clock neck exerciseStretching the neck muscles can be challenging and confusing.  Here is a simple, centering neck exercise that can help alleviate neck pain.  It is called “The Clock.”  This is the same pattern of movement as used in the article entitled, Computer Eye Strain Exercises.

Lay on the floor in supine position (face up) on a yoga mat or towel.  You want the surface to be firm but not too hard.  First, feel the muscles of your head on the ground beneath you.  The floor will be your guide as you move through the exercise, so maintain contact with it without too much effort.  Also,  you will be gently massaging these muscles via the pressure on the floor as you move through this neck exercise.  Make sure your head is in good alignment.  Your neck should not be flat on the floor and your chin should not jut out.
Look up and imagine a large clock above you. Now move your head up towards the twelve and then down to the six slowly three times. This will mimic the “yes” movement.  Now, move your head from the three to the nine three times slowly. This will mimic the “no” movement. You can use your  nose as a guide. Remember to maintain contact with the floor beneath you. Now you can hopefully sense your neck in a more centered alignment. Maintain this centered feeling for the rest of the exercise because you will want to return to it as your reference point for these next steps.
Next you will do the opposite diagonal movements of the clock. Look up at the one and down at the seven three times slowly. Place the one right next to the twelve and the seven right next to the six. This will be a more specific stretch. Next do eleven and five o’clock again, imagining them right next to the twelve and the six on your clock. Pause in the center as mentioned before.

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Bolsters and pillows for joints comfort

Supporting your joints with the right pillows is more important than you might think.  With good support as you sleep or rest on the couch, you can help retrain your body to be in better alignment.  You can also reinforce any training you are doing throughout the week.  Bolstering means to support or to strengthen.  A pillow that is not correct for your head and neck alignment can cause pain and discomfort down the road.  It can also lead to headaches.  This is so simply avoided by taking the time to find the right fit for you.

Bolstering can really help relieve your knees, lower back,  hip, neck  and shoulder joints.  The correct  pillow between your legs/knees aligns your hip and keeps them from knocking together.  They also allow your bones, muscles and ligaments to decompress because they are able to let go and feel supported.

It is soothing and comforting to use pillows this way.  For example. many of us hyper-extend our knees.  In this case, it’s great  to place a pillow under them while laying in a face up position watching t.v. or using a  a laptop computer as it helps decompress your tendons, ligaments and muscles.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

The cylindrical-shaped pillows are great for both your neck and knees. However, make sure that the size is not too large since you don’t want your head to be pushed too far forward.

Tempur-Pedic memory foam pillows are designed to cradle your head and make space for your shoulders to keep you in good alignment as you sleep.  This way your shoulder does not creep  up into your ears while you are sleeping.  Experiment with different ones till you find the brand that works best for you.  Be aware that some of them are expensive but they can keep you in comfort for over three years.  Generic brands can work well, but tend to wear out faster.  Both cylindrical and Tempur-Pedic type pillows are available at local medical supply stores and on the Web.

For neck and shoulders, use Tempur-Pedic contour pillows (memory foam).  For lower back, use wedge-shaped pillows by placing them under the knees.  Cylindrical-shaped pillows are used for either knees or neck.

Often I will place a heating pad directly on my Tempur-Pedic contoured pillow because the heat is then pressing just on the right spots  to to relieve my tense neck and shoulders.  Keeping these area as relaxed can prevent headaches and other aches and pains.  Be aware  that your pillow will probably not last as long doing this because it does wear down its firmness.  Do not use a heating pad if you have high blood pressure or any other condition where it is advised not to use heat.  Do not fall asleep with it on, and do not use for more than ten minutes as it can actually begin to tighten your muscles if placed on too long.

There is an emotionally supportive and restorative benefit to relaxing and feeling held by the pillows.  It is a great way to decompress and meditate at the end of the day.  Place your pillows strategically under your joints  to let them feel held and they will repay you in the long run.  Helping to relax your body will help you feel centered and connected with more focus and energy for your mind.

spasmHave you ever twisted your back or neck suddenly causing a severe pain and then not been able to move?  “Throwing your back out”  is a common term often used.  When we have a sudden pain in a  muscle,  joint, or nerve resulting from a sudden twist or strain, the muscles around that injury often spasm or contract to protect the area. This results in a decreased range of motion and often a complete immobilization of the area.  It is common for soft tissue to impinge nerves.  The impinged nerves and lack of mobility oftentimes creates more pain and is then evolved into what is known as the Pain-Spasm-Pain cycle.  This occurrence often happens with areas surrounding a herniated disk or inflamed nerve condition such as sciatica or carpal tunnel and thoracic outlet syndrome.

The Pain-Spasm-Pain cycle is what happens when we have an injury then subsequently feel “stuck” and finally, more pain.  That spasmodic reaction is the bodies response to the shock of the injury.  Our bodies have natural defense mechanisms in place so we do not cause further injury to these areas.  Think of this spasm or immobilization as a “Natural splint’  such as one would have placed near a bone that had been broken.  The splint is placed near the injury to restrict its movement so it can heal properly.

The tensing of the muscles around the area to immobilize it is very useful up to a point.  In chronic issues, massage therapy and other forms of bodywork are very useful in helping to “break” the Pain-Spasm-Pain Cycle.  As mentioned above this reaction (of contracting and immobilizing the injury) is generally very purposeful, but when it continues for a prolonged period and becomes a chronic condition it is best to seek help.  Consult your Doctor as to what the prescribed treatment should be (physical therapy, massage therapy etc).

There are so many reasons why this occurs:  incorrect sleep positions, lifting a heavy object, or a repetitive motion injury are just a few examples.  The more we can train our muscles to be toned and physically aligned the safer from injury we can become.  Usually we injure ourselves when we are rushing or tired.  This often happens with elderly people as their brains can still think quicker than their bodies’ reactions and reflexes.  New parents may find it challenging to keep up good body mechanics as they are chasing after a toddler (or two) going in every direction.  So if at all possible try to slow down and be mindful of your body mechanics to avoid injury and the dreaded “Pain-Spasm-Pain” cycle.

office stretchingIf you work at an office, you’re very likely to be glued to a chair for a good part of the day, which can make your body feel very lethargic and stiff. Here are 10 tips to help address those issues.  A few minutes of simple stretches throughout the day can be very effective in preventing severe health problems down the road. Your co-workers might look at you suspiciously at first while you’re doing this, but soon curiosity will lead to imitation!

1.  Gluteal stretch to help prevent Sciatica: Begin by crossing one foot over the opposite knee.  With a straight back, take a deep breath, exhale and lean forward just to the point where you feel the stretch in your Gluteal.  Pause for a few seconds and then repeat.  Do this 3 times.  Stop if you feel any discomfort anywhere.  Do not lean too far forward, as the point is to feel it in the Gluteal muscle.

2.  Peck stretch against wall to release pectoral muscles.  Place the palm of your hand against a wall. The height should be just above your head. Breath in.  On the exhale, gently turn away from it a few inches.  Do not go too far as this will tork the alignment of your shoulders.  The point is to gently stretch the pectoral muscles.

3.  Neck stretch. While sitting on your chair, sit up straight,  and look up at the ceiling for a few seconds.  This will stretch the muscles at the front of your neck and counteract the shortening of those muscles as a result of constantly looking down at the computer screen.

4.  Shoulder rolls.  Gently and slowly roll your shoulders backwards and forwards.  This will help bring circulation and lubrication to the joint.  This also helps relieve stress.  For more on neck and shoulder pain, read  “Why are my neck and shoulders so tense?

5.  Wrist stretches.  Hold your hands and arms out in front of you, palms down. Now point the fingertips up towards the ceiling.  Hold a few seconds.  Now down towards the floor holding a few seconds.  Repeat several times.  Next move your hands in circles three times in each direction.  The wrist stays still.  Lastly, hold your hands out in front of you and move each finger down separately as though playing a piano in the air (this will stretch the muscles between the fingers). Keeping your wrists in good alignment is very important in avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome. Always use a mouse pad.

6.  Thoracic inlet/outlet stretch.  Hold one arm straight out to the side about shoulder height and bend your wrist so that your fingers point up toward the ceiling.  Now, turn your head in the opposite direction.  Do this for 3-5 seconds.  This is an important area to stretch as tension in this area can cause Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

7.  Foot stretch.  Read ” A sensible exercise to relieve foot pain“.  Try the exercise sitting at your desk.  Always be careful not to strain the knees in any position.

8.  Quadriceps stretch.  While standing,  hold the back of a steady chair with your left hand.   Bend your right knee and hold your ankle with your right hand.  Take a deep breath and stretch your Quadriceps for a few seconds.

9. Calf stretch.  While standing a couple of feet away from the wall, place one foot in front of the other and lean forward with both hands against the wall.  This will stretch your calf muscles.  Switch feet and repeat stretch.

10.  Shoulder stretch Place your hands together in front of your chest in prayer position.  Connect your elbows.  Now gently lift your hands and elbows up about 3 inches.  Hold for 3 seconds and release.  Repeat 3 times.  This simple exercise will help stretch your shoulder cuff muscles.

Remember, as with any exercise or stretch, if anything hurts, you must stop immediately to avoid muscle tear or inflammation.  Stretching should feel good and not painful in any way.  Use these stretches individually or in combination.  It is not necessary to use all of them at the same time.

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