Tuesday, 11 August 2015

How I "fixed" my ectopic heartbeat in less than 2 minutes.

During pregnancy I developed an ectopic heartbeat. It is quite common with the extra blood volume and stress on the body involved in growing a person inside you and in most cases it resolves itself after birth. Unfortunately, mine didn't. Over a 24 hour period I was getting in excess of 1000 ventricular ectopic beats. They were making me feel breathless, incredibly anxious and overall just plain ordinary.

I went to see a GP to get a blood test done and have a Holter Monitor fitted for 24 hours to rule out anything too sinister. When the results came back all she could suggest to me were things I was either already doing, like clean eating, taking magnesium, getting some gentle cardio exercise, staying well hydrated, and yoga, or going down the path of Beta-blockers which I didn't think would be worth the risks and side effects. I felt quite defeated. Was I going to have to live with this forever? Was I going to feel this awful every day for the rest of my life?

A few weeks later I felt inspired to start working on my pull ups. I had not  done much strength work since I fell pregnant but decided that now was a good time to just start rather than wait until I felt better. I started really gently. Passive* and active** hangs with my toes on the ground so I wasn't trying to hold my full body weight straight up. Then doing slow pull ups*** using a heavy resistance band, making sure I was going through the full range of motion. I was doing less than 2 minutes every day on the bar but within a week my ectopic heartbeat had completely resolved. I hadn't even been trying to fix it, but I had found a solution.

Being the sciencey geek that I am of course I tested the theory. I stopped practising them for a week and I found the odd beats started to come back. After almost two weeks, they were waking me up in the middle of the night again. So, of course back into it and again they have resolved.

Here is my theory (which may or may not be right, but I am going to keep researching).

What we do know is that often ectopic heartbeats are caused by "dodgy electrics". The muscles aren't firing in a coordinated fashion so the heart kind of trips over itself. This means there is something not right somewhere between the brain and the heart muscles; an impediment in the circuit. The most likely spot for this to happen is where the nerves supplying the heart exit the thoracic part of the spinal column.
The weight of pregnancy, extra breast tissue, breastfeeding and an incredibly stressful period in my life had all impacted this part of my spine. Although I was seeing a chiropractor to keep my spine healthy, almost every part of my life was undoing all the good work they were putting in. Ever time I got off the table I returned to a posture that put pressure on those nerves going to my heart.

Pull ups positively effect the the spine in a number of ways.

  1. Decompressing the spine. When you are standing up, your spinal bones stack one on top of the other like lego bricks to keep you up right. The cost of this is the compression of the disks between each bone as gravity pushes down on you. When you are hanging by your arms, you are able to use gravity to open up all the joints in the spine. This can allow the disks to rehydrate (aided by the movement in the pull up) and the spaces where the nerves exit to open up.
  2. Increasing and stimulating the range of motion through the shoulders. This has the flow on effect of increasing nutrition to all the joints in your upper body as well as increasing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid which feeds the brain and central nervous system.
  3. Increased core strength. Using my abs, back and shoulder muscles for the exercise made it easier for my body to hold it's natural posture despite the external pressures.

All of these things combined seemed to have been able to get my brain and heart talking to each other, making my life so much better. If you have similar issues please seek medical advice, heart problems are not something you want to stuff around with. But if you too hit a wall when seeking a solution, pull-ups just might be the answer for you too.

Passive hang. Gripping the bar, but relaxing the rest of my body

Supported passive hang. If your grip is not strong enough, take as much weight on your feet as you need.
Active Hang. Pull shoulder blades down towards the floor and imagine them coming closer together. It feels like you are lifting your body with your shoulders.

Using a heavy resistance band to aid me while I build strength. I started on a chair and jump up to the bar to begin the pull up at the top. Lowering myself down as slowly as possible and then pulling up as high as I can get at the end.  You can start by standing on the band first to make it easier and work up to using the band under your knees.

Slowly, slowly. Continue to be mindful of your core and bring yourself all the way to the bottom so you have straight arms (further than shown here.)

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