(Article originally published on September 5th, 2019 – Scroll to bottom for update!)

Don’t Trek with Pain in Your Neck

Jersey City ranks third in the nation for the longest commutes. 97.1% of Americans commute to work so odds are you can understand the perils of rush hour traffic and long hours. Commuting essentially becomes a way of life for most and this way of life is often coupled with back and neck pain. We’ve all fallen victim to the sleepy, tingly sensation which we dismiss with a quick shake of the leg, yet the discomfort remains.

Personally, being one of the approximately 93,000 people who commute into Jersey City daily, I too deal with aches and pains. I have yet to discover how to teleport so for this reason, I set out to talk to four of Jersey City’s experts to find the 6 best ways to ease your commuting pain.

Dr. Maria Aguila working with her patient

The Elusive “E word”:

160 million Americans are overweight or obese because let’s be frank, who doesn’t love binge watching Netflix and eating their favorite snack. While it may feel great to plop down on the couch and decompress you are doing more harm than good. The Mayo Clinic suggests that we should get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Maria Aguila, owner of Life in Motion Physical Therapy, said it best, “movement is medicine.” As humans, we are designed to be constantly moving yet office workers sit at the computer for a minimum of 6 hours a day on top of their commute. That’s approximately 1,800 hours of sitting a year!

It’s time to pull out your Fit-bit, Apple Watch, or download an app to track your steps. The healthiest people take at least 10,000 steps a day. While you may be shocked by this number, it is possible! Easy ways to get your steps up include walking up the stairs, taking breaks to do a lap around your office, and getting off the train or bus one or two stops early to walk the rest of the way. While at first this may seem silly in time it will strengthen the muscles in your legs and glutes helping you fit into those new jeans and feel good doing it!

Aching Accessories:

It’s true looks can kill…your back. High heels distort our natural center of gravity causing our muscles to have to work harder to keep us from falling forward. Dr. Lee Tran, Chiropractor at Jersey City Wellness Center, suggests bringing your high heels with you to work but to wear sneakers on your commute. Your feet help support your spine so help support your feet with proper footwear.

How are you carrying your things with you to work? Whether it’s a purse, messenger bag or backpack you need proper straps. While it may make you feel cool, constantly having a bag on one shoulder causes there to be an uneven weight distribution leading to muscles being stronger on one side than the other. Heavy bags can put a lot of stress on your shoulders causing you to experience upper back pain and a slouched posture.

Dr. Esposito going over Emily’s X-rays

That’s PrePOSTUREous!

Close your eyes and you can still hear your parents reminding you “Stand up straight, don’t slouch your shoulders” and to be honest, we should have listened. Poor posture especially when sitting for long periods of time leads to tension in the hips, back, shoulders and neck. Dr. Edward Esposito, Chiropractor at Advanced Rehabilitation of Jersey City emphasizes the importance of being squared off and having both feet planted on the ground whether you are in the office, on the train or even on your phone. Head pushed forward and rounded shoulders is a typical phone stance and we are all susceptible to this, I am no exception. During my visit to be adjusted by Dr. Esposito he noticed this classic symptom with my head pushed too far forward and has begun an 8 week trial of treatment to see any improvement. To help Dr. Maria recommends engaging all your core muscles to help maintain proper posture for longer periods of time. Keeping a perfect posture is impossible and we are all bound to hunch over while we sit or stand but strengthening your muscles will help improve this over time. With your shoulders back and your chest up, you will feel more confident and ready to take on your day despite how long it may be.

You Are What You Eat:

If you grew up in Jersey you know that we don’t like to wait long for anything. We want our coffee and our food ready essentially as soon as we arrive and that’s why fast food is so common among commuters. Unfortunately, what’s easiest isn’t always the best when it comes to our food. That venti coffee that we grab gets us through the morning but it flushes out excess water and sodium that we need. All four of our professionals agree that maintaining a healthy weight and drinking a gallon of water a day will help ease that stubborn back pain. With less weight to carry around, your body will be relieved of stress and able to function at a higher level. It’s recommended for men to eat between 2,000-2,500 calories a day and women to eat between 1,500-2,000 calories a day. Take the time to help yourself and prepare meals to bring with you to work so you aren’t tempted to stop at the delicious yet greasy kiosks that are scattered throughout your commute.

Who Are You Sleeping With?

Before you start thinking too much about this, the answer is your mattress. That is what you get into bed with every night and what you trust to support your spine while you sleep. Dr. Leonard Carlucci, Chiropractor at Back to Health Chiropractic Center suggests changing your mattress at home every 10 years to prevent your bed from making your back pain worse. Check your mattress when you get home, does it have any depressions in it? If yes, it’s time to take a trip to your local mattress store but if your answer is no and you still have discomfort, foam wedges will be your new best friend. Propping your body up on a foam wedge helps relieve pressure on your spine and for those with lower back pain placing the wedge in between your legs works wonders!

Dr. Carlucci adjusting his patient

The Final Stretch

Stretching can be done anywhere and everywhere according to Dr. Esposito who also commutes to Jersey City. He stretches on the train despite being looked at strangely by other passengers. While it may feel daunting to be stared at, I can guarantee that you stretching on the train or bus will be the least weird thing that everyone sees on their commute. Dr. Esposito would ideally recommend that you stretch your muscles every half an hour to an hour to prevent extreme tightness and soothe the muscles in your legs and hips. Setting an alarm on your phone is a good reminder to take a few minutes throughout your day to do some light stretching. A simple stretch, leaning forward and touching your toes is all it may take according to Dr. Carlucci.

While we do pay hundreds of dollars on health insurance, our doctors will agree that you are your best health insurance. Incorporating these six steps into your daily routine will help ease the nagging back and neck pain you feel every day. Of course, you should always be checked out by a professional if your pain doesn’t subside so they can give you a more personalized treatment.

 

UPDATE

During my initial visit with Dr. Esposito, (Chiropractor at Advanced Rehabilitation of Jersey City) I explained that I was dealing with lower back pain, mostly due to sitting for long periods of time. As you might’ve read, I commute daily. I drive an hour or so to work and an hour or so home. After examining my posture, both while standing and walking, Dr. Esposito expressed to me that my left hip was higher than my right and was causing pressure on my nerves. He offered me 8 treatments to see if he could help fix my pain from commuting. So here’s my review!

Each appointment went similarly, starting with heat packs to relax the muscles, often times a massage, and then onto the adjustments. What was so unique about my treatment is the table I would lay on. It was specifically designed to relieve pressure off of the lower back by mechanically compressing in and out. With each visit my pain was gradually reduced, and towards the end of my treatments, Dr. Esposito took another X-ray to examine the changes in my posture.

As you can see, my hips have evened out, causing my spine to sit straighter and reduce the pressure on my nerves. Pleased with this outcome, Dr. Esposito stated that he was able to see “objectively, measurable changes on the x-ray and we were able to make a positive change.” I definitely feel better than I did prior to these 8 treatments, so I can only imagine the results if I continue to incorporate the tips I’ve learned into my daily routine. Do you have a pain similar to what I’ve described? Get checked by a professional! Don’t let pain be your ‘normal’.

Emily Davis
Author: Emily Davis

Emily Davis loves the outdoors and can be found taking hikes or relaxing on the beach. If she can't be outside she enjoys playing with her four cats and watching a good movie!