Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Starfish Quay would love to thank all the amazing people that have supported us through this really difficult year. May this magical season be filled with laughter and love, as all times should be - good or bad. Thinking of all those who have lost loved ones, or are without them, those alone and those in company - may life be rewarding regardless of the challenges and provide enough happiness to keep you going when the challenges are overwhelming.
Merry Christmas xxx

Sunday, 22 December 2013

How Do We As Society Deal With Rape Culture?

After Graeme Swann's rather flippant comment about being 'arse raped' a few days ago, I decided to take a look at the way society deals with the subject of rape through media outlets.

'Swann apologises for 'appalling' rape comment'

"Rather have been there than being arse raped in Perth!" - England spinner Graeme Swann said in the Facebook post, responding to Alec's statement that he had been to see the band Shed Seven in concert.

"We are appalled that Graeme Swann equates a cricket match with the devastatingly serious crime of rape. It is the duty of a people in the public eye to make sure that their own distorted views are kept to themselves and not shared with the general public. These comments lack compassion and intelligence and he should apologise to anyone who has suffered from this heinous crime." - Yvonne Traynor, the chief executive of Rape Crisis.

Graeme Swann ‏@Swannyg66 19 Dec
Sorry to anyone who was offended by my comments in the papers today. Crass and thoughtless of me in the extreme.
"Graeme Swann should be sacked. No doubt about that. You can't keep playing Swann, his wickets are costing 90. All the right-handers have got the wood over him. You've got to give Monty (Panesar) a go." - England legend Bob Willis sticks the knife in further.

But are we only now beginning to realise through clumsy comments made by modern day celebrities that the issue of rape has historically been recognised as acceptable. Take for example Dean Martin and Doris Day singing 'Baby It's Cold Outside'. 

No Christmas in a department store is complete without having to listen to Dean Martin croon this tune at least four times an hour. It features the kind of saucy banter your parents think is awesome and has probably made your mum hot after a few egg nogs every year since back in the day.

Closer inspection of the lyrics however,  reveal that in Dean's extended efforts to keep his lady friend from leaving him for the night, they slip in the somewhat off putting line in which it's implied that Dean has laced her drink with roofies. Because really, if the weather won't keep her in the house, date rape drugs are the next best step.

Her: but maybe just a half a drink more
Him: (put some records on while I pour)
Her: the neighbours might faint
Him: (baby it's bad out there)
Her: say what's in this drink
Him: (no cabs to be had out there)

If we look at this objectively, Deano might just be doping her with rum - although that's no more honourable considering the entire debate is about whether she should drive home. Perhaps best of all is when she wises up and asks what's in the drink and he glosses over it like it; pointing out that there are no cabs available. So the best case scenario for this holiday gem is essentially: Dean Martin forces himself on a woman with the threat of a DUI and potentially vehicular manslaughter.

Today we call it 'rape culture', and you don't have to look far to see examples of it these days.

Whether it's advertising, movies, music videos or social media - images, words, concepts - it's all out there illustrating men dominating women.

"Everywhere you turn there's condoning, trivializing, and eroticizing rape, and collectively it sets a tone that says this is no big deal or this is what women deserve," said Lynn Phillips, a Lecturer with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Communication Department.

The language of rape culture exists in everyday conversation.

"I raped that test," is a phrase that has become commonplace, connoting a sense of accomplishment.

"You might 'rape' somebody you're playing against which means you won really easily against them."

To be "Fraped" is to have your Facebook account hacked into, usually by someone you know, where they post a comment pretending to be you.

There are countless websites eroticizing rape, wife-swapping (against their will), forced 'swinging' and encouraging males to believe that women "enjoy it really."

And, there is an endless amount of "joking" about rape occurring in cyberspace.

Trending social media topics such as "the rape sloth" continues to generate a type of editorial cartoon known as memes, which display comments about rape in a comedic form.

"Wanna smell my new cologne? It's called chloroform," quoted one of the statements.

Other meme "jokes" include "Oh you don't want sex? Challenge accepted," and even "I've got a dick and a knife, at least one of them is going inside of you tonight."

Memes can be generated by anyone on the Internet, which only makes it easier for others to continue the trend.

Popular movies are strewn with plots of men with the sole purpose of having sex. In the movie "American Pie," the entire plot of the film revolves around teenage boys wanting to throw a party so they can get girls drunk and have sex with them. This has become more popular through comedies in the past few years and is a trend that does not seem to be slowing down. Movies that have similar plots are "Euro Trip" and "Superbad."

Defining Rape Culture

Becky Lockwood, associate director of the Centre for Women and Community in Amherst, Mass., says popular culture has helped create a mind-set where sex is less about intimacy and more about possession. "We've objectified sex. It's almost a commodity now, and its really unattached from any sort of intimacy or emotional experience, and if it's a commodity, people feel okay with doing whatever they can to get it," she said.

Phillips helped produce the documentary, Flirting With Danger, which looks at power, choice, and consent in heterosexual relationships. She focuses much of her research on gender issues in sexuality, and while some struggle when asked to define exactly what "rape culture" is, Phillips' definition is fairly comprehensive.

"Rape culture is a culture in which dominant cultural ideologies, media images, social practices, and societal institutions support and condone sexual abuse by normalizing, trivializing and eroticizing male violence against women and blaming victims for their own abuse," Phillips said.

College students, however, struggle when trying to define "rape culture" and often ending up defining rape, but rape culture is more insidious, in that it goes to issues beyond the crime itself.

"Rape culture is anything that supports a culture where people think that it is okay to use sexual violence to get what they want," Lockwood said. "And, it's usually not about sex. ... It's usually about power."

Angie Epifano, a former Amherst College student who went public with a published account of her own rape last fall, said the culture also creates a silence amongst survivors seeking help.

"It's a culture where survivors don't feel safe to speak out," Epifano said. "When you look at it, sexual assault and rape are basically the only violent crimes that when you talk about it, people close off."

"If you were mugged in New York City people would be horrified," Epifano added. "No one is going to sit there and say 'Are you sure you were mugged?' With sexual assault there is always this question of 'Are you sure? What were you wearing?'"

Rape Culture and Politics

Not only have the concepts behind rape culture been trivialised in social media and everyday word of mouth, but into the political sphere as well.

During Republican Todd Akin's 2012 campaign for the Missouri Senate race, he made an argument against abortion saying that women's bodies shut down during rape, and "legitimate rapes" will not result in pregnancies.

There is no scientific evidence for his claims, and to label rapes as "legitimate" or not only furthers the stigmas surrounding alleged rape and victim-blaming. Akin received a lot of heat for this statement, but also received some support for it.

During a Senate debate last October for the open seat in Indiana, candidate Richard Mourdock discussed his stance on abortion, "I think even when life results in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen," he said.

Murdock corrected himself after the debate, but even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney came out days after the debate supporting Mourdock as a candidate.

Ending Rape Culture

Boys will be boys...?

The idea that males are rowdy - always have been, and always will be - allows us as a society to think that males have less responsibility to act respectfully.

For example, in October 2011, a Yale University fraternity came under fire when members from Delta Kappa Epsilon chanted across campus "No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal." Yale quickly announced that they do not by any means support sexual assault and a public summary of the disciplinary actions was released.

"This was considered kind of a funny sort of thing that a large group of fraternity men were doing, and collectively this sets a tone that says 'this is no big deal' or 'this is what women deserve,'" Phillips said.

Doing away with the "boys will be boys" attitude and in turn holding men responsible for how they speak, act, and feel towards women can seem like a large task.

Lockwood suggests education on healthy relationships starting in elementary school. Education around bullying in schools could also have a significant part to play in stopping this cycle as well.

"So boys who are bullied often are boys who don't fit what is seen as the traditional masculine script," Phillips said. "Girls who get bullied, it's often because they had sex when somebody thinks they shouldn't have, or in a way somebody thinks they shouldn't have, too much, too easily, or whatever the norms are in her particular school. Basically, she's a slut, he's a wuss. It's very gendered."

Obviously I would like to add that men get raped also, and this is as unacceptable and there should be more awareness around this issue also. Rape is a subject close to my heart and has unfortunately been since I was a child. It was brought up again recently by someone I least expected to be involved in an awful situation of rape and abuse that they had inflicted on their girlfriend. It's not something that happens to someone else, it's something that could happen to you, to someone you know or an act that someone you know could commit. It's a subject that should be talked about, and as we approach 2014, a subject that should no longer be 'taboo'.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Should bloggers share old content....?

Seems like a silly question, doesn't it. I mean, if a piece is old, that means it's already been shared and people have already read it, so it probably has very little value or interest later on, right? Not necessarily.

I'm are going to dig into why you should indeed be sharing your old content, including which posts and articles to share, some techniques for doing it that keeps them fresh, when to reshare old content, and ways to repurpose those old, but still valuable, blog posts and articles.

Why Businesses Should Reshare Evergreen Content

When a business first starts a content marketing campaign, unless they've hired a blog writer and social media manager, their first challenge is to get started on their blog and come up with a regular blogging schedule. As each new blog post is published, they'll share it to social networks and use it to interest and engage their current set of followers. As the weeks and months go by, the business will gain more and more followers on social media, but none of these new followers will have seen the posts shared before they started following the business.

This is one of the primary reasons for sharing old content. As your social media follower counts grow, your new followers will not have had an opportunity to see your old shares unless they sift through your timeline or poke around your blog archive.

And the fact is, every time you share a post, not even all of your existing followers will see it. On Facebook, your posts are limited in reach by EdgeRank, while on Twitter the activity is so great, posts aren't likely to ever be seen if they aren't caught within the first 2 - 4 hours. On Google+, the lifespan of a post is far longer, but you're still potentially limited. When other people circle you, they get to choose what circles they put you in and the volume settings for those circles, so there's still an element of chance and great timing to have your post seen there.

Resharing old posts is also a fantastic way to ensure regular, consistent activity across all your networks, particularly on Twitter. Once a business has a good sized archive of past blog posts, they can begin to share them daily, then multiple times a day - depending on how much other activity they have and how many old posts they have to draw from.

What Content Should Businesses Reshare?

As suggested above, the content that businesses reshare should be considered "evergreen." It's a term that refers to a post's ability to remain fresh and interesting, even after weeks and months have passed since it was originally published. An easy distinction is how to have a combination of articles and news stories. I write about breaking news and developments in social media, politics, science, environment along with interesting subjects that pop up along the way. After the initial interest has worn off, those stories are often relegated to my archive. While I may refer to old stories in other posts, like if I'm talking about an update to Google+ that was reported a month ago, resharing that post as though it is new would be both impractical and perhaps even irresponsible.

For most businesses, the distinction isn't as clear. Most business blogs will contain a higher percentage of blogs and articles, all on topics that are likely evergreen. What needs to be monitored in these cases is whether or not the information presented in the articles is still relevant and correct. If things have changed since the article was originally published, I recommend updating the original post, or adding an entire new one if warranted.

The bottom line: always make sure that the content you're resharing is still interesting, accurate and relevant to your audience.

How Should Businesses Reshare Old Content?

The basic way to reshare old content is to simply share the original article and title. And that's OK sometimes, particularly if it was a really good or descriptive title. But it's usually going to be more effective to try sharing the piece in a way that's different from your original share.

1. Use a different title / description.

While the title of the article on your site and in the share preview will always be the same, when sharing to social networks, your tweet or update description can say whatever you want. Rather than just using the same title, try alternate versions. This is also a particularly effective way to do A/B testing of your titles and refine your approach to titling future articles. Which tweets of the same post perform better than others?

2. Use a quote from the blog post. 

Not only is this a great technique for bringing interest to your older pieces, it's also easy to do using Buffer and HootSuite, two tools I will be speaking more about in a moment.

3. Share an image from the post or a different image. 

If you usually share your blog posts as links with a link preview, consider sharing an image sometimes instead, just always remember to insert a link to the blog post into the description.

When Should Businesses Reshare Old Content?

So the more challenging question is when should you reshare that old content? Clearly there needs to be some time lapsed between when you originally shared the post and when you start to share it again. How much time depends on how often you're sharing to social media to begin with, and how much old content you have available.

For businesses just starting their content marketing and social media activity, it's best to take things slow. Concentrate on sharing just one or two posts a day to social media, and most of those will be articles or posts from other people. When you have a new blog post of your own, share it, but don't even think about sharing your old posts again until you have at least ten or twelve in your archive.

Once you have a bit of an archive built up, it's time to talk schedules.

First, I recommend that you wait a month or so before sharing the same article, and then have at least that much time between additional shares.

Second, determine your current rate of social media shares and how many shares total you'll need to come up with per month. For instance, if you currently like to have two shares per business day, that's about 45 shares per month. Now, some of those will be your new posts as they're published, and the bulk should be articles and posts from other people that you've found.

What Tools Can Businesses Use to Reshare Old Content?

Just like the original blog post share, the greatest impact can be had when you manually share your post and take the time to craft a social media share that's sure to generate interest and engagement.

This is something that I do regularly, particularly on Google+, where I can take an old article and use it to spark an entirely new and different conversation.

But as I mentioned before, sometimes part of the purpose of resharing old content is to ensure consistent activity. And if you're sharing posts manually, that's unlikely to happen. Businesses should identify the peak times when their followers are active on their respective networks and make sure that the business is sharing relevant information during those times. To be successful, this means utilizing one or more tools.


There are a lot of social media management tools out there, but the one I use the most and recommend is called HootSuite. With HootSuite, you can connect all of your business profiles on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ and share posts, as well as listen for mentions and conversations. When it comes to sharing old content, HootSuite has a couple of interesting options.
First, you can schedule posts for a specific time and day, and even bulk schedule posts. You can also use AutoSchedule to let HootSuite pick a time to share.

My favorite option is to bring the RSS feed from my site into the HootSuite Syndicator and use it to schedule Twitter re-shares of my most recent blog post using the techniques I mentioned above. I will typically tweet a new blog post 2 - 4 times the day it's published and again the following day.


But when it comes to ensuring regular, daily activity, Buffer is still my tool of choice. With Buffer, I can connect the same business profiles, and then set up specific schedules and frequencies for each. I might want to post to my Facebook Page a couple of times in the afternoon, while I may want to keep my a Twitter account buzzing throughout the day. Once I have set up my schedules, all I have to do is add posts and content to each queue and Buffer will share the next post automatically for me.

Businesses should regularly evaluate their followers peak times, as well as other considerations, and schedule their social media shares accordingly.

While this is a level of automation, I also encourage businesses to ensure that they're listening for comments and engagement opportunities. By combining HootSuite and Buffer, you can ensure regular social media activity while still remaining "social" and connected.

How Can Businesses Repurpose Old Content?

In addition to sharing old content, savvy business owners and bloggers can also repurpose that old content. Repurposing content typically refers to changing the original content in some way. Typical examples include:

Read your blog post as an audio podcast.
  1. Create a presentation slideshow of your blog's points and upload to SlideShare. 
  2. Convert your presentation into a video with voice over and upload to YouTube. 
  3. Create an infograph highlighting your main points and related statistics. 
Whenever you repurpose your content, that creates not only materials and activity for other social networks like YouTube, but also additional content that you can share to your primary networks.

As you can see, there are a number of ways in which businesses can and should reshare and repurpose their old content to continue to create opportunities for greater engagement and interest. If you've previously been wary of resharing those old blog posts, I hope this has changed your mind.

Are You Free To Move....? Part One....

I was first introduced to fascial release a couple of weeks ago. I was unsure how it was going to affect me - if at all - but I’m always happy to give treatment and therapies a fair opportunity. Within 15 minutes of being with fitness coach Graham “Harry Potter” Webber (@grahamwebber) I observed a noticeable difference. The entire left side of my body has been injured in various different life changing events, resulting in permanent, constant pain from top to bottom, restricting movement and preventing me from performing at my best. I was surprised that I could make a distinction with my movement immediately, and after some joint mobilisation, I felt lighter in myself and generally more comfortable. It’s hard to explain, and of course each individual would respond differently to the various practices offered.
So what is fascia and why should we release it?
Fascia is classified according to their distinct layers, their functions and their anatomical location: superficial fascia, deep (or muscle) fascia, and visceral (or parietal) fascia.
Like ligaments, aponeuroses, and tendons, fasciae are dense regular connective tissues, containing closely packed bundles of collagen fibres oriented in a wavy pattern parallel to the direction of pull. Fasciae are consequently flexible structures able to resist great unidirectional tension forces until the wavy pattern of fibres has been straightened out by the pulling force. These collagen fibres are produced by the fibroblasts located within the fascia.
Fasciae are similar to ligaments and tendons as they are all made of collagen, the distinction between them is that ligaments join one bone to another bone, tendons join muscle to bone and fasciae surround muscles or other structures.
Fascial mobilisation may sound like it has something to do with movement of the face, but it’s actually something quite different; fascia refers to connective tissue - the network of collagen fibres that surround organs, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. The fascial system provides support and delivers nutrition to these structures, as well as serving as a bridge to the skeleton. This system also helps to absorb shock and resist physical injury.
Fascial release is a soft tissue therapy for the treatment of skeletal muscle immobility and pain. It relaxes contracted muscles, improves blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulates the stretch reflex in muscles.
The fascial system is viewed as being three-dimensional. That is, it exists as one, long continuous network of connective tissue. While it is constructed of dense collagen fibres to lend strength, it is also made up of elastin fibres that stretch to help prevent injury. Proponents of fascial mobilisation believe that the entire fascial system may influence immunity and the body’s natural ability to purge itself of toxins.
It is also thought that impaired functioning of the fascia may result in a variety of symptoms, such as pain and inflammation. Fascial impairment may be caused by a variety of things. For instance, physical trauma, scar tissue produced from surgical procedures, or prolonged misalignment of the posture may cause constriction in the fascial system.
Fascial mobilisation is a type of hands-on bodywork that attempts to correct imbalances within the fascial system to restore proper functioning. Specifically, it is a technique that aims to relieve stress by applying pressure to targeted areas within the fascial system. The objective of fascial mobilisation is to get the tissue moving in the right direction again in order to improve mobility.
As a therapeutic method, fascial mobilisation is employed to bring relief from autoimmune disorders, such as fibromyalgia. It is also used to treat scoliosis, chronic headaches, back pain, and even cervical pain. Of course, those who have sustained sports injuries may benefit from fascial mobilisation as well.
Dr Gil Hedley explains it as the living adipose. The adipose layer is basically liquid energy and raw power suspended in a web of piezoelectric ally conductive collagen fibres. Through it are transmitted fields of information from our external environment to the depths of our bodies at all times. The adipose layer is replete with specialised smooth muscle cells, whereby the tissue tone is maintained and adjusted. It is as if our soft coating of fat is a living antenna of the most sensitive kind, receiving from without and broadcasting within the waves of information that surround us. Like the skin, it is a great sense organ, a sensual wrap. But he posits that rather than conducting the signals it picks up primarily along electrochemical pathways to the brain in our skull, it is primarily conducting its signals electromagnetically to the brain in our gut. It’s fast! When you feel the creepy guy on the subway platform staring at you from behind, you look to confirm what you already perceived with your adipose antenna and immediately felt in your gut. The thinking brain is relatively late to pick up on what’s going on. You turn and look in response to the feeling, not the other way around. Cascades of hormonal release follow.
Some people believe that fascial stretching can even assist with muscle growth. There are no consistent research studies that directly support muscle fascia helping muscle growth. It is currently predominantly based on indirect scientific studies, anatomy, and anecdotal evidence. The theory was instigated by people who used to have muscle or excessive fat, who found it easier to put muscle back on, some call this muscle memory.

Other supporting evidence is that bodybuilders who spot inject site enhancement oil or ‘Synthol’ get improved results from fascia stretching. This is where oil is injected into a muscle in order to bring up a lagging muscle. Many people assume that the oil is causing temporary muscle gain, but based on user experience it appears to cause actual long term muscle gain as the result of stretching the muscle fascia. Many pro-bodybuilders, such as Olympia winners Jay Cutler and Arnold Schwarzenegger, do forms of weighted fascia stretching as part of their workouts.
So will muscle fascia stretching automatically grow muscle? No. You will still need to train hard and increase intake of nutrients accordingly. The muscle fascia tissue is stretched which allows the opportunity of muscle growth to happen. If you don’t stimulate it by exercising, you won’t notice any gains.
A new wave of thinking around more productive training methods suggest there are better ways to get the results people are in pursuit of. The days of over-loading on heavy gym sessions in a military style fashion seem to be on the wane. The philosophy behind a more fruitful work out regime is based on the body’s natural response system. The body works in two constant nervous system states; the sympathetic ‘fight, flight, freeze’ mode, and the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ mode. Many people continuously live in the sympathetic state meaning the body is unable to relax and switch to the parasympathetic mode. By constantly keeping our bodies in the sympathetic mode we overload it with stress; living under a continual high level of threat and hyper vigilance which leads us to over train, experience gut difficulties, restrictions in sensory output and constant pressure. This stress irritates our muscular, fascial and nervous systems and prepares them for fight or flight. Fight and flight are very linear in their needs and have no necessity for rotation or free, relaxed movement.  Each mode focuses on the muscle groups it has most demand for physically; flight mode, which typically occurs when you feel under threat causes issues in the lower body, fight mode usually arises from situations when you believe you are right and can win, it causes tension in the upper body as these muscles tend to be primed for action. In freeze mode we’re inclined towards procrastination, where joints and muscles tend to lock and compress.
Fascial stretching, mobility, diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing, yoga, meditation and sensory clearing are eminent ways of removing sub conscious threat and restoring the body and mind to a parasympathetic mode, which allows the body to rebuild as the brain is able to predict its environment and respond rather than react to any potential threat.
There are different methods currently in practise for fascial stretching.
Rolfing is a therapy system created by the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, founded by Ida Pauline Rolf in 1971. The Institute states that Rolfing is a "holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organises the whole body in gravity". Rolfing is essentially identical to Structural Integration, whereby manipulation of the muscle fasciae is believed to yield therapeutic benefits, including that clients stand straighter, gain height and move better, through the correction of soft tissue fixations or dystonia.
Rolfers have a keen interest in the body’s amazing layers of connective tissue, which wrap, relate, and interpenetrate all of the other tissues of our human form.
Skeletal muscles often work in opposing pairs called the "agonist" and the "antagonist", the one contracting while the other relaxes. Rolf theorised that "bound up" fasciae (connective tissues) often restrict opposing muscles from functioning in concert. She aimed to separate the fibers of bound up fasciae manually to loosen them and allow effective movement.
Rolfers often prescribe movements during a Rolfing Structural Integration session. The Rolfer manipulates the fascia until it can operate in conjunction with the muscles in a "normal" fashion.
The overall concept of fascia limiting and permitting functionality is receiving more investigation. In late 2007 the first "Fascia Research Congress" was held and attracted attention from researchers and clinicians.
Within the Structural Integration community, Robert Schleip questions Rolf's emphasis on the plasticity of fasciae, and suggests that successes may have more to do with the reduction of high muscle tonus and other physiological effects that may as easily be elicited by the stimulation of mechano-sensory receptors in the fascial tissues.
The MELT Method is a self-treatment technique intended to eliminate chronic pain, heal injury, and erase the signs of aging and negative effects of active lifestyle. This revolutionary approach to pain-free fitness and longevity is created by Sue Hitzmann, a renowned somatic-movement educator and manual therapist. Hitzmann uses this technique to obliterate pain, stress, and dysfunction in her clients. MELT has been reviewed by international experts and is recognised as founded in scientific principles providing extraordinary benefits.
MELT works by finding the missing link to pain-free living: a balanced nervous system and healthy connective tissues. Because of the daily physical, emotional, mental, and environmental stressors, tension gets literally stuck in the body’s connective tissue surrounding every joint, nerve, muscle, bone, and organ. When left unattended, the trapped stress will result to connective tissue dehydration and cellular damage, thus leading to several issues beginning with aches and stiffness to neck pain, back pain, headache, insomnia, indigestion, and injury.
Understanding this link between the nervous system and connective tissue, MELT revitalises tissue hydration and relieves daily tension that are trapped in the body by directly treating the connective tissue. Employing simple and specialised equipment such as soft body rollers and small balls, the program rehydrates the connective tissue, decreases accumulated stress in the nervous system, and improves overall health. For only a few minutes a day, you can start getting lasting results. You will notice changes in posture, flexibility, mood, energy, and performance in just a few sessions.
The MELT method consists of 4 techniques – reconnecting, rebalancing, rehydrating, and releasing.
Through these techniques the body de-stresses, heightening the body’s sense and enabling it to connect with the mind. Diaphragmic breathing rebalances the body to prevent and reduce body pain and maintain optimum organ function. Rehydrating techniques revive the connective tissue hydration and ease tension fixed in the body. Releasing enables the discharge of compression in the joints that causes chronic pain, inflammation and discomfort.
Known benefits of the MELT method are improved flexibility and mobility, posture, range of motion, sleep and digestion, results of exercise, and total well-being. It reduces aches and pains, tension, risk of injury, and aging effects such as wrinkles and cellulites.
What if we can’t stretch fascia….?

Much of manual therapy has grown largely out of anecdotal experience and tradition. Without the means to directly observe or measure what happened inside of the body, explanations for results had to be created from external sources and have largely been guesswork. As manual therapy has moved forward, an interest in understanding exactly how touch affects the body has led to a growing interest in research. With research has come the realisation that many explanations of the past are not supported by evidence and are sometimes contradicted by evidence. Science-minded manual therapists have learned to adapt to this information, dropping outdated hypotheses and unsupported claims. While some have found it disconcerting to have cherished notions disproved, others have embraced knowledge and have adapted their conceptual models to fit what is known. They may continue to use modalities that have produced desired results but their understanding of how that comes about changes to fit the evidence.

Such a change is happening in the field of “fascial” therapy.

When Rolf began her groundbreaking work in manual therapy, she devised a hypothesis in an attempt to explain how changes created by her contact came about. However, in recent years, evidence has challenged those explanations. Robert Schleip, Ph.D., was one of the key organisers of the first Fascia Research Congress and is a highly respected researcher. He is credited with discovering minute contractile fibers in fascia, a discovery whose clinical relevance has not yet been demonstrated but still excited many in the world of fascial therapy just the same. In his two-part article, “Fascial Plasticity: a new neurobiological explanation,” published in 2003 in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Schleip points to studies which contradict the notion that we can change the shape of fascia with our hands. One study found that collagen fibers would only begin to stretch shortly before they reached the breaking point, something that would not be desirable in a living human being. In other studies, Schleip, Trager, and others have done Rolfing under anesthesia and found that it produced no results. If the application of manual pressure had the ability to stretch fascia, there should have been a change in spite of anesthesia blocking any neural response. Why, then, was there no change when anesthesia took the nervous system out of the picture?
A neurobiological explanation for this is that if we aren’t stretching fascia, then how do we account for the “release” felt by both the practitioner and the subject? Schleip and others have suggested that the change in tonus is not achieved by an alteration in the shape of fascia but is instead controlled by the nervous system. Schleip suggests that one possible mechanism of change brought about by sustained manual pressure could be the Ruffini corpuscles.

Why Ruffini corpuscles? Clinically, we observe that applying a slow, extended stretch to the skin can create desirable changes both locally and centrally, decreasing tension in the area where the hands are applied as well as creating an overall sense of relaxation. Ruffini corpuscles respond to lateral skin stretch, which is, stretching the skin tangentially or along the same plane as the tissue below. They are slow-adapting, meaning that they continue firing for as long as the stretch is sustained, unlike some mechanoreceptors which respond briefly to new stimulation and then stop responding if it continues.

We know that when we apply our hands to the skin of the body, we stimulate mechanoreceptors. Impulses are sent through the sensory nerves to the brain. The brain evaluates and responds, sending out impulses of its own through nerves to various parts of the body, causing changes to occur in the diameter of blood vessels, breathing, muscle tonus. If it likes our touch, it can create the changes we associate with relaxation, release of tension, and can decrease the sensation of pain. If it feels threatened by our touch, it will do the opposite. Manual therapists are always trying to create changes that make the body feel at ease, achieving this through the nervous system.

The nervous system is constantly monitoring its environment, responding to a complex array of input. It would be naive and simplistic to think that response to our touch could be reduced to one set of mechanoreceptors or to ignore all the other countless factors. However, when examining the kind of manual therapy we have come to think of as "fascial," understanding the role of Ruffini corpuscles is a good place to start?

Why does this it matter whether we believe we are stretching fascia or not? It matters that we think accurate thoughts about how the body works and what effect touch has on the body. Therapists may still use their hands in ways that they have before. If those methods work to achieve its goal, there is no need to abandon them. However, we want to know that how we think about what we are doing is accurate and we want to be able to communicate honestly. If we discover that our conceptual model is contradicted by what is known about how the body works, then it is time to adapt our model so that our thinking is in agreement with new evidence.
My conclusion…

I had an hour’s therapy session of fascial release. There are arguments for and against whether fascial stretching works, whether it is fact ‘fascial stretching’, and whether there is anything to gain by it.
What we know is that fascia is a plastic like material that surrounds your muscles and other soft tissues. The fascia's rubber band like qualities returns your body to an original position after being elongated. What occurs during fascial release is that we continue to elongate the fascia thinning the excessive build up freeing the body to move optimally, this is then absorbed by the circulatory system and cleaned by your lymphatic system, later to be eliminated by urination, sweating, and defecation.
Fascia has several very unusual, and until recently, unknown properties:
·         All past traumas are stored in the fascia. These traumas literally warp the natural form of the fascia, and deform it, thus holding the person into the damaged position. When the fascia is released, the memories of those events surface and are brought to light so as to finally release the person from being held in the past.

·         Most health professionals have largely ignored the fascia.

·         Fascia has no nervous innervation. It is not connected to your brain and therefore produces no sensation when being worked on. You can detect its existence by using your hand to feel this taut tissue beneath your skin. An important thing to note is that you create thousands of pounds of forces when you resist while stretching while having little to no feeling of those forces. This is easily explained by the fact that fascia has no wiring from the brain to it - unlike muscles or tendons, which are wired from your brain thus allowing you to feel them easily.

·         There is no innervation of fascia, so there is no sensation when it is being affected.

·         Fascia has tremendous tensile strength compared to muscular strength. Scar tissue has exponential tensile strength compared to the fascia. Dense fascia can have tensile strength that is 2-8 X's the strength of the muscle it surrounds. Normal amounts of fascia are around 2 X's and dense fascia up to 8 X's the resistive force of the muscles strength.
It's All About the Fascia:
·         Fascia is the most energy efficient material in the body. For example, when your bicep contracts and shortens, your triceps’ fascia is stretched, and when your bicep stops contracting, you triceps does not need to contract to bring your arm back to the starting position because the fascia acts like a rubber band and simply springs you back.

·         Excessive repetitive movements or trauma dramatically increases the density or mass of the fascia resulting in significant impairment to movement, circulation, lymphatic flow, and substitution movements. It holds you into the damaged position, and limits your ability to move out of that position and holds the bones in limited and unnatural relationships. This damage or trauma situation now requires enormous amounts of energy to move instead of efficient movements.

·         Chronic pain is most often resulting from an accumulation of excessive dense fascia and scar tissue.

·         Traditional stretching methods that do not use resistance while stretching unfortunately produce more fascia and scar tissue. Animals naturally resist while stretching.

·         Olympic coaches have described assisted fascial stretching as the most intense workout they have ever experienced. The reasons for this include: the enormous amount of force that is being generated by the fascia, the concentration necessary to participate in the 'surgery like' resistance stretching process, the significant recovery/healing that follows, the psychological education and processing that is necessary from the changes, and the perspective and life upgrades that occur as a result of freeing the person from their past.
As we are unaware of the tautness or resistance in our fascia, we are oblivious to its impact not only on our routine movements, but the influence it has on any training sessions. By releasing dense fascia we allow our muscles to move freely, develop correctly, increase biomechanical efficiency and allow normal bone movement and joint rotation. This allows our bodies to work more efficiently, negating the preconceived need to over training; resulting in a quicker, more positive outcome.
Coming up in Part 2: Stretching and the benefit of mobilisation and free movement…

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Parliamentary Watchdog Ipsa Hands MPs an inappropriate £7,600 Pay Rise....

MPs are heading for a bumper £7,600 pay rise....

The independent watchdog has refused to bow to pressure from political leaders to scale back the increase at a time voters are feeling the squeeze.

Ipsa will unveil its final proposals next week - including boosting MPs' salaries to £74,000 from 2015 - 11% higher than they get at present.

It is expected to try to temper criticism by announcing a tougher-than-expected squeeze on MPs' pensions in a bid to cancel out the £4.6 million cost to the public purse.

A £2.5 million saving by downgrading the final salary scheme to career average - matching the rest of the public sector - had already been proposed alongside a crackdown on various perks.

All three main party leaders have condemned the increase at a time of national austerity, with both Labour's Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg pledged to shun the extra money.

David Cameron has stopped short of matching that pledge - and is under pressure from some Tory MPs to back the increase - but has said Westminster pay should not rise while others face restraint.

However, following a consultation on the proposals - first set out in July - Ipsa is set to press ahead.

And MPs have no way to prevent the rise coming into force after the next general election - unless they change the law set up in the wake of the expenses scandal to stop them setting their own pay.

Research by Ipsa found that two-thirds of MPs believe they are underpaid and the watchdog's chairman Sir Ian Kennedy has insisted politicians' pay must "catch up" after years of being suppressed.

But many politicians are also furious at Ipsa's expenses regime and suggested they could back a move to strip it of the responsibility to set pay in order to destroy its authority.

A Conservative source said Mr Cameron had been "clear that we are committed to reducing the cost of politics" and that the Prime Minister had consistently called for "restraint" in MPs' pay.

A Labour source said: "We will obviously wait to see what the final proposals are, however, as we have always said, any rise in MPs' pay must be considered in the light of the current economic climate and the cost-of-living crisis facing people across the country.

"It must also be seen in the context of the decision to limit or freeze many workers' pay increases in both the public and private sectors."

Commons deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle, a Labour MP, cautioned against interfering with the system.

"I agree that MPs should not vote on their own pay," he told the Mail on Sunday. "It should be left to an independent body. It's not in the gift of the party leaders."

In July, Mr Miliband predicted that Ipsa would drop the significant rise, but added: "If this was to go ahead I wouldn't be accepting this pay rise."

Mr Clegg said then that it was the "worst time" to advocate a double-digit pay rise.

Ipsa's original report conceded there is no "compelling evidence" that MPs' current salary level is deterring candidates, making people leave Parliament, affecting the diversity of the House or lowering the standard of ministers.

But Sir Ian argued it was "wrong in itself" to keep MP pay low, arguing that the expenses scandal had been the result of too much restraint.

Ipsa said it had looked at increasing the current salary of £66,396 to anywhere between £73,365 and £83,430, but opted for the lower end "in recognition of the current difficult economic circumstances".

After 2015 wages would increase annually in line with average UK earnings.

Among measures already on the table to offset the cost of the rise - which is 9% higher than the rate MPs will be on by 2015 - was an end to "resettlement grants" of up to £65,000 for departing MPs.

Under the plans that would be reduced to two weeks' pay for every year of service if they are under 41, and three weeks if they are older by 2020.

A £15 dinner allowance would be scrapped, claims for tea and biscuits would not be allowed, and taxpayer-funded taxis home only allowed after 11pm.

There would also be a crackdown on claims for running second homes, with costs such as TV licences and contents insurance no longer being met.

Mathew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance campaign group, said: "Taxpayers will be furious that the pay rise comes at a time when MPs urge public pay restraint and the Chancellor tells us he can't afford to ease the burden of taxes on hard-pressed households and businesses.

"Ipsa's own polling and research shows that the current level of pay to be broadly fair and that the public simply do not back the increase.

"This announcement amounts to an unaccountable quango putting up two fingers to taxpayers. The rise must be rejected."

A Downing Street spokesman said: "MPs' pay is a matter for Ipsa. The Government has submitted its views to Ipsa as part of the body's consultation on MPs' pay.

"It made it clear that, while Ipsa is an independent body set up by Parliament, in future decisions on remuneration it expects Ipsa to take into account the Government's wider approach to public service pay and pensions.

"We believe that the cost of politics should be going down, not up."

Injury Prevention: Resistance is Essential.....

Strong, efficient muscles help protect joints, so resistance exercise is crucial if you want to keep doing a demanding sport into your golden years. Skiers’ knees, cyclists’ backs, and runners’ Achilles tendons are more prone to injury, and strong hip abductors can help prevent injuries in knees, ankles, and feet. Strengthen the four trouble spots below by doing at least two sets of ten of the suggested exercises several days per week.
  • Hip abductors: Hips enforce postural stability, helping all the joints below them. They’re especially important for runners, since hip fitness helps control gait.
  • The Clam: Lie on one side, an elastic band stretched over both thighs just above the knees. Bend your knees, then open the clam as far as you can by raising your top leg while keeping your feet together.
  • Lumbar region: Lower-back muscles beef up core power and protect spinal disks. Back work is particularly important for cyclists, who spend long periods in a hunched posture.
  • The Superman: Lie on your belly with your arms outstretched in front of you. While trying to keep your knees straight, raise your feet and arms off the floor. Imagine forming a U.
  • Achilles tendons: Strengthening your Achilles not only helps prevent that awful snap when an unprepared tendon ruptures after an explosive move, but it can also help you avoid plantar fasciitis, that crampy tendon pain along the bottom of your foot.
  • Calf raises: Place the front half of both feet on a platform about two inches off the ground (stairs work well), and raise your heels by pushing up onto your tiptoes.
  • Knees: The older you are, the more likely it is that you’ll have knee problems, thanks largely to the many miles you’ve put on them. Strengthening your quads can help prevent those injuries.
  • Wall squats: With your back against a wall, ease into a sitting position, being sure not to exceed a 90-degree knee bend. Hold that pose for one to two minutes. Ease back up the wall. Repeat.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

After the Crash: A Closer Look at the Rising Incidence of Brain Injury.....

On March 24, 2012, Sally Francklyn skied through the south boundary gate at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, in Wyoming, heading for 10,150-foot Cody Peak. Once on the ridge, the four skiers in her ­party - including her boyfriend at the time, Jeff Brines - could have descended the backcountry line Pucker Face, but on inspection it looked icy, rocky, and as unpleasant as its name implied. A safer option would have involved down-climbing the back of Cody Peak and skiing one of the mellower pitches farther along the ridge. Instead, the four decided on a chute known as Once Is Enough.
The entrance to Once Is Enough is 20 feet wide and pushes 55 degrees. Dropping in is a major commitment, but once you do there’s no real crux. The fall line, however, is deceptive. While the slope appears straight, it’s actually off-camber, and the couloir subtly doglegs through rock walls. A fall up high will likely catapult you onto sharp granite, and at these angles, you’d have only the briefest chance to self-arrest.

Francklyn, 24, was not a seasoned ski moun­taineer. She’d moved to Jackson only a few weeks prior, from Colorado, where most of her skiing had been on less-technical terrain. Though she was a strong skier, she hadn’t skied many high-consequence lines.

Brines, 28, an experienced backcountry skier who’d lived in Jackson for four years, went first. He found the snow in the upper hourglass firm but edgeable, and he advised the rest of the group to descend cautiously. Lower down, conditions improved dramatically. Brines set careful turns in softening corn snow that skied like resort corduroy.

Francklyn scooched in next. What happened then is unclear. The skiers above her could see only a bit of her head and shoulders beyond the steep entrance. It’s likely that, while negotiating the tricky first move, she caught an edge, lost her balance, and fell backward. When she appeared again, briefly, five feet down the slope, she was sliding on her back, minus one ski. Then she disappeared into the throat.
Five hundred vertical feet below, Brines watched as Francklyn’s ski rocketed out of the couloir. “I had one of those mental hiccups where you’re overcome by dread and willful positivity at the same instant,” he recalls. “I thought we’d shortly be reliving a scary moment. And then, seconds later, Sally came through. Headfirst on her back. Her helmet exploded on the rock, and she rag-dolled the rest of the way down. I yelled up to my buddies that we needed a helicopter. I knew she’d suffered a severe head injury. I didn’t know how much longer she’d be with us.”

A year and a half later, after 11 days in an induced coma, two surgeries, ten weeks at two different hospitals, and countless therapy sessions, Francklyn now lives with her parents in Colorado Springs, where she continues to recover from a traumatic brain injury.

Anatomy of an Impact

TBIs can be tricky to define. They range from concussions, with primary symptoms lasting a few days or weeks, to death. While the exact terminology can be confusing - the terms concussion and mild TBI are often used interchangeably - hit your head hard enough and you may experience wide-ranging physical and psychological effects. “The trauma causes the brain’s wiring to become inefficient,” says Alan Weintraub, medical director of the Brain Injury Program at Denver’s Craig Hospital. “The result is varying levels of disturbed consciousness.”
While automobile accidents and falls cause more than half of the 1.7 million TBIs annually, war and football have received more attention of late. According to a 2011 study, some 320,000 severely brain-injured servicemen and women have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, most of the trauma the result of concussive IED blasts. And this fall, more than 4,500 retired NFL players, athletes who’d spent entire careers pummeling their gray matter, sued the league and were ­awarded a $765 million settlement. The story of how some of those players believed the NFL had covered up the dangers of head injuries was painstakingly laid out this fall in the book League of Denial and a Frontline documentary of the same name.

But non-vehicular concussions are not limited to the gridiron and the battlefield. The Centers for Disease Control and Preven­tion estimates that between 1.6 million and 3.8 million sports-related concussions ­occur in the U.S. each year. A report funded by the City of New York found that brain injuries are responsible for 74 percent of cycling deaths. Nationwide, according to the ­American Asso­ciation of Neurological Surgeons, ­roughly 600 cyclists die annually as a result of head injuries, and in 2009, some 85,000 concus­sed cyclists ended up in emergency rooms.

The National Ski Areas Association reports that TBIs are the leading cause of skiing and snowboarding fatalities. And the numbers are growing. In 2004, 9,308 skiers and snowboarders suffered head injuries they deemed serious enough to visit a doctor. By 2010, that number had jumped to 14,947.

Despite the trends, we tend to pay attention only when famous people suffer a TBI—like actress Natasha Richardson, who died after a routine ski fall in 2009, and, more recently, Olympic freeskiing hopeful Sarah Burke, who died in 2012 after sustaining a TBI during a fall in a Park City, Utah, halfpipe. Last January, it was snowmobiler Caleb Moore, who died from brain and heart complications after his snow machine landed on top of him when an aerial maneuver went awry at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

What the numbers don’t reveal is that the rise in brain injuries has happened during a period when helmet use among skiers and snowboarders has increased by 20 percent. (There hasn’t been a reliable study about bike-helmet usage in 15 years.) Neurologists and helmet makers attribute the uptick in TBIs to better reporting, but that’s only part of the picture. “There’s a greater trend of brain-­injury awareness,” agrees Weintraub. “But there is a brain-­injury trend. We’re seeing more of them from falls and sports.”

It’s not that helmets have gotten worse or gravity more powerful. It’s that our behavior has changed.

In the past few decades, we’ve fundamentally altered how we recreate outdoors. From massive halfpipes to full-­suspension mountain bikes to junior-level big-mountain freeskiing competitions, we’re playing at a more intense level. “Our sports are supersizing,” says Mike Douglas, a pro skier from Whistler, British Columbia, who helped launch the freeskiing movement in the 1990s. “It’s all about going higher, farther, faster. It’s not sustainable.”

The evolution of the halfpipe is a good example. When they were introduced in the eighties, halfpipes were barely four feet high, with moderately sloped walls. In the ­nineties they grew to 12 feet, then 18. ­Today’s com­pe­­tition standard, established in 2010 by the ­International Olympic Committee, is a 22-foot, vertical-walled superpipe. Elite snow­boarders routinely launch 20 feet above the lip. Skier Peter Olenick set the record for amplitude—a physics term appropriated by the Red Bull generation to measure how far an athlete soars above a halfpipe—by reaching 24 feet, 11 inches at the 2010 X Games in ­Aspen. At the zenith of his record jump, Olenick was 47 feet above flat ice.

Your Friend Hit His Head

A similar progression has affected the rest of us. Our gear, terrain choices, and lay-off-the-brakes attitude mean we’re spending more time at high velocity and at the mercy of gravity. It’s a phenomenon I’m intimately familiar with. My friend rides his mountain bike perilously fast through dense woods and ski down steep couloirs where falling could be fatal. While I was reporting this story, I suffered one bike crash that left me nauseous, with a cracked helmet and a lump on my head, and another that fractured my collarbone. Before my friend's 12-year-old son’s first day of downhill-mountain-biking camp last summer, I nearly traumatized him as I outlined the risks he would face.
We ride bikes and glide down mountains at tremendous speed for the pleasure it brings. The problem, as Douglas points out, is that “the evolution of the human body is not keeping up.” We long ago outpaced our biology—and, disconcertingly, the level of protection afforded by our helmets. Our brains simply can’t sustain the massive hits that result when things go wrong.
When Sally Francklyn’s head made contact with exposed rock, her helmet shattered, as it was designed to do, and her skull fractured. The impact broke bones in her neck and back. Jackson Hole’s ski patrol arrived at the scene in less than an hour. Three hours and two helicopter flights later, Francklyn was wheeled into emergency surgery in Idaho Falls, where doctors inserted a licox, a device designed to alleviate the building intracranial pressure that would surely have killed her. Then they induced a coma.
Tall and strong, with an easy smile, Francklyn was once an intern at a ski magazine I edited. We weren’t close friends, but she was the fifth acquaintance of mine to suffer a life-altering brain injury while skiing or biking. Much of the damage was to her left frontal lobe, which controls her working memory, but she also injured her brain stem. The crash impaired the hearing in her left ear and injured her right optic nerve, which has left her with vision problems. Balance is still a major challenge, but in the pictures that she posts on Facebook, I see her old smile, alongside the slightly faraway look common among TBI survivors.
It took me a long time to gather the strength to call Sally. On the phone, her voice is shrill and off-pitch as she flows through octaves. It’s something she’s working on. Her thoughts track, but lucidity is difficult. She tells me that, with the help of an ankle brace and a lot of physical therapy, she’s now able to walk again, but slowly.
She remembers nothing from the day of her fall, but she tells me that once was enough for her. It’s a canned one-liner. I take it as a sign of her positive attitude. And then, in a more earnest tone, she explains that the hardest part is living at home with her parents. Her friends don’t visit as often anymore. She hopes to live independently in Colorado’s Summit County again. “I don’t need assistance,” she tells me emphatically.
Like many of the TBI afflicted, Sally’s long-term rehabilitation costs outstripped her insurance coverage. Fortunately, her mother was able to retire early from a teaching career to help with her care, and Sally has been lucky to receive the support of the Truckee, California, High Fives Non-Profit Foundation, an advocacy group that, among other things, helps athletes with brain and spinal-cord ­injuries cover the cost of rehab.
As much as we can learn from Sally’s fall, there is no single anecdote that covers the TBI spectrum. With any brain injury, the force of the impact, the number of hits taken, and how the brain shifts as it bounces around inside the skull lead to unpredictable outcomes. On top of that, says Weintraub, “there are subtle differences in anatomy and genetics. Your brain is different than my brain. A male brain is different than a female brain. A younger brain is different than an older brain. And the medical care you receive is different.”

Inside your head, your brain is like a Jell-O mold, connected to your vascular and nervous systems at the stem and floating in viscous cerebrospinal fluid in your cranial cavity. When you run rough trail, backflip into a pool, or trip and bang your head at walking or jogging speed, your brain deforms slightly as it bumps into your skull, then bounces back into place without injury. In severe hits, the Jell-O gets jostled more violently, crashing, twisting, and rebounding against the front and back of the skull.

All that trauma and contortion has an immediate effect on the axons and neurons involved. But this isn’t trauma in the same vein as a broken ankle or a deeply bruised hip. Axons are the fibers that serve as your brain’s messengers, and neurons are the command centers tasked with the functions that make up who you are. One neuron might be involved with short-term memory, another with balance, another with impulse control. Simple, except that there are an estimated 100 billion neurons in the human brain.

Neuroscience has a handle on what each region of the brain is responsible for. But each cell? Even President Obama’s lofty brain-mapping initiative doesn’t promise that. When tens of millions of neurons smash about inside your head, the exact nature of the damage is anybody’s guess.

One thing neurologists are certain of is that even mild concussions are more serious than they once thought. Axons can be stretched hard only once, or lightly many times, before rupturing. And when they do, brown balls of protein—scars left from the brain’s attempt to heal itself—form in the pathways, shutting down communication. The resulting chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been linked to everything from depression and dementia pugilistica (punch-drunk syndrome) to diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Unfortunately, the only way to identify CTE is by performing an autopsy. That’s probably why, in 2012, when former NFL star Junior Seau committed suicide, he shot himself in the chest instead of the head, like ­safety Dave ­Duerson had done the year before. Seau’s family ­donated his brain for study, and the postmortem revealed the telltale brown ­fibrous balls deep within his brain.

Julian Bailes, a Chicago neurosurgeon who also works with the Sports Concussion Insti­tute, is a leading authority on CTE. He’s involved with some promising new testing methods that could soon allow doctors to diagnose the condition in living patients. In the meantime, I asked Bailes how many concussions or mild TBIs a person could safely recover from before risking CTE. “We don’t know,” he said. “In terms of subconcussive hits, we think it’s years and years of exposure. In terms of ­major concussions, we believe it’s three.” This is especially alarming when you consider that athletes may endure double-digit concussions over the course of their careers, often beginning in the preteen years, when the brain is particularly vulnerable. When snow­mobiler Caleb Moore died, at age 25, he had already sustained at least 11 ­major concussions. Professional snow­boarder and Olympic medalist Gretchen Bleiler has reportedly had four or five, and Scotty Lago has had six or seven. By his own estimation, Shaun White, who has been competing since the age of six, has suffered nine. Former BMX racer Jay Fraga started the Knockout ­Project, a concussion-advocacy group, after his ninth, and professional cyclist Sinead Miller has been sidelined since sustaining her seventh in 2010. Miller still can’t work out or be around large crowds without experiencing migraines and nausea.

Twenty years ago, many of those TBIs never would have happened. Sally Francklyn wouldn’t have been able to leave Jackson Hole’s gates, since the resort, like many others in North America, didn’t provide backcountry access until 2000. Without lifts, accessing Once Is Enough would have been a demanding, all-day affair.

But increased backcountry access is just one of a slew of changes in how we recreate. Even into the mid-nineties, big-mountain freeskiing competitions were largely unheard of. Now there are junior big-mountain free­skiing events for boys and girls as young as 12. Skiing powder in trees was a much slower ­adventure, thanks to skinny, conventionally cambered skis, which forced most of us to carefully hop-turn down ski-area steeps as well. And the Winter X Games didn’t become a national spectacle until 2002, when the ­entire U.S. Olympic freestyle snowboarding team showed up to compete just a few weeks before the Salt Lake City Games. This winter in Sochi, Russia, three new freestyle events—slopestyle skiing and snowboarding and halfpipe skiing—make their Olympic debuts.

In the cycling realm, we used to pick our way down singletrack on fully rigid mountain bikes. Downhill mountain biking was an extremely niche sport until the early 2000s. Now you can strap on body armor and a full-face helmet at one of the country’s 59 lift-serviced bike parks. On the road, pelotons are bigger and faster than ever, and group rides where you’re expected to maintain a certain power output are now common. With the rise of social media and GPS-tracking apps like Strava, cyclists can turn solitary rides into virtual races at breakneck speeds. “There was always risk,” says JT Holmes, a big-mountain freeskier and wingsuit pilot who, after seeing too many friends suffer TBIs, started working with High Fives. “But new technology has made higher speeds the norm.”

Directly or indirectly, everything from advances in gear to bigger jumps in snow and dirt has been in the service of velocity and hang time. In theory, rockered skis and snowboards and full-suspension mountain bikes with better brakes make ­descending safer. It takes very little effort to throw boat-shaped skis sideways to scrub speed, and today’s bikes, with powerful brakes and shocks that allow you to fly over uneven terrain, enhance control. In practice, however, we use these innovations to go faster. “You can now buy performance in every sport,” says Holmes. “You can cut to the chase.”
Of course, once you taste speed, it’s hard to slow down. Of all my cycling and skiing friends, only one shows much restraint. He’s a doctor, and his brother is a neurologist; he understands high-velocity brain injuries. The rest of us need to keep in mind some ­basic physics. Once in motion, a body wants to stay in motion. Pedaling a ­mountain bike on a steep descent, you might reach speeds of 35 miles per hour, or 51 feet per second. Punch your front wheel into a hole and endo off the trail, and your mass (say, 150 pounds without the bike you just left behind) multiplied by your veloc­ity is equal to 7,650 pounds of ­momentum. That’s only a few hundred pounds less than what gets produced by a 310-pound lineman at a full sprint.

What happens next is called a deceleration injury. Hit a tree or rock squarely and the skull stops in six milliseconds. Your head decelerates at a rate of 8,500 feet per second, or 266 G’s—266 times the force of gravity. The resulting force acting on you is a sickening 39,900 pounds. At 266 G’s, without a helmet, you’re dead or irreparably brain-damaged. With a helmet you at least have a chance. If you’re a helmet skeptic bored by science, consider this: according to Randy Swart, founder of advocacy group, an impact speed of 14 mph can generate enough force to kill you.

Above that, says Swart, “a helmet can be the difference between life and death.” And slight changes can have enormous consequences. If, in the already bleak scenario above, your head decelerates just one millisecond faster, the forces jump to 319 G’s and 48,000 pounds. Pretty much instant death, regardless of whether you’re wearing a helmet.

Despite our changing behavior and bleeding-edge gear, helmet technology has languished. Of the thousands of bike and snow-sports helmets on the market, at least 95 percent of them are built almost entirely from expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, similar to what’s used in surfboards and styro­foam coolers.

Think of a simple EPS helmet as a catas­trophic insurance policy for your head. By deforming, cracking, or, if the forces are great enough, controlled shattering, the foam actively reduces the number of G’s acting on your brain. While EPS helmets don’t offer much if any cushion in low-velocity impacts and are overwhelmed by massive hits over 300 G’s, they do a pretty good job of dissipating high-velocity forces, preventing countless brain injuries and skull fractures every year.

In 2006, the Consumer Product Safety Commission created a mandatory industry-wide standard for bike helmets. The CPSC based its standard on work done by the American Society for Testing and Materials International, an agency that has published more than 12,000 standards for everything from kitchen blenders to fireworks to military identification cards. (While there’s no equivalent CPSC benchmark for snow-sports helmets, most manufacturers choose to meet a similar, though not mandatory, ASTM standard.) To determine whether it meets the CPSC standard, a bike helmet is placed on a 22-pound, head-shaped weight and rammed into an anvil at 14 mph. The helmet must slow deceleration enough to produce less than 300 G’s of force—the accepted norm being that a hit greater than that isn’t survivable or results in a vegetative state. (Researchers arrived at the upper limit in the 1950s by dropping ­cadavers down ele­vator shafts.)

The hitch here is that the CPSC’s high-velocity test is pass or fail, and every helmet sold is a winner. But not all helmets are ­equally adept at the job: one might provide 20 percent more force reduction than ­another costing half as much, while a third might cost less but weigh more., which has independently tested helmets from most major manufacturers, has seen thick, cheap, ugly helmets sold at big-box stores outperform thin, expensive, sexy models found in specialty bike shops.

Helmet manufacturers, of course, do their own testing and know precisely how well they stack up against other brands. And if they make a helmet that tests better than average, they’d love to say so.

But ­doing that would expose them to personal-­injury lawsuits. If someone is injured wearing a helmet that a company promoted as safer, that company is likely to get sued—and lose. The ­arrangement hurts consumers most. Litigious paralysis means there has been a disincentive to invest in R&D, and many helmet makers have been perfectly happy to reap the profits of selling molded-foam-and-nylon-webbing contrap­tions at high margins while making little ongoing investment in safety. As’s Swart, who is also a vice chairman of an ASTM committee, told me, “Nobody takes you to court over a fashion claim.”

Fortunately, the market is starting to change. In 2010, Stefan Duma, an enterprising researcher from Virginia Tech–Wake Forest University’s School of Biomedical Engineering and Science, did something obvious: he tested the major football helmets on the market and then, the following year, published the results. The fallout was immediate. Manufacturers spent more on R&D and began designing safer helmets.

The same thing is finally happening in the bike and winter-sports worlds. In the past few years, companies have started investing in new safety features. Doing so means rethinking how a helmet reacts to various ­forces. The CPSC has a single high-velocity standard, and an EPS helmet is designed to withstand only one major impact before it should be replaced. But multiple low-­velocity hits can be life altering, too. And because ­every blow to the head, regardless of angle, strength, or speed, inevitably causes a brain to twist and turn, how a helmet reacts to rotational forces is also important.

Responding to the need for protection from both high-and low-velocity impacts, Smith recently introduced multilayered ski and bike helmets. Beneath a traditional hard plastic shell are layers of EPS into which Smith inserts a honeycomb-like soft polymer, called ­Koroyd, designed to dampen low-speed blows. (Because of legal concerns, it isn’t marketed in those terms.) In a different approach, an Australian company called Conehead Technology designed a system that employs an array of foam cones of varying densities that crumples on impact, like the front of your car. But because the cones are narrower at the tips, the deformation starts at low velocities. Giro, looking to deliver the one-and-done benefit of traditional EPS, recently introduced a helmet with softer foam that can handle multiple hits at lower velocities and still meet the CPSC’s high-velocity standard.

When it comes to rotational forces, one innovative technology—from a Swedish company called MIPS, which stands for multidirectional impact protection system—is already being widely adopted.

MIPS is essentially a harness that fits inside a helmet and is designed to reduce rotational forces the same way the scalp does, by shifting slightly when you hit your head. In a crash, the MIPS harness shifts 10 to 15 millimeters, ostensibly reducing external rotation of the head by that same amount. This winter, you’ll find MIPS in dozens of models from POC, Rossignol, and Scott, among others.
Perhaps the most promising new design comes from a recent startup called HIP-Tec. As with MIPS and Conehead, HIP-Tec doesn’t plan to manufacture helmets. The company’s goal is to build multidensity, multilayer helmet innards that address the widest range of impacts possible. The inner layer slowly deforms and rebounds, much like the brain floating in its fluid, but is still capable of withstanding multiple low-velocity hits. The outer layer is an EPS-like foam designed to dampen high-velocity impacts. And, to go between the two layers, HIP-Tec uses a shearing layer that accommodates rotation. The first HIP-Tec-equipped helmets should be available in 2014.

In the meantime, the ASTM is working on a low-velocity standard, with a rotational standard to follow some time after that. ­Sadly, a test that addresses all four pillars—­high- and low-velocity, multiple hits, and rotational effects—is nowhere in sight. That’s because there’s still much work to be done. Trying to set a rotational standard is a good example. All helmets shift to some degree when something (rocks, asphalt, trees) grabs at them. How that combines with a helmet that has a built-in rotating harness isn’t well understood. Another challenge: engineering a foam that’s soft enough to absorb low-velocity impacts while remaining unaffected by temperature and moisture fluctuations. “The ASTM is slow moving, but their heads are in the right place,” says Drew Chilson, director of development at Smith. “They are trying to improve standards. But to devise a holistic test that evaluated all four design principles would take years.”

In September, Sally Francklyn spoke before an audience of skiers attending the Denver premiere of the backcountry-themed ski film Valhalla. During her remarks, she took the opportunity to promote High Fives. With the help of JT Holmes, the foundation recently launched a program called Basics that produces online videos about topics like backcountry line selection and how to avoid overshooting the landing on slopestyle jumps.

“New athletes just don’t know how to keep themselves in check,” says Holmes, which is why Basics runs clinics at Squaw Valley and Park City to help them perform tricks safely. On stage, Sally, who is writing again and interviewing athletes for who have overcome tragedy, gave props to High Fives’ new Instagram-targeted #helmetsarecool campaign, in which tagging yourself wearing a helmet enters you in a contest to win one.

It’s not the only catchy social-media campaign you’ll see this winter. In December, The Crash Reel, a transfixing ­documentary about professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce, who suffered a devastating brain injury during a halfpipe accident in 2009, hits theaters. Inspired by Pearce’s remarkable story, and troubled by how little information about TBIs is available, the film’s director, ­Oscar nominee Lucy ­Walker, and her colleague ­Julian Cautherley decided to start an outreach campaign called Love Your Brain, which hopes to raise awareness about brain injuries, provide those who’ve suffered them with a place to share stories, and promote helmet use.

While educational videos, social-media campaigns, critically acclaimed films, and more people wearing safer helmets are all undeniably positive developments, whether they lead to fewer brain injuries remains to be seen. The problem runs deep. The physics of our amped-up, supersized sports don’t play nice. As Smith’s Chilson says, “You can put a helmet the size of a watermelon on your head, and the world will find a way to hurt your brain.”

Athletes of all types, event organizers, and coaches need to make better decisions about the parameters of our sports. After Caleb Moore died last year, the X Games discontinued its freestyle snowmobiling events. Canceling patently dangerous, made-for-TV spectacles after a high-profile death was probably an easy call for X Games officials, but there are more-difficult decisions ahead.

In 2007, Kristi Leskinen, one of the world’s top female freeskiers, noticed something: as the features at freeskiing competitions got bigger, injury rates were rising. She decided to survey 90 slopestyle skiers and snowboarders. Her findings were startling. Female competitors were 3.5 times more likely than men to injure themselves. Furthermore, the majority of women agreed that reducing the size of the jumps in slopestyle events would make the sport safer. When she shared her results with coaches and event organizers, they were unmoved; women’s jumps remain the same size as men’s. “I had national-team coaches that actually said, ‘If women want smaller jumps, women will get less pay and less exposure,’ ” says Leskinen. “My response was that if we don’t scale back on the injuries, parents won’t allow their kids to compete anymore.”

Now that the majority of freestyle skiing and snowboarding events are part of the Olympics, more scrutiny should be forthcoming. Unlike action-sports event producers, who are heavily influenced by television ratings and sponsor desires, Olympic organizers, while certainly not immune to external forces, are also supervised by international committees focused on athlete safety and injury prevention. “Hopefully, it won’t have to reach the point of deaths for organizers to make safety changes,” says 1973 U.S. national champion alpine skier David Currier, whose son Lyman is one of the country’s top slopestyle skiers and hopes to make his Olympic debut in Sochi.

In the meantime, it’s up to us to ­regulate ourselves. There are signs that this is ­already happening. Up in Whistler, where Mike Doug­las lives and skis with his kids, he reports that skiers and snowboarders have been grav­itating toward smaller features: the 22-foot superpipe is deserted, the 18-foot pipe sees a little traffic, and the 12-foot pipe is teeming with kids and adults. Across the industry, resorts are building smaller, safer “progression parks.”

Backcountry skiers and mountain bikers are also starting to rein themselves in. Too many high-profile, preventable avalanche deaths over the past few winters have convinced opinion leaders to preach the virtues of skiing safer lower-angle slopes. In mountain biking, suspended bridges and big drops are giving way to intermediate-friendly flow trails that keep riders close to the ground.

Even action-sports filmmakers, who in the past tended to glorify dangerous stunts, are starting to shift focus. Some of this year’s most heralded ski and snowboard movies don’t feature the gnarliest hits or the scariest lines. Instead, the buzz is about creativity and high production values—an indication that the bigger picture is starting to change, too.

For my part, I’m buying ­better ski, snowboard & bike helmets this winter.

There are constant reminders that the ills of velocity are insidious, veiled as they are in pure joy.