Probably one of the most debilitating side effects of this fast-paced world we live in, is physical pain.
Headaches, myofascial pain, fibromyalgia, backache, neck and shoulder pain, joint and muscle pain, sore hands and feet – you name it. There have been periods during my life where I’ve proclaimed, “Bloody hell, I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck”.
Many of us put on a brave face and just soldier on. In fact, often we don’t have the time to take a step back and observe exactly how sore our bodies feel because we’re trying so hard not to drown in the never-ending list of responsibilities. We run around like mad, headless chooks trying to put out the spot fires that erupt daily while attempting our best at the many roles we must fulfil. If we continue at this pace relentlessly, there usually comes a point where chronic pain becomes a part of our daily life.
But seriously – don’t do as I did and leave it until you’re physically completely buggered. Nip it in the bud long before you come crashing down in a heap and find yourself completely immobilised. But if you are already feeling like ten trucks have rolled you over, then you may find the following suggestions beneficial.
When I had my first two children (13 months apart – what was I thinking lol?) I had to return to work full-time when they were both babies. My job involved shift work so it was very challenging to establish a routine. Before long I ended up falling apart at the seams. I was constantly tired and stressed, my body hurt from top to toe and my brain just didn’t work the way it used to. Every day felt overwhelming with so much to do and not enough time to relax and recharge.
One day I remember going to the supermarket and although I had my shopping list to hand, I just couldn’t function. I knew the supermarket like the back of my hand, but I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t think straight. I literally had no idea what I was doing. I was a dithering idiot hanging onto my trolley, staring blindly into space, kind of willing the groceries to magically find their way into my trolley. A sweat broke out all over my body, I could barely breathe. What the hell was wrong with me? I freaked out. And dumped the trolley back in the bay and got myself home as soon as possible … without any groceries. This was my first real experience of anxiety and complete overwhelm. I knew I needed help.
That was when Trevor stepped in. He was a counsellor who helped me through my employer’s Assistance Program. At my first appointment, I hit Trevor with a succinct list of issues that I was dealing with and summed it all up with those famous words, “Oh yeah, and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck – my body hurts from top to toe.”
Trev was great, bless him. He told me I had a classic case of burn-out. He informed me about the fight-or-flight response which I had been blissfully unaware of until this point. You dear reader, probably know, but in case you don’t, here’s a quick explanation. When we’re in a state of stress, our bodies release adrenalin and other hormones which increase our breathing, heart rates and blood pressure. Its purpose is to give us an extra surge of energy to facilitate the best possible chance of survival when faced with a life or death situation. It served us most effectively back in the Stone Age, when as cavemen, we might come face-to-face with a wild predator in the forest and have to run like hell to avoid being eaten alive. It’s designed to be an occasional power shot for the rare time that we are confronted with a life or death situation.
Trev explained that in our world today, so many of us have got ourselves trapped into such frantic lives that we manage to trigger our fight-or-flight response way too frequently.
We kid ourselves we can do it all but the constant deadlines and sheer amount of work that needs to be crammed into each and every day, can mean that we’re often literally running on adrenalin. Over-exposure can lead to adrenal fatigue which is damaging to our health. Our bodies barely have time to properly disperse the hormonal residue effectively, before we’re hit with another shot. This residue then remains stored in our muscles, causing aches and pains from top to toe. If you’ve ever felt that ‘day one and two’ pain after doing a weights workout at the gym, then that’s the kind of physical pain we’re talking about here. Except it can be ongoing and debilitating.
So … to get to the point, Trev taught me a powerful yet easy exercise which provides relief from stress, anxiety and physical pain. I’ll also outline a couple of other simple ‘do it yourself’ maintenance tools to ensure you never feel that crappy again.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Find a peaceful place where you can shut yourself away for half an hour. Lay down on a bed or the floor and go through the following process of clenching and releasing each muscle area of your body. Stay horizontal as you focus on each muscle group.
Take some deep, slow breaths. Then focus on your feet first, following the pointers outlined below. It’s very important to stay clenched during the ten second countdown as this is the magic bit that relieves that painful residue.
A little warning: There’s a very good chance you’re going to feel worse than ever for a day or two after performing this exercise for the first time. The first time I did it I was cursing Trev the day after, but your body is doing exactly what it’s supposed to – eliminating all those horrible built-up toxins. Drink plenty of water to help flush it out and I promise you, by day three you’ll feel like you have a new and refreshed body. If you make this exercise as part of your weekly routine, you’ll never have to suffer that debilitating pain again.
Ankles and feet
Point your toes downwards, clench the muscles, hold for ten seconds and then slowly release. Then pull your toes upwards. Clench the muscles, hold for ten seconds, then slowly release.
Press your feet down. Clench your calf muscles, hold for ten seconds, then slowly release.
Tighten your bum muscles. Hold for ten seconds then release.
Clench your thigh muscles. Hold for ten seconds then release.
Tighten your tummy muscles. Hold for ten and release.
Take a very deep breath, hold for ten seconds then breath out.
Arch your back while clenching the muscles, hold for ten seconds and release.
Forearms and hands
Clench your arms and make a tight fist. Hold for ten seconds and then release.
Tighten the bicep muscles. Hold for ten seconds, slowly release.
Tighten your neck muscles four ways. First, point your chin down towards your chest. Hold for ten seconds, slowly release. Repeat in a backwards motion and for each side.
Sink your neck into your shoulders while raising your shoulders to meet your neck. Clench the shoulder muscles while pushing toward the lower neck. Hold for ten seconds, slowly release.
Clench your jaw tight. Hold for ten seconds then release.
Make a scowling face trying to tighten as many facial muscles. Hold for ten seconds then slowly release.
Thrust your tongue hard against the roof of your mouth. Hold for ten then release.
Screw up your nose and flare the nostrils. Hold for ten and release.
Close both eyes tightly. Hold for ten and release.
Wrinkle up your forehead and arch the eyebrows. Hold for ten and release.
Yoga Foam Roller
So, once you’ve got the worst toxins out of your system by following the progressive muscle relaxation exercises, you can use one or both of the following suggestions to keep your body feeling good.
I bought myself a foam roller from Kmart for about ten bucks. It’s roughly about 45cm wide and 15cm high. Mine is a smooth finish but they come in all kinds varieties with bevels and teeth too.
[Please consider your body’s capability before trying these exercises]
Get yourself on the floor and position the roller under your lower back. While supporting your head with your hands, raise your knees up a bit, leaving your feet planted on the ground. Then slowly walk yourself forward in a horizontal motion bringing the roller up underneath your neck. This gives your spine a great stretch and helps realign your vertebrae. If you’re anything like me, you’ll hear your vertebrae crunch back into alignment which is very satisfying. Saves me spending a fortune at the chiropractor.
I often have sore hips, so I turn onto each side letting the roller give me a good massage across the hip and bum areas.
Support your upper body with arms straight down and hands on the floor and roll your calves and back of thighs across the foam.
If your lower back is up to it, you can turn face down to the floor supporting your upper body with your hands to the floor while rolling on your front thighs. Let your sore bits guide you and you’ll find your way.
Wish you could get yourself an all-over body massage every week but can’t afford either the time or the money? Thanks to a colleague, I discovered the magic of a simple massage ball and it is now my new best friend.
I started off using a tennis ball but if like me, you fall in love with your ball, you can buy proper solid foam massage balls in sport shops to your liking. Again, they come in smooth and spiky varieties.
All you need is yourself, the ball and a wall. Stand up and position the ball between yourself and the wall. Push your body back onto the ball supported by the wall. You can get all your sore bits from bum to neck treated doing this. The best part is you can apply as much or as little pressure as you need and can direct it to the exact spots that are giving you the most grief. Better than a hit-and-miss paid massage any day!
I generally roll the ball up and down either side of my spine and then into the shoulder areas. On the really sore spots, I’ll hold it there, pushing into the wall very firmly. With a bit of practice, you can even do the back of your neck and base of your head. It’s as effective as pressure point massage.
Then position your new best friend behind each bum cheek and roll it up and down and side to side. Stand sideways to loosen up each hip and thigh area. Then position the ball in the middle of your upper arm area, roll up down to get those arm muscles some relief.
Sit on a chair, take off your shoes and roll the ball under each foot, standing if necessary, to exert more pressure on the feet. It’s so satisfying! You can also do your hands and forearms while sitting at a table. Place the ball on the table and roll your hands backwards and forwards, sideways and then do the same with the forearm area.
Your body will guide you and you’ll instinctively know the areas that need the most attention and the correct pressure to apply. The roller and massage ball are now an important part of my daily routine, helping me keep on top of chronic pain. Give these simple, free but very effective suggestions a try – you won’t regret it.
Onwards and upwards!