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The Importance of Stretching

Oct 10
low back pain, stetching

Everyone has heard the speech before: “stretch to prevent injury during exercise”.  However, no one seems to explain further how stretching can actually help your body stay healthy, or even that stretching can be harmful in some situations.

The most important issue to know about stretching is when NOT to do it.  The old adage of “stretch before you exercise” is a slight misconception, as it can actually cause injuries rather than prevent them if done improperly.  The only time muscles should be stretched is when they are warm; that is to say, when they have been properly warmed by either mild exercise (or moderate exercise if you don’t live in warm and sunny San Diego) or an outside heat source such as a hot tub, shower, or sauna.  Imagine, for a moment, that your muscles are like a towel soaked with water.  If that wet cloth is warmed up it becomes very flexible and stretchy, but put that same cloth in the freezer and it becomes stiff and brittle.  The same idea applies to your actual muscles – if you stretch “cold” muscles that are stiff and brittle you can cause damage to your muscles in the arena of muscle strains and micro-tears.  Strains and micro-tears can and usually do cause scar tissue buildup inside the muscle tissue, making the muscle sticky and, effectively,  less flexible.  Practically applied, this means that muscles should not be stretched before exercise; stretching should be done both after a moderate warm-up and after exercise is completed.

Now that the issue of when to stretch is covered, now we need to know why.  Stretching, in effect, lengthens the muscle tissue, giving it a greater range of motion.  As we have discussed in a previous article, muscles and bones have a symbiotic relationship and constantly affect one another, for better or worse.  If the muscles attached to the bones in your body are tight an strained they have the power to pull bones out of alignment to the point of partial or full dislocation.  Conversely, if the muscles attached to the bones in your body are loose and supple they can work in symphony without causing any disruption in the skeleton’s structure.  Since stretching can keep muscles loose and supple can prevent bone misalignment it can therefore prevent potential pain; misaligned bones can pinch nerves and cause further muscle discomfort.  For example, if your hamstring muscles are tight (which most people’s are) they can pull hard on your pelvic bone, causing it to shift downward, which in turn may cause the sciatic nerve to become impinged, causing the incredibly painful condition Sciatica.

All of the secondary effects aside, many people don’t know how painful tight muscles themselves can be, and how much stretching can help!  Despite the fact most medical doctors pass off muscle pain as an inconvenience it can actually be a serious, even debilitating experience.  Chronically tight muscles can also become weak and susceptible to intense muscle spasms due to over exhaustion.  In the end all of these conditions can be prevented with a daily stretching routine, focusing on your particular problem spots.  A Chiropractic consultation can help discover which muscles in your body are tight, as well as providing stretching outlines and instructions.  It is also important to note that not all muscle spasms can be stretched into health – sometimes further intervention is required to reduce inflammation and provide some muscle movement before stretching will help – and there are conditions where stretching is ill advised, such as with a disc bulge.  Again, a Chiropractic consultation can clear up the cause of any muscle pain experienced and determine if stretching is right for your condition.

Whiplash – Something to Think About

Sep 09
car accidents, neck pain, whiplash

Everyone’s heard the story – a friend of a friend got into a car accident and has now has to wear a neck brace for the next four weeks.  It sounds like a simple enough equation: totaled car=whiplash; however, that is not quite the case.  While serious car accidents do very often produce whiplash injuries they are by no means the only type.  Some people have been known to sustain whiplash injuries with as little as a 5mph change in speed, which in itself proves that even a minor fender bender can become a serious issue.

Now, I categorize whiplash as a serious issue for a reason.  It may seem counter-intuitive – after all, people whip their heads around all day long for hundreds of reasons and don’t get whiplash.  However, there is a difference in whipping your own neck around, versus having it moved forcibly from external forces.  The injuries that are experienced by a victim of whiplash are varied from mild to severe, but the constant discomfort and prolapse from normal daily life are very serious indeed.  Think about this – since a whiplash injury affects the neck it therefore affects how well the head and shoulders move; this means that all head and shoulder movement will be at least mildly affected by such a situation.  People use their head movements for eating, conversation and communication, working, exercise, and even relaxing and sleeping!  This means that every part of life will be affected by this type of injury.

As I stated above, whiplash injuries can occur during even minor fender benders.  Firstly, it doesn’t take much for the neck to bend (seeing as though it’s one of the most flexible parts of the body), plus it’s got the heavy weight of skull and brain to hold up.  That being said the Law of Inertia now comes into play (Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remail in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it); if you are sitting in a car that is struck from any angle your body will stay in the same position until it is moved by some piece of the car itself.  Most people sit in a car with their upper legs, rear end, and torso touching the actual seat while every other body part, including the head and neck, are hovering somewhere near a seat cushion without making contact.  This means that the head and neck are very susceptible to being pulled in one direction or another simply because the body is being pulled in different direction first.  Once the head and body are moving together, however, the same rule applies for a different reason.  If the car stops moving the lower half of the body will do so as well, being in contact with the car, but the upper half of the body will continue along the same route it was forced along by the initial crash force.  This means that the heavy head sitting on top of the flexible neck will likely travel further than any other part of the body, possibly beyond the realms of safe movement.

Newton’s first law isn’t the only thing at play here, though.  If it were we would not have to worry about minor fender benders, since the movement in such an accident is minimal.  However, there is Newton’s third law to think about – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  During a major car accident the outer shell and inner framework of the car is usually damaged; while this may seem like a bad thing it actually means that some of the force between the two cars is being absorbed into the metal as folds and tears rather than working its way up to the driver and passengers.  When there is no damage to the car it means no force was absorbed by the car itself, which in turn means that most of the crash’s force makes its way into the bodies of the driver and passengers.  Along with the fact that your body is going to absorb some of the opposite and equal force to a sudden movement, there is also the fact that you are not going to sit passively like a wet noodle.  A normal reaction is to tighten whatever muscles are available to prevent the body from being strained or hyperextended in any given direction.  While this is normal it is not always helpful; the body is providing an involuntary equal and opposite reaction to oppose the movement being forced upon it by the crash, which means that not only are muscles, tendons and ligaments being strained beyond their normal working length, but they are also being tightened at the same time, causing double the injury.  This idea is further heightened by the fact that many people are able to see a crash coming and therefore tighten their muscles in anticipation!

As you can now see, whiplash can come from almost all types of accidents, regardless of the direction, and can seriously affect everyday life after.  The most important thing to remember with a whiplash injury, however, is that the onset of pain can be slow.  No matter what the seriousness of the accident itself your body will release adrenaline, which helps to keep you alert, ready for action, and, unfortunately, from feeling any pain.  Once the adrenaline wears off any muscles that have been strained, sprained, bruised or torn will slowly start to react by building up heat, swelling, tension, and pain.  This, in turn, can spread to other muscles via proximity or by pulling nearby bones out of place, making the injury worse.  The key to beating this downward spiral is getting checked by a Chiropractor after every accident.  Countless times I have had people come in only after being told by their primary care physician that they have nothing wrong with them only to suffer through weeks of unnecessary pain.  Chiropractic exams are designed to discover and treat issues before they cause pain which, you must admit, sounds like a reasonable option after looking at the alternatives.

The Thigh Bone’s Connected to the Hip Bone….

Sep 09
low back pain, mid back pain, neck pain

Ever injure your neck and, to your surprise, find you have a sore low back a few days later?  Or may be you’ve turned your ankle, only to find your knee and hip hurting later on.  The explanation is easy enough – all of the bones and muscles in your body are interconnected, and therefore apt to fall victim to a chain reaction once an injury is set in place.

First, basic anatomy has to be addressed before looking at how pain can travel through muscles in the body.  The basic structure of the body is made up of two things – muscles and bones.  Bones provide a rigid framework that protects internal organs and keeps us upright – after all, without bones we would be a mushy blob of muscles and organs, moving at the speed of a caterpillar.   Muscles allow for those bones to move in a multitude of different directions – without them our bodies couldn’t move at all!  Almost every muscle in the body connects to two different bones and cause movement by contracting or shortening its length.  This does not mean that all muscles work by bringing bones closer together, but that all muscles move bones in one direction or another.  For example, if you take your arm and lay it flat on a table, palm facing up, you can see that none of your muscles are engaged.  However, if you want to move your forearm closer to your upper arm you have to shorten your bicep muscle (in the front of your arm), which pulls the bones in your forearm up in the air.  If you wish to press your forearm into the table, moving it away from your upper arm you have to shorten your tricep muscle (in the back of your arm), which pushes the bones in your forearm into the table top.  There are even small muscles responsible for rolling your forearm and hand from side to side!

The most important part to understand about muscles movement is the fact that muscles have to be attached to two different bones to cause movement.  Think about this:  if a farmer was attempting to pull a bucket full of water out of a well he would need to attach a rope to both the bucket and his hands to make a difference.  If he tied both ends of the rope to the bucket it wouldn’t move, nor would it move if he were holding both ends in your hand.  Muscles work the same – a muscle (the rope) must be attached to a origin point (the farmer) and an ending or “insertion” point (the bucket).

Now that we know muscles must attach to two different bones it must be said that every bone in the body has multiple muscles attached to it!  Since bones need to move up, down, forward, backward, and around there must be muscles to provide this movement for EVERY bone that can perform these feats.  Not all bones can move in every direction – ever tried twisting a finger around? – but all bones have at least SOME movement.  If we look at the forearm again we can see that the bones within, called the radius and ulna, have muscles attached to it that can lift the forearm, straighten the forearm, twist the forearm, extend the hand (pressing the top of the hand back), flex the hand (pressing the palm of the hand down), twist the hand, and even flex and extend the fingers!

All of these different muscles, with different origins and insertions, can be a complicated network within the body.  Imagine now that one of these muscles is injured and has gone into a phase of inflammation and constant tightness, better known as a muscle spasm.  In this state an injured muscle with be constantly pulling on the two bones it connects with, causing any ligaments, joints or muscles between them to experience undue pressure and strain.  Eventually this increased strain will cause one or both of the bones to shift slightly to relieve the pressure.  When this shift happens all of the muscles attached to the shifted bones will now experience their own strain and irritation, having been moved out of their normal place.   As you can see, these types of muscle strains and bone shifts (called subluxations) can cause a chain reaction throughout the body in ways you may never expect.

Not all is lost, however, since there are professionals that do expect these things to happen.  Chiropractors, Massage Therapists, Orthopedic Surgeons, and Physical Therapists are all professionals that can predict these types of reactions in the body.  Our job is to correct muscle spasms and subluxations before a domino effect happens.  The only way we can do this, however, is if you come in to see us when you feel something “off” in your body, or if you’ve had an injury.  Even though receiving treatments for what may seem like a relatively simple discomfort may seem trivial and wasteful you may actually be preventing the spread of painful muscle spasms throughout your own body.  After all, now you know Dem Dry Bones was right, and the thigh bone really IS connected to the hip bone!

Why Headaches are a Pain in the Neck

Sep 09
Migraines/Headaches, neck pain

Now, I’m not saying that all headaches are created equal, nor are they from the same source, but chances are if you’ve experienced a nagging headache is was probably caused by your neck!    I’d like to explain why some headaches occur so that you can prevent them.  As stated above, not all headaches are equal, nor are they all preventable; however, the majority of everyday headaches can be attributed to everyday causes.

First thing to discuss is why a headache occurs.  Unfortunately, the scientific community has not come to a clear decision on this, despite years of study.  The general consensus, however, is that blood flow to the structures around the brain is chiefly responsible for head pain.  The brain itself cannot feel pain, as it does not have any sensory receptors (nerves that interpret pain), but the thin layers of protective tissue surrounding the brain can.  These layers, called the meninges (ever heard of Meningitis?  It’s the inflammation of those layers) contain the blood vessels that feed the brain.  It is thought that the increase or decrease in regular blood flow to these layers causes primary headaches, such as migraines and cluster headaches.  There is also the pain of a secondary headache, which comes from a source outside the skull cavity, such as muscle tension in the head or jaw or sinus inflammation.

The second thing to consider with headaches is how they happen.  Since, as stated before, the scientific community has not yet agreed on the exact way a headache occurs there is no way for me to cover it here.  However, there is the concept of how blood flow to the meninges in the skull can change, as well as how tension in the musculature of the head can occur.  Both of these situations commonly arise from pinched nerves, inflamed muscles, and dislocated vertebrae in the neck!  The blood supply for the brain is carried up through the Carotid Artery, while the “dirty” blood already used by the brain is drained away by the Jugular Vein, both of which run through the neck.  Since the neck is rather small in comparison to many other parts of the body important structures (such as the spinal cord, blood supply for the brain, and airways) are crammed together in close proximity, allowing for unintended involvement.  If a vertebrae is pulled out of place by a painful neck muscle the resultant movement can cause a blood vessel to become occluded; if the Carotid is pressed it may reduce blood flow to the brain, while pressure on the Jugular may result in a slight backlog of used blood being removed from the brain.  Since scientists have agreed that blood flow is a factor in many primary headaches it follows that the origin point of blood flow to the brain must be kept structurally sound in order to reduce the chance of pain.  On top of a potential blood flow issue, misaligned bones can cause a chain reaction of spasmed muscles, allowing pain in the neck to transform into inflammation and irritation of the skull muscles.

The last thing you need to know, if you are suffering from headaches of any sort, are preventative measures.  Here are a few things everyone can do to keep headaches at bay:

– Drink plenty of water (water keeps blood flow smooth and muscles more relaxed)

– Keep good posture (poor posture allows for misaligned vertebrae and muscle inflammation)

– Get treatment RIGHT AWAY if you’ve been in any type of accident, even if you don’t feel pain immediately (automobile crash, slip and fall, sports injury, etc)

– Keep your stress levels down (stress can change blood flow and cause irritated and strained muscles)

Of course, there are plenty of other things you can do to prevent headaches, such as seeing a Chiropractor when you feel pain in your neck or head, getting regularly scheduled treatments to prevent migraines, eating healthy, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and even having your eyes checked regularly to prevent inflammation in the eye muscles from squinting!  As difficult as it may seem, all of these steps have to be integrated into your life at your own pace and of your own free will.  However much of a pain in the neck it may seem it must be said that following a few steps to a headache free life is worth it!

Chiropractic treatment for Whiplash

Aug 08
auto accident whiplash neck pain, whiplash

Whiplash is an injury to the cervical spine, which is caused by a jerking motion of the head and neck. When the head is thrown backward or forward, whiplash can occur. You can get whiplash in many other ways besides just car accidents. Playing sports, horseplay, awkward falls or even a sudden sneeze can result in whiplash. Whiplash can certainly be painful, and many times people will choose to enlist a chiropractor service for help and pain relief. A chiropractor can put the spine back in alignment so that the rest of the body can heal.

Common Symptoms of Whiplash

If you have had problems after an accident such as headaches, head and neck pain, stiff neck or muscle spasms, you could have whiplash. You will be able to recognize these signs quite easily and you will find in a case of whiplash, you have restricted head motion. You will not be able to turn your head all the way in the directions you want, so this is one reason you should seek a chiropractor service for whiplash. You can also have equilibrium problems and a loss of hearing and you may experience ringing in the ears which are all signs of whiplash.

If you are feeling lightheaded and excessively tired or even find yourself blacking out, it is a for sure sign you have most likely hurt your neck. If you are experiencing any nerve pain or nerve inflammation in the area of your neck you should get checked as well. Cold hands and feet are often a symptom, so is numbness in the arms, hands, shoulders, feet or legs. Periods of unexplained depression and anxiety could be a factor as well as irritability. You will find it hard to concentrate and may have a poor memory, another sign of whiplash is the pain between the shoulders; there may be low back pain, tremors, and rapid heartbeat.

If you have these problems, you need to contact a chiropractor service for whiplash. The chiropractor will work with you in a variety of ways, and they will align the spine to help with the restricted head motion. This can help you to get your balance back and hopefully the hearing will get better with less ringing in the ears. With the alignment, it should cure some of the eyestrain and you will not want to sleep the pain away. The numbness should go away, the pain should ease and nerve inflammation should get better.

Please contact The Head Neck and Spine Center of San Diego for a free consultation.