Pain Bringing You to Your Knees?

The knee has an important job. It helps us walk, and is the midway point between the hips and the ankles. The knee has the distinction of being the largest joint of the human body. It’s easy to take this simple looking joint for granted, but it is also the most complex joint in the body. The kneecap (patella) is shaped to fit precisely against the bones beneath it, like interlocking puzzle pieces. Other parts of this puzzle are structures designed to cushion and support the bones. This includes muscles, cartilage, ligaments and the menisci (cushiony shock absorbers on the inside and outside of the knee). The location of the knee joint makes it either a goodwill ambassador or bad news reporter to the rest of the body. Problems with the knees can affect feet, ankles, hips and low back. Plus, knee pain itself is no fun!

There are indeed many conditions and injuries of the knee. Today we explore  arthritis in the knee, and propose some solutions to keep our knees happy. Arthritis is a degenerative disease that causes stiffness, pain, swelling and lack of motion in the joints. The knee supports the upper body and withstands a lifetime of motion. Because of this, wear and tear takes its toll. The cartilage, which protects adjacent bones from rubbing against each other, starts to wear down. This process can also be accelerated from injury to the knees.

There are several things we can do to keep the knees healthy. First, alignment is essential. The knee should track over the center of the foot. (Keep this in mind in your next yoga class), When the knee goes inward toward midline it’s been found to contribute to arthritis pain and inflammation….ouch!

To help with alignment, start by making sure you have good shoes. Sometimes all it takes is good shoes with arch support to help align the knees and alleviate pressure on the joints. Also, keep in mind that the ankles, hips, SI joint, and low back all have a role to play in keeping the knees strong. Ankles and hips can get tight, so practice stretches to keep them supple. Strengthen the core abdominal muscles. This will support the low back, which will help support the knees.

Here are some yoga postures that can help your knees:

    • Utkatanasana (Chair Pose)
    • Utkatanasana hugging a yoga block between the knees
    • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
    • Adho Mukha Svanasna (Downward Dog) Look back to see it your knees are aligned
    • Setu Bandha Sarvangasna (Bridge Pose)
    • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
    • Uttitta Parsvokonasana (Lateral Angle Pose)
    • Plank
    • Supine Figure 4 Stretch
    • Supta Padangustasana (Supine Hamstring Stretch)

Working on the knees involves a lot of exercises or yoga postures because so many parts of the body support the knees. Regular yoga classes can help with creating suppleness in the tight areas of the body, and also strengthening hip and core muscles. If you’d like to join me for one of my classes, check out my schedule page here. I would also be happy to work with you individually. If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Jumping in Feet First

In yoga (and in balance in general) our foundation is our feet. If there’s alignment issues in a standing yoga posture, we look at the feet and work our way up. Even slight changes in foot position can improve your yoga practice. When our feet are faced with an injury, even a slight one, it can affect our balance and movement patterns. The foot is an amazing structure that’s designed to help propel us forward while keeping the body above balanced and strong. Like the foundation of a house, feet are designed to withstand weight, activity and movement. They are flexible enough to do so while navigating uneven ground, surfaces that change, and challenging footwear. Sadly, Imbalances in the feet can lead to issues such as ankle injuries, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, neuropathies, etc.

To understand a little more about this important body part, let’s delve deeper into the feet. But before jumping in feet first, we must keep in mind that the calves and knees are important to foot health as well. Try to keep the muscles above and below the knees (thighs, calves, and shins) strong and flexible with regular exercise and stretches.

The feet themselves are made up of LOTS of bones, muscles, and other structures. The bones of the foot include the two lower leg bones (tibia and fibula), which connect to a bone called the talus to form the ankle joint. The talus sits on top of the calcaneus, or heel bone. It also connects with the bones that form the shape of the foot. The mid-foot is made up of the tarsal/metatarsal bones. Then the phalanges form our toes.

Bones provide structure to the foot, then arches (two that go from front to back and one side to side) act like shock absorbers as we walk, run, skip, dance, etc. There are lots of muscles. Some of them start in the leg and go into the foot allowing for motion at the ankle. Within the foot lay the intrinsic muscles. These are 4 layers of muscles that help with all the small movements necessary to navigate the earth. On top of all the muscles is fascia (a sheet of connective tissue covering and surrounding the muscles). There are so many structures in these feet of ours, it’s easy to see how problems can occur. So make sure to take care of your feet so that they can take care of you.

To enhance foot health, try:

  • Wearing Supportive Shoes
  • Rolling a golf or lacrosse ball under foot to help with tightness (i.e. plantar fasciitis)
  • Stretch the Calf and Hamstring Muscles
  • Strengthen the Hip Muscles (This will help with balance and therefore also support the feet)

You can also try these yoga postures to help stretch and strengthen the foot:

  • Adho Mukha Svavasana (Downward Facing Dog)
  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
  • Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
  • Prasarita Podottanasana (Wide-Legged Forward Fold)
  • Plank
  • Janu Sirsasana (One-Legged Forward Fold)
  • Prvta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved One-Legged Forward Fold)

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Core Need Not Be A Chore

I still remember the first time I heard the word “core” in a yoga class. It was long before I was a PTA or a yoga teacher. I was on a yoga retreat with a co-worker. She was an avid runner in fantastic shape. I had just started practicing yoga consistently. The yoga instructor asked what we wanted to work on. I was thinking of serenity and a mind-body connection….and of course some lovely stretches. Then my friend answered with the word “CORE” in a very serious tone. I thought to myself, “I don’t know what that core thing is, but it sounds scary and difficult.” Just as I was thinking that I was in over my head, the instructor mentioned there was another class that would suit her goals better. I breathed a sigh of relief and declined to go with her when she invited me.

Fast forward a few years and I’m a huge fan of the “C” word. Core muscles lie deep within the body and are also referred to as postural or tonic muscles. They are built for support and endurance. Stretching and strengthening core muscles help them to support the spine and other parts of the body. That’s right….I said “other parts.” Core muscles are not limited to abdominal muscles, they are also present in the hips, legs, chest and shoulders.

Even though core exercises brings about images of a million sit ups and planks, it’s important to note that to keep our core muscles in top form we should strive for flexibility and strength. Core muscles work against gravity to keep us upright during walking or sitting, and help with other functional daily activities. This means that they often get tight and shortened which can cause them to inhibit other movements. For example when one tries, but is unable, to do an abdominal crunch the cause may be weakness in abdominals OR tightness in the extensor muscles of the spine. If the spine is unable to flex because of tightness in the back it inhibits the abdominal crunch. Therefore, for healthy core muscles we should incorporate both stretching and strengthening into our repertoire. Yoga is an ideal way to do this.

Here are some yoga postures that can help some of your postural muscles (and all the others) become healthier and happier.

  • Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)
  • Balasana (Child’s Pose)
  • Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head to Knee Pose)
  • Vasisthasana (Side Plank)
  • Uttita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
  • Anantasana (Side Reclining Leg Lift)
  • Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Lord of the Fishes Pose)

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also join me for one of my classes. See my offerings on my schedule page.

For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

How to Have Happy Hips

Hip tightness or pain is a frequent complaint of many. Sometimes this arises from lifestyle patterns, and other times from a previous injury that needs a little TLC. There are indeed many causes of hip pain. If you suffer from any pain that causes you to abstain from activities you previously engaged in, a trip to the doctor is warranted. For many people yoga and physical therapy can help.

The hip joint is an amazing structure. It is made up of the femur (thigh) bone, and the pelvis. The top of the femur has a knobby protrusion on it that fits snugly into a concave area in the pelvis. Muscles, ligaments and tendons all give stability to this joint. The design of the hip joint allows for lots of motion. Additionally, it is able to handle the load of the upper body, even as we carry heavy objects, walk up stairs, or engage in sports. It’s designed to do all this with efficiency and grace as we propel forward through our days on our two legs.

However, as with any fine machine, we need to take good care of the hip joints for them to be at their best. Today’s lifestyle of relative immobility can cause tension and tightness in the hips. Since we sit with our hips bent for hours on end, the hip flexors at the front of the thigh get tight. These muscles shorten which can cause pain in the low back, hips and knees. If you have tension in any of these areas, or feel pain while walking, then you may be able to find relief from movement, stretching, and strengthening. Ideally, you should try to stretch and strengthen all the muscles that attach at the hip….those on the front, back and sides of the thigh.

Yoga can really help create more openness in tight muscles. If you want to try a yoga class to help all your body parts feel better, try one of my weekly offerings. I teach Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30 MT) and Unwind the Spine (Fridays at 4:30 MT). To try some postures on your own, some good choices to keep your hips happy and healthy are:

  • Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)
  • Paraghasana (Gate Pose)
  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1)
  • Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
  • Figure 4 Stretch
  • Vasisthasana (Side Plank)
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) (Also one-legged bridge for strengthening)
  • Gomukhasana (Cow-face pose)
  • Eka Pada Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose)
  • Bird Dog Pose

For a yoga class to help all your body parts feel better, try one of my weekly offerings. I teach Hatha Yoga (Sundays 5-6 pm MT), Yoga 1 (Mondays, 5:30 pm MT) and Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30 MT).

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also sign up for a class or private session by clicking here. For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

No Pain…No Strains

“Degenerative Disc Disease”…..those words uttered from your doctor’s mouth can make you feel downright ancient. The simple truth is that as we get older, some wear and tear is going to happen. But seriously….do they have to tell us we’re “degenerating?” Are we degenerating? What does this term “Degenerative Disc Disease” (DDD, for short) mean?

First, let’s take a look at the spine. It’s made up of a bunch of vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebrae are the intervertebral discs. The discs are squishy structures that are made up mainly of water and collagen. Their job is to help stabilize. cushion, absorb pressure, increase flexibility, and protect the nerves. That’s a lot of work these little squishy wonders do! Unfortunately, over time, the discs show signs of wear and tear. They lose moisture and squishiness and are less effective. Often an individual can have this degeneration without any pain or other symptoms. DDD happens when this normal process of degeneration causes pain or disfunction. For some, the pain can be constant and unrelenting. For others, it is intermittent. DDD most often occurs in the low back or in the neck. In this post, we’ll focus on the low back.

One of the best ways to help alleviate low back pain from DDD (and other conditions) is to strengthen the deep abdominal muscles. Many yoga and fitness classes focus on strengthening these core muscles. Doing so increases support for the low back. Other great activities to practice are walking, swimming, and stretching. Stretching and movement increase blood flow to the disc, and thus facilitates the healing process. Physical therapy, regular yoga practice, and Functional Yoga Coaching can help as well. A sampling of yoga postures that work well to decrease the pain and discomfort associated with DDD are:

  • Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 Pose)
  • Apanasana (Knees to Chest Pose)
  • Parsva Balasana (Bird dog pose)
  • Jathara Parivatanasana (Supine Twist Pose)
  • Phalakasana (Plank Pose)
  • Setu Banha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
  • Cat/Cow
  • All stretches for the legs and hips

For a yoga class to help all your body parts feel better, try one of my weekly offerings. I teach Hatha Yoga (Sundays 5-6 pm MT), Yoga 1 (Mondays, 5:30 pm MT) and Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30 MT).

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also sign up for a class or private session by clicking here. For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

What a Pain in the Neck!

Neck pain and stiffness are common in our society. Sadly, not even old yogis like me are exempt from this persistent malady. The neck is really an amazing body part. This short structure connects the torso to the head and holds the weight of the world. Ok, really it just holds up our world, aka the head, which weighs roughly the same as a bowling ball. It also houses nerves that control the neck, eyes, diaphragm, arms, and hands. This means that tension in the neck can lead to headaches, sinus problems, vision problems, fatigue, and numbness in arms, hands, and fingers. Yes, the neck has really got our backs, and yet we fail to attend to its needs.

So how do things go so terribly, terribly wrong with the neck? Much of the tension we feel is due to our lifestyles. Our body is designed for the parts of the spine to stack in perfect alignment. Our ideal alignment features the ears over the shoulders, shoulders over the hips, and hips over ankles. When we sit in front of our computers or watch TV this is not happening. Often, we lean forward towards the computer, then maybe tilt our heads upward and/or forward to see the monitor. Of course, our posture does not improve when we relax on the couch to binge watch our favorite shows. Then we might slump in our seats, or lay out on the couch with our necks in an uncomfortable and unnatural position. Sometimes even “a good night’s sleep” is not so good for our necks.

If you’re experiencing problems that may stem from neck tension, it’s time to take action. A trip to the doctor may rule out any serious problems. If that’s the case, you can try the following ideas to help reduce any pain, tension, headaches, etc. For more tips on spinal health, subscribe to my newsletter here.

First, try changing your pillow. If you start the day with a headache or neck pain, the solution may be as simple as buying a new pillow. Look for one that offers support, but has enough give to avoid placing the neck at an angle. If a pillow is too firm , it puts the neck in misalignment…..too soft and it does not offer support.

Next, consider your posture as you go about your day. Ask yourself, “Where are my ears?” If the answer is, “My ears are in front of my shoulders,” then it’s time to realign. See my post Don’t Wear Your Shoulders As Earrings for more tips on posture. Now incorporate movement and neck stretches into your day. Try the following:

  • Start with your gaze forward, then move your head to the right. Pause briefly, then come back to center. Do this 10 times on the right, then repeat on the left.
  • Next, look to the right again, and as you exhale allow the chin to come down in a half circle to the chest. Inhale, as you continue this half circle bringing head to gaze to the left. Exhale and repeat towards the right. Do this 10 times. You can also do full neck circles if you do not feel discomfort or pain with them. Many yoga classes are helpful for releasing tension as well. To sign up for my “Unwind the Spine” class on Fridays at 4:30 MT, click here.
  • Now work on scapular movement. With your arms by your sides (elbows bent), or in your lap, squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold for a breath and release. Repeat 10 times.
  • To stretch your neck, sit up tall on a chair and place your right hand behind your low back, near the sacrum. Let the left ear drop towards the left shoulder. Hold and breathe for 5-6 breaths. Repeat 2-3 times, then switch sides.
  • To strengthen the deep muscles in the neck, lie on your back and gently press the back of your neck down to the surface beneath you. Your chin will slightly tuck. Hold for a breath, release and repeat 10-20 times.

Being mindful about taking care of your neck can go a long way towards releasing tension and alleviating pain. For more ideas on neck stretches or for Functional Yoga Coaching or classes feel free to contact me.

For a yoga class to help all your body parts feel better, try one of my weekly offerings. I teach Hatha Yoga (Sundays 5-6 pm MT), Yoga 1 (Mondays, 5:30 pm MT) and Healing through Yoga (Wednesdays at 5:30 MT).

If you’d like a personalized sequence or an individual session focused on your health goals, please drop me a line at lorie@wellnesswithlorie.com. You can also sign up for a class or private session by clicking here. For more tips on pain relief and injury prevention through yoga and physical therapy, sign up for my newsletter here, or follow me on social media on FaceBook @yogalorie, Instagram Wellness_with_Lorie, or LinkedIn yogalorie

Is Sitting the “New Smoking”?

Skeleton at Desk

Perhaps you’ve heard this phrase designed to demonstrate the problems that sitting for long periods of time can cause to our bodies. Is this an exaggeration? Can sitting compete with smoking as far as causing permanent harm to your body? There’s no doubt that the more you sit, the less you move, and even moderate levels of movement contributes to good cardiovascular health. But what about the spine? Why are we so achy after a long day of work at a desk? More importantly….what can we do about it?

First lets talk ergonomics and body mechanics. Generally, when sitting at a desk the spine is misaligned. Often the pelvis tilts under and more pressure is put on the vertebral discs and the deep muscles of the back. These muscles then need to work against gravity to keep the spine erect all day long. No wonder they get tired and achy! Additionally, the shoulders and head may hunch forward. The muscles of the neck already do a lot to hold up our heads, so when we bring our heads forward to look at a computer screen for example, they have to work even harder and get tight. As if that’s not enough, sitting can also lead to tight hip muscles and weaken the gluteus muscles The glutes help support the low back and knees, and help us with balance.

So what do we do about this? Obviously if work involves a desk, sitting is just a part of life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use a small, folded towel (think hand towel) under the sitting bones at the back of the chair to elevate your hips slightly. This can help you sit without rounding your spine and tucking your tailbone. Thus, taking a little pressure off the low back.
  • Take breaks during the day to move. Get up every now and then and do 10-20 heel raises. Going up and down on your tippy toes will increase blood flow and strengthen the calf muscles.
  • Stretch your outer hips with the Figure Four Stretch. Sit toward the edge of the chair and cross your ankle over the opposite thigh the lean forward (hinge at the hips) with a flat back.
  • Throughout the day squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times. This will help reverse when you hunch your shoulders forward.
  • Find a good Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, or Stretching class to help relieve pressure and strengthen muscles.

For more tips, subscribe to my newsletter or join me for a class or private lesson.