Seven Unhealthy Habits That May Cause Body Ache

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Our ancestors had a lot of problems – hunger, lethal illnesses, parasites, saber-toothed tigers… None of us will become familiar with those “old-fashioned” troubles. However modern life brings its own “surprises”, which gradually and unnoticed at first, ruin our health. One of those “silent pests” is a sedentary lifestyle and postures which accompany it. Overextending our neck while working at the computer, losing ourselves in binge watching, wearing uncomfortable shoes, clenching our jaws while stressed… Let’s take a look at all the posture positions that can do harm to our joints.

1. Raised shoulders

Unknowingly, we overextend our neck, shoulder and upper back muscles each time we face stressful and frightening situations. We pull our heads in just like turtles. Consistent disturbing backgrounds worsen muscle clamps, making this pose regular and – unfortunately damaging to health. So what is the damage about?

If muscles, bones and ligaments are misplaced – daily body loads are not distributed evenly the way they should be. This leads to joint degeneration, ligament and tendon inflammations, micro injuries of soft tissues, chronic pains.  According to the 2017 study “The Link between Depression and Chronic Pain: Neural Mechanisms in the Brain,”  almost 85% of people with chronic pains (including arthritis) suffer from depression as well. It is not always easy to track the cause and the consequences. Whether the pain causes the depression or depression leads to chronic pain… Sometimes both these factors fuse to and increase each other. When we feel pain the body goes into an adrenaline hit-and-run mode, but if the pain is constant, the battle in our body becomes perpetual. Such physiological states provoke the development of depression, which in its turn causes more muscle clamps, which inflicts more pain, and so on, in an upward spiral.

What can help?

  • Stress control.
  • Therapy for depression and anxiety (including medicinal treatment).
  • Self-awareness,
  • Exercising relaxation.
  • Strengthening core muscles to correct posture.

2. Arched “text” neck

Smartphones have changed the world. Along with the positives, they have given us problems with our necks and spines. The situation has become so common, that such expressions as “text neck” or “smartphone neck” have appeared in medical slang. That’s what they call cervical spine problems (often irreversible) which are linked to constant and long-term use of gadgets. When we tilt our head towards the screen, the neck and upper back bend which leads to postural pain, fatigue, abnormal muscle strain, spasms, and even migraines. A separate issue can flow out of the habit of talking on the phone, pressing it with your ear to your shoulder.

The scientists of the 2012 research “Understanding tablet use: a multi-method exploration” noted that the biggest neck tilt (and as a result the highest impact on the spine) is caused by watching media content from the gadget placed on the lap. This is a slightly lighter case, but signidicant, nonetheless, texting and surfing the net.

“Text Neck” symptoms can be the following:

  • Neck pain.
  • Pain, radiating from a particular spot on the neck, shoulder blade or arm.
  • Numbness or tingling in the hand, palm, or fingers.
  • Weakened arms and shoulders.
  • Rigid neck and shoulders.
  • Inability to raise the head after a long time staring down at the screen.

What can help?

  • Increase the viewing angle using a holder, stand or other support for the smartphone.
  • Use of headphones/hands free devices.
  • Stay fit and strengthen muscles.
  • Regular breaks from smartphone usage.
  • Use a special roller while lying down or sleeping.
  • Posture control when using a gadget (for example, lowering your gaze without tilting your neck).
  • Physiotherapy.

3. Clenched jaw

Constantly clenching the jaw and teeth may cause discomfort and resonate with the ache in ears, face, neck and head – especially while chewing and yawning. Limited range of motion, stiffness, clicking, and other symptoms may occur. The cause can be found both in medical and behavioral origins.  The former include temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, bruxism, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The latter include excessive chewing (such as chewing gum) and clenching of the jaws due to stress and anxiety. Scientists already have noticed the increase of frequency of jaw pain cases during the COVID19 pandemic (“Temporomandibular Disorders and Bruxism Outbreak as a Possible Factor of Orofacial Pain Worsening during the COVID-19 Pandemic—Concomitant Research in Two Countries”), as stress grinding teeth can worsen TMJ dysfunction and bruxism.

What can help?

  • Exercises aimed at relaxing the jaws and facial muscles.
  • Wearing a special mouth guard, especially if the stiffness of the jaw is caused by stress clenching or bruxism.
  • Facial and jaw massage.
  • Stress levels control.
  • Muscle relaxants and antidepressants, prescribed by a doctor.  
  • Botox injections.
  • Stretching exercises for the neck and shoulder joint.
  • Acupuncture.
  • Breathing exercises.
  • Physical and sport activities.
  • Yoga and meditation.
  • Use of smartphone apps that remind you to relax your jaw.
  • Avoid excessive chewing.

4. Walking on tippy toes

Wearing shoes on high heels – is more of a bad habit, rather than a static pose. But it is absolutely necessary to mention how damaging it can be for joints.

What can help?

  • Wearing shoes with flat sole.
  • Avoid footwear that fixates feet in unnatural positions.
  • Physical activity and strengthening of core muscles.

5. Hours of sitting at the table

Not only at the table. We grossily underestimate how much we sit and how badly it impacts our body. A regular office worker spends nearly 15 hours per day (“Too much sitting — a health hazard“), which leads to the unbalanced and slowed metabolism, gaining weight, increased risk of diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease and many other health disorders. There is a direct link found between the sedentary lifestyle and early mortality (“Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults“). Spending nearly all the time in a sitting position affects joints as well. Particularly vulnerable are the sacroiliac joints connecting the thigh and sacrum. They are held in place by tight ligaments and are not very mobile, unlike the knee or elbow joints, so injury or repeated stress (and long sitting can be considered as such) inflicts soreness, inflammation and stiffness. Since sitting among office workers is often related to working in front of a computer (with the specific position of the head) – vertebrae, shoulder girdle and neck may also suffer.

What can help?

  • Regular physical activity.
  • Breaks for walks and stretching throughout the working day.
  • Reduction of the time spent sitting.
  • Use of special table for standing work.
  • Control of correct posture.

6. Hunchback

Poor posture  — a real scourge of modern society. The problem is not just aesthetic. The correct position of the skeletal muscles evenly distributes the daily load on the joints, maintaining their health and integrity. Hunched body position is fraught with muscle spasms, asymmetry, overstrain of certain muscle groups and joints, headache and chronic pain, curvature of the spine, injuries and imbalance (“The effect of the forward head posture on postural balance in long time computer based worker“). A hunched back often worsens with other “bad” posture features, including the ones we have already enumerated.

What can help?

  • Stretching exercises, particularly targeted on your back, neck, chest and core in general.
  • Strengthening skeletal muscles.
  • Correct posture control.
  • Rractice yoga.

7. Sitting cross-legged

Sitting on a chair in a cross-legged position may lead to a chronic muscle and joint pain, as well as endangering the regular blood circulation in the legs and an increased risk of blood clots. Moreover, it’s not just that the hips may start to hurt – sitting cross-legged for a long period of time may tilt the spine, disturb the load distribution, can lead to varicose veins, temporary high blood pressure and nerve damage.

What can help?

  • Avoid crossing legs.
  • Frequent change of sitting positions.
  • Control of the straight position of the spine.

Technical and scientific progress makes our lives easier and more comfortable. However, it is important to remember that from a physiological point of view, we haven’t changed too much in the past 20 000 years. Our body needs appropriate physiological loads for good health and functionality, while excess comfort can be harmful.

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