Low Back Opener

This is a wonderful stretch for gently easing stiffness and tension in the low back delivered from my clinics in TQ12 and TQ13! My mission is for everyone to become their own osteopath!

It also helps to bring space to the vertebral joints (apophyseal joints). When these joints get too jammed together from tight, stiff muscles it leads to too much pressure and load bearing on the joints. This then leads to increased wear and tear (osteoarthritis). The symptoms of this in the low back are pain and stiffness especially in the morning.

Doing these stretches yourself is like a form of self treatment. Much of my work as an osteopath is aimed at achieving what these exercises can do. Sometimes, unfortunately, we need some help from an osteopath to start things moving in the right direction. But hopefully, when the pain and stiffness has been reduced in the the low back, then the patient can build these stretches into their own exercise routine.

Feel free to contact me in Ashburton or Newton Abbot for more information, for treatment or for your own bespoke exercise plan. More exercises can be found on the News page. Have you looked at my Core Stability or Daily Routine videos?

The Importance of the Pelvic Floor (and what you can do to keep it healthy).

The pelvic floor is often an under-appreciated but nevertheless very important part of our anatomy.  It plays a vital role in keeping our low backs and rest of our bodies healthy and functioning well; it is directly linked to the role and importance of the “core” ie in core stability; it aids the functions of our internal organs and perhaps most well known is that it plays a huge role in bowel and bladder function especially after the effects of pregnancy and childbirth.

So what is the pelvic floor?  It’s best thought of as a “sling” of muscles the covers the outlet of the pelvis.  A little like a hammock, the contents of the abdomen lies on top of it and is supported by it.  Being made of muscle it is contractile and therefore is a dynamic structure capable of movement.  When it has good tone (the resting contraction of the muscles) it helps gentle close the structures that pass through it, most importantly the urethra and the lowest part of the large intestine – in other words the tubes that our pee and poo travel down to find their way out of the body.  More on this later.

How is it important in low back pain and posture?  As an osteopath this is of particular interest for me.  The low back relies on a number of different structures and their health for good low back functioning.  Some of the most significant are the shape and alignment of the lumbar spinal vertebrae, ligaments, intervertebral discs and the muscular support of the spinal muscles.  The pelvic floor blends with the diaphragm and abdominal muscles (if core stability is good) making a balloon like container.  When we move or lift this container acts like a support – a little like a weight lifters belt.  These days people are more aware about the abdominal muscles and their importance of this but the pelvic floor is a vital component playing a very important part in supporting the spine and keeping it strong, stable and free from pain.

How is the pelvic floor important to general health?  One way of looking at the abdomen (the area below the rib cage but above our thighs) is as a muscular container within which is our viscera (large and small intestines; kidneys; liver; spleen; pancreas etc).  These organs all individually need to function well for the for the health of everything things else in our body and minds.  For this to happen we need the usual things for health eg good diet; exercises; posture etc but also it needs a good blood and lymph supply and drainage.  Again many things influence this but often forgot is movement.  Movement at a the level of the body but also within the body.  When we breathe well (more on this in another blog) our diaphragm descends and rises gently massaging the the organs, helping the gut to transport things along its length, aiding the blood supply and improving the lymphatic health.  So where does the pelvic floor fit in?  The rest of the muscular container is comprised of the abdominal muscles to the front, the spinal and posture muscles at the back and the pelvic floor underneath.  As the diaphragm descends the overall function of the abdomen will be that much better if the pelvic floor and the rest of the container are functioning well.  The pelvic floor will allow the abdominal organs to return back up receiving gentle compression and relaxation with every breath.  This helps the blood and lymph flow and, you guessed it, improving all the organs functioning and health.  As well as gently moving the spine with each breath and aiding its health in the same way.

How does the pelvic floor help bowel and bladder function?  As I mentioned above the urethra (pee tube that leaves the bladder) and lowest part of the large intestine travel through the muscular pelvic floor.  As well as supporting the bowel and bladder the muscles offer some ability to close off the tubes.  If the floor is weak then it can lead to urinary incontinence, haemorrhoids and other pelvis disorders.  These conditions are not uncommon but can be a source of embarrassment and inconvenience.  Can anything be done?

Can I improve my pelvic floor?  Yes!  But as with all self help regimes it takes a bit of time, effort and self discipline.

Pelvic floor exercises:

Take a seat and imagine you’re sitting on the loo. Now imagine you’re having a pee and want to stop the flow. What muscles would you contract?  If you’re unsure, next time you’re going to the loo then experiment with stopping the flow of wee.  Contract these muscles and hold for a count of 10 seconds.  Next squeeze and relax the muscles quickly five times.  You can then see if you can isolate the muscles mid way back on the pelvic floor and repeat the same set of exercises.  Then again for the muscles at the back of the pelvic floor.  Over time try increasing the number of sets of exercises.  Remember not to strain and if you get any pain then stop and let me know. 

For more complicated exercises imagine you’re contracting diagonally across the pelvic floor (eg right of the pubic area to left of the tail bone area and vice versa).

Do these exercises at least once a day.  When you get proficient the exercises can be done anywhere and in any position.  If you have any questions then contact me at either my Ashburton or Newton Abbot Clinic.

You should feel the benefits in a couple of weeks.  Good luck 🙂

Persistent Pain

We all feel pain from time to time. When someone injures themselves, specific nerves recognise this as pain, which in turn triggers the body’s repair mechanism. As the problem resolves, the pain tends to improve and usually disappears within 3-6 months. This type of pain could be argued to be beneficial: if it hurts, you are likely to try and avoid doing whatever it is that has caused the pain in the future, so you are less likely to injure yourself in that way again.

Occasionally the pain continues even after tissue healing has finished. When pain continues after this point, it becomes known as persistent (or is sometimes referred to as chronic) pain. This type of pain is not beneficial and is a result of the nerves becoming over-sensitised, which means that a painful response will be triggered much more easily than normal. This can be unpleasant, but doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing yourself any harm simply by moving. You could think of this as a sensitive car alarm that goes off in error when someone walks past.

Persistent pain is very common and effects over 14 million people in the UK alone. It often does not respond to conventional medical interventions and needs a different kind of approach, but there are many things that you can do to manage your pain yourself with the support of your osteopath, your family and loved-ones. Keeping active, performing exercises and stretches can help, learning to pace your activities so that you don’t trigger a flare-up of your pain as well as setting goals and priorities are all very important and can help you to maintain a fulfilling lifestyle.

For more information on how to manage your persistent pain please contact me.