Living here on Anglesey, we can all spend a lot of time on the A55 - even a trip to the nearest supermarket can result in a 40 mile round trip! Many of my patients are having to do a long commute to work on a daily basis, or head out of North Wales a couple of times a week for meetings or work elsewhere. I spend quite a lot of time on the road too; I have to attend BCA meetings in Reading or London and in my spare time enjoy catching up with friends and family - usually involving a trip down to Oxfordshire.
All this driving and commuting can take its toll. A recent survey conducted by Evian found that of the 2000 commuters questioned 1 in 9 felt miserable because of the journey, 1 in 3 were bored with their commute and 1 in 6 arrived at working already exhausted and wanting to go back to bed!
However, it's not just our minds (and souls!) that suffer; sitting puts twice as much pressure through the spine as standing up, and when we're in a car seat we really can't wriggle around. Minimise the detrimental effect by ensuring that your car seat is set up for you to make you comfortable - adjust your steering wheel and seat so that your arms are relaxed and not reaching too far. Tilt your car seat so that your knees are slightly lower than your hips as this can help to ease the pressure in your low back, and adjust the seat back so it is comfortable. Most importantly, take regular breaks! Plan your journey to fill up with fuel half-way on a trip, stop and have a brief walk for a minute or so every hour, and on arrival, park further away than usual so you can have a quick walk to stretch your legs.
The same goes for trains - if you get a seat, stand up and wriggle around regularly, make sure that you're sitting correctly with your bottom against the seat back and your shoulder blades touching the seat behind you. If you're doing some work, try to adjust your position so that you're not slouching or leaning too far forwards with your head unsupported. Get up and move about regularly.
If you have to stand, spread your weight evenly between both feet, keep your knees soft and your feet firmly 'planted' to help you balance, and make sure you don't over-reach for the grab rails.
At the end of the day, our bodies are designed to be moving around and walking. This will help to improve muscle tone, circulation and posture - and will minimise the aches and pains. So make the most of every opportunity you have to move - your body will thank you for it!
As so perfectly demonstrated by this poor little penguin and his unhelpful, mocking friends, venturing out in this cold, icy weather can be treacherous! Even a simple slip on an icy pavement can result in at least a jarred back, grazed knees or a banged bottom (not to mention a dented ego!) - or worse still a fractured wrist or even hip which may take months to heal (my husband is looking at 3 months in a cast after fracturing his scaphoid - a very small bone in the wrist! OK, we were snowboarding!!!). However, whilst it is tempting to stay snuggled up indoors, this is not always possible and even in the cold weather our bodies benefit from a little bit of fresh air and exercise.
With a few simple, sensible precautions you can avoid the fate of the penguin...
Now, how about another look at that penguin...
We all know that good posture can not only improve your posture, but improve your overall appearance. We know too that standing up tall, with our tummies in, head held high and shoulders back makes you feel much better and look fantastic - taller, slimmer and generally poised - and can minimise back and neck pain.
Ideally, we'd all have the strength and discipline(!) to maintain our own posture, but finally, help is at hand. M&S and the British Chiropractic Association have joined forces and come up with the 'Perfect Poise' TM range of lingerie, a 3 piece range cleverly designed to support and improve your posture.
“The Perfect Poise TM range of bras, knickers and shapewear has been specifically designed to increase the wearer's awareness of correct posture by supporting them in key areas. The bra and body incorporate a patent pending supportive back panel and seam-free cups for a smooth silhouette.” Paschal Little, Head of Innovation, M&S Lingerie.
The bra and body use hidden back panels to encourage the wearer to keep their shoulders back and the high waisted knickers have an in-built lower back panel which encourages body alignment. They also slim and smooth the tummy to give a more flattened appearance!
Independent trials by M&S showed that 87% of the women who tried the undies felt that the products supported their back and the national press have followed the story - although recent reviews do say that they need to increase the cup-size range (currently 34B - 40E, sizes 8 - 22) to accommodate everyone.
‘"Perfect Poise TM lingerie has been designed with the modern woman in mind. Our contemporary aesthetic combines graphic sheer and opaque panels to create sculpted, sleek pieces which are discreet under clothing.’’ Soozie Jenkinson, Head of Lingerie Design, M&S.
I'm tempted to try them myself but regrettably require something a little smaller(!), but would love feedback from anyone who's tried them...
Taller than average? Wonder if tall people really suffer more with their backs? A recent study, published in the journal Spine* shows that tall people are at far greater risk of being hospitalised due to low back problems affecting the intervertebral discs.
*Wahlstrom et al. Risk factors for hospitalisation due to lumbar disc disease. Spine 2012 July 1;37(15):1334-1339
The study compared the incidence of back pain in over 260,000 construction workers over a period of 20 years. They found that taller people (190-199 cm; 6'3"-6'6") were 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalised due to lumbar disc disease than their shorter colleagues (170-179 cm; 5'7"-5'10").
These results are hardly surprising; tools and equipment are typically designed for those of 'average' height and build. Those at either end of the height spectrum find themselves having to use equipment that is not the ideal size for them which can cause extra strain on the spine.
Ideally, people should take time to find equipment that is the right size for them. Longer handled tools, raised worktops, properly adjusted seats and desks can help to prevent back pain. We chiropractors recognise that 'prevention is better than cure' and much of chiropractic care is about giving advice to help prevent back pain in the first place, as well as treating it.
Many of my patients spend a long time each day sat at a desk and I see a direct correlation with the amount of neck and back pain they suffer. Prolonged sitting can be detrimental to the health of the spine, and poor posture can exacerbate this. Not only can poor posture lead to back and neck pain, but it can be related to many 'repetitive strain' type injuries of the wrists, elbows, hands and shoulders.
Have a look at the picture below and see how it compares to your sitting position. Get someone to have a look at you when you're sitting and ask them to help you to adjust your seat accordingly. I've listed a few tips on how to sit properly, and hence minimise those aches and pains:
Feet - your feet need to be flat on the floor to provide a firm stable base for your spine and pelvis. If your legs are dangling it can place stress on your back and the legs will pull you forwards into an incorrect position. If you need to raise your chair up to be at the right height for the desk, use a foot rest (a shoebox will do!) to support them.
Legs - your knees need to be bent and ideally a little below the level of your hips. Using a wedge cushion will help you to achieve this posture; not only is it more comfortable but it helps to maintain the 'lumbar lordosis' - the healthy curve in the base of the spine. Make sure that the edge of the seat doesn't dig into the back of your knees. Don't sit with your legs crossed - this hinders the circulation and will distort the position of the pelvis and low back.
Bottom - Relax into the chair with your bottom right back in the seat, up against the seat back. This will allow the back of the chair to support your spine and improve your posture - ultimately reducing the risk of back pain. Don't perch on the edge of your seat, even for a few minutes, sit back in the chair and move the whole chair closer to the desk.
Back - make sure your whole spine is supported; your low back against the backrest of the chair (many have a 'lumbar roll' which will help) and your upper back should be straight, with your shoulder blades gently resting on the back rest. This will help to minimise upper back pain, neck stiffness and achey shoulders. (If you're a 'little' person and find that you can't sit in the seat with your back and bottom touching the back rest, then you might need to place a cushion behind you.)
Arms - your chair needs to be high enough so that your elbows are slightly bent and gently sloping down to your wrists (check that your feet still touch the floor if you've raised your seat up - if not, find that shoebox!). Your hands should relax gently onto the keyboard with a minimal bend at the wrist; don't rest your weight on your wrists. Incorrect hand and arm position can cause all sorts of problems! Make sure that your computer keyboard, mouse and screen are directly in front of you so you are not twisting the upper back or shoulders, and have them close enough to you so you don't have to stretch.
Head and Neck - make sure that your screen is directly in front of you so you don't have to twist. If you are copying from text then place it in front of you (blutak it to the screen and proof read later!). The monitor needs to be roughly an arms' length away and should be at eye level. This will mean that you don't have to move your head about to see the screen. If the monitor is too high or low then you will have to look either up or down for prolonged periods - this can strain the upper back, neck and shoulder muscles and might cause pain and stiffness. If you find yourself peering at the screen, or leaning forwards to read the text, then maybe get your eyes checked, rather than risking neck pain and headaches.
Keyboard and Mouse - make sure that these are close to your body and that you're not reaching out for them. Over-reaching for the mouse can cause prolonged strain on the whole arm and shoulder and seems to be one of the main causes for work-related upper limb pain. Use wireless ones if you can - it minimises the clutter on the desk and makes the mouse easier to move.
Desk - in order for your arms and wrists to be in the correct position on the keyboard and mouse, your desk should be about level with your tummy button. You might need to raise the height of your chair to achieve this, but don't leave your legs dangling... find your shoebox/foot rest!
Wriggle! - it is important to move about and change position regularly to relieve the pressure and strain on the body. Don't sit for more than 30-40 minutes; get up and walk around for a couple of minutes before sitting back down again (make sure you adopt the correct posture!). I suggest that patients stand up to answer the phone - there are whole offices in Anglesey with people bobbing up and down every five minutes (they're much less stiff and achey!). Remember 'face to face' time - go to see people down the corridor rather than using the internal email - make movement your friend (time away from the tedium of your desk has to be a good thing...!).
Phone - use a headset if you are on the phone for any length of time, particularly if you have to be writing or typing at the same time. Holding the phone under your chin will cause your neck to 'crick' and shoulder muscles to tighten up quickly - more neck and upper back pain!
Laptop Computers - the 'portability' of laptops makes them tempting to use in awkward positions. However, using them on your lap, particularly for more than a few minutes, can cause all sorts of problems - particularly with the neck and upper back. Make sure that you place your laptop on a desk or table, and adapt your sitting position accordingly to mimic a 'proper desk'. Place your laptop on a stand (a wedge of paper will do) to ensure the screen is at the right height, then adjust your seating position to match. As the keyboard is generally more compact on a laptop, it is worth using a wireless keyboard and mouse in order to prevent unnecessary hand and wrist strain. If you are using your laptop as a more permanent 'desktop' then plugging it in to a proper monitor and keyboard on a proper desk will help you to prevent the risk of back and neck pain.
It might seem a pain to have to check your chair and desk - but, believe me, it is definitely more of a pain when your back and neck seize up due to an incorrect position! Spend a bit of time to get it right the once, and make sure you check it (and yourself!) on a daily basis...
Having spent much of the bank holiday weekend traipsing around furniture stores, I know that buying a bed can be a costly and time consuming exercise! However, since a poor night's rest can cost you precious sleep and precipitate back pain, it's important to get it right.
So, what's the best mattress?
The best mattress is a supportive one - this will differ for each person, depending on their size and shape. What's right for a 10 stone lady might not be right for her 16 stone husband.
And, how do I find the right one?
Ideally, your spine should be straight when you are lying, either on your side or your back. If your mattress sags or bows so will your spine, and this may cause aches and pains. Your neck is a continuation of your spine - and you should aim to keep this straight too when sleeping, so choose a supportive pillow that isn't too high or low (more on pillows at a later date...!)
There are several types of mattress, and again, it comes down to personal preference...
Ageing Gracefully - maintain your health and wellbeing, and steer clear of back and neck pain, whatever your age!
None of us are getting any younger. That's something that we really can't do anything about; we can't stop the clock, or even slow it down. However, we can do something about it. I love the saying 'use it or lose it' and when it comes down to the body, that really is the case.
This year, 2012, marks the 'European Year for Active Ageing'; an initiative set up by the European Union to recognise the increasing ageing population, and to raise awareness of the contribution that the older generation makes to society. The European Year encourages 'active ageing' with emphasis placed on the maintenance of good health and wellbeing, and an active, independent lifestyle, fully integrated and incorporated into the wider society.
In recognition of this initiative, and as part of Chiropractic Awareness Week (16th to 20th April), we chiropractors have done a bit of consumer research*, the results of which highlight the need for action and attention, whatever your age, shape or size:
However, despite our concerns, we can do something about it! Like a car, or any well-oiled machine, keep the body moving gently on a daily basis and it'll generally keep going for longer. Remaining active as we grow older is vital for our overall wellbeing and continued health, and a few simple steps can be taken to help preserve your back and posture for years to come:
A recent study by researchers at Harvard University have found that the use of tablet computers, like the Apple iPad, may cause neck and shoulder discomfort. Researchers found that the head and neck were more bent when using a tablet computer than when desktop or notebook computing, which might lead to neck and upper back problems. Neck and upper back posture could be improved simply by propping the device up on a table, allowing the neck to be held in a more neutral position. The full article can be viewed here.
Eich Ceiropractydd yng Nghlinig Ceiropracteg Llangefnii