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Easing Early Labour Pains

Pregnancy, how to ease early labour pains

The start of labour pains does not necessarily mean that childbirth will occur soon thereafter. Some women may only be in labour for a few hours while for others the ordeal can last for one to two days. Labour pains are a natural part of childbirth but it is challenging for any women. Modern drugs have proven to be useful in this regard but it is not always advisable for a prolonged labour. Instead other measures to comfort the mother and ease the early labour pains should be considered.

Some women have a higher pain threshold and are able to contend with labour pain for a longer period without any intervention. For most women however, simple conservative measures may be sufficient until drugs are feasible to use. Easing early labour pains should involve the partner as simple reassurance and support may be sufficient to make the experience tolerable. Even soothing music may help some women stay calm and deal with the pain.

However, more definitive measures are required at some point before opting for drugs. Various techniques have been explored and while the results may vary, all of these measures are safe options for easing early labour pains. Breathing, massage and heat or cold therapy are some of the more widely preferred options. These non-invasive techniques do not pose any risk to the baby and may in fact be helpful – if the mother unable to handle the pain, the stress response can affect the baby.

Back Pain in Pregnancy

Is it safe to use a wheat bag or heat pad during pregnancy?

Heat therapy has been used throughout time as a means of treating various ailments. It is safe to use in most instances and pregnancy is no different. Although expectant mothers are often afraid of utilising any drug or therapy while pregnant, heat therapy is relatively safe in this regard. If used appropriately, a wheat bag or heat pad can relieve discomfort, strain and pain during pregnancy.

Avoid Hot Water Baths

Not all forms of heat therapy may be safe. Immersing in a hot bath is one form of heat therapy but may not be suitable for pregnancy. Heat causes the blood vessels in the skin to dilate. This increases superficial blood flow. When heat therapy is used on a small area of the body like with a wheat bag or heat pad then it is not a problem.

However, immersing in a hot bath causes vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels) throughout most of the skin on the body. Blood rushes to the surface and this alters the blood pressure. It also means that normal internal blood flow to the baby can be affected which is not optimal during pregnancy. Therefore pregnant mothers who need to apply heat to an area should rather use a wheat bag or heat pad rather than soaking in a hot water bath.

Advantages of Wheat Bags and Heat Pads

A wheat bag or heat pad has distinct advantages over other forms of heat therapy. It does not become overheated like water or change form like when water converts into steam. It does not hold any risk in terms of electricity with the use of an electric heat pad. It can be easily placed and take the shape of any part of the body thereby focussing the heat on specific areas. However, no heat application, not even a wheat bag or heat pad, should be placed on the abdomen during pregnancy.

closeup shot of neck and shoulder

Stiff Neck – Causes & Treatment

Neck stiffness is one of the common musculoskeletal conditions that most of us experience several times in life. With a modern lifestyle involving constant use of a computer, watching TV for long hours and sometimes sleeping in awkward positions after a hard day at work, a stiff neck is more often than not a consequence of living and working than due to any disease. Fortunately neck stiffness is both easily treated and prevented with simple measures, like heat therapy, that does not need professional medical attention.

What is a stiff neck?

A stiff neck is a common term to describe a condition where the normal flexibility and neck movement is hampered due to tightness and pain. In most instances it involves the neck muscles but can also be due to a problem with the tendons, ligaments, vertebral joints and even the discs between the spinal bones. Neck stiffness is often an acute condition meaning that it presents with intense symptoms that are short-lived. In these cases, it rarely leads to permanent complications.

Causes of a stiff neck

A stiff neck can be acute or chronic. Most of us experience acute neck stiffness when overuse, strain or injury of the neck structures suddenly causes tautness and pain in the neck. This is mainly due to:

  • Fixing the head in a specific position for long periods of time like with prolonged computer use.
  • Turning the head to stare at a fixed point like when watching TV, playing video games or reading.
  • Sleeping in an awkward position that stretches and strains the muscles, tendons or ligaments of the neck.
  • Psychological stress where a person unconsciously tenses the neck muscles for long periods.
  • Physical activity involving the head, neck, shoulders or upper arms in a person who is not acclimatized to the exercise.

In most of these cases, the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the neck are involved with some strain placed on the joints and intervertebral discs. Chronic neck stiffness is more likely to be a joint or disc problem particularly with osteoarthritis, bulging or herniated disc of the cervical vertebrae and even fractures of the spinal bones (vertebrae).

Treatment of Neck Stiffness

Acute neck stiffness tends to pass on its own in time with little or no treatment. However, the symptomatic and recovery period can be extremely painful and hamper a person’s daily level of functioning. Therefore treatment is advisable both for relieving symptoms and to speed up the recovery process. The approach to treatment for acute neck stiffness may include:

  • NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) which reduces pain and inflammation.
  • Soft cervical collar to minimize neck movement for a short period. However, a collar should not be used for long periods of time as it can weaken the neck muscles.
  • Application of ice on the painful area immediately after an injury. ‘Icing’ only needs to be done for up to 48 hours and then heat therapy can be commenced. However, if the pain and tautness are not due to any known injury then ice applications should not be used.
  • Heat therapy can be used both to prevent and treat muscle spasm and neck pain. After an injury, ‘icing’ should first be conducted followed by heat therapy. It may be continued on a daily basis for as long as one requires it. However, for a sore and stiff neck without an acute injury, heat therapy can be utilised from the outset. Heat therapy used on a daily basis can also prevent a stiff and sore neck associated with overuse and strain that arises after a long day at work. Wheat bags and heat packs designed for neck and shoulders are available.

A chronic stiff neck should be thoroughly investigated by a medical professional and the appropriate treatment will be prescribed. Simple measures like heat therapy can be used on a daily basis for symptomatic relief.

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Knee Pain, Causes & Treatment

Being one of the most complex joints in the body, the knee is prone to many problems. The knee joint not only has to bear most of the body weight, but it also has to allow for simultaneous movement and stability that can create significant strain on the joint.

Naturally symptoms such as knee pain are not an uncommon occurrence. It tends to resolve as quickly as it arises. But when knee pain becomes a daily burden and is accompanied by profound joint swelling, stiffness and instability, it needs to be investigated further.

What is knee pain?

Knee pain is actually a symptom of some underlying problem involving the knee joint. It is not a disorder or disease on its own. The pain can emanate from any one of the many structures that make up the knee joint, particularly the bones, joint cartilage and inner lining (synovium), ligaments and even surrounding muscles. Knee pain can therefore be described as pain emanating from the location of the knee joint that often varies with flexing and extending at the knee joint.

Causes of Knee Pain

The causes of knee pain can be diverse, and it varies significantly depending on whether the pain is acute or chronic.

Acute knee pain is not uncommon in everyday life. After a long day of standing or walking distances greater than what our body and specifically our knee joint is accustomed to, can elicit pain. It is largely due to acute inflammation and strain.

The knee being one of the main weight-bearing joints in the body also faces a new epidemic of modern times – obesity. A heavier body weight means that the knee joint has to bear a greater force even when a person is standing. The joint may not have developed to a degree that can handle this increased force on a daily basis.

Similarly acute knee pain may arise with an injury like a fall or sharp or blunt force trauma to the joint. Acute knee pain may not be a cause for concern in that it will ease once it is treated or the joint is rested and is unlikely to recur unless the specific set of circumstances are repeated.

It is, however, chronic knee joint problems that tend to be the reason that most people worry. We all hear of debilitating knee arthritis, leaving patients almost immobile and even requiring surgery.

There are various types of chronic arthritis that can affect the knee joint but osteoarthritis is by far the most common.

Osteoarthritis of the knee arises with wear and tear of the articular cartilages – the caps of strong smooth connective tissue that protect the ends of the bones in the knee joint and reduces friction with joint movement. As this cartilage erodes, eventually the underlying bone is affected and the condition progresses gradually over time.

Another less common cause of chronic knee pain is rheumatoid arthritis and post-traumatic arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system attacks the joint lining. Post-traumatic arthritis, as the name suggests, is the inflammation that continues after a severe injury to the knee joint.

Treatment of Knee Pain

The treatment approach to knee pain is as diverse as the causes of this symptom. One mode of treatment that may be effective for a specific cause of knee pain may not be so for another cause.

Ideally the cause of knee pain should be diagnosed and the appropriate treatment as prescribed by a doctor needs to be implemented. However, there are several general measures that can helpful in most cases.

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.

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.

 

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