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Surprising Exercise Science: What’s The Use Of Stretching?

If you’re like me, you  probably feel guilty about not making stretching a part of your regular exercise routine. I attributed my history of low back pain to lack of stretching, although when I began practicing yoga last year I experienced no lasting benefits. Stretching was uncomfortable and I saw very little improvement in my flexibility for all my efforts. I eventually gave up after one well-meaning yogi told me that I may just be “genetically incapable” of making much progress. I turned to strength training and running with complete resolution of my back pain – though with a continued inability to bend over and touch my toes or sit cross legged for prolonged periods. Oh well. No traditional Japanese dining for me!

And so it was with great surprise that I read the conclusions from a recent analysis (by Alex Hutchinson, Ph.D.) of the science of stretching. I recommend that you read it for yourself (along with the links to the primary source literature). But I’m going to summarize his findings here:

Q: Does stretching reduce the risk of injuries during exercise?

A: Not that we can prove.

Q: Does stretching help you avoid soreness after exercise?

A: No.

Q: Does stretching make you stronger or faster?

A: No. In fact, there is some evidence that stretching can have the opposite effect. Why? Muscles have spring-like properties, so that when they are stretched out, they become less able to transmit as much force. Imagine the difference between the power of a thick, metal spring and a thin metal spring. Studies have shown that the more flexible you are, the less efficient you are as a runner.

My take away message is that there’s no need to flagellate yourself into stretching if you don’t like it. It really depends on what you need to do with your body – if you’re a gymnast, then stretching will always be a part of your life. If you’re a runner who hates yoga, so be it. You may never win a toe-touching competition, but then again, you can probably crush the Primal Games competition. Wish me luck as I attempt to do just that in two weeks!

Study Compares Yoga To Traditional Care For Chronic Low Back Pain

Low back pain is one of the most common conditions to affect humans.  More than 80% of Americans experience low back pain at some time in their lives and “chronic” pain is on the rise as people live longer and get heavier.  Numerous studies have shown that doctors and patients underutilized exercise as a treatment for chronic back and neck pain even though it has been shown to be effective.  A new study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that showed yoga to be an effective treatment for chronic low back pain.

The study authors took two groups of patients and compared yoga to usual care for chronic or recurrent low back pain. All patients received a back pain education booklet, but the study group also received Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Consumer Reports Promotes Alternative Medicine With Questionable Research

Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve intermittently read Consumer Reports, relying on it for guidance in all manner of purchase decisions. CR has been known for rigorous testing of all manner of consumer products and the rating of various services, arriving at its rankings through a systematic testing method that, while not necessarily bulletproof, has been far more organized and consistent than most other ranking systems. True, I haven’t always agreed with CR’s rankings of products and services about which I know a lot, but at the very least CR has often made me think about how much of my assessments are based on objective measures and how much on subjective measures.

Until now.

I just saw something yesterday on the CR website that has made me wonder just how scientific CR’s testing methods are, as CR has apparently decided to promote alternative medicine modalities by “assessing” them in an utterly scientifically ignorant manner. Maybe I just haven’t been following CR regularly for a while, but if there’s an article that demonstrates exactly why consumer product testing organizations should not be testing medical treatments; they are ill-equipped to do so and lack the expertise and knowledge. The first red flag was the title, namely Hands-on, mind-body therapies beat supplements. The second red flag was the introduction to the article: Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Fungus: An Unwanted Yoga Partner

Yoga is good for your mind and body, including your skin. Yoga mats, on the other hand, might not be. Using someone else’s yoga mat for an hour could lead to an infection.

Fungal infections are common and appear as athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, and ringworm. Unfortunately, the fungus can survive on surfaces like mats long after the infected person has left. Although most people blame the gym locker room when they develop athlete’s foot, you can catch the fungus from a variety of places anytime you walk barefoot.

Fortunately, even if the fungus comes into contact with your skin, it doesn’t always lead to infection. Dry, cracked skin, or soft, wet skin disrupt your primary defense against the fungus — the densely packed barrier of skin cells, oils and proteins on your healthy skin’s surface. Here are five ways to prevent taking a fungus home with you from your next yoga class:

1. Bring your own mat. At least you know what you have.

2. Use an alcohol sanitizer on your hands and feet after your class. Sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol are excellent at drying up the fungus and killing it long before it has a chance to infect you. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Dermatology Blog*

Back Pain: Why Yoga Might Make Me A Better Doctor

I’m a physician trained in sports medicine, and a chronic back pain sufferer. I first injured my back in 2001 when lifting a heavy bag and trying to sling it onto my shoulder. The pain was so severe that I couldn’t get off the floor for three days. I eventually ended up in the ER with an “unremarkable” MRI. The cause of my pain was never explained — all I knew is that I hadn’t herniated any disks.

Years later my back pain still flares up occasionally, and I’ve never really understood how to prevent it or treat it effectively. This has been very embarrassing for me, since I’m supposed to be an expert in this field. But today I finally got some insight into the real cause of my pain — not from a physician or physical therapist, but from a yoga instructor. Read more »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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