Exercises for low back pain.

bird dogTo prevent or recover from low back pain, exercise is terrific. But there is always the caution of avoiding exercises that put too much strain on untrained muscles and vulnerable joints.

Avoid toe touches, double leg lifts and full sit-ups.

Go for partial crunches, bridges, wall sits, bird dogs, press-up back extensions, knee to chest, pelvic tilts, and hamstring stretches.

Also, personal trainers have told me to avoid the back extensions weight machines at the gym. Because you are supported by the machine, it gives the illusion that you can do more weight than is really advisable. It is almost always more effective to do free exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups to stabilize you even while they focus on certain muscles.

Massage therapy is also a proven aid to any training program or recovery from strain or injury.

To see a slide show of good and not so good back exercises, follow this link:


Safe and Effective Sunscreens and Insect Repellents – the short list.

Safe skin care can include educating yourself and being aware of changes in your skin. Your massage therapist may be the next best person after your dermatologist to alert you to anything that looks concerning. Your therapist can also use a massage lotion or cream that is safe and beneficial to your skin and avoid any allergies you may have.

Sun protection is a first line of prevention. The best way to protect yourself from too much sun exposure is to stay in the shade, wear a large brimmed hat and long sleeves. Many sunscreens on the market have problematic ingredients, and many do not perform according to the label claims.  I consulted the Consumer Reports testing results for effectiveness, and the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) database for ingredient safety.

The ingredients in question are octinoxate and oxybenzone, which have shown hormonal effects in animal studies, but not in short term human studies. Also retinyl palmitate has shown carcinogenic effects in animals but has not been studied in humans.  The FDA has also raised concerns about inhaling the mist from spray-on sunscreens, and recommended avoiding their use with children. Mineral sunscreens work by creating a physical barrier (think white noses of lifeguards).

When I cross reference these two sources for safety and effectiveness, the list is VERY short. For spray-on, the best product is Banana Boat Sport Performance Cool Zone, which ranks as 67 out of 100 in effectiveness and 4 on a scale of 1 (unquestionably safe) to 10 (definitely toxic).  The best mineral cream as tested by Consumer Reports is Alba Botanica Sport 45 ranked at 67 and 2.  Some mineral creams were not ranked for effectiveness, such as Honest Company which is available at Costco. Consumer Reports also notes that most lip balms are not effective as rated. It is hard to keep up with all of this as there are dozens of brands; each brand has numerous formulas; and formulas come and go regularly.

EWG does not rate insect repellents, but there is a widely available and very effective natural insect repellent: Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.

alba botanice

Preventing and recovering from severe muscle pain

Most of us have experienced bouts of severe muscle pain, and possibly it was so unnerving you went to the doctor or the Emergency Room.  You many have found something potentially serious, such as a tumor.  But most of the time it is just soft tissue pain.

Sometimes we can identify an accident or activity that contributed to it, and sometimes we can’t.  But at least one or more of these factors will be present:

  1. Mental and/or emotional stress.
  2. Sleep deficiency.
  3. Disruption of regular body chemistry due to illness, medication, or poor diet.
  4. Travel.
  5. A too deep massage can temporarily make it feel worse.
  6. Oh, and did I mention stress?

Never underestimate the power of stress to weaken the body’s ability to adapt and heal. I once had a client develop back pain so severe she had to take sabatical from her job. The cause? Stress.

Getting regular massage gives you a head start on preventing such an episode as well as improving your body awareness.

If you do get pushed over the edge, don’t be hesitant to take Ibuprofen for a day or two. Couple this with an Epson salt bath, Arnica cream and oral Arnica (a homeopathic remedy you can find at any healthy food store.)  A gentle and focused massage is great if you can get an appointment soon.

Whether you can pinpoint an activity that started the pain or not, try to catch it early. Muscle relaxers and opioids are remedies of last resort, with unwanted side effects.

Is it Sciatica?

When you have pain in your back/hip and it is shooting down your leg, you may have sciatica.   Sciatica is typically caused by a  tight muscle or  bulging disc pressing on the sciatic nerve , leading to weakness and pain, tingling, or other abnormal sensations along the length of the sciatic nerve, which extends down the leg.

If one or more of these is true, your problem is “all the nerve.”

1) Your foot feels weak when you flex it.

2) You have to sprint to the bathroom.  (Rare but can be caused by a disc pressing on the nerve.)

3) Pain is worse when you press into the middle of your buttocks with a tennis ball or fist. (This indicates that the piriformis muscle is in spasm or contracture and pressing on the nerve.)  Contrast this with discomfort and tension in the low back muscle – the quadratus lumborum (QL).  This causes local pain and refers to the hip but not down the leg, and the QLsciatica  does not press on the sciatic nerve.

Massage, chiropractic care, and an ongoing movement program can all help with recovery.

(Thanks to Prevention Magazine, March 2016 for the inspiration and much of the information in this article.)