Image: Shutterstock “That kneading massage was just what I needed after a two-week headstand workshop,” was my last thought right before I fell into deep slumber after one. But then, a few days later, something strange happened—I woke up with the worst pain at the back of my neck, the kind I only imagined feeling when I aged. Had I aged overnight? Or is this what 30 feels like? Was it the headstand? Ultimately, I reached the common, optimistic, universally accepted conclusion—“I probably just slept wrong”—and went about my day normally, albeit with constant discomfort. Over time, the pain continued to keep coming back, and I continued to ignore it. Until finally, I decided it was time to make my first-ever visit to a neighbourhood physiotherapist. Lucky for me, I found it was simply excess stress on the muscles that got them to reflectively become tight and rigid. And a few daily exercises, done consistently, helped to get rid of that discomfort. But I learnt something important from the entire experience: if something isn’t feeling right, it isn’t.
“Any type of pain (constant, intermittent, dull, sharp, shooting, strange or sudden) has a cause unless someone is imagining pain, and yes, surprisingly even that is highly common,” says Priyanka Talreja, sports physical therapist and dry needling practitioner, MSPT (University of Pittsburg, USA). Here, she helps answer all the questions you’ve ever had about that weird ache you notice in your wrist when typing, that annoying neck pain that keeps coming back, and the unexplainable numbness you sometimes feel in your palm. Lower back pain
> Sedentary lifestyle, incorrect sitting and sleeping postures or continuously sitting without breaks at work.
Obesity—it hits the lower back and knees first.
Weak core, gluteal muscles, posterior lower limb chain weakness.
> Do lower back, gluteal and hamstring stretches regularly.
Get up and move once every hour.
There are some excellent exercises to prevent lower back pain like modified clamshell, bridging, single leg calf raises, planks and oblique crunches.
Be careful with back hyperextensions like Bhujangasana, as it can be dangerous if done excessively or incorrectly.
Cure: Once rightly diagnosed, with the root cause of lower back pain identified (mechanical, structural, poor muscle control), the treatment is definitely curable, but it may take regular therapy and core stabilisation exercises for at least two to three months. Slipped disc (sciatica), listhesis and spondylosis are all curable lower back issues. Neck pain
> Long sitting hours, desk jobs, incorrect sleeping patterns and sitting postures.
Weak neck and upper back musculature.
Stress or inadequate sleep.
Using the wrong pillow.
Low Vitamin D3 and B12 levels.
> Try to do an adequate amount of neck and back stretches at work every 45 minutes.
Opt for neck strengthening exercises, coupled with shoulder and scapular strengthening exercises, to avoid neck overload.
Having a firm pillow of adequate thickness, and paying attention to its positioning while sleeping, prevents neck stiffness and pain.
Exercises like upper trapezius stretches, levator scapulae stretches and thoracic rotations help keep the neck strong in the case of joint pain.
Make sure you get your Vitamin D3 and B12 checked and supplemented.
> Random, sharp neck pains at night (when you’re rested), which occur without you doing anything to aggravate them, and are not improved with rest and physiotherapy, could be a sign of something alarming. Though rare, they could point to rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or neuropathies.
If temporary relief with medicine, balms, and consequent ice and heat application is not solving the root cause of the joint pain, it’s important to nip things in the bud with correct early diagnosis to avoid chronic issues. These days, sports and musculoskeletal physiotherapists are able to diagnose and treat the problem, and if no major change in symptoms are seen, they will rightly guide you to an upper limb specialist. In 90 per cent of the cases, they can solve these neck pains.
Cure: Strengthening with physiotherapy, sports massage and dry needling is the only long-term cure. Wrist pain
> Spending too much time texting/typing, or not completely resting the forearm while typing continuously.
Underlying cervical nerve pinch, which can cause wrist pain numbness to recur.
> Keep correct ergonomic devices, like a wrist band, at the workplace to keep forearm supported.
Do forearm stretches and exercises like grip strengthening, wrist pronation or supination exercises, and tennis ball massages.
Wrist pain can be caused due to underlying cervical spondylosis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or some soft tissue overgrowth (for example, ganglion not letting pain settle).
Cure: A musculoskeletal physical therapist will be able to evaluate and tell you the exact issue in most cases. If treatment doesn’t bring subsequent improvement, consider visiting the doctor. You can solve the issue with acupuncture and proper work ergonomics. Early morning stiffness
Causes> Lack of mental recovery, ie adequate sleep. Lack of physical recovery from activities of the previous day, which, if built up, results in the body being stiff the next morning. Low D3 and B12 levels. Wrong sleeping postures or using the wrong mattress or pillow. Lack of hydration. Stress. Prevention> Follow a basic, early morning in-bed stretch routine. Ensure you get seven to nine hours of sleep. Supplement Vitamins D3 and B12 in your diet. Getting a decent sports or deep tissue massage once every two to three weeks can avoid lactic acid build-up and consequently, stiffness. Correct and adequate movement is key to increasing blood flow to the brain and muscles, clearing toxins from affected areas and decreasing or clearing pain producing toxins. Stress can also magnify joint pain. Movement/exercise can help in increasing the endorphin rush to the brain, thus clearing stress-producing hormones. Numbness Causes> Numbness, especially in fingers, palms and thumbs, is a common symptom among desk job workers and persistent computer/mobile users. It is most commonly related to lack of blood circulation due to a specific body part being in a near constant state of contraction. Neck stiffness and trigger points can result in numbness in various parts of the hand. Low B12 and magnesium/electrolyte levels are a major cause of numbness. Prevention> Get out of static positions. Regularly stretch the affected areas to increase circulation. Consult a physiotherapist to learn how to mobilise/self release certain areas of the forearms and palms, and get acupuncture done to solve this issue completely. Hidden signs> Sometimes, problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical disc bulge, trapped nerve and neuropathies can lead to numbness. If numbness doesn’t settle with the above advice or by your therapist’s suggestions, it’s time to consult an upper limb specialist. Numbness that is unrelated to work hours, the kinds that crops up especially at night, or worse, at random hours of the day even when you’re rested, should be reported immediately to an expert. Why it’s important to keep moving all day In the days of Kindles and smartphones, strange pains have become a regular, ignored occurrence. Talreja says, “Any perception of pain has a reason and is the body’s way of communicating to us that something ‘may be wrong.’” Her advice for young children is for them to be taught the importance of sport or movement— warm up and cool down during intense play, stretches especially when carrying heavy school bags, the effects of sitting for long periods of time (without breaks) to do homework or playing on the phone or iPad. For working adults, she suggests incorporating a regular exercise routine and making midday stretches at work a necessity to keep joint pains and aches at bay. Also read: Now Playing: September 2018: Behind the scenes with Radhika Nair and Saffron Vadher
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