It is a fact of modern life that we have stress, especially these days, and there is not much control we have over the outside world. Yet we do have greater control over how that stress impacts our bodies. In the big picture, we can combat the effects of stress with exercise, yoga, tai chi or meditation. In our day-to-day, moment-to-moment lives however, awareness is the key. In other words, becoming aware of how and when our body reacts to stress enables us to take certain measures to control the impact. Breathing, yes, simply breathing can be highly effective for this. An exercise I give my patients to help with temporomandibular disorder, or TMD, aka TMJ (another byproduct of stress), is to take time throughout the day to step back from whatever you are doing, close your eyes, and take 5 deep breaths through your nose and into your belly. Count to 4 on the inhale and 6 on the exhale. This is very important, because extending the exhale and belly breathing both stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which has the opposite effect of the sympathetic. If sympathetic is ‘fight or flight,’ parasympathetic is ‘rest and digest.’ With each exhale, feel your shoulders and jaw drop down, loose. The more you do this exercise, the more aware you become of your body. With this awareness, we can begin to see how and when stress starts to creep into our bodies, and then utilize this information to control how our bodies are being impacted.
To heat or not to heat, that is the question. When we injure ourselves, the vast majority of us tend to reach for heat – a heating pad, hot tub, etc. Why? Well, we associate heat with comfort. We hurt and we want to feel better. But in reality, heat is not a good thing for an injury in the ‘acute’ stage. The acute stage is technically the first 24 to 72 hours after an injury. When we strain a muscle or tendon, we actually tear the muscle fibers. A direct result of this is inflammation. The inflammatory fluid is a byproduct of the tissue damage. This in turn causes swelling and pain in the injured area. Ice and cold contract. Heat expands. Therefore, if an area is already inflamed, heat will further swell the area. Ice on the other hand causes the tissues to contract. Picture a towel or sponge being wrung out. It squeezes the excess fluid out of the area once the ice is
removed, fresh blood can flow back in, carrying nutrients and oxygen vital to the healing process. Also, ice slows down nerve conduction, and nerves are what carry pain. Therefore, ice has an anesthetic effect as well. What you want to always remember is to only leave ice on for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. After that the body will flood the area with blood in an attempt to heat the region up – just the body’s way of protecting itself.
We do not want that. By taking the ice off at the appropriate time, this response is avoided, and the blood, as mentioned before, flows in at a gradual pace. Ice can generally be used at this rate every hour.
There has been some debate lately whether or not ice slows the healing process by inhibiting the necessary enzymes required to repair tissues. I know that I have used ice myself and recommended it for the past 25 years with a large measure of success. I always tell my patients to try ice, and if they find it helps them with both pain and the restoration of function, stick with it.
So as you see, ice is our friend, even if it does not necessarily feel that way when it is cold outside!
Stress. Why and how does this unseen monster have such a powerful impact on our lives?
First, a quick biology lesson. (Feel free to skip to the next paragraph, but it is your body we are talking about here.) Stress is a physiological response our bodies have to perceived danger. Part of our nervous system is called the autonomic nervous system. This is divided into two parts: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. When we feel threatened, the sympathetic nervous system becomes activated. This triggers several responses to help our bodies through a ‘fight or flight’ reaction. We get a surge of adrenaline, which results in a rush of energy; blood
is distributed to our limbs for running or defense; our breathing becomes quicker; our digestion stops and our shoulders lift up towards our ears and forward.
Unfortunately for us, technology has evolved much faster than our bodies have (although the new iPhone is pretty cool). This means that although our bodies were designed to deal with occasional stress, such as being chased up a tree, or having to defend against other serious but rare physical threats like a saber-tooth tiger, we are instead barraged by stress through work, school, information overload, driving in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, etc. Stress has become a constant presence in our lives and our bodies pay the price.
People come to see me for a variety of reasons. They may want to be free from the pain they are currently experiencing and restore their impaired function. Or they may want to experience life at as optimal a level as possible for them as individuals. To achieve this, they have made me a part of this maintenance process, a member of their “life pit crew” as I like to say. Either way, I believe I represent a vital role that I value greatly and take very seriously. I promise to do everything in my power to help you to the best of my ability, whether you come in for crisis or maintenance care. I will accomplish this through my holistic treatments, through raising your awareness of both your body and your health, and through a continued commitment to learn new ways to help and to heal.
Always remember that you, as my patient, are why I am here. You are my primary priority. I am always available to listen to any comments, concerns or thoughts you may have or answer any questions. Please do not hesitate to speak with me about whatever is on your mind.