The Importance Of Stretching, Part 1

Morning-StretchYou’ve woken up from a bad night’s sleep with a kink in your neck. Doing the same motions every day at work is starting to take its toll on your body. You don’t seem to handle the pace of your life as well as you used to, you’re always a little tense inside. And it’s getting harder to reach your shoelaces.

You need to stretch! As a massage therapist, it was the most common piece of advice I had for my clients. Muscular stiffness is one of the easiest physical problems to get – don’t prevent it and it will eventually happen – and the jobs, lifestyles and stresses of modern life do little to improve the situation. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest physical problems to prevent, and the medicine is easy and enjoyable to take.

Muscles are designed to contract. The fibers they’re made of, when signalled by the nervous system, ratchet together and become shorter, with the cumulative effect of pulling bone A towards bone B with a great amount of strength and speed. Then, when their action is no longer needed, the impulses to the fibers stop, the ratchets let go their hold, and our muscles relax out to their former length – ideally.

But many of us have forgotten how to relax. Established postures, hidden stress, and the busyness of life ensure that our muscles don’t always let go, and we stay tense. Over time, tension settles into stiffness, like an elastic band gone brittle. And that’s when the problems begin. Stiff muscles and fascia limit the movement of our joints, which need movement to stay healthy; they limit blood flow, starving our tissues and messing with blood pressure; they reduce our natural agility, making us clumsy; and they rob us of vitality, for it takes energy to keep our muscles tight. Being stiff means that you don’t move well, not all your energy is available to you, and you’re more susceptible to illness, degeneration and injury than you need to be.bear-swimming

Stretching is really that important. Our bodies are wonderfully adaptive mechanisms, and will put up with years of abuse and neglect, but eventually the unstretched person will suffer from aches, pains, and reduced body functioning and vitality which can easily be regained. More next time on the benefits of a loose body, and suggestions for how to accomplish it.

Published in: on September 14, 2014 at 9:20 pm  Comments (1)  
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Heat Or Ice – Thermotherapy For Everybody

IIYou’ve put in a good day chopping wood and carrying water. Now your shoulders are sore, your back wants to secede from the union, and your dogs are barking. You’ve done something to your left knee and it’s larger than it should be. Heat and ice both seem like a good idea – but which helps with which?

Thermotherapy – the application of different temperatures, either hot or cold – is as old as the first hominid sticking sore feet in a creek, or turning his aching back to the fire. Both are excellent remedies when used properly; both, when used improperly, can do more harm than good. Fortunately the rules for when to use which are simple and easy.


Heat brings several forms of relief to bear on fatigued, overused tissues. It opens up blood vessels under the skin, bringing a rush of nutrients to the area and whisking away the metabolic waste products of honest hard work. It sedates and relaxes the nervous system, allowing tight muscles to let go. Use heat on areas that are tired, exercise-sore, tight, or stressed.

Do not use heat on areas that are injured, torn, swollen, hot, or have open wounds. The additional blood, opening of capillaries, and increased activity caused by heat would be counter-productive and possibly painful.


Ice is Nature’s anti-inflammatory. The application of cold penetrates much deeper than heat. It physically freezes out pain signals along nerve pathways, decreases swelling, and stops the processes of inflammation that cause more swelling and nerve pain. Use cold on injuries, hot and swollen areas, strains, and sprains.

Do not use ice on fragile tissues, or on areas of poor circulation or decreased sensation. Do not use ice for longer than fifteen minutes every hour to avoid actually freezing anything. That would be bad.

Remember! If you need to use ice, then you also need to show your injury to a doctor.

The best ways to apply heat are: a hot water bottle, electric heating pad, a microwave beanbag, a sauna, and my personal favourite – a hot spring.bagby hot springs

The best ways to use cold are: ice cubes in a plastic bag, a basin of cold water with ice cubes in it, or a first-aid freezer pack. Frozen veggies, although popular and convenient, don’t work too well for serious thermotherapy.

Heat and cold are two of the most basic tools in the home health cornucopia. Used properly, according to simple rules, they are invaluable in helping us help ourselves – just like our ancestors have been doing since time began.