Pains that Sneak Up on Us

Why does something I've done hundreds/thousands of times without any issue all of a sudden start hurting?

I get asked this question a lot, and I understand why.  We experience pain and want an answer as to why, because if we know why, we can do something to fix it; right?  Sometimes it's easy, ie. you stub your toe on that brick that is slightly higher than the rest, and break your toe...simple.  But what about those times when there is no simple reason why you are now in pain, and the longer it goes on the harder we search for answers.

The strain that accumulates in our body has 2 main avenues of becoming problematic;

  1. Increasing the amount of strain we place on our bodies without allowing it time to accommodate.

  2. Not taking care of our bodies when we are placing more strain on them.

Now, it is a multi-factorial issue and does not just include the actual strain on our tissues; stress and anxiety, lack of sleep, and poor diet/nutrition are a few things that can also play a role, but lets look at those 2 causes.

  1. Our bodies are awesome and capable of so much; just look around at what our fellow human beings are able to accomplish.  However, you have to give your body time to adapt and accommodate to new things or risk injury.  If your idea of running is to catch a bus, you need to start small and slowly increase the amount you run before attempting a marathon.

    This is a simple example, but try to put what you do into that context; relative to what your body normally deals with, what are you asking of it?  Does it seem like a big jump it what it has been used to?  Its the relative increases that I'm talking about here, it may not seem like much, but if you keep piling on additional strains without giving your body the chance to increase its tolerance, you will get closer and closer to your pain threshold.

  2. The other side of the issue is when something you have done seemingly forever, all of a sudden is painful.  This fits most times when people "throw their back out" (a term that generally annoys me, because their back didn't actually go anywhere, or change in structure, but that's another blog post).

    Your daily routine hasn't changed for years, but all of a sudden what you normally do hurts, it is most likely due to the fact that you haven't taken care of those muscles and joints properly.  Muscles get tight with use, even healthy ones, and if they stay tight enough for long enough, they can prevent joints from functioning properly, which can lead to increased sensitivity and pain.

If you are experiencing pain, then it is best to see a physiotherapist to help you, but if you haven't had pain yet, then there are some simple things you can do to help prevent pain from showing up.

  • Move; if you adopt 1-2 postures all day, then you need to start adding 'movement breaks'; 1-2 minutes every 20-30 minutes to perform a few simple stretches or exercises.

  • Take 10 minutes a day to perform muscle releases on tight/knotted muscles that can cause pain (if unsure where to start, come see us and we can help).

  • Ensure you get enough sleep; this can seem overly simple, but a good sleep can positively affect numerous areas of our lives.

  • Improve your work-life balance; ensure that you take time for fun/enjoyment, again this seems overly simple, but it's important for stress/anxiety management to have fun.

  • Get active; physical activity/exercise is by far the best medicine known to humankind; study after study have proven that this is the best investment we can make in our bodies.

Remember, our bodies are amazing and have almost limitless potential, but they won't get there overnight, and as even the finest sports car needs maintenance, so do we.

Stretching and Muscles Releases - When and Why

Stretching has been around a long time, and it is a well-established way of helping us move more and feel better, but another way to do this is with muscle releases.

Stretching (the classic, ‘pull and hold’) often makes us feel good, it helps us move and get into positions that we wouldn’t normally get into throughout the day, and it can form an important part of rehab from some tendon overuse injuries. There have been lots of studies done that show stretching can increase your flexibility as well, especially when performed after physical activity. However, it is most effective if you have a muscle that is tight throughout its length, if you have specific ‘knots’ in a muscle, stretching will not get rid of these, and if you have nerve tightness or irritation, stretching can actually aggravate your symptoms.

Muscle releases however, target those specific muscle knots and can help them to, you guessed it, release.  Now, I should be clear, the term 'Knots' is misleading; there is no evidence to suggest that our muscles somehow detach themselves and tie themselves into bows as the term implies.  What does happen, is muscles develop focal areas that are especially painful when pressure is applied to them.  We know that when this happens muscles do not function as well (produce as much force) and if they persist, then they can affect other muscles or joints, as well as cause nerve irritation.  Okay, rant over, but seriously, why do they occur?  They usually develop in hard working muscle; normal healthy muscle that gets used a lot (work or the gym), and over-worked muscles due to weakness in other areas, or mal-adaptive compensation patterns.

How do I release muscles?  Once you have identified a muscle that needs releasing, you can use either a trigger point ball (lacrosse ball or tennis ball) or foam roller.  If the muscle is too painful to apply direct pressure to it, you can work around the area, but otherwise you want to apply pressure right on the painful spot.  This should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and you need to hold it for at least 90 seconds for it to have a long term effect; then repeat 2-3 more times.

So, to summarize, stretching muscles and moving our joints (safely) to their limits, is great for maintaining (or gaining) flexibility and function, and muscle releases are great for maintaining our hard working muscles and keeping them functioning at a high level.

Both are excellent tools, and neither are wrong, but you should be employing them for what they are best at.  If you have any questions about which muscles you should be working on, or if you may have some nerve irritation, it's best to book in with a physiotherapist, and we can help you develop a 'maintenance' plan (for lack of a better term).

Preventing Falls and Fractures Before They Happen

Everyone will experience a fall in the home or community at some point (some of us more often the others), and the consequences of this are usually no more than a few bruises and a wounded ego.  However, as we age, the consequences of a fall become more sinister, and thus the importance of preventing them increases.

There are a number of approaches to preventing falls, and they are all important:

  1. Stay active!  We have all heard the phrase “use it or lose it”, but “move it or lose it” is just as accurate in this case.  The absolute best thing to help reduce your risk of disease, declining cognitive function and yes, falls, is exercise.  There are mountains of evidence piling up to support this, and when it comes to the aging individual, exercise is going help with mental function, joint health, pain reduction, independence, and balance.

    The more sedentary you are, the more your muscles will get smaller and weaker, contributing to weaker bones, slower reflexes, balance impairments and less ‘padding’ for if you do fall.

    There are some exercises and activity types that are better for maintaining muscle strength and bone density, but any increase in activity is going to help, just make sure if it is something you haven’t done before that you pace yourself, and if you have any specific medical conditions, it’s best to see your doctor first, and ensure that your physical activity program is developed and monitored by a physiotherapist.

  2. Improve your balance and reaction speed.  Your balance is a function of your muscles, joints and ligaments, and as we age, they need more specific training to maintain their ability.  This can be accomplished with specific exercises meant to improve balance, but also by increasing muscles strength in key muscles.  Also, training your reflexes in safe environment, such as a quick step to the front if you stumble, is important.  Your physiotherapist will be able to create an exercise plan for you that will address your balance impairments.

  3. Ensure you’re getting adequate nutrition.  This can be a big challenge for some people, but your muscles need fuel to work properly, and your bones need calcium and vitamin D to maintain their density.  This isn’t always straight forward to correct, so if you think you may need help, see your doctor about any questions you might have. 

  4. Look around your home and reduce the hazards.  Some things are easy like tidying up so there are no items lying around you may trip on, or fastening down loose carpets, getting the loose step fixed, etc.  But if you have a dark area of your home, increased lighting might help, or a few more handrails if you have an older home.  If you think your home needs more supports, see your doctor about a referral for an Occupational Therapist to come to you home and make suggestions.

  5. Lastly, if you use a cane or walker, make sure it is set up right for you.  I'm always amazed at how many people I see using equipment that has not been correctly adjusted; you wouldn't drive a car if the brakes or steering were obviously wrong...right?

While age is a risk factor we cannot change, there is plenty of steps you can take to reduce your risk and continue to be active and healthy, well into your Golden Years.  Make an appointment with us and we can discuss your specific issues and come up with a tailored plan to help you get the most out of life!