Clapham Osteopathy and Functional Movement

Marvelous Madagascar

We’re going to present something a little different for this post, highlighting something near and dear to us: travel. Last month we spent 2 ½ weeks in Madagascar, a well-deserved break, especially for Sue who has been working very hard of late!

For those of you who are unaware, Madagascar is a huge island, roughly the size of France, so there was no way we were going to see all of it in the amount of time we had. We were keen to do a variety of activities, though, including wildlife spotting, hiking, and chilling at the beach. Fortunately, Madagascar has plenty of options for all of these. With a couple of exceptions, we followed the classic RN7 route from the capital Antananarivo in the central plateau down to the southwestern coast. What really surprised us was the extreme variety of landscape in just this small section of the country. We took in lush rainforest, lunar landscapes, pine forests, and white sand beaches. Madagascar really does have something for everyone.

Of course, the big something, probably what the country is most famous for, is the lemur. Madagascar is the only country in the world where you can find lemurs in the wild, over 100 different species of them, in fact. We managed to see only about 10 of these species, but certainly didn’t feel hard done by, as the ones we did spot were plentiful, beautiful and fascinating. Some of the coolest lemurs we encountered were the Indris, or Indri Indri, as they are known locally. They brought the concept of the dawn chorus to a new level, with their haunting cries  – described as a cross between a whale and a car alarm – being heard for miles. (Check out a video here) Fortunately, due to the time difference, we were getting up early anyway! Some of the other species we spotted were black and white ruffed lemur, mouse lemur, sifaka, bamboo lemur, and of course the ringtailed lemur. Some of these were shy and hung out high in the trees, whilst others such as the ringtails were quite happy to walk right up to us, even with babies clinging to their backs.

chameleon

 

Lemurs are not the only fauna that Madagascar is famous for. The country is also home to about half the world’s 150 or so species of chameleons. In our humble opinion, these are the coolest lizards out there, with their bulging eyes, zygodactyl (good word, eh?) feet, and beautiful colours. Perhaps the most impressive feature of the chameleon, however, is its tongue. On average, a chameleon’s tongue is roughly twice the length of its body. In humans, that would be a tongue about 10 to 12 feet long! And it’s not just big. A chameleon’s tongue can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a hundredth of a second! Pretty impressive stuff. (See it in action here)

On the subject of guides, everywhere we went we seemed to wind up with more of these than anticipated. In addition to a driver and guide taking us around the country, every national park we visited supplied a local guide and sometimes an animal spotter or two as well. We came to realise that this is the Malagasy attempt to spread the wealth around. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world and is largely a tip-based economy, so the more helpful bodies foisted upon tourists, the more money potentially makes it into the local economy. At first, we were a little put off by the number of people who seemed to be ‘assigned’ to us at every stop (as we are typically avidly independent travelers), but we soon realised the deal and settled into the routine. It just meant calculating a lot more tips. That said, salaries there are so low in Madagascar that even a Euro or two is a huge amount of money for many of the people, so ultimately it was still relatively inexpensive.We always try to include some hiking in our holidays, and this was no exception. We spent several days in Andringitra National Park, well-known for its spectacular mountainous scenery. There, we summited Pic Boby, the country’s 2nd highest (and highest-climbable) mountain. One of the highlights was drinking ‘rum arrange’ (the local hooch infused with various fruits or other aromatics, in this case, ginger) whilst soaking in the singing and dancing performances of our surprisingly-large posse of cooks, porters, and guides.

feetMoney is so scarce that many of the poorer people can’t even afford shoes. Being somewhat barefoot-obsessed, we found ourselves marveling at the ease with which these shoeless people went around their daily business. In particular, the runners of the two-wheeled rickshaws known as pousse-pousse, found in many Malagasy cities. We quickly noticed that none of the pousse-pousse pullers wore shoes. Even pounding up and down paved city streets all day long, the feet of these guys looked really healthy. Not a bunion to be seen! This should be a lesson to all of us. Whilst we don’t necessarily advocate going barefoot around the streets of London, getting out of our ‘foot coffins’ as much as possible could potentially do us a world of good.

Despite a lack of money, the Malagasy people seem to place a high emphasis on good food. Even though the typical local cuisine is reasonably basic – meat or fish and rice – it is generally well-prepared and tasty. Add to the mix the fact that the country was once a French colony, and you have a recipe (pun intended) for yet another great feature of the country: yummy food! Little did we know before arriving in Madagascar that French staples such as steak au poivre, crepes, foie gras, and duck confit would be gracing our plates so frequently. We ate plenty of the local dishes as well, our favourite being a stew of eel and pork served with (of course) lots of rice. The local wine we sampled was nothing to write home about, but the beer was cheap and tasty!

As is the case in so many developing economies, the poverty of Madagascar can be heartbreaking. At times it took great effort not to dole out coins, pens or trinkets to the frequent child beggars, some of whom were barely old enough to walk, yet still had their hands out for bonbons or cadeaux. But we believe a better way is to donate to charities that can help the people in a more sustainable manner.  Upon returning to London, we identified PSI as a reputable and efficiently-run charity whose stated  goal is to ‘make it easier for people in the developing world to lead healthier lives and plan the families they desire.’ Please feel free to join us in donating here. Then do yourself a favour and get yourself to Madagascar. You won’t regret it!
The Backs Etc Team

Jack and Sue

 

The Dangers of Acetaminophen

bottle of pillsAcetaminophen, most commonly known as Tylenol, is one of the most popular over-the-counter painkillers. Most people don’t think twice about taking it for the occasional ache or pain. Yet acetaminophen may be one of the most dangerous medicines in the drugstore. In this article, functional medicine practitioner Chris Kresser discusses the potential liver toxicity of the drug, as well as its negative effects on cardiovascular health, kidney disease, and even cancer.

Read the full article, The Dangers of Acetaminophen.

The Great Con-ola

bottle of oilThis article from The Weston A. Price Foundation takes aim at one of our most popular cooking oils, canola. The food industry has been lauding the benefits of canola oil since its arrival on the scene in the mid-1980s, calling it ‘heart healthy’, ‘high in Omega 3s’ and ‘widely recognized as the healthiest salad and cooking oil available to consumers.’ However, there is a dark side to canola oil, as studies have shown it to actually be potentially dangerous to humans. This article details the history of the oil and documents the health risks associated with canola and other industrial seed oils.

Read the full article, The Great Con-ola.

If You Want To Save The World, Veganism Isn’t The Answer

dry field with one treeVeganism is becoming more and more popular these days. Understandably so, as people are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of Intensively farmed meat and dairy’s toll on the environment. However, in this article, farmer Isabella Tree discusses the potential negative implications that veganism can have on the sustainability of our farmland, as well as our health. This article is a great read no matter which side of the debate you may stand on.

Read the full article, If You Want To Save The World, Veganism Isn’t The Answer

Neurokinetic Therapy: Revolutionary Rehab for Injuries & Chronic Pain

neck examNeurokinetic Therapy. If you’ve been to see us at Backs Etc., you’ve probably heard this phrase. NKT, as it’s known for short, is an innovative technique which utilises manual muscle testing to assess dysfunctions in the coordination system of the brain that can result from injury, postural stress or poor movement patterns. It cues the brain for new learning resulting in immediate correction of neuromuscular imbalances. NKT addresses pain at its source: the motor control centre of the brain.

In this article, renowned functional medicine practitioner Dr. Josh Axe discusses the technique, its history,  and how it’s personally helped him recover from a lower back injury.

Read the full article, Neurokinetic Therapy: Revolutionary Rehab for Injuries & Chronic Pain

Why It’s Good To Be A Slacker

‘Eat a balanced diet’. ‘Ensure a good work-life balance’. Balance your budget’. Notice a trend here? Balance seems to be considered a pretty important thing. Indeed it is, and perhaps nowhere as important as its role within our bodies. Without it, many of our basic motor functions get pretty damn difficult. Just ask anyone who’s suffered from Labyrinthitis, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or Ménière’s Disease.

But even without suffering from one of those disorders, many of us struggle with poor balance. Our ability to balance is a combination of sight, vestibular (ear canals) and proprioception (our body’s ability to know where it is in space, even with our eyes closed). As we get older, our proprioceptive and vestibular systems decline, along with reflexes and coordination, resulting in diminished balance control. This is why so many elderly people fall down and break their hips or other bones. And that is one slippery slope we’d like to avoid!

So how to do that? Train your balance and coordination of course. The trusty old phrase ‘use it or lose it!’ applies here, I’m afraid. But the good news is that there are far more fun ways to train your balance than just standing on one foot. The brilliant folks at GMB recommend a programme consisting of jump spins, walking around with eyes closed (but shins beware!), as well as more advanced hand balancing techniques.

Here at Backs Etc., our training programmes often contain floor-based exercises that require a degree of balance control, as well as balance-challenging resistance exercises like single leg deadlifts and Bulgarian split squats. But one great tool that we’ve only recently started using is the slackline.

Jack on a slackline

Similar to a tightrope, the slackline is stretched between two trees or other anchor points with the aim being to balance and walk along it. Unlike a tightrope, though, the slackline is a flat webbing, usually around 2 inches wide, making it easier to learn than a traditional tightrope. As the name implies, the slackline is not tensioned as tight as a tightrope. Because of this, the line moves up and down and side to side as you walk on it. The real skill then is to anticipate these slight movements of the line and move your body to compensate for them, improving your balance and core strength. Anybody first attempting to balance on a slackline will experience a violent shuddering back and forth of the line. This is due to the brain trying frantically to overcorrect the sideways motion of the line. This is similar to the way a driver may oversteer the opposite direction when skidding, causing a car to spin out of control. Fortunately, slacklining is much safer than driving!

So, besides improving our motor control and balance, what are some of the other benefits of slacklining?

It’s a full body workout. I mentioned core strength earlier, but slacklining requires the complete use of your entire body, engaging all your muscles and focus to prevent you from falling off the line.

It can boost memory function. A 2011 study in the scientific journal Hippocampus said, “slacklining led to an increase in the structural and functional plasticity of the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for navigation and memory”.

It can improve your posture, help you jump higher, and improve lower-limb rehabilitation.

It’s inexpensive. You can buy a good quality slackline for £30-£40.

It’s portable. Take it to the park and stretch it between two trees.

It’s fun! (need I say more?)

It’s worth noting that slacklining is pretty challenging. I’ve been using ours for about a month or so and I’m still pretty bad. But I notice little improvements regularly, and that feels nice. It’s also encouraging knowing that every time I step on it, I’m making positive changes for my body and mind. Being a slacker has never felt so good!

 

Will a Low-Carb Diet Shorten Your Life?

Steaks

Last week, a new study was published in The Lancet that claimed to find that both very low-carb and very high-carb diets shorten our lifespan. Predictably, the mainstream media jumped on this finding without doing a shred of due diligence and we were subjected to splashy headlines like this:

  • Low-carb diets could shorten life, study suggests (BBC News)
  • Low and high carb diets increase risk of early death, study finds (CNN)
  • Low-carb diet may cut years off life, study suggests (Newsweek)
  • Your low-carb diet could be shortening your life (Fast Company)
  • Paleo fail: meat-heavy low-carbohydrate diets can shorten lifespan, researchers say (South China News)

In this article, Chris Kresser breaks down the arguments, and in the process, points out many of the shortcomings of the study.

Read the full article, Will a Low-Carb Diet Shorten Your Life?

The Forgotten Benefits of the Get-Up

turkish get-upThe get-up, sometimes referred to as the Turkish get-up is one of the most effective full-body resistance exercises one can do. A few years ago it was all the rage. Lately, for some reason, it seems to have fallen a little out of favour. In this article from StrongFirst, the author discusses how get-ups are a natural evolution from crawling, another form of exercise that has become hugely popular of late (and for good reason!). Both crawling and get-ups can be extremely beneficial for strength, stability and mobility, as well as for the vestibular, visual and proprioceptive systems.

At Backs Etc, we often work with clients on both of these outstanding exercises. get in touch if you’d like to learn how to add these to your training programme.

Read the full article, The Forgotten Benefits of the Get-Up