Fight Back Against Tension Headaches

COVID-19 has forced many of us into self-quarantine and begin working from home in order to avoid getting sick. While working from home, you may feel more stressed than usual. You’re likely working and teaching your children in your living space. You may be worried about your job or economic pressures. Or dealing with increased childcare and homeschooling. You may even feel more stress from a lack of social interaction.

This is a challenging time. These new stressors and changes in our lifestyles can lead to tension headaches. Tension headaches can be triggered by our new stressors and unusual lifestyles such as stress and anxiety, prolonged computer use, and poor workstation poster. A chiropractic adjustment can help to reduce the tension in your shoulders and neck that may be causing the problem.

However, if you are like many are being as cautious as possible, here are a few ways to manage your headaches from home. One of the largest lifestyle changes we are seeing is the increase in screen time many professionals need to maintain their careers. We understand it is important, but don’t forget to take a break not only for your eyes but for your mind and body too! During your break from your screen do some light stretching to help easy any neck or back pain you may be experiencing.

Inspect your workstation, does it encourage proper poster? Above are some photos of Dr. Donkin demonstrating poor and proper posture at a standing workstation. The final tip is to make sure you take time to be outside and getting fresh air. Whether that is taking a quick 15-minute walk on your lunch break or working from your deck/patio, fresh air can help reduce stress! If you are still struggling with neck and back pain and you feel comfortable with visiting our office, we want to assure you we are here to help! We are taking all of the necessary precautions to keep our patients and our team safe. 

Making Masks Work For Youwatch Dr. Donkin
discuss adapting to our “normal now” routine.

Give Your Countertops Double Duty

Make Your Countertops Work Double Duty 

Are you sick of sitting at the kitchen table or your home office? If you are looking for a standing desk option, kitchen countertops are a great option! Working well from a counter depends on the height of the counter and the person.  Here are three images of laptop computer positions at the front desk counter at Donkin Chiropractic. This countertop is 44 inches, which is also the distance of my elbow to the floor when I am standing upright. 

The image with no reams of paper shows a good keyboard height for my arms but not for my neck and head.

The image with two reams of paper shows an adequate compromise of elbow angle and head/neck angle when working on a laptop at a desk or another table or desk.

The image with five reams of paper shows what can happen to make a much healthier working posture if a person has a wireless or extra keyboard to use with the laptop. 

A counter can be used as a standing desk if the counter height and your height allow you to have good posture while you are working with on your laptop at home.  Coffee table books can be used, but make sure they are as big as the laptop to create a stable base.


Adapting To Our “Normal Now”

Fighting Cabin Fever

We’re in the home stretch now, and we are working our way through the remnants of winter. Just thinking about seeing those first crocuses poking through the ground warms the heart. But chances are most of us aren’t thinking about spring right now. We’re locked in a bad case of cabin fever. There is a reason why February feels like it will never end.

Compounding things is the natural letdown that follows weeks of festivities. Is it any wonder we feel like crawling under a rock until the sun comes back out? There is even a name for it – seasonal affective disorder – for those hit the hardest.

Fortunately, as your doctor of chiropractic can tell you, there are ways to turn it around, though it will mean fighting the season’s natural inclinations. No more coming home from eight hours behind the desk to spend the next five wrapped in a blanket in front of the television. It will be well worth the effort!

Stay Active

The outcome of a sedentary lifestyle is well-documented, affecting everything from mobility and balance to the risk of depression. It doesn’t take daily trips to the gym to turn things around. Start by taking a few minutes each hour to walk around the office. In the morning or later in the day, get things moving by doing a stretching routine. Soon, you may find yourself naturally taking the stairs, getting out more, and maybe even heading for the gym. Bring on the endorphins!

Eat Smart

Adding more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet and removing inflammatory ones such as sugar and processed foods is good for easing the joint pain that comes with colder weather. But a recent study showed that it could also decrease your risk of depression by 30 percent. 

Try A Change Of Scenery

Cruising around the Bahamas right now would probably cheer anyone up. But any change in routine can freshen your day. Take a new route to work. Plan a weekend getaway, checking into a hotel with a pool, hot tub, and complimentary breakfast. Take the kids to an escape room and spend an hour trying to break free. Maybe you’ll learn something in the process!

Visit Your Doctor Of Chiropractic

A body in balance equips you to make the most of your lifestyle changes. And staying active, eating better, and getting a good night’s sleep helps your body stay in alignment. Your doctor of chiropractic can come up with a plan that fits you. Consider this while following these tips, you are going to be in great shape to enjoy spring when it finally gets here!

Donkin’s 12 Products for Healthy Living

12 PRODUCT RECOMMENDATIONS
FOR HEALTHY LIVING
IN THE NEW YEAR

People often ask Dr. Donkin what his secrets are for staying healthy and well. Dr. Donkin stands, bends, twists, squats, reaches, pulls, lifts and grips all day long in his Chiropractic practice, and in his 38 years of practice in Lincoln, he has never lost a day of work due to illness or injury. He has experienced his fair share of injuries through the years, but the blessing in these injuries has been that they taught Dr. Donkin first-hand how to recover while working hard. The strategy is simple; find out what works well for you and keep doing it. The products on this list are ones he knows work well and recommends them often to his patients as well as others interested in sustained health and well-being.


Proper Pillow

The Proper Pillow is one pillow I use personally.  I really like its versatility because there are four ways to use it, plus it comes with an extra layer of the pillow to make it thicker if desired.  If you want comfortable support that helps you get more out of your sleeping hours, then you should look into getting the Proper Pillow.


Proper Roller

The Proper Roller’s double-bubble ergonomic design gives it a central groove to prevent injury to the spine and related structures while optimizing stretch to muscles, ligaments, and tendons.  The texture of the covering prevents slipping while delivering comfortable yet deep stretching.  It is lightweight yet sturdy, and its length makes the Proper Roller less cumbersome and easy to use.


Intracell

The Intracell’s purpose is to extinguish trigger points and allow tight, contracted muscles to relax and recover.  The intracell can be used on many areas of your body. 


Legacy Leg Pillow

Side sleeping postures are popular for most people. Dr. Donkin regularly recommends using a pillow between the legs for extra support.  The Legacy Leg Pillow has a sleek design that makes it easier to shift positions while keeping the leg pillow intact.  Patients rave about how comfortable yet supportive the Legacy Leg Pillow is.


Kabooti SEAT CuSHION

The Kabooti 3-In-1 seat cushion combines a seat wedge with a tailbone cut out and a donut ring for multipurpose support while sitting.  Patients can use the Kabooti at the office, in the car, at sporting events, playing cards, at home, and more.


The Loft’s Body-Friendly Crossover Purse

Crossover purses are an excellent combination of style, quality, and function.  Not only does it look great when it is worn higher across the shoulders (like it should be), but you can easily pull it around to the front while still wearing it to get items out of it.


Proper Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets purportedly help with many conditions or symptoms including insomnia, anxiety, cumulative stress, restless leg, fibromyalgia pain, ADHD, PTSD, OCD, and more. Dr. Donkin talked with patients about their response to using weighted blankets and they indicated noticeable improvement or relief with symptoms of restless legs, fibromyalgia pain, symptoms of anxiety as well as PTSD and a number of them reported an improvement in sleep quality.


Lacrosse Ball

LaCrosse balls are fantastic to help patients stretch and release muscle trigger points between shoulders, outside of shoulders, forearms, hips and even the arches of feet.


ROCK TAPE

I Rock Tape one or more patients almost every day I practice.  I use it routinely with neck, shoulder, arm, back knee and ankle conditions.  It is not uncommon for me to Rock Tape myself. For example, I used it on my right forearm after overusing it doing yardwork. It is used for both acute and chronic conditions and I see Rock Tape as an important part of my services to patients.  Once patients learn the best taping patterns for them, they often purchase a roll or two for home use.


Mojo Feet Customizable Orthotics

Standing all day in practice can take a toll on ankles, hips, and backs. MoJo Feet are preformed orthotics that can be heated to 200 degrees and molded to patient’s feet, creating a custom fit for patients’ unique circumstances and objectives.  Thus, MoJo Feet fit like a glove under your arches and wear very well.  


BioPods Revolutionary Orthotics

BioPods are an exciting concept in orthotics which will surely become more popular in the future.  BioPods are called Stimsoles because they have a specifically designed raised area right underneath the long arch of the feet.  According to BioPods, LLC ‘By providing the right kind of stimulation for optimum health, strength, and flexibility, BioPods Stimsoles™ helps address the underlying causes of most foot-related pain and problems.”


Cryoderm Topical Roll-on

Cryoderm is a topical roll-on cream to relieve pain and inflammation while improving function.  Cryoderm is a greaseless, non-staining, fast-acting and deep penetrating way to soothe muscle spasms, strains, bursitis, tendonitis, arthritis, joint pain, cramps, and bruises. Dr. Donkin recommends the roll-on for use at home because it is easy to apply, and does not need to be applied using the hands.

Holiday Stressbusters

Unfortunately, the joy and wonder of the holiday season is frequently overshadowed by anxiety and the physical and emotional effects of negative stress. As we investigate stress in this series, you will learn that the paradoxical nature of the Holidays, as we currently celebrate them, is predictable. This being the case, the best gift we can offer is the information you need to prepare yourself and your family for true enjoyment and fulfillment this holiday season.

Since stress is your body’s emotional, mental, and physical reaction to change, the greatest opportunity for work and lifestyle change occurs during the holidays. Virtually every aspect of your life is affected, and while some aspects of your life are affected more than others, their cumulative effect can sabotage the memories you are creating.

Understanding Stress

Stress, in the simplest terms, is your physical and emotional reaction to change. It sounds almost too simple, but that’s what stress is: your body’s reaction to change. If you perceive the change to be threatening or if you don’t understand it, it can cause physical effects on your body.

Let’s say, for instance; you have a deadline to meet on the task you are performing. You say to yourself, “I have to get this done by four o’clock.” Your body tenses. You know you must meet the deadline, and you focus your attention and concentrate on the task at hand, and you finish the job by four o’clock.

Physical Reactions to Stress

During the above-mentioned stress cycle, certain things probably happened in your body of which you may or may not have been consciously aware. Your body geared up to accommodate the stress of the job at hand. Your muscles tensed, your jaw clenched, your pulse rate increased, and your blood pressure went up. These are the physical reactions to stress.

Perhaps you don’t perceive the task as a challenge. Instead, you fear your ability to meet the deadline—or to perform the task at all. The same physical reactions would still occur, but instead of using the energy created within your body by the assignment (stressor) to focus your attention and concentrate on the task at hand, you were preoccupied with thoughts of your inability to perform the task properly or how hard the task is, to justify the possibility of not finishing the task properly or on time. With this attitude, you will probably still be tense or “stressed,” even if you do meet the deadline. This drains your positive attitude and self-confidence and robs you of the enjoyment and satisfaction you should receive from performing your job well.

On the other hand, if you see the tasks before you as a challenge to be conquered, and you decide to take on the challenge and perform your tasks with your unique abilities. You will not only focus your attention, concentrate, and thus do better work, but you will also feel better about yourself and experience a sense of accomplishment from having successfully performed your duties.

Family Stress

When family interaction is expected during the holidays, don’t deny it as a leading source of stress. You will probably be sharing your time with more people than you are accustomed to; therefore, many conversations will occur simultaneously. Scheduling and organizing family events can be extremely difficult, with so many additional opinions. It is noble to strive for perfection with family – but realize – we are all human, and none of us are perfect. Leave room in your expectations for spontaneity and compromise.

Food Stress

Special cookies, cakes, candies, and other treats are anticipated, but remember that your blood sugar levels fluctuate drastically with the rapid influx of these foods to your diet. Corresponding mood swings are a natural consequence of indulgence, so be sure to take this into consideration during periods of family interaction. Ingestion of unusually large portions of food during holiday dinners is followed by periods of low energy as your body shifts to digestion rather than physical activity. Your brother-in-law may not be bored with your conversation; he may just be digesting the holiday meal.

Deerstracted Driving

Attention All Drivers!

We are all familiar with the notion of distracted drivers.  We see them regularly on the road and maybe we have even driven distracted ourselves.  But there is a formidable force coming our way that requires our attention especially this time of year.  That is distracted deer!

This time of year, deer are distracted for a number of reasons: 

  • This is mating season which draws their attention to their own kind. 
  • Harvest season is also in full swing which disrupts their familiar surroundings with noise and dust. This is mating season which draws their attention to their own kind. 
  • As if this is not enough, deer also encounter hunting season with its share of noise and commotion. 

Deer are not very good at looking both ways before they cross the road anyway and with all these distractions it’s no wonder why they dart out onto the road without warning and into the path of oncoming automobiles.  Is this a big deal?   According to the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, there were 3,760 car animal collisions causing $1,000 or more in damages in 2009. Of those, 3,420 involved deer.  Doing the math, that’s over $3.4 million the very minimum of $1,000 per vehicle.  I have personally seen vehicles with over $5,000 in damage or even totally destroyed from collisions with deer.  I imagine the total vehicle damage is much, much greater than the $3.4 million in Nebraska and that was 10 years ago!

What can you do to help protect yourself as the driver as well as the other occupants in your vehicle from a preventable deer collision?

  • Now that you know deer are distracted especially this time of year, take extra precautions to make sure you are not distracted while driving.
  • Remember that sunset is particularly risky for distracted deer on the roadside so this is peak alert time for driving.Now that you know deer are distracted especially this time of year, take extra precautions to make sure you are not distracted while driving.

Enlist the help of passengers in your vehicle to be on the lookout for deer and to avoid making distractions while on the road.

In the event you do collide with a deer make sure you have your automobile thoroughly checked for extent of damage and by all means have your body as well as the passengers in your vehicle checked.  I have seen many deer/automobile collisions in which the extent of injury is greater to the occupants in the vehicle that there was to the vehicle itself.  Getting checked for injury is smart because if there is injury you can get your recovery of to the quickest start and if there is no injury then you have that peace of mind. 

Happy and safe traveling to motorists and deer alike!

Scott Donkin, DC, DACBOH

Introducing Our E-Store

We are happy to announce that we have partnered with Designs for Health to bring our patients a new line of supplements! These supplements are designed to complement your unique plan with Dr. Donkin to get out of pain, into health and on to your own path to wellness. Here at Donkin Chiropractic, we believe in creating an inviting, caring, and professional environment that is focused on getting the results our patients want and need to feel good.  We listen carefully to what you say and look carefully at how you function to determine the best pathways to accomplish your goals and adding these new supplement options are designed to aid in this effort.

To formulate a plan that is suited to your needs and designed to get the results you want, we combine high tech forms of evaluation and treatment with:

  • Manual therapy
  • Physical therapy modalities
  • Physical rehabilitation protocols
  • Supplement and product recommendations

While your exact situation is unique to you, we find there are common elements to every injury. We apply our knowledge from past patients to help with your specific circumstances.  Education is a big part of our care here, so you are welcome to ask all the questions you have.  We want to explain what we believe to be the cause of your symptoms and show you what you can do at home or during work to make the most of your time and money. We are proud to have the ability to offer our patients supplements to coincide with their treatment plan to get them back on the path of wellness.

PackBack Test

PackBack™

Providing information and services related to the biomechanics of using back packs and other bags, luggage, or packages that are held, carried or worn.

Conditions arising from prolonged and/or repetitious use of backpacks or other devices made for carrying material belongings Include but are not limited to:

  • Low Back pain and stiffness
  • Hip and/or pain and/or numbness
  • Sciatica
  • Neck and upper back pain and stiffness
  • Shoulder and/or arm pain and/or numbness
  • Headaches
  • Recurring muscles tension
  • Fatigue

How does what you pack affect your back? How do you carry your:

  • Personal beongings
  • Purses
  • Fanny packs
  • Shopping bags
  • Briefcases
  • Luggage
  • Wallets
  • Cards
  • Keys
  • Change
  • Electronic devices
Before PackBack™ Adjustment
After PackBack™ Adjustment
Posture Before Adding Purse
A Type of PackBack™
Posture After Adding Purse
A Type of PackBack™

What Purpose do you carry belongings for:

  • Military
  • Law enforcement
  • Fire/rescue/USAR
  • Hiker
  • Biker
  • Athlete
  • Coach
  • Athletic supporter
  • Student
  • Traveler
  • Business person
  • Homemaker

Rules of Engagement

  • Think/strategize/be aware
  • Approach
  • Pack
  • Lift
  • Attach to body
  • Carry
  • Disengage
  • Unwind

Solutions

  • Selection of carryingdevices (fit the task to the flask)
  • Strategies to engage, handle and carry devices
  • Preparing body for carrying devices
  • Conditioning body to pack, approach, lift, handle, carry and put down packs/devices
Another Version of PackBack™

Copyright © 2019 Scott Donkin

Establishing A Corporate Wellness Culture

Needs Focused… Evidence Based… Outcome Driven

Purpose: To systematically develop sustained health, safety and well-being within individuals and organizations worldwide. This program leverages Dr. Scott Donkin’s extensive experience as a practicing Chiropractor for 35 years coupled with his training and board certification in occupational health for 23 years. One of Dr. Donkin’s premises is that healthy individuals as well as healthy companies exhibit habits that are actually reliable predictors to their sustained health.

Examining the habits of each thus helps determine their current health or lack thereof. For example many employers experience ‘symptoms’ of high injury rates or associated costs, high mod rates that could prevent the from bidding on projects, assorted safety issues, aging workforce, exorbitant personal health costs etc. that often have realistic solutions. Whatever the symptoms are they can be addressed through the process of establishing a customized corporate wellness culture.

Program Elements

1. Assessment

A comprehensive assessment is conducted to ascertain employer needs, objectives and goals. Interviews with key personnel help to gain an historical perspective of the employer’s key statistics including employee injury rates, trends and associated costs as well as other factors involved with perceived and actual needs. Preliminary strategic options are discussed with key personnel to develop a plan and implementation program.

2. Process

The process of establishing a customized corporate health, safety and wellness culture is strikingly similar to successfully working with a patient. Starting with a thorough assessment leads to an evidence-based plan that is implemented and reassessed after an appropriate period of time. The plan is revised as is indicated then implemented and assessed again after an appropriate interval. This process is continued until the desired results are achieved and periodic assessment and plan revisions continue to assure sustained results.

3. Cornerstones

The cornerstones of this process include education, health, safety and design. For more information on each you can view www.positiondynamicsgroup.com. Innovation is often required because, like patients, companies have their own unique history, issues goals and objectives. As has occurred with other companies that have utilized Dr. Donkin’s approach this systematic approach applied to individual employer’s needs and objectives often results in innovative solutions.

4. Corporate Identity, Brand and Core Values

A crucial element of developing a successful corporate wellness culture is clear attention to the established corporate identity, brand as well as actual core values. Incorporating these elements into strategies, initiatives and campaigns encourages ‘sticky factor’ for employees to remain engaged and achieve desired results. Dr. Donkin pays particular attention to details such as this to drive desired outcomes.

5. Resources

Dr. Donkin utilizes a host of effective resources to accomplish the goals of individuals and organizations. Dr. Donkin also utilizes experienced professionals in a wide range of industries and disciplines to develop and deploy solutions as needed and desired. The use of technology in the form of webinars and Skype to name a couple can extend the reach of effectiveness virtually anywhere.

Benefits to Employees:

  • Experience less pain, sickness and injury
  • Have more energy on the job to perform their tasks
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved job security
  • Continue to earn income
  • Continue to support themselves, family and community
  • Contribute to a collective goal of the company
  • Improved enjoyment of their life and key value
  • Have a healthier life after retiring

Benefits to Employers:

  • Improve safety in the workforce
  • Improve risk management
  • Decrease Injuries
  • Preserve resources (through better health and improved morale)
  • Enhance resources (through improved productivity)
  • Improve bottom-line profitability
  • Assist in continued company growth
  • Reduce employee turnover
  • Reduce time required in training new employees
  • Be considered an employer of choice in the community
  • Be considered a leader in their industry

Please call 402-488-1500 for additional information.

Household Tasks Don’t Have to Be Chores

Healthier ways to use your home appliances.

Scott Donkin, DC, DACBOH, Acclaimed Occupational Health and Wellness Expert, Internationally published author whose books include Sitting on the Job, Peak Performance Body and Mind: Make Your Body Last a Lifetime. Ergonomic consultant to office furniture and personal electronics manufacturers, airlines, hotels, government agencies, fleet managers. Interviewed in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Self, and others.

Painful injuries sideline athletes all the time. But consider this: Simple household tasks such as ironing, vacuuming, sweeping, dishwashing, and doing laundry can create as much strain, pain, and stress on the human body as an athletic game, and housework is thought to be much less fun.

I see patients in my practice every day who have painful backs, stiff necks, and sore wrists after scrubbing a floor or washing the dishes. These injuries can be avoided, as we medical professionals teach our patients smarter techniques to accomplish what was once thought of as drudgery or chores. We can introduce new ways to think of these tasks and healthier skills and smarter tools to accomplish them.

Change Your Mind, Change Your Life

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” Wayne Dyer

I learned early in my chiropractic practice that knowledge is powerful medicine. An informed patient would most likely be more compliant and have a better outcome. But if a patient did not want to perform healing activities that I recommended such as walking, stretching, or exercising, the resistant mindset was in itself a stressor that inhibited full benefit from the activity even if it was in the patient’s best interest.

It is better to address the mindset and resolve the resistance first, then move forward with the lifestyle recommendations. If too many recommendations are given, then the overwhelmed patient will likely do none of them, and our results would, of course, be less than desired.

The first step on the path to compliance is to think about household tasks less as chores and more as pleasant activities. It requires a mind adjustment. Because we can choose our thoughts, I recommend to patients that they hum a favorite tune, view a special photo, or smell a meaningful aroma to stir a physical reaction that increases their heart rate and makes them smile. These happy thoughts translate into happier, more positive attitudes (just as a negative thought, conversely, can make someone tense).

Understanding the concept of translating thoughts into attitude gives people the power to choose the outcome: tense or pleasant. This is the first step to choosing mind change that works.

I ask my patients to imagine ironing, vacuuming, sweeping, dishwashing, and doing laundry with less strain, pain, stress, and with more pleasure.

The Power of the Open Mind

Throughout my thirty years in practice I have had the privilege of treating many patients who have in turn become inspirations to me. Through them I have learned that life can be long, healthy, productive, and fulfilling.

Lilly for example was 71 when she entered my office following a slip and fall down two steps into her living room while carrying her vacuum cleaner. She experienced a moderate strain in her lower back and was quite interested in taking care of her injury so she could get on with the rest of her activities, including housework.

During the initial consultation I asked if she liked doing housework, and she instantly replied, “I look forward to getting and keeping a clean house, so I don’t mind doing the things it takes to get there.”

What struck me was that she did not curse the process to get to the end result she desired. Numerous people I have encountered did not get stressed, tense, or strained while performing household tasks.

I have observed that people who have truly mastered an activity – no matter what the task – tend to have a quiet confidence (almost serenity) and respect for the activity and a heightened relationship with the equipment, instruments, tools, or materials required to successfully complete the work. They gain a sense of success, accomplishment, or joy during and through their task.

Where Does It Hurt?

Preliminary results of an informal office survey of patients revealed this list of common complaints while performing household tasks:

  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Arm pain
  • Wrist/hand pain
  • Mid-back and low-back pain
  • Hip pain and stiffness
  • Leg pain with ankle swelling
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety, pressure, tension

These injuries could be characterized as overexertion types. Overexertion is the third leading cause of unintentional injury for Americans from teenagers onward, according to the CDC. Overexertion is defined as working a body part too hard causing damage to muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, joints, or nerves. This category includes lifting, pushing, or pulling injuries, strains, and sprains commonly associated with housework.

(Sources: Chiropractic Associates, PC; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, 2007)

Common Denominators on the Causes of Pain and Discomfort

Household chores may cause a constellation of symptoms. Consider the movements made while ironing, vacuuming, and sweeping. These tasks all involve slight forward bending at the waist (usually about 15 degrees of forward flexion), movement of the arms forward of the body, and forward head/neck bending. Fifteen degrees of forward flexion in the lumbar spine is shown to increase disc pressure by 50 percent. A similar phenomenon occurs in the neck during forward neck flexion. Movement of the arms forward increases neck and back bending as well as cumulative pressure in the shoulder joints and nearby muscles. So someone who is regularly stressing these key areas of the body forward is directly contributing to the symptoms that arise.

Similarly, loading/unloading the dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer typically requires extreme lower back bending with twisting while the arms are extended and the head and neck are unnaturally flexed and/or twisted. No wonder the low back, neck, and shoulders are first to scream and ultimately break down. General overuse of forward movements – especially in the absence of counteracting those movements with extension actions (see exercise) – leads to slumping deformity and much less enjoyment of life along the way.

In reality, household chore habits were learned by watching others, and then mimicking their behavior, thereby adopting the habit (and the problems) by default.

HABIT: Helpful (or Harmful) Automatic Behavior Increasing over Time

Most of daily movement is habit driven. I describe a habit as a Helpful (or Harmful) Automatic Behavior Increasing over Time. The brain is wired to move repetitive tasks into automatic mode so the conscious mind can focus on responding to a person’s current environment. This can be good or bad because little things (movements) add up. If the tasks are health positive, then there is a good outcome for accomplishing the task at hand without sacrificing areas of the body. But use poor form—and accumulate those habits over time—and people will be headed to see a health care professional.

I advise my patients to consider these simple steps while tackling each of their household tasks:

  • Size up your task.
  • Choose your tools.
  • Master your tools and apply good technique.
  • Warm up.
  • Discover something you like about the task.
  • Do your thing.
  • Unwind and smile.

My simple 30-second warm-up and unwind exercise provides a powerful counteraction to harmful movements performed during household (or office) tasks.

30-Second Warm-up and Unwind Exercise

Take just 30 seconds before you get out the vacuum or turn on the iron and do this:

  • Stand up flat footed.
  • Partially close your eyes.
  • Push your chest out and up like a soldier.
  • Breathe in deeply … and out slowly. Do this again.
  • Smile.
  • Lift both shoulders toward your ears, then roll them back. Do this one more time.
  • Relax your shoulders and arms.
  • Stretch your fingers and hands as if you are making a high-five with your hands by your sides.
  • Look toward the floor. Then look upward to the ceiling.
  • Look straight ahead, then turn your head slowly to the right and then to the left.
  • Keep smiling.
  • Breathe in deeply … then exhale slowly.
  • Now you are ready to start your task or unwind from your task.

This simple stretch may have taken only 30 seconds, but here is what was accomplished:

  • You gave your eyes a vision break.
  • Deep breathing stretched and exercised your chest muscles and expanded your rib cage enabling you to breathe deeper and better.
  • Deep breathing also refreshed your body with extra oxygen.
  • Smiling interrupted the stress cycle allowing you to focus your attention on your current task.

The neck and shoulder movements helped relieve cumulative muscle tension and spinal restriction that occurs while performing prolonged or repetitive forward flexed tasks such as household cleaning.

Consumer Checklist of Household Tasks (and the Best Ways to Accomplish Them Injury-Free)

Ironing

Why should your low back pay the price when all you want is a freshly ironed shirt? What if you could actually feel better and be healthier after ironing rather than feeling stressed or strained afterward? Ironing may seem like a minor, mindless activity, but it can be leveraged into a health-positive event that you can learn to actually enjoy and feel better doing.

  • Perform the 30-Second Warm-up Exercise.
  • Take a few moments to learn how to adjust your ironing board to minimize forward bending of your back and neck. The board should be positioned so that forward back bending is minimized, which is usually slightly less than waist high.
  • Reduce unnecessary reaching while ironing as well while reaching for items to iron and hanging them when completed. Position the to-be-ironed pile and hangers at board level, on a table or countertop in your kitchen. Place newly ironed items on a hook positioned at eye level, not at the top of a door. Many people consider their little-used treadmill as a laundry center and use the hand grips for hanging laundry!
  • Iron in a well-lit room so you can see your work clearly and don’t have to squint and lean farther forward to inspect your work.
  • Choose your iron carefully. You may only occasionally buy a new iron so make sure it is well made, has a comprehensive warranty, and fits your needs. (My favorite is the Panasonic 360 that is well balanced and has forward as well as backward pressing power. This revolutionary movement has been shown to decrease ironing time by up to 25 percent. Since this newly designed iron is lifted up and placed on the fabric to be pressed with less frequency, you should experience less strain in your arms, shoulders, neck, and back.)
  • Ironing techniques can vary, but generally speaking place the fabric to be ironed on the ironing surface in line with the seams of the item and use smooth movements with light to moderate pressure. Use spray or steam to assist as indicated for the fabric type. Elbow and wrist movements should be smooth and easy. Be careful not to awkwardly twist your wrist while ironing.
  • If you are ironing for a prolonged period of time, try shifting your feet farther apart to change the weight distribution to knees, hips, and back. You can also try moving one foot forward of the other to shift knee, hip, and back pressures. Don’t lock your knees.
  • Iron in pleasant surroundings. If you’re stuck in a dark basement laundry room, you surely don’t want to be there for a long time. Move to the family room or bedroom and surround yourself with music, photos, and happy smells.
  • Place the TV in front of you and the ironing board. Watching TV forces you to look up from the downward gaze of your eyes, from time to time. Be sure to look up only when the iron is not on the fabric and do not risk inadvertently touching the sole plate of the iron.
  • Open and close the ironing board carefully and from a position that is not forward bent and twisted. Wall-mounted ironing boards may be able to be adjusted for your height. If not simply take a stretch break more frequently.
  • Perform the 30-Second Unwind Exercise.

Vacuuming

Back and forth. Back and forth. Lift a chair. Move a couch. No wonder vacuuming qualifies for moderate physical activity, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

  • Perform the 30-Second Warm-up Exercise.
  • Catch a glance at yourself in a mirror. Are you stooping forward so your posture is off-balance? Do you twist your upper body and shoulders, concentrating all the force in your shoulders while you push and pull? Bend your knees slightly and hold your body in a more upright and balanced position.
  • Distribute the force and leverage of your pushing and pulling by stepping forward and back with your legs.
  • Don’t overreach with your arms and shoulders.
  • Periodically push on your thigh with your free hand to gain some extra leverage.
  • Whether you use an upright vacuum or a canister-type with a nozzle, put the handle in the best position to accommodate your height. If you’re shorter, you can increase the leverage by holding the handle lower.
  • Avoid wearing shoes that cause unstable footing while stepping forward, backward, and side to side or cause extra pressure in your feet, ankles, knees, back, neck, or shoulders.
  • When lifting the vacuum cleaner up or down stairs or over obstacles, try using both hands and keep the vacuum cleaner as close to your body as practical. Watch your step to avoid tripping or slipping over the cord.
  • Perform the 30-Second Unwind Exercise.

Loading/Unloading the Dishwasher, Washer, and Dryer

  • Place the basket at the same level as the machine, perhaps on a stool.
  • Don’t bend at the waist and lift wet objects out by straightening your back. Your knees were built for bending so use them in that way. Even slight bending of the knees can take a lot of pressure away from the lower back. If you have knee problems, then do what is possible to treat and care for them.
  • Lift the laundry basket by moving your legs close to the basket, use your legs, squat lower for deeper lifts, keep your head up, now lift. Use this same technique for carrying groceries, luggage, and other heavy items too.
  • If you need to reach for the laundry detergent or to place clean dishes into upper kitchen cabinets, think about ways to reorganize and move these items to lower shelves more easily reached. Use a step stool carefully to place items higher than you can comfortably reach.
  • With new front-end loading washers with matching front-loading dryers, see if you can buy the stackable models. Then moving wet clothes to the dryer is a downward movement.

Washing Dishes

If you do dishes the old-fashioned way, you might stand at the sink for a prolonged period of time.

  • Place one foot on a step stool and slightly bend the other knee. This is a similar stance you might take while waiting in line if you have something to step your foot onto (such as the grocery cart at the supermarket).
  • Look up from time to time. If you’re lucky enough to have a window over your sink, place a bird feeder there.
  • Loading a dishwasher often requires bending, twisting, and reaching – three strikes working against you. If you cannot avoid these movements, then try to eliminate one (or better yet two) of them at any given moment.
  • Whenever possible have two people load the dishwasher and position yourselves so twisting is minimized. Loading goes much more quickly that way too.

Mopping, Scrubbing, Sweeping

  • Keep your head up.
  • Keep your wrists flat and straight by placing your hand along the side of the mop or broom handle.
  • Don’t thrust your arm out and twist. Face the task head on.
  • If you’re down on your knees with the scrub brush for a particularly dirty floor, take frequent breaks (maybe do half the floor one day and finish up the next).
  • Instead of bending over to sweep dust into a dustpan, find one with a longer handle or simply squat down instead of bending over.

Final Thoughts

Be aware of bad form that becomes a harmful habit over time. Break the bad habits and postures by adopting a new pattern. Take quick stretch breaks. Seek ergonomic tools to help you do your tasks better and healthier, such as the Panasonic 360 iron that allows you to iron in both directions.

Do not become overwhelmed by trying to make too many changes at once. One change, even a slight one, heads you in a safer and more comfortable direction. Ask yourself at the end of a task or series of tasks if you are feeling better. If so, you are again heading in the right direction. If not, take a moment to decide what you might be able to do differently. If you have a health condition, be sure to ask your qualified health professional before making changes.

Instead of letting nagging household chores bother you, think of them in a positive light and brainstorm ways to make these tasks more pleasant. First think of them in a positive way; then healthier outcomes follow. You can always find solutions for a better outcome.

“My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.” Erma Bombeck

“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.” Phyllis Diller

“Housework is something you do that nobody notices until you don’t do it.” Author Unknown

© Copyright 2010, Dr. Scott Donkin