Coming Down the “Stretch”

As the cold autumn weather sets in, and people look to enjoy the outdoors a few last times before winter, the need to warm-up becomes increasingly important. Much as the soil stiffens from the cold winds, so to do our muscles, tendons, and joints. The soft tissues become less pliable, and less efficient, as the body pumps blood to more vital areas of the body. When a muscle, or tendon, is not properly prepared for activity, even the slightest movement can cause an injury (e.g. hiking, raking leaves, trimming trees, etc.).

As a chiropractor, nearly every patient I see has some form of soft tissue injury. These injuries range from strained/pulled hamstrings, partially torn rotator cuffs, and compensatory muscle spasms secondary to an injury elsewhere in the body. Perhaps, one of the most common forms of soft tissue injury is what’s known as a “guarding effect.” When an individual injures themselves, the muscles surrounding the site of injury become very tense in an effort to “splint” the inflamed area. This splinting is intended to limit the individual’s range of motion, stabilizing the injured area and avoiding further pain provocation. The issue, here, is that as the patient adopts this new position they are required to make up that range of motion in another region of the body. A perfect example of this is someone who injures their neck. Rather than turning their head, say with driving, the person is forced to turn their entire upper body. This unnatural movement pattern can then create pain and discomfort in the shoulders, mid back, and other related areas. It is for this reason that all of our patients are given simple at home stretches/exercises to perform in conjugation with their in office treatment plans. Typically, the more compliant a person is with their “homework,” the faster and more favorably they will respond.

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While most people presenting to a chiropractic office are in pain, there are those individuals simply looking to live a healthier lifestyle. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Along these lines, one of the best ways to avoid injury is to maintain good muscle strength, control, and flexibility. The issue here is that many people aren’t quite sure of what exercises and stretches to perform.   While thousands of examples can be found online, in magazines, or learned from a gym buddy, not all advice is created equal (or easily explained). With all of the various forms of stretching out there (static, active, functional, ballistic, PIR, etc.), it can be a daunting task trying to figure out just what type of stretching is best for your specific needs.

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Professionally, I have found the combination of dynamic warm-ups and active stretching to be the most effective method of preparing for physical activity. This notion is further supported by recent research showing that traditional static stretches, when performed within an hour of physical activity, actually decreased muscle function and increased the likelihood of injury. A perfect example of static stretching is the old-reliable hamstring stretch in which an individual stands straight legged while trying to bend forward and touch their toes. The main issue here is that the muscles you are trying to stretch are required for pelvic stability while standing. As you bend forward, the posterior leg muscles are forced to undergo an eccentric contraction, where the muscles actually contract while being elongated (people who lift weights know this better as a “negative” exercise). This alone makes this stretch highly ineffective.

To learn a more effective hamstring stretch, for more information on dynamic warm-ups, or to schedule your Free Consultation today, call Full Function Chiropractic at (570) 601-4091.

 

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Pondering Posture

Ever since we were little our mothers have been telling us to sit tall, stand up straight, and quit slouching. When talking about posture, perhaps the old adage “mother knows best” rings true. Posture is the position in which we hold our bodies while sitting, standing, or lying down. “Good posture” is any position that places the least amount of stress/strain on the joints, muscles, and ligaments of the body. Typically, an individual will develop “poor posture” after years of repetitive movements, and positions, which cause our supporting muscles to become weak and tight.

One of the most common posture faults is a forward head carriage, where the head and chin jut outward from the body. This posture is often seen in individuals who spend an extended period of time at a computer or desk. According to Dr. Kapandji, author of “The Physiology of the Joints,” it is estimated that for every inch of forward head posture, the spine experiences an additional ten pounds of stress. Due to the result of altered biomechanics, an individual with forward head posture will also often exhibit rounded shoulders and a decreased ability to extend through the mid-to-upper back. As these issues compound, and compensations develop, the individual may develop scapular pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, and/or headaches.

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Another well documented side-effect of “poor posture” is that an individual’s vital lung capacity may be reduced by up to as much as 30%. This decrease in respiration is often attributed to the inhibition of the front neck muscles. As the head shifts forward the normal curve of the neck is often straightened, or lost. This change decreases the ability of the neck muscles to properly lift the upper ribs while inhaling. Without this lifting action, the lungs are unable to fully expand. These muscles are commonly known as accessory muscles, and are used primarily while exerting ourselves through physical labor, household chores, or sports. Due to this lack of lung capacity, we are often left depleted of oxygen and unable to efficiently produce energy for the body’s processes, including proper muscle contraction.

While the research on lower back pressure in different postures varies study to study, a widely cited study performed by Dr. Nachemson showed that pressure on the discs of the lumbar spine (lower back) increased as a person went from lying down, to standing, to sitting, to bending forward at the waist. With sitting eliciting nearly 40% more pressure on the lower back than standing, it is easy to understand why even today’s children experience spinal discomfort. With the increased use of technological devices, kids are spending more and more hours sitting behind a screen, and less and less hours actively “playing.” This new obsession with technology, coupled with hours of sitting in classrooms and doing homework, has created a great potential for posture related complaints. Typically as a person sits for extended periods they develop tight hip flexors and hamstrings, while the gluts and abdominals become weak and unused. As these muscles become weaker and weaker the body is unable to efficiently handle the stress of daily activities. This stress will inevitably present itself as pain and inflammation.

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The increase in modern technology has also contributed to an increased prevalence in carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, “texting thumb,” and “text neck.” In fact, it is estimated that the average person sends 657 text messages per month, per phone. One tip to help avoid “text neck” is to raise your mobile device to eye level when sending or receiving texts. This will help you to avoid the rounded posture commonly seen today, and alleviate much of the strain placed on the neck and shoulders.

Avoiding Snow Shovel Blues

With the winter months upon us, and Jack Frost here to stay, it is inevitable that snow removal is in our future. Everyday common tasks, recreational activities, and basic chores can pose a risk for even the most fit individual if he, or she, has not warmed up properly. Simply going out to shovel after being inactive in bed, on the couch, or using the computer, makes the body susceptible to muscle spasms, strains, sprains, and disc irritation (especially in the lower back).

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Just before it snows (or rains) you, or someone you know, may have experienced aches and pains in old injuries of the back, knees, shoulders, hands, etc. This sensation of pain is partially due to the fact that as the weather changes so too does the barometric pressure. Just like water, pressure often travels from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration. As the pressure around us drops, the pressure in the fluid surrounding our joints attempts to push outward, creating the sensation of pain. This unique pain can be further aggravated (intensified) by simply going out into the cold weather without proper clothing. As a person becomes cold, the blood vessels in their arms and legs constrict to conserve heat for the vital organs (e.g. heart). This decrease in blood results in a decrease in oxygen to the muscles. Without proper amounts of oxygen the muscles become tight and spastic, increasing the likelihood of injury (think “pulled muscle”).

Along with dressing properly, it is essential that anyone working outside perform a thorough warm-up, including light aerobic activities and functional stretches. Light aerobic exercises can include walking, jogging, performing jumping-jacks, stationary biking, and using an elliptical. A functional exercise, also known as a dynamic exercise, is any movement that utilizes multiple muscles, and takes the muscles/underlying joints through their proper ranges of motion. Examples of dynamic exercises include air squats (without weights), lunges, and bringing your elbow towards the opposite knee while marching. Along with properly warming-up, there are various tips to keep in mind to help reduce the chance of injury with shoveling snow. These tips include:

  1. Be prepared – knowing it is going to snow will afford you ample time to wake-up, and shovel snow prior to work/school
  2. Wear multiple layers of clothing to keep your muscles warm and flexible
  3. When shoveling, it is very important to simply push the snow forward, rather than attempt to throw it.
  4. Avoid sudden twisting and turning movements
  5. As is the case when lifting anything, it is always best to lift with your legs rather than your back. Due to the length of the shovel, and the effects of physics, the perceived weight of the snow is much heavier than the actual weight of the snow being lifted
  6. Take frequent rest breaks to decrease the strain on your joints and muscles
  7. Always perform a series of active cool-down stretches following shoveling, or any other winter recreational activity

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