Monthly Archives: May 2016

Technology: A Real Pain in the Neck

Remember the first time you ever heard of someone getting carpal tunnel syndrome?  We’re sure you were surprised to learn how they got it: from typing!  It was a rarely heard-of affliction mostly due to the insurgence of computers into our daily lives.  With new technology, there can often be a learning curve, both in how to effectively use it, as well as how to utilize it in a healthy manner.

 Recently, a new injury is causing pain for many tech users: Text-neck.  The all-too-familiar scene: sitting at your desk or walking down the street, you’re hunched over your smartphone texting your friends about meeting for lunch.  We hate to sound like a broken record, but: that is very poor posture.  

Often, your neck is craning your head over your phone and your shoulders are slouched forward.  This stance can strain your muscles and cause pain and tension in your upper body and neck.  Worse, bending your neck over your phone can actually put upwards of 50 pounds of excess strain on your spine.  Holding this position repeatedly can lead to some headaches and at its most severe, disc injury and arthritic changes to your neck.  Some people may even notice tingling and pain down their shoulders, arms and hands.  

If you are guilty of this texting posture, and hey, who isn’t, it’s time to implement some of these techniques to help prevent permanent injury to your neck and spine.

  1. Take A Break

Take note of how often you find your head, neck and shoulders in the hunched texting position.  You will want to correct the posture to a healthier, more upright position.  Look away from your screen every few minutes.  This will remind you to sit upright and also has the added benefit of giving your eyes a break from the screen’s light.

   2. Change your phone habits

You might feel a little awkward at first, but it would be best to bring your phone up to eye level when you are reading an email or following directions.  This position is much better for your neck and back, although, it will take some getting used to.  If needed, when you are at a desk, you can get a phone or tablet holder to keep it at eye level.  Beyond that, you can set some automatic reminders on your phone, say every 10 minutes, to let you know it is time to take a break and adjust your posture.

   3. Try some neck stretches

There are great exercises and stretches that you can do daily.  They are simple and can be done at home or at your desk.  You can try the “Corner Stretch”, where you place your arms on the two walls where the corner meet and lean into the corner, or the “Levator Scapula Stretch”.  You’ll want to read the detailed instructions on these stretches.   If you want to go with a basic stretch, you can do a simple “chin tuck” where you pull your chin to your chest and hold it for a few seconds.  

    4. Take another break

If you can, ditch your smartphone as much as possible.  If you don’t need it, don’t pull it out.  Your neck will thank you.

If you try these techniques and the pain in your neck, shoulders and back doesn’t subside, it might be time to seek professional help.  You can make an appointment with one of our specialists to talk about your neck pain.

The Pain Cycle

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  Nearly 44 million American adults experience mental health conditions each year, including depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.  If you are a chronic back pain sufferer, you may be one of the 44 million Americans who is also managing depression or anxiety.  There are many theories as to how psychological factors influence back pain, but one thing is certain: emotional factors can influence pain.

The Chronic Back Pain Cycle describes how the mind and body work together to cause chronic back pain.  The cycle may begin with feeling pain from a simple back strain.  If this pain begins to interfere with your daily activity, it can cause stress, frustration and anxiety.  This emotional stress can actually cause a physical tightening of the muscles, leading to increased pain, causing more anxiety.  As you can see, the initial pain caused emotional distress which, in turn, caused pain; thus, creating a cycle.

In many cases, the psychological factors drive you to become cautious about engaging in your normal, daily activities in order to avoid pain.  The fear or stress surrounding the avoidance of your daily routine can often be reinforced by friends and family who tell you to take care of yourself or “take it easy”.  Limiting your activities and restricting movements leads to weakening of the muscles and a decrease in strength.  This deconditioning of the muscles can lead to more pain which can lead to more stress, anxiety and depression.

However, if the power of your mind can put you in a cycle of pain and fear, it also has the power to put you in a cycle of recovery and well-being.  Rather than focusing on the pain as a problem, you can understand that most chronic back pain isn’t actually caused by damage to the structures of the back, but rather is due to the effects of muscle tension, stress and inactivity. After receiving a medical evaluation, and learning when it is safe to resume normal activity, the fear and distress that accompanies chronic back pain can diminish.  Positive thoughts and emotions can compete with the pain signal and stop the cycle.  Have you noticed that when you are occupied with doing something you enjoy like having dinner with friends, your pain has lessened?  When your mind feels good, your body feels better, too!

You can utilize these strategies to help minimize your pain and stop the emotional cycle related to your pain.

1. Set goals
a. Pick a goal that is meaningful and achievable.  Choose both physical and emotional goals that keep you moving, your muscles strong and your thoughts positive.

2. Incorporate meditation into your day
. You can start simply, by just taking deep, long breaths for a few minutes at a time.  Take some time away from electronics.  Find a quiet place without distractions for some relaxation.  You can also start incorporating mindfulness into your day.

3. Challenge negative thoughts
. Be aware of your thoughts and recognize when they are negative.  This can happen not only with pain, but also any situation which may cause you to feel upset.  Some experts suggest what is called cognitive restructuring.  Cognitive restructuring is a process in which a person; 1) identifies an event that resulted in a negative or unwanted emotion, 2) considers the thoughts and the types of cognitive errors that he was having at the time of the event that led to the emotion 3) evaluates the thought (e.g., What is the evidence for the thought? What is the evidence against the thought?) and 4) if there is more evidence to suggest the thought might not be true, create a more balanced positive coping thought that is consistent with the facts and evidence.  You can use this worksheet to get started.

The negative feelings associated with an injury or pain can, in fact, lead to more pain in a vicious cycle of fear, stress and pain.  Incorporating enjoyable activities, combating the negative thoughts, using meditation and exercise are all ways that can stop the cycle.  Improved sleep is also beneficial.  If you are experiencing pain, depression or anxiety, the best thing to do would be to consult with your physician.  You can contact us to discuss the best treatment plan to help stop the pain cycle.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

With new research showing pizza may help you lose weight, it’s difficult to think about ever having to eat anything else! However, we know now more than ever that the food you eat can, and will, have a major impact on your physical and emotional health. Dieticians have discovered certain foods can actually cause more harm than good. If you suffer from pain, it might be time to consider what dietary experts call an “anti-inflammatory diet.” These changes in your diet may help counteract chronic inflammation symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis or heart disease.

What foods fall into the “anti-inflammatory category,” and how can you incorporate them into your diet?

The easiest foods to include or increase are fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, pineapples and green leafy vegetables. These foods are great because they are rich in vitamins A, C and K. The easiest way to eat more fruits and veggies is in a morning breakfast smoothie. What better way to start your day than with one of these delicious treats?

You can increase your whole grains like brown rice, quinoa or chia seeds, but try to limit your intake of refined carbohydrates like pasta, white bread and white rice. Trying new seeds and grains might be intimidating at first, but this chia seed pudding has cocoa powder making it perfect for dessert!

Eat lean protein, especially fish such as salmon. It is beneficial to cut back on red meat. Fish has healthy essential fatty acids like omega-6 and omega-3. Salmon is a great option! Did you know you can cook it in your dishwasher?

Walnuts and other good “fatty” foods can help, as well. These nuts have similar qualities to fish, full of omega-3 and healthy fats that are hard to find in other foods. Throw them in a probiotic yogurt or on a salad!

If you like some heat, spicy foods can be beneficial, too! Don’t shy away from a little ginger or curry.

It can be overwhelming at first to try to incorporate all of these foods into your diet. Don’t try to do everything at once. Just start by incorporating fish oil supplements to get you on your way to feeling better!

Here you can find a recommendation of the best 15 foods to include in your diet to help with inflammation.