Back At Shovelling

It snowed for the first time this season in Toronto this past weekend so it has most of us searching for those snow shovels we packed away last spring. When you do find them and it starts to snow enough that we have to use them there are several things that we have to remember when we are out there.

Shovelling is just like any other manual labour task or exercise regime. Stretching is key to keeping our muscles moving properly and come away ache and pain free. Stretching your low back, shoulders, hip, and knees both before and after shovelling will go a long way to keep you pain-free this winter.

For your low back, place your feet shoulder-width apart and slowly bend down to touch your toes (or as close are you can get them). Hold this position for three big, slow stomach breaths. Walk your hands over to the left leg and foot and hold this position for three breaths. Walk your hands over to the right leg and foot and hold for three breaths then walk your hands back to the centre and rise back up slowly to a standing position.

Stand up straight and roll your shoulders in circles backwards ten times then forward ten times. Next, bring your right arm across your body at the same level as your shoulder and use your left arm to hold it there for three big stomach breaths. Repeat this with the left. Reach behind your head with your right hand and behind your back with your left and try to bring your hands together. Hold this position for three stomach breaths again then switch arms and repeat.

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and take a long step forward with your right foot. Keep your left knee straight and press your hips forward and down. You should feel a stretch along the front of your thigh and up into your abdomen. Hold this stretch for three big stomach breaths then stand back up and repeat it with your feet reversed.

Stand near a wall and steady yourself with your left hand on the wall. Lift your right foot behind you and grasp it with your right hand. Pull your foot up until you feel a stretch along the front of your thigh. Hold this for three stomach breaths then lower your foot to the ground and repeat with your left.

When you are out there shovelling remember a few things. It is better for your body to push the snow to the edges of the driveway than it is to lift and throw it. If you do have to throw it to get it off the driveway then be sure to lift properly. Keep your back straight and your core tight then bend at the hips and knees to grip the shovel and then extend the knees and hips. Once you are back up straight take steps to turn in the direction you want rather than twisting your low back, and then throw the snow where you want it to end up.

Be sure to take lots of breaks to keep your muscles from getting overly tired. One of the best ways I find to do this is to have some good music playing through some headphones that keeps your bopping along at a good pace but gives you a better idea of the passage of time. Stop every 5-10 songs and give yourself a break. Just stand and take deep breaths or grab a drink of water. The music will also help to keep you in a positive frame of mind which is very good for preventing and relieving pain.

The Ontario Chiropractic Association has an educational pamphlet on shovelling with some good information here.

Stay warm and dry out there this winter and protect your back.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

Health For Your Career

This week I went to see the Mirvish production of Les Miserables (it was absolutely wonderful and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys musical theatre) and it got me thinking about health, as many things do being the health nerd that I am. The performing arts can be absolutely brutal on your body, just like sports, and to have a prosperous career you need to maintain a very healthy lifestyle to meet the challenges that face you.

But this rule does not only apply to performers and athletes. We all need to lead a healthy lifestyle to maintain our career if you think about it. Diet, posture, and activity all play a central role in the deterioration or upkeep of our body. If we sit at a desk all day, hunch by our computer, and get very little activity our body will feel the stress just as quickly as someone who operates a jackhammer all day. This means that our bodies will accumulate damage (“microinjuries”) over time and certain activities will no longer be easy or comfortable for us. This accumulation will limit our ability to do our jobs and could lead to serious disability and potentially losing all ability to work.

Pain, limited range of motion, weakness, numbness, and other downstream effects of these microinjuries all impact our ability to work. So what are we to do about it? Are these effects just an unavoidable by-product of working?

Why not look at it the same way these performers and athletes do? I need my body (and my mind) to do my job so let’s look after my body (and mind) the best that I can so that I can continue doing my job. We hear about so many major league athletes turning to alternative medicine for preventative and injury care but there are just as many performers out there who do the same.

Through prevention we can avoid nasty complications later down the road and keep our ability to work as strong as ever. This will pretty much guarantee a good career (aside from non-health/ability related issues, of course) in whatever field you choose. On top of this, early intervention is key to limiting the impact injuries have on our future ability to work. The longer we put off finding appropriate care the greater the impact an injury will have on our body.

So if you are looking for a long career take good care of your body because it’s the only one you’ve got. Get a little exercise every day, maintain a healthy diet, and make sure you treat your body right with good posture, deep breathing, and a calm, stress-free attitude. Think of yourself as a performer on our own little stage and the lifestyle will follow.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

Friends, Family, and Faster Healing

Guess what this post is! It’s Post #100! The blog is just a little over 2 years old now and we have finally reached the triple digits. Because of this I’m going to step away from the chiropractic and nutrition for a minute and talk about something completely different today.

One of the questions on my intake forms as a doctor is “Do you have close friends and/or family?” It’s down there in the lifestyle section with questions about smoking and drinking and occupation. When people come across that one they often give me a weird look and ask me why that matters. Well, it really does matter in physical health as well as mental health.

Having someone around to check in on you is the most obvious benefit. Someone to keep you on track with your health goals and maybe work towards them with you. Moral support is great for getting where you want to and healing but on top of that research has repeatedly shown that people with a healthy social life and support network heal faster. Crazy, I know.

Our emotions play a role in our healing and we humans are social creatures. So when we have a social environment we feel safe in we are generally happier and calmer, which allows our bodies to heal faster. I don’t know the exact science behind WHY this happens but the research is out there. A positive outlook has been linked with better prognosis for patients with chronic conditions for a long time.

Similarly, research has shown that people who are happier have a measurably higher pain tolerance than those who are sad or depressed. So a social life and support network to keep you happy will also keep you healthy. Pets can have this effect on healing times, too. Research suggests that animals in the house decrease healing time and actually decrease the frequency of becoming sick as well. This may be due to the fact that pets make us be more active and clean more frequently, so it’s kind of like living with a hairy (or feathered) physiotherapist in your house.

So whether it is coming home to snuggle up to your loved one on the couch or just grabbing a coffee with a friend, make sure that you have a positive social support system in place for the next time you get hurt. Go ahead, grab the next friend you see, give them a big hug and say, “Thanks for making me healthy!”

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Posture’s Problem Child

Welcome back to my blog! This is the first post to so I would like to take a moment and say Thank You for coming by and I hope that you can learn something from what I do here. If you have any questions about what we discuss here or about any aspects of health or healthcare my door is always open. E-mail me at and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.

And now back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

One of the more common conditions that walks into a chiropractor’s office but you don’t hear much about is called “Thoracic Outlet Syndrome” (TOS). This is a condition which is not terribly serious but the symptoms can be very scary and if left long enough can cause become fairly debilitating.

First of all let’s look at what this condition is and what causes it. The Thoracic Outlet is the triangle shaped space between your collar bone, shoulder blade, and the base of your neck. Through this space all of the arteries, veins, and lymphatic ducts travel to and from the chest cavity (Thorax) and out into the arm. These structures are also joined by the nerves from the neck that travel to the muscles and skin of the arm. That is a lot of stuff going through a fairly small area. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome occurs when any or all of the nerves, arteries, or veins become compressed which causes pain, numbness, and or tingling, in the hand and arm

The compression of these structures can happen in several different ways but most are due to poor posture, specifically hunching of the upper back (Thoracic spine), rolling forwards of the shoulders, and the head pushing forward in front of the shoulders. Any or all of these postural positions will stress and strain the muscles around our skeleton and cause them to tense up to hold the weight we are not placing upon them. As the angles of these muscles change and their tension increases dramatically they will push against the nerves at the base of the neck and the arteries and veins exiting and entering the top of the rib cage (the Thoracic Outlet) thus causing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

The pain and numbness or tingling associated with TOS can be continuous or episodic in nature depending on the amount of pressure on the structures and they usually have a specific area that they stays within. Most commonly the symptoms are experienced in the hands but over time they may spread into the forearms and even up into the shoulders. People with TOS may also notice a decrease in sensation in the areas affects. If left for a long period of time without treatment muscle weakness can occur in the hand affected.

The exact areas of numbness and tingling and change in skin sensation will be different depending on if it is the nerves, arteries, or veins involved but in general the hand and forearm are the most common areas to experience these symptoms. These symptoms can be mimicked by other conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Herniated Intervertebral Discs in the neck (Cervical Spine), and even active trigger points in the rotator cuff muscles that can refer pain down into the hand and fingers. Make sure you see a doctor to determine the true cause of your pain.

When you go to a doctor they should ask a series of questions and perform a number of tests on you to help determine the nature and source of the problem. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome reacts very well to complementary treatments and therapies including chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and physiotherapy all have excellent results.

Posture is an extremely important thing in our lives and if we maintain a good posture we can avoid conditions like TOS. So I hate to say it but our mothers were right, “Sit up straight and stop slouching.”

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

Chiropractic and Ribs

(Originally posted on on June 6th, 2013)

Chiropractors can adjust any movable joint in the body but the one that people seem to always be surprised at is a rib adjustment. It turns out that most people think that ribs are immobile bones that only protect the chest but there is so much more to them than that.

Ribs to function to protect the organs of the chest and stabilize the thoracic spine but they also play an important role in how we breathe. Our lungs are not muscular organs and so cannot draw air into themselves. It is the responsibility of the diaphragm and the ribs to do this. The diaphragm descends into the abdomen which pushes the ribs out and up in what is referred to as a “bucket handle” motion. This expansion of the chest pulls the lungs out in every direction drawing air in. Relaxing the diaphragm lets the ribs descend and the elasticity of the lungs pushes the air out again.

The ribs are attached to the spine at the back and the sternum in the front. At the spine, the ribs form a joint with the vertebrae which is surrounded but many little muscles. The joint between the ribs and the sternum at the front is slightly more ridged. The ribs end just short of the edge of the sternum and cartilage fills that gap. This does allow some movement as the cartilage is supple and flexible. With these joints as they are the ribs are able to move well and aid in breathing while providing the boney protection to our heart and lungs.

This is, of course, if we are treating our body correctly, which most of us are not. As a society our posture is terrible. We slouch forwards which does not allow out diaphragm to descend as well. This forces us to compensate and use the muscles of the back and shoulders to pull the ribs up to expand our lungs rather than letting them be pushed up by expanding our abdomen. As it happens in all cases of muscular compensation this puts a strain on muscles they were not meant to take. This leads to muscular spasms and pain as well as joint dysfunction in the areas of the spasm. So all these muscles clamping down and holding everything tightly means that the ribs will not be able move properly and hinder breathing. This can be quite uncomfortable and even make breathing painful.

Muscular spasm and improper movement of the ribs will eventually pull the ribs “out” which is not to say that our ribs will fall off but that they will stick out from where they should be. This is not a dislocation but it is a misalignment which can be corrected through adjustment. The adjustment will help to relax the spasm of the muscles, restore proper movement of the rib, and help to improve breathing.

This type of dysfunction is incredibly common and is so simple to reverse. Adjustments paired with postural exercise can restore full breathing capacity and maintain it. This is especially important for people who have difficulty breathing with conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and even smokers.

So make sure your ribs are moving and breathe the fresh air this summer.

Thanks for reading.
Dr. Ben