Pilates Blog: Centering

Denise Small, PT, DPT

In today’s Pilates blog, we are going to discuss the basic principle of Centering.  Pilates used the word centering to refer to the “core” musculature.  He believed that all movements should radiate out of the core for maximum stability.  There is a lot of use of the word “core” in exercise literature. However, no one ever discusses what that actual means. In the Pilates method, the “core” refers to the diaphragm, the pelvic floor, the deep spinal muscles, and the transverse abdominus.  The transverse abdominus is a deep abdominal muscle that is attached to our pelvic bones in a horizontal fashion, from one hip bone to the other. One way to find these muscles is by breathing, as all the core muscles are attached to the diaphragm and ribs via fascial connections.

Try this exercise to find your “core.”  Lie on your back with your knees bent. If you need, you can have a small pillow under your head for support.  Now, imagine that you have a small, helium filled balloon in your abdomen behind your navel.  As you inhale see the balloon expand. As you exhale, imagine the balloon being hugged by your navel and your spine, simultaneously.  On your next exhale keep that image of hugging the balloon as it floats up into your ribcage.   This image incorporates the three dimensions of our torso, aka the “core” of our body.

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There is no need to think of contracting individual muscles. Just keep this vision in mind and you will have a wonderfully functional core.  Go over this exercise with your PT in your next session, or come see me for a private session at Beyond Basics. Your body, and your core, will thank you!

Pilates Blog- Rhythm- Coordination of Breath and Movement

PilatesDenise Small, PT, DPT

Today’s Pilates blog will focus on another basic movement principle of the Pilates method, Whole Body Movement.

In the last blog, I wrote about the importance of breathing three dimensionally, both expanding and contracting your abdomen and ribcage when breathing. Joseph Pilates wanted to help exaggerate these physiologic functions with movement, to help bring better awareness of these functions to one’s consciousness. He did that by coordinating both whole body movement and breathing. For example, when one inhales, the ribs and sternum move up and out, like a water pump or the handle on a bucket. You can feel this action by placing your hands on the outside of your ribcage, or on your sternum, as you inhale. When the ribs move up and out or the sternum lifts, the spine also extends because of the physical connection of the ribs into the spine. So, when Pilates gave a movement that involved spinal extension, like cow pose, he encouraged his students to inhale.

Conversely, when one exhales the opposite happens, and the ribs move in and down. When the ribs move in and down, this helps facilitate spinal flexion, because of the ribs physical connection to the spine. So, when Pilates gave a movement involving spinal flexion, he encouraged his students to exhale.

The result is inhalation with ribcage expansion and spinal extension, and exhalation with ribcage compression and spinal flexion. By coordinating the ribcage and spinal movement with the breath, you can maximize your air intake and expulsion. In addition, by coordinating your breath and movement, your body can more easily access its natural rhythms, calming the nervous system and promoting relaxation and healing.

Give it a try in your seat at work. Or come to Beyond Basics and visit me for a Pilates private!

BBPT Health Tip: How to Adjust your Posture to Avoid Shoulder and Neck Pain

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Tina Cardenia PT, DPT

In today’s society, most of us spend time in front of the computer or other electronics for work, school, or pleasure, which contributes to poor postural habits including rounded shoulders and forward head postures. Being in these positions will cause your muscles around your shoulder and neck to accommodate into that rounded position, resulting in inefficient lengthening of some muscles and shortening of other muscles, which results in an imbalance of strength and stability and high potential for injury. Having rounded and inefficient shoulder stability can cause neck and shoulder pain, and can affect your breathing.

The experienced physical therapists have extensive training on evaluating and correcting postural alignment. They can help with posture by identifying where your limitations are and evaluating your flexibility and specific muscle weaknesses that could be contributing to poor postural alignment. They also investigate what may be causing postural malalignments by evaluating your postural strategies in sitting, standing, walking, sports, and functional activities. Focusing on ways to be in a more balanced position will help put less stress and tension through your musculature and joints allowing for increased ease in maintaining proper posture with various movements.

A good way to facilitate a more neutral shoulder blade and shoulder position is with the exercise “Pivot Prone” (Institute of Physical Art, Johnson and Johnson). To start, first turn your head to the right and then to the left. Notice the excursion of movement and if you find it to be difficult or limited. Now, shrug your shoulders up a few inches, rotate your arms back enough where your pinkies are pointing forward and your shoulder blades coming together. Once you feel that your shoulder blades are back relax your shoulder blades straight down. Now rotate your head again to the right and left and notice if there was a change. You should feel an increase in ease of movement and more range of motion. At this point you should be able to appreciate that when you are in a more neutral alignment there is less stress and tension around your shoulders and neck. A common mistake with this exercise is to want to lift your rib cage up when you bring your shoulder blades back, so make sure that the shoulder blades are the only things moving during this exercise in order to maintain a good vertical alignment.

This photo shows the pivot prone maneuver being done step by step 

This exercise is perfect and simple enough to do throughout the day. For example, when you are standing waiting for the train, waiting on line, and sitting at your desk at work or school. By continuously repeating this motion your body will eventually remember it, and down the line you should notice that you automatically will maintain that position!

 

Check out photos from BBPT’s recent inservice on functional mobilization of the shoulder!

 

BBPT Health Tip: Happy Baby Yoga Pose

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Guys! This is one of my favorite stretches ever. Both for myself personally and also for my patients. It’s called the happy baby pose, which comes from yoga. I mean, how cute is that. If you’ve ever seen a baby try and stick his feet in his mouth you know where the name comes from. This stretch is awesome because it stretches a ton of muscles at once, even the pelvic floor. It is an integral part of my stretching routine and I hope it becomes part of yours.

Muscles involved: Hamstrings, glute (butt) muscles, pelvic floor,

Stretch Type: Static: Best if performed after workouts on warm muscles. Exercise caution if stretching cold muscle, because unwarmed muscle doesn’t stretch as well as warmed up muscles.

Caution: If you feel pinching in your hips or pressure or discomfort under your kneecap, move your hand position to back of the thighs. If you still feel pain while attempting this modification, it is definitely time for a physical therapy appointment.

As always: No stretch should ever be painful. If a stretch is painful, stop and consult your physical therapist for modifications.

Directions: Lying on your back, grip your feet on the outside of your feet and bend your knees up towards your armpits. If this is too difficult, grasp your legs at the calves. Make sure that your neck is relaxed and hold for 60-90 seconds and repeat. Add deep breathing to enhance the relaxation. Enjoy!

 

Check out our student showing off her great happy baby pose!

BPPT Health Tip: Best Positioning Tips for Optimal Bowel Movements

By Sarah Paplanus, DPT, PT

Are you among the 4 million Americans who suffer from constipation? Or the 1 in 5 American adults with Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Do you occasionally experience the pain and itchy feeling associated with hemorrhoids? If so, the Squatty Potty or similar stool may be the perfect addition to your bathroom! Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with any of these conditions, it is important to note that straining or holding your breath to complete a bowel movement is never normal and is usually a sign of dysfunction. Colorectal medical conditions can vary in their cause, in their presentation and in their severity, but your pelvic floor muscles will always be affected.

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Anatomy!

 

Your colon carries waste out of your body, and where the colon meets your rectum is called your anorectal angle. This anorectal angle is an important factor in continence.

Your pelvic floor muscles work together to support the rectum, change the anorectal angle and control opening/closing. One of your pelvic floor muscles (the puborectalis) forms a sling around your rectum and works to maintain the anorectal angle. If that muscle is tight, it can essentially “choke” your rectum and contribute to straining.

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What does squatting do?

Squatting straightens the anorectal angle and helps to relax the puborectalis muscle, which helps to facilitate emptying. It also decreases the amount of pressure in the abdomen, which has been shown to decrease the time and effort needed for defecation. This all helps to reduce excessive pressure and strain on your pelvic floor muscles. In cultures where squatting is still prevalent for defecation, such as parts of Asia and Africa, it has been found that bowel movements tend to be more complete and that there is a decreased incidence of colorectal dysfunctions such as hemorrhoids, constipation and hernias.

Why is straining bad?

A principle of elementary mechanics states that “any system exposed to excessive pressures ultimately sustains injury”.These injuries can be in the form of a hemorrhoid, a hernia, a muscle strain or a chronic pelvic floor dysfunction. Straining also increases your risk of the Valsalva maneuver, which is exhaling against a closed airway. This causes a sudden increase in intra-abdominal pressure which can cause abrupt changes in blood pressure.

Toilet Posture

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Using a squatty potty, stool, or even two yoga blocks can help you assume a “squat” position. Lean forward and rest your elbows on your knees. Take deep breathes in, using your diaphragm. Place your hands on your belly and feel your breathe fill up your abdomen. Keep your mouth open and jaw relaxed!

Other Strategies to Improve Bowel Health

  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Proper nutrition (see our previous post on fiber!)
  • Make sure you are drinking enough water
  • Relaxation training, diaphragmatic breathing

 

What to do if you are still suffering?

If the above tips are not helping defecate regularly and comfortably, you may be suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction. Pelvic floor dysfunction can occur when the muscles of the pelvic floor become too tight, weak, or both to do their job properly. Physical Therapy can help! Visit us at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy to help better your BM’s.

BBPT Health Tip: HOT or COLD? That is the Question

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Fiona McMahon, DPT.

 

What’s better, heat or ice? This is a question that most medical/health type professionals get all the time. The answer is, it depends. Both have fabulous benefits for different sets of circumstances. Let’s explore these cheap, safe and effective pain relievers.

Heat

In the biz, ( no one calls physical therapy “the biz” yet, but if I try hard enough, it may stick) we call heat, thermotherapy. Fancy, right? Thermotherapy is great for pain that is a result of a trigger point, or muscle spasm. Think deep neck, back pain, or pelvic pain. It’s great for menstrual cramps and can  create a nice soothing effect.

For any active inflammation or infection however, heat can be harmful and can actually make it worse. You do not want to place heat over joints affected by autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis. It’s also not good for new, fresh injuries, like a muscle strain or a injury from a fall. Heat is really good for chronic long standing pain conditions.

Heat comes in types, dry and moist. Dry is the kind that’s emitted from like an electric heating pad or a microwaved heating pad. Sometimes people may find that dry heat, dries out the skin. Moist heat comes from things like moist towels or moist heating pads (these are the kind we use in our clinic). Moist heat tends to penetrate deeper into the muscles.  

 

Safety Considerations for Heat:

  1. Don’t over heat. Sounds simple, but in the throes of severe pain, many people may find themselves with the more is better mantra.  It’s not.
  2. Don’t apply to open wounds, on individuals with peripheral vascular disease, deep vein thrombosis, or on people with reduced sensation or ability to remove the hot pack.

 

Cold

Physical therapists have a fancy name for this one too. It’s cryotherapy. Sounds super futuristic doesn’t it? Ice is awesome. It really is. It is great for acute (recent) injuries like a sprain or a strain. There are actually studies that show that ice within 36 hours of injury speeds recovery better than heat. Ice can reduce pain in the area it is applied, reduce guarding and spasm, and reduce swelling.

 

Safety Considerations for Cold:

  1. Never use on people with reduced sensation, ie. Raynauds, actively healing wounds, circulatory issues, or hypertension
  2. Less is more. Keep cold packs on for 20-30 minutes once every 2 hours on newly injured body parts. Keeping the ice pack on for longer can cause increased blood flow to the area which will reduce the helpful effects of the ice.

When in doubt as to if you should use cryotherapy or thermotherapy, consult with your physical therapist or healthcare provider.  At Beyond Basics we treat injuries beyond those to the pelvic floor and we can help with your injury questions. You can also find a physical therapist with the APTA’s PT finder tool

BBPT Health Tip: Seated Hamstring Stretch

Fiona McMahon DPT, PT

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Fenitra, of BBPT shows the correct way to perform this stretch. Notice how she doesn’t curve her back forward in order to perform the stretch

Seated Hamstrings Stretch

Hello folks! Beyond Basics Physical Therapy’s latest health tip is the seated hamstrings stretch!

Why seated you ask? In selecting this stretch over other hamstrings stretches, I wanted to pick something that most everyone can be able to do. This stretch is particularly beneficial for those of you who have difficulty getting on and off the floor. Although if you do have difficulty getting off of the floor, it is important to go to physical therapy and get the training to do so, as being able to independently get up off the floor is imperative for maintaining independent function as you age.  Another point: if you have any sciatic pain or sitting pain, please seek a physical therapist before attempting this stretch.  

Muscles involved: Hamstrings, gastroc soleus complex ( your calf) and to some extent your sciatic nerve

Stretch Type: Static: Best if performed after workouts on warm muscles. Exercise caution if stretching cold muscle, because unwarned muscle doesn’t stretch as well as warmed up muscles.  

Caution: It is possible to overdo it. Stop the stretch or ease up if you feel tingling in your legs or pain in your low back.

As always: No stretch should ever be painful. If a stretch is painful, stop and consult your physical therapist for modifications.  

 

Directions:  Sitting in a sturdy chair, ( don’t do this on a rolly stool or office chair, please!). Straighten knee of leg to be stretched and point toes up. Lean forward at the hips until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your leg. Don’t round your back. Keep in mind, for those of us with tight hamstrings, you will feel the stretch without too much of a forward bend.  So take it slow!

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Fenitra demonstrates a straight knee and pointed toe while performing her stretch
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Fenitra demonstrates this stretch