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Why is my neck so tight? (and other concerns)

by admin

Lately, I have been working with a number of different types of athletes and one of the most common complaints I hear about is overly tight neck muscles.  This is a common complaint from athletes and non athletes alike.  I see this over, and over… and over, so I began to question why.

What do all of these people have in common?  How can they all have the same problem when they come from such different backgrounds?  How can young athletes lack this much range of motion in their neck already?  So, I hit the books and found an answer that everyone should hear!

Many athletes these days begin to specialize in a single sport with specific movement patterns at a very young age.  And so the problem begins.  Their sport of choice has them moving through the movement patterns specific to that sport before the children have fully grasped how to move properly in a normal, non-sport setting.  This is also often happening before they have mastered the oh-so-important stabilization techniques that should take place with these movements.  As a result, some of these children begin to compensate in other ways to get the stabilization they require.  Rather than being taught how to be strong and stable by using their core or proper posture, they begin to take short cuts and find other ways to get the stabilization they require, setting their future selves up for some serious movement issues.

I’ve been covering a lot football of all ages over the last few months and am astonished by what the youngest kids are being taught.  They are doing the same strength training drills as the older players, but they lack the bodily control and formal training in how to properly perform each drill.  They end up looking like a bunch of floppy puppies trying to get through the drills with the best compensations they can come up with at 5 years old.  These compensations include full push-ups with bums in the air and absolutely no core activation, sit-ups where each child is wrenching on their neck in order to get all the way up, chair holds against the wall with completely straight legs and all of their weight on their arms, and the list goes on and on.  These poorly executed exercises are unable to strengthen the appropriate muscles and are encouraging poor movement patterns from the age of 5!  If you are a coach of any young athlete, I implore you to please teach your athletes proper techniques and movement patterns from the start!

Back to the problem of tight necks.  Can you guess where this is going?  All of these athletes have a weak core and muscle imbalances!  (this may not be true for all tight necks, if your neck is bothering you, get it checked by your local Athletic Therapist!)

As mentioned in my previous post about the importance of core stabilization, it is of the utmost importance that all athletes and non athletes gain control over their core in order for everything else to function properly.  With a properly stabilized spine your “mover” muscles get the chance to do their actual job–moving your body!

If you remember back to the last post, I told you the core is comprised of the transverse abdominus, multifidus, pelvic floor, and diaphragm.

core musclesTVA

 

 

 

 

Instead of these very important core muscles contracting first to stabilize their spine, these athletes have learned to first contract their necks!  Can you imagine?  It seems like a very inefficient way to attempt spinal stabilization.

For example, I recently assessed a runner with chronic leg tightness.  When I was testing the strength of specific leg muscles, I kept noticing that her head would lift off of the pillow in an attempt to hold her leg against my pressure.  She was quite clearly compensating for a weak core and since this method is quite inefficient, she was unstable and still tested weak in the muscle tests.

I am a firm believer in a whole body rehab program.  If you come to me with a sore shoulder/knee/ankle/etc., you will not only be leaving with strength exercises for your injured area, but also core exercises and any other exercise I deem fit to make you a better overall athlete.  In all of my clients who have actually done their homework (yes, some people don’t do it, can you believe that!?), I can notice a huge difference each week as their core strength improves.  They are able to do more and get more out of each exercise, and they also begin to feel less of the random tightness in their necks/shoulders/hips/etc.

If you find that you consistently have a tight neck for no reason, maybe try working on your core strength with the exercises from the previous post.  If you have neck pain though, make an appointment with your local Athletic Therapist to make sure that everything is as it should be.

As a side note:

I am also a firm believer in multi-sport upbringings for children with specialization later on.  If your young child can try out a number of different sports, they can benefit in so many different ways.

Each sport has different required movement patterns and drills, which will help your son/daughter become a well rounded athlete.  If they get the opportunity to run and kick a soccer ball, they can translate these skills over to rugby and football and possibly become the best kicker on the team!  If they play rugby and learn how to tackle without shoulder pads and a helmet, they may use the safe tackling skills in football and save their necks/heads.  If they take dance lessons, they may be able to balance better while skating and therefore move faster on the ice.

Every sport can be broken down into the same fundamental movements.  It all just depends on how you focus on those movement patterns to meet the demands of the chosen sport.  The more variety you have, the better options you give yourself when deciding what your next move will be.

 

 

 

How to Maintain and Prevent Dance Injuries

by admin

Hello!

I had been asked by Alana at Guelph Performance Therapy to write a guest blog post about the maintenance and prevention of dance injuries, so I thought I’d share it with my readers too! My area of expertise in the Athletic Therapy world is with dancers and their injuries.  During my childhood and teenage years, I was a competitive dancer which has given me the insight and experience to better help my dance clients. I’m so excited to talk about dance injuries because it allows me to bring my two passions—dance and Athletic Therapy–together into one topic! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!  But, please be aware that it’s kind of a long one.

When you think of athletes, dancers probably don’t pop into your mind. This is unfortunate, because dancers are athletes who pour their mind, body, and soul into a passion for their sport, not unlike football, hockey, or rugby players. If young dancers are at a high level, they can be at the studio upwards of 4 hours per day, and professional dancers spend even more time in the studio!

For young dancers, their time spent dancing is outside of the hours spent in school and on homework, they may even have a part time job to work around. Can you imagine the physical and mental toll this can put on their body? For this reason, a major factor in dance injuries is fatigue. These athletes are so passionate about perfecting their jumps, turnout, or pirouettes that they don’t take the needed time off for recovery. In the grand scheme of things, this is not the best way to improve your performance. But we’ll come back to this in a few minutes.

Now, we all know that dancers are known for being extremely flexible and graceful, but a common misconception is that they aren’t “real athletes”. Dance takes an incredible amount of strength, control, agility, and balance, which often brings along the typical types of injuries you’d see in sports. The most common injuries seen in dancers include:

  • Muscle spasm

  • Strains/sprains in the lower extremity and back

  • Overuse injuries such as tendonosis

  • Chronic fatigue

Typically, when dancers sustain these injuries, they tend to “dance through the pain” rather than going to their local Athletic Therapist for an appropriate dance specific rehab program—shameless self promotion! In some instances, the dancers seek help from a therapist who doesn’t specialize in dance. This can lead to frustration and a non-committal attitude to their rehab program because they feel misunderstood and don’t see the relevance in the exercises or advice given–I’m speaking from first hand experience here. For this reason, it is my opinion that the most important step in treating and maintaining your dance injuries is to seek help from an appropriate medical professional that knows and understands the demands of dance.

The second most important piece of injury prevention advice I can give is for every dancer to ensure that he/she has a very strong core. I don’t mean the “hey, check out my six pack” type of “core” that you may be thinking of. I mean the deep deep muscles that stabilize your spine and keep everything in control, so all of your other muscles can do their jobs.

Do you know what I’m talking about? If not, don’t worry, I’m going to tell you!

Your core is comprised of some very deep muscles that attach to your spine and are within your abdominal cavity. See how this can be confused with that awesome six pack you’ve got going on?

If you were to look even deeper, under that six pack, you’d find a broad flat muscle that wraps around you like a weight lifter’s belt, called transverse abdominus. This is what most people are talking about when they say “core.” 

But wait! There’s more to it than that! You also have to consider the small group of muscles that run up and down each side of your spine on the back side, called multifidus. They control the rotational stability between individual vertebrae and assist in extension of the spine. Then there is the pelvic floor and diaphragm which create the “floor” and “roof” of the entire functional unit we like to call your core. If you picture these muscles contracting together, they theoretically create a small, dense cylindrical shape within your abdominal cavity which is your “core.”

Now, consider this example: dancers require excellent strength in their hip flexors and surrounding muscles to lift their nice straight leg, with a beautifully pointed foot, high up in front of them and gracefully hold it there for what seems like an eternity. But let’s pretend this particular dancer has a weak core and is struggling to hold her leg for a few seconds at an eye-soring level of just above 90 degrees—oh my!

Part of the struggle here is because her core muscles are not working with her in this position to stabilize her spine so her hip flexors can do their job. In a lot of cases, the hip flexor (specifically psoas major in this case) is left to split it’s task between stabilizing the lumbar spine that it’s attached to and lifting the leg into forward flexion. Since this muscle’s main job is to bring the leg into hip flexion, it really struggles when you ask it to do both.

Maintaining a strong core is so so SO important for dancers to be able to do the movements required of them. I’ve also been reading up about how a weak core can cause chronic neck tightness in dancers (and other athletes), so keep your eyes peeled for a blog on this soon!

If you want a more in depth explanation of how important your core is, read my previous blog post about it!

Another important aspect of maintenance for dancers is ensuring proper breaks from dance. See? I told you we’d come back to this. You probably thought I forgot, didn’t you?

“Take breaks from dance” is meant in two ways, full out rest OR do something else for a while. Yes, you should schedule down time into your busy schedule! Everyone should, it’s good for your mental health and gives your body some time to recover from the demands you place on it.

Taking a break from dance doesn’t always have to mean complete rest and doesn’t mean it needs to be for an extended time! Cross training is an important aspect for any athlete and is equally important for dancers. 

In the studio, a dancer works a lot on technique, plyometrics, and agility but there isn’t much strength or cardiovascular training. For this reason, it is very important that dancers build in time for cross training, which also gives them a little break from too much dancing—yeah right, there’s no such thing, right? Wrong! Build “dance breaks” into your schedule, it will help you to stay fresh, strong, and avoid over training.

There have been many research articles suggesting that strength training is quite helpful with injury prevention for dancers, and if it’s done properly there will be no major muscle bulking, which is what every dancer is trying to avoid. In fact, it helps to ensure that every muscle is working to it’s full capacity, therefore you can jump higher, lift higher, dance longer, and look great while you’re doing it! 

I’ve also been reading that the Fartlek Interval Training method is the most highly recommended method for dancers looking to work on their cardio endurance—you should all want to do this, it will help your performance immensely! Think about it. Try and schedule some cross training into your life and you’ll see the positive effects on your performance both in class and on stage. Maybe you’ll even finally get that solo you’ve been working so hard for!

Also, please consider your ankles when strengthening! If you’re planning on starting pointe or already are en pointe, keep working on that ankle strength! And I don’t mean just sitting on the floor with a theraband pointing and dorsiflexing your ankle. You need weight bearing, functional, ballet specific movements to be strong enough to be successful! Ask your teacher for advice, or you could ask your local, friendly, Athletic Therapist–there it is again ;)–for some dance specific training exercises to get you started.

The last thing I’ll mention is that you NEED to take care of your feet! Just like musicians have to take care of their hands, dancers need to care for their feet! This means:

  • Keep your toe nails short and cut straight across—a curved cut can leave you prone to ingrown nails and nobody wants that

  • Don’t wear coloured nail polish on your toes all of the time—you won’t be able to easily see if you’re having any of the typical dancers foot problems

  • Look after your calluses, they aren’t all bad—don’t file them off unless they are becoming too big and cumbersome/painful and interfering with your dancing. They protect you from unnecessary blisters and abrasions

  • Be sure to keep your blisters clean and covered—there are products and methods that can help reduce friction on a blister or blister prone area. Ask your dance teachers for advice, they know what you’re going through!

  • If you find that you are getting blisters often, even after your shoes are broken in, consider going back to the store and being refitted. Chances are, your shoes aren’t right for you. Maybe you need a different shape/size/style

I know I’ve thrown a lot of information at you in this post but here is a recap of the main take-home messages:

  1. Seek professional medical advice from a therapist who has got a lot of experience with dancers and preferably has first hand experience dancing at a high level

  2. CORE STRENGTH—I can’t stress this enough. It will improve your dancing noticeably and help you to be less prone to injury.

  3. Schedule “dance breaks” into your week and try cross training sometimes too. It will help your performance immensely!

  4. Strength training is important. You should all be doing it, no exceptions.

  5. Take care of your instruments—YOUR FEET!

  6. Most importantly, HAVE FUN!  Dance is meant to be a fun, educating, and worthwhile experience.  Don’t try so hard that it becomes less fun for you.  Take advice from your teachers, appreciate what they’re telling you, and try to apply it to your own dancing.

 

“Great dancers are not great because of their technique.  They are great because of their passion” —Martha Graham

Core stability, how important is it?

by admin

Recently, I had a client who is a high level dancer that has been experiencing pain and tightness in her left leg for a few years now.  While watching her perform a solo, I noticed that although she is extremely flexible, during jumps and leg extensions she struggles to reach her full potential.  When asked to repeat the required motions while lying down, her range of motion was far above average, so she should technically be able to reach these ranges while standing and jumping.

After a full assessment, I learned that she has overall weakness on the left side, especially in her glutes and hip flexors.  An important note is that I found no other possible pathologies that could be causing her pain and weakness.  As the assessment progressed, I began to think of what else can be causing this young dancer so much trouble.  I began to recall how she seemed to struggle with completing more than 2 consecutive turns and balancing without wobbles during her solo.  I decided to check her core stability as a possible cause to a lot of her troubles and found that she lacks control in her core and had trouble activating the required muscles.

This is something I notice in a lot of athletes, not just the dancers.  Everyone is busy concentrating on strengthening and technique and they seem to forget about one of the most important aspects–the core!  Often when an athlete is asked “do you work on your core strength as well?,” they begin to tell you about all of the sit ups, crunches, and planks they do.  Although sit ups and crunches work directly on the abdominals, they don’t go much further than that and aren’t a very functional exercise–when in a typical day do you perform that motion!?  Planking is a pretty good core exercise, when done correctly, but you need more than just a few planking exercises to have a strong core since it doesn’t address every aspect of the core and isn’t normally performed as a dynamic movement.

Your core is comprised of very deep muscles that stabilize your spine, so your main “movers” can do what they are designed to do–move your limbs and body.  The muscles that need to be focused on for a strong core are the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor.

core muscles TVA

The transverse abdominus is the deepest layer of abdominal muscles, which when contracted will act like a corset and keep your spine and pelvis in the correct neutral position.  Having a direct attachment to your vertabrae and wrapping around your middle to connect in the front, this muscle has a major role in stabilizing the spine while you are moving and helps to increase abdominal pressure.  Multifidus is a group of small muscles that runs vertically up the entire length of your spine.  When activating correctly, multifidus stabilizes the vertebrae and assists in spinal extension.  The diaphragm and pelvic floor are the “roof” and “floor” of the abdominal cavity and work simultaneously with the transverse abdominus to maintain abdominal pressure when breathing as well as providing stability for the spine.

When your core is not activated during movement, whether you are walking, sprinting, dancing, kicking, throwing, etc., your “mover” muscles are forced to perform the duties of the core muscles.  For example, with the dancer mentioned above, her core doesn’t activate during leg extensions and jumps so her quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors are forced to attempt stabilization of her pelvis and spine.  In doing this, those muscles are less able to do their actual jobs and fail to move her legs appropriately.  Although she is extremely flexible while sitting or lying down, she can’t reach a full split position in the air.  There is also the problem of tight, weak muscles that can result from an inactive core.  If your main movers are always trying to stabilize your core, how can they ever relax?  By learning to activate your core muscles appropriately, your prime movers can finally relax and begin to do their job again.

As you can see, your core is an extremely important part of your musculature and you can’t function properly and efficiently without it.  A fully functioning and strong core will allow your other muscles to relax and do their respective jobs more efficiently.  Once you are able to use the correct muscles for the job, you may find that it’s easier to stay balanced, strong, and flexible.  Add a few core exercises to your regular work out and see how it helps to positively affect your performance.

To begin your journey to a stronger core, you will need to start by learning to breathe properly and activate those deep core muscles.  Once you can do this, you can try some more challenging exercises that incorporate limb movement while the core is working.  Some examples include:

Dead Bug or any variation of arms and legs moving while keeping your core activated

dead bug

Alternating arms and legs moving during the superman exercise to work on multifidus

alternating superman

4 point superman to add an extra challenge for rotational stability

4 point superman

Bridge, you may want to add a leg raise or a stability ball under your feet.  This one targets core stability while also training your glutes, hamstrings, and back extensors to fire together

bridge

Once these exercises are too easy, you should move to a seated or standing position to more accurately represent movements you perform each day.  Try to incorporate functional movements as well as movements that directly translate to your activity of choice.  Throughout every exercise, focus on maintaining good technique throughout the movement and don’t forget to breathe!

If you require guidance or any type of assistance in your core strength journey, come by the clinic and I’ll be happy to help guide you in the right direction!

Clinic drop in hours for your convenience

by admin

Good morning!

Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve been working on my marketing strategies and trying to get the HVAT business name out into the Hespeler community!  It’s a very exciting time and I’ve been meeting some wonderful new people.  So far, I have reached out to local dance schools, gymnastics clubs, the Cambridge Cheer Sharks, and local high school students and teachers to tell them about HVAT and what I can do to help them.

I have also been trying to think about how I can serve you better.  I have decided to create “office drop in hours” where you can drop in and ask me any questions or concerns that you may have.  I’ll be in my office 4 times each week ready to answer your questions or even just chat with you to get to know you better:

Mondays 5:00pm-7:30pm

Wednesdays 9:00am-12:00pm

Thursdays 9:00am-12:00pm

Fridays 5:00pm-7:30pm

I’ll be in the clinic at these times whether I have a client or not.  If I have a client when you drop by, feel free to leave me your contact info and I’ll contact you as soon as I am available.

Feel free to drop in on your way to work/home, after a massage with Carolyn, or even before/after your yoga class!  As a reminder, you can find me in the back room at Breathe into Motion Yoga Studio at 25 Milling Rd.  Enter through the second main entry door to the building where the two pieces of building meet (the same door that Carolyn Murry RMT uses).  Once inside, walk up the stairs and through the opening and you will find my door on the right.  Remove your shoes and follow the grey floor down the hall and around the corner until you see my clinic!

I look forward to meeting you!

 

Introducing Hespeler Village Athletic Therapy!

by admin

Hello!

Welcome to Hespeler Village Athletic Therapy!  We are a brand new, fully functioning Athletic Therapy clinic in Hespeler and very excited to help all of Cambridge’s athletes.  Imogen has been working hard behind the scenes this past month to get the clinic ready to accept clients.  When she began this journey in October, she had a beautiful empty room to work with but had to tackle the back entrance to the yoga studio before moving in to the space.

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This is what she was working with in the back entrance

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And after about 8 hours of hard work, it looks like this!

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The next task was to buy supplies and move them into the room.  This was the most fun task but took a lot of time to find the perfect items.  Over about a month, the basics of a clinic were found, purchased, and ready to move in.  At the beginning of November, with a little help, Imogen officially moved her equipment into the room and was almost ready for business.

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As ideas began to flow, the yoga studio proposed putting some work out equipment that the owner had in storage into the room .  And while this was all happening, Imogen managed to acquire a hydraulic stationary plinth from a local equipment auction!  This meant that rearranging the room set-up would be necessary.  So, Imogen went back to the drawing board and rearranged the room until it made sense again and created more space.

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As another piece of equipment was added, it became clear that it wouldn’t fit where we had left space.  So, one last time, Imogen went back to the drawing board and rearranged the clinic.  Now the office space can stay where it is and there is plenty of space to work with clients!

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We are now accepting appointments for Athletic Therapy in the clinic!  Imogen and Breathe into Motion Yoga Studio are very excited about this new business partnership.  We look forward to helping the athlete’s of Cambridge overcome their obstacles and become stronger, healthier athletes.  Imogen hopes to help bring Athletic Therapy to Hespeler and can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us!