With many of us spending all day at a desk, either in the office or working from home, the incidence of ...Read more
With many of us spending all day at a desk, either in the office or working from home, the incidence of back ache in desk workers has never been higher! In this article, I’ll explain why, plus offer my top tips on pain prevention.
Why does desk work often lead to back pain?
Back pain is common among people who work at a desk all day. In fact, estimates suggest that, in any one year, between 23% and 38% of office workers will have at least one episode of back pain.
Why is it so common? Let’s look at the issues.
Posture and movement
Posture is important. A ‘neutral’ position, when we’re aligned properly, puts the least stress through the spine and joints. But it’s hard to maintain a good posture when you’re lost for hours in a spreadsheet!
And posture isn’t everything. Our bodies are quite adaptable and can cope with some awkward positions.
It’s just as important to think about how long we stay in one position. Even ‘bad’ postures can be ok if you change them regularly.
There are several reasons for this.
First, muscles stay happy and healthy when they’re doing what they do best – that is, contracting and relaxing. Just like a car engine, movement keeps them in good shape.
Activity pumps blood through muscles, bringing in fresh nutrients and oxygen, and carrying away metabolic waste.
When you sit still at a desk for long periods, back pain can develop as muscles fatigue. Metabolites build up. Muscles can develop little areas of contracted fibres. You can feel these as ‘muscle knots’, often in your shoulders.
Eventually, muscles adapt to a posture, lengthening or shortening to fit. That means they can’t work as effectively when you’re doing something else.
Second, inactive or weak muscles mean that we’re using ligaments to maintain our posture. Ligaments under pressure gradually stretch. And stretched ligaments can be painful.
Third, when we slump, there’s more pressure going through our spinal joints. For example, the average adult head weighs about 5kg. But if you let your head drop forward to 45o, the pressure on your neck skyrockets to 22kg!
Similarly, sitting increases the pressure in your low back (lumbar spine) by 40% compared to standing. But if you slouch, that figure jumps to 85%!
So, while our bodies can cope with these issues for short periods, it’s best to give them a regular break by moving, stretching, and changing position.
Osteopaths love a conundrum! They’ll spend time working with you to unravel the root cause of your back pain, whether it's to do with your desk or not. Then they will figure out a bespoke plan to deal with it.
Here are some things that your osteopath will consider when you see them with back pain.
1. Local causes
Is there a specific body tissue that’s sending out pain signals? This might be muscle, ligament, joint, bone, nerve or even blood vessel. It might even be your digestive or urinary system.
Osteopaths are trained in anatomy, pathology and diagnostics. They are experts at unravelling the possible causes.
They’ll listen to your story, which helps them develop theories about what might be happening.
They can then examine different structures to test these theories and work out the source of your pain.
2. Contributing factors
When they’ve determined which parts are hurting, your osteopath will want to understand why.
Are there factors elsewhere in your body that put extra pressure on your spinal joints, for example? Perhaps long hours at your desk have contributed to back pain by shortening your hip flexor muscles, which can then pull on your spine.
Maybe a stiff upper back is causing a deeper arch in your low back, adding extra compression to the joints.
Osteopaths understand how the body functions as a unit, and how problems in one part can affect other areas.
3. Your context
After that, your osteopath will want to put the whole picture together.
That means understanding how things in your daily life affect your body. That might include your job, your stress levels, your nutrition, or your sleep patterns.
They will also consider your previous medical conditions, injuries or illnesses, and how these might affect your body now.
4. The treatment plan
Osteopaths have dozens of ways to treat. They will choose techniques based on what they think will work best for you, and what type of treatment you prefer.
A typical treatment might involve releasing short or tight muscles, mobilising restricted joints, or using active release methods (where the patient participates in the technique), as well as offering self-help advice to put you in control.
Top tips for preventing desk workers’ back pain
1. Adjust, adjust, adjust!
If you’re lucky enough to have an adjustable office chair or desk, take a bit of time to configure them to you.
Learn what adjustments are available – most office chairs have height, tilt and rake adjustment. If your desk is fixed, you’ll need to adjust the chair to the desk height. Then use a footstool if your feet don’t rest on the floor.
Even if your office uses hotdesking, take a few moments each morning to get the setup right for you. Your back will thank you.
If you don’t have adjustable furniture, use cushions on the seat and behind your back to find your perfect posture.
2. Reset regularly
Once you’ve set your workstation up, sit upright in your chair and take note of what you can see beyond your screen.
Look for something that’s only just in view. Or place a marker, such as a sticky note, on the wall behind your monitor so that you can only just see it.
These are your posture indicators.
Keep an eye on them at regular intervals through your day. If they’re out of view, it’s time to reset your posture.
3. Keep moving
It’s easy to forget to move when you’re focusing on your work. Set a reminder to get up and walk around.
4. Stay hydrated
We know that dehydration can cause brain fog, nausea, fatigue, and palpitations – but did you know it can also contribute to back ache?
The discs in your spine are 80%–90% water. While they’re under load during the day, water is gradually squeezed out of them. Keep them at their best by drinking regularly through the day.
5. See your osteopath
Osteopaths are experts at dealing with back pain, desk-related or not!
They look at the whole body and treat where necessary. This approach not only treats your symptoms but helps remove the cause of your pain.
Do you have back pain?
Back pain is one of the most common complaints I see in my clinics in Kirkcaldy and Upper Largo. I’m here to help. Book your appointment today.
Stress isn’t always a bad thing. But if it gets out of control, stress can negatively affect your health. Rather than reaching for the medication...Read more
Stress isn’t always a bad thing. But if it gets out of control, stress can negatively affect your health. Rather than reaching for the medication, read on for some top tips for natural methods of stress relief.
Stress is a natural, healthy reaction. It sharpens our senses and focuses our attention. Even in our modern lives, it can help get us through those tough events.
However, the stress response is intended to be short-lived. But when our daily lives mean ongoing stress, our bodies become permanently awash with stress hormones. This can negatively affect health.
Stress is also worsened by fatigue. And, since fatigue is a consequence of being stressed, this can develop into a negative cycle.
Symptoms of chronic stress
The long-term actions of cortisol can have negative effects on health.
These are some of the symptoms that might indicate chronic stress:
· Weight gain, as cortisol increases appetite to make sure we have sufficient energy supplies.
· Depressed immunity.
· Poor digestion, which can aggravate conditions such as colitis or irritable bowel syndrome, or trigger stomach ulcers.
· Cardiovascular problems, as cortisol narrows the arteries and raises blood pressure. This can lead to damage and increases the risk of heart attacks or stroke.
· Fatigue resulting from poor quality sleep. Excessive activity of the HPA axis reduces both the length of the REM sleep phase and total sleep time. The result is memory problems and brain fog.
Techniques to manage your stress naturally
Once you’ve recognised your stress symptoms, find ways of intervening that suit you. There are simple steps you can take to reduce some of the physiological effects of stress – the racing heart, palpitations and shallow breathing, for example.
Taking control over these symptoms interrupts the cycle. You could think of it as ‘tricking’ your body into thinking the danger has passed, calming the overexcited HPA axis.
Here are some ideas:
· Breathing exercises or mindfulness. Try one of the many apps to get you started.
· Set aside time to relax. This is easier said than done in a busy schedule. But allowing space for yourself, even if it’s just a tea break, can work wonders.
· Hack your sleep. Set the best conditions you can to get a good night’s shut-eye. That includes avoiding alcohol, caffeine and large meals in the three to four hours before bed. Take a warm bath. Use an eye mask or earplugs if needed. Try a little lavender scent on your pillow – it’s known to help us relax.
· Music is a powerful aid to relaxation. Choose soothing tunes or some classical calm for the best effect.
· Focusing on small joys can push out negative thoughts that trigger stress. Notice things that bring pleasure – the colour of autumn leaves, or a favourite scent.
· Exercise. Many people take up exercise for the bodily benefits, only to find the mental benefits are just as rewarding. Exercise will also improve your sleep, as long as it’s not too close to bedtime.
· Engage with your problems. Research shows that undertaking coping strategies, such as problem-solving and emotional acceptance, improves sleep.
· Eat well. Increasing your vegetable intake and reducing salt in your diet have been shown to improve indicators of stress, including cortisol levels.
Osteopathy for natural stress management
Osteopaths specialise in holistic practice – that is, they work with the whole person to maximise health.
Although we have long known the power of touch in promoting wellbeing and relaxation, the reasons are unclear.
Recently, scientists have identified a new type of nerve ending in the skin. These receptors appear to respond particularly to slow and gentle touch. This could explain why touch has such therapeutic benefits.
In addition, there are several studies that show how osteopathic techniques stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the counterbalance to the stress response).
Researchers measured the effects of osteopathy on heart rate variability, and on temperature and skin conductivity. These are all measures of a person’s stress levels. In both studies, osteopathic treatment decreased stress indicators.
Combine the power of touch with the calming effect of osteopathy, and it becomes clear how osteopaths can help people to manage their stress.
Alongside treatment, osteopaths work with their patients on lifestyle factors, suggesting changes or self-help techniques that can help people cope on a day-to-day level.
Are you concerned about chronic stress?
Try some of the natural stress remedies suggested in this article. And if you would like to find out more about how osteopathy can help, get in touch today.
Treatment For Sciatica
Sciatica is a sharp, shooting pain in the leg. It may start in the back or but...Read more
Treatment For Sciatica
Sciatica is a sharp, shooting pain in the leg. It may start in the back or buttock. Sometimes it goes right into the foot, and it can cause tingling and numbness. It’s most often the result of a problem in the low back that compresses or irritates the sciatic nerve. The good news is that, in most cases, it will resolve over two to three months with the right treatment. Although it can be debilitating, it rarely has a serious cause. However, an accurate diagnosis to rule out significant problems is important, so my advice is to see your doctor, osteopath or other qualified health professional before you start home treatment for your sciatica.
Sciatica treatments you can do at home
Heat and ice
Cold therapy can be a wonder-treatment, helping to numb the pain. Use a ice pack for 10-15 minutes on your low back (even if this isn’t the area you feel the most pain). Repeat this hourly. You can also use raw ice. This is very effective, but should only be used for a few minutes, and not at all if you have circulatory problems or local skin conditions. It’s also wet – so remember to keep a towel at hand!
Alongside ice, heat therapy is soothing and an easy at-home treatment for sciatica. The warmth stimulates blood flow, easing the muscle tension that inevitably accompanies sciatic pain. Use a heat pack on the muscles of your low back, buttock or leg to provide relief.
In the early stages, rest is a useful home treatment for sciatica – pain is tiring! The key is to find the right position for you.
Try one of these positions:
· Rest on your back with a pillow under the small of your back and a couple under your knees. This can reduce tension on the sciatic nerve. Alternatively, try putting your lower legs up on a chair so your hips and knees are at right angles.
· Lie in a semi-prone position, like a first aid recovery position. Bend your upper leg and rest the knee on a pillow.
· Lie on your side towards the edge of your bed, painful side uppermost and knee bent. Let the lower part of your painful leg hang gently off the side of the bed. This can open out the joints of the lower back and reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.
But don’t rest for too long! When you feel able, start some gentle movement. Try an easy side-stretch like this one. Cat-cow yoga stretches can loosen your tight muscles and ease the pain. Or, try a gentle buttock stretch, such as a chair-based pigeon pose.
Try a short walk every day. Walking is something our bodies are very used to doing, and can help reset our systems when we’re in pain. Try to build up by a few minutes each day.
Bodies don’t like to be still for too long. If you’re sitting still working or watching TV, you may find you start to seize up. Instead, stay loose by shifting around. Use the ‘tilt’ function in your office chair to rock back and forward, or use a Swiss ball to sit on.
When watching TV, use cushions on the sofa to support your back. Alternatively, spend a little time doing stretches!
A word of warning
If your sciatica is severe or worsening, if it’s in both legs, or if you have any problems with bowel or bladder control or loss of sensation between your legs, seek medical attention. Certain problems need to be addressed quickly – if in doubt, call NHS 111 for advice.
I have treated many patients with sciatica symptoms, and I’m happy to provide help and advice. Osteopaths understand the underlying causes of sciatica and can give you a full assessment.. So, don’t suffer with sciatica! Get in touch today.
Seonaid McLeod is a registered osteopath who has been helping the people of Fife at her clinics in Upper Largo and Kirkcaldy since 1989 If you need help with aches, pains or injury, give her a call today and find out how she can help you.
How To Develop Healthy Habits This New Year
Keyword: develop healthy habits
Meta description: T...Read more
How To Develop Healthy Habits This New Year
Keyword: develop healthy habits
Meta description: Trying to develop healthy new habits in the coming year? Rather than giving up after a few weeks, learn how to build and sustain good habits.
The start of a new year is the time many of us decide we want to develop some healthy new habits. We all have changes we’d like to make in our lives, whether it’s getting fitter, stopping smoking, going to bed earlier, or drinking more water.
But many of us start off the year with good intentions, only to lose motivation within the first few weeks! So how can we go about developing these good habits successfully?
Barriers to forming healthy habits
Often, the problems arise when we bite off more than we can chew. We make unrealistic demands on ourselves, and then feel like we’ve failed when we can’t keep them up.
This is obvious in the January rise in gym memberships. Although many people start going to the gym at this time of year with a plan to develop a healthy fitness habit, statistics show that half of these new members quit within the first six months.
So why is this? There are several possible reasons.
First, we set aims that are too difficult to achieve. If you’re new to the gym, planning on five weekly sessions is probably going to be unrealistic. New habits need to fit with your abilities and the demands of daily life.
Second, starting into a fitness regime too fast and hard can lead to injury. It’s important to build towards your goals in a stepwise fashion.
Third, we are creatures that thrive on convenience. If your new health habit is inconvenient, even in small ways, you’ll soon start opting out!
Tricks for developing healthy habits
1. Use a ‘habit hook’. The great thing about habits is that once you’ve developed them, they are easy to maintain. So, use your current habits to help acquire your new ones. If you want to set a habit to do daily pelvic floor exercises, for example, do them while you’re brushing your teeth. You’ll soon find that the act of tooth-brushing will trigger you to remember your pelvic squeeze.
2. Be consistent. Habits take time to develop. In fact, it takes an average of 66 days of regular activity to turn something into a habit. Because this consistency is important, make sure you choose a habit that is achievable. That might mean starting small – you can build on your habit once you have it established. Don’t worry if you miss a day – that’s unlikely to break your new developing habit. But return to it as soon as you can.
3. Make it easy. The smallest block in your path can be enough to stop you in your tracks. One study found that delaying the closing time on elevator doors was inconvenient enough that it made people take the stairs. And so, take steps to make your life easy. If you aim to go for a run in the morning, lay out all your kit the night before. Fill your water bottle. Have your trainers by the door. Then, in the morning, there won’t be a decision process (“I can’t find my socks!”) – you’ll be ready for action. This also works if you’re trying to stop a habit. If you want to watch less TV, for example, keep the set unplugged. A small extra step such as this can make it easier to avoid unwanted behaviours.
4. Reward yourself. In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg identifies the ‘habit loop’. A trigger leads to a certain behaviour, which brings about a reward. For example, you smell baking pastries, triggering a craving for a sweet snack in the anticipation of the sugar-high you’ll get from consuming it. The key is to fulfil this loop by rewarding yourself for as you develop a healthy habit. We love instant gratification. ‘Getting fit’ might be the ultimate reward, but it’s too distant. Instead, build in smaller rewards, such as coffee with a friend or a new piece of kit, for when you’ve completed a gym session.
Wishing you a healthy New Year!
So, remember, developing healthy new habits requires small steps, achievability, convenience and rewards. Whatever resolutions you’re making for the coming year, I hope these tips help you stick with them.
And if you do start out too hard with your new year fitness programme and find yourself with an injury, give me a call – I’m here to help you get back on track!
Happy and Healthy New Year from the Fife Osteopathic Practice!
Seonaid McLeod is a registered osteopath who has been helping the people of Fife at her clinics in Upper Largo and Kirkcaldy since 1989. If you need help with aches, pains or injury, give her a call today and find out how she can help you.
What is arthritis?
Arthritis refers to inflammatory or degenerative conditions of the joints.
The word ‘arthritis’ is...Read more
What is arthritis?
Arthritis refers to inflammatory or degenerative conditions of the joints.
The word ‘arthritis’ is usually used to refer to ‘osteoarthritis’, which is the most common form. But there are many other types, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, or reactive arthritis.
In this article, I’ll focus on osteoarthritis and how osteopathy can help. Osteoarthritis is a common condition of ageing, affecting around 1 in 10 adults in the UK. People over 65 and women are more likely to have osteoarthritis.
Symptoms of arthritis
Osteoarthritis causes joint pain, swelling, and increasing stiffness. In the early stages, swelling is soft as the joint lining thickens and increases fluid production. Later, the body tries to compensate for instability in the damaged joint by laying down extra bone – this is why arthritic joints become knobbly and hard.
Osteoarthritis affects the knee joint more than any other, followed by the hip, wrist and hands, spine, and jaw joints.
The joints are tender and can be painful to move. You may find they get stiff, especially after being still for a while, such as first thing in the morning. Sometimes, arthritic joints make crunching or grating noises. As the joint becomes less stable, and surrounding muscles weaken, the joint can sometimes give way.
Night pain can also be an issue. Not only do inflammatory substances build up in the joint, but sleep disruption leads to tiredness, which worsens our experience of pain.
Some people also find that atmospheric changes worsen their symptoms, particularly the onset of cool, rainy weather.
Osteopathy for arthritis
Osteopaths can help relieve pain and maintain joint health. Massage reduces stiffness and aching and keeps muscles supple.
When a joint swells with fluid, it causes a reflex reaction that stops the overlying muscles working fully. They become weak, contributing to loss of function.
Gentle mobilisation can help. Taking a joint through its full range helps pump excess fluid away, reducing swelling. It ensures blood flow and nutrients reach every part of the joint, enhancing health.
In addition, people with arthritis often have secondary aches and pains. For example, someone with an arthritic knee will often take more weight on the other side. This overload in other parts of the body can mean widespread aching and fatigue.
Osteopaths can assess how your body functions as a whole. They treat not only the arthritic joints, but other areas that may be struggling. Encouraging an even distribution of load can alleviate pain you may be feeling more generally.
It’s also important to give you ways to help manage your symptoms at home. Your osteopath can offer advice on exercise, rest, supports, sleep, and changes you can make to ease the strain.
So, osteopathy has a lot to offer those with arthritis! And, although I’ve focused on osteoarthritis here, osteopaths understand other types of arthritis, too. I’ve helped many people struggling with arthritis to stay healthy and active – if you’d like help too, give me a call.
Seonaid McLeod is a registered osteopath who has been helping the people of Fife at her clinics in Upper Largo and Kirkcaldy since 1989