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Hot town, summer in the city...
This is my seventeenth summer in Palm Springs. In 1987 I was at Vista Chino and Palm Canyon, by the old Don's Pharmacy. It seemed like every day that august was over 120 degrees, and my shoes would leave heel prints in the scorching blacktop as I walked across the street to JJ's Mexican restaurant for lunch.
After so many years in practice, a sharp clinician begins to recognize seasonal complaints emerging in their patients. Patients, both new and existing, come in with remarkably similar complaints within a two week or so cluster around the same time every year. Even non-doctors recognize seasonal patterns of illness. For example, it's April and ten of our friends have glazed, itchy and runny eyes; sneezing fits and stuffy noses. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that it's "Allergy Season!" In our chiropractic office, I've come to understand another type of seasonal malady. From June until about mid-September another pattern of painful patient complaints presents to the practice: Neck and upper-mid back pain that came on suddenly with waking up. No recent trauma is recalled. The patient has pain with turning or leaning the head over. Pain is located in the side and back of the neck by the collar, but may also be accompanied by a throbbing or sharp pain in the upper back or between the shoulder blades. They may have never had this problem before. A few days or more of rest has not helped, neither have home remedies such as ice packs or pitchers of martinis.
Examination of the affected areas show muscle spasm or tightness, inflammation, loss of motion and spinal joint (not disc) irritation. In other words it is your common, yet painful sprain/strain. The big question is...how did they get it, why did they get it and what can the patient do to prevent it from coming back?
Now that we've established what they have, with focused questioning we have a likely suspect - or suspects in this case. Let me describe the patient's bedroom and sleep setup (get your mind out of gutter!), and see if you too have something in common with our summer symptom sufferer.
There's more to the list, but you get the picture. Our sleep cycle has been altered, and as a result, we jam our necks and upper backs trying to get comfy at night.
- It's really, really hot outside, so the air conditioner and/or the desert cooler cycles on and off all the time. Perhaps the vent blows across the bed?
- There is a good chance that a fan is going, also blowing air across the bed.
- We are not sleeping well. Tossing and turning, can't spoon with the bedmate, waking up with the sheets all twisted up.
- Trying to get comfortable, we dig our heads and necks into the pillow, and still toss and turn.
- The sheets, the mattress and pillows are damp and we're getting pretty cranky about it since June.
Back to our patient: with a few chiropractic treatments the patient's condition has improved rapidly, they're feeling much better. Now, how can we keep this from happening again, or happening in the first place? While I can write you a prescription ordering you to live at the beach for the summer, a few realistic tips might be in order.
This is our winter, our hibernation period. We're more likely to do less outside, and instead spend more time cooped up inside. If any of this makes sense to you, please consider sitting on the floor instead of the sofa during TV time, and spend 5-10 minutes stretching around. You will quickly notice a pleasant difference, and hopefully avoid "catching" what's going around right now!
- If your pillow is over a year old, think of getting a new, inexpensive pillow - not a feather pillow - for the summer. If you want to try an expensive "memory foam" pillow, fine, but it is not essential.
- While you're at Target or Gottschalk's buying the pillow, think of getting an egg crate foam mattress pad for under the sheet to keep you cooler.
- Look to deflect the cool breezes from directly hitting you in bed.
- Take a few minutes daily and do a few stretches for your neck and upper back. An excellent source for instruction is Bob Anderson's book "Stretching" available everywhere books are sold.