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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

Finding a Guelph Chiropractor – 10 Things to Help With Your Treatment

Eating well is part of your blueprint to good health

In this third and final installment about chiropractic treatment in Guelph I’m going to focus on what you can do  both as a patient and a person to get the most benefit from your treatment.

1)  Have a plan – I have always remembered the phrase “failing to plan is like planning to fail”.  I first heard it in my teens when I was learning to become a swimming instructor.   It meant that for every lesson I was to teach I needed a plan to follow in order to not only avoid getting lost along the way, but to also do my best.  The same applies when addressing your health.  Whether you have an ache or pain, or you simply want to improve your health, setting out a plan is an important part of that.  Identifying goals and benchmarks helps to set out a blueprint for achievement.

2)  Stick to the plan – A plan is only as good as it’s execution.  If you don’t follow it the results may not happen the way you were hoping (see Stay Positive below).  For example, antibiotics can be a wonderful tool when indicated.  Your medical doctor will give them as  a specific prescription.  A prescription is nothing more than a plan which states how much/how often/for how long of a particular medicine.  If, when feeling better, you stop taking the medication before the plan says to, the bacteria may not be completely eradicated and come back even stronger than before.  Similarly with chiropractic care, just because the symptoms have abated does not mean that the underlying cause has been fixed.  To better avoid relapses it’s best to stick to the plan.

3)  Stay active – Your body is meant to move.  It’s good for your joints, your muscles, your bones, your heart, your lungs, your circulation, your sense of well being, your memory, your balance…

4)  Stretch – Take time throughout the day to stretch out those areas that tighten up.  Hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds and focus on feeling the muscles relax (see the previous post on stretching).

5)  Stay hydrated – You’ve heard it time and again:  the majority of your body is composed of water.  Water helps to keep our blood flowing, our muscles pumping and our nerves conducting.  Water also helps to transmit the multitude of hormone and chemical signals that run through us daily as well as helping to clean out any of our waste products.  To help with all of that, make sure that you drink plenty of non-caffeinated, non-alcohol, low sugar fluids throughout the day.  In other words…drink water.  It’s good for you.

6)  Stay rested – On average most people require between six and eight hours of good sleep per day.  Yes, some need more and some less.  Whatever you know to be your “right” amount, be sure to get it.  Sleep is the time when your body and brain have a chance to get some housecleaning and repair work done.  If you don’t allow for that daily rest you inhibit your recovery and healing process.

7)  Stay positive – Studies in the world of psychology are confirming that the way you think has a great impact on how your body functions.  While it’s important to be realistic about your recovery from injury (most of the time there is no “quick fix”) it’s equally important to keep faith in your body’s capacity to heal and return to good health if you give it the chance.

8)  Eat Well – If you build your house out of straw it can easily be blown down.  If you build your house out of bricks it’s strong, durable, resilient.  Eat foods that are healthy and provide a solid foundation for your body to maintain itself:  fruits and vegetables, whole grains, sustainably raised meats, fish, poultry, non-processed, low in sugar.  (Don’t eat bricks.)

9)  Reduce Stress –  I touched on this point back in a post about headaches.  Stress comes in many forms.  The most commonly recognized is psychological stress arising from our relationships with others as well as ourselves. One way manage stress is to try and maintain good open/honest relationships with family/friends/coworkers.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t ever disagree with them.  Rather, when you do, you can work things out so that negative emotions don’t build up.  Another point on stress is to relax. Take time each day and do some active relaxation to reduce the mental load you’re carrying around.  Meditation, deep breathing, prayer, and yoga are just some of the activities to help.

10)  Stay Informed – If you’re wondering about what’s going on with your body and your health, ask your health care providers.  I enjoy talking with patients who are curious about different aspects of their health and want to make positive changes in their lifestyle habits.  Often to supplement our discussions I’ll recommend some reading from our clinic’s lending library.  When in doubt, ask.  Knowledge is power.

For more information on how to get the most benefit from your Guelph chiropractor please contact Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Photo Credit:  saltyseadog

Finding a Guelph Chiropractor – Treatment Options

Last week we discussed what you can expect as a new chiropractic patient.  This week we’re going to look at conditions that chiropractors in Guelph treat and the specific treatment options offered – the different ways that we can help to get your repairs in order, so to speak.

Most people know chiropractic care is good for back pain, neck pain and headaches.  While that’s true, chiropractic is well positioned to help with a variety of musculo-skeletal conditions including the following:

Sports injuries                         Osteoarthritis
Shoulder pain                          Hip, Knee, ankle injuries
Rotator cuff injuries               Jaw pain (TMJ)
Elbow and wrist pain             Plantar fasciitis
Carpal tunnel syndrome

There are many styles, techniques and treatment options within the scope of chiropractic care.  Listed below are the main treatments that we use at our clinic in Guelph.

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.

Myofascial Release – When muscles are in a state of chronic tension the fibres within the muscle can start to develop adhesions between one another.  These adhesions act like sticky tape reducing the motion of the muscles and surrounding joints.  Myofascial Release is a soft tissue therapy that is used to decrease inflammation and contracted tissues (“muscle knots”) by helping to break up those adhesions. It may involve either active or passive stretching along with direct pressure to adhesions in the muscles.

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.

Trigger Point – Localized tight and tender areas within a muscle are called knots.  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.

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.

Microcurrent – Microcurrent therapy is an electro-stimulation modality which works to decrease inflammation and pain to the applied area. It works to accelerate the body’s natural healing ability.  Different from TENS, there may only be a mild tingling or itching sensation, if anything, associated with Microcurrent therapy.

Orthotics – If our feet are not functioning at their best they can be linked to conditions such as foot and ankle pain, knee pain, hip and low back pain. Custom made orthotics can help to correct faulty foot mechanics and reduce these painful conditions.

Exercise and Stretching – Not all exercises are created equal – finding healthy, safe and effective exercises is an integral part of reducing pain and maintaining optimal function. We prescribe specific stretches and exercises to help recover from painful conditions. We also advise on general fitness and exercise techniques to keep you moving well and avoiding pain.

Healthy Eating – Good food is important. Changes in diet, both good and bad, can have a large impact on how your body feels and functions. We can help by providing information on what you can do to improve and maintain good, healthy eating habits .

Stress Reduction – The daily stresses in our lives play a big role in how we feel, how we respond to treatment, and our overall health.  Just like regular exercise and healthy eating, regular relaxation practice and techniques can positively impact pain management and recovery.

Next week’s post will focus on the bigger picture of setting out a treatment plan and the things that you can do to ensure you get the most benefit from your treatment.

If you would like more information on chiropractic treatment options or finding a chiropractor in Guelph please contact us at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Image credit:  hey mr glen

Finding a Guelph Chiropractor – What to Expect as a New Patient

If you’re in Guelph, or anywhere else, and looking for a chiropractor, then you’ve come to a good place.  Frequently I hear the comment “I didn’t know chiropractors treated that” or “I wasn’t aware that chiropractors used that kind of therapy” so I thought that it would be useful to provide an overview of chiropractic care.*   Over the next three posts I hope to provide you with a clear direction of what to expect when seeking care starting from your first visit and treatments to the important role you play in your own healing process.  Let’s begin…

Your First Visit

Paper work – Yes, as a new patient please expect to fill out some paper work providing not only your name and contact information but also notes on your current and past health history.  This is important information for us to have as it helps to build the clinical picture of your overall health.

Consultation – During the consultation we will go over many of the things you had written down on the intake forms but in more detail.  Why go over it again?  Because speaking with someone face to face is different than just reading about them.  Key information may be gleaned through conversation that may not have been addressed directly in the paperwork.  Along with reviewing your current condition we may also ask questions about your past health history, and current lifestyle factors including exercise, nutrition, work environment and stress levels.  The consultation also gives you, the patient, a chance to give your view on what’s going on.  We enjoy getting to know our patients and it’s through that process that we’re best able to help.

Physical Examination – The physical exam involves a combination of observation (looking at posture, movement patterns, how one area of the body functions in relation to another), orthopedic and neurological tests (assessing the function of the muscles, joints and nerves), and palpation (feeling the muscles and joints for tightness, tenderness, restriction of motion).  We take care to explain things as we go along and only perform those tests that you can comfortably do.

X-rays – X-rays can be a great tool when they are indicated.  We base the decision of whether or not x-rays are indicated on the complete clinical picture and as such we do not x-ray every patient.  If we feel that x-rays are indicated then we can easily refer you to an imaging clinic to have them taken.

Once we have completed and compiled the information from your consultation and physical exam we’ll go over the findings with you.  We will also take time to explain to you the treatment options that we recommend (I’ll describe treatment options in the next post).  Frequently, treatment can start at that first visit, however, sometimes due to the complexity of a case, or if more information is needed, treatment will be postponed until all of the pertinent information has been gathered.

Your Second Visit

At the start of the second visit we’ll sit down and review what we had learned the day before going over in detail the nature of your complaint (what’s wrong), the treatment options and recommendations (how to fix the problem) and set out a plan (frequency and duration of visits).  Going through this process gives you the chance to fully understand what’s going on with your body, what it means to be doing the treatments, as well as the opportunity to ask any other questions you may have.  We believe that the better you understand the healing process the better the results.  After that we will then start with the treatment protocol that we’ve set out.

Subsequent Visits

Once we’ve set out the plan each visit will build upon the last treatment.  The length of each treatment can vary – sometimes five minutes, sometimes thirty – depending upon the nature of the complaint and the therapy being provided.  The frequency and number of subsequent treatments needed depend on many factors including the severity of the injury, how acute or chronic the injury is, your over all state of health and your specific health goals.

In the next post I’ll discuss the different types of therapies available and how they fit into the over all treatment plan.  For more information on chiropractic care or Guelph chiropractors, please contact Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

*  This post is written from the perspective of how I practice at my own clinic.  There are a variety of styles and techniques within the chiropractic profession, each with a subset of patients that responds accordingly.  I know many chiropractors, none of whom practice exactly alike yet still provide excellent care for their patients.  As it is with your mechanic, hair dresser, dentist or family physician, it’s not a matter of finding the “right” one, but rather finding the right one for you.

Photo Credit:  xtinalamb

Sciatica – a pain by any other name would hurt as much

Sciatica is a troubling name and a troubling condition.  The term is thrown around quite frequently by people and  is often used as a blanket statement for lower back and leg pain.  Whenever you feel pain in your back, hip, or leg, someone will usually comment “Oh that’s sciatica acting up”.

So where does sciatica come from and what does it really mean?  Sciatica refers to irritation or impingement of the sciatic nerve – a large nerve originating in the low back and made up of several nerve roots coming off of the spinal cord.  In practice the term sciatica is actually used to describe varying symptoms of an underlying medical condition and is not a condition in and of itself.

  • A patient with a low back disc herniation, for example, may have resulting inflammation around the nerve roots in the low back due to this disc herniation and this can cause the symptoms of nerve pain.  He/she may experience pain in the low back, numbness in the back of the thigh and pins and needles into the calf.  This would be described as sciatica.
  • Another patient may have a chronically short and tight piriformis muscle (a muscle in the buttock region) due to prolonged sitting, excessive exercise or just poor biomechanics.  In this case, the piriformis muscle which lies on top of the sciatic nerve presses down on it causing pain to radiate into the buttock and the back of the thigh. Here the cause is different but it is still called sciatica.
  • A third example in which a patient may describe sciatic symptoms is called spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the openings where the spinal nerves exit the spinal column, often due to age related changes in the spine.  Symptoms of sciatica in this case may include difficulty with prolonged walking which is relieved with flexing the spine forward.

So, you may wonder, why do the semantics matter?  They matter because it is important to differentiate the cause of these seemingly similar types of pain as each of these diagnoses has a different prognosis and treatment protocol.   The patient with a piriformis syndrome may be given specific hip stretches that could otherwise aggravate the symptoms of a patient with a disc herniation.  Conversely, a patient with a disc herniation may undergo spinal adjustments, and someone with piriformis syndrome may have muscle release therapy and TENS.  And the spinal stenosis patient may be recommended exercises such as riding a stationary bike, while walking may be the preferred activity for a disc herniation.

If you think you may be suffering from the symptoms of sciatica it is important to visit your chiropractor or another qualified healthcare professional and have the underlying cause diagnosed so that the right course of treatment and at home care is applied.  For more information on sciatica, how it can be treated and other types of back pain contact your Guelph chiropractors at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Photo credit:  Sue90ca All Together: Snow, Snow Go Away!

Why I Walk

"You know these winter walks have been a lot more comfortable since I started layering."

As a young child I didn’t much like walking.  Walking, just for the sake of going for a walk, represented to me the height of boring adult physical activity.  I much preferred the faster and more exciting pursuits of riding my bike, skateboarding, and running.  And if I was walking, it almost always had an end purpose in mind:  exploring the forest behind our house, getting to and from school or a friend’s house.  But walking just for its’ own sake?  Nah, not for me.

Skip ahead a few years… When I was nineteen I broke my ankle and I was on crutches for eight weeks.  For those of you who have had to use crutches you know that although it’s inconvenient, it’s not all that bad.  You learn how to adapt to getting around and as you become more comfortable you can even start to show-off your crutching skills to friends – I was able to “walk” for some distance without putting either of my feet on ground.  But the novelty quickly wore off and to my surprise I started to miss walking.  Not just the ability to get from one class to the other or back and forth between my car and the school.  I missed being able to go out for a walk just for the sake of a walk.  I missed not only the freedom to do so but also the simultaneous invigoration and relaxation that walking brought.

Now, years later, I fully appreciate and enjoy the benefits of walking.  Although walking can mean different things to each participant, here are some of main factors that make it a great activity.

Exercise – Our bodies are meant to move.  Regular physical activity keeps bones, muscles and joints strong and resilient.  Walking provides an enjoyable, low impact option to keep our bodies in motion.

Stress Relief – Going for a walk (especially outdoors) helps to calm the mind and redirects anxious energy into something productive and healthy.

Energy Boost – Studies have demonstrated that regular physical activity can increase our alertness and energy levels while reducing fatigue.

Participant Specific – Some of us enjoy the solitude of a lone walk while others enjoy it as a group activity.

User Friendly – Walking can be enjoyed by almost anyone, anytime, anywhere.  It is cheap to get started, it requires very little practice (right foot, left foot, repeat), and you can feel accomplished with each excursion.

For these reasons and more get out there and enjoy the benefits of walking.  If you’re looking for company a couple of great places in Guelph are the Guelph YMCA which hosts indoor starter walking groups and the Guelph Hiking Trail Club which goes on weekly excursions on surrounding nature trails.  If you would like more information on walking  and other healthy activities you can contact your Guelph Chiropractor at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

How has walking helped you?  What tips would you suggest for those just getting started or wanting to get back into it?

Photo credit:  LegOfenris

Headaches Part 3 – Chiropractic Treatment

Sometimes we all need a helping hand

Last, but not least, in this three part series on headaches is chiropractic treatment.  The reason that I’ve put it third is that most headaches of musculoskeletal origin can often be prevented or managed effectively on their own.  In part two of this series we saw that there are many factors which we have control over to help with headaches.  Sometimes, however, we need a helping hand, and that’s when going to see your chiropractor is a good idea…

Passive Stretching
Last week I had spoken about self stretching of tight muscles.  While that can be beneficial, a passive approach to stretching, where someone else does it for you, can also help muscles to relax, especially during those times when it can be too painful to move on your own.  The big difference between stretching on your own and having someone else facilitate the stretch is that passive stretching enables you to let all of the muscles in a particular region relax.  As with self stretching, however, the environment should be calming and void of unnecessary distractions so as to allow proper focus and cooperation between patient and practitioner.

Myofascial Release
When muscles have been tight and tense for a prolonged period of time (as is often the case with chronic headaches) they can start to develop adhesions between the muscle fibres. These adhesion inhibit and distort the normally smooth and relaxed motion of the muscles leading to further dysfunction and often resulting in pain.  Myofascial release therapy is a technique aimed at reducing the muscles’ adhesions and restoring proper function.  The technique involves first identifying the tight and tender areas within specific muscles. Next, manual tension is applied over that tight/tender area while that muscle is stretched out through its’ range of motion.  A good analogy is to think of the process of an iron moving over fabric and taking out the wrinkles – in a similar manner, the muscle is “smoothed out” and can better relax allowing it to move more freely again.  Again, better motion helps to reduce the physical stresses contributing to a headache.

Adjustment & Mobilization
In response to prolonged tension, one of the ways your body can react is by stiffening up. I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the sensation of tightness in the upper back, neck and shoulders after a stressful day.  Just as muscles become tight, so too can joints become restricted and lose their normal range of motion (for a little more background on the mechanics of how and why joints become restricted see this post.  The same principles that apply in the low back apply here as well).  Stiff joints can become painful joints as inflammation builds up.  And painful joints can contribute to headaches.  Here is where we get into what chiropractors are often known best for – adjustment.  An adjustment is a procedure wherein a quick impulse is applied to a restricted joint to help free up the joint’s range of motion.  Two really neat things happen because of this.  First, the joint can start to move more easily again.  This means that good, healthy motion within the joint can help to reduce the build up of inflammation and pain.  Second, there is a release of endorphins (your body’s natural pain killers) locally around the joint.  Endorphins are chemicals – your body’s natural pain killers.  These two effects of the adjustment build on one another: better motion leads to less pain and less pain leads to better motion.  A powerful combination to reduce the build up of factors causing the headache.

Now adjustments aren’t for everyone all the time.  There are instances with certain health conditions, timing, and patient preference when another therapy technique called joint mobilization may be more appropriate.  Mobilization is similar to adjustment in that manual motion is applied to specific joints in order to restore normal function.  Instead of one quick impulse, however, a slow and repetitive motion is applied to the various joints as needed.

Stretching, myofascial release, and adjustment/mobilization are but three approaches in an almost endless variety of techniques and therapies to be applied in the management of headaches.  These three techniques are also among the safest and most effective in managing headaches with a musculoskeletal component.  As we have seen in the previous posts on headaches there are many other factors that come into play as well.    Finding the right approach and combination for you comes from your specific needs, abilities, and relationship with your chiropractor or other health care provider.

If you’d like more information on treatment for migraines and tension headaches or finding a Guelph chiropractor, you can contact Guelph Chiropractors at Clear Path Chiropractic.

Photo credit:  flyingg

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