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The Most Dangerous Jobs: A Chiropractic Perspective

The Most Dangerous Jobs: A Chiropractic Perspective

It’s no secret that some jobs are just more physically demanding and more dangerous than others. Some of the most challenging ones are obvious—combat roles in the military, fire and rescue, heavy construction and deep sea fishing are just a few that come to mind. However, when it comes to non-fatal musculoskeletal injuries, the statistics tell a very different story about occupational health and safety and about who’s most likely to get hurt on the job.

Because chiropractic physicians are experts in treating conditions that involve the musculoskeletal and nervous systems (including many common workplace injuries), we have a unique perspective on why they happen, how they can  be prevented and the best ways to treat them.

Musculoskeletal Disorders by the Numbers

Let’s start with a long-term trend that’s good news for the nation’s workers but that doesn’t get much media attention. The number of reportable occupational injuries and illnesses has declined steadily across the past decade from 50 cases per 1,000 full-time workers in 2003 to 33 cases in 2013. So progress is clearly being made, even if it doesn’t grab the headlines.

That said, musculoskeletal injuries continue to be among the most common on-the-job injuries, and they can require significant recuperation time. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says that musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) “are injuries or illnesses affecting the connective tissues of the body such as muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, or spinal disks.”

A very high percentage—about one-third—of 2013 workplace injury and illness cases that required days off from work involved the musculoskeletal system.  Plus, workers who sustained musculoskeletal injuries required more time to recover before returning to work—a median of 11 days to recuperate compared with 8 days for all types of workplace injury and illness cases. In 2011:

  • The back was the primary site of MSD injuries in 42% of all cases across all occupations, requiring a median time off of 7 days to recuperate.
  • Although it accounts for only 13% of all MSDs, the shoulder was the area with the most severe injuries, requiring a median of 21 days off of work to recuperate.
  • Injuries and illnesses due to repetitive motion involving “micro-tasks” (such as typing) accounted for only 3% of all occupational injury and illness cases. However, those workers with this kind of injury required nearly 3 times as many days away from work to recover as those with all other types of injuries and illnesses—a median of 23 days.


As we mentioned earlier, though, MSDs are not distributed evenly across all industries and occupations.

  • In 2013, the highest MSD incident rates were found in transportation and warehousing (80.3 cases per 10,000 full-time workers), healthcare and social assistance (50.2 cases per 10,000 full-time workers), arts, entertainment and recreation (46.5 cases per 10,000 full-time workers) and construction (41.9 cases per 10,000 full-time workers).
  • In 2011, six occupations accounted for 26% of all MSD cases: nursing assistants, laborers, janitors and cleaners, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers, registered nurses and stock clerks.
  • In 2011, those with the greatest number of median days spent off from work in order to recuperate from an MSD were heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers (21 days).

So it’s clear from the numbers that the dangerous jobs featured on reality TV shows (think about Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers) aren’t necessarily the ones that result in the most MSD-related visits to the chiropractor or general practitioner.

The Role of Chiropractic Care in Prevention and Treatment

Over the past several years, companies of all sizes have become increasingly interested in occupational health and wellness programs. Chiropractic physicians have a special interest in working with employees and business managers alike to help prevent job-related injuries and to encourage a healthy, productive work environment. If you’d like to learn more, we encourage you to call or visit our office today.

Chiropractic care can be one of the most effective ways to treat musculoskeletal pain and accelerate recovery.  Dr. Oblander has the training and experience necessary to successfully diagnose and treat a wide range of workplace injuries, and he’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have! So if you or someone you care about has recently been hurt on the job, please give us a call at 406-652-3553 or stop by either of our Billings chiropractic offices. We have an office located at 3307 Grand Avenue and an office at 410 Wicks Lane in the Heights  and we’re here to help!




What Causes Muscle Tension?

What Causes Muscle Tension?


Muscle tension occurs when a muscle (or group of muscles) remains contracted for an extended period of time. This might be characterized as a low-energy or low-intensity muscle cramp. Such tension in the muscles constricts blood flow, which in turn keeps oxygen and nutrients from reaching the muscle tissues and tendons. Muscle tension also keeps cellular waste from being carried away. The result is more muscle tension, spasms and damage. Why does this happen? There are actually several possible causes.

One key source of muscle tension is stress or anxiety. For our ancient ancestors, stress was a simple fact of everyday life, and their ability to response effectively to imminent threats (predators, hostile neighbors, natural disasters, etc.) was an integral part of their survival. As a result, their bodies evolved a set of short-term physiological changes that helped them to meet sudden life-and-death challenges by increasing their alertness, strength, speed and stamina. Today, we refer to these changes collectively as the “fight-or-flight” response, and they’re part of our evolutionary inheritance.

Unfortunately, there is now a kind of mismatch between the kinds of modern threats (real or perceived) that most of us encounter in our day-to-day lives and our bodies’ primitive fight-or-flight response. Instead of short-term physical dangers, modern stress is much more likely to come from social or financial pressures that are (usually) lower-intensity but more prolonged. Mounting bills, insane work deadlines and relationship problems are all great examples. This is a problem because our fight-or-flight response was really designed to be “switched on” only for very short periods of time—essentially, just as long as it took us to either defend ourselves or escape from a physical attack. It turns out that the human body pays a high price for the fight-or-flight response, and this price is especially high when the response is activated continuously over long periods of time, even at relatively low levels. Chronic muscle tension is just one potential result.

Muscle tension can also be the result of underlying structural problems or injuries affecting the musculoskeletal system, especially in the back or neck. When the spine is misaligned or there is an injury, the body may compensate by activating other muscles or muscle groups to stabilize the area and prevent pain. These muscles are put under additional strain for which they were not designed, leading to chronic muscle tension.

Chronic muscle tension itself can lead to new kinds of discomfort and pain. The pain can lead to an increase in anxiety and more muscle tension. This becomes a vicious cycle—an unhealthy, downward spiral. Luckily, there are a number of different ways to relieve muscle tension.

One of the best ways to relax your muscles is to exercise. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but muscle use increases blood flow and, accordingly, reduces the tension caused directly from lack of such blood flow. Exercise also produces endorphins which help to relieve stress and anxiety.

Heat is another method of relief. It can help by opening up blood vessels and relaxing the tense muscles. Use care when applying a hot pack. With heat, you can do too much of a good thing. Use a cloth between the pack and the skin so the heat remains measured and soothing. If you use an electrical heating pad, do not lie on the pad, but lay the pad on the tense muscles.

Water therapy can also help reduce muscle tension. Floating in a swimming pool or on a waterbed can prove to be extremely therapeutic because of the relaxing nature of wave action on the body.

Of course, a massage therapist is an expert at helping muscles relax. A truly good therapist can adapt his or her technique to your specific situation and will be skilled at gradually building up the intensity of the massage so that you’ll receive all the therapeutic benefit without losing the relaxation benefit.

Remember—it’s important to understand the underlying cause of chronic muscle tension so that it can be addressed in an effective way. Your chiropractor is specially trained to determine if the underlying cause is structural. If it is, he or she may be able to perform adjustments to correct the problem. Depending on your specific situation, your chiropractor may also recommend a treatment plan that includes several of the therapies mentioned above in order to relieve your pain and restore your mobility as quickly as possible.

Fitness Around the World

Fitness Around the World

women doing fist pushups
women doing fist pushups

People in the US who are interested in staying in shape tend to favor running or working out at the gym to maintain fitness. But how do people in other parts of the world stay fit? And what might Americans learn from them? Following is a summary of how people in some other countries keep in shape.

The Netherlands and Scandinavia – The number one form of physical exercise in these countries is undoubtedly the bicycle. They use it to do everything from getting to and from work and school to shopping for groceries and cycling someone home from a date. There are dedicated bike lanes in every city, and many that stretch from one side of the country to the other. From small children to the elderly, everyone cycles as a matter of course, and their overall fitness shows how beneficial it is to their health.

China – You may have seen people in public parks around any major city (or any community with Chinese immigrants) performing a series slow, precise movements. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese form of martial arts that is good for conditioning not only the body, but the mind as well. It is especially good for seniors, as it improves balance and overall mobility, increases strength in the legs and reduces stress.

India – Most people are surprised to learn that the physical practice of yoga as we know it is not actually ancient. Yoga in India was traditionally a mental and spiritual practice that incorporated special breathing techniques while in a sitting or standing posture. The type of exercise that comes to mind when we think of the word “yoga” (incorporating different postures called asanas, in combination with measured breathing) was not developed in India until the early 20th century. Nevertheless, yoga is now practiced very widely in India and all over the world as a way to promote overall mind-body fitness. It strengthens and stretches the muscles, increases flexibility and reduces stress.

Japan ­– Radio Taiso is a program of simple calisthenics set to music that is broadcast several times a day and is used by schools and many companies to help keep people fit. There are three official versions. One is a general fitness program for people of all ages, one is specifically designed to increase physical strength, and one is geared toward the elderly and disabled, who can perform the exercises while sitting down.

Brazil – An energetic form of dance that is taking off elsewhere in the world as well, Capoeira is a combination of dance, martial arts, acrobatics and music. It improves balance, coordination and rhythm while strengthening all the muscle groups. It will also improve your reflexes and help increase concentration.

Middle East – Belly dancing was originally developed as an exercise to aid women in childbirth. But belly dancing has many additional advantages. It particularly targets the “core” muscles, which are the ones responsible for keeping us upright and which have all too often become weakened by sitting for long hours at a desk. By strengthening your core muscles, you reduce your risk of suffering a back injury or chronic lower back pain.

Seven Deadly Health Sins

Seven Deadly Health Sins

jolly-roger-200-300Behind many of the debates about healthcare in the US—its availability and cost as well as its effectiveness—is an important phenomenon. The demands being placed on healthcare providers are growing and changing (at least in large part) because of the way we live our lives.  Day-to-day choices we all make are contributing to a wide variety chronic health conditions that are sometimes referred to as “lifestyle diseases.” And while our healthcare system is very good at treating acute medical problems, it is not very good at preventing or treating chronic ones.

In many cases, it’s fair to say that the health we get in the future is a result of the lifestyle decisions we make in the present. With this idea in mind, it’s also fair to ask whether it makes good sense to ask our healthcare system to single-handedly save us from the effects of our own unhealthy habits. This is why, as chiropractic physicians, we work closely with our patients to help them be more active in their own health by taking more responsibility for their own lifestyle choices.

So which lifestyle choices are causing the most trouble? While we could obviously point out harmful behaviors like smoking, drinking too much alcohol or using harmful drugs, the behaviors that really need more attention from most people are much more fundamental. We call these the “Seven Deadly Health Sins” that compromise longevity and quality of life.

Sitting Too Much. According to the Mayo Clinic, those who have a sedentary lifestyle are in danger of things like “obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels.” A recent study showed that those who spend a large amount of time in front of a television or other forms of screen entertainment had a roughly 50% greater risk of death from any source.

Eating Too Much Fat, Sugar and Salt. The typical American diet not only contains too many calories, it’s also too high in fat, salt and sugar. In excess, these ingredients (all too common in processed foods) trigger a wide range of complex, self-inflicted health problems.

Sleeping Too Little. According to a recent poll by the National Sleep Foundation, a combination of daily stress and lifestyle choices (including nighttime activities as well as eating and exercise habits) is causing more than a third of the U.S. population to get fewer hours of sleep than they need.

Drinking Too Little Water. Most of us would be much better off if we drank lots more water and fewer sugary drinks. While there’s no real evidence that Americans are chronically dehydrated (despite all the hard work of bottled water companies), there is plenty of evidence that the things we are drinking aren’t particularly good for us from a nutritional point of view.

Mismanaging Stress. Our relationship with stress is a complicated one. The simple truth is that stress itself isn’t inherently positive or negative for our health. The thing we actually have to pay attention to is how we respond to it. While the physiological stress response we’ve inherited through evolution is designed to help us confront immediate physical dangers, most of today’s threats aren’t immediate or physical. The result of this mismatch is that our “fight or flight” response may stay switched on for much longer periods than nature intended. This in turn can cause a variety of health problems. Since stress is an inevitable part of modern life, it’s important for us to embrace the positive view of stress that helps us grow and develop while also learning how to turn off the harmful effects.

Ignoring Posture Problems. The way we carry ourselves while sitting or standing can have lasting implications for our musculoskeletal health. The bad news is that poor posture can reduce our strength, flexibility, and balance and—at the extreme—can cause pain and even compromise organ function. The good news is that posture problems can be corrected once they’ve been recognized. Even better, it’s possible to prevent them by developing good habits in the first place.

Putting Off Preventive Healthcare. The best time to pay attention to your health is while you still have it. Unfortunately, many Americans still cling to the reactive “sickness care” model and don’t take full advantage of the expanded preventive care options that have been made available to them as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates the ACA made 76 million Americans “newly eligible” for free preventive care. But a Kaiser Health Tracking Poll in March 2014 revealed that only 43% of the population was aware of the change, meaning that many people are probably foregoing preventive care out of cost concerns. Remember—it’s always better to recognize and treat a health problem early before it grows worse and becomes more difficult to address!

By avoiding these Seven Deadly Health Sins, you can also avoid many chronic health conditions. If you or someone you care about has health questions or concerns, we encourage you to call or visit our office today. We’re here to help!

Health Benefits of Breathing Deeply

Health Benefits of Breathing Deeply

woman-deep-breathing-200-300“Take a deep breath.” It’s something we say to each other—and even to ourselves—when the going gets rough and we need to get our emotions under control. But it turns out that this bit of advice isn’t only useful in helping us recover our composure. When practiced on a regular basis, deep breathing can have real physical and mental health benefits.

Many health researchers and clinicians recommend controlling your breath as an easy way to improve your health. The benefits of slow, deep breathing include decreasing inflammation, reducing anxiety, improving heart health, reducing pain, and boosting your immune system. In addition, people with migraines and irritable bowel syndrome may also experience benefits from deep, consistent breathing.

How does it work?

Deep and slow breathing stimulates the vagus nerve. This nerve connects the brain stem with the abdomen, and it is part of the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for so-called “rest and digest” activities. For example, it causes the heart rate to decline when we exhale. The sympathetic nervous system, on the other hand, controls our “fight or flight” responses.

The vagus nerve is activated when we slow our breathing to around 5 to 7 breaths per minute (our usual pace is around 12 to 18 per minute). In addition to slowing our heart rate, the vagus nerve controls the release of various neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine. Acetylcholine slows both our heart rate and digestion and has anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, for people with severe conditions such as epilepsy, there are devices available that can stimulate the vagus nerve.

How can we learn to breathe more deeply?

Deep breathing is often taught in meditation and yoga classes. Experts say it is important to breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth, ensuring that the exhale is longer than the inhale. Breathing should focus on the abdomen, particularly on the inhale, rather than the chest and shoulders.

To help people become more aware of their own breathing patterns, a San Francisco startup company has developed a wearable device called Spire, which helps users track their breathing and know when to slow down and take a deep breath. The basic idea is that you don’t have to stop what you are doing in order to shift into a calmer, more healthful breathing state. This device may be particularly useful for some computer users, whose breathing seems to change significantly while they’re doing their work. At one end of the spectrum, some individuals tend to hold their breath—a condition known as “screen apnea”. At the other end of the spectrum are the rapid breathers. A small study by Neema Moraveji, co-founder of Spire and director of the Calming Technology Lab at Stanford University, showed that people working on a computer took an average of 16.7 breaths per minute, versus 9.3 breaths a minute when relaxed.

However we choose to approach our own breathing, whether through meditation, yoga, or wearable devices, there’s growing evidence that becoming more mindful—and taking greater control—has real health benefits. So take a deep breath and get started!