Why Computer Posture May be Giving you Back Pain

Good computer posture is something that we’re all aware of, but only when we remember it.

The computer: one of the most common tools in modern life…

Poor Computer Posture
Poor Computer Posture

… and a device which forces the user into a terrible postural position.

When our parents told us to ‘sit up straight’ at table, they actually had a good point. Correct (healthy) posture means to sit or stand with a straight back.  Why?

Simply put, this is the position of least stress for our bones and muscles – the position they are designed to work most effectively in.

The head should look forward, not down, hanging its weight from the posterior neck muscles.  The neck should be upright, not tilted forward or back and straining. The shoulders should be pulled back to open up the chest.

The problem with the laptop is that to use it, all these things cannot be true…  The arms tend to come forward, straining the mid back muscles and tightening the pectorals. The neck is permanently bent forward to study the screen.

If you’re suffering from back pain, check your posture!

Like many people you probably spend hours in front of a computer every day – so make sure you’re doing it right.

I’ve found a really great article you might like to read to learn more about what you’re doing wrong and how to put it right.

“Your job shouldn’t be a pain in the neck—at least not literally. Yet two out of three office workers have felt physical pain in the last six months, according to a new survey released by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

The survey compiled responses from about 1,000 office workers ages 18 and older across the U.S. The results also showed that in the past 30 days, 62 percent of respondents had felt pain in their lower backs, 53 percent in their necks, 38 percent in their shoulders, 33 percent in their wrists, and 31 percent in their upper backs. …”

If you’d like to read more, follow this link  http://blog.womenshealthmag.com/scoop/correct-posture/

How to spot Vitamin Deficiency

At certain times in our lives our nutrition may not be as good as we’d like it to be.

We take on more and more commitments and don’t take the steps necessary to maintaining ourselves

What are the signs that we can all spot, so we can make simple changes to make the most of our health.

Body Cue No. 1: Cracks at the corners of your mouth.

The Deficiency: Iron, zinc, and B vitamins like niacin (B3), riboflavin (B2), and B12.

The Fix: Eat more poultry, salmon, tuna, eggs, oysters, clams, sun-dried tomatoes, Swiss chard, tahini, peanuts, and legumes like lentils.  Iron absorption is enhanced by vitamin C, which also helps fight infection, so combine these foods with vegetables like broccoli, red bell peppers, kale, and cauliflower.
• • •

Body Cue No. 2: A red, scaly rash on your face (and sometimes elsewhere) and hair loss.

The Deficiency: Biotin (B7), known as the hair vitamin.

While your body stores fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), it doesn’t store most B vitamins, which are water-soluble. Body builders take note: Eating raw eggs makes you vulnerable, because a protein in raw eggs called avidin inhibits the body’s ability to absorb biotin.

The Fix: Reach for more cooked eggs (cooking deactivates avidin), salmon, avocados, mushrooms, cauliflower, soya beans, nuts, raspberries, and bananas.
• • •

Body Cue No. 3: Red or white acne-like bumps, typically on the cheeks, arms, thighs, and buttocks.

The Deficiency: Essential fatty acids and vitamin A and vitamin D.

The Fix: Skimp on saturated fat and trans fats, which you should be doing anyway, and increase healthy fats. Focus on adding more salmon and sardines, nuts like walnuts and almonds, and seeds like ground flax, hemp and chia. For vitamin A, pile on leafy greens and colourful veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, and red peppers.
• • •

Body Cue No. 4: Tingling, prickling, and numbness in hands, feet, or elsewhere.

The Deficiency: B vitamins like folate (B9), B6, and B12.

The Fix: Seek out spinach, asparagus, beets, beans (pinto, black, kidney, lima), eggs, octopus, mussels, clams, oysters, and poultry.
• • •

Body Cue No. 5: Unusual muscle cramps in the form of stabbing pains in toes, calves, arches of feet, and backs of legs.

The Deficiency: Magnesium, calcium, and potassium.

The Fix: Eat more bananas, almonds, hazelnuts, squash, cherries, apples, grapefruit, broccoli, bok choy, and dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and dandelion.

To find out more, follow this link to the rest of the article

Why Quadriceps Switch Off

In my article about knees, I mentioned that knee problems can be associated with the quadriceps muscles ‘switching off’.  I wasn’t terribly happy with this state of affairs – as a big fan of how the body works, I didn’t understand why we would switch off our own muscles, when we quite obviously needed them.  It just didn’t make sense.  So I set about investigating and this is what I came up with.

1. It seems that fluid or swelling in the knee, reduces the ability of the quads to fire up (Fahrer H, et al.  Knee effusion and Reflex Inhibition of the Quadriceps. A Bar to Effective Retraining. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 70 – B 1988)

In this study, excess fluid was removed from the knee using a needle, and there was an immediate increase in the strength of the quadriceps.   The critical amount appears to be about 15ml of excess fluid (about a tablespoon) on the knee, which will reduce efficacy.  This would not equate to a huge swollen knee, in fact I doubt if most people could spot if their knee was carrying an extra 15mls of fluid.

2. A study by Young in 1980 found that people who had injured their knee had a certain degree of muscle wastage.  The injuries were various including fractures, torn cartilage, ligament damage.  All of the injuries had been repaired and the patients were considered to have recovered.

Evidence pointed to the fact that the leg with the damaged knee was significantly smaller than the non-injured leg. Ultrasound revealed that the smaller leg size was due to the wasting of the quadriceps.

(Young et al Measurement of Quadriceps Muscle Wasting by Ultrasonography. Rheumatology and Rehabilitation 19(3): 141-48, 1980)

3.   A significant amount of the research  supports the theory that knees which are osteoarthritic have substantially weaker quadriceps.  Various studies compare ‘good’ knee to ‘bad’ knee; pairs of osteoarthritic knees to pairs of non-arthritic knees.  Repeatedly, the evidence suggests that knees suffering from arthritis have smaller, weaker quadriceps.

4. The final sub-section of this line of thinking is the role of pain in the function of the knee.  Research points to the fact that the quadriceps will switch off if there is pain on movement.  Clearly this may be related to the three conditions above but Jim Johnson in his book, Treat your Own Knees, feels that it is worth mentioning separately.  I’m not convinced, as I think it is unlikely that there will be many cases where there is knee pain yet there is no existence of fluid, osteoarthritis or existing damage to the knee.  But muscle weakening may be in part to the pain, separate to the other conditions.

Johnson quotes a bizarre study by Bertil Steiner, who applied pressure on to the side of one patient’s knee.  (The patient had a tumour on the side of his knee). Pressure on to the knee and therefore the tumour caused excruciating pain and the quadriceps gave out.  For the purposes of completeness and to reassure anyone who was worried about this poor man (as I was), the tumour was removed, the patient made a full recovery and his quadriceps quickly restored to normal function. Hopefully enough so that he could run away from Bertil Steiner!!

So to summarise, quadriceps that are weakened and wasting may be due to :

  • swelling
  • having had injuries, fractures
  • trauma to ligaments
  • arthritis
  • knee pain

So this research points to why we lose the strength and capacity of our quads. But the indications are that with the right rehabilitative exercises, we can have strong quads and avoid this catch-22 situation, that swollen arthritic painful knees turn the quadriceps off and without fully functioning quadriceps we risk getting swollen, damaged arthritic knees.

Knee Pain and Possible Treatments

knee photoAs massage therapists, we often see clients with painful knees. Professionals working with knees often bandy around the term VMO as the possible cause of the pain but what exactly does it mean. It stands for Vastus Medialis Obliquus but to most of us that makes us none the wiser.  The Vastus Medialis is one of four quadricep muscles that lie on the anterior of the thigh:

  • Rectus Femoris
  • Vastus Lateralis
  • Vastus Intermedius
  • Vastus Medialis

The main function of these muscles is to extend the knee, so it is fundamental in walking, running, squatting, etc but all of these muscles have unique roles in supporting and stabilising the knee.

The vastus medialis originates from the tendon of Adductor Magnus and inserts into the tibial tuberosity via the patella tendon (as do all the quadricep muscles). The oblique fibres of the Vastus Medialis have been singled out and therefore given special mention because they perform and important role in stabilising the kneecap (patella) and ensuring that it tracks properly.  Weakness and mis-firing of these muscle fibres mean that when the knee is straightened, the patella doesn’t track properly in the patella groove causing painful achy knees and, over time, long term damage to the surrounding structures.

But why is the VMO consistently showing up as weak and not firing properly and how can we ‘switch’ it back on.

First of all, you must determine whether your VMO is contracting :

  1. Sit with your legs out in front of you and a rolled up towel under your knee (the knee should be slightly bent)
  2. Put your fingers over the area of VMO (as shown above right).
  3. Push your knee down into the towel (so that your knee straightens and the foot lifts off the couch)
  4. You should feel a strong contraction under your fingers
  5. If the muscle does not contract, continue to practice whilst pressing down gently on the muscle and concentrating on contracting the fibres underneath your fingers.

If the muscle does contract, you can continue with strengthening exercises:

  • Sitting on a chair with the knees bent, palpate the VMO. Start to slowly straighten the knee and ensure the VMO contracts. Maintain the contraction throughout the movement as you fully straighten the knee and bend it again. Repeat this twice daily until you can maintain a strong constant contraction 10 times in a row.
  • Place a large ball (such as a football) in between your knees and squeeze it.
  • Try performing a squat against a wall by sliding your back down the wall until your knees are at a right angle (your shins should remain vertical).
  • Try Peterson step ups. This exercise is difficult to explain so this demo is helpful. http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UUYBhnN6IJA

Vitamin D Deficiency

When I first started my studies to be a massage therapist, we were expected to cover the basics in nutrition.  Vitamin D was glossed over – as the body can store it in the liver, we were told, then it was unlikely that we would see signs of deficiency – especially when you didn’t even have to eat ‘healthy food’ to get a supply of it.  Simply by being in the sun would ensure you topped your stores of it up.  The only people at risk of deficiency were thought to be those who had a ‘goth’ lifestyle – slept by day and came out at night.  Presumably vampires are at risk too!

But more recently the media have been highlighting a growing concern that we are more and more likely to be deficient in this important vitamin.  One study (but be cautious, they sell vitamin supplements!) claims their survey discovered 9 out of ten people have symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency.

So What Does Vitamin D do?
Vitamin D aids the body’s absorption of calcium so it is essential to the growth and strength of bones.  In extreme circumstances a deficiency in this vitamin causes rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults.

Vitamin D is important to the body in many other ways as well. Muscles need it to move, nerves need it to carry messages between the brain and every body part and the immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.  Vitamin D is found in cells throughout the body.  Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis, so this is a really important topic for post menopausal women.  A prospective cohort study of 72,000 post-menopausal women in the U.S. reported that the women who took in at least 600 IU/day of vitamin D3 (through diet and supplements) had a 37% decreased risk of osteoporotic hip fracture than the women who consumed less than 140 IU/day.

Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include:

  • Weak immune system, including frequent  coughs and colds.
  • Fatigue, bone ache, joint and muscle  pain
  • SAD or depression
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Rickets

So how much Vitamin D do we need and where do we get it from?
Although this nutrient is found in foods, the greatest source for obtaining vitamin D is through the skin.  When bare skin is exposed to ultraviolet light, it synthesizes vitamin D3 that is then stored in the liver.  You only need 10-15 minutes of sun exposure during peak sun hours (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in most locations) during the summer months to produce up to 10,000 IUs of the nutrient.  After that short exposure you can continue with safe sun habits and slather on a broad-spectrum sunscreen.  It’s thought that if you live above 42 degrees North latitude then the sun’s rays do not provide sufficient Vitamin D from November through February.  I think that puts most of us in the United Kingdom at a bit of a disadvantage!  Remember too, that UVB rays do not penetrate glass or sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 8 or more.

But in researching this topic I have found the NHS advice confusing on NHS Choices . In the article it tells us we need 10 or 5 mg a day and then tells us to take no more than 0.025mg, but mg refers to both micrograms and milligrams.  Advice also varies as to how much time should be spent in the sun and how much of our skin should be exposed to absorb sufficient quantities of Vitamin D.

There is an increased risk of deficiency in people who have one or more of these risk factors:

  •  Dark skinned
  •  Live in Northern latitudes
  •  Over the age of 50
  •  Post-menopausal
  •  A diet low in foods containing vitamin D
  •  Fat malabsorption syndromes
  •  Obesity
  •  Inflammatory bowel disease

Some drugs reduce the absorption of Vitamin D: the weight loss drug, Orlistat (brand names include Xenical and Alli), antacids, some cholesterol lowering drugs, some anti-seizure medications, and steroids (like Prednisone) interfere with the absorption of Vitamin D, so discuss your vitamin D intake with your doctor or pharmacist if you take any of these drugs.

There are two forms of the vitamin, D2 and D3 (cholecalciferol), with D3 the form best metabolized by the body.  Vitamin D is found in foods such as fish, eggs, fortified milk and that old remedy, cod liver oil.

What to do next:
Try to eat Vitamin D rich foods every day.  Get some sunshine on your skin, but make sure you follow healthy guide lines to avoid the risk of skin cancer.  If you are concerned you have some signs of deficiency and particularly if you are in one or more of the high risk groups, talk to you doctor about getting tested for deficiency.

And finally a note of caution.  Excessive consumption of Vitamin D is toxic particularly as the body can store it in the liver.
Balance in everything is the key to good health.

Trigger Points… and the role of Massage Therapy in recovery

No, nothing to do with guns and aiming, although Trigger Point Therapy – as anyone who has experienced it will testify – is far from painless!

A Trigger Point is defined as

‘A hyper-irritable spot in skeletal muscle that is associated with a hypersensitive palpable nodule in a taut band’.

In essence, it is an especially tender spot similar to a muscle knot. Like a normal knot, it prevents the muscle from fully extending, and generally weakens its performance, but on top of this, a Trigger Point has the potential to send referred pain to other areas of the body.

The referred pains caused by a Trigger Point can be extremely acute, sometimes bad enough to send the sufferer to the doctor. The problem this causes is that while the pain might be in the upper arm, the Trigger Point, its source, might be at the base of the shoulder blade, and so the painful area itself would not be presenting any obvious lesions or tensions that could be causing the pain, and so the pain can either be misdiagnosed as other conditions such as Angina or a Migraine, or they might be simply told they are imagining it, or given pain killers and told it will no doubt stop at some point…


Again, much like a muscle knot, a Trigger Point can develop through repetitive stresses on a muscle, such as the position, poor posture or a particular job puts it into. There can also be predisposing factors such as recent over-exercise, or an injury to the muscle.

The Signs
Sufferers from an active Trigger Point can experience a range of symptoms such as poor sleep, weakness in the affected muscle, numbness or even a noticeable feeling of depression.

The Treatment
A Massage Therapist will use a combination of palpation to find the exact point, pressurisation (the painful part) for up to 7 seconds at a time, followed by strokes to the surrounding area to encourage a ‘flow and flush’ reaction within the muscle.  Used together, these can dispel the point and thus relieve the pain in the affected area. This can often take more than one treatment, but once identified, the point can be pursued until it is smoothed. Treatment is more effective if the patient is motivated to self help as well – by exercising and stretching regularly and keeping to a good nutritional plan.

Eucalyptus Essential Oil

Eucalyptus originated from Australia and Tasmania and today is cultivated in Egypt, Algeria, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, California, India and South Africa all hot dry countries.  Eucalyptus is part of the Myrtaceae family along with myrtle, tea tree, niouli and cajeput.

Interestingly these trees draw large quantities of water from the ground and are therefore often plated in regions with high incidence of malaria and where ground drainage is desired.

Thanks to www.botanical.com for this beautiful image.

There are more than 700 varieties of eucalyptus and over 500 produce an essential oil. The main ones used in aromatherapy in this country are eucalyptus globulus, eucalyptus smithii, eucalyptus radiate,  eucalyptus stageriana.

Eucalyptus was originally used by the aborigines to treat infections and fevers.

Familiar somewhat medicinal smell. Commonly used for colds and sinus infections because of its great mucolytic and decongestant properties.  Not only does it help to clear mucus and fight infection with its antibacterial properties but it is also known for improving the red blood cells’ uptake of oxygen. So it is really useful as part of a pre sport massage or even as part of a treatment to address anaemia.

Pre sports Massage Rub
100ml Carrier Oil such as Grapeseed or Sweet Almond
20 drops Eucalyptus
10 drops Rosemary
10 drops Ginger

Useful for colds    (don’t do this if you are asthmatic)
Half fill a bowl with hot water. Add 1 drop of eucalyptus. Sit with a towel over your head over the bowl and a breathe in the steam and the wonderful decongesting aromas.

You can also put a bowl of hot water with 5-7 drops of eucalyptus in your bedroom about an hour before bed.  Make sure the door is closed and by the time you go to bed the room will be smelling of eucalyptus.  This will help you sleep: not only will it help to keep your head and nose clear but it will also help your body fight the infection.

Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

January 6th is Epiphany, or Twelfth Night, when as well as taking our Christmas decorations down, we remember the three wise kings who followed the star of Bethlehem and delivered their very special gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus.

These three gifts have huge religious significance, but frankincense and myrrh have been used medicinally and cosmetically for thousands of years.  Aromatherapists still values them today for their special qualities and I’ve a few recommendations for you, based on my own aromatherapy practice.

Frankincense Essential Oil is steam-distilled from the gum resin that oozes from incisions made in the bark of the trees –
(Boswellia carterii) – with abundant narrow leaves and white or pale-pink flowers. These grow throughout the Middle East and the oil is spicy, balsamic, green-lemon-like and peppery.

Frankincense played a role in the religious and domestic life of the Ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Hebrew, Greek and Roman civilisations.  It has been perhaps the most important aromatic incense ingredient since history began.  This is reflected in the fact that its English name is derived from the medieval French word franc, meaning “pure” or “free”, and the Latin incensium, “to smoke”.  It was also used as a cosmetic, the charred gum was used as kohl by Egyptian women.

Oil possesses anticatarrhal and expectorant properties, useful for bronchitis and asthma, especially when associated with nervous tension: the oil is said to “Deepen the breath” and can relieve feelings of tightness in the chest.  It may also be used for sinusitis and laryngitis – inhalation.

Aromatherapy benefits:visualizing, meditative to the mind.

On a mental level, can help with states of depression or feeling mentally overloaded (nervous tension or nervous exhaustion) and can help to calm the mind and aid mental clarity – probably why it has been used in religious rituals, incensors and meditation for millenia.

I love using frankincense essential oil and find it very useful for people who have a long standing congested chest as a result of an infection or asthma.  I have also used it with some success as part of treatment where bereavement is an issue, but I haven’t confined the definition of bereavement to loss due to the death of someone close.  A great sense of loss can be experienced if you lose your job, discover you have a life limiting illness or your children leave the family nest to set up in their own home.

In all of these instances, frankincense used as part of an aromatherapy treatment has given comfort and helped to relieve some of the sorrow of loss.  It is said that frankincense helps us to close a door on a part of our lives but helps us to move on and open other doors.

Myrrh is an interesting oil, harvested and distilled in a similar manner to frankincense and is the resin of the Commiphora Myrrha tree, a small thorny bush that grows in dry stony soil, ideal for the Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea where it grows naturally.

Not only is it famous for being one of the special gifts along with gold and frankincense brought by the magi to the baby Jesus, but it was also supposedly used at his death. His body was wrapped in linen infused with a mixture of aloes and myrrh.  The Ancient Egyptians used Myrrh as part of their embalming rituals and it has a wide range of applications, even today.

Like frankincense, it has both important physical and spiritual healing properties.  Both oils are wonderful on their own or as part of a blend to burn as part of a meditation practice – both oils have been used for thousands of years as part of religious and spiritual traditions.

Balancing Meditation Blend
10 drops frankincense (Boswellia carterii)
10 drops mandarin (Citrus reticulata)
20 drops cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica)
5 drops rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora)
2 drops vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides)
Add to an aromatherapy diffuser before starting your meditation practice.

Myrrh doesn’t feature highly in aromatherapy text books, but one practical use of myrrh is as part of dental hygiene: it’s an effective remedy for mouth ulcers, for example.  On a personal level, I find myrrh sticky and hard to blend as part of an aromatherapy massage oil, but I have used it in a mouth wash: I dissolved 2 drops of tea tree and 1 drop of myrrh in 1 tbsp of brandy then added warm water.  I swilled it round my mouth then spat it out (no, I wouldn’t swallow it, even with the brandy in!)  It worked really well but was quite a carry on first thing in the morning but you could make up a batch to then add the warm water when you needed it.

I haven’t persisted with this home remedy as I prefer Citricidal, which works well for sore throats, tummy upsets and athletes feet. I have to warn you though it tastes revolting!

Have a happy, peaceful and healthy January and take some time, every day, to look after yourselves.

Frankincense and Myrrh
Frankincense and Myrrh are distilled from the resins harvested from these small thorny bushes and trees

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