Category Archives: upper limb

Tai Chi (Tai Qi)

The roots of tai chi go back thousands of years and it comes in different forms. Like yoga it is just as much a spiritual practice as it is an exercise for many. You don’t need to “believe in it ” for tai chi to work, it’s spiritual benefit comes from the calm enegised feeling it leaves you with when you start to get the hang of it. Tai chi is  an active meditation as well as neuro motor exercise with real physical benefits.

I have been asked by many clients over the years what tai chi actually does when I have recommended it to them. This is a fair question because it doesn’t look like cardio where people are puffing and panting. Tai chi doesn’t look like strength exercise either, where someone is clearly exerting him or herself. Tai chi  stretches limbs but not nearly with as much emphasis as you find in yoga. Tai chi is actually a mixture of all these things, this is what neuro motor exercise is.

I believe that tai chi is not nearly practised as much by non- Asians as it is by Asians because unless it is explained to you that it helps your balance, agility, posture and proprioception you may not realize what the potential benefits actually are. If you practice tai chi regularly it can improve all these things.

Tai chi is harder than it looks, I was surprised how much it made my thighs work (and strengthen) when I first started because you never stand with your legs locked straight in tai chi. All of that slow controlled movement can really improve your balance and coordination by changing the way you move. The wide stances used in tai chi can help elderly people in particular a great deal because it makes you much more sure footed.

Tai chi is closely related to chi gong (qi gong), tai chi’s lesser known cousin. They both encourage strong and stable posture and movement through slowing down the simplest actions. It looks graceful because tai chi and chi gong combines balance with flowing movements.

The older you get the more your slowing reflexes, stiffening muscles and weakening legs need tai chi and chi gong. When you start to find jogging, pumping iron and ball sports too hard to keep doing it is time for you to try something like tai chi, chi gong or yoga.

If you can only make it to class once a week practice at home, there is no reason why you cant, two square metres is all you need and you will find good instruction online to help you. Finding the right teacher is more important than finding the right style, if you do not feel comfortable with your teacher find another one.

If you feel like doing it more than once a day do so, the more often you do it the better you get and the quicker you will benefit from it. Running around the block can help you play sport better but neuro motor exercise (also called functional fitness) is what will help you stay safely living independently as you age.



Your bones perform the obvious task of holding your body up by forming a rigid and strong light weight frame- your skeleton. It is held in place and propelled by your muscles. Bone also provides protection for your brain encased inside your skull and your ribcage protects your heart and lungs. Bone might look dead from the outside but there is plenty of cellular activity going on within that is constantly forming new bone and blood cells via it’s marrow.

The adult body contains 206 bones, the two major categories of bone are tubular bone that are present in your arms and legs and flat bone as found in your shoulder blades, pelvis, ribs and skull. Bones can fracture, form tumours, can be deformed through diseases like polio and pagets disease, lose their density through osteoporosis, acquire hard to cure infections and can be misshaped through chronic postural stresses.

Posture has a big effect on how bones grow, a forensic scientist for instance can look at the remains of a soldier dead for 300 years and tell he was an archer because of uneven bone shapes in his rib cage (playing regular golf over many years can do this too). The skeleton of a hunch back looks just as crooked on the inside as it does on the outside. When your bones are deformed congenitally there is not alot you can easily do about it but if you are a chronic sloucher you are making the rest of your life needlessly difficult for yourself.

The continuous pressure of bad posture eventually bends a bone like a wire does on a bonsai plant. What starts out as a minor postural fault if not corrected turns into a much more obvious postural problem. Uneven leg lengths can cause the lower rib cage to distend on the opposite side of the body from the short leg tipping the body diagonally backwards as you stand and step forward. If you have a leg that is longer than the other corrective footwear can not only help you walk better it can make you look better too.

One of the better known causes of weak bones (osteoporosis) is by insufficient dietary calcium and bones losing density hormonally in post- menopause in women. Other factors such as the consumption of sugar and carbonated drinks, smoking and lack of exercise can also contribute to a loss of bone density. So can medications like corticosteroids.

The bones along with your muscles, tendons, fascia, ligaments and cartilage form your muscular skeletal system, none of these tissues really mean anything without each other, together they are considered to be a functioning unit.

Standing and sitting straight and doing suitable regular exercise helps keep your bones strong and in the right shape. If keeping a straight spine is uncomfortable a good place to start getting better posture is massage and Self Massage.


Fascia (plural fasciae) is found throughout the body and performs several functions. That sausage skin- like coating that each muscle has is fascia. There are sheets of semi-transparent fascia in your abdomen holding your entrails up in place. There is fascia in your palms and soles that make the skin more wear resistently to friction and some of the muscles are attached to other structures via fascia.

Fascia is a tough and flexible connective tissue that envelopes organs and muscles and hold them in correct proximity to one another. Fascia is often wavy or corrugated in structure which helps give it elastic properties. It is like a multi-faceted membrane within your body that acts like a soft skeleton. It’s like a longer continuous piece of shrink wrap that connects all the internal structures.

Like other tissues in the body fascia is helped stay healthy with a good diet and adequate hydration. If it is too stiff it has a general uncomfortable tightening effect on the body and if it is too loose the flesh has a floppier quality about it.

The white strandy tissue (that is not fat) that you sometimes see butchers cut through when filleting meat includes fascia. Scientists are learning new things about fascia all the time, not all of them even agree how different types of fascia should even be categorized.

Tendon, ligament and spinal discs are closely related anatomically and functionally to fascia. When fascia is well hydrated it has a springiness about it that helps tissue it is connected too to return to it’s normal position. Your gastrocnemius (calf muscle) is not joined directly to your heal bone but by a long broad band of fascia.

Even more surprising is that fascia is now being thought of as the biggest and most important sense organ of the lot. This is so because it is honey -combed all through the body which means that if the fascia coating your leg muscles are stretched an internal stretch via the fascia through to other distant parts of the body. Everything on the inside of us is more or less connected together by fascia.

Fascia therefore has an important part to play in proprioception- your body’s awareness of it’s position in space. So fascia is now believed to be related to your posture and balance.

Like other soft tissues in your body fascia can strain and tear and sustain scare tissue when it heals. When you massage your muscles (or have someone else do it for you) your fascia is incidentally getting massaged with your muscles which is good for it’s circulation.


There are two types of muscle tissue in the human body, they are involuntary muscle and voluntary muscle, (the heart muscle is composed of involuntary AND voluntary muscle tissue). Involuntary muscle is found in your internal organs such as in your digestive system, your intestines for instance regularly pushes ingested food along from your oesophagus to your rectum, it is called involuntary because you don’t need to think about it for it to work, it does so automatically in a healthy body. Voluntary muscle on the other hand requires conscious thought for it to work like when your legs move when you are walking and it is this muscle that is conditioned through exercise.

There are two types of voluntary muscle, they are type I slow twitch (red muscle fibre) that operates at low intensity but with greater endurance. Type II fast twitch  (white muscle fibre) operates with greater force but with much shorter duration. Type I and type II muscle fibres use different energy sources within the body. Red muscle fibre (type I)  for instance uses more oxygen, it is used in aerobic exercise and can be sustained for hours at a time like when you walk. White muscle fibre (type II) on the other hand is anaerobic and uses another energy process , it can be sustained only for short periods but with much more force. White muscle fibre is used in short bursts of strenuous activity like sprinting or lifting heavy weights. 

A long distance runner will have more red muscle fibre than a sprinter who has a greater ratio of white muscle fibre. White muscle fibre gets bigger when exercised, a successful body builder can be expected to be white fibre dominant. We tend to inherit these traits from our parents. Sports like football and rock climbing will use both, in continuous low intensity body movements interspersed with short high intensity muscle action.

Good blood circulation helps and is helped by muscles in action, the amount of oxygen consumed by a working muscle can increase 20-50 times more than a relaxed idle muscle. A flexed muscle not only uses more blood it’s shape changes because of the way it’s various fibres interlock.

Apart from your red and white muscle fibre ratio the actual size and strength of your muscles is determined by how much you exercise, your diet, neurology, hormone levels or presence of artificial growth promoters like anabolic steroids.

Your muscles are the motors of your body’s movements and posture, we cannot even breathe without them.

About 40% of average body mass is voluntary muscle and most of the rest of our mass is composed of involuntary muscle.

Stress stiffens muscle because when we are stressed the body primes itself for a flight or fight response by flooding your skeletal (voluntary) muscle with extra blood. This creates added strength to save yourself even if you are not actually in physical danger.

During short contractions your jaw muscles are strongest while the muscles of your thigh and butt are stronger in longer contractions. When muscles are stretched the interlocking myosin and actin fibres in your muscle are relaxed and help restore full extension to your joints.

When muscle strength is even between the front and back of your body and between the left and right sides of your body your posture will be upright and straight.

Other body tissues respond well to massage too but muscles respond best. It is easy to forget what it’s like to feel normal, it is too easy to attribute your aches and pains to aging alone. It is how you feel after some regular massage that tells you how young you can still feel.



The function of ligament is to join bone to bone, without ligament our joints would have no stability. All joints (this includes the vertebrae in your spine) have ligament, the ligaments of the knee tend to be the most spoken about  because they are often traumatised in sport. Knee ligaments sprain and tear when the joint is put in positions under force that it is not naturally designed to move in- sideways and backwards.

Ligament is a tough fibrous tissue that is flat on the outside of the joint beneath the skin such as in the medial knee ligament or cord like when it is stabilizing the inside of the joint as with the anterior cruciate ligament. Whether the ligament is flat or cord-like they are painful when sprained or torn and the joint loses stability. A sudden tearing of ligaments can even produce an audible snapping noise.

Ligaments are slow to heal which is why surgery is performed. Ligaments are strained when joints dislocate too, as happens with the shoulder. After multiple dislocations ligaments weaken which undermines the general stability of the joint which makes re-dislocations more likely. Artificial ligament is used to reinforce shoulders that are prone to dislocation.

When people stretch too far ligaments can be damaged though muscle tearing is more likely to happen first. Ligaments and muscles may be both injured at the same time. Ligament and muscle tearing is unlikely to happen when you are doing regular age appropriate stretching exercises, when tension is gradually applied to any joint during a stretch you will feel it is about to reach an uncomfortable point before damage is caused. So long as your balance is controlled stretching will usually be safe.

If you are recovering from a ligament injury re-introducing the affected joint to stretching exercise must be gradual and preferably under professional supervision atleast to start with, especially after surgery. Specific stretching exercises post-operative tend to be different to the ones illustrated in Self Massage.

Ligament is present in the parts of the joint that are not meant to bend. Using the example of the knee joint you will find ligament on the inside and outside of the joint because knees due to their structure cannot and should not bend sideways. Ligaments are also located on the back of the knee because knees cannot and should not bend backwards.

You will commonly see footballers with strapped knees, the strapping helps compensate weakened and damaged knee ligaments. Due to the nature of competative sport even with strapping your knees will heal more slowly and re-injure more easily until healing occurs. Unfortunately many sporting careers prematurely end when ligaments become damaged beyond full repair.

Strapping of an injured ankle ligaments might get you through an important game at the end of the season but using strapping as an ongoing method of protecting an unstable ankle will only undermine the health of your knee joint long term.

Damaged ligaments in your leg can create lower back pain because of the lop sided effect on your stride, Self Massage of the lower back and hips can help keep the symptoms under control.