most basic massage can reduce pain by soothing inflammation and stimulating cell renewal. Investing in regular bodywork can help you break and reverse that sleepless pain cycle.
Doctors hate pain. Let me count the ways. We hate it because we are (mostly) kindhearted and hate to see people suffer. We hate it because it is invisible, cannot be measured or monitored, and varies wildly and unpredictably from person to person. We hate it because it can drag us closer to the perilous zones of illegal practice than any other complaint.
And we hate it most of all because unless we specifically seek out training in how to manage pain, we get virtually none at all, and wind up flying over all kinds of scary territory absolutely solo, without a map or a net.
Is it any wonder that a plethora of alternative practices have sprung up for pain management, as well as a thriving industry in semi-legal pharmaceuticals? The author goes on to discuss the difficulties of managing pain in the standard way–escalating from non-narcotic to narcotic, prescribing as much as is needed to eliminate the pain, without “becoming the patient’s parole officer.”
This is an impossible line to walk. Missing in most of these discussions is the question: What’s causing the pain?
Because pain is ‘wild and unpredictable.’ It is highly individual; although it operates in patterns, it is unique to the person. We are beginning to suspect that it has as much do with the history of trauma, mental and emotional as well as physical, as it does with a specific injury or configuration (such as a ‘bad back.)
Like a lot of other practitioners, I tend to suffer from bodyworker machismo. I spend my days treating other people’s pain, and ignoring my own. Which is exactly what I advise my clients not to do.
Recently, I hurt my foot. The technical description of what I did was tearing the plantar fascia on my right heel, after changing my running gait from heel-strike to ball-strike, and then doing yoga with a calf muscle in spasm. But that wasn’t my experience. My experience was that I got out of bed one day and my foot hurt.
So, for your edification and amusement, here are the five stages of Macho Bodyworker Healing.
All I need to do is warm up, give my foot a rubdown, and it will go away. Like, in ten minutes. In a day or two. In a couple of weeks. Don’t mind me, I’m walking very slowly today. I’ll just stop running until this gets better. Dammit.
I can’t afford to get this treated. I know all about plantar fasciitis, from that two-year bout with it I had, a decade ago. It’s not THAT bad. I’ll stay off of it for a weekend, roll my feet, wear my arch supports. Do some self-treatment on my gastrocs and soleus every morning, and evening, and several times during the day. See? All better!
It’s not getting better. I can’t afford to be crippled for two years, again. I can’t afford NOT to get this treated. I’ll call that Rolfer, what was his name? Brian Stern! He’s expensive, but so what? I’m crippled! My body is my livelihood! I have to keep up with two kids in the Franklin Institute! Help!
(Brian Stern is excellent at what he does. He restored considerable articulation to a pair of malformed ankle joints which were rusted stiff. Also, he is warm, approachable and sympathetic. Don’t you hate it when you go to a doctor, in desperate pain, and you get the sense that you are a boring nuisance to said doctor, and to most of his staff? That’s one nice thing about bodyworkers–most of them genuinely like people.)
Okay, that was great. My foot still hurts, though. I’d better do the foam roller every day, twice a day, and some gentle yoga. In fact, I should not skip the yoga even when I stop hurting. Because that’s what started this problem in the first place.
All better! Mostly. I can walk right-left, right-left again, instead of thump-drag, thump-drag. I’ll do the foam roller for another week before I resume running. Meanwhile, I’ll describe this process in excruciating detail on my blog, so that others may learn from my foolish suffering.
What if I told you the Secrets to Stress Management, Time Management, and Improving your Health were all FREE, already exist inside of you, AND are inspired by ancient Eastern wisdom?
Sounds too good to be true, eh?
Then, what if I told you I could teach you these secrets in less than 2 minutes AND you could easily incorporate them into your daily life?
I know! I know! It’s can’t be true!
But it is.
Here are my 3 Quick Tips to Melting Stress, Boosting Energy, and Enjoying the Holidays… so you can Launch Yourself into 2013 with a Spring in your Step and a Solid Foundation for Performing at Your Optimum Level at Work and in Life at Large:
Tip #1: BREATHE! Take a moment now to pause, take 3 deep, easy breaths and allow any tension in your head, shoulders and back to roll off of you and float away.
Mindful breathing lowers your heart rate and releases feel-good endorphins, quiets your mind so you can think more clearly and make better decisions, and—let’s face it—just feels really darn good!
Tip #2: JUST SAY YES! to what supports your vision, to what feels good in your body, and to what inspires you and gives you joy.
You put your life into smooth driving alignment when you say no to the rest. And you do this by letting go of the “shoulds” and “should nots”, letting go of the externally imposed obligations of society and tradition, and saying “no thank you” to the seemingly-well-intentioned people in your life.
When the little details of your daily life and the more important decisions of your personal and professional life line-up with what’s most important to you, then you feel more energized and excited about life and work, you sleep better, you experience less stress and less strife, and that shows up in every interaction and every moment of your life. Priceless!
Tip #3: CHEW your food SLOWLY and MINDFULLY. That’s right! Give all of your attention and presence of mind to mingling all your senses and tastes into each morsel of nourishment that crosses your lips and lands on your tongue.
Not only does chewing slowly make you realize what you do and don’t actually like to eat, but there are numerous physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Here are a few:
Your blood pressure lowers and your stress level goes down
You have less acidity in your stomach, fewer incidents of heartburn, and your overall digestion improves
You get a big boost to your immune system
Your energy level rises and your brain works better
And much more!
Breathing more deeply, making choices that support what you want in your life, and taking more time to enjoy your food and chew it thoroughly are all things you can do now—at no cost—to Melt Stress, Boost Energy, and better Enjoy your Holidays.
If you like the idea of taking one or more of these ideas and turning them into an inspiring, powerful intention to take you to the next level in 2013, then consider meeting with me by phone for a New Year’s Resolution Strategy Session! More details here.
Erin Owen, MBA, is certified teacher of Vinyasa Yoga and Yin Yoga, certified Reiki Master Teacher, author, speaker, and Performance Breakthrough Coach. You can download a free chapter of her book Recharge, Refuel, and Re-energize: The Conscious Entrepreneur’s Guide to Taking Back Control of Your Time and Energy, subscribe to her email list and receive a free 7-day “Stress Detox” audio course, and learn more about her at YourPerformanceBreakthrough.com.
Although the brain, weighing 1230 grams, is only average in size, several regions feature additional convolutions and folds rarely seen in other subjects. For example, the regions on the left side of the brain that facilitate sensory inputs into, and motor control of, the face and tongue are much larger than normal; and his prefrontal cortex—linked to planning, focused attention, and perseverance in the face of challenges—is also greatly expanded. “In each lobe,” including the frontal, parietal, and occipital lobes, “there are regions that are exceptionally complicated in their convolutions,” Falk says. As for the enlarged regions linked to the face and tongue, Falk thinks that this might relate to Einstein’s famous quote that his thinking was often “muscular” rather than in words. Although this comment is usually interpreted as a metaphor for his subjective experiences as he thought about the universe, “it may be that he used his motor cortex in extraordinary ways” connected to abstract conceptualization…
Recently, I had a four-hour layover in Times Square. I was taking the bus up north to visit family, one of whom is critically ill, and my stress level was seismic. Times Square is not a restorative locale at the best of times; after ducking into Le Pain Quotidien for an overpriced lunch, and unwilling to stiff a long-suffering waitress by spending the afternoon there, I found myself walking the streets in a freezing drizzle, lugging a leaden backpack, and overwhelmed by chaos.
Suprisingly good for a random choice.
Urban Outfitters provided no refuge; neither did H & M, Sephora, or any of the other glamorous shops in my path. The rain kept coming. By this time my nerves were so frazzled that I couldn’t summon up the will to obtain an umbrella; for me, chaotic environments are almost as obstructive as low blood sugar, when it comes to making sensible decisions.
Finally, in desperation, I ducked into a movie theatre and bought a ticket for the next available show. (It was ‘Argo,’ : highly recommended.) As soon as I was seated, in spacious, temperature-controlled darkness, I felt my blood pressure start to descend. By the end of the previews I was feeling human again.
A movie theatre, even during an action film, is the opposite of a chaotic environment. Every element of your surroundings is aligned to give you a singular experience; sound, light, temperature, furniture, even smell. Your nervous system is receiving a coherent set of stimuli, telling you–look this way, listen to this, follow this story, feel this emotion. You are taken on a journey, and all you have to do is receive it.
By the time I emerged from the theatre, I was able to tackle the rest of my trip with an organized mind. I’ve never been a Ben Affleck fan, but now I forgive him for looking like a frat boy.
This organized neurological journey is a big part of the healing process, and one often overlooked by modern healthcare systems, although this is beginning to change. It is one of the reasons that I design the Practical Bodywork treatment space with attention to every sense; color, light, smell, sound, temperature. Every element of the environment should send the message: ‘safety, comfort, welcome, peace.’
Macagno has been testing hospital design in a virtual-reality lab, and this work could bring us closer to that elusive hospital where, for example, no one gets lost. Other findings from the kind of research he is talking about may challenge what architects have practiced for years. For instance, hospital rooms for premature babies were long built to accommodate their medical equipment and caregivers, not to promote the development of the newborns’ brains. Neuroscience research tells us that the constant noise and harsh lighting of such environments can interfere with the early development of a baby’s visual and auditory systems.
Your environment can either promote well-being, or detract from it. This is a simple idea–perhaps so simple that it is often dismissed. Certainly it seems to have been ignored by a generation or three of big-box retailers, public schools, hospitals and urban planners. Not to mention physical therapy offices.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a huge advocate of foam roller therapy, and for a good reason: it works. In my personal and professional life I have found that foam roller therapy is an incredibly valuable practice. It is an absolutely vital component of a well designed holistic fitness and health routine.
What is Foam Roller Therapy?
Foam roller therapy is simply one of the best methods available to treat and prevent injury. If you don’t own or spend any time using a foam roller (the main tool used in foam roller therapy), then get one. Start. A foam roller is, in my opinion, one the best investments of time and money you can make when it comes to your long term health and fitness.
Foam roller therapy is the use of a foam roller for self massage. There are many different kinds of self massage tools out on the market. Finding the right one can be a confusing and expensive process. I prefer to keep my tools super simple, inexpensive, and effective. The self massage tools that I most often recommend and use are a Trigger Point Grid foam roller, lacrosse ball, golf ball, and a softball.
Foam roller therapy helps break down dysfunctional tissue caused by poor movement patterns, i.e. poor form. It increases joint function, mobility, and range of motion. It reduces acute pain, speeds up recovery and healing, and it reduces injury.
Foam roller therapy gives you access to the powerful healing of deep tissue fascial massage, all at a very low price, and at any time of day, every day. Integrating foam roller therapy into your weekly routine will help you not only prevent pain and injury, but treat and quickly recover from an injury. It speeds up the recovery process between workouts and reduces the total amount of time you spend lame from an injury. Using a foam roller after a hard workout is like injecting pure recovery directly into your tissue. It allows you to have a challenging workout routine, while at the same time, minimizes the pain and injury cycle.
Just about anytime is a great time for foam roller therapy. You can do it in the morning. You can do it in the evening. It’s great before a workout. It’s great after a workout. An important time for foam roller therapy is when you hurt. The best time for foam roller therapy is when you don’t hurt, because it really does help prevent you from hurting in the first place.
This is what this looks like for my clients: I often have a client who comes in for a workout session complaining about some minor pain in their knee, hip, back, or shoulder. These can be very frustrating sessions for the client. Whatever kick-butt workout I had planned gets ditched, because I don’t teach or train clients to exercise through the pain. If your knee hurts, then you can’t lunge or squat. If your shoulder hurts, then you can’t push or pull. The rule is: if it hurts to do… don’t do.
What does a workout look like if we can’t work out?
These are actually my favorite sessions to teach! I love it when someone shows up in pain. Pain time is learning time. These sessions are an opportunity to show them where their pain is coming from. I can teach them how to treat and heal themselves. Instead of going through their regular workout, I pull out the foam roller and show them what and how to work on themselves specific to what they are feeling. I show them where the pain pattern is originating and how to help break it down.
Then we get them back on their feet and have them do the same exercise that was causing the pain. Nine times out of ten, they can perform the exercise with no pain. In the rare case that the pain doesn’t go away, I pull out the massage table and do deep tissue fascial massage. I follow up with corrective exercises to train their body to stabilize and move without pain. These are the most valuable sessions I offer. Teaching people how to move efficiently without pain. And more importantly, empowering them with knowledge, understanding, and tools in which they can integrate into their personal routine.
Foam roller therapy is a powerful tool in your fitness, health, and wellness arsenal. With consistent practice you can perform roughly 80% of the massage work that I do… on yourself. Eighty percent! That is powerful stuff. It means feeling better, better movement, getting more out of your workouts, improved posture, less time in pain, less time on the massage table, and you get more out of a professional massage since you are doing so much of the work on your own. When combined with a holistic training program, the benefits of foam roller therapy is well worth the effort.
This is from an email I recently received:
“I am told by 2 surgeons that I need hip surgery due to bone spur on right hip. Also have tight IT band. I am trying to avoid surgery and be pain free… Since I stumbled onto your website and started to do the foam rolling on all body parts I am pain free… Last surgeon said I have a tight IT band. Physio was targeting just the IT band and after reading what people have posted about rolling everything it made sense. I have been doing physiotherapy for close to a year and this is the first time that I have found relief.”
In the interest of full disclosure, I am an affiliate for Trigger Point Therapy. This means that if you purchase one of their products after clicking one of these links, I will get a small commission. That said, the only reason I am an affiliate for their products, primarily The Grid, is because I believe in it 100%.
Jesse James Retherford is a coach and therapist in Austin, TX. He helps his clients heal from the dysfunction of chronic pain and injury, recover and rebuild pain free posture and function, and propels them into the best condition of their lives so they can thrive physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in all aspects of their career and life. Find out more and sign up for his blog over at www.TAO-Fit.com