Ski season is in full swing in Colorado and we are currently having one of the best snowfall years in the last decade. Many of the resorts are well above seasonal averages for snowpack depth. As of today, Vail is at 124% of seasonal average, Aspen Snowmass is at 140%, and Steamboat Springs is at a whooping 154% of average (via OpenSnow and based on averages over the last 20-40 years). The opportunities for skiing and snowboarding fresh Colorado powder are ample this season, and many individuals are flocking to the mountains to hit the slopes. Skiing and snowboarding are incredibly exhilarating, but they are also extremely dangerous. So what are the most common injuries for skiers and snowboarders, and how do you minimize these risks?
Injury Prevalence in Skiers vs. Snowboarders
Skiers and snowboarders are more susceptible to different types of injury. The reason for this has to do with the stiffness of bindings and boots, the use of poles in skiing, the ability to use two edges at once when skiing, and the differing techniques used in sliding downhill sideways versus straight forward. Research suggests snowboarders are most likely to injure their wrists, shoulders, and ankles, while skiers are more likely to injure one of the ligaments in their knee such as the ACL, MCL, or LCL1. The same study reports wrist injuries were the most prevalent in snowboarders (27.6% of all snowboard injuries), while anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears were most prevalent in skiers (17.2% of all skiing injuries). Specifically, the injury profile for snowboarders includes wrist fractures and wrist ligament sprains, shoulder labrum tears, ankle fractures and sprains, concussion, and clavicle fractures. Among skiers, the injury profile includes ACL sprains and tears, MCL and LCL sprains and tears, tibial plateau fractures, and concussion as well. After 4 years of treating ski and snowboard injuries as a chiropractor in Colorado, the results of this study are all too common at our practice.
Improving Control on the Mountain
The best way to minimize injury on the mountain is to learn how to control your speed in all types of terrain. Many beginner skiers and snowboarders simply ride too fast, putting themselves and other riders at risk. The best skier in the group isn’t always the one who gets to the bottom of the run the fastest, rather it’s the rider who stays in control, always on their edges, and adjusts their speed effectively based on upcoming obstacles.
In skiing and snowboarding, the ‘fall line’ refers to the line down a mountain that is most directly downhill. If you are on a steep slope, it’s important to periodically deviate from the fall line and move laterally on the slope to slow down. If you constantly face down the fall line, you will gain too much speed and lose control. Alternate between turning down the fall line to gain speed, then checking your speed by moving laterally when you feel like you are going too fast. Other ways to control your speed include turn shape, skidding, and checking. Check out this excellent article on speed control.
Understand When to Call it a Day
According to Utah based sports medicine expert Dr. Travis Maak, MD, a former ski patrol volunteer and current head physician for the Utah Jazz, the majority of ski and snowboard injuries happen at the end of the day, around 3:30 pm. Lifts typically close at 4 pm meaning most ski injuries happen in the final 30 minutes of the riding day. The reasons for this are multifactorial. Firstly, temperatures start cooling off at the end of the day causing the snow to be harder and icier. The softer snow is more skied off, exposing icy snow with rocks and branches. Additionally, riders are more fatigued at the end of the day, especially in the active stabilizers of the lower leg such as the muscular quads, hamstrings, and calves. When these muscles become fatigued, the rider relies more on the passive stabilizers of the lower leg such as the ligaments of the knee and ankle, the meniscus, and the hip labrum. This is a recipe for disaster since the passive stabilizers of the lower leg are less reactive to quick, ballistic forces that might be imparted with an unexpected fall on the mountain. Advanced skiers know when to call it a day and when it is time for their last run.
Avoid Alcohol or Drugs while Skiing or Snowboarding
Skiing and snowboarding are activities in which many people treat alcohol and drugs as the norm. Alcohol decreases cerebellar function which results in decreased balance, motor control, coordination, and cognition – all athletic attributes required for a safe day on the mountain. If an individual is drinking or doing drugs, they are treating skiing and snowboarding as a leisurely pastime rather than a sport, and could be putting themselves and others in danger. If you want to avoid injuries, save the drinking for after you have called it quits for the day.
Take a Lesson
Take a lesson from a trained instructor. Ski school instructors are specifically trained in the progressions for learning how to ski and snowboard. Progressions refer to the gradual acquisition of new skills within a given sport, and are an integral piece to safely learning a new sport. Progressions are particularly important in extreme sports like skiing and snowboarding where risk of injury is high if a stepwise fashion to learning is not followed. For an example of a beginner progression for skiing, check out this excellent YouTube video for some helpful tips.
Be on the lookout for Part 2 of Ski Safe in 2023, where I will teach you training techniques to reduce injury risk and to improve your performance on the mountain!
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
Many people experience popping in their hips. Most patients come to the clinic complaining of back or knee pain, and a popping hip may be a secondary complaint. Although typically not a significant pain generator, popping in the hip is a sign of an underlying dysfunction in the hip needing to be addressed. If the popping in the hip is not attended to, more serious orthopedic issues may arise down the road.
There are three main causes of a popping hip – external, internal, and intra-articular. External is most frequent and refers to the iliotibial (IT) band snapping over the greater trochanter of the femur. Internal is also common and refers to the iliopsoas (hip flexor) tendon snapping over a bony prominence on the pelvis or at the lesser trochanter of the femur. Intra-articular is least common and refers to a floating loose body within the joint such as a torn labrum. External and internal variations are often due to gradual onset, whereas an intra-articular loose body is often due to trauma. There is a higher incidence of hip popping in females, especially those who perform sports requiring repetitive flexion and extension of the hip such as gymnastics, dance, soccer, and running.
How to fix it
Popping in the hip is often related to a stability issue in the hip or the core. To address this, work to improve your hip stability in all three planes of motion. Train slowly, controlling the motion to avoid the pop. Train only through ranges of motion where you can avoid the pop, and gradually increase the range of motion as your stability improves. The external hip pop (ITB over greater trochanter) is often related to poor hip stability in the frontal plane (abduction/adduction), and increasing strength of muscles such as the gluteus medius will be helpful in decreasing the external hip pop. The internal hip pop relates to the iliopsoas muscle. The iliopsoas muscle has shared attachments with the diaphragm. If the diaphragm is not providing a solid anchor point for the iliopsoas muscle, function of the hip flexor will be impaired increasing the likelihood of an internal hip pop. For this, focus working on diaphragmatic breathing to create better stability patterns in your core. Intra-articular hip popping requires an in-depth examination to determine which structures may be injured and to determine the best course of care.
To know exactly which exercises and treatments are best for you, it is important to seek out a therapist who understands hip biomechanics and can help you address the specific stability limitations causing the pop. Whatever the cause, popping in the hip should not be ignored. Even if caused by mild muscle imbalance, a popping hip can worsen over time if not addressed early.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm. Check out his bio here.
Core Exercises – Do’s and Don’ts
Many patients understand they need to strengthen their core in order to live functional and pain free lives. However, most do not know where to start. The popular opinion is exercises such as sit-ups, crunches, bicycle crunches, and Russian twists are the primary exercises to improve core strength. Unfortunately, these commonly performed exercises are not the best choice when looking to add strength and functionality to your core.
The Problem with Sit-ups and Crunches
Sit-ups and crunches are perhaps the most regularly performed core exercises. These exercises are effective at increasing the tone of the six-pack or rectus abdominis muscle group. While great for aesthetics, a tight and toned six-pack is not essential for a functional core and may even be detrimental. The issue with sit-ups and crunches are the forces placed on the spine during these exercises. Both involve repetitive flexion of the lumbar spine and most of modern society already gets too much ‘lumbar flexion.’ Lumbar flexion means rounding forward of the low back. The low back is in flexion when we are sitting in our car, at work, or on the toilet. The low back is flexed when we pick items up from the floor with improper form. The net result of so much lumbar flexion is placing undue stress on the discs, muscles, ligaments, and nerves of the low back. Sit-ups and crunches involve repetitive flexion of the low back and thus add fuel to the ‘flexion fire’ we get all throughout the day.
The Problem with Rotational Core Exercises and Stretching
The Russian twist and bicycle crunches are other commonly performed core exercises that are not ideal for the function of the core or spine. The Russian twist is performed by balancing on your pelvis with legs suspended in the air and knees bent while the upper body is held at roughly a 45 degree angle. Next, the athlete uses their hands or a medicine ball to twist back and forth in an attempt to work the abdominal obliques. Bicycle crunches are similar except the individual is on their back and the rotational crunch is combined with a straightening of the opposite leg and hip. The first problem with the Russian twist is it is extremely difficult to keep the spine in a neutral position and many individuals round their backs due to a lack of core strength and balance. Once again, many people are developing a detrimental position of lumbar flexion during this exercise.
Another issue with the Russian twist and bicycle crunch is the forced rotational load it places on the spine. Functional movement specialists now agree the main purpose of the core is to resist forces placed against the spine rather than actually creating movement. The lumbar spine only rotates 2-3 degrees per segment and thus requires more stability in the rotational (transverse) plane compared to mobility. I’ll explain exercises such as the Pallof Press and Cross Press in a future blog post, as both are excellent exercises for improving core stability in the rotational plane.
Basics of Effectively Performing a Core Exercise
Before we get into the specific exercises I teach my patients, I’ll explain why form is important for any core exercise you perform. First, the spine needs to be in a neutral position. A neutral spine may look different for each person, but the spine should be straight and may have a slight extension curvature. Extension is the opposite of a flexed and rounded position of the spine. The two variables that affect proper neutral spine positioning are your rib positioning and your pelvic posture. Many patients have what is called ‘flared ribs’. This means your ribs are protruding upwards and forwards and may even be visible. When the ribs are in this position the diaphragm muscle cannot function properly and core strength will suffer. Use an exhale breath to push your ribs downwards towards the floor to place them in a more ideal position.
Secondly, you need to be aware of the position of your pelvis. Think about your pelvis as a fish bowl filled with water. If you have what we call an ‘anterior pelvic tilt’ your pelvis is dumped forward and water will be spilling out of the metaphorical fish bowl. Less commonly, patients may adopt a ‘posterior pelvic tilt’ where the water will be spilling backwards. Both of these pelvic postures are detrimental to neutral spine positioning, as well as core strength. Always think about keeping your pelvis tucked under you so water cannot spill out of the fish bowl. By making sure your ribs and pelvis work together to maintain a neutral spine, you will safely perform core exercises.
Practice these Core Exercises:
3 Position Plank
The 3 position plank is a sequential exercise involving a front plank, right side plank, and left side plank. Each position is held for 10 seconds before switching positions. Do your best to avoid dropping to the ground when switching positions. Switching positions every 10 seconds forces the brain and nervous system to react to a new stability pattern frequently and is thus more typical of how we move in life and sports. Additionally, by switching positions every 10 seconds we better guarantee perfectly executed reps.
The dead bug is another excellent option for building your core strength. Lay on your back with your hips, legs, and arms raised. Simply holding this position is a difficult exercise in itself and is an effective way to exercise your core. Make the movement more dynamic by reaching one arm over your head and slowly lowering the opposite heel towards the ground. Alternate sides, and perform in succession while making sure to keep your ribs down, low back glued to the ground, and head supported and slightly elevated to protect your neck.
The bird dog exercise teaches you to move your extremities while maintaining a neutral spine. The exercise does an excellent job of mimicking real athletic activities you will face in daily life. Get in a tabletop position with your hands stacked under your shoulders and your knees stacked under your hips. Your chin should be tucked and the back of your neck long with no creasing of the skin. Slowly move one of your arms forward while simultaneously extending the opposite leg backwards. The back leg only needs to be about 2 inches off of the ground to avoid hyper-extending your low back. Hold the completely extended position for a count of 2 and then return to neutral. Alternate sides while keeping a neutral spine and make sure to not let your pelvis rotate and shift excessively. Imagine there is a glass of water resting on the base of your low back and you do not want to let it spill!
My goal with this blog post is to provide you with safe and effective exercises for improving the strength and function of your core. Enjoy!
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
The Importance of a Morning Routine
If I were to pick one lifestyle intervention for anyone looking to enhance their energy levels, increase productivity, and improve relationships with friends and family, a consistent morning routine would be my top choice. An effective morning routine will set you up for success throughout the rest of your day. If you start the day by completing small, productive tasks you will establish a feeling of accomplishment immediately after waking up. By finishing these tasks at the beginning of the day, other, more daunting projects related to your work or personal life will seem less intimidating. You will establish a task completion mindset first thing in the morning which will increase productivity throughout the day. Lastly, you will practice gratitude in your morning routine, which will help you appreciate your life and the people in it.
The five tasks you should complete every morning are:
- Make your bed
- Drink a glass of cold water
- Five minutes of light exercise
Next, let’s talk about the specifics of each task in your morning routine.
1. Make your bed
I recommend watching this link of a speech by US Navy Seal Admiral William McRaven titled, ‘If You Want to Change the World, Start Off by Making Your Bed.’ McRaven stresses the importance of completing one small task (making your bed) in the morning, to set you up for success in completing other, more difficult tasks throughout your day. He also discusses how learning to do the small things in life correctly allows you to complete the big things in life correctly. Making your bed does not need to be a lengthy ordeal of tucking in 3 layers of sheets and organizing 12 throw pillows, but rather make your bed presentable enough to give you peace of mind that you completed your first task of the day successfully.
2. Drink a glass of cold water
You are dehydrated when you wake up and your body is thirsty. Do not drink coffee right away as coffee is a diuretic and will cause you to expel out more fluids than you are taking in. Instead of coffee, start your day with 16-24 ounces of cold water immediately after waking up. By giving your body the hydration it needs first thing in the morning you will notice more stable and consistent energy levels throughout the day.
3. Perform 5 minutes of light exercise
To assist in waking your body up, perform 5 minutes of light exercise first thing in the morning. Your movement flow may include stretching, body weight strength exercises, breathing, or yoga. This is not meant to exhaust you, but rather to stimulate your body’s awake hormone, cortisol. Cortisol gets a bad rap as the body’s stress hormone, but this is not entirely true. Cortisol is normally elevated in the morning and helps to wake up the body and mind for the day ahead. Cortisol becomes problematic when it remains high into the afternoon and evening due to chronic stress, poor nutrition, and excessive exposure to blue light emitting screens. Two of the strongest stimulants for proper cortisol release in the morning are direct sunlight exposure and exercise. By performing light exercise in the morning, you are ensuring an adequate cortisol release in the morning. My 5 minutes of light exercise includes 3 sets each of push-ups and bodyweight squats. In the past I’ve incorporated other movements such as planks, wall-sits, hip stretching, and kettlebell deadlifts. I find that these movements are enough to get my blood and heart pumping without tiring myself out for workouts I have planned later in the day.
Perhaps the most important yet difficult task in a successful morning routine is meditation. Meditation is a mindfulness technique that teaches the individual how to be present in the current moment. Headspace defines meditation as the “intention to be present in the here and now, fully engaged in whatever is happening, free from distraction or judgement, with a soft and open mind.” Guided meditations on apps such as Headspace or Calm use a form of meditation called ‘Vipassana’ which aims to help the individual gain self awareness of body and mind.
Guided meditations often start with deep breathing exercises utilizing slow, controlled, nasal breaths. Next, the guided meditation will ask you to mentally scan different parts of your body, noticing areas that are relaxed as well as areas that are tense. Finally, the guided meditation may ask you to count your breaths, with the ultimate goal of focusing on nothing besides the breath. Guided meditations typically end by completely letting go of your focus, allowing your mind to run wild, before bringing your intention back to the breath for a final 2-3 focused breaths. Many people notice an immediate change in their day to day lives when starting a daily meditation practice. People who meditate are more calm throughout the day, their interpersonal communication is improved, their breathing patterns are better, and they are less agitated by the stress of daily life. Taking just 5-10 minutes to perform a guided meditation first thing in the morning may be the best way to set yourself up for success throughout the rest of the day.
Another beneficial task to complete every morning is a short journal entry. You can get creative with this one, but there are two key pieces that are essential. First, use your journaling as a way to reconnect with your ‘why’. If you read my last blog post Effective Goal Setting 2020, you know the first step towards creating your goals is to establish your why. Your why is your purpose, cause or belief – it is the reason you get out of bed in the morning. Reconnecting with your why using journaling may include writing a quote everyday that reminds you of your passion in life, physically writing out your most important goal, or listing out positive qualities about yourself and the person you want to become. Second, develop a practice of gratitude in your morning journaling. For me, I list three things I’m grateful for every morning. Some days it reads ‘a loving and supportive family,’ or ‘a career that challenges me mentally and physically,’ and some days it’s as simple as ‘a healthy breakfast to fuel my body and mind throughout the day.’ Writing out what you are grateful for first thing in the morning will remind you how good your life truly is and place you in a positive, optimistic mindset.
The goal is to complete all five of these tasks every morning. You will be busy some mornings and may only have time to complete two or three of these tasks. For me, I notice that the quality of my day directly correlates to how many of the morning tasks I complete. The more I successfully complete, the better my day tends to be. When you establish a consistent morning routine you will notice improvements in your energy levels, productivity, interactions with other people, sleep quality, and overall happiness with your life. Attached is the template for the morning routine I use every day. Enjoy!
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
The new year is a popular time for setting goals, health and lifestyle improvement, and new beginnings. We believe New Year’s resolutions offer an excellent opportunity to achieve your health and fitness objectives. Goal setting can be a tricky business, so we want to provide you with the tools you need to define, execute, and achieve your goals. Make 2020 your best year ever and bring in the new decade with clear, focused intentions that push you towards a healthier and more fulfilling life.
Establish Your Why
Before you start writing out your goals, you need to start by defining your ‘why’. Popularized by Simon Sinek’s excellent book, Start with Why, the idea of defining your why, or overall purpose in life, is the essential first step in goal setting. What motivates you to succeed? Who do you want to help? What is your purpose in life? What are you truly passionate about? Until you answer questions like these, the goals you set will lack a deeper meaning and you will be less likely to achieve them. Once you have established your why, you can align your goals with the vision for your life and how your goals directly relate to that why.
Write It Down
In modern society seemingly all written documents are stored electronically. Everything from doctor’s chart notes, financial budgets, to the newest book on Kindle are digitized and meant to be read off of a screen. Instead of typing out your goals on a computer or cell phone, take the time to write them down on a piece of paper. There is value in writing your goals down on paper – a paper document is concrete, solid, and cannot be deleted with a stroke of your finger.
Place this piece of paper somewhere you will see it everyday – on your desk at work, attached to the fridge, or take it a step further and tape a laminated copy of your goals on the inside wall of your shower! By seeing your goals in writing EVERYDAY you will be reminded of your goal, your why, and the ultimate purpose for achieving it.
Write Out Action Steps for Each Goal
You can think of this as a to do list for each goal. Make one of these action steps something you can do TOMORROW. Examples of immediate action steps include purchasing a gym membership, cleaning up your resume, cleaning the junk food out of your fridge and cabinets, or calling a job or business lead. Make this first task simple to complete, so you will have zero excuses not to complete the task by the end of the next day. Subsequent action steps can be more complex and time intensive but should still have specific time frames for completion. Giving yourself concrete deadlines will increase the likelihood you complete the action steps and ultimately achieve your goal.
Create Goals that are: SMART
Your goal needs to be simple and specific. You should be able to answer the following questions: What do I want to accomplish with this goal? Why do I want to accomplish this goal? What are the resources (people, monetary, time, etc.) needed to accomplish this goal? How will I know when I have completed this goal? Once you have answered these questions you will have a clear vision of what you need to do to start on the path towards achieving your goals.
Use specific facts, events, or metrics to clearly define your goal. A clear and well-defined goal will better provide you with the blueprint you need to complete it. Instead of making a goal like, ‘I want to lose weight this year’, make a more specific goal such as: ‘I want to lose 10 pounds by March and decrease my body fat percentage by 2-3%.’
While it’s okay to shoot for the stars, having practical goals you honestly have the resources to achieve are much more likely to be met. An unrealistic goal may demotivate you because you are asking too much of yourself. Use realistic timeframes. If your goal is going to take some time to complete, don’t give yourself a tight deadline which will ultimately end up stressing you out. Conversely, don’t pick a goal that is overly easy to achieve. Find the sweet spot. You want a goal that will push you hard and motivate you, but not one that is so difficult it will cause stress and decreased confidence in yourself.
Make sure your goal aligns with your life and career aspirations. Goals that do not push you towards your why feel empty and are less likely to be achieved. By the time you’ve reached this step you should have already defined your why, and you can make sure your goals and your why are working for each other.
T= Time Bound:
Utilize a time frame and concrete deadlines. As stated earlier, pick an action step to be completed by the end of the day tomorrow. Pick another to be completed by the end of the week. Pick yet another more complex action step to be completed by the end of the month. You can even pick goals that fall into different time frames. Write out a 1 month goal, a 6 month goal, a 1 year goal, a 5 year goal, and a 10 year goal. These goals can be interrelated or entirely separate. Again, make sure these goals align with your why. Your 5 and 10 year goals should be intimately associated with your why because you will have had the most time to plan and execute these monumental goals.
Ask for Help
One of the best resources you have for completing your goals is your family and friends. Let them know what your goals are. Simply telling someone you have a certain goal is a powerful motivational tool. For added accountability, ask a family member or friend to check in with you periodically on the progress on your goal. If you have a career or skill acquisition oriented goal, find a mentor. Mentors can be a valuable asset in achieving your goals as they have likely had similar aspirations for themselves. Most mentors are more than willing to help an individual in their field as it gives them an opportunity to share the information they have worked so hard to learn.
We hope these simple steps help you to define and conquer your goals in the New Year. Make 2020 the best year of your life!
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
Over the past weekend, Dr. Ryan and I had the pleasure of attending the annual Colorado Chiropractic Association (CCA) convention. Speakers from all around the country discussed the benefits of receiving chiropractic, specifically the hormonal benefits of receiving regular chiropractic adjustments. Chiropractic adjustments have a beneficial effect on your endocrine (hormonal) system, resulting in far reaching health benefits you may not previously have associated with the chiropractic adjustment.
The topics covered in this blog post are inspired by two lectures given at the 2019 Colorado Chiropractic Association (CCA) convention. The first is a lecture given by Dr. John Minardi, DC on 10/26/2019 and was titled ‘The Power of Chiropractic.’ The second is a lecture given by Dr. Monique Andrews, MS, DC, DNM on 10/25/2019 and was titled ‘A Potential Role for Chiropractic in the Neurobiology of Autism.’
How chiropractic adjustments affect your brain.
First, it’s important to explain that the chiropractic adjustment does not only affect the joints of the spine and extremities, but also the brain. When a joint is adjusted, special nerve receptors embedded in the joint capsule called mechanoreceptors are activated and fire signals to the brain. These signals are received and integrated by the brain, and the brain’s activity is noticeably changed in response to the sensory input from the adjustment. Studies have shown increased glucose uptake (a marker for metabolic brain tissue activity) in the frontal lobe of the brain following an adjustment (Inima et al, 2017). The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for executive functions such as decision making, personality and emotional expression, problem solving, and also controls our ability to communicate and connect with others. This may explain why chiropractic is an excellent, yet underutilized, adjunct therapy for children dealing with autism.
When an adjustment is performed and mechanics in the spine improve, signals are sent to the brain conveying the new, corrected position and/ or motion of the vertebrae in the spine. The brain accepts and integrates these signals, producing an output signal that will have far reaching effects in the body. When joints are aligned and moving properly in the spine, the brain produces signals to the body that promote health and decrease inflammation. When joints are not aligned and are not moving properly, the brain produces signals that decrease health and increase inflammation.
How the brain functions after an adjustment.
Now that we know adjustments affect the brain, let’s talk about the positive changes that occur in the brain after an adjustment. The hypothalamus is a small region located at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus is important for the regulation of body temperature and other homeostatic systems such as hunger, thirst, sleep, and circadian rhythm. The most important role of the hypothalamus is the linkage of the neurologic system to the hormonal or ‘endocrine’ system via the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus receives sensory information from the body, and produces ‘neurohormones’ that activate or inhibit the release of hormones from the pituitary gland. When we adjust the spine we improve the quality of sensory information that is sent to the hypothalamus. Here is where the magic happens. As I previously described, when you are adjusted, small nerve endings in the joints called mechanoreceptors are activated and send signals to the brain. These signals provide your brain with valuable information about where the body lies in space, the structure and integrity of your spinal column, and can even block or mask pain signals being sent to the brain by other sensory nerve endings! Adjustments positively affect the brain and nervous system, improving the quality of sensory information sent to the hypothalamus. The end result is an improvement in the quality of hormonal release that is governed by the hypothalamus.
How the brain functions when things are off-balance.
Spinal malposition and/ or decreased joint range of motion is perceived as a stressor by the brain. The brain sits on top of the spine and thus relies on the spine for its structural stability. Imagine you were trying to replace a light bulb, but did not have a ladder. You need to get the job done, so you decide to stack boxes on each other for you to climb until you can reach the light bulb. After stacking the boxes, imagine that one of these boxes is rotated and has slid out of alignment compared to the other boxes. How confident do you feel about climbing the boxes to change the light bulb now? I’m guessing you’d be a little more nervous and stressed standing at the top of the boxes. In this metaphor, the boxes are your spinal vertebrae and the person standing on top of the boxes is your brain! If the boxes are not in proper alignment, you will perceive standing on top of the boxes as danger and your stress hormones will dominate. The body acts in the same way. When the brain does not sense healthy alignment of your spine, poor information is sent to the brain and stress hormones are released.
When the brain is stressed, hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine dominate. These are the hormones released in the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response and are very useful in situations where the body needs to respond to a threat to survival. These hormones increase heart rate and breathing, shunt blood to the heart and skeletal muscles and away from the digestive and reproductive organs, dilate the pupils, and cause metabolic changes that increase energy delivery to skeletal muscles. The problem is that in modern society many individuals are in a chronic state of stress, and thus their ‘fight or flight’ system is always on. Hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine are essential to life, however the constant presence of them in our bloodstream due to a stressed state is highly damaging. Improper cortisol release timing is one of the main implications for weight gain and an inability to control cravings for sugar and highly processed foods.
Testosterone and Estrogen.
By decreasing the stress response to the brain, adjustments decrease the amount of cortisol released by the adrenal cortex via the pituitary gland. Inappropriate cortisol release wreaks havoc on the endocrine system. Hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, and serotonin are all measured at lower levels when cortisol is too high. Testosterone is often singled out as important for male sex drive and energy, and while this is true, research also suggests that men with higher levels of testosterone show more compassion and are more loving to their partners. When cortisol levels are high, testosterone levels plummet. Estrogen is highly important for bone formation in women and also for achieving and maintaining pregnancy. Cortisol kills off estrogen and progesterone, another important hormone for maintaining pregnancy.
Dopamine and Serotonin.
Dopamine is our anticipation hormone. It governs the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior. Dopamine fuels the anticipation of a future reward. Dopamine is released when we are particularly excited for an upcoming event, i.e. seeing a loved one, going on a long anticipated vacation, etc. Dopamine is also released when we are particularly anxious for an upcoming event. Proper cortisol and norepinephrine levels are necessary to maintain balance in the dopamine system. When cortisol and norepinephrine are high, due to stress on the brain, dopamine release goes awry and can cause depression, thrill seeking, unhappiness, decreased immune function, excessive worrying and bickering.
Serotonin is the body’s satisfaction hormone. It governs happiness, satisfaction, and fulfillment in life. Serotonin is even boosted when in the presence of a particularly friendly or happy person. Excessive cortisol decreases the amount of serotonin and can contribute to depression and chronic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia.
Excessive cortisol and norepinephrine throw the entire endocrine system out of whack. Cortisol will decrease sex defining hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, dampen the effect of dopamine, our motivation-reward hormone, and serotonin, our happiness hormone. The good news? Chiropractic adjustments and other forms of manual therapies decrease the amount of cortisol and epinephrine released by the adrenal cortex and medulla via the brain and thus increases the levels of all these highly necessary and beneficial hormones. As a result, many of my patients report improvements in breathing, energy, digestion, and sleep following a chiropractic adjustment. Even if you are not in pain, regular chiropractic adjustments are highly beneficial for your health and should be received at least once monthly. By getting assessed at least once a month you are ensuring the health of the joints in your spine and extremities, and drastically decrease the risk of future injuries, and the need for costly orthopedic surgeries.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC MS. Check out his bio here.
Citations: Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017;2017:4345703. doi: 10.1155/2017/4345703. Epub 2017 Jan 12.
Brief History of Yoga
Yoga originated in ancient India circa 3,000 BC and offers an excellent blend of meditation, respiratory training, and movement. Practitioners of yoga enjoy the relaxing benefits of a class, most commonly performed in a heated room. Anyone who has taken a yoga class understands the mental focus and physical resiliency required to successfully complete a practice. In fact, the breathing practice utilized in yoga called ‘pranayama’ is very similar to the diaphragmatic breathing exercises we teach our patients in the clinic.
Should I be doing yoga?
Yoga has gained immense popularity in this country over the last decade. As a result, many patients ask for advice on whether or not they should be practicing yoga. My overwhelming answer is yes! Any physical practice that promotes movement, whether it is yoga, pilates, weightlifting, or running – is beneficial to the human body and should always be encouraged. However, the main caveat I give my patients when it comes to yoga is they need to understand which movements are healthy for their body’s and which movements are potentially damaging. Certain injuries or movement deficiencies can put the body at risk if you don’t know when to modify the yoga pose or to avoid it all together.
Low back pain and yoga
Let’s look at some examples. Chiropractors treat many patients with low back pain. Many patients experience increased back pain with sitting, picking items up off the floor, and bending forward to tie their shoes. The common theme is rounding postures of the low back, termed ‘flexion’ is provocative for these patient’s low backs. We term this type of back pain ‘flexion intolerant low back pain’. A patient with flexion intolerant low back pain should avoid flexion based activities while their low back is in the healing stages. Very often, these patients respond well to exercises or static positions that place the low back in extension – adhering to the natural lordotic curve of the lumbar spine.
If after assessment in the clinic the Chiropractor decides the patient will benefit from extension based exercises or static positions, the patient will be counseled to avoid all flexion based activities or postures for the low back (bending forward, prolonged sitting, etc.) during the initial stages of rehabilitation. If you have taken a yoga class, you are familiar with the numerous forward folds and sustained toe touches that are done during the class to stretch out the calves and hamstrings. If a patient is experiencing flexion intolerant low back pain, performing 20-30 forward folds in an hour practice is harmful to the body. In a patient prone to back pain, persistent forward bending places stress on the discs, nerves, ligaments, and muscles of the low back. Even Child’s pose position places the low back in end ranges of flexion and should be avoided for most acute back pain patients. Instead of forward folding, perform the downward dog position which will give similar benefits of stretching the calves and hamstrings while keeping a neutral spine.
Shoulder/ neck pain and yoga
Another example is a patient with shoulder and/or neck pain. Handstands, headstands, and other inversion based poses are very popular in yoga. Teachers cite the benefit of reversing the gravitational flow of blood in the body for improvements in circulation. While I agree with this notion, patients with shoulder and neck pain should not be putting this amount of stress on their muscles and joints. Performing a proper head or hand stand requires extreme levels of shoulder and scapular stability – something many beginning yogis do not possess. If you have shoulder or neck pain and are new to yoga, do not try and impress the rest of the class by forcing yourself into an inversion pose. Instead, ask your teacher to show you a regressed version that does not place as much stress on your neck and shoulders.
Knee pain and yoga
Last, the athlete with knee pain needs to be careful with certain yoga postures. Patient’s with current knee pain or a history of knee pain and surgery need to be cautious with certain yoga poses. Popular poses that impose large amounts of stress on the knee joint include the full squat (frog pose), hero pose (sitting on heels and laying backwards), pigeon pose (lying body weight on top of figure 4 pose), and standing tree pose. The common theme with these positions is they add load to the knee joint in extreme ranges of flexion and rotation. When the knee is forced into end ranges of flexion and rotation, the muscles and ligaments of the knee are placed under stress, which is amplified if previous or current injury exists. Instead of fighting through the pain to complete the class, work on poses like the lunge, warrior 1 and 2, bridge pose, and chair pose. These poses will strengthen the muscles and ligaments of the knee in less extreme ranges of motion.
Your Yoga Practice
Practicing yoga should be challenging but pain free and relaxing at the same time. If you are constantly fighting through pain in yoga, you are missing out on the many benefits of a successful practice. Do not feel bad about modifying your practice to work around injuries. Always remember it is YOUR practice, and not everyone else in the room. Make sure to communicate all injuries to teachers before the class starts so they can help you with modifications to make sure you get the same benefits as everyone else. As always, if you have a lingering injury that does not seem to be getting better, make sure to consult a health care professional who can diagnose and correct your specific issue.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
Treat Yourself Like a Professional Athlete Part 4: Utilize Conservative Health Care
Elite athletes are utilizing complementary and alternative health care providers more than ever. They understand the key to career longevity is receiving preventative treatments before injuries and sickness occur. Practitioners of complementary and alternative, or ‘conservative’ health care pride themselves on treating the root cause of injury and illness, rather than just treating symptoms. Conservative health care providers aim to use surgery and drugs as a last resort, and only when the athlete has failed to respond to all conservative care treatments.
Who are the complementary and alternative health care providers?
Professional athletes are regularly receiving treatments from Doctors of Chiropractic (DC), Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPT), Licensed Acupuncturists (Lac), Doctors of Oriental Medicine (DOM), Registered Dietitians (RD), Medical Doctors with a focus in functional medicine (MD), and Doctors of Naturopathic Medicine (NDs). Many professional teams employ or subcontract with these various practitioners. Most of these practitioners receive 4+ years of additional education after their undergraduate studies to learn the skills of their given professions and often take similar courses as Medical Doctors (MDs). For example, a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) or Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) take many of the same science, pathology, and radiology courses as MDs.
What treatments do complementary and alternative health care providers provide?
Doctors of Chiropractic (DC) and Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPT) are best known for hands on treatments, such as joint manipulations, soft tissue treatments on muscles, tendons, and ligaments, and prescribing exercise therapies to correct faulty movement patterns. Licensed Acupuncturists (Lac) and Doctors of Oriental Medicine (DOM) utilize principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to treat a wide variety of pain syndromes, metabolic and hormonal issues, and other inflammatory conditions that may be hampering athletic performance. These doctors use treatments such as cupping, herbs, ‘Tui Na’ Chinese massage, movement therapies like Tai Chi and Qi Gong, diet and lifestyle modification, and acupuncture. Acupuncture is the application of small needles at areas on the body along specific ‘meridians’ that correspond to areas of pain.
For those athletes seeking more of a Western medicine approach, a Registered Dietitian (RD) or Medical Doctor (MD) focusing on functional medicine, are both great options. The RD will create customized dietary and supplement plans for athletes based on the unique metabolic needs of their sport. The MD focusing on functional medicine will order comprehensive blood, stool, urinary, food sensitivity, micronutrient, and environmental toxicity tests to look for specific underlying causes of metabolic, digestive, and hormonal issues.
How many athletes utilize complementary and alternative health care providers?
Focusing on chiropractic in professional and olympic sports, today all 32 NFL teams and 93% of MLB teams have a chiropractor on staff, and 72% of PGA golfers receive regular chiropractic care. Globally, 90% of all world-class athletes utilize chiropractic care to enhance performance 2.
Dr. Michael Reed, DC was the first chiropractor to act as Medical Director for Team USA at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver 1. At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Dr. William Moreau, DC served as Medical Director for Team USA, and an additional 40 chiropractors were on site to treat the US team and athletes from other countries 3. Similar statistics for other alternative health care providers show the mainstream inclusion of their professions into elite level sports.
Which provider should I see?
For athletic injury recovery and functional movement analysis, Chiropractors (DC) and Physical Therapists (DPT) are your best choice. These practitioners are experts at human movement and can identify which movement deficiencies you may have that are predisposing you to injury. Look for practitioners who have the following certifications or coursework: Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS), Functional Movement Systems (FMS), Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA), Global Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention (GRIP), or any practitioner who holds a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification. As movement experts, chiropractors and PTs identify limitations in joint ranges of motion, stability, and muscle firing patterns that are currently causing or may eventually lead to injury.
For sports nutrition, Registered Dietitians (RD) with a focus in sports nutrition and Doctors of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) will be your best option. These practitioners understand there are unique energy requirements for each athlete and can help you find out what works best for you. Nutrition is key for both recovery and performance, so finding a practitioner well versed in nutrition is imperative.
For digestive issues impairing sports performance and overall health and well-being seek out Doctors of Naturopathic Medicine (ND), Doctors of Oriental Medicine (DOM), or Medical Doctors (MD) with a focus in functional medicine. The MD focusing on functional medicine will order comprehensive tests to assess the health of your gut microbiome, determine if parasites are present and effecting your gastrointestinal tract, and assess how well your body is metabolizing the foods you consume. Functional medicine embodies the idea of treating the root cause of a patient’s problem, rather than just treating symptoms.
When it comes to pain syndromes and injury your best choices are Doctors of Chiropractic (DC), Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPT), and Licensed Acupuncturists (Lac). As stated previously, acupuncturists use needle point stimulation to decrease pain along meridian lines throughout the body. DC’s and DPT’s utilize a variety of manual therapy and joint manipulation techniques to decrease pain and inflammation, accelerating the healing process.
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC MS. Check out his bio here.
- Mike Reed. 27 April, 2014. In Wikichiro. Retrieved October 24, 2018 from, http://wikichiro.org/en/index.php?title=Mike_Reed.
- Sports Chiropractic: A Winning Solution For Athletes. Infographic (2016). Palmer College of Chiropractic. Retrieved from: https://www.palmer.edu/uploadedFiles/_Resource_Center/Infographics/infographic-sports-chiropractic-.pdf. On October 2, 2018
- William Moreau. 16 June, 2014. In Wikichiro. Retrieved October 15, 2018 from, http://wikichiro.org/en/index.php?title=William_Moreau
We’re going to take a quick break from our ‘Treat Yourself like a Professional Athlete’ blog series to address commonly asked questions in our clinic – how much should I be stretching, how should I be stretching, and why do improvements in flexibility from stretching seem to happen so slowly?
Do you feel like you are constantly stretching and foam rolling yet are not improving flexibility? Patients regularly ask me how to become more flexible and mobile. They stretch their hips, hamstrings, and lower backs constantly, yet see little improvement in function, range of motion, or pain. For many patients, the issue is not the extensibility of their tissues, it is poor or inadequate stabilization patterns.
Create a Stable Base of Support
For the brain to allow movement and lengthening of a muscle, there must be a stable base of support. If a stable base of support is not present, the brain will perceive the movement as threatening and unsafe, and will put the brakes on. The brain does this by preventing muscles from expressing their full ranges of motion. This phenomena may show up as tight hamstrings, hip flexors, and lower back muscles.
Muscles most commonly attach to joints or on bony landmarks next to joints. With this in mind, the stable base of support required for movement is most often a joint, which includes the vertebrae in the spine. Poor stability at a joint is perceived as a ‘red light’ to movement. We call this ‘neurologic tension’ which refers to muscular tightness caused by the brain putting brakes on a movement. If all we do is stretch the tight muscle, we are not addressing the root cause of the problem – an inadequate base of support. The feet, hips, shoulders, and vertebrae in the lower back and neck are common areas where patients need to improve stability because many muscles attach to these areas.
Breathing to Release Your Hip Flexors
Many of our patients stretch their hip flexors constantly but do not see any improvement. The main muscle for hip flexion is the psoas major muscle. The psoas muscle attaches to the vertebrae in the spine, crosses the hip joint, and eventually attaches to the top of the leg near the head of the femur. If the psoas muscle does not have a stable base of support at the spine, the brain will not allow this muscle to fully lengthen, leading to tighter hips. Proper breathing patterns utilizing a diaphragm-driven belly breath and 360-degree cylindrical core stability are essential to create a stable base of support at the spine. At our clinic we teach patients how to breathe deeply into their abdomen. This is important because you must be able to breathe into an area if you want to activate the muscles in the area. Once they can breathe into the front, sides, and back of their abdomen, we teach them how to stabilize the muscles of the core using progressively more difficult exercises. Many patients notice improved hip flexor mobility simply by achieving better breathing and core stabilization patterns.
Stabilize Instead of Stretch
You should now understand how poor stabilization at joints can lead to an inflexibility of the muscles that attach at or near the joint. The focus of exercise therapies at our clinic teach patients to have better stabilization at their joints. Patients are amazed when they see active and passive ranges of motion dramatically improve once a stable base of support is created. We rarely give clients traditional stretching exercises because for the vast majority of patients, the root cause of stiffness is neurologic tension due to poor stabilization patterns.
As today’s blog post is more technical than previous posts, please feel free to reach out if you have any questions!
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.
Train like a pro
Elite athletes understand they need to build durable and resilient muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons. The best way to do this, aside from a healthy diet (nutrition blog post) and adequate recovery practices (sleep blog post), is resistance weight training. When we lift weights, we place an external load on the body, mimicking the forces encountered in sports. Forces placed against the body are present in both contact and non-contact sports. When participating in non-contact sports such as running, throwing, and golf, forces are still exerted from contact with the ground or from internal forces the body places on itself during movement. This week we will dive into the key principles of strength and conditioning that will help you train like a pro.
Keep it simple
Most people would be surprised by the simplistic workouts of the world’s top athletes. There is a misconception professional athletes are using state of the art equipment unavailable to the average person. While elite athletes do have access to incredible facilities and equipment, most pros are still using simple squat racks, barbells, dumbbells, pull-up bars, and kettlebells – equipment we almost all have access to.
Traditional bodybuilding training focuses on single joint, single muscle group exercises. While effective for improving aesthetics, these movements do not increase functionality in the athlete or mimic the demands encountered in sports. The key is to focus on compound, multi-joint exercises like the deadlift, squat, pull-up, bench press, and weighted rows. These exercises will stress multiple muscle groups, requiring they work together to move the load.
Focus on closed chain exercises
Closed chain exercises are when the body part being moved is anchored to the ground or an immovable object, like a pull-up bar. The direction of muscle pull is towards the ground or immovable object. Force is being transmitted through the ground, not through the air when you perform exercises such as deadlifts, squats, push-ups, pull-ups, or lunges. These exercises recruit larger muscle groups and require they work together to move the load. Closed chain exercises also require greater stabilization of the spine, which is essential for protecting the lower back during sports.
Contrarily, open chain exercises are when the arm or foot is free to move and is not anchored to the ground or an immovable object. The direction of muscle pull is inwards toward the body when you perform exercises such as bicep curls, bench press, hamstring leg curls, or quad knee extensions. The muscle is mainly recruited in the concentric (shortening) phase of muscle action. As such, open chain exercises are less functional to the athlete and should not be the focus of a strength and conditioning program.
Control the eccentric portion of the lift
Many injuries in sports occur when the muscle is asked to contract while it is in the process of lengthening. Bicep tendon tears, hamstring tears, and achilles ruptures are common injuries that often occur in the eccentric phase of muscle action. This type of contraction causes the most tearing of muscle fibers, whether injury occurs or not. A simple example of eccentric muscle action is during the bicep curl. As the weight is lifted, the bicep is acting concentrically, meaning it is shortening while it is contracting. As you slowly lower the weight, the bicep is eccentrically contracting, meaning you are putting it under load as the muscle lengthens.
By focusing on slow lowering in movements like the squat (descent), deadlift (lowering the bar to the ground), and pull-up, you can target the eccentric muscle actions, making your body more durable and resilient to injury. As an added bonus, muscle growth is stimulated most by eccentric exercises.
Adopt a pull to push ratio of 2:1 or 3:1
This ratio will maintain the balance of your posterior (back) and anterior (front) muscle chains. Proper balance and upright posture depends on balance between these two chains of muscles. Most people are insufficient in their posterior chain (calves, hamstrings, glutes, triceps, upper back muscles) and overly sufficient in their anterior chain (quads, upper abdominals, pecs, and biceps). A reason for this pattern is the anterior chain muscles are the ones typically associated with an aesthetic body and are trained more often than the posterior chain muscles. When it comes to function, a strong posterior chain in balance with the anterior chain is key. A strong posterior chain will help you develop more force in your running stride, take and receive hits in contact sports, and stick a landing after a vault in gymnastics.
Pulling exercises include pull-ups, deadlifts, seated rows, dumbbell rows, and lat-pull downs.
Pushing exercises include push-ups, bench press, incline DB press, landmine press, and strict press.
Finally, it is important your gym training closely mimics demands encountered by your sport. The Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID) principle states the biomechanical and neural adaptations your body makes to training will be specific to the movements being trained. For example, if you want to get better at running, you should not bench press every time you go to the gym. Conversely, if you are an offensive lineman in football, obtaining a strong bench press will be essential to success in your sport. Choosing exercises that either recruit the muscle groups you plan to use or movements that look similar to the ones you perform in your sport is crucial to training like a pro.
Have questions? feel free to reach out to Dr. Riley at [email protected]
Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.