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.)
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.
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.
Dare I say it… Chr—–s is coming soon (see, I didn’t really dare did I?) Many of us will have been lucky enough in the past to receive exactly the gift we were after, or maybe we’ve been given money or a voucher to go out and choose what we’d like. Yes, this is a plug for our gift vouchers – a fantastic get-out for gift ideas for your loved ones (and a December Deal into the bargain)!
Ok, down to business. We’ve all heard of massage, and many of us will have been fortunate enough to experience a good one. But what makes a good one? How does it work? And how can it help you?
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
You’ll find all sorts of massage out there (keep it clean) but we’ll whittle it down to 3 simple types here. 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 (I’ll explain why in a minute), warmth and relaxation.
Then we have sports massage or deep tissue massage. This is not so gentle, but is absolutely brilliant for releasing deep set tension in muscles, as well as removing those pesky adhesions and toxins which cause tightness and pain between the soft tissues of the body. And yes, we’ll get the elbows in.
Finally we have a hot stone massage, which is veeeery relaxing, but also has the added benefit of heat which stimulates the metabolism and circulation as well as giving that lovely warm calming effect.
How it works
So, we talked about increasing blood flow – how does this work, and how can it benefit you?
Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty. The blood vessels of your body are split simply into arteries (which deliver oxygenated blood to the organs, including the skin), veins (which take the de-oxygenated blood back to the heart) and 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).
Whilst continually kneading and stroking the skin will naturally increase the heat in the tissues and therefore stimulate blood flow, adding heat through the medium of hot stones can deepen the effect (up to 4cm/1.5 inches!). The increased blood flow will bring new blood filled with oxygen and nutrients and all the good stuff to supply the tissues that are being massaged, as well as help remove the build-up of toxins and lactic acid.
The 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. For those having a sports massage, the physical “knocking out” of those tense bumpy tissues will enable you to stretch better and move more smoothly, whilst the removal of those waste products will help cut down your DOMS period (delayed onset muscle soreness to the uninitiated among us) 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 (and stones) will help you into that serene state of mind.
Right, our next section was going to be headed “How can massage help you?” but really, I think you have it all figured out already.
If you would like to gift one of these fantastic treatments to someone, or just spoil yourself, please give us a call on 0141 2372 721 or drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We can give you a gift voucher to give to someone special (or your brother’s new girlfriend whom you’ve met once), or book you in for an appointment to suit you.
Right now you can get 30% off the usual price, for exactly the same fantastic treatment.
Let’s face it, anything that can take the stress out of Christmas is a good thing and we’re only too happy to help.
*Remember, be sensible with all treatments, and seek qualified medical advice for symptoms which last longer than a few days.