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Pain and Posture: The Basics

Pain and Posture: The Basics

Pain and Posture: The Basics

    Old “Doc” Plume, the local hardware store owner, who was known for his miraculous cures for arthritis, had a long line of “patients” waiting outside the door when a little old lady, completely bent over, shuffled in slowly, leaning on her cane.  When her turn came, she went into the back room of the store and, amazingly, emerged within half an hour, walking completely erect with her head held high.  A woman waiting in the line said, “It’s a miracle! You walked in bent in half and now you’re walking erect.   What did Doc do?”  She answered, “He gave me a longer cane.”

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      It’s funny; most of the people with bad posture or pain syndrome I run into want to know a miracle exercise that will cure their dysfunction.  Sure, exercise can help and be a big part of a program designed to deal with pain and posture.  But more often than not, it is the little things in our everyday lives that could use some adjusting.  With that, here is a short list of activities to be mindful of.

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      Driving: Do you slouch, lean to one side more than the other?  Maybe you keep one hand high on the steering wheel and the other low, causing you to shrug one shoulder more than the other.  The point: try to shift and change positions often if you spend lots of time in the car.  The best position will always be hands at 10 and 2.  And holding your back tall and flat against the seat.

      Desk: You should know by now that posture at the desk is important.  You’re in this position for several hours at a time and it can have BIG repercussions on your health.  Get up often and be aware of any favoritism to any particular positions you might find yourself in.  Reaching and twisting from a seated position is a big no-no.  Try to organize your desk to be more spine friendly by putting often-used folders and materials within arm’s reach.

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      Sleeping: Our sleep posture is one of the most overlooked aspects of our life.  You spend 8 hours (hopefully) a night in either one or various positions that could have a large impact on your posture during the day.  Do you pile the pillows high?  This leads to excess stretching of the extensors in the neck, possibly contributing to a forward head posture.  Do you pull the bed sheets tight over your feet, pulling your toes into a pointed position?  This can lead to limited ankle mobility, which then affects your entire body mechanics, from walking to sitting.  Do you sleep on your side with one leg bent and across your body?  This can lead to an imbalance between your left and right spinal erectors, which then could be contributing to your back pain.  This is can be even worse if you’re a woman with generous hips.  Paranoid yet?  I didn’t even mention how sleeping on your stomach can contribute to an excessive lordodic curve ,which then may lead to extra compressive forces for your lumbar spine to handle.  So which is the best position to sleep in?  On your side, knees bent, pillow between the knees and your head resting on a single pillow.  Or if you prefer, on your back with a pillow under your knees, sheets loose, and again, a single pillow for the head.

      The point I’m trying to drive home here is that we need to pay more attention to our bodies when they’re NOT in motion.  It’s the little things like these that add up and contribute to a life of constant and nagging pains.  Practice a technique known as mindfulness.  Every once in awhile turn your attention inwards and ask yourself; have I been in this position for too long?  Could I do something to make my current posture or situation more comfortable and back friendly?  Before you know it, the pain that once prevented you from doing normal everyday tasks will have disappeared and become a thing of the past.

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      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

      The Neurology of Ownership

      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

      Reference

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