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  • October 2013
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Mother and new born.

Shoulder Pain with Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is one of the most emotionally fulfilling experiences for any mother. It is a time of bonding between mother and baby, and is equally important for the baby’s growth, development and health. However, breastfeeding is not always without some degree of discomfort and symptoms that arise at various parts of the body. Shoulder pain is one such symptom during breastfeeding.

Causes

The most natural position to breastfeed is to hold the baby up against the breast where the infant’s mouth can reach the nipple. It does however, cause significant strain on the muscles of the arm and upper body. Although babies are light in weight, the constant carrying during feeding can strain the muscles of the shoulder and neck in particular. Shoulder pain may therefore occur. Sometimes problems with the breast such as engorgement and mastitis may also cause referred pain to the shoulder.

Despite the best efforts of the mother, shoulder pain is a common consequence of muscle strain during breastfeeding. Shoulder pain in these instances may also occur when the mother feeds the infant in the sleeping position. Although it is not recommended to breastfeed while lying down, midnight feeds can be taxing on the mother and inadvertently lead to feeding on the bed. However, lying on one side in a position that will allow the infant to feed can also strain the muscles of the shoulder and neck.

Symptoms

Shoulder pain is a symptom on its own. When it occurs in breastfeeding, mothers may experience difficulty in moving the arm at the shoulder joint. Raising the arm above the head or rotating it at the shoulder joint tends to exacerbate the pain as does holding the infant to the breast. Neck pain often occurs simultaneously and many mothers experience significant stiffness of both the shoulder and neck.

Usually there are no other symptoms unless the shoulder pain is related to breast problems. Symptoms such as shoulder pain during breastfeeding should not detract mothers from breastfeeding. Extensive research has shown that opting to breastfeed can make a difference in the baby’s immune defences, with allergies and proper growth and development.

Treatment

Shoulder pain during breastfeeding is often seen as part of lactation and most mothers live with the pain and stiffness. As drugs may pass through the breast milk into the baby’s body, most mothers prefer to avoid painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs that could ease the pain and stiffness. However, a few simple measures can help in managing shoulder pain during breastfeeding without opting for drugs.

Learning the proper technique to hold the baby during feeds while reducing the strain on the muscles of the upper body is important in preventing shoulder pain. Mothers should seek the advice of a medical doctor or paediatric nurse on the appropriate technique. Stretching exercises for the shoulder and neck muscles should be carried out several times a day to minimise the muscle strain.

Other simple measures that can be equally effective are a gentle massage and heat therapy. While breastfeeding mothers are advised to seek physical therapy for their shoulder pain, heat therapy can be conducted at home. A hot water bottle or heat pad applied to the shoulder and neck area can help to reduce muscle pain and is equally effective in preventing pain.

Foot pain

Night Time Leg Cramps

The legs are undoubtedly the hardest working part of the body. It has to bear the weight of most of the body and contend with impact during walking. Naturally there are many symptoms that will arise in the legs. One such condition is night time leg cramps. In the strict sense it is a symptom but since most of the time the cause is unknown, it is often considered as a condition on its own.

Night time leg cramps mainly involve the calf muscles of the lower leg. However, the feet and even the thigh muscles may sometimes be affected as well. Muscles of the legs contract and relax at will but with cramps, the contraction is involuntary, painful and sustained. It is more correctly known as muscle spasm.

Although spasm of any muscle is not uncommon, with night time leg cramps it can be very painful and affect normal sleep patterns.

Causes

Most cases of night time leg cramps occur for no clearly identifiable reason. It is believed that muscle strain during the day inevitably leads to symptoms such as pain and spasm during periods of rest, like at night while asleep. However, night time leg cramps have also been seen as a symptom in people with known circulatory and nerve disorders of the legs, as well as with hormonal changes in women.

With regards to circulatory problems, night time leg cramps may occur in a condition known as peripheral arterial disease (PAD). In this condition the blood supply to the legs by the way of the arteries is impaired.

The artery is abnormally narrowed usually due to the build up of fatty plaques in its wall, known as atherosclerosis.

The reduction in blood flow is not so much of a problem when a person is standing. Gravity allows for the blood to be pulled downwards. However, when a person walks, climbs stairs or runs, the blood supply is insufficient to meet the higher metabolic demand of the muscles. When lying flat, the benefit of gravity is negated. Therefore a person may experience pain and cramps at night.

Hormonal changes particularly in pregnancy and with menopause may in some way contribute to night time leg cramps. This has also been noted in women who take oestrogen medication. However, the exact mechanism is not fully understood.

Symptoms

Night time leg cramps is a symptom on its own and is not a disease. In most instances there are no other symptoms present. When the cramping is severe the calf muscles may feel like a hard ball.

Since these muscles control the movement of the feet, there may also be abnormal alignment of the feet during the cramping.

However, when night time leg cramps occurs with conditions like peripheral arterial disease (PAD) then other symptoms may also be present. The ankles and feet may have a paler colour, hair on the legs may fall off and the feet may feel colder to touch. Skin ulcers may form in severe cases and even muscle weakness may arise over time.

Treatment

Since night time leg cramps is a symptom and not a disease, the treatment depends on the underlying cause. However, in the majority of cases the cause cannot be identified. Common measures that help with any muscle spasm in general may therefore be useful. Apart from rest and stretching exercises, heat can be very effective in not only treating but also preventing cramps.

Heat applications are available in various different forms. Heat therapy eases muscle spasm and improves blood circulation the area. Any external source of heat may be used but it is most effective when it is placed against the skin. Given the dangers of sleeping with a hot water bottle and power utilisation with an electric blanket, a wheat bag or heat pad may be the safer and more cost effective option. It can be placed directly under the calf muscles to treat existing cramps or prevent night time leg cramps.

Microwavable Hot Bottle

Microwavable Hot Bottle

Hand Pain

Writer’s Cramp

Using the hand repetitively is not without consequences, as is the case with any part of the body.

When it comes to the hands, it is not only the joints that experience the strain. The muscles may be equally affected. When repetitive use of the hands leads to abnormal muscle tone, the condition is known as writer’s cramp.

However, the name should not detract from the fact that it can occur in any person who repeatedly uses their hand usually in the course of their occupation. The medical term for writer’s cramp is mogigraphia. While the condition is largely reversible with resting the hand, this is not always possible in a modern world where our hands are our sole means of earning a living.

Causes and Risk Factors 

The muscles in the body are capable of long hours and extensive use. However, there is a limit to the degree of strain that any muscle can bear. With repetitive tasks involving prolonged use of the hand, certain muscles become strained and fatigued. These muscles may go into spasm.

However, the hand is a more complex muscular appendage. When muscles on one side of the forearm or hand contract, muscles on the opposite side have to relax to allow for proper movement.

This is a carefully coordinated “pull and release” mechanism. With conditions like writer’s cramp the “pull and release” mechanism become dysfunctional.

Sometimes muscles on both sides contract thereby pulling against each other. Fine hand and arm movements become difficult to coordinate especially if it is repetitive and rapid. Over time the abnormal pulling can cause structural deformities in the arm and affect the normal alignment of the hand.

By far writer’s cramp tends to occur in people who repetitively use the hands for prolonged periods, particularly where careful coordination of the hand and finger movements is required. Therefore it is more commonly seen among writers and typists. It can also occur after serious injury to the hand and tends to be more common in people with a family history of the condition.

Symptoms 

Most people who suffer with writer’s cramp pass off the symptoms as being muscle strain due to overuse of the arms and hands. However, writer’s cramp is a much more complex condition. The first of the symptoms to appear is pain which worsens with activity and eases with rest. At this point, most patients do not seek treatment. Over time even rest does relieve the pain.

As the condition progresses, a person with writer’s cramp experiences difficult coordinating certain movements. This can affect daily tasks which involves fine hand movements. The extent of the deformity that may occur in the later stages of writer’s cramp can vary from one person to another.

The hand may be twisted to one side and the fingers do not curl inwards as it should when resting.

Treatment 

The treatment of writer’s cramp may involve medication and electrical therapies. However, the results are not promising and surgery may be needed. Whereas initially the problem in writer’s cramp is largely muscular, as the condition progresses it becomes more of a nerve problem. It is possible for writer’s cramp to resolves spontaneously with no treatment but the focus should be on prevention instead.

Limiting the hours of hand use and arm activity would be the ideal solution. However, this is not always possible. Properly treating the hand at the end of a hard day of work should involve multiple approaches.

By far heat can be one of the most effective ways to gently reduce muscle strain along with a gentle massage and rest. With modern heat packs and wheat bags being small and convenient to carry, applying heat even during the course of the day during breaks can be helpful.

 

Zhu-Zhu Microwavable Heated Glove

Zhu-Zhu microwavable heated glove

 

Cold hands

Raynaud’s Disease – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Raynaud’s disease is a condition of the blood vessels particularly in the hands and feet. In Raynaud’s disease the tiny blood vessels in the fingers and toes suddenly and abnormally narrow. The reduced blood supply to the area leads a host of symptoms as the tissue in the fingers and toes are starved of oxygen.

Sometimes the condition occurs as a consequence of some underlying disease. In this case it is more specifically referred to as Raynaud’s syndrome. However, the vast majority of cases it arises for unknown reasons and is labelled as Raynaud’s disease. It is triggered by cold or stress, among other factors, but these are not the causes.

Causes of Raynaud’s Disease

The arteries in the body have tiny muscles in its wall. When these muscles contract, the artery narrows. Conversely, the artery widens when the muscles relax. In this way the amount of blood flowing to an area can be controlled. In Raynaud’s disease the muscles in the artery wall go into spasm suddenly. While this is not uncommon, in Raynaud’s disease the narrowing may be severe and sustained. It tends to occur as attacks.

The exact cause of Raynaud’s disease is unknown. It is therefore known as primary Raynaud’s disease. It tends to occur more frequently in women and develops around the 15 to 30 year age gap.

People who live in colder climates are at a greater risk, particularly if there is a family history of Raynaud’s disease. However, these are risk factors and not the actual cause of the condition.

Similarly, certain factors have been noted to trigger an attack, particularly cold and stress.

Symptoms of Raynaud’s Disease 

Blood partly contributes to the natural colour of the skin. When the blood flow to an area diminishes, the skin appears pale in colour. Severe or prolonged attacks can even cause the fingers and toes to turn blue in colour. Blood is also responsible for the warmth throughout the body, and in Raynaud’s disease the restricted blood flow leads to abnormally cold fingers and toes.

As a result of reduced blood flow and oxygen supply, the nerves in the area cannot function as normal. This is perceived as different sensations such as numbness or tingling but once the blood flow is restored to the area, most patients report a stinging or burning type of pain in the area.

Similarly there are other symptoms that arise once the attack ends, such as swelling and redness in the affected fingers and toes.

Although Raynaud’s disease primarily affects the fingers and toes, it may also involve the ears, nose, lips and even the breasts.

Treatment 

There are several drugs that can dilate the blood vessels, limit tissue damage and reduce the severity or frequency of attacks in Raynaud’s disease. However, it is not a cure and a person living with Raynaud’s has to focus on preventing attacks as far as possible. While stress management is a combination of good coping skills, environmental factors and personality, temperature control can be easier to manage.

People living in cold environments in particular should take precautionary measures as far as possible. Keeping the hands and feet warm and shielded from the cold with proper clothing is important. But just as crucial are conservative measures like heat therapy. Introducing external heat through the use of microwavable wheat bagsheat pads and warm baths increases blood flow to the area.

The body temperature naturally drops slightly during sleep. It is largely due to a decrease in metabolic activity as the body switches to a low energy state. As a preventative measure, especially at night while sleeping, the use of a heat pad can help prevent attacks. It is a safer option than a hot water bottle and does not require constant power usage like an electric heat pad.

Zhu-Zhu microwaveable heated glove

Zhu-Zhu microwavable heated glove

Feet Warmers

Zhu-Zhu Microwavable Feet Warmers