Travel Tips

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, the mechanics of travel can take a toll.  Here are some ways to help you arrive in a happier state of being!

On the plane or train:

Check bags that are heavier than 10% of your body weight.  And remember – even mules prefer a balanced load, so do your best to distribute the weight you carry evenly.

Keep your body in line with the task.   Everyone wants to get right into their seat – but take a few moments to line yourself up in front of the overhead bin or rack.  Often it’s easier to lift your bag in stages; if you can use the seat / armrest as a resting point halfway, do.   Ask for help if you need it!  PLEASE DON’T hoist your monster-heavy bag overhead, twist your torso and neck, lean forwards and push –  all while you stand on your tippie-toes!

If you stow your bag below the seat in front of yours, please cut down on the number of times you have to bend down and get stuff out of it.  There’s barely room for your feet (let alone your head!) so there’s really no good way to do it.  So try to minimize the amount of twisting you do, and don’t force bulky objects in with your feet: it’s easy to strain your lower back and legs.

Move around as much as you can!  Prolonged sitting can restrict blood flow and build up pressure in your circulatory system – especially in the lower part of the legs.  Change your position:  massage your arms and legs; move your knees up and down; prop your feet up on a book or bag; do some gentle head and neck stretches or range of motion exercises; sit up straight, arch your back, wiggle around – do something like this at least every 20 minutes.  And you can always get up and walk down the aisle…

An inflatable neck pillow can make a big difference on a long flight; if you fall asleep, you won’t feel like Quasimodo when you wake up!  Try to avoid drafts: point the air nozzle away from you to keep your muscles from tensing up.  And – of course – drink lots of water!

In the car:

Check your position relative to the steering wheel.  Are all your mirrors lined up so you can see?  Are you in the center of your seat?  Are your knees the same height or higher than your hips?  If you’re poking your head forwards, move your seat up!  Not only is this a better position for your body, it’ll help you relax the death grip on the steering wheel!  If you use a back or seat support, make sure it’s centered – and that it fits you (ask your chiropractor to check your car seat)!

Exercise while you drive: wiggle your toes; squeeze your calf, thigh and butt muscles; do shoulder rolls; rock your sit bones back and forth; tap your fingers on the wheel; sing – whatever keeps you lively.  Most importantly, take a break every hour.  Get off the road, out of the car, and get some fresh air.  Whew!

Have a wonderful trip!

posted in Healthy Living, Posture & Ergonomics, Seasonal Tips

10 Steps for Successful Running

Running athlete man. Male runner sprinting during outdoors training for marathon run. Athletic fit young sport fitness model in his twenties in full body length on road outside in nature.

1 – Hydration is key to happiness!

2 – Make sure your shoe fits your foot.

3 – Pay attention to your surroundings: if you like running with music, try using just one earbud.

4 – Pay attention to your breath: try running without music.

5 – Be careful about altering your natural stride.

6 – Keep your body in an easy line; don’t let your head get ahead of your shoulders!

7 – Aim for lightness as you contact the ground.

8 – Walk before you run.

9 – Stretch after you run.

10 – Don’t let your running plan override what your body is telling you!

 

posted in Know Your Body, Posture & Ergonomics

Getting back in the swing…

 

Woman walking cross country and trail in spring forest

Being cooped up for so many weeks of winter weather tends to tighten up our bodies more than we realize.  Tight muscles and tight fascia (which coats every muscle in the body, allowing them to glide freely) can be a factor in our ability to get back into the swing of things after a long, hard winter.

In the spring, simply taking a walk is a great pleasure.  It’s also an excellent way to start getting loosened up.  That may not sound very exciting or important, but it’s a fine first step in getting ready for more demanding sports and gardening activities.

Runners certainly know the value of warming up with a walk.  Regardless of what sport we like, there are often-overlooked ways of preparing ourselves for a higher level of physical play. Why is that important?  Read on!

planting a tomatoes seedlingInterestingly, many of the sports and gardening work we like to do at this time of year share one under-appreciated characteristic.  They are primarily one-sided.  Think about golf, tennis, lacrosse, baseball: they all involve rotating the body from one side to another, usually at speed and with some force.  Gardening typically uses less force, but often involves a lot of repetitive motions from an awkward position.

 

Regardless of the type of activity, we will always favor our dominant side.  This creates an imbalanced load across the body.  So we end up with a major problem: an over-developed dominant pattern coupled with a corresponding pattern of under-used, weak, flaccid muscles.

This matters because the small muscles surrounding and supporting the joints of our spinal column are almost always in that second under-used category – and they are they ones that protect us from disk injury.  This really is an accident waiting to happen.

Golf Swing In Riva Dei Tessali Golf Course, Italy

That’s why I advocate integrating a gentle series of spinal twists into my patients’ daily routines. Based on the kind of twists you may be familiar with from yoga class, a simple daily routine will keep those small but vital muscles healthy, happy, and on the job.  

I like to start people out with seated twists to keep the pelvis anchored and balanced.  Breaking the twist down into increments keeps you aware of moving at the spinal level – rather than recruiting the big muscles of the back.  These can “over-ride” the spinal motion, and short-change the small muscles we are actually targeting.  I also like keeping the chin and hands lined up with the sternum – another great way to keep from cheating ourselves by turning too far, too fast.  There are many twists I like, but this one is a great place to start.

Tennis

A simple trick that will help you counter your dominant side’s tendency towards “running the show” is to try mimicking the motion on the opposite side.  Here’s an example: if you always serve from your right side, try the ball toss with your right hand and the serve from your left hand.  This may actually help you identify aspects of your serve that need work.  And it will bring your awareness into the other side of your body.  Do you want to do this every time you practice?  Maybe.  It will certainly show you where the imbalances are centered.

Whatever sport or outside activity you do, it’s a great idea to work your range of motion every day.  Here’s a nice shower routine: gently flex and then extend your neck; turn your head slowly to either side; finally, tilt your head towards each shoulder.  As you do this over a period of time, you’ll find your range of motion will increase.

Once you’re out of the shower, do a side bend with your fingers pointing down the side of your leg (that keeps you in a straight line).  Can’t touch your toes?  Work on it every day – and pay attention to where you feel restriction; that is valuable information that can help your chiropractor and massage therapist help you change it for the better.

Unless you have balance issues, you absolutely can do these.  Easy? yes!  Important? you bet!  Enjoy the spring!

posted in Know Your Body, Posture & Ergonomics

The Art of Shoveling

 

Tips for managing the load of snow coming our way:

Snow-Shovel

Start early! It’s much easier to shovel an inch of snow than 3″ or 5″, and easier to maintain an already-created path. So plan on shoveling more than once (I know! tedious! but your back will thank me…)

Try sweeping the snow! A big cornstalk broom does a great job of moving a fluffy snow, and is easier than shoveling.

Layer up: Obvious, I know, but easy to forget. Adjusting your layers to your body temperature can really help avoiding a chill.

Don’t forget the plants: Gently knock snow off branches to prevent them from getting over-burdened with weight – especially important when there’s ice in the forecast as well.

Edges of steps need extra care: Use the tip of your shovel to crack any accumulating ice on the lip of a step. It’s much easier to shovel the pieces off, and eliminates a nasty hazard.

If you’re full of energy, create pathways to the garbage and for the animals: Unless it really warm up, we could have a snowy landscape for a while. The dogs need a place to go! and so does the trash.

Less is More: Less snow on the shovel is smarter!

Easy Does It: Short intervals of shoveling interspersed with rest are much easier on your back and shoulders – plus you are more likely to pay attention to your shoveling “form” if you are not tired!

Cars-In-Snowstorm

Stay Hydrated! Take a break, and get some warm water inside you!

Let the temperature help you; the less snow melt you have to out down, the better for the environment (and your wallet) – plus it’s very irritating to dog paws.

Cross the unnecessary off your list: if it’s not vital to get it done today, please reschedule it!

And if you over-do it, come see your friendly local chiropractor!

 

posted in Posture & Ergonomics, Seasonal Tips

Stand Up to Postural Stress: Fight the Turtle!

“Sit up straight! Stop slouching!”

Many of us hear that nagging voice in our head, a chiding echo from our childhood.  Perhaps for a moment we feel guilty, suck in our tummy, throw out our chest, and say, “Oh, I know, my posture is just terrible.”  What we don’t usually do, however, is decide to fundamentally change our posture.  But the truth is, we can, and it is very, very easy.

Turtle-On-Grass

First, look at the way we interact with the world and how it reinforces truly terrible posture.  We spend enormous amounts of time bent forward, hunched over, and sticking our heads out in something approximating a “Turtle Position.”

Think this doesn’t apply to you?  Well, consider your body’s position as you wash dishes or chop vegetables at the kitchen counter: your head and hands are in front of the rest of your body, you’re looking down, and you’re working on a surface that may not be the ideal height for you.

Or consider your body’s position while driving.  Not all cars fit all people.  And even in the right-sized car, most people keep their seats too far back and their head rests too low, so their heads and hands are stretching forward.  No wonder many people get out of the car after a long trip with a sore back and an aching neck!   And the daily commute, combined with often-lacking workplace ergonomics, has led to significant long-term postural stress.

Recently postural stress has become nearly pandemic, as we’ve all become increasingly dependent on our computing and communication devices.  There is just no way to use a laptop or smartphone without assuming some form of the Turtle Position.  And many people spend six to eight hours a day at their computer at work, then drive home with their shoulders hunched up in a stress position, only to eat in front of the television, and then finish the day by logging on to their home computer!

If this is you, don’t feel bad!  Lots of people are in your position (yes, the Turtle Position).  But it is possible to fight the turtle; there are easy ways to counteract the effect of all this postural stress.  Once you have decided to make some changes in your daily routine, which takes some real determination, you will absolutely see – and feel! – a major difference. Here are three simple positive posture moves you can start doing right now.

Stand up!  No matter where you are – work, home, or coffee shop – take a break and get on your feet. Take a deep breath, soften your knees, bounce a little bit on your toes, look around, and give yourself a moment to be tall, graceful, and fluid.  The idea is just to get up and reestablish your body in an upright position.  If you can do this every 20 to 30 minutes, that’s fantastic.  But commit to standing at least once an hour.  Getting a glass of water is a great excuse to get on your feet, and it helps you stay hydrated as well.

Work your body’s range of motion.  This only takes a few minutes, and it feels great.  First, take a deep breath and do a few backward shoulder rolls.  Then let your head fall forward towards your chest, allowing your muscles to stretch.  Come back up to neutral.  Next, let your head fall back to whatever degree feels comfortable.  Be gentle, and don’t go further than what feels stable or safe.  Come back to neutral again.  Now rotate your head to the right (without straining) and then to the left.  Finally tilt your head, first to the right and then to the left.  Finish with a few shoulder rolls.  You can also do this in a hot shower, especially if your muscles are tight.

Strengthen your back muscles.  This is incredibly easy and helps counteract the forward slump that is part of the Turtle Position.  You can do this standing or sitting.  Look straight ahead, then gently but firmly squeeze your shoulder blades back, together, and down.  Do this pretty quickly, and work up to a set of 20 repetitions.  If you can do a set of these shoulder squeezes twice a day, you will be surprised at the difference you’ll see in just a few weeks.

These simple steps will help open up your shoulders and bring your head back in line over your torso.  This eases strain on the transitional area between your cervical spine and the rest of the body.  You will have more energy, and your neck and back muscles will be happier!  Perhaps even more importantly, you will also increase the amount of air flowing through your lungs.

Your posture doesn’t have to be picture-perfect, but it can help you stand taller, breathe more deeply, and meet the challenges of your day.  Don’t withdraw into a shell—stand up and fight the turtle!

 

posted in Posture & Ergonomics

Real-life Ergonomics

One of the classic definitions of ergonomics is “the science of designing user interaction with equipment and workplaces to fit the user”.    Whew!  That wording is fairly confusing for most of us, and the alternate “human factors” isn’t all that clear either.

Just a semantic problem?  Not really.  Here’s why it matters:  Just about every object we interact with on a daily basis has been designed to fit the human body in some way.  Sometimes this has been done well, and sometimes not.  Sometimes the object has been designed well, but it still doesn’t “fit” because it’s designed to fit a hypothetical “average”.

A car seat is a good example of designing for the average person.

Teen drives car while distracted by text messaging on cell phone

I don’t imagine I need to point out that texting while driving is an ergonomical no-no! Let’s take a better example, and suppose that you are a 6’2” man taking a road trip with a small framed woman of 5’2”.  When you change from passenger to driver seat, some of the adjustments are obvious:

  1. Are your mirrors angled for full visibility?
  2. Can you reach the floor controls without your knee contacting the dash?

So far, so good!  But here are some less obvious human factors to check, both for yourself and for your shorter, smaller driving partner:

  1. Is the seat positioned so that you can reach the pedals with a “soft” knee?
  2. Is your seat all the way back in the car’s seat? (ie., both sides of your back contacting the seat equally)
  3. Are your elbows at a relaxed angle, or are they closer to 90 degrees?
  4. Is the back of your head in contact with the headrest? or is your head poking forward?
  5. Is the top of the headrest higher than your head?  (This one is usually a challenge for the taller driver!)

All these are straightforward when you stop to think about them.  But most of us are usually in a hurry and our minds are usually on something else!   What often happens is that we end up adjusting ourselves to our environment – rather than our environment to us.

It can be useful to stop and examine our habitual patterns from time to time: we spend a lot of time in the car, at the computer, talking on the phone – all without any thought as to whether our position is truly comfortable!

The most comfortable positions are those in which our joints are in neutral.  Typically this means each side of the body (right, left, front and back) is equally weighted.  Let’s take the ergonomics of an office chair as an example.

  1. Are your feet flat on the floor?
  2. Are your knees directly above your ankles?
  3. Are your knees at a 90 degree angle (approximately) relative to your legs?
  4. Are your legs at a 90 degree angle (approximately) relative to your torso?
  5. Are your elbows relaxed and your wrists straight when you’re typing?
  6. Are your shoulders lined up above your hips? or are you leaning way back or forward?
  7. Is your head poking forward?  (If your neck is sore or tight at the end of the day, the answer is yes!)
  8. When you look straight ahead, are your eyes looking at the top third of your monitor? (This is assuming you’re not hunched over a laptop or tablet!)

ergnomicsmale

Once you start looking at the ergonomics of your daily routine, you start to see how simple positions actually involve making fairly complex adjustments.   These typically go on in the background, without our awareness.  But if your ergonomics are secretly working against you, you can find yourself surprised by a stiff neck, a painful wrist, or a sore low back.

These are not minor issues – they are repetitive stress patterns that have a negative impact on your body, your life, and your happiness.  This is why I ask my patients to take pictures of their workstations (phone cameras are great for this).  It’s also why I’ll ask a patient to bring in their pillows.

posted in Posture & Ergonomics

Fall Prevention

Why are falls more frequent as we age?

  • Decreasing sharpness in vision & hearing affects coordination; declines in muscle strength & flexibility affect our Happy-senior-couple-walkingability to walk, stand & change position
  • Heart disease, arthritis, neurological problems & back pain can affect balance and cause gait changes Some medications cause dizziness, alone or in combination with alcohol
  • Sedentary lifestyle accelerates these losses; loss of bone density increases the risk associated with falls

Fall-proof your home:

  • De-clutter! Remove throw rugs; move low furniture, cords & wires out of walkways
  • Secure carpet edges; repair cracked sidewalks; avoid waxing floors to a high polish; use rubber mats on slippery surfaces
  • Make sure lighting is adequate
  • Install handrails on stairways & grab bars in bathrooms

Proactive activities:

  • A regular exercise program promotes cardiovascular & bone-density health, especially weight-bearing or resistance work
  • Try a Tai-Chi class, or other balance-challenge exercise
  • Walk every day; incorporate water-based exercise into your routine to maintain muscular leg strength
  • Get some sunlight on your skin regularly; consider D3 supplementation
  • Eat calcium-rich foods: deep leafy greens, almonds, broccoli, fish, tofu, yoghurt

Risk reduction:

Black-Cord

  • Don’t stand up too fast – rapid changes in position can affect your blood pressure & cause dizziness
  • If your gait is unstable, use a cane or walker, especially on slick or unfamiliar surfaces
  • Have your vision and hearing checked regularly
  • Carry a cell phone; make sure you can reach your phone from your bed or the floor
  • Review your medications with your physician; if you are experiencing dizziness, be sure to let them know
  • Ask for help – people are glad of the opportunity to be useful!
posted in Healthy Aging, Posture & Ergonomics

Seated Posture Mini-Break

4-3-2-1 for the head & neck:

4 backward shoulder rolls

Chin to Chest: tuck your chin in towards your neck; then let your head gently fall forward – hold 4 seconds.

3 backward shoulder rolls

Ear to Shoulder: with your head centered over your shoulders, drop your right ear towards your right shoulder – hold 3 seconds.  Repeat on left.

2 backward shoulder rolls

Eyes to Sky: tilt your head back with your mouth slightly open (to your point of comfort!) – hold 2 to 3 seconds.

1 backward shoulder roll

Chin to Shoulder: with your head centered over your shoulders,  turn your chin to the right as far as you can comfortably go – hold 1 to 2 seconds.  Repeat on left.

Chicken Wings:

With your head centered over your shoulders, put your fingers on top of your shoulders (elbows along your sides).  Squeeze your shoulder blades together firmly four times.

Seated Twist:

With your head centered over your shoulders, sit upright at the front edge of your chair; feet face forward.  Put your right hand on your left thigh, just behind the knee; slide your left hand back along the seat of your chair.

Take a deep breath in and turn all the way to the left, exhaling as you go.  Keep your eyes level and your chin centered over your chest.  Stay there for 2 breaths; see if you can twist a little deeper as you exhale!  Inhale as you return to center and repeat to the right.

Forward Fold:

Scoot your chair back from your desk.  With your head centered over your shoulders, sit upright at the front edge of your chair; feet face forward.  Move your feet out about 2 – 3 feet apart and angle them outward a tiny bit.

Slide your hands down your legs to your feet as you hinge forward from the hips, letting your head lead your body until your torso rests on your legs.  Relax there for 2 breaths; roll slowly back up.

posted in Posture & Ergonomics