By Mayo Clinic staff
Before you plunge into stretching, make sure you do it safely and effectively. While you can stretch anytime, anywhere — in your home, at work, in a hotel room or at the park — you want to be sure to use proper technique. Stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good.
Use these tips to keep stretching safe:
Don’t consider stretching a warm-up. You may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. So before stretching, warm up with light walking, jogging or biking at low intensity for five to 10 minutes. Or better yet, stretch after you exercise when your muscles are warmed up. Also, consider holding off on stretching before an intense activity, such as sprinting or track and field activities. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching before these types of events may actually decrease performance.
Focus on major muscle groups. When you’re stretching, focus on your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play. And make sure that you stretch both sides. For instance, if you stretch your left hamstring, be sure to stretch your right hamstring, too.
Don’t bounce. Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears in the muscle. These tears leave scar tissue as the muscle heals, which tightens the muscle even further, making you less flexible and more prone to pain. So, hold each stretch for about 30 seconds. Repeat each stretch three or four times.
Don’t aim for pain. Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
Make stretches sport specific. Some evidence suggests that it’s helpful to do stretches tailored for your sport or activity. If you play soccer, for instance, you’re more vulnerable to hamstring strains. So opt for stretches that help your hamstrings.
Keep up with your stretching. Stretching can be time-consuming. But you can achieve the best benefits by stretching regularly, at least two to three times a week. If you don’t stretch regularly, you risk losing any benefits that stretching offered. For instance, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, and you stop stretching, your range of motion may decrease again.
Bring movement into your stretching. Gentle movement can help you be more flexible in specific movements. The gentle movements of tai chi, for instance, may be a good way to stretch. And if you’re going to perform a specific activity, such as a front kick in martial arts, do the move slowly and at low intensity at first to get your muscles used to it. Then speed up gradually as your muscles become accustomed to the motion.
Know when to exercise caution In some cases, you may need to approach stretching with caution. If you have a chronic condition or an injury, you may need to adjust your stretching techniques. For example, if you already have a strained muscle, stretching it may cause further harm.
Also, don’t think that because you stretch you can’t get injured. Stretching, for instance, won’t prevent an overuse injury. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the best way to stretch if you have any health concerns.
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Guest Author: Melanie L. Bowen
Alleviate Cancer Symptoms and Boost Quality of Life through Massage Therapy
No matter what way you spin it, being diagnosed with any form of cancer is an alarming and typically uneasy feeling. According to recent studies, the leading cause of death for Americans aged 35 to 64 is cancer. Moreover, it is estimated by the National Cancer Institute over 1.5 million new cases of cancer such as breast, colon, prostate and mesothelioma will be diagnosed in 2012 alone. Although treatment options vary according to the type and location of cancer, all patients undergo a challenging road filled with harsh treatments and long recovery periods.
While there are many treatment options designed to increase quality of life and mental wellbeing, very few feature the effectiveness as massage therapy. In fact, a study published in the April 2007 issue of “Current Oncology” found cancer patients who engaged in massage therapy sessions experience benefits such as reduced symptoms, improved psychological wellbeing and an overall increase in quality of life.
Massage therapy is used as a means of muscular and mental relaxation. Although health insurance providers, even with a physician’s prescription, do typically not cover this form of therapy the benefits are real. The following are several studies outlining certified benefits of massage therapy on cancer patients:
Improved Immune System
A study published in the July 2004 issue of the “Journal of Psychosomatic Research” found that breast cancer patients who engaged in massage therapy sessions three times per week had an increase in dopamine, serotonin and immune system functions. This study also showcased a significant reduction in depression, anxiety and anger.
Published in the 1993 issue of “Cancer Nursing” found that massage therapy significantly reduced pain by 60 percent, reducing anxiety by 24 percent and increasing relaxation by 58 percent. In addition to the aforementioned, blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate showcased a significant decrease.
A study published in the September 2004 issue of the “Journal of Pain and Symptom Management” strived to identify the true symptom reduction of massage therapy on cancer patients. This study was handed by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and it consisted of 1,290 cancer patients. All patients underwent massage therapy sessions for three years. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found that cancer symptoms were reduced by 50 percent. Moreover, the study showed symptom improvement lasted for up to 48-hours after the session. Therefore, this study provides strong evidence that massage therapy has literal benefits for cancer patients.
Although massage therapy has been utilized as a form of holistic healing and health maintenance for years, its true benefit is just starting to surface. While other treatment options such as chemotherapy is essential to remove cancer, initial studies prove massage therapy to be an effective means of regaining peace, relaxation and control.
So what are you waiting for? If there is potential benefit in massage therapy why not treat your mind, body and spirit to a vacation from some of life’s everyday stressors? Get out there, consult your doctor about what treatment will work best for you and get a massage!
Author Melanie L. Bowen joined the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance in 2011 as an awareness advocate for natural health and cancer cure initiatives. You will often find her highlighting the great benefits of alternative nutritional, emotional, and physical treatments on those diagnosed with cancer or other serious illness. She also assists in social media outreach in her efforts to spread awareness.
What’s Best for Sore Muscles: Heat or Ice?
by Laura Schwecherl
Working out does the body good, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows once those supersets are through. Muscle soreness annoys most athletes, which could be a (literal) pain in the butt. But when it comes to optimal recovery, is post-workout heat or ice best?
Muscle soreness is the common cold of the exercise world: It’s a nuisance, but we’ll most likely all have to deal with it at some point in time. And while it may be, well, a little nippy, some experts have found that cryotherapy (cold therapy), is an effective way to help prevent sore muscles. (It’s important to remember that this only helps alleviate pain and doesn’t actually repair muscles faster.)
In one report, researchers looked at 17 studies involving nearly 400 people. The brave souls who endured an ice bath for at least five minutes after exercise reduced muscle soreness by 20 percent compared to those who simply rested. Don’t jibe with a tub full of ice? Cold packs have their own success story, reducing blood flow in the muscles (a sign of inflammation) by 50 percent after 10 minutes of ice-time.
Heat, on the other hand, may not fire up recovery. One study found that applying heat to muscles after exercise failed to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Some experts are quick to note that high-quality studies on heat are limited, though. One small study did find that heat wrap therapy reduced lower back pain, whereas older research warns that applying heat incorrectly may prolong the recovery process from certain sports injuries. Ouch.
Sub-Zero to Hero — Your Action Plan
For some, ice might be the one-stop shop for pain relief. The cold impact is shown to numb pain while narrowing blood vessels, which helps limit the amount of swelling. Heat actually has the opposite effect: It increases blood flow, which may enhance inflammation. But if applied after any swelling has gone down, heat may help with the muscle recovery and relaxation. Just be sure to limit electric heat pack use to 15 to 20 minutes tops, with a few layers between the pack and skin to prevent burns.
Cryotherapy could be a walk on thin ice, too, though. Some experts caution that cold therapy research is also limited and low quality. But the typical recommendation is to ice in cycles of “10 minutes on, 10 minutes off” to avoid any potential dangers. Applying ice for more than 20 minutes at once could damage muscle tissues, increase heart rate, and may even lead to shock.
Of course, there are other soothing solutions to help keep those muscles feelin’ fresh. Anti-inflammatory medication could help reduce swelling (definitely check with the doc first). And stretching, eating well, staying hydrating, and even treating the body to a massage may also do the trick to speed along recovery, no extreme temps necessary.
This article has been read and approved by Greatist Experts Robynn Europe and Jordan Syatt.
Female skiers are four to six times more likely than men to damage the main ligaments in their knees, mostly due to skeletal and muscle mechanics. Fortunately, some preventative steps can be taken to avoid injury and often, surgery. Pro-skier Michelle Parker describes the exercises that she underwent during extensive physical therapy after her knee surgery.
“Check out my photos of different exercises that I used after surgery—they’re also very helpful in prevention. It’s important to work on balancing your skier thighs out with lots of hamstring and V.M.O. (the muscle that runs on the inside of the quad) exercises. Those two muscle groups are important if you don’t want to injure your knee.
“The photos include bridges which target your hamstrings and can be done on an exercise ball or a pilates reformer or just a low box or chair, dead lifts with a 15 pound weight again targeting your hamstrings, T.K.E.s on a pressurized Kieser machine or an exercise rubber band for the V.M.O. muscle, and the infamous butt box that targets none other than your butt and is performed on the pilates reformer. There is also a photo of the foam roller. The foam roller is a tool that helps you give your muscles a deep tissue massage. It also targets your I.T. bands. The foam roller isn’t super fun (it’s actually painful, especially if you’re tight), but it helps loosen up your body. I travel with it everywhere I go to keep up regular muscular maintenance.”
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Managing stress, especially during the chaotic holiday season, can be key to maintaining your overall health. The importance of taking time out to get a massage every month cannot be underestimated. During the in-between time, however, here are a few tips to help you manage stress.
Make a list. For many of us, the time preceding the holidays can feel over-whelming. Trying to figure out what to take care of first can leave you feeling paralyzed. Pull out a calendar and look just one week ahead. Make a list of what you need to accomplish; then, prioritize your list in order of importance. As the week goes by, cross items off your list as you complete them. Seeing your list shrink will help you feel empowered and more in control.
Exercise. We all know that staying active is one key to overall wellness and weight control, but, according to the Mayo Clinic, exercise also has some very real stress-busting side effects. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of the body’s endorphins which improves your mood. Don’t make exercise just another chore; find an activity you enjoy—whether that’s meeting a friend for tennis or taking a ten-minute walk—and make it part of your daily routine.
Meditate. In many cases, taking deep breaths will be your body’s natural reaction to stress. Take advantage of this instinct by repeatedly inhaling slowly through your nose, holding the breath for a minute, and exhaling through your mouth. During this time, you can also try to clear your head of any stressful thoughts. Focus your mind on a peaceful image or favorite memory while at the same time taking deep, cleansing breaths.
July 5, 2011 — Massage may be serious medicine, at least when it comes to treating persistent low back pain, a new study shows.
Low back pain is one of the top reasons people seek medical attention in the U.S., and it is notoriously tough to treat. Studies show very few medical therapies, from medications to injections to surgeries, reliably relieve it, and some can aggravate the problem.
The new study randomly assigned 400 adults with moderate-to-severe low back pain lasting for at least three months to either weekly whole-body massages for relaxation, weekly massages that focused on specific muscle problems around the lower back and hips, or usual care.
After 10 weeks, participants in both massage groups reported greater average improvements in pain and functioning compared to those in the usual care group. And the type of massage they received didn’t seem to matter.
“It’s not really harmful, and it does help a significant chunk of people who have not benefited from other treatments,” says study researcher Daniel C. Cherkin, PhD, associate director and senior scientific investigator with the Center for Health Studies at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle.
The study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It’s published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
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