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My First Blog Post

Wellness

The quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.

— Merriam-Webster

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been chasing wellness most of my adult life in some way. It’s one of the reasons I chose to become a physical therapist. I wanted to also help others feel well, and it’s not always about medicine. I’ve also been some version of vegetarian my entire adult life, finally making the full jump to vegan over two years ago.

What exactly does it mean, though, to feel well? One could argue that there are many facets to wellness. It’s not just about your physical well-being, but also social, spiritual, emotional, and environmental factors. If one of these is off, you feel unsettled. And sometimes it’s challenging to figure out which one of these elements is the culprit.

We tend to focus on physical wellness, right? What’s my cholesterol? How many medications do I rely on to stay healthy? How can I better manage my chronic diseases? How can I achieve and maintain a healthy weight?  How can I keep up with my kids?

I know I asked myself these questions when I first began my own wellness journey. I was overweight after having 2 kids, dealing with persistent pain, and wearing the largest size clothes in my life. Not exactly great for my emotional wellness! Does this story sound familiar?

So I began with a goal. My goal was to lose weight. 30 lbs to be exact. I started making use of my YMCA membership and used the food and activity tracker myfitnesspal to reach my goal. It took me about a year to lose the weight, but I knew I wanted to keep working toward better fitness. I was already bored with gym equipment.

In the lobby of my local YMCA, I saw a flyer for a local 5k, the Ashland Harvest Run held every October. Running 3.1 miles seemed like a daunting, yet achievable task. The best way to reach a goal is to break it down into smaller ones. I worked toward running a mile without stopping, then 2 miles. And then it was race day. I ran/walked the entire thing, finishing in the middle of the pack! It was so exciting… the whole race experience, meeting my goal, and performing better than I expected. I officially caught the running bug that day. A friend of mine convinced me to join the Sports Backers/YMCA 10k training team, and this is where I met one of my best friends. She would convince me that I was capable of even more… the marathon. A few training teams later, we have a solid crew of running sisters… sole sisters… and my life is exponentially better because of them! So great for my social wellness! I have now completed 6 marathons. I’m currently training for number 7, the Marine Corps Marathon. I’m also now a coach with the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team with Pink Nation.  

What other crazy do I do, you ask? Well, my journey inspired my husband to find his tribe, too, and he started like me at our local YMCA. He eventually found his way to CrossFit, and he is now a level 1 trainer. I told him I would never try CrossFit unless he opened his own gym. In July of 2017, I had to eat my words, because he started a box with some business partners! He has even competed at the Masters level with some success, placing first in the Festivus games and third in the SuperFit games in 2018. We have since left this business endeavor, but Ralph is working out at a new box and focusing on being an athlete for a bit.

I enjoy the new challenges of CrossFit. Everyone is good at something in the box. Maybe you can’t do handstands, but you can lift weight! Maybe I can’t lift as much as you, but I can do pistol squats! The day I climbed that rope for the first time… well, I felt like Shalane Flannagan crossing the finish line of the NYC marathon! But the best part about CrossFit? It’s been great for our marriage.

I’m also spending some time fostering my creativity. I’ve recently launched a tie-dye shirt business, and I am dabbling in turning my favorite quotes into mixed media art. I hope to sell these at some point as well.

So, here I am. A 44 year old mother of two, married to a talented CrossFit coach, working as a physical therapist, 6 time marathoner, Vegan, artist, and sometimes CrossFit athlete. This sounds more impressive on paper than it really is. This is just me, chasing wellness.

Through this blog, I hope you find inspiration in your own journey. I plan to share with you recipes, running stories and tips, CrossFit stories, vegan tips, nutrition information, fitness clothing reviews, vegan food reviews, a bit of art, and fun features of living in Richmond! Thanks for reading!

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

Numbers don’t lie…

I think this little honeymoon phase with Covid is about to be over. I’ve felt relatively safe since being fully vaccinated, but now as restrictions are lifted, I find myself increasingly nervous that I’m around others who aren’t honest about their vaccination status. Who thought the honor system would work, anyway? 

My hospital system stayed pretty quiet for several weeks with regard to Covid cases, but we are now seeing a handful of hospitalizations again. I suspect those numbers will likely increase as the Delta variant spreads. Delta accounts for 83% of new cases in the US now. It’s more virulent than previous variants. This website with graphics shows where the virus is now most active, and how sharply cases are increasing across the country.

Numbers in Virginia today: 721 new cases reported July 20th. To give you some perspective, July 15th saw 440 new cases. Only 53% of our population is fully vaccinated. We have only the honor system for masking to protect us. 

I wear a mask all day at work. At least a level 1: a basic surgical mask. For certain tasks, like going into a patient’s room within a certain time frame of a nebulizer treatment or for showering, I must wear an N-95. So when I go out, it’s really not a big deal to wear a mask. 

I’ve talked about how hard it is to wear an N-95 all day. I don’t want to go back to those days. They were miserable. 

My normal daily PPE to do my job during the height of the pandemic. N-95 with a level 1 surgical mask on top and goggles, since the virus can also enter through your eyes. Entering a Covid room also required a face shield and plastic gown.

I’ve told you how I feel about mask mandates being lifted. And I still feel the same way. I’m still worried that a booster will be required at some point, as most healthcare providers are past the 6 month mark of being fully immunized. 

The honeymoon is about to end, folks. We are about a month behind Great Britain. The President of France has lots to say about his citizens who refuse vaccinations. Areas of America that have low vaccination rates are starting to see surges in cases. 

Excuses for not getting vaccinated that include conspiracy theories are worthless. (I do realize that some folks are highly allergic to many things, and are choosing to avoid vaccinations. This plea is not for them.) It’s also not true that healthy people can’t die from this virus. Please, for the love of humanity, get vaccinated! These folks who watch Fox “news” and listen to the lies spewed are so under a spell. Funny thing is, I’ll bet all the “news anchors” have been vaccinated already. I’m lost as to why they would want all of their viewers to be so vulnerable to this virus. Do they really want to lose their audience to Covid? Sigh. Even our former president got vaccinated. The more people get vaccinated, the less likely it is for variants to form.

If you still have doubts about whether or not you should get vaccinated, talk to your primary care doctor. They know you best medically, and can make recommendations based on your individual needs and concerns.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: just like there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are no science deniers in a Covid unit. I wish everyone could see what healthcare providers experience with regard to this virus. I wish they could watch someone with a relatively mild case in the hospital try to walk across the room, gasping for air, with their oxygen levels dipping into the 70’s on supplemental oxygen. I wish they could watch the heart rate of these patients skyrocket with just the minimal activity. I wish they could feel our heartache for our beloved patients who died before vaccinations were available to the general population. I wish you could see how difficult it is to recover from the virus when you have been intubated for weeks with resulting ICU myopathy. It’s absolutely terrible. My fear is that we are about to go through these immensely challenging days all over again, simply because people won’t trust real science. 

Regret is powerful. But regret does not cure Covid. Healthcare providers are tired. It’s been a rough year and a half. Do us a favor, and get the vaccine. We don’t want to see more death, and we’re tired of wearing N-95’s. We simply want the best science has to offer to our patients and the general public, and right now, that’s prevention through vaccination. We are one of the luckiest nations in the world to have access to three very effective vaccines. If you aren’t willing to get vaccinated, at least wear a mask indoors when out in public.

Now as the Olympics begin, we are already hearing of athletes testing positive for the virus, including an alternate to the US women’s gymnastics team. For anyone worried about Simone Biles, she did reveal on social media that she is fully vaccinated! Let’s hope the virus can remain contained for the games.

Stay safe everyone. Keep masking in indoor, public spaces. Get vaccinated if you can. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Thai Top Ten: Vegan Restaurant Review

Thai Top Ten is one of my family’s favorite restaurants in our area. Located in The Creeks shopping center in an unassuming strip mall across the street from Virginia Center Commons in north Henrico, they serve omni friendly fare, but they do have vegan options as well. The key here is to let your server know you are vegan. Several of their menu options can be adapted to be vegan.

Spicy Noodle Soup at Thai Top Ten.

My favorite dishes there? Their spicy noodle soup can be made vegan, featuring a flavorful broth and tofu, and their noodles of the drunk can as well. You can choose wide or thin noodles with this! I always choose wide rice noodles with tofu and add broccoli. On the appetizer menu, they have vegetable dumplings and veggie spring rolls that are vegan as well. Sadly, their curry dishes cannot be made vegan.

Fired vegetable spring rolls
Noodles of the Drunk with wide rice noodles and tofu.

We go often enough that the staff know who we are and what our preferences are. That’s always a good thing! Plus, it’s awesome to know that you are supporting a local small business. We used to order takeout frequently during the height of the pandemic, and we are happy to be back to dining in person there.

Austin East pineapple cider

If you are there during happy hour, try an Austin East pineapple cider! They’ve got it on tap and served in a chilled glass. I swear, it tastes better here than anywhere else. 

Do you enjoy Thai food? We are lucky to have this great restaurant so close to us! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Vegan Egg Rolls: Air Fried!

A few months ago, my daughter expressed some curiosity about making fried spring rolls at home. Knowing that you can buy pre-made vegan egg roll wraps in the store, we decided to try our hand at making them.The twist? We used the air fryer! 

Soon after our first successful attempt, our air fryer broke. After 3 years, which coincidentally coincided with the expiration of the factory warranty, our beloved Cuisinart toaster/convection oven/air fryer just stopped working. Everyone in the family was sad. I mean, this appliance was utilized several times a day. The mourning period was… extensive.

Sure, we went to Target to look for a replacement, we searched Amazon for a good deal, but we just couldn’t decide, as we were sufficiently overwhelmed by all of the choices on the market now. We had almost decided to go to Costco and buy a new one, knowing that if we had a problem this time, we could return it there, no questions asked. (We bought our first one somewhere else, but they have the same model at Costco now!)

Then Amazon Prime days happened. What did I see? Our same oven. On sale. A ridiculously GREAT sale. Sold. Oh, happy day! We can now enjoy air fried goodness once again!

These vegan egg rolls feature high protein tofu as the star of the filling, with the meatiness of baby bella mushrooms and crunch of walnuts and cabbage as accents. Using sesame seed oil gives another layer of flavor. Air frying makes these crispy, but not too heavy.

So, behold, the recipe for Vegan air fried egg rolls!

Most of the ingredients for Vegan Egg Rolls!
Dorot cubes. One of my favorite cooking shortcuts!

Ingredients:

For the filling:

  • 1 T avocado oil
  • 1 T sesame seed oil
  • ½ block extra firm tofu, pressed with paper towels
  • ¼ cup walnuts, finely chopped (I use a handheld chopper)
  • ½ cup mushrooms, finely chopped (again, use a handheld chopper)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or use Dorot cubes)
  • 1 ginger Dorot cube
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • Coleslaw mix (shredded)

For the wraps:

  • 8 vegan egg roll wraps (I like Nasoya brand)
  • Water
  • 2 T avocado oil
  • 1T sesame seed oil

Directions:

  • In a large, nonstick skillet, warm the avocado and sesame seed oils over medium heat.
  • Add chopped walnuts, mushrooms, garlic, and ginger, cooking until lightly browned over medium heat.
  • Add tofu, crumbling with your hands as you add it to the pan.
  • Add soy sauce. Cook until lightly browned.
  • Set mixture aside.
  • Prepare a small bowl with water and another with a mix of the 2 T avocado oil and 1 T sesame seed oil; stir to combine.
  • Prepare an egg roll wrap for filling by wetting the edges with water (I use my fingertips).
  • Fill with two spoonfuls of the tofu mixture and top with a bit of coleslaw mix.
  • Fold on a diagonal per the instructions on the egg roll wrap package, sealing the edges.
  • Place finished egg rolls on the air fryer basket.
  • Brush both sides with the oil mixture.
  • Air fry at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, flipping halfway through to ensure even browning. (Air fryers vary, so watch carefully to avoid burning!)
  • Dip in your favorite duck or chili sauce, or in a mixture of soy sauce, spicy mustard, and chili garlic sauce!
  • Enjoy!
Filling in progress!
Prepping to fill.
Ready to roll!
Brushing with the oil mixture.
Ready to go into the air fryer.
Egg rolls complete!

Do you have an air fryer? Have you ever used them to make egg rolls? Are there any other recipes using the air fryer that you’d like to see? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

49

Do you google your dreams? I often have the most vivid dreams that I can’t fully figure out the meaning of, so I look up the prevailing symbols my subconscious imagines at night. Often times, I will dream of a number. It’s even creepier when the number then appears to me throughout the next day or week. 

A couple of weeks ago, the work week started with an unexpected job offer. My former boss, with whom I’m still friends, is losing a beloved full time staff member. The job was mine if I wanted it. 

I was initially very tempted. After all, I used to love working there. I loved the patients. I loved my colleagues. But I realized I was nostalgic for the way things used to be before the rehab department was sold to a contract agency. Everything changed after that. I felt like I was serving the corporate machine, not my beloved patients. So, after some soul searching, I turned down the offer.

Truly, I’m very happy where I am. I love the company I work for. I love my colleagues. I love the different opportunities I have, the size of the facility, and the team atmosphere. I feel valued. I feel at home, but also have room to grow. And I love the freedom of working PRN. 

And the morning after I made the final decision, I had a dream with the number 49 in it. That number appeared to me 2 more times at work the next day as a patient’s age and again as a patient’s number of years married. 

Looking up the number, this “angel number” indicates a symbol of intuition and inner strength. It is a message that I have made a good decision based on my instincts. I’m going to go with that. 

During Sunday’s run with my marathon training team that week, I happened to spend some time with a fellow runner who believes in things like this, and she was very affirming of the connection of 49 and what I’d found it to mean. It may sound silly, but I believe the dream was affirming my choice!

Since then, I’ve had several more signs that I am doing the right thing, and working in the right place. My patients have given our case managers great feedback about their experiences with me. I’ve had my colleagues support me when I was anxious about a work issue. And I was able to help one of the OT’s with serial casting, teaching him a few new techniques to make the process easier, and he was very appreciative. 

And then a new angel number appeared: 10. I dreamed about it, and then I went out to dinner with my daughter, and we were seated at table 10! Apparently this number indicates that I should have faith in my chosen path. I’m going to go with that, too. 

For now, work is busy, but work is good. It’s taken me a long time to get to this place, and for that, I’m grateful.

Do you ever dream about specific things like numbers? Do you ever google them to see what they mean? I’d love to hear what you think! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Vegan One Dish Chorizo Rice with Peppers and Onions

During my last trip to Kroger, I was lucky enough to find a huge bargain. They marked down their Simple Truth vegan chorizo sausage links to 45 cents. That is not a typo! Of course, I bought some. These pack a whopping 27g of plant-based protein per sausage. I’ve never tried this seitan chorizo before, but for this price, it was worth the experiment. 

Seriously. 45 cents for vegan protein? Yes, please!

I had no idea really how I was going to use this, but inspiration struck after work Tuesday. I would make a one pot dish with rice, peppers, onions, and tomatoes, adding in some Tex Mex flavors as well. I think it turned out well. It even passed the teenager test!

Simple Truth Vegan Chorizo

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • One onion, diced
  • One bell pepper, your choice in color, diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (or use Dorot cubes or jarred minced garlic)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 package Simple Truth seitan chorizo sausage links, cut into diagonal slices
  • 1 cup white rice (I like Basmati or Jasmine)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can Rotel 
  • 1T Tajin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  • In a medium saucepan or small Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and garlic, sauteing until translucent. Add about a tsp of salt with this.
  • Add the peppers and cook until starting to lightly brown.
  • Add the Tajin and paprika, stirring to combine.
  • Add the sliced sausage, cooking until slightly brown.
  • Add the rice, Rotel, and vegetable broth.
  • Bring mixture to a boil.
  • Cover, reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. 
  • Adjust salt as needed, and serve!

Note: You can easily swap the seitan chorizo with seitan Italian sausage or kielbasa. Simply swap out your spices for 1 T Italian seasoning and 1 tsp red pepper flakes!

And there you go. A quick, one dish, easy weeknight dinner! Leftovers are equally great, and can also become a great filling for a tortilla!

I cooked this in a small Dutch oven.

Have you ever tried the Simple Truth seitan chorizo sausage? What did you think? Let me know if you try this recipe! Take a picture and tag me on Instagram @annecreates! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Pho Que Huong: Vegan Restaurant Review

Pho Que Huong is a Vietnamese restaurant in the Virginia Center Commons area of north Henrico County outside of Richmond. They took over the old Famous Dave’s location, and have slowly been adding decor to make it look less like a BBQ joint! But much of the old seating, etc. remains. It’s what one would call a hole in the wall kind of place; the kind of place where you walk in and instantly know it has fabulous food!

Indoor seating at the restaurant. You can see it still has some of the Famous Dave’s feel to the space.

We discovered this omnivore and vegan friendly restaurant a few years ago. I was craving noodle soup, but was finding it challenging to find close to my home and vegan. I lucked out here, though!

In addition to their vegan pho, they have a good variety of noodle and rice dishes on their vegetarian menu which, in the absence of dairy and eggs, is essentially vegan. I keep promising myself that I will venture out and try something new, but I keep going back for the soup!

The vegetarian menu at Pho Que Huong.

For $9.95, you get a giant bowl of vegetable broth, thin and crispy strips of fried tofu, loads of tender veggies, rice noodles, and a pile of herbs and bean sprouts. You can make it as spicy as you want with the spice rack! I especially love how they prepare the tofu for this dish. 

The Vegetarian Noodle Soup

As far as service goes, it’s always fast and friendly. Even when we go for takeout, they have meals together quickly.

If you are in the RVA, please go check out this restaurant! There’s something for everyone, even any non-vegans in your life. They are locally owned, and it’s great to support your neighbors! Make it a local business date night and visit Intermission Beer, a woman owned brewery next door, after your meal!

Do you love Asian food, too? Have you visited this restaurant? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Flexibility Series for Runners: Part 4: The Final Stretch

This last installment in this series is all about static stretching. It’s my favorite of all mobility training. Maybe it’s because it calls to the inner gymnast in me. Maybe because it feels so good! But static stretching is the icing on the cake of any workout for me, as long as I take the time to do this!

Ideally, this is done after some type of fascia releasing modality as I reviewed with you in part 3 of my series about foam rolling. However, there are times this may not be possible or convenient after a workout, for example, after a group run away from your home. I actually carry a stick roller and a roll-up picnic blanket in my car to use after a run to which I have traveled. 

Static stretching is intended to lengthen muscles and improve overall flexibility and range of motion. You get into a position to a comfortable end range, then hold for at least 30 seconds. Try to do 2-3 reps per stretch. Some stretches I like to hold for longer, more like a yoga pose. Static stretching should not be painful. 

Speaking of yoga, taking a class is absolutely complementary to your flexibility training, and I firmly believe it can be hugely beneficial for a number of aches and pains!

Some of my favorite stretches on the floor are as follows:

  • Half Cow Pose
This I try to hold for at least a minute, once with my left leg on top, once with my right leg on top. I thank my friend and yogi Amanda Myers for this stretch!
  • Hip Flexor to Hamstring/Calf Stretch
Start in a deep lunge. Here, I’m stretching my left hip flexors, transitioning to stretching my right hamstrings and calf muscles. Try to hold each position for about 30 seconds.
  • Glute Stretch
Hold for about 30 seconds on each side.

If I can’t sit or get onto the ground after a run, for example, after a big group run, I have a series of stretches I do in standing:

  • Quad stretch
Hold for about 30 seconds, using a stationary object to hold onto or touch for support if needed.
  • Hamstring stretch
Hold for 30 seconds each leg.
  • Glute stretch
You’re in a bit of a squat here. Cross your leg over your opposite knee, and add pressure with your hand for further stretch. Hold onto or touch something sturdy for support. Hold for 30 seconds each leg.
  • Calf stretch
Press your toes into a wall, curb, etc. and lean forward to a comfortable stretch. Try shifting your hips a bit to each side to stretch different portions of your calf muscles. Hold for 30 seconds. This is also a handy mid-run stretch if needed.

I hope you find these helpful! Maintaining flexibility is an important part of your injury prevention and recovery routine. Taking a few minutes, a few times a week, to focus on maintaining and improving your flexibility can improve your overall comfort with running.

Want to learn more? Look back at the rest of the series! Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Do you take the time to do static stretches after a run? What are some of your favorite stretches? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. Happy running! 

*I offer this advice as a courtesy, and bear no responsibility for injuries incurred if you take my advice. Please consult your doctor if injured.*

The Silver Diner: Vegan Restaurant Review

One of my vegan friends clued me into the fact that the Silver Diner has recently upped its vegan game. Since the Innsbrook location is not too far from home, my husband and I ventured there for dinner for the first time in a couple of years. 

Real diner style!
The juke box at our table

Known regionally for seeking locally sourced items for their menu, the Silver Diner offers a wide selection of omni and vegan friendly choices, including breakfast served all day. They have several locations throughout Virginia and Maryland, with one restaurant in New Jersey. Paying homage to American kitschy decor, their diners look like they jumped out of the 1950’s. For Covid, they have plexiglass barriers between the booths, and the counter seating is not in place right now. 

My meal at the Silver Diner!

For our dinner, my husband and I both chose breakfast, although I was tempted by the beyond meat tacos and the seasonal vegan menu item, Hummingbird Farms roasted tomatoes. I almost got the Just Egg Benedict, but I had my heart set on the oat milk protein blueberry pancakes before I even walked in the door. I also ordered a side of vegan sausage, and my husband and I shared an order of home fries. 

The Oat Milk Protein Blueberry Pancakes

I was really happy with my meal. The sausage was really tasty. The pancakes were amazing! Packed with blueberries, the real surprise was the addition of crushed pistachios! With a whopping 40g of protein, they came with a side of agave syrup and coconut whipped cream, which added a perfect extra sweetness to these. 

Check out some of the veggie menu items:

Just one part of the menu at the Silver Diner that features vegan items!

Overall, I was pleased with our experience today. I’m impressed with the variety of choices for vegans on the menu, including a few things made with Beyond Meat and Just Egg. The service was great. They have kept many of the Covid precautions in place, and their staff are still wearing masks. Now if they could just make some vegan milkshakes, it would be perfect! We will be back!

Have you ever been to the Silver Diner? I’d love to hear about your experience! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.

Flexibility Series for Runners: Part 3: Foam Rolling

It’s the fitness recovery task we love to hate. Let’s face it: the older we get, the more help we need to recover from our workouts. And our bodies beg the question: why does foam rolling hurt so good? 

In Part 1 of this series, we talked about why foam rolling is thought to be beneficial. The hypothesis is that when we do intense workouts like running, our muscles become inflamed and stick to the overlying fascia, reducing our overall mobility and flexibility and causing discomfort. Foam rolling is thought to help break up these adhesions, to signal the body’s stretch receptors (golgi tendon organs) to relax, and improve overall mobility, preparing your muscles for static stretching.

But what exactly is fascia, you ask? 

The simplest way to explain is to use a real life example. If you have ever eaten chicken on the bone, you may have encountered this fibrous, stretchy muscle covering and not realized it. It looks white-ish and somewhat translucent, and you definitely found some if you separated one muscle belly from another. (Another reason I don’t eat meat anymore!)

What tools can we use to foam roll?

Types of rollers are abundant. Even discount stores like Five Below have them. I’ve bought a few from places like Ross, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s, who always seem to have a few kinds in stock, from smooth to bumpy. And then there are the Cadillacs of models that do things like vibrate and heat. If you aren’t used to foam rolling, try getting a smooth version that is a bit squishy; it will be more comfortable for you. 

You can also buy stick rollers, again, cheap to expensive. I love my stick roller from Five Below as much as my $20 version from Target. Then there is The Stick, which our local Richmond Fleet Feet owner loves to demonstrate to runners at group events. These are far more portable than their foam roller versions, and they don’t require you to lie on them. You simply rub them along the muscle belly, applying as much pressure as is comfortable to you. I often find using stick rollers more comfortable when I’m really sore!

How do I foam roll?

Using your foam roller is easy. I try to do this one or two times a week, and especially on long run day after my shower when my muscles are warm again, doing some static stretches after. Just lie down on the floor on your foam roller, and roll back and forth. Focus on one muscle group at a time for about a minute each. You want to roll over muscle bellies, not on ligaments, tendons, or bony prominences. This process should feel comfortably uncomfortable, if that makes sense, but not necessarily painful. 

Short video demonstrating all the tools under the “foam rolling” umbrella. Concentrate on one muscle group for about a minute each for best results.

Did you catch that trick?

Warm muscles respond better to any flexibility training. That includes foam rolling. So working on foam rolling and static stretching after your post-run shower or epsom salt bath is a great time to do this. It’s one of the premises behind hot yoga. 

What about massage guns?

Yes, I include the latest recovery craze under the foam rolling umbrella. If you want to invest in this tool, you can’t get away with cheap like you can with rollers or sticks. As a rehab clinician, I use the Hypervolt in the clinic, and this is the brand I personally use at home. There are comparable versions on the market, but I would not recommend the $15 model from Five Below for this tool. Costco has a version there for around $100 that has been reviewed well. 

Massage guns work on the same premise, but the percussion and vibration of these devices are a different kind of stimulus than the friction and pressure of foam rolling. If you are lucky enough to have a partner who is willing to hit areas you can’t, like your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and calves), low back, etc., consider yourself blessed. My CrossFit fanatic husband and I often help each other out with this when we are feeling particularly beat up. 

Spending a minute or two on each major muscle group after a run or workout can help reduce discomfort, increase circulation to the targeted muscles, and improve mobility. Again, focus on the muscle bellies, avoiding bony prominences (the gun will actually bounce off of these) and ligaments or tendons. But do try this on the bottoms of your feet. It feels like heaven! 

What about using a lacrosse ball?

It’s true that I have one of these in my arsenal of self-torture tools as well. These are great for targeting trigger points, smaller muscles, and the bottoms of your feet. What are trigger points, you ask? If you’ve ever had a small knot in a muscle, this is a trigger point. These are generally the size of your fingertip. (If you have a large, raised, perhaps superficial area that is very painful and/or warm and seemingly in a muscle, this is NOT a trigger point. Seek medical attention!) 

To use the lacrosse ball, just sit on the ball and roll over any sore spots. If a lacrosse ball is too firm, try a tennis ball instead. This is a popular means to release a tight piriformis muscle, that tiny little complainer deep under your glutes. If you need to target a spot in your upper back, place the ball in the toe end of a long sock, throw it over your back, and use the end of the sock to align the ball as you press into a wall. The ball is also a great way to massage the bottoms of your feet! Simply stand on the ball, press, and roll. 

Putting it all together:

  1. Dynamic Stretches pre-run to prepare your body for the work ahead. You can also incorporate short, static stretches to problem areas. If this is your long run, take the first mile or so fairly slowly to fully warm up. See Part 2 of this series for more details.
  2. After your run, ideally take some time to utilize one or more of these methods under the foam rolling umbrella prior to static stretching. If this isn’t practical, say, for example, after a big group run or a race, try to do this after your shower at home, when your muscles are warm again from the hot water. 
  3. Static stretching. Again, if it’s not practical to foam roll after a run, do at least a few static stretches. And it’s always a solid plan to fit in a good static stretching session after foam rolling. More on this in my next article in this series. 

More on my Flexibility Series for Runners:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

I hope this information was helpful to you! Do you currently incorporate foam rolling into your flexibility training and/or recovery from workouts? I’d love to hear about it! As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. Happy running!

*I offer this advice as a courtesy, and bear no responsibility for injuries incurred if you take my advice. Please consult your doctor if injured.*

The Power of Connection

It’s no secret that the best caregivers possess the soft skills of connecting with their patients. As a physical therapist with over 22 years of practice, I try to find ways to do this with each person in my care. This ability to connect with patients became even more vital during the pandemic, as strict visitation guidelines to prevent the spread of infection made our patients very lonely. 

With many years working PRN, I’ve realized that I have about 30 seconds to establish trust with a patient. So I start by taking ownership of the session, simply introducing myself, stating that I am their PT for the day. I’m not “from physical therapy.” I am “your PT.” I also briefly discuss the game plan for the session so there are no surprises.

I’ve realized that the universe tends to place me in spaces where I’m needed often. I may work with someone who will benefit from my exact set of skills, my patience to listen, or the ability to navigate the system to get them to the right resources to help them best. Sometimes the reason is much simpler, like a common interest, or simply the ability to read someone and deliver exactly what they need in that moment.

I recently worked with a patient who was not that much older than me. We got into a discussion about college and music, and we discovered that we love many of the same bands! So whenever I worked with her, I took to playing music from my phone during our sessions. One day, she asked to hear the “busy” song, and I knew exactly what she meant. She wanted to hear Hairdresser on Fire by Morrissey, a song I happened to have in my iTunes collection. It was fate!

During another recent session on a weekend, I had a patient who simply didn’t want to do anything. In reading her, I felt that she was really just scared. I talked her into doing some bed exercises. I quickly realized she needed to be changed. After summoning some help, I ended up getting her to stand up multiple times in the process of getting cleaned up. And then since she was already standing, I convinced her to get into her wheelchair. Her hair was an absolute mess. Her reward for all the hard work she did for me? I braided her hair. I left her not a scared woman, but a happy lady who felt pretty for perhaps the first time since she was admitted to the hospital. It was a win for both of us. 

One of the most rewarding things I get to do is to help someone reduce their pain. Shoulder pain is often a big problem for the very old with “end stage” shoulder arthritis and also for those with hemiparesis, when there is either limited structure left of the rotator cuff, or there is no muscle tone to approximate the joint. Tape to the rescue! I’ve got several methods to do this, but taping often reduces pain levels significantly, turning anguish into smiles and relief. Sometimes I’m the PRN that figures this out. 

I made friends with a lady in an assisted living facility where I once worked. One of the beautiful parts of working in these settings is that you get a building full of adopted grandparents! She was a patient who benefited greatly from my shoulder taping skills. I learned early on in geriatrics that older people love to impart knowledge gained from their years of life experience. It’s always fun to see their faces light up when you let them indulge. 

This particular lady was very helpful as my older daughter made the transition from little girl to tween. I guess my daughter had been particularly moody lately as a 5th grader, and I was venting a bit. She asked if I had thought about the possibility that she may be getting ready to start her cycle. Whoa! I had not thought of that. But I got prepared that day, had another talk with my daughter, and made sure she had supplies and was ready. Thank goodness for my friend, because the event for which we had planned happened just a few weeks later. I was so grateful for her insight. 

My best story, though, is from my many years working in a skilled nursing facility. I had this patient I had been working with for well over a year to heal a wound. We alternated between diathermy and high volt e-stim to stimulate healing, and with e-stim, you turn up the intensity until the patient feels it. He was very hard of hearing, and we worked out a system where he would hold my hand, then squeeze it when he felt the buzz. 

We developed a friendship over time. I greatly admired his adoration and devotion to his wife. She had severe dementia, but was more mobile than my patient, as he was non-ambulatory, yet mentally intact. She lived next door in the assisted living. But my patient made a point of having dates with her once a week. It was so very sweet! I loved that our staff made it happen. 

He was also a very handsome fellow. He looked just like Victor Kiriakis from Days of Our Lives. He had never seen the show, and eventually I was able to share his likeness with my patient. He joked that he looked better than Victor!

I was devastated when I came into work one day, and he wasn’t there. He had suffered a major stroke. It happened right before I left for a weeks vacation. On our last night there, I had a dream about him. 

In my dream, I was at work, and it was a Friday afternoon, when often the rabbi would play music at the nurses station for residents. My patient was there, and as I walked through, he stood up out of his wheelchair, took me into his arms, and danced with me, much like a father dances with his daughter at her wedding. He then let go, walked away, and faded into the distance. I woke up already crying. I sobbed like a baby for several minutes, because I knew in my heart that he was gone. Later that day, his obituary was posted. I’m certain he came to me in my dream to let me know that he was leaving, and that he was ok. 

You never know how much your interactions with someone will make a difference. While not all of my sessions with my patients are extraordinary, I hope that most of the time, I convey care and compassion, sharing common human experiences and applying my skills to help my patients feel heard, valued, and better. It’s really not enough to just address someone’s physical needs in healthcare, especially when we spend as much time as we do with patients in the rehab world. The golden rule of nature is to leave things better than you found them. The golden rule of people skills is to treat others how you want to be treated. Combine the two, and that’s the power of connection. 

Have you ever been the recipient of caregiving from a provider who took the time to connect with you? Or have you been on the caregiver side? I’d love to hear about your experiences. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy.