Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Heavy Bags will Injure your Spine.

As healthy humans our birthright is good postural alignment. As pre-school children we have upright posture, we have a full range of movement, we can express our physicality freely and easily.
Then a catastrophe is imposed on our bodies: we are sent to school.
We are made to sit for hours, and we carry heavy bags, and within a few short years we develop postural habits that we may spend the rest of our lives living with.
This is something that has got worse over the years: when I was at school, we had desks to leave our books and possessions in, and only carried in our bags what we needed that particular evening. Nowadays we expect schoolchildren to carry all their books around all the time, and the weight children are expected to carry about with them is disproportionate to their own weight and strength.
As you can see from this illustration, heavy back packs force the child to round her shoulders and poke her head forwards. Often backpacks are slung over one shoulder, so the weight is not evenly distributed. Scoliosis (curvature of the spine) is often a result of carrying a bag on one side, while the spine is growing.

You can help your child to maintain good posture.

Get the best possible bag for their back: have a look here as a starting point for the sort of bag to look for. I advise padded shoulder straps, and a sternum and hip belt.

Help them empty their bags of unnecessary stuff. Only take what they need.

School lunches instead of packed lunches lessen the amount they have to carry.

Weigh your child's loaded backpack - it should weigh no more than 10% of his or her own bodyweight: if it weighs any more than this s/he will have to change their posture to respond to the load. Does your child's school really want to ruin their childrens' backs?

The bag should not be low on their bodies, and should end less than a couple of inches below the waist. If it's too low it will pull them backwards and they will respond by leaning forward.

Make sure the bag is worn over both shoulder straps, and not left hanging from one!

The smaller the bag, the less they can put in it! Within reason, keep the bag's size small, or they will fill it up with unnecessaries.

Bags with various pockets and compartments are a good idea for organisation.

Make sure pointy items are placed in parts of the bag where they cannot dig into your child's back.

This advice applies not just to children, but also to adults.............make sure that your sore shoulders, neck tension, upper back pain is not caused by carrying too much, in an inappropriate bag.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

10 tips to avoid Back Pain

These 10 tips are "Common Sense"........
1) Drink plenty of water ............Good hydration is essential to a healthy life. That means your overall well-being, but also the health of each body-part, each joint, down to each individual cell.
Take the spine as an example: our spinal bones, our vertebrae are cushioned from each other by discs: these discs are composed largely of water.
For the first 30 years of our lives, our discs are 90% water and then, due to wear and tear, they leak.......and end up at maybe 65% water. You might think of these discs as being water filled balloons, cushioning our spines as we move. The molecules in the nucleus of our discs are the largest in the human body and are capable of taking up 250 times their own weight in water.
Therefore you should drink plenty of good quality water, to increase the hydration in the discs, and so to decompress your spine. Caffeine can irritate the bladder, so you can't really count what you drink in tea and coffee (or energy drinks containing caffeine) as part of your hydration - rather than plumping out your cells, it goes straight through. About 2 litres a day would be good, tap water is ok.

By hydrating your cells, you facilitate the flushing out of toxins, and the optimising of all bodily processes from digestion to co-ordination to thinking about your posture........

Water helps you grow taller!
Picture from :~draniu

2) Good Nutrition What are you feeding your poor old cells for their lunch? Coke? A bag of crisps? A twix? Well no wonder they are hunched over each other!
Your body has 210 different cell types, and together they make up to approximately 100 trillion cells in your body, give or take a few trillion. You have a huge responsibility to feed them all properly!
They need a balanced diet so that they can optimise all the functions that they have to perform - just like you they "think"or organise themselves, exchange food and water for waste, and are part of a wider world (of your body). Feed them junk and they won't feel very well, and neither will you.
There is a welter of information available about eating well: I'm a fan of Jane Clarke myself, and there is loads of useful information on her web-site and in her books. I would urge moderation, avoid processed foods and think the following are useful.
Eat fruit and veg, particularly green veg. Eat protein.
Eat fibre. One of the enemies of good posture and health in general is constipation. The lining of the gut is attached to the spine, and contraction here provokes a contraction of the back muscles. Any discomfort affects posture. Constipation, and hard faeces are also disastrous for the pelvic floor, as they cause straining. Pelvic Floor health is integral to the health of the spine, (a subject for another post).
Don't eat too much of any one thing - particularly wheat. Toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner? You are overdoing the wheat. And as far as bread goes, if you poke a slice of bread, and it doesn't spring back, don't put it in your mouth. It's sticky, clammy, pappy consistency that sticks to the roof of you mouth also sticks to your intestines, and not in a good way. It is Chorleywood processed, which is great for the manufacturers who like their loaves to last a week, and to speed up their manufacture. It's not great for your gut.

So, eat a variety of unprocessed food, and not too much of it.

Feed your body well!

If you are not sleeping properly, your body is not rested. A tired body cannot function at it's best, and your posture will be affected. Do what you can in the way of relaxation before you go to bed, (and I mean reading and a bath: the tv in the bedroom is a stimulant, not a relaxant.). If you are stressed try breathing exercises. There are some good stress relief CDs here. And look here for postural tips for sleeping.

Your body needs to rest!

4) Posture
Good posture will allow your muscles to assume their correct alignment: result? a well balanced body, free from pain caused by misalignment.
Try to make your posture as tall as you can. Lengthen up from the tips of your ears, and your spine will decompress.
Be as symmetrical as you can. Avoid carrying heavy loads, particularly in shoulder bags.
Wear appropriate shoes.........flip-flops, high heels, flat shoes, mules are all ok every now and again, but on a regular basis your feet should be supported by an arch, and your toes should not have to constantly grip to keep your shoes on! I particularly like MBTs .
Find out about your own postural tics, and learn how to correct them - see a Pilates teacher, or an Alexander Technique teacher.
Don't sit with your legs crossed: this lengthens and shortens tissue in your legs which should be balanced.
Check out my blog!

Be as tall as you can and as symmetrical as you can!

5) Avoid Stress
Sit up tall and straight, even if it's just for a moment while you are reading this. notice how it feels to sit up on your sit bones, widen your collar bones, and release your shoulders and arms. Take a few deep breaths, and feel your spine lengthen. Just be for a moment or too, and see how you feel.

How does your spine feel? hopefully tall, and good. Shoulders? Relaxed?
Now focus back on your problems, and see what happens to your body. You may still feel a bit better after doing a couple of moments of relaxation, but have you sunk half an inch or so? And have your shoulders surrendered to your neck?
When you are stressed your body adopts a defensive posture around your vital organs, hence the hunched shoulders, tense neck, and hunched posture. And does this posture help solve your problem?

Well no. This posture is an evolutionary hang over from a time when we needed to safeguard our vital organs against attack........and it is also a behavioural indicator of our place in society. Notice how dogs behave when they want acceptance from other dogs: the top dog will maintain an erect spine, tail held high, head up, and the submissive dog assumes a slumped, submissive posture. It's a useful way to avoid a fight, but it reinforces submission to your problems, and stresses your body's vital systems, by decreasing the space available to breathe and digest.

So if you are stressed, do what you can to decrease your load.

Reduce your stress load and lighten upwards

6) Avoid Trauma
I have taught Pilates classes for getting on for 10 years, and my job in the main is to help people rehabilitate their back strains. So I teach them how to strengthen their spines, pick out quirks about their posture and help them correct how they hold themselves: I teach them how to breathe, and how to relax, and, in the main, as a team which consists of myself and the client, we are fairly successful.
And then, maybe after a couple of years or more of good back health, my client will come limping into class.
What went wrong?
"I twisted while I was picking up the tv."
"I went shopping and slipped on the ice "
"I was gardening and using my husband's tools."
"I am looking after my elderly mother and had to pick her up on my own."
Usually, because they have gained good muscle strength, they will get better sooner rather than later...........but sometimes I just wish people wouldn't do silly things.
The most common method of straining the back involves picking up a weight, while rotating at the same time. Here is an excellent short video, from an Alexander Teacher which explains how to pick things up safely.

If a fleeting thought tells you that whatever you are about to do might cause you harm, pay attention!

7) Don't aggravate your problem
Ok, you might have a sore shoulder, or hip, and every now and then, just to check that it's still there, you move into a position that gives you pain, or you poke it. Effectively you are bruising (again) tendons and soft tissue, that left alone, would get on with healing themselves. Stop doing that! If it doesn't get better, get help, don't poke it.

And if running aggravates your knee and back health then stop it for the time being and get advice from a sports therapist. Or you won't get better.

"I went swimming"........hmmm..... swimming sounds safe enough, but if for instance, you swim breaststroke with your head out of the water, your lower back will be strained. Breastroke is also notoriously bad for knee problems. Learn to swim properly, preferably front or back crawl. Have a look at this site.

If you have a desk job, then sit up properly, take breaks where you get out of your chair, and stretch. Just look at this picture and see how your posture can disturb the balance of muscles around your neck, shoulders, and low back.

Take good care of your body! Love it like it was your own!

8) Relax

That doesn't just mean slump in a settee watching The Wire.........
Transcendental Meditation is just about the acme of active relaxation..........and it will allow you to switch off from your busy thoughts, and just focus on your breathing: your body will relax.

But how about painting? sculpting? playing a musical instrument? walking in the country? on a beach? having a pet? learning something?

Switch off from your worries!

9) Exercise

Your posture is an expression of your muscular and skeletal system. Weak muscles won't hold your body in an optimal position, so you need to exercise them to keep them strong.
We evolved as erect bipeds, so please keep that in mind while you are exercising. Walking is just about the best exercise, with the added advantage of being free. it will improve your cardio-vascular health. Walk fast, walk often, walk in good shoes and walk tall.
But there are other sorts of exercises........................
Pilates and yoga are great for strengthening and discovering your individual tics and imbalances, and correcting them so that you can walk properly.
Have fun while you exercise - that's where ball-sports come in. Just make sure you have a good sports therapist.
The gym - yes great, but bear in mind that a healthy body is a balanced one, and that huge, tight pecs and shoulders are going to restrict your neck movement, and that enormous biceps are going to stop your arms from being able to straighten.

Walking is the best exercise.

10) Moderation in all things........
Nuff said!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Sleeping Posture

You spend a third of your life in a sleeping posture. The options are to sleep on your stomach, on your back, or either side.
Optimal posture gives us a balanced body, the curves of which have evolved to dissipate the stresses and impact of walking and running. Our alignment should be as near to symmetrical as possible.
In my experience of teaching Pilates, I rarely see a client with good alignment who has musculo-skeletal pain, unless they have had a recent trauma. I do see many clients who have poor alignment: in helping them I am interested in how they stand, walk, and sit. And how they sleep.
In my experience, I have found that many of my clients who have the worst back pain, sleep on their fronts.

Sleeping on your front.
This disturbs the body's alignment in many ways - the neck is twisted to one side, and the head is on a pillow. Just try that now - turn your head to the left, say, and then take it back over your shoulders, as if supported by a pillow, and hold it there for a while. (8 hours would be over-doing it, but a few minutes will give you an idea.).
The ribcage and the airways are compressed and twisted, and so breathing is compromised. Often the legs and pelvis are twisted to one side:, this opens up the joints in the pelvis (the sacro-iliac joints), and twists the joint between the lowest lumbar vertebra and the sacrum, and also twists the lumbar spine. The muscles and tendons and ligaments which support the skeletal system in waking hours are relaxed during sleep, and so on waking and moving these soft tissues object to the position the sleeping skeleton has contorted into. Ouch!

So, all in all, not a good way to sleep.

Sleeping on the back.
The main problem with sleeping on the back is that snoring is more likely in this position, and so sleep is interrupted. If you have lower back pain, and you sleep on your back, try placing a cushion under your knees. This will keep your lumbar curve happy during the night. One pillow under the head should suffice unless the shoulders are very broad: too many pillows pushes the head forward, re-inforcing a tendency to "head-poke".

Sleeping on the side.
This is the preferable sleeping posture.

Again, one pillow should suffice (see illustration) . Care should be taken that the top leg does not overlap the lower leg and rest on the bed - here the pelvis and the lumbar spine will be twisted.

In the illustration you can see how good the alignment is of the spine and pelvis, with the legs lined up above each other.
If you have lower back pain or sacro-iliac pain, a flattish cushion between the knees
will optimise the alignment of the legs and the pelvis.

It is said that it's best to sleep with the heart uppermost (ie sleep on the right side - not like the picture!) - this optimises the cardio-vascular system, and it makes sense to me.
So sleeping on the side is the best sleeping posture.