Believe it or not, your feet can be a factor in the development of chronic low back pain. Your feet act as a very important foundation for your body, and can dictate how you adapt to stresses and changes in activity. Your feet strike the ground and propel you forwards, and faulty foot biomechanics can result in pain and dysfunction in other joints and structures in the body. If you think of your body as a kinetic chain from the ground up, your weight-bearing feet and ankles function as shock absorbers for the whole body. If your feet are not working effectively at this job, the shock and stress makes its way up the biomechanical chain in your body. This concept often gets lost in translation, and people do not always understand the missing link between the feet and the back.
The most common offending foot dysfunction leading to back pain and other issues is over-pronation, or the inward rolling/dropping of the arches. As the foot over-pronates, the feet become flat and therefore absorb less shock when you walk or run. The rest of your body is then forced to compensate for faulty foot mechanics; your pelvis may slightly drop, your knees may rotate, and you may develop a slight lean. Over time, this adaptation may lead to the development of pain in other areas of the body such as in the back, neck, knees, hips, Achilles tendon, and plantar fascia. In one study, it was found that women with flat feet are almost 50% more likely to develop low back pain.
When faulty foot mechanics are a factor in low back pain, one way to approach is to consider supporting your foot as you walk or run. When I see patients with chronic back or hip pain that are not responding to treatment and exercise recommendations, I often look to the feet as a possible solution. Using foot orthotics to support your feet can help you with foot pain, and they can change the way your whole body moves and adapts.
Orthotics have been shown to be beneficial for low back pain in a number of studies on groups exposed to higher levels of foot stress (such as in runners, military recruits, and golfers). The idea behind using orthotics for back pain- as your feet are better supported, your body becomes more balanced as you stand and walk. Eliminating imbalances in your feet will cause a ripple effect up the biomechanical chain in your body. Studies show that people suffering from chronic or re-occurring low back pain tend to respond very well to custom orthotics within 6 weeks of wearing them. So if you have been suffering from low back pain which continues even after a course of conservative care/exercise, consider taking a look to your feet as another part of the puzzle.
There is almost nothing more enjoyable this time of year than spending a warm afternoon outside perfecting the garden. Gardening provides an excellent outlet for stress relief, and it also allows us to gain some of the much needed vitamin D we have all been lacking over the long and harsh winter. It is really common for gardening to be a source of aches and pains for many people, although many don’t realize this until it’s too late! With a little bit of planning, it is possible to avoid the aches and pains that we see pop up with gardening and yard work. Here are five tips to help you get started:
1. Prepare your work area
Before you jump right into your gardening tasks, consider where you will be working and what you might need to make the job easier. If you are planting in containers, consider placing them up on a higher surface, level with your waist to avoid crouching or reaching. Bring your equipment close by so that you can avoid awkward positions or prolonged hunching. When planting flower beds, many people stoop over in awkward positions for sustained periods of time, which in turn can lead to a sore back. Plan where you will sit and what you will be doing ahead of time.
2. Prepare your body
Believe it or not, your body needs a warm up to prepare for some of the new and sustained movements you will be doing as you garden. Make sure to warm up your sides, thighs, hamstrings, wrists, back, and arms. As you take breaks, stretch out your forearms to avoid tightness later on.
3. Practice mindful awareness of your work positions
It’s really easy to get caught up in digging and planting sections of your garden, and before long you’ve spent over an hour in a very awkward position. To avoid this, plan a good variety in tasks- consider alternating heavy and light tasks throughout the day. Listen closely to your body, and if you start to ache, consider switching what you are doing. Changing hands to reduce strain is a good option. Aches are generally a sign that the body needs to change its position.
4. Take breaks and replenish
Pace yourself when gardening to build in planned breaks. Some people do this by carrying around a timer while others pace themselves according to tasks (“2 more bunches of geraniums before I stop”). A good starting point is to consider taking a posture break every 20 minutes, the way you would at work. Plan to rehydrate during your breaks, and remember to re-apply sunscreen if you need to as well. Light stretching and active ranges of movement help to keep away potential aches and pains.
5. Be aware of how you lift heavy loads
If you must lift something heavy and awkward, such as a bag of soil or mulch, be mindful of how to lift properly to avoid injury. Keep the load close to your body, bend your knees and keep your low back neutral (avoid bending from the waist). Consider breaking heavy loads into smaller more manageable loads –your back will thank you later!
After your fun filled gardening day is over, remember to lightly stretch to avoid any lingering tightness. If you experience pain that lasts more than a couple of days, call your chiropractor for a check-up. Have fun out there, and remember to plan ahead to avoid those pesky strains!
Happy Friday! Here's a great infographic to remind us all of how we should be sitting at work. Take this moment to check your posture out!
Taking care of your back is an important factor in maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. Your back and its related structures (muscles, nerves, joints, and ligaments) work hard every day to keep you upright and moving through your daily activities. Unfortunately, statistics show that almost 80% of Canadians will suffer from low back pain throughout their lives. Low back pain can originate from a number of different structures, and may manifest immediately following an injury or it may be delayed by a day or two. Posture can play an important role in how your body responds to certain movements, and poor posture and weak core stability can pre-dispose you to a greater risk of injury and pain.
So what exactly is low back pain, and what causes it? Lower back pain can result from a number of causes, including: muscle strain, restrictions in the movement of the spinal joints or pelvis, irritations of the joints in the spine, irritated spinal nerves, disc injuries, and sprains. Sometimes, something as simple as sleeping on your stomach or shovelling the driveway can lead to low back pain. Injury to the low back may also irritate the longest nerve in the body called the sciatic nerve, which runs from the low back down the back of the thigh where it eventually branches below the knee to the foot. Symptoms of sciatic nerve irritation include burning and tingling along the back of the thigh, and weakness of the leg and foot muscles.
The key to limiting your potential for low back pain is prevention! Maintaining an active lifestyle will help to keep your muscles and joints moving in your low back. Strengthening your core muscles will also enable your back to move in a well supported and balanced way. Activities like yoga, swimming, and walking are very beneficial, and simple moves at home to keep your core and legs strong will help reduce your risk for low back pain. Encourage yourself to take breaks from sitting, and avoid movements which decrease the natural curve of your low back. A little effort throughout the day can go a long way towards improving your posture and reducing your risk of developing low back pain. For short periods of low back pain, you should avoid bed-rest (keep moving!), and use ice to help decrease the pain and inflammation.
If you do experience low back pain that lasts longer than a couple of days, consult with a chiropractor for an assessment. We will assess your ranges of motion, and examine your back to determine the cause of your pain. For those who may benefit from chiropractic care, conservative treatment of the low back may include: soft tissue therapy, spinal manipulation or mobilization, rehabilitative exercises, electrotherapy or laser, and acupuncture. Chiropractors are highly educated about back pain, and will work alongside you and your family healthcare team to get you feeling your best. We also work to educate patients on the reasons why they developed the low back pain, and ways in which they can self-manage to decrease the risk of re-injury.
A sedentary lifestyle can take a physical toll on those who spend their days sitting at a desk for hours on end. Recent research has demonstrated a link between the amount of time you spend sitting during the day with poorer health outcomes, and a greater risk of disease. In my practice, it is common for me to see patients who experience muscle strains, neck pain, and headaches, all related to computer use and long hours spent sitting without a break. The human body needs to move! The longer you spend in one position, the more stress and strain your muscles, ligaments, and joints must endure.
Repetitive and long term strain on your back and neck can result in muscle imbalances, contributing to bad posture. A common condition that can be caused by long hours of computer use is known as Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS). UCS results from a pattern of weakened muscles of the mid-back and neck, alongside overused and tightened muscles trying to counteract the steady pull of gravity. People with UCS often have forward slumped shoulders, rounding of their upper back and a forward jutting head. Sounds familiar? Besides perpetuating bad posture, UCS has a number of consequences for the body, both short and long term, that are important to consider. In the short term, you can experience discomfort and pain and may also have headaches associated with muscle strains. The muscle imbalance pattern of the upper back and neck may also put you at risk for arm pain and injury to the shoulders. In the long term, you may be at greater risk for degenerative joint disease of the upper back and neck, and osteoarthritis.
So what can you do to help your body feel better? To counteract the effects of sedentary tasks, take a number of short breaks throughout your day to keep your body moving, and break up the time spent hunched over your desk. The Canadian Chiropractic Association has created a great free app called Straighten Up Canada to help motivate you to take posture breaks throughout the day (it’s free, and available for Apple and android mobile devices). Your plan should also include stretching your overworked muscles (pecs, and upper traps) and strengthening those that have become weak. Exercises for your mid back that involve drawing your shoulder blades down and together can help strengthen the key muscles that help you to sit up straighter and feel better. A little effort throughout the day can go a long way towards improving your posture and reducing the long term stress and strain put on the joints of your neck and back.