by Julie Mills-Watson

Do you sometimes feel as though all you do is work?!

You’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, Americans work more hours than any other industrialized country in the world! We work more hours than the English, French, Germans, and yes, even the Japanese. All the while, we rarely pay attention to our posture, body mechanics, or to the tension build up in our bodies. Before you know it, we’re getting numbing in our fingers, burning between our shoulder blades, and massive headaches. Is it really a mystery why we don’t feel well and are always so fatigued?

I treat clients every week at the Body of Health clinic who suffer with these type conditions. Usually, the pain that ultimately motivates our clients to seek treatment, stems from the chronic overuse of their neck, shoulder, and arm muscles. Given the sedentary nature of today’s administrative and executive positions, and unless counterbalancing efforts are consciously made, these ailments will continue to reduce productivity while, at the same time, increase healthcare costs.

What about you? Have you ever experienced numbing in your hands and fingers? Have you ever been diagnosed with carpal tunnel or Thoracic Outlet Syndrome? Guess what? These conditions are connected! If you work long hours on a computer, routinely drive for hours on end, lift heavy items on a regular basis, or do repetitive motions with your hands such as style hair or paint houses, you are far more susceptible to these type injuries than others who enjoy varied work routines.

The “pain problem” usually begins in the neck where the Brachial Plexus originates, travels under the clavicle, through the armpit, and down the arm to give rise to the median, ulnar, and radial nerves. Carpal Tunnel occurs when the median nerve, which runs from C6 –T1 into the palm of the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed. It does not have to be compressed by the carpal ligament at the base of the hand in order to give you pain. It can be constricted by tight muscles all along the neck, shoulder, arm, and hand. Those brachial plexus (bundle of nerves stemming from the back of the neck) actually go through the Thoracic Outlet which is the space between your collar bone and your first rib. When this area is tight, the brachial nerves (which includes the median nerve) become impinged and cause numbing and pain.

So…look at the big picture.

You have tension in your neck due to posture and stress. This already puts stress on the brachial plexus which travels down the arm. Add to this the fact that you have extremely tight pectoral muscles because you rarely stretch them and they are pulled forward due to being in one position for long periods of time. The brachial plexus is then compressed at the point of the Thoracic Outlet. This causes numbing and tingling down your arm. Oh yeah, your wrists and forearms are like rocks, too, because there isn’t a great stretch for them and, really, who goes around stretching his forearms?! All of that leads to serious pain in your hands which, among other things can cause you to drop things. Here’s another one. What about tennis elbow or tendonitis? Those ulnar nerves at the elbow have become impinged. Also consider that these nerves originate at the back of the neck as well and are part of the brachial plexus. Do you see how all of these conditions are literally connected?

Treatment for this type of debilitating pain involves neuromuscular release and deep tissue massage on a regular basis. I am not telling you this to get your business. I’m telling you this because I see it work every day! People who have been told that they need surgery have been able to avoid it by being proactive. They stretch, hydrate, improve their diet, and get regular body work to free up those impinged nerves which results in pain relief.

Another ailments I often see include low back pain, sciatica, and plantar fasciitis. Low back pain is usually due to weakness in the abdominal muscles which puts more pressure on the back muscles. Also, over time, and as people age, bone strength and muscle elasticity tend to decrease. The discs begin to lose fluid along with flexibility. This decreases their ability to cushion the vertebrae. Again, do you see how all things are connected? The sciatic nerve originates in the low back around L1, travels through the glute (butt) muscles, continues down the back of the leg through the hamstrings, and terminates in the foot. Of course, if you compensate for back pain and change your gate (walk), it will affect the plantar muscle which starts at the knee and wraps around the bottom of the foot.

It’s not rocket science!

The first thing I tell my clients is to hydrate. Water is the hydraulics of the back and will act as a cushion on the spine. Secondly, stretch on a daily basis. This relieves the tension around the vertebrae by stretching the tight muscles. I am a firm believer in the Pilates foam roller. It helps with a passive stretch which uses gravity to stretch the muscles and gently open the spine.

Thirdly, I recommend regular massage and chiropractic adjustments. Most likely, if you are suffering from persistent back soreness, the vertebrae are out of alignment due to muscle strain. The whole idea of therapeutic massage is to relieve impinged nerves and reduce the pain caused by the degenerated discs between the vertebrae. The best way to accomplish this is to spread the muscles and work out the tension. Massage therapy cannot reverse the disc problem, but it can relieve the pressure on the affected nerves.
The last point I would like to cover with you is with regard to headaches! Headaches are caused by multiple factors. The most common type is caused by tension (muscle tightening) and vascular constriction (blood vessels contracting). I spoke earlier about muscle tension in the neck which affected the brachial plexus which runs down the arm. Also, in the C1 – C7 vertebrae (neck), nerves which extend into the head can become compressed and cause dull, pounding headaches. The head gets the brunt of almost anything going on in the body. Headaches can be caused by dehydration, malnutrition, fatigue, eye strain, degenerative disc, chronic pain, medications, toxins in the air, hypertension, and more.

It works!

Relieving the tension of the muscles which pull on the neck is one of the most effective ways to help chronic headaches. However, you have to be a part of the healing process. Increase your water intake, cut out fried and processed foods, stretch, and rest. I realize I seem to be repeating myself with the solution to the pain, but all I can say it that it works! Too many times we let life take control of us instead of us taking control of our lives. Set your alarm on your computer or phone to go off every 2-3 hours. Check in with your body and ask yourself if you have stretched, eaten, gone to the rest room, or maybe checked in with your family? Take the time to take care of yourself now so that you can avoid irreversible damage in the future.
Our society has become one of taking pills and getting surgery to correct the issues we have created through our own poor choices! Be proactive, take responsibility for your life, and avoid unnecessary problems. You can enjoy life and do the things you want with very few limitations.

The “Player” model

I want to leave you with a great example of someone who was proactive and is still participating 100% in life. Many of you attended or watched the masters last month. If you did, you probably saw Gary Player. Besides being one of the most decorated players on the professional tour, he was also one of the first pro golfers to preach the benefits of physical fitness and good nutrition. This was in the 60’s! When others were snacking on hotdogs in the clubhouse, Player was downing bananas with quarts of pure water. His workout routines are legendary and he still hits the gym three to four days per week. Bear in mind, he knew that golfers needed to be fit in order to play their best twenty years before Tiger Woods was born! Mr. Player is now 72 and still doing what he loves to do. You can too!