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Orthotics – Walk This Way…

All of us have our own, unique pattern of movements, gestures, and even walks.  I’m sure that you’ve been in this situation before:  you’re at the mall looking for your mom/dad/sibling/spouse in a crowd and immediately recognize them from a distance not from their face or clothing, but from their movements.  It’s pretty cool how tuned-in we can become to those we’re close with.

As a chiropractor a large portion of my job involves assessing how the body moves; evaluating the interplay between joints, limbs, and muscles and seeing the patterns that arise.  And although you can take the chiropractor out of the clinic it’s not so easy to take the clinic(ian) out of the chiropractor.  So it’s not uncommon that when I’m walking around in public spaces (downtown Guelph, the mall, the park) I can find myself subconsciously evaluating the gait (walking) patterns of those around me.  Sometimes I’ll notice a short stride or a bit of a limp.  Sometimes I’ll notice that someone is leaning more to one side than the other.  Often, however, it will really stand out when someone is over-pronating.

Over-pronation is a condition where the arch of the foot fails to provide proper support for walking/running.  It is often secondary to another condition called pes planus (a.k.a.  flat foot/fallen arches) and can be easy to identify in those who’s shoes get compressed along the inside half between the heel and the toe.  No, over-pronation and flat feet aren’t the end of the world.  But they do affect how you move, feel, and function.

You can take upwards of 10,000 steps every day.  Considering the amount of stress, force and pressure that’s applied to your feet with each step it’s no wonder that they often feel tired and sore at the end of the day.  Your feet are the foundation for your body and as such it is important that they provide proper support to the rest of your skeleton.  Misalignment of foot mechanics can lead to not only foot pain but can also affect the joints above including those in the knee, hip and back.

One way to help improve foot mechanics is through the use of custom orthotics.  An orthotic is an insert placed within the shoe to alter and enhance foot function.  Recent studies have shown that orthotics can even help increase the proprioceptive (balance) fibers in the feet and ankles and that this in turn may improve athletic performance.  Common problems that orthotics can help with include: flat feet; over-pronation; high arches; bunions; plantar fasciitis; knee, hip or back pain.

Orthotics come in all different shapes, sizes and styles.  There’s no one best type but there are some key considerations:

What will you be using the orthotic for?  Some orthotics are designed for everyday use.  Others are better for sports such as soccer, hockey and running while others fit better in dress shoes (yes, even high heels!).

Is it a custom orthotic?  Not all orthotics are created equal.  If you are getting a custom orthotic, make sure it’s just that – custom, which is made for your specific foot.  Some orthotics use a best fit or customized template which only approximates your foot’s shape and specific needs.

Who are you getting them from?  Chiropractors, among other regulated health professionals, are able to provide orthotics.  Choose a provider with whom you feel comfortable and who will provide a proper biomechanical assessment to ensure you’re getting the right orthotic for you.

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of custom orthotics.  Your insurance provider knows that happy feet contribute to a healthy person.

Not everyone needs a custom orthotic.  But for those who do, it can make a world of difference in comfort, pain relief, and performance.  If you would like more information on orthotics give us a ring at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre in Guelph ON.

* As a bonus, five (5) points to anyone who can give the appropriate reference to the above image in this post (see Health Pursuit for description of points system and value).

Photo Credit:  stringberd

Low tech solutions for high tech problems

Guelph has a large and very talented technology community.  From coders and systems analysts to web developers, designers, and AV creatives, the Guelph tech scene is ready, willing, and very capable of providing quality work.  But hidden within the lines of formula and code, lurking just behind the next cascading style sheet lies something more insidious than the viruses, malware, and phishing scams of cyberspace:  the Upper Cross Syndrome (cue scary music overlay with thunder and lightning).

Upper Cross Syndrome (UCS) is the name given to a condition affecting the upper torso and neck which involves a pattern of uninhibited/overactive  muscles coupled with weakened muscles.  The condition arises from maintaining certain postures for a prolonged period of time (such as sitting at a work station) which predisposes the muscles in the back of the neck and the front of the chest to become tight and overactive.  However, at the same time that those muscles tighten up, the opposite muscles in the front of the neck and those between the shoulder blades become weakened.  Over time this posture can cause headaches along with pain within the muscles and joints of the upper body.  And when you’re not feeling well it can affect both your productivity and creativity.

So why does this happen?  Well, we’re victims of our body’s own functional design.  We’re all familiar with the various reflexes we have:  Knee Jerk Reflex, the Gag Reflex, the Pain Reflex (pulling your hand away from something too hot).  Reflexes help our bodies to perform certain tasks automatically without us always having to think about them.  Another reflex, referred to as the Reflex of Reciprocal Inhibition, works to coordinate functional movements.  For example:  when you move a fork full of food from the plate to your mouth your biceps muscle is activated and contracts.  At the very same time, a reflex impulse is sent from the nerves in your biceps muscle, up through your spinal cord, and back down to your triceps muscle causing it to turn off, thus allowing your elbow to bend and the food to get to your mouth (you can imagine that if this reflex didn’t happen your arm would stay straight with the food stuck at the end of the fork).

The reflex for reciprocal inhibition is set up all over our bodies including the postural muscles of the neck, chest and upper back.  When sitting in front of a computer we often adopt a position where our arms are in front on the keyboard, our upper back is slouched and rounded, and our head is jutting forward on our neck (you’re guilty, I’m guilty, we’re all guilty).  Being in this position for a short time isn’t a problem.  But many of us are like this for a great portion of the day.  And as the day goes on the muscles of the upper neck and chest, continually activated in that position, become shorter, tighter, and overactivated.  In turn, the opposing muscles (those in the front of the neck, and those of the upper back between the shoulder blades), through the reflex of reciprocal inhibition, are told to turn off and thus are weakened/inhibited from helping to maintain good posture (see diagram above).

It’s not just people on computers who are susceptible to developing UCS.  Anyone who maintains the posture for long periods can develop it:  truck and taxi drivers, dental hygienists and overhead crane operators, professional models who pose for upper cross syndrome diagrams (the latter group is particularly at risk).

Although UCS is often associated with the high tech industry there are several effective low tech steps you can take to both prevent and treat it.  Below are some things that you can implement on your own right away:

The biggest and best thing you can do is to be more physically active throughout the day.  Avoid staying in front of the computer for too long a time.  Get up at least every 30 minutes to walk around and shake out the shoulders.  Set up a reminder on your computer or smart phone.  Also, try to incorporate more face-to-face in-office communication and less email/text messaging between co-workers.  This will further encourage you get up, up, and away from your desk.

Stretch out the muscles of your neck and chest on a regular basis to avoid them becoming too short and over activated.

Drink plenty of water.  Water helps to keep muscles and joints fresh, relaxed and hydrated.

Using a tennis ball between you and the wall to apply direct pressure can release some of the tension in already tight muscles of the upper back.

Sometimes, however, a little extra help is needed.  When that’s the case, chiropractic care can help through a combination of one or more therapies:

Myofascial Release is a soft tissue therapy that is used to decrease inflammation and contracted tissues (“muscle knots”) by helping to break up adhesions which develop between muscle fibres. It may involve either active or passive stretching along with direct pressure to the affected muscles.

Trigger Point Therapy aims to reduce tension within the muscle by applying direct pressure over the muscle knot.  As it is being performed the patient will often feel tenderness and resistance within the muscle which eventually gives way to a sensation of release and relaxation in that specific area.

Chiropractic Adjustment is a highly skilled and precise movement usually applied by hand to a joint of the body. Adjustments loosen the joint to restore proper movement and optimize function and allows the muscles to move more freely.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is an electro-stimulation modality that is applied to the affected area using pads and works to decrease muscle spasm, pain and inflammation.  Depending on the setting, TENS can feel like an electrical tingle or a pulsing/contracting sensation within the muscles.

Upper cross syndrome is one of those occupational hazards that comes along with many of today’s work environments.  Being active and taking a preventive approach can go a long way to reduce its’ incidence.   If you have any questions about UCS or if you would like to find a Guelph chiropractor you can contact us at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Putting a Green Thumb to Health Care

Two months ago your friend handed you a plant to revive.  The leaves were yellow-brown and withering.  The soil dry.  Clearly it had been neglected and subject to stresses which gradually wore it down.  But you took up the challenge, placed it on the window sill and began your efforts.  You re-potted it in a foundation of healthy, nourishing soil.  You watered it to keep it from drying out and periodically added plant food.  Given the new conditions the plant flourished and grew, its’ roots taking hold and leaves and blossoms spreading.

Now ask yourself: were you the one that made the plant grow?  Ultimately the answer is no.  The plant had all the information within it to revive.  It knew at what angle the stalk goes up, where the buds for the leaves form and how often to flower.  You imparted none of that information into the plant.  That all lies within its’ own natural makeup.

You did, however, play a pivotal role.  You gave it a healthy environment that met its’ needs.  You facilitated the right conditions for the plant to fully express itself.

The same reasoning can be applied to role of chiropractic, medicine, acupuncture and all other healing professions and modalities. When you are suffering from aches and pains, tight muscles and stiff joints, your body is telling you that the environment it’s in is setting up poor conditions for it to function well.  The physical, chemical and emotional stresses that you expose yourself to on a daily basis affect your body’s performance.  Does applying chiropractic care, using acupuncture or taking a vitamin heal your body?  Or is it that, when used correctly, they help to set up the right environment within so that your body can repair and heal itself?  Reducing the tension and stiffness within your joints and muscles can help free up otherwise wasted energy and enables your body to function at its best.  Once corrected, your body can go from just “hanging on” to using its innate ability to  be strong, relaxed and resilient.

Treat your body well and have faith in its ability to heal and maintain itself.

For more information on how chiropractic care can help you please contact Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre in downtown Guelph.

Photo Credit:  108dragon

No pain, no gain? Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

I used to compete in freestyle skiing.  Specifically the moguls event.  I was never the best but I had fun enough to have the opportunity to participate one year at a training camp held in mid June on the glacier atop Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, BC.  For those of you not familiar with skiing, especially at Whistler in the summer:  imagine a hot sunny day, you’re in short sleeves and sunscreen, sliding down a wave of 7-up slushie – summer ski camp is a week of fun in the sun on snow.  One thing to note, however, is that the regular ski season ends in April and therefore I hadn’t been on skiis for about two months.  Although my teenage legs were in good shape, after a two month hiatus, they weren’t conditioned for the rigors of moguls anymore.  Nevertheless, the first day of camp I skied hard.  In retrospect it’s funny that I should be surprised at how sore I was upon waking the next day.  And when I say sore, I mean that I could hardly straighten up from the pain in my legs, hips and back.  For a few moments I wasn’t even sure that I could continue with the camp.  It’s not that I had taken a bad fall or been injured the day before.  It was just a severe case of delayed onset muscle soreness.

We’ve all experienced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) – that dull, aching muscle pain and tenderness associated with moving or stretching that occurs after we’ve participated in a new activity or one in which we’ve pushed our bodies harder than we normally do.  And with the spring season upon us many of us are itching to shake off our winter slumber and become active once again.  As is often the case, however, our zeal gets the best of us and we do more than what we’re ready for.  Subsequently we’re repaid with DOMS.  The intensity of the pain usually peaks between 24 to 72 hours post exercise and subsides after 5 to 7 days.

The physiology behind the muscle soreness still isn’t completely understood but it’s thought to be due to a combination of two main factors:  connective tissue damage within the muscle fibres coupled with an inflammatory response to exercise.  Regardless of the mechanism, you know that it can hurt.  So here are some simple strategies to help reduce the severity of DOMS.

Start Slow – If it’s been a while since participating in physical activity or if starting a new activity, ease into it.  Start off slowly and avoid the common mistake of doing too much too soon, which, along with DOMS, can lead to more debilitating injuries (see Shin Splints).

Get back in the saddle – perform an activity which takes the sore muscles through their paces at a reduced intensity.  Doing something such as a light walk or jog may temporarily aggravate the soreness but it will quickly resolve and help the muscles to loosen up.

Pamper yourself – a hot bath, a whirlpool spa, or a massage can help to reduce soreness by promoting blood flow to the muscles and connective tissue and enhances recovery.

Stay hydrated – I can’t say it enough.  Your muscles are just plain-ol’  happier when you keep them in contact with enough water.  Everyone has different needs, but a good rule of thumb is to drink up before you get thirsty.

No pain, no gain? – Some mild DOMS is a normal part of working out and being active.  However, if the pain doesn’t start to resolve within about a week there may be more going on than DOMS such as the development of trigger points or an actual injury.  Take the time to get a thorough evaluation from your chiropractor or other health professional familiar with musculoskeletal and sports injuries.

As a society, we no longer lead the physically active lifestyle of our ancestors.  DOMS can be a bit of a reminder that our bodies are meant to move, that we shouldn’t take our muscles for granted, and that we need to engage in regular activity.

If you’re looking for more information on muscle or sports injuries contact us at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre in downtown Guelph Ontario.

Photo Credit:  713 Avenue

Neck Pain Relief Strategies

It’s probably happened to you before in any number of scenarios:  while turning your head to shoulder check, playing a relaxed game of volleyball/basketball/bowling, or stretching out during a yawn in the morning when all of a sudden you feel a sharp burning sensation in your neck.  It can start at the side or back of your neck and work its way down between your shoulder blades or down into your arm.  The proverbial and literal “pain in the neck”.

The neck is very much like the low back in that seemingly trivial movements or stresses can suddenly bring on acute pain out of know where.  One minute you were fine, and the next you have to shift your entire torso to speak to the person sitting next to you.  The fact of the matter is that although most cases of acute neck pain are relatively benign and self-limiting it’s usually not something that came on out of the blue.  And although the symptoms of pain and limited range of motion are sudden, there is usually some underlying dysfunction that’s been building up for some time prior to this episode.

Although the body is much more complex, in many ways it works like a machine.  Your car, for example, when driven regularly, needs more than just gasoline to keep going.  Without periodic maintenance check-ups such as an oil change, alignment and tire rotation, your car’s performance will suffer.  At first you may not notice the subtle signs starting with diminished fuel economy and worn tire tread but eventually that neglect can end in brake failure or a seized engine.  Similarly, your body is susceptible to the wear and tear of daily stresses that can build up over time.  But because your body is also great at compensating for diminished performance (an adaptation which helps us to survive in a more sedentary society) you don’t always notice the dysfunction building up – that is, until it hits a threshold and symptoms become apparent.  It’s the classic case of the straw that broke the camel’s back (or the giraffe’s neck).

Of course we all know that prevention is the best medicine.  Maintenance through regular stretching and stress reduction techniques are always a good idea.  But you have pain right now, so what can you do?  Here are some options:

Apply a cold compress over the affected side or area.  In the early stages of acute pain (the first two to three days) cold helps to reduce the pain and inflammation.  Only apply for approximately ten minutes at a time to avoid freezing the area.

Try to continue with your activities of daily living as you are able.  Although it’s just fine to take some time to rest, avoid sitting still and doing nothing.  Inactivity causes the muscles and joints involved to stiffen up even more.  In most cases there is nothing structurally wrong with the neck.  Moving it gently, although uncomfortable, isn’t damaging.

Avoid wearing a neck brace or collar.  This ties in with the above note to keep moving.  Restricting the already restricted movement of your neck by wearing a brace will only delay your recovery time.  This is even the case for most whiplash type injuries.  And if the pain level is that severe then you should seek evaluation by your chiropractor or other qualified health professional.

Often, however, you want some extra help.  Chiropractic treatment can be beneficial in decreasing pain and speeding up the recovery time.  Here are some of the therapies that work especially well for acute neck pain:

Adjustment – This is the treatment that chiropractors are best known for.  An adjustment is a highly skilled and precise movement usually applied by hand to a joint of the body. Adjustments loosen the joint to restore proper movement and optimize function.  When a joint is adjusted, a gas bubble within the joint fluid sometimes forms causing the popping sensation you may have heard about.  There is also a localized release of endorphins, your body’s natural pain killers, around the joint.  This further helps things to feel better and allows more freedom of movement.

Mobilization – Joint mobilizations involve a slow rhythmic induction of movement to a specific joint in the body. Like adjustments, mobilizations help to restore proper movement and to optimize function.  Not all patients are good candidates for adjustments; therefore mobilization can be a great alternative.

Passive Stretching – Sometimes it can be difficult, especially when in pain, to stretch on your own.  We are able to help passively (without your assistance) move your joints into specific positions in order to achieve the relaxation effect that stretching provides.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) – TENS therapy is an electro-stimulation modality that is applied to the affected area using pads and works to decrease muscle spasm, pain and inflammation.  TENS can be very beneficial with acute, painful injuries.  Depending on the setting, TENS can feel like an electrical tingle or a pulsing/contracting sensation within the muscles.

Prevention – As stated earlier, prevention is a key component.  Once things are feeling better, your chiropractor can provide tips on healthy strategies like stretching, exercise, and stress relief to both feel better and stay well.

If you’re having problems with neck pain or whiplash and would like more information on finding a Guelph chiropractor please contact us at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Photo Credit:  wwarby

Little White Lies

You know that you’re guilty of them:  in your coffee, on your cereal, in snacks and confections.  Small, seductive, and sinfully sweet, sugar crystals are the little white lies we live with every day.  We fall for them every time our sweet tooth calls with a craving thinking that they will make us happy and content.  And for a time we do feel better, but it’s short lived.  And the long term consequences of the proverbial “moment on the lips” is much more insidious than we’d like to believe.

Don’t get me wrong, sugar isn’t all bad.  In fact quite the contrary; sugar is vitally important and our body knows it.  When we ingest sugar, or other substances that are easily broken down into glucose (the digestible form of sugar), like white flour and white rice, the body releases insulin which helps glucose to enter the cell.  At the same time, the body also releases IGF (Insulin like Growth Factor), another hormone which helps to stimulate the cell’s growth.  We can see then that sugar not only nourishes tissues but helps them to grow faster as well.  Insulin and IGF are also active in promoting the process of inflammation which, when in kept in check, is important for tissue repair and injury recovery.  This is a great system to have if you’re living the physically demanding lifestyle of the hunter-gatherer and finding sources of calorie dense, sugar rich foods are few and far between.

But it’s not often these days that we don’t have easy access to high calorie, high sugar foods.  And this extra sugar is taking its toll.  In his book Anti Cancer: A New Way of Life Dr. David Servan-Schreiber demonstrates the danger associated with an over-abundance of sugar and its links to cancer.  It used to be (centuries past) that the average person consumed no more than 4 lbs of sugar, mostly in the form of honey, per year.  By the year 1830 that figure had risen to 11 lbs.  Today, the amount of sugar we consume in one year is a staggering 150 lbs! With today’s predominantly sedentary lifestyle and easily accessible food our bodies have no need and no room for all of that sugar.  And this is where cancer starts to rear its head.

Dr. Servan-Schreiber uses the analogy of a garden to describe the relationship between our bodies and cancer:  In every garden there are some weeds.  But with proper tending and care, the weeds are kept at bay and the garden flourishes.  Similarly, each of us has small micro-tumours within our body.  When we live a healthy lifestyle we keep our immune system strong which in turn helps to keep those micro-tumours from growing and spreading.  Although the contributors to and processes of cancer are multifactorial, the over-abundance of sugar in our diet is a major influence.  As stated earlier, in the right amounts, sugar helps maintain healthy growth.  But when there’s too much around, the same effect it has on healthy cells is also occurring in cancer cells and subsequently promoting their growth.  To make things worse, too much sugar also has the effect of depressing our immune system which then has a much harder time keeping micro-tumours under control.  Excess sugar packs a powerful one-two punch making us more susceptible to cancer.

So what can you do to help prevent the side effects of sugar?  First, try to reduce and limit your intake of sugar and other foods composed of white flour (breads, cereals, pastas, pastries) or white rice.  Next, replace the above foods with whole grain versions.  This is often easier said than done (sometimes I think I have more than one sweet tooth vying for attention in my mouth).  And when you find yourself struggling with a sugar craving call on nature’s candy: fruit.  I know, I know – it doesn’t satisfy the same way that some chocolate cake or a doughnut does.  But it will take the edge off of your craving and in the long term your body will thank you for ending the parade of little white lies.

Have you had a tough time with sugar?  Do you have any tips or tricks to help you get past those cravings?  Please share your story with the rest of us and let us know what’s worked well for you.

Photo Credit:  wynk

Shin Splints – Don’t Lose The “Spring” In Spring Training

We’re into March now and the days are getting warmer and longer.  Spring is just around the corner and with it comes that urge to wake up from winter’s hibernation and become more active.  Although it’s normal to have some mild aches and pains upon starting or returning to an activity such as walking or running, sometimes when you push things too far, it can feel like you want a new pair of legs.  I often see patients coming in with overuse injuries at the onset of a new routine as enthusiasm takes over and they do too much, too soon. Shin splints are a frequent culprit.

Shin splints (aka medial tibial stress syndrome) cause pain at the front inside portion of the leg near the shin bone. There may be tenderness with pressure along the lower leg or discomfort when pointing the toes downward or pulling them up. Shin splints may be aggravated by a sudden increase of distance running or intensity of activity. Factors that can predispose some people to develop shin splints include: tight lower leg muscles, weak ankles, over-pronation of feet, or poor footwear.

The exact mechanism of what causes shin splints still isn’t well understood.  The most current theories attribute it to over-use of the tendons and muscles that help in providing shock absorption to the foot and ankle – primarily the tibialis anterior, extensor hallucis  longus and extensor digitorum.  If these muscles are weak or subject to excessive strain from increased activity they can become overworked and sore.  Poor footwear can further compound the injury by increasing demand for shock absorption.

Regardless of the cause, there are steps you can take to help shin splints resolve:

  • The most important aspect of treatment is to rest from the aggravating activity.  For some of you this might be a welcome reprieve.  For others it may feel like  punishment not being able to get in your regular exercise.  In either case, switching to a new or different activity which puts less stress on the shins may be an option.  But remember that not allowing your body the rest it needs to heal will only set you up for future aggravation.
  • Apply ice or a cold compress to the areas of pain for no more than ten minutes at a time.  This will help to control the inflammation and pain.
  • Stretch out the front of the shins to limber the muscles.  This can be accomplished by sitting on your knees with your feet tucked underneath.
  • Once the pain has subsided follow a plan to gradually return to activity.  If the pain comes back it means that your body is not yet ready for that exercise.  It may also mean that there could be more going on…

A stress fracture of the shin bone (tibia) may also mimic shin splints.  The pain of a stress fracture, however, is often much more localized to a specific area of point tenderness as opposed to the more diffuse pain of shin splints.  Stress fractures are also difficult to identify on x-ray until healing has been well under way – so once again, I stress the importance of rest.

Poor biomechanics of not just the foot and ankle but the knee, hip, or low back may also contribute to the pain.  So if rest alone isn’t resolving things see your chiropractor for a thorough evaluation of the problem.  We can help to identify and correct any underlying biomechanical abnormalities to decrease the pain and improve function. In-clinic treatment focuses on decreasing muscle and joint tightness and may include a combination of soft tissue therapy, adjustments, passive stretching, microcurrent or orthotics prescription.

If you would like more information on treatment options for shin splints or any other aches and pains contact your Guelph chiropractors at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Photo Credit:  virtual_communities_ltd

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