Most people have heard we need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. However, many people struggle with getting this basic sleep requirement. Difficulty sleeping can be multifactorial, but there are some simple tips and cues we can use to help us get to and stay asleep.
Caffeine consumption could be a large contributor to your inability to sleep well. Caffeine blocks a chemical in the brain called adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical that builds throughout the day, making you feel sleepy the more it accumulates. Think of your brain as an empty parking lot after you wake up. If “adenosine cars” are allowed to fill the lot, you will feel sleepy. If you fill the parking lot with “caffeine cars,” those spots will be taken and adenosine will have no places to park. This will result in you feeling more alert. The effects of caffeine peak around five hours after consumption, and last for up to 10-12 hours after consumption.
A lot of people come into the clinic reporting they take melatonin to help them sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall asleep. However, melatonin does not keep you asleep. If you find yourself waking up a few hours after taking a melatonin supplement, you may want to look at other ways of creating a better sleep schedule. Avoid viewing light from 11 p.m. to 4 a.m., as light inhibits the release of melatonin.
Light from the sun early in the morning can help set your circadian rhythm. The light from the sun has a different quality than light from your phone, so try not to view your phone or other electronic devices first thing in the morning. If you are trying to go to bed at an earlier time, but have a tough time falling asleep, it takes at least two to three days to reset your circadian rhythm. Do not be discouraged if it takes at least two to three days to adjust to your new wake/sleep schedule. Blue light glasses can also be good for night time, but should be avoided in the middle of the day.
We go through multiple phases during our sleep cycle. Two of the main cycles of sleep are REM and Non REM sleep. These cycles do not occur at the same time. If we miss out on two hours of sleep by going to bed late, we will miss about half of the Non-REM sleep; if we wake up two hours early, we will miss out on half of our REM sleep. So even though we are getting six out of the eight hours we need, we will miss out of half of a certain type of sleep based on whether we are going to bed late, or waking up abnormally early.
If you are struggling with your sleep, give the above takeaways a shot! If you are still having trouble sleeping due to neck, shoulder, back pain - what have you - give us a call or hit the button above, to see how we can help you get a more restful and effective night's sleep.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Sam, PT, DPT, OCS
During its more than seven years of business, Athletes’ Potential has had the opportunity to work with literally thousands of people. Through these patient experiences, we have accrued countless hours of repetition in helping people get out of pain and back to living an active and fulfilled lifestyle. We’ve worked with people with all kinds of different training backgrounds, differing life demands, and different goals for the outcome they want from their training. Through these hours of repetitions we’ve noticed some trends.
There are certain building blocks – habits, training styles, and mindsets – that exponentially increase your ability to master your health and wellness, which yields results that are much more impactful than simply looking better when you stand in front of the mirror. Understanding the three critical building blocks of health and wellness that we’re uncovering in this article is like a cheat code and here’s the cool part: It’s pretty simple.
Remember though, simple does not always equal easy.
Building Block #1: Know Your “Why”
This may seem obvious, but this is crucially important and honestly a lot harder for most people than they realize. Reason being, when we ask most people why they work out, we get responses like “to get/stay fit!” or “to be healthy,” and while we all like to look good when we’re naked, if that’s the furthest you’ve gone for discovering your “why,” you’re setting yourself up for burnout, poorer outcomes, and increasing your risk for injury.
Instead, dig a little deeper for your true “why.” In human psychology, the term for this is intrinsic value. What creates intrinsic value is different for everyone but some common examples of intrinsic value include self-worth, community, and connection. When we relate this to our health and wellness, that’s where the real magic happens.
For example, instead of, “I train so hard so that I can lose 20 pounds,” try this: “Nothing makes me happier than the time I have with my family. I want to maximize my presence, engagement, and capability of enjoying the activities that they enjoy doing.”
It may seem like overkill, but the data is indisputable. When you direct your efforts towards intrinsic motivators vs extrinsic motivators (ex: someone telling you you look like you’ve lost weight), you’ll enjoy your time that much more when you exercise, you’ll have significantly higher success at managing your health and wellness, and you’re more likely to lose that 20 pounds anyway. ;)
Building Block #2: Simplify The Process
There is so much noise out there. There’s so many people out there who are trying to tell you what you SHOULD do, what you SHOULDN’T do, and they really have no clue who you even are. This is nothing new though. In the 1950s, “gurus” we’re claiming the hula hoop was the key to unlocking washboard abs. In the 1960s, these same people were claiming you could shake your weight away with a vibrating belt. It’s a never-ending cycle that is myopic at best and predatorial at worst. Also, these same gurus have constant access to your attention through the device on which you’re either reading this article, is in your pocket, or is undoubtedly within arms reach.
A beautiful benefit to understanding your true “why” from building block number one, though, is once you figure that out, it becomes infinitely easier to overlook the 18-year-old with no children or family and counting on them telling you that you if you don’t drink your warm lemon water, read 20 pages of your favorite book, and meditate for an hour before you start your day, then you’re unsuccessful in your health and wellness program.
Obviously, being a little vicious here. I know plenty of young clinicians, coaches, and trainers who are incredible at what they do.
My point being, managing your health and wellness can be complex and complexity leads to confusion and the opportunity for misinformation. After you do building block number one, the best way you can combat this complexity is to find an expert who will take the time to understand that your marathon training has just as much to do with being a better parent as it does with “staying in shape,” who knows that you train so hard in the gym because it’s your way of battling the high demands that work is giving you and who will set you up on an appropriate game plan.
Building Block #3: Have Fun
You could have the perfect nutrition plan, the perfect training program, and all the time in the world, but at the end of the day if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’re still looking at a higher burnout rate, poorer outcomes, and increasing your risk for injury.
Of course, not everyday is going to be rainbows and butterflies, but if you enjoy running and all you’re doing is strength training because your friend Joe told you it’s the best way to lose weight, then you’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle. Conversely, if you love strength training but all you do is running because Susan from Instagram said it’s better for your knees than squatting, you’re missing the point of spending time during the day to make yourself a healthier, happier human being.
At the end of the day, exercise is man-made. Kind of interesting to think about; right? There’s very few absolutes and everything is adjustable to fit your body, your goals, and your intrinsic values. While squats are great, important, and everyone should be able to do them, it’s not the only way to improve your leg strength. Deadlifts are incredible, but pulling a barbell off the ground isn’t the only way to do them.
At Athletes’ Potential, getting people out of pain is simply the start of how we impact the lives of the people who we work with on a daily basis. Once you are out of pain, not only do we have a ton of relationships with gyms in Atlanta with great coaches and training programs that we can point you towards, but we also have a number of services that provide you the opportunity to:
If you’re in the Atlanta area and are interested in working with a unique professional that can help you not only get out of pain but optimize your health and wellness in all of the areas discussed in this article, we need to talk.
Submit a contact request by clicking the button below and we’ll get you set up with one of our Doctors for a free 15-minute phone consultation.
Thanks for reading,
Doc Jake, PT, DPT, CSCS
Candy and cocktails and pies, oh my!
The holidays mean food. And for most people, that means all the yummy things that we tell ourselves are “bad” or off limits. So, how do we stick to our diets and double down on some ironclad willpower when we’re constantly faced with a barrage of savory, sweet, and decadent delights?
Here’s it is… the secret is out… all you have to do is… just eat. That’s it. Just eat.
For starters, the literal definition of a diet is, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” Knowing that, I want to get rid of the word “diet” in the context of implying that how a person normally eats isn’t okay and that one should stick to a structured approach, eliminating a group foods or only allowing certain foods at special times of the year, and only in moderation. (Of course, disregard if you have a legitimate allergy/aversion to something - like if an EpiPen would need to be involved).
Does this mean that you must Scrooge McDuck yourself into a vault of gravy and/or chocolate in order to assert your dominance over society’s standards of health and beauty? No. I mean, you do you. Side note: If you do have a vault and are filling it with gravy and/or chocolate to surf on and dive into, please call me. However, including fruits, veggies, water, and movement into our day are great ways to keep you feeling good, physically and mentally. Now, don’t beat yourself up about it, but being mindful of what foods and actions make us feel our best is always a good idea. We just don’t need to freak out that we’re eating a cinnamon bun for breakfast and then figuring out how many burpees we’ll need to do to “burn it off.” Taking the stress out being “good” or “bad” is what’s going to allow you to enjoy your life, holidays or not.
As we’ve established, for most people, the holidays are filled with fun treats and ways to relax that aren’t typically part of our daily lives year-round. So, take the time to slow down and enjoy your grandma’s famous apple pie that brings you back to a special memory. Have an extra cocktail with your dad on the front porch while making jokes that your mom would roll her eyes at. Take shots of whipped cream straight from the can while your cat, Jeff, looks at you in confusion and disgust while you stand in the soft, warm glow of the open fridge door. But enough about me… dive into whatever comfort and joy mean to you. No judgment!
If we are constantly afraid that what we eat and how we choose to enjoy things are going to make us “bad” or ruin our waistlines (whatever that means), then I think the true meaning of the holiday season is lost. In a year, five years, 20 years, you’re not going to remember what you weighed or that you were “good” because you turned down a favorite food. You’re going to want to look back and be thankful that you created special memories, enjoyed yourself, and made more inside jokes that will annoy your loved ones for another 20 years. And your judgmental cat. Chill out, Jeff…
Thanks for reading and happy holidays,
Claire, Office Manager at Athletes' Potential
Breathing. Seemingly, the most innate skill set you have as a human being. So innate that it’s used as a benchmark for being a healthy newborn and your first time taking a breath happens within the first 10 seconds you enter this world. Fast forward to adulthood and you’re breathing an average of 12 to 20 times per minute without a single thought. With all that practice, we must be pretty good at it; right? Not exactly. Stress, lifestyle choices, and mechanics all play a huge role in how we breathe, and all breath is not created equal.
Want an example of just how easily influenced our breathing patterns are? Look no further than something called “Email Apnea.” Yeah, that’s a real term, and it’s used to describe the phenomenon of people holding their breath when they read their email. One study by Business Insider found that upwards of 80% of people actually do this and I bet if you pay attention you’ll catch yourself doing it as well.
But who cares? It's just reading emails, and if we don’t even notice it's happening it must not be that big of a deal; right? Wrong. When we interrupt our normal breathing patterns by either not breathing or taking short shallow breaths, we’re creating a stress response in our body, and when we do this over prolonged periods of time, it can have profound consequences on our health. That’s because our brain can’t decipher between the stress of being chased by a bear and the stress of being behind for an important work deadline. To the brain, stress is stress and breathing short, shallow breaths is one of the main ways our brain interprets stress. All this to say that shallow breathing is both a cause of increased stress and a symptom of increased stress responses, creating a vicious negative feedback loop leading people to live in a chronically stressed state of mind. Here are some examples of how detrimental this can be on your health.
Here’s the good news though: The negative health consequences associated with prolonged disturbances in our breath can be easily prevented with just a little awareness and some intention. Simply taking longer, deeper breaths using your diaphragm (vs your chest) has been demonstrated time and time again to prevent the effects of chronic stress. The key word here though is “longer.”
As we recently discussed on the Active Atlanta Podcast with therapist Megan Gillsespie, a big mistake commonly made when we tell people to “take a deep breath” is they do just that! We take this huge inhale and then quickly exhale all that air back out. All the focus is on the inhale, when it should be on the exhale.
When we focus on slow, long exhales instead of long inhales only, what we start to do is upregulate our parasympathetic nervous system, which puts our body into a relaxed state. By simply increasing the durations of our exhale, we can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, decrease pain, improve concentration, and so much more. It’s a true biohack that is free, easy, and incredibly powerful.
So, how do you do it? Do you just take long exhales and call it a day? While not wrong, there’s a more organized and effective way of doing so and it's called “parasympathetic breathing.” You can practice this technique by lying on your back with your feet up on the wall (as demonstrated in this video) and use a 4-7-8 breathing pattern, where you inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Set a timer for five minutes and repeat this pattern. Try not to fall asleep in the process! Be sure to use your diaphragm instead of your chest when doing this by simply putting one hand on your stomach and another hand on your chest. When you inhale and exhale the only hand that should be moving is the one on your stomach. Once you get the hang of it, feel free to make this less formal and start implementing throughout your day, at your desk, in your car, etc. It doesn't matter where, just make it a part of your daily habits.
At Athletes' Potential, we have a profound understanding for how the body works and how your sleep, stress management, nutrition, and movement practices all coalesce to create a healthier life. If you’re dealing with low back pain, chronic pain, recurring injuries, or a nagging injury that’s preventing you from living life at your highest capacity, give us a call or click the button below and we’ll call you!
We help people just like you every single day. Whether you’re someone who doesn’t know where to start or has had an unsuccessful rehab experience, we’re confident we can help you as well.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jake, PT, DPT, CSCS
Mindful Tolerance and The Parasympathetic Nervous System - How You Can Help Yourself Get More Out Of Your Manual Therapy
As a physical therapist, my job is to interact with pain and discomfort all day long. Most people don’t come to see me when they’re feeling great! They come to see me when they are injured, sad, and without a clear path forward. They come to see me when pain is not only slowing them down, but possibly taking away something that they love, such as running or sport! The pain they feel is a warning light that is flashing bright, and every patient I’ve ever seen has needed some guidance on how to interpret the signals that their pain is trying to convey.
Seeing as every experience of pain is unique to the individual, I won’t go into specifics on these subjective experiences, as they are so varied! What I do want to share is what we now know about pain science that we didn’t know even just ten years ago, and more importantly what can we do with this knowledge of pain science! As it turns out, there are reasonably well-performed studies that support the use of short bouts of mindfulness to manage pain tolerance.(1) A huge review came out in 2020 that may be worth looking through if you have the time (see citations). Now, within my treatment room, I’ve seen tons of evidence that mindfulness helps pain tolerance!
Any time I perform any type of manual therapy treatment -- dry needling, voodoo band application, Graston, or cupping -- I’m very aware of my patient’s pain tolerance. It is very important that my patients be able to relax while I’m performing these techniques. I’ve seen time and time again, if a patient is not breathing deeply in a relaxed state (or at least attempting to!), the technique is less effective.
This makes sense. In one of my favorite books on pain science, “Explain Pain,” by David Butler, the “fight or flight” system is the sympathetic nervous system. This system can be triggered by various stimuli, such as loud noises, fearful emotions, and other things that we determine as possible threats. Once this system is triggered, our muscles tense as we are getting ready to fight or run. This is the exact opposite system we want triggered when we are receiving physical therapy treatments! What we would like to trigger is the parasympathetic nervous system, as it is the system responsible for our “rest and digest” capacity.
As a side note, if you have any interest in pain science, I’d highly recommend you purchase the book, “Explain Pain.” It has been incredibly formative in my practice and is written in an approachable, well-explained manner that can give you a great understanding of our pain system. Ok, back to the systems!
If my patients are able to tap into this parasympathetic system, their muscles relax and absorb the treatments that I am providing. So, what is the best way to access this parasympathetic system? While I wish we could access this system with a light switch, we cannot. But, the most effective way to coax it into action is through deep breathing and mindfulness. Many times, I can simply hold onto a trigger point and ask my patients to breathe deeply, and with no motion and the proper application of pressure, we work as a team to access their parasympathetic system, thereby allowing the trigger point to release more rapidly than if I were to be fighting with their sympathetic system!
So, the next time you’re on that foam roller, lacrosse ball, or receiving dry needling, do your best to breathe deeply. You’ll be accessing your parasympathetic nervous system, getting more results more rapidly, and getting yourself to where you want to be with your muscle tissue. If you have any questions on this mechanism in our body or think you would like to experience the effect that breathing and “downregulation” has on physical therapy treatments, reach out and schedule a session with me today!
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Marcus Rein PT, DPT
1. Shires, Alice, et al. “The Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Acute Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Pain, vol. 161, no. 8, 2020, pp. 1698–1707., https://doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001877.
2. Butler, David S., et al. Explain Pain. Noigroup Publications, 2019.
I have recently had quite a few people training for their first full marathon! One of the most common questions I get asked is: What should I eat before and during a marathon? Well, if you are racing soon, stick to eating the same meals you eat before your long training runs. Try to remain consistent with your eating habits throughout the training process once you discover what nutrition works best for your performance. Race nutrition includes fluid intake the days leading up to the race, dinner the night before, breakfast the day of, and supplements during your run.
Whatever you do, avoid making any drastic changes in your behavior before or during the race.
Dinner: For dinner you want to eat good complex carbs (vegetables and grains), a medium amount of protein (fish or chicken are my go-to choices), with a small amount of high quality fat. Avoid eating high fiber foods and foods with high fat content the night before the race as they are tougher to digest and can lead to GI problems during the race (i.e. beans or lentils). Again, try to remain consistent with your eating habits and don’t try anything too different before your race (common theme).
Late Night Snack: If you have a difficult time waking up to eat an early pre-race breakfast, you can try eating a late snack. This also comes in handy if you have traveled or changed time zones for your race. Try to mimic what you would eat for breakfast the day before a race (simple carbs and a little protein).
Breakfast: Try eating breakfast at least two hours prior to the start of the race. You do not want to eat too close to the start time or you will have to continue to digest your breakfast during the race. Your breakfast should consist of mostly simple carbs (oatmeal, bagel, toast, rice) and a little protein (protein shake, egg whites, low-fat Greek yogurt), or something like Kodiak cakes (carbs + protein in one!). Again, avoid high fiber cereals and high fat foods, as these foods are harder to digest and can lead to GI problems during the race.
Pre-Race Snack: An hour before the race you can eat some simple carbs that can easily convert to energy. Fruit with honey is a good option. Oftentimes I will make a fruit smoothie ahead of time for a pre-race snack.
Caffeine: Caffeine is a stimulant that can help with your performance during endurance races and training. If you are used to drinking coffee before your long runs, then go ahead and drink coffee before the race. Be aware that some energy gels and blocks contain caffeine, so test these products out during your long runs prior to race day!
Caffeine can also cause GI distress, stimulate the nervous system, and lead to increased heart rate, and, if consumed in excess, can lead to increased urination. All of these issues can create problems for the endurance athlete. If you are not used to consuming caffeine, then the day of the race is not the best time to find out how you will respond.
During the race: It is good to know what nutrition will be supplied during the race. Some races are sponsored and will have the nutrition supplements of the race sponsor out on the course. For example if they are supplying GU gels, but you are used to Honey Stinger products, then you should plan on bringing your own nutrition for during the race. A good option is to set an alarm on your watch throughout the race to prompt you to drink and eat small amounts on a regular basis. That way, you are more likely to keep on track for your nutrition goals.
One of the biggest issues I see with novice endurance runners is the lack of fluid and energy intake early in the race. It takes time for your body to digest and use the energy you consume. If you wait until you feel thirsty, or start to feel shaky from glycogen storage loss, it’s too late. So, I tell runners to drink and eat early in the race and drink before you feel thirsty. Maintaining hydration throughout the entire race with smaller but consistent amounts is easier on the stomach than trying to play catch-up with large amounts of fluids once you feel thirsty.
After the race: You want to make sure you continue to stay hydrated. If it was an especially hot race, you may need to continue replacing your electrolytes throughout the day with a sports drink.
Make a plan, stick to the plan, and good luck racing!
Thanks for reading,
Sam Gillespie PT, DPT
Countless times, I have been asked if it is safe for youth athletes to start strength training. “Aren’t there risks to their growth plates?” and “Won’t it stunt their growth?” are common concerns. It is the purpose of this article to face these questions head on and go to the research.
Growth Plate Damage Causing Stunted Growth?
The epiphyseal plate, also known as the growth plate, is a critical part of a child’s development. A properly growing epiphyseal plate ensures that the child will grow taller! So what does the evidence say about strength training and growth plate damage causing stunted growth? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) concludes in a review that “...there is no evidence to suggest that resistance training has a negative impact on a youth’s growth potential.” Further studies by Dr. Avery Faigenbaum have even shown that there are possible positive effects to the growth plates from a strength training program.
Strength training injuries are typically found in youth athletes to be strains and sprains, with occasionally a fracture. While these are unfortunate, the statistics are clear: the rate of injury with sports such as soccer, basketball, and football are much higher than the rate of injuries with strength training or weightlifting. I would strongly argue that the actual benefits of strength training for youth athletes far outweigh the risks.
So What Are The Benefits?
A 2019 review of eight studies concluded that strength programs that were properly executed and supervised actually decreased injuries for youth athletes. Not only were these programs safe for athletes, but they experienced fewer injuries after the strength and conditioning programs were completed.
A 2016 review of 43 studies concluded that significant performance increases can be achieved through strength and conditioning for youth athletes. Increased muscle strength, vertical jump performance, linear sprint performance, agility, and sport specific performance in team sport athletes, endurance athletes, and individual athletes were all seen in youth athletes aged from 6-18. The strength and conditioning programs varied greatly according to the ages, sex, and development of the athletes, each tailored to the development capacity of the youth athlete.
With the right coaching, a strength and conditioning program is safe, effective at decreasing injuries, and effective at increasing performance. The fears of stunted growth need to be put to rest! If you have more thoughts about youth athletes performing appropriate strength and conditioning, check out the citations below! If you’d like to discuss this further, feel free to reach out!
Marcus Rein, PT DPT
Halloween is this weekend, which means there are going to be a lot of tricksters out there (and maybe one giant treat...I’m looking at you Braves!). While harmless pranks and scary decorations are all fun in games, there is no place for scaring people with bad, dated medical information. Our bodies are incredibly resilient and some of the common “scary” comments our patients have heard from other providers, or seen on imaging, really aren’t anything to be afraid of at all.
Okay, I know we’re all busy getting costumes and candy ready, so let’s jump right in.
“Worst case of bone on bone I’ve ever seen!”
If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. “The doctor said I’m bone on bone!” “Worst case of arthritis he has ever seen!” Most often your physician or other healthcare provider is referring to something called osteoarthritis (also called Degenerative Joint Disease or DJD) in situations like this, and guess what… It is totally normal to have arthritis! More and more studies are coming out that show many active adults have some form of DJD and that calling this a “disease” is incredibly misleading.
While DJD cannot be reversed, it’s often not the main pain generator and can be easily managed with education on symptoms, appropriately prescribed exercise, and just good ol’ fashion exercise. Walking the dog, playing with your kids, gardening… all great examples of non-exercise based movement that keep your joints moving. As cheesy as it may sound, the old adage of “motion is lotion” is spot on and is the reason that “worst case of arthritis I’ve seen” shouldn’t get you weak in the knees.
This one hits close to home. At the young age of 14, I actually had two knee surgeries. One to attempt to repair my meniscus and one to remove it once the repair failed. Looking back on it and relating the symptoms I was having to what the research is now showing, I had no business getting either of those surgeries and you most likely don’t need one either. Once again, a torn or frayed meniscus is a normal sign of aging and is often found on imaging with people who have knee pain at all.
Even in an acute situation where a tear is found on an image after injuring your knee, as long as you don’t have a physical “block” in your knee, where that meniscus has essentially turned into a door stopper and impeds normal motion at the knee, you will be absolutely fine without surgery. In fact, research consistently shows that conservative treatment will have equal to (or better) results as surgery AND you won’t be setting yourself up for future complications associated with missing portions of your meniscus.
I’ll keep this one short. Simply put, in most situations, herniated discs do not require surgery. In fact, multiple studies have demonstrated that you can take 10 random people off the street with no back pain, give them an MRI, and an average of 7 out of 10 people’s images will come back with some variation of a herniated disc. In fact, “large low-risk-of-bias trial between surgery and usual conservative care found no statistically significant differences on any of the primary outcome measures after 1 and 2 years” (Jacobs et al). Our bodies are incredibly resilient and, in most cases, will heal just fine with appropriate treatment.
“You’ll never be able to do ‘X’ again.”
This is the most frustrating thing for me and the rest of the staff here at Athletes’ Potential. We are constantly hearing people come in and say something like, “My doctor said I’ll never be able to deadlift again,” or, “My physical therapist said I shouldn’t do CrossFit.” This is absurd and is a fallacy you shouldn’t fall for. We constantly get people coming into our office and we are constantly getting them back to the activities they love. A provider quickly dismissing an activity you do without any context is lazy, myopic, and an easy sign that you need to get a second opinion.
So, in review, there are a lot of scary phrases out there that, in reality, have no right to be scary. New research is being pumped out every day that our bodies are readily adaptable. If you’re in the Atlanta area and you’ve heard one of these phrases before, give us a call or fill out the contact request form by clicking the button below. We’d love nothing more than to help you get back to what you enjoy.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jacob, PT, DPT, CSCS
Waking up from a wonderful full-night’s rest is one of the greatest things one might enjoy. As I’ve been getting older, I’m much more appreciative of a full night’s rest. However, there’s one thing that has affected me and my patients from time to time that has taken what could be a great sleep and turned it into a painful event.
It’s the infamous “crick in the neck” that you feel when you just didn’t sleep right.
You didn’t bang your neck on something. You didn’t headbang to a great heavy metal song. No… you just slept wrong.
So what is that “crick” in your neck? And, more importantly, what can you do about it?
1. Muscle Spasm
The most common type of “crick” we see from a sleeping injury is a muscle spasm. Whenever the body is in a unique position for an extended period, such as when recovering from a surgery or after limping for weeks after a bad knee injury, the body develops compensations to accommodate those changes. The compensations are primarily muscles tightening up in areas that are both guarding and balancing the body to accommodate for this new way of moving.
The neck is no different.
By sleeping with your neck in a strange position for a full night, you are changing the way your muscles are typically set to a great degree over a long period of time! Soon enough, the brain says “Hey! This is feeling like a unique position I've held for a very long time! It’s time to tighten up some muscles to get us ready to hold this position for a much longer time!”
Bang. The muscle spasm crick has formed. This typically feels like a large cord of muscle that is just locked into a certain position.
Let’s move onto the next type of “crick."
2. Facet Irritation
Facet irritation is when a joint in your neck (a joint is where two bones meet) gets pressed too tightly together. If this joint is pressed too tightly overnight, irritation can form and a “crick” can form. This can also trigger a muscle spasm, so you can have this facet irritation as well as muscle spasm!
Typically this is felt as a single local point of irritation on your neck, maybe about the size of a quarter. If this combines with a muscle spasm, you’ll have that small quarter-sized spot of irritation with the whole area feeling like a big tight cord.
So you have this neck pain after sleeping wrong… what do you do?!
One of the easiest things you can do to quickly loosen up muscles in that area is to massage the upper trapezius muscle using this technique:
Find a small ball and a doorway. Place the ball on the doorway and press the meaty part of your upper shoulder into that ball. Hold for 1-5 minutes, or until the muscle tension and tenderness decreases significantly.
Another great technique is to use that same small ball and lean up against the wall targeting this spot on that same shoulder. Also massage here for 1-5min.
Doing these two things 3-5x/day should begin releasing some tension you’re feeling in your neck region. Other things you can do is use a heating pad and avoid positions of irritation in your bed, such as sleeping face down or using too many pillows.
If you’re still having pain from poor sleeping positions, please reach out! We’re more than happy to help you resolve this neck pain!
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Marcus Rein, PT, DPT
Our past couple blogs have revolved around neck pain. Why? Because it’s 2021 and we are a year and a half into our “new normal” caused by the global pandemic, which means more time working from home, which means increased time spent behind a computer screen, which means more neck pain and more headaches. Throw on the added stress that people are experiencing and it’s starting to feel like there’s a different kind of pandemic going around with all the neck pain and headaches we’ve been treating at Athletes’ Potential.
In our previous blogs this month, we’ve given a ton of great information about how your neck is the source of your headaches and why looking down at your phone all day may not be the best idea. (If you missed those, you can find them here.) While all that may be great, there’s one area that frequently gets missed when people get their necks looked at by a medical professional, and that area is their back.
While there are certainly fasial lines, misaligned joints, and muscle tensions in the low back that can cause changes “up the chain” that lead to neck pain, those situations are a little fewer and farther between and aren't necessarily the part of your back that I’m talking about. Instead, we’re talking specifically about your thoracic spine, or your upper back.
A little anatomy lesson for you to make sure we are all on the same page. Your spine is divided into three separate segments: cervical (neck), thoracic (mid back), and lumbar (low back)... in other words, your thoracic spine connects your neck to your low back. Now, there are a couple of things that are pretty cool when we’re talking about your thoracic spine:
Going back to that first fun fact: The upper portion of your thoracic spine has to be able to move along with your neck. Hypomobility leads to pain. In other words, if one joint isn’t moving properly, then that causes other joints (above or below the stiff joint) to have to move in an excessive range of motion (hypermobility), which leads to pain in those joints. That is exactly what we see when it comes to the upper thoracic spine and its ability to cause neck pain. If your upper back has excessive stiffness, then that causes your neck to have to rotate, extend, etc., in excessive ranges of motions to do simple tasks (think looking over your shoulder to check a blind spot), which will inevitably lead to pain.
Luckily, there a ton of drills you can do to help improve your thoracic spine mobility and two of my all time favorites are listed below:
Thoracic Spine Self Release:
Open Book Exercise:
The second way your thoracic spine can cause neck pain actually has more to do with that second fun fact. One of the most important functions of your rib cage is to protect some very important structures such as your heart, lungs, liver, diaphragm, etc. Your lungs and diaphragm in particular are what we want to focus on here. You see, when people sit at a desk for prolonged periods of time or are experiencing high amounts of stress, what tends to happen is people start taking shorter breaths and use the accessory muscles found in the neck when they breath instead of the more appropriate muscle being their diaphragm. When this happens, we’ll start seeing muscles like the scalenes, sternocleidomastoid (SCM), and subclavius start to develop too much tension, which will lead to neck pain and even referred pain causing headaches.
Lucky for you, we have some favorite drills that can help with that too, and a lot of them focus on proper breathing. Now, before you roll your eyes and think, “proper breathing?! Breathing is breathing,” that’s what I used to think too, but thanks to our good friends over at Shift, in addition to the thousands of people we’ve helped to improve their breathing, I can promise you, that thought process couldn’t be further from the truth. Give these drills a shot and see for yourself. You’ll be amazed at how effective cleaning up your breathing patterns can be.
90/90 Diaphragmatic Breathing:
In review, improving your upper thoracic mobility and appropriate breathing patterns could be effective treatment options for you if you’re dealing with neck pain and, at a minimum, will help you live a healthier life. However, these treatment options are just pieces of the ever elusive puzzle that make up neck pain. If you’re dealing with neck pain, reach out with any questions. We design and implement programs to help people just like you, whether you’re someone who doesn’t know where to start or has had an unsuccessful rehab experience. It is our goal at Athletes’ Potential for the people we work with to get out of pain and return to their sport or activity, performing better than they did before.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jake, PT, DPT, CSCS
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention, and sometimes other random thoughts.