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Posts for category: Foundational Health

The last several weeks, we have been exploring practical ways to activate your nervous system, both physically and mentally. This is part of a larger series we started on practical and reasonable ways to regain and retain overall health.

This week, we are going to conclude this section and the entire series by talking about how to reduce physical stress on the nerve system. Who couldn’t use a little less stress in their lives?

Step 1: Stop Doing That!

I have been a chiropractor for 30 years (wow!) and have seen a lot of concepts in healthcare and healing that come and go, but one concept especially in the field of pain management is:

“If it hurts, stop doing that!”

I know it’s common sense, but how many times do we continue to do the things that produce pain? Pain is your body’s (and really your nervous system’s) way of saying it is being damaged. Continuing to go down the path that produces pain almost always causes tissue damage and fibrosis (scar tissue). Neurological research has also brought out the concept of Central Sensitization.

Central Sensitization is where an insult to the body (and therefore peripheral nervous system) sometimes causes a change in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) that allows pain to remain, even after the initial injury has healed.

This can result in even mild stimulus (usually poor movement patterns, posture, or loading of the muscles and joints) producing a higher than expected pain response. Research is not clear on why this happens to some people but not others, however continuing to “poke the proverbial lion” usually results in a continuation of the problem. Experts differ on the best way to deal with Central Sensitization; however, most would agree that continuing to provoke stresses and strains across the nervous system is not a good idea. I would go one step further and ask, why would you want to place yourself in situations that might compromise your nervous system in the first place?

Unwinding Pain (and Reducing Physical Stress on the Nervous System)

One of my favorite authors on spinal mechanics and treating painful backs is Stuart McGill, Ph.D. McGill is a Canadian researcher who devoted the bulk of his career researching the science behind how to help people address their back pain through posture and exercise. One of the concepts he promotes is: Winding Down Pain.

Winding down pain has several components. The first is to avoid the “triggers” that aggravate you in the first place. This sounds pretty simple, but the truth is, there can be hidden triggers for pain and nervous system stress in daily life that don’t automatically give us a signal that they are doing harm. This can occur when our posture is less than ideal. McGill’s approach aims to prevent this by a method he calls “Stacking.” Stacking is when you line up the large centers of mass (head, rib-cage, pelvis) over each other in order to not stress the sensitive soft tissues (nerves, ligaments and discs, muscles). We are going to explore three of them in this post:

  1. Sitting
  2. Standing
  3. Bending & Lifting
  4. Stacking While Walking

 

Seated Stacking

Sit on a firm chair, feet on the ground, (if your feet don’t touch, get a block or box). Your lower back should reach the back of the chair and maintain a slight forward bend. If not, roll a small towel and slide it behind you. Your head should be over your shoulders and your eyes looking straight ahead. Anything you are watching or reading needs to accommodate this posture.

Standing Stacking

Knees should be unlocked. Maintain a slight, but not exaggerated lower back curve with your rib cage over your pelvis and your head over your rib cage. Don’t allow your rib cage and head to flex forward over your pelvis. Place your hands behind the small of your back.

Stacking While Bending and Lifting

Keep your head over your rib cage and your rib cage over your pelvis. Bend/pivot around your HIPS, not your lower back!

Stacking While Walking

Don’t let your chin poke out and lead you – look up and forward. Walk fast enough that your arms naturally start to swing.  This will engage your core muscles and keep you upright.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

Some of you may have gotten to this point in the post and thought: “Is that it?” Did you just boil down how to not irritate your nervous system by doing two things:

  1. If something is irritating, stop doing it.
  2. Maintain proper posture.

I know, it isn’t very sexy, is it? But I can tell you that if all of my patients over the last thirty years practiced these two simple principles, I would be doing about 90% wellness visits and 10% pain-based visits! Sometimes, it really is the simple things. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes you have to get to the point where you are able to do the simple things, but once your system is doing well, you can keep it that way by just not irritating it!

We are here for you if you are broken and need to get back to neutral, but if you are feeling pretty good, start practicing the things we have outlined in this series of articles on the nervous system and you will need us for pain a lot less!

Yours in Health,

Care Chiropractic
Lafayette, Indiana

Mentally Activating Your Nervous System

Welcome to this week’s blog. Recently, we have been going over ways to nourish the nervous system:

  1. Physical Activation
  2. Mental Activation
  3. Reducing Mechanical Distortion

Last week, we covered the first one: Physically activating/nourishing the nerve system.

This week, we are going to cover some ways to mentally nourish your nerve system, specifically:

  • The Autonomic 
  • The Frontal Lobes of the Brain

Why Deal With The Autonomic Nerve System?

If you recall, the autonomic portion of our nervous system is responsible for all of the “automatic” aspects of our body, things like breathing, heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, digestion, etc.

It is broken down into two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. You might recall learning about this in school as the fight or flight response. Essentially, the sympathetic portion is responsible for amping things up when we perceive or are exposed to danger, and the parasympathetic’s job is to calm things down once we are safe.

The problem is when the sympathetic system stays on all the time; this is called sympathetic dominance. If this is allowed to continue, a lot of things begin to breakdown. As a result, you are left vulnerable to everything from digestive issues to high blood pressure! The stresses and strains of today’s fast paced high drive society can invite this all too easily. Getting the autonomic nerve system back in sync can literally be life saving.

This One Is Easy!

Thankfully, activating your parasympathetic nervous system (and automatically deactivating your sympathetic system and thus reducing sympathetic dominance) is just a breath away!

Deep breathing practices have been around for a long time and most of us, at one point or another, have been on the receiving end of the phrase “just take a breath.” There is something intuitive, calming, and healthy about slowing down our breathing. Here is a great article on the topic from the University of Washington Medicine.

The bottom line from the author on how to start is this:

  • Breathe from your stomach, pushing your stomach out each time you inhale.
  • Take longer breaths, counting to at least three for each inhalation and exhalation.
  • Keep doing this, even though it may feel uncomfortable at first. After a while, you will start to notice your body feeling more relaxed.
  • Noticing the differences for yourself in how your body feels is more powerful than anyone describing it to you.

At a minimum, try this approach when you are feeling stressed. To really make it work for you, find a time or two daily to practice this, regardless of how you are feeling at the moment. Your heart and many other systems will thank you!

Why Deal With The Frontal Lobes?

The frontal lobes are the area in the front of your brain that are responsible for what is called “executive function.” Executive function, in a nutshell, allows you to “get things done.” According to Web MD, executive function lets you:

  • Manage time
  • Pay attention
  • Switch focus
  • Plan and organize
  • Remember details
  • Avoid saying or doing the wrong thing
  • Do things based on your experience
  • Multitask

When it goes wrong, it can impact your ability to:

  • Work or go to school
  • Do things independently
  • Maintain relationships

A breakdown of the frontal lobes, and therefore executive function, can be seen in disease states (post stroke, Alzheimer’s) and in some diagnosed conditions like ADD. I personally believe that it can be lost or diminished due to  the overwhelming pace of modern life (see the recent post on Margin), and the over-stimulation and reliance on electronic devices.

This One Takes A Little Work!

 The science and research on what it takes to keep the brain healthy and functioning is still young, and undoubtedly will change and grow as time goes on. However, like we discussed in earlier posts, the nervous system is a learning machine. It likes novelty and interaction, and, like the muscles, it can grow and strengthen with use or atrophy when ignored.

Here is a list of things to begin to incorporate into your life, in order to stimulate your frontal lobes and executive function:

  • Listen to music
  • Read a paper book (non-tablet)
  • Listen for double meanings, puns, and jokes
  • Summarize, or give the gist of, an article you read to someone else
  • Meet new people
  • Go to an art museum
  • Do mazes, word searches, cross-word puzzles, and Sudoku
  • Write (not type) a letter
  • Draw
  • Look for patterns in architecture, pictures, sentences
  • Spelling lists
  • Go through family photos and name people
  • Make up and tell stories
  • Memorize a poem, passage of scripture or funny story
  • Play board games (not computer) and card games
  • Take a class
  • Take a different route to work, the grocery store or church
  • Do math in your head
  • Learn a new language or instrument
  • Go someplace new, and when you get home draw a map of how you got there or the “layout” of the location

I hope you have been enjoying this series on getting back to basics on building a healthy lifestyle. Next time, we will conclude it with how to reduce mechanical stress on the nerve system.

Yours in Health,

Care Chiropractic
Lafayette, Indiana

By Dr. Doug Williams
April 16, 2019

Last week, we talked about three ways to nourish the nervous system:

  1. Physical Activation
  2. Mental Activation
  3. Reducing Mechanical Distortion

This week, we are going to concentrate specifically on Physical Activation.

Physically Activating the Nervous System is Progressive

One of the most amazing things about the nervous system, and our body in general, is that if it is de-conditioned, it doesn’t take much stimulus to effect a change! That’s good news if yours has been down for awhile, whether from injury or life just getting in the way.

IF YOU HAVEN’T BE DOING MUCH, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS SOMETHING!


Go out and take a walk, go an extra lap at the grocery store, or throw the ball for the dog at the park. It will start to turn things on in your brain. As you become more comfortable with activity itself, progress to incorporate more specific stimulus.

The Nerve System Likes Timing

One of the major players in the central nerve system (brain and spinal cord) is the cerebellum. Originally, the cerebellum was thought to only modify movement. As research progressed, its role in timing was discovered: the cerebellum is what allows you to “keep time or a beat” catch a ball or dance effectively.

What has come to the forefront recently is the role the cerebellum plays in organizing thought, memory, and learning. In some cases, it has been dubbed a Supervised Learning Machine. The implications of this are huge. It is possible that activating the cerebellum (which is best done by physical activity) may help such diverse conditions as ADHD and Dementia.

How do you involve the cerebellum in exercise?

  • Playing Catch
  • Bouncing a Ball
  • Skipping and Hopping, 
  • Balancing on one foot
  • Marching in place
  • Aiming (throwing darts, playing pool, golf) 
  • Skipping rope
  • Walking/running
  • Tennis / pickle-ball / ping-pong

The Nerve System Likes Variety!

The fact that our nervous systems really are “learning machines” is both good and bad. You really don’t want to have to re-learn how to walk everyday – that would really slow life down! On the other hand, when we have really grooved a pattern or motion, it loses its ability to stimulate and activate our nerve system effectively and our return on investment for the time we spend exercising is diminished.

There are several ways to combat this:

  1. Periodization
  2. Progression

Periodization is a concept found in athletics. Rather than training the same way year-round, you cycle your training in order to keep your system from growing stagnant. There is a nice article on this by the American Council on Exercise.

Progression is pretty much what you would think: going from easy to hard, or simple to complex. It is applied for the same reason: to keep your system fresh and capable of growing!

Let’s look at an example of applying these two concepts to a nervous system exercise like walking: You start out in March with a walking program since you haven’t really done much over the winter. Walking is good because it is easy to progress, rhythmic, and can be done just about anywhere.

March / April: You start walking around your neighborhood for 20 minutes every other evening 3-5 times per week at an easy pace.

May /June: The weather is getting nicer so you increase your walking to 30 minutes and try to hit 6 days per week still at a moderate pace.

July / August: It is starting to get hot and you are getting a little tired of the routine, so you switch to walking every other day (3 days per week) for 30 minutes, but now you really push the pace by alternating a really fast pace, while passing three houses, followed by a moderate pace for three houses.

September / October: It is starting to cool off and the trees are beautiful. You keep the 3x/week interval sessions you did during the summer, but you add in an hour-long walk on weekends at Happy Hollow Park (hills!) at a moderate pace.

November / December: You plan on doing a 5K Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving, so you sign up and talk your spouse or a friend into doing it with you. You know you are going to eat more in December, so you make a pact with your spouse or friend that you will walk six days a week through December for at least 20 minutes and keep doing Happy Hollow on weekends up until Christmas.

January / February: It is cold and icy outside, but the mall is empty, so you try to hit the mall 3x/week for 30 minutes and get back to the interval training (walk fast past Cinnabon, moderate pace past GNC).

GO YOU!


You just completed a year of stimulating your nervous system! Throw in other things like golf, Frisbee, shooting a basketball, or playing catch with the kids/grandkids, and you are well on your way to activating the nervous system year-round.

Dr. Sue Activating Her Nervous System and Living The Final Four Dream!

There are infinite ways to physically activate your nervous system. The most important thing is to just go ahead and get out and do it! Don’t wait, head out the door after reading this blog post, even for just 5 minutes, you won’t be sorry!

Next week, we will talk about the value of mentally activating your nervous system and some practical ways to incorporate it into your daily life.

Yours in Health,

Care Chiropractic
Lafayette, Indiana

If you are just joining us, we are wrapping up our series on Secrets From The Vault. We started out this year looking at some real world ideas and applications for getting and staying healthy that include:

  • Diet
  • Rest 
  • Exercise 
  • Sound Nervous System

We explored the concepts of Margin and Built-ins as a way to consistently integrate good habits before going on and looking at some of the biggest bang for the buck approaches to stress reduction, diet, and exercise.

Fittingly for a chiropractor, I am going to wrap things up over the next few weeks by looking at what it means to have a sound nervous system!

The Nervous System is Made Up of Many Blocks

For purposes of study, the nervous system is often divided up into different sections:

  • Brain and Spinal Cord
  • Peripheral Nerve System (everything outside the spinal cord)
  • Autonomic Nerve System (portions that regulate automatic activities in the body like breathing, digestion, etc.)
  • Motor Nerve System
  • Sensory Nerve System

In addition, it has long been recognized that the nervous system is more than just a series of chemical reactions and cells. We, as humans, have cognitive thought that is driven by our perception of the world around us.

If you want a healthy nervous system, you have to address all of these, not just one!

Nourishing the Nervous System

Nourishing the nervous system is a balancing act. Push it too hard and you can burn it out, under-stimulate it, and it will atrophy. We will be exploring how to keep it healthy through three lenses:

  1. Physical Activation
  2. Mental Activation
  3. Reducing Mechanical Distortion

While these aren’t the only factors involved in health maintenance of this “Master System,” they do represent areas we haven’t covered yet in previous posts: how you eat, how much exercise you get, and the quality of your rest can all impact how healthy your nervous system can be!

Take some time over the next few weeks to consider the other posts in this series and work on integrating the concepts and ideas. They will help you as you move into designing a program to care for one of your most valuable assets.

Next time, we will go over specific (and easy ways) to plug in and charge up your brain and nerve system health.

Yours in Health,

Care Chiropractic
Lafayette, Indiana

M.E.D. Exercise (Part 2)

Thanks for joining us this week for our blog series on getting and staying healthy in a reasonable and sustainable fashion.

There is no one exercise that is best for everyone. What is an enjoyable exercise to one person may turn out to be a suffer-fest to another! You may hate running and I might find hours of yard work (yes, that does count as exercise) mind-numbing, but that is okay! Last week, we talked about how exercise must involve work in order to effect a change in our bodies, but doesn’t necessarily have to involve struggle. We also saw that, if you find something you enjoy doing, even the “work” portion of exercise can be enjoyable!

While there is no single exercise that fits all, there are two basic movement patterns that are consistent in almost all types of exercise:

  1. Alternating Cross Crawl
  2. Core Transfer

When these two fundamental patterns are strong and established, it not only protects one from injury in exercise, but in daily life as well.

Alternating Cross Crawl… aka, Walking!

The cross crawl movement pattern is one of the earliest purposeful motions we make as humans. Babies crawl! This activity of using the opposite arm and leg is essential in developing coordination, the transfer of strength from the larger pelvic muscles of the lower body to the upper, and for getting us places. We start out crawling as infants and, within a few short months, we are walking.

If you think about it, we also judge aging in part by the decline in the ability to walk and hold a strong walking posture. Walking has been related to a myriad of health benefits from back health to brain health. Walking is also one of the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to stimulate the heart and cardiovascular health. It really is fundamental to human experience and health!

Recently, I have been reading several books by Stuart McGill, PhD. He is one of the most well-respected and published researchers on conservative treatment (non surgical) of the spine. He is a big advocate of walking for back health. When searching for a synopsis on his approach to walking, I came across this great summary article at Fitness 4 Back Pain. In it, the author detailed several key points about how to walk:

  1. Stand tall with your chest out
  2. Walk briskly (not a stroll) with good arm swing
  3. Walk often

Finally, if you are limited by pain or fatigue:

         4. Stop Before You Have To

Inevitably, when I am giving exercise as part of a treatment plan, people always want to know how fast, long, and often they should walk. The reality is, if you aren’t doing it at all, even 12 minutes is going to do you some good.  Start where you are and add a minute or two each time you go out. After you get to about 30 minutes, start to increase your speed. Once you get one session a day for 30 minutes at a good clip, try adding a second session for 15 minutes, or expand your 30 minutes session to 45. Alternatively, you could find a hill to walk up and down! Walking is infinitely variable and can be done just about anywhere. Try to get in at least one session a day.

Planking for a Solid Base (Core Transfer)

The single best exercise I have seen for stabilizing the core of our bodies is called a plank. Planking is actually not just a board on a walkway, but I thought you would like this picture better than the ones that are going to follow of me doing an exercise called the plank!

Seriously though, there is some corollary to the picture above and planks. Imagine walking across the field pictured above in the wet spring time without the boardwalk – you would be slipping and sliding, back and forth, and a lot of your energy would be going in directions other than to propel you forward. Now, imagine yourself walking the same (wet) field, only this time you are on the boardwalk. With a firm foundation, more of your energy goes into propelling you forward in the direction you want to go. When you have a solid mid-section (back, butt, tummy, and hips), that is exactly what happens – you can more efficiently and effectively transfer the propulsion of your hips through your core to move your body forward!

Planking is done in two positions:


Front Plank

On the floor, brace yourself on your elbows and your knees. Don’t allow your butt to fall below the height of your shoulders and keep your head neutral (not raised up or drooping).

Hold this position for a slow count of six, then relax onto your tummy for six seconds, before pushing back into the up position again.

To start, repeat this six times (six up for six seconds, six down for six seconds).

You can help activate your core by first squeezing your fists, then your butt cheeks together, while holding the up position.


Side Plank

Lay on your side with your knees bent, in-line with your shoulders, hips slightly behind both. Slowly press your hips up toward the ceiling, until they are level with your knees and shoulders. Hold for the count of six before slowly lowering back down to the floor for the count of six. Repeat six times.

Roll over and repeat on the other side for a set of six.

Like the front plank, you can help activate your core by squeezing your fists, then butt cheeks together.

    
Standing Front & Side Plank

The nice thing about the planks is you can do these standing if it is to hard to get down on the floor. This is also a useful posture if you have shoulder problems. The counts are the same.

The further you are away from the wall, the more load on the core. When doing a side plank, place one foot in front of the other (heel to toe). Don’t forget the fists and butt cheeks!

Setting the Bar

You might be reading this blog post and thinking, “Doc, that is too easy,” or you might be thinking, “Man I can’t do that!” Either way, my question to you is: “Are you currently doing any exercise?” If you aren’t, and you think it is too easy, go ahead and start, it shouldn’t be a problem.

If you would like to take the planking exercises up a level, check out this video on McGill’s Big 3. If you aren’t currently exercising and think they may be too hard, I encourage you to give it a try anyway. If you are able to make it work on some level, you can begin to build from there. If you are having pain with the exercises, give me a call and we should be able to determine over the phone if it is just a conditioning issue or if you need to seek care. 

Truth be told, the main reason most of us don’t engage exercise is we just don’t want to take the time. If you decide you want to get going, try working with walking and planking daily or every other day for the next six weeks. I think you will be pleasantly surprised about how just moving through your day gets easier. Let me know how it is working out for you!

Yours In Health,

Care Chiropractic
Lafayette, Indiana