Troublesome Trigger Points

Most everyone has experienced the uncomfortable sensations of a trigger point.  It’s that dull ache or sore spot in your muscles.  You think – if only I could stretch it out – and then go to town with stretching – but it doesn’t really help. 

Then you try taking ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory drug – but it doesn’t decrease the discomfort by much.  Taking a hot shower or bath feels good and decreases the nagging pain – but doesn’t last as long as you like. 

You may have some pesky trigger points! Currently the more official way to describe them is as myofascial trigger points or myofascial pain syndrome if you have a bunch of trigger points influencing your body. 

One more thing – trigger point discomfort sneaks up on you.  You don’t yell ‘ouch’ and think – I have a new trigger point!  They often appear after muscle strains have healed but the area still feels stiff and sore.  You may or may not feel a lump or knot in the muscle.  The pain seems to come out of nowhere!  

They can be quite challenging to get rid of – but hopefully some of the following suggestions will be useful.  You’ll know by how your body responds – and of course – if you have continued pain or can’t seem to make any headway from your own efforts – please seek medical guidance. 

Here are a few suggestions for treating trigger points

Don’t chase the pain!  

It’s really tempting to focus right where it hurts.  Trigger points often refer pain into other areas and if you just work where it hurts, you might not be working where the problem is. 

Massage

There are many gifted massage therapists out there with varying abilities to work with myofascial pain syndromes.  One of the cool things I always loved about going to get a massage was becoming more aware of where I had muscle tension.  You may want to explore having a true myofascial session where the therapist works the fascial lines of the body.  

Even a whole body massage will wake up your sensory systems and you become more aware of hidden tension patterns.  Thomas Hanna coined a phrase called SMA (Sensory Motor Amnesia) and basically it means that your sensory connection to that area has decreased.

It wasn’t unusual that after working with a client who had a chronic condition to have them come back the next week and say something like “my knee feels better, but now my hip hurts”.  Good, I replied – let’s see if we can peel a few more layers off the onion!  Feedback is feedback – and if we can non-judgmentally work with our body it is amazing what information we can gleam over time.  

Be aware of your sleeping positions

If you are stiffest first thing in the morning – analyze your sleeping position.  Is your spine able to rest in neutral or are you curled up like a pretzel with one leg in passé while side bending towards it:). Mattresses that are too soft or too hard can also be a culprit.  There is no one ‘right’ mattress for everyone.  Depends on whether you are a side sleeper or back sleeper along with your pattern of hip flexor tightness, etc.  

Traveling was always interesting to me as I got to try out lots of different mattresses and always looked at what the brand and type was when I had a super duper night of sleep.  Pillows are important to me as well as I am a side sleeper and need my top arm and bent top leg on a pillow.  I have created pillows by folding up bath towels in hotels if I didn’t have enough to have on either side of me so I can easily flip from side to side.  Perhaps not the most romantic way to sleep – but my spine, shoulders and neck are so much happier.  

Pinkie balls and foam rollers

Both of these tools along with a wide variety of other balls such as lacrosse balls, tennis balls, etc. can be very useful for targeting trigger points.  The challenge is to go firmly and sometimes slowly enough that you can feel the tissue easing up.  I like to find a point of soreness and then hold… breathing and trying to release tension in the spot and also all around it.  

I’m sitting on the sofa right now and just finished a break with my backnobber, a S-shaped tool that I’ve had for decades.  I found a pesky spot in my right gluteal area… worked the area around it as well for a minute and then came back to ‘the spot’.  Then I spent probably 2-3 minutes just holding pressure on the spot until I felt it release.  Much better!  

Release or relief doesn’t always happen as quickly as it just did for me.  It might take days or even a few weeks to feel like you have made progress.  What I will tell you is that after releasing that spot stretching my turnout muscles immediately feels much deeper and easier.  

Heat

A hot bath or sauna can feel SO good!  I’ve known a few people who  like to stretch in  the bath and even use a lacrosse or other rubber balls to work the outside of the hips and back of the the pelvis while in the tub.  I’ve used the backnobber on my upper back for a few minutes while sitting in an infrared sauna and then just relaxed and came out feeling noodle-like.  Best of both worlds… release work and heat!  

Stretching

Stretching typically isn’t at the top of the list for trigger point relief although I like stretching after working with the pinkie ball or foam rolling.  The combination is a good one for me – but may not be for everyone.  

So there are some tips to try.  I’m sure there are more techniques and certainly other tools that are out there that can address trigger point discomfort.  Please share in the comments below if you have other suggestions!  

I’ve posted below a cool YouTube clip that has an explanation of what is going on in the muscle when you get a trigger point.  

And finally… I’ve started working on a 2 hour zoom/webinar on stretching. Stay tuned for more details!

To your success, 

Deborah 

Summer exercise

Summer has finally arrived in the northern states!  Yippee!  I love not putting on coats, hats, gloves to take the dog for a walk.  

The summer intensives and dance camps that are generally gearing up are either not happening or looking very different so I thought I would talk a bit about conditioning and training perspectives for your dancers.  

I’ve always believed that summers are a great time to cross train and work in ways that you can’t during the regular school year.  It’s a good time for students to work on cardiovascular fitness by biking or swimming if they are concerned about running.  Running isn’t intrinsically bad for dancers – it all depends on your running form.  The body is designed for movement and the better your alignment is when you are moving, no matter the form or style, the fewer negative consequences there will be in the body.  

Even in summer  you want to warmup your muscles.  A few jumping jacks or jogging in place, quick walking for 5 minutes should get the body going unless you are working in an air-conditioned room, then it may take a bit longer. Some dancers will feel they are almost at a light sweat. That generally doesn’t happen for me… but there is a sense of inner warmness that I feel. Students need to pay attention to how their body feels in order to learn what is ‘warm’ for them.

Summer is a good time to address any muscle imbalances.  Checking hamstring strength by doing single leg bridges is always a good one.  Lift the pelvis up without arching the back, hold for 2 counts and lower back down.  

If you want to try a new way (and I think fun) for hamstring strengthening try this.  Standing, place your left foot on the seat of a chair behind you.  Have the chair far enough away that you keep your standing leg and pelvis in neutral alignment.  Don’t start with the pelvis already tipping forward or the lower back in an arch.  

Reach down with your left hand towards your right foot.  Then return to your starting position. Make sure to keep the knee aligned over your foot.  You are putting the right glute and hamstrings on the stretch when you bend forward and then are asking them to contract to bring you back up.  You are also working on your proprioception – always good for a dancer! Then switch sides. (You could use a physioball – making it more challenging. 

I shot quick video to demonstrating this. 

On the stretching side of things why not try some yin yoga to change up your routine.  I love spending 3-5 minutes per stretching position.  As they say in most of the videos… find your edge… breathe… and release any resistance.  There are many yin yoga practices on YouTube and gaia.com and other websites to explore. I have my tried and true stretches – and – it feels good to change it up every now and then.  

To your success, 

Deborah 

Muscle Memory… What is it?

The path of movement is well established. A message is sent from the brain through the nervous system to the muscles to create movement. The more you practice a movement, the easier (and hopefully more skilled) you become at doing the movement because you have carved a neurological pattern in the brain.

The muscles also respond to the repeated practice of a movement. You build muscle by asking it to do a little bit more than what it currently can – by doing more repetitions or increasing the difficulty or load.

It used to be thought that it was just the repetition and the hardwiring in the brain that was the source for muscle memory… the ability to bring back a skill not practice for a while. But that didn’t explain why most people condition and strengthen much more quickly after taking time off, whether because life got in the way or you had an injury. After all, when you stop training you start de-conditioning.

When you build muscle the number of myonuclei increase which are known as the muscle stem cells. It was in 2010 that research first showed that even if you stop training for a significant period of time the number of myonuclei present in the cell remains even as the muscle atrophies.

When you start training again you don’t need to go through the process of building up the number of myonuclei and so conditioning and strengthening happens much more quickly.

In 2018, there was a study on humans (the 2010 research was done on mice) that had participants training at the gym for 7 weeks, then off for 7 weeks, and then back on for 7 weeks. This research showed that the changes to the DNA that occurred during the training session stayed even when not training. Cool! This means that our skeletal muscles have epigenetic memory!

Stay with me… I’ve got one more study to tell you about and then we’ll talk about why this is important. There was a study by Ogasawara that compared the results of strengthening a muscle continuously versus periodic strength training. In a nutshell it showed that over a 24-week period the two groups ended up with the same strength gains whether they were training continuously or having 6 weeks on, 3 weeks off.

Takeaways

I’ve always been a proponent of cross training. When you take a break from class and do something else… like swimming or pilates or even playing on a playground… it broadens your movement patterns. This is a very good idea for the fascia by keeping it conditioned and moving easily in all directions by varying your movement. It is also beneficial for injury prevention as overuse injuries are so common in dancers.

Now we have the research saying gains won’t be totally lost if you take a break of a few days or even a few weeks – and there might be some physical, mental and emotional benefits! You’ve got muscle memory on your side, and coming back refreshed and feeling physically ready to start a new school year is a good thing!

So let’s not let our students feel guilty for taking time off. Of course, they have to start training by rebuilding some of those patterns that are unique to dance, but the more advanced the dancer, the more quickly it will happen. Let’s just make sure they remember that sleep, nutrition & hydration and staying mentally resilient are all a part of their training.

To your success,

Deborah

Fascia and Brain Functioning

Exploring fascia is fascinating and I keep learning more relationships between the health of our fascia and the health of our bodies.

This post will summarize some ways it influences our brains. If these posts are interesting to you please consider attending the Texas June 21-23 workshop – where the exploration of fascia will be woven into many of the classes.

Understanding the intellectual properties of fascia is the first step – but how do we actually weave that information into technique is even more valuable – and that will be covered in this intimate workshop among other topics.

Now onto fascia and brain health. I watched Dr. Mark Hyman’s Broken Brain 2 episode on Optimizing Brain Health (no longer available for free, but series can be bought) In that episode Dr. Shalini Bhat talked about fascia’s influence on brain health.

One of the main take-aways was how poor posture (visualize sitting in front of the computer slightly slumped) can negatively influence the circulation to the brain. There is an artery that runs through the vertebra and it is compressed when there is a forward head posture which compromises the blood flow to the brain.

What’s important and yet challenging about this information is that often we don’t know that the circulation to our brain may be slightly compromised. How many people will admit to having a little brain fog – or feeling more tired than usual – but simply chalk it up to less than optimal sleep. Perhaps optimizing our spinal alignment may help. (I am much more aware of lengthening my spine and looking forward instead of down as I write this on my desktop computer)

The other way that chronically poor posture will influence the fascia is with the Golgi tendon organs. These are connected between the muscle fibers and tendons and senses changes of muscle tendons. (This is different from the Golgi tendon reflex, which is when swelling or pressure on the tendon will cause the muscle to release to prevent further damage)

When we change our posture and alignment the Golgi tendon organ tells the joint where it is in space. But… When poor posture becomes habitual – think about kids always looking down at their phone – the Golgi tendon resets where ‘normal’ is and that person’s proprioception is being influenced.

Posture can shift slowly over time. Looking at the image to the left most people would way his posture is pretty good but unfortunately, if you are a people watcher as I am, you’ll see a LOT of people standing in a forward head posture such as this.

We have to encourage our students, and ourselves, to be more self aware of our alignment – outside of dance class! (alignment assessment is another topic in the June workshop!)

One other key suggestion for healthy fascia offered in the program was stretching and moving our body in all directions and keeping it hydrated. Dancing does a good job with the first suggestion and I see lots of water bottles these days instead of soda, yay!

Take care of your fascia!

To your success,

Deborah

Adding Brain Cells

This post is not dance specific but is interesting new info (to me) about brain health and helping ourselves stay happy and mentally sharp!

There is a term called neurogenesis. That term describes the growth and development of new nerve cells. I remember learning that whatever brain cells you were born with – you better take care of because that’s all you were going to get. Not true.

In a nutshell, we produce about 700 new neurons (nerve cells) a day. While that may not sound like a lot, by the time we are 50 we will have exchanged all the neurons we had at birth with adult-created neurons. Why is that important?

The neurons in the hippocampus are really important for memory capacity and mood. Research shows there are ways to increase (and decrease) neurogenesis which may have direct effects on depression and memory.

We can increase the number of new neurons by: Learning, exercise such as running (and dancing:), intermittent fasting, eating chewy, crunchy food, getting lots of omega 3’s (salmon), blueberries, dark chocolate and resveratrol (glass of wine anyone?)

The things that decrease neurogenesis make sense to me. Stress, sleep deprivation, aging (slows down neurogenesis, but still occurs), high saturated fatty foods, alcohol, soft foods.

The items on these two lists aren’t new by any means, but it is the first time I have heard them connected with the brain’s ability to create new nerve cells. And if one is depressed or dealing with memory challenges it wouldn’t hurt to pay attention to both your food and activity.

So here’s to growing more brain cells – especially if you are over 50!!

If you’d like to watch the Ted Talk this information came from here’s the link.

To your success!

Stretching Tip!

Today we are going to talk about fascia and flexibility and what one simple action you can take to increase your flexibility.   Fascia-150x150

First… what is fascia?

Fascia is connective tissue that wraps and surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve and organ in the body.  It gives separation between these structures and creates a 3-dimensional, interconnected web of tissue through the body.  

Screen-Shot-2013-06-24-at-3.56.49-PM-150x150Imagine an orange or grapefruit that you’ve taken the outmost skin off of.  If you could magically make the juice disappear from inside white fibrous webbing that’s left is the fascia.  It’s almost impossible to separate the fascia and muscle, for example.  That is why a lot of practitioners talk about the myofascia.  Myo for muscle and fascia for … well fascia.  Some of you may have experience a myofascial massage that focuses on releasing fascial pulls.  

What most people don’t know is that fascia is composed primarily of water – approximately 70%. The other 30% is compoased of collagen and elastin and proteoglycans, which are proteins and carbohydrates.  

Read more

Weak Muscles?

Thank you for providing such a wealth of information as it pertains to dance and the human body.  I have a daughter, soon to be 12, that has been dancing since around the age of 4. She is quick to learn and quite coordinated.   Ballet class is a challenge for her.  She is not nearly where she needs to be in the areas of strength and endurance.  She is very slender and although has a “dancer’s body” with well defined muscles, her muscles are weak.  Is there anything that can be done outside of dance class to assist with muscle strength and endurance – last year she danced 4 hours per week, this year she will be dancing 6 hours per week. Outside of dance, she doesn’t do anything athletic.

Screen-Shot-2013-08-26-at-7.39.08-AM-150x150
Are there exercises that can be done at home to increase her muscle strength and endurance? Any dietary recommendations that can help with building muscle? She has fallen behind her classmates (in ballet only) and her teachers are very surprised that, despite her years of training, she has not developed the strength and endurance typical of girls her age. 

Thanks for your help!
Kathleen

Great question, Kathleen!

I love it that you are thinking about all the markers of health instead of just the physical ways to go about increasing muscle strength. I have a daughter with Hashimoto disease (a very common form of thyroid problems) that was discovered when she was 12 – and only because I knew something was off in her health. Now, I’m not suggesting that your daughter has a thyroid or another metabolic syndrome, rather I’m encouraging all of us to look at the intricate balance of nutrition and physiological health to our physical strength and health.

Read more

Guided Visualizations

With the holiday countdown, Nutcracker performances, increased social engagements – stress levels can easily increase.  Dancers and dance teachers need recovery time and ways they can train (or retrain) their bodies into more efficient patterns.

I created a mp3 file of guided imagery for my students.  As I talk about in the Train Your Brain ebook for children – your brain doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is imagined. I first learned about ideokinesis (using imagery to change neuromuscular pathways) from Irene Dowd and it has guided my rehab work with clients since then. In order to make a real physical change you have to go back to the cortical or brain level and change the message that is being sent out.

The focus of this mp3 file is to simply release all unnecessary tension and to increase your physical state of well-being. When you listen to it you can either be in constructive rest position which is lying on your back with your legs supported over pillows or on a chair – or sitting easily upright, supported comfortably in a chair. (note: it is 26 minutes)

I hope you’ll take a break over your busy week and click below to listen to this!

 

To your success,

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”

The Skinny… on Fats…

It is a scary thought when “the Center for Disease Control predicts that our children’s generation could be the first in history to have shorter lifespans than their parents.”  Yikes!  But on the other hand with my own studies into health and nutrition I’m not surprised.  We have to change our relationship with food!

I am so delighted to be able to offer this wonderful article by Lisa Greene, a wonderful woman and mother who is passionate about feeding our children to enhance health.  Check out her free blog and wonderful book!

 

Just to add a comment to when she is talking about coconut oil for cooking – I’ve been using it for over a year as my moisturizer that I put on my face.  It’s inexpensive… works really well… natural… I figure all of those beautiful Polynesian, Filipino and Indian women who have such beautiful skin and eat/use coconuts daily are onto something:)

Enjoy Lisa’s article!

The Skinny…. on Fats…..

We hear a lot about ‘good’ fats and ‘bad’ fats, but who can make sense of it all?

First, the ‘bad’ fats. These include trans fats and saturated fats. Trans fats are the deadly trans fatty acids that have become popular in the media these last few years. Trans fats are man made fats created by adding hydrogen to an oil to increase it’s shelf life. Unfortunately, this process makes the oil very unhealthy to eat. According to the American Heart Association, consuming trans fats lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol while raising your LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increases your risk for heart disease. They also say that there is no amount of trans fat that is healthy to have in your diet.

Typically, processed and fast foods contain trans fats, or hydrogenated oil. Staying away from these types foods can improve your health dramatically, both inside and out. Not only are these foods bad for your cholesterol and cardiovascular system, they contain many chemicals that contribute to obesity as well. To stay away from trans fats, always read the package ingredients. The FDA requires food manufacturers to label the number of grams of trans fat, but allows them to round down. So even if your food item says zero trans fats, look at the label  for the words ‘partially hydrogenated’. If you see these words, don’t buy it.

Next on the ‘bad’ list is saturated fat. We have always heard that we should consume a diet that is low in saturated fats. However, all saturated fats are not created equal. It depends on the source. A diet high in saturated fat from conventionally raised meats and dairy products will absolutely contribute to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

However, there is one saturated fat that has amazing health benefits – coconut oil. Coconut oil has been proven to boost the immune system, promotes heart health and weight loss, has antiviral and antifungal effects on the body, and keeps the skin healthy and young looking. In studies done in humans and animals, those with diets high in coconut oil, even with their high fat concentration, were thinner and more heart healthy than those with diets without coconut oil.

Fats are imperative to our brains, heart, lungs, nerves, and digestion. They are essential to our eyes, add luster to our skin and hair, encourage hormonal and emotional balance, and lubricate our joints. Choosing the right types of fat for your diet is imperative to creating a healthy, lean body.

Next we have monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Our bodies absolutely need these fats to function properly. Think about what would happen if you never changed the oil in your car. Eventually it would stop running. Just as your car needs that lubrication, so do our bodies and brains!

Monounsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature, but can turn solid when refrigerated. Olive, sunflower, and sesame oil are examples of monounsaturated fats. Other sources include avocados, peanut butter, and nuts. Don’t stay away from these because of their high fat content, they are so good for you.

Polyunsaturated fats stay liquid when refrigerated. These fats can further be broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Examples of omega-6 include vegetable, safflower, soybean, and corn oil, and some nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fats are found in flax seeds and fish. Our bodies do not produce these essential fatty acids, so we must get them from our diets. We need a ratio of 1 to1 omega-6 and 3, but our modern processed diets typically contain 10 or 20 to 1. When this imbalance happens, many health problems can occur. Too much omega-6 without enough omega-3 to balance it can create inflammation in the body, causing problems with the immune system, cardiovascular system, and the brain. Many processed foods have omega-6, so it is easy to get out of balance by eating a typical western diet.

Unfortunately, our western diet has practically eliminated omega-3s. A diet low in omega-3s can cause children to be more impulsive, less able to pay attention, and higher risk for depression. Teenagers may be more prone to anger and violence. In adults, memory problems, higher risk for stroke, and dementia can occur. Creating a better balance by consuming more omega-3s could improve many health issues such as coronary artery disease, depression, bipolar disorder, and may ease the pain of Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The best way to add more omega-3s to your diet is with a high quality fish oil supplement. You can get them at your local health food store in liquid and capsule form. They are not cheap, but they are well worth it for the health benefits you will receive.  (Deborah’s note:  I’m partial to lemon-flavored Carlson’s cod liver oil.. put it in vanilla yogurt.. yummy!)

Not only choosing the right fats, but also choosing the correct balance of fats is so important to our health. By steering clear of trans fats and limiting animal fats, cooking with coconut oil, eliminating processed foods, and supplementing with an omega-3 fish oil, you can create the health and vitality you were meant to enjoy.

Lisa Greene

Penché Tips

Summer is right around the corner and I know that I need to continue dancing. I am going to take a few classes here and there but I won’t be able to take them everyday like I usually do at school. (performing arts) Is that OK? I mean I guess I could do a barre in my bedroom and it wouldn’t hurt anything right? I would really love to progress and gain more flexibility and strength but I am a little scared of pulling a muscle or something. Do you have any tips on how to keep your body warm? I know jumping jacks, a few lunges and things like that but how do you know when you’re REALLY warm. Especially when you have longer legs like I do.

Another thing do you have any advice on “six o clock” penchés and tilts?
Thanks, Angelise

Great questions, Angelise! Summers are a great time to cross train and work in ways that you can’t during the regular school year. If you have the access to a pool, you could increase your cardiovascular fitness through swimming or water walking (a form of jogging in the pool). Biking as hard as you can for a minute and then pulling back is a form of interval training. Biking instead of running is easier on the dancer’s body.

Doing a barre in your room is a good idea. You can work slowly and carefully, paying attention to the weight on your feet, keeping the weight evenly divided between the 3 points of the foot. It would be great to do a barre without holding onto ‘a barre’ or ‘dresser’. I wouldn’t worry so much about pulling a muscle because you’ll be paying close attention to what you are doing, how it feels.

You ask a good question about being warm. Usually in the summer it takes less time to warm the muscles up. A few jumping jacks or jogging in place, should get the body going unless you are working in an air-conditioned room, then it may take a bit longer. Some dancers will feel they are almost at a light sweat. That never happened for me… but there was a sense of inner warmness that I would feel. It’s hard to put into words, so I would simply pay attention to how your body feels and you will learn what is ‘warm’ for you.

Penchés and tilts require the hardest type of contraction of a muscle, which is an eccentric contraction. The hamstrings on your supporting leg are stretching while you are slowly lowering.

My main tip is to practice keeping the weight placed between the front and back of the foot as you are lowering in your penché. Many dancers fall back too much onto their heel as they are lowering. Keeping even weight will help you keep the arabesque shape and the abdominals engaged as you lower.

The depth of the penché will be influenced by your hamstring flexibility. Once you have reached the range of the hamstrings you’ll start to bend the upper body forward – be aware of that and only go as far down as you can maintain your arabesque line. With repeated focused practice you will improve!

Deborah

“Education is the key to injury prevention”