Let’s face it, we all sit too much. In general it’s good that we take a break and sit down, but there is a downside to it. If you sit too much your body tends to curve like a C and this can cause strain on the muscles in your neck, back, and shoulders. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do, without having to get up!
You probably already know this first one, but reminders can help. Just shrug your shoulders. I could give you more detailed directions but it’s less important how you do it as long as you’re getting some movement in there. You can pull your shoulders up towards your ears, roll them forward or backward, or even tilt your neck towards each shoulder. You can even shimmy them if it feels good. If your boss asks, just say it’s prescribed by your massage therapist.
If you’re stuck at your desk for any period of time, put a pillow behind your back. Again, any size or shape pillow will do, just make sure it doesn’t come up higher than your neck line and lower than your waist. This creates a slight arch in your back to combat the tendency to create the C curve. It also gently pulls your neck and shoulders backwards which builds better posture. This is also great for driving. I have a medium size bag of rice that I keep in my car. I move it around depending on where it feels good. Sometimes I need the stretch between my shoulder blades, other times I need the lower back support.
Use this last exercise when you’re tired or have a headache. Very gently rub your temples and jaw with your fingertips. You can even rub the bone just in front of your ear. This is especially helpful if you clench your jaw. Gently pressing the muscles on your cheekbone and eyebrows helps with sinus trouble that is so prevalent this time of year. One way to make this even easier is to rest your elbows on your desk. The weight of your head will push into your fingers so you don’t have to press as hard.
Talk about waking up on the right side of the bed. If you place a fresh flower on your nightstand you will wake up happier, more optimistic, and have more energy all day, according to a recent study. I only have one word for that, “Wow.”
Have you ever had a massage that just didn’t feel right because the pressure was too much or not enough? I want to make sure you get the massage you need, while still having it be a pleasant experience for you. Some people are afraid to speak up, don’t want to hurt my feelings, or don’t want to leave the massage zone in order to speak up. Luckily, there are many ways you can let me know what pressure is just right for you.
If you’re ok with talking and the massage is too light, simply saying, “That feels good, but I could take more pressure” is very helpful. Please, always let me know if the work in an area is too intense. Some muscles are more sensitive than others due to their current strain or contraction. I can be using the same pressure on your whole body, but it will feel light in some areas and too much in others.
If you feel pain during the massage, then there is probably more tension in that area, perhaps more than you realized. I may be trying to work out too much in too little time. If you have problem areas, consider booking a longer massage or coming back for a second session in a short interval.
If you’re unsure about the pressure, check in with your breathing. Slow, deep breaths usually shows the pressure is just right. Fast breathing or holding your breath usually shows that you’re getting close to your threshold of pain and you need less pressure. If you’re clenching your teeth, it’s definitely time to say “Uncle” and let me know to ease up.
The field of massage has slowly gained a reputation for being physically beneficial beyond stress relief. A recent study builds on other findings, showing specifically that receiving a massage after exercise decreases inflammation and helps your muscles recover. Not only does it relieve the soreness, it also works on the underlying problem of the pain.
Receiving massage turned on genes that created more mitochondria, the manufacturers of energy inside your cells. The more fit a muscle cell is, the more mitochondria there is inside it. This shows that massage not only helped the muscles recover form the workout, but also aided in making the muscle stronger. “If someone starts an endurance exercise training program, after two or four months of training, depending on the intensity, you essentially double the volume of mitochondria in muscle,” says researcher Mark A. Tarnopolsky, MD, PhD, a professor of pediatrics and head of Neuromuscular and Neurometabolic Disease at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Markers also indicated that massage turned on the genes that decrease inflammation. Many painkilling medications work to block inflammation. In recent years, a number of studies have shown that remedies for muscle soreness that work by decreasing inflammation, such as ice baths or anti-inflammatory medications, may have a downside. They block muscle repair and growth, which needs inflammation to complete the process. “People were starting to feel it was a one-to-one link: You suppress inflammation, you [lessen] adaptation,” says Tarnopolsky. “But this appears to be an intervention that suppresses the inflammatory response but still allows, and actually enhances, the [recovery] response.” The study is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. If further research can duplicate and expand on these findings, Tarnopolsky says that would mean that massage may be uniquely beneficial to muscle recovery and muscle growth.
Women often sacrifice the comfort of their feet for fashion. Whether it’s high heels, flip flops, or the latest trendy boot, we squeeze our feet into shoes that don’t provide proper support and sometimes end up causing us pain. Surprisingly, there is a reason why we do this even if we’re not aware of it. According to a recent survey from London, nearly half of men notice a woman’s feet when meeting her for the first time — and as many as a third judge her or analyze her personality based on what they see. This begins to explain why more than 50% of women are embarrassed by their feet, says a survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association.
“It has a lot to do with cosmetic influences on women,” says Crystal Holmes, DPM, a podiatrist and clinical instructor of podiatry at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor. “We also have more affection for shoes and shopping and fashion, and shoes play a big role in fashion, so having feet that might be considered cosmetically displeasing is an issue.”
The major culprit are high heels according to Dr. Holmes. “If you have heels more than 2 inches high, it increases the forefoot pressure under the ball of your foot by seven times. So an average woman of 120 to 155 pounds with heels over 2 inches high has roughly 700 to 800 pounds of pressure in that area. So it makes sense that it should be painful.”
So what’s the cure? First, don’t ignore foot pain. See a podiatrist. Dr. Holmes’ advise is to “Seek help early. Pain is not normal. Pain is your body telling you something is wrong and you should get help.” Secondly, wash your feet well and keep them dry. Pay extra attention to your delicate toes. One of my favorite things to do is to soak my feet in hot tap water and epsom salts at the end of a busy day. You also absorb magnesium from the epsom salts which helps relieve anxiety.
Lastly, and most importantly, buy shoes that fit right. Look for proper arch support or add inserts if the shoes don’t come with the proper padding. When you wear high heels, don’t wear them as often or as long. I have several pairs of “sitting pretty” shoes that hurt to walk in but I wear them when I know I’ll be sitting most of the time.
I’ve told many people to take slow, deep breaths to help you quickly get in a more calm state of mind. Our breathing naturally becomes more shallow when we feel stressed. This breathing pattern, in turn, makes us feel anxious so we take shorter, lighter breaths. We will continue in this until something breaks the cycle.
Deeper breaths provide more oxygen and stimulate the part of our nervous system that sends out peaceful signals. It doesn’t matter whether we are already in a place of calm and heaving a sigh of relief or whether it is a self-induced deep breath to break the pattern. The result is the same – actual relief and relaxation.
“If you sit and even just take five or 10 deep breaths and really try to just relax your breathing, that can be tremendously helpful,” says Mary Coussons-Read, PhD, professor of psychology and health and behavioral sciences and associate dean of the University of Colorado in Denver.
Massage is becoming more and more accepted by the medical community with continued research suggesting that massage eases insomnia, boosts immunity, and prevents PMS. Some hospitals are making it a standard therapy. Television’s Dr. Oz specifically recommends massage for heart patients. “All of our surgery patients are offered the treatment…and it’s a mandatory weekly prescription I give myself,” says Mehmet C. Oz, M.D., director of the Cardiovascular Institute at New York Presbyterian Hospital–Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and a member of the board at Luminari, a health-education company.
Massage helps so many areas of your body. It’s especially effective for aches like lower back pain. Several studies show massage reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol while boosting the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine. Those changes slow your heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and block your nervous system’s pain receptors. Massage also increases blood flow to the muscles, which helps them heal.
Massage also seems to ease distress from migraine, labor pain, and even cancer, as well as the body tenderness seen with fibromyalgia, says Tiffany Field, Ph.D., director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine. These benefits may last as long as a year after just a few treatments, says Partap Khalsa, Ph.D., a chiropractor and a program officer at the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the agency funding many major studies on massage.
On this upcoming Valentine’s Day consider giving and receiving massage. Both are good for your heart.
Stress can take a large toll on your mental and physical health. “People who are under a lot of stress have physical problems related to constantly being under stress,” says Sally R. Connolly, a social worker and therapist at the Couples Clinic of Louisville in Louisville, Ky. “And if you don’t find ways [to relieve it], even in small periods of time, you can have long-term consequences.” It’s crucial to add stress relief to your everyday routine, she says. Fortunately, there are things you can do that don’t take much time or money.
Reading can give you a feeling of escape. Whether it’s a novel or a travel magazine, if it helps you forget your current worries, then it acts as a mental vacation.
Look through photo albums. Studies have shown that looking at pictures of loved ones affects our body chemistry, producing feelings of peace and calm.
Put on music that you enjoy. You don’t need to be home to use this technique. Some workplaces allow ipods to be used at your desk.
Take a true coffee break and look out a window if you can. Viewing the outdoors can settle your stomach and calm your nerves. This even works if you’re a passenger in a car or airplane.
You get even more calming effects if you go outside and take a walk. Nature has enormous healing effects on us.
Just one fresh flower in a room can help ease winter’s chill, according to Colorado bodyworker and aromatherapist Mary Kathleen Rose. “In the winter, when there’s less light, there’s a tendency for people to get a little depressed.
“In the winter, I really like the infused oils that have an evergreen scent. An evergreen infused in a light olive oil reminds us that there are things that stay green throughout the winter and carry us through the season. Cut little boughs from your yard and add them to fresh flowers. Beeswax candles also give off a really nice scent — very soft. Just their mellowness is comforting.
“Remember that enjoying a massage in a nice atmosphere during the winter allows us to really appreciate this as a time of rest. As nature is at rest, so should we be.”
Here you are back at work and you’re still longing for that couch at home. So is your tired aching body. Even with a perfectly designed workstation, comfortable chair, and good posture, working at a computer is likely to result in strain, because it requires you to sit still for long periods of time and then carry out repetitive motions.
Fortunately, your body is forgiving. You can reverse strain with a small amount of stretching. Here are some stretches you can do at your desk, or even in your car. It’s a great thing to do when you’re stuck at a red light.
Lift your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for two breaths. Then let them drop when you exhale.
Gently push your shoulders back slightly, as if someone was bringing your shoulder blades together. Let go gently.
Roll your shoulders in circles, one way and then the other.
Please stop if you feel pain. If anything hurts, slowly move so that you feel better. These stretches are never meant to cause pain and if they do, they are not helping you.