This weekend I made it back to Upstate New York to spend time with family and friends. I hosted the First Annual Pan Mass Charity Golf Tournament with my brother-in-law to raise money for the Pan Mass Challenge in early August. Such a great turn out at Blackhead Mountain Golf Course. If you haven’t been to the Catskill Mountains you need to check it out. Great place to grow up. During my time home I got the chance to help out some family and friends with their common aches and pains. There is something cool about rehabbing someone in a living room or out on the golf course. Super RENEGADISH!
A common complaint that kept popping up while I was home is neck pain. To put a stop to these symptoms we need to remove the stressor. You can roll lacrosse balls and get massages until you are blue in the face. Not fixing the underlying problem is comparable to taking lactose pills after pounding a bowl of ice cream. Stop eating the ice cream, stop the stomach pain. Stop breathing like crap and sitting like the Hunch Back of Notre Dame, stop your neck pain. Tit for tat.
- World Class Sleep
In past blogs we have discussed the impact that poor sleep can have on your body. If you can’t sleep through the night or you find yourself getting only a few hours of sleep, you need to start here. Seeing a PT or Chiropractor if you aren’t sleeping is equivocal to slapping a really expensive band aid on after repeated self-inflicted wounds. Stop hitting yourself in the face with your stapler, stop the pain.
Active Lifestyle of a Hustler
Having an active lifestyle is the one thing continuously proven to help you feel better that also has NO SIDE EFFECTS. I can hear it now, “If I do too much can’t that make me worse?” Yes, I suppose so. I am confident that you do not fall in that category unless you are a high level athlete. If anything, people don’t do enough. We sit for hours at a time, taking minimal breaks to stand up and move around. Then we decide to go on an impromptu run or walk to break up the day. I am glad you went on that run, but your sporadic 30 minute run does not make up for the fact that you were static for 18 hours and slept for 5 hours and 30 minutes last night.
You do not need to go “workout” per say. Do something you like, move often, don’t sit in any position for too long. Add VARIETY. Research is showing that people with jobs that add variety actually have less pain. This could include those burley construction workers that actually pick things up all day. Lifting things is not bad, lifting things poorly or beyond your capacity is. Increase your capacity, optimize your form, eat ice cream every now and then… have a happy life.
Posture DOES NOT mean sitting like a statue all day, or not using your back rest. Posture should be renamed “Body Awareness.” You are allowed to slouch, you are allowed to cross your leg, and you are allowed to sit like a statue. Just don’t do any one of those for too long. Stick to around 20 minutes per position at most. I love the idea of transitioning between a sitting and standing desk. For those of you with back pain, the havoc that staying in a seated position all day causes is ridiculous.
Jordan like Mindset
Ditch the fears, anxiety, mis-beliefs. This should really be higher on the list. We talk about this in a bunch of our previous blogs. As a quick recap, your emotional pain and physical pain are INTERTWINED. If you are regularly depressed, anxious and stressed you are more likely to have physical pain. It is shown over and over again in research. These situations are the hardest to manage.
“Ok, what if I am depressed or anxious because of my pain.” It doesn’t work like that. People with control of their emotions can cultivate happiness and a “Zen” state despite physical symptoms. Check out the book “The Book of Joy” by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, listen to Tony Robbins or stop in at your local church. Even if you aren’t religious, learning more about how religion teaches you to handle pain can be super insightful. How you perceive the world and your situation become your reality.
In a previous post we compare an alarm in your house to your brains perception of pain. If someone breaks into your home one time, your automatic assumption when you hear a noise in the middle of the night is that it is happening again. This fear can keep your brain on high alert. Similar to a previous injury.
If you had a sudden twinge of neck pain last week for no apparent reason, your uncertainty about that situation might keep you guarded and stiff. This only worsens the problem. Encouraging the brain to keep the parking breaks on your neck. Despite your previous injury, despite your physician scaring you by pointing out arthritis or C5-C6 degeneration (which is SUPER common is people without pain) you need to relax and work on moving freely.
Not the kind you see in a horror film. This is a great place to close after discussing our last point. With fear, anxiety, stress and poor posture comes poor breathing. “Do I really need to think about breathing?” The answer is yes. This is why meditation and mindfulness have become so popular. Taping into good diaphragmatic breathing engages your parasympathetic nervous system and helps turn off all those neck and shoulder muscles that get engaged when you are stressed, anxious, etc. Our new norm is high stress and lots of sitting. Breathing and mindfulness can be your key to adaptation. If you don’t adapt… you know what happens!
Whole Foodesque like Nutrition Plan
I am not going to spend a great deal of time here because it is not our “bread and butter.” Haha… If you think eating whatever you want and not drinking water is ok, you are lying to yourself. Popping mountain dews, eating bread and dairy with every meal and always making room for dessert can crush your body. If your stomach hurts, imagine how your joints and your brain are affected.
Wrap It Up
You are the “secret” to fixing your neck pain. Not me, not some fancy manipulation, medication or surgery. We always want the quick fix. The pain gel, the pill, the massage. Consider the basic foundations of health and you will see your life change. Sleep, physical activity, nutrition, breathing, body awareness, your mood, your thoughts. Work on you, in return you will undoubtedly see a difference in the way you feel.
Michael Infantino, DPT
Cagnie, B., Danneels, L., Van Tiggelen, D., De Loose, V., & Cambier, D. (2007). Individual and work related risk factors for neck pain among office workers: a cross sectional study. European Spine Journal, 16(5), 679–686. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00586-006-0269-7
Childs, J. D., Cleland, J. A., Elliott, J. M., Teyhen, D. S., Wainner, R. S., Whitman, J. M., & … Flynn, T. W. (2011). Neck Pain: Clinical Practice Guidelines Linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health From the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association…reprinted from Childs JD, et al. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2008:38(9):A1-A34. Journal Of Women’s Health Physical Therapy, 35(2), 57-90.
De Loose, V., Burnotte, F., Cagnie, B., Stevens, V., & Van Tiggelen, D. (2008). Prevalence and risk factors of neck pain in military office workers. Military Medicine, 173(5), 474-479.