Erik Dalton

Why Astronauts Get Osteoporosis (And What it Means to Us On Earth)

4611583232_0484ea0d52_zSometimes there are things that are such assumed constants that we totally forget about them and the fact that they have an impact on us.

Did you hear the joke that started off David Foster Wallace’s brilliant commencement speech at Kenyon College- This is Water? It goes like this, “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming by. He nods at them as he swims past and says, ‘Morning boys! How’s the water?’. And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, ‘What the hell is water?’” David Foster Wallace goes on to say, “The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious and important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and to talk about.” He then gives a gorgeous talk on living a compassionate life. But I am going to hijack the beginning of his talk to point out one crucial form of of “water”,  or “obvious and important reality", related to our bodies:

Gravity is always present.

Unless we leave this planet, or go to some awesome space camp where we get to play with NASA’s equipment or something, gravity is constantly exerting its force on us.

The way that I will usually illustrate (or rather exaggerate) this with my clients is to have them stand in whatever way feels normal to them, and then gently press down on their shoulders. With this exaggerated form of gravity, they will often notice things like all the force being transmitted to their low back or their knees. I will then help them to find proper alignment, and again mimic exaggerated gravity by gently pressing on their shoulders. Once they have found proper alignment, they now feel the force of gravity transmitted evenly through their joints and traveling directly down into the ground through their feet.

But let’s imagine you do opt out of this whole gravity thing. You’ve just decided to pay Richard Branson a whole lot of money to go into outer space. What might that look like? Oh wait, plenty of people have already gone there, we call them astronauts. Let’s take a look at what astronauts have taught us about gravity. Did you know there is something called The Bone Research in Space Symposium? Am I the only one that thinks that sounds like an awesome conference to attend!? It’s brought to you by the good people at The International Space Life Sciences Working Group who go by the charming and impossible to pronounce acronym ISPLSWG! I digress...

Research like this, on astronauts and what happens to their bones, exists because when you take a human out of the gravitational field they rapidly develop osteoporosis. I’m talking a pretty lightening fast bone to cotton candy switcheroo. Ok that is a tad of an exaggeration, but it is pretty shocking how rapidly density is lost.

From speaker Rene Rizzoli at the symposium: “"Bone is a living tissue, and must be 'stressed' [via gravity] to maintain strength. If bones are immobile for long periods, as occurs in space but also in bedridden patients, the individual will lose a substantial amount of muscle and bone mass, which may have serious repercussions,"

I would like to amend this a bit to read, “As occurs in space, bedridden patients, and also in a more subtle and gradual way to misaligned and undermoved tissues in normal healthy populations.”

So we can clearly see it’s not so sunny when we opt out of gravitational forces because we are designed to thrive here on Earth, where there is gravity. Which means we have to find the most optimal way to live in gravity (i.e participate for most of the day in natural human movements like walking, lifting, and not sitting still) so that the signals to our cells create a nourishing effect, instead of a degrading effect. In the words of my favorite biomechanist Katy Bowman, “Alignment matters!” It matters kind of a lot actually!

And because I couldn’t have said it better myself, here is Erik Dalton:

I often scratch my head in wonder when reading research that dismisses the effects of gravitational exposure on human viscoelastic tissues. It’s even more frustrating when scientists and clinicians discount the role distorted postural faults such as pronated feet, crooked SI joints, and forward heads play in commonly seen pain syndromes. Each-and-every day, the weight of gravity (14.7 pounds per square inch) pushes straight down on our bodies. These compressive forces should be equally distributed throughout the neuro-myo-skeletal system…but are they? Prolonged one legged standing (excessive weight bearing on one limb) is an oft-overlooked culprit creating ligamentous creep that may be a precursor to more serious conditions like joint laxity, lumbopelvic instability, sprains, and osteoarthritis.”

But hey, if you want to find out what it feels like for yourself to be totally out of gravity, NASA will pay you for the opportunity! However, as a woman who spent a a portion of her pregnancy on bed rest, I'm here to tell you no amount of money is worth it. So you may prefer to get upright and delight in the gravitational field that we all take for granted.

*P.S. This is an excerpt from a short book that I'm currently working on, which is why the blog is about to go silent for a few weeks. I'm behind on my deadline! But I'll be back soon.

photo by Scorpions and Centaurs

 

DIY Friday: Plantar Fasciitis

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*Do it yourself! Every Friday we do a roundup of great posts, videos, or other resources around a theme that help people to turn their bodies from cranky to happy.*

A recent chat with the Facebook tribe started to go down the plantar fasciitis rabbit hole, so here I am dedicating a DIY Friday to it! I also have an interview coming up next week with Jae Gruenke, founder of Balanced Runner, and since so many runners struggle with plantar fasciitis it seemed like a theme was emerging.

First, what the heck is plantar fasciitis? The short version is that the plantar fascia (fascial sheet on the bottom of your foot) begins to pull away from it's attachement on the calcaneus (heel bone) and you wind up with some pretty gnarly burning heel and foot pain. In the book Born to Run* author Christopher MacDougall describes it as the runner's version of a vampire bite, because, as runner legend has it, once you're "bitten" with plantar fasciitis many feel you are never the same again. Well breathe deep because I'm here to tell you that plantar fasciitis is one of those things that I actually have in the "easy" category in my brain simply because I see it resolve so often and so readily. Which isn't to say it doesn't take some doing, but here's how:

  • Erik Dalton is a brilliant manual therapist and teacher, and this video is the clearest description I have found of what is actually going on in plantar fasciitis. The article that precedes the video also does a fanstasic job of explaining how it's not just your foot. It's never just one thing. Never, ever. But it's always helpful to be educated on the more global view of any condition, which is what this article handily does! If you are a manual therapist, there is also great content here on how you can treat it in your clients. If you are not a manual therapist, please don't go grabbing your friend's leg and shoving and shaking stuff around! It actually takes a good bit of learning in order to effectively contact fascia and to know how to appropriately work joints like he does in the video, so just mashing on your buddies is likely to cause more harm than good. The article is here, and the video is at the end of it.

 

  • Speaking of taking a global view, as Dalton mentions in his article, "Plantar fasciitis often results from lack of individuality of motion in the calf muscles due to adhesions." That is very true, and taking it a bit further, it is an issue with the whole posterior chain of fascia. Otherwise known as the "superficial back line" as defined by Tom Myers Anatomy Trains work. Here is a great image of that line. So, if you want to resolve your plantar fasciitis, give due attention to everything here along the chain as well.

superficial_back_line_copy

  • Oh look! Here's recently interviewed Sue Hitzmann of the MELT Method preaching it like she teaches it, and is also talking about plantar fasciitis as a global issue:

  • Oh wait! What do we have here!? It's Katy Bowman of Restorative Exercise talking about plantar fasciitis as a global issue (in particular those persnickity hamstrings with some data that talks about why). Hmmm, maybe it's not just about the foot...

Ok, ok, taking all this good input about how it's not just your foot and moving forward with a healing plan for yourself here's what I actually like, a lot, for treating plantar fasciitis:

Smart fascial manual therapy from either a practitioner, or you can MELT at home.

Softness! Learning how to soften your foot is a game of coaxing it to let go, not of yanking it around. I like hamstring stretches that have a fully dorsiflexed ankle (bring toes toward shin) so that you're not missing tight bits in your calves. This would look like lying on your back with a strap around the ball of your foot, and flexing at your hip to bring the foot closer to the ceiling. Though stop when you hit your own end range with the flexed ankle (rather than pointing the toe to get farther). You can also stretch standing on a slant board like this one, again, I like a soft surface to a slant board, and it is also very helpful to think about really letting all the musculature of your foot soften into is as you stretch. Think of your plantar fascia as warm, gooey silly putty that is just oozing onto the slant board. Do not hyperextend at the knee or shove your pelvis forward ofyour ankles while standing on a slant board.

Alexander Technique. Speaking of letting the musculature go, I find so many people micro grip in their feet as a result of stress, or strain and pain patterns elsewhere in the body. I love Alexander Technique as a way to learn about your own micro grips and how to find a way to let them go. I recommend working with a teacher, rather than doing this alone at home, as you will need trained eyes to point out things you have become totally blind to in your own body. Most people are amazed at how much they are subconsciously clawing at the floor with their toes. No really.

* Footnote: If you haven't read Born to Run I highly recommend it. And if you are a runner, I practicaly require it (if I could do such a thing). It has a lot of  fascinating information, particulary when it comes to the evolution of highly engineered running sneakers paralleling the evolution of highly unpleasant runner injuries, and is also a beautifully written and engaging story.