Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Artful Life: Nurture Yourself- Spine and Neck

Image by moriza via Flickr

Ever feel like you are a one-man circus act juggling an overwhelming amount of activities and responsibilities? 

Most of us feel that way a LOT of the time.  I am willing to bet that most of us also put our own health needs on the back burner, while we fight to overcome the daily struggle of accomplishing the obligations of work and family.

It's LIFE- and we have infinite dreams and possibilities that we can only cram into a finite amount of time, with a finitely capable body!

Handle with care
Image by Splinter via Flickr

I've recently learned the hard way that we have to stop and care for our bodies while they feel good in order to prevent a destructive breakdown that will have a serious impact on all areas of life.  We service our cars, our house, our computers, but sometimes neglect the one piece of equipment that is totally irreplaceable- our body.  

At the core of that fragile body, is our spine and neck.  Overworked and under-appreciated, our neck holds up our heavy heads day after day, in front of our work for hours at a time.  If you are an artist or crafter, like me, your poor little neck stays bent over for lengthy creative sessions with no breaks or even thought of providing it some relief!

Your spine faces a similar dilemma.  It stays stationary, holding up all of our business, while we keep our brains and hands busy.  It supports our arms and shoulders, which tire and slump after hours of work at our desks and the computer.  The muscles all through our back show some pity, and start to compensate for all the stress we are putting on our body, and then.....

....it all breaks down.

Disconnected Pipes
Image by randomwire via Flickr

Maybe there were some warning signs: tension, aches, pains, headaches. You passed those off as unimportant.  "I can't let that little thing slow me down!" you thought.  Maybe you had an inkling to go get a massage. "Ahhhh... wouldn't that feel great? No, it's too expensive, and indulgent" you told yourself.

Maybe your Doctor or Chiropractor told you to come in for regular treatments to maintain your health.  "Naww....I don't have time for that.  I feel good.  I have a lot going on and I don't have time or extra money for that," you rationalized.  

You were being silly.  Now, you get to face weeks of constant excruciating pain in your neck and back.  You have to stop work altogether- you can't even cook a proper meal for your family.  You just sit, for hours on end, icing your pain. Then come the doctor visits, and the medical bills.  You thought those preventative massages and Chiropractic visits were going to be too expensive? They pale in comparison to the rehabilitation treatment you now require.

Image by 246-You via Flickr

Of course, all of this "you" talk is really "me."  However, I hope I can encourage someone else to learn from my mistakes!  I never want to go through this again, and I hope no one else has to.  The reality is that most of us face too many hours in front of the computer as part of our job description. We push ourselves to work harder and longer to get an edge over the competition, so we put aside our need for breaks and stretching exercises. 

What can you do to avoid spine and neck pain?

I am not a doctor, so I can only offer simple, yet helpful, advice:

1-Start by making sure you get regular exercise.  If your job requires hours of sitting in a stationary position, be sure to stop every hour or so and just move around.  It only has to be a 1-2 min break, but that makes a huge difference! Several times a week, get out and move your body with exercises that are approved by your doctor.

2-Make sure your desk setup is ergonomic.  I didn't realize my monitor was set too low, causing me to bend my neck down and forward.  I was also leaning my elbows on my desk instead of sitting straight up.  Here's a helpful diagram for proper computer posture.

Take a break
Image by mag3737 via Flickr

3- Ice is your friend.  Though heat helps us feel relaxed, if you have any sort of musculoskeletal pain, you actually want to ice it.  Ice decreases inflammation and swelling, and aids in healing an injured area.  I now keep ice packs frozen and ready to go for regular evening neck and back ice sessions.  Read more about the benefits of ice and cold treatments.

4- Get regular checkups from your doctor, and find a massage therapist and a Chiropractor that you trust.  Working with the same people is key to track your progress. Once you have an established relationship with a provider, it is effortless to schedule an appointment to help resolve a problem.  However, when you are caught unprepared with severe pain, it is very frustrating to move from provider to provider without any understanding around your medical and health history.  If you are in the Denver area, I highly recommend Mountain View Pain Center for Chiropractic care. Massage Envy is a national company that provides affordable massage and spa services, and I now go to my local clinic for regular massage treatments.

5-  Just RELAX.  Do you need someone to tell you that too? I feel guilty relaxing.  I usually work while I watch TV- I cram a month's worth of activities into a week.  My brain never stops thinking of new ideas that I get really excited about.   I need to chill.  "Rome wasn't built in a day", and Elysian Studios won't be either.  In this contemporary landscape, there's a lot of pressure on a small business to be everywhere and everything.  Slowly we can keep growing, but it has to be in a sustainable way.  

I am determined to keeping relaxing activities as a part of my daily routine.  I watch TV just to watch it now.  I take long baths more frequently.  I walk the dogs with my husband and kids just so we can all get some fresh air and spend some nice moments chatting. I turn off the computer and step away from my phone.

I am thrilled to say I am on the mend.  I am slowly getting back to work, and I am intent on maintaining that pace.  My body was able to be fixed, but I now realize it's a lot easier to just keep it healthy and strong to prevent it from breaking in the first place! 

Foundry Hot Stone Massage
Image by FoundryParklnn via Flickr

Take time to relax and enjoy something special today.  

Ahh.... now doesn't that feel better?


  1. Such good advice Erin! I'm even taking it. I scheduled an in-home massage next week and will be starting a 10-day smoothie cleanse starting on Saturday. It's startling what spring (and lots of hard work) can do to a girl!

  2. That's wonderful, Georgene! Enjoy the benefits of your massage and smoothie cleanse (and all the freshness of Spring!)

  3. I know all to well about neck and back issues, had them for years and yes it is easy to neglect and not keep up with maintenance on our body's. Good post to remind us to. Massage and Ice are my Friends!

  4. Look at you! turning something negative into an opportunity to reach out and share a positive and much needed message to all of uot here abusing our bodies every single day!

    Thank you for sharing is such a beautiful way you own experience and ways to prevent falling into the very same rabbit hole!

    I hope you never have to go through this agony again.

  5. Thank you so much, Pam and Christine! You two take care of yourselves, too!

  6. Wise words here...after years of chronic back pain, I finally JUST went to a spine specialiat...the MRI alone was $3200!!! Diagnosis: bulgong disc from years of wear and tear. Lots of physical therapy and ice treatments ahead if me. It could have been avoided (hindsifht is 20/20, isn't it?) Thanks for writing this post and sharing it on FB!

  7. 30 years at a jeweler's bench gave me a pinched nerve in my back and an almost chronic stiff neck! I love my heat pack for my neck but I probably need the ice on that spot on my back, thanks for the reminder Erin : )


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