20 September 2010

School lightens the load

Clearwater high school in Kansas has decided to replace all essential text books with electronic versions. Each of the 2000 children have received Kindle Readers with their course books already downloaded. So instead of lugging up to six heavy textbooks around with them there is only one thing to carry. The Kindle has a built in dictionary and a text to voice converter which means that even when lying horizontal youngsters can still study. So hopefully a reduction in twisted spines, stiff necks and eyestrain.

The Kindle has proved to be a huge success with the school and the pupils. The school will spend less because ebooks don’t wear out and the students are delighted with the technology.

Even for those of us no longer at school this could be one way of cutting down the weight of your holiday reading list.

Buy a Kindle now

24 August 2010

What is the point - sham acupuncture

Yet another waste of time. What is this obsession with sham acupuncture? Anyone who is involved in acupuncture realises that the effect begins when the tip of the needle touches the skin of the patient. After that there are two variables: the intensity of the treatment and the responsiveness of the patient.

One study looked at two treatments: shallow acupuncture that they called ‘sham’ and deeper acupuncture. Surprise, surprise there wasn’t much difference in effect. Their conclusion ‘acupuncture is no better than sham’. My conclusion ‘their sham was not sham at all, it was acupuncture’, if it proves anything it is that depth of needling is not very important.

A much better trial compared acupuncture with a drug known to control hot flushes.
Acupuncture was just as good at controlling the symptoms with fewer side effects, and no doubt a lot cheaper. I don’t suppose this trial will make the headlines – or am I just an old cynic.

This is what I would like to see: compare acupuncture directly with the normal drugs that are used routinely for arthritic joint pain, for IBS, for headaches and migraines. That would be a good start.

21 June 2010

Carpets of Salt

I’ve been on holiday. Even when I have time off it’s hard to stop seeing every activity from a professional angle. Each sport and every physical activity has its risks and the "alfombras de sal" weekend in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands is no exception.

Corpus Christi - Arecife 2010 - Barrow and Sign
Corpus Christi – Arecife 2010 – Lanzarote

Every year at the time of Corpus Christi, local groups in Arrecife decorate the roads around the church with brightly coloured pictures made from dyed salt. First they mark out the edges with bits of wood and nails, then they create the pattern with chalk, string and MDF templates.

Corpus Christi - Arecife 2010 - Salt Piles
Corpus Christi – Arecife 2010 – Salt Piles

A road digger dumps piles of salt nearby and the volunteers use shovels and wheelbarrows to gather salt and mix it with powder dyes to make the colours for the picture

Corpus Christi - Arecife 2010 - Working on picture
Corpus Christi – Arecife 2010 – Working on picture

Filling in the pattern is done by hand using a combination of buckets, trowels and hands. The salt is then tamped down to form a layer about an inch thick. The work begins at 2pm on Saturday and continues into the late evening.

Corpus Christi - Arecife 2010 - Cesar Manrique
Corpus Christi – Arecife 2010 – Cesar Manrique

On the following day, after a mass in the church the priest led a procession over the "carpets of salt", called alfombras de sal in Spanish. Then soon after, the council workers came along and swept up all the salt and cleaned the streets, by Monday morning it had all gone.

Apart from pushing heavy wheelbarrows full of salt and shovelling, the activity I thought would cause most pain was the hours spent on hands and knees. I expect a few people were suffering on Monday morning.

27 April 2010

Annual Coal Carrying Race

I heard recently that the Olympic stadium in London has already cost over £300 million, and look at how much it costs to go to a football match these days. But sport needn’t be big business, you can enjoy participating in some very challenging sports for almost nothing if you are prepared to travel. I recently mentioned the cheddar cheese rolling event that was cancelled due to safety concerns (that is crowd safety – not the competitors!). I am delighted to see that another regional event went ahead as usual, I am talking about the annual Gawthorpe World Coal Carrying Championships.

The competitors run just under a mile from the Royal Oak pub in Gawthorp to the maypole on the village green, carrying a 50kg bag of coal on their shoulders. This year (and last year) the winner was Chris Birkin with a time of 4min 29sec while in the ladies race (using a 20kg bag of coal) a new world record of 4min 39sec was achieved. Watch the race here

The favourite technique seems to be the shoulder carry. I saw one or two competitors use a low back carry but this means you are running doubled over which would slow you down. The chest or abdominal carry is the least efficient as it makes breathing difficult due to tension in the arm and chest muscles. From a professional point of view I would expect some of the competitors to suffer neck pain and probably some headaches after the race from the carrying position, and maybe the odd sprained ankle or wrist.

14 April 2010

You are not alone

Here is an interesting fact: your body contains more microbes than human cells. You are not just a single genetic individual you are a living colony, sharing your life and space with millions of other life forms.

If you watch crime programmes on TV you will know how often people are convicted on the basis of matching DNA to samples of body tissue found at the crime scene. Your DNA is like a signature on each of the cells in your body. The microbes that share your body do not share your DNA, they have their own DNA. This is how we know they are not human cells. Generally the microbes are friendly towards us, they help keep the gut free of pathogens and some are able to feed on our waste products (like cellulose) producing small sugar molecules that we can absorb.

It makes you think – you are not just responsible for yourself but for all your fellow species colonising this shared space we call our body.

9 March 2010

Aquarium fungicide might help low back pain

Tropical fish fanciers will be familiar with methylene blue as an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial chemical used to keep fish healthy. Today the Daily Mail report on a trial carried out in China by orthopedic surgeons and reviewed by Professor Bogduk for the medical journal Pain. The Chinese surgeons suggest that injecting Methylene Blue into lumbar discs will cure low back pain in one fifth of cases.

Methylene blue binds to small molecules such as nitric oxide which is known to cause inflammation, we know from previous research that reducing nitric oxide relieves pain in osteoarthritis so the approach has great potential.

An alternative theory that I reported on last month (read here) is that injured discs can become infected by bacteria, presumably methylene blue would act as an anti-bacterial in this case so the mechanism would be different but the beneficial effect would be the same.

1 March 2010

Talking yourself out of Pain

A thought provoking article from the BBC on using cognitive therapy to reduce pain. I am not sure how well this would work as a "stand alone" intervention but it’s certainly true that having someone explain why you are in pain demystifies it and stops it being quite so scary. I think chronic back pain is a bit like nagging toothache, you can go so long with painkillers but eventually you know that it needs to be dealt with.

On the down side there is the risk that chronic pain sufferers might be dismissed as "neurotic", quite a popular diagnosis in some quarters!

28 February 2010

You can't park here this is my urban gym!

Go to Germany or France and any self-respecting woodland walk will have exercise stations, usually made out of tree trunks. In Spain many costal promenades have them made from steel pipes set in concrete – see images.

Not so in the UK (with one exception being the trim track at Gateshead stadium – is it still there?), so it was good to stumble upon this article – "Urban Gym: an outdoor workout in the heart of the city" – in the Guardian on using street furniture as part of your workout.

This seems to me the most natural way to exercise, especially when you remember we inhabit bodies built to the "hunter/gatherer Mk1" specification.

Urban gym in France
"Urban gym" in France
Urban gym in Lanzarote, Spain
"Urban gym" in Lanzarote, Spain
24 February 2010

Sharpen your mind with a Siesta

I was talking to a medical colleague who had recently been to China. While there she had a conversation with some Chinese doctors about the types of complaints they encountered most often. When she asked how many patients complained of TATT (tired all the time) they looked blank. So she explained what she meant: "Ah," said the doctors, "You mean insomnia – yes that is very common here too".

So my usual advice to patients who suffer "insomnia" or TATT is to take a 30 minute nap in the middle of the day and see whether that helps. Interesting then to see that my homespun advice has had some degree of vindication in this trial reported by the BBC from the University of California. In their experiment, 39 healthy adults were given a hard learning task in the morning – with broadly similar results, before half of them were sent for their siesta.

When the tests were repeated, the nappers outperformed those who had carried on without sleep.

21 February 2010

Osteopath saves the career of England rugby star

Article in News of the World this week about Mark Cueto the England rugby player.

The editorial is mainly about him allowing his body to be used as a canvas for artist Carolyn Roper to paint his muscles. In the interest of decency she seems to have painted over his shorts, well we all know how shy and modest these rugby players can be..

For me the main story is how close he was to ending his playing career due to injuries and when the medics had given up it was an osteopath who saved the day. Take a bow Jim Webb.

Blog Author

My name is Bill Ferguson and I am an Osteopath and Acupuncturist. I run a private practice in Tenterden, Kent.

Bill Ferguson, Osteopath and Acupuncturist
Bill Ferguson
Osteopathy Clinic
Tel: 01580 762754