Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How You Can Hurt Yourself in Bed

A mysterious ache crept into my neck and head as I slept. The pain lasted three days and nights, travelled down my arm, and impaired my right hand. How could something as innocuous as sleep summon a horrible headache and weak wrist? Or was another bedtime activity the cause?

Upon reflection, I realize that Paul Theroux is to blame. I’ve been reading Ghost Train to the Eastern Star each night, lying on my back with an extra pillow propped under my head and one under my knees. The compelling story and mellifluous writing have kept me up late many nights in a position that strained my upper spine. (I realize that the extra pillow is really to blame, not Theroux.)

Injuries are quite common when we get lost in our head (or in a book or watching TV), only peripherally aware of our bodies. The answer is to use the best possible ergonomics when involved in risky activities like reading in bed or working at a computer. I’ve piled up more pillows to create a back rest so I now read more upright. It also keeps me from reading for too long.

Pillows can cause neck pain when we’re fast asleep, too. A pillow that is too tall overstretches muscles and ligaments. A pillow that is too flat causes the muscles on the up-side of the neck to contract for hours. The answer is to adjust the pillow height to match your neck, and the sleeping on your right side might require a different pillow than sleeping on your left or on your back. My pillow has a different height on each side. The hard part is remembering to turn it when I roll over at night.

If you wake up with a headache or neck pain, evaluate your pillows and bedtime activities. A little investigation will help you troubleshoot the problem. Hopefully the solution will occur to you a little faster than it did to me.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Exercise of the Month: Arm Circles

The body needs a variety of exercise to stay healthy. Strength training for the muscles and cardio for the heart and lungs are the most popular. Your body needs range of motion exercises as well to keep your joints and connective tissue flexible. This month’s featured exercise is for your shoulders.

Arm Circles
Caution: Watch the tendency to turn this into a strength or bigger-is-better exercise. The purpose is to move within your absolutely and completely pain-free, symptom-free range.

1. Start with your right arm. Moving your hand away from and then a little behind your torso, make easy circles with your arm, pivoting at the shoulder joint.

2. Slowly make the circles bigger, gradually growing to as far in front, over
the shoulder, and behind you as you can with absolutely no pain, twinges or tingling in your hand, arm, shoulder, or neck.

3. If your shoulder clunks, slow down and change the motion to avoid the noise. I think it helps to rotate the arm as you circle it, so your thumb points up as your arm moves up, thumb points back as your arm moves back, and thumb points down as it circles to your side.

4. Repeat with the other arm.

This is first and foremost an awareness exercise, learning to stay in your injury-free range. It also improves motion within the joint and the condition of your rotator cuff. Think of it like distributing oil through a hinge, each round getting a little smoother. The intention is to do just enough “reps” to loosen the range of motion a little, so the next time (maybe the next day?) you try it, the circles will be a little larger. If your shoulder tightens, you’ve done too many or the circles were too big.