How Does “Cracking” My Back Help to Relieve My Back Pain?

Spinal manipulation is the primary treatment utilized by chiropractors. The “cracking” sound is most often associated with spinal manipulation. Joints and muscles are supposed to move through their full range of motion. When they do not this can cause pain and muscle spasm, and eventually lead to the breakdown of the joint. This breakdown of the joint is arthritis. Manipulation restores the normal movement to the joint. After the motion is restored to the joint you can strengthen the muscles around the joint.

A common misnomer is “your back is out of alignment.” The only way for your back to be out of alignment is to fracture (break) your spine. A chiropractor would not be able to help you.

A simple analogy to understand the concept of spinal manipulation is a door hinge and a door. If the door hinge is lubricated and moving properly, then the door open and closes normally. The door hinge can be thought of as a spinal joint and the door as spinal muscles attaching to that joint. Manipulation is like lubricating the door hinge, and exercise is like opening and closing the door. Manipulation and exercise are complimentary.

Some of the benefits of spinal manipulation to your back condition are reduced muscle spasm, decreased pain, and increased range of motion. In my opinion most spinal conditions can be rehabilitated through manipulation and exercise in four to eight weeks.
Spinal manipulation and exercise has been shown in clinical studies to be a very effective treatment for back pain.

~Dr. Dave

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What is Brain Plasticity?

Your brain has plasticity. What does that mean? Your brain can “rewire.” If you learn new things or have new experiences, your brain will take that new information in and make new pathways. If you suffered a brain insult, it has been shown that your brain can “rewire” and compensate for the damage.

People that have had strokes, for example, have regained use of their “bad” arm by strapping down their “good” arm and thus using or “retraining” their “bad” arm. Researchers looked at their functional mri’s, which showed their brain had actually “rewired!” Some cases were after 10 years! If these people can “rewire” their brain after a traumatic insult, is it possible for you, too, to “rewire” your brain? To “rewire” your brain you have to first decide you want to. Some of the best things for your brain are learning a new language or instrument, exercise, and eating a healthy diet.

Too often in middle age we get stuck in bad habits. We do not learn new things or have new experiences. This is horrible for your brain and body. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. To create a healthy brain and body, you have to learn new things and have new experiences.

~Dr. Dave

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Do I Really Need to Stretch?

Stretching is the part of our workout regimen many of us tend to skip. We might say it is because of lack of time, impatience or a feeling that stretching is “pointless.” However it is important that our joints are able to move in various directions with a certain degree of freedom. As our bodies age, we become stiffer and lose the flexibility we had when we were young. Chances are unless you’re a dancer or a gymnast, you’ll have lost that fluid flexibility you had as a child even in your twenties. However, it is never too late to regain enough flexibility to remain youthful and limber by training through stretching. Proper stretching allows us to continue doing our daily tasks into old age, such as reaching that high shelf, bending to pick up a dropped object, or accessing that hidden switch behind an awkward kitchen cabinet.

One reason it’s really important to stretch before working out is that we are likely to use muscles and tendons that are normally inactive. Without flexibility to those muscles, the risk of injury or of tearing those muscles and tendons when used, is higher. If stretching is done correctly before working out, it’s a good prevention against injury, and can also be used to treat injuries as well. Finally, when done properly, stretching simply feels good. It can be a great way to gently start the day or to wind down after work.

Preparing the body for exercise by warming up the muscles by stretching is easy and need not take up much of your time. This will increase the blood flow to your muscles and loosen them up allowing you to exercise without having to worry about injury or being overly sore the next day. Simply warm up the various muscle groups with slow stretches of the joints towards the end of their range of motion; this should cause the feeling of a gentle “pull” being felt in the muscles. Hold the position for up to half a minute and then alternate side or muscle groups. Not only does stretching prevent injury, but it also improves the mechanical efficiency of your body. Stretching prior to exercise means the muscles are stretched and warmed up, allowing them to undergo the full range of motion with less effort when exercising – this means the body’s overall performance is improved.

Other added benefits to stretching include improved circulation to the muscles and joints, alleviating the pains felt post-workout, and stretching can also help to improve your posture. If you find at the end of the day stiff and achy from sitting at a desk all day – try stretching. You might find that you’ll feel instantly better. Regular stretching in your shoulders and neck may help you to maintain a better posture. As a result, this may help to prevent the onset of lower back pain.

References Used:
[1] http://www.spineuniverse.com/wellness/exercise/incorporating-stretching-your-exercise-routine Accessed October 2011
[2] http://www.healthnewengland.com/newsletters/LivingWell/LW/Livewell13.pdf Accessed October 2011

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11 Tips for Living With Chronic Pain

1. Learn deep breathing or meditation to help with chronic pain.

Deep breathing and meditation are techniques that help your body relax, which eases pain. Tension and tightness seep from muscles as they receive a quiet message to relax.

Although there are many to meditate, the soothing power of repetition is at the heart of some forms of meditation. Focusing on the breath, ignoring thoughts, and repeating a word or phrase — a mantra — causes the body to relax. While you can learn meditation on your own, it helps to take a class.

Deep breathing is also a relaxation technique. Find a quiet location, a comfortable body position, and block out distracting thoughts. Then, imagine a spot just below your navel. Breathe into that spot, filling your abdomen with air. Let the air fill you from the abdomen up, then let it out, like deflating a balloon.

2. Reduce stress in your life. Stress intensifies chronic pain.

Negative feelings like depression, anxiety, stress, and anger can increase the body’s sensitivity to pain. By learning to take control of stress, you may find some relief from chronic pain.

Several techniques can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. Listening to soothing, calming music can lift your mood — and make living with chronic pain more bearable. There are even specially designed relaxation tapes or CDs for this. Mental imagery relaxation (also called guided imagery) is a form of mental escape that can help you feel peaceful. It involves creating calming, peaceful images in your mind. Progressive muscle relaxation is another technique that promotes relaxation.

3. Boost chronic pain relief with the natural endorphins from exercise.

Endorphins are brain chemicals that help improve your mood while also blocking pain signals. Exercise has another pain-reducing effect — it strengthens muscles, helping prevent re-injury and further pain. Plus, exercise can help keep your weight down, reduce heart disease risk, and control blood sugar levels — especially important if you have diabetes. Ask your doctor for an exercise routine that is right for you. If you have certain health conditions, like diabetic neuropathy, you will need to be careful about the types of activities you engage in; your doctor can advise you on the best physical activities for you.

4. Cut back on alcohol, which can worsen sleep problems.

Pain makes sleep difficult, and alcohol can make sleep problems worse. If you’re living with chronic pain, drinking less or no alcohol can improve your quality of life.

5. Join a support group. Meet others living with chronic pain.

When you’re with people who have chronic pain and understand what you’re going through, you feel less alone. You also benefit from their wisdom in coping with the pain.
Also, consider meeting with a mental health professional. Anyone can develop depression if they’re living with chronic pain. Getting counseling can help you learn to cope better and help you avoid negative thoughts that make pain worse — so you have a healthier attitude. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

6. Don’t smoke. It can worsen chronic pain.

Smoking can worsen painful circulation problems and increase risk of heart disease and cancer.

7. Track your pain level and activities every day.

To effectively treat your pain, your doctor needs to know how you’ve been feeling between visits. Keeping a log or journal of your daily “pain score” will help you track your pain. At the end of each day, note your pain level on the 1 to 10 pain scale. Also, note what activities you did that day. Take this log book to every doctor visit — to give your doctor a good understanding of how you’re living with chronic pain and your physical functioning level.

8. Learn biofeedback to decrease pain severity.

Through biofeedback, it’s possible to consciously control various body functions. It may sound like science fiction, but there is good evidence that biofeedback works — and that it’s not hard to master.

Here’s how it works: You wear sensors that let you “hear” or “see” certain bodily functions like pulse, digestion, body temperature, and muscle tension. The squiggly lines and/or beeps on the attached monitors reflect what’s going on inside your body. Then you learn to control those squiggles and beeps. After a few sessions, your mind has trained your biological system to learn the skills.

9. Get a massage for chronic pain relief.

Massage can help reduce stress and relieve tension — and is being used by people living with all sorts of chronic pain, including back and neck pain.

10. Eat a healthy diet if you’re living with chronic pain.

A well-balanced diet is important in many ways — aiding your digestive process, reducing heart disease risk, keeping weight under control, and improving blood sugar levels. To eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet, choose from these: fresh fruits and vegetables; cooked dried beans and peas; whole-grain breads and cereals; low-fat cheese, milk, and yogurt; and lean meats.

11. Find ways to distract yourself from pain so you enjoy life more.

When you focus on pain, it makes it worse rather than better. Instead, find something you like doing — an activity that keeps you busy and thinking about things besides your pain. You might not be able to avoid pain, but you can take control of your life.

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Diets Don’t Work. Period.

Diets, exercise programs and behavior modification do not work for ninety percent of the people who want to permanently lose weight. Why?  It is hard to change. There are no magic pills, potions, or berries that help you lose weight long term. People look at dieting as something they do until they reach their short term goal and then they go back to their old eating and lifestyle habits. That is the bad news.
The good news is that you can change any behavior anytime in your life, if you want to. This is because of brain plasticity or rewiring (I will explain brain rewiring in a later blog).  It takes the average person two to three months to develop a new habit and rewire their brain.
If you want to lose weight, you have to exercise more and eat less. You have to burn more calories than you consume. It is that simple. The million dollar question is: How do you do this for the rest of your life?  The two things you have to do for permanent weight loss are having a big purpose and developing self awareness.  
I have a friend, a medical physician, who lost 35 pounds and has kept it off for fifteen years.  His big purpose was:  he did not want to take cholesterol medication for the rest of his life.  He knew of the harmful side effects of taking statin drugs (cholesterol lowering). His purpose was big enough for him to lose the weight and keep it off.   Your purpose has to be your choice.  
Write your purpose down where you can see it often. Put your purpose on your refrigerator or on your smart phone. Make sure you look and recite your purpose at least once per day.
In the next blog, I will discuss how you can develop self awareness.   
~Dr. Dave

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Improve Your Brain’s Performance!

There are three proven ways to improve your brain’s performance according to Sharon Begley of Newsweek Magazine. One is exercise. Exercise is good for your heart, muscles, and bones, but probably the greatest benefit is to your brain. Exercise creates positve brain changes (neuroplasticity). If it was a drug, it would and should be prescribed to everyone. This is another reason why people should exercise every day.

The second way to improve brain function is through meditation. Meditation, or focused attention, allows us to develop self awareness. Self awareness is the most critical part of changing any behavior. Most people who are “stressed out” cannot meditate at first but, with practice, they are eventually able to. Meditation will also have a calming effect. If you meditate regularly, it will help turn off the stress chemicals in your brain so you can think more clearly.

The third way to improve your brain’s performance is complex video games. These games make you focus, use your short and long term memory, your visual skills and other executive brain functions. If you improve in these games, you have created positive brain changes which can apply to other aspects of your life.

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Is Gastric Bypass Surgery the only answer for people who want to lose 100 pounds or more?

The answer is a resounding no. You first have to decide that your health is the most important thing to you. Then you are going to have to realize that you are going to have to do it. There is no magic bullet out there. The magic bullet is your brain, and learning how to “rewire” it. You are going to have to change your habits and develop new healthy routines.

Weight loss is not complicated. You have to burn more calories than you take in. It is that simple. Most people don’t realize how much they are eating and they do not monitor their food intake. The key to permanent weight loss is self awareness.

How do you develop self awareness? I recommend weighing yourself every day and writing down what you are eating. Weighing yourself everyday and journaling what you are eating puts you in control of your fork instead of your fork controlling you.

Exercise is very important, but most people cannot lose weight by just exercising. A recent government study said that the average women would have to exercise five hours per week just to keep her weight the same. Most women would read that and say, “I don’t have five hours per week to exercise”, and they don’t exercise at all. The study said you could eat less and not have to exercise as much. Eating habits are more important than exercising for permanent weight loss in most people.

When people have gastric bypass surgery, they are basically saying, “I do not have control of my brain and the only way I can lose weight is if I make my stomach the size of a walnut.” People that have gastric bypass surgery have to change their lifestyle after the surgery to have success with the procedure. Why not change your lifestyle and not have the surgery? You won’t have as fast a weight loss if you don’t have the surgery, but you also will not have the risks or complications of surgery.

A patient of mine was telling me the other day that four people in her office had gastric bypass surgery and all had gained the weight back. Why? They had not changed their lifestyles. I can teach you how to lose weight by rewiring your brain and developing self awareness. The magic bullet is your brain and learning how to use it.

~ Dr. Dave

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