Posted on 7/10/2018 by Nicole Tombers, P.T., DPT
In a culture dominated by cell phones, table stand computers, neck pain and headaches are becoming more and more common. Studies show that up to 45 percent of today’s workforce will experience problematic neck pain at some point.1, 2 As a physical therapist, I often find that these problems are associated with muscle tightness and weakness brought on by poor posture. It can be difficult to maintain perfectly straight posture all day, especially when your thoughts are focused on other things, such as the work project you need to finish this week, the heavy traffic on the roads around you or the emails you are answering from your tablet in the evening.
Here are a few tips and tricks that will set you up for success when it comes to maintaining good posture and reducing the strain on your neck in everyday situations.
Set your car mirror
Many people spend up to an hour or more in their car every day – driving to and from work, running errands and shuttling the kids to their many activities. Having poor posture in the car can place extra stress on the joints and muscles of your back and neck. Leave yourself a little reminder to keep good posture by adjusting your rearview mirror.
When you first get in your car, sit in a tall but comfortable posture; not leaning on the door or console, and not slouched low in your seat. Once you are in a good position, adjust your rearview mirror appropriately. Then, as you are driving, if you look in your mirror and realize you do not have the full view, it will be a reminder that you need to adjust your posture back to that good starting position.
Adjust your workspace
If you are one of the millions of people who spend their work day sitting at a desk, it can be a major source of strain on your neck and back. Modifying your workspace may help keep you in a good posture while you work. Here are a few key things to pay attention to:
When sitting, your hips and knees should be at 90 degree angle with your feet flat on the floor or stool.
Your arms should be comfortably supported on armrests with shoulders relaxed and elbows at a 90 degree angle. The keyboard and mouse should be positioned comfortably under your hands; you should not be reaching forward for the keyboard, nor should you be actively holding your shoulders up near your ears.
The monitor should be directly in front of you (if you work with more than one monitor, try to keep them centralized in your field of vision as much as possible) and the top of the monitor should be at your eye level.
Keep work off of your lap
Sitting on a couch or chair with your laptop, tablet or other papers on your lap tends to lead to a hunchbacked posture. Ideally, you should bring your work up to eye level (as discussed above) to reduce strain on your neck. If you must work from the sofa, try to raise it up a little by placing a pillow or folded blanket on your lap and working from that elevated surface.
Set a posture timer
If you know you are going to be focused on a project for a long period of time, try setting a timer on your computer or cell phone to go off every 20 to 30 minutes as a reminder to be conscious of your posture and readjust as needed.
Use a pillow roll
Ideally, you want to have a neutral spine while you sleep so that you can wake up feeling refreshed rather than cramped and stiff. Stomach sleeping is not good for your neck as it requires you to have your head turned to one side for a prolonged period. Back or side sleeping is preferred.
You want to have your head in line with your body and your neck fully supported. You can accomplish this by rolling a hand towel lengthwise and placing it inside your pillow case so that when you lay down it fills and supports the curve of your neck.
Do some self−massage
Place two tennis balls or racquet balls about one inch apart in a tube sock or nylon. You can hold the ends and place one ball on either side of your spine to give the muscles at the base or your head a nice massage.
Take stretch breaks
When you sit at a desk all day, your body grows stiff and your mind grows tired. Take a short break every hour or so. Stand up, look around, go for a short walk, take some nice deep breaths and do a few stretches. Here are a few options that can easily be done at your workstation:
Segmental rolling: Start with a nice tall posture (either sitting or standing) and focus on slowly bringing your chin to your chest one vertebra at a time until your neck and upper back are rounded forward. Hold at the bottom for a few seconds, then slowly return to upright posture one vertebra at a time.
Cat stretch: This is a popular yoga-style stretch that can be done sitting, standin, or on hands and knees. With arms stretched out in front of you, gently round your back, tuck your chin and pull your shoulder blades apart. Hold this pose for five to 10 seconds.
Upper trapezius stretch: Sitting up tall with hands resting in your lap, gently tip your head to one side and turn chin into shoulder until a stretch is felt in your neck. Hold this pose for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Upper trap stretch
Chin tuck: With ears directly over your shoulders, gently tuck your chin as if trying to make a double chin. You should feel a gentle stretch at the base of your skull.
Scapular squeeze: sitting or standing tall with ears directly over your shoulders, gently squeeze your shoulder blades together without pushing your chin forward or raising your shoulders up. Hold this pose for five seconds, relax and repeat five to 10 times.
For persistent neck pain, please consult with your physician or contact one of our outpatient physical therapy centers conveniently located near you to speak with a licensed clinician today. Our highly trained physical therapists will help to alleviate your pain and get you back to work, athletics and daily life!
By: Nicole Tombers, P.T., DPT. Nicole is a physical therapist for Select Physical Therapy in Eagle River, AK. She treats a variety of conditions, but specializes in post-surgical rehabilitation and treatment of dizziness and vertigo. Nicole loves helping people improve and providing them with the education they need to have power over their circumstances.
Posted on 6/18/2018 by Erica Zettlemoyer, P.T., DPT
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a progressive disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS is composed of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Our nerves are surrounded by a fatty substance called myelin, which allows electrical messages to be delivered quickly from the brain to the correct muscle. In MS, the myelin is damaged, scars are formed and the electrical message from our brain is disrupted. This creates a less efficient movement pattern, as well as pain, weakness, heat sensitivity, fatigue, numbness, vision changes and other impairments.
Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise – Though researchers are making significant advances in treating MS, there is still not a cure. However, there are various treatments which focus on slowing the progression of the disease and managing symptoms. Exercise is considered one of these treatments. In a published study, people with MS who participated in 15 weeks of three 40-minute training sessions per week were shown to demonstrate improved cardiovascular fitness, strength and overall health.¹
Multiple Sclerosis and Physical Therapy – Due to the complexity of MS, it is important to work with a physical therapist who will create a specialized exercise program based on one’s progression and severity of symptoms. Treatments will focus on general conditioning, strengthening, flexibility and balance as well as postural education, positioning and respiratory function. In more severe cases, a therapist will assist in the utilization of equipment, such as bracing, wheelchairs, standing frames. Several of the challenges that must be considered include:
Heat Sensitivity: Many patients with MS report a sensitivity to heat. A rise in core body temperature of as little as 0.5ᵒ C can intensify symptoms. A physical therapist can guide patients through several ideas that will assist in controlling body temperature while exercising. Using a fan, drinking cold water prior, during and after activity as well as utilizing cooling vests and wrist bands are helpful in controlling body temperature. Other ideas include placing a cooler in the car with cold drinks and starting the air conditioning in the car 10 minutes prior to leaving.
Lassitude: Fatigue affects 74 to 89 percent of those diagnosed with MS.² It is the initial symptom for almost half of those diagnosed, even predating diagnosis by as much as 10 years.³ A physical therapist can help patients address modifiable factors that increase fatigue, such as activity, respiratory weakness, thermosensitivity, pain, deconditioning and movement compensation.
Bone Density Loss: When exercising, it is important to focus on strengthening with resistance. Those diagnosed with MS may suffer from bone density loss due to Vitamin D deficiency and increased use of steroids. Participating in a weekly strengthening program while utilizing weights may improve bone health. A physical therapist can guide patients in safely incorporating resistance into an exercise program.
Examples of Appropriate Exercises – It is helpful to know that when exercising with MS, we should look at the total amount of exercise minutes for the day. For example, if someone can participate in riding a stationary bike for five minutes in the morning, five minutes in the afternoon and five minutes in the evening, that will give them 15 minutes of total cardio exercise for the day. Walking on a treadmill, walking inside or standing activities are other examples of exercises that can be modified to one’s functional and physical capabilities.
Strengthening exercises can include bridges, clams, heel raises, sit-to-stand transitions squats, step-ups and rows. Wall push-ups and triceps dips are especially important for fall recovery training. I recommend working on eight to 15 repetitions while using an appropriate resistance level.
Stretching is important and should focus on calf muscles, hamstrings, hip flexors and pectorals. When incorporating balance activities, vary the surface you are practicing on, whether seated or standing. For example, sitting on a wobble board or standing on foam will maximize training.
Beginning an exercise program does not have to be overwhelming or intimidating. Each patient with MS will tolerate exercise differently and a physical therapist can individualize each program to meet the needs of that individual. The MS Society and Multiple Sclerosis Association of America are also valuable resources for those who are seeking information on exercise.
For more information regarding physical therapy for MS, please contact a center near you today!
Petajan J, Gappmaier E, White A, Spencer M, Mino L, Hicks R. Impact of aerobic training on fitness and quality of life in multiple sclerosis. Annals of Neurology. April 1996 39(4):432-41
Murray TJ. Amantadine therapy for multiple sclerosis. Can J Neurol Sci 1985; 12:251-254
Krupp L, Alvarez L, LaRocca N, et al. Arch Neurol. 1988 45(4):435-437
White L, Dressendorfer R. Fitness testing in multiple sclerosis: a case report. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2003;35 (5): S314
By: Erica Zettlemoyer, P.T., DPT, is a licensed physical therapist at Baylor Scott and White Institute for Rehabilitation. She received a doctorate of physical therapy in 2010 from Texas Woman’s University and is a Certified Multiple Sclerosis Specialist.
Posted on 6/7/2018 by Annette Monaccio, O.T., CHT
Hand Therapy Week is held during the first full week of June and hosted by the American Society of Hand Therapists. Certified hand therapists are dedicated to helping patients with hand and arm injuries and conditions that may be affecting their daily life.
As a certified hand therapist, I’ve had the privilege to meet many people with a wide range of injuries. Watching an individual perform a task or activity that we often take for granted is a proud and exciting moment for both a patient and therapist after an injury.
I met Lexi, a shy and nervous young girl, who had been through a traumatic experience and hospitalization after a bon fire accident left her with severe burns over most of her body. She had spent several months at a local hospital in the intensive care burn unit. Upon beginning treatment, I knew that I needed to address and acknowledge her injuries, expectations of participation in therapy, boundaries for success and goals for recovery and independence.
Lexi had many burns on her face, arms, hands, torso, legs and back. There were many areas to address with her injuries, including:
Managing her wounds
Regaining mobility in her extremities
Performing basic activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and returning to school
Processing the psychological impact of others reactions to her appearance
I knew there were many things that we had to address quickly to avoid the loss of motion of her arms, especially her hands which were severely burned and beginning to form contractures/scarring along the fingers. We developed custom splints, “orthoses” made to fit the individual. It required many attempts for success due to Lexi’s injuries, but the key to our success was listening to determine the best splint, proper fit, adjustment and fashion for a preteen. A few color adjustments of splinting materials, a little added “bling” and voila, it was done and Lexi began wearing her orthotic!
The management of her wounds – cleaning, dressing, monitoring and education – were our first steps of trust and understanding, since this was one of the most difficult aspects of intervention. The next process of touching, moving and passively stretching her hands and fingers were the true challenge. Building trust and establishing goals were vital. We were on our way as a team to improve her ability to bend a finger, make a fist and then use her hands to accomplish daily tasks. There was blood, sweat and tears during many sessions, but, most importantly, there was a lot of laughter, too.
LexiLexi’s parents were dedicated to helping her in the center and at home for carryover of the program. As I watched her mom tie her shoes and write out some of the exercises we were reviewing one day, I asked Lexi why she wasn’t doing this on her own. She said, “I can’t do it myself.” This began the educational component with Lexi and her mom of why it was important to allow Lexi some reasonable time to attempt to gain her independence to complete daily tasks on her own. Yes, it was quicker and easier for someone to do this, but what would happen the first day back to school? Within two sessions, Lexi was independently putting on her shoes, tying them and had her first sense of independence since the accident.
Her laughter and smile were infectious with each new success. Next, Lexi was writing with adapting pens and pencils and back to writing poetry. Putting on her arm and leg compression garments and gloves was a tug of war match and she won each time. Again, another success. There were challenges of zipping a backpack, carrying books and fatigue following walks through the hallways in school, but Lexi overcame them all.
We initiated more challenges with fine motor skills with the purchase of a Barbie head and working on braiding hair. As a preteen, this was a must for Lexi. She now started braiding and had taken the focus of the hypersensitivity of her burns away to a new focus of allowing herself to touch different textures, which previously prevented her from using her hands for any activities. With each new challenge came a new set of frustrations, successes and, ultimately, independence.
Due to the extent of her burns, Lexi has been through several follow-up surgeries. She has returned each time to the center and hand therapy treatment with a new set of goals and motivation to quickly return to her routine. Step-by-step she continued to accomplish her goals, becoming independent with all activities. She now has excellent mobility of her arms, hands and legs.
Lexi has matured into a teen. She drives, attended prom, participates in track and other sports at school and has become a teen counselor at the burn camp she has attended each summer since her accident. I observed Lexi go from a quiet, scared child to an energetic and expressive young lady. She has taught me about determination, hard work and maintaining a positive attitude. She is an inspiration. I was not only the therapist, but the student learning each day from her.
By: Annette Monaccio, O.T., CHT. Annette is an occupational and certified hand therapist with Banner Physical Therapy in Arizona. She has treatment expertise in hand/upper extremity conditions and injuries, pelvic floor health and cancer rehabilitation.
Banner Physical Therapy, Select Physical Therapy and NovaCare Rehabilitation are part of the Select Medical Outpatient Division family of brands.
Posted on 5/16/2018 by Erin Longhurst, P.T., DPT
National Women’s Health Week is hosted each year by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. The week serves a reminder for all women to be vigilant of their health and wellness and to make healthy habits a priority for life.
During National Women’s Health Week, we are proud to recognize some of the more under-served issues that women deal with regarding their health. At NovaCare Rehabilitation and Select Physical Therapy, some of our physical therapists who treat women’s health issues have received specialty training specific to the pelvis and pregnancy and provide specialized treatment, education and training to help overcome challenges.
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of the below conditions, physical therapy may be able to help you maximize function, minimize pain and improve overall quality of life. Patients are evaluated by a licensed physical therapist and a personalized plan of care is designed to meet individual needs. Together, we will establish clear goals and begin treatment to help the healing begin in a positive and encouraging environment.
Incontinence refers to the accidental loss of urine, gas or stool. This most commonly happens during a cough, sneeze, laugh or force from exercise (stress incontinence) or with a strong urge to urinate or defecate (urge incontinence). Incontinence is generally caused by weakness of the pelvic floor muscles, whose primary functions include supporting the pelvic organs. Our conservative physical therapy approach includes bowel or bladder retraining, an exercise plan to strength the muscles that support the pelvic floor and non-invasive biofeedback or electrical stimulation, as needed.
Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when one or more pelvic organs (bladder, uterus or rectum) moves out of its normal position, usually in a downward direction, because of weakness of the pelvic floor muscles or pressure exerted downward on the pelvis, e.g. long pushing phase of labor. Usually, this causes a sensation of heaviness or pressure in the lower abdomen or vagina. Guided strengthening of the pelvic floor muscles by a pelvic-trained physical therapist can help reverse early stage prolapse and prevent worsening of symptoms.
Pelvic pain is experienced by many women, but it is not considered normal if the pain persists longer than three months or occurs during sexual intercourse. Women experiencing pelvic pain may also complain of pain (or referred pain) in their hips, back or abdomen. Treatment of pelvic pain by a specialized physical therapist may include exercise to stretch or strengthen muscles in the hips, core and pelvis; relaxation and breathing techniques; hands-on soft tissue work; and, biofeedback for muscle retraining.
Studies estimate that 40 to 50 percent of expectant mothers will experience some form of aches and pain during pregnancy. These pains are often caused by the dramatic changes in posture and increased demand that weight gain and weight distribution can place on the woman’s body. Following birth of the baby, mothers then spend a lot of time bent over, which can cause pain in the back, neck and arms. Physical therapy treatment during or after pregnancy includes education in proper posture and body mechanics, soft tissue manual therapy and muscle strengthening to help manage and treat pain.
Normal urinary frequency is between two and four hours, but some women experience urinary urgency that leads them to urinate more than every two hours or that wakes them up at night. Women’s health physical therapy can assist with bladder retraining and help you take back control of your bladder.
Diastasis rectus abdominis is separation of the abdominal muscles and happens frequently during the later stages of pregnancy. This often resolves on its own in the 13 weeks following birth; however, sometimes the abdominal muscles stay separated and can contribute to poor core strength and back pain. A women’s health physical therapist can help to create a targeted exercise program that resolves the diastasis recti and allows for a return to full activity.
Contact a center near you today for more information!
By: Erin Longhurst, P.T., DPT. Erin is an orthopaedic physical therapist with NovaCare Rehabilitation in Washington, D.C. She specializes in treating women's health conditions, with primary focus on pregnant and postpartum women and women struggling with pelvic pain or incontinence.