Menopause & Massage?!

Are you suffering from the symptoms of menopause?

If so, you are not alone!  In fact, 80% of perimenopausal and menopausal women experience at least one clinical symptom and 40% seek medical advice.

Did you know that massage therapy has been found to be very effective in treating many of the most common complaints?  Some of these include insomnia, hot flashes, night sweats, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, and depression. 

A recent study showed that massage therapy has a positive influence on sleep for menopausal women.  Participants fell asleep more quickly, showed improvement in their quality of sleep, and awoke feeling better with regular massage treatments.  Similarly, many studies have shown that massage therapy leads to more time spent in deep sleep.

Psychology Today reported that sleeplessness and menopausal symptoms are closely connected, and that decreased sleep makes a person more sensitive to pain, increased stress and mood swings. Thankfully, massage therapy calms the nervous system, helping with stress and anxiety, as well as better sleep.

According to the Institute for Integrated Healthcare, regular massage therapy treatments have also been found to help with menopausal symptoms by balancing hormones, decreasing headaches, helping to regulate fluid balance, and increasing endorphins.  In fact, another study has shown that regular massage therapy leads to a significant improvement in hot flashes and night sweats.

The research is clear:

  1. Increased stress causes menopausal symptoms to be more severe.
  2. Regular massage therapy can significantly decrease menopausal symptoms.
  3. Relaxation is an important aspect of maintaining one’s health.
  4. Proper breathing techniques can also have a positive effect on menopausal symptoms.

Regardless of your stage of life, taking steps to decrease stress will help you to live a happier, more well balanced, and healthier life. Choose to live better, choose Better Health!

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Pain in your butt?

The gluteal muscles of your buttocks are among the largest and strongest in the body. They are responsible for moving your leg at the hip joint. More specifically, they extend your thigh, help with rotation, and help keep your pelvis stabilized and strong. For example, every time you climb the stairs, get out of your car, or get out of bed in the morning, your glutes kick into action. You rely on them every day.

When you do activities such as running, climbing, or squats, your glutes are loaded even more. These muscles can get tight and painful from overuse or strain and massage therapy can provide relief. Under the glutes lie the lateral rotators of the hip.

The most clinically notable of these is the piriformis muscle. It is really important to address when a person is experiencing sciatica type symptoms. The sciatic nerve can be compressed by the piriformis muscle and cause pain in the hip area and down the back of your leg, often making it painful to sit or to get up from sitting. Thankfully, massage therapy is very good at addressing this “piriformis syndrome“.

As you can see, the gluteal region of the body is an important one for day to day life as well as for more athletic pursuits. Keeping it strong is important to your overall health as it plays a big role in keeping you active and mobile. If you are experiencing discomfort or limited movement because of tightness in this area, it is wise to get it treated to prevent any further muscle or nerve involvement

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The Wiring Mess of Stress

Evolutionarily, the stress response was designed to keep us alive and safe. The caveman who did not respond to the presence of a saber-toothed tiger would have made a great lunch. So it makes sense that we are pre-wired to have the stress response.

The part of the brain involved in the stress response is in the limbic part of the brain called the amygdala. It is often referred to as the reptilian or lizard brain as in evolutionary terms, it is ancient and primal, keeping us safe. The amygdala signals that we are under ‘attack’ and tells us that we ‘lack’ so we gather more resources to survive. 

The Sympathetic and Parasympathic Nervous Systems

The amygdala receives sensory information from the outside world and then responds by activating systems that control the responses. It is connected to the autonomic nervous system that has two main branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic is often referred to as the gas petal, and the parasympathetic, the brake.

When the gas petal or sympathetic nervous system is activated, it’s response is fight, flight or freeze. In this state the body is aroused; heart rate increases, blood vessels are constricted to keep the blood flow to the major organs, blood pressure increases and digestion slows down. The parasympathetic response or the brake, helps us restore, refuel and relax. It is often referred to as the rest and digest system.  The body is required to be in this state to heal and repair.

Robert Sapolsky, professor at Stanford University, has defined stress as anything that knocks us out of homeostatic balance. It will move systems from functioning out of normal range. When animals become stressed, they return to a level of homeostasis quickly thereafter. They go back to grazing or caring for their young. With humans however, we can continue the story in our heads. Our frontal lobe allows us to think on a deeper level. This can help us reflect on deeper meanings and can also get us excited about new adventures, but it can also cause us to worry or ruminate about stressors in the past or anticipate possible stressors in the future that might not even happen. As Mark Twain quoted, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Stress can actually be helpful to people. It can give them motivation and help them perform. Sometimes we need the deadline to keep us on task to finish the job, but research indicates that many people experience chronic stress. Prolonged or chronic stress can produce wear and tear on our minds and bodies and also effect our behavior. 

The see-saw of the hot and cold systems of the brain 

The amygdala cannot tell the difference between a real threat like a car coming at you driving on the wrong side of the road, (which happened to me in Australia only it was me who was on the wrong side … Oops) and perceived threats that are thoughts, feelings and beliefs in your mind.  Sometimes the amygdala can become over sensitize and activate a strong stress response for something as simple as a traffic delay.  The amygdala can even forms associations with random or neutral events like the words: test, sport, or plane, as I have become familiar with as a teacher and consulting hypnosist. The word fear has been commonly given an acronym –  F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real, because that is what is often happening.

Walter Mischel designer of the famous marshmallow experiment, describes the brain having a hot and cold system.  The hot system, the limbic system, where the amygdala is located, is emotional and reflexive.  The cold system which is slower, cognitive and reflective is associated with the prefrontal cortex.  When the amygdala, the hot system is activated by either perceived or real threat; the frontal lobe, the cold system, the area of the brain where good decision making, self regulation, weighing consequences of action, and rational thought is located, is deactivated. A metaphor useful for describing the way these two systems operate is a teeter-totter or see-saw; if one of the systems is really high, the other must be low. A lot of us have observed this when witnessing someone in the heat of emotion. An angry person who is emotionally charged and has activated the limbic parts of the brain, are often not logical or even rational. Their argument often makes no sense.  Parents and teachers have learned that it is almost impossible to have a rational discussion with an emotional child or teen. We wait until they have calmed or cooled down and their cold system is working to discuss the issue.  A highly emotional state turns off the cognitive part of the brain and this  could explain why the stressed out kid says to me that their ‘mind goes blank’.

Studies have shown that relaxing students before a test or performance can significantly increase their results. Their cognitive brain is functioning better in this state.  Being too rational, logical or having the emotional brain turned off, ‘like Spock’, can lead to people lacking in compassion. A good goal would be to develop equanimity or resilience and be able to balance the hot and cold systems and the see-saw.

Stress is universal and unavoidable, but the key is to learn effective ways to deal with it

There are things that we can learn to do to maintain equanimity when faced with stress so that we can become more resilient. It is ultimately how we deal with stress, that will effect our well-being.  Anything that calms the amygdala will release the stress and make you feel relaxed. When you are relaxed the level of stress hormones drop, and health-inducing hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, nitric oxide, and endorphins are released.  

Here are some good ways to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and turn on the relaxation response:

  • Exercise. People who exercise regularly often show increased vagal tone.  Because the vagus nerve is the central component of the parasympathetic nervous system, people with higher vagal tone have been shown to have more resilience to stressors.  Exercise also increases brain function, which is an added bonus.
  • Practice mindfulness. When we become mindful of our thoughts and subconscious programming we can let go of unhelpful thoughts. 
  • Do things that require focused attention.  Developing perseverance and grit can help fire up the wiring of the cold systems of the brain.
  • Cultivate positive thoughts.  Positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, compassion, hope and love to turn on the relaxation response. 
  • Be with nature. This can create a sense of wonder and awe.  These powerful positive emotions can also activate parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing.  Ancient wisdom teaches us to use the diaphragm while breathing. When doing this it is natural that your belly should move in and out, not your chest. Because the parasympathetic nervous system is activated when we breath out, focusing mentally on the outward breath can be very helpful.  

Another great way to relax would be hands on work like massage. But of course my personal favourites would be meditation or hypnosis whether they are self-guided or otherwise.  They both are great ways to calm down both the amygdala and production of stress hormones like cortisol.  It is what I call my ‘mental massage’.

Ginette,  BSc. BEd. CH.

About the author ...

Ginette Andress has a degree in Biochemistry from the University of Waterloo, a Bachelor of Education from the University or Toronto and has been passionately teaching secondary school science and mathematics for 23 years. She received her Certification as a Consulting Hypnotist with the National Guild of Hypnotists.

Healing help for scars

My father used to tell me that scars were “just tattoos with better stories”. In my experience they make for interesting conversation.

Scars are formed naturally when the body is trying to lay down new tissue (collagen fibers) after a trauma. The issue is the new collagen fibers that are laid down can be thicker than the normal healthy tissue. The fibers are also laid down in a way that can affect the elasticity of the tissue and the fascia.

Fascia is connective tissue that is like a one piece body suit that connects every part of your body. When the fascia is restricted it can result in postural problems. A c-section scar can cause the pelvis to tilt forward for example. It may  affect the mobility or function of other parts of the body. An appendectomy scar,  for instance, can cause right hip problems by pulling the hip towards the scar and affecting mobility.

Scar tissue can be caused from cuts, burns, and traumas. Surgeries always leave behind some scar tissue, even cosmetic and laproscopic surgeries (done through tiny hole).  The problem with laproscopic surgeries is that they leave lots of scaring or adhesions internally.  Adhesions may result in two organs sticking together, being pulled out of place, or limiting their function. Any disease that causes inflammation has the potential to leave behind adhesions such as inflammatory bowel disease, pneumonia, or endometriosis.

Other complications from scars can be neurological issues; there may be local numbness or the entire autonomic nervous system could be involved, affecting the body’s ability to regulate and heal itself. Some people may be hypersensitive to their scars and others describe a “dead” zone where there is a lack of sensation. Scars may also disrupt circulation, lymphatic flow, and energetic flow. They can also be a source of chronic pain due to their widespread affect on the body.

As many scars are related to trauma they may often be laced with deeper emotional issues the person may or may not even be conscious of. These issues can be released on a cellular level through body work. Having the support of a psychotherapist or even guidance from a hypnotherapist can help in resolving and moving forward from old traumas.

Proper treatment at the time of trauma  can vastly improve the outcome of scaring such as minimizing infection, vitamin E and aloe, avoiding sun exposure, and allowing the body the time to properly rest and recover with minimal stress. Introducing rehabilitation may also be critical, depending on the nature of it. Proper nutrition is also essential for tissue repair and when you use food as medicine (with guidance from a nutritionist) you can minimize inflammation.

However, even old scars that effect the entire being of a person can still be treated years later. Manual Therapists can help help to break apart scar tissue. The techniques are simple enough that we can even show you how to do it on yourself. Massaging the area or local stretching of the scar tissue can improve the quality of the tissue. Manual Therapists are experts in releasing the deeper layers of scars and working with the fascia.

So bring in your scars and tell us your story. There’s a good chance we can help you feel better.

About the author ...

Stacey Lee Shaw, RMT, is a graduate of the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy. She offers Bowen Therapy, Reiki, and Hot stone massage, in addition to Swedish massage. She has studied Labour Support as a Massage Therapist, as well as Equine Massage.

Sciatica, the original pain in the butt.

What does it mean to have a pain in the butt? Unfortunately, it is one of the most common complaints treated at our clinic. Medically speaking, we’re talking about sciatica. However sciatica is not a diagnosis in it self but merely a symptom of another problem.

Sciatica simply refers to an irritation of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve begins from nerves of the lumbar spine (low back) and travels through the pelvis, down the back of the leg, and all the way to the foot.  It is, impressively, the longest and thickest nerve in the body. Nerve pain of its nature is typically sharp or tingly. Some might even describe it as an electric shock. It can also present as numbness or weakness. The sciatic nerve may be felt partially or entirely from the low back, to the buttocks and all the way down the back of the leg into the foot. Typically, sciatic pain only occurs on one side.

Any type of irritation to the nerve can cause it to flare. There may be a compression at the spine, such as a disc herniation, lumbar spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), degenerative disc disease, or osteophytes (bony growth).  It could also be caused from a vertebrae being out of place or stuck. Another less severe cause could be what is called “piriformis syndrome” (AKA tight a** syndrome). The sciatic nerve passes through, or very close to, a muscle in the buttocks called the pirformis muscle. Sometimes this muscle can be so tight it may impinge the sciatic nerve.

Anyone that has experienced sciatic pain can attest to how annoying and potentially debilitating it can be. To prevent it much of the same advice pertains to back health, as that is often the cause for it.

  • Regular exercise is important, specifically core strengthening. Keeping the back muscles strong helps maintain better alignment of the spine. A personal trainer can be a great asset here to make sure exercises are done properly.
  • Avoid twisting and bending at the same time, this can lead to disc herniation if there is a weakness.
  • Try to avoid sitting all day, but if you must, ensure you have a firm chair with lumbar support. Also, don’t sit on your wallet or phone. This is a common cause for the pelvis to be put out of alignment.

If you do suspect that you have sciatic pain stretching, massage therapy, physical therapy and acupuncture can be great for pain relief. Usually if there is sciatic pain, there are other restrictions and compensations happening in the body that have lead to it. Osteopathy can do wonders in realigning the body and relieving the cause of the pain. If it is persistent (longer than 6 weeks), severe, or accompanies other symptoms, it is a good idea to follow up with your doctor, preferably with imaging (X-ray, or even better MRI). Pain medication and anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed if your family doctor thinks it’s warranted. Surgery nowadays is largely reserved for the most severe cases and should be a last resort. Depending on the cause sometimes spinal injections may be considered (nerve block or cortisone) by neurologists.

So if you ever have a pain in the butt, just remember we treat the WHOLE body and we’re only a phone call away!

About the author ...

Stacey Ayres, Osteopath Manual Practitioner, Registered Massage Therapist, is the owner of Better Health Clinic, She is a member of the Canadian College of Massage Therapists of Ontario as well as the Ontario Association of Osteopathic Manual Practitioners. Stacey has a particular interest in pediatrics, chronic pain, post trauma and surgery rehabilitation, and fertility.

Why Fad Diets Don’t Work

Most people think of a diet as a temporary plan someone goes on to lose weight. Many times, these diets will have a certain gimmick or theme. Some are too restrictive or too hard to maintain as they eliminate certain foods, and drastically limit or eliminate entire food groups altogether, some involve only shakes and pills and some can be dangerous due to their lack of calories and essential nutrients.
These types of diets are popular as many people want that ‘magic pill,’ a quick fix solution to health and weight issues. Supplements and shakes that promote metabolic boosting or curbing hunger often sound very appealing but are unfortunately very short lived.
The main problem with fad diets is that many simply don’t work long-term. People often find that they can’t stick with a diet for a long period of time. This is likely due to the fact that many diets aren’t realistic, are too restrictive, too costly, too complicated, or too inconvenient to maintain. 
So many programs promote radical and extreme changes that are just not sustainable or family friendly. They can over-complicate how simple a healthy lifestyle can be.
We need to reconsider the way we think about food. Rather than thinking about temporarily going on some hot new diet to shed excess weight or achieve some other aspect of wellness, we should be thinking about making achievable, realistic changes that we can sustain for a lifetime. 
Knowing where to start is half the battle; realizing that you didn’t get there overnight is another point to consider. Taking back your health is going to take a little time and effort but we are here to help you.
Don’t worry about tomorrow. Just think about where you could start today. Perhaps it will be as simple as drinking more water or having one less cup of coffee or making an appointment with our Naturopathic Doctor to discuss hormonal issues or nutrient deficiencies.
Consider making conscious choices to incorporate more real foods into your diet rather than food-like products. We have 2 Nutritionists that can work with you to build a plan that is personalized and manageable for you.
Our team of Osteopaths and Massage Therapists can also help you achieve a healthier body by getting to the root of pain issues and bringing your body back into balance.
When you concentrate on diet and exercise alone, you may be neglecting the issues in your life that caused you to become overweight or sick in the first place. To lead the life you have always envisioned for yourself, you may need to look at why you gained the weight or developed health issues and deal with the emotional component. Our Social Worker, Jordan Smith is here to help guide you in this process.
Making changes to your lifestyle is not always easy, even making gradual changes can be overwhelming but the Better Health Team is here to help. ‘You don’t have to see the whole staircase just take the first step.’

About the author ...

Stacey Ayres, Osteopath Manual Practitioner, Registered Massage Therapist, is the owner of Better Health Clinic, She is a member of the Canadian College of Massage Therapists of Ontario as well as the Ontario Association of Osteopathic Manual Practitioners. Stacey has a particular interest in pediatrics, chronic pain, post trauma and surgery rehabilitation, and fertility.