Mary Ann Nemeth, LMT
Tips for Your Body

Stretch Out

A few precautions can prevent future pain

Kelli Crosby

You brush your teeth daily because you don't want cavities or gum disease, right? Well, what do you do on a daily basis to prevent tension in your neck? Brushing your teeth offers you preventive dental care, but what if you could learn to be preventive with the rest of your body?

We all have bad daily habits we don't even notice until something starts to hurt. These bad habits are the root cause of many painful conditions. To help prevent pain, however, we can turn these bad habits into good habits that can be worked into our daily routine. Here is some general advice that can apply to almost every part of daily living.

Don't Slouch. Slouching puts strain on your neck and can give you a headache. Your head weighs roughly 10 pounds-about as much as a bowling ball. Your spine is designed to balance that bowling ball when you're in an upright posture. If you slouch, your muscles have to do more work to hold your head up, which makes your muscles tight and angry.

Sit Up Straight. Sit in a chair with your hands on your hips. Slouch. Feel how your hips roll back (if you're wearing jeans, you'll be sitting on your pockets). Now sit up straight by moving your pelvis forward and centering your weight over your pelvis and off your buttocks.

Sleep on Your Back or Side. Sleeping on your stomach makes you twist your neck and body in order to breathe. This twisted position is terrible for your spine, especially for prolonged periods during sleep. Check your pillow and make sure it has a thickness that will support your neck in a position neutral to the rest of your spine. Try a memory-foam contour pillow, especially if you are a side sleeper.

Bend with a Straight Spine. Bending over with a curved back puts pressure on your disc material and strains the spine. The pressure created during incorrect bending can cause the discs to bulge and put pressure on spinal nerves. Your back was not made to lower and raise your body-that's what your buttocks, hips, and knees are for.

Stand with your knees shoulder-width apart and pretend you are going to lift a 50-pound box off the floor. If you are bending your knees and hips and using your legs to lower and raise your body weight, you are lifting correctly. Now, use the same technique to pick your shoes up off the floor. Think about a squatting movement when you need to lean forward, too-such as while washing your face in the sink. Let your hips and knees do the work.

Take Regular Stretch Breaks. The muscles in your arms and hands get tight when you grip or pull. The muscles in your neck and shoulders get tight when you reach forward or away from your body. Give these muscles a break with a simple stretch.

It only takes 10 seconds to lengthen the tight tissue, which will take pressure off your joints and prevent chronic conditions like tendinitis and bursitis. Watch for opportunities to work in a brief stretch.

Undo Yourself. Evaluate the position of your body during your daily activities and make sure you "undo" that position during the day. There is no way to teach a stretch for every single activity you do, but if you take the time to reverse the position of the joint and stretch in the opposite direction, you will lengthen tight tissue and reduce repetitive strain on joints.

Tips to Save Your Body

Replacing bad habits with good ones takes time and thought, but the effort is well worth it. Here are some helpful tips to keep you on track.

-- If you keep waking up on your stomach, wear a pair of gym shorts to bed and put a golf ball in each pocket. When you roll onto your stomach, the golf balls will wake you up and you can return to your back or side.

-- When unloading the dishwasher and getting laundry out of the machine, pose like a tennis player waiting for a serve. The knees are over your toes (but not beyond the toes), buttocks are backward, and shoulders are forward.

-- Don't try to carve out 30 minutes daily for a stretching routine. If you stretch regularly throughout the day, you will be more effective at keeping tissue loose. Remember, it only takes 10 seconds to stretch a muscle-so find those seconds during your day and make the most of them.

-- Think about stretching the same way you think about hydration. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink water; by then you're already dehydrated. If you wait until something hurts before you stretch, you could develop chronic tension that can lead to everything from a headache to tendinitis.

A daily stretching routine will help prevent future issues and address current ones. Don't wait until it's a problem. Start stretching today and, little by little, your body will thank you.

Kelli Crosby is the author of How to Think Like a Physical Therapist in Your Everyday Life. She graduated in 1999 from the University of North Florida and completed her specialty certification in orthopedic manipulative therapy in 2006.



The Importance of Properly Hydrating Our Bodies

Water makes up for more than two thirds of the body weight of an average human being.   Water is responsible for so many critical operations in our bodies.  The body cannot work without it.  Think of how oil and gas are needed to operate a car.  The same can be said of water and our bodies.   

Water serves as a lubricant in almost all processes of the body:

  • In our digestive system by breaking down food and allowing easy passage through the esophagus, stomach and intestines
  • In our joints and cartilages
  • In our eyes
  • In the functioning of our organs

Water regulates our body temperature through perspiration and sweat glands.

Water removes harmful toxins from the body through urination and perspiration.  Water also helps reduce constipation and aids in bowel movements.  The burden on the kidneys and liver will be lessened by drinking enough water to flush out waste products.

Water transports valuable nutrients to the body.  Blood is about 92% water and carries nutrients and oxygen throughout the body to all cells and organs.   Drinking enough water on a daily basis has been shown to decrease colon cancer, bladder cancer, and can potentially reduce the risk of breast cancer. 

So, how much water should you be drinking?  The answer varies based on the individual.  Almost everyone has heard the recommendation of eight eight-ounce glasses a day.  This may not be enough for everyone.  Those who participate in sports and strenuous activities, or work out in the heat, need more water.  Their bodies lose water faster than someone who may only sit at a desk all day.   The body does not replenish water by itself.  That’s why properly hydrating is so important.  Here a few key steps to keep in mind:

  1. Drink twice as much water as it takes to quench your thirst.
  2. Drink frequently throughout the day to avoid dehydration.
  3. Drink at least 8 glasses daily.  (More if you are working in the sun or participating in sports.)
  4. Do not substitute sugary drinks or caffeinated drinks for water.  These beverages do not replenish your water supply. (Examples: Soda, Coffee, Tea)


Relaxation Exercise

The Benefits of Breathwork

Do you ever find yourself unconsciously holding your breath when you’re tense? This can cause tension to build in your body and may let the chest collapse, leading to misalignment.

Proper breathing provides oxygen to the muscles and body, helps you stay relaxed and centered, and even helps you maintain correct body alignment throughout your day. You can also use breathwork as part of a stress-reduction program by following this progressive relaxation exercise. 

1. Begin by lying in a comfortable position without crossing your arms or legs, and focus on your breathing to create a slow, deep pattern. Inhale through your nose while counting to 10 and expanding your abdomen. Hold the breath for one second, and exhale through your nose on the count of 10. Inhale and exhale in this pattern fi ve times.

2. Beginning with your head, tense your facial muscles as tightly as possible and count to five. Release the muscles completely, and sense the muscles feeling heavy and still. Work down your entire body, tensing muscle groups and then relaxing them. After the head, move to the neck, chest, arms and hands, abdomen, back, thighs and gluteals, lower legs, and feet.

3. After relaxing each set of muscles, mentally scan your body for any areas of remaining tension and ask those areas to relax completely.

4. Repeat the slow breathing exercise.

5. Gently begin to move your body to come out of the deeply relaxed state. Try using  progressive relaxation directly before or after your massage sessions, directly before bed, or at any time during the day as a pick-me-up. Focus on taking full, deep, even, rhythmic breaths. With a little practice, you can become more aware of your own breathing patterns and use breathwork effectively as you move throughout your day.  

Anne Williams is the director of education for Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals and author of Massage Mastery: from Student to Professional (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012). 


Associated Bodywork & Massage Professionals
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