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Monthly Archives: June 2013

7 Tips for Neck Pain Relief

ImageRelieving neck pain is certainly not easy. Ultimately you want to be able to stretch and strengthen your neck, but you want to be able to do this in a way that doesn’t aggravate the often sensitive muscles that you need to hold up and turn your head. And with that big brain of yours, your neck has a lot of work to do! Here are some great ways to get that neck more supple, and able to handle its big job.

1. Stretch the truth. Or rather, the truth is: stretch it! But definitely do it in a way that doesn’t go too far – stretching your neck should not be the same as stretching the rest of your body. Because the muscles in your neck are more slender, plus the fact that you have a lot of nerves and important blood vessels running through there, you run the risk of hurting yourself by over-stretching. The best answer? Use a mirror: look at yourself in a mirror and draw small to medium-sized circles with your chin. This will help move your neck without going too far. Next, draw figure-eights with your chin, still watching yourself in the mirror. Finally, turn perpendicular to the mirror, and turn your head towards the mirror. Make sure that you turn only enough so that you can see your opposite ear, no farther. And most of all, think of it as movement rather than actual stretching – this will help you prevent injury.

2. Keep still. Isometric exercises for your neck tend to be the best way to strengthen the muscles here. These types of exercises involve static positions, where you don’t actually move the joint that your muscle is attached to. Your health care practitioner should be able to show you some good ones. Hint: once again, use a mirror whenever possible, and maintain good posture. Don’t over stimulate doing these exercises as you might be inclined to do. Just because you’re not moving doesn’t mean the muscle isn’t getting worked. It is!

3. Let it soak in. Taking a bath is a great way to give your muscles a chance to relax, and to help relieve some of that tension in your neck. Make sure that you add something to your bath though – the hot water alone will help, but not nearly as much as some additives will. Epsom salts are made of magnesium sulfate, which can help relax your muscles and also release endorphins (those ‘feel good’ chemicals in your brain). Adding an essential oil such as lavender or eucalyptus can also increase the effectiveness of a nice, hot, 20-minute soak.

4. Heat it up. Ice is good within the first 24 hours after inflammation starts, but once that time has passed start adding heat – especially if the pain in your neck is chronic (i.e. more than a few months old). Heating pads, hot water bottles and so on are great. Just be careful not to put anything too hot directly onto your skin: use a towel in between if you need to. Do this for 20 minutes, then let your muscles rest for 20 minutes without heat. Repeat this cycle 3 times.

5. Rub it in. Using some kind of cream or balm for pain relief is often a great option for neck pain relief, especially if you’re on the go. Something like arnica, a homeopathic herb, is great for absolving pain issues. So are other options such capsaicin, as well as some Chinese herbal ointments. Anything with menthol in it should be avoided, however, for pregnant and nursing women, as well as for children and even if you think that you might be allergic or are taking a drug that could possibly have an issue with an adverse interaction.

6. Get it worked on. Massage therapy will help to improve the circulation in your neck, while also helping ease tension and release endorphins. A Registered Massage Therapist (RMT) is trained to know exactly what areas to massage, so be sure to book with someone thus qualified. And if you can’t find the time to book with a professional, ask a friend or loved one – just make sure that they use light pressure and don’t massage the bones in your neck, just the muscles.

7. Put a pin in it. Acupuncture has been relieving neck pain for thousands of years, so there’s a good chance it could probably do something for you too! By getting it performed by an R. TCMP (Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner), you’ll ensure that your diagnosis is based on proper fundamentals, and your treatment will not only relieve your pain, but will have a lasting effect as well. The needles your R. TCMP might use include those on your neck, as well some on your back and lower legs.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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7 Tips for Back Pain Prevention: From Bed to Work… and Back

If you’ve ever suffered from back pain, you know how it can stop you from doing even the simplest things in your life. SImageo easily, bending over, tying up your shoes, or even reaching for something can become impossible. Well, once you’ve experienced back pain, you certainly will want to do what you can to prevent it from happening again. Here are some great ideas to get you started on the road to back pain prevention:

1. Sleep it off. You would think that your back is pretty safe while you’re sleeping, but if you’ve got an old mattress, it’s not. An aged, unsupportive mattress can leave your spine fighting all night for the chance to be straight. All that effort can leave you feeling achy and sore the next day, so make sure you get a mattress that’s firm but not too firm. Furthermore, try to sleep on your side or your back – sleeping on your stomach causes your neck to sit in a more extended, rotated position, which can ultimately affect the rest of your spine.

2. Warm it up. When you get up from that new, supportive, firm-but-not-too-firm bed that you’ve just bought, be sure to ease your back into a working state for your daily activities. First, climb out of bed gradually, giving your joints a minute or two to adjust. Then once you’re standing, add in some simple stretching to get yourself a little more limber. Ever seen a cat wake up? That’s how they do it – it’s natural and normal. Finally, watch your posture when you’re brushing your teeth, making breakfast, and getting dressed. This simple attention to how you hold yourself can sink in unconsciously, and help you throughout the rest of your day.

3. Lighten up. If your purse, briefcase or knapsack that you wear on only one shoulder weighs a ton, consider that all of that weight has to be carried by your back muscles. And if you think that you’re getting a workout with it, think again: your body isn’t made to carry weight lop-sided like that. Ever heard of a one-arm purse-carry at the gym? Me neither. Carrying more than 10% of your body weight in such a fashion (pun intended) is too much. Consider a messenger-type purse or bag that has a long enough strap so you can carry it across your chest, or wear a knapsack that has proper back-support, and then wear it the way it was intended.

4. Drive safe. Now that you’ve made it to your car in one piece, do a few things to make sure that your drive, especially if it’s a long one, won’t hurt your back. If your car is an older model, or even a newer one without a decent seat, consider getting a seat cushion to add support, especially in the lumbar area. Also, position your mirrors to prevent you from having to twist around too much, and avoid putting your seat in a position that is too reclined.  And for long drives, make frequent stops to stretch and give your muscles a break.

5. Work safe. Those commercials you’ve seen on television are right: workplace safety is extremely important. Aside from using proper lifting technique, make sure that your work area is set up correctly. You’ll need to position your computer screen at eye level, sit in an ergonomic chair that supports your lower back, and use a footrest when necessary. And try to get up and move every 20 minutes or so – this will help keep your back, leg and hip muscles from getting too tight. And when you sit back down, take this opportunity to reset your posture to a proper, healthy position.

6. Work it out. After work, you might want to hit the gym, and with good reason: getting the right exercise to prevent back pain is the first sensible step that you can take. If you already exercise, then it will only be a matter of adding in a few extra things to your routine, or swapping them for others you’re already doing. If you are not yet into exercise, consider adding in something like yoga, or at the very least doing some basic exercises for 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week. Exercises to prevent back pain can be found here in detail, but the basics include: hamstring and hip stretches, as well as cross-planar core, lower abdominal and cross-planar whole body muscle strengthening. If you’re unsure of how to do the correct exercise for back pain prevention, seek the help of a qualified personal trainer or yoga teacher.

7. Home sweet home. Back at the ranch, keep up the good work by continuing to use proper lifting techniques, and also use helpful aids where you can. Get a decent ladder or stepstool instead of using chairs to stand on, and use paint rollers and dusters with extendable handles so you don’t have to overextend your arms. And it’s also worth mentioning diet here too: many people will wile away the evening hours in front of the television, snacking and (often without thinking) consuming way too many calories. Don’t undo that good work you did at the gym by packing on the pounds: obesity can put added pressure on your spine, and eventually can cause your precious spinal discs to degenerate. So eat right, even just to prevent back pain.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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5 Common Causes of Back Pain

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Is your back a little achy? Maybe it often is, and you’re not really sure why? Well, back pain is an extremely common complaint voiced by many people today. And knowing the cause of your back pain is pretty important – having a serious issue there should be treated as soon as possible, and may not go away on its own. Likewise, a less serious issue may very well be treatable, and without knowing all the info you could be suffering needlessly! Having an idea of the common causes of back pain can be a big relief. These are some of the most common:

1. Lack of due diligence. Do you go from nought-to-ninety on the weekends? Many of us do, working like crazy in front of a computer all week, only to pick up a rake and do lawn work like mad on the weekends. Or perhaps you join a weekend basketball league, and you figure you can just go out and play a little – no big deal. Well, tell that to your back! Living most of your life behind a desk is going to wreak havoc on your spine, so you need to prepare yourself for potential physical activity. And the only way to do this prep-work is proper exercise: hamstring stretches, leg lifts, planks and other core work can go a long way.

2. Forgetting you’re not invincible. Oftentimes, you can wreck your back by lifting something poorly. Make sure you have the right technique for lifting by doing the following:

  • bend at your hips, not your low back
  • keep your chest out
  • lead with your hips, not your shoulders when walking
  • keep the weight close to your body
  • never lift something greater than 20% of your own weight
  • never carry something higher than your armpit or lower than your knees

3. Falling asleep at the sleeping wheel. Your sleeping position can have a tremendous impact on your back health. Sleeping on your stomach puts unnatural stress on the joints and muscles in your back, but sleeping on your side or back helps alleviate the pressure. If you simply can’t sleep any other way but on your tummy, try sleeping with a thin pillow under your hips – this will help reduce the pressure on your most sensitive area: your lower back. In addition, make sure that you have a good quality mattress – something too soft or too hard can be very bothersome for your spine.

4. Lighting up. Yep, smoking does more than cause cancer and make your kisses taste like licking an ashtray: now studies show it can also contribute to back pain. While the exact reasons are unclear, scientists can confirm a link between smoking and pain, i.e. if you smoke you’re more likely to be living with some kind of pain in your body. Other studies point to smoking’s restriction of blood flow: this could potentially cause vertebral discs to break down more quickly. Regardless of why smoking causes back pain, having yet another reason to quit is, well, a good reason.

5. Sweating the small stuff. Do you have a stressful life? Well, the emotional wreckage of your brain, i.e. stress or depression, can cause a depletion of endorphins (happy chemicals) like serotonin, and an increase of stress hormones like cortisol. This culminates in your muscles having to work harder at detoxifying, which tightens them up and causes you pain. Yet another reason to exercise: clean out your muscles and your brain at the same time with something like yoga, which can help strengthen your core and reduce your stress/depression levels simultaneously.

You can’t necessarily change your whole life to relieve yourself of that nagging back pain, but there are a few key things to add into or take away from your current way of living that could really make a difference. Add in a total of two extra hours a week divided up (that’s less than 20 minutes per day) for exercise, sleep in a better position, and quit smoking. While you’re at it, get some better shoes too – poor foot fashion can also make your back scream for relief.

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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5 Natural Remedies for Back Pain

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You might have been sitting for a while and then got up quickly, only to feel a twinge in your back as you did so. Or maybe you just bent over to pick up a pencil you dropped, and found that you couldn’t get back up. Whatever caused your back pain, you’re certainly feeling it now, and relief is probably all you care about at the moment. Back pain can be excruciating, and the agony you feel with it will often drive you to do almost anything. Luckily, there are a wide variety of natural ways to relieve that back pain. Here are some of the best:

1. Get poked. Acupuncture, the ancient modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been relieving pain and other health conditions for thousands of years. Now widely accepted all over the world, acupuncture can often help bring you relief in only one session, although if you’ve been experiencing pain for a while you may need a few more treatments. Be sure to get your acupuncture done by someone trained as a TCM practitioner – many other professions will do it but since their training in diagnosis is limited, so will be their results.

2. Ask for a gentle beating. Probably even older than acupuncture, massage therapy is a very common treatment sought for back pain. And so it should be – who doesn’t like a nice, relaxing massage when they’re in pain? Scientifically speaking, massage helps your muscles by improving the circulation to them, ridding them of the inflammation that can exacerbate your pain. Massage will also help your body release endorphins, the ‘feel good’ chemicals that take away stress and pain.

3. Soak it up. If your back pain has been around for more than 24 hours, the inflammation process has ceased and something like ice will no longer help. In TCM, in fact, ice is almost never advisable, as it is heat that works better to move your blocked energy. Heat in the form of a hot bath is especially enjoyable. Try using Epsom salts, which contain magnesium – an excellent element for relaxing your muscles. You can also add essential oils to your bath, e.g. lavender, which is very soothing.

4. Stretch it out. Most people don’t stretch nearly enough, assuming that the other exercise they get is enough. The truth is, stretching can help build muscle and burn calories, so there’s really no reason to avoid it! And it can certainly help prevent or relieve your back pain, as stretching relieves tension and encourages lymph drainage. Lymph carries away the debris built up after the inflammation process has occurred.

5. Lay it on thick. There are a variety of different creams on the market that can help relieve muscle pain. One really good one is arnica cream, a homeopathic remedy for bruising, muscular strains, and swelling. Also taken internally, this herb is renowned for its ability to help enable the healing process. Another herbal cream that might help is capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers that has a remarkable analgesic effect.

Getting relief right away may not be possible if your pain is severe enough. But be patient: often a variety of the above methods works best, and you may just have to give them some time to work. Natural remedies work best when you’ve also employed some preventative measures, so be sure (once you’re healed) to get started on a decent exercise program to keep this type of injury from coming back (no pun intended!).

By Richard Lobbenberg, Acupuncturist and TCM Practitioner

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