A blog about the Working Body

Thank you for visiting! This is the blog of Lydia Irons. A Licensed Massage Therapist, Speaker and Consultant who specializes in addressing the physical challenges of farm work. Visit www.theflexiblefarmer.com for more information.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Gnarly Nuggets and Ropey Knots!

Hello all you hard working bodies!

It is summer again and my massage practice is in full swing keeping me busy and sadly away from the blog. I am booked up with farmers, gardeners and other outdoor workers who are suffering from a variety of repetitive stress injuries and general fatigue looking for some relief. If only I could type and massage at the same time... hummmm... Anyway, all that work has inspired today's post!

 I have found that every single one of my clients has been complaining about "knots". Knots in the shoulders, knots in the low back, knots in the calves and even knots in the jaw.  But, what are these knots? What has the muscles all tied up? I have carved out some time to post so I can give you my opinion (that's right only an opinion, the science surrounding muscle knots is still variable and there is even some controversy about what they are and how to treat them). Without further ado, some awesome info on what it is tying your muscles up when you say you have a knot!

The Gnarly Nugget
Some of your muscles may sound like they are MADE of this!
When folks talk about having a "knot" they usually reach up and give the top of their shoulder a squeeze. Feeling for that painful spot that when you put direct pressure on it you hear and feel a 'crunch'.

There are a few different theories as to what these little packing peanuts are, here is the one that seems the most plausible to me: When muscles work they have to move around and over each-other all the while using up fuel (glycogen and oxygen) and producing waste (carbon dioxide, lactic acid, and acid phosphate).

This waste can irritate the muscle fibers and also dehydrate the fascia. So, all this action in the tight space between muscles makes the fibers super bummed(I mean, gosh, I would be!) and they start to get gummed up. That spot where there is so much friction and waste build up causes a small mass of solidified acid and facial adhesion. Voila! A crunchy little knot.

The Tight Rope
What's going on in your tissues is a lot less scary that this!
Often times when I am working on a client my hands will 'bump' over a section of muscle that feels like a rope. Or if they are super bound up like a hunk of of rebar... There is defiantly a debate over whether or not a 'tight' muscle means anything for the overall musculature. I have even read a few studies that say the pain felt in the trapizius can often be coming from the softer parts of the muscle.

What I know is this: If a muscle is holding a contraction when it should be at rest that's an issue.  I like to think of the fibers of the muscles like a hand. An open and relaxed hand is like a muscle at rest and a closed fist is like a muscle contracting.  When a muscle is half contracted (called hypertonic tissue) it's like a hand making a claw shape. It can't quite let go and it can't contract properly either. So, it stays tight sore and forms a rope-like knot.

The Spaz Attack
I just couldn't help myself...hehe
This is the type of "knot" that when a client walks in my treatment room and describes it I have to tell them to take it seriously and rest up. When a muscle becomes tight or knotted up all of a sudden and feels like it is grabbing and gripping it is most likely a spasm.

WebMD defines a spasm as "the involuntary contraction of one ore more muscles." This can happen for a few different reasons: dehydration, lack of electrolytes or hyper extension to name a few. The reason I see most in my office as the cause of this nasty knot is over use and not enough rest to refuel the fibers.

When the muscles are working, contracting and letting go, they use up a lot of fuel. And as they get down to the last resources they start to fatigue. Have ever been doing push ups and you get to the moment where your arms are shaking? That is the fatigue point, your muscles just don't have the resources to keep doing their job any more! So, one safety response from the brain is to send the "Nobody move!" signal to the over worked muscle set. They go on lock-down becoming hard and painful knots.

The more you knooooow
I know what you are thinking, "Great, now I know why my muscles feel like crap. What can I do about it?" There are plenty of ways to avoid  these gnarly knots in your day-to-day work.  And, of course, ways to treat them when you feel that painful little(or big) pull. But, for that info you will have to stay tuned! The next post will be all about keeping your working body as knot free as possible. With tips on how to get rid of and recover from these three types of knots. Leaving you with a cliff hanger is sure to make me post super soon, even if I have to work on knots with one hand and type with the other.
Just kidding!

Thanks for reading and happy summertime to you all!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Happy 2014!

Happy New Year! I cannot believe that 2013 is over and as I look back at the past year, I am amazed.

The news worthy arnica balm!
The Flexible Farmer has seen some serious growth this year. Some of the milestones I am proud of include: moving offices, being hired by NEC to teach more workshops and teaming up with Thyme Herbal to create healing products. The thing I am most proud of and grateful for is all of my incredible massage clients. I am also hoping to make this blog more of a priority in the year to come. To help make that happen I have big news...

I have hired an associate! Marly Shaffer will be joining the T.F.F Team!!!! Marly is an amazing licensed massage therapist who is just as knowledgeable and attuned to anatomy as I am. When I need a massage, I see her. She will be at the Hadley office on Thursday afternoons. Yay!

Lastly, don't forget that over that theflexiblefarmer.com you can find out about more of the programs I offer. There are also many unique and healing products that are helping make T.F.F into a real healing center! Like my Sore Foot Soak, the newsworthy Arnica Balm and tinctures from Thyme Herbal. All of these are for sale in my office and on my website and remember: shipping is always free!

Again, thank you so much for helping to make this year such a success for me. Keep checking back for more info-packed blog posts to come! I am honored to help keep your working body working well.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hydrate! It's a scorch-a out there!

Wholly Summer time! Has it truly been since April that I last posted? Goodness, I really have gone fishing with the last few months. Not to be all excuses but... I did get married. It was a great celebration and I am very happy to be a newly wed!  Let me tell you though, I am so glad to be back to "real life".  And that real life includes keeping up with the ol' blog. So without further ado.....

It has been a very hot July thus far here in the Pioneer Vally. That means that I have been increasingly ending my phone conversations with clients by saying, "Don't forget to drink some water today!" Hydration folks! Lets have a quick chat about water and all the glorious ways it takes care of our working bodies.

Water, water everywhere
Every cell in your body needs water to function and keep everything working properly and efficiently. From your muscle fibers to your brain to your bones, water plays many roles in the body. Water keeps your muscles and joints lubricated so that they can work without friction. Friction can lead to knots and tearing in both structures. Water helps the brain to function, keeping you focused and on task. Water gets rid of the waste that your muscles produce when you work; as a result, you are less likely to feel sore later. Water even helps to regulate body temperature, one reason hydration is so important on hot, hot days. Every part of your body needs and uses water at all times. This also means your are losing water all the time, even breathing causes you to lose water!  So, now we get to the all-important question, "How much water should I be drinking?'

Its all about remembering
My spigot mug
I like the old stand by of 8 glasses of water a day, or the even older stand by of "keep your pee pale." For most people, it's really a game of remembering to drink water. For such an essential part of what your body needs, it can truly be hard to keep up on keeping hydrated. Here are some of my favorite tricks...
Water with meals. Your body is great at reminding you to eat; make this a double reminder and you will be getting water at least 3 times a day.
Before you pee. If you gotta go, glug down some water first!
Water bottles or mugs at your spigots. Most farmers I know have to visit the water spigot a few times
a day.  Recently a client of mine told me he ties a plastic water bottle to the spigot so when he is filling up a bucket he remembers to drink some water. I have been leaving an old coffee mug near ours!
Make it tasty! If you can't seem to get pumped about plain old water, add a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber.

So, what if your day is long and frenzied and you haven't had a drop?

Egads! I do believe I am dehydrated!

Here are some symptoms of dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic:
  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Sleepiness or tiredness
  • Thirst
  • Decreased urine output
  • Headache
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
As with most things I talk about, prevention is the key. You don't want to get to the point where your body is freaking out because you are low on water. You want to keep up with hydration so that nothing in your body has to go dry and risk damage. But, is plain old water enough? Not necessarily...

Now that you have some ideas about staying good and hydrated lets talk for a sec about electrolytes. Basically, these are minerals(salts) that help to keep everything balanced on a cellular level.  Electrolytes keep the right amount of fluid inside and outside cells and conduct the electrical pulses between them. When you have enough electrolytes in your body, it is easier to stay hydrated and you are less likely to suffer from cramps and heat stroke. You lose them when you sweat, so it is extra important to stay on top of on hot days. I'm not a huge fan of sports drinks since they have a ton of sugar and other garbage so, here is a recipe for what we called "Whomp" at my first farm job.  It is simple and will provide your body with a great source of electrolytes.

In a gallon of water stir:
2 tbsp of Apple Cider Vinegar + 2 tbsp Maple Syrup+ 2 tsp Baking Soda+ 2 tsp Sea Salt
(you can mess with this to your liking or look up other homemade mixes, there are tons out there!)

Ok, I feel better about all you out there sweating and working in the hot sun. I will most likely keep telling folks to drink water whenever I can and maybe even direct them to this post.  As always feel free to contact me with any questions or ideas about posts you would like to read. All the best and happy hydrating!!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thawing out! 3 moves for a great warm up

Hello to all of you getting back in the field! Even though it was freezing here this morning I am still confident that Spring is here. The thaw has come, the daffodils are up and the first green things have made their brave appearance over the mulch.  It is time to warm up, get moving and start this growing season off right.  That brings us to todays post, thawing out!

I have mentioned in previous posts about the importance of warming up to get your body ready to work and today I will give you the 3 moves that make a great warm up for the working body. For a refresher on why warming up is important check out "Nine ways to be nice to your Knees!" It's number one.

Before you start these warm-ups find level ground to stand on and remember to only use the things I describe as a guide for your body, if something feels painful stop.  Annnnnd you may want to find a place none of the crew can see you. These warm ups are dynamic and a great way to get the blood flowing but...may look a little silly. Personally I like to do warm ups in public places because then I can tell people all about what I am doing and why!

Warm-up move #1) Running in place without the running
Some readers asked for diagrams so... I  drew these for you!

I am a big fan of running in place and the old jumping jack. But, when it comes right down to it this can be hard on your knees and ankels. So this warm-up will get your blood flowing and your heart rate up without pounding on your knees. It does require good balance so, if this is a concern for you, put your
back to a wall or fence post or truck. Do one on each side slow and see how it suits you before going all out.

Start with your feet hip width apart. Reach your right hand straight into the air. Keeping your back straight bring your opposite knee up and at the same time bring your elbow down to touch it across your body. If your hips are tight and they don't touch that is ok, just make sure you don't curl over your upper back to try and make it. Bring your arm back up and your foot back down and then after a second(literally one second) do it over again. Do 8 on one side 8 on the other!

Warm-up move #2) The twisty lunge!

Lunges are a great way to warm up your legs and core. A lot of warm-ups start this way because getting once the muscles in the back of the legs "wake up" it is easier to access their power potential.  By adding a gentle twist to the spine you warm up your low back as well.

Start with your feet hip width apart. Step one foot back behind you as far as is comfortable, keeping a slight bend in the knee. With your front leg bend your knee deeply. You will feel the stretch in your calf and in your quad. Now place your hands on your bent leg and twist gently from lower in your back in that direction. Keep your shoulders down and hips level. Take a deep breath, hold for 30 seconds and then come back to center slowly. Repeat on the other side!

Warm-up move #3) The chicken stretch

I feel like every time I have taken a second to watch chickens one of them will get into a super satisfying looking stretch. These two stretches done together remind me of that! They are a great way
warm-up the upper back, chest and arms.

Interlace your fingers in front of you. Drop your chin to your chest and turning your palms out, push your arms away from you and far as is comfortable for your elbows. Hold for 30 seconds then bring your arms back and slowly lift your head up. Now, clasp your arms behind you and keeping your head level and shoulder blades down pull back. Hold for 30 and then shake your arms out.

There you go! Now that you are all warm your body can work more efficiently and effectively. As always, if you have any questions or ideas shoot me an email flexiblefarmer@gmail.com.  Until next time!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Working through the stress of Spring

A (completely non-stress inducing) sign of spring

              We are having one more winter blast here in Western MA. I have been dreaming of nothing but spring for the past two weeks and it seems like it is the same for my clients.  But, where I am having lazy thoughts of planting a flower box and hiking without a mountain of layers on, my clients are worrying about seedlings and hoop houses that where destroyed in the snow.  Other folks feel the weight of the winter lift as the snow melts, most farmers (and a majority of my farmy type clients) are gearing up for the stress-fest that is the start of the season.

 I have been told about an array of ways that stress is affecting my clients bodies. From small things like tighter feeling shoulders to the more frightening like early morning dry heaves.  Stress has real effects on your physical wellbeing and it can take a tole on you.  The flight or fight response is built to adjust what is happening inside your body so you don't say, get mauled by a wildebeest.  Your adrenaline goes up, your muscles tense, your blood vessels constrict and you can run from the wildebeest. But, if the wildebeest is really the fact that you are 3 days behind on your planting schedule and the order of plastic to patch a whole in the hoop house hasn't come in and you are worried its going to rain...your body remains in this state that was only ment to be for short bursts.  And so we come to the topic of todays post, how to beat that stress and not let it take over your body. Lets walk through a few ways you can calm yourself down when you say, walk out the door and find a crisis. (If you are looking for more every day changes to make look to previous posts for stretches and exercises.)

You wake up and the sun is just barley lighting your path. The list of things you need to do is tremendous and how you are going to make it through yet another spring is beyond you. You come to the barn to find a crisis, something broken, frozen or dead. Your whole body stiffens and you are about to......

Ok, first off lets talk about breathing, I know we have been over this one in past posts but it bears repeating. When you take a deep breath, and I mean a deep breath where your belly expands and your ribs part, you are pulling your diaphragm down.  This action is amazing, not only because a good inhale can seem to take forever but, also because it tricks you into calming down weather you realize it our not.  Heres why, your diaphragm is a "smooth muscle" this means it is a muscle that contracts and stretches subconsciously.  Smooth muscle, like your heart and your intestines, will work without you telling them too and in fact if your tried to think them into stopping they wouldn't.  Though these muscles work on there own they still need some guidance from the nervous system as to what is going on in the world of you so, they have a direct link and will respond to weather you are in fight or flight or in rest and digest. Your diaphragm is linked up to your central nervous system in the same way but, you can controle it. So, when you take that deep breath you are essentially overriding a small part of your CN. Telling it to switch from "Oh crap, a wildebeest!" to "What a lovely nap I am taking" and thus you calm yourself down on a deep neurological level.

Now, you are calmed down and you dont feel like you are going to explode all over the flats waiting to be seeded. It's time to boost your endorphins and burn off the cortizol that bubbled up.  The best way to do this is through some physical exertion. You've heard of the "runners high"? Well what that is is when the flood of endorphins that are released by exercise reaches a critical mass and it makes you feel extra euphoric and...well...high.  You don't have to run a marathon to get a little bit of extra endorphins, just moving about whatever task is at hand with a quickness or dropping down to do a few push-ups will do the trick. Keep your breath even and deep and get your blood flowing and you'll burn off the stress hormone cortizol and release a few extra endorphins that will help to pick your mood up.

The mighty beast of stress
Ok, does that crisis look so dire now? It might but, at least you are in a place that you can deal with it. And that brings up to the last tip, organizing your thoughts and dealing with the problem at hand.  This may sound like the most fru-fru of the tips so far but, hear me out. You have brought your central nervous system out of panic and gotten the good hormones flowing now you need to re-set your brain.  In a study on how stress effets rats one of the things sited was short term memory loss due to cortizol, the effect seemed to last until the rats where distracted. Managing your thoughts is a tool used by many who suffer from severe anxiety attacks and can really help to get your brain to stop sending "WIDEBEEST!" messages. So, organize your mental space into things you can do right now, things you can do later today and things that are beyond your control and you need to let go(oh, say that snow that is stating to come down). This way you give your brain a distraction and a way to cope with the stress all in one. And hey, if the things you can do list is super long remember you did this last year and you can do it again. Even better! Because this year you will know how to work though the stress of Spring.

I hope this helps you as we move into the 2013 growing season. As always feel free to contact me with questions at info@theflexiblefarmer.com or leave a comment here. 'Til next time, happy spring!


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winter body care!

The winter body-care workshop at NOFA
Hello out there to all my frosty farmer friends! As I sit down to write this post I can not believe it is the 24th of the month already. Not just of any month but the first month of the new year no less.  Wasn't I just  at the NOFA summer conference? No? That was months ago you say. Well, it must be true because as I look out my window all I see is snow.

As a matter of fact I just returned from the NOFA winter conferince where I presented a workshop on keeping your body strong through the winter. It is a fun workshop that I have presented before and it is very based in what the participants want to know.  The workshop centers around what tasks you find the most challenging when you start the season and how you can maintain the strength and/or flexibility you gain after you have done this task all summer long. One thing that was surprising about this group was that even though their farming background, ages and body types where drastically different than the folks in the same workshop that I presented for CISA a few months earlier the body issues where the same.  So, todays post I want to talk about the two things both groups came up with; keeping up their core strength through the winter and keeping the flexibility of a forward bend in their low backs and legs.

 Core strength is a big one and I feel like, for my body, it is the first thing to go if I am not out working. And it seems that this is true for a lot of farmers, not only did both groups think of and discuss core strength many folks struggle with it all season long. But, what exactly is your "core"?  The core of your body are the muscles that wrap around your mid-section like a cumber-bun(remember those?!) such as the abdominal  obliques and the muscles of the deep low back.  Taking it one step further your core also consists of the muscles that are deep within the workings of your body like the diaphragm   There are over 15 muscles involved in this group and they all work together to do tasks like lifting.

There where a few exercises that both groups came up with to keep their core muscles strong the first was intentional breathing. By taking a deep breath in and allowing your lungs to fill and your belly to expand you are pulling your diaphragm down. Then as you breathe out you tighten the muscles of your abs back to your spine, starting with the ones under your belly button and moving up to the ones under your ribs. This is a great way to gently ingage your core muscles as well as calm your central nervous system. The second exercise was more active. Starting on your hands and knees bring your back into a neutral position(not arched or sunken) bring one arm up and point it straight out like super man. Lower that arm back to the floor and then bring the opposite leg out behind you and strech it stright back, parallel to the floor.  Repeat this on the other side and then if you are feeling stable and would like more of a challenge bring up and stretch out the opposite leg and arm at the same time. The Mayo Clinic has a great description of this exercise with photos here. Both of these exercises can help to keep the core engaged enough through the winter that come spring your mid-body isn't so atrophied your poor back has to do all the work.

The other body issue that both groups have is that the back of the legs tighten up dramatically over the winter. For this both groups came up with stretches, as aposed to strengthening exercises, and they came up with a LOT of them! I have narrowed it down to the two that overlapped and remember to only stretch a warm muscle.  The first of the two is a modified lunge stretch that can very in the depth of the lunge.   Stand about 3 feet away from a wall, put both hands on the wall at shoulder hight and width. Then step one leg out behind you and put your heel down on the ground. Lean in toward the wall and push away to give the calf a great stretch, hod it for 45 seconds and then repeat on the other side.  The second was a seated stretch that lengthens the hamstrings.  Sit on the floor with your feet flexed flat(you can put your feet on a wall to help with this). Slowly lean forward from your hips with your back straight until you feel the stretch  Make sure not to round your back, hold for 30 seconds and come up slow.  This stretch directly mimics a the forward bend that so many in the workshops said was the hardest thing for them when the season started back up.

Both of these activities are simple and straight to the point. It seamed that one other thing both groups had in common was that they needed stretches and strengthening exercises that where simple enough that they where not time consuming and effective enough that they could feel good about doing them. All four of the activities above are both effective and straight forward. By just spending a few minutes each minutes in the morning or evening on keeping your body strong and flexible over the winter will make a world of difference when the season starts back up. I hope this helps you keep your working body strong through the rest of this cold cold winter!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hello out there! 
A flexible farmer at the 2012 NOFA summer conference 
As you may have noticed I have been MIA for most of the month of August.  I have been very busy in the other two realms of my business: presenting body care and injury prevention workshops and being a massage therapist at my office in Hadley Massachusetts.  The biggest engagement this month was the NOFA Summer Conference in Amherst. Hundreds of farmers come for 3 days of workshops, vendors and networking. I had a blast at the conference and as a result of my chair massage booth I have been seeing more and more clients at my office.

Though this has caused me to miss quite a few Saturdays of posts, it has also been a great month of connecting with farmers and other trades people who had great questions, suggestions and stories about the physicality of their work.  Head over to my FaceBook page, http://www.facebook.com/theflexiblefarmer
for some great photos of my booth and some of the flexible farmers I met!

 In meeting, teaching and massaging farmers from all over New England I got to hear about the different aspects of farming that cause them to have aches and pains. This has given me lots of new ideas for what I can share with you so, I am glad to return to my blog.

The next few posts will be on a few areas of the body that I haven't covered such as, tips for the wrist, chest and the back of the legs.  I also will be posting on body care habits and helpful hints for different tasks on the farm like, how to make your morning on the tractor more bearable or what to do if it's hard on your knees to get up and down.  In this way I hope to address some of the common problems and mistakes that folks where asking about in my workshops.

If you have any ideas or questions you would like me to address in the up coming posts feel free to e-mail me at info@ theflexiblefarmer.com.
Hope your August was as great as mine and I look forward to a fall of wonderful posts!