Back Health USA

Back Health / Mental Health / and Everything In-between

Improving the Health of Your Neck and Upper Back

Posted by on May 19, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 2.17.27 PMNeck, upper back and upper extremity problems have become a worldwide pandemic because of our time spent seated and our head-forward postures. The good news is that there is an antidote and we will cover it in this article. Neck and upper back problems represent a massive socio-economic and public health burden as recent studies have shown them to be the third leading cause of disability worldwide. An understanding of basic anatomy is essential to grasping the impact that repetitive postures can have on pain, function, health and spinal longevity. The average human head, which weighs approximately 10-15 pounds or 4.5 -6.8 kilograms, sits on top of seven cervical (neck) vertebra (spine bones). The spine protects our vital and delicate spinal cord and spinal nerves and these bones are separated by discs that allow space for nerves to exit as well as being shock absorbers and necessary from normal range of motion. The spine, when viewed from the side, also has curvatures, similar to engineers creating curves in bridges, dams and other structures, for strength and flexibility. The spine is at it’s strongest when it has normal curves and appears straight when viewed from the front or back. However these curvatures and the position of the head in relation to the body can be altered from repetitive poor postures. This is commonly referred to as head forward posture or anterior head carriage (AHC). Forward translation of the head over the body by as little as 25 millimeters (2.5 centimeters) has been shown to add 10 pounds of strain to ligaments, musclesScreen Shot 2016-05-19 at 2.16.06 PM and spinal discs and joints in the neck and upper back (thoracic spine). Craning your neck forward for brief periods of time is of little consequence but when done repetitively over time it can lead to degenerative musculoskeletal conditions associated with this area. This is similar to a car with a frame misalignment creating uneven wear in the tires. Over the short-term people may experience neck, shoulder and upper back (between the shoulder-blade) tension. As months turn into years these postures cause spinal nerves to become irritated, compressed and dysfunctional while spinal bones and joints can degenerate from osteoarthritis (most common form of arthritis by far). The nerves that exit the cervical and upper thoracic spines can become dysfunctional causing problems with balance, vision, hearing, hormones, the jaw (TMJ), face, shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists, heart, lungs, gallbladder and more.

The Antidote:

Many devices and therapies are available but I will discuss what I feel the most effective strategies are. Let me start by saying that there are ways of taping or bracing the neck and shoulder blades to improve posture but these are not optimal in my opinion. The reason for this is that your body becomes dependant on them and it’s not sustainable to wear tape or braces for longer periods of time. Typically these postures have been habitually developed over years and the solution is not a quick fix but a gradual improvement over time. Fortunately most people can gain pain relief quickly even if the cause of the problem (biomechanics and posture) is yet to be fixed. Some of the solutions I detail below are ways to incorporate new habits while others are ways to treat fibrotic lateral posturemuscles and stiff misaligned joints.
  1. Awareness: I recommend setting a timer for every 20 minutes spent sitting at work or while studying. When the timer goes off, get up and move for 20 seconds, this is known as the 20/20 rule. Recall that when viewing the human body from the side that a plum (gravity) line drawn through the hip, should intersect with the knee, ankle, shoulder and ear. Be aware of the ear and shoulder line especially. It other words, keep your head over body and not craned forward or looking down at a mobile device such as a tablet or cell phone. This step is crucial to make progress.
  2. Head retraction exercises: My favorite exercise I call the ‘Angel’ because it is like doing a snow angel. I recommend doing it against a wall if possible as this is the most difficult. Here is a link to watch a video of it being performed. Stand against a wall or lie flat on your back. Retract your head (bring your head towards the wall or floor and if done correctly it should create double chins as your face moves evenly backwards) and slide your arms as low as you can then as high above your head as possible. The goal is to keep your wrists, elbows and shoulders against the wall or floor throughout the movement while keeping your spine in a non-arched posture. For best result perform this daily for approximately 10 repetitions.
  3. Massage therapy: Getting tough, leathery, fibrotic tissues broken-up will help increase motion allowing for exercises and stretches to be more effective.
  4. Stretching: Movement is life and stretching will help hydrate joints, let nerves slide and keep tissues supple. Following our featured video for aScreen Shot 2016-05-19 at 2.16.46 PM game changing stretch routine in this link.
  5. Chiropractic: Once spinal misalignments become entrenched chiropractic care is needed to restore alignment, motion and proper nerve functioning. Chiropractic is a performance enhancer and will allow stretches, massage and exercise to be more effective. Plus chiropractic helps connect you to your deepest self, allowing for increased clarity and inner awareness.
  6. Foam Rolling: Using a foam roller can help break up global adhesions in the upper back. This is not a replacement for a skilled massage therapist.
  7. Work place ergonomics: Adjust the chair, desk, monitor, phone, mouse or reading material so that you can perform your work in an optimal biomechanical position.
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The Parasympathetic Nervous System

Posted by on May 11, 2016

rest and digestThe autonomic nervous system (ANS) is made up of two parts, the sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous systems (PSNS). The ANS of the body basically controls the functioning of glands and organs within the body and it does this continuously and unconsciously. In this article we will discuss the parasympathetic branch and its roles and functions. The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) takes care of “rest, digest and repair” activities, such as salivation, tears, sexual arousal, urination, digestion and defecation. These activities are complementary to those of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which activates processes associated with the “fight or flight” response. The PSNS originates from the central nervous system and exits from the upper spinal cord (medulla) as cranial nerves (oculomotor, facial, glossopharyngeal and vagus) at the level of C1 and from lower spinal nerves in the sacrum at S2-4. The first three cranial nerves mentioned control functioning associated with the face, eyes and glands but the vagus nerve (cranial nerve 10) is unique. The vagus nerve travels into the thorax and abdomen connecting to the heart, lungs, pancreas, liver, kidneys, gallbladder and gastrointestinal tract. Many researchers theorize that the benefits of upper cervical chiropractic (adjustments to misalignments of C1 and C2) are because of the anatomical relationship between C1 and the vagus nerve. Both the SNS and PSNS are essential to homeostasis (cellular balance) and proper functioning of the body. It is common for people to have imbalances in their autonomic functioning. For instance, living a busy life with a hectic schedule can lead to burn out from a chronically activated SNS. This can result in adrenal fatigue, lowered immunity and chronic disease. Similarly, the PSNSScreen Shot 2016-05-11 at 12.52.45 PM can become dominant from a lack of activity and stimulation and this can lead to lowered mood, weight gain and chronic disease as well. However, for many people living in Canada with busy lives the SNS becomes overly active, leading to an imbalance. An elevation in PSNS activity is desirable on a daily basis for activities such as digestion, regeneration, sleep and more. There are ways to stimulate PSNS with lifestyle changes and also with chiropractic care. Chiropractic adjustments of misaligned spinal segments have been shown to affect the autonomic nervous system by helping to down-regulate the SNS and promote PNS activity. Taking time to unwind, laughter, meditation and staying away from adrenal stimulants such as caffeine are other effective ways to elevate PSNS activity and lessen the impact of the SNS. A chiropractor will conduct a thorough examination and history to determine if there is an imbalance between your sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. An imbalance such as this could be contributing to many health problems and can be restored to balance with chiropractic adjustments and other lifestyle changes. This balancing of the autonomic nervous systems and moving towards a state of homeostasis is why many people report greater feelings of wellbeing and less need for medication and surgeries when under chiropractic care. If you have any questions about this article or chiropractic care, you can call us any time at 250-592-5553. Sincerely, Cale Read More
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