Olympic Fever Possibilities

By Emma Maaranen

I am an athlete.  I am on go-go mode 95% of the time.  I hate sitting still.  But, for two weeks this summer, I couldn’t leave the sofa.  I didn’t have time for laundry or groceries, let alone distance training!  I had… Olympic Fever.  And I was not alone.  During the Olympics it seems like everyone is addicted to watching the TV feed: weekend warriors, spectators, and soccer moms.  Even kids are into the Olympics.  A five-year-old from my neighborhood nearly knocked me down while sprinting the length of the sidewalk yelling. “Usain Bolt coming through!”

I love sports, I love being an athlete.  I’ve even been known to play a team sport here and there, but I do not regularly follow sports on TV.  The Olympics, however, mesmerize me.  Like every girl growing up in the ‘80s, I wanted to be Mary Lou Retton and get a perfect 10, I was shocked when Tanya Harding made the desire to win a criminal act, and I noticed being an athlete might be risky with Greg Louganis’s infamous platform dive.    It is the combination of these things that makes the Olympics special to all of us.  Every single athlete there is AMAZING – yes, every single one of them!  On top of overcoming political turmoil, discrimination, financial obstacles, and homesickness, many of these athletes have overcome physical assaults that should keep them from being on the world stage doing their sport.  Did you see the swimmer who is missing a leg, the runner on two prosthetic legs, and the 47-year-old woman gymnast competing for her third country and sixth summer games?

Oscar Pistorius inspiring all of us!

No doubt Olympic athletes are great.  Heck, they may be mutants!  But they have a secret.  They know that our bodies are capable of unfathomable feats of repair and resilience.  They know that the mind, when put to task, can create things previously unknown.  They are not confined by what is expected or what has happened in the past.  These individuals ask, “What is possible?”  With this belief there is no reason to expect you can’t return from injury completely.  In fact, you should believe you will actually be better than before.  Jared Campbell, who returned to ultra-running after an Orthopedist told him that he never would, has a great outlook on injuries. “Injury is an opportunity for my body to adapt to the activities I love.”  With an attitude like that it’s no surprise that Jared is one of the most successful Ultra Marathoners out there for the past 10 years!

Now that my TV is collecting dust again, I am going to be an Olympic athlete in my heart and just see what is possible.

A Note on Therapy from the Far East

Poster in a Medical Clinic in Beijing

By Emma Maaranen

While in China for the better part of March, I experienced as much and as varied bodywork as I could. I wanted to see how Eastern philosophies of medicine worked in practice, experience Chinese modalities and get some work done on my post-op ankle that has hit a healing plateau. Armed with a translation app on my iPhone, an open mind and a sense of humor, I tried a new modality daily.

In China bodywork is a part of the medical system.  Therapists are typically based in medical clinics, but in tourist areas I occasionally saw practices with “massage” translated under the Chinese characters on their signs.  I had sessions of reflexology, shiatsu (pressure point massage to balance your energy), cupping, ear candling, abdominal massage (for my organs), and even a massage by a blind therapist.  Each treatment was unique, but the compassion and thorough care I received left the biggest impression.

Me, after a Shiatsu session. Apparently the energy left my head as if I had stuck my finger in an electrical socket.

On my first full day in China I walked into a medical clinic and realized that no one spoke English and that my tiny rehearsed mandarin phrases were not understood. Finally I pointed to my ankle and was promptly ushered to a large room where a practitioner wearing a lab coat looked at my ankle.  He examined my swollen ankle and healing scars to which he made a cutting gesture acknowledging my post-op state.  I nodded, and he quickly left.  The practitioner returned with a bucket of very hot water steeping with herbs. As he soaked my feet (a practice I later learned that almost every clinic performs), I had to resist all urges of jumping out of the almost scalding broth.  While soaking my feet he started massaging my shoulders.  Although I wondered if my ankle would get more attention than scalding water, I was relieved to have my shoulders addressed because they did not weather the flight to Asia well.  My therapist quickly located the culprit muscles, released them through massage and in a simple fashion adjusted my neck.  This was a feat.  I will not let Chiropractors adjust my cervical spine (a future blog post), but this therapist simply moved my neck in a strange position and put the smallest pressure on my head, and I was adjusted.  It was so simple and effective that, given the opportunity, I would let him do it again!

Now that my shoulders were back on track, he went to work on my foot.  I must stress the point that we could not exchange a single word, and my ankle injury (a subtalar dislocation) is a rare one to which every physician/therapist I have seen in the US has mentioned that they have read about this before but never seen it.  My Chinese therapist felt my ankle, gently took it through a range of motion, tested the strength of the healing ligaments, then performed the most precise and effective manual therapy treatment I have had to date.  I completely trusted this therapist to manipulate my ankle because he took the time to explore what was swollen, tight and atrophied.  He understood where my injury was in the healing process and what the next step was to further my recovery.

The most profound part of this therapy session was how I was approached as a client/patient.  In the US, my orthopedists take x-rays, MRI’s and CT scans to see how my healing is progressing, and my therapists look at the diagnosis in my chart and evaluate my healing by the time elapsed since injury. Images reveal structural repair (if the ligament completely knit back together), and comparing the functionality of a patient against research subjects gives good measures of normal or abnormal healing.  My Chinese therapist, on the other hand, used only touch to assess my injury and its healing progress.  Hands-on evaluations like this show how tissue responds in dynamic situations (like if a ligament is too tight to allow motion).  I feel a combination of all of these evaluations will provide practitioners with the most insight to guide their patients care.

Clinician after clinician in the states has told me that my recovery will take time.  I have been reassured that the structural damage is well repaired, but have not been given much insight as to what to do to improve the functionality of my ankle or what to expect down the road. My Chinese therapist did not seem daunted by an unusual and slowly healing injury.  He devised a treatment and revised what he was doing by what was working and what was not.  I appreciated my Chinese therapist being creative, and I think he was even having fun trying to understand how to help an atypical injury on a patient with whom he couldn’t verbally communicate with.  In the West, it is easy to rely on research and standard protocols, but I don’t think this honors the intelligence of the clinician and the practice of medicine nor is this complete care for the patient.

Going to a clinic and seeing a doctor/therapist is scary.  My experiences with Chinese medicine showed me that treating the whole person, not just the injury creates a wellness environment that alleviates a lot of fear. I am going to make sure I have this at the forefront of my practice.  No matter what type of medicine is practiced or the flavor of therapy provided, I believe compassion for the person in the room will guide the best outcome.

I had to try this out. My therapist was indeed blind and performed a thorough full body massage to rival any I have had at a spa.

In 2012 I’m Going to Eat More Cookies… For My Health!

By Emma Maaranen

2012 is just around the corner. Although I don’t make resolutions per se, I do use the anticipation of a new calendar to plan out my training and race schedules and to revise repeat plans based on the successes (and failures) of last year. I also can’t help but reflect on the numbers on the scale and fantasize about the rewards of being two pounds lighter, decreasing my body fat by 1%, shaving 5 seconds off my marathon time, completing the Mid-Week Mountain Bike Race Series, and waiting for the boys at the ridge line on a dawn patrol.

As I plan out my 2012 calendar, I also page through the recent edition of my favorite journal, The Physician and Sports Medicine, which has several articles on osteoarthritis (OA). Several research studies note a fact I hate to dwell on: women athletes (especially those with a history of knee injuries) have a higher risk of developing OA than men and their sedentary counterparts. The usual excuses are noted in each article: women have a greater angle of the femur (thigh bone) from the hip to knee due to a wide pelvis; women are small and therefore have small knees unable to absorb as much force as larger ones; and women have lower bone mineral density (BMD), which is currently believed to be the greatest indicator of OA likelihood.

I cannot change my womanly curves, nor can I double the size of my knees, but I can address my BMD. Glazed over and tip-toed around in literature regarding women athletes is a dirty word: anorexia. In the culture of athletes, being too thin is an obsession praised as a mark of perfect training, discipline and sacrifice for sport. But at what cost? Eating disorders are common among women athletes (and becoming more common in men). A malnourished woman will often experience amenorrhea (a pause in her fertility cycle) as the body’s way of conserving nutrients. This pause changes hormone secretion, including a decrease in estrogen levels. This decrease is a major factor in bone density loss; a low BMD means higher risk of OA.

As an aging woman athlete with a history of knee injuries, I am going to be proactive in reducing my risk of OA in my knees; I am going to accept those two extra pounds on my goal weight.  I am going to do this by not changing my eating plan (crafted by a wise nutritionist), but I am going to occasionally splurge and eat that second cookie. And, instead of feeling guilty, I’m going to tap my crumb coated fingers to my knees and say it is for them.  Here’s to a few more cookies in 2012 and healthy knees that will keep me skiing well into my 80’s!

Spooky and Ghoulish Body Facts

Every square inch of your body has around 32 million bacteria on it

Blood sucking hookworms inhabit 700 million people worldwide

Three hundred million cells die in your body every minute

A human head remains conscious for about 15 to 20 seconds after it is been decapitated

In late 19th century Egypt where wood and coal were scarce but human mummies were abundant, millions of mummies were used as fuel for locomotives

Humans shed 600,000 particles of skin every hour; 1.5 pounds a year. By age 70, you will have lost 105 pounds of skin

Your heart creates enough pressure to squirt blood 30 feet

When you sneeze, all bodily functions stop, even your heart

In the course of a lifetime you will grow 2 meters of nose hair

You produce 25,000 quarts of spit in a lifetime, enough to fill two swimming pools

You were born with 300 bones, but by adulthood you have only 206

The Neanderthal’s brain was bigger than your

Happy Halloween!

Welcome to the Focus Bodywork Blog

Emma Maaranen, Owner and Therapist of Focus Bodywork

Focus Bodywork is a therapeutic massage studio meeting the needs of all types of athletes in and around the Wasatch front.  We strive in our clinical sessions to educate our clients on relevant anatomy, physiology, training techniques, current research related to sport pursuits and local events just to name a bit of what accompanies our hands-on work.  We hope to use this blog to share these athletic musings and current anatomy conundrums with the Focus Bodywork community; so stay tuned!

By Emma Maaranen