This is the first in a series of articles on common problems, of the aches and pains, that active people regularly put up with and alternative solutions that an Athletic Therapist can suggest given our background in working with both active individuals and elite performers. As a clinician and coach with extensive experience in high-level sports including work with Hockey Canada, in the Western Hockey league and multiple provincial and national level programs in a variety of different sports, I can help someone see things most would miss. The perspective I can offer as an Athletic Therapist is different from other professions and will help you fully understand your injury or limitation and how we can work together to help you move, play and feel better.
Today’s example is one I’m sure that any person working in an office or sedentary industry can easily relate to. Perhaps it shows up in the mid afternoon or during an especially long commute home. It is that nagging pain in your upper back, just near your shoulder blade. Your first instinct is you try to reach around and massage it, but you can’t quite get it and besides you look like your giving yourself a one arm hug while sitting in the Colwood crawl. You try rolling your shoulder around and maybe you find a position where it’s manageable, but you just end up looking like a turtle. While a little bit of self massage, a few Advil or a glass of wine when you get home might help a bit, really what’s going on is a battle for stability around your shoulder and you are the main casualty.
The two combatants in this situation are potentially the Rhomboids (they are located around where you feel the discomfort in your upper back) and the Pectoralis Minor situated where your chest and the front of your shoulder meet, just under the much large Pectoralis Major. Many of us spend a large amount of time sitting at work and mouse or slumped over our phone and generally not moving enough. When this happens, the front of our chest tends to move into a tightened position and the pec minor gets the signal to remain shortened and contracted to help stabilise our shoulder blade (scapula) and this can lead to a shoulder shrug like motion and a forward rounding of our shoulder.
Think about how often you might reach forward to use a keyboard or mouse while at work or your steering wheel while driving. With this anterior tightening, the Rhomboid at the back, tends towards becoming neurologically weakened and disconnected from its responsibilities. Consequently, it become stuck in a weak and lengthened position, often leaving us a literal pain in the neck (and back) at the end of the work day. There are many potential after effects that can come from such a dysfunctional relationship, including our breathing becoming altered, shoulder impingement, and pain developing in our neck as the body attempts to correct this jigsaw puzzle.
While the first instinct to release the area with something like heat or massage is not wrong, it is only a part of the larger picture. The real lasting correction to this problem could be to release (with massage or stretching), the tight Pectoralis Minor first. Then once the Pectoralis Minor is relaxed, the brain and the Rhomboid just need to get reacquainted with very easy exercises. So, if this is a situation you face, give the following a chance next time that upper back pain sneaks up on you at work. Find a doorway, raise your arm up like you are asking a question and rest the arm on the doorway. With your elbow at or slightly above the height of your shoulder, step through the doorway and turn both your chest and head away. You should feel a nice stretch across your chest and specifically in the most lateral part near your armpit. Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds, even if your coworkers are laughing at you. Then once completed, stand up with a tall posture (think Superman) and perform a rowing motion with that same arm, imagine opening a door with it’s handle at your waist and gently squeeze your shoulder blades together. Perform six to eight repetitions of this pulling motion, in a controlled and easy manner (don’t break a sweat). Try repeating this pair 3-4 times a day since it only takes about a minute and I suspect your afternoon guest will disappear in no time.
Now the relationship mentioned above is not the source of every problem in the upper back, since there are no cookbook type of answers with the human body. The important thing is to get your issues assessed and examined by a qualified professional, such as an Athletic Therapist. Whoever you see, should provide you with a very personalised and one or one plan to help you find and correct the real sources of your injuries or problems.
James McDonald is a certified Athletic Therapist and Strength and Conditioning coach, experienced in a wide variety of clientele, from recreation level runners, MMA fighters, Pro Hockey player to amateur Quidditch players. FREE individual consultation sessions as well as one on one treatment sessions can be booked online with Remedy Wellness.
Summer is here and many of us are out in the garden. For many of us, the long winter months are spent in anticipation and planning for award winning gardens. However, few of us have spent much time getting ourselves into shape for the coming season. With gardening growing in popularity, we see more injuries than ever seen before. Here are some safety tips to help you prevent injury and enjoy your time outdoors.
Gardening is like any other activity. A proper active warm up is needed to prepare the body for the positions and muscle work involved that will help avoid the aches and pains that are normally felt afterward.
Visit your local gardening store for tools that allow ergonomically correct posture. One will find everything from shovels to small hand tools as well as specialty handles available for all. Use a wheel barrow to move heavy items when possible. When lifting, one should tighten their core muscles, while lifting with your legs. Imagine your abdominals are a girdle that is tightening around you, bringing your belly button closer to your spine. Remember to breath while lifting and avoid using your back to lift up the object.
Some Tips to help avoid injury while gardening
1) While planting, weeding or harvesting your garden, it's best to squat down or kneel on a kneeling pad instead of bending forward at the waist.
2) When digging, insert the shovel head vertically into the ground and step on the blade, lifting small amounts of dirt at a time.
3) When shovel ling, push from the end of the handle and shift your weight forward from your back leg while keeping your knees bent and core tight.
4) Using a hoe or rake, step into the movement instead of bending forward and just using your arms.
5) When cutting the lawn, keep your arms close to your side and walk with the lawn mover.
6) Plan frequent stretching breaks – stand and lean backwards with your hands on your hips. As well reach over head and rotate your head side to side. Shoulder rolls to relax the muscles between the shoulder blades.
7) Plan frequent changes in position to minimize soreness.
8) Spread the work out over a couple of days or weekends. Don't try to get it all done in one day.
If you are stiff and sore from your day, try some of the following:
1) Go for a walk to increase blood flow to your muscles which will help with the removal of built up lactic acid which causes soreness
2) Stretch after your day in the garden, holding each position for 30sec- 1min
3) Apply ice for 15-20 min to a sore area which will help with pain relieve and reducing inflammation
4) Take a rest giving your body time to recover
The most common injuries we see after a weekend of gardening are lower back pain and shoulder pain.
If you have over done it and your aches and pains just won`t go away, contact us to find the most appropriate treatment method.
Sunscreen: It's important to protect your skin from over exposure to the sun, including both UVA and UVB rays, but have you thought about protecting yourself from the harmful ingredients in most sunscreens?
Here is a list of 12 toxic ingredients to avoid when choosing sunscreen, and any other beauty/hygiene products:
BHA and BHT
Coal tar dyes: p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as
"CI" followed by a five digit number
Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)
Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)
Sodium laureth sulfate
For more information on the harmful effects of these ingredients visit:
The David Suzuki Foundation Website
Sun Exposure: Based on current studies, risk of developing skin cancer, specifically Cutaneous Malignant Melanoma (CMM), is more likely related to improper use of sunscreen, resulting in more sunburns. Using sunscreen does not allow unrestricted amount of time spent in the sun.
To Read Full Research Article Visit:
Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine
Article By: Kasey Thompson, RMT
A strain injury is a tear in the connective tissue, usually either muscle, fascia, ligament or combination thereof, as a result of overstretching the area. Muscles are more prone to strain injuries during an eccentric contraction (muscle is lengthening with resistance) versus a concentric contraction (muscle is shortening with resistance). Tendons are less vascularized (less circulation) which makes them more prone to rupture/tearing at the area of least blood supply; usually the middle or at the musculotendinous junction (where the muscle attaches to the tendon).
Causes of Strain Injuries:
Levels of Strain Severity
Grade 1, Mild or First Degree Strain: minor tear to the musculotendinous unit with minimal discomfort when contracting or stretching the area. Symptoms include:
A period of total inactivity after a strain injury is not recommended as the affected muscles will shorten, restricting range of motion, and atrophy which will weaken the area. If the injury is not treated with some sort of soft tissue mobilization it will develop adhesions. Chronic inflammation from micro-tearing during the healing phase can also occur.
If you continue to overuse a muscle that has been strained, without giving it adequate time to heal, the area will be prone to repeated strains. It is possible to strain any muscle but the most frequently strained areas are:
Scar tissue is the result of an injury and the inflammatory process that follows. It is the collagen based tissue that your body replaces damaged tissue with. It will only be about 80% as strong as the original tissue (skin, ligament, tendon, muscle, nerve or fascia). Scars result from wounds, burns, musculoskeletal injuries, inflammatory arthritides and osteoarthritis. Anything that prolongs the healing process can result in scar tissue production.
When applied at the right time, massage therapy techniques can be beneficial in reducing scar tissue formation and breaking down adhesions after they’ve formed. Scar tissue forms during the inflammatory process, so by decreasing inflammation and swelling during the acute phase, the amount of scar tissue produced can be reduced as well. RMT’s use gentle lymphatic drainage techniques and cryotherapy (cold therapy) on acute injuries which encourages excess fluid to move back into the lymphatic system. Once the scar has mostly healed, typically two weeks after surgery you can start doing some self massage techniques. Wait until the sutures have been removed and all scabs have fallen off by themselves. Be gentle. You may discover that the area is quite sensitive and deeper is not necessarily better. If you're unsure where to start, come in for an appointment and one of our RMT's will be happy to show you how. We are big on patient education and empowering our patients to use self care techniques.
Adhesions and contractures can lead to postural dysfunctions, joint pain, tension and muscle pain. Abdominal scars, such as c-section and appendix removal scars, can have a negative effect on your digestion and reproductive system and even cause lower back pain. Hypersensitive scars can be desensitized with tactile stimulation.
Types of Scar Tissue:
Contracture: shortening of the connective tissue to the point where it cannot fully lengthen or relax and reduces range of motion.
Adhesions: occur when there is reduced range of motion at a joint over a period of time. This allows cross links to form among collagen fibres which further reduces the range of motions. This occurs mostly with postural dysfunctions or immobilization of a limb.
Scar Adhesions: occur after an injury when your body has produced new collagen fibres during the inflammatory process. These adhesions occur between fascial tissue, muscles, skin, tendons, even between whole groups of muscles. They don’t allow each tissue type to move independently, as they should, but rather as one solid unit. There’s a feeling of tension and discomfort, pain in some cases and reduced range of motion. Adhesions and Scar Adhesions can be broken down with myofascial release and other massage therapy techniques.
Fibrotic Adhesions: occur where there is chronic inflammation and can lead to extreme restriction in range of motion. These types require more aggressive techniques.
Irreversible Contracture: fibrotic tissue or bone replaces muscle or connective tissue. Can only by reversed with surgical intervention. An example would be a “pump bump” or bone deposit at the Achilles tendon attachment on the heal.
Hypertrophic Scarring: an overgrowth of connective tissue that remains within the boundaries of the wound and is mostly associated with burns. These may be surgically removed or skin grafted.
Keloid: overgrowth of connective tissue that does not remain within the boundaries of the wound. Result from an imbalance between collagen synthesis and breakdown within the wound. Keloids do not respond well to surgery.
Musculoskeletal Injury is a broad term for any injury to the soft tissues, joints or bones. It encompasses everything from sprain and strain injuries to dislocations and whiplash. Regardless of the diagnosis, the end treatment goal is to promote tissue healing/scarring/regeneration, regain full pain free range of motion to any affected joints and full strength and mobility to all affected tissues. Such injuries can be assessed, diagnosed and treated with Athletic Therapy, Physiotherapy, Osteopathy or Massage Therapy. If you are uncertain which would be best for you, please call or email with your questions. We are happy to point you in the right direction.
Inflammation is the body’s immediate way of telling us that there’s tissue damage and that your immune system is already hard at work making repairs. Depending on the severity, you may see and feel edema/swelling/bruising around the injury and typically an associated pain response. Pain is meant to stop you from continuing with any activities that could cause further injury. For active people and athletes, it’s important to learn the difference between “feeling the burn” and pushing through pain that is causing tissue damage. Never take pain medications before a workout/sport/activity as this increases the likelihood of aggravating an existing injury and/or the occurrence of new injuries.
The Pain Threshold: your nervous system is an all or nothing threshold system. You can have tissue damage and inflammation that you don't notice until you go above your pain threshold line. Have you ever experienced pain after doing something pretty insignificant, like "all I did was bend over to pick up that thing and my back went out" or "I just stepped funny and now I can hardly walk." You were probably hovering just below your threshold and whatever you did was enough to push you over and now you're in pain. On the other end of recovery, people will sometimes return to activity too soon because they're below the threshold zone and think they're fine. The tissue may not be completely healed yet, it's just healed enough that it's not triggering your pain sensors. Return to activity needs to be slow and gradual to prevent re-injury.
When skin, muscles, ligaments or tendons are injured/torn, your body will regenerate new connective tissue made up of collagen fibres. This is commonly called scar tissue. There are 3 phases to healing connective tissue:
Acute Phase: starts immediately after injury and lasts about 3-4 days. Symptoms include edema (swelling), redness, heat, pain and often loss of function depending on severity, may be accompanied by spasm and muscle guarding/tension. Possible bruising black, red, purple or blue.
RICE (Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate) has been the long standing immediate treatment protocol for acute injuries. New research is suggesting that ice and use of anti-inflammatories during this phase may actually impede the body’s natural healing process. Unfortunately all the research articles we searched through had inconclusive results on this topic. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22744434
Early Subacute Phase: starts within about 3-4 days and can continue for as long as 3-6 weeks after the injury. The symptoms of inflammation begin to reduce. Tissue damage is gradually being restored; skin and muscle heal faster (5-8 days) than tendons and ligaments (3-5 weeks). Symptoms include mild edema/swelling, warmth around the area, less painful, less muscle spasming. Bruising will likely still appear the same as in the acute phase. Pain with range of motion but to a lesser degree and reduced muscle guarding/tension.
During this phase your body is laying down new collagen, which is very fragile and susceptible to reinjury when overstretched.
Late Subacute Phase: Begins about 2-3 weeks into the subacute phase. Pain is significantly reduced but possible limited range of motion due to adhesions and weakness. Bruising may change to yellow, brown or green then disappears. Area is still tender to the touch.
Wound contraction and scar remodeling happen in this phase. Myofibroblast cells contract to pull the tissue cells tighter together, while reshaping and remodelling of the collagen fibres strengthens the area. Massage Therapy can be very effective in preventing the formation of adhesions during this phase, which contribute to chronic pain and reduced range of motion.
Chronic Phase: occurs about 6-10 weeks after the injury and can last for years. In extreme cases people can experience a permanent change to the injured area that never fully heals. The inflammation process has finished and there is likely no residual swelling/edema. There is typically pain that can be constant or intermittent, restricted range of motion and guarding/muscle tension due to adhesions. The quality of this tissue can still be positively affected with massage therapy techniques, stretching, mobility, strengthening exercises, etc. Full recovery is still possible.
Full Recovery: Complete return to activities with no pain and full range of motion. The new tissue/scar tissue that was laid down at the injury site will never be as strong as the original tissue (skin, muscle, tendon, ligament). In fact, it will only be about 70-80% as strong, therefore the area may always be prone to re-injury. Re-injury can be prevented by continuing with the same exercises your physiotherapist, athletic therapist, osteopath or RMT would likely have had you doing during recovery. We call this “maintenance.” If returning to the same sport or activity that the injury was related to, a “tune up” treatment every 1-3 months for the first year is ideal.
Factors that Affect the Healing Process
Vit A: supports fibroblasts and increases collagen synthesis
Vit E: promotes tissue healing and prevents scarring
Zinc: required for many enzyme reactions and for production of cells
Protein and Calorie Intake: promote the cellular process
Conclusion: the best chance you have at making a full recovery from any injury is to have it properly assessed right away. For acute sport injuries such as sprain, strain, contusion or concussion we highly recommend a consult with an athIetic therapist. It is also important to determine if there were factors such as muscle imbalance, faulty firing patterns, overuse, postural dysfunction that may have contributed to the cause of the injury in the first place.
Many of today’s workplaces are recipes for musculoskeletal and repetitive strain disasters. Thankfully, it’s all preventable. Avoid personal injury with the following information on ergonomics in the office. The human- centered focus of ergonomics can help improve safety, efficiency and overall quality of life. Here are three diagrams we think you may find useful.
Some useful pointers:
• Feet flat on the floor or on a foot rest, with ankles in front of the knees
• Joints (hips, knees, elbows and ankles) open slightly (90° to 120°)
• Thighs horizontal to the floor
• Head aligned with the spine (ears, shoulders and hips are all in a straight line)
• Elbows at an angle between 90° and 120°
• Forearms supported and kept between horizontal and 20° up
• Wrists straight and aligned with the forearms
• Working object (papers, computer monitor, etc.) positioned so that it is 10° to 30° below the line of vision
• Stand up and move around whenever possible
There is no singular body position that is recommended for sitting. This is because prolonged sitting (or any kind of sedentary, fixed position) is not recommended at all. Sitting may be relaxing for the legs, but it actually increases the pressure on the spinal discs. Unfortunately, sitting down for long periods of time also leads to compression of tissues, especially in the spinal column, muscle fatigue, reduction in metabolism, reduced blood circulation and accumulation of extra-cellular fluid in the lower legs. Even a perfectly straight and upright posture shouldn’t be held continuously. The human body is meant to move, not to stay still. Variation is good. In fact, slouching is not always bad for you; slouching is the body’s natural way to alleviate the strain and tension of the overtaxed muscles that are working to maintain your posture. Occasional forward slumping can help provide muscle relief, as can reclining and pressing into the back of your chair. However, if the shoulders are hunched regularly, or if the arms and back are unsupported, it can cause neck, shoulder and upper back pain.
Here are a few specific posture corrections to keep in mind: Firstly, your feet should be flat on the floor. If your feet don’t reach the floor, you should get a wide, flat foot rest so that your feet and thighs can all be horizontal, instead of angled. Ideally, your feet should be flat on the floor, your shoulders should be relaxed and slightly back, your pelvis should be rotated slightly forward, your upper arms should hang down, your forearms should stay horizontal and your wrists should be straight. If you have a desk job, try to change your body position frequently to get some motion and variation into your day. Get up and walk around whenever possible. You will feel more physically comfortable and more mentally alert.
If possible, your office workstation should fit your body size and your preferred working habits. If you do not have control over choosing your desk and chair at work, at least make sure that the furniture in your home office is carefully selected.
Hopefully your desk is comfortable, adjustable and task-oriented. Ideally, it should be suitable for both sitting and standing. Make sure your desk isn’t too high and forcing your shoulders up too far. Remember, when you are seated, your shoulders back and down, not hunched up creating unnecessary muscle tension. It’s best to place all of the things you must operate with your hands within easy reach at elbow height and directly in front of you on your desk. Your area of range when seated should be near your torso, about 10 to 40 centimetres in front of your body. That way, you won’t have to twist or contort awkwardly.
There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” ergonomic chair. The right chair for you depends on your individual body proportions. That being said, you definitely want a chair with good support. Sitting keeps the upper body stable and requires less muscular effort than standing, but only when the seat is supportive enough for the body to be comfortable. A hard chair seat can generate pressure points, which you do not want.
If you find it comfortable, a downward sloping seat is a good idea as well since it minimises the backwards tilt of your pelvis. A chair with wide, padded arm rests is best, as arm support reduces spinal stress. As for the backrest of your chair, it should be large enough to provide support from your neck down. The back support carries some of the weight of the upper body, reducing the load that the spinal column must transfer to the seat. Plus, leaning against a backrest is relaxing. It’s also preferable for the angle of your backrest to be adjustable, allowing you to change postures and recline when you need a break. The least stressful sitting posture is when your back can lean into a rearward-reclined backrest.
Since most of the time you spend at your desk is likely on your computer its setup is very important. Firstly, the computer monitor should be placed directly behind the keyboard, not high above or off to the side; you don’t want to crane your neck or have to look up to see the display. Your monitor should be at a convenient distance and height from your eyes (about half a metre/ slightly less than arm’s length) so that you can look down to see the screen without any eye strain.
Meanwhile, your computer keyboard should be placed directly in front of your body, over top of your thighs and at about elbow height when your shoulders are relaxed. A keyboard located too high requires unnecessary muscle tension in the raised shoulders, arms and spread elbows. As for choosing a keyboard, split keyboards have their advantages, but are much pricier than the standard variety. If nothing else, a flat keyboard is better than an angled one, so don’t prop your keyboard up on its kickstand.
Bent-wrist keyboarding is another problem to look out for as it can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome (a repetitive strain injury that interferes with the use of the hand). Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when pressure is put on the median nerve where it runs through the carpal tunnel (an anatomical tunnel between the wrist bones and flexor retinaculum). Foam pads are recommended as they raise wrists levels with the surface of the keyboard so that typing can be done with straight wrists. A foam pad can provide comfort and support to the heel of the hand so that the wrists don’t press into sharp desk or table edges.
You also want your mouse to be close by so that you don’t have to reach far out in front to operate it. The best case scenario is when your keyboard and mouse are at the same level. If one is higher than the other, one sided muscle tension in your back, neck and shoulders is likely to occur. When both mouse and keyboard are on par, your arms and shoulders can be at equal 90 degree angles. Heavy mouse use is often associated with wrist pain, so be careful.
Forearm and Wrist Stretches
Use one hand to spread apart and straighten the fingers of the other hand and then stretch your wrist back gently as far as you can. Keep your elbow straight. Relax your hands.
You should feel a gentle stretch in the forearm flexors, then switch direction and stretch the forearm extensors.
Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds to 1 minute. Can be done several times per day.
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214-852 Fort St.
Victoria, BC Canada