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Shiatsu Blog: How to stop the most common joint injuries in Spring



Womans feet and ankles walking on road in sunshine

Did you now that the most common time of year to have a joint injury is in the Spring? Sprains and strains dislocations hyper extension and tears they are all incredibly debilitating when they happen and they take a long time to heal. A broken bone takes the brunt of an accident (some bones are designed specifically to do this) then bones heal quickly due to direct blood supply. Most joint injuries though are ligaments (known as Sprains) but also a tendon tear (strain) due to tight muscles is also common. How do you tell the difference and what can you do about it? Ligament and tendon injuries take much longer to heal than bones due to no direct blood supply so keeping your muscles supple is key to protecting the more fibrous tissues in your body. This month I’ll delve into the most common types of joint injury and why they happen – Chinese Medicine explains all of this and what you can do to prevent them. This month’s Shiatsu Blog: How to stop the most common joint injuries in Spring.

 

How to stop the most common joint injuries in Spring


It was studying Chinese medicine that brought my attention to why so many injuries happen in the Spring months.  It probably seems obvious that it’s because we’re more active and that is a major part of it. As the days get longer and warmer, we have that impetus to get out and do things and we’re our own worse enemies because who does stretches before getting up a ladder or painting a whole room? I know I don’t! I’m acutely aware of the Spring time now as both my ankle breaks happened around April May. The first a slip whilst on a tennis court and I remember when I got into A&E that they said: You’re in early the rugby and horse-riding accidents come in later today! (It was a Saturday). I also remember screaming for ice they didn’t supply any so I made someone take a latex glove down to the canteen and fill it up – oh the relief! I was relieved when after examination they said it was a clean break, I think I even laughed (I thin those tablets may have been morphine!) but it was the relief that it wasn’t a ligament or tendon injury. Remember bones heal the quickest.

 

The second time I wasn’t so lucky, I heard 3 pops and thought: Oh, here we go again. I new it wasn’t good as my foot wasn’t really connected to my leg after that it was completely floppy. But was I up a ladder or doing extreme sports? Nope I was out with the dog walking along on flat grass; so, the big question is why did it happen on that day and what has menopause got to do with it?

 

Spring in Chinese medicine is the season of wood so let’s think trees! You’ll first think of a tree as solid and strong but do you think about flexible? If tree branches are brittle they break off in the wind – this is key to understanding your own body – flexibility.


The Chinese Wood element in your body is the governer of your ligaments, tendons and movement of blood (as well as how clean it is). In knowing this it goes a long way to giving you the insight into how to protect your joints at any time of the year; but why is Spring the time you need to be more careful?

 

You spring out of winter!


Winter is a time of dormancy but like the green shoots you see exploding from the frozen ground nothing stops nature from growing upwards at this time of year whatever the weather is doing. We’re like those plants; as the light grows you become more active, you’re now itching to get out and do things after 4 months of darkness and contraction. Your body though hasn’t been warmed up  so your muscles can be tight and contracted from shivering or just being too cold for too long. You may have sat too much and muscles are over worked (contracted) causing other muscles to be more exposed and weaker. This imbalance in muscles isn’t a good place to kick start energetic activities from.

 

The Wood element in your body is also linked to your liver and if your liver is sluggish in Spring time then your whole body will be sluggish too. Your liver is an amazing filter but over winter it’s been pushed with the food (carbs) and drink (sugar/alcohol) to it’s limits. If your liver isn’t filtering out toxins then these circulate in your blood causing their own issues. Just think corrosion of cartilage in joints leading to osteoarthritis. Keeping your blood as clean as possible and your liver working as well as it can will aid long term joint health care on many levels as well as your overall health.


 


graphic of bicep tendons and bones in upper arm
Bicep muscle showing tendons inserting into shoulder and forearm

Most common joint injuries and conditions


If Liver Blood (a Chinese medicine term) isn’t flowing well it affects how well your muscles work whether they stretch and relax easily or if they are tight and cramped. It also affects how easily you get out of bed in the morning. If you bounce out of bed – great! If on getting out of bed you feel stiff and it takes you a while to loosen up then this is a sign your body is more likely to have a joint accident if you’re not limbered up. Tight muscles put a strain on the tendons (there is one at each end of the muscles inserting it in to a bone - image above). If muscles are not as soft and supple as they should be it puts a strain on the fibrous inflexible tendon tissue – not good! This can lead to strains and tears of tendons; think tight calves putting excess pressure on your Achilles tendons. To protect these tendons, you need to have supple squidgy calves when at rest.

 

Then there are ligaments – you can remember this (I do from my training days!) Ligaments link bones! The Rotator cuff in your shoulder is a complex example of ligament linkage. Overstretching this joint can weaken it; I’ve done this before now by reaching onto the back seat of the car from the driver’s seat and overstretching to grab something; easily done (and stupid of me!). If you can’t raise your arm above your head then you’ve got tight muscles or a deeper injury; for the future of your shoulder this needs to be looked into to help you regain full mobility.

 

Tennis elbow is tendon strain with overuse or repetitive use of the muscles. Unstable or over-flexibility (known as hyperextension) in joints is ligament issues; for some this is hereditary but you can take steps to support.  Carpal tunnel is a tight ligament which narrows the channel exerting pressure on the nerves to your hand. These are regular every day terms for common joint injuries but do you now what’s involved and how to resolve them? Once you know if something is a ligament or tendon issue it helps you take steps to treat and heal it.


 

How to prevent joint injuries in everyday life


Ligaments and tendons are a cartilage composed of collagen and they don’t receive blood; these are 2 key facts that help you look after them. They don’t receive the nutrients you get from your food because the rest of the systems in your body have already used those up. If you’re stressed or not sleeping or fatigued/ anxious you already don’t have enough nutrients to combat those symptoms so the likelihood you’re getting enough to your muscles is slim; and joints are way down the list. This is why aching joints in menopause is so prevalent. I had my ligament ankle injury in perimenopause and I wasn’t in any pain; however, I know from a lifetime of treatments that my ankle doesn’t sit right so I was warned that it was an accident waiting to happen.


During Covid we couldn’t receive regular treatment and so 2 months into lockdown my ankle went pop. I could have taken preventative measures to reduce the possibility of this ever happening though. I thought Shiatsu alone was enough to help my ankle; and it was until that option was taken from me. What I learnt in the time I was laid up now helps me and helps my clients to have stronger joints and completely resolves women’s joint aches in menopause.

 

Tendons and ligaments require these 2 things make them stronger - nutrients and collagen. The collagen is the fibrous tissue in the body that creates elasticity and holds lubrication. This is invaluable for joints – the cartilage and ligaments; and for muscles and their adjoining tendons. The 3rd thing to add to this equation is Qi (the Chinese term for your energy/life force); this is where Shiatsu comes in. Imagine a strong forcefield around your joints keeping them in tip top health - this is what Shiatsu does.


Nutrients in the form of plant-based supplements will help feed your muscles to keep them in better working order and especially magnesium (though don’t take in isolation; add a multivitamin) to reduce cramp and tightness. If your muscles are in better shape then this eases the pressure on the tendons and reduces the likelihood of strains massively.

 

Ligaments are in their own realm as they weave in and out of bones and maintain the integrity/stability of a joint. In increasing your nutrition, you feed the blood supply of the bones which ligaments attach too. The only way you’ll get nutrients to the ligaments is to take good supplements as any food nutrients will have been used up very quickly already.

 

If you do a lot of activity or sports and you find you’re not recovering well or your joints/muscles ache then you do need more nutrition – Grab my Quick Start Supplements Guide here

 





Looking after your joints from a Chinese Medicine point of view


Nutrition is definitely on the Chinese medicine list as we are very keen on deficient ailments as this is something that Western Medicine just doesn’t look into at this time. Western medicine is great at Excess conditions – this is where something is inflammatory and hot. Excess conditions show up on scans and in blood tests and can be dealt with swiftly. After your initial accident or injury over time the acute pain will have gone but you maybe left with stiffness or a chronic dull pain that just doesn’t go away – this is a deficient condition; something is missing. The things we tend to put back in are warmth nutrients and in Chinese medicine terms we strengthen the Qi to the area. This can be done with Shiatsu Acupuncture and/or herbs.

 

Boost your nutrition to aid your ligaments and tendons


I also say vitamins and minerals boost your nutrition to help heal your body. Herbs have an energetic effect and are brilliant at helping resolve an organ imbalance for example - the liver. Herbs are great at supporting your liver to maintain itself on a daily basis. I take a liver herbal blend at bedtime (as the liver runs its own cleansing programme around 1 to 3am) so the herbs are there to support it at the time it needs them.


The long-term approach to looking after all of your joints and minimising the chance of injury is to consider yourself in a deficient stateall the time and keep on taking additional nutrients plus keep joints warm (cold joints don’t work properly!) and seek out exercise and therapies that support joint health. I recommend Qi Gong as an exercise and Shiatsu as a therapy!

 

 

Cold in your joints


This is a nasty little condition as you won’t have had a visible injury to link this sore joint too. If you’re prone to getting aching knees after walking the dog you probably have cold in your joints and this leads to the surrounding muscles being stiff and tight. There may have been an initial injury a while back but the condition now is cold. Shiatsu can expel the cold and help the surrounding muscles to work properly again and then nutrition will boost strength – all this comes together as nurturing and enriching your Qi for better joint movement.


Move regularly – you hear this advice but do you think about why it helps you? It keeps the blood circulating in your muscles; it stops them from contracting with cold or tensing/freezing up. If you haven’t cottoned on yet - most injuries are caused by cold tight muscles.

 

The midlife transition that affects your joints


Menopause or more pertinently Perimenopause is a significant change in your body’s chemical make up. Oestrogen starts to decline which directly affects your collagen levels; you can start by boosting this with Vitamin C; it’s a collagen builder. As your progesterone declines (this one goes first) you’re more likely to be stressed so the nutrition that you had available is now redirected to combatting stress. If there isn’t enough to go around then your joints take a major hit. Both of my ankle injuries were at times of high stress in the Perimenopause!


 


angry woman on phone

The emotional that affects your joints


You tend to have more ligament and tendon accidents when you’re angry!

 

There’s a statement!


Going back to the Wood element and your liver organ which governs your blood flow… an angry person has tight joints and muscles making it more susceptible to injury. It’s the same as if you fall but are relaxed and floppy, you’ll do less damage than if you’re tense at the time of the injury. Being angry can mean you rush things and take shortcuts – leading to more opportunities for accidents to happen. So, anger is affecting you on 2 fronts – how you’re thinking and how your body is physically reacting and of these are good for your sinews!

 

  

 


Womans joint taped with ligament support
Ongoing ligament support taping

First Aid for injuries – Take the right action


You may have heard of RICE (Rest Ice Compression Elevation) this is what you do the moment you have an inflammatory injury; just like I did in the hospital. Only apply ice if you have burning heat and visible swelling and you know the only thing that will soothe it is cooling it; if you’re not sure always apply gentle warmth first. If warmth isn’t right then switch to something cold.


If you can’t see red swelling and inflammation but you have pain if you apply cold first you can shock the muscles and make it worse. If you’ve just played a match and you have a lot of internal inflammation then an ice bath like Andy Murry used too do straight after a tennis match was the right thing for him.  

As a general rule though an injury directly into a joint which triggers heat and inflammation most likely requires cold. A muscular injury without visible heat/swelling or a my back has just gone or you’ve woken up with a crick, these all want warmth and a good dollop of Magnesium lotion/butter massaged; this is incredibly beneficial. These are less likely to require rest in fact gentle movement will help blood flow through muscles; just do mindfully.


 


Shiatsu on womans shoulder joint pain | Shiatsu Cheltenham
Shiatsu Stabilising the shoulder joint whilst assessing mobility and discomfort


Helping your joint pain and injuries with Shiatsu


Shiatsu can assess and then get to work on resolving joint issues. We don’t normally recommend that you come in the Acute phase – this is when there is visible swelling and heat as this is traumatised and needs RICE. As soon as that phase is over you switch into the Chronic phase and this is when you need support and rehabilitation. If you ‘hold’ an injured joint for too long so as not to hurt it further you’re more than likely messing up all the surrounding muscles and causing more issues – this is the point you should receive shiatsu to help you finish the healing of that injury.

 

The best thing you can then do is to carry on receiving Shiatsu regularly as the beauty of this therapy is that it based on prevention. As well as receiving a wonderfully relaxing therapy you’ll receive advice on how to support any weaknesses (aa deficiency) that the practitioner pics up and this could well be supported if not alleviated with taking vitamins and minerals; or other recommended supplements/exercises/lifestyle suggestions.

 

Shiatsu is truly holistic it’s working on your body your mind and your emotions! Remember I said you’re more accident and injury prone if you’re angry and wound up or constantly irritated? It can lead you to rush things take short cuts or just hurt yourself (in case you accidently on purpose hit an inanimate object!). Calming you down and releasing the tension from muscles to aid good blood flow through joints goes a very long way to reducing your pain dramatically and increasing your mobility and flexibility; both osteo and rheumatoid arthritis are greatly improved with regular shiatsu.


Your mind and body deserve more; you deserve shiatsu


Find out more about shiatsu and treatment options.



Andrea Marsh Shiatsu | Shiatsu Cheltenham


About  Andrea at  Shiastu  Bodyworks Cheltenham


Andrea is a qualified zen shiatsu and Chinese medicine practitioner with over 20 years immersed in holistic therapies and the energetics of mind and body. Based in Cheltenham, UK she offers in house clinic and online shiatsu sessions to help people with midlife health issues and also offers online consultations for helping you resolve health issues and regain your vitality. She is a menopause specialist too, find out more at cotswoldmenopause.co.uk



Shiatsu Bodyworks ~ Gentle bodywork to make your body work better!

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