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BACK PAIN AWARENESS WEEK (OCT 5-9)TOP 10 SELF-HELP TIPS FOR FIBROMYALGIA & BACK PAIN SUFFERERS IN LOCKDOWN…

To mark Back Pain Awareness Week, leading UK back-pain-prevention expert and Health Ergonomist Nichola Adams offers practical advice on coping with the growing challenges of working from home for a further six months.

 

Advice on slouching: a Work Station Assessment by Nichola Adams    

Leading UK back-pain-prevention expert and health ergonomist Nichola Adams’s workload has risen sharply during Covid lockdown.


And statistics show the numbers of us suffering from back pain are also growing, especially now that lockdown is extending for another six months.

To mark national Back Care Awareness Week (October 5-9), Nichola, a Technical Member of The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, has compiled her ‘Top 10 Self-Help Tips for Back Pain and Fibromyalgia Sufferers’.


Combining the Greek words ‘ergon’ (meaning ‘work’) and ‘nomoi’ (meaning ‘natural laws’), Ergonomics is the science of making products and tasks comfortable and efficient for human use.


“Health Ergonomics is a multidisciplinary science. It combines biomechanics (how our bodies move), anthropometrics (our measurements) and psychology to enable us to design products and services that best match people’s physical, as well as mental, capabilities,” explains Nichola.


“Ergonomics recognises that we are all individuals and that there will be many external influences that affect our recovery. This includes the environment as well as social factors that affect, for instance, our attitudes towards our back pain, our stress levels and other influencing factors that can influence our levels of back pain.” 

TIP 1 -Keep moving: When you do, blood flows more easily and brings nutrients and oxygen to your tissues and muscles. When sitting at your computer, standing breaks are vital. Take one every 30-60 minutes. Just standing up and siting back down will provide a beneficial boost. Take your laptop to a higher surface like a kitchen work-top or chest of drawers, then stand a while. Own a patio or garden? Work outside. Fresh air blows away brain cobwebs.
TIP 2 -Eat well, stay hydrated: Keeping the body stocked with immune-boosting, antioxidant-rich foods is key. Antioxidant foods are also anti-inflammatory. Enjoy dark fruit and leafy vegetables. Magnesium-rich foods are also good for reducing mental and physical stress. Check your vitamin D levels with a home testing kit. Keep hydrated, aiming for 7-8 glasses a day. It’s all too easy, when we’re working hard, to forget to drink enough water.
TIP 3 – Sit up straight: While moving regularly is key, sitting upright will also help reduce the load on your spine. Don’t sofa-slouch! If you only have your sofa to work from, mimic a good set-up. Build a supportive back using cushions (deep sofas cause slouching). Pop a cushion under your laptop to protect yourself against its heat and raise it up. Try an adjustable laptop holder that’s made for sofa or bed use.
TIP 4 -Care about your chair: Sit on a chair whenever possible. If it’s a dining chair, not an office one, always try to ensure your lower-back curve is supported as this is particularly good for easing tension build-up on sensitive backs. You can use a cushion or rolled-up towel for extra support. Better still, buy an inflatable lumbar support cushion for your lower-back curve. Ask your employer if they’ll offer you budget for a chair with a lumbar support and adjustable seat height and armrests. Always sit with your arms level with the top of the desk as this will help you avoid flicking up your wrists or hunching your shoulders to type.
TIP 5 -Get your screen height right: If you’re using a laptop, make sure you can either dock it onto a larger screen that’s at eye height, or raise the laptop onto some books. Alternatively, try using a laptop holder so that you aren’t slouching or looking down to read the screen as this will load unwelcome pressure onto your neck, shoulders and back. Then use a separate keyboard and mouse.

TIP 6 -Mind the gap: When using a keyboard and mouse, keep these close to the front of your desk so that you don’t find yourself in a position where there’s a gap and you’re needing to extend your arms forward when typing. Failure to do this can quickly bring on shoulder and neck tensions as our arms are surprisingly heavy when extended forward. Keep your wrists relaxed and straight in order to reduce pressure building up.
TIP 7 -Stay positive: Maintaining a positive frame of mind is more important than many people realise. And your brain has a far bigger say in your body’s ability to feel pain than you might imagine. If we’re stressed and worried, our body naturally tenses up. The brain then goes on alert for pain. Despite the distractions of the pandemic, try to take time out for yourself and just relax. (Bonus mini-tip: A magnesium hot bath can also work wonders for the brain and body.)
TIP 8 -And …… breathe: Slowing down your breathing can impact your cortisol levels. This brings down your stress levels and keep the oxygen flowing through the body. Try this exercise I can recommend: Step 1: Breathe in for a count of five. Step 2: Pause for a count of four. Step 3: Breathe out for eight beats. Step 4: Then pause for four. Step 5: Repeat. Get used to the maths and you’ll notice the difference straightaway.
TIP 9 -Exercise gently: With no office commute, exercising daily becomes essential. Try a morning stroll, jog or cycle as morning light helps with your circadian rhythm (helping our sleep/wake cycles) and vitamin D levels. Maybe treat yourself to a visit to your local park or a coffee, to encourage yourself to get out. By venturing out in the mornings, before work gets busy, we’re more likely to stick to the routine. Try stretching exercises, too, like yoga or Pilates.
TIP 10 -Remember, you’re worth it!: Focus on yourself and ring-fence extra time to keep in tune with what gives your life meaning and purpose. Remembering to take regular breaks at home isn’t easy, so use technology to set yourself automatic reminders on your mobile. When working from home, find ways to support your body so your muscles relax. Everyone’s an individual and ergonomists like me can conduct assessments remotely if you need bespoke advice.

Source: Alec Lom – Nichola Adams, MSc Health Ergonomics, Tech CIEHF (Technical Member of The Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors), Reg Member ACPOHE (The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics), is one of the UK’s leading back-pain experts and the Founder of Inspired Ergonomics (http://www.inspiredergonomics.com/)





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FAMILY SUPPORT FOR PATIENTS WITH FIBROMYALGIA OR CHRONIC PAIN…

The effect on family support for patients who are suffering from fibromyalgia or chronic pain is an essential factor in the care of these conditions, especially during this epidemic. While only one person in a family may suffer from fibromyalgia or chronic pain. the entire family is affected by it.

 

Everyday Health says “If a person has a chronic condition, it’s going to affect the people who care about him or her as well,” says Phyllis Talarico, former patient services coordinator of the National Fibromyalgia Association and founder of the North Orange County Fibromyalgia Support Group in Yorba Linda, Calif. “Education is vital for you to understand the symptoms and help them find the right treatment.”

Some good sources include NHS choices and Fibromyalgia Action UK.

Effective strategies for supporting someone in chronic pain has to start from the one closest to the patient.  Part of accepting the situation is managing their expectations. Once the family has identified what is likely to change, allow the patient to grieve for the things that have to fall by the wayside (at least for now) and let them go. Then focus on the areas where you foresee big problems and work toward realistic solutions. There are many undiagnosed patients at the moment due to COVID-19 but that doesn’t mean they don’t need help.

Recently, my own condition reared it’s ugly head and although my husband is right by my side to help me, my daughter really wanted to help more but it’s just not possible at the moment. Many Fibromyalgia sufferers who have help from Fibromyalgia and Pain clinics will be getting no help at all at the moment with the only support through online groups and websites.

With most GP appointments either via telephone or online it’s essential that you keep a diary or ask a family member to write one for you of how and where your pain is on a daily basis.I have written before that I was diagnosed after my spinal consultant asked me to write down all my pain symptoms for two weeks. When he read my diary he immediately said he thought I was also suffering from Fibromyalgia and sent me to see a Rheumatologist.

 

 

Of course, it’s not an ideal situation for the family members either, they are not immune to depression. It is frustrating to watch people who are sick and in pain, and yet to have little control over their illness.

Fibro Treatment Group points out that ‘The symptoms may be invisible put the pain is real. If you have fibromyalgia you’ve likely been told “but you don’t look sick.” A common misconception among those without the condition is that because the symptoms aren’t outwardly manifest or visible, they are not real. This is why we sometimes call fibromyalgia an “invisible illness”. While the symptoms may not be obvious and we may not look sick – the illness is very real.’

Finally, there are now thankfully a number of support groups set up around the UK and indeed the world. I guess one of the best places to look other than Google is the NHS website which has a list of support groups in the UK.

 

 

 

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DYSTONIA – PAIN IN YOUR HANDS OR WHEN WRITING?…

Do you experience pain in your hands or when writing? Dystonia is a condition whereby sometimes it becomes painful to write or play an instrument due to cramps in the hand or arm.

The Dystonia Society is the only national charity providing support, advocacy and information for anyone affected by the neurological movement condition known as dystonia.

If the doctor is not able to explain what is causing the cramps, one possible cause is a hand dystonia (otherwise known as Writer’s or Musician’s Cramp). The symptoms vary and may be one or more of the following:

  1. Twisting or curling up of the hands while writing or playing an instrument.
  2. Fingers move of their own accord to unusual positions while writing or playing an instrument.
  3. Writing or playing an instrument becomes painful.
  4. Symptoms usually disappear when the above activities stop.

Hand dystonia commonly appears in people between the ages of 30 and 50. It is one form of dystonia – a condition that causes uncontrollable and often painful muscle contractions believed to be as a result of incorrect messages from the brain to the muscles.

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder and, if the symptoms listed above are severe or damaging to quality of life, the correct course of action is for a GP to make a referral to a neurologist specialising in movement disorders. There are treatments for hand dystonia that can significantly reduce the symptoms in many cases.  Only a specialist neurologist has the knowledge and skill to diagnose and treat dystonia.  If the patient and their GP agree that the symptoms might possibly indicate dystonia then the GP should refer the patient to such a specialist.

There are also other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, one of which is carpel or cubital tunnel syndrome. The carpal tunnel is a narrow
space in the wrist that contains the median nerve. It is surrounded by the bones of the wrist (carpals) and a thick tendon sheath. Friction will cause the tendon sheath to swell and enlarge limiting the space within the carpal tunnel. As a result, the median nerve becomes compressed leading to numbness and tingling within the wrist and hand. Symptoms can be treated conservatively, with night splinting, medications, and cortisone injections. However, carpal tunnel syndrome does not resolve on its own and worsens over time.

Cubital tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of your ulnar nerve at the elbow.  The ulnar nerve travels from neck down your arm through a tunnel at your elbow called the “cubital tunnel.” The nerve is especially vulnerable to compression because the cubital tunnel is very narrow and has very little soft tissue to protect it. This compression causes numbness and/or tingling pain in your elbow, hand, wrist, or fingers. This is commonly caused by leaning on your elbow for long periods of time or swelling caused by friction of your ulnar nerve rubbing along structures of the cubital tunnel.

Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndrome are treated at first with conservative treatments like rest, changes in patterns of use, immobilizing the affected area with devices like splints or braces, physical therapy, medication and injections. If the symptoms do not improve after some time, your doctor may suggest a surgical procedure to relieve compression.

As you know I had cubital tunnel release surgery last year and my nerve conduction tests showed I also have carpal tunnel both of which are giving me a lot of pain at the moment. However, on the NHS list of symptoms of Fibromyalgia they do include tingling, numbness, prickling or burning sensations in your hands and feet (pins and needles, also known as paraesthesia)

The best way forward if you are suffering from any of these types of pain is to go and see your GP for him/her to decide your next move to finding out what the problem is.

Living Well with Dystonia is a great book on the subject written by by Daniel Truong;Mayank Pathak;Karen Frei (Author)  A Patient Guide provides comprehensive information on a wide array of Dystonias. It is intended for individuals with various forms of Dystonia who want to adjust lifestyle activities to accommodate this chronic condition, but do not want the disorder to define them. It is a resource and tool for both individuals with the disorder and their families to become better educated about the options available to them.