Feet, Hip/Leg Pain, Lymph, Pictures of Exercises, Sitting

Make Fists With Your Toes

We are flying back to California for Christmas today. If your trip is like ours, you drive about an hour to the airport, sit on the plane for another couple hours (in our case about 4 ½), then ride in a car another hour or (or 3 depending on Los Angeles traffic) to your destination. If you’re like me, that last hour in the car feels like an eternity.

You don’t have much of a choice when it comes to sitting in the car or on the plane. The time you spend in the airport? You have a choice how you spend that time. When your plane is delayed, and you have 4 hours to kill at the airport, you have lots of time to move around before you are confined to your seat. I try to move around as much as possible (and sit as little as possible) while waiting for my flight. This is how we did it today:

1.   I like to check my bag, so that I have more freedom to walk around. (I love that you don’t have to pay to check bags on Southwest, so I try to fly them when possible.) When I’m not schlepping a bag around, I am more inclined to take the stairs instead of the escalator and move more in general while at the airport.

2.   I recommend a bag or backpack that stays on securely without needing to use your hands or scrunch your shoulder up to your ear to keep it on. This also allows you to swing your arms freely while walking and keep your upper body less tense. Letting the arms swing while walking is great for moving lymph (as is walking itself) which helps your immune system. (More on this here.) 

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3.   These are some stretches I like to do at the airport that don’t involve getting down on the floor. Your hips, legs, and spine will thank you!

Yes, the airport is strangely empty 2 days before Christmas.

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Standing Hamstring Stretch: Prop your foot up on something, flexing the toes towards the shin. Try to straighten the standing leg and back up your pelvis.
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Thoracic Stretch: Place your hands on a wall, roll the elbows in towards each other so the elbow “pits” point up towards the ceiling and elbows point towards the floor. Drop the chest towards the floor as you hinge forward from the hips.
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Lunge: Keep the front knee over the shin as you drop the hips towards the ground. Keep the torso over the hips. This stretches the hip flexors (front of the back leg) and is quiet a bit of work for the other leg muscles at the same time.
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Wide Leg Wall Glide: Stand with your legs wide and feet about 6 inches from a wall. Hinge forward from the hips, untucking the pelvis.
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Then glide the pelvis back and forth. You will feel your backside sliding along the wall. Keep the knees straight ( and quads relaxed if you can). This stretches lots of nooks and crannies in the hips.

 

4.   When you have A TON of time, you can sample local craft beers with Lucy, the bartender from Croatia, see pictures of her hometown, and dream about going there. One thing I love about bar counters (or bar height tables) is that you can stand while other people sit, and it’s not awkward at all. After learning about Croatia, you can take your beer to go, walk around the airport, and browse the bookstore. Apparently there are no “open container” rules at Nashville International Airport.

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5.   Once you are on the plane and captive to your seat, you can still get in a little movement. Debbie at Positively Aligned demonstrates some options here. And of course, there’s always John McClane’s seat mate’s advice, “make fists with your toes”. (A reference to Die Hard, one of my husband’s favorite Christmas movies; although, I would argue it has very little to do with Christmas. It doesn’t have the same “get in the Christmas spirit” affect as It’s a Wonderful Life or Christmas Vacation.) Nevertheless, try it, it really does feel amazing. Swelling of the feet and lower legs is a huge problem for a lot of people when they fly, and any movement helps the circulation to the area. Getting up mid flight to walk up and down the aisles is helpful as well. I try to get an aisle seat, so I can take as many “bathroom” (aka walking) breaks as I want.

Whether you are traveling or not, I wish you a very merry, healthy and movement filled Christmas!

(For My Husband: “Ho Ho Ho, now I have a machine gun!”)

Habits, Hip/Leg Pain, Pictures of Exercises, Sitting

. . .but what about when I DO sit?

I’m always telling my clients about the health benefits of sitting less, and the question that usually follows is something like this: “…but what about when I DO sit? What’s the best way?”  I know that you aren’t going to spend the ENTIRE day standing and walking (and I would not advise that you do so).  At some point, you will have a lunch date or drive in your car or sit down because you are tired. And that’s ok.  It’s not that sitting is inherently bad and standing is inherently good.  The problem comes when we remain in one position almost constantly (whether it’s sitting, standing, or anything else). Moving your body through many different positions throughout the day is the best way to keep all the tissues healthy.  

When you do sit, here are some things to think about.

  1. Sit for short periods of time, and don’t sit in the same position for hours on end.

    neutral pelvis
    When sitting with a neutral pelvis, the ASIS and Pubic Symphysis are stacked vertically. You will have your natural lumbar curve (called lordosis).
  2. Sit with a neutral pelvis. You know when a little kid sits on your lap and their “butt bones” dig into your thigh? Those are called the ischial tuberosities (or sitz bones), and you want to sit up on those rather than on your sacrum (tailbone). See picture on the right. (Thanks to Susanne at Kangaroo Fitness for the great photo.)
  3. Sit in a variety of positions.  I like to sit on the floor and put my food/computer/bills/etc on the coffee table.  If your hips are really tight (like mine), try sitting with your hips elevated to help get your pelvis neutral.  These are some of my favorites:

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Turns out it’s really hard to take side view photos of yourself.  Not exactly high quality, but you get the idea.

When we sit, we tend to always sit with 90 degrees of hip and knee flexion (think sitting in a chair).  Note: Sitting on an exercise ball may add instability, but it’s still sitting with 90 degrees at the hip and knee.  Mixing up your positions will stretch the muscles of your legs and increase the mobility of your hip and knee joints.  This way you can work on your health while you do the other things you need to do. Increase circulation while you answer emails. Decrease hip pain while you eat lunch.  Improve your pelvic floor health while you play a game with your kids.  If you’re like me, you probably have tight hips, but you don’t have 5 extra hours everyday to stretch them.  This is a simple (but not easy) way merge your “I need to fix my hips” time with your “I have a million things to do” time.

For more ideas, you can see pictures of resting postures from around the world here.

 

 

Feet, Hip/Leg Pain, Pictures of Exercises, Shoes

5 Steps to Safely Transition to Minimal Shoes

Minimal or barefoot shoes have become increasingly popular in the last few years because of their health benefits.  Vibram claims their shoes will strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs, improve range of motion, stimulate neural function, eliminate heel lift to align the spine, and allow the body to move naturally.  Under the right conditions, minimal shoes can absolutely facilitate these changes; however, most of us don’t have feet that are healthy enough for these shoes without some training. 

Being barefoot is natural, but our feet don’t function naturally anymore.  Two main factors in our modern environment have led to feet that are severely lacking in muscle strength, joint mobility and neurological connection:

  1. Shoes that have stiff, supportive soles and positive heels
  2. The lack of natural surfaces in our environment.

The lawsuit against Vibram Five Fingers has been all over the news and social media the last few days. I’m not going to get into it, but you can read the details and an analysis by Katy Bowman here if you are interested.  The problem is not that Vibrams (or any minimal/barefoot shoe) are dangerous; the problem is that our feet are deconditioned, and we fail to properly train them before jumping into a minimal shoe. Wearing a “supportive” shoe your whole life and then one day putting on Vibrams to go for a hike is like wearing a full body cast your whole life and then trying to do a cross fit workout.  You the lack strength, mobility and neurological connections necessary, and you are going to get hurt.  A principle of any good exercise program is a gradual, appropriate increase in the demand you place on the tissues.

My friend and fellow Restorative Exercise™ Specialist, Jennifer Gleeson Blue, put it this way, “You know how you don’t take someone on the brink of death-by-hypothermia and submerge them in a hot bath? It’s the same with minimal shoes. Your feet are on the brink of death-by-stability-shoe. But step one isn’t a five finger shoe.”  

5 Steps to Transition to a Minimal Shoe:

1) Stop wearing positive heeled shoes.  Switch to flat shoes and make sure they are wide enough for your toes to wiggle and spread.  If you can tolerate it, try a shoe that has a more flexible sole. Even some athletic shoes have a heel that is slightly higher than the toes, so look closely!

2) Stretch your calves.  Wearing positive heeled shoes causes the calves to become short and tight.  We need to restore length to the calves to allow us to safely transition to a flat or minimal shoe.

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CALF STRETCH: Place the ball of one foot on a rolled up towel/yoga mat or a half foam roller. The heel should remain on the floor. Hold at least 1 min, then switch feet.

3) Work on toe and foot mobility. Do these stretches to release muscle tension, improve circulation and neurological connection, and decrease pain.

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Stand on one foot, reach the other foot behind you, tucking the toes under. Hold for 1 min, then switch feet. If you get foot cramps, take a break and try again.
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TOE LIFTS: Work on lifting each toe individually. This is a motor skill we should have! Keep practicing until the neurological connection has been restored.
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TOE SPREADING: Stick your fingers between your toes to stretch the little muscles between the toes. You can also buy Foot Alignment Socks that do the same thing.
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TENNIS BALL MASSAGE: Stand with a tennis ball under the ball or your foot. Hold for 1 min. Try to relax and let the foot drape over the ball. Roll the ball back towards the arch, finding a sore spot. Hold for 1 min. Continue down the length of the foot until you reach the heel.

4) Spend time barefoot around the house and backyard.  Try out a variety of surfaces.  This allows your feet to start getting reacquainted with FEELING things when you walk around.

NOTE: This transition may take weeks, months, or even years depending on the current health of your feet.  Steps 1-4 are important for EVERYONE regardless of whether you intend to wear minimal shoes or not.  If your foot has undergone significant damage from a lifetime of ill-use, surgery, or injury, minimal shoes may not be appropriate for you. That’s ok. You can still receive huge benefits from the above steps.

5) Start with short distances and natural surfaces in your minimal/barefoot shoes.  Once you are ready to start wearing your new shoes, start with small distances.  Slowly increase your walking mileage before you even think about running. (Although I don’t really I recommend running in minimal shoes.) Start with natural surfaces such as grass, mulch, or dirt to start training your feet.   Concrete and asphalt are unnaturally hard surfaces and may cause you pain and injury.  (I can wear my vibrams all day on natural surfaces, but I can only last about a mile on concrete.) As you increase strength and mobility, you can increase your mileage and try a greater variety of surfaces.

We just got back from a week in the Great Smoky Mountains.  It was BEAUTIFUL!  I was inspired by “Screen Free Week” to take a tech break while we were there.  I used my iPhone only as a phone, camera and map/GPS, and I stayed off Facebook, email, Instagram, etc.  It was a great decision for the health of my body and mind.  I highly recommend it!

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These are pictures from a 5 mile hike up and over a ridge, down into a valley with a waterfall, and back.  You can see (in the first picture) how rocky and uneven the ground was.  The trail was covered in pebbles, rocks, tree roots, mud, moss…. and my feet, legs, and hips felt great (tired, but great) the whole way and even better the next day!  Had I done this hike  in Vibrams 2 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have made it all the way, and I definitely would have been in serious pain.  I’ve been “training” my feet for 4 years now, so they could handle the workout.  Wearing minimal shoes can be a very healthy and enjoyable experience, but you have to do the prep work!

vibrams           bridgem&tabramsfalls

PS- In case you’re looking for a new pair, here is a GREAT list of minimal shoes.  Click here for winter weather options.

 

Back Pain, Habits, Health, Hip/Leg Pain, Pictures of Exercises, Pregnancy, Standing

“Alignment, Is That Like Posture?”

Happy New Year!

I thought I’d start off 2014 by addressing one of the questions I was most commonly asked last year: “Alignment, is that like posture?”.  

When I tell people that I teach alignment, what usually comes next is something like  “Alignment, is that like posture?” or “Oh, I need that, I have terrible posture.”  While they may sound like the same thing, alignment and posture are actually two different things.  Posture is how something looks. Alignment is how something works. Posture is subjective and cultural. Alignment is objective and scientific.

“Good posture” means different things to different people.  We decide that a particular posture is good if it creates a look that is seen as desirable.  Certain postures might look good, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy.  Different sports or activities require a particular posture  to maximize performance or to create a certain aesthetic.  (This usually occurs at the expense of tissue longevity.  Look at all the best athletes and dancers.  They are REALLY good at their sport, but their career is usually over by age 40.)

balletWhether it’s intentional or not, we often use our body position to say something about ourselves— a macho guy who puffs up chest to look tough, a tall kid who stands slouched over to appear shorter, a woman who sucks her stomach in to look thinner—you get the idea.  Sometimes we adopt a particular posture for a good reason, such as coping with an injury or surgery, but continue the habit once the need is no longer there without even realizing it.  

Bad posture370

I’m writing this on an airplane, and one of my seatmates asked me what I’m writing about. We got to talking about posture and where the notion of good posture comes from. Seatmate #1 said  her parents told her good posture meant standing up straight and holding your stomach in. Seatmate #2 said she spent time living in another country (I wish I could remember which one…. somewhere in Asia) and that the desired posture for women in that culture was a stooped over position because it showed humility. A woman who walked around with her head held high and “stood up straight” would not be respected.  Subjective & cultural.

Optimal skeletal alignment is objective.  It’s based on science—anatomy, physiology, biology and physics—rather than culture.  It’s the orientation of all the parts that allows everything to work the way it is supposed to work with the least amount of damage.  Think about the alignment of your car.  You go to the mechanic, and they adjust the alignment.  (No one ever took their car in to get the posture checked.)  They make sure all the parts are in the proper position—not just to allow your car to run, but to help all the parts wear evenly, and ensure that the vehicle doesn’t sustain unnecessary wear and tear.  The same is true for your body.  When your musculoskeletal system is aligned, all your body systems can function properly, for as long as possible, with the least amount of unnecessary wear and tear.

This image is taken from the Restorative Exercise™ Specialist training manual. It shows the 25 points to consider when assessing skeletal alignment.

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The 25 Points of Alignment described by Katy Bowman.

Here’s your first step to good alignment: Back up your pelvis.

First, let your pelvis shift forward.  (Notice the picture on the left.)  You will feel more pressure in the front of your feet than the heels.  Now back your pelvis up until you feel more pressure in your heels. (Notice the picture on the right.)  That’s where you want it.  Your legs should be straight (no bent or locked knees) when you do this. Can you feel the difference?


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 Left: My pelvis is out over the front of my feet, and my upper body is actually behind my pelvis.

Right: My pelvis is stacked right over my ankles. There is a vertical line from ear, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle.

(Don’t let the “I Dream of Jeannie” arms confuse you…they aren’t part of it.  I’m holding them up so they don’t block the view of my pelvis.)

NOW, check out the lines I can make with my super awesome (not at all nerdy) grid app.  It’s much easier to see the differences when there are actual lines.

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SO COOL, right?  I’m not a very “techy” person, but I LOVE this app.  Go by the objective alignment marker (a vertical line) rather than how it feels.  If you go by what feels right (subjective), you will always go back to your old postural habits.  To see the lines on yourself, you can hold a belt or strap at the center of your hip joint and watch where it falls.  It’s helpful to do this in front of a mirror.  You would want the weight bearing, structural beams of your house to be completely vertical (perpendicular to gravity), and it’s the same for your legs.

IMG_1236Just backing your pelvis up will reduce unnecessary damage to your feet, knees, hips, and spine.  This position gives you stronger bones and better pelvic floor function. You will use more leg muscle which means a higher metabolism and better circulation– all this just by shifting your pelvis.

Whatever your health goals are for 2014– less pain, stronger muscles, better balance, fewer headaches– working on your alignment is the first step!  In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more about the differences between posture and alignment and giving you simple, practical steps to make big improvements. 

PS- Read part 2: “Stand up Straight” here. 

Back Pain, Habits, Health, Hip/Leg Pain, Sitting, Standing

More Exercise Isn’t The Answer

WHAT?!

I know, I know. Hear me out.

You may have seen this article in Buinessweek that came out a few years ago titled Your Office Chair is Killing You. It focuses mainly on the way that sitting negatively affects the alignment of your spine, encouraging a “C” shape instead of the natural “S” curve, which leads to degenerative disks, neck/back pain, osteoporosis of the vertebra, bulging disks, high blood pressure and about a hundred other things. It also talks about the metabolic changes that occur after prolonged sitting, which increase our risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Sitting in a chair all day make the muscles of the legs very tight, which causes hip/leg pain and significantly reduces the circulation to the lower body. Do your feet or legs get numb halfway through the work day? Now you know why! Tight muscles of the hips and leg are also a huge culprit in back pain because they can pull the spine out of alignment. When you are sitting, your muscles are pretty inactive, which significantly affects metabolic processes in your body.

We all know that it’s unhealthy to be sedentary, but here is the part that is often misunderstood.

“People need to understand that the qualitative mechanisms of sitting are completely different from walking or exercising,” says University of Missouri microbiologist Marc Hamilton. “Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. They do completely different things to the body.”

Did you catch that? Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little.  If you go to the gym everyday, you may  consider yourself an active or fit person. What you need to understand is that an hour at the gym everyday is not enough to counteract the damage of sitting all day.  That’s like eating a salad for dinner to make up for the fact that you smoked all day.  It doesn’t work like that, right? No amount of kale is going to undo those cigarettes.   The research shows we need to sit less, not just exercise more.

Take this quiz to find out how much you ACTUALLY sit each day. It’s very eye opening.  The first time I did it, I was shocked!

If you are a student or have a desk job, sitting less requires some creativity. Read how to transition to a standing desk here.

This is my new desk that I made recently.  It started out as a $19 baby changing table from the thrift store.  Unfortunately, in my excitement, I forgot to take the “before” picture before I tore off the box part on top. (You know, those side pieces that keep the baby from rolling off.)

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I attached a piece of plywood on top, painted it, and found some cute hardware in the clearance bin at Cost Plus World Market.  A non traditional desk doesn’t have to be expensive or ugly!

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I like to multi task by stretching my calves while I work. My dog likes to be RIGHT next to me all the time. Sometimes it ends up looking like this.

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Just by standing up you will:

  • Increase your metabolism & circulation
  • Use more muscles during your day
  • Reduce hip, leg & back pain
  • Build bone density
  • Decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease, obesity & diabetes

It’s not that standing is a magic pill, it’s just a simple way to start reducing the amount of time you are sitting in a chair.  You can swap your chair sitting time for sitting on the floor in different positions and other types of movement.  The goal is varied and regular movement throughout the day.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, meet at a park and take a walk.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Instead of sitting at a desk, try sitting on the floor while studying or working on the computer.  Cycle through different sitting positions.
  • Look for the furthest parking spot instead of the one closest to the store.
  • Stretch while watching TV or reading rather than sitting on the couch.
  • Read Don’t Just Sit There, by Katy Bowman for ways to get in more movement while you work.
Hip/Leg Pain, Pictures of Exercises

Attention Sciatica Sufferers!

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I’ve had many friends, family members and clients complain of sciatica lately, so I wanted to write a post for them. I wanted to start out by showing you the anatomy of the piriformis muscle and sciatic nerve. You can see how a tight piriformis would agrivate the sciatic nerve.  It’s relatively rare, but in some people, the nerve actually goes RIGHT THROUGH THE MIDDLE of the muscle. You can see the variations in anatomy in the images below.

sciaticoptions

Then I realized that Physical Therapist and fellow Restorative Exercise™ Specialist, Susan McLaughlin, wrote an excellent blog on this recently. So I decided to stop writing and direct you there rather than “reinvent the wheel”.  Read how to get rid of Sciatica here.  
The Piriformis Stretch (aka Number Four Stretch) might look familiar to you if you read my last blog. I showed you how to do this same stretch standing. I love the standing version; however, I recommend practicing it laying down (as Susan teaches) too. Doing it this way will allow you to focus more closely on the alignment.
Enjoy!
Hip/Leg Pain, Pictures of Exercises, Sitting

Road Trip Relief

So this is happening….

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Which means I’m spending A LOT of time sitting in the car. You all know how I feel about sitting. You know when you’ve been in the car a long time and your butt or legs start to go numb? If you’ve never experienced this, trust me, it’s the worst. Pain, numbness, and tingling are all signs that something is awry. It’s your body’s way of getting your attention, “Hey, look over here, things are not right!”.  It’s like a fire alarm going off. When you are on a road trip or just spend a lot of time driving, you can do these 2 exercises to help lessen the negative effects of excessive sitting.

SQUATS: These are a great way to stretch AND strengthen the gluts and hamstrings. As muscles contract and relax, they draw blood into the area. This increase in circulation helps decrease swelling, numbness, and pain. To do a proper squat, back up your hips as far as you can, untuck the pelvis and lift the tailbone. Keep the knees over the ankles (vertical shins) to both protect the knees and help you access your gluts and hamstrings. You can lower yourself as close to the ground as you can without letting the tailbone tuck under and the knees come forward.  Holding onto a pole, tree, or another person will help your get your hips all the way back. Gradually try to use less arms and more gluts/hamstrings to hold you up.

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Keeping the tailbone up (see the lumbar curve?) allows you to use your gluts/hamstrings.
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Not like this! See how the tailbone has tucked under and the low back has lost its curve?

I’m just going to put this out there. I’ve never been more grateful for my ability to squat than in the last 2,000 miles. The better you become at squatting, the easier time you will have “hovering” at those rest stop bathrooms. Let’s be honest ladies, it’s a skill we all need.

“Number 4” Stretch: You can do it seated as well, but when you’ve been sitting for the last 2,000 miles, who wants to spend another minute seated?! This is my favorite road trip stretch because it stretches your tight gluts and piriformis (one of the deep muscles of the hip) and helps restore blood flow to the gluteal area.  This is also a great stretch for sciatic pain. There are a lot of great stretches for these muscles, but this one is awesome because you don’t have to sit or lay down on anything gross at the rest stop. Back your hips up like you are doing a one legged squat. Untuck the pelvis and lift the tailbone up. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee, KEEPING THE PELVIS UNTUCKED. When you get good at it, you can let go of your hands to test your balance and build strength.

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Pelvis untucked, standing knee is over the ankle.
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Not like this! Tailbone tucked under, standing knee is coming forward of the ankle.

 

Whether you are sitting all day in a car or in the office, take 5 minutes every hour to run through these 2 exercises.  Hold for a minute each, then repeat. You will feel so much better at the end of the day!