Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why is this chair in my living room?

...because it's too nice and awesome to be out on the back deck!

Frequently, clients ask me what are some things that they can do during the course of their busy day to alleviate neck, shoulder, low back, and hip pain in between massage therapy sessions.  Many of these clients are workers whose jobs require them to spend long hours sitting at a desk performing various tasks at a computer.  And as you may have guessed, sitting long hours in hip flexion can produce chronic muscle tension and pain all over the body.  As Dr. Natalie Thomas, DPT of In Motion O.C. in Irvine California states,

"Prolonged sitting shortens the hip flexors, the muscles in the front of the hips. When you stand, these shortened muscles change the position of the pelvis… so the spine, which connects to the pelvis, becomes compromised… the chain of imbalances continues up the spine to the neck… and the head juts forward as the body tries to balance itself.  The body was not meant to be in that position, so back pain is inevitable."

Most chairs as they are typically designed have flat, perpendicular, and upright backs with flat seats.  I've always found this interesting, since nowhere in the human body will you find a completely flat surface.  Of course, it isn't economical to mass produce furniture for the workplace that respects the laws of ergonomics.  Case in point, the chair on the right in the picture below is manufactured by a Finnish company that retails for around $800.

Now wouldn't it be fantastic if everyone's work station could look like this?  The benefits of a saddle-seat configuration (as in the Salli chair above) come from a seat surface that allows the hips to drop, thereby allowing the spine to maintain its natural position in space.  As you can see, the lumbar spine's curve is preserved, which in turn causes the head, neck, and shoulders to maintain their alignment over the pelvis. This position, in turn, reduces work of the erector spinae muscles (your back muscles) from constantly firing and trying tirelessly in vain to hold your trunk upright all day painlessly while at work.

So what if you do have a plain old regular chair that your workplace requires you to sit on for 8-ish hours a day?  Well, you can at least change the way you do work at home or relax better once you're away from the job.  And you don't need a fancy $3000 recliner to do it, either!

So let's get back to the picture at the beginning of this post: the zero-gravity chair (sometimes called the anti-gravity chair).  This summer, as I was on a random shopping trip at REI, there was one such chair out on display next to all the camping tents. And I've read and heard about these chairs before, but never actually tried one out.  So after flopping into the floor model, I leaned back in the chair and reclined to its maximum level.  A moment of clarity overcame me, and I finally realized what's wrong with furniture these days.  Couches are a soft and cushy version of your workspace and they are really no better than that upright office chair that's supposed to be good for your back.  So since that moment, I've been hooked and a believer.  But I'm here to tell you, this style of chair and the concepts behind its benefits are rooted in science of the NASA kind.  I don't know about you, but I happen to enjoy discovering products whose origins arose from the ingenuity of space geeks.

In the early 1980's, NASA conducted a series of experiments to determine the exact position the human body assumes when suspended in zero-gravity conditions.  They found that this position is the body's natural resting position, and it affords exceptional relief from lower back stress due to the decreased amount of force and pressure inflicted upon the spinal discs.  An added side benefit from having your weight evenly distributed and your feet elevated is less work on your heart and better circulation.  

This is from the BackSaver.com website:

The Zero-Gravity technology is credited to the scientists and doctors at NASA and was utilized in the space program to reduce the amount of compressional forces exerted on the spine by the extreme speed at which the astronauts blast into space. During take-off, astronauts recline with their feet higher than their hearts with a torso-to-leg angle of 128 degrees +/- 7 degrees, the "Zero-Gravity" position (also referred to as the body’s “neutral” position and the “90/90” position).
The reason Zero Gravity is a preferred posture for astronauts is any slight amount of disc compression will be exemplified by the speed and force of take off. Normal sitting postures can load 150 pounds of compression into the lower back, while standing can load 100 pounds of compression, and lying in a horizontal position can load 25 pounds of compression. Even a minor back or spinal disc problem can be exacerbated with 25 pounds of compression.

Zer-gravity chairs then mimick the postures of the astronauts.  These recliners can reduce or eliminate the pressure that will cause spinal disc compression while sitting. This chair positions a person into a no-compression or Zero-Gravity posture by assuming the ideal angles of the torso to the leg the same way NASA positions the astronauts.

The recliners are designed to relieve the body of the pressures that cannot be relieved in a standing, seated or laying position or with other recliners that position the torso parallel to the horizon. The spine is allowed to unload the compressional forces with a ZGR by raising the lower legs above the heart which has the following benefits:

  • Less pressure on the spine

  • Reduced muscle tension

  • Less pressure on the heart and expanded lung capacity

  • Increased circulation and increased blood oxygen levels

And it makes sense too; when astronauts are about to blast off into space, many precautions need to be taken in order to prevent injury, since their bodies are exposed to sudden and intense changes in the force of gravity and G- forces.  This is why they are strapped into their space capsule seats in such a similar fashion.

When you think about it a different way, each hour you find yourself slumped over your desk and you add that up in months and years, you are essentially subjecting your neck and back muscles to a cumulative, slow-motion space liftoff that most certainly has the propensity to cause injury.  Gravity never takes a vacation from traveling down your spine as long as you are relatively upright.  So I kind of figured sitting in a position known as "anti-gravity" would provide your muscles with the relief they so desperately need, since a stationary floor stretch known as "static back" more or less mimics this position. Static back, a popular and effective posture "exercise" (I call it that in quotations, because it is doing a whole lot by not really doing a lot, if that makes any sense) that causes back muscles to release while allowing the upper back to fall into extension (the opposite of contraction).  It takes some torque out of your hips while letting your body fully relax into a more symmetrical balanced position.  

For an interesting and related article that has an accompanying short demo that helpfully explains a little more about this concept and takes it a little further, click here.

Is this you?  Your plush, leather, and probably expensive designer couch may look like a nice addition to your living room, but there are smarter ways to maximize your relaxation time.  Not to mention, less painful.  When you come home from work and are dog-tired and want to do nothing but slouch on the couch, think about what you are doing to your muscles and bones; isn't eight hours of bad posture enough for one day?  Give your back the break it is crying for and even do some computer work without further exacerbating the strain by substituting your favorite Lazy Boy with a zero-gravity chair.  Here are a few examples of some styles out there:

The bottom one looks pretty kick-ass, doesn't it?  In fact, I would design all workplaces to look like this if I was in charge.  What is so wrong with having workers comfortable and pain-free?  Imagine how much production levels would increase if strain was eliminated and out of the picture.  The price, unfortunately, for a few of these models might rival that of a small automobile. But I know that you can get the same effect with the basic steel-framed and nylon-upholstered outdoor version for less than $100.  In fact, since this version of the chair is considered a seasonal item, you can take advantage of end-of-summer clearance sales like I did and maybe even score one for under 50 bucks!

So why is this chair in my living room?  Here's why:  I'm not super rich, and I put my zero-gravity chair (which looks pretty close to this one)

up to a field test at the beach.  Several times.  Not once did I feel the need to get up and stretch, feel sore, complain, whine, or experience discomfort like that when one is slouched on the couch during an entire 4-hour stretch of serious book reading.  In fact, I could have laid in this chair all day.  Nothing began to ache, and I never felt the sensation that I needed to incessantly crack something.  My back kept wondering why it was so fortunate to catch such a nice break for such a long period of time.  Gravity is taken out of the picture in a vertical sense here, so it really is a matter of physics.  And I love physics!  So before you run out and get yourself a new furniture set (essentially, a good-looking bad idea, kind of like high-heeled shoes), especially if it's not in your budget, you can run out to Kohl's or even the dollar store and score yourself what gets my endorsement (posture-wise) as the greatest chair ever.  And if anyone comes over and laughs in skeptical disbelief, tell 'em to see--or should I say--lay, for themselves.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Can't sleep? Then CHILL OUT!

(This guy knows what's up.)

Last night for dinner, I decided to use a coupon very close to its expiry date for an Ethiopian restaurant nearby.  In order to use up the entire value, we figured it would be a good idea to order a few beers and some homemade honey wine. Dinner seemed to take a little longer than usual to come out of the kitchen.  Not a problem, so we enjoyed the ambience and imbibed on the delicious spirits available.  Eventually, we began our feast and subsequently filled up sufficiently on quite a few different kinds of awesome vegetarian and meat dishes, but just as quickly, our mild alcohol buzz soon advanced into substantial tipsy-ness.  My dinner partner then decided it'd be a great idea to order a little post-dinner pot of classic Ethiopian coffee--you know, the kind that comes in those cute little cups.

Well, the amount of coffee we ingested didn't seem that bountiful at the time, but we soon realized just how much caffeine the dark and tasty liquid contained.  After just a tiny cup or two, we began to bounce off the walls, and soon realized the time was getting close to 10pm!  We made it home on public transportation, thankfully, but wow, a nighttime caffeine buzz really can intimidate any sluggishness alcohol produces rather hastily.

Later at home, figuring I'd be awake for quite a while, I decided to make a dent in my goal of reading the entire Walking Dead comic book series.  While flipping through the pages wide-eyed in the dark, I remembered something I read about a natural remedy for insomnia a few months back, as I knew I wouldn't be catching any z's for a while.  While it is my fault for inducing this bout of temporary sleeplessness with a powerful stimulant, I didn't want to counter it with an artificial and equally-powerful sleep aid.  

So I Googled what I recall from the study about cooling your head to get to sleep and found the following:

"Scientists from the University of Pittsburgh presented research at this [June of 2011] month's Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, or SLEEP, conference showing that a non-pharmaceutical sleeping cap that cools down the brain was able to get insomniacs to sleep as quickly as, and as long as, healthy sleepers."  

Read more HERE.  Or, another version HERE.

Researchers have found that insomnia sufferers fell asleep quickly and enjoyed a restful night after being fitted with a special cap containing cold water.  They believe that lowering the temperature of the brain slows its activity and so aids rest.  

Now obviously adding caffeine to the mix would sort of add a variable to the study that might distort the findings of researchers, but either way, I added a bag of ice to my forehead, and within the hour, I finally made it to slumberland--synthetic sleep-aid free.

So really, for better health, it seems like everyone just needs to CHILL OUT!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Study works out kinks in understanding of massage

Scientists identify the mechanism behind the therapy’s benefits, comparing biopsies to show that the interaction with muscle proteins reduces inflammation and helps cells recover.

(Or, more justification for the elimination of ibuprofen, etc.)

Read this exciting story HERE.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How massage is being used in health care

Here's a great article that sums up how I feel about massage.  I have never worked in a spa because I believe massage therapy is health care and not just a luxury.  Click the picture to read...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sometimes, I seem to find the comments section of an article more informative and interesting than the article itself.  See for yourself; here's a great piece on fibromyalgia:

Fibromyalgia Syndrome: Mystery Pain Explained

When I began reading this, it had already garnered 502 comments, so obviously people have something to say about this condition. (Or would you call it a disease?)

Monday, December 12, 2011

When will it be curtains for airport scanners here?

I don't normally go off on tangential rants of the political variety on the record, but this topic has kept my blood simmering ever since I started thinking about the different variety of comedy and tragedy acts currently on tour in America's security theatre after reading about the ban of airport x-ray scanners across Europe last month. (EU Bans Airport X-Ray ScannersOver Health Concerns)

I still can't believe these machines are in use at our airports. When I see news stories like this, it just adds fuel to the fire in the argument that new technologies or advances in human convenience occur only because there are dollar signs involved.  The safety, welfare, and communal benefit of everyday people once again takes a backseat to a big wig profiteering somehow over a concept that had a big enough advertising budget to scare people into sacrificing their precious DNA in the name of security.  Or maybe the whole shoving of the body scanners down our throats (or should we say, pants) was and still is, nothing more than a power trip the top percent use to essentially communicate to everyone just how much money can and will talk.

As you may recall, in 2005, Michael Chertoff, as head of Homeland Security, ordered the first batch of porno scanners from a company called Rapiscan Systems. After his departure, Chertoff gave dozens of interviews using his government credentials to promote the device. What he didn’t tell people was that Rapiscan was one of the clients of his consulting company, The Chertoff group.   So the government gave Chertoff’s business clients a $350 million contract to rush the machines into U.S. airports.  What's good for the USA is just fine to be imposed on the rest of the world, right?  We like to think we know everything.

Well, at least in Europe, not anymore bub.  Just as Germany excommunicated Walmart from their land about 5 years ago, so did the European Union decide to ban airport x-ray scanners over health concerns.  Walmart showed itself out of Germany's doors because things were inadvertently done the the "Walmart Way" without enough consideration for local customs, among other reasons.  For example, Wal-Mart offered services such as grocery bagging. It turned out that Germans didn't want strangers handling their groceries. And when clerks followed orders to smile at shoppers, male customers took it as a come-on.  Imagine: a peoples' victory-over CUSTOMS!  But the issue at hand involves a lot more than just local customs; this is your life and death we are talking about, not just what is offensive at an observational level.  Shouldn't that be enough for a recall of these machines?  This is so outrageous.  

So the EU bans the airport porno scanners over health concerns.  Or should I say, BECAUSE of health concerns. Health concerns, oddly enough, seem to rule a little more heavy-handedly across the ocean than they do here.  In May of this year, Mother Jones dared to ask, "Why won't TSA make its scanners available for independent scientific assessment—the same kind of assessment required for medical imaging machines?"  In other words, why can't the American public see what the risks to their health are before being forced to stand in one of these machines?  It isn't difficult to suppose that obviously, they have something quite substantial to hide.  As Mother Jones stated, ..." the independent testing of the safety of these specific scanners has not been rigorous nor has it been held to the standards usually associated with new devices before approval for utilization in the public sector."  The same logic that the FDA and pharmaceutical companies use could apply here. It's cheaper for corporations to pay fines for accidental deaths and injuries than to do the actual 3rd party testing to see if a product is indeed safe for consumption or use. 

After all, it was only 7 years ago that Merck withdrew the drug Vioxx after disclosures that it withheld information about its risks from doctors and patients for over five years, resulting in between 88,000 and 140,000 cases of serious heart disease. And all of it in the name of profit:  In the year before withdrawal, Merck had sales revenue of US$2.5 billion from Vioxx.  Slick advertising coupled with a very large budget does a great job of selling the American people things they think they need, healthy or not.

So now I have to wonder, how many TSA workers, frequent fliers, or the incidental one-time flier will get cancer this year from filing through airport "security"?  The message here is simply this: Get your information from reliable, 3rd-party sources to make your own decisions about your health.  Of course, there's no disputing scientific facts, but you have to sometimes dig to get what you're looking for.  And opt out, if you must.  If everyone chooses a pat-down, we'll start making progress as a collective and angry bunch of airline passengers.

So when will it be curtains for airport scanners here?