That achy neck. Those tense shoulders A dull, but steady pain in your lower back. We’ve all experienced these nagging pains. Stress, inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, even poor posture are often behind simple aches and pains. Over time our musculoskeletal system may become weak and strained, leading to inflammation, pain and discomfort. This increased pain and stress can negatively impact other parts of the body and may eventually require surgical interventions, such as joint replacement or muscle repairs.
Aside from being a nuisance, managing pain is also expensive. According to a 2011 report from the Institute of Medicine, pain costs society over $500 billion annually in the United States.
Pain is our body telling us something isn’t quite right. Consider these tips for dealing with a nagging pain and, even better, preventing one in the first place:
Sit up: Your mother always told you no slouching… now you know why. The effects of poor posture are most often felt in the back and neck as their ligaments and connective tissues tighten due to inactivity or prolonged sitting. Consider setting an hourly timer as a reminder to sit up and avoid sinking into your desk. Or use this opportunity to get up and move for a few minutes.
MOVE: Regular movement, especially walking, helps your body maintain ample strength, stability, and flexibility. Shoot for 30 minutes over the course of the day, minimum. Diversifying your fitness and activity routine is the best way to ensure you make gains critical to your body’s optimal mechanics. Try a combination of interval exercises and strength-training workouts to maintain your body’s lean muscle mass, giving your body support.
Stretching: Stretch major muscle groups after exercise or while warming up. Try something simple, such as a door-way chest stretch, opening the chest and releasing the neck. Hamstrings, running up the back of your thigh, also commonly contribute to pain. To stretch, stand with support, place one heel upon a chair or step; lean forward, keeping your face and chest lifted and back straight. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat twice on each side.
Eating right: A healthy diet provides your body with micro- and macronutrients needed to heal tissues and optimize body function. Those experiencing pain might consider reducing grains, dairy, sugar, legumes, and alcohol. Additionally, water aids inflammation reduction and decreases muscle tension. Staying hydrated is important to pain management.
When might a nagging pain require professional attention? Ask yourself: Has it worsened over time? Has it impacted sleep or other daily activities? If so, consult a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist, who can determine the cause of your pain, initiate hands-on techniques to relieve the discomfort, and prescribe exercises to improve body alignment and prevent a reoccurrence.
Pain is your body telling you something isn’t quite right. Listen to the message and respond to it. And remember: prevention is key. A pain-free life means more time doing what you love with those you love.
Elizabeth Polis, P.T. is the owner and founder of Core Wellness & Physical Therapy in Alexandria, VA. She is experienced in treating a vast range of orthopedic conditions, specializing in the prevention and rehabilitation of acute and chronic spinal and musculoskeletal conditions. Her treatments integrate a range of manual techniques, including Craniosacral Technique, Muscle Energy Technique, Myofascial Release, joint manipulation, Strain Counter-Strain, and others.