In this interview with Balance the Grind, Dr. Taylor Harrison, an expert in chiropractic wellness, discusses the silent epidemic of back pain exacerbated by sedentary lifestyles across Australia.
Dr. Harrison sheds light on how commonplace habits such as prolonged sitting and poor sleep contribute to the rise in spinal issues and offers straightforward strategies to counteract these patterns. His practical advice on ‘movement snacking’—simple, quick exercises—promises to integrate seamlessly into even the busiest of workdays.
He also expands on the importance of a holistic approach to maintaining spinal health, emphasising the synergy between physical activity, nutrition, and mental well-being. Addressing common misconceptions, he presents a reassuring look at the benefits and safety of chiropractic care for all ages, including during pregnancy and childhood.
For those seeking to improve their spinal health, he offers an ultimate takeaway: prioritising quality sleep as a foundation for a healthier, pain-free lifestyle.
Dr. Harrison, with your observation of the increase in back pain issues among Australians due to inactivity, could you describe some of the most common complaints your patients present with and the typical lifestyle factors that contribute to these issues?
The most common complaints we are seeing with patients in the clinic are upper back and neck pain, shoulder complaints and headaches. These complaints are commonly attributed to working at desks and being more sedentary through the workday, as highlighted by the Emma research. Also contributing is the lack of quality sleep and increased stress levels due to workload and financial stress.
The concept of ‘movement snacking’ is quite intriguing. Can you share a couple of these quick exercises and explain how they help alleviate back pain? Are there any that can be easily integrated into a busy workday?
The key is getting small amounts of movement regularly to prevent the build up of tension in these key areas. In particular, getting movement through the neck, upper back and shoulders through shoulder rolls in a backwards motion, stretching the arms back behind you and chest forward, as well as stretching your neck gently side to side with your ear towards your shoulder.
These are simple things that can be done in 30 seconds while still sitting, however it is also beneficial to get up and move every hour to wake up the core muscles which switch off after an hour of sitting. Even just standing for 30 seconds will help.
Research from Emma highlights a significant percentage of people sitting for prolonged periods during their workday. What are the long-term implications of this sedentary behaviour on spinal health, and how can individuals mitigate these effects if cutting back work hours isn’t an option?
An increased sedentary lifestyle leads to weakening of the supporting spinal muscles as well as stiffness through the spine and loss of normal spinal curves. These changes over time lead to degeneration in the spine, primarily Osteoarthritis. Another way of thinking of it is that most spines won’t wear out from overuse, but rather become rusty from lack of use.
Aside from regular movement, getting a standing desk or a desk that alternates can be a helpful solution as it activates the spinal and postural muscles. Lastly, getting a good quality night’s sleep is critical to heal and repair these areas, making sure to sleep on a good quality supportive mattress such as Emma’s range, which is backed by extensive research and testing at the Emma Sleep Lab.
You mention a holistic approach to chiropractic wellness that includes exercise, nutrition, and emotional well-being. How do these elements interplay in the management and prevention of back pain?
We educate all our clients that maintaining good spinal health requires a holistic approach that encompasses all areas. If a client is not getting the proper nutrition and is eating highly processed and sugary foods, this can cause an inflammatory response in the body and prevent proper healing.
This also applies to chronically high stress levels which send the body into the ‘fight/flight’ mode which prioritises the body’s survival and as a result, prevents the body from focusing on healing and repairing. It will also create more muscle tension in the upper back, neck and shoulders as the body tries to protect itself from physical threats which it interprets emotional stresses to be.
For those who may be sceptical or unfamiliar with chiropractic care, especially in the context of paediatrics and pregnancy, can you share some insights into the benefits and safety of chiropractic treatments for these groups?
There is a solid amount of research showing the safety of chiropractic care for both pregnant patients and children. This was recently highlighted with a government enquiry into the safety of chiropractic care for children under 12. There were 22,000 public responses with 99.7% of these parents reporting a positive experience with the chiropractic care of their children.
These parents had accessed chiropractic care for their child for a wide range of conditions and complaints, including maintaining general health and wellbeing. The most common conditions included posture concerns, colic, neck pain, difficulty with breastfeeding, back pain, and headaches.
And the overwhelming majority of parents reported that chiropractic care helped their child, with 98% of these parents indicating that their child improved after seeing the chiropractor. As for safety, no patient complaints or practitioner notifications have been brought forward, nor a claim due to spinal care for children.
For pregnant patients, many will benefit from Chiropractic care to relieve the physical strain of pregnancy, including lower back and pelvis pain. There is also some preliminary research to support less medical intervention during labour following Chiropractic care during the pregnancy, however further research is required. Reviewing the research on safety during pregnancy, the current literature supports the safety and positive outcomes of chiropractic during pregnancy.
Finally, as a health care professional with a holistic perspective, what is your ultimate piece of advice for anyone looking to improve their spinal health and overall well-being in today’s increasingly sedentary lifestyle?
Yes, this would be to improve their sleep. This is the thing that I am discussing most with clients at the moment, not only getting enough sleep but also good quality sleep. The body heals itself during the deep phase of sleep and although people may be getting enough overall sleep, they are often lacking in deep sleep.
To help find this information out, people can easily track their phases of sleep through many wearable devices. To improve deep sleep, people need to switch off devices an hour before going to bed, turn down the lighting as well as doing some stretching and gentle breathing exercises in the leadup to bedtime.
Then getting the correct mattress and pillow is critical, making sure to choose a mattress and pillow that suit your needs. The challenge is that many people won’t be able to tell until they’ve slept on it for at least 2-3 weeks. That’s where a company like Emma with a 100-day money back guarantee really helps people make the correct choice.