Let’s face it. You probably don’t give a lot of thought to the pillow you sleep on. And you probably didn’t give your pillow much thought when you purchased it either. The truth is that most people don’t. It’s not unusual for a person (or a couple) to spend thousands of dollars on a high-quality mattress but then buy pillows that don’t support the head and neck properly. That’s because-while they understand that sleeping on the wrong mattress can quickly lead to a backache-they aren’t aware that poor alignment of the neck and upper back during sleep can lead to other, more subtle problems that they may not associate with the spine.
If a person’s head is supported by the pillow at a level that’s either too high or too low relative to the rest of the body, the neck and upper back can be placed under stress. Similar stress can also occur if their upper back is not supported along with the neck (so that the head tilts forward), or if the head is allowed to roll sideways when the person is sleeping on his or her back. Symptoms include snoring, insomnia and waking up with a headache, stiff neck or numbness in the arms and hands. If you’re experiencing these sorts of symptoms, you may be sleeping on the wrong pillow.
Choosing a pillow is a very personal decision. The pillow that’s right for someone else may not be right for you. Nevertheless, we’ve provided some basic guidelines that will make it easier for you to choose the right one. The right pillow:
In general, you’re looking for a pillow that supports your neck, cushions your head and keeps your spine in alignment. It must be comfortable! Here are a few additional purchasing tips:
Know what you like. Do you prefer a pillow that’s “bouncy” or one that can be “molded” to the shape of your head and neck? How “dense” do you like your pillow to feel? Is it important to you that the material “breathes” and offers good insulation from heat and cold? Maybe you prefer a pillow made of synthetic or hypo-allergenic material? The more clearly you can describe your preferences, the more likely it is that a knowledgeable salesperson will be able to help you find your ideal pillow.
Don’t skimp. Like most things, pillows can differ a great deal in the quality of their construction and materials. They also (naturally) differ a great deal in their price. Buy a better quality pillow if you can, since they’re generally made of materials that will provide better support, comfort and durability. But keep in mind that the first priorities are comfort and function. Just because a pillow is expensive doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
Take the time to “test drive” and compare. Many department stores, mattress retailers and specialty bedding shops will have sample pillows that you can try. If possible, follow the “Ten Minute Rule” and test drive pillows in your favorite sleeping positions. Remember-you and your pillow will be spending about eight hours together every night for several years, so it makes sense to choose wisely now.
Avoid buying a matched set of pillows for yourself and your partner. Keep in mind that your partner probably needs a different pillow that you do.
If you’re not sleeping as well as you used to, or if you’re waking up with a headache, stiff neck or numbness in your arms or hands, we invite you-and your pillow-to visit our office. As chiropractic physicians, we understand that the way you sleep affects your health. And that your health affects the way you live your life. Sometimes a small thing (like a new pillow) can make a big difference!
Incidental exercise is the physical activity we get throughout the day when we move around. You don’t have to go to a gym, change your clothes or complete a routine. Incidental exercise can make a real difference in your calories burned, especially if done consistently, and a pedometer is an excellent device for measuring it.
Of course, a pedometer also measures intentional exercise, such as regular walks or runs you may take during the week. However, you can actually rack up a lot of exercise incidentally. The important thing to realize is that most of the time, you have a choice to move around or not. There are probably some hours you must spend seated at a desk, but there are many hours during the day that you might choose to sit instead of doing something active. You will have to make the effort, and if you do, you’ll notice the difference.
Pedometers don’t cost much and you’ll hardly notice it’s there, but studies have shown that simply wearing a pedometer increases our motivation to get up and move around significantly. Keeping a log of your daily steps is a wonderful way to monitor your progress and get even more motivated.
Once you’ve got that pedometer, here are some ways to increase incidental exercise in your life:
Incidental exercise will keep your metabolism up, which can boost your energy levels and help you sleep better, and of course, you’ll burn more calories. If you put enough effort into it that your heart and lungs have to work a little harder than usual, you’ll improve your fitness level, too.
These days, there are a wide variety of mattress options to choose from. In addition to the familiar innerspring mattresses, you now can opt for memory foam, latex foam, air, futons and waterbeds. One type of mattress is not inherently better than any other, and all can provide the proper support your body needs. The key is in carefully reviewing the available options, testing each kind out, and determining the right mattress type and style for your preferences and your body.
If you have a specific health problem, particularly a problem with your back or spine, you should check with your physician or health care provider about the kind of mattress that might be best for you. That will help narrow your choices.
Many people assume waterbeds are better than other kinds of mattresses because of the lack of pressure points and the fact that a waterbed conforms to the shape of your body. It is also nice to be able to adjust the temperature of the bed based on the season. However, waterbeds are expensive, require heaters, they may leak, and they are not good at isolating movement. If you are sensitive to motion in bed, a waterbed is probably not the right choice for you. Some rented homes and apartments place restrictions on the use of waterbeds as well.
In terms of typical mattresses, the most important thing to consider is proper sleeping posture. When you are lying on your side, your waist should be supported by the mattress and your shoulders and hips should sink in. That way your spine is in the same position while lying down as it is when standing up. No matter what the mattress is made of, if it is too firm or too soft you may not achieve proper spinal alignment. One special note for heavier people is that a firmer mattress often provides better support. Another consideration is movement isolation. If you sleep with a partner, go with him or her to the mattress store to test out how much the mattress transfers movement across the bed.
In fact, testing a variety of mattresses is critical. Some experts suggest you need to test out 30 mattresses to get a proper idea of your needs! One good way to get exposure to lots of mattress types is to ask friends and family if they are happy with their bed. If so, test it out yourself in their home. That way you don’t have to go to 30 stores to try out all the available mattresses. Stay on the mattress for at least 15 minutes, 5 minutes on each side of your body.
As you are exploring your options, remember that mattresses are often significantly marked up and then discounted during sales. Ask the salesperson about a comfort guarantee, and get the details in writing. That way if you end up unhappy with the mattress, you can return it or exchange it for a better one.
Computer work has become the backbone of most of our daily lives. But with its rise in the workplace, there has been a concurrent increase in injuries associated with repetitive computer work, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury. Incorrect usage of a keyboard or a mouse can be the culprit, since unnatural keyboard positions exert stress on the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the hands and wrists. An unsupported wrist can be the cause of wrist fatigue, and if your wrist is resting in the incorrect position, extensive typing, can pose a threat.
Ergonomic equipment can help to minimize the risks of injury during extended computer work. If you are a frequent computer user, it might be worth investing in an ergonomic mouse pad or keyboard.
When looking for an ergonomic mouse pad, there are some key features to take into consideration. Look for a mouse pad that allows you to maintain your natural hand position. It needs to imitate the position the wrist has when at rest, by providing an angled surface. Also, make sure the mouse pad has a non-slip grip to ensure it remains in place under normal movement. Purchasing an ergonomic mouse pad and choosing one made from soft material or filled with a soft gel can help to remove the pressure from the tendons and nerves. Hard materials cause compression and pressure on the tendons and nerves in the wrist, and can lead to pain and discomfort. Most importantly, check that the pad is comfortable, offering a good position for your wrist at rest and good freedom of movement while working.
When it comes to keyboards, a wrist rest is a good investment, since it’s designed to give your wrists a break after typing for long periods of time. If you’re typing incorrectly, it helps to alleviate the pain associated with repetitive strain injury or carpal tunnel syndrome. A good wrist rest helps to keep your wrists off the edge of the hard desk and can also help to prevent incorrect posture during typing. Before buying a wrist rest, make sure you know the height and width of your keyboard. There are many styles available on the market, and it’s important to find the wrist rest comfortable for you. It needs to be the same height and width of your keyboard and it’s key to find a wrist rest that conforms to the shape of your wrist. When placing the wrist rest against the edge of the keyboard, there shouldn’t be a gap between the two. Adjust the position so that the wrist rest is set at the edge of the desk.
Good spinal health is built from the ground up, starting with the feet. For years medical researchers and healthcare providers have recognized that problems there can cause posture changes that eventually trigger a variety of musculoskeletal issues in other parts of the body (particularly the ankle, knee, hip and back). Studies have also shown that even slight foot problems can negatively affect athletes’ performance and predispose them to a broad range of sports-related injuries.
Orthotics are shoe inserts that are specially designed and manufactured to correct an abnormal or irregular walking pattern by promoting proper alignment and balance. They’ve improved the quality of life for millions of people, and it’s become very common for physicians to recommend them to address many different patient needs:
Foot orthotics are medical devices that can significantly change the way a person stands, walks and runs (and therefore the way his or her body absorbs and distributes related forces). For this reason, it’s important that the person wearing them clearly understand their benefits, risks and limitations. It’s also important that the person use them correctly.
What Every Patient Should Know About Orthotics
There’s a close relationship between the way your feet work and the way the rest of your musculoskeletal system supports your body. So even if your feet themselves don’t actually hurt, they could be contributing to other health problems that you’re experiencing. After your chiropractor has examined you carefully and talked with you about your situation, he or she can help you decide whether foot orthotics should be part of your broader treatment plan.
Exercise balls can be used to treat back pain and are effective in preventing, reducing and rehabilitating lower back pain in particular. Exercise balls are a wonderful addition to the fitness arsenal, but to get the most out of using one you must choose the right size ball for you. An excellent way to ensure you get the right ball is to schedule a personal consultation with a fitness and rehab professional. However, since that is not always possible, the following are some general guidelines these professionals have developed to help you choose a ball.
There are typically five different diameters of exercise balls to choose from, in centimeters: 45, 55, 65, 75 and 85 cm. They are each designed to fit a certain body type. Your height is not the only determining factor in terms of ball size; your weight and body composition are also considerations.
Be sure the various balls are inflated and available for you to test before purchase. Sit upright on the ball, ensure that your feet are flat on the floor and that your weight is evenly distributed. Your knees should be level with your pelvis, or just slightly lower. This position is key because you want an angle of 90 or greater at the knees and hips, to avoid stressing either of these pivot points. Your ears, shoulders and pelvis should form a vertical line, without your body leaning in any direction to maintain stability. You can check this alignment by gently bouncing up and down.
In general, people 5′ and shorter do best with the 45 cm balls, and people 6’8″ and taller do best with the 85 cm balls. If you are heavier than average, you will compress the ball further when sitting on it. Therefore you should consider buying the next ball size up in order to ensure you have the 90-degree angle or greater for your knees and hips.
Also remember that you can adjust the ball somewhat yourself. For example, if the angle of your hips and knees is much greater than 90 degrees, you can deflate the ball a little. This can be useful if you are out of shape and/or new to using an exercise ball, as the flatter ball will be more stable and easier to use. However if you are in better shape or are more experienced with exercise balls, a flatter ball will be less effective at training your back muscles to improve their balancing and stabilizing abilities. If you initially buy a ball and deflate it, you can always add more air later to increase the difficulty level and train your muscles further.
Healthcare researchers and providers alike are growing increasingly concerned that American kids are suffering from back pain earlier in their lives and in larger numbers than ever before. And experts closest to the problem believe that overweight, improperly designed, and misused backpacks may be a big part of the reason why.
Short-Term Injuries and Longer-Term Concerns
With an estimated 40 million school-age children carrying backpacks in America, it’s not surprising that there are some book bag-related injuries every year. Since 2000, the U.S. Product Safety Commission has reported that children and their backpacks make roughly 7,000 trips to the emergency room annually. However, many observers believe that the real toll is actually far higher since the vast majority of such injuries go unreported and many kids are treated by a family doctor or not treated at all.
While it is not clear how many acute injuries actually result from wearing backpacks as opposed to tripping over them or being hit by them, doctors who treat back problems regularly-especially chiropractic physicians-see worrying signs that heavier backpacks are setting the stage for more serious health issues in the future, including chronic back, neck and shoulder pain. Some chiropractors estimate that as many as 75% to 80% of the teenage patients they treat have postural problems directly related to overweight backpacks.
Why the Heavier Bags?
Across the past ten years, several factors have come together to increase the amount of weight young students are carrying in their book bags:
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that a backpack should not be any heavier than 15% of a child’s body weight. But as early as 2001, researchers at Simmons College in Massachusetts found that 55% of the 345 children they studied were carrying backpacks that exceeded the recommended weight limit, often by a substantial amount. One third of those students said that they had already experienced back pain. Today, the American Chiropractic Association advises parents to limit the weight of a child’s backpack to no more than 5% to 10% of body weight.
If you see any of the following signs, it may be time to lighten the load, help your child choose a different backpack or talk about how it’s being used.
Choosing the Right Backpack and Using it Correctly
A good quality backpack with proper ergonomic features doesn’t have to be expensive. They’re available at many sporting goods stores and discount outlets. Experts offer the following advice:
Once your child has the right bag, it’s just as important to encourage him or her to use it correctly. Chiropractors and physical therapists generally agree that means wearing it on both shoulders with the straps tightened so that it hangs no more than four inches below the waist.
How Your Chiropractor Can Help
Using a backpack should not cause any pain or discomfort under normal circumstances. If your child is showing signs of back, neck or should pain, we encourage you to call your chiropractic physician today. In addition to addressing any current problems that your child may be experiencing, your doctor of chiropractic can recommend an exercise program designed to strengthen muscles, and improve posture and coordination.
For more than one in three Americans, getting a good night’s sleep isn’t as easy you might think. According to a recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation1, a combination of daily stress and lifestyle choices (including nighttime activities as well as eating and exercise habits) is causing more than a third of the U.S. population to get fewer hours of sleep than they need. Not surprisingly, the same proportion report that sleepiness has in some way affected their quality of life.
Many studies have focused on the time we devote (or don’t devote) to sleep. However, a good night’s sleep is about more than just quantity. It’s also about quality. If you’re sleeping poorly, experts point out that developing a sensible routine and avoiding certain behaviors around bedtime can improve your chances of falling asleep quickly and sleeping soundly through the night. Here are a few of their suggestions:
While finding more effective ways to manage stress and making adjustments to your lifestyle can take some time, there are several “little” things you can do right away that may improve the quantity and quality of sleep you get. These things focus on your sleeping environment itself:
Can your pillow really make a difference in your health and how you feel during the day? Absolutely. Cervical pillows are specially designed ergonomic supports for your neck. They hold it in the proper position during sleep, while also cradling the head and shoulders. It is important that your neck and head are at proper angles when you are lying down, in order to avoid strain and pain in the morning. Depending on how you sleep (on your back, side, or stomach), the proper angles for your head and neck will vary. You will want a cervical pillow that rises to the level of the neck and compresses where the head rests.
Cervical pillows are usually made with memory foam, which is excellent at compressing and decompressing around your neck and head. Memory foam provides superior ergonomic support and an excellent night’s sleep.
You’ll want to choose the right cervical pillow for you, based on how you sleep and on your personal preferences. Several options are available:
To choose the best pillow, think about how you sleep most often. If you are a side sleeper, you’ll benefit most from side pillows, cervical rolls, and neck pillows. For back sleepers, try cradle pillows, neck pillows and comfort pillows. Whatever pillow you choose, avoid buying a pillow that is too small or too large as that may reduce the pillow’s ability to provide the support you need.
Lumbar back support products are designed to help prevent neck and back pain, which can lead to pain in other parts of the body as well. Many of these products are pillows or cushions that offer additional support when you are seated for long periods of time.
The lumbar region of the spine is usually referred to as the lower back. It is the area just above your tailbone and below the thoracic (middle back) region. The lumbar area includes your spine and all the muscles, ligaments and tendons surrounding your spine. If your ligaments are pulled or torn, you will experience a lumbar sprain or strain, which can lead to muscle spasms and significant pain in your lower back.
What can cause lumbar sprains and strains? Poor posture, poor lifting technique, obesity, and other health-related factors can contribute. In fact, sitting for long periods without lumbar support can itself aggravate lumbar pain. Finally, one of the greatest contributors to back pain is using the wrong type of chair for your body. Surfaces that are too hard or too soft do not encourage proper posture and do not provide adequate support for your back.
Usually all that is required to relieve lower back pain is sufficient rest, but most of us are unable to rest for long enough to overcome lumbar problems. So preventing these problems with a good lumbar support is essential, especially if you spend significant amounts of time sitting down.
The first step to choosing the right lumbar support is to ensure that it fits perfectly in the chair you spend the most time in. An even better option is to choose an ergonomically designed chair that includes a built-in lumbar support, or an individual lumbar support that is specifically designed to be used with your chair. “One size fits all” lumbar support products rarely provide any benefits and should be avoided.
Make sure you test the product in the store before you buy it. If you can, sit with the lumbar support for at least 15 minutes to see if it feels good or aggravates back pain. The best lumbar supports are adjustable, so you can fit it to the chair’s height. Ergonomic chairs with lumbar supports included usually allow you to adjust the height and width of the support. Adjustable separate supports are particularly useful if you use more than one chair throughout the day.