As Chiropractors, there is a “spinal bad habit” grocery list that we like to go through with each new patient that comes to the clinic. One by one, we identify the bad habits that could impede the patient’s recovery or limit him or her from experiencing perfect health.
Here are 5 bad habits for your spine you should break right now:
1. Wearing bad shoes
Your chiropractor understands the importance of good footwear and its role in your health. All feet are different: your feet can be narrow, wide, flat, arched, rigid, or flexible. There’s no one-size-fits-all product when it comes to footwear but some types of shoes should definitely be avoided no matter your foot type.
High heels are known to be terrible for your feet, your back, and your overall posture. Yet, 31% of women wear them to work. A woman’s body will attempt to compensate for the off-kilter balance heels caused by flexing or forward bending the hips and spine. ln order to maintain balance, the calf, hip, and back muscles become tense. At the end of the day, this makes for excess muscle fatigue and strain. Over time, wearing high heels can also cause the calf muscles to cramp and bulge and create permanent anatomical changes.
Flip flops and espadrilles, on the other hand, offer little to no support for your arches, increase heel striking and provide no shock absorption. The flip-flop can’t absorb the impact and the force has to settle in the foot, knee, ankle, hip or back. When that happens, you’ll feel aches and pains in the lower limbs and lower back.
Your feet are the foundation of your body: shouldn’t your shoes fit and support your feet perfectly? Bad quality footwear usually won’t last you very long. Invest in a good pair of shoes with good support that you’ll be able to wear for a long time. And make friends with a shoesmith who will keep your favourite comfy pair of shoes in tip top shape.
One way to customize your good quality shoes is with custom foot orthotics that will support your body through every step. They are intended to fit comfortably in your shoe to improve the alignment and correction of the foot function to enhance the performance and biomechanics of your feet and body.
2. Carrying a heavy purse or keeping a wallet in your back pocket.
Carrying a heavy purse on the same shoulder, all the time, is a bad habit to break. A heavy purse throws off your gait by not allowing both arms to swing freely. It also alters your posture by creating an imbalance in the muscles. You may notice, for example, that one of your shoulders carries higher than the other at rest. Carrying a heavy purse will cause your muscles to stiffen and fatigue faster – it can even cause you neck pain and headaches. Try to switch to a backpack if you carry a lot of stuff for work, or carry a smaller purse. Use a purse with different kinds of straps, try to switch sides frequently and do not overload it with unnecessary things. If you carry a backpack, you should carry nothing exceeding 10% of your body weight; and if you carry a purse, you should limit the load to 5% of your body weight.
The “Constanza” wallet in the back pocket is something we observe more frequently with men. Carrying your wallet, phone or anything in your back pocket while seated is a bad habit because it will put your pelvis off tilt for an extended period. It is the equivalent of putting a shim under your butt cheek and your body will compensate for that unilateral boost. If you’ve been nurturing that bad habit for a while, it may even feel weird to sit without it! Throw away the old receipts, organize the business cards somewhere else and take your wallet out of your pocket when you sit.
3. Sleeping on your stomach
This may be one of the hardest bad habits to break in this list but is probably the most important one. While sleeping on your stomach can feel comforting, it is absolutely terrible for your spine. Most stomach sleepers will favor one side over the other and keep their head turned that way the whole night. With time, a difference in the range of motion between left and right rotation becomes noticeable. The stomach sleeper typically has a decreased cervical curve and can get headaches or hand numbness upon waking up in the morning. The aches and pains caused by stomach sleeping make for less sleep and less quality sleep. Break this bad habit by going to sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees and in front of you so that you will not roll during your sleep. You can also try sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees. Talk to your chiropractor for other tricks to stop sleeping on your stomach once and for all.
4. Looking down at your phone
We live in a world where the entirety of human knowledge is available at our fingertips in a device the size of a pack of gum. Smartphones have become ubiquitous. They have changed the way we interact with the world and they are having an impact on our posture. People, especially teenagers, are developing bad postural habits. There’s even a name for it: “text-neck”. The term is used to describe the neck pain and damage sustained from looking down at your cell phone, tablet, or other wireless devices too frequently and for too long. To avoid suffering from text neck, try to bring your phone up rather than bending your spine towards it. Bend your elbows and bring your phone to eye level. Take frequent breaks. Apps like “Straighten up Canada” can help you improve your posture by taking you through a series of stretches and strengthening exercises you can do anywhere. You can even set up reminders so you don’t forget to add them to your routine.
5. Ignoring your spine
It’s easy to ignore your spine – you can’t see it, and it doesn’t complain much. Most people will go a long time before giving it a second thought. However, like dental hygiene, starting good habits when you are young pays off. Afterall, you don’t wait for your teeth to hurt to brush them, do you? When it comes to spinal pain – pain is often the tip of the iceberg. It takes a long time before small spinal changes will become actual neck or back pain, just like skipping a couple of weeks of teeth brushing may not create actual tooth pain – but decay will be visible. Spinal subluxations and decay aren’t visible to the naked eye, but a chiropractor has many ways of finding it. It will first show up as decreased range of motion, muscle imbalances and subtle postural changes. Later on, bad habits will show up as degenerative changes that can be observed on X-rays. It is a bad habit to ignore your spine until it hurts: it’s much harder to fix back pain than it is to prevent it.
Keep this in mind – it’s easier to prevent bad habits than to break one. Research shows that it may take longer than 2 months to create new habits and break bad ones. Don’t get discouraged – the habits that are the hardest to break, are the ones most worth the effort. Hold yourself accountable: chose better shoes, ditch the heavy purse, correct your sleeping habits, raise your phone when using it and go see your chiropractor and get adjusted. No excuses.
Dr. Michele Corriveau
Byward Chiropractic Clinic + Massage Therapy Centre
333A Cumberland St. Ottawa ON K1N 7J3