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Stress is a normal part of life and is the body’s response to physical, mental or emotional demands that require an adjustment or adaptation to a new situation. We can experience stress in a positive way, keeping us motivated, alert and ready to avoid danger. In this way, a stressful situation may help our mind and body to become strengthened and more resilient to future stressors. However, when we experience stress in a negative way, such as continual exposure to challenges through chronic or intense stressful situations, the capacity of our mind and body to manage, process and tolerate the perceived stress is insufficient. When this occurs, prolonged activation of our stress response has an impact on the health of our mind and body [1].

The health impacts of stress are wide ranging and may include headache, muscle tension and pain, chest pain, fatigue, stomach upset, problems sleeping, anxiety, low mood, social withdrawal and substance abuse. Along with the effects on us as individuals, stress may also affect our interpersonal relations with family, friends and colleagues [2].

Stress affects us through multiple channels, for example in the body by mechanical tension and chemical messengers, and in the mind by the perception of events and through other psychological processes. All of these processes, whether originating in the body or in the mind, have an impact across the whole system. A common misperception is that stress means that “it is all in our head”, but this misunderstanding really stems from seeing the mind as separate from the body, whereas in reality we are one interconnected whole, with all parts and systems interacting.

In our work as osteopaths, we come into direct contact with the impact of stress on the musculoskeletal system on a daily basis. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress, and when muscles are tight and tense over a long period of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the neck and shoulders.

Musculoskeletal pain in the lower back and upper extremities have also been linked to stress, especially in the workplace, which can involve both occupational stresses on the physical body, such as work station setup, and psychological stress in the workplace [3].

The osteopath is not only interested in what is happening in the body but also in the person’s life to bring about the states of physical tension. Such a holistic perspective can allow the osteopath a greater appreciation of the person and can enable them to guide the patient toward a more holistic understanding of their experience, and toward more comprehensive solutions that take their various needs into account. For example, relaxation techniques and other stress-relieving activities and therapies have been shown to effectively reduce muscle tension and increase a sense of well-being. For those who develop chronic pain conditions, stress-relieving activities have been shown to improve mood and daily function, and can form a part of a multi-modal management approach [3].

The Christmas and holiday period can be a busy and exciting time of social and family-related activities. Many people however, may face a range of stressful pressures and triggers heading into this time.

Given that stress in an inevitable part of life, it is essential to learn how to manage it in order to enable our system to recover and to limit the impact it can have on our health and our relationships. Managing stress is as multi-faceted as we are and incorporates the following approaches:

  • Schedule time for exercise, relaxation and time out. Have reasonable expectations and achievable goals. Spend time with people you care about and make time to connect with others who understand you.
  • Take time out to do simple things that bring you joy and provide a break from the stressful situation.
  • Drink plenty of water and try to maintain a healthy diet including lots of fruits and vegetables, especially during the festive season!
  • Exercise has a positive effect on our physical and emotional wellbeing, whether it is walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, dancing or the gym. The key is to choose something that you enjoy.
  • Rest and practice relaxation such as gentle yoga, meditation or simply listening to music [4].
  • And most importantly remember to breathe! Apps such as ReachOut Breathe can help you reduce the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety by slowing down your breathing and your heart rate with your iPhone or Apple Watch. Slowing and calming the breath is one of our most valuable resources for calming both the mind and the body. And the breath and this app are free.

 

References

  1. Managing stress is important for both our mind and body.

    WebMD (2017), The effects of stress on your body, WebMD Medical Reference

  2. Mayo Clinic (2019), Stress symptoms: effects on your body and behaviour, Mayo Clinic
  3. APA (2019), Stress effects on the body, American Psychological Association
  4. Relationships Victoria (2019), Managing stress during the holidays, Relationships Australia Victoria

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Does this picture look familiar? Chances are that most of you said ‘yes’! Whether it is yourself, your partner or your child that this reminds you of, it is a scene that has become part of the backdrop of modern society. From the desktop, smart phone and tablet, technology has not only changed the way that we live our lives but also the way that we use our bodies.

The consequence of our device-dominant lifestyle is that we spend longer in sedentary positions and don’t move around as much, while also exposing certain areas of the body to repetitive postural stresses. Lifting or repeatedly bending over at a work site are well recognised causes of repetitive strain, but what about the specific effects of texting and scrolling, or simply gazing down at a phone such as the young woman in this picture?

Working with peoples’ bodies in the field of osteopathy, these postural stresses are evident to us as practitioners on a daily basis. Quite simply, the repetitive motion and poor posture can lead to stiffness, aches and pains. But if ignored, the long-term consequences can be more serious.

Looking down at devices for extended periods of time stretches the muscles, joints and ligaments of the neck and upper back. When the neck is placed in the forward bent position, this is opposite to its natural spinal curve. When this is repeated on a regular basis over a long period of time, the neck can become settled into an abnormally bent posture, which can lead to a loss of the neck’s natural arch. In the short-term, this can give rise to pain and stiffness of the muscles and joints of the neck or to headaches. However, the impact over the longer term is much more concerning as the altered neck alignment can lead to structural wear and tear of the joints and discs of the spine.

Disc problems are well known to occur in people who spend a great deal of time looking down with their necks bent, surgeons among them. However, if the general population are more engaged in these activities, it may result in an earlier onset of degenerative disc disease, or osteoarthritis (1).

As practitioners, we are observing that these postural problems are showing up in children and adolescents that we see in our clinic. How this will impact them in years to come is of great concern to us, and is why we are passionate about raising the awareness of this issue. If you have concerns about your child or teen and would like to have them assessed, please contact us as we would be very happy to help.

What about the impact of technology on our hands and fingers?

The repeated motions of texting and typing can give rise to problems and symptoms which can range from general hand pain, to specific tendon strain or inflammation. The thumb is vulnerable to this from repetitive scrolling and may result in pain over the thumb or side of the wrist, which can extend up the forearm (2).

Additionally, pushing buttons too hard with the fingers can lead to inflammation around the tendons and pulleys that enable the fingers to bend, increasing the risk for trigger finger (stenosing tenosynovitis). Symptoms include pain, popping, and a feeling that the digit is locking when you bend or straighten it (2).

Strategies to minimise strain
  • Raise the level of the device by propping it, or your arm holding the device, with cushions.
  • Try and keep your gaze parallel to the floor instead of looking downward.
  • Be tuned into any discomfort. This is a sign from your body and is a good time to adjust your posture, take a break and move, or do some stretches.
  • If you are working on a laptop for extended periods or time, it is well worth buying a laptop stand and a spare keyboard so that it can be setup like a desktop, allowing the monitor to be raised and sparing the neck from excess strain.
  • Take a break from the activity and stretch the muscles and tendons of your fingers, wrists and forearms. You may need advice on this and we can help you.
  • Modify the way that you use your electronic and digital devices. If texting with your thumb causes pain, you may need to use other fingers to text, or use a stylus.
  • If there is ongoing pain and inflammation, take a break by using voice commands, or use a fatter stylus to put less stress on the thumb joint.
  • To ease wrist, hand or forearm pain, set up your workstation so that your forearms are parallel to the floor, your wrists are straight and in line with your forearms, and your elbows are relaxed and bent at a 90-degree angle at your wrist.
  • Keep the mouse in front of you, not to the side, or try a vertical mouse which places the hand in a less stressful position (2).

 

References

  1. New York Times (2019).About the idea that you’re growing horns from looking down at your phone…Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/20/health/horns-cellphones-bones.html
  2. Harvard Health (2018). The surprising side effects of using technology. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-surprising-side-effects-from-using-technology

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Bioflex Laser Therapy is a system of light based treatment designed by Dr Fred Kahn MD, a medical physician based in Canada. Dr Khan is an experienced and highly skilled vascular surgeon, who left the field of surgery to study lasers after personally experiencing its health-giving benefits. He has been an innovator and leader in the field of laser therapy for over thirty years, and has developed the Bioflex Laser Therapy system, which is specifically designed by clinicians for clinicians.

The Bioflex Laser Therapy system delivers light in therapeutic wavelengths using both Super Luminous Diodes (SLD) and Laser Diodes to deliver researched treatment applications. The Bioflex system consists of large, flexible SLD arrays which deliver red and infrared light sequentially over a large surface area, and laser diodes which deliver focused light aimed at specific areas of tissue damage, such as muscles, tendons or joints. The Bioflex three-step process of red light, infrared light delivered by an array of SLDs, followed by red and/or infrared light delivered by laser, makes it possible to deliver light therapy to tissues at increasing depths, allowing for a comprehensive treatment process.

Bioflex Laser Therapy is unique in both its design and its treatment protocols, which have been informed by research in the field of photobiomodulation (light therapy), and by in-house research at Meditech International, which develops the technology and operates the largest laser dedicated treatment clinic in the world. Providing over 800 treatments per week, Meditech Rehabilitation Centre has developed its treatment protocols for an extensive range of clinical conditions over many years.

Our osteopaths have received training and accreditation from Meditech International, who run a training program for clinicians whose scope of practice includes Laser Therapy. The Bioflex Laser Therapy certification program covers laser safety, physiological effects, developments in research and clinical applications for treatment.

Laser Therapy delivers particles of light called photons in the red and near infrared spectrum. These particles of light energy are selectively absorbed by the cell membrane and intracellular molecules, initiating a cascade of complex physiological reactions, which many lead to the improvement of normal cellular function (1). These biological responses include modulating inflammation, stimulating cellular repair mechanisms, and enhancing recovery from trauma and injury (2, 3).

Low Level Laser Therapy has been shown in clinical trials to be effective at reducing signs and symptoms of inflammation and pain (4, 5), which are two key mechanisms underlying a myriad of musculoskeletal conditions. In clinic, we find that many regions and tissues of the body are amenable to light therapy. The results can vary depending on how long the problem has been there, which tissues are involved, how much tissue damage is present, and individual variability based on the genetic makeup of the cells.

Dr Khan and his Bioflex Laser Therapy system are featured in Dr Norman Doidge’s New York Times best-selling book “The Brain’s Way of Healing“, which is an inspiring and educational read for those wishing to know more.

References

  1. Bioflex Laser Therapy (2018). The science of light. Retrieved from https://bioflexlaser.com/science
  2. Khalighi, HR. Mortazavi, H. Mojahedi, SM. Azari-Marhabi ,S. & Abbasabadi, FM. (2016). Low Level Laser Therapy versus Pharmacotherapy in improving Myofascial Pain Syndrome. Journal of Lasers in Medical Science. Winter, 7(1):45-50
  3. Bjordal, JM. Johnson, MI. Iversen, V. Aimbrie, F. & Lopes-Martins, RA. (2006). Low-level laser therapy in acute pain: a systematic review of possible mechanisms of action and clinical effects in randomised placebo-controlled trials. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery. Volume 24, Number 2:158-168
  4. Chow, RT. Johnson, MI. Lopes-Martins, RAB. & Bjordal, JM. (2009). Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in the management of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo or active-treatment controlled trials. Lancet. Nov 2009
  5. Christie, A. Jamtyedt, G. Dahm, KT. Moe, RH. Haavardsholm, EA. & Hagen, KB. (2007). Effectiveness of norpharmacological and nonsurgical interventions in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: an overview of systematic reviews. Physical Therapy. Dec 2007

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Balmain Osteopaths is a family oriented clinic that has been part of the Balmain Rozelle community in the inner west of Sydney for over 20 years. We value communication, care and personalised services that contribute to the wellbeing of our patients, staff and practitioners.

Phone: 02 9555 9967

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