The Perfect Pillow

Your choice of sleeping support is important for reducing muscle and joint aches and pains, especially if you are mainly affected on waking. Our pillow choice affects the alignment of our neck, shoulders and spine throughout our sleep cycle. A poor choice in pillow can be like a poor choice in shoes – if you stand around in uncomfortable shoes for 8 hours a day you are bound to end up with muscle tension and soreness. This also applies to your mattress.

So how do we choose the perfect pillow?

Sometimes you can be lucky and find it on your first try, but generally it can take a bit of searching and experimenting before you get it right. Here are a few handy hints to help you in your search:

  1. Look for a pillow that holds it’s shape – like memory foam
  2. Don’t go for anything too expensive if you’re not sure it’s the right one for you – remember you might need to try a few to find the right one.
  3. Remember that it might take a week or two to adjust to a new pillow, so if it ticks all the boxes and it’s comfortable most of the time, hang in there and give it a week to a fortnight for your body to adjust
  4. Always try out the pillow in the shop – most places will have a display bed you can test your pillow on. If there is more than one bed, choose the one with similar firmness to your own bed.

When testing out a pillow:

  • Side sleepers – your new pillow should fill up the space between your ear and your shoulder without any collapsing or folding through your shoulder joint. Your neck should also remain quite neutral which means your head shouldn’t be side flexed towards either shoulder – your neck should be at a right angle from your shoulders.
  • Back sleepers – choose a medium height pillow that keeps your head and neck quite neutral e.g. not so high it tilts your head too far forward but not so low that it extends your neck and tilts your chin up.

Finding the perfect pillow and a good mattress will help minimise aggravation of joint and muscle tension issues. However, if you have a longstanding issue, you may like to speak to a Physiotherapist first.

Tips on Natural Pain Relievers

When you’re in pain, it is often difficult to think straight. We often avoid movement or treatment and jump straight to the medicine cabinet to attempt to ease the symptoms we are experiencing.
Next time, have a go at trying these few tips to help relieve your pain and get you back to functioning again!

1. Reduce stress

When you are stressed, hormones are released into your body that cause physical tension and increase your experience of pain. Try reducing your stress levels with meditation or doing nice things for yourself that you find relaxing. This will decrease the stress hormones and reduce your pain experience.

2. Release those endorphins

Endorphins act as the body’s natural pain relievers. They interact with opiate receptors to reduce our perception of pain. The release of endorphins also leads to feelings of euphoria. With these two effects combined we experience less pain and decrease the effects that stress has on the body.
Physical activity that gets your heart rate up will release these pain-relieving endorphins into your system. When experiencing pain, the trick is to choose an exercise that your body is able to tolerate. Your physiotherapist or health care professional may be able to help you get on the right track.

3. Heat

Heat works in two ways; it increases the blood flow and oxygen to the damaged area along with suppressing pain signals.

4. Massage

Massage helps to relax and increase the blood flow to your muscles while also decreasing the body’s perception of the pain experience.

5. Stretching and releasing

By stretching and releasing your muscles, particularly around your hips and back, you allow your back to move more freely. Your back loves movement and tight muscles restrict this and may increase the pain you are experiencing.

6. Get some vitamin D

Studies show that people who get the recommended dose of vitamin D, 10-15 minutes of sun exposure per day, are less likely to experience pain than those who don’t.

7. Stay hydrated

Getting enough water during the day is good for you in more ways than one! If you are experiencing back pain, keeping your fluids up will ensure that your intervertebral discs stay healthy and hydrated to allow for stability in the spine and reduced stiffness.

Headache Physiotherapy: How your neck causes your headache

Headaches and migraines can be very debilitating and affect approximately 50% of the population.

There can be a range of causes responsible for headaches. Some of the latest research has shown that dysfunction in the top three vertebrae of the spine is a major contributor to headaches and migraines. This is the case is because it has been shown that the brainstem has become sensitised. This means that normal stimuli that is transmitted through the brain stem is interpreted in a different way to normal by the brain.

The areas that transmit stimuli through the brain stem are:

  • Neck
  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Nose and Sinuses
  • Forehead
  • Sinuses
  • Scalp

This is why if one of your triggers is associated with one of the areas mentioned above, dysfunction in the neck may be a causative factor.

Treatment of the cervical spine consisting of gentle mobilisation helps to reduce the dysfunction of the cervical spine, therefore decreasing the sensitisation of the brainstem. This leads to a decrease in headaches and migraines.

Getting to the ‘Core’ of the problem

Having a strong core is very important in both prevention and rehabilitation of back pain, hip pain and knee pain.

What are your core muscles?

Deep stabilising muscles that support your spine. These include:

  • Pelvic Floor
  • Transverse Abdominus
  • Multifidus

The most common muscle that people refer to when talking about the core is the Transverse Abdominus. This is the deepest layer of the abdominal muscle wall and are hidden under the six-pack muscles called the Rectus Abdominus and Internal and External obliques.

The Transverse abdominus attaches to the thoracolumbar fascia and lower 6 ribs, so when tensioned, creates a support for your back, similar to a corset tied tight and gives you the shapely waist most desire.

Pilates is arguably the best way to learn to engage your core.

5 Top Tips To Prevent Low Back Pain

Back pain now affects 80% of the population at some point their life. It is debilitating and can greatly affect quality of life if it is not treated properly. 90% of back pain comes from one of the structures of the spine such as the disc, facet joints or sacroiliac joint. Dysfunction within these structures causes the muscles to tighten and cause more discomfort.

The top tips for preventing low back pain are:

1. Keep Active

The spine thrives on movement. Movement within the spine promotes healthy discs and healthy joints. Exercise such as walking is good for your whole body however mobility exercises are vital to preventing back pain. These can consist of pilates, yoga or a well prescribed gym program.

 2. Keep Your Core Strong

The core muscles work together to provide stability for the spine. Working on the deep core stabilising muscles is incredibly important and can make all the difference when preventing low back pain. It is important to not build up the superficial core muscles too much as this actually leads to compression within the spine. The superficial muscles are your ‘six pack’ muscles which are technical called the rectus abdominus muscles.

3. Keep Your Deep Spinal Muscles Strong

The multifidus muscle is a very important muscle group that provides stability between the segments of the spine. It is not worked in traditional back strengthening exercises such as back extensions. The way to get this muscle group strong is by rolling down to touch your toes and then unfurling back up keeping the core muscles switched on.

 4. Avoid Sitting for longer than 1 hour at a time

Sitting causes compression of the spine. In between every vertebrae is a intervertebral disc. These discs are like soft centred chocolates. They are filled with fluid which allows the disc to act as a cushion between the vertebrae, absorbing impact and allowing comfortable movement of the spine. With sitting causing compression on the spine the fluid slowly leaks out leaving the disc dehydrated  and loss of disc height. This leads to spinal degeneration over time.

By getting up every hour and moving around you are decreasing the pressure on the disc and allowing it to reabsorb

5. Keep Your Inflammation Levels Low

Inflammation levels within the body can have a large effect on back pain. Due to the world we live in inflammatory levels generally are quite high in the majority of the population. Curcumin which is an extract of turmeric is a wonderful natural anti-inflammatory that can be taken regularly with out the side effects of pharmaceutical anti-infammatories.

Fish oil is also another one of my favourite natural anti-infammatories. When choosing a fish oil make sure you choose one that has been mercury filtered.