Author Archives: gregoryubc

Hips Don’t Lie: Are You Poised For Pain?

      As students begin to face the ever looming threat of finals they will hopefully be putting in more study time. This likely means more time sitting in chairs, hunched over with terrible posture. Too often the cries of students throughout libraries can be heard: “ow! my back”. While most people are aware of what bad posture looks like (have you ever been told to sit-up straight?), more often than not, the cause of back pain and likewise improper posture, goes unnoticed.

Obtained from Flickr commons

Many people can recognize one of the tell-tale signs of bad posture from curvature of the upper back; this is referred to as thoracic kyphosis. Though kyphosis on its own can lead to various forms of discomfort, its cause can be complicated, especially when in a seated position.

The lumbar spine is the lowest and strongest part of the spinal column. It is comprised of five vertebrae (though some people are born with six!) which remain largely immobile.

Compare the thoracic (left) vertebrae with the lumbar (right). Note the ‘paddle’ like joints called facets which lock-in to one another to prevent rotation in the lumbar.
Obtained from Wikimedia commons.

When in a seated position, the hips are flexed and the pelvis is pulled under the body. This can force hyper-extension of the lumbar spine though a condition known as posterior pelvic tilt (PPT). Due to the extremely limited mobility of the lumbar spine, its extension will transfer force into the more mobile components of the spinal column (upper back, neck).

Effects of posterior pelvic tilt
Obtained from Google images

While the vertebrae of the upper back area (thoracic spine) do allow for movement through three planes (forwards/backwards, side-to-side, rotational), this movement is limited. In an attempt to maintain normal curvature of the spinal column, the hyperextension of the lumbar spine is often coupled with thoracic kyphosis. Unfortunately the problems associated with PPT and long bouts of sitting can be self-perpetuating. The backwards tilting of the pelvis can lead to short and stiff hamstrings, which in turn contribute to more, or difficult to treat posterior pelvic tilt. This coupling of muscular tightening and joint misalignment can be very uncomfortable.

There’s no getting around the fact that being a student comes with a four year contract of studying related back problems.

Obtained from Flickr commons

What then, can you do about this? The go-to move is usually a quick straightening of the back, or the dreaded twist until you hear a crack. While these options may seem to provide relief, the problem is probably coming from your pelvis. Every now and then take a study break and go for a short walk. Try to find some stairs; climbing stairs will help to get the musculature of the hips energised and re-engaged so as to support your pelvis. If you’re studying at home try some simple hip and back stretches. If you have access, use a foam roller to slowly and gently release the tight muscles along the entirety of your spine. However, if none of these options are available simply remember your mother’s advice: sit-up straight and take your elbows off the table!


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For the anatomically inclined, check out this video for a more comprehensive view of the lumbar.

– Gregory McMaster

Olympic Fallout: Just How ‘Green’ is 2014?

Source: Flickr commons

Last Friday night, the world turned its eyes to a small town on the eastern coast of the Black Sea; the Sochi 2014 Olympics had begun. With opening ceremonies full of winter wonder, and the promise of a brave new world from International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach, Russia ushered in the next iteration of winter competition.

Though mired in controversy regarding the overrun of this Olympics (it is expected to cost roughly 50 billion Euros in total, by comparison Vancouver 2010 cost about 5.5 billion Euros), quietly shuffled aside are the concerns raised over the environmental impact.

Sochi National Park
Source: Flickr commons

To construct the Olympic venue for Sochi 2014, an area encompassing 8,750 acres of wetlands within the Sochi National Park has been effectively demolished. Though this area represents roughly 1.8 % of the total park size, it remains a sizeable portion to be lost. During the bidding process, Russia assured a zero-waste games and promised to follow Green standards. While this looks good on paper, zoologist Suren Gazaryan says “Sochi organizers have failed on all Green promises”. Gazaryan asserts he has witnessed not only illegal dumping of waste material, but also the blocking of major migration routes of animals residing within Sochi National Park; the park itself represents an extremely productive ecological area home to over 65 species of bird, none of which have been seen recently around Sochi.

Bolshoi Ice Palace – 12,000 seat multi-purpose arena
Source: Flickr commons

All of this begs the question: Just how stringent is this concept of Green? It shouldn’t be a surprise that an undertaking of this magnitude will needlessly (as many other locations possess the infrastructure to support international games) require substantial environmental sacrifices. In spite of this, the IOC gave the go ahead to Russia in the face of their fabled ‘no-waste games’ concept. While Russia admittedly maintained their lofty ideal of planting three trees for every one that they cut down during the construction of Sochi 2014, Gazaryan makes the keen observation that “…ecosystems are not Lego sets that you can take apart and rebuild somewhere else”.

For the next two weeks the world will come together to celebrate the best of human triumph, but in the face of glory and prestige have we lost sight of the Green standard we hold ourselves so fervently to? During the opening ceremony, IOC President Thomas Bach implored us all to embrace our diversity; let us not forget that if we are to attain that brave new world, we must also embrace our biodiversity.