Category Archives: Preventative therapy

Osteoporosis and Exercise

By Lauren Harding, Registered Kinesiologist

What is osteopenia and osteoporosis?

unnamedOsteopenia and osteoporosis are conditions characterized by a loss of bone mineral density (BMD). BMD is a measure of the quantity of minerals (calcium and phosphorus) in a precise volume of bone. The difference comes in their severity.

Osteopenia indicates a lower BMD causing bones to be generally weaker. This bone weakness becomes more pronounced with osteoporosis as the bones become more brittle and porous (filled with air pockets), ultimately increasing the risk of fracture. Though less severe, osteopenia is a serious risk factor for developing osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is often labeled as the ‘silent thief’ since bone loss occurs gradually, typically without symptoms. However, these four factors can signal underlying osteoporosis:

  • Loss of height over time and/or development of a stooped posture
  • Sudden back pain without any obvious cause
  • Fracturing after a seemingly minor incident

 

How are these three conditions treated?

An excellent approach is early intervention physiotherapy treatment, accompanied by a well-designed exercise program. It is important to consult your doctor before starting a new exercise plan. As with any exercise, there is always risk associated.

Osteoporosis Canada recognizes exercise not only for increasing cardiovascular endurance, but also as a fundamental component to protecting your bones. Exercise maintains bone mass and builds muscle strength, as well as increases flexibility and range of motion, balance and coordination. Benefits also include reduced pain and inflammation, while promoting loss of excessive weight. Additionally, the risk of falling is reduced.

 

What types of exercise should I be doing?

There are 5 types of exercises recommended for individuals with osteopenia and osteoporosis:

Types of Exercise How Often Should I Do These?
Aerobic 3 to 5 days per week, a minimum of 150 minutes per week
Strength Training 2 to 3 times per week
Balance Every day
Stretching Every day
Posture Training Always

 

Aerobic Exerciseunnamed

Aerobic exercise is considered any continuous, rhythmic activity that strengthens and stimulates the heart and lungs, thereby improving the body’s use of oxygen. It is recommended that ALL adults get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week, or about 20 to 30 minutes per day, for at least 10 minutes at a time. During moderate-intensity activity, your heart beats faster and you breathe harder. The rule of thumb is that you are able to talk during these activities, but you are working too hard to be able to sing. During vigorous-intensity activity, your heart beats faster still and you continue to breathe harder. You are unable to say more than a few words at a time during vigorous activity. It is important with osteopenia and osteoporosis to do weight bearing aerobic exercises. Examples of weight bearing aerobic exercises include:

  • Brisk walking, dancing, stair climbing, running, step aerobics, hiking, jogging, jump rope, and treadmill walking/running

 


Strength Training

Elderly_exercise

In order to increase your muscular strength, you must work against resistance until your muscles feel tired.

This helps to reverse muscle atrophy, a condition that occurs when your muscles start to waste away due to lack of use. Furthermore, resistance training strengthens the muscles surrounding your joints, ultimately reducing further joint damage and decreasing risk of injury. ALL adults should do 2-3 days of strength training a week. Exercises using free weights (dumbbells), exercise bands or weight machines are strongly recommended. Examples include:

  • bicep curls, sit-to-stand, lunges, rows, calf raises, bridges, triceps kickbacks, countertop push ups

 

Balance Exercises

Balance exercises help maintain your footing when an unexpected movement occurs in your daily life. Improving balance and coordination can reduce your likelihood of falling, therefore decreasing your fracture risk. Ironically, in challenging your balance, you run the risk of falling. For this reason, you must always take precautions such as having a chair nearby to hold onto. When you are training your balance, there are two main types of balance exercises:

  • Static Exercises – Stand still in one spot holding a certain posture in order to practice balance. For example, standing on one foot on the floor.
  • Dynamic Exercises – Balance is challenged more with adding movement. For example, walking ina straight line while touching the heel of one foot to the toe of the other with each step.

 

Stretching

unnamed (1)As you age, you lose flexibility which can increase your stiffness and discomfort, often preventing you from staying active. Stretching exercises help you to counteract this by increasing the range of motion of your joints and improving your flexibility. It is important to note that stretching should always be done after the muscles and the body are warmed up since stretching cold, stiff muscles increases your risk of injury. Just like in balance training, there are two main ways to stretch:

  • Static Stretching – Take the muscles to their end range of motion and maintain that position for at least 30 seconds in order to enhance soft tissue and muscular flexibility.
  • Dynamic Stretching – Functional, multi-joint movements that typically increase in range of motion and speed as the body begins to warm up.

While both are effective, dynamic stretching has been shown to be more beneficial than static stretching as a way to warm up prior to activity since it has been found to improve balance, strength, reaction time and agility. Static stretching, however, is still important and is most beneficial when performed at the end of exercise as a cool down. Static stretching can also be done separately when the body is warm as part of an everyday attempt to improve body mechanics, posture and flexibility.

 

Posture Training

unnamed (1)We all have a natural curve in our spine, however, weak back muscles and/or spinal fractures can cause an excessive forward curvature of the spine. Rounding of the upper back is known as exaggerated kyphosis. This puts pressure on the front of your vertebrae, placing them at even great risk of fracture. Posture training exercises help to improve the alignment of your spine by correcting shoulder, back and neck positioning. Focus should be placed on exercises that strengthen the back muscles and reduce forward head posture. Abdominal exercises that strengthen the core muscles, help to maintain good posture as well.

 

To Sum Up

An exercise program is a vital component in the management of osteoporosis.

Regular participation in aerobic and strength training is fundamental, as well as balance, posture management and stretching.  All in all, physical activity for individuals with osteopenia or osteoporosis can promote bone health and overall quality of life.

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Injury Prevention and Physiotherapy

By Cassandra Kroner, PT

best-chicago-group-step-class.jpgIt is a common misconception that you only need to see a physiotherapist if you have an injury or pain. Physiotherapists have a wide range of skills, and recognizing the risk for future injury is one of them. Injury prevention is applicable to all individuals, regardless of their activity level, from the office worker to the athlete, and especially for those with previous injuries that could reoccur.

Repetitive Strain Factors

  • Occupation
  • Training errors
  • Age
  • Excessive or repetitive loads
  • Inappropriate footwear
  • Structural abnormalities
  • Muscle control
  • Core stability
  • Joint alignment
  • Muscle strength and flexibility imbalances
  • Previous injury
  • Posture

In general there are two types of injuries – traumatic and repetitive strain. Traumatic injuries are easier to understand, as they are the result of a singular event that causes damage. On the other hand, repetitive strain injuries occur when stressors that normally do not cause harm are repeated to the point of causing micro trauma that builds over time until the tissue becomes inflamed and injured. These injuries tend to begin subtly, and gradually increase in severity. Combined with the multi-factorial list of possible contributing factors, repetitive strain injuries can be challenging to diagnose and treat. However, in most cases repetitive strain injuries can be avoided with a good injury prevention and maintenance program.

A Common Factor: Muscle Imbalance

When an individual is involved in one specific sport or has a repetitive aspect to their job, the muscles are put under a great deal of strain to repeatedly perform the same movements. Sedentary jobs involving prolonged postures can have similar effects with certain muscles constantly working for long periods. Over time, muscle imbalances develop as the muscles that are being used the most continue to get strong while the reciprocating muscles become lengthened and weak. These muscle imbalances can cause movement restrictions that affect performance and increase stress on the body. Increased stress on muscles, joints and ligaments eventually leads to a repetitive strain injury.

15250-a-young-woman-stretching-outdoors-before-exercising-pv-630x390.jpgThe First Steps Toward Injury Prevention

Getting started on the road to injury prevention is as simple as booking an appointment with a physiotherapist. If you are unsure how injury prevention could apply to you or if you could be at risk for injury, speaking with a physiotherapist can help clarify your needs and goals. The same expert assessment skills physiotherapists use to diagnose injury will be used to proactively assess for risk factors that could lead to future injury. Your lifestyle, the demands of your job, and the specific sports or activities you participate in will be considered, along with the assessment findings, to develop an individualized treatment plan. This plan could involve manual therapy to correct joint restrictions or muscle length imbalance, strength and flexibility exercises, correction of movement patterns, and education.

By addressing several predisposing factors to injury, the body is optimally prepared to handle the demands of the workplace or sport. This can translate to decreased frequency and severity of future injuries, with the added benefit of a shortened recovery time in the event an injury does occur. Don’t wait for an injury to strike to take charge of your health!

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Why dancers need the perfect balance of strength and flexibility

By Kelsey Jack, PT

My ballet teacher once told me that given a choice between having strength and flexibility, she would choose strength. This has always stuck with me as there is such an emphasis on flexibility within the dance world that often there is a lack of focus on building the strength required to make use of that flexibility. This enhanced focus on flexibility instead of a balance between strength and flexibility creates muscle imbalances. If dancers work to improve their flexibility and ignore balancing the strength around the joints, it leaves the dancer vulnerable to injury.

Why is balancing strength and flexibility important?

Stability is provided to joints from a combination of passive and active structures. Passive structures include the bones that make up the joint and the ligaments that surround it and support it. Active structures are the muscles and tendons that act to both maintain stability and move the joint. Focusing on passive, static stretching, as is often the case in dance, can lead to instability of joints as the ligaments that are meant to stabilize the joint become stretched out and no longer provide joint support.

Flexibility, or range of motion can be divided into two categories: passive and active. Passive range of motion is demonstrated by how high a dancer is able to lift their leg using their hands whereas active range of motion is how high a dancer is able to lift their leg using their hip muscles and is demonstrated by doing a step like a developpé.  Practically speaking, flexibility without strength limits active range of motion and will hinder the height of legs when performing steps that involve controlled movements and sustained positions.

Back bends are a good example of a movement that is common in dance where strength is required to balance the flexibility of the spine. Dancers without good core strength and control will hinge through their spine, relying on one or two segments to gain all of their movement through. This leaves the spine vulnerable to injury as the ligaments and discs are relied on for support. Ideally when doing a back bend the spine should form a “C” curve. Many teachers instruct dancers to breathe up and extend through the top of their head into their back bend to encourage control into this movement pattern. Engagement of the abdominals and stabilizer muscles of the spine are required to move through each segment of the spine in a way that supports the passive structures of the back to create the desired curve.  It is subtle differences such as these in how a dancer moves, using strength to control their flexibility, that improves the quality of movement and decrease the future risk of injury.

Evidence to support strengthening to increase flexibility

As dancers are often concerned about their hip flexibility, a study was done looking into the best way to increase hip active range of motion. The researchers compared three stretching programs over a six week period. The first group of dancers completed a strengthening program where they worked at strengthening their hip flexors at the end of their available range of motion. The second group completed a “light” stretching program for their gluteals, hamstrings, calves, and quadriceps muscles, holding each stretch for 1 minute. This group was asked to perform stretches at an intensity of 3/10 on a scale where 0 is no stretch and 10 is an intense stretch that elicits a burning sensation. The third group performed the same stretches but at a “moderate-high” intensity which was rated as 8/10 on the same scale. The study found that all three groups had an increase in their passive range of motion but only the strength training and the low intensity stretching groups improved their active range of motion. The strengthening group saw the greatest improvements in both passive and active range of motion which is explained by the hamstrings relaxing as the hip flexor is contracted. This allows the hamstring to lengthen while the hip flexor is strengthened. Intense stretching without strengthening (as in the high intensity group) leads to lengthened, weakened muscles which functionally hinder a dancer’s ability to make use of their range of motion. This study demonstrates that exercises that specifically train the hip flexors progress flexibility in a way that translates into dance.

Strengthening allows dancers to maximize their flexibility without compromising the integrity of their passive support structures and increasing their risk of injury. A physiotherapist can assess a dancer’s strength and flexibility and develop a program that will safely allow a dancer to increase their flexibility while strengthening the muscles needed to support their joints, improve performance, and decrease risk of future injury.

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References:

Wyon MA, Smith A, Koutedakis Y. A Comparison of Strength and Stretch Interventions on Active and Passive Ranges of Movement in Dancers: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013. 27(11)3053.

How Physiotherapy Can Help With Osteoporosis

By Lana Kovacevic, PT

Exercise step classOsteoporosis is a condition of reduced bone strength that causes bones to be more likely to break (1). It is a progressive disease in which the density and quality of bone decreases over time making it more fragile. Current trends show that more and more people are affected by osteoporosis each year (1). Among Canadian men and women, an estimated 1 in 4 women have osteoporosis compared to 1 in 8 men (1).

Why is osteoporosis so concerning?

The major threat to healthy aging and independent mobility for those with osteoporosis is the risk of sustaining a fragility fracture. A fragility fracture is a broken bone that results from minimal trauma or stress – stress which typically would not cause a bone to break (1). An example would be breaking a bone in the wrist or hip after falling from standing height (1). After an initial fragility fracture, you become more than two times as likely to sustain another fracture in the future (1). The most common bones to be injured are those of the wrist, upper arm, ribs, spine, pelvis, and hip (1).

Who is at risk for osteoporosis?

Canadian guidelines recommend that all postmenopausal women and men over the age of 50 years be screened for their risk of osteoporosis (1). A diagnosis is made following an X-ray that measures bone mineral density. This test is recommended for those who have at least 1 major or 2 minor risk factors (1).

Figure 1: Some key major and minor risk factors for osteoporosis (1)

Major Risk Factors Minor Risk Factors
  • Age over 65 years
  • Family history of osteoporosis fracture
  • Early menopause (before age 45)
  • Glucocorticoid therapy for more than 3 months
  • Falls
  • Smoking
  • Diet low in calcium
  • Body weight less than 57 kg
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

How can I check if I am at risk for osteoporosis?

A convenient online tool for estimating the risk of osteoporosis fracture exists called the FRAX® Fracture Risk Assessment Tool. Click on this link to get an estimate of your personal risk. If you are concerned about your risk for osteoporosis, it is best to consult your family doctor.

How is osteoporosis treated?

Apart from medical management with medication and supplementation, exercise is a key component of treatment. Exercise has been shown to slow the loss of bone mineral density and reduce the risk of falling (1). This means that exercise can be beneficial for both preventing osteoporosis as well as managing symptoms for those already diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Can physiotherapy and exercise help if…

…I’m concerned about developing osteoporosis in the future?

For anyone at an increased risk of osteoporosis or those with a family history of osteoporosis, taking part in weight-bearing physical activity and activity that involves some impact is best for preventing bone loss. Starting this type of exercise at a younger age may make you less likely to suffer from osteoporosis in older age.

…I’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis?

For those with osteoporosis, exercise is important to help minimize bone density loss. It is also critical for reducing the risk of falling and therefore, a broken bone. Risk of falling is higher for people with poor strength, balance, posture, and with poor postural stability. All of these factors can be addressed and improved with a proper exercise program.

…I’ve already had a fragility fracture and want to avoid having another one in the future?

A safe exercise program is also beneficial for those who have already suffered a broken bone associated with osteoporosis. Less than 20% of women (or 1 in 5) and 10% of men (or 1 in 10) who have had a fracture are given the appropriate treatment to prevent a future fracture (2). It is important to restore safe movement patterns during recovery from a fracture as well as to reduce the risk of sustaining another fracture.

Each person is unique and should have an exercise program that is tailored to their specific needs. A physiotherapist can assess, treat, and teach you how to reduce your risk of osteoporosis, manage your symptoms, and improve your general health and physical functioning.

Reference:

  1. Brown JP, Josse RG. 2002 clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of osteoporosis in Canada. CMAJ. 2002. 167(10); S1-34.
  2. Papaioannou A, Morin S, Cheung AM, Atkinson S, Brown JP, Feldman S, et al. 2010 clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of osteoporosis in Canada: summary. CMAJ. 2010. 182(17): 1-10.

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Physiotherapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is pain, numbness, and tingling, in the wrist and hand particularly in the thumb, index and middle finger. This syndrome affects approximately 3-6% of the general population. The carpal tunnel is a small passageway at the wrist that tendons and the median nerve run through as they travel into the hand. The tunnel is surrounded by bone and connective tissue so it does not easily stretch or expand, making structures within it susceptible to irritation which can cause the median nerve to be compressed. If left untreated and the condition worsens, symptoms may progress to include weakness in the hand.

Causes and Risk Factors
A combination of several of the following factors can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Chronic stress on wrist/hand – typically affecting the dominant hand, often due to working posture or repetitive motions (eg. using computers for several hours a day, assembly-line workers, musicians, using vibrating power tools)
  • Trauma to the wrist (eg. fracture, sprain) – can cause damage to the nerve or swelling to other structures that will narrow the carpal tunnel
  • Pregnancy – hormonal changes can affect tendons and cause swelling
  • Arthritis – bony growths into the tunnel narrow the space
  • Congenital Predisposition – women and smaller individuals may have narrower carpal tunnels, reducing space for the nerve
  • Diabetic or Metabolic Disorders – negatively affect the body’s nerves

Symptoms
The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Gradual onset of pain, burning, tingling, numbness or itching in the palm, thumb and/or index and middle fingers
  • Feeling of weakness and swelling in the hand, with difficulty grasping small items, making a fist and performing fine motor tasks
  • Urge to shake out the hand to relieve the tingling sensations

In the early stages, symptoms will often be intermittent. However, as the condition worsens symptoms are more severe and begin to persist for longer periods of time. Pain and numbness tends to be worse at night for a lot of individuals.

Treatment
It is advised to seek treatment from a professional as soon as carpal tunnel symptoms arise as the condition will not typically resolve on its own.

Medication: Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs (eg. Ibuprofen) may provide short term relief from mild symptoms. Corticosteroid injections are a much stronger anti-inflammatory, and may also be a temporary option to help relieve pressure and symptoms for those with relatively mild symptoms.

Physiotherapy: Seeking help from a registered physiotherapist is one of the best options for treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. Physiotherapy will include manual therapy on your wrist to improve the mobility of the joints and stretch tight muscles and tendons in the wrist and fingers, helping to remove any scar tissue buildup that may hinder recovery. The Physiotherapist will also incorporate nerve gliding techniques to help improve the mobility of the median nerve through the carpal tunnel. Ultrasound may be used over the carpal tunnel area to reduce inflammation which helps to relieve symptoms. Your physiotherapist may also suggest a brace or splint to immobilize the wrist while working or performing aggravating activities. They will provide education about activity modification to avoid aggravating positions, such as holding the wrist in a flexed (bent) position. Your physiotherapist will also prescribe specific stretching and strengthening exercises for the fingers, thumb, hand and arm to progress through later stages of recovery. They will provide education on proper posture while working to prevent relapse.

Surgery: With very severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome where nonsurgical treatment does not provide any relief, surgery may be an option. The surgery typically consists of cutting the roof of the carpal tunnel, to provide more room for the tendons and median nerve and decrease compression. Full recovery back to original strength in the hand may take 6-12 months.

While carpal tunnel is a relatively common condition, it is often misdiagnosed, thus it is a good idea to seek treatment from a registered physiotherapist upon the onset of symptoms in order to have the best chance of full recovery and to prevent irreversible damage. Your physiotherapist will be able to recommend appropriate treatment options, whether that be manual therapy, bracing, or if necessary, surgical intervention.

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Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow

Lateral epicondylitis, more commonly referred to as “tennis elbow”, is a term used to describe pain just above the elbow joint on the outer side of the arm. Contrary to popular belief, tennis elbow is not a condition that is exclusive to tennis players or athletes. The term tennis elbow was coined from the fact it can be a significant problem for as many as 50% of tennis players during their careers. However, less than 5% of reported cases of tennis elbow result from playing tennis!

More specifically, tennis elbow is a tendinopathy at the origin of the extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon (the tendon that is responsible for wrist extension). This tendinopathy is due to degeneration of, or damage to the tendon causing inflammation and subsequently, pain. In order to understand what causes tennis elbow, it is important to first understand tendons and how they function. Tendons are like “ropes” made of collagen tissue. They are flexible, but do not stretch when pulled. It is the job of the tendon to connect muscle to bone. In the case of tennis elbow, the area on the bone where the tendons attach, just above the elbow on the lateral side (or outer side) of the arm, are sometimes incapable of handling the force of the arm muscles. Strong forces or sudden impact to the tendons at this point of attachment are what cause damage, like small tears in the fibers of the tendon (similar to a rope becoming frayed).

Activities that exacerbate tennis elbow symptoms are those that involve repetitive motion of the arm, forearm, wrist, and hand. Movements that are commonly associated with the development of tennis elbow are: lifting, gripping something tightly in combination with inward or outward rotation of the forearm, jerky throwing motions, swatting with the hand, and simultaneous rotation of the forearm and bending of the wrist. Racquet sports may be the most “popular” activity to associate with tennis elbow, but as previously mentioned most cases are the result of a wide range of actions that include, but are not limited to: painting/plastering, excessive and repetitive use of a computer mouse, carpentry work, gardening and repetitive lifting and carrying.

Tennis elbow can be suspected when performing routine tasks, such as gripping objects or turning doorknobs, become painful. A physician or physiotherapist can diagnose tennis elbow by discussing symptoms and examining the affected arm. Diagnostic tests are not typically necessary for an accurate diagnosis, however, a physician may request an X-ray or MRI imaging if symptoms do not improve with treatment.

Treatment options for tennis elbow include modifying activities that exacerbate symptoms. Movements that cause an increase in pain should be avoided to help allow the tendon to heal. Pain management is also important to consider. Anti-inflammatory painkillers are commonly used for some symptomatic relief, however physiotherapy remains the most successful tool in the treatment of tennis elbow long-term. A physiotherapist will perform manual therapy on the affected arm, to mobilize the underlying stiff joints and tight structures. Modalities such as ice, and ultrasound, as well as taping may be used to ease pain and encourage healing. A physiotherapist will implement stretching and strengthening exercises to help restore normal function of the arm, and also prevent tennis elbow from occurring in the future.

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Massage Therapy for Injury Prevention

image1When muscles become tight and sore, seeking out the help of a Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) is always a smart idea. But, why wait until things get bad before working with a RMT? Massage therapy is not only effective in relieving existing pain and discomfort, but it is also an important step in preventing symptoms from occurring in the first place.  Using massage therapy to help you address issues such as muscle imbalances, posture, repetitive strain injuries and stress can prevent future injuries and pain from affecting your daily life.

Massage therapy can be used to help maintain good posture by addressing shortened, tight or sore muscles. Good postural muscle balance is important because an imbalance in the muscles surrounding a joint can cause discomfort and thus lead to injury. Posture is affected by the way you hold your body when sitting, standing, or moving. Improper posture over time leads to changes in muscle length. Possible consequences of poor posture include neck, shoulder, and back pain, or headaches and jaw pain from increased stress on muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. Muscles will become shortened and tight from being in a slouched position, and the muscles on the other side of the joints will become lengthened and weak from constantly being stretched. When this kind of muscular dysfunction occurs, joints and ligaments are not receiving the support they need from the surrounding muscles. Without this stability, the joints and ligaments become more vulnerable to injury. The resulting muscle imbalance limits range of motion, changing the way the body moves, which will affect work or sport performance. Regular massage therapy can be used to restore neutral posture and decrease muscle tension.

Repetitive strain injuries occur when the same motions are being repeated frequently. Common sites for repetitive strain injuries are in the wrists, elbows, shoulders, and low back. These types of injuries can be avoided by ensuring there is good muscle balance in the areas of the body that are being most frequently used. This will ensure the joints, ligaments, and tendons are being properly protected from injury.

Stress is one of the most common causes of tight and painful muscles seen by massage therapists. When your body is stressed, the natural reaction for your muscles is to tense up. This is the body’s defense mechanism against injury or pain. Stress can be physiological (ie. from chronic painful conditions), or emotional. Prolonged periods of stress and muscle tightness can cause abnormal muscle tension, as well as mental/emotional symptoms such as irregular sleep patterns, anxiety, and mood disorders. Receiving regular massage therapy has been proven to help relax muscles and restore normal muscle tension, as well as improve sleep quality, mood, and relieve anxiety.

Seeking preventative care from your Registered Massage Therapist is vital to maintaining normal range of motion, correcting posture, and reducing stress. Working with your massage therapist on a consistent basis throughout the year will ensure problem areas are identified before they become painful, and therefore prevent further injuries.

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