With the easing of lockdown spring has arrived and with it the added need for us to take extra care of our necks, backs and spines to avoid pain and injury…
If the arrival of sunshine has caused you to pack away your winter jumpers and, instead, pull out your racket, shin pads or helmet for a bout of summer activities, remember to take note of these simple steps to ensure you steer clear of any unwanted pain and discomfort.
RUNNERS can avoid injury by regular stretching of the tendons and wearing good shoes with shock-absorbing features.
RACKET-SPORTS PLAYERS should be wary of playing through the pain of Tennis Elbow. Tennis Elbow is in fact an overuse injury, caused by repetitive movements at the wrist forcing the thumb outwards and the palm upwards. Continuing to play will only exacerbate the problem.
GOLFERS are particularly prone to lower back injuries. Graphite clubs and soft spiked shoes will help absorb the shock which can bring on back injury. Your chiropractor can suggest appropriate warm-ups and exercises, and help you work on an alternative swing.
GARDENERS commonly suffer from aches and pains, but they can avoid lower back trouble by kneeling on one leg rather than bending from the hips, keeping the back hollow whilst digging, and varying tasks throughout the day to avoid repetition injury.
DIY, like gardening, is often far-removed from everyday activities. When the sun is shining many will want to get out in the garden and get on with the long list of DIY jobs that have piled up over the winter months. Enthusiasts often injure their back by in habitual exertion, so when lifting, take the weight on bent legs, keeping the back straight.
If you’re following the trends in exercise and fitness, you’ve probably heard the phrase “core strength” or “core stability.” These terms refer to the muscles of your abdominals (stomach) and back and their ability to support your spine and keep your body stable and balanced, helping to prevent back pain.
The core muscles lie deep within the trunk of the body. They generally attach to the spine, pelvis and muscles that support the scapula. They stabilise these areas to create a firm foundation for co-ordinated movement of the legs and arms.
Core stability is also needed in everyday life, helping to keep you fit and to prevent injury when you are lugging those heavy shopping bags or doing the ironing. Rises in back pain incidence have been linked to the sedentary lifestyle that many of us lead. How about neck and shoulder pain? Time spent hunched over the desk instead of getting out and about can mean that we don’t pay enough attention to posture, and the muscles of those crucial “corset” muscles.
To strengthen your core stability:
- Start by lying on your back with knees bent.
- Your lumbar spine should be neither arched up nor flattened against the floor, but aligned normally with a small gap between the floor and your lower back. This is the “neutral” lumbar position you should learn to achieve.
- Breathe in deeply and relax all your stomach muscles.
- Breathe out and, as you do so, draw your lower abdomen inwards as if your belly button is going back towards the floor.
- Hold the contraction for 10 seconds and stay relaxed, allowing yourself to breathe in and out as you hold the tension in your lower stomach area.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
Bear in mind the following points:
- Do not let the whole stomach tense up or your upper abdominals bulge outwards, as this means you have cheated by using the large rectus abdominus muscle (the six-pack).
- Do not brace too hard; just a gentle contraction is enough. Remember it’s endurance not max strength your are trying to improve.
- Do not tilt your pelvis nor flatten your back, as this means you have lost the neutral position you are trying to learn to stabilise
- Do not hold your breath, as this means you are not relaxed. You must learn to breathe normally and maintain the co-contraction.
- Use your fingers for biofeedback on either side of your lower abdomen to feel the tension.
Once you have mastered the abdominal hollowing lying on your back, practise it lying on your front, four-point kneeling, sitting and standing. In each position get your lumbar spine into neutral before you perform the hollowing movement. If you feel any pain or discomfort while doing these exercises, then stop immediately and seek medical advice before continuing.
Could standing work desks be the answer to unwanted back pain?
Recent workplace trends show that many employers are now opting for standing work areas, rather than the more conventional seated desks, in a bid to prevent their workers suffering from back pain and to help increase their productivity in the office.
But are these innovative standing workspaces really the way forward to a healthy back, free from pain and discomfort? Here are three things to bear in mind if your work place decides that standing, rather than sitting, is best way forward:
- Standing tall
Sitting and bending forward (as you tend to do in an office seat) can put twice as much load on your spine as standing does so standing desks could well be a better option for the office.
- Take a break
While standing, however, it is important to remember that you should still take regular breaks as you would when sitting at a desk. Being stuck in one position, even if it is in a ‘good posture’, is not advisable.
- The best of both
A desk set up that allows you to stand as well as sit is the most ideal situation, as this gives you the option to change position regularly. The more adjustable your desk set-up is, the more likely you are to find a position that suits you.
The primary factors that can cause or worsen pain include poor posture, injury, too little (or too much) activity, and specific conditions such as arthritis. However, what you eat can also help to manage or relieve pain, or even prevent it injury in the first place.
Here are some of our top nutrition tips for managing pain.
- Ditch the processed foods
Processed foods generally refers to most things that come in a packet with a list of ingredients: from biscuits to ready meals to breakfast cereals. They often contain little in the way of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. They may worsen inflammation and pain because they contain higher levels of unhealthy fats – in particular, processed omega-6 fats and ‘trans’ fats, which have pro-inflammatory properties. They often contain quickly absorbed sugars or refined carbohydrates too, which may exacerbate inflammation when consumed in excess.
In contrast, ‘real’ foods are as close as possible to how they are found in nature. They can include whole vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fish, eggs and meat (whole cuts, not ‘deli’ or processed meats). These foods naturally contain higher levels of nutrients that can help reduce inflammation and pain, such as those we’re going to look at in more detail below.
- Eat magnesium-rich foods
One of the nutrients that may help to manage pain and inflammation is magnesium. Magnesium helps our muscles to work normally, including helping them to relax, which in turn helps to avoid or relieve muscle tension that can contribute to pain. This mineral is also important for the nerves.
Magnesium is found primarily in whole unprocessed plant foods – especially green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, seeds and nuts, and whole grains including rye and buckwheat.
- Include oily fish
Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring and anchovies are high in omega-3 fats. These fats have anti-inflammatory properties and therefore may help to manage pain. The specific omega-3s in fish (EPA and DHA) can be more beneficial than the types of omega-3 found in seeds such as flax seeds.
Aim to eat a serving of oily fish around three times a week. These can include tinned sardines and salmon as long as they do not contain added vegetable oils (olive oil is fine). Note that ‘omega-3 fish fingers’ are not a good source of omega-3 fats – stick to the real thing!
- Get plenty of vitamin C
You may know vitamin C for its role in the immune system. But in fact the primary role of vitamin C is in making collagen – a protein that forms the basic structure of most of the body’s tissues, including the bones, joints and muscles. If your body can’t make collagen properly, these tissues will lose strength and function, contributing to not only day-to-day pain but also potentially painful conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
Eating a variety of vegetables and fruit is the best way to get enough vitamin C. Although ‘five-a-day’ is the well-known recommendation, we should be aiming for at least seven portions a day, primarily of vegetables, in order to get good amounts of vitamin C and antioxidants. Some of the best sources of vitamin C include peppers, kale, broccoli, kiwi fruits, Brussels sprouts, watercress and red cabbage. If you can, get your veg and fruit from a local producer (e.g. a farmer’s market) as it can lose its vitamin C when it’s stored or transported for long periods of time.
- Include anti-inflammatory spices
The spices ginger and turmeric in particular can have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Use fresh ginger and powdered turmeric in your cooking whenever you can, make fresh ginger tea with a grated thumb-sized piece of ginger. If you have a good vegetable juicer you can even make fresh ginger juice to sip on – but watch out, it’s strong!
- Try avoiding nightshades
The ‘nightshade’ or solanaceae vegetables may worsen inflammation and pain for some people. These are aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes (not sweet potatoes), and peppers – including chillis and all types of chilli powder (cayenne, paprika etc.). If you’ve implemented the other changes for at least three months and not noticed a significant improvement in your pain, then try eliminating the nightshade vegetables.
- Consider eliminating gluten
Gluten is a protein that’s found primarily in wheat, barley and rye. The most severe reaction to gluten is coeliac disease, where the sufferer has to avoid gluten for the rest of their life. But some people who do not have coeliac disease may also react to gluten in a less severe way, which can contribute to inflammation in the body. If you’re cutting out gluten it can be best to work with a nutrition practitioner (e.g. a nutritional therapist) for support to make sure you’re not missing out on any nutrients.
Most children get a real thrill out of making themselves dizzy. They’ll spin round and round as fast as possible and then collapse in a heap of laughter and giggles. However, when someone suddenly becomes dizzy for no apparent reason, it can be a very frightening and debilitating experience.
Dizziness is the third most common complaint in general practice, yet most people don’t know why it happens. Our eyes, ears and nerve endings in our joints all combine to send signals to the brain telling us where our body is in space. If these signals are interrupted or the wrong signals are sent, then we can get dizzy. There are a number of different reasons why we can feel dizzy. Some of these include more serious trauma to the head and/or neck.
People are sometimes confused between dizziness and vertigo. Dizziness can be described as a feeling of light-headedness, whereas with vertigo, you either feel as if the room is spinning or you yourself are spinning. By the age of 70, about 30 per cent of people have experienced vertigo it at least once. If you think that you have experienced vertigo, then it is best to seek medical advice.
Correcting poor posture habits is essential to spine health. To avoid long-term health issues, it is best to start to develop good habits.
Your sleeping posture is more important than you may think. If you sleep on your side, place a flat pillow between your legs and knees to help keep your spine straight and aligned.
Always use a supportive pillow under your head to properly align and support your shoulders and skull. Sleeping on your side or back is almost always better than sleeping on your stomach.
Driving posture is also very important. Move your seat up so that you can depress both foot pedals all the way to the ground with your knees remaining bent. Your back should remain against the seat. Recline the back of the seat very little, by only about 5 degrees.
If there is a height adjustment, raise the seat so that your hips align with your knees. If an adjustment isn’t available, consider buying a cushion. Your head should never reach the ceiling and cause you to slouch. The top of your headrest should match the top of your skull. If possible, tilt the headrest forward so that it’s no more than 4 inches from your head.
When it comes to a standing posture, stand with your heels, hips, and shoulders aligned. Do not shrug your shoulders forward, roll them back slightly and allow your arms to naturally hang at your sides. Make sure you keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
These are all ways you can straighten your back naturally. Give them a try and see if you notice a difference.
There are many symptoms that can signal problems with your spine. It is important to monitor these symptoms to ensure you are maintaining a healthy spine.
Headaches, backaches and sore spots in your muscles or joints are all signals from your body telling you that something is not working right. Feeling fatigued can also mean that there is misalignment of the spine. This can cause interference in the brain and body communication and can lead to fatigue.
Having to crack your neck, back or other joints frequently is also a sign of an unhealthy spine. Abnormal movement of the spine can cause stiffness. Subluxations decrease spinal mobility and create stiffness.
Jaw clicking is another sign of an unhealthy spine. Your jaw can be affected by misalignments in your neck. This causes a clicking sound when opening and closing the mouth.
Lower back pain can be excruciating, especially while trying to get a good night’s rest. It may seem impossible, but there are some sleeping tips that can help.
Be sure to have a pillow that supports both the head and the neck. Finding the right pillow is crucial in keeping your spine in complete alignment throughout the night. Make sure the pillow is sturdy enough that your neck is aligned with the rest of your spine, both while sleeping on your back or side. Be sure the space beneath your neck is completely filled to support its curve. Double check that the pillow is firm enough to support this alignment throughout your sleep.
Sleeping in the fetal position with knees drawn towards the chest at 90 degrees, is a good sleeping position. Sleeping on your side also helps keep the neck in line with your spine. Keeping a pillow between your knees also helps to stabilise the hips. If you prefer to sleep on your back, be sure to properly align your body from head to toe and prop your knees up with a small pillow.
You can also take a reclined position by keeping one leg straight and the other one bent at the knee. This slight incline helps to relieve disc problems. A shallow pillow also helps to reduce backpressure.
Choosing a balanced diet containing the right vitamins and minerals decreases our chances of developing deficiencies later on in life. The body’s structure relies on vitamins and minerals to ensure muscle tone (including the heart), healthy functioning of nerves; correct composition of body fluids; and the formation of healthy blood and bones.
A Healthy Diet Plan
For bone, muscle and joint health try and include Calcium in your diet, which is essential for optimal nerve and muscle function and blood clotting.
Dairy products are rich in calcium that is easy to absorb. Non – dairy sources with equally absorbable calcium are green leafy vegetables from the kale family. Spinach, rhubarb, sweet potatoes and dried beans are rich in calcium but from these foods it’s not easily absorbed
Required for efficient muscle contraction and conduction of nerve impulses. Low magnesium levels in the body can affect the body’s calcium levels, putting bone health at risk.
Green leafy vegetables, unrefined grains and nuts. Small amounts are present in meat and milk. Large quantities of fibre in the diet and low protein intake can reduce the amount of magnesium able to be absorbed by the body.
Essential for regulating the formation of bone and the absorption of calcium from the intestine. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that functions to help control the movement of calcium between bone and blood.
Primarily from the action of UVB light on the skin. Food sources such as cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, tuna, milk and milk products contain small amounts of Vitamin D.
The structure of bones, cartilage, muscles and blood vessels is provided in part and maintained by collagen. The formation of strong efficient collagen requires Vitamin C.
Citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, green leafy vegetable and peppers. Also important for producing strong collagen and therefore strong bone structure, is Folic acid. Folic acid is found in cereals, beans, green leafy vegetables, orange and orange juice
Vitamin C is also a strong antioxidant and is capable of regenerating other antioxidants like vitamin E. The role of antioxidants is to mop up free radicals (the by-products of normal metabolism). Excessive amounts of free radicals cause damage to joint surfaces and muscle cell regeneration. Antioxidants reduce the potential of these free radicals to cause joint damage.
Antioxidants are vitamins A, C, E and the mineral selenium and are present in fruits and vegetables, the highest quantities are found in the most deeply and brightly coloured. Cartilage that lines the articulating surfaces of all joints is critical to joint health. Cartilage is the shock absorber of joints and is continually rebuilt if a source of raw materials is available. Supplements such as glucosamine sulphate can be added to a healthy diet to assist joints that maybe showing signs of wear and tear.
Essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids (EFA’s) also reduce the degenerative changes in tissues and cells. EFA’s are unsaturated fatty acids such as Omega 3. They aid in decreasing the inflammatory response and help relieve pain and discomfort in joints and muscles.
EFA’s can be found in oily fish (sardines, fresh tuna, mackerel), flax seed and linseed.
Foods to avoid…
There are certain foods and substances that adversely effect the body’s use of minerals and vitamins. High saturated/animal fats, refined foods, white flour, white sugar, white rice, chocolate, carbonated drinks and fruit juices with high sugar concentration should be kept to a minimum if not weaned from the diet completely. Meat and dairy products should be kept within a recommended weekly amount. Dairy products as calcium sources should be varied with other non-dairy sources.
Pilates is one of the best exercises you can do for your spine. It is low impact, gentle on your joints and is a great choice whether you are trying to prevent injury or recovering from one.
Pilates is a full body experience that provides a challenging workout while also strengthening the spine and trains the muscles in your body to work in unison.
Pilates focuses on supporting the structure of your body, which is centered on your spine. It focuses on working from your core outwards. Each exercise starts from the muscles that support and surround your spine. When your spine is supported, your whole body functions better. You become more balanced and have more freedom to move.
Pilates lowers stress and increases energy levels. The focus on breath with movement encourages fresh oxygen intake and the release of toxins into your lymphatic system to be dispensed.
Feeding more oxygen into the body helps decrease stress levels and leaves you feeling energised and ready to go. Pilates has also been linked to a reduction in stress and better sleep.”
Pilates is for everyone, regardless of age, shape, size, fitness, or ability level; it provides benefits for all.
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