Thursday, January 26, 2012

10 Ways to Avoid Back and Neck Pain

In my massage practice there is one condition almost everyone is plagued by, and it's back and neck pain. I would say 98% of my clients are experiencing discomfort in this area. I find myself giving the same advice over and over and thought I'd share my top 10 tips for avoiding back and neck pain...with YOU!

Now, if you already have pain in these areas, you need to deal with your tight muscles, trigger points, fascial adhesions etc through massage, osteopathy, or your therapy of choice...and ALSO do the things below to keep it from coming back.

Without further ado!

1. Stop sticking your head out.

I admit this one is a constant battle. Many of us stick our heads forward to look at a computer all day, while driving, while studying, while squinting because you're not wearing your glasses etc etc. Your head is meant to be perfectly balanced on your spine. Kapandji (Physiology of the Joints, Volume III) states that for every inch your head moves forward, it functionally gains 10 pounds in weight. So the muscles in your upper back and neck have to work extra hard to keep your head up. This puts the suboccipital muscles (at the base of your skull) in constant contraction. So gently tuck your chin back in, or think of bringing your ears back to be right over your shoulders. Instant poise! Read more on this here.

2. Correct Your Posture.

Everyone knows they need to "work on their posture", but how do you do this? Constant correction is a start...good reminders are: Weight over the arches of your feet, feet straight forward, knees straight forward, hip sockets, heels, shoulders and ear in a vertical line, chest in neutral (don't let it sink or thrust it forward) and pull up through the crown of your head.

But why is this so hard? Most people have very tight pectoral muscles (over your chest) and weak mid-back muscles. So, stretch your pecs, and strengthen your mid/upper back muscles, and you will find good posture comes easily.

3. Sleep on Your Back.

Many people sleep on their stomach with their head cranked to one side. (You know...for breathing.) To me this is pretty clear how this causes your spine and neck muscles to be irritated. Another problem is sleeping with a pillow that isn't the right size. If you can re-train yourself to sleep on your back, use a fairly flat pillow. Many people recommend sleeping with a pillow under your knees in this position to take the strain off your back. If your back is strained by having your legs need your hip flexors worked on, now. A very small pillow is probably ok. I guess.

If you absolutely cannot fall asleep like this, or you snore, try on your side with a pillow big enough to keep your head at 90 degrees to your shoulders, and hug a big pillow to keep your shoulders from rounding in. A pillow between your knees will keep your pelvis even too.

4.Drink Enough Water.

You've heard it a million times before, but did you know that being underhydrated can lead to stiffness and pain? Fascia is the connective tissue that weaves throughout your whole body, encapsulating every muscle fibre, muscle group, organ etc. See the gross pic at right (its a back). It's everything that's white. Stuck, immobile, or contractured fascia is often thought to be more responsible for pain and imbalances than the muscles themselves. And guess what, they need water to be pliable and delicious. I mean...functional. Read more on this here. Think about chewing gum. It's hard until you add moisture, movement, and warmth. More on the last two coming up.

5. Keep Warm.

Cold muscles like to contract to conserve heat. Walk out into the cold and your shoulders want to jump up into your ears. BAD SHOULDERS! Keep them happy with a cozy scarf and dress properly. This can also happen with a cold air vent or window draft hitting you, be sure to avoid this at the office and especially while sleeping.

If your muscles are already tight, we all know heat is a wonderful tool for relief! Hot showers, moist heat packs, and infrared heat are great because they penetrate deeper into muscles than regular dry heat.

6. Stop Sitting All Day.

I realize that you may be required by your job to sit for many hours a day. And although this is cruel and unusual, I get it. Oh, and no desk is "ergonomic" if you're sitting all day. It's a shocking revelation, but we didn't evolve to sit in chairs. See the diagram at right. It shows the positions used by humans all over the world. How many are you using?

The simple fact is that doing anything over and over, all day, causes injury. We know this about repetitive stress injuries, but did you consider that sitting is something you do over and over, all day? Every day, your hips and knees are put at a 90 degree angle, shortening your hip flexors, hamstrings, and calves. When you eventually stand up, your muscle length is totally out of whack and your back has to arch to compensate, among other problems. See more here. And be very afraid. But there are lots of things you can do...just read Katy's Blog. Get up and walk around as much as possible. You can even make a standing desk!

7.Get Moving.

This is the fun part! Your body NEEDS movement to be healthy. And not just a shot of exercise once a day. Change your positions as much as possible! Walk instead of taking the bus! Take breaks from sitting! Take more dance classes! ;) Moving through the ranges of your joints is necessary to keep your mobility. Use it or lose it!

8. Ditch the Heavy Shoulder Bag.

When my clients come in with a combination of a very tight shoulder/neck on one side and tight low back on the other, this is always my first guess. A couple quick fixes: Before you go out, take out every extra thing that you don't need in your bag. Carry less. Get a smaller bag. Get a bag with a longer strap that will cross over your body. If you must carry heavy things, get a rolling bag. (These have saved my neck many times.) Get a (horror) backpack! There ARE cute ones out there! And according to at least two sources on the internet, they are stylish again. So you can feel smug, not dorky.
-Reconsider the Backpack
-Oprah Said So
-15 Cute Backpacks For More Than Just The Gym
-This is actually nice. This too.

9. Stop Wearing High Heels.

We all know they're not great for us, but turns out, they're actually horrible. Remember how I said that sitting at the desk all day shortens your hamstrings, calves, and hip flexors? Well, on top of that, so do your heels. They put a ton of pressure and strain on your low back too. The human foot is a miracle of engineering, and heels of any height (actually, most shoes) seek to create their own crazy engineering. If your foot muscles aren't able to move (as in almost every shoe), they are shutting off, and throwing off your whole biomechanical chain. This has been shown to lead to Osteoperosis, and even weakens your pelvic floor. I can't get into this right now. I just can't. Go here. And here. Please.

10.Reduce Stress

*Having pets has been shown to reduce your stress level, so this adorable kitten is totally relevant.

It still amazes me the difference that stress makes in the tone of our muscles. Many clients who come to me with chronic pain feel miraculously better on vacation. Once they're back to their stressful job/life, all the pain comes back.

Make your mental and emotional health a priority. Remember that to take care of others, you need to take care of yourself first. Whether this means getting regular massage treatments, taking yoga or dance classes, finding a creative outlet, meditating before bed, or whatever works for you, you need to take care of yourself, people!

This also goes for seeking treatment, don't wait until you are in severe pain. It is much more effective to catch a problem before if becomes a fully-fledged condition. Again, be kind to yourself. Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Great advice, Laura!!!! I feel like setting a 5 minute posture alarm on my computer so that I keep it in many times I find myself slouched over the keyboard with my shoulders practically around my ears, LOL! Thank you.


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shumaila awan said...

excellnt...............i realy likethe tips andinformation regarding neck pain