When it's all heavy going


The Chiropractors Association of Ireland is launching a three-minute exercise programme, Straighten Up Ireland, aimed at both children and adults

FOR MANY of us, chiropractic care is synonymous with neck-cracking antics we would rather avoid.

We imagine that if we are already in terrible pain with a back injury or neck strain, the last thing in the world we would want to do is place any one of our seven, precious cervical vertebrae in the hands of such a therapy.

And yet, as a result of poor posture, injuries and even excessive wearing of high-heeled shoes, Irish people are finding themselves turning, painfully, to chiropractors for help.

Trained to locate and correct abnormal spinal movement and position using safe and non-invasive methods - which include the renowned "cracking" mobilisation technique - chiropractors can help people avoid unnecessary surgery and pain-killing drug use.

With specialist knowledge of neurology, physiology and spinal adjusting techniques, chiropractors use carefully controlled and directed pressure "adjustments" to restore proper spinal function and reduce blockages to the vital nervous system.

However, the president of the Chiropractors Association of Ireland (CAI), Attracta Farrell, says spinal problems in adulthood can be minimised altogether if children are taught good posture at an early age.

That is why the organisation is launching Straighten Up Ireland - a three-minute exercise programme aimed at both children and adults, to improve posture and take care of spinal health.

From next week, the 150 members of the CAI will be giving free demonstrations across the State at primary and secondary schools and in local halls and shopping centres.

The campaign is targeting children and will show schoolgoers how to lift properly, carry weights, such as schoolbags, correctly and will encourage children and teens to stand tall.

"Schoolbags have two straps, but most teenagers carry heavy bags on one shoulder. This makes one shoulder lower than the other and, over time, can lead to damage of the muscles and joints," says Farrell.

As the campaign makes its way to schools, CAI chiropractors will encourage teenagers to use school lockers to drop off books and lighten their load, and will also teach them to become aware of what is good and bad posture.

General practitioner Dr Michele Rice, an advocate of chiropractic who uses it for treatment of her own neck injury and also refers her patients for treatment, says postural alignment is especially important for growing girls.

"As a GP, I see lots of musculo-skeletal problems in children - usually to do with how they carry school bags and for girls it's due to their breasts and fast growth. It's important that girls are fitted properly for bras to prevent rounding of the shoulders," she says.

"Chiropractors, physiotherapists and doctors are all singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to posture."

For young children, it's much easier to develop the habit of good posture, Farrell says. By turning the exercise programme into a game, parents can teach their children how to mind their spinal health while having fun.

"Children are like sponges, they soak up everything and forget very little," she says. Having treated her own daughter preventatively since she was born, Attracta says her toddler now has great posture.

Sister Mary Corr, principle of St Raphaela's national school in Stillorgan, Dublin, says it is important to educate young children physically, as well as academically, morally and spiritually and will open the school gates to the campaign next week.

"Good posture at this stage will instil more confidence in the children for life and will help them to enjoy being in their bodies," she says.

The short exercise regime is not limited to children however, as it is also useful for adults who, although not in need of therapeutic help, could do with improving their postures.

Seventy per cent of visits to chiropractors in Ireland today are for back pain and 20 per cent are for neck problems - with symptoms such as fatigue, headaches and pain being felt by many an office worker, lorry driver and nurse nationwide.

The CAI says slouching is the main root of the problem and good ergonomics are also important, but by making the three-minute exercise set a daily routine, symptoms can be prevented or alleviated.

"A lot of people think an exercise programme takes time, but it doesn't. You can do it while the kettle boils," Farrell says.

Chiropractor Richard Power, who runs clinics in Dalkey and at Herbert Street in Dublin, says he encourages patients to be active in their own recuperation, with chiropractic treatment sessions also including nutritional and exercise advice.

Power works with the health and safety officers of a number of organisations, giving ergonomic advice to members of the Garda, ESB workers and public servants at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

"I tell them, every time someone leans forward from the midline of their body, 15-20lbs of additional pressure is placed on the spine, shoulders and upper back, leading to tension headaches and fatigue," he says.

"So people should avoid slouching, crossing their legs and twisting to look at computer screens."

But for numerous people, back pain and neck strain are already such a constant in their lives that the simplest daily activities become near-impossible feats and hugely painful experiences.

Advertising executive Roland Williams sustained a herniated disc from a sporting injury when he was 18 years old and has had a weak back ever since, with painful symptoms recurring on and off. Last year, weeks before he was due to be married, he hurt his back badly after lifting some boxes. The injury left him almost unable to walk.

"I was lifting boxes and yanked something in my back. I could barely walk and it was extremely painful. With my wedding coming up, this was obviously very worrying for me," he says.

Wanting to avoid surgery and attracted to the non-intrusive nature of chiropractic, he sought out a practitioner in Dublin and received treatment every other day up until the day of his wedding, with successful results.

"It worked for me and I like the principle behind it - having regular preventative adjustments to treat the underlying problem instead of the symptoms, rather than waiting for the next big problem to happen.

"The mobilisations also release a huge amount of endorphins, so I always feel good and pain-free afterwards."

• The Straighten Up Ireland campaign begins on November 17th. See www.chiropractic.ie