Are Backpacks Really That Bad?

Are Backpacks Really That Bad?

My Facebook feed is full of back-to-school photos today.

It’s so cute seeing all the Littles in their First Day outfits, eager to make good first impressions.

They grow up so fast!

And while I don’t have kids of my own, I can’t help but feel a tug at my heartstrings of seeing my niece, backpack slung over her shoulders, eagerly getting on the bus and head into 1st grade like the superstar she is.

Makes me want to buy some crayons.

Imagine my surprise to also see a ton of stuff on my Facebook feed saying how this time honored tradition and right of passage of slinging a backpack over the shoulders wrecks a kid’s body.

 

 

 

[Insert “Say what, now?” face]

Stuff like, “don’t forget to get your child’s posture evaluated”, showing an elementary school age kid standing in front of a grid wall with before/after photos of what wearing and not wearing a backpack looks like to his posture.

Studies have been done, articles have been written.

Words like “health risk” and “danger” are being paired with “backpack”.

These articles and studies I’ve read keep mentioning loads and posture, which is such a loaded concept.

They talk about loads and posture as if it’s a fixed, unchangeable point.

Worst and Best.

Lawful good vs. chaotic evil.

Fear, much?

 

Back-To-School Mode: UNLOCKED.

To say backpacks (or any bag for that matter) wrecks our kids’ (or our own) posture and leads to this-or-that musculoskeletal issue or structural diagnosis is kind of a dull, low-level understanding of how the body functions as a whole, dynamic entity.

It’s fine and dandy to stand in front of a grid wall to evaluate posture, but it’s only a snapshot because posture is always adapting.

It adapts to forces we carry (a force would be any weighted object we could carry; I.e. backpack, briefcase, toddler, grocery bag, coffee cup), loading joints as we go and moving through our environment.

How a joint loads differs on what, how, and where we are carrying all of the stuffs.

If we are on flat, uneven, hard, or squishy surfaces, let alone up hill or down hill (or stairs) makes a difference.

We adapt to the amount of the weight and what body part we are primarily relying on to carry that weight.

There are a ton of variables in our equation.

When did Homo sapiens become a bunch of wussies who aren’t able to move without aches and pains while carrying stuff?

I’m thinking it’s when we stopped carrying stuff and moving around.

 

 

Not the Enemy

Bags and backpacks aren’t the enemy; there’s nothing wrong with using them when we need to.

They make it convenient to carry larger, unruly amounts of stuff.

In less trips, and hands free.

Headed out to hike with our packs. Included: 11L of water, 4 rain jackets, 2 hoodies, and about a pound of food, at least.

 

And since most people don’t do much lifting and carrying heavy things these days, usually the loads in the center of the body are more comfortable than on our arms, hands, and shoulders.

Like I said, convenience. And comfort.

 

What happens when center mass can’t handle the forces anymore and now you feel an ache in some body part or other from carrying around your bag?

 

Your body is now poorly managing the forces placed on your body, muscles can be overworking or underperforming, and the joints being loaded aren’t responding with adaptable ease.

You are experiencing dysfunction.

Hiking in the Smokies. A difficult 5 mile hike and a pack with 3L of water wasn’t an issue.

Those parts are ill equipped, for whatever reason, to carry the weight.

Maybe they are tired.

 

Maybe there was a tweaky injury in there once-upon-a-time and now there’s some compensation patterns built up as your brain tries to figure out how to get the job done and avoid pain at the same time.

Don’t throw the backpack out with the bathwater just yet.

Loads are simply the experience of the thing.

 

Experiences can change.

 

If the complaint is the backpack makes for sore shoulders or low backs, switch how the backpack is carried.

It’s that simple.

There’s many different ways to carry a backpack. You don’t have to carry it the same way every single time.

 

Create some new habits. Load your joints in new and novel ways.

Switch when you start to fatigue because hey (!) you’re building strength and adaptations in new places now.

The only wrong answer is continuing to load your joints in painful ways when one method to carry out the task becomes cumbersome or excessively uncomfortable.

 

Bottom Line

I think that’s the crux of the issue; we only do a small handful of activities with no variations on the theme.

Give the area you excessively work a recovery break by using another area you negligently use in your regular and daily habits.

The Great Posture Debate is really kind of dull.

It’s so yes/no these days.

The human body is too brilliantly complex and dynamic to distill it’s function down to a rigid set of “do this, not that” principals.

Remember, you have lots of different parts you can use to get the job done.

Do: move more of your body more frequently. Get creative. Explore.

Don’t: limit yourself. Or be afraid.

 

[bell rings] Class dismissed.

 


Do you feel aches and pains and limitations within your movement abilities?

It may be time to have those properly looked at.

If you would like to improve on your movement and postural potential, address any old (or new) injuries that never completely went away on their own, or explore possible compensation patterns that could be contributing to the “stress” you feel in your body, you can schedule a session here for a full evaluation and assessment.

 

 

The Case of The Nasty Neck

The Case of The Nasty Neck

A pain in the neck, that’s what I had. A real one, not a metaphorical one.

Have you ever had a neck ache so bad it wouldn’t go away no matter what you tried to relieve the pressure and tension?

Massage, stretching, cracking, heat or ice, a dose of something out of a bottle of various sorts; nothing helps.

After a week of doing a lot of reading in bed where I was propped up by pillows in a variety of wonky positions, my neck was yelling and screaming at me.

The tension, despite my best expert efforts, continued to build until I felt a spillover of crankiness in my jaw and a headache building on the horizon.

I could feel a lovely [sarcasm font] knot on the lower right portion of the back of my neck.

As any quality massage therapist worth their salt would do, I zeroed in on that right-sided knot and spent some time coaxing it to relax.

It did nothing for my neck and jaw junk.

 

Fast Forward

 

A few days later I was on the teaching staff for the next round of Neurokinetic Therapy in Chicago.

I found myself in a room full of highly achieved manual and movement therapists from a wide array of disciplines who needed to practice their manual muscle testing. I had some muscles in need of testing. Can’t do it myself, so, why not?

I took one for the team [wink].

 

I Had It All Wrong

 

The case of my Naughty Neck was not even close to what I expected it to be.

Most days in clinic, I find people have a lot of overwork happening in the muscles in the back of their neck.

These guys (neck extensors for the kinesiologically literate) like to work overtime, usually because of a history of car accidents/whiplash, and lots of hours logged sitting with slumpy posture over a computer keyboard, handheld device, or steering wheel.

Also, because of a lack of core strength, but that is a story left for another day.

There are muscles encircling your neck that function to move your head and sustain your posture. The human head weighs roughly 12 pounds.

I see a lot of only half of those muscles actually doing their job to hold and move the head.

Neck ache ensues, and left unchecked over decades, it can really wear out the hardware in your neck (read: joint changes that limit your ability to move your head around and maybe cause discomfort).

 

Quit Guessing

 

Here I was, massaging that knot on the lower part of my neck.

Remember, this wasn’t helping even a little. It was completely ineffective at relieving the ache that was building daily.

When I had another practitioner test out the neurological function of my neck muscles, we found I had it 100% backwards.

I assumed.

I guessed.

My guess was incorrect.

In my case, the knot on the back wasn’t forming because those tissues were overworking, but because they were underperforming.

The tight muscle was on the front of my neck, where it didn’t hurt, and the backside guys had no chance of keeping up.

I released the correct muscle on the front of my neck, and the painful spot on the back of my neck went away all on it’s own.

So did my jaw tension.

I could have sworn I heard it sigh with relief.

Oh wait….that was me.

 

This is another great example why we can’t assume and guess we know what’s going on.

When you feel pain, tightness, or tension in your body, it’s always for a reason.

It’s trying to communicate something with you about how your body is functioning.

Too often practitioners only look at the painful spot you point to, but that painful spot is only a fraction of the story.

Without actually looking at what the tissue function looks like, you are left with a guess, and like me, that guess could be wrong.

Wrong guesses keep you from feeling your best.


If you feel like you aren’t firing on all cylinders and have an ache or pain that is really cramping your style, make sure to get it checked out! 

I’m currently accepting new clients and have time to do some evaluations and super sleuthing to see if what I do can help you out.

You deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Aches are a Smoke Signal

Your Aches are a Smoke Signal

How to get to some real solutions to eliminate tightness and discomfort versus chasing the pain with no long-lasting, permanent results. Yep, there is a better way.

 

It’s incredibly common to schedule yourself a massage when you are feeling sore, tired, and cranky.

Photo: micagoto

That familiar burn behind your shoulder blades after a long day at the office. A crabby neck from falling asleep on the couch during the nightly Netflix numb-out. Maybe your knees and low back are shot after your lunchtime run.

If you have any experience receiving massage therapy, how often does the LMT zero in on your painful spot you point to, grounding, pounding, and chiseling away to only have the exact painful spot return?

If you’re lucky you get a small handful of relief for a few days. More often than not you only experience a few hours respite from the nagging discomfort you walked in with.

 

What gives?

Are we doomed to wasting precious time and money on a therapy that, at best, is temporary, or at worst, does diddly-squat for those issues you feel in your tissues?

 

Here’s the Insider, Expert Level, Scoop:

Where you think it is…it ain’t

(Thanks, Ida Rolf, for the sound bite)

 

That sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy thing you feel going on is merely a smoke signal; it’s informing you something is going on, but it doesn’t tell you exactly what it is.

 

Like a smoke signal, you need to be curious about it before it gives up the details.

From a manual therapy perspective, soft-tissues are often neurologically overworking or neurologically underperforming.

Ideally everything would be working effortlessly and seamlessly in concert together.

When you’re hurting, they likely aren’t.

Both the overwork/underperform states can leave you feeling sore, tight, and likely with some level of discomfort in various movements or activities that call on those muscle groups.

 

To simplify and restate:

  • An overworking muscle can feel tight and painful.
  • An underworking muscle can feel tight and painful.

 

Greeeeat! So which is it?

Million dollar question right here and one that will determine your success at feeling and moving better without a hitch in your giddyup.

In my massage therapy practice, I use an evaluation and muscle testing process that provides us with the information we need to determine what’s what.

If we find a muscle is neurologically amped up, then heck yeah (!), let’s release it. I will gladly press on it for you.

However, if a muscle isn’t properly utilized by your brain in a particular movement pattern, let’s call it “weak” for generalized simplicity’s sake, and not performing at it’s potential, all the deep tissue massage, stretching, cracking, and foam rolling isn’t going to do jack toward helping you recover and restore your ability to dynamically move without pain.

 

The process is quite simple:

  1. Figure out what’s doing too much and too little (Buzzword: Compensation Pattern)
  2. Turn down the volume on the overachiever
  3. Get the slacker back in the game

 

What you experience is better, smoother, effortless movement with a happy and welcomed side effect of a less sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy body.

Bonus side effect: you cut down on the potential for injury and tissue damage, as well as prevent possible wear and tear on the “hardware” of your body, ‘cause nobody got time for that.

Bonus bonus side effect: you have the ability and energy to show up in deeper, more profound, and effective ways for the people you love and the communities you serve.

Trifecta.

 

 

 

Back Pain At Work? Try These 4 Easy Things.

The average American spends more time working than doing anything else. Even more than sleeping. According to a Gallup survey, the average American workweek is around 47 hours per week, translated into a 9.4 hour workday.

 

That’s a lot of time sitting on your duff at your desk.

No wonder I hear a lot of complaints about sore necks, shoulders, and upper backs.

Posture can effect back pain.
Upright, stacked posture vs. collapsed, rounded posture
(I actually have a bit of hyperextension through my spine in the first photo. This is something I have been working on eliminating)

In last week’s blog post I laid the foundation for understanding and identifying Upper-crossed patterns (affectionately referred to as UCP moving forward) in the body.

To review, UCP is observed with a collapse through the chest and ribcage, an increased C-shaped curvature though the upper back and neck, with the upper arm bones rotated inward.

Discomfort is classically felt in the upper back, between the shoulder blades, the neck, and the shoulder joints.

It’s also not uncommon to feel pain and tingling down the arm, into the hands, as well as experience frequent headaches.

UCP is commonly seen in people who spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer.

 

I also mentioned the one thing most people like to do.

When I chat with my clients about what they do with their upper back pain, most people show me they try to manage their discomfort by further rounding their upper back or stretching their arms across their body.

I won’t discount the fact that it feels good to do this.

Now, I’m not the Posture Police, but I am of the opinion that this is the go-to not because it’s therapeutically corrective, but because you just spent a few hours pretending to be a statue in your cubicle and a little movement through the spine feels extra nice.

It’s not the “right” stretch, but movement rules the road, so get it in however and whenever you can!

 

Without further ado, I’d like to launch into some workplace solutions for your upper back and neck pain.

The workplace ideas are different than the home solutions, seeing as crawling under your desk to stretch may be frowned upon in certain corporate environments.

 

Sit Less. Move More.

We are designed to move. Your body is home to 360 joints and 640 skeletal muscles.When it comes to your body, the old adage rings true, “use it or lose it”.

Think about it: you park you’re ass in your desk chair, and with the exception of lunch, a few pee breaks, and a trip or two to the copier, you’re pretty much stuck in a stagnant posture for the majority of your 9.4 hour workday.

It’s like when you were a kid and would make funny faces at other kids and grandma would threaten you that if you kept making lewd faces you would freeze like that.

Grandma was smart. When you park-and-hold your body, it actually adapts to what you ask it to do.

Solution: ask it to do something else!

Warning: doing something different will feel strange and maybe slightly uncomfortable at first. Your body is freaking out because it’s been out to lunch. It’s common. It passes. It gets bettah (said in your favorite Monty Python voice)

 

What does this look like in your workday?

Use technology.

Your smartphone is for more than checking Facebook. Use apps to help remind you to unlock your joints and get them juicy with movement.

It’s recommended that you get up for a few minutes of moving every half hour.

When you get rolling on your work, it’s easy to forget.

Set a timer to remind yourself to get up regularly. iOS friendly apps like Stand Up: The Work Break Timer can be helpful. 

There are many different apps across different operating platforms to check out too.

There are even ones to remind you to switch your focus farther away than your computer screen; yep, there are also muscles in your eye! Set that timer and get off your duff. Take a stair break and a stare break.

 

Adopt a Dynamic Workstation

It’s been said sitting is the new smoking and increases your risk for obesity, many diseases, and aches and pains.

It even robs you of your productivity potential.

If you are a disciplined exerciser, when you break down the ratio of exercise to the rest of the day, even avid gym rats are actually quite sedentary.

Movement doesn’t require a change of clothing and shoes, nor does it mean you have to sweat your face off.

Movement needs a reframe. Moving more doesn’t imply you exercise more. Exercise is movement, but not all movement is exercise.

A very popular workplace solution is implementing the regular use of a dynamic workstation. A dynamic workstation allows you to perform your work sitting or standing throughout the day and is easily adjustable to allow for changes in your posture. There are many ways to adopt more dynamic movement into the office, from expensive hydraulic desks to IKEA hacks.  There are even cardboard box methods that are inexpensive and portable. The possibilities abound; find the one that works best for your particular work environment.

I typically switch from sitting at my desk to standing at the kitchen counter, or even popping a squat on the floor to do some computer work.

 

Get Movin’

It’s easy to fall into the trap of not moving. We can get our “stretch on” while at work, which also doesn’t mean you need to go to yoga class.

Remember our Movement Reframe; quality movement doesn’t require a change of clothing, nor does it take an hour out of your day.

Stretching/moving is merely a way to pay attention an move into your stuck spots.

When it comes to UCP, it’s really easy to move the area that is feisty and aching.

 

An area in need of attention is in the chest and abdomen.

Following are a few strategic movements you can easily perform while at your desk:

 

Your hands have spent a lot of time on your keyboard, get them up.
Your hands have spent a lot of time on your keyboard, get them up.

Reach for Heaven

You’ve been slumping it forward for hours; get your arms up in the air.

This helps open your chest and abdomen, loosens your shoulders, aides in circulation and fluid balance, and gently activates the muscles in your back. Don’t forget to take a deep breath here; fill your lungs all the way up!

 

 

 

Hands Behind Your Head + Look Up

Chest stretch for shoulder blade pain
Open up your chest by lacing your hands behind your head and squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down your back as you open your elbows to the side.

Move your spine to decrease back pain
Point your elbows to the sky to open your front body. Keep your abs engaged and try not to “pop” your ribs open.

Don’t pull your head forward.

You may feel a stretch in your chest.

Next, bring your elbows back together and slowly extend through back through your spine so your elbows point to the ceiling. This stretches your front as well as brings some movement to the thoracic spine, which has been stuck in a C-shape for awhile.

 

 

 

Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower yourself through the door. You should feel a nice stretch through your chest.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower yourself through the door. You should feel a nice stretch through your chest.

There’s the Door

Use the doorframe to help stretch your tight chest muscles. Keep your abs engaged and ribs closed.
Use the doorframe to help stretch your tight chest muscles. Keep your abs engaged and ribs closed.

Use the doorframe of your office or your cubicle to help you move, release tension, and restore your posture.

Place your hands, shoulder height, on each side of the frame. Try to keep the tops of your arms parallel to the floor. (I didn’t to that; don’t be like me here. I’ll fix the photo someday)

Keeping your abs strong, gently move forward through the opening by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down your back.

You can also put your hand on the doorframe, shoulder height, and slowly rotate away from your hand.

Both movements stretch your front, and activate the muscles on the back of your body.

 

Do these movements throughout the day to loosen up, release tension, and play with your posture. Your body will thank you and movement helps your mind operate at its greatest potential.

Opening your chest and bringing strength back into your back muscles should help you sit up straighter, breathe a bit easier, and feel more relaxed all day long.

It’s incredibly easy to be strategic with your body while at work. Start today and be amazed at the improvement you feel in your body.

 

Stay tuned for next week’s third installment: What you can do at home or the gym when you have the ability to get on the floor, use some bands or weights, and have more time to dive deeper into your body to restore your posture and efficient function.


 

Need more help?  Feel free to contact me with questions, or schedule an assessment for yourself to receive individualized instruction and care for your aching, stressed out body.

 

Upper back pain? Stop doing this.

You’ve been sitting at your desk plugging away at your to-do list like a boss. Minutes turn to hours.

All of a sudden you feel like you are being stabbed in the back by a white-hot poker of torture. You shift your shoulders around, but it seems like you just can’t get away from the burning pain in your upper back and behind your shoulder blades.

The discomfort is distracting and it wears you out. You keep eye-balling the clock for the coveted clock-out time so you can go home and sit on the couch and rest your aching shoulders.

Is it time to go yet? Is it Friday yet? What the F can I do for my aching body?

 

Shoulder blade pain is a common issue I see coming through the door in my Gurnee massage therapy office.

So common a pain it keeps me in business. I jest. But not really.

Your right scapula, viewed from the back.  (Still can't believe I drew this myself)
Your right scapula, viewed from the back. (Still can’t believe I drew this myself)

The shoulder blade, known as the scapula by us in the biz, is the “winged” shape bone sitting on your back and moves (or should move) when you move your arms and shoulders.

The scapula moves gloriously with a wide range of whole body and arm movements, and gets sore and sticky when we stick them in one place and forget about them.

 

 

 

In our current culture, where a paycheck is earned by hours sitting at a computer or behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, we are doing a serious disservice to scapular biomechanics, and as a result lead to tight, achy, burning pain in the shoulder blades.

Many people, exhausted and sore from sitting all day, turn to even more sitting on the couch as a way to recover and recuperate their aching upper back.

 

This is a crap idea.

Here’s what’s going on with your body: you are exhibiting Upper-crossed Syndrome.

Upper-crossed syndrome (UCS), as defined by Dr. Vladimir Janda, a Czech neurologist and physiatrist, is a postural pattern that highlights where muscular imbalance in the upper body and neck are found.

These observable patterns are used to aid those of us in physical medicine in our endeavors toward helping you recover from your aches and pains.

Classic Upper-crossed pattern. The discomfort is the result of poor posture.
Classic Upper-crossed pattern. The discomfort is the result of poor posture.

UCS is often found in people who spend a majority of their time sitting at a desk or behind a wheel, usually with little to no regard for efficient posture.

Weakness is often found between the shoulder blades and mid back, where tightness is exhibited in the upper back, neck, and chest muscles.

 

Your body is losing the war against gravity.

As days turn into decades, your muscles continue to freak out, hurt, and eventually your hardware changes, leading to shoulder and neck injuries and joint changes, like the dreaded arthritis, rotator cuff injuries, and disk disease.

Take a walk around your office and observe your colleagues’ posture:

Slumpy shoulders. Arms rotated in as they use the keyboard and mouse. Collapsed through the belly. Head shifted forward, ahead of the shoulder joints. Chin jutted up to keep their eyes on the monitor screen.

Nailed it, didn’t I?

 

I understand your achy back, neck and shoulders. I know what to do to help you with it, and which things you can play around with at home or the office to get that pain to ease up.

In the following posts I will highlight the easy things you can do while sitting at your desk to help you get through the day, as well as the slightly more involved things you can do at home or the gym to help yourself out.

 

In the meantime, here is my parting advice:

Quit rounding your shoulders, a la giving yourself a hug or stretching your arm across your body, as a means to alleviate the ache.

Quit doing this.  It promotes the biggest part of the problem.
Quit doing this. It promotes the biggest part of the problem.

It’s backwards. The real solution will feel counterintuitive to you, but it works. Guaranteed.

 

Stay tuned next week for easy, and non-weird, things you can do while at work to help ease your aching back.

If you’d like some insights on what to do before then, feel free to contact me for some one-on-one instruction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Let Your Life Stop You From Living

Feeling pain, being hurt, or having an injury is a drag. Pain zaps your energy and steals you away from the more enjoyable parts of your life. Instead of participating in sports, fitness, leisure, or social activities, you make apologies about how you just can’t join in right now.

ACL
24 hours after ACL and meniscus reconstruction/repair in 2004. A skiing accident gone bad due to weaknesses, hypermobility, and imbalances.

You can’t walk because you sprained your ankle. You can’t lift your kids or grandkids up because your back hurts. You have to stay home instead of going out for martinis with your girlfriends because you have a serious headache. The only thing for you to do is to sit on the couch or go to bed early.

If you ask me, that’s no life at all! We are gloriously made to move and to feel incredible enjoyment from the extremely wide variety of movement that is available to us. Moving shouldn’t be a cumbersome and difficult chore. If it is, we need to improve ourselves so movement is effortless and enjoyable.

 

The Bad News

Left unchecked, your pain or discomfort can evolve from a simple strain pattern into a massive issue.

 

Often times a simple remedy could be applied to a minor ache, resolving the issue easily and quickly.

Much of the time these minor aches are left to their own devices longer than necessary and quickly turn into compensation patterns. Fast forward, this turns into decompensated movements that can further erode your anatomical hardware. In short, what was a small, easily remedied ache can morph into something un-fixable by non-invasive means.

 

The Good News

Together, we can restore you back to your former glory and get you back into action. Here’s the plan:

 

Step 1: Properly identify your areas of weakness, imbalance, and dysfunction

Strain patterns are predictable to well-trained eyes. An imbalanced body doesn’t function properly. You will lift objects incorrectly and walk weirdly; anything to avoid pain and still get the job done. The body is resilient in this capacity, but when the brain recruits other parts to pick up the slack for an injured area more injury is possible.

Step 2: Restore balance and function

   Utilizing manual therapy and correctives can greatly enhance the natural healing process. Properly applied bodywork can help restore range of motion, muscle tone, and movement patterning. The goal is to create space, comfort and ease while your body rights itself.

Step 3: Retrain dysfunctional movement patterns and restore strength

   The work isn’t finished at the end of the bodywork session. The final component is to look at the behavior and movement patterns which led to your aches and pains. Using proper stretching, strengthening, and lifestyle approaches can significantly improve you ability to move and function.

 

You don’t need to suffer when your body isn’t working or feeling well. Making the choice to work with a well trained manual therapists and movement specialist can be enjoyable and effective. You may even feel stronger, more graceful, and better at life than before you were injured. Don’t quit your life because of your aches and pains. Take action today and begin the process to identify and correct your imbalances. Turn your weaknesses into strengths and enjoy the enjoyable parts of your life.

 

If you “deal with” aches and pains, or have said, “getting older sucks”, than you may benefit from a postural and movement evaluation.   Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have, or to schedule an evaluation to see how your aches are related to your daily patterns and habits.

Don’t sit on the sidelines of your life. Take action! Schedule your eval today.

 

**originally published in The YOU Journal. January 2016**