Are Stretch Studios The Next Big Fitness Wave?

stretching benefitsOne of the three key aspects of exercise is stretching. The other two are strengthening and conditioning. When one has pain, a component may be tight muscles. A recent article in the New York Times took a look at the new fad of stretching studios. There have been all kinds of health and fitness crazes, but this was something new.

There are many different types of exercise gyms, from the bare bones centers to the multimillion-dollar health clubs to the specialty studios for yoga. Now the new kid is the studio that works individually with a client to increase a person’s flexibility through muscle stretching. Athletes and those with a wide variety of injuries or conditions like neck and low back pain have muscle tightness. Muscle pain with lack of full range of motion often contributes significantly to pain.

Stretching Benefits

The advent of the “stretch” centers, the studios that concentrate on working with people on muscle stretching, is an outcome of our world of pain. Muscle pain is common in athletes due to strengthening without also concentrating on maintaining full muscle length and joint mobility. In the person with neck or low back pain, muscle tightness occurs due to the muscles contration in an effort to prevent someone from moving a painful area. In either cause, tight muscles and lack of joint range of motion are causes themselves for pain.

Stretching is an essential component of exercise. Being an ancient doctor, the reference book of my time was “Stretching” by Bob Anderson, and it was an easy to understand guide to stretching any region of the body. Now, the Internet or your phone’s apps can be an easy source of exercises to stretch any part of the body. Routines do not need to be complicated or take large amounts of time. Stretching for 5 to 10 minutes every day is extremely helpful to loosen up muscles. Sometimes, it takes multiple times a day that one has to stretch, especially if the problems are neck and low back pain. A stretch can be as simple as bending over to touch your toes or sitting on the floor and reaching for your toes.  A lot of people are stiff at the end of the day or first thing in the morning. Doing a stretching routine before going to bed and first thing in the morning can often help reduce tightness and pain especially at night and early in the day.

Advanced Stretching

The stretching studios are a bit higher level of stretching. A staff member works with a client to help them stretch a wide variety of muscles. They spend 45-60 minutes work on whole body flexibility. Getting all the muscles loosened up by stretching can be very relaxing. Supposedly the relaxation is similar to what is felt with a massage, but it would require more participation for the client.  

Physical therapy can also teach a person how to effectively stretch, especially a person who has had an injury. Working with a therapist is helpful to learn the correct techniques and to prevent further injury. Oftentimes a therapist will give a patient numerous exercises to perform, and doing the whole set could take 45 minutes. Once one understands the exercises, you can choose a few that cover the areas that need work so the whole routine can be done in hopefully 10 to 15 minutes at the most. The main message is tight muscles are often a source of pain, and learning and performing effective stretching routines daily can significantly improve function and diminish overall symptoms.

Why Pain Is Such A Complicated Process

Pain ProteinIn the February 4, 2017 issue of Science News Magazine, there is a fascinating article about pain. There is a protein in the body known as Na.1.7 that sits on pain sensing nerves. It has been known that when it is triggered, a signal is sent to the brain that the body should feel something painful. New experiments have shown how complicated things can be in the body, as tests on rodents have shown that Na.1.7 activity also triggers production of pain relieving molecules, meaning our bodies has an ability when sensing pain to also fight pain.  

To illustrate what this might mean, it is interesting looking at those people with a nonfunctional Na.1.7 protein. These are a rare group of people who do not feel pain. It may sound like a great problem, but these individuals have great difficulty preventing themselves from getting injured. When studying these people, researchers found higher than normal levels of the body’s natural opioid compounds. Then a researcher decided to give one of these patients naloxone, the compound used to block opioids, especially when someone has a narcotic overdose. The patient suddenly felt pain for the first time.

Understanding The Complexity Of Pain

This is why pain is so complicated; the protein Na.1.7 has both pain promoting and pain relieving properties in the body. This protein seems to sit at the balance point for controlling pain sensing and pain relieving functions in the body. If the cells have nonfunctioning Na.1.7 protein, then they increase their activity in producing the body’s own opioid compounds. So if we can block the activity of Na.1.7 or turn its activity down, the body can produce its own pain killing compounds.

The effect on the body of giving opioids over time is such that the body becomes tolerant to the medications. It will take more and more opioids to produce the same level of pain relief. What that is also implying is that giving a person opioids tends to make the body probable to produce more Na.1.7 and then the body produces less of its own natural opioids. The body then is sensing more pain and is less able to fight pain. Understanding this small piece of science now seems to explain why giving patients opioid medications for a long period of time is a bad solution to control pain. Simply, giving opioids increases our pain sensitivity and lowers our own ability to fight pain.

Next Steps

The next step for pain management is to do research on Na1.7 and find out how we can use this knowledge to develop treatments for pain. It is likely that it will be difficult to find the right way to influence the activity of cells and the production of this protein. If this can be done, maybe a medication can be given that just pushes down the Na.1.7 level slightly so we can feel less pain and the body can more effectively fight pain on its own. This is not something that will happen soon, but this is one of the new discoveries that may change pain control drastically in the future.

The Complexity Of Pain Management

complex spine careBack pain patients often state if they just lost some weight, maybe their low back would feel better. It would be nice if it were that easy, but it is often much more complex. Usually someone who has back pain has multiple causes of the pain, from simple lack of strength in the muscles, to nerve irritation, degeneration of the joints and discs in the spine and problems with body mechanics. Yes, weight can stress every structure in the back and make things harder and more painful, but oftentimes all the other things causing pain may be more important in order to control back problems.

Controlling Back Pain

Asking most doctors about how to lose weight is often not very helpful. About 75 percent of medical schools do not provide the recommended 25 hours of nutrition training, and many older physicians have had minimal to no training in nutrition. Complicating everything is the fact that older research was often sponsored by major manufactures of food and conclusions of the studies were not scientifically sound. Current research is showing that every person often responds differently to a diet, and what is helpful for one person will not always work for another. The more one reads, the more complex the human digestive system becomes and our understanding is really limited. Everything affects us, from our genetics, to what our mother’s ate during pregnancy, to the bacteria in our gut.  

Eating a healthy diet is probably the most sound advice, and then pay attention to the amount you eat as well as when you eat. Healthy eating means eating less processed substances like pre-made foods. Some people equate this to eating from the fringes of the grocery store, where the fresh fruit, vegetables, salads, lean meats, and diary if often kept. Limiting simple carbohydrates like bread, potatoes, pasta, sugar and white rice can help many people as well. Protein sources from poultry, fish, beans, nuts and diary, and not from red meat are recommended in many diets.  If you have gastrointestinal problems like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease with gluten intolerance, diets change play an even bigger role in solve the pain equation. In general, a plant-based diet is often the healthiest.

Managing Weight and Back Pain

Since low back pain is caused by many factors, it is rare that the most important issue is weight. The most common factor is usually the lack of exercise. Often a patient will go to physical therapy and learn what to do but after the formal sessions, they do nothing on their own. Those who are overweight are no different than most patients; they are not actively exercising and taking care of their health. Every patient must find their own internal motivating factor to take care of themselves and exercise. Staying healthy takes a lot of work. There is no quick fix and those who actually do the best take care of their physical and mental health. Those who do the best follow through with the three components of exercise – stretching, strengthening and aerobic conditioning. If you are doing the work of exercising appropriately and eating a healthy diet, it is likely that weight will not be an issue.

Those who do have back pain and who are significantly obese often can improve their back pain with weight loss. However, the improvement is relatively minor with the loss of weight. The patients who notice the most improvement in pain are those who adopt a healthier lifestyle. Despite being obese, they start consistently exercising, often finding a way to participate in a pool exercise program so they do not stress their joints. They also have changed their eating habits, and the combined efforts usually lead to a sustained weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week. Believe it or not, it becomes obvious who actually is exercising, as they start feeling better and have markedly less pain. Low back pain affects millions of people nationwide, the simplest solutions often are the best – exercise and a healthy diet.

How Body Fat Affects Chronic Pain

Body Fat Chronic Pain ManagementThere are many measures of health. Many physicians are mainly looking at BMI – body mass index – and that is number calculated based on height and weight. It has many shortcomings, especially because it does not take into account that lean muscle mass weighs more than fat, giving a high BMI which is considered bad.

Understanding Fat Types

Body fat is one of the most talked about subjects. There are different types of fat in the body, and different places fat tends to occur. Two types of fat are in the body, brown fat and white fat. The brown fat is highly vascularized, is found in the neck and shoulder regions in adults, and tends to burn energy as well as help in body temperature regulation. There is also indication that this type of fat helps control the body’s triglycerides and cholesterol, and may reduce atherosclerosis. The most common fat in the body is the white fat, this is the stuff in the belly and is the majority of the “flab” we have. The fat in the abdomen and around the internal organs as well as in the liver all lead to increased risk for disease and illness.

Being healthy means getting regular physical activity. It does not need to be done in prolonged blocks at a gym; it just needs to add up over a day. Sitting on the couch, not moving or sitting at a desk all day long does not get the muscles moving or the body the needed activity. Incidental activity is also important. Get up and walk around the house, tinker in the garage or do some household cleaning, as all this is moves muscles and is healthy for the body.

Movement slowly adds up, and people who work in large department stores often note that their fitness trackers indicate that they do over 10,000 steps a day just at the job. As a physician, walking around the office often adds 4-5,000 steps to my day. The benefit of activity is that it promotes stable blood sugars, blood pressure, cholesterol level, and helps maintain lean muscle mass and body composition. Medical studies have shown the incidental activity of people is just as beneficial in maintaining good health, as is the vigorous activity in a gym.

Improving Your Health

It is clear that if you want to improve your health, it is dependent on your daily actions. Regular physical activity throughout the day is one of the best places to start. Other important factors include eating a healthy diet, reducing stress, getting adequate sleep, and avoiding tobacco and electronic cigarettes. Good habits and physical activity help one feel stronger and better, and all these things can be done by anyone, including those with chronic medical conditions.

CRPS – The Pain Is Real

Complex Regional Pain SyndromeRecent findings suggest that individuals with complex regional pain syndrome deal with a great amount of pain during every day activities. According to some pain scale rankings, CRPS ranks higher on the pain scale than childbirth, cancer and even amputation.

For those of you unaware of what complex regional pain syndrome is, CRPS is categorized as a chronic condition that typically affects one limb, usually arising out of a trauma. CRPS involves a disruption in the way sensory signals are processed and deciphered along the central nervous system, leading to extreme pain even when no traumatic experience is happening. Actions like putting on your socks or brushing against a door frame can trigger inflammation and painful sensory signals.

Treating CRPS

According to the National Institutes of Health, CRPS typically affects women, and the average age of a CRPS sufferer is 40 years old. The issue with CRPS is that since it involves a communication breakdown in the central nervous system, it can be extremely hard to diagnose correctly. One report suggests that the average CRPS sufferer searched for answers for four years before receiving the appropriate diagnosis. Part of the problem is medical oversight, but this is due in large part to it being such a rare condition, and the fact that research dollars are being spent elsewhere.

So how do we work to treat and prevent this problematic condition? For starters, education is key. That’s the main reason we shared a large infographic about CRPS on the blog earlier this week. Both patients and healthcare providers need to be aware of the problem of CRPS. It can be treated and managed, but only with an accurate diagnosis. People should not have to wait four years to get to the bottom of their health problem.

Funding For CRPS

We also need to be spending more research dollars on understanding chronic conditions. Chronic pain affects roughly 30 percent of Americans, and the toll it takes on the healthcare system as a whole is billions of dollars, yet funding to better understand the condition and help those who suffer day in and day out continues to be lacking.

St. Paul CRPS Pain Doctor

If you’re dealing with chronic pain, and you’re struggling to get answers about your condition, set up a consultation with a Minnesota Pain Specialist. We won’t stop until we get to the bottom of your condition, because our goal is to help you live a pain-free life. Contact us today for more information.