Our ‘First Class’ Physiotherapists have been especially busy this week providing relaxing and remedial massages for our patients. We decided what better time to describe what massage is and what it can do to help you in our latest blog!
What is massage?
Massage has been around for hundreds of years as a means of using touch, pressure and stroking to relax, relieve stress and promote good circulation in different areas of the body. This in turn speeds up healing time, and new healthy cell production.
Types of massage
We offer two types of massage. The first is a Swedish massage. This is our most gentle massage, where we use stroking, kneading and pressure of the soft tissues to encourage increased blood flow to the tissues providing warmth and relaxation.
The second is sports massage or deep tissue massage. This is not so gentle, but is excellent for releasing deep set tension in muscles, as well as removing adhesions and toxins which cause tightness and pain between the soft tissues of the body.
How does massage work?
The blood vessels of your body are 1. arteries (which deliver oxygenated blood to the organs, including the skin), 2. veins (which take the de-oxygenated blood back to the heart) and 3. capillaries, which are the tiny vessels found everywhere in the body and “join up” the arteries and veins. When you’re cold, your blood vessels narrow (called vasoconstriction) to keep the warm blood away from the surface of the skin, and conversely when you’re warm, the blood vessels widen (vasodilation) to let the heat from your blood out into the air (that’s why you get red when you’re hot).
Continually kneading and stroking the skin will naturally increase the heat in the tissues and therefore stimulate blood flow. The increased blood flow will bring new blood filled with oxygen and nutrients to supply the tissues that are being massaged, as well as help remove the build-up of toxins and lactic acid.
Manual shifting of the tissues can help increase joint range of motion and muscle flexibility, and the increase in circulation and nutrients to the area means that when new tissues are formed, they are healthier and more supple.
During a sports massage, the physical “knocking out” of tense bumpy tissues will allow you to stretch better and move more smoothly, whilst the removal of waste products will help cut down your DOMS period (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and help you recover faster from the hardest of workouts.
Finally, the idea of massage as a pampering, luxurious treatment has not been around for centuries without reason. Your body will soon relax to the rhythm of massage, your breathing will slow, and the heat transferred from the therapist’s hands will help you into that serene state of mind.
If you would like to gift one of these fantastic treatments to someone with a Gift Voucher, or just spoil yourself, please give us a call on 0141 2372 721 or drop us an email to email@example.com.
A lot of people ask us about acupuncture. Not only the obvious things like: Does it hurt? How big are the needles? But also, How does it work? And, Will it help my sciatica/mood/tight muscles?
Sensible questions all round! Here, we try to provide some (mostly sensible) answers. Watch out for the science (anyone else remember Jennifer Aniston in the L’Oreal advert?) Let’s start at the beginning.
What is Acupuncture?
It’s the insertion of very thin needles into specific points on the skin. Part of Chinese medicine that’s been around for over 2000 years, it has been used commonly in Western societies since the 1970s. Physiotherapists use acupuncture for many different purposes, but the main ones are: to relieve pain, to reduce muscle tension, and to promote the body’s own healing processes as an accompaniment to other treatments such as manual therapy and relaxation teachniques.
*Science bit* By creating a very small and controlled amount of “sterile trauma” with the needle, acupuncture stimulates the body to produce endorphins (happy/pain-relieving hormones) and their receptors (which means not only do you have more hormone to create an effect, you also have a greater catchment area to “feel” that effect), as well as serotonin (stress-busters). The needle also stimulates A? nerve fibres. This produces another chemical which blocks the C fibres – the nerve endings for PAIN – from accepting input. Long story short: you swap the pain sensation for something more like a tingling or a heaviness, or a nice relaxed feeling instead.
Does it Hurt?
Well, not any more than you might expect from a very small needle (each one is about the width of a human hair). And quite often, a whole lot less than you’d expect. It depends what area we’re working on. Some parts of the body have more concentrated nerve endings per unit area, and these will natually be more sensitive (your hands and feet, for example). Some have fewer nerve endings (thighs, back etc). If there is a lot of muscle tension in the area, you can get a very strong sensation but conversely, you may not feel the needle at all.
So What Will I Feel?
Alongside the tingling or warm, heavy feeling, you may feel a little sleepy or even giggly (this one more common in men in my experience). Some people feel a little light-headed, and there can be side-effects that aren’t as much fun, like nausea or fainting. Usually the treatment won’t feel unpleasant at all, but if you don’t wish to proceed at any time, we’ll take the needles out immediately.
Where Will the Needles Be Put?
This will depend on what your symptoms are and where you feel them. Because of the way the channels are lined up in your body and along your limbs (think of them kind of like a long train track with lots of stations along it), you wouldn’t necessarily have to have the needles exactly where your pain is to still get a good effect. There are some points that are usually used in conjunction with others (called “formula” points), for instance the “4 gates”, which are points in both hands and both feet and help relieve pain. And there are points away from the spine, as well as closer to the spine on those “tracks” or Meridians, which will help send those messages along the appropriate nerve fibres to give you relief where you need it.
Are the Needles Sterile?
Yes, every one is individually packed and disposed of in our sharps boxes after a single use. Each needle also comes in its own plastic guide tube so your physiotherapist will not touch the part inserted into your skin.
How Many Sessions Will I Need?
Most conditions are treated with good effect in fewer than 6 appointments, but you might feel better after only one or 2 sessions. It will generally be clear after 2-3 sessions if the acupuncture is of benefit.
I Have (select an option) Epilepsy/a Pacemaker/Man-Flu, Can I Still Have Acupuncture?
Well, unfortunately no is the answer for some conditions like unstable heart conditions or over infected or broken skin, or for women in their first trimester of pregnancy. For people with diabetes, hepatitis, high/low blood pressure or a history of metal allergies, blood disorders or cancer, we’ll help you decide with more in-depth questions whether it’s best to proceed with acupuncture or not. We’ll also work with you to make sure that any treatments given are the current best practice for your specific condition, and in many cases, this doesn’t include acupuncture (man-flu included.)
Any time by sending us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org), giving us a phone (0141 2372 721) or popping in to see us. We offer a free 15 minute consultation, where you can tell us what ails you and we’ll let you know if physiotherapy would be advised (and if acupuncture is an option, how we suggest proceeding.)
Ah, beautiful day, isn’t it? And what lovely scenery/pavement in Glasgow. Do watch that kerb tho… Oh. Are you ok? Just going to walk it off? No? No.
That looks sore, and it’s starting to swell already. Oh dear.
Sound familiar? One of our previous blogs (here) covers the anatomy and first aid for twisted or sprained ankles (and defines what damage has actually been done), but here we’re going to go through what a physiotherapist will do.
First of all, you’ll have carried out your PRICE first aid (of course): protect, rest, ice, compress and elevate for the first 48 hours or so. You’ve got some lovely sensible shoes on and you’ve made your physiotherapy appointment, good stuff.
So what are we going to do?
Well, first, we’ll have a look at you. Really, we’re checking for bruising, swelling, obvious limps or even more obvious sobbing etc (tissues will be available).We’ll have a look at the position of your foot (both sides) and ankle, as some people’s natural foot positions make them more susceptible to injuries.
Then we’ll look at you standing, to see if you can weight bear on your affected side. If you can, we might ask you to stand on one leg (I know, a lot of people struggle with this at the best of times, but we’ll look at both sides for a comparison.) If you’re able, we’ll also have a look at your balance with your eyes closed to test something called proprioception, which is your body’s own balance correcting mechanism when you don’t have visual input.
Active Range of Movement
Next, we want to know how much you’re able to move your ankle yourself (in other words: are you muscles and joints still working ok, or is pain or stiffness limiting movement?) NB It’s ok to take your normal painkillers or anti-inflammatories before your physio appointment – we’ll still be able to tell how sore you are! We’ll take a look at your other joints as well, as a sore ankle can affect all sorts of movement and cause you to tighten in your hamstrings, or give you an achy lower back for example.
Passive Range of Movement
We’ll be gentle, we promise. This is to see how far your joint will move without relying on your own muscles. We’ll also do specific ligament stress tests. To put it simply, a ligament’s job is to hold bones together, and if you’ve ruptured a ligament completely, the bones will move like they shouldn’t. This calls for a plaster cast I’m afraid.
This is where your joints move by gliding or sliding, rather than your conscious flexing and extending. We can test this in lots of different ways, most of which shouldn’t be too painful.
Now let’s see if your muscles are working at all or if they’ve been inhibited by your injury or pain. We’ll test all your ankle movements, both sides, and probably have a quick look further up the chain too.
Sounds fun. Quite often we see lots of swelling and oedema, and sometimes (if we’re really lucky) pitting oedema. That’s where your thumb mark stays put after you’ve pressed the swollen part. Physiotherapists know the anatomy underneath the skin and we’ll palpate the area to feel for anything untoward (like a “dent” where a ligament should be intact, or for areas of heat.)
Ok, by now you’re probably feeling a little poked and prodded, but that’s the general assessment over with. Now onto treatments. There is a vast range of modalities available, and our physiotherapists will find out what suits you best (for instance, ultrasound won’t be used if you already have metalwork around your ankle) and what will work for your particular injury. Here are a few:
exercise – sounds obvious (we are physios after all), but you’d be amazed at how small, regular (easy!) movements of your toes, foot and ankle can improve the swelling. We’ll teach you appropriate stretches (especially for the calf) to help regain your flexibility. Then we’d progress your exercises to build strength and improve your balance and proprioception, to help you avoid future injuries like this
massage – veeeerrryy gentle at first, don’t worry, and we won’t be massaging within the first 72 hours of your injury, as this may increase the blood flow, and therefore the swelling. After that though, massage can help shift any excess fluid which has gathered at your ankle through gravity, returning it to your lymph vessels for drainage
acupuncture – brilliant for helping ease pain, but also good with encouraging healing on older injuries (so swelling that’s been hanging around a while)
ultrasound – (other electrotherapies are available) This is a pain free, swelling-reducing, scar tissue-organising treatment that takes just a few minutes (and no, unfortunately you won’t be able to see your ankle on a screen)
taping – different tapes for different dates (sorry). Kinesiotape is wonderful for helping reduce swelling and bruising appearance, and can help those inhibited muscles get back into action. More restrictive zinc oxide taping, or elastic adhesive tape can be used for your return to sport, but we prefer a strengthening program rather than relying on tape for restricting excess movement for a too-early return
advice and education – sounds obvious to us, but we can give you lots of information to help you better understand what’s going on in your body, so that you can do more of the right things and fewer of the wrong things
Pretty soon, you’ll be back out enjoying the nice weather (pavements), pain free and maybe even in heels.
If you’d like to speak to a physiotherapist, or make an appointment please call us on 0141 2372 721 or book online at www.tm2online.co.uk/firstclassphysio
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is used more and more as a tool which allows self myofascial release. In other words it is being used as an aid for self-massage to release muscle tightness (trigger points) and to target the damaged fascia of the muscle.
So what is the fascia?
Fascia covers and protects your tissues, tendons, bones, ligaments, organs and, last but not least your muscles. Its main role is to prevent injuries by resisting internal and external forces that are placed on these structures. Its structure enables it to contract and relax; making it perfect for stabilisation, mobilisation and flexibility of your joints.
When a muscle is over exerted the fascia can be left with areas of scarring and rigidity (trigger points). This in turn can create tension in surrounding structures, which can produce pain, known as trigger points; this has a knock on effect throughout the body. Additionally it can reduce blood flow to particular areas, causing further damage and reduced healing times.
Okay, but how can foam rolling help?
Through applying pressure to specific trigger points, you are able to aid in the muscles recovery and assist in returning them to normal function. It can release these areas of damaged/ hardened tissue; in turn restoring blood flow and letting the muscles return to their ordinary strength and flexibility.
It can help your muscles go back to being elastic, healthy, and quick to respond when required. Finally, rolling your muscles can increase the flexibility, mobility and stability of your joints; leaving you less prone to injuries (yippee!).
Foam rolling or stretching?
Well, the simple answer is …BOTH!
Studies have found that the greatest results in flexibility and mobility, and decreased occurrence of injuries are shown when foam rolling and dynamic stretching are combined (C.Goad et al, 2014). The benefits of stretching alone before exercising is a grey area, with reports it lowers performance and energy.
So when should I use the foam roller?
As mentioned above, the foam roller is a great way to warm up a muscle prior to exercising; it also works well for increasing muscular recovery.
After a big workout or run, we can often feel quite sluggish and those ‘few stairs’ seems to bear more of resemblance to Mount Everest. This is called DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) and the peak of this pain is normally 48 hours post exercise (hence the ‘delayed’ part). One of the most popular uses of the foam roll is to decrease the incidence and the severity of the DOMS experience; allowing athletes to return to training and normal muscle functioning earlier.
Foam rolling with First Class Physiotherapy
As Physiotherapists we have seen the benefits of incorporating foam rolling into our patient’s home exercise / running programmes; so much so that we have introduced a class which is suitable for all individuals no matter your previous rolling experience.
As a runner I personally do not know what I did before rolling; my patients and current class would tell you that I am a big fan of the ‘game changer’ – the foam roller.
Classes run on Wednesday evenings from 5.15pm and can be booked by phone or email.
If you have any further questions or would like to give it a go, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Best ‘Foam party’ you will attend.
We have been working hard over the last few months planning some exciting new services for all you keen runners and cyclists out there. In the clinic we see a number of patients who sustain injuries through their sport which stops them from participating for a period of time. As physiotherapists we consider prevention just as important as treatment and so have decided to launch a new running service in January 2016, followed by a cycling package in May 2016.
Our new running prehablitation service will include a biomechanical assessment, a strength and conditioning class, bespoke running plans and a running group. We are also going to host evenings with guest speakers, including a nutritionist, a podiatrist and a sports psychologist.
RUNNERS…… Do you regularly get niggles or even injuries that stop you from being able to run the distance you want to run or do they slow you down? Would you like a full biomechanical assessment to help prevent injuries and improve your running style?
What is a biomechanical assessment?
A biomechanical assessment involves analysis of your running technique wwhich allows our expert physiotherapists to highlight errors in the way you move and problematic areas in your running gait. In addition to this our physiotherapists will assess joint and soft tissue movement, flexibility and strength; this is a series of movements that highlight mechanical faults that often cause running injuries. From this information we will develop a bespoke rehabilitation program including strength and conditioning, mobility/flexibility, running cues and running drills.
Who is a biomechanical assessment for?
This assessment is for any individual who enjoys running, long- or short-distance, who sustains recurrent niggles or wants to improve their running technique or performance.
Is there anything I should do before attending the appointment?
It is worth while to keep a running diary for up to 4 weeks before the assessment. Usually this can be done from memory and when booking the appointment you will be provided with a template to complete. Try not to make any changes to your running style or training pattern prior to this assessment.
How long does this assessment last?
This assessement will last 60 minutes, trainers and running clothes must be broght along to the appointment. The trainers should be your usual footwear when running.
We will be starting a running group for all levels in the first week in January 2016, date to be confirmed soon. The meeting point will be at the clinic, entrance through 82 Gordon Street, you will be able to get changed and leave your belongings in the clinic and head off with a Jog Scotland qualified group leader and a another qualified physiotherapist. On completion of the run you are free to return to the clinic for some socialising where juice and a snack will be waiting.
Personalised running plans
Do you have ambition or desire to increase your running distance or speed, maybe you are considering competing in a 5k, 10k, half marathon or even a marathon, not sure how to go about safely and effectively increasing your distances to avoid injury. When not book in with one of our physiotherapists to discuss your requirements and create you a plan to meet your goals. This appointment will last 45 minutes and will involve 1-to-1 goal setting and a written training plan.
Strength and conditioning class
Most runners tend to enjoy one thing and one thing only….. running! They have no problem racking up the miles but neglect to look after the muscles that keep them running. It is important to encompase strength, condition and flexibility into your work out to avoid any unwanted injuries and to keep you balanced, make you stronger and faster. This 45 minute class will include specific exercises to target the key muscles involved in running, to improve core strength and general flexibility.
Cyclers…… don’t worry there will be a similar programme launching in 2016 and we will be in touch in the new year with more information on this.
If you have any questions or would like to book in for any of these services, please do not hesitate to contact us on 0141 2372 721 or email email@example.com.
The pitfalls of self-diagnosis
Ever had a little niggle that just doesn’t seem to go away? Did you give it a name (and I’m not talking Gertrude or Bobby), like “frozen shoulder” or “arthritis”? It’s easy to self-diagnose a problem, especially if you’ve had similar pain before or you know someone with the same symptoms. And although having the occasional pain is one thing, when you’re bothered with a pain that just won’t seem to go away, that’s quite another.
So how can you help yourself? Well, first thing’s first. Get an accurate diagnosis of the problem, that way you can focus your treatment in the right direction.
I’m going to use the shoulder as an example here, to show how easy it is to misdiagnose a problem, and how this can result in symptoms that last a lot longer than they really should.
Many people assume that the shoulder pain they have is a frozen shoulder (Sunday name: adhesive capsulitis), either because they know someone with similar symptoms or because their pain has been around for so long that they’ve stopped using that arm as much and now their movement is restricted (or “frozen”).
So what is a frozen shoulder? Found in just under 5% of the general population (although much more common in people with diabetes), it is one of the most common musculoskeletal problems seen by health professionals. Frozen shoulder is the thickening of the underside of the capsule, a supportive and protective soft encasing of the joint. The onset of pain (although it can be brought on by a mild trauma) is usually fairly gradual, and normally only one shoulder is affected at a time. The most typical patient is a female aged 40-60.
*Misdiagnosis point: if you have pain in both of your shoulders, it will most likely not be a frozen shoulder, but could quite possibly be a referred pain from your neck (see our previous blog on referred pain here).
What are the symptoms of frozen shoulder?
The first things you’ll probably notice will be pain (no joke) and a loss of active and passive range of motion. This means you may not be able to move your shoulder fully by yourself, or even if someone was to stretch the joint for you. This phase normally lasts at least 3 months and can take as long as 9 months.
*Misdiagnosis point: sometimes a sore shoulder can be moved throughout range passively (i.e. by someone else), even though it is painful. Unless the stiff phase is experienced, the problem is unlikely to be a frozen shoulder.
Stiffness is one of the other main symptoms, and the stiff or “frozen” phase usually follows the pain phase, lasting anywhere between 4 and 12 months. Usually at this time, pain does start to decrease, and towards the end of the stiff phase, you might find you have no pain at all.
*Misdiagnosis point: if your shoulder pain lingers for longer than 4 months, or worsens rather than improves, it could be a sign that there is more going on than a frozen shoulder. If your pain stays the same for much longer periods of time, it’s worthwhile having it checked out as it could be an impingement (another common shoulder problem).
Depending on the stage of your frozen shoulder, treatment will usually involve some pain relief, stretching and specific strengthening around your shoulder and arm. You might also find that you benefit from postural advice and exercises to help you keep your upper body in good condition.
*One important thing to remember is that the exercises which work for someone else may not always work for you. Much like prescription medication: unless it’s been prescribed especially for you, don’t take them as they may do you more harm than good (and prolong your pain). It’s important to get your problem checked by a professional, that way you can embark on the right treatment for you sooner rather than later. And get rid of all those “little niggles” too.
If you’d like to speak with a qualified chartered physiotherapist, or make an appointment with us to have your problem checked out, please call us on 0141 2372 721 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have you heard about our referral scheme? For every new client you refer to us, you’ll receive £5 off of a treatment (and they’ll get £5 off their first session too).
It can be for any kind of treatment at the clinic – physiotherapy, rehabilitation, massage (even the lovely hot stone massage!) So what are you waiting for? All you have to do is refer a friend who mentions your name (the more the merrier!).
Here come the obligatory Ts&Cs… The £5 is non-transferrable, it applies only once the new client has completed their appointment (at the discounted rate), only one £5 off can be used at each session, and the £5 has no redeemable cash value.
Call us on 0141 2372 721, or email email@example.com to book your appointment.
Let us know if there is a new service you’d like to see at First Class Physiotherapy, or if you’d like more information about the above offer.
We’ve all had them. Whether it’s a calf in the second half of a football match, your fingers after writing or typing all day or toes in the middle of the night (just me?), cramp is something we’ve all experienced. But what causes it? What’s the best way to get rid of it, and how can you avoid it?
What IS cramp?
When we talk about cramp, we are generally referring to the sensation of our muscles tightening up involuntarily, leaving us temporarily paralysed and usually in a lot of pain. Cramp can come on for several reasons and is usually harmless (apart from the excruciating pain, obviously), but it can indicate underlying pathology.
One of the most common areas to cramp is the calf muscle, and 75% of these cramps occur at night time. Many people suffer from this for no apparent reason (this is known as an idiopathic condition), but some people have cramps as a result of a pre-existing condition such as pregnancy, diabetes or liver disease. You might cramp more often if you’ve been exercising excessively during the day, or if you are on certain medications e.g. for high cholesterol or high blood pressure (statins or diuretics).
Some cramps last only a few seconds and happen occasionally, but they can last up to 10 minutes and occur more frequently. If the latter is the case with you, or you are experiencing swelling or numbness along with the cramps, it’s worth visiting your GP.
What causes cramps?
Dehydration is thought to be one of the most common causes, and although we may think we are drinking enough in a day, we could always take on board that extra glass or two.
A deficiency in salt is also a popular theory for cramping, however this doesn’t necessarily mean you should laden up your chips tonight just in case! Potassium (a mineral which can be found in bananas, spinach, mushrooms, raisins and oranges amongst other foods) is an important missing factor in many people’s diets, and eating a little more each day can reduce cramping.
Fatigue is another common reason for cramp. If you have been doing more exercise than usual during the day, or if the weather has been particularly warm (as it was this lovely summer), it’s natural that your body will sweat more and therefore be losing more water and salts than usual.
As we age, our tendons (attaching muscles to bones) naturally shorten, pulling more on the muscles causing them to tighten, which may be one reason people over 60 experience cramp more often.
To prevent cramps…
There is no guaranteed way of preventing cramps (unless you listen to my Granny, whose cure involving nettle leaves and tuna fish is a sure-fire winner…) but there are ways of reducing the severity and frequency. Try to include some moderate exercise into every day, especially targetted stretching of the affected muscles (i.e. a few calf stretches before bedtime). Walking, taking a flight of stairs here and there, even a few extra stretches when on a break from your desk – but do remember that unusually heavy exercise (relatively) may increase the occurrence.
To combat the dehydration issue, spread your fluid intake throughout the day – having a bottle of water at your desk to sip is a good tip, as is having a glass of water after every time you visit the toilet (not from the toilet I hasten to add). Lots of people don’t like to drink too much before bedtime, so the best advice is to drink as much water as possible throughout the day before dinnertime.
If your cramps are worse at night, make sure your ankles are relaxed when you sleep (in other words, don’t sleep with your toes pointed). Your sheets should also be kept quite loose, to allow your muscles to move.
For those with persistent cramping, your GP might prescribe you medication, but the main methods of preventing cramps (as above) should be exhausted first. If your leg cramps occur during pregnancy, especially in the last trimester, you should find these ease once you’ve had your baby.
What should I do when I get cramp?
Ah, the all important part. With any luck, you’re probably already doing some of the right things to help ease cramp when it does occur, but here is a quick rundown of how to help.
First and foremost, try to get the cramping muscles into a stretch (see the picture opposite for a calf stretch). Some people find a standing stretch easier, others ask for help and have someone else flex their ankles for them while they lie on their backs. Having someone assist you is often easier for hamstring (back of the thigh) cramps.
Massage the tight muscles gently to try to release the cramp. Once the cramp has shifted, you might be left with a fatigued and sore muscle which can be massaged properly to help return normal sensation and function.
Use warm water to try to ease the pain and tightness if you can.
If you are concerned about the cramps you’re having, it is worthwhile making an appointment to see your GP. If you’d like to book a physiotherapy appointment, or even book a massage, please get in touch by calling us on 0141 2372 721, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask anyone involved in any kind of sport or exercise if they stretch and you’re likely to hear one of 2 answers: “Yes, religiously” or “No, not as much as I should!”
So what should we be doing and when should we be doing it? Well, in this blog we’ll have a look at when to stretch, along with some examples of stretching for different muscle groups at different times (and while we’re at it, we’ll define the various kinds of stretch too).
Types of stretching
Static stretching is just what it says on the tin – stretching and holding in one position (see our “models” on the left). Usually the hold is for a standard 20 or 30 seconds, but some people like to hold a static stretch using breaths as a measure (e.g. 5 inhales and exhales for one stretch).
Dynamic stretching is stretching while moving. This is a gentle “swing” through your full range of motion, but without pushing too hard at the end of the stretch. For example jogging forward kicking your heels up to your bottom is a good dynamic quad stretch that doesn’t push the muscle beyond its natural range.
Ballistic stretching is holding a muscle at its maximum length and “bouncing” it to try to increase that length. It is almost never recommended, as it can actually cause muscles to tighten or even tear as they are over-stretched. Imagine trying to touch your toes and consistently jerking you fingers closer to the floor each time. Your hamstrings would very likely complain with this movement!
When is best?
Now we’ve covered stretching terms, but when should we carry out each different type of stretching?
Traditionally, people stretched statically before any kind of exercise, but this has been shown to do more harm than good. Herda and colleagues conducted a study on men in their 20s using methods to measure hamstring strength after different kinds of stretching. They found that the muscles could generate more power after dynamic stretching than following static stretching.
Another study by Wallmann and colleagues in 2012 looked at stretching the hip flexors (iliopsoas muscle) before a sprint, and how much difference this made to the performance of healthy recreational runners. Without stretching, the subjects ran the fastest. The next fastest runs were after the dynamic stretching, and the slowest runs were after static stretching. So it seems that not stretching at all before an activity could be best – but the key part is the warm-up and it’s important to note that in this study, the runners all had a warm-up first.
When Samson and his colleagues looked at different warm-ups and different types of stretching, they found that an activity-specific warm-up improved sprint times more than a general warm-up. They also found that static stretching increased the range of movement in the subjects better than dynamic stretching (but didn’t improve speed).
So in short, static stretching before exercise can actually worsen performance in sports that require explosive movements like sprinting (and can actually decrease your muscle power by around 3%), and dynamic stretching has been shown to be not quite as detrimental but can still negatively affect performance.
None of this looks particularly encouraging for stretching pre-exercise at all, does it?
Here’s where the warm-up comes in.
Don’t be confused – even dynamic stretching does not equal a warm-up as such.
The best warm-ups consist of an activity-specific and aerobic exercise to get your blood pumping and start your body moving in the way your intended exercise program is designed. Your muscles, nerves and other soft tissues need blood (and its nutrients and oxygen) in order to work, and a warm-up will help deliver these slowly at first, then more efficiently so that you can reach your maximum performance during your workout. Warming up also lubricates your joints, and reduces the risk of your muscles becoming prematurely fatigued.
So for instance a sprinter might do a warm-up of walking, lunges, jogging and then running before finally engaging in sprinting. A footballer might do some jogging followed by some mid-height kicks or mid-paced direction changes with some ball work to warm them up for a game.
So should we stretch after a warm-up? Well, you could do, but the point of the warm-up is to get your blood pumping so your body is ready for exercise. If you have to stop in order to stretch, your heart rate will slow again, defeating the purpose. You could do a second warm-up before exercising but not all of us have the time for that!
Does stretching have any use at all?
Yes indeed! This might seem like an anti-stretching article, but stretching can have fantastic benefits. Right after you cool down (again, doing the same sorts of activity-specific movements as in your warm-up), you should stretch. This should help your soft tissues get rid of the waste products built up during exercise, as well as return your physiological responses (metabolic, heart and breathing rates etc) to normal. Stretching probably doesn’t prevent injury as such, nor will it prevent a loss of power that generally follows on the next 2-3 days after a good workout, but it can have an effect on improving your muscle soreness on the days following your workout (especially in your abdomen and back), which can be a huge drawback to exercise. Plus it’s a nice relaxing way to finish a session.
If you want to improve your flexibility in general, you could take part in a yoga class (and don’t be fooled by its laid-back reputation – depending on the teacher and the type of yoga, it can be pretty hard work!) Pilates is also an excellent way of improving your joint range of motion, your muscle suppleness and flexibility in a low-impact way. But make sure before you do any static stretching that you don’t intend on running any personal best sprints straight after!
As with starting any form of exercise, particularly if you are entirely new to it, seek advice from a registered health professional before you begin. If you’d like to ask us a question, or book in for one of our prehabilitation appointments, please call us on 0141 2372 721 or browse our website for more information www.firstclassphysio.co.uk.
Some people may be of the “too much is never enough” school of thought, and others may think that walking to the end of the garden and back twice a day is plenty, but just how much exercise is enough to stay healthy?
First, we need to be clear on what counts as “exercise”. Now we don’t really need a comprehensive list of every sport or activity that ever existed, we just need a measure of how these make us react physically. For some people, a game of tennis will leave them with barely a sweat on, but then what about when Andy Murray plays? Or, for example, I could walk a mile and not be out of breath, but my wee Gran might walk 50 metres and need a lie down.
Every body is different, and everybody’s idea of doing the same exercise is different. So how do we classify physical activity? (We use the term “physical activity” instead of “exercise” as this encompasses all physical movements that help to improve your fitness and general health, not just those we define as sports or games.)
The easiest way is to measure how puffed out you are when you’re doing it. For instance:
Mild physical activity – you won’t be short of breath and you won’t have broken a sweat, but you may be slightly warmer e.g. a stroll outside or a slow swim.
Moderate physical activity – you’ll be able to hold a conversation but you will be a little short of breath, you should feel warm and even mildly sweaty e.g. vaccuuming (the whole house!), dancing, climbing stairs, gardening and lots of kinds of DIY.
Vigorous physical activity – you’ll feel very warm and out of breath, and will probably have broken a good sweat e.g. running, playing a hard game of tennis, spin classes, carrying all the shopping home in one go at a fair pace because you left the oven on…
Right, great, we’ve put some labels on different activities and personalised what we regards as “mild”, “moderate” or “vigorous” intensity. Now we need to know HOW MUCH to do. The most current evidence recommends that adults (ages 16-64 years) do 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. That’s 5 half hour brisk walks a week. Or 10 fifteen minute sessions on the cross-trainer (without exerting yourself too much). It is recommended you carry out this physical activity on most days – in other words, you can’t “store” the benefits of exercising for 3 hours on a Monday then be a sloth the rest of the week!
Alternatively, you can do 3 twenty-five minute sessions of vigorous activity. So maybe 3 two-and-a-half mile runs (if you’re running around 6 mph and pretty out of breath at that!), or 3 skipping sessions (don’t mock me: skipping is exhausting).
The key to all of this is remembering that useful and beneficial exercise is done in 10 minute blocks or longer. Anything less than that, and your body won’t reap the same health benefits but some is always better than none! You’ll also find that many of the above exercises not only strengthen your muscles but also improve your flexibility and balance, making it easier for you to stay injury free.
What if you’re over 64 or under 16?
If you’re 65 or over, you should still aim to hit the 150 minutes a week, but focus more on the balance and flexibility exercises. These will help reduce the risk of falls, and especially reduce the risk of injuring yourself if you do fall.
For younger people (children and teenagers), we need to make sure they do more physical activity – at least 60 minutes on most days. Now if you have been around a toddler lately, you’re probably still exhausted as they do burn up a lot of energy running around, which is great (for them!). For older children, a combination of PE, walking/cycling to school, sports, dancing/swimming/tennis classes and general play is enough to ensure they hit that daily hour of physical activity. If you’re concerned, or you feel that your child is falling short of this, you can find more information and some ideas at Active Schools, Soccer Success, Day Out With The Kids, Let’s Go With The Children, Spend Day.
Now for the why? part…
So why would you bother doing this amount of exercise? Well, I’ve mentioned how you can improve your fitness and health in general and that there are “health benefits” and (you’ve guessed it) there are a whole host of other reasons to up your regular activity, even if you already consider yourself active. Here are 12 of the good ones:
- You’ll lower your risk of putting on weight
- You can reduce the risk of premature death by 20-30%
- As you get older, you can stay independent for longer as you’ll remain mobile for longer
- You’ll half the liklihood of developing coronary heart disease (like angina, or a heart attack) and if you already have heart disease, you’ll prevent it from worsening
- It can lower your desire for a cigarette and help you quit smoking (plus ease those withdrawal symptoms)
- You’ll be about a third less likely to have a stroke (a clot, or a burst in the brain blood vessels)
- You can lower your blood pressure and your risk of developing osteoporosis (a bone-thinning disorder)
- You’ll be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes (something best to avoid as it contributes to heart disease and other conditions)
- You’ll half your risk of developing bowel cancer and reduce the risk of other cancers
- You’ll have more energy! And you’ll sleep better (and be less stressed)
- For children, it can improve their socialising skills and their sense of well-being
- No surprise to find that regular physical activity increases the good kind of cholesterol (HDL or high density lipoprotein) and helps lower your risk of developing cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart and blood vessels)
For some ideas on how to include more physical activity in your week and to give you some ideas of fun things to do, have a look at some previous scribblings for inspiration!
If you have an existing health problem, and you’re wondering whether increasing your physical activity is a good idea, have a chat with your GP or give us a call on 0141 2372 721.