The past year and a half have been a difficult time for most people, globally. The negative impact on the healthcare system and on the individual’s financial and social/emotional state brought on by the pandemic is only superseded by the number of lives lost...
The pandemic has been devastating in countless ways worse than the topic I am about to dive into, so I hope it doesn’t come across as insensitive. I am discussing it here to draw attention to issues that may be lingering in the background of your busy life that you may be unaware of, or have thought about but may be thinking you’re the only one…well that is simply untrue!
The whirlwind surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt everywhere- including our busy Sports Injury and Wellness Centre in Thornhill, ON, Canada. With every new lockdown, emergency order or change in provincial restriction, we continue to safely provide chiropractic care and registered massage therapy to patients who confirm that these services truly are essential.
Over the last year I have noticed new trends in aches and pains that can be traced back to the pandemic and the lifestyle changes that have been brought about by it. Here is a short list of tends I have seen (generally speaking, of course!).
1) New (or worsening) neck pain
Patients have been coming in with higher than their usual neck pain intensity, or are experiencing neck pain for the first time in their lives. The most common cause is traced back to stress. Most people have experienced some form of stress because of the pandemic, and many people “carry their stress in their shoulders.” This simply means that tension is causing them to hold their shoulders up towards their ears, which causes certain musculature such as the trapezius to work overtime and eventually become strained. Stress also affects breathing. We tend to breathe more shallowly when stressed and hence do not engage the entire rib cage, leading to overuse of the upper ribs and upper rib musculature, in turn causing neck and/or upper back pain. Lastly, without an office or school desk to work on, patients are hunched over screens for hours on end day in and day out all over their homes, including slouching on their beds or couches which will certainly strain muscles and joints. This is especially true for children and young adults who were suddenly put in front of screens for learning, in addition to their recreational screen time.
2) New (or worsening) low back pain
Similarly to neck pain, patients are coming in with new or worsening low back pain. There are multiple reasons for this which can be traced back to the pandemic as well. First of all, the lack of proper ergonomic home office set ups are forcing people to sit in awkward positions for hours on end without lumbar support. Secondly, strengthening and mobility exercises for the lumbar spine (which help to stabilize the spine and keep the joints lubricated, preventing injury and stiffness) had been slowed down or stopped (due to gym closures, for example).
3) New extremity pain
Once the world started to open back up and people resumed their old physical activities (such as soccer, tennis, golf and hockey), flare ups of old injuries (and brand-new ones!) surfaced. This is largely due to the fact that we went from doing a lot of sitting for months then all of a sudden, without warm-up or slowly building up endurance/strength, we went straight back into our regular activities. Although I certainly appreciate the eagerness to regain fitness, this is a surefire way to cause injury.
4) New foot pain!
The only trend that truly caught me off guard during the pandemic: a rise in foot pain and conditions! I believe this is because we went from being out and about every day wearing shoes (anything from running shoes to heels) to suddenly wearing NONE! All day. Everyday. The support under our feet had been removed- again suddenly- without any chance for our intrinsic feet muscles to build up tolerance or endurance to their brand-new stressors. Although we weren’t partaking in as much physical activity, we were still getting around our homes. Months and months with lack of supportive footwear has caused a host of issues, namely, plantar fasciitis. Moreover, since the feet are the foundation of our joints and spine, I have found that this issue has also instigated strains and sprains in other areas as well, include knee pain and low back pain.
5) Weight gain
Many patients have sadly noted their weight gain since we saw each other last. Stress eating is usually their reasoning but I tend to remind my patients of a few other factors as well. Unfortunately, some people with physically demanding jobs had been forced to stop working during the pandemic (even temporarily) and that sudden decrease in caloric expenditure can be enough to cause weight gain. Of course, the lack of being able to formally work out at the gym or on sports teams is another culprit of weight gain. There is another less obvious factor, however: less commuting. Although less commuting thankfully means less time spent sitting in traffic or on the subway, it also means less walking to the train or walking from the parking lot and up a few flights of stairs, etc. The pandemic also meant no laps around a busy mall and no dancing at a concert or at a wedding. A lot of little ways that we expend calories were removed from our lives, unexpectedly.
We have lost a lot over the last 18 months, that’s for sure. But there is always time to focus on what we have gained. Perhaps more time with loved ones, or time to reorganize your life and set new goals and priorities.
Luckily, if one or more of these trends resonate with you, they can be managed or reversed with some dedication. Start by setting up a proper working station. A few tips include: make sure your screen stays at eye level, with arm rests supporting your elbows at 90 degrees, with both feet flat on the foot. A lumbar support while sitting is usually recommended as well (it can be as simple as a couch cushion on the small of your back). Wear running shoes inside your house. Take breaks to walk around and stretch. Go slow and steady when getting back to sport or fitness, making sure you are taking time for a proper warm up and cool down. Of course, it is best to speak with your healthcare practitioner for more targeted advice regarding your specific condition. Check out our Pain Management collection for products you can purchase to help you with your aches and pains, including Dr. D's Super 7 topical pain relieving (all natural!) roll-on.
Stay safe and healthy, everyone!