3 Ways to Reduce Screen Strain

There is a reason why screen time is the number one thing to be limited for those recovering from a concussion. There is a tremendous amount of brain stimulation that occurs through focusing and directing the eyes, but also interpreting the information being transmitted. For those without concussion, this stimulation and stress still occurs, we just have a greater capacity to adapt to it. In addition to the visual/ brain stimulation, when we are sitting in front of a computer, looking down at our phones or even sitting for long periods of time looking down at a book (hello students, I see you!) , we experience significant repetitive stress due to the posture we adopt. Over time, our neck and upper back fatigues and patterns of tightness and weakness occur.

Of course, ensuring your spine is aligned and of optimal function is a key piece to minimizing daily postural or screen stress, however there are a few things we can do on our own day-to-day that will offer further support.

20-20-20 RULE

I don’t recall where I originally heard this “rule” but it’s one I offer to anyone working at a computer for long stretches of time, people recovering from concussion or anyone really who notices a change to posture, eye strain or focus. Whether you perceive strain or not in your body, there is an inherent stress that occurs from staring at a screen. The 20-20-20 rule is a reminder that every 20 minutes to glance at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This allows our eyes to relax, our brain to refocus and most likely will ease the neck and upper back posture.

SPHINX POST

This is a key pose when if done properly can help strengthen the upper back, neck and open the chest. Not for those who have known facet issues (pain when standing or in a back bend), but basically is the needed tummy time for everyone from infants to adults.

Laying on belly, squeezing glutes if needed to protect low back, with arms out in front of you. Slowly inch elbows towards you. At the deepest expression, shoulders will be stacked over elbows with palms down and hands pointing forward. Keep shoulders “down” (avoid sinking shoulders towards ears) and keep chest “open”. Look forward, keeping spine long and breathe. Hold for up to 2 minutes, as long as integrity of posture can be maintained in the upper body and low back does not experience compression.

“Hands-Up Stretch”

When we are rounding forward and/ or looking down at our screens, certain postural patterns emerge. Typically we see a weakening of the upper back and front neck and a tightening of the chest and back neck. The “hands- up stretch” is a gentle way to take pressure off the areas working hard to keep you head up while opening the chest.

Lay on Floor with lower legs supported on stool or chair (hips & knees 90deg)

Head should be neutral so chin is not tucked or pointing to ceiling. You may need a pillow or support under your neck as long as it is not pushing your head forward (since this is what we are trying to reverse). If you do use a support, try using less after you’ve been doing this stretch a few times as you may not need as much.

Option 1: Arms lay flat on floor at 45 deg from side of body, palms up and shoulder blades tucked under and away from your ears.

Option 2: If no stretch is experienced across your chest in option 1, lay as above but with arms in the shape of a football goal post (straight out from shoulders, elbows at 90, palms up and ideally flush with the floor. Avoid joint strain and support your arms as needed until you can relax in that position flat on the floor for the full time. Hold for 10-20 min.

The little things we do on a daily basis can make a big difference. No two people are the same and no one strategy is the solution. Posture is something we can maintain and improve upon but it takes time and practice.

Safe Shoveling: Preventing Injury

Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

As I write this I am looking out my office window and it appears to be more spring-like outside than late November. Alas, the snow has made an appearance and will again so it is important to protect our spines when taking on this sometimes arduous chore of shoveling.

The Canadian Chiropractic Association has 5 tips on shoveling safely this winter season. The Alberta Chiropractic Association and College also offers some highlights on shoveling techniques and even the type of shovel that can be more spine-safe.  In addition to these tips, I tell my practice members to treat shoveling like a workout (because it definitely can be as strenuous as one).

1. Warm up with movement (not static stretches) that mimic the motions needed for shoveling. Some air squats, hip circles and twists can be a gentle way to warm up the back and hips.

2. Breathe. Holding our breath upon inhale or exhale can offer some helpful bracing for the spine, however we want to be sure we are breathing as steady as possible. Often when people get lightheaded it is due to lack of oxygen to the brain so we want to ensure we have a steady flow of oxygen.

3. Hydrate. On a hot summer day it can be more intuitive to have some clean water on hand to rehydrate but when we are cold and bundled up we can forget this important step. The heavier we breathe, the more we sweat, the more water we lose. Maintaining adequate hydration will help keep our tissues healthy and resilient, and will help us recover faster from the exertion.

4. Move mindfully and stretch when complete (here is where static stretches should be used). Although it is tempting to just get all the shoveling over-with, be ok with taking breaks. We often injure ourselves when we are tired, so be mindful of using your legs when lifting, and moving mindfully instead of moving with momentum. The smallest of things can be what prevents injury this winter and allows you to keep moving. Static stretches are those we hold in one place for 30 or so seconds. Again, moving through spinal rotation, hips, neck and shoulders can help to reduce accumulated tension in the body and slow the heart rate down.

Look at shoveling as another opportunity to add movement to your day! Keep active this winter and stay safe. For further information on how to optimize your spinal health or in the event you are faced with an injury, contact me to schedule a consultation. 

 

Reducing Stress One Breath at a Time

Reducing stress can at times feel impossible. The reality of deadlines, curve balls and obligations can often feel like there is an endless list of demands. It is common to power through, sometimes at the expense of our health, occasionally burning out before we realize how far beyond our capacity we were living. In the western world, being "stressed" or "busy" can even, in a warped way, be a badge of honour or importance. It's almost as if we aren't stressed out or have too little time to kick back and enjoy some leisure time, we aren't working hard enough or serious enough about the next goal or accomplishment. 

When something is common among the people around you, it can be easy to equate that with "normal". Being tired, decreased memory, brain fog, muscle tension, are all common but I assure you these symptoms are not "normal" or inevitable. Ideally, we are taking steps proactively before burn-out occurs. We are active regularly, connecting socially, eating healthy foods, and hydrating. We are sleeping, meditating, laughing and getting adjusted. Right? Of course we are all on top of this (ha!). Let's get real though, sometimes in the thick of it, we need a pattern interrupt that can calm us in an instant. Someone may have just cut us off in traffic, or the coworker next to your desk is on your last nerve. It happens. Whether as part of your regular regime, or in a stressful pinch, one effective strategy is to breathe.

Mmmmkay...that's almost annoying advice. Really though, when we are stressed, our breathing becomes more shallow. Less oxygen means more physiological stress. Shallow breathing increases tension in the neck - it becomes its own vicious cycle. On-purpose breathing exercises (with intent) on the other hand, can slow things down anywhere in a short amount of time. 

In yoga, breathing is referred to as "pranayama". There are many exercises that can be effective, some more complicated and involved than others. Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi shodhana) is one strategy that can help to clear the mind and reset your physiology. 

(Note: for explanation purposes I will use the Right hand. Either hand can be used so if you are left dominant just mirror the instructions)

Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images
  1. Sit in a comfortable seated position. Feel free to sit in a chair or against a wall to support your back.
  2. Close your eyes and intend to keep an open mind without judgement. 
  3. Breathe normally, avoid feeling the need to change anything.
  4. Take your right hand and fold your ring finger and little fingers toward the palm, with your left hand resting on your left knee.
  5. Place the index and middle fingers of your right hand in the middle of your forehead, between your eyebrows. 
  6. Exhale slowly through your nose, allowing your lungs to empty completely.
  7. Gently close your right nostril with your right thumb.
  8. Inhale gently and slowly through your left nostril for 5 counts.
  9. Press and close your left nostril with your ring and little fingers. Hold for 2 counts.
  10. Lift your thumb to release your right nostril, and exhale slowly for 5 counts. Stay empty for 2 counts.
  11. Inhale gently and slowly through your right nostril for 5 counts.
  12. Press and close your right nostril with your thumb. Hold for 2 counts.
  13. Release your left nostril, and exhale through your left nostril for 5 counts. Stay empty for 2 counts.
  14. Start another cycle by inhaling through your left nostril. Continue to this pattern for 10 cycles. After you exhale from one nostril, remember to breathe in from that same nostril before switching.*

* Instructions have been adapted from Harvard Health Blog "Yoga could slow the harmful effects of stress and inflammation" by Marlynn Wei, MD, JD (2017)

How to Protect Your Body While Cycling

Originally written and posted by the Alberta College and Association of Chiropractors

Cycling in Alberta has seen a spike in popularity, trading in the car for a bicycle has become more commonplace than ever. Some cyclists strap on their helmets and ride for exercise or enjoyment while others view cycling as a way to protect the environment from unnecessary emissions.

Although cycling has many benefits, cyclists can be at risk of injury from their sport. The repetitive nature of riding a bike can cause problems with both muscles and joints due to overtraining, poor form, poorly fit bike, or many other factors.

Common biking Injuries and how to prevent them

Lower back pain

Lower Back pain (LBP) can cause problem for cyclists for a number of reasons. The easiest explanation is the prolonged bending of the backIt doesn’t take a Musculoskeletal (MSK) expert to see that cyclists spend long periods of time in a fixed position.  A poorly fit bike or bad body position on the bike can lead to lower back pain due to abnormal wear to the joints along your spine as well a number of muscular imbalances.

How to prevent LBP – There are a few tools you can use to help fight lower back pain while you hit the road on your bike.

Form - As with anything to do with the spine, posture is important.  While riding, keep a neutral spine by bending at the hips and avoid hunching your mid-back.  Your spine naturally has a curve to it, this should be maintained while riding but not overemphasized or flattened. It is often difficult to evaluate your own posture so it is worth having someone look at your body position on your bike or use a trainer in front of a mirror.

Equipment - A poorly fit bike may also be the cause of your LBP, being either too stretched out or compacted by your bike can result in abnormal stresses to your back.  Most local bike shops have trained staff that can assist you with ensuring your bike is the correct size for you as well as any minor adjustments required to fit the bike to your body.

Knee pain

Pain in your knees can be caused by several factors, most commonly it is due to poorly adjusted cleats or pedals forcing your feet out of alignment with your knees however improper seat height, prior knee injuries, poor cycling form, muscle imbalance or overtraining can cause knee pain.

How to prevent knee pain – There are a few things to look for when trying to determine the cause of your knee pain. 

Pedals/Cleats - How your feet sit on the pedalscould be the key to preventing your knee pain, especially if you are using clipless pedals that lock your feet in place. Your knee should be pointing straight ahead and your feet should be parallel to the ground while you are pedaling. Riders often have a tendency to tilt their knees out.

Seat Height – A seat height that is either too high or too low will cause stress on the knees.  Too high and you will be hyperextending the knee on every pedal stroke and too low causes a loss in power and excessive load to the knees.  Ideally, your knee should be slightly bent (not locked) at the bottom of your pedal stroke with your feet parallel to the ground.

Prior Injury

If you have had a prior injury to your knee, hip or ankles your seat height, pedal positioning and other bio-mechanics will need to adapt. If you have been cleared by a health care professional (such as your chiropractor)l to ride it is a good idea to get an assessment from a qualified bike fitter to ensure you are not causing re-injury.

Muscle Imbalance or overtraining

Muscle imbalance is quite common in cyclists since certain muscles will be strengthened by the exercise while other supporting musculature may not. It is a good idea to find an exercise to strengthen the stabilizing muscles in your leg to maintain balance.  For beginner riders it is important to start out slow and not seek massive gains in distance, speed, time or effort too quickly. Your body will need time to adjust to a change in activity.

Shoulder Pain

Pain in your shoulders while riding can be caused by carrying stress in your shoulders while riding, poor body position on the bike or a poorly fit bike.

Wrist Pain

The most common cause of wrist pain is a very aggressive cycling position that causes you to put a lot weight on your handlebars. Try to move your hand position around on your handlebars as much as possible to avoid the same position for extended periods of time.

Visit your Chiropractor

If you’re thinking about taking up cycling talk to your chiropractor before you strap on the helmet and hit the road. Together you will be able to identify potential injury concerns and ensure you get off to an injury free start.  If you are experiencing pain, numbness or tingling or other MSK problems while riding your chiropractor will also be able to provide treatment and advice to treat these problems.