Ultimate Guide to the Bunion

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These two photos were taken moments apart, the foot on the left showing the adapted position and the same foot on the right showing the corrected position.

Have you got a Bunion-in-the-Oven?

Most people who sport a bunion have no idea how it got there. They do know they didn’t just wake up one day to discover a bunion has sprouted from their foot overnight. It takes a while to get one (or two) and this process is called adaptation.

An adaptation is a change that occurs over time as a response to a biological signal. In this case, it is the signal to create more robustness in a site that is under stress. The Bunion is the correct response to a biological signal to add robustness to a site that is under continual stress/overload. Bunions can occur at the first (big toe) metatarsal joint and also the fifth (baby) toe metatarsal head (often referred to as a “bunionette” – which sounds a lot cuter than it is).

Hallux valgus (or hallux abductovalgus) is the anatomical term for the deformity which displaces the bones of the big toe and the first ray, or metatarsal. The associated soft tissues (tendons, ligaments and muscles) of this joint are displaced and experience loads that are unnatural both in intensity and in plane, or position. It is the transverse (sideways) plane motion that is associated most strongly with this eventual bone dislocation but there is a rotational element as well to both the bones of the toe and the metatarsal.

The mechanics of feet are important to get right and walking a certain way, or changing the optimal mechanics of a natural (bare) foot, is going to create changes to the loads to your foot, which your body will deal with by possibly increasing bone density or shape in response to an unnatural load to tissues that would otherwise fail. The softer tissues of the muscles and ligaments will become misaligned and can cause inappropriate wear and tear on structures of the foot, creating pain!

Most of what we do to treat bunions is treating the symptom, which alleviates much of the discomfort. But like anything that doesn’t get at the root cause, it is just a band-aid solution, but one you should take because improving the comfort of your feet is just too important for the health of the rest of your body to ignore (i.e., you won’t want to go move the rest of the body if the feet are hurting and if you are sedentary your other systems will suffer). Once you get moving again, you can start the corrective work necessary to move yourself out of orthotics.

Now I know what you are thinking. You have probably been told that bunions are genetic. Genetics are misunderstood as a kind of code written into your DNA that is inevitable – meaning you can’t do anything about it and you are simply doomed to the outcome. It seems reasonable to assume that bunions are genetic because you might have very similarly shaped feet to one of your parents. But the truth is you inherit some things from your parents: the size, girth and shape of the bones is one thing. However, bone is living tissue. It can morph and change depending on the loads it is subject to most frequently.  You may have inherited the shape of the pelvis, hips, legs and feet bones (and subsequent joints) from your parents, but it’s how you use them that determines their final shape and function. Another thing that has perhaps a greater influence on the shaping of your bones is the movement “accent” that you learn from your parents.  Just as we pick up speech patterns as we learn to talk, we pick up movement cues from watching those around us as we develop our motor skills. It is these movement “accents” that we mimic and which become our habitual way of walking that eventually creates the bunion. So it’s important that we look at the mechanics of how we walk and their contribution to our shape, more so than the genetically inherited shape of our bones. Bunions are not something written into the DNA code that will simply manifest one day without cause – they are mechanically stimulated. If bunions were genetic, you’d think they would occur on both sides to the same extent, but that is rarely the case. Many people have only one (and that’s a big clue to how you are using your body asymmetrically) and others have a bigger one on one foot than the other.

Shaped by our environment

There are other reasons we walk the way we do, that are not genetic or learned. We can be literally shaped by our environment. Shoes, chairs, our urban habit of making everything flat and level…all leave us with adaptations in the length of our muscles and shape of our bones, which in turn affects the way we stand and walk.

So you might be “cooking” a bunion right now! You have the potential to develop a bunion if you are creating the environment that causes it. It’s a whole different way of looking at something you are used to thinking of negatively. Your body is actually responding appropriately! It’s not a positive adaptation, but it’s a correct one. What an amazing thing our bodies are, yet we continually denounce them for betraying us and creating this dumb and ugly lump on the side of the foot. This lump that rubs against my (too small, too narrow) shoe and causes me pain with every step.

So what can you do? What can you do to halt this bunion from forming, forming further, and/or reduce the pain associated with bunions? The loads that are creating the adaptation can be changed! With this change, your foot health can be improved, pain alleviated and the further formation may be halted.  If you don’t have a bunion, these tips will still help you achieve the healthiest feet possible.

Free the Feet

I mentioned earlier that a change in the optimal mechanics of the bare foot is bound (pun intended) to result in a change to the loads of the structures of the foot. It is simply impossible to have optimal gait mechanics in shoes – especially if the shoes have a positive heel and constricting toe box (most all modern shoes). It is constriction of the toes that is strongly associated with the mal-positioned bones and creation of the bunion. Making a better choice in footwear is your first step in improving the health and function of your feet. Moving towards a minimal shoe, with a flexible sole, wide toe box and no positive heel is a must. Depending on your current footwear choice, this transition must be done carefully and mindfully and slowly.

Restore the Feet

You may need to do some restorative work to prepare your feet for freedom. It is important not to make big changes too quickly. Remember that word “adaptation”? Just as it may have taken decades to create the adaptation that eventually resulted in your bunion, it will take time for the tissues of your foot and lower leg to adapt to a change in your footwear. Even a change from a 2” heel to a 1” heel is a big change (and a good one) to your body. Structures that have adapted to joint positions associated with shoes need to be treated kindly. Massage, self massage, myofascial modalities, and Restorative Exercise corrective exercises can help prepare those tissues so that injuries do not result.

An example of one of the muscles you can restore is the Abductor Hallucis which pulls the big toe out away from the other toes. This muscle’s function is usually lost when you have formed a bunion. Even more complex, is that the function of this muscle can change from one that pulls the big toe away from the second toe (intended) to one that contributes to the big toe moving over the second toe (adapted). You can learn how to get this muscle back in line, and then back online.

Align the Feet

Stop walking with your feet turned out like a duck. Ducks don’t actually walk this way – ducks have been unfairly maligned. But you know what I mean: that turned out position where the toes are wider than the heels.  When you walk this way, you change the mechanics of the foot’s engagement with the ground and introduce a rotational element. It is this rotation from the outside of heel to the big toe knuckle (metatarsal head) that drives the load over this joint and displaces the big toe (hallux) towards the second toe. You will notice that the big toe is not just pushed over, it’s twisted or rotated.

When walking straight ahead, the feet should face straight ahead. Of course, varying the terrain and your movements can elicit many more healthy angles from the foot and ankle as required and desired.

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Feet facing straight (un-ducked)

Wear toe spacers to get the big toe over to where it should be and to help spread the toes. This might sound like that band-aid solution but if you are walking around with a bunion, just fixing the alignment of your feet won’t change the loads as now the bunion itself becomes a force that creates a specific gait pattern. I’ve noticed that I can change the shape of my feet when I’m standing still, but when I walk I have a lot less control over what my feet are doing. Using something that will keep the big toe aligned will help. I like Correct Toes because they can be worn all the time, both in shoes (toe box permitting) and barefoot.

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Correct toes in place. I cut off the baby toe side but now wish I hadn’t. There should be a piece between the forth and fifth toes.

I also wear My Happy Feet socks around the house or at night in bed. These products help spread the toes back out to where they should be – the widest part of the foot. Both of these products are designed to be worn while moving, which is ideal.

Helpful Links:

“Every Woman’s Guide to Foot Pain Relief”
“Whole Body Barefoot: Transitioning Well to Minimal Footwear.”

Exercise “Snacks” –
Toes and Calves
Walk This Way, Stand This Way
Balance Using Lateral Hips

Video –  “Fix Your Feet”

Excellent video from Podiatrist Dr. Ray McClanahan, founder Correct Toes (and check out his other videos on bunions on YouTube!):

RES Week #3 – Sequim WA

I just returned from my third week of training with Katy Bowman and her merry band of teachers (and merry they certainly are!). I’m thrilled to announce that I have joined that band of teachers, and I had the privilege (and fear) of teaching the first group class at RES week on this, the last of the old cohort certifying students. I chose my own topic and taught on “Shoulders, with an Emphasis on Protraction using Twist.” It was a fun class and I got great feedback – I was even asked if my class could be filmed for future reference, which we did, later that same week. It was just amazing to be standing at the head of the Nutritious Movement Center and leading a large group of students and teachers in my own choreography, and having them all so dedicated and focused.

Even more wonderful was spending time with the teachers I’ve been following for years now, and have so much respect for. We all shared a house in the area and prepared and ate meals together, and shopped together and worked together, walked together and lived together for the week. It was like a big old Walton’s moment. I never had the experience of siblings and close family growing up, so this was pretty special.

Here are some of the highlights from the week (click on the pics for larger):

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We were put up in a lovely house in a subdivision that was built around an airstrip. The owners of the houses had their own planes. This was the airstrip, that I took a barefoot walk on. Luckily no planes were coming or going during this time!

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This was the view from the front door!

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Pics from my class! That’s me in black.

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A live taping of the Katy Says Podcast featuring Dani Hemmat!

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Some of my fabulous fellow teachers on the Dungeness Spit.

The Alignment REScue helps the Little RES Q!

People think of casts as a plaster casing that holds a bone and its associated joints in position, usually for the purpose of allowing a bone to heal if it’s been broken. The idea is that if the bone is restricted in movement, the bones will have a chance to repair. So we have the idea that a cast is a good thing. But it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just a thing. A cast can be anything that restricts full movement or range of motion of a joint or muscle. For example, the orthotic that you put in your shoe is a cast. The sidewalk is a cast. The chair you sit in all day is a cast, as is your car seat. Even the distance of the screen to your face is a cast for the muscles of your eyes! All of these things prevent us from moving our bodies fully. And we might not be aware, but all these things cause our bodies to develop and shape themselves, just as the plaster cast does. Our environment can shape us, literally.

If you’ve ever worn a plaster cast, you know that on its removal, your muscles are in a weakened state from being restricted. The cast has prevented usage of the muscles (and bones) and they atrophy. This happens to your feet, your hips, your spine and your eyes in the examples above. We are just not as aware of it at first, because this is our environment, our culture, our world. But eventually we suffer the weakened state of these environmental casts: weak feet, knees, hips, spines, eyes, and the diseases associated with them (neuropathy, fasciosis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, disk degeneration, myopia, etc.).

In a very extreme example of this, I came across a turtle named Audrey who lived for over 20 years in a bucket. As Audrey grew, the walls of the bucket defined her environment – and casted her growth. This is the result:_WAC7209
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WAC7217Luckily Audrey was able to live out her remaining years in a rescue organization that gave her the best medical care, food and lodging any turtle could hope for. Audrey became an educational “spokesturtle” for animal cruelty against reptiles, traveling to Reptile Expos. She passed away a year ago. To visit the rescue’s site and donate if you desire, please visit them at this link: Little RES Q

I’ve always loved turtles. They are like my spirit animal! Add to that the fact that our business names are so close – Alignment REScue and Little RES Q – I just decided I would do something to help. Let’s let the late Audrey be our inspiration to move, to experience life outside of the tank! (This is a reference to the book “Move Your DNA” where Katy Bowman talks about how the tank environment affects the development of captive orca whales.)

In what I hope to be the first of many workshops, this Feb. 28 (a Sunday) from 11:00-1:00 I am holding a “Selfie Massage Day” where you can come and roll your aches and pains away on the Yoga Tune Up® balls using the method that I learned recently. The space is limited, and I have a few spaces left, but I hope to make this a regular occurrence. Maybe if there are enough interested, I can find a larger space for future workshops!

This will be by donation only (suggested $20.00 but PWYC!) and 100% of proceeds will go to the rescue organization Little RES Q in Audrey’s memory.

 

Developing a Prenatal Practice

I’m about to embark on my first prenatal class! I feel confident in my abilities to address a pregnant clientele – for one thing I am a mother and have gone through it all two times. My daughters are now 23 and 26 (how did that happen!?) but I remember well both the challenges and the joys.

More recently of course, I have been studying loads and forces as part of my Restorative Exercise™ work – and it’s not a very romantic way to think of a developing baby – but it is a load! So it’s not the load that is a problem, it’s how you carry it, and even more so, it’s about the body you bring to the pregnancy and the loads that can exacerbate the tissues such as the pelvic floor and the linea alba (Latin for “white line” – the connective tissue down the front of the trunk that can separate in a state called Diastasis Recti). The loads to the spine, the feet and the chest wall, shoulders (breasts increasing in size), all increase. Mechanically, there is an optimal way to carry an increasing load that minimizes the negative impact on these body parts and ensures a robustness entering the last stage of pregnancy – the birth!

Unlike some fitness paradigms that have prenatal programs such as yoga and Pilates, there is no reason not to enter an RE™ practice during pregnancy even if you have not started the program prior to becoming pregnant. Admittedly, it would be ideal to start before as you will already have learned alignment habits and as the pregnancy progresses and the load increases, you will be in a better position (literally and figuratively!) to handle it. However, it is not a good idea to wait until after the baby’s arrival to start minimizing the impact of the pregnancy. So regardless of how pregnant you are, there are lots of resources (free and paid) for you which I will list below.

Of course, most people who start an RE™ practice when they are pregnant have the birth in mind, especially if it’s a first child, the birth looms scary and inevitable – the great unknown! We know we are biologically capable of propagating our species – we are made for it right? But certain cultural practices are having an effect on our bodies – practices such as wearing heeled shoes, sitting a lot, not squatting during daily activities such as going to the bathroom, all contribute to a shape: the pelvis, the pelvic bones and the pelvic floor, the hips and trunk wall all have to adjust to these practices. So this is the body you bring to the pregnancy and the birth – the body which you can start changing as you head for the big day of delivery!

Once the load is no longer on the inside of you, and you have a baby on the outside of you 🙂 you will notice another difference in the way RE™ addresses the postnatal mother. Most paradigms treat it as a need to get “back in shape” – as if the pregnancy were an anomaly to the person you were before becoming pregnant. Believe it or not, you are the same person who has been in several different biological states. But now you are probably nursing, and most likely holding and carrying a growing baby (yes, he/she is still being a load to your body!). And there is an optimal way to do that as well – which I will teach you.

But wait, there’s more! Order now and I will double your order and throw in a Tupperware container! Ok, seriously, what about your child’s development? Who is preparing you for that? My teacher Katy Bowman, founder of Nutritious Movement, has two young children herself – so she is providing the inspiration to hundreds of pregnant women all over the world to bring up robust and healthy moving kids. I can cover topics such as:

  • how breastfeeding develops the baby’s palate,
  • how does a baby’s grasping reflex relate to his ability to hold up his head
  • what is the difference between carrying a baby and strapping him to you (for you both)
  • when and how should you use a carrying device such as a stroller
  • how does diaper wearing affect the developing hips
  • how much movement does a growing child need
  • what types of movement does a growing child need
  • what shoes should your child wear and when should he wear them

I have just TWO SPOTS left and am in the upper beach – please get in touch asap as this class starts at the end of January and you must take a private lesson as a prerequisite.

Here’s a list of things you can do right now:
1. Get out of heeled shoes. This might require a sensible transition period.
2. Get a squatty potty or use some blocks under your feet when on the toilet (no need to actually hover, you can sit down, just elevate your feet)
3. Back your hips up and drop your ribs down (ie, don’t “wear” your pregnancy way out in front)
4. Walk more (transition appropriately)
5. Go through the link below to read the blogs and listen to the podcasts
6. Find a Nutritious Movement certified Restorative Exercise Specialist™ near you!

This page on the Nutritious Movement website lists several dvds, books and courses, but there is also a list of free blog posts and podcasts for you:
http://nutritiousmovement.com/?s=pregnancy+kit

Good luck!

 

 

A Time for Reflection

This is traditionally the time when we all make amends for having way too much fun eating and drinking over the holidays. This is a way of thinking that permeates our culture – that of making amends for excess: guilty pleasures followed by contrition.

“I’ll eat this now and pay for it later,” “I’ll do an extra half hour on the treadmill tomorrow,” “I’ll lose weight before the holidays to save some space for the gluttony I know will come.” This is understandable – we are fallible human beings prone to making mistakes. But this yo-yo of binge/fasting is not a good model. It’s like our way of exercising for an hour to make up for the previous 8 hours of being sedentary at our desk, and then following up that 1 hour of exercise with 4 more sitting watching tv/computer screens.

I’m not saying “no fun allowed” – or that doing a cleanse/healthy eating for a month is not a good thing – it might be a good thing! My point is just that we tend to balance our behaviour in a way that doesn’t necessarily lead to long term health.

I’m reminded of a dilemma I have in the studio. We are encouraged to use mirrors for our alignment practice – it’s important to be able to check that what you feel is what is real. Our understanding of what we look like or present like, and what we really present like, is often at odds. You are probably familiar with that feeling of being corrected in your alignment by someone (a teacher of some sort) and thinking “that feels totally wrong!” That is because even though you might be crooked or leaning, you have been doing so for so long that your muscles have adjusted and your proprioception has adjusted and now that position is deemed normal to your brain. It takes a process to re-adjust to another position at first, and constant checking of your position might be necessary at first. Hence the mirrors.

But someone always groans and bemoans the fact that she (yes, usually this is a “she”) doesn’t like to look in the mirror. This has been a familiar complaint throughout all my years of teaching movement. I am a woman – there are things about me that I wish were different and never will be different, and there is a self acceptance that seems to come with age, although I expect I will never stop trying to improve myself (and find fault when I fail to)! And so I understand that you would like to just work out and not have to look at yourself doing so. But since I started teaching Restorative Exercise™ I have found a peace with the mirror and this is why:

I am now looking at myself for objective reasons, instead of subjectively (critically). There is criticism to be sure, but it’s not judgmental. It’s just “how do my hips relate to my feet in this moment” -“Are my ribs down?” “Am I hyperextending my elbows,” “is my spine flexing or my hips?” But how did I make this leap – from using the mirror as a reflection of image to using it as a learning tool? Can it really be that simple as leaving the critical thoughts behind?

No, it’s not that simple. I believe that over time, I’ve trained my eye to behave differently. Just as meditation trains your mind to have the right environment for calmness and isn’t just a replacement for the self critical thoughts one is prone to, so have I trained my eye to perceive something other than just the subjective picture in the mirror. Every once in a while I catch sight of myself and think “uh oh! Too much egg nog!” and accompanying negative thoughts threaten to arise, but most of the time I’m looking for a particular reason. And I like this. I like that I can be objective about my expectations about my body.

My meditation practice “mirrors” this as well – the judgmental subjective thoughts are slowly but surely being replaced with objective ones. An example of a subjective thought might be “I’m a loser because I’m not as successful as _________.” An objective one is “I wonder what I need to do in order to increase my business and income by 20% this year?” It’s a state of mind that is clearer, more open, more kind.

So as we enter this period of reflection about 2015, and look forward to another year, I wish for you all to find peace within yourselves, without yourselves, and objectivity about your goals and perceptions.

And If I can assist you in meeting some of these goals, I will be happy to do so.

Happy New Year!

2015 Gift Giving Guide

Welcome to The 2015 Gift Guide, curated by yours truly. If you were wondering what to get for me your friends and family members, look no further! (find last year’s guide here.)

I know commercialism is crass and we all want the world to be a peaceful place where bad things don’t happen. How about meditation? This year I treated myself to an annual membership for Headspace. Download their free App to your phone (or access on your computer) and you can choose a guided meditation every day. You get encouragement in the form of bonus months for friends, so I’ve been able to spread the love around a bit myself. I like Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace so I recommend it and you can try it for 10 days for free! A word of warning – calm minds are addictive. I’ve been meditating every day for over 100 days now. Look for the green Gift button on main page:
https://www.headspace.com/

If anyone knows toothpaste, I know toothpaste. I actually collect cool natural toothpaste when I travel! I have toothpaste from all over the world in my collection (Italy, Portugal, France, India, etc.) so imagine my surprise to discover the best toothpaste is made in Nelson BC! Everyone should get a tube of toothpaste in their stocking, or in this case, a jar. I bought the three pack and I love it! Shipping was fast and easy and cheap, and they substituted a flavour for me.
http://nelsonnaturals.com/

Did you know you can download 20-30 minute $5US Alignment Snacks from the Restorative Exercise Institute? Get them all and do them over the holidays! Use my affliate link over on the right side of this page.

My other affiliate link is Berkey Water Filters. This would be a great gift to give the whole family – a gift that keeps on giving. I can’t believe it took me so long to get one. The water is so delicious – it tastes like nothing! It’s cheaper than a Vitamix or a TV and is one of the few filters on the market that filters fluoride (with a optional fluoride filter). Some browsers don’t support my affiliate link picture so if you don’t see it, you can use this link.

I have gift certificates! Buy someone you care for the gift of health:
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My best wishes for the holidays, however you celebrate them, and keep moving!

 

 

 

 

Stair Climbing 101

This is a video posting that will hopefully illustrate how most people (and some cats) climb stairs and then a more mechanically optimal way to climb stairs, or any grade really.

If you really slow down and have a look at how  you climb stairs, you might find that it goes something like this:

You step, lean onto the forward leg, and with a combination of arm pulling and quadriceps pushing (i.e., front of front leg pushing back), you pull yourself up onto that leg. Note, if you are using the bannister or railings for balance, by all means, use it! The place to work on your balance is not the staircase – the risk of injury is too great if you fall on the stairs. However, that doesn’t mean you have to pull yourself up (unless you do because your legs are weak, but again, that can be improved).

Ironically, it’s often people with knee pain that climb this way, and I say ironically because this actually increases the load to the knee, and compresses it, leading to such conditions as Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) damage, friction resulting in osteoarthritis and patellar tendon strain.

So how on earth are you supposed to climb stairs if the above video is the wrong way? Well, you can push off the back leg instead of pulling up with the front leg – watch:

It’s not as easy to see as it is to feel so practice it yourself. Try leaning forward and then staying straight and see how that feels on your own knee.

Here’s another angle:

I should have moved those black bolsters behind me, but hopefully you can see this okay. If the knee collapses in as well as moves forward, you are really asking for trouble. The strength of the lateral (outside) hip is going to be key in this action, so your Restorative Exercise™ List and Monster Walk is the prescription for that!

Good luck, and happy climbing.

 

 

Clamshells my ass!

There’s an article in the September Issue (Vogue baby!) called “The Bottom Line” that is all about, well, bottoms. Apparently, the “trifecta of hindquarterly perfection” of Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez are inspiring women the world over to want a bigger, rounder tushes.

Canadian spine bio-mechanist Stuart McGill is consulted and along with clamshells and bridges, he advises to squeeze the glutes at red lights for example:
“You have to remember, whenever possible, to squeeze robustly,” McGill says. So lately, whether I’m going upstairs, counting sheep, rising from chairs, or watching Veep, “Contract the glutes!” is my rallying cry…”¹

Ugh. It’s the Kegel all over. You may remember the bruhaha over the Kegel when Katy Bowman suggested pelvic floor contractions done in large amounts does not always equal a strong, functional pelvic floor. Well, you can train tension or you can train strength and they are not the same thing. I should mention in fairness that McGill is trying to “wake up” a muscle that is gone offline, “gluteal anmesia” as he calls it. So in this case, creating an awareness of an area that is seldom called upon in our sedentary existence might be warranted–for a time. However, don’t go overboard and squeeze ALL THE TIME or you’ll end up with the same problems that continually sucking in the belly or “kegeling” the pelvic floor does. Taken out of context, that advice could cause more harm than good.

The interesting thing to me is that this article works. I found myself checking out my derriere’s profile in the reflection of my office door* while reading it. I ran my hands over it critically a few times. Hmm, is my butt big enough? How big is big enough? I found myself wanting to do a few squats. I guess every ass does want to hear himself (or herself) bray.

Here’s an excerpt from Bowman’s “Move Your DNA”:

“So we don’t have big butts. Which isn’t to say that we can’t go into a gym and carefully isolate these muscles by mindfully watching our form and working muscles to keep our tension from pulling our pelvis out of alignment so that we can carefully body-build and develop one. But the natural frequency and amount that the posterior leg muscles should be working would not occur. If you figure your butt muscles should be working with each step–and you should be taking enough steps to cover three to five miles per day–you can see how it is not likely that the three sets of a hundred reps of whatever exercises you are doing for your hip area match the natural loads necessary for the lumbopelvic area to function optimally, to function biologically.”

She goes on to say that if you have tension down the front of your leg (hip flexors), isolating and developing glutes can result in two muscle groups “experiencing abnormally high loads” on both sides of the hips. Now if your objective is to fill out your pants a la Beyoncé or Kim Kardashian (like the author of the Vogue article), you might not care. If your objective is performance (McGill works with elite performance athletes) you might be looking for short term gain, so that’s your prerogative. I think it’s important to know why you are doing what you’re doing.

I train people for the long term, the goal in my practice for clients and myself is optimizing the health of joints (hips included) for the long haul. It’s all about balance. So working muscles to hold the pelvis in place while I isolate and build a butt is not on the menu. You can get a bigger rounder butt in weeks, with some will power and a knowledgeable trainer, and if that’s your goal – go for it. But(t) you can also get a bigger rounder butt in time with appropriate amounts of hip extension while walking and some easy lifestyle changes like squatting to bathroom and sitting less for example. Think of it like the “slow food movement.” You will end up with the appropriate end – one that is just the right size for your anthropormetric dimensions,  plus you’ll enjoy the side effects of a healthier pelvic floor, low back, knees and hips.

There are many fabulous successful trainers mentioned in the Vogue article and all of them will deliver for the right price. I’m here to tell you your bum is out there somewhere, waiting for you. And it’s free. You have to cover a lot of ground to find it. But in the process you’ll gain whole body/mind health, and your bum will be with you for life, no gym membership required.

Don’t believe me? Pictures speak louder than words, so herewith is a picture of a certain 55 year old blogger’s butt, who practices Restorative Exercise, squats to bathroom and doesn’t use chairs, doesn’t sit all day long and tries to walk as much as possible. No injections, no implants, no kettlebells were a part of this picture. Just whole body, natural movement.


With a tip of the hat to Keith Haring and E.B.White.

¹”The Bottom Line” by Marcia DeSanctis, Vogue, September 2015

*my office is actually my back porch

 

How to stretch your Quads

Everybody is familiar with the stretch known as the standing runner’s stretch, or quad stretch. The one where you stand on one leg and hold your foot behind you, to feel a nice stretch down the front of your thigh. There are actually a few ways to do this stretch (and I use the term loosely as we aren’t really seeking a stretch as much as we are seeking a way to determine what is limiting joint range in the hips and knees and rectifying that).

I posted a few pics to my Instagram and facebook pages recently, as a way to hang out and read a magazine or book on the dock at the cottage or on a beach. I mean, you might as well kill two birds with one stone – and get some hip opening at the same time as you catch up on Vanity Fair (or the September Issue!) – better than sitting in a chair. I’m in my backyard here but if my photoshop skills were better I’d be on a beach in St. Tropez. 

   
 
In this version, you are lying prone (face down) and you bend your knee and draw one foot in towards the buttock. Now in this instance, the ground itself prevents the thighs from deviating, they must stay parallel to each other (although it’s possible for them to widen and this is not desirable). So the pelvis is likely to want to tilt anteriorly if there is tension in the front of the thigh (this is why the rolled mat in the picture – it keeps my pelvis in slight extension or prevents anterior tilt). Once the shank is vertical, gravity should help out and the hamstring doesn’t have to work as hard. However, if there is a fair amount of tension in the quads, the hamstrings will have to work to bend the knee AND against the resistance of the tension in the front of the leg, resulting usually in a CRAMP! The hamstring should be able to bend the knee quite easily in this position – the fact that it is often difficult shows us how much tension we carry down the front of the thigh. The test is to be able to grasp the bottom of your shank (just above the ankle), dorsiflex the ankle, and maintain your thigh/pelvis relationship. If you can’t grab the lower leg, grab the foot or use a strap to lengthen your arm.

Now the same stretch standing is a different animal. The hamstring must work to lift the weight of the lower leg all the way, adding to the work. But now you have no floor to help keep the form and now several things might occur:

First, you might anteriorly tilt the pelvis (i.e., hip flexion).

  

Second you might bring the stretching leg out in front of the standing leg (i.e., also hip flexion).

  

Third, you might take the leg out to the side -abduction (see video #2 below).

The goal is to keep a Neutral Pelvis, vertical thigh and still be able to grasp your shank! In many cases, that won’t be possible and you will need a strap to add some length to the arm. Once your lifestlye changes and Restorative Exercise practice allows it, your quads will be long enough that the hamstring can generate enough force without resistance to grab your leg (and this also requires full knee flexion).

  
 
  https://youtu.be/yiNjZqvbVmU

 https://youtu.be/l3VZhgbGlow

The Mysterious Pain

Spine Flexion

Oh woe – spinal flexion

I had a client come this week with low back pain among other things. She dutifully pulled out her latest MRI results for me to study. I had to tell her that:
a) I’m not medically trained to interpret lab results (although I find them interesting, always ask for a copy and then google the hell out of it)
b) I’m not allowed to “treat” specific ailments as a personal trainer
c) MRI results can be very misleading.

Let me explain.

First of all, when we have a pain, we really would love to know the source of that pain. We go to the doctor and ask for a diagnostic test so that we can “see” inside the body and thus, find the culprit. Once that culprit is identified, we can treat accordingly. Some treatments include:

  • rest
  • anti-inflammatories or other pain relieving drugs and injections
  • surgery
  • physical therapy
  • massage or other hands-on manual therapy
  • exercise

Officially (and legally) I fall into that last category. Restorative Exercise™ is still exercise, even though we define “exercise” and “movement” separately and I consider what I do more analytical than a traditional strengthening protocol.

As well, sometimes when we think we have an answer, we stop looking. That becomes “the story” and also sometimes, our excuse. I can’t do “x” because I have a slipped disc – even if that slipped disc happened many years ago. The story becomes our history. It starts to define us, and then we behave differently than if we didn’t have that story. We move differently, make different choices. Also, it is well known that many people will exhibit pathological findings on an MRI and be non-symptomatic, or, be symptomatic with no pathological implications on MRI type diagnostics. So just how reliable are those tests?

As a low back pain sufferer myself for decades, I know that exercise in the traditional sense did not alleviate my symptoms. I was told that Pilates would help by strengthening the core. I took Pilates classes and loved them. I became a Pilates teacher. I had a regular Pilates practice. I also had regular back episodes where about once a year I would spend a week lying on the floor in agony. I assumed that I was just not strong enough, or I wasn’t doing my exercises enough times per week or enough hours per day. I would work harder, become stronger. I could do some pretty advanced moves in the Pilates repertoire. I would often be called to demonstrate things in workshops. So why was my back injured? I too requested diagnostic imaging. This found much degeneration in the lower back vertebrae among other things. I was “falling apart.” So what to do?

I tried all the things on the above list, and more. Nothing worked for long. The core strength I acquired by my Pilates training served as a band aid to “brace” the spine and keep it strong while the muscles were there protecting it, but one false move (or more like many, built up) and kapow! Back on the floor in agony. The episodes came less frequently, but they still came.

Once I discovered Restorative Exercise™ it made sense to me on many levels. I started practicing it, and eventually I stopped practicing Pilates. I didn’t even have my spine in mind, the pain was such a part of my life that I never even considered that I was doing RE™ specifically for back pain. I just started aligning myself according to the bony landmarks, discovering where I was unable to achieve this alignment and why, and then going off in that direction, exploring my boundaries and limitations and weaknesses in a way I never had before. Then after a few years, I realized I’d not had my pain episodes in a long while. I hadn’t been bracing or holding or workout out or doing ab strengthening exercises, and yet – no back pain. Weird!

This continued until one day a colleague invited me to her Pilates studio to do a workout. It had been a few years since I’d done any Pilates. I was mildly curious to see if all the RE™ and walking I’d been doing would hold me in stead for the kind of workout I used to do. I admit I might have been a bit competitive in the class, but I did hold my own and was happy to see that even though I hadn’t been practicing the same type of work, my muscles had not lost tone for doing other kinds of things.

And then the next day happened. Kapow! Back on the floor in agony. For a while after this, I blamed flexion – the rounding of the lower back that is inevitable in roll downs, roll overs, rolling like a ball etc. I just assumed that my lower back was toast and that flexion was doing me in.

Early this year I went back to my second RES™ week. This is where you spend a week at the Restorative Exercise Institute and study and learn and immerse yourself in all things alignment. Katy Bowman led a class in…spinal flexion. OMG – I was so confused. Do I do the class and just take my chances? Excuse myself and watch? I didn’t know what to do, but trusted that I could stop if things got dicey. Well things got very interesting, but they never got dicey. I had a bit of an epiphany that day as I explored (carefully and thoughtfully) lumbar flexion. I discovered that because I had a hyper mobile segment in my low back, I also had a hypo mobile segment. This means that one part of my back moved too much, and one part didn’t move enough, putting too much stress on that part that could move. This took years of study and a very subtle and advanced practice to discern. I don’t think a beginner could expect to make such subtle distinctions about themselves. It’s possible for anyone to do eventually I believe, but you need to slow WAY down and start to listen to your body like you never have before.

Once I made this discovery I started putting some flexion back in the rotation of exercises. The things I’d been avoiding become possible again. And then recently I had another epiphany. The problem was not flexion per se, but the pressure I was creating by flexing. Often times in Pilates (and other modalities) you are cued to suck in the belly, (navel to spine) or tilt the pelvis, rolling vertebra by vertebra through the low back with a strong posterior tilt to initiate. Most of us modern people spend a lot of our day sitting on our tailbones, in a posterior tilt. I think that the movement was too extreme on one area, but more than that – it was the increase in pressure along the spine that caused the pain. We aren’t used to thinking of loading or pressure when it comes to our bodies. We are used to thinking of moving. “When I move this happens.” “It hurts when I do this.” So we stop moving, take that (perfectly reasonable) movement out of our repertoire and thus the muscles that create the movement atrophy and the health of those tissues gets worse…and we feel worse…leading us to more diagnostics and ever more invasive treatments.

Thinking in terms of what is being loaded and how (there are different kinds of loads and different ways to create them) and pressure differentials within the body’s spaces (and in my case, within the discs) can be an eye-opener. And a game changer.

https://www.painscience.com/bibliography.php?brinj
https://www.painscience.com/articles/mri-and-x-ray-almost-useless-for-back-pain.php
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/costly_diagnostic_mri_tests_unnecessary_for_many_back_pain_patients