What’s the Big Deal if I Crack My Own Spine? – Stop Everyday Pain

What’s the Big Deal if I Crack My Own Spine? – Stop Everyday Pain

Is this you when your back feels stiff?  Looking for relief from stiffness or pain by twisting it out?  Hoping for that crack that feels like what you get from your chiropractor?  It’s not the same.  It’s more dangerous to do this yourself and you should learn about why this is.

 

Read more from the original post and early book excerpt by following the link below: “When the jammed-up joints are properly released, then the hyper-mobile joints – the ones that are cracking all the time – should not feel the need to do so much of the work anymore”

It might be that you’re noticing cracks and pops with regular daily movement or you are making your joints do this repeatedly throughout the day in the hopes for relief from pressure.  In both cases you should learn more about what’s really going on, so you make informed choices…

Source: What’s the Big Deal if I Crack My Own Spine? – Stop Everyday Pain

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Stretching Out the Pain: Feels Good But is it Good FOR You? – Stop Everyday Pain

yoga-dancer-1024x855Recently I’ve had a few questions from patients who are reading the book.  One that keeps coming up is about whether or not stretching is good or bad for us.  Stretching is a very confusing topic and has been one of scientific controversy for years which makes the answer not so straightforward.

In this first volume of my book series Every Body’s Guide to Everyday Pain™, Put Out the Fire I spend some time explaining that stretching is actually a mechanical stressor and therefore risky for people dealing with everyday pain.  This means that the elongation we cause by stretching can result in stress to the underlying structure.  Usually  when all things – mechanical, biochemical and emotional – are in balance, a reasonable stretch doesn’t cause any trouble.  However, when we are out of balance in any one of these areas and if we are already in pain, then stretching the compromised area is a terrible idea.

We often get away with stretching without consequences during times when we are not in crisis. Unfortunately with this sort of benign experience in mind and due to the fact that stretch-sensation neurologically eclipses the pain of inflammation, the concept that stretching is not good for your pain, is a very puzzling one to accept.

If you stretch a muscle in distress, you are basically signalling to your body that the tightening over-reaction – the one you are trying to find relief from – is indeed justified.  In this case, your stretch will perpetuate the underlying reason for muscle pain and tightness instead of resolving the problem.

The reason muscles grab and get tight is 100% protective in nature.  It is always the most reasonable response to unreasonable conditions.  You may not agree that the conditions are “unreasonable” but your brain and body’s assessment is all that matters during times like this.  If you don’t stop and find out what they’re protecting you from, there may be much worse discomfort lurking around the next corner.

Another interesting point is that the elongation stress associated with stretching can happen without, what looks to us like, a traditional intentional stretch.  Lengthening stress to muscle fibers is something that can be produced with sustained pressure on a muscle or a tendon.  When a muscle bundle is made to deform in this way it’s perceived by the brain as elongation. If that area is already inflamed, it will be a problem.  So, all of you foam rolling or ball rolling advocates beware!

A large part of my mission in educating patients is to highlight the subtleties in movement and posture that matter when we are in pain, but which often don’t seem very obvious to us.  By learning about these not so obvious contributions to pain, we can stop berating ourselves for “falling apart” and acknowledge the way forward. Recognizing the validity in our pain is a vital step towards feeling better and staying out of pain in the future.

An important part of Volume Two – Fix the Fire Damage will include information about exactly how and when to stretch safely and how to solve the problem of muscle tightness for the long term.

Click on this link for more at the original article Source: Stretching Out the Pain: Feels Good But is it Good FOR You? – Stop Everyday Pain

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Taking My Own “Medicine”

Taking My Own “Medicine”

Dobbins'_medicated_toilet_soap,_advertising,_1869When you’re a chiropractor, what does it mean to “take your own medicine” ?

“Walking my own talk” consists of more than just making sure I receive chiropractic care myself.  It’s about seeking balance in all areas of health.  With balance in sight, the need for professional treatment decreases.

My motivation is maybe a bit more intensely fueled than for most people because my body is my essential work tool.  If mechanical, biochemical or emotional balance is off, it directly affects the ability to fulfill my commitment to patients which in turn could potentially risk my livelihood.  This is an intense interdependence that I would never trade for anything but it can be more than stressful to be even just a little bit laid-up.

In last week’s post I alluded to a recently renewed return to health by restoring balance to my own life, after a year of pushing to get my book out, followed by the release and adventures in promotion.

Block Quote 4I cannot emphasize enough how much this pursuit of balance can differ from person to person.  I am taking a moment to briefly outline what this looked like for me at this particular juncture, to give you a very general idea of the factors to consider when thinking about your own balance in wellness.  In particular I want to illustrate some of the principles outlined in my book (Every Body’s Guide to Everyday Pain, Volume One – Put Out the Fire). Don’t wait until you’re in pain to find your true healthy balance. The everyday variety of pain is always a sign that something has fallen by the wayside in one of the three main categories (mechanical, biochemical or emotional) but things can be “off” long before pain strikes.

In my case, this time I needed first to focus on returning to a more regimented sleep/wake schedule.  I’ve learned that my body and mind operate optimally with 6,1/2 – 7 hours of sleep per night and this means I need to exercise a little discipline about getting to bed on time because I am not willing to get up late.  The morning hours are treasured time and important to my emotional well-being.  I’m very lucky to have good sleep hygiene and my body cooperates well when put to bed.  For times when that’s not the case (as everything ebbs and flows), I reach for homeopathic remedies, herbal teas or magnesium to calm the nervous system before bed.  A controversial trick that isn’t advisable for everyone but that works well for me, is to have a small bite to eat before bedtime as well.

Test tubes science backgroundRe-balancing my biochemistry is something that I dedicated the better part of two consecutive months to. Resetting my organ systems and aiding the natural detoxification, involved some herbal and food therapy.  I returned to eating simply by avoiding my known sensitivities: dairy, all animal protein, simple starches (sugar), nightshades and a few other specifics that I’ve come to recognize over the years as taxing to my system.  I’ve since then slowly returned to more variety based on what my appetite dictates.

Block Quote 2Some signs that will tell you about your sensitivities can be as subtle as an increase in heart rate within 1/2 hour of eating. Sometimes it’s just a little tickle in the back of the throat that passes quickly but is still a significant sign of intolerance.  Other times it can be a generalized increase in mucous production and that might be harder to spot.  The need to clear your throat or blow your nose in the morning might be signs of excess mucous production in response to a food trigger from the day before.  The point is that foods (sometimes very delicious food), not overtly considered as “allergenic” like peanuts, can still be considered by your body as a burden for your biochemistry.  So, it’s always important to pay attention to subtle reactions.

When I commit to helping my body unload excess waste, I also utilize dry sauna sweats, infrared if possible and pay extra attention to optimizing kidney and bowel function.  This makes a big difference in the associated discomfort of “detox”-related headaches and body aches that can happen when large amounts of waste are mobilized throughout the body for elimination.

My herbal and nutrient based regimen was also targeted, in part to facilitate elimination via the kidneys, liver and colon.  There are many different philosophies on which herbs are most appropriate and this is something that is best done with the advice of a natural health care doctor.  Focusing on aiding natural elimination is the best way to help decrease your body’s chemical burden from exposure to complex molecules in our air, food and water.

Balancing RocksFor me, restoring mechanical balance can’t happen without first adequate rest and attention to nutrition.  After re-setting sleep and nutrition I found my energy returning and started to increase activity based on that, but not until then.  If fuel or rest and recovery are lacking, then the exercise output ends up adding stress to the system instead of strengthening it.  This is why sleep and nutrient intake is first priority. It sets the stage for successful return to exercise.  Without this in place, workouts are pointless and counterproductive, potentially resulting in inflammation-causing stress.

Block Quote 3What my body and mind are willing and able to do changes with the seasons, years and stages in life.  This Spring, yoga was the doorway back to physical empowerment.  It helped me begin to feel able to return to swimming and weightlifting.  Now, my routine includes one yoga class per week and two other days of gym workouts which consist of a warm-up swim followed by an upper body or lower body weight resistance workout.  That’s three days a week of 1-2 hours of exercise. They are strategically spaced from my days with patients so that I am not too sore to be effective in the office, but also to avoid muscle fatigue related injuries.

There’s nothing rigorous about this current exercise schedule which is what makes it completely sustainable.  When starting a new routine, being consistent is more important than making a huge impact.  Come wintertime, it’s possible that my needs will change and I will change my exercise accordingly.  Perhaps in a future post I will take some time to address the how of tuning in to your own changing needs from season to season or depending on life and work situations.  It’s mostly a lifelong process of trial and error.

It can be tricky to walk the fine line between the intended exertion of exercise and inescapable demands of work life. But as you slowly increase physical activity, what always holds true is that you increase your body’s capacity for emotional, chemical and physical stress to keep from rebounding into exhausted inactivity.  It must be done in a loving way. Self-care routines are best implemented with gentle caring instead of harsh reprimands.  If you’re someone who thrives on hard line tactics for motivation – find a trainer or someone outside of yourself to play that role.

Even though it’s not an easy daily practice for many, being loving and yes even permissive with yourself makes room for healthy choices.  Remember real health can and does exist in imperfect bodies everywhere.  It’s about balance, not perfection.

Block Quote 1Lastly, you should know that it takes at least two full months – often three months – of consistent activity in order to surpass the “transition reaction” of new exercise.  When introducing a change in routine or physical demands, the brain and body will express themselves by exhibiting physical sensations that aren’t always 100% comfortable.

Sometimes the transition to a better balance in life includes re-visiting old pain that might feel like re-injury as we work to strengthen around these old vulnerabilities.  This is why it’s important to line up some outside help during these transitions either via massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic.  It’s the time when I see the greatest need for support in my patients.

Food for thought while you consider your own healthy balancing act: When we act in reaction or opposition to an idea or a feeling, we set the stage for inevitable failure. When we act out of caring and acceptance for the imperfection that is, we make good and sustainable choices.


Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, Fotolia

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Do You Have a “Flexion Intolerant” Back?

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAYou may or may not have heard this new buzz term in the world of physical medicine and rehabilitation.  It is certainly gaining traction in my industry thanks to a couple of brilliant minds in the world of functional movement and kinesiology: Stuart McGill Ph.D.,and  Craig Liebenson D.C. for starters.

I see how  very helpful it can be, to the average person in pain, to be able to identify and label their condition.  The term “Flexion Intolerance” has come to serve that very purpose in my own practice.  In particular I’ve found it very helpful to point people to this internet resource developed by a fellow chiropractor: Fix Your Own Back dot com.  Dr. Snell provides an easy to use guide to help people in pain figure out if their back pain situation might be one that can respond very well to some basic changes to just a few everyday things.  We often take for granted these everyday activities until we’re in pain.

Pain is the primary and most effective motivation for most of us to want to investigate and learn more about our bodies. I believe it’s important that everyone realize before they are in pain, that “flexion” is not something our lower backs are very well designed to put up with in the first place, but especially not in the way that our modern lives demand.  We are all actually, by design, flexion-intolerant.  In particular, we are intolerant of the kind of flexion and the amount of flexion our modern day backs are exposed to.

What is Flexion?

It’s the technical term used to describe a forward bending motion (in the spine) which in the extreme looks like rounding.  Imagine the fetal position  – the ultimate example – full body flexion.  It’s no secret that bending to pick up something heavy can be “dicey” for the back and most of us know that this could result in pain if we’re not careful.

The unfortunate thing  is that flexion in the lumbar spine / lower back can be happening without the outward appearance of rounding – for example while sitting many of us are actually putting the lower back into flexion without meaning to – even if we’re not necessarily slouching.  The brain is pre-programmed with what can be considered our “safe” amount of flexion both in degree and frequency.  This pre-programmed set point is different for every single body, but it’s what determines when and under which conditions we suddenly experience our flexion intolerance as full blown pain.

You’ll find much more about this idea of our individual mechanical set point or blueprint for safe movement at Stop Everyday Pain dot com.  This is where my blog to book project is taking shape.  Check it out, become part of the process or just follow along to find out why things hurt that didn’t used to hurt and figure out what you can do about it.


 

[photo credit: wikimedia commons]

Is “Sway Back” Really Still A Thing?

Balancing RocksApparently it is …*head shaking in disbelief*

If you do an online search of “sway back” you’ll see a bunch of links referring to “hyperlordosis” or even just “lordosis” with a variety of images of the spine from a side view showing the curves of the spine.  Prevailing, mainstream information resources on this “condition” will have you believe that it’s a disorder….something that needs fixing.

Not so fast.

The natural shape of the spine should look like this:

Google Images

Notice, the term “lordosis” simply refers to the natural shape of the neck and the low back.  There is nothing pathological about this and in fact it’s necessary for spinal health that these two areas curve the way they do.  If you do not have enough of a lordosis in either area you will experience spinal dysfunction and eventually pain.

This pervasive age-old idea that “sway back” is something bad, is extremely misleading.  If there is something that looks like “hyperlordosis” or an accentuation / exaggeration of the natural curve or sway of the lower back, it may or may not be a bad thing.  The worst thing you can do is to tell a developing body to flatten that part of the spine.

I spend ninety percent of my patient education time explaining that tucking the pelvis and sucking in the belly while upright – sitting or standing – is actually damaging and stressing the spine.

What makes any shape of the spine dysfunctional is muscular and chemical imbalance in the body.  You cannot assess whether or not there is a problem with the spine by simply looking at the degree of lordosis.  If the curve in the low back is sharper than average, look at the neck – is that curve also sharper than average?  Look at the upper back – is that curve sharper than average in the opposite direction? Then it’s possible that this sharp lower back curve is actually completely appropriate for that person.

The shape of the spine is like a mathematical equation that should equal zero when effectively balancing the weight we carry front to back (and side to side). We need to have two S-shapes in order to provide appropriate shock absorption against gravity.  We also need to keep the spine strong in order to keep these curves from lazily collapsing on top of each other – which is when we run into trouble.

Weakness of our spinal stabilizers – the teenie-tiny muscles (multifidi mainly) that connect our spinal bones to each other deep inside – is what leads to back pain and dysfunction.  Lordosis is not a problem until weakness in the muscles allows the bones to collapse on top of each other with the forces of gravity.  This is true for kyphosis as well.  No matter what your shape, it’s not until weakness and de-conditioning sets in that there’s any problem with whatever shape that is.

So, please stop trying to flatten your spine.  It’s not helping you.

Do keep working on core stability with things like plank and hover and balance work.  Be careful of crunches since that motion curls your lordosis in the wrong direction.  Honor your curves in every sense of the word.  You’re shaped the way you are for a reason.  Don’t let that reason be that someone told you long ago to “suck it in” or “tuck it in” going against natural design.

Stay active and avoid sitting when possible and your lordosis will thank you!


For more on what’s really behind pain and dysfunction go to stopeverydaypain.com

 

 

photo credit: Fotolia

Menopause, Andropause and now “Somatopause”?

bodybuilder poseWell it’s no secret what menopause is.  Luckily there’s an increasing body of information widely available out about it these days.  Among other hormonal shifts, the primary change in menopause and peri-menopause occurs with estrogen levels.  Estrogen production decreases as women age, and move away from the reproductive stage of life.

Men have an equivalent transition as their androgens shift and the production of testosterone wanes.

Somatopause is not as commonly discussed and the term might be unfamiliar, but depending on your age you might not be surprised to hear what it is.  This is a change that happens for both men and women as we approach later life.  The prefix soma comes from the Greek meaning “body”.  In medicine the term somatic refers to the physical body – the machine: muscles and bones.

If you’re someone who’s nearing mid life or just past it, then you may already have noticed that your body is definitely changing – possibly even before you notice changes in estrogen or testosterone.  In addition to finding hairs where there didn’t used to be any or skin tags in inconvenient places, skin may not be as firm or as thick, but above all, our muscle mass is suddenly not what it used to be.  Many middle aged people will notice that seeing and feeling the results of exercise becomes harder and harder.  It becomes really easy to lose the effects of exercise.  The decrease in muscle mass and the decreased ability to build muscle is what the term “somatopause” refers to.

Somatopause, or this decrease in muscle mass, just like the other two ” -pauses”, is also because of a decreasing hormone.  In this case it’s the human growth hormone (HGH).  The human muscle cell (sarcomere) needs HGH in order to grow.   Our body stops naturally making as much growth hormone as we do when we’re younger.

Does this mean we should all just roll over and become flabby and weak?  We certainly can but it’s not a fate we have to accept silently. At the very least this information should make us want to work a little harder at staying with an exercise regimen.  The “Move it or Lose it” adage definitely becomes louder and clearer the older we get.

Incidentally, there’s some really interesting evidence just coming to light recently that seems responsible for feeding yet another trendy exercise fad.  In recent months you may have heard more and more about high intensity interval training.  The allure of this kind of workout is that it touts much less of a time commitment in the gym (for the busy professionals) but promising to deliver the same or better outcomes fitness-wise.

Well, I’m the first to dig my heels in when I notice the frenzy for a fad taking hold and I always advise caution to all patients considering trying this particular one – no matter what age.  The potential for injury is high when we combine speed or time stress with intensity since neither leave much room for focusing on safe form unless closely supervised.  So, I generally don’t advise anyone to do this kind of training, but I am changing my tune a little bit and here’s why:

Studies have shown this kind of training appreciably stimulates an increase in growth hormone production. So, if  it’s done safely, the high intensity, short spurts of exercise can be particularly useful to those of us approaching somatopause.  The added stints of growth hormone production will aid in the building of muscle mass even in someone who has entered this stage of life where the natural decline of HGH has begun!

If you’re struggling to put on muscle mass don’t forget to think about your nutrient intake but you might as well also consider  kicking it up a notch once or twice a week for the sake of these muscle building benefits.  But don’t leave behind the traditional workouts that you enjoy.  It’s far too important to our brain chemistry to leave those behind.  Workouts of a minimum of 30 min. and longer, will be what give you a good dose of “happy chemicals”.  These will become more important as you add the naturally more stress hormone inducing high intensity workouts, simply for balance. (Take a moment to read this post to learn why it’s important for some people to be especially careful with stress inducing activities – you might be adding fuel to the fire despite your best intentions)

I hope you’ll consider the fact that maintaining and gaining muscle mass at all ages is not just about looks. You will look great and feel much better about your looks but more importantly, it’s very much about life sustaining function that will make all aspects of daily living easier, safer and seamless.  It’s a biological fact that movement is ultimately what sustains life and you can’t move if you don’t have muscle!

 

References:

http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2013/06/21/interval-training.aspx

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10442584

Yoga: The View From Inside

DSC03011The other morning I forgot to put in my contact lenses before going to yoga. I go to this hot yoga place where they keep the temperature at 105 deg. I don’t even want to know how hot it gets when the class is full with all those bodies generating even more heat… So, wearing glasses is really not an option for me in this situation because of how dripping wet my face gets about 5 minutes into the class — rendering the bridge of my nose a hostile environment for even my super lightweight titanium frames.

I started learning yoga almost 15 years ago in the traditional and more humanely temperature controlled studios around town. The first thing that struck me and bothered me a bit when I was still new at it, was the lack of mirrors. I was used to looking at myself while exercising which up until that point had usually been in a gym. I had always found it reassuring to check in with my form and was quite attached to that feedback for the sake of symmetry, and safe movement. But, it didn’t take long for me to realize and appreciate what this new absence of my own reflection was gifting me.

I was finding myself uncomfortably forced to appreciate and trust the watchful eyes of yoga instructors who came around to give gentle cues through touch about how to move further into or out of poses. But the other more yoga sutra or philosophical type of teaching that came from learning not to see my reflection, was an inward focus that filled a completely foreign set of senses with awareness, and questioning.

I’m no stranger to looking inward in order to quiet the mind. However, it’s quite another thing to use the mind’s eye for initiating and contemplating physical effort. Turning your “eyes” in to focus on sensation relies on, and therefore develops, confidence that intention is translating into execution effectively. It’s not only a good exercise for the brain by forcing you to access your inherent mechanisms of balance and flow, but it’s a great reminder of how to tap into what that balance and flow feels like on the inside. The sensations are what inform how you move through your day and if you want to do it well, it’s best to tune in regularly about how to let your sensations guide you. As with anything, practice makes perfect or at least leads to improvement and having the opportunity to practice with tuning in to your body from the inside rather than the outside, during yoga class, even just once a week, will make for a more accurate connection with your body — what you intend to do with it and how it actually performs.

The hot yoga world breaks this rule a little bit. The studio I’ve been frequenting has two walls of mirrors. I have to admit despite my previous enlightenment about tuning in and gazing inward during practice, I’ve been enjoying the external feedback of that image in the mirror, and that validation for my efforts. It’s very easy to be seduced and distracted by the visual. Even though I tell myself “So what if there are mirrors? I don’t need them.” But I’d be fibbing if I said I didn’t sneak a peek here and there either to smugly congratulate my efforts or remind myself I have a lot of work ahead of me — depending on the state of my self esteem that day.

One idea is that mirrors will help you face the truth about yourself and monitor improvement in order to motivate. Mirrors will help you watch for your mechanics and form. But what we perceive in the mirror is not nearly as accurate and truthful as how it feels inside. One huge problem with our preoccupation by the appearance of poses is that it can be extremely deceiving. What we think looks “beautiful” and “correct” for one body can be mechanically completely unsound for another. The only way to avert this pitfall is to look inside, listen and tune in.

Not wearing my contact lenses that day and not being able to keep my glasses on my face forced me back into that brief discomfort. Practicing without being able to see myself once again forced me to let go of my distraction with the externals and served as a rich reminder that the most truthful feedback about performance whether it’s physical, occupational, or in relationship, is how it feels.

Namaste.

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