Snow Shoveling Posture
We've been getting a lot of snow, lately, huh? I suppose that's February in the Northeast. I've seen a lot a clients coming into my Westport office for massage therapy sessions with low back and shoulder pain due to snow shoveling. That leads to the question: How should one shovel snow in order to lessen the strain on the body?
Since the snow isn't nice enough to come up to our arm level, we need to bend down to shovel it. Herein lies the key to correct shoveling posture. Do we bend at the hip or at the knee? Which one of these pictures looks more correct?
If you said the second, you're right! Although it's easier to bend over from the hip and pick up the shovel with our arms and shoulders, it puts excess strain on the low back, neck and arms. In the second picture, however, essentially performing a squat motion is going to cause the least strain on the body. The knees bend, the shoulders come down directly over the hips and the rear is dropped behind. The arms are kept at a close range to the chest, keeping pressure off the upper arm muscles. Then lift up from the legs and glutes, pushing with force from the core to move the shoveled snow.
Sounds easy, right? Well anyone who's ever squatted with weight will tell you it's not. The good news is, with a bit of practice, you'll find that shoveling can be an exercise for your glutes, quads and abs, NOT your lower back and upper arms, which shouldn't be throwing the weight of a shovel-full of snow anyway. So after two days of shoveling heavy ice and snow, I woke up with sore glutes and abs – not the end of the world considering both of those areas always benefit from conditioning. Want more good news? Snow shoveling can burn around 350 calories per hour – so I think that's an excuse for an extra hot chocolate as a reward!
If you find that your posture is perfect when shoveling, and your muscles still ache, you're not the only one. That's the perfect time to come in for a session – massage therapy can ease muscle pain and increase recovery time. I'll see you in my Westport office!
February Monthly Special - 10 Extra Minutes for Only $10!
Any time this month, take advantage of this special offer by adding 10 extra minutes on to your session for only an extra $10! When you've carved out time for your massage therapy session, you want to get as much out of it as possible. If you feel that a little extra time will make all the difference, add 10 minutes to your session for this special rate! You might be surprised how much extra relaxation you can get in that time. I'll see you in my Westport office!
Hip Flexor Stretching – Part 3
We've been building up to this challenging hip flexor stretch... Can you do it?
In the past few weeks, we explored the anatomy of the hip flexor muscles and two stretches to help alleviate lower back pain and increase range of motion around the pelvis. This week, the most challenging hip flexor stretch – I can't even do this one perfectly!
Hip Flexor Stretch #3
Some may recognize this as the pigeon pose in yoga; it's such a fantastic stretch that those of us not involved in a yoga practice can benefit greatly from it.
Begin by sitting on your knees on the floor. Move toward laying on the top of the right leg: Place your hands on the floor, and put the left leg in front of your body, laying the leg on the floor with the lower leg as perpendicular to your body as possible. (You may find that keeping the foot closer to your body, or even under your body will make the stretch easier. If that is the only initial flexibility your hips allow, modify the stretch accordingly.) Straighten the right leg and point the toes, if possible.
Settle into sitting on the left leg, and gently push off the right leg with your fingertips, stretching the front of the hip. You'll notice that this stretch concurrently works both the front of one hip and the back of the other. A little bonus. Breathe deeply, don't arch your back, and relax into the stretch. Repeat on the other leg.
You may begin to notice how related the front of the hip, back of the hip and low back truly are; it's difficult to affect one of these areas without affecting the others. When you come into my office for a massage therapy session, we'll address all of these areas to best alleviate pain from all angles. And you can watch me attempt this stretch! I'll see you in my Westport office!
Feeling Stressed? Under the weather? Research proves massage therapy can help!
I'm always happy to see positive research results for massage therapy in the news, and recently, more researchers and journalists have touted the benefits of massage therapy for increasing immunity and lowering stress. It's great news! These benefits can be derived even from 30 minutes of gentle massage. And guess what? My monthly special is for just that length of session! It's more affordable than ever, and so beneficial! I'll see you in my Westport office!
Here are a few of my most favorite articles:
3 Ways to Beat the Holiday Stress - Women's Day
What Swedes Can Teach us About the Sniffles - Prevention
The Benefits of Massage Therapy - Florida Today
More Benefits of Massage Therapy (Video) - The Doctors
Hip Flexor Stretching – Part 2
Last time, we learned how the hip flexor muscles affect the alignment of the pelvis, and how tension in these muscles can relate to lower back pain. This week's stretch for the hip flexors is a bit more advanced, and can therefore lead to greater flexibility. Next week's stretch is the most advanced in my opinion; see which is easier for you! Perform these stretches in conjunction with simple low back stretching and you'll begin to notice easier motion walking, and even less pain sitting and laying.
Hip Flexor Stretch #2
(NOTE: This stretch may compress the low back. If you've had any lower back injuries or surgeries, it's probably not a good idea to perform this stretch, as it may aggravate previous issues. As always, we can discuss which stretches are appropriate for you and which are not after your scheduled session at my office. Please, use good judgment and respect your body when performing any stretches.)
Begin by sitting on your knees on the floor. Reach behind yourself and hold onto your right ankle with your right hand.
Take a deep breath and raise your left hand, pointing your fingertips to the ceiling.
Slowly move your left hand diagonally toward your right foot, reaching backward and trying to touch that right foot (which is almost physically impossible). Maintain space in your low back, NOT compressing the spine at all. Reach back as far as possible, stretching the front of that hip, breathing deeply and focusing on the muscles being stretched. Repeat on the other side.
This is one of my all time favorite stretches after a long day. It almost feels as if you can breathe easier after releasing the body in this way. Relax and enjoy it! Next time, we'll explore the most challenging hip flexor stretch so far – are you up for the challenge? As always, I'm happy to demonstrate these stretches and discuss your personal flexibility more completely during your scheduled massage therapy session. I'll see you in my Westport office!
Re-Post: The Snow Shoveling Workout
I first posted this series of stretches last winter, after the blizzard. At my house, we only got about 4 inches of slush yesterday, but I found myself slightly sore this morning, and I thought my clients farther North might feel that way too. So I'm re-posting the snow shoveling stretching series - this is really one of my favorite sequences of stretches. Trying them out, you might be surprised where you find tension. Take your time exploring the stretches, and if one muscle group seems tighter, spend a little more time there. Of course, I can always help you stretch during a session in my Westport office.
Phase 1: Lower body/low back
The simplest stretch, but one that we can often get less than perfect: Touching your toes. Start with your arms high above your head, fold at the waist, sticking your rear out, and with a flat back, reach to the floor. If you find that your hamstrings are too tight to reach the floor or to feel the stretch in your low back, feel free to bend your knees a little bit. Move back up slowly, keeping the back as flat as possible. You may also notice here that one side of the back is tighter than the other; if stretch both hands toward that side to release a bit further if that's the case.
Phase 2: Shoulder/upper arm
Reach one arm straight in front of the body, hook the other forearm underneath it, and push it toward the body with the other forearm, above the elbow. Gently use the second arm to pull the first closer to the body. This should stretch out the back of the shoulder and rotator cuff muscles. Repeat with the other arm.
Phase 3: Pecs
Stand in a doorway and hold onto the door jamb with one hand. Slowly pivot your body back so that you are perpendicular to the door frame. Try to keep your grip relaxed. Repeat with the other arm.
Phase 4: Forearms
Hold one forearm out in front of your body, palm facing out. Use your other hand to gently pull your fingers closer to your body, stretching the palm side of your arm (extensor muscles). Repeat with the other arm.
If you still feel some tension you can't pinpoint, I'm sure we can work it out in a massage session in my office. Enjoy!
15 Health Benefits of Massage
I'm loving this article - it succinctly points out a lot of the benefits of massage therapy. How many were you aware of? I'm always happy to talk about the scientific and health benefits of massage therapy at your session in my Westport office. Schedule your next session and we can make a lot of these benefits happen for you!
December Monthly Special
60 Minute Session Gift Certificate for only $75 (save $15!)
This is the busiest time of year for most of us. Massage can help alleviate your stress, as well as the stress of friends and family! Take advantage of this discount by purchasing a reduced price gift certificate either at my Westport office before or after your session, or by clicking the "Purchase a Gift Certificate" link at the top of the page. Massage therapy is one of the best values for money - you'll never regret spending 60 minutes relaxing! Thank you!
Hip Flexor Stretching – Part 1
Many of us spend a large part of the day sitting. This shortens and tightens the muscle group called “Hip Flexors”, which include psoas major, psoas minor, illiacus, and a little of pectineus, predominantly. These muscles work together to flex the leg, that is, move it into the position of sitting, with the upper leg in front of the hip. Often, we're not aware of the actions these muscles take, because they are small, and seemingly insignificant compared to our large posterior hip muscles, like the gluteal group. But these muscles can become very tight and pull down on the pelvis, creating an increased tilt and causing back pain. In fact, I check the tension in this muscle every time a client comes in to work on lower back pain, because it's often implicated.
Stretching the hip flexors will help to alleviate lower back pain, and even help you walk more upright and comfortably. Ideally, the pelvis will be neutral, with no tilt. Such as below:
But tight hip flexor muscles lead to an anterior (front) pelvis tilt, which increases pressure on the lower back:
By keeping the hip flexors loose and functioning properly, the pelvis maintains it's proper position. Since the pelvis is like the fulcrum of the entire body, this makes walking, standing, and even laying feel easier. In the next few posts, I'll explore three hip flexor stretches, starting with the easiest and moving to more advanced positions. Accept my challenge and see how many you can do easily!
Hip Flexor Stretch #1
Sitting on the floor with your leg bent at the knee on the side of your body, hold your right ankle with your right hand and move your leg toward your back, letting the movement of your upper leg push your body onto the left side. Rest on your right arm and increase the stretch by pulling your ankle toward your back. Ideally, the foot would be able to touch the low back (although that almost never happens!). Breathe into the stretch and attempt to pull the ankle closer to the back, gently. Repeat on the other side.
Balancing the pelvis is beneficial for almost everyone, but especially those who work at a desk or sit most of the day. To see if you've made a difference in flexibility, perform these stretches on the front of the hip, and stretch the low back by simply trying to touch the toes. Ideally, the stretching will help you to have greater low back range of motion, and definitely decrease in pain and tension. When you come in for your scheduled massage therapy session, I'm happy to help you explore these stretches more and help with any complicated low back issues you may be experiencing. I'll see you in my Westport office!
Healthy Recipe: Curried Butternut Squash with Brown Rice
This is one of my favorite fall recipes! The squash is sweet and the curry is spicy, so they're a perfect match. When butternut squash is in season, it's healthy, inexpensive, and most of all, delicious. Roasting is one of my favorite ways to prepare it, and here, the squash roasts in the oven right along with the rice. The prep for this dish takes about half an hour, then it's all hands off time, which makes it super easy for weeknights. Feel free to substitute coconut milk for some of the water the rice cooks in; this will give the rice a creamier texture. This dish will keep well in the fridge for up to 5 days, and tastes even better the next day, so it's perfect for make ahead meals and lunchtime leftovers!
The ingredients are super simple – you may already have them in your fridge. In addition to this meal being super easy, it's also really cheap!
If you're squeamish about cutting up the butternut squash, know that it gets way easier with practice. (Although if it'll make your life easier, you can get away with the pre-cubed squash from the grocery store.) I cut off the top and bottom, separate the round part from the neck (the longer part), peel each section with a sharp knife (although you could use a sharp vegetable peeler), cut each section in half then into the desired size. Scoop out the pulp and seeds – you can roast them just like pumpkin seeds with a little olive oil and salt. They're a really yummy snack or a crunchy topping for your dish.
My method of roasting most vegetables (and even croutons), is to put oil on the baking sheet before the veg; this uses the least amount of oil, and confirms nothing will stick. Then put all your veg on the sheet and toss from the bottom up, coating with oil until glossy.
The squash is best on the bottom rack, with the rice on the middle rack above it. This ensures the squash gets a little crispy and the rice doesn't.
As you can tell, my love of both jalepeno and garlic is extreme. Feel free to use more or less of any of the rice flavorings, to your taste. This was one jalepeno, and in truth, it did burn my tongue a bit! I use a microplane grater to mince my ginger, but you can chop it if you prefer.
Saute the scallion, garlic, ginger and jalepeno all at the same time – easy!
Adding the rice to the flavored oil and tossing for a minute or so ensures the rice grains stay separate and add AMAZING flavor. You're not out to color the rice at all, just to get it coated and smelling great.
Whenever cooking rice in the oven (which is the easiest way!), always bring the liquid to a boil on the stove first. It'll boil much more quickly on a burner than in the oven, which shortens your overall cooking time.
Curried Butternut Squash with Brown Rice
3-5 tablespoons canola oil (as needed)
2 cups long grain brown rice (I use basmati)
1 large butternut squash, 1.5-2.5 pounds
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon hot curry powder, to taste
6 large scallions, minced with green and white sections separated
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 inches peeled fresh ginger, minced
1 jalepeno, minced
4 cups water (with coconut milk standing in for a portion, if you prefer)
1 small bunch mint
1-2 limes, to taste
Salt & pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place about 2 tablespoons canola oil directly on the baking sheet. Set aside.
The squash: Peel and cut the butternut squash into about 2” cubes. Place the squash onto the prepared baking sheet, and toss to coat in the oil. Sprinkle the squash with the curry powders and turmeric and toss again to coat, adding more oil if you feel it's necessary. Sprinkle generously with salt and ground pepper. Place the squash on the bottom rack of the oven to cook.
The rice: In a medium cast iron, oven-proof pot, saute the white parts of the scallion, garlic, ginger and jalepeno in about 1-2 tablespoons canola oil on high heat for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir until the rice is a glossy and scented, about 1-2 more minutes. Add the water (and coconut milk, if using) and stir once more to combine. Add about 1-2 teaspoons salt, or to taste. Bring to a boil. Place the lid on and put in the oven with the squash.
Roast the squash and cook the rice for about 45 minutes each, until each is tender. If the squash starts to brown too much, simply reduce the temperature. If it's not browning enough, add another tablespoon or two of the canola oil.
In the meantime, mince the mint leaves and reserve.
When the rice and squash are cooked fully, add the squash to the pot with the rice and stir to combine. The rice should take on the orange-y color of the squash and turmeric. Add the mint and reserved green scallion tops. Squeeze in lime juice, to taste. Adjust final salt and pepper to taste and serve!
October & November Monthly Special
Extra 10 minutes for only $10!
Any time you book a session during October & November, mention this special and pay only $10 for an extra 10 minutes on your session! We can accomplish a lot in each session, but an extra 10 minutes helps you feel more relaxed, and always allows for focus on an extra area of tension (or two!). An incredible deal!
Thanks for booking, and I'll see you in my Westport office!
Trap Stretching – Part 2
Last time, we discussed the anatomy of the Trap muscle, and explored one effective stretch for it. I've also previously posted an entry about Quad muscle stretching with an addition of trap stretching. (Read Quad/Trap/SCM Stretch Post Here.) In my opinion, that modified quad stretch is the best for traps. But there's another, more relaxing stretch that we'll discuss this week.
As we discussed last week, the Trap attaches from the upper neck to the upper arm bone and down the back. Therefore, arm movement is critical in stretching the trap, as we'll discuss:
Start by lying on a hard surface on one
side of your body (we'll start with the right side for orientation
purposes). Keep your upper and lower body in a straight line, with
your toes pointed and bottom (right) arm out, perpendicular to your
body, top (left) arm resting on your body. Use your core to support
your body and the stretch by pulling your belly button into your
spine. (Please click on the image below to enlarge.)
Let your head hang over your shoulder, already stretching the side of the neck. Push your top (left) arm toward your toes, and pull your head up, essentially pulling your body in opposing directions. Slowly move your head and hand diagonally opposite, twisting the head and moving the arm up and down, until you find a tight spot. When you do find a good spot, move your arm and head in small circles, still pulling away from each other. This will help mobilize the joints and move the muscle in a way that's nearly impossible when standing up. Keep your neck and upper body loose and gentle and repeat the stretch on the other side. Remember to breathe and relax. Enjoy!
The Traps are tight on almost everyone, and although these stretches will help your movement, nothing's better than a massage! I'm happy to help you identify tighter spots during a session in my Westport office.
Trap Stretching – Part 1
Almost every client who comes into my office for massage therapy (or every person I meet!) has tight shoulders. The Trapezius (“Trap”) muscle comprises what most of us consider “shoulders”. It is a very complicated muscle, not only because of the actions it performs, but because of where on the body it is located. It's location makes it challenging to stretch and train, but not impossible, as we'll examine in the next few blog posts.
The Trap attaches from the very top of the neck at the base of the skull, out to the edge of the upper arm bone, then in and down to the inner edge of the shoulder blade, then to the lower thoracic spine (about T-12). Phew. So it's clear that the anatomy of this particular muscle is all over the back of the body. It accounts for most the movement of our shoulders (especially up to our ears!) and movement of the neck backward (extension) and from side to side, among other movements, of course.
The First Stretch:
So how do we go about stretching this muscle? First, we can learn to move the upper arm (humerus) down, which pulls the traps down from our ears, releasing tension. When our shoulders go up, when driving, or typing, or even sitting, the tension creeps up slowly and often without our realizing it. So the key point of this week's entry is to understand how to keep those shoulders down, as far down to the floor as possible. We do that by actively and mentally controlling our upper arms.
We can control this movement without weight, just by taking note of when the trap starts to move up, or with weight. With weight, all that's required is to hold the weight (it could even be a full water bottle) softly in your fist, with palms turned in to the body, shoulders back, neck and head up and straight (good posture!) and let the weight pull down your arms. It's helpful to breathe and relax and just let the weight do it's job. People are often surprised that it feels like their shoulders move down a number of inches! Repeat this stretch gently any time you start to feel tension in your shoulders, and eventually, your body will start to remember how that muscle can relax and lay comfortably.
Next week, we'll discuss more active stretches for the trap, and how tension in it can affect headaches and posture.
then, enjoy this mind over body stretch,
and I'll see you in my Westport office!
Posterior Hip Stretching - Part 2 - The Piriformis muscle
In the previous post, I addressed how stretching the gluteal muscles can help improve flexibility, and help alleviate lower back issues. Another muscle that's implicit in lower back pain is Piriformis. This muscle is tight in almost every client on my massage table, even though almost no client realizes it before the session. It can pull quite strongly on the sacrum of the spine, that is the very lowest part of the back. This means it's often responsible for lower back "aches", especially while sitting, laying, or even while sleeping. It even has it's own syndrome ["Piriformis Syndrome"], wherein its' constriction pushes on the nerve running down the back of the leg, causing tingling and even numbness in the leg, feet and toes. This is often seen in clients who run longer distances, as well as those who bicycle often, as the seat pushes directly on this muscle.
Almost every client is surprised to find this muscle is tender; regular massage works wonders for it's function, but this stretch is very important too.
The piriformis muscle attaches from the anterior sacrum to the top of the femur (thigh bone). This means it is involved in rotating the thigh interiorly and exteriorly, as well as moving the thigh up, especially in running or cycling. It's has also been suggested that it's antagonist muscles are the psoas major/minor, which are on the front of the body, deep in the abdomen and pelvis. Therefore when one muscle is tight, the other often is too. You may find that after performing this stretch, it's a little easier to stand up straighter and move your legs more freely.
I'll explain this stretch on one side of the body first, for ease of orientation. Sitting on a hard surface, cross the left leg over the right, so that the left leg is still bent, foot flat on the floor, knee pointing up. Anchor the right (opposite) elbow in the outside of the knee, as far outside as you can stretch to reach. Twist the upper body ever so slightly, and use the elbow to push the knee as far as it can stretch toward the other (right) leg; this action will twist the upper body extremely, but focus your energy on moving the knee, rather than spiraling the spine. Breathe into the stretch and repeat 3 times on each side.
Sometimes this stretch can feel very uncomfortable, as the piriformis muscle is quite deep underneath other muscles, and very small comparatively. But keep at it - the rewards of loosening the posterior hip muscles are huge! Practicing this and the previous gluteal stretch every day will make such a huge change in your lower body flexibility, opening the legs and even freeing the lower back to function optimally. Regular massage therapy on these muscles will also help you to realize where they are on your body, and how they need attention. I'm happy to help you understand these stretches more fully at your next appointment. I'll see you in my Westport office!
June Monthly Special
This month, all my wonderful loyal clients can take advantage of double referral rewards!
Typically, when you refer a new client to me, you each get $10 off your next session. But this month, when you refer a friend, he/she still gets $10 off, but my existing client gets $20 off!
It's my way of saying I have the best clients ever, and I thank each of you for coming. I'll see you in my Westport office (hopefully with a little discount!)