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Quarantine-friendly tips to manage musculoskeletal injuries at home

In this current climate, there is a lot of uncertainty.  Without access to traditional healthcare provision, we are having to adopt a ‘make do and mend’ attitude.  This includes learning to deal with our own health problems from behind closed doors.

Inevitably, injuries will continue to happen daily as we adapt to our new indoor lifestyles.  Although we typically see a lot of football and gym-related injuries in clinic, we also see a huge number of injuries sustained at home.  These include ankle sprains, muscle strains, back spasms and posture-related injuries.

I’ve put together a few tips and tricks that you can try to self-manage your musculoskeletal injuries until the corona-cloud clears and you’re able to have a traditional physiotherapy appointment again.

Ice vs. Heat

As a physio, I’m constantly asked “which is better for injuries – ice or heat?”  The truth is that both serve their purpose at different stages of injury.  Think of it this way:  Physiologically, ice causes vasoconstriction or decreased blood flow, which helps to reduce swelling, inflammation and pain. Heat on the other hand, causes vasodilation, an increase in circulation, making it ideal to soothe muscle tension and reduce joint stiffness.

Ice

Ice is great for acute pain, usually during the first 48-72 hours post-injury, where the area has become red, inflamed, hot and swollen.  This includes injuries such as ankle sprains, a newly strained muscle or bad bruising.

You can easily make a DIY cold pack by wrapping ice cubes or frozen peas in a wet tea towel.  Alternate the ice pack on for 10 minutes and then off for 10 minutes to reduce swelling and inflammation.  Never place ice directly on the skin to avoid ice burns. 

Heat

Hot water bottle

Heat is more useful that many people realise, mainly because muscle can be a big pain-generator.  Muscle also happens to respond well to heat.  Muscle pain that is dull in nature, as well as persistent pain caused by osteoarthritis, cramps, spasms and trigger points (muscle knots) can be successfully managed using heat.

Heat is a cheap, safe and effective way of managing these common musculoskeletal injuries.  I often tell my patients to use heat to warm up a muscle prior to stretching, as warm muscles respond better to stretching than cold muscles.

Ways to apply heat at home :

  • Have a hot bath or, in the shower, let the hot water run onto the injured area
  • Apply a heat pad or hot water bottle to the affected muscle.  Keep the heat source on for 10-20 minutes and then stretch
  • (If you don’t already have a heat pack and with Amazon running on skeleton staffing, you can make your own at home.  Fill a sock halfway with rice or buckwheat, sew the top closed and microwave for 30-60 seconds until the rice has warmed up.
  • Be aware of causing burns – never put heat or ice directly onto your skin

Important: only stretch a muscle as far as comfortable.  Do not push through the pain.  Breathe, relax and stretch until you feel a mild pull on the muscle.  Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds.  

Be cautious using ice or heat of you have diabetes, peripheral neuropathy or reduced sensation, to avoid causing burns. Additionally, never use heat where you suspect there may be swelling or infection as heat draws more blood to the area and will exacerbate the inflammation.

P.R.I.C.E. Management

Hundreds of people sustain acute injuries every day that can be treated effectively at home using the P.R.I.C.E. method. (P.R.I.C.E. stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation).  This is ideal for a trauma such as falling, twisting or knocking into something. P.R.I.C.E. management is excellent for injuries that are immediately painful, swollen, red or bruised.

PRICE-protection-rest-ice-compression-elevate-1024x683

Use the P.R.I.C.E. principles for the first 48-72 hours immediately after injury.  The goal during this time is to control swelling, prevent tissue damage and reduce pain.  Acting quickly after an acute injury can improve long-term recovery.

Painkillers – to take or not?!

At the time of publication, the latest advice is to avoid taking ibuprofen if you are showing any signs of coronavirus as it may exacerbate symptoms
At the time of publication, the latest advice is to avoid taking ibuprofen if you are showing any signs of coronavirus as it may exacerbate symptoms

Traditionally, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) have played an integral role in the treatment of acute injuries.   As a physiotherapist, I would often advise my patients to take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen to help reduce pain, spasm and inflammation. However, there has been a lot in the news this week about the potential for ibuprofen and other NSAIDs to aggravate COVID-19 symptoms.  The WHO (World Health Organization) now recommends that people suffering COVID-19 symptoms should avoid taking ibuprofen, after officials warned that NSAIDs could worsen effects of the virus.

(Read more here: https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m1086)

Ibuprofen advice
Source: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/self-isolation-advice/ Accurate as of 18th March 2020

It is important to note that inflammation plays an essential role in the body’s natural healing process.  Inflammation causes a rush of blood cells to an injured site.  This influx of nutrient-rich blood helps to promote healing by repairing damaged tissue.  Without inflammation, tissue repair is not possible.  While NSAIDs are effective at reducing pain, those pain signals are part of your body’s natural protection mechanism. Your brain interprets pain signals as caution, in other words, you experience pain to prevent further injury.

In a pre-corona world, there was already a growing body of evidence warning against using NSAIDs for acute injuries.  Now more than ever, please be cautious with taking any non-steroidal medication.

Consider using either paracetamol (not an NSAID), or using alternative methods to protect the damaged tissue and promote circulation (see P.R.I.C.E. Management).

Exercise

NHS guidelines state that everyone should aim to be physically active every day. With most of us adjusting to a new indoor lifestyle, this has become far more challenging.  But on the upside – we’ve all been given the gift of time, so no excuses, people!!pexels-photo-374101

 

Although your usual workout class or gym is temporarily closed, now more than ever we should all be including exercise into our daily routines.  Top physicians have advised that looking after our bodies and keeping healthy are important ways to combat coronavirus.

Keeping physically active, sleeping 7-8 hours a day, hydrating and eating a balanced diet are crucial to keeping up the body’s resistance to infection.

Although sport and exercise opportunities are currently limited, try to avoid staying sedentary all day. Try some YouTube exercise classes, do some yoga or go for a walk or a run outside. There are loads of free resources on the internet to facilitate exercising at home.  The NHS has some good guidelines and links, and is a great place to start:  https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/

Stretching is one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself against future injury.  Equally, if you are already injured, gently stretching will help to prevent further muscular tightening. Stretching helps to warm the tissues by increasing blood flow and oxygen, which in turn makes muscles more receptive to being gently lengthened. When your muscles and connective tissues are more supple, they can more easily absorb and distribute the repetitive shock that running and high impact exercise subjects them to.  This boosts the efficiency of muscles, ligaments and tendons, thereby improving performance.

Benefits of stretching

  • Prepares the body for exercise
  • Maintains and increases flexibility
  • Improves posture, joint mobility and performance
  • Decreases the risk of injury while improving body awareness

Decreasing the risk of injury is crucial, now more than ever.

Speak to a physiotherapist for specific exercise advice to self-manage your injuries from the comfort of your quarantined home.

Posture

slouched postureIn a pre-corona world, I saw an awful lot of adults, teenagers and even children with posture-related pain. With the UK hurtling towards a Europe-style lockdown, many of us will find ourselves spending time working awkwardly from our laptops and indulging in lengthy box-set binges. Unfortunately, I anticipate that lockdown will mean a surge in the number of posture-related injuries.

The answer? Prevention is better than cure!  Make sure to create an ergonomically sound workstation at home – see image below.  Ideally, sit upright with your feet on the floor, screen at eye level and your back well-supported.  Similarly, consider your sitting posture before starting a Netflix binge, or Zoom meeting – your post-corona body will thank you!

Ergonmic desk setup

To read more about obtaining perfect posture, click here:

Video Physiotherapy Appointments

In lieu of traditional physiotherapy appointments, we are currently offering video consultations.  We are obviously unable to provide the usual hands-on treatment including massage, mobilisation and acupuncture.  However, some 1:1 advice and a tailored exercise programme can go a long way to help with self-managing pain.  Please be in touch if you would like to book a virtual appointment.

Finally – remember the mantra of modern medicine: prevention is better than cure! Stay fit, do some gentle stretches and exercise, look after yourself and stay safe.

Take home messages for self-managing injuries at home:

  • Stay as active as you possibly can whilst self-isolating
  • If you are unlucky enough to injure yourself at home, consider P.R.I.C.E. management as well as ice/heat
  • Avoid taking NSAIDS including ibuprofen if you are showing any signs of COVID-19
  • Prevention is better than cure – warm up before and after exercising
  • Be aware of your posture and avoid sitting without moving for long periods
  • We provide video physiotherapy consultations – please be in touch for specific injury advice and exercises to get you back on your quarantined-feet ASAP
  • Stay safe!

To discuss your pain or for video appointments, please contact us here:

Naomi Burns

Lead Physiotherapist, NL Physio Ltd

24th March 2020

Ready, Steady FUN RUN!

Got a 1k, 5k or 10k run coming up?  Reduce the risk of injuries whilst on your fun run with these top tips to enjoy your run to the full.

Maccabi-GB-Community-Fun-Run.jpg

Happy feet = happy runner

Every runner will need different types of foot support, depending on their foot posture and loading technique.  I always recommend that people go to a specialist running shop, where they assess your gait and biomechanics and advise you accordingly.  Having said that, it’s really important not to wear a brand new pair of trainers on race day.  Start training in your new shoes and gradually get used to them well before you race competitively.

Do NOT carb load

Yes, if you’re running a half or full marathon you’ll need the extra energy, but for a relatively short race (1-10 kilometres) that pasta party the night before won’t really help.  Eat as you normally would but avoid any fatty or spicy food that might trigger gastrointestinal issues on the day – you could probably do without that!  On the morning of the run, eat a sensible breakfast as you normally would before training.  Have a small snack about an hour prior to the run to give yourself an extra burst of energy.

Warm up before your run

Before racing, it’s a good idea to slowly raise your heart rate and get your muscles ready to run.  Evidence has shown that warming up properly is the best way to prevent an injury and avoid DOMS – more on that later.

Start a slow jog or gentle warm up for about 5-10 minutes, then walk briskly to the start line.  If you are at an organised event with a group warm-up session, do take full advantage of it.  It will get your muscles warmed up and should get you pumped up and ready to enjoy the race.

Consider your position at the start line

people doing marathonDon’t be tempted to be the first to cross the start line, especially if you’re a newbie.  Standing too near the front will mean that seasoned runners will be racing past you, which can be off-putting.  It can also lead to a crash and burn early on, if you start too fast.  Pace yourself and listen to your body – it will thank you later.

Hydration is key

Take advantage of any water stations throughout the course to ensure your body stays well hydrated.  It’s worth slowing down for a few seconds to get that essential fuel in your body – you’ll make up for the time lost as hydrated muscles work far more efficiently than dehydrated ones.

Cool down and stretch immediately after running

quads foam roller.jpgYou crossed that line – woohoo!! But you’re not actually done yet.  Slow down and walk for a few minutes after the race to allow your heart rate and blood pressure to normalise.  Gently moving will improve blood flow, which helps remove lactic acid that will have built up during the run.

Additionally, do some gentle stretches to the main leg muscle groups such as quads, hamstrings and calves to relieve muscle tension.  You can foam roll your legs and then perform 30 second stretches as below to each muscle.

Don’t let DOMS dishearten you

DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness is the deep muscle ache that you feel for 24-48 hours after a workout.  You probably won’t feel it immediately, but you’ll know all about it when you try to get out of bed or climb the stairs for a couple of days after running.  This is a natural physiological reaction to your body exerting itself and is completely normal, especially if you haven’t pushed yourself as hard during training as you did during the race.  If you do suffer from DOMS, try having a hot bath, or you could use some Deep Heat or other warming balm to soothe sore muscles.

If you’re new to running, your body may take a few days to recuperate, so allow yourself time to recover. Continue to hydrate, eat nutritious food and get some good sleep for a few days following the run.

Have fun on your run!

Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to achieve a personal best, especially if it’s your first race.  Crossing the finish line and enjoying the experience are great achievements and not to be sniffed at! Relax and enjoy your accomplishment – you’ve earned it!

Phoebe

 

If you experience pain after running that persists longer than two days, please contact us.  We will happily discuss your pain with you and see if physiotherapy is the right course of action.

High heels – high risk for injury?

We all have that beautiful pair of had-to-buy-them, outfit-enhancing, agony inducing high heels. Confession: I am a shoeaholic and I have way too many shoes! The perfect pair of heels can undoubtedly set off any outfit, but are they doing more harm than good?  And what can be done to counter the effects of these torturous beauties?

Changes that occur whilst wearing high heels:

  • Pressure on the foot is shifted from the heel to the ball of your foot.  High heels or restrictive shoes can force the ball of the foot into a small amount of space.  This will cause an aching or burning pain, especially after a long night out, as there is increased pressure on the area. Foot pain This pressure through the toes can build up, causing metatarsalgia (toe pain), resulting from inflammation from the foot bones.  Continuing to wear restrictive footwear can cause bunions, Morton’s neuromas as well as increasing the risk of osteoarthritis in the feet.

  • Wearing high heels regularly can alter normal alignment, causing extra force to be transmitted through the knees.   Your quadriceps (thigh muscles) have to work harder than usual to maintain your knee position, resulting in strain.  When you wear flatter shoes, your heel is closer to the floor, meaning your quads don’t have to work as hard to stabilise your knee.  This reduces the risk of anterior knee and patellofemoral pain.  Quads strengthening exercises (in particular for the vastus medialis oblique/VMO muscle) will help provide stability for the knee.

  • Lumbar lordosisHigh heels get a bad rep for causing back pain.  Physiotherapists have historically warned against wearing heels, as they can cause an increase in lumbar lordosis, the natural curve at the base of your spine. Lumbar lordosis - postureWearing heels causes the hips to angle forwards, arching the back and increasing the angle of lordosis.  This makes the paraspinal muscles in the back work harder, causing them to fatigue more quickly.  Activating your core whilst walking and trying to maintain a neutral spine will help to support the low back muscles.  [Click here to read about how to prevent poor posture.]  Lordosis has been linked to low back pain, although the jury is still out on the extent of damage wearing heels can cause.
  • Wearing high heels can, over time, tighten the calf muscles and Achilles tendon, resulting in an inefficient walking pattern.  Over time, the calf muscles lose their elasticity, so they are unable to lengthen to reach the ground altogether. This explains why some women who constantly wear heels claim that they are more comfortable in heels than flats.  Chronic heel-wearing can cause heel pain and tendonitis, which can be very painful and tricky to manage.
    High, Heels

 

Clearly, our high heels can potentially wreak havoc for our joints, alignment and posture, and can cause a wealth of musculoskeletal injuries.  However, if you’re anything like me, knowing the risks isn’t realistically going to deter you from wearing those gorgeous heels.

How to prevent footwear-related injuries

Follow these few tips to counter the harmful effects of high heels and reduce your risk of injury.

  • Ideally, limit the amount you wear your heels and opt for comfy shoes wherever possible.  If this is a total no-no, minimise the amount of time you wear your heels for.

  • High heel painMassage your feet after wearing heels, paying particular attention to the balls of your feet and the big toe area (which takes a lot of pressure)

  • Chunky heels put less pressure through the metatarsals, ankles and knees and are much more stable than stilettos.  Aim for wider, well-fitting heels to reduce pressure through your lower limbs.

  • Stretch!  Regularly stretching the calf muscles, feet and Achilles to help counter the shortening of these muscles.Calf stretch
  • Exercise your feet and core.  Try doing Pilates and some foot stretches to keep to stabilise your feet and reduce the stress going through your ankles, knees and back.

    Ruby slippers

  • Dorothy tottered around Oz all day in her ruby slippers, but knew that there’s no place like home to rest your weary feet.  Try and spend some time in flat but supportive shoes (such as trainers).  This will allow your feet to breathe and recover from the restriction that heels tend to cause.

  • Completely flat shoes such as ballerina pumps can be even worse than heels as they offer no support at all for your feet.  Try and ensure any shoes have some cushioning and good arch support.

  • Foot with arch supportIf you are struggling with footwear, speak to a physio or Podiatrist.  Many people have reduced medial arches or ‘flat feet’, which causes an over-pronation at the ankle, which increases the risk of sprained ankles and knee pain.  Wearing shoes with inner-arch support can provide huge relief from the pain associated with flat feet and plantarfaciitis.  A health professional will be able to advise on whether your footwear has sufficient support.

 

 

High heelsIn conclusion, there are ways to enjoy your favourite footwear but be aware of the risks to your joints.  Consider taking the steps above to reduce the risk of pain and injury whilst enjoying your best shoes.

Happy high heel-wearing!!

 


Naomi Burns, Specialist Physiotherapist

May 2017

Pain-free Pesach Preparation

Each year my mum jokes about the irony of being chained to the kitchen sink during Pesach, the so-called “Festival of Freedom”.  My friends always laugh when I tell them that as a physio, the run-up to Pesach is typically one of my busiest times of year.  For many of us, despite the best-made cleaning schedules and most organised meal plans, nothing quite prepares you for the physical effort and pressure of cleaning, shlepping, shopping and cooking for Pesach.

This year more than ever, many are making Pesach at home for the first time,  causing both physical and mental stress levels to soar. Stress can lead to cutting corners in terms of safety.  Sadly, this is can lead to shoulder, neck, back and knee injuries – the last thing anyone needs to be worrying about right now.

Here are some tips to reduce the risk of provoking ‘back-breaking labour’ and enjoy a pain-free Passover:

Look familiar? The stress of Pesach can be both physically and mentally draining.
Look familiar? The stress of Pesach can be both physically and mentally draining.

Try to divide up heavy loads.

Lifting heavy thingIt might be tempting to save time by carrying heavy shopping bags or bringing all of the pots and pans down from the loft in one go. This can put unnecessary strain through your neck, upper back and shoulders, leading to strains, trapped nerves and muscle tears. Try splitting heavy lifting into smaller, more manageable loads to reduce the risk of injury.

Don’t risk a fall by over-stretching

FallingCertain household activities have a higher injury-risk because you are sustaining a fixed position for a long time (i.e. vacuuming, which forces your spine into a bent-over position).  Try to relax your back and always keep your core muscles tight whilst doing housework.

Use a sturdy step-ladder or stool to reach high cupboards, rather than straining up. Avoid standing unsteady furniture or boxes to access hard-to-reach places, to reduce the risk of twisting or falling.

Be aware of your lifting technique

When picking up boxes, however heavy, avoid bending from your waist, which puts a lot of stress on your joints.  Always kneel down to reach into low cupboards, and remember to bend from your hips, not your back. Try to keep any load you are carrying at waist-height and close to your body, which helps keep your centre of gravity low.

Be especially careful when carrying hot, heavy dishes for example big pots of soup or taking heavy dishes out of the oven.  The same rules apply – keep your core muscles tight, bend your knees and breathe whilst lifting.

Always lift with good posture - even if you're picking something up that's really light. Bend your knees so you are in a squatting position to prevent straining your back.
Always lift with good posture – even if you’re picking up something really light. Bend your knees so you are in a squatting position to prevent straining your back.

 

Protect yourself from old injuries and try to de-stress

A pre-existing injury will make you more susceptible to future-injury. Now more than ever, many of us are stressed out and anxious about everything going on in the world.  Throw the stress of Pesach cleaning, cooking and adapting to an indoor lifestyle into the mix and it’s no wonder we feel tense! Minor physical or mental stress may cause a disproportionate pain reaction, especially at the moment.

Try not to over-exert yourself and listen to your body – if you experience pain, it’s probably time to take a break.

Remember: some jobs simply are a two-person activity.  If a task is too much to manage alone, wait until you can recruit some help or, if you are alone, consider whether it is really essential. Pulling furniture or lifting things to clean underneath can strain muscles, joints and put pressure on the spine. It’s not worth injuring yourself, as my old driving instructor used to say – “if in doubt, leave it out”.

Break tasks down and pace activities

Sustaining one position for too long can lead to muscular tension and joint pain. Try to have more than one task on-the-go and switch between activities to avoid maintaining the same posture for too long. For example: avoid standing for hours prepping your vegetables.  Consider sitting down to peel and standing to chop and mixing it up to vary your position.  As long as you’re not static in one place for too long, your muscles shouldn’t fatigue too quickly and therefore won’t be as prone to straining.

Surviving Seder without injuring yourself

Seder leaningBy the time you sit down to Seder, you’ll probably feel more exhausted than liberated. But don’t risk an injury at this stage.  Sitting for the duration of Seder can itself be challenging, particularly if you suffer from back or knee pain. Think about stretching before you sit down and getting up where possible to break up the sitting.

When it comes to leaning, we should perhaps ask how to lean correctly to protect our backs, rather than why we lean. Whatever your minhag, think about using a pillow to avoid twisting and sitting awkwardly, especially if you lean for a large part of the Seder.  Consider using a chair with arms or else rotate your chair 90 degrees so you can support your back while you lean.

Listen to your body and don’t ignore pain

If you are in pain, STOP! Going for a walk, deep breathing exercises or stretching can not only relieve the aches and niggles, but should help alleviate stress levels and increase productivity.

Don’t just ignore pain and crack on.  There’s an awful lot to do at this time of year but if you are injured, you won’t be much use to anyone!

Most importantly, try and relax – all of your hard work will be rewarded when you (finally!) sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labour, even if it is a more scaled-back version that you are used to.

Video Physiotherapy Appointments

In lieu of traditional physiotherapy appointments, we are currently offering video consultations.  We are obviously unable to provide the usual hands-on treatment including massage, mobilisation and acupuncture.  However, some 1:1 advice and a tailored exercise programme can go a long way to help with self-managing pain.  Please be in touch if you would like to book a virtual appointment.

Happy Pesach


Naomi Burns, Specialist Physiotherapist

Updated March 2020

Slipped Disc and Back Pain explained

What is a slipped disc?

Slipped disc MRI -KB annotated
An MRI of a lumbar spine, demonstrating a slipped disc. The disc fluid bulges out, putting pressure on the spinal cord, causing pain in the back and/or the buttock, thigh or feet.

The spine is made up of 24 vertebrae, with soft, gel-like intervertebral discs that sit between each spinal vertebra.  The discs act as padding, absorbing impact and reducing shock to the spine during daily movements.

A ‘slipped disc’ is usually associated with trauma or an accident.  The outer-shell of the intervertebral disc becomes damaged, allowing the gel inside to leak out. The discs lie directly over the spinal nerve root, causing the protruding disc fluid to pressurise the nerve, causing localised back pain. When the nerve is pressed or irritated, people can experience neural symptoms, including numbness, tingling or weakness in the affected area.  Often, the sciatic nerve is compressed, resulting in sciatica or nerve pain into the buttocks, thigh or feet.  A ‘slipped’, ‘herniated’ and ‘bulged’ disc all refer to the same type of injury.  The diagnosis indicates the percentage of leaked disc fluid, and whether or not the nerve has been affected.

What causes a slipped disc?

A slipped disc is often but not always associated with trauma or a bending forward motion. With age, the discs lose some of their water content, making the disc less spongy, and more susceptible to injury following minimal strain. Sometimes twisting or turning whilst lifting heavy objects can cause a sudden sharp back pain.  The pain can be specific to the lower back, or cause burning or tingling down the leg.  Typically, people feel pain on one side only, however it can be more generalised across the lower back.

Management of a slipped disc

According to NHS statistics (2016) a third of UK adults experience some form of low back pain, although only 1 in 20 have a diagnosed disc issue.  Although anyone can suffer with low back pain, slipped discs typically affect people aged between 30-50.  Men are twice as likely to be affected by a slipped disc as women.

If you have slipped a disc, there are different management options available. Often, the pain improves naturally over time as the disc eventually shrinks away, reducing pressure and relieving pain on the nerve (see the Case Study at the bottom of page). This can take 6-8 weeks, or sometimes longer. A combination of pain-relief and physio can usually help to relieve the inflammation, tightness and pain in the back and legs.   A Physiotherapist will assess you and use a range of techniques to speed up healing, reduce pain and increase flexibility.  In severe cases, patients may need to consult an Orthopaedic Surgeon who will advise whether surgical procedures or steroid injections are necessary.

Self-management of a slipped disc or low back pain

If you suspect that you have a slipped disc, try to keep mobile and doing your usual activities. If you rest for too long, your joints may stiffen up further, exacerbating your back pain. You may need to take pain killers or anti-inflammatories and rest from the aggravating factors. This will keep your spine flexible, keep your muscles strong and help to speed up healing.  Pilates is an excellent way to help manage low back pain in the long-run.  This type of exercise has been shown to strengthen the core muscles, improve lumbar stability and control, and consequently prevent recurrent injuries.  A physiotherapist can advise when to start core strengthening exercises as part of your treatment programme.

Case Study:  The scan below belongs to a 29 year old woman who presented with pain and tingling in her right leg.  The patient had a steroid injection, as well as a course of physiotherapy, including massage, stretches and core strengthening. Within five months, her disc herniation had resolved, the pain and paresthesia had gone.  (Hong, J & Ball, P (2016) N Engl J Med 2016; 374:1564)

MRI of a lumbar spine showing slipped disc before and after treatment
MRI of a lumbar spine showing slipped disc before and after treatment Figure A: MRI at the time of injury; the yellow arrow shows a lumbar disc herniation and nerve root compression. Figure B: MRI at 5 months post-injury; the green arrow shows the disc is no longer compressing the nerve or spinal cord (white/grey column next to the vertebrae), with complete resolution of the slipped disc.

 

If your back pain is worrying you, please contact us to discuss how physiotherapy could help you.


Naomi Burns, Specialist Physiotherapist

March 2017

The Power of Posture

When it comes to posture, it seems like your mum did know best – her shouts of “sit up straight!” and “stop slouching!” were great advice.
At the beginning of the year, lots of us look to refocus our health and set ourselves goals for the upcoming year.  But most people forget one of the most important areas to concentrate on; bad posture can counteract hours spent in the gym and derail your fitness goals.  Improving posture will help to activate more muscles and boost their efficiency, meaning that by sitting up straight you burn more calories.
Good posture can help your muscles work more efficiently and improve your overall health and fitness
Slouching or stooping causes muscles to fatigue and ligaments to strain in order to support your spine, which can lead to back pain, headaches, muscle tension and injuries.  Correcting your posture may feel awkward and unnatural to begin with, but if you work at it, your muscles and joints will strengthen.  Over time, maintaining good posture will feel much more comfortable.
Postural awareness is the one guaranteed method to improve it long-term.  Sadly, the nature of habit means that maintaining good posture requires a lasting commitment.  However, with a few tips and tricks, you can be sitting taller and walking straighter in no time.


Benefits of good posture:

slouched posture
If you spend a large part of your day hunched over your computer, iPad or phone (let’s be honest, who isn’t guilty?!) you may well have a sore or tight neck by the end of the day.  Sitting with better posture will improve muscle efficiency, therefore reducing strain and tension through neck and upper back muscles.   Even more crucially, sitting up straight will reduce pressure going through discs and joints in your neck, therefore reducing the wear and tear that occurs naturally over time.

Good alignment can not only improve your posture, but can make you look taller, slimmer and more confident. Look at a photo of yourself where you’re slouching and compare it to one where you’re posing – unless you’re a natural ballerina, your posture and overall appearance will be much better with a few tweaks.

Good posture will make you look taller, slimmer and more confident
Good posture will make you look taller, slimmer and more confident

So lose the rounded shoulders and Dowager’s hump for an instanta-improvement.  If you’ve put better posture on your 2017 resolution list, follow this advice for a healthier spine, better muscle flexibility and improved confidence this year.



Top tips for posture: Balloon posture

1) Exercise to improve sitting posture: Imagine you have a helium balloon attached to the crown of your head.  Allow your neck to lengthen, gently tuck your chin in and allow your shoulders to relax.  This will eliminate the tendency to round your shoulders and gives the impression of a more elongated neck.


2)  Whilst sitting, lift your sternum forwards and upward, lengthening your collarbones whilst keeping your shoulder blades relaxed down.  This automatically straightens the upper back, making you look taller and relieving any pressure that might be accumulating between your shoulder blades and trapezius muscles.


Side plank
Core strengthening exercises are a great way to support your spine

3) Improve your core strength.  It sounds simple, but your core is your ‘powerhouse’, stabilising your pelvis, hips and spine.  The stronger your deep core muscles are, the more effectively the rest of your muscles will work (which is why there’s such a strong focus on alignment in Pilates and yoga).


4) Posture Prompts

Set yourself a reminder as a prompt to sit up straight.
Set yourself a reminder as a prompt to sit up straight.
Despite the best intentions, most of us forget about posture about thirty seconds after correcting it, so it’s essential to be reminded regularly. Whether it’s while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil or setting a reminder on your phone, find something to cue you to stop slouching, roll your shoulders back and take some deep breaths.  Not only will you feel calmer, posture-prompts will support your neck and spine and temporarily relieve tense muscles.

Lumbar lordosis
Wearing high heels, extra belly weight and tight hamstrings can make the natural curve of your spine appear more pronounced.

5) Everyone has a natural curve in their low back, known as a lordosis, however in some people this can be more pronounced.  Lumbar lordosis can be exaggerated by excessive weight, pregnancy and wearing high heels.  Doing regular glute strengthening exercises such as squats, clamshells and bridges can help correct standing posture and improve the appearance of a bum that sticks out (or in my family, affectionately named the ‘Donald Duck’ posture).


6) Sit well.  If your bum is too near the edge of the chair, you may find yourself leaning forward or slouching.  Ensure that your bum is as far back in the chair as possible, you have some lumbar support and that your feet are balancing your body weight on the floor.

Try and sit with feet on the floor, bum back and your lumbar spine supported
Try and sit with feet on the floor, bum back and your lumbar spine supported

7) Make ergonomic changes.  Make sure you have a good work-station setup with your shoulders relaxed, back and feet supported and computer screen at eye-level to avoid slouching all day.  And most importantly, try and take regular breaks and keep active to prevent bad postural habits from building up.

proper-office-chair-sitting-form



Remember, awareness of good posture is the first step to breaking poor postural habits.  Bear these things in mind and make 2017 the year where you sit up and take control of your posture.


Naomi Burns, Physiotherapist
January 2017