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Do you cheat when you stretch your quads?

Many people “cheat” when they stretch their quads. The standard stretch for the quads that you will see many people doing is to stand on one leg and bring their foot to your butt.

However, the chances are that their alignment is such that they are not actually stretching the quads at all, but merely compensating by hip or trunk rotation.

(If you can cope with the sound of young children) The following video explains how best to perform a genuine quad stretch.

Pain Between Shoulders

Although there are any number of reasons that people call for remedial massage, probably one of the more common is for pain between the shoulder blades. This can be an isolated pain or it can be in conjunction with neck pain and stiffness or headaches. The pain can be persistent and chronic or it can appear acutely after a particular activity or movement.

Many people will believe that the root cause of the problem lies in the muscles between the shoulders blades, namely the rhomboids. If they book in for a massage then they will expect that the therapist pays particular attention to these muscles and the muscles around the area to reduce the tightness and tension.

MHowever, often the problem is not associated with tightness in the area but weakness. Tightness in other muscles is causing the muscles such as the rhomboids to become irritated because they are over-stretched not because they are overly tight. A massage therapist that tries to eliminate the tightness by stretching and adding length to the muscles may even be adding to the problem.

Often postural professionals will refer this condition with terms such as forward head posture or upper cross syndrome. The pain between the shoulders actually results from the complex interaction of the muscles around the shoulder girdle. It comes about from an increase in tightness in the muscles at the front of the neck and upper chest and weakness with the upper back and back of the neck (technically muscles such as the levator scapula, pectoralis major, suboccipitals, SCM and upper trapezius tend to be tight whereas the lower trapezius and rhomboid muscles tend to be weak).

Typically when you have your posture checked, a therapist would notice that the shoulder blades (the scapulae) are depressed lower than they should be and they are spread apart towards the sides of the body. When the shoulder blades are in this position, the traps and the rhomboids are stretched to their maximum and they struggle to hold the weight of the arms. The force of gravity leads to a constant pulling on the muscles and nerves in the area. The results is pain in and around the neck, between the shoulder blades and even down the arms.

Postural awareness is the first starting point for reducing the impact of upper crossed syndrome or forward head posture. Left untreated it can lead to degenerative changes in the upper back and result in constant neck pain, back pain and contributes to the formation of the Dowager’s Hump and be implicated in TMJ dysfunction.

  
Being mindful of when you are performing repeated tasks with you arms extended in front of you (such as typing on computers or driving) is a good starting point. However, restoring the balance between the muscles of the shoulder girdle is of prime importance and this can often be quite a challenge as normal movement patterns may have been compromised by persistant pain.

Massage can help to address some of the issues associated with these problems, in particular by releasing those muscles that are pulling the shoulders blades forward and down. Your therapist can also suggest stretching exercises for the upper chest and strengthening exercises for the upper back.

Sports Massage Does Work!

In recent years there seems to be have a move towards more evidence based practise for a range of practitioners. This is not a bad thing for the massage industry as many of the more spurious claims that are made can be challenged and dismissed. However, one of the problems that massage faces is that there is a dearth of quality research available.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case which include a lack of money when compared with the amount of funds available for pharmaceutical trials and also a fundamental problem with much of the research in the natural therapies domain in that designing standard treatment protocols is extremely difficult when most therapists’ practice is based on tailoring a treatment to an individual client’s needs at the time.

A 2012 study into the benefits of sports massage has attempted to redress the issue of quality massage research with findings that are encouraging for the industry.

Sports massage SydneyAfter a water skiing injury a researcher at McMaster University, Canada, Mark Tarnopolsky, found that massage therapy provided a significant amount of pain relief and he decided that he wanted to understand the underlying mechanism whereby massage aided his recovery.

Along with some colleagues, Tarnolpolsky decided to investigate why massage can reduce pain and the results (for massage therapists and for sports people) were encouraging (1).

For the study, 11 males were exercised to such an extent that they were affected by exercise-induced muscle damage after working out on an upright bicycle. One of their legs was then massaged for 10 minutes. The researchers took muscle biopsy samples from the participants’ vastus lateralis muscles at various times:
– at baseline
– immediately after the massage
– after 2.5 hours of recovery.

The results were extremely encouraging. There is strong support for the hypothesis that exercise can activate the genes which are associated with repair and inflammation and it was no surprise that the researchers observed there was significantly more indicators of cell repair and also inflammation in the biopsy samples post-exercise when compared with the pre-exercise measurements.

However, there was a clear distinction between the study participants’ legs that had been massaged and had not been.

They found that the legs which had received the 10 minutes of sports massage had:
– reduced the amount of exercise induced muscle inflammation by diminishing the activity of a protein, NF-kB
– increased by about 30% a gene that helps muscle cells build mitochondria, PGC-1
– modified levels of other proteins with similar roles in the body.

  
Although this is only one study and the massage protocol may not be relevant for all sports people, it does provide evidence supporting the use of massage therapy to reduce pain and encourage muscle repair. Further work would need to be carried out to assess the optimum pressure, length of massage and the commencement time after exercise.

But there are few who would argue that getting a massage to reduce pain from sport is a preferable alternative to anti-inflammatory medications.

(1) J. D. Crane, D. I Ogborn et al “Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signalling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage”. Science Translational Medicine 4, 119ra13 (2012).

By Richard Lane


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