Treat It Fix It

31 Dec 2009 by intern11
Liu Hongzuo asks health gurus for advice on how to alleviate work-related pains


Jenny Woolsey Harris

She is a soft tissue specialist and director at Sutherland-Chan Centre Hongkong, which promotes massage therapy using a combination of hands-on techniques including deep tissue and Swedish massage.

Jac Vidgen

He is a senior practitioner at Buteyko Breathing Asia. The Buteyko method is a breathing technique aimed at relieving asthma and other respiratory ailments.

Dr Yau Wing Lam

She is a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner at Eastern Chinese Medical Clinic in Hongkong.

Frequent travel – the bane of business travellers – can wreck havoc on one’s body if not treated properly and early enough. Fortunately, in this day and age, there are both innovative and traditional ways to treat sore necks, stiff shoulders and back pains.

Case 1

I spend long hours on the keyboard, which causes my neck pains and shoulder aches that can last for days to a week or two.

Jenny Woolsey Harris of Sutherland-Chan Centre Hongkong recommends massage on the chest and neck muscles as well as the spine to remedy the problem. She deduces that the chest muscles feel the strain from all that typing and also sitting at the steering wheel. Pressure is applied to the neck muscles, and hydrotherapy using heat packs can also do the trick.

“Hydrotherapy heats up your muscles, allowing the masseuse to get deeper into the heated muscles and readies it for massage,” she says. “The result would be a release in muscle tension, increased circulation, an increase in tissue health, and reduced stress response.”

Based on the severity of the pain, treatment may require weekly massages for three consecutive weeks, followed by a fortnightly treatment over two months, and maintenance massages once a month. “It is also on the onus of the client to do their own stretching exercises taught by our masseuse on their own time to help maintain and speed up the healing.”

Jac Vidgen of Buteyko Breathing Asia believes in healing through breathing techniques. He explains: “Most people breathe considerably more in volume per minute than the optimal. This results in chemical imbalance in the body – and particularly reduced oxygen supply to tissues and cells.”

Posture is one major concern. According to Vidgen, the Alexander technique – discovered by the late Australian actor and teacher F Matthias Alexander – involves better self-awareness and freedom in bodily movement that can be used in conjunction with the breathing and posture techniques learnt in the Buteyko method.

When it comes to age-old medicinal practices, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can also be effective in treating muscle pains according to Dr Yau Wing Lam, a TCM practitioner at Eastern Chinese Medical Clinic in Hongkong. She recommends an X-ray first to determine whether one is suffering simply from muscle aches or bone dislocation. A dislocation would warrant a bone setting therapy and acupuncture, “but if it’s muscle pain, cupping therapy (the application of acupressure using vacuum suction) and an acupuncture session would suffice,” says Dr Yau. An acupuncture session takes an average of 40 minutes while cupping therapy is around 15 minutes.

Case 2
I have lower back pains, and I am concerned about the cracking sound in bone joints around the spine sometimes when I stretch. I am so engrossed in work that I forget about my sitting posture. My job also requires me to take long flights, sometimes sitting up to 12 hours or more on each journey.

Dr Yau suggests first finding out through X-ray if one is suffering from a spinal cord injury, muscle fatigue or intervertebral disc slip.

“For spinal cord injury, bone setting and acupuncture are necessary,” she advises. “For muscle fatigue, acupuncture and cupping is required, while intervertebral disc slip requires acupuncture and tui na (Chinese massage technique).” She adds that in the case of bone degeneration, the right treatment is using the combination of medical herbs and acupuncture.

According to Woolsey Harris, lower back pains from long hours of sitting require treatment to the muscles around the gluteus (buttocks) area, the abdominal area and lumbar (lower back). She recommends using hydrotherapy as the gluteus muscles are big in size and function. “They require more heating to prepare the muscles for massage,” she explains. “Stretches taught by the masseuse are very important outside of massage time as they help to speed up the healing process if done regularly.”

Getting up from the plane seat periodically – at least once per hour – will promote circulation in the body. “It also gives an opportunity for you to do your stretches.” The overall treatment will take longer than neck and shoulder treatments because the muscles involved are larger.

Vidgen, on the other hand, feels that long-haul flights compromise healthy breathing, and in turn, health. “The pressure regulating system (in the plane) only gets us down to the equivalent of 5,000ft to 10,000ft, so over-breathing will certainly occur in this environment,” he cautions. “I have worked with a number of pilots and cabin crew as well as lots of long-haul travellers, and they have found that Buteyko’s method definitely reduces jet lag and the very common immune system ‘dive’ which occurs when flying a lot.” He also notes that when people fall asleep with their mouths open, it is a “disaster for breathing and health”.

Case 3
I wear heels to work. I also do a fair amount of presentations and hosting of events, and standing is mandatory which causes the strain on my legs. Leg soreness and pains are sometimes prolonged for weeks./

lifestyleVidgen sees that the problem lies with circulation, and to a certain extent, posture. “Giving presentations involves a lot of talking, and being a teacher, I am clear of how dangerous this can be for our breathing pattern if we are not specifically trained to manage it.”

The Buteyko method, he says, can recondition the body’s breathing, resulting in more optimal breathing and posture.

Dr Yau advises going for a massage to ease pain, and if varicose veins (enlarged veins that pump the blood flow in reverse order normally found in or near feet) or edema (abnormal accumulation of fluids beneath skin) is found, the professionals would employ herbs, and acupuncture can help in curing edema as well. But if the injury is on the bone, tendon or ligament, acupuncture treatment would be administered instead.

However, Dr Yau says: “It is better to change the situation you’re in, including changing the shoes. If the situation remains unchanged, any treatment can only relief the symptoms and pain temporarily.”

Woolsey Harris says that the strain in muscles goes all the way to the neck and head. Standing in heels for long hours gives a chain reaction to the diagnosis of body aches. The standing position is crucial to maintaining the body’s right balance, otherwise it can result in straining of the lumbar spine and muscles.When using massage to treat pain on the leg, calves and the shins will the most attention, followed by the large thigh muscles. Doing regular stretches is important, and massage treatment should be received weekly for three weeks and then monthly for better tissue health.

“If you insist on wearing heels, go for heels with a broader base or without a stiletto, or lower heels. I personally talked many women out of wearing heels. If possible, avoid wearing them at all.”
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