Archive for the ‘Exercise’ Category

What can you do to improve flexibility?

improving-flexibility-strive-physioThe good news is you can improve muscle flexibility and joint range of motion through stretching, despite physiological and other factors.

But what type of stretching is best?

Stretching can be grouped into 3 key types and all of these are important in keeping your muscles and joints at an optimum.

Dynamic stretching are slow, controlled movements

Dynamic stretching helps the muscles to stretch through their optimal length and take the joint through a full range of motion prior to doing an activity.

It targets the most intensely used muscles in the activity, increasing their elasticity and as a result reducing injury risk due to muscle sprain/strain. An example would be hamstring swings for runners prior to running.

Static stretchingis where a muscle is held in a lengthened position for 20-30 seconds.

It is ideal for stretching connective tissue and helps lengthen a muscle. It is best to be used as a cool down after an activity. An example is a hamstring stretch after running.

3.  Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) is a type of stretching that promotes elongation of muscle tissue.

It aims to optimise the neuromuscular ‘stretch reflex’ response of the body. This involves stretching a muscle passively to its end of range, then either holding or contracting the muscle for 6 seconds, releasing and then stretching the muscle further to a new range, repeating 3-4 times. Yoga and pilates exercises are a form of PNF stretching.

Important to do 3 forms of stretching

To optimise the flexibility of your muscles and joint ROM, it is important to do all 3 types of stretching.

To improve flexibility I recommend …

1.dynamic stretching prior to exercise

2. static stretching after and

3. doing a session of yoga or pilates once a week

Or, make time for a good PNF stretch program once a week to keep you supple.

Tips to remember when stretching

• Always warm up before stretching. Stretching when your muscles are cold could lead to injuries.

• Stretch to the point where you feel some mild tension. You should not feel pain. If you do, stop and release the stretch. Try again in a shorter range, build up to the increased range.

Flexibility: why it is important

exercise-improves-flexibilityFlexibility is important in day-to-day activities and sports. It allows for greater comfort and ability  – and reduces your risk of injury.

To initiate movement, your muscles contract (shorten).  How well they contract will depend on the initial resting length of the muscle.

And, for any movement, there is an optimum resting length to gain the optimum contraction your muscles.

For example …

Turning your head

Turning your head while driving is something we do regularly. This requires optimum resting length in your neck muscles and a muscle contraction.   If the resting length of your neck muscles is less than optimum (shortened) , you won’t be able to turn your head to the desired range.

When you can’t turn your head it means some muscles are too tight and the optimum tension is not correct.

Bending over

Think about bending over to touch your toes. If you can’t bend over like you used to, your hamstrings may be too tight and need lengthening.

What is flexibility?

Flexibility refers to the mobility of your muscles and is defined as the Range Of Motion (ROM) of your joints or the ability of your joints to move through different planes.

There is a balance between the initial resting length of a muscle and the contraction of a muscle to build the right tension to move your joints.  This impacts on the joint range of motion.

  • If the resting length of a muscle is too long, or too short, it will affect the ability of the muscle to contract.

Why is flexibility important

Improves skill level

Good muscle and joint flexibility allow your joints to accommodate all the different angles required for everyday movements or sport-specific movements.

Decreases risk of injury

A balance between the length versus the tension of muscles reduces your risk of injury, particularly muscle tears or sprains.

There are several groups of muscles that show a tendency towards tightness.

These include the:

  • hamstrings
  • calf muscles
  • pectoral muscles and some
  • back muscles.

These muscles are often implicated in musculoskeletal pain, especially back pain and are prone to strains.

Increases efficiency

When muscle length and muscle contraction are optimised, you can obtain maximum muscle power and efficiency for your chosen sport or activity.

For example, when running …

If you have optimal length and tension in hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and gluteal muscles when you are running, this allows for:

  • an increase in speed
  • less fatigue over longer distances
  • overall enhancement of your running enjoyment due to less pain in your legs and lower back

Flexibility can be limited by …

High muscle tone

High muscle tone occurs when the muscle is overworked or tense. Nerves supplying the muscle continue to provide a low-level discharge. This means the muscle cannot fully relax so the resting length is altered. This limits the full range of movement of the joint to which the muscle is attached.

Stretch reflex

As a muscle is rapidly stretched there is an automatic neuromuscular response – the ‘stretch reflex’ which limits overstretching to prevent injury. Where the length and tension relationship of a muscle is reduced, this reflex can start earlier, limiting the joint’s range of motion.

Change in muscle and connective tissue

As we age, muscle fibres are gradually replaced with fibrous connective tissue which is less elastic. This increases the stiffness of the joint, limiting the range of motion of the joint, particularly in highly mobile joints such as the shoulder and hips.

Bony change

Bony changes in the joints due to ageing or injury can affect how the surfaces of the joints line up decreasing flexibility and decreasing joint range of motion.

Poor posture

Poor posture can reduce the optimum length and tension relationship of skeletal muscle leading to stiffness in the joints as they are prevented from moving through their full ROM.

Try this activity and see if you notice the difference in your arm’s range of motion.

  1. Sit in a slumped position and raise your arms up over your head.
  2. Now sit on your sit bones, stack your spine up long and now raise your arms up overhead.
  3. Do you notice the difference?

Previous injuries

Injuries to muscles and connective tissue can lead to a thickening (fibrosing) of the soft tissue. Fibrous tissue is less elastic and can lead to decreased resting length of the muscle and reduced range of movement (ROM) in the affected joint.

 

 

The Importance of Warming Up

dreamstime_xl_46146163-300Why warm up

Warming up prepares the body for exercise by increasing:

  • blood flow to muscles and hence the nutrients the muscles require for activity
  • blood flow to heart preparing the heart muscle for exercise
  • oxygen delivery to muscles
  • speed of nerve impulses

 

Warming up also decreases:

  • Muscle viscosity leading to smoother muscle contractions and increased mechanical efficiency
  • Stiffness of connective tissue and likelihood of tears

Research shows …

Structured warm up programs designed to prevent injuries can reduce injury risk by 50% or more.

How best to warm up prior to exercise

The most effective warm up should last consists of a:

  1. Pulse raisers
  2. General exercises
  3. Specific exercises

 

Pulse raisers

 

A pulse raiser is designed to gradually increase heart rate (temperature, blood flow and oxygen) to your muscles, preparing the body for exercise.A suitable pulse raiser could be
  • jogging
  • cycling or
  • skipping
TIP: Start slowly and gradually increase.

 

General exercises

 

General exercises are designed to improve your range of motion in preparation for the type of exercise you are about to do.The best type of exercises are dynamic and can include exercises like:
  • high knee running
  • walking lunges with a twist
  • jump squats and
  • arm circles

Specific Exercises

 

Sports specific exercises usually come in the form of drills which repeat common movement patterns and skills you are likely to use in your sport. For example,
  • cutting manoeuvres
  • overhead serves
  • hitting practice
  • passing drills

Warming up – how much is enough?

 

There is no reliable data to prescribe the intensity and duration of a warm up. It is up to the individual to determine.TIP: But a rule of thumb mild is mild sweating without fatigue.

 

The effect of the warm up lasts around 30 minutes so it is important not to warm up too early and remember it is just as important to cool down after.

 

Like some help?

 

We’d be pleased to help you develop a warm-up routine that will keep you moving well.

Keep moving well

Why you should keep moving well

dreamstime_m_34144366We all know that exercise and moving is good for us, and that lounging around and sitting for long periods isn’t.

Did you know that Australia has released guidelines for all age groups on the minimum recommended weekly activity levels?

The Department of Health has released an excellent document Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for all age groups (2014).  CLICK HERE to read the GUIDELINES.

 

In summary if you are between 18-64 you should:

      • Be active on most, preferably all, days of every week
      • Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week
      • Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week

There are guidelines for all age groups including 0-5’s and 5-12’s, and 13-17’s and 65+.

Any physical activity is better than doing none

The guidelines stress that any physical activity is better than doing none. So if you currently do not do physical activity, start by doing some and gradually build up to the recommended amount.

If you need some help with working out what the best exercise is for you, please feel free to ask me.

Physiotherapists are well placed to develop exercise programs that are specific to your needs and align with the type of exercise that you like to do!

Tech Neck

Is the increased use of technology having a long-term effect on our health? The short answer is yes!

New technology has its benefits but it is also increasing the rate of ‘Tech Neck’. I think we have all noticed a dramatic change in the amount of time we and our children, spend in front of the television, on the computer or smart phones.

Sitting or standing for long periods with our head bent forward can lead to early wear and tear on the cervical spine.

This poor posture, affectionately known as ‘Tech Neck’ can lead to inflammation of neck tissue, muscle strain, pinched nerves, herniated discs and over time can cause permanent change in the neck’s natural curve.

When ybowling ballou think about it, it makes sense.

The average human head weighs between 4.5 – 5.5kg, about the weight of a ten pin bowling ball. In its optimum position directly above the cervical spine, the head places low forces on the cervical spine. As the head bends forward, its centre of gravity changes relative to the spine and as a result the forces on the cervical spine are increased.

A recent study by Dr Kenneth Hansraj (2014), Chief of Spine Surgery in New York measured these forces and the results make you want to sit up straight…literally!

In his study Dr Hansraj found that at a 15-degree angle of forward head tilt the weight on the cervical spine increased to 12.2kg. At 30 degrees, the weight increased to 18kgs and at 45 degrees, 22.2 kgs. At 60 degrees, Hansraj found that the effective head weight was 27.2kgs. That is like carrying a suitcase or sack of potatoes around on your neck for an hour or two per day.

In his article DSource: Hansraj, K (2014) Surgical Technology International XXVr Hansraj pointed out that over a year this translates to at least an extra 700 hours of excessive and unwanted forces placed on the neck.

For teenagers or others who traditionally spend longer hours on computers and mobile phones, this could equate to 1400-5000 hours every year.

 

So what can be done about Tech Neck?

To prevent long-term damage, try these few key principles.

1. Take a break
Every 30 mins.  This should involve getting up and walking around the room which allows for spinal tissues to be exercised, reducing postural strain.

2. Ergonomic set up
Place your monitor at arm’s length and make sure your eyes are level with the top of the screen. On smartphones hold them up and look down with your eyes, not your head.

3. Exercise
Try these 2 exercises to relieve neck tension.

Chin Tuck
Sitting up straight, head above your spine and eyes forward, slide your chin backwards until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck. Hold for 5 seconds. Release slowly and repeat x 5. Do a set of these 4-5 times per day.

Neck Rotation
In the same seated posture, rotate your chin around in line withyour right shoulder (don’t lift your shoulder up).  Hold for 5-10 seconds then slowly rotate your chin around toward your left shoulder. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat  x 3 each side.

 4. Posture Assessment
If you are having ongoing neck pain, stiffness, headaches or feel that you have chronic poor posture, have your posture assessed and treated by a physiotherapist to help you prevent long term damage.

  5. Clinical Pilates
Clinical pilates on the reformer is an excellent treatment for improving your spinal alignment including optimum head/neck posture. Exercises on the reformer should be targeted to your specific needs.

Source: Hansraj, K (2014) Surgical Technology International XXV

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