Wednesday, 27 January 2016

What should you give your body for Christmas?

You’ve ordered the turkey, hung the stockings and wrapped the presents. Chances are you’re either feeling footsore or your neck is stiff; your back may be giving out alarming twinges as you decorate the tree or your shoulders can’t reach to hang the mistletoe; your knees might be making alarming sounds as you squat down to put warm ham in the oven or the sciatica could be protesting at sitting through the Christmas Downton Abbey special.

At any one time, a third of us are suffering from musculoskeletal pain – so what could you consider putting under the tree to help alleviate that aches and pains that are waiting for you in 2016?  Here are our top tips for healing and pampering those painful problems.

   Do you need a new mattress?

The average lifespan of a mattress is about seven years, even with regular turning, though a top of the range model might last twice as long … and you won’t get one of these for under £1,000. You might baulk at spending that much on a mattress but ask yourself this: How much did you spend on your three-piece suite? – and how long do you spend sitting on it compared with the amount of time you spend in your bed?

• And how about a pillow to go with it?

One of the questions we’re asked most often is ‘which pillow should I use?’.  The problem is there’s no easy answer to this … trial and error tends to lead to the best solution.  There are hundreds of ‘orthopaedic’ pillows on the market and the best way to tell if it suits you is to use it.  This can be expensive, which is why we keep a stock of pillows for (non-smoking) patients to try (smokers’ breath makes the pillow unusable after a fortnight’s trial).  The rule is that a pillow should keep your neck in line with the rest of your spine – which will also depend on how hard your mattress is – and remember goose down may well be better than the most modern hi-tech materials.

• And when you’re awake?

The right office workstation can make all the difference. Your office chair should have adjustable height, tilt and a sprung back; it should have arms that are level with the top of your desk.  Typically such a chair will set you back around £120 – and it costs even less to make sure your screen is at the right height and that you’re using the right hardware: a trackball can put so much less strain on your arms and shoulders than a mouse for half the price of a chiropractic treatment.
• Prevention is better than cure

We spend a lot of time discussing with patients how to prevent problems.  We have masseuses in all our clinics to prevent the build-up of muscle tension and an Alexander Technique practitioner to remedy postural problems and we prescribe exercises to move fibrosis and improve stability.

• Put it right

If it hurts, it’s because something’s wrong.  If it keeps on hurting, it’s because there’s too much wrong for your body to heal – which is when you need a helping chiropractic hand.

How to avoid Christmas being a pain in the …

Of all the clinics of the year, the ones immediately after Christmas are the one that stirs the most emotions.  Although we’re used to a wide range of presenting complaints, the ones following the season of festive brouhaha, are often the most bizarre but often reflect how a family’s seasonal holiday was ruined by avoidable injury.

Most existing patients are rightly keen to prevent this, which is why the December patient lists are groaning at the seams as people book for ore-Christmas check-ups or finally resolve to fix the niggles that may have been mothering them for days, all to be right for the Big Ho-ho-ho.

So what steps can you take to avoid musculoskeletal misery over Yule tide?

• Don’t stress yourself out.  Christmas is often a time that we spend with people we feel we ought to rather than people we want to – and emotional stress causes muscular tension far more often that it puts your blood pressure up. Plan to be cheerful and polite but build in some solitude time so the effort doesn’t have to be constant: anything from a soak in hot tub to testing out the kids’ new headphones.

• The one thing we all tend to do more at Christmas is be sedentary – be it standing for hours peeling the sprouts or slumped on the sofa watching Downton Abbey. Prolonged standing and sitting are both bad for the spine, so vary your position and take every opportunity to move about, preferably before it starts to hurt!

• When we do finally decide that we’ve spent too long indoors, what do we do?  Go out for an over-ambitious Boxing Day family ramble with no thought as to how far each member of the group might be able to walk comfortably, and often we chose places that are guaranteed to cause backache: walking on broken surfaces such as shingle beaches or through thick mud will often trigger low back problems – the key rule: little and often beats seldom and long!

• Most people’s Christmas includes a tipple … or three.  But if you don’t want it to lead to injury, then DO mix your drinks: intersperse an alcoholic drink with a soft one, and put a glass of mineral water next to your wine on the dining table (as all #5steppers know).  Alcohol induced injuries include falling asleep in awkward positions, muscular dehydration and falls.

• The final danger – and one that often strains the physician’s straight-face – is the over-exuberant unaccustomed activity. Every year we see uncles who thought they could beat their niece at Twister; Wii-induced Granny pains from the expectation that they could play living-room tennis in the same way as they did the real thing half a century ago; pulls, twists and sprains from over-ambitious romance gone wrong (you don’t have to lift someone off their feet to kiss them under the mistletoe) and no Dad should be allowed to dance after more than 5 units of alcohol (if at all).

… and finally, when you’re lifting the turkey out of the oven – bend your knees!