Tag Archives: back pain

Remedies for Neck Pain and Stiffness

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 20% of adults report that they experience some degree of neck pain. Many of us will encounter at least one bout of neck stiffness or discomfort in our lifetime, whether from a bad night of sleep or poor posture from computer work. Recently, I’ve heard a cascade of complaints from friends and clients that their necks are bothering them and it makes my insides squirm to see them in discomfort. Let’s try to change that, shall we? Here’s my experience with neck pain and why I empathize, followed by at-home remedies and an upper cervical chiropractor’s expert advice.

 

Benefits of Natural Posture

As a young child, I thought it was normal that I could tilt my head ever-so-slightly and relax my gaze into double vision. It wasn’t until high school, body bent forward over text books and SAT-prep exams, that I realized I couldn’t see clearly when I shifted my visual attention from close to far (ex: it was difficult to read the time on the clock when I looked up from studying). I thought I needed glasses. It turned out that my vision was just fine; however, I was diagnosed with a “convergence insufficiency.” This condition, while minor, has caused me to tilt my head to reduce eye strain since childhood.

In a perfect world, I should be maintaining a straight gaze and posture, and forcing my eyes to work together to see clearly. But our bodies LOVE to be lazy. Instead, I’ve compensated and caused myself neck problems and tension over the years, especially during graduate school and when I was a nursing mom. So for all of you in pain, I feel ya! Been there many times. Every time my neck is out of alignment it strikes me how much it affects my energy and overall well-being.

You see, the neck is like the gateway for the entire nervous system. When part of it is inflamed, tight or out of alignment, unexpected problems can happen in the rest of the body, too.

Ideal neck alignment results in a happy nervous system.

When the body is in “neutral” or “ideal” alignment there are three natural curves in the spine; the lumbar, thoracic and cervical curves. These three curves make an “S-shape.” This is considered natural, healthy posture.

Other benefits of natural posture include:

  • Reduced back pain
  • Less frequent headaches
  • Regular bowel movements
  • Improved attention and mental clarity
  • Corrected scoliosis
  • Healthy pregnancy and female organ function
  • Improvements in asthma
  • Improvements in arthritis and joint pain
  • Lower incidence of ear infections
  • Lower blood pressure
  • ….and more: http://bit.ly/28QsqHw

If you have a minute, check out this video, from Chiropractors Without Borders!, where a nonverbal, wheelchair-bound child goes from a near-vegetative state to walking after one simple neck adjustment that frees up his entire nervous system, allowing it to jump start for the first time in years:

 

 

How to Relieve Neck Tension and Prevent Future Problems:

First, it’s important to bring attention to the one thing we tend to overlook when it comes to spinal health; NUTRITION! 

Poor nutrition and inadequate water intake can result in inflammation which consequently places stress on the nervous system. So, hydrate well and eat REAL food! You may even try giving inflammatory stuff like processed foods and alcohol a big break for a few weeks to months and see if that alone makes a difference in your quality of life and neck comfort.

 

Other Remedies for Relief…

  • Make sure your computer monitor is at eye level and directly in front of you

 

  • Avoid long periods of consecutive driving or looking down at your smartphone

 

  • Sleep in a neutral position; avoid pillows that cause your head to tilt up in one direction and try to regularly alternate your sleeping position to avoid tight muscles on one side of the body

 

  • If you find that the tension radiates from your neck down to shoulders, try to sit more upright during your work day (better yet, stand!) and hug a pillow at night to keep shoulders “stacked” and from rounding forwards

 

  • Get your partner, a professional or YOUR OWN HANDS to massage tight areas of your head, neck and shoulders. Some pressure points you can target with your fingertips include:
    1. the middle of the back of the skull
    2. behind the middle of your ears
    3. top of the jaw
    4. eyebrow line
    5. on your face slightly down from your nose (both sides)
    6. your temples
    7. all 10 fingertips on top of your head to massage various aspects of the head/scalp
    8. the top of the neck, right below the occiput (i.e., back of the head/skull)
    9. the inside front of your shoulder/top of chest
    10. the back of your shoulder/rear deltoid
    11. space between the clavicle and shoulder
    12. several inches below the armpit on the side of the chest
    13. …and last but not least; INSIDE YOUR MOUTH! This is crazy to try but SO EFFECTIVE thanks to the complex relationships between your facial and neck muscles. With *clean hands* try pulling the inside of your cheek out to stretch/rub it. Try the same with the inside of your lower lip all the way into the bottom of the cheek.

 

  • Put your neck into a gentle extension stretch to correct poor posture – this is often done through the use of a special “pillow” for support: http://bit.ly/2jNvjRU

 

  • Try the following gentle exercises for your neck, recommended by the Cleveland Clinic:
    1. Roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times
    2. Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times
    3. Push your head backwards into your car head rest or hands and hold for 30 seconds
    4. Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side

 

 

  • Strengthen your posterior muscles for overall improvements in posture through the following exercises (note: these are best done for alignment maintenance and after knowing your body is in a neutral position. If you’re in pain or think you have a misalignment, seek a chiropractor first):
    1. Reverse flies
    2. High-to-low rows
    3. Lat pull downs
    4. Rotator cuff exercise
    5. Cable pulls in different angles for general back strengthening and endurance
    6. “Superman” back extensions
    7. Static cobra pose and/or cobra press-ups
    8. Back extensions from mat with gentle twist at top

 

  • Use heat or ice to provide relief from tension. A rule of thumb I tend to suggest for clients is to use ice if the pain is acute and heat if the pain lasts more than 48-72 hours. Note: Most professionals advise against sleeping with heat pads due to the risk of burns and interference with deep, quality sleep. Also, using ice for prolonged periods (over 15 or so minutes per application) can be bad for your nerves. So, use both in moderation and listen to your body for what it needs!

 

Misalignment in the Cervical Spine (i.e., neck)

A person’s neck can become misaligned due to one of the following reasons:

  • “A vertebra going out of place (‘misalignment’) because of a slip or fall (i.e., ‘macrotrauma’).
  • The entire spine misaligning globally due to poor posture.
  • Joint swelling caused by damage done to the intervertebral joint.
  • An inflammatory response caused by a poor diet, lack of pure water or psychological stress.
  • Osteoporosis or degenerative changes of the spine or intervertebral discs.
  • Trigger points and tight back muscles that pull the vertebrae out of place.”

Read more: http://bit.ly/28QsqHw

 

 

How to Identify Misalignment in the Spine

True misalignment can be present with or without pain. In both scenarios, misalignment lowers the optimal function of the body due to changes in internal health and physical performance. Note: Physical performance doesn’t just pertain to athletes. It can encompass how effectively one squats or stands up from a chair, and much more.

According to Upper Cervical Chiropractor Dr. Lauren Dodds, when a spinal misalignment is present, the body’s level of function is altered. Its fight-or-flight response becomes dominant. Although the body is trying to help itself survive, the fight-or-flight response can actually hinder the body from healing and growing, perpetuating more stress to an already overtaxed system.

Dr. Dodds explains that “thoughts, traumas and toxins” can all cause spinal misalignment. In other words, our spinal health is impacted by our emotional/personal lives, physical state and external environment. Dr. Dodds adds that although the strongest motivating factor for people to visit a chiropractor is pain, that shouldn’t be the only reason since, as mentioned, the impacts of misalignment are profound.

So, how do you know if you’re misaligned if you’re not experiencing pain?

Dr. Dodds suggests looking in a full-length mirror to see if you notice any asymmetries. You might notice that one shoulder is a little higher than the other or that one side of your hips juts forward. You can also have a trusted personal trainer or Pilates instructor do a postural analysis for you. In short, if you find that you’re out of alignment (or even if you simply suspect that you are), it’s a wise idea to find a chiropractor near you to visit.

Good news… *most* insurances will cover the visit and *most* chiropractors will accept it, so cost shouldn’t be a giant hindrance in a lot of scenarios. Either way, when you take care of your health through preventative measures like visiting a chiropractor and getting hands-on about relieving your own neck tension, your WHOLE BODY feels better and you prevent future problems from arising!

Cheers to living with optimal function and health! You deserve it.

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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12 Quick Fixes for Back Pain

I know how miserable back pain can be. But, I also know from years of personal experience managing injury, inflammation, misalignment and aching for myself and others that spinal health is largely about the little things that add up. Simple exercises, ways we approach our day, and healthy habits can make a big difference. Whether you have back issues on a regular basis or just some discomfort during less active winter months full of movie watching and holiday travels, these quick fixes for pain can work for you! A happy back = A happy body.

untitled-design-3Foam Roll

Foam rolling is the equivalent of taking a giant-sized rolling pin to your body and working it out like a ball of cookie dough. Rolling out the kinks in myofascial tissue will help you feel better than gobbling up a handful of those warm cookies. I’m totally serious, people! 

You see, our muscles are all surrounded by fascia which is strong, thin, connective tissue that responds best to pressure in order to release tension and knots (whereas muscles respond best to stretching). If part of our fascia is too tight because of one of two extremes; improper recovery from hard exercise or not exercising enough, then the muscles underneath will not be able to move as effectively as they should. Dehydration can also cause this tissue to become rigid and stick too tightly to underlying muscles. You might not immediately feel the negative repercussions, but over time tight fascial tissue can result in your hips getting out of alignment, IT-band syndrome, low back pain, and more.

The key is to use a foam roller much like a rolling bin when baking. Start with long rolls, using your body against gravity on the foam roller, and then find the areas that need a little more attention. It might hurt a lot at first if you’re really tight (just being honest), but that will subside the more you do it. Plus, the tighter you feel, the more your body is telling you that it NEEDS this! Onward you roll! 

Apply Hot or Cold

Using heat or cold-pack treatments is a classic and super easy way to deal with nagging discomfort. The key is to know when to use each temperature. There is some debate about this in the medical community at large, depending on what culture and philosophy your doctor comes from, so take my advice with a grain of salt if you want.

I generally advise clients to use heat for aches that are chronic and cold for acute injuries. For example, if you have an aching low back that gets worse over the course of a few weeks but you can’t pinpoint the exact cause of the pain, then I suggest using a heat pack on it overnight or while you’re lying down for a period of time. If you have a sudden onset of pain like waking up in the morning with a piercing pain radiating from your neck to your temples or a shooting pain in your shoulder after lifting something, then I suggest you use ice. In both scenarios, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned and the pain seems to linger or worsen.

Turn to the “McKenzie Method”

If you have low back pain that is chronic or acute (especially if you have sciatic pain), then finding a good physical therapist who can evaluate you via the McKenzie Method for low back pain is a great idea. The initial evaluation and first visits may not feel quick per say, but you will gain all sorts of fast, easy-to-perform-at-home exercises that will save you time and discomfort down the line.

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Stretch Hip Flexors and Hamstrings

Stretching these two muscle groups is one simple and effective way to rid yourself of tightness in your back. These muscles pull on the hips and spine and can thrown things out of whack when they are too tight. Both the hamstrings and hip flexors can get tight from sitting for long periods of time or exercising without enough follow-up stretching. Effective stretching can be done in less than five minutes. Hold each hamstring in a stretch for a full minute or slightly longer for maximal benefit (less than a solid minute of stretching may not help). Do the same thing for each hip flexor and you’re on your way to feeling sweet relief.

Correct Sitting, Lying and Standing Posture

The entire spine gets misshaped when we sit, lie and stand hunched over with our shoulders. The human spine’s curvature has specifically adapted to work with gravity, so when we take it out of its optimal position, it can no longer properly do its job. Also, when we are constantly tucked into a ball while sleeping or leaning forward at our desks, our musclces begin to develop a memory for being stretched out in the back and tight in the front. This will lead to all sorts of discomfort and issues down the line, plus it depletes from a tall, attractive posture (and by tall I mean upright – not necessarily sky-high height).

Correcting posture can actually feel uncomfortable, just like getting started with foam rolling. But, the more uncomfortable we are when standing with our shoulders back and heads held high, the more of a red flag our bodies are waving in front of us. Our bodies are screaming at us to get things back in order. It may be uncomfortable but it’s way easier than dealing with the fallout of bad posture over time. All it takes is reminding yourself to do it. Not too complicated, right?

Sleep with a Pillow Between Legs or Arms

Sleeping with a pillow between your legs or hugging it like a giant teddy bear in your arms can help “stack” your joints so they maintain better neutral alignment over the night. When you think about it, we are in bed for a long time every day. If we get 7-9 hours of sleep every night and are tucked into a ball, have one leg thrown over the other, or all our body weight on one shoulder the whole time, we are bound to eventually feel a little “off.” Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs can help alleviate some types of hip and low back pain. Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your arms can help some types of thoracic and shoulder pain. Plus, it just feels snuggly. 🙂 

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Perform Chest Openers

Chest opening stretches or “heart-opening poses” in yoga are wonderful ways to make sure that the muscles of the chest stay stretched out and the ones in our backs stay tight enough. A lot of back pain comes from poor posture and all the movements we do like reaching forward which create tight muscles in the front of our bodies and loose ones in the back. Tight muscles are not the same as strong ones and loose muscles are not the same as flexible ones. So, it’s important to balance out our forward-reaching activities with a simple opening of the chest for 30-60 seconds a few times a day. A great time to do this is when you need to take a deep breath to think at work or when you are in the middle of chores at home. It can be as simple as standing in a door jam, holding onto the frame, and moving the rest of your body forward a couple steps. This can make for a nice deep release in the chest.

Exercise Large Back Muscles

Large back muscles can be targeted through lat pull downs, rows, pull-ups, reverse flies and rotator cuff exercises. Just spending a couple minutes on these muscles every gym visit can add up to a lot. That is, if you aren’t already working them out. It’s best to perform these exercises once your back is in alignment so make sure you’re using other techniques if you’re experiencing a lot of discomfort or pain.

Exercise Long Back Muscles

The long muscles in our backs can be targeted through all sorts of spinal extensions, typically best done lying face down on a mat and lifting our limbs, or from a standing position using exercise bands or cables. Again, a little can go a long way. It’s tough to remember that exercises like these are just as important as the ones that produce a mega sweat session, but they are. Just as important. If you’re feeling at a loss for how to get started on these, attend a beginner’s Pilates class and make notes of the exercises they do for the back. Try to repeat them at home or hit up the class again!

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Adjust Lifting and Carrying Form

Everything we do, from carrying little ones and groceries to lifting our luggage and briefcases, impacts our spinal health. When we repeat the same motions again and again on just one side of the body we risk throwing ourselves off in terms of both alignment and strength. Try to remember to switch baby from that favorite hip to the lesser-used one. Try to walk to work with your purse on the opposite shoulder sometimes. Simple things like that. It’s what makes or breaks us.

Use Lateral Movement

Lateral hip movement (and rotation, by the way) helps to stabilize the hips and take pressure off of the back. We do a lot of forward movement but not a lot of side-to-side, and it’s just as essential for our health. One of the best ways to tackle this type of movement is via clam shells and other lateral hip lifts which target the outside of your booty (aka the glut medius and glut minimus). All you have to do is put yourself in a side-lying position and lift the top leg up and down in various ways to elicit a burn in the outer compartment of your rear end. When you feel the burn, keep going! It’s good for you.

Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation sucks. It just makes everything miserable, including our backs. So, try to help your joints by eating a balanced diet with all the good stuff; leafy greens, berries, other fruits/veggies, whole grains, healthy fish, lean proteins, beans, nuts, you get the idea. People who are trying to heal from illness or injury will especially benefit in the healing process by eating as healthy as possible.

Also, drink plenty of water to keep joints lubricated and get a balance of exercise and adequate rest. The healthy basics really do a lot reduce inflammation.


Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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