Dr. Jeffrey I. Kennis,  D.C.
205 Commercial St.
Boston, MA 02109

( 617)720-2329




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June 28, 2019
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These laptop setups may help your back and neck feel better.


It’s no secret that car rides can be hard on your lower back—especially if you have to travel for an extended period of time.

driving down the highway into the sunset

Your seated posture while driving can either contribute to or alleviate back discomfort. See Office Chair, Posture, and Driving Ergonomics

The key to finding relief is to make a plan before you set off on your trip, and these 3 little-known tips can help you do exactly that:

See Pain-Free Travel Tips

1. Schedule regular stops for exercise

Sitting in one position for an extended period of time can tighten your back muscles, which in turn can lead to pain and even muscle spasms. So then, it’s a good idea to schedule stops every 30 to 60 minutes so you can walk around and stretch your lower back. This activity loosens your muscles and encourages blood circulation, bringing nutrients and oxygen to your lower back.

See Stretching for Back Pain Relief

In addition to scheduling regular stops, try adjusting the position of your seat every 15 to 20 minutes. You can also pump your ankles to stimulate blood flow and to provide a slight hamstring stretch. Basically, any movement that’s safe to perform while driving can contribute to the relief of your back pain.

See Specific Hamstring Stretches for Back Pain Relief

2. Bring a cold pack to relieve your lower back pain

More often than not, back pain is accompanied by inflammation. Applying a cold pack for 15 to 20 minutes can reduce this inflammation and numb sore tissues, both of which can relieve your pain.

See Early Treatments for Lower Back Pain

Of course, finding relief through cold therapy on a road trip requires advanced planning. Here are a few simple options you can consider:

  • Before you leave on your trip, fill a cooler with reusable ice packs. You can also make your own customizable ice packs at home and toss them in the cooler.
  • Purchase instant ice packs at a pharmacy or general merchandise store. You can store these instant packs in the glove compartment of your car.
  • If you’re in a pinch, you can purchase ice and plastic bags on your trip—just make sure the bags are leak-free.

Watch Video: How to Make 5 Quick and Easy Ice Packs

Regardless of which option you choose, remember to place a protective barrier between your skin and the cold pack to avoid ice burn.

See Ice Packs for Back Pain Relief

3. Break up your trip into manageable stages

It seems counterintuitive, but sitting places more pressure on your spine than standing. So if your lower back pain is severe, consider breaking up your road trip into manageable stages. For example, rather than traveling 12 hours in one day, try 2 travel days instead. This strategy can help reduce the pressure on your spine—and it may encourage you to seek out unique tourist destinations.

Of course, breaking up your trip may cost you additional time and money—but it’s worth it if you can avoid lower back discomfort.

I hope all of the above advice will help keep your lower back happy and healthy during your next road trip.

Learn more:

Common Causes of Back Pain and Neck Pain

Office Chair, Posture, and Driving Ergonomics

A stiff back can make it difficult to complete even the simplest tasks. So of course you want to figure out what is causing it, as this can help you find the right course of treatment.

low back stiffness and pain from osteoarthritis

Back pain accompanied by unexplained weight loss requires immediate medical attention. Read Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

To aid you on your pain-relief journey, here are 4 reasons you may have a stiff back:

See Causes of Lower Back Pain

1. Tight hamstrings

Your hamstrings run through the back of each of your thighs. These large and powerful muscles can become tight for a number of reasons, including physical inactivity or a lack of stretching before and/or after working out.

See Easy Hamstring Stretches

You may be surprised to learn that tight hamstrings limit the motion in your pelvis, which in turn can increase the stress on your lower back and cause stiffness. Conversely, targeted hamstring stretching can gradually lengthen your hamstrings, and thereby relieve lower back stiffness.

Specific Hamstring Stretches for Back Pain Relief

2. Poor sitting posture

The majority of us spend over 8 hours per day sitting down. And all this time sitting can take its toll on our lower backs if we are not diligent in regards to our sitting posture.

Posture to Straighten Your Back

Common sitting posture mistakes include:

  • Sitting on the edge of your chair
  • Hunching forward towards your computer (not utilizing the lumbar support of your chair)
  • Staring down and/or up at your computer screen

See Identifying Incorrect Posture

Some of the possible negative effects of these posture mistakes including the following:

  • Strain on your lower back muscles
  • Stress on your lumbar spine
  • Changes to the anatomical structures of your spine over the long term (this can result in problems with your nerves, discs, or joints in your lower back).

See Good Posture Helps Reduce Back Pain

In This Article:

  • 4 Reasons You May Have a Stiff Back
  • Is My Lower Back Pain Serious?
  • 7 Tips to Protect Your Lower Back>
  • 3 Beginner Yoga Poses for Lower Back Pain Relief
  • Causes of Lower Back Pain Video

3. Lumbar herniated disc

Often as a result of wear and tear, the outer ring of one of your lumbar discs may bugle or crack. This in turn can lead to lower back pain and stiffness when the gel-like inner material leaks out (or herniates) and affects nearby nerve roots. Or you may experience symptoms in the disc space itself.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc: Causes and Risk Factors

Stiffness and other symptoms in your lower back from a lumbar herniated disc are often aggravated by movement. For example, you might feel more pain after you get up following a prolonged period of sitting (or perhaps following a laugh or sneeze). Additionally, hunching forward may also intensify your symptoms.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc Symptoms

4. Facet joint osteoarthritis can lead to back stiffness

If you have lower back stiffness that is worse first thing in the morning and later in the evening, it may be caused by facet joint osteoarthritis.

See Osteoarthritis of the Spine

Osteoarthritis can lead to back stiffness by causing the cartilage to breakdown between the facet joints in your lower back. As a result, your joints create more friction between one another, and as this limits your motion you often get stiffer and experience more back pain. This cause of back stiffness is most likely to occur in patients over 60 years old.

See Symptoms of Arthritis of the Spine

Don't become complacent when it comes to your stiff back, as ignoring the problem may only make it worse. Instead, work in tandem with your doctor to identify the cause and solution to your stiff-back problems.

Learn more:

Diagnosing a Lumbar Herniated Disc

Ten Tips for Improving Posture and Ergonomics

Having pain under or near your shoulder blade—the triangular bone that forms the back of your shoulder—may limit arm movements and interfere with daily activities. This pain can range from being sharp or burning, such as between the spine and shoulder blade, to tender or achy across the shoulder or upper back. Some possible causes of this pain are discussed below.


Upper back pain may be caused by injuries, degenerative changes, and other factors. Watch: Causes of Upper Back Pain Video

1. Poor posture

Prolonged sitting with poor posture may cause your spine to undergo structural changes that eventually cause pain underneath the shoulder blade. Hunching your back, tilting your head down, or sitting to one side—while working behind a desk or reading from a cell phone, for example—can weaken your muscles and place pressure on spinal discs, muscles, and ligaments. This routine imbalance can contribute to upper back pain.

See Posture to Straighten Your Back

2. Improper lifting technique

Lifting weight above your head without proper technique can leave your upper back and shoulders susceptible to injury. If you lift an object that is too heavy, or if the object is held away from the body with the spine misaligned, you can place undue pressure on your upper back. Lifting objects overhead that are too heavy can strain muscles or sprain ligaments, or potentially injure the shoulder joint or spine, which could refer pain under or near the shoulder blade.

See Avoid Back Injury with the Right Lifting Techniques

3. Overuse

Painting a ceiling, helping a friend move furniture, or participating in a softball league are all examples of activities that can put your upper back and shoulders through more work than they’re used to doing. Overuse can lead to muscle strains and ligament sprains, which can cause pain in the upper back, such as between your shoulder blade and spine. Another example is scapulothoracic bursitis, also called snapping scapula syndrome, in which the bursa between the shoulder blade (scapula) and thoracic spine becomes inflamed and painful from overuse or injury.

See Upper Back Pain from Intercostal Muscle Strain

In This Article:

4. Cervical herniated disc

A herniated disc in the cervical spine (neck) occurs when a disc’s outer layer (annulus fibrosus) tears and the inner layer (nucleus pulposus) starts to leak outward. A disc herniation can cause pain and may inflame a nearby nerve root that radiates pain down into the shoulder, arm, and/or hand. A disc herniation in the lower cervical spine is more likely to radiate pain into or near the shoulder blade area.1 While less common, it’s also possible for a disc herniation in the thoracic spine (upper back) to cause pain near the shoulder blade.

5. Dislocated rib

While less common, a rib may pop out of place or become misaligned after repetitive strain or reaching for an item overhead. Sharp pain near your shoulder blade can result from this activity, and it can sometimes make it difficult to take a deep breath.

6. Heart condition

Some heart conditions can present as pain in the shoulder blade region. For example, aortic dissection is a serious, life-threatening condition that occurs when the heart’s largest artery gets a tear and may cause severe pain that can move under or near the shoulder blade.2 A heart attack may also present as pain felt in the upper back and/or shoulder, especially in women.3

7. Compression fracture

A compression fracture is when a vertebral bone (typically in your upper back) weakens and compresses, causing back pain that feels better with rest or is sensitive to the touch. Compression fractures are most commonly caused by osteoporosis in older adults.

This list of possible reasons for the pain underneath your shoulder blade is not exhaustive, but hopefully it gives you a helpful starting point on the journey to relief. Any back or shoulder pain that lingers a few weeks or interferes with daily activities should be evaluated by a doctor. If your pain is severe or accompanied by other red flag symptoms—such as headache, tingling, weakness, or nausea—seek immediate medical attention.

Learn more:

Diagnosing Upper Back Pain

Relieving the Pain Under Your Shoulder Blade

7 Tips for Getting Better Sleep in the New Year

Restorative Sleep Brings Back Pain Relief


  1. Mizutamari M. et al. Corresponding scapular pain with the nerve root involved in cervical radiculopathy. J Orthop Surg. 2010; 18(3): 356–60.
  2. Aortic dissection. US National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus website. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000181.htm. Updated June 10, 2018. Accessed June 4, 2019.
  3. Heart attack. US Department of Health and Human Services, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-attack. Accessed June 4, 2019.

Sleep quality is one of the foundations of your health, and getting good sleep can be especially beneficial when dealing with back or neck pain. To help you distinguish facts from popular myths, here are 6 fast facts about sleep.

There are several techniques and sleep aids that can help you get a better night's sleep. Read Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

  1. Caffeine takes longer to wear off than you think. It takes your body several hours to process through the stimulating effects of caffeine. As much as 50% of the caffeine you drink can still be active in your system 5 to 7 hours later.1 Switching to decaf in the afternoon may make it easier to fall asleep.
  2. Short naps are effective in moderation. Occasionally taking a daytime nap that lasts 30 minutes or less can refresh you with a boost of wakefulness.2 Indulging in longer naps, daily naps, and evening naps, however, can lead to tossing and turning.
  3. See Should I Nap During the Day?

  1. A new, medium-to-firm bed may improve your sleep. Replacing an existing mattress with a new, medium-firm mattress can positively affect sleep quality and ease nonspecific low back pain for many people.3 However, its effectiveness for you in particular depends on many factors, such as your body weight and personal preference.
  2. See Mattress Guidelines for Sleep Comfort

  3. Exercise right before bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep. While exercising in the afternoon and evening is perfectly fine, working up a sweat at the end of the day can delay sleep. Budget at least a couple of hours between the time you finish your workout and the time you go to bed.
  4. Melatonin can help with falling sleep, but it’s not a cure-all. Taking the over-the-counter sleep aid melatonin can help with overcoming jet-lag and modestly improving sleep quality, but it is less effective for trying to treat chronic insomnia.4
  5. See Non-Surgical Treatment for a Lumbar Herniated Disc

  6. Less sleep can make you sick. A lack of sleep has been shown to produce chronic low-grade inflammation and increase susceptibility of catching a common cold.5,6 Reduce your chances of getting ill by prioritizing sleep.
  7. See What Happens to Your Body When You Don't Sleep

If you put these facts to good use by making a few changes to your sleep hygiene, you may start benefiting from restful and restorative nights of sleep.

Learn more:

7 Tips for Getting Better Sleep in the New Year

Restorative Sleep Brings Back Pain Relief


  1. Walker MP. Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams. London, UK: Penguin Books; 2018.
  2. Dhand R, Sohal H. Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2006;12(6):379-82.
  3. Jacobson BH, Boolani A, Smith DB. Changes in back pain, sleep quality, and perceived stress after introduction of new bedding systems. J Chiropr Med. 2009;8(1):1-8.

Complete Listing of References

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