Why LA Commutes Are Painful—Literally

BY: Kate Raftery |Jul 15, 2015
Why LA Commutes Are Painful—Literally

As a collegiate hockey player, David Clements received chiropractic treatments that helped him bounce back from an injury and avoid future ones. Years later, as a Los Angeles chiropractor himself, he helps lessen others’ burden of physical pain.

And what a burden it can be: more than half of Americans suffer from chronic or recurrent pain, which often affects the neck and back. It interferes with their productivity at work and enjoyment of leisure activities. At Twins Chiropractic (which has offices in Placentia, Garden Grove, and Costa Mesa), Clements—and his identical twin brother, Daniel—treat pain and explain its potential causes. Below, he does the same for us.

What should you expect during a spinal adjustment?

An adjustment returns vertebrae to their proper positions, relaxes muscles, and restores range of motion for joints, reducing pain, inflammation, and swelling.

“We first assess the spine thoroughly by gently feeling the vertebrae to see if everything is moving correctly,” Clements said. “For the joints that are dysfunctional, we gently adjust them using our hands. Air is released from the joints, which is heard like a crack or pop.”

What’s a common misconception about chiropractic services?

Clements often hears that chiropractic is addictive, that once you start going you have to keep going. In fact, he said, chiropractic is just like many other medical treatments: If you have unhealthy habits, your body will be in need of more treatments—in this case, adjustments.

He did concede that first-time clients might initially crave adjustments. “Most people have no idea of how their body is supposed to feel, or [they’ve] become numb to the pain they have been neglecting for years. Chiropractors are able to get rid of pain very easily with just a few adjustments for most common back conditions.”

After a while, clients usually reduce the frequency, just receiving adjustments for new pain issues or for maintenance, like brushing your teeth to prevent cavities.

What are a few simple things people can do to avoid back pain?

“The easiest way to avoid back pain is to exercise and have a strong core,” Clements said.

 The core supports the spine; Pilates, body-weight exercises, and other workouts can strengthen it. Try out moves like crunches, presses, and planks at home.

Will sitting down all day harm you?

When a person sits for hours at a computer, “muscles start to adapt to poor positions of the head, as it is more likely to anteriorly shift forward,” he said. “This causes the neck to go straight, losing the curve in the neck, which is needed to hold the head in the most efficient way. The change in biomechanics leads to muscles contracting more than they should.”

That position can eventually cause muscle spasms, tension headaches, and even degenerative disk disease. Sitting for long periods can also decrease your desire to exercise, which is the key to improving back strength. A possible solution is to install a standup station at your desk.

“Your body is forced to maintain better posture or you will lose your balance,” Clements said. “Your core is more able to hold the correct posture when you are standing, limiting back and neck pain. … Simply put: joints need to move, and when they don't, they degenerate and cause pain.”

Are there injuries you’re seeing more often due to technological developments?

“In the past few years, we have noticed a loss of the cervical curve in patients who are younger than usual,” Clements said. “This is causing headaches.”

The cervical spine (located in the neck) has a curve shaped like backward C. As you look down to perform everyday tasks, the cervical spine naturally flexes but should return to that curve when you raise your head to its normal position. Overuse, misuse, and injury can deform the curve, which may also compress the nerves. Younger people than usual—even kids—are experiencing a loss of the cervical curve due to their long-term use of phones, computers, and video games.

What ailments are most common among Southern Californians?

“Long commutes are a definite problem in Southern California, which has lead to chronic low-back pain,” Clements said.

LA commuters spend an average of 28.44 minutes traveling each way to work, but residents from surrounding communities have average commutes in the 50- to 60-minute range. The city is also notorious for bottlenecks and congestion that delay drivers as many as 90 cumulative hours in a year. All that time behind the wheel isn’t good for backs. Drivers can mediate some of the effects by employing ergonomic principles for prolonged sitting, like pressing your behind against the back of your seat so that the cushion causes your lower back to arch slightly.