Archive for May 2011

Chronic Neck Pain or Headache? It Could Be Your Breathing.

The second most common complaint that chiropractors see is neck pain. Third on the list is headache. What some people may not realize is that these two complaints are often related. Not only this, but in many cases, the cause of the pain is a chronic tightening, or hypertonicity, of the shoulder girdle muscles, such as the upper trapezius, scalenes, and levator scap. When these muscles tighten, they often develop trigger points, which can refer pain into the head, causing headache. So, we know that the tightened muscle can cause neck pain and headache, but what causes the tight muscle?

There are multiple causes of tightened muscle which warrants a thorough evaluation to determine. However, in some cases, the cause is postural and may involve how you breathe. There is a correct form to breathing that people often train themselves out of. Take a look at any newborn and you will see their belly expand with each inhalation. However, there is a subconscious tendency for people to want to breathe with their chests. Men want their chests to look bigger and both men and women want to suck in their gut. This results in a habitual breathing pattern that ultimately inhibits the diaphragm, the key muscle for respiration. When the diaphragm becomes inhibited, other muscles have to take over and do the job. Which muscles take over? The upper trapezius, the levator scap, and the scalene muscles.

How many breaths per day do you think you take? Breathing does not turn off, it is a constant throughout your lifetime. If you think about it, the muscles being worked to breath are not given much opportunity to relax. Therefore, if your shoulder and neck muscles are not relaxing, they are tightening over time and the end result is that neck pain and headache that you are complaining about.

Developing correct breathing pattern is a key rehab exercise that I perform in my office with these types of patients. If this area is not addressed in care, you may be looking at persistent neck pain and headache that never really go away. You can even seek daily treatment, but if you’re still breathing incorrectly, get ready for an uphill battle.

Oh, proper breathing pattern also helps protect your low back. Think about that one.

A Brief Summary of Fish Oil

I often receive questions from patients or friends regarding fish oils. Most often, they ask me what does it do or does fish oil really work? The funny thing about nutrition is that there are always studies that bring media attention; this results in a trendy “buzz” and many people jumping on the bandwagon. Even with huge leaps in health popularity, most people taking part aren’t even sure why they jumped on in the first place. These very same people will ultimately discontinue the practice once the buzz dies down.

Fish oil became one the trendy health topics this past decade, much of the buzz being its role in heart health and cholesterol. Though it does play a part in that area, fish oil serves for many other uses that most people aren’t aware of. I feel it is so important, in fact, that I consider it to be one of the 4 essential supplements that everyone should be taking.

It is the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil that serve as the health benefits, which come in two forms: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is known for regulating inflammatory process and DHA is known especially for central nervous system support (the brain and spinal cord). Let’s focus on EPA first.

If you look at virtually any type of disease there is a common component: inflammation. Heart disease begins with inflammation of the arterial walls, Crohn’s disease is inflammation of the intestines, rheumatoid arthritis is joint inflammation. I could go on forever listing diseases. EPA, as a regulator of inflammation, can help in controlling these processes. I am not saying fish oil is a cure, but it can absolutely aid in reducing flare ups and fighting the progression of disease.

DHA is a major supporter of central nervous system health and is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain. By supplementing DHA, you are improving brain function. In fact, a loss of DHA in the brain has been connected with depression and cognitive decline.

The listed health benefits are only a few examples what fish oil can do. To my patients, I typically recommend 1-2 grams of EPA and DHA every day for simple health maintenance. In cases where I working with disease processes, I may raise that number up to 4-8 grams per day, depending on the patient.

One final piece of advice to those that would rather get their oils from eating fish as opposed to the supplement. I applaud your philosophy in getting nutrients from whole food sources, however, in this case, you will not achieve the benefits. In order to get 1-2 grams of EPA/DHA per day you would be eating a lot of fish. Unfortunately, in today’s world, eating all of that fish also means ingesting a lot of heavy metals, such as mercury. The danger of heavy metal toxicity is much too great. Having fish in your diet is a great idea, but not every day. Supplement with a high quality fish oil supplement instead.

Big Pharmaceutical Tactic: Selling Vitamins as “Drugs”

Recently I have been seeing a lot of commercials for a new drug called “Niaspan”, a cholesterol lowering drug that can be prescribed by your doctor. The immediate thought in my head was You’re kidding, right? Niaspan, also known as niacin, is just another name for vitamin B3! Pharmaceutical companies have essentially patented a high dose, time release tablet of vitamin B3 which you can only get through prescription. You shouldn’t need a prescription for a vitamin! It’s really an attempt by the big pharmaceutical companies to now control the vitamin market. It’s this type of issue that has translated into inflated costs for health insurance!

Vitamin B3, like all of the other B vitamins, is important for many functions in the body. However, the commercial fails to mention that these vitamins work with each other as well as other vitamins for these bodily functions to work properly. You don’t want to take B3 alone, take it with all of the others! The claims of the Niaspan website are that it comes in a much higher dose than supplemental niacin, thus making it more effective. It is true that it’s concentration is higher, but you can just as easily increase your dose of supplemental B3 instead. However, be careful with your dosage of niacin as you can overdose and develop the “niacin flush”. The niacin flush is a reddening, warming, and itching of the skin when you take too much niacin at once. It really is not harmful, but people can become uncomfortable or alarmed when it occurs. Fear not, it will pass. But if you were to take the recommended dose of supplemental niacin a few times a day, this can be avoided. And the best part: Supplemented B complex is a whole lot cheaper than the other prescription “drug”.

Do You Have Sciatica? Don’t Jump Into Surgery Just Yet.

The posted link is an article about some research performed last year comparing chiropractic care to surgery for sciatic patients. In summary, the study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, found that chiropractic care was equally as effective as disk surgery when it came to correcting sciatic problems. I do want to emphasize that the people who performed this research were neurosurgeons, with only one chiropractor! So, let’s compare these two treatment options. Surgery is much more expensive at around $25,000. Surgery is much more dangerous. During a surgery there is the risk of injury to any body tissue, not to mention the potential dangers of anesthesia. Finally, spinal disc surgery is going to include significant bed rest time, leaving the patient out of work and unable to function. It only makes sense that surgery not be your first option for this condition. Read the article for yourself.

I was having some trouble getting the link to work correctly. If that happens to you, try to copy and paste the URL instead.

What is CoQ10 and do I need it?

CoQ10, or Coenzyme Q10, is a supplement that has become more popular in recent years. I often get questions from patients about what CoQ10 is and if they should be taking it. In an attempt not to make it too complicated, here is my explanation.

CoQ10 is a coenzyme also called ubiquinone and it is found in the cells of your body within small organisms called mitochondria. Interestingly enough, mitochondria aren’t actually human and contain their own DNA! Despite this fact, the mitochondria are crucial for human survival because they are known as the “power plants” of cells, with their primary purpose being energy generation. Within the mitochondria is where CoQ10 is located. Without going into the chemistry too deeply, CoQ10 aids in electron transport that ultimately creates energy for the body in great amounts. Without CoQ10, your body will not be creating energy as efficiently as it should be.

Different tissues and organs in the body have different concentrations of mitochondria. The heart, for example, has very high levels because it is constantly working and needs a lot of energy. Makes sense. This is why CoQ10 is said to help the heart. More CoQ10 means more energy production from the mitochondria, translating into more energy for the heart (among other organs in the body).

This topic brings me to mention statin drugs. Statins are the drugs that people with high cholesterol are typically prescribed. The purpose of these drugs is to block the body’s production of cholesterol. This also makes sense, but here’s the kicker: The very bodily process that makes cholesterol also creates CoQ10. Therefore, blocking cholesterol production is also blocking our CoQ10. It’s funny that a drug intended to improve cardiovascular function is also reducing our heart’s energy. That being said, anyone who takes a statin drug for high cholesterol should also be supplementing with CoQ10.

Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Let’s face it, Maine residents don’t get enough sunlight. We experience long winters, which translates into more days out the year spent indoors. In addition to that, more snow equals more cloud cover. Even in many months where we are outside, it is still relatively chilly and we are in long pants and jackets. This can develop into long term health problems because sunlight is crucial in converting vitamin D into an active form which the body can utilize. Many people already know of the dangers of osteoporosis, particularly in women, but what about other health issues?

There has been a lot of recent research conducted to explore the health benefits of vitamin D. There was one published research article in the journal Anticancer Research that found a 50% reduction in chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis when the vitamin D blood saturation level was above 50 ng/ml. This is especially important news for Maine residents, as well as any other community in the north where sunlight is scarce. Vitamin D supplementation should absolutely be considered in everyone’s diet. Not only this, many consider the FDA recommendations to be the bare minimum for vitamin D supplementation. Personally, I feel the bare minimum vitamin D intake should be around 1,000 IU, and even more benefit can be found at the 4,000-5,000 IU levels. Every individual requires a different amount, but generally speaking, everybody needs more vitamin D.

Chiropractic for Carpal Tunnel

The included link is a great article by Philip Vincent at When most people think of chiropractic care, they think of back or neck pain. Though this is true, chiropractors also have effective treatments for any type of musculoskeletal injury, including carpal tunnel syndrome. It simply makes sense to explore care options that are less invasive before looking into surgery. Though surgery does have it’s place in health care, patients may save themselves a lot of pain and money by considering conservative care first.