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Thoracolumbar Syndrome: The Great Mimic
The thoracolumbar junction is a common area of joint dysfunction. The most obvious cause is dysfunctional breathing or lack of diaphragmatic breathing. Treating this breathing problem will ultimately be the long-term cure for the syndrome.
A Glimpse Into China's Top Brain Hospital
The sounds of the city pass through the open window are overwhelming the microphone - car horns, construction machinery - and then there's the family at the adjacent bed talking loudly on cell phones, yet you can still hear the faint beep of our patients monitoring equipment.
If You Get a Request for Records, Respond!
In our previous two articles, we discussed two of the main reasons for denial when chiropractic records are reviewed by Medicare contractors.
The Truth About Herbs
I appreciate the effort and research put into the article written in the June issue of Acupuncture Today regarding pesticides and Chinese herbs.
Improving Our Political Effectiveness
The November 2014 elections are right around the corner; members of Congress, governors and state legislators are all running. Now is a good time to talk frankly about our overall political involvement.
Uncle Sam Needs You
Scrutiny into the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) continues to grow after efforts to reform the DVA by the former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, were deemed "a stunning period of dysfunction" by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
MPA Media Wins Seven Publishing Awards
MPA Media, publisher of Acupuncture Today, among other titles, has been recognized for editorial and design excellence with an unprecendented seven publishing awards by the ASBPE, the nation's largest organization for business-to-business publications.
Medicalization and Mindfulness
The past several years have seen a veritable explosion of research on mindfulness. Research abstracts we've published in each issue of Health Insights Today under the heading "Mind-Body News" have increasingly reported on studies about mindfulness interventions.
The Science Behind Happiness
Are you happy right now? Whether yes or no, there are a myriad of reasons why you feel that way. A whole academic discipline has developed to find out what causes or obstructs happiness, and how to amplify it.
History of Animal Acupuncture: Part II
In Part I of this article, I had gone back to 1969 and tried to describe the atmosphere and events of that year that engulfed many of the younger generation, some who were all the core members of the National Acupuncture Association.
News in Brief
NBCE Launches Computer-Based Testing Era; California Chiropractors Get Expanded DOT Exam Privileges; New Jeff Hays Documentary.
When Big Pharma Meets Chinese Medicine
Earlier this year, Bayer made a media splash with their decision to buy the Dihon Pharmaceutical Group Co., a Chinese TCM manufacturer.
A Healthy Dose of Failure is Vital to Your Success
As an acupuncturist I tend to see people after they have already suffered for years and "tried everything." They are so desperate for some relief that they want to know everything about how to get better, right now.
The Spirit of the Point
After receiving a large amount of positive feedback on my San Zhen Protocols series, I have decided to focus this article on some relevant clinical aspects of acupuncture therapy prior to moving on to San Zhen Protocols III.
Healing Community Trauma in Israel and Palestine
It's the beginning of August and Israel and Hamas have just agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire after a month of brutal fighting. In the last four weeks, 1,830 Palestinians and 67 Israelis have been killed.
Help Secure Our Future by Sharing It
The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) conducts one of the most comprehensive surveys of the U.S. chiropractic profession every 4-5 years.
Get Ready For AOM Day
This year, AOM Day 2014 falls on Friday, (October 24th). This is a great opportunity to make your AOM Day celebration or event even bigger by extending it throughout the weekend!
The Problem With Prolonged Sitting
We need to constantly talk to our patients about spending less time sitting and about what can go wrong with poor sitting postures. The fact is we sit too long in repetitive malpositions.
Rethinking GMO: Less Panic, More Context
Some of you may have noticed that after writing parts 1 and 2 of “Genetic Modification of Organisms for Human Consumption” a while back [Nov. 15, 2013 and Jan. 1, 2014 issues], part 3 never appeared.
Thoughts to Live By
When speaking to your patients about their health make sure to ponder the following points and have them assess if they are making themselves even more sick by the thoughts they have about life. Are these some of the traits and thoughts that your patients might have?
Let the Patient Tell Their Story
Often when a patient presents with an injury, they want to tell their story. People by nature like to talk about themselves, particularly when they're worried about their health.
A Commonly Missed Spinal Fixation: The Upper Lumbar Spine (Part 1)
When we think of lower back pain, we tend to think in terms of the lower lumbar spine and the SI joint. These joints and their discs are obviously important. However, we tend to miss fixations that occur just above – in the upper lumbar spine. Three questions come to mind: 1) Why is the upper lumbar spine so important? 2) Why do we miss the fixations here? 3) How can we adjust them?
October, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 10
Breathing Patterns, Connective Tissue and Soft-Shelled Eggs
By Leon Chaitow, ND, DO
If the title of this article stirs your curiosity, hopefully by the end all should be clear, and you will be able to explain to a colleague just how increased levels of pain, soft-shelled eggs, and how you breathe are linked.
With implications ranging from increased fascial tone to colonic spasms, menstrual distress, pseudo-angina attacks, epileptic seizures, profound fatigue, muscle cramps, brain-fog, lowered pain thresholds, sympathetic arousal, increased sensitivity to light and sound, and feelings of extreme anxiety - I hope you will see I am not exaggerating when I say this is a topic worth understanding!22 This is a topic likely to be particularly relevant to your work with vulnerable, chronically painful and fatigued patients.
Before making these connections, though, I need to offer a brief summary of a personal health episode. I have shared this information with various audiences before (e.g., AMTA Conference, Nashville, October 2004), when attempting to highlight just how powerful and immediate the effects of respiratory alkalosis can be.
Back in 1998, I had flown from London to Edinburgh to make a video for my publishers to accompany my book on muscle energy techniques. It was a long day in a hot studio, accompanied by time pressures relating to the need to complete the shoot on time, and I had a plane to catch. I had skipped breakfast, consumed more coffee than usual, and had forgotten to drink enough water. These details are all relevant to what followed, as will become clear. Around mid-afternoon, I felt a strange sensation in my left leg. A mild tingle was passing down toward the foot, before fading away. This repeated itself a number of times over a period of an hour or so, but I paid little attention and focused on the details of the video shoot. The next day, safely back in London, the same mild symptom became more insistent and frequent, and then started to affect my left arm as well. Within an hour or so, it was accompanied by a strong spasm of the left leg and arm muscles, and finally of the whole left side of my body, including my face. This tetanic seizure convinced me I was having a stroke, and so I headed rapidly to the emergency room of my local hospital.
To cut a long story short, I was admitted to a neurological ward, spent a week being prodded, poked, observed and investigated - including a battery of neurological tests, cardiac investigations, blood tests and MRI scans. Nothing was found to be abnormal (not bad for a 60-year-old!). Finally, an enlightened neurologist had me wired up to an ECG machine, and asked me to breathe rapidly for two minutes. Within 30 seconds, all of my symptoms came back, with a severe contracture affecting my left side from face to foot.
"Ah," said this gifted physician (him, not me). "Your problem is hyperventilation. Go away and learn how to breathe." I did.
This life-changing experience turned out to be a turning point in my life and career focus. As a moderately successful osteopath and naturopath, I had long been aware of the importance of balanced breathing and had written about it in relation to stress management. But now, following this episode (which has never recurred), the topic became a virtual obsession. As mentioned in a previous article in Massage Today (April 2005), when I feel I need to study a subject deeply, I write a book about it. The end result of this experience was a text co-authored with physical therapist Dina Bradley and psychologist Chris Gilbert.6
I have spent the past seven or eight years with breathing pattern disorders as a top priority (for myself and my patients), and have studied as many aspects of breathing dysfunction and rehabilitation as I could. I am convinced this should be among the most important aspects of the work of all those engaged in health care, particularly manual and massage therapists.
So, what actually happens when we overbreathe? I will try to summarize a complicated sequence: As we exhale, we eliminate carbon-dioxide (CO2). This is recruited from carbonic acid that circulates in the blood. If breathing is more rapid than is ideal for the current needs of the body, we lose too much CO2 (and therefore carbonic acid), and the blood becomes more alkaline than normal.16 This creates a state of respiratory alkalosis: the blood's pH moves from a normal of around 7.4 to perhaps as much as 7.5.16 Not much change, you might say, but what a difference it makes! The effects are dramatic. Anxiety appears (and therefore, so does even faster breathing) - aggravating the feelings of anxiety or even panic.10,13 Smooth muscles constrict. And since these surround all of the "tubes" of the body, this creates a narrowing of blood vessels and interferes with normal digestion and bladder function.9 A process known as the Bohr effect starts, causing the red blood cells to bind more tightly to the oxygen molecules they carry. This means not only less blood gets to the brain and muscles, but also less oxygen is released by the blood that does get through, creating profound fatigue and a lack of mental clarity or "brain-fog."22 Sympathetic arousal occurs, creating altered neural function - more rapid reflex functions, lowered pain threshold, and sensitivity to all stimuli.23 Balance is disturbed.2 The kidneys try to rebalance the increased alkalinity by excreting bicarbonates, and a generalized imbalance occurs in the calcium and magnesium levels in the body, causing even more neurological mayhem, with cramps and spasms becoming more likely, accompanied by numbness, pins and needles and possibly pain.12 These changes provide a superb environment for the evolution of myofascial trigger points, as these are known to evolve in ischemic tissues where oxygen levels are low.18 All this is pretty terrifying, and does little to calm the breathing rate!
Chronic fatigue and chronic pain problems (such as fibromyalgia) are characterized by just such breathing patterns, as are a host of other health problems, most of which can at the very least be improved by better breathing, while many can be completely eliminated.4,20 All of these symptoms are more likely in deconditioned individuals, because of the way their cells produce ATP (energy) in an anaerobic environment, creating acid wastes that then further stimulate the breathing rate.16
How Widespread Are BPDs?
Breathing pattern disorders or BPDs (about which the notes above offer a description) are up to seven times more common in women and are more likely during the post-ovulation/premenstrual period because of increased progesterone levels.7 And they are much more likely to manifest when blood sugar levels are low. Recall my lack of breakfast, my coffee intake and dehydration.3 It has been estimated that the symptoms of at least 10 percent of all people seeking medical advice in the U.S. are the result of a BPD.13,15,16
Why do so many people breathe in an upper-chest, rapid pattern? There are many reasons for feeling anxious and stressed, or holding an "image" posture with a protruding chest and flat stomach, or of having mild asthmatic tendencies. But according to experts who have spent their professional lives studying breathing pattern disorders in general and hyperventilation in particular, whatever the background or original trigger, the main cause is pure habit.15
As a person becomes habituated to shallow breathing, the body learns to tolerate very low levels of CO2 in the blood and this becomes the "normal" for that person. In order to maintain this low CO2 level, rapid upper chest breathing is necessary. Relearning to tolerate higher levels of CO2 is a useful part of breathing retraining, achieved by focus on a slow exhalation and sometimes by specialized breath holding exercises based on the Russian Buteyko system.5,8
It's useful when thinking about the "habit" of upper chest breathing to think of another common habit: poor posture. The slouched, round-shouldered, chin-poked, belly-sagging posture of so many people is something of which we as bodyworkers are all too aware.22 How do you change poor posture into better posture? By retraining (such as the Alexander technique), combined with appropriate therapeutic interventions to stretch tight muscles and tone weakened ones, often aided by home-work such as Pilates-type exercises. Slowly, over a period of months, it often is possible to turn poor posture into better, or even good, posture.
Exactly the same applies to breathing pattern disorders. Manual therapy/massage methods are helpful in preparing the structures for better breathing and the person needs to do homework to re-establish a better pattern. This has, in many studies often involved severely anxious hyperventilators or people with severe balance disorders, taken up to six months to normalize, with some people improving within a few weeks.10,19
Mild forms of asthma and hyperventilation are almost identical, and the diagnosis given depends on the particular training of the doctor making the call. This can be pretty important because mild hyperventilation is curable, while a diagnosis of asthma often is a sentence to a lifetime of medication.
The Fascial Connection
As mentioned earlier, contractile smooth muscle cells have been found to be present in enormous numbers in most connective tissue. Their main function appears to be that, following injury, proliferation occurs allowing them to act as architectural supports to the damaged tissue as it heals.21 The cells in connective tissue, like other contractile smooth muscle cells, are affected by changes in pH21 (as in respiratory alkalosis), suggesting that a generalized increase in fascial tone occurs as pH rises, making all muscles feel more tense and impacting directly on musculoskeletal integrity. Just how much effect pH changes have on these cells remains a matter of ongoing research, and I hope to report to you on this when results emerge.1,11,24
A Fowl Story17
During the 1980s, a commercial egg farmer noticed his hens were laying soft-shelled eggs. The birds were being housed in very crowded and hot conditions, and the option of making them free range or installing air-conditioning was not economically possible. Veterinary experts decided that, as the birds were obviously hyperventilating, their calcium metabolism was disturbed, leading to the egg problem. They provided the hens with carbonated water (CO2 dissolved in water), and shortly after that, the egg quality returned to normal.
What we can learn from this is that the symptoms of hyperventilation (calcium disturbance in this instance) can be modified by biochemical interventions. The farmer's problem was solved, but the stress of the chickens was untouched. Other choices might have been tried - for example calming music, soothing aromas, massage, craniosacral therapy or even reflexology - any or all of which might well have had a calming effect, resulting in slower breathing. But what would have really helped the chickens was unavailable (free range life, air conditioning, etc).
Now consider your stressed, highly pressured patients, with multiple minor symptoms. Through massage and/or reflexology and/or aromatherapy you probably offer such complex, highly stressed individuals safe, symptomatic relief and moments of calm. This helps them cope with their own version of the hell the chickens were enduring. But what would help them most would probably be a cash infusion, a new job, a new hip, possibly a new relationship/spouse or some other life-changing event you are quite unable to provide. But you can teach them to respond to the stress/pain/fatigue differently; and you can efficiently and gently soften and mobilize their tense tissues. And above all, you can learn how to teach them to breathe differently.
Please let the editor of Massage Today and/or me know if you would like this particular article to be followed up with more detail on breathing rehabilitation from the perspective of a bodyworker.2,6,8
Click here for more information about Leon Chaitow, ND, DO.
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