Tugging on My Hamstrings

Muscle of the month: The Hamstrings (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus)

The hamstrings consist of three distinct muscles that make up the bulk of the posterior thigh. Working opposite to the quadriceps (remember The Thigh Who Loved Me?), like a pulley, these powerful muscles provide mobility, stability, and coordination of the lower extremity. From walking and running, to busting a move on the dance floor, our hamstrings are working hard to keep us moving and grooving.

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Pesky peroneals

Muscle of the Month: Peroneals (Longus, Brevis and Tertius)

Your peroneals are the three muscles that sit on the outer side of your lower leg. They are also known as fibular muscles, as they run along your fibula, the outer bone in the lower leg. The three muscles are categorized by lengths: longus, the longest of the three; brevis, the shorter one; and tertius, the third of the peroneals that attaches to the lower third of the fibula.

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Turning your calves into cows

A Soleus - Ottawa massage blogstrong lower leg is a key component in a strong foundation. In fact, if one of your calf muscles – the soleus (pictured at right) – were not in constant contraction, you would fall forward! Not only that, strong calf muscles protect your ankle joint, improve your running and jumping ability, and help blood flow return upward to your heart.

As with most muscles, there are two parts to ensuring strong, healthy calf muscles: strengthening and stretching. This is especially true for the gastrocnemius (the large outer calf muscle – cut away in the diagram at right), which is prone to spasms. Finding the balance between adequate amounts of strengthening and stretching can lower the chance of spasms occurring.

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The Thigh Who Loved Me

Muscle of the Month: Quadriceps

Quads - ottawa massage blog

The quadriceps (‘quads’) are the beautiful muscles that make up the fronts of your thighs. They are a group of four muscles that, working together, help flex (bend) the hip and extend (straighten) the knee. Only one of the quad muscles actually flexes the hip, while all four of them help stabilize and extend the knee. The more support and strength the knee has, the less likely it is to be prone to injury; so it is important to keep the quads strong and healthy to ensure a healthy knee joint later in life.

Rectus Femoris: This one muscle moves two joints: hip and knee

Actions – Flexes the hip, extends the knee

Common pain culprits – excessive stair climbing, running

The rectus femoris is the longest of the four quad muscles and is the only one to cross over two joints: hip and knee. This placement allows the muscle both to flex the hip and to extend the knee. This is why mounting many sets of stairs during a day might cause pain in the rectus femoris. As you take each step, you are flexing the hip then extending the knee, engaging the entire muscle repeatedly.  As with most muscles, the stronger the muscle gets, the less likely that this pain will arise.

The fix: Strengthen the rectus femoris. Keep both its actions in mind while strengthening this muscle – if you only do hip flexing exercises (such as straight leg raises) you will not address the lower fibers; and vice versa, if you only do knee extensions, you will not be targeting the upper fibers. Aim for a dynamic exercise like squats or lunges.

Vastus lateralis, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Intermedius: The three buddies of knee pain

The vastus muscles - Ottawa Massage Blog

Rectus Femoris has been removed to show Vastus Intermedius

Actions – Extends the knee

Common pain culprits – Running

These three muscles make up the rest of the quadriceps group and cause the majority of knee pain. They are located beside and underneath the rectus femoris. As they all do the same action, the only way to differentiate which one is impaired is to look for specific pain patterns, which your therapist is trained to do. The vastus medialis lies on the inside of the thigh and causes inner and deep knee pain, as well as weakness in both the knee and thigh. Vastus lateralis is on the outside of the thigh and causes outer knee pain, as well as pain that flares up while lying on one’s side. Lastly, the vastus intermedius lies deep to the rectus femoris and is the toughest to isolate, as typically it mimics the vastus medialis pain pattern and is hard to reach with massage.

The fix: Stretch before and after running, and strengthen quads. Your RMT can help you with strength tests to determine if any of these muscles is weak, and can suggest specific strength exercises for each muscle.

*All images and drawings in our blogs are obtained from wikimedia.commons and are in the public domain. Our photographs are all original material*

Learning to Love Running

Ottawa_massage_blog_Amy_Schultz_rmt By: Amy Schultz, RMT
Amy, a registered massage therapist at Body Poets, now loves to run.

I never thought I would be a runner, never in a million years.  I used to joke that I might consider running if a hungry animal was chasing me (I suppose these days I should say if a zombie was chasing me, just to keep my “joke” current) or, maybe for the bus (haha, I’m sure you’ve heard it all before), but in all seriousness,

I truly did hate running for, or away from, anything. 

I think this is because many times in the past I have tried to become a runner and failed.

I think there were a number of reasons for my previous failures, but most of these reasons stemmed from one basic flaw in my attempt at training, and that was that

 I went for as long, as far and as fast as I could possibly go on my first day. 

This resulted in me hating it while I was suffering through it, as well as for the next 2-3 days afterwards, because I was very sore for that many days.  Being a massage therapist I tend to listen to my body and when something hurts that much it means stop, don’t do it, so I listened.

Although, I do have to admit, most of my attempts at becoming a runner were before I was a massage therapist, because I knew a lot less about the body and even less about how to try to make a reasonable training schedule.  But even once I had some idea about how to create a training schedule, for some reason I still didn’t know how hard and far I should push my own body in my first week or even day of trying to run.  So I always gave up, and thought,

“Running isn’t for me, I’m just not designed to run.  I’m designed for yoga, and hiking, and cycling, but not running.”

Then one day my partner signed me up for a 5km run, so I had to do something different if I was going to be able to complete this task he had set for me (I had asked him to sign me up though, so I wouldn’t have any more excuses).  In his infinite wisdom he also suggested

I tried a Learn to Run clinic offered by The Running Room, and that’s what made the difference. 

Ottawa_massage_blog_runningIn the first week you only run for one minute and walk for two minutes, times 7 reps, 3 days a week.  At the first class, I was towards the front of the group thinking to myself, this is a breeze, why did I think this was so hard before?  From there the running increments are so small, usually just an extra minute at a time, that it’s relatively painless.  Until one day you’re running for 10 minutes straight at a time with just one minute walk break in between your reps.  After that, I joined the 5km clinic that they offered just to be sure I could run for at least 5km.

Mind you, I still have had some mild challenges with certain aches and pains that are common to running, like tight shins (almost shin splints, but I never let it get to that point), tight IT band, sore feet or Achilles tendon/calf tightness, hip flexor tightness, maybe throw in a little glute or piriformis tightness for good measure.  Luckily with my knowledge of the body and stretching and massage, I was always able to take care of it myself before it turned into a real problem for me, so

I was never sidelined by any of my challenges.

And I was able to complete my 5km run on September 22. I completed it in 34 minutes and 31 seconds. Ottawa_massage_blog_running_shoes My training runs on my own were a little faster, because there were a lot of people on the road on race day, but it was a lot of fun!   And I like that I had a goal to train for, it kept me motivated to stick with my training program until it just became a habit to go for a 5km run.

Now that new habit feels good, I don’t hate it anymore, I don’t suffer, and I’m not sore. 

I love how much fitter and healthier I feel.  I’m even considering training for a longer race, but in all honesty going for a 4-5km run 3 times a week is enough to keep me healthy and happy, and longer distances are going to put more wear and tear and stress on my body, so I will really have to think about why I might want to train for a longer race.

I highly recommend The Running Room clinics http://www.events.runningroom.com/hm2/, either the learn to run, or if you’re already a runner, they have clinics for longer distance training too. It is helpful if you want to train for a longer distance and reduce the risk of injury or pushing yourself too far, too fast.

I think anyone who wants to become a runner should be able to,

if you follow a gradual training program, not adding too much running time or distance at once (don’t be a hero), but being consistent.  If you follow a stretching program, and maybe do some self massage or foam rolling you should be able to run relatively problem- and pain-free.  However, if you still happen to start feeling some aches and pains, or are unsure of what to do for yourself, then please get some help with your tight or problem areas from a massage therapist and/or a physiotherapist.  The sooner you deal with a potential problem, the less likely it is to turn into a major problem or a chronic problem, and the sooner you can get back to your normal activities and training schedule.