Understand and Avoid Workplace Injuries

Avoid Workplace Injuries in Portland and Vancouver - New Heights Physical Therapy

Understand and Avoid Workplace Injuries

Although workplace injuries may seem infrequent, they are actually incredibly common. In a recent year, over 600,000 workers were injured on the job in the United States and reported their injuries. These injuries can equal a huge loss of job hours and countless dollars spent on insurance payments by companies. More importantly, they can significantly change the lives of those who are injured.

What Are the Most Common Workplace Injuries?

The most common type of injury in the workplace can generally be categorized as accidents. Slips, trips, and falls happen quite often due to new items in an area, cords placed across walking paths and spills. Muscles strains and sprains are also quite high especially in workers who frequently lift, push or pull something. Repetitive stress injuries may creep up slowly but are no less concerning as they can lead to great discomfort, especially in the joints. Back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and elbow, knee and shoulder complaints are high in certain professions.

Other common workplace injuries include the following:

  • Injuries from heavy lifting or moving machinery
  • Vehicle-related accidents
  • Cuts and scrapes
  • Injuries from noxious fumes
  • Auditory injuries from loud noises
  • Workplace fights

How Can Workers Prevent Injuries from Poor Posture?

Those who work at a desk for most of the time may believe that they are nearly immune to injuring themselves at work. However, the simple inactivity of a desk job can lead to huge problems in the neck and back, which are supported by the spinal column and the surrounding muscles. Poor posture while sitting can lead to a great deal of pain and even chronic problems.

When sitting at a desk, individuals should sit up straight with their backs against the back of the chair. The feet should be firmly planted on the floor with the knees level or slightly higher than the hips. When typing at a computer, the arms should be at 90-degree angles at the elbows, and the computer should be directly at eye level.

How Can Workers Prevent Injuries from Lifting and Moving Items?

Upper and lower back pain, muscle strains and sprains can all result from improper body mechanics when lifting or moving heavy items. Very heavy items should be lifted with a team approach. However, when lifting something oneself, the chest should always be forward, and the individual should crouch at the hips rather than bending down with the lower back. This will keep the weight close to the body.

How Can Workers Prevent a Variety of Accidental Injuries?

While poor body mechanics are often a huge cause of injuries, some simply occur due to problems with equipment, accidents or confusing instructions. Managers have a clear role to play in preventing injuries by educating employees. However, all employees must also take the time to put items back where they belong, clean up after themselves and always keep their minds on the job.

Consider these tips for preventing all sorts of workplace accidents.

  • Wear protective equipment, including earplugs in certain environments
  • Use appropriate staffing measures to ensure that no one is overworked
  • Inspect company vehicles and machinery regularly
  • Keep the workplace clean and tidy with clear walkways

It is the job of everyone in the workplace to stay aware of the environment and to work wisely and safely to avoid injuries. Because many injuries are due to accidents, staying awake and alert on the job can help individuals avoid all sorts of injuries. Plus, good posture, smart body mechanics and frequent breaks for those doing repetitive tasks can be incredibly helpful.

Impacts of Bad Posture

Poor posture results from reoccurring lifestyle habits over time and can prove difficult to break. Physical therapists are here to help when the effects of incorrect posture begin to cause chronic pain and discomfort.

What are various types of bad posture?

Many of the chronic aches and pains felt by people can be attributed to poor posture while sitting, standing, and walking. Poor posture place pressure on the spine, bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments that are designed to support the body. It can spark pain from pinched, crushed, or otherwise damaged nerves. Below are a few types of different types of bad posture that are common.


Slouching is easily one of the most common poor posture techniques most people are guilty of falling into at least occasionally. Proper standing and walking posture should have your thumbs facing forward, and the palms turned towards the body. Any other position suggests a slouch.

Forward Lean

Leaning towards the table, a computer, or your smartphone while sitting is considered poor posture.

Incorrect Seating

Placing the buttocks to close to the edge of a chair, or too far back is what produces an uncomfortable lean and pressure on the spine.

Knee Placement

Proper placement of the knees when sitting can reduce back and hip strain. Your feet should be flat on the ground and the knees slightly above the level plane of the thigh for correct positioning and posture.

What are the long term effects of bad posture?

Continuous use of poor posture will catch up over time. You will begin to feel increasing amounts of pain when at rest, or in motion due to stress on joints, spine, and the entire body-support system. A few bad posture side effects are

  • Lower back pain
  • Hip and leg pain
  • Shoulder and neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Acid reflux
  • Muscle tingling and weakness, and more
  • How to Fix Bad Posture

Fixing poor posture is a matter of staying aware of how you are sitting, standing, and walking on a daily basis. Catching and correcting poor posture behaviors is the ultimate solution. Stand with your chest outward and shoulders straight. Stretch your spine every time you get up. Use proper pillow support under your head and neck. Another way to improve your posture is to strengthen core muscles and increase your flexibility.

Participate In Our Free Workshop!

We would like to invite you to come to our free workshops that discuss the causes and treatment methods available for back pain. It will be a one-of-a-kind learning experience in how to live pain-free. Contact us at New Heights Therapy to find out more about treatment options for pain resulting from chronic poor posture. We are available to help you in both Portland OR and Vancouver WA.

5 Benefits of Foam Rolling

benefits of foam rolling - new heights physical therapy in portland OR and vancouver WA

Have you incorporated foam rolling into your regular exercise routine? You probably should!

Here are our 5 favorite reasons you should use a foam roller:

  1. Improve Range of Motion – decrease muscle tightness and improve flexibility.
  2. Reduce Soreness – foam rolling after your workout can help reduce the muscle soreness you typically experience 24-48 hours later.
  3. Avoid Injuries – by alleviating tightness and overuse of muscles, you’re a less likely candidate for related sports injuries like IT Band syndrome.
  4. Break up Scar Tissue – putting targeted pressure on your fascia helps break up adhesions between the skin, muscles and bones.
  5. Increase Circulation – increasing blood flow to the muscle helps elevate the heat in the tissue, which can help reduce tension!

Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain and Sciatica

Physical Therapy for Lower Back Pain & Sciatica. New Heights Physical Therapy in Vancouver WA and Portland OR

The chronic pain caused by sciatica and lower back problems can cause long periods of inactivity, which only serve to worsen the symptoms over time. Continual back pain and symptoms of Sciatica can be debilitating, but luckily, there are chronic back pain and sciatica treatment options to help improve the pain.

Almost every activity involves some use or movement of muscles in the back. Merely getting out of bed can cause a flare-up of chronic pain. Continuous, unrelenting bouts of pain make getting around difficult and working nearly impossible. It is one of the more debilitating problems large numbers of people deal with daily. No matter what the cause, when your back hurts, it negatively affects every area of your life.

Physical therapy treatment is available to help get the pain under control and reduce the symptoms felt. Continuous treatment increases mobility, resulting in a much better quality of life. Treatment can include

  • Stretching and light aerobic exercise
  • Heat and cold packs for pain reduction
  • Spinal flexibility increasing routines
  • Modified activities planning, and more

Not only will these treatment options lessen your back pain, they will work to prevent pain from reoccurring. To further recovery from sciatica and lower back pain, physical therapy can teach you about improved lifestyle habits so that you will no longer be held back by your condition.

Contact the PT specialists at New Heights Therapy to find out more about lower back pain and sciatica treatment today! Be sure and sign up for one of our upcoming workshops available in both Portland OR and Vancouver WA. The workshops are completely free and offer helpful information on how to live a life free of chronic pain.

Physical Therapy For Treating And Preventing Pain In The Lower Back

Lower Back Strech

80% Of The Population Suffers From Lower Back Pain

The prevalence of lower back pain in adults is shocking with 80 percent of the population destined to suffer from it at some stage of their lives. Ranging anywhere from a constant ache to a sharp, debilitating sensation, pain in the lower back can strike without warning and be caused by an accident or simply by attempting to lift a heavy object. The good news for sufferers is that physiotherapy is recognized as an effective treatment for the condition.

What Causes Lower Back Pain

Muscle strain is by far the most common cause of a person suffering pain in the lower portion of the back. It can be caused by an awkward movement, lifting or bending. Even simply standing in place for too long without changing position can cause someone to experience pain in the back.

  • Disc disease or injury: Herniated discs and bulging discs can apply pressure to the sensitive nerves in the spinal area and cause pain. A common cause of disc degeneration is aging, but it can also be caused by wear and tear. For example, someone operating heavy equipment, such as bulldozers and grading machinery, is subjected to jarring and jostling along with the vibration of the equipment, and this can cause damage to the spine.
  • Diseases of the spine: Spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis and scoliosis are conditions that can affect the structure of the spine and cause low back pain.
  • Fractures and injuries: Fractures of the spine caused by falls, motor vehicle accidents and other forms of trauma can cause severe and debilitating pain following the injury and during the healing process.

Low back pain can be difficult to diagnose because the cause of the pain could be due to the way a person’s back is positioned while sitting or standing. It could also be due to a lack of stability of the back due to muscle weakness in the abdomen and lower back.

Treatment Options

Just as there are different causes of pain in the lower back, the physical therapy treatment plan must be designed to fit the needs of each person, including the symptoms exhibited and the individual’s physical condition. Among the treatment options available for lower back pain are the following:

  • Strengthening and flexibility exercises
  • Spinal manipulation
  • Ice and heat treatments
  • Electrical stimulation

An essential part of a plan for the treatment of low back pain is instruction and training. Teaching someone the proper techniques for sitting, lifting and bending can prevent additional damage. Although it might seem to be something that comes naturally, people with low back pain might need to learn new sleeping positions to avoid causing further injury.

Don’t Just Mask Lower Back Pain!

Drugs can mask lower back pain, but they are not a solution to the cause of the pain. New Heights Physical Therapy Plus provides low back pain sufferers with solutions to the underlying problem causing their pain, discomfort and disability. Their goal is to help patients strengthen core muscles to provide stability in the spine and lower back and relieve pain. At the same time, they are teaching them the techniques to prevent future problems.

How to Have Happy, Healthy Intervertebral Discs

By: Gema Sanchez, PT

As many as 85% of people are affected by low back pain at some point during their lives. Of the  many causes of low back pain, intervertebral disc degeneration and disc herniation are among the most common. So, if you want to have a healthy spine and minimize low back pain, you need to have healthy discs.

What is an intervertebral disc?

The discs are partially movable joints that connect the bones of the spine (the vertebrae).  The function of the disc is mechanical: it transfers loads, dissipates energy and helps joint mobility.  It is composed of two parts: the nucleus pulposis in the center and the annulus fibrosis which encircles the nucleus. The nucleus is gelatinous, it has a high water content in a matrix which resists forces of compression. The annulus is composed of rings of fibrous cartilage surrounding the nucleus which resist the forces of rotation.. Most of the disc has a very poor blood supply so it relies on the squeezing and releasing of the spine through everyday motion to provide it with  nutrition, much like squeezing soap though a sponge. To maintain health, the disc maintains a delicate balance of breaking down and rebuilding. This balance is easily disrupted by factors such as aging, mechanical loading, and environmental and genetic factors.

How is the disc damaged?

Disc degeneration is part of the natural process of aging but can also be caused by excessive and/or repetitive loading.  Disc herniation, also known as a disc bulge, occurs when the annulus tears and the disc begins to change shape, sometimes leaving it’s normal confines and pressing on the spinal cord or nerves. Disc herniation can occur as a result of degeneration or from a sudden injury such as very heavy lifting or a car accident.

What can I do to keep my discs healthy?

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking has been demonstrated to have a profound impact on disc degeneration and herniation. Smoking causes changes to the chemistry of the disc resulting in decreased cell production, disruption in cell architecture and disintegration of cells and matrix.
  • Keep a healthy weight. Increased body mass increases the load on the disc, accelerating disc degeneration. There is also evidence to suggest that there may be a link between disc degeneration and the secretion of the peptide hormone leptin from adipose tissues. This hormone is a biomarker of obesity and is believed to promote the production of abnormal nucleus cells.
  • Stay active, but don’t overdo it. Mechanical loading effects on the disc depend on how much of a load there is and how long it lasts. The normal pattern of unloading at night and loading during the day maintains the balance of breakdown and rebuilding in a healthy disc. If the disc does not get enough of a load, it begins to swell and lose structure. But continuous or excessive loading causes cell death and disc degeneration. So moderate loading is best: laboratory and clinical evidence suggests that moderate mechanical loading promotes effects which protect and repair the spine and may delay the development or progression of disc disease.

Can the disc heal?

Well, that depends on location. The nucleus and inner annulus does not have a blood supply, so it does not heal well. In fact, it is still uncertain if regeneration and repair of the nucleus or the inner annulus is even possible. But there is some research that suggests that releasing compression on   a degenerated disc results in rehydration and chemical changes which indicate tissue recovery. In terms of the outer annulus, the news is better; it appears to demonstrate good healing potential. In animal models, the outer annulus has been shown to be able to resist  pressure within the nucleus in as little as six weeks of healing. The outer annulus is different from the nucleus and inner annulus in several ways; it is anchored directly to bone, has some blood supply and shares similar cells and composition to tendons and ligaments. It has been shown that application of appropriate levels of tension along the lines of fiber orientation assists healing in tendons and may assist in reducing excessive scar formation following an injury. Since the outer annulus shares several important characteristics with tendon, we can apply these healing principles to the outer annulus to promote healing.

So exercise can help heal the disc?

We think so, but the exercise has to target each part of the disc separately and be progressed individually, depending on where you are in your healing process. We use rotation exercises to encourage healing of the annulus and modified compression-decompression exercises for the nucleus, starting with the right amount of force for where you are in your healing process and progressing as you improve.


Getting Back to Gardening

By: Gema Sanchez, PT

If you are a gardener in Portland, February is the longest month of the year. You wait for those rare sunny days and bundle up to finish the fall clean up, admire the hellebores and hunt around for the first signs of Spring. And while all that fresh air and sunshine is good for the soul, your body may be a little stiffer than it was in the Fall, putting you at risk for injury. Here are some recommendations to prevent injury as you transition back to the gardening season:


  1. Alternate light and heavy tasks: Analyze what you have to do and determine if it is a light task such as stacking tomato cages or a heavy task such as clearing awkward branches. Give your body a break from the heavier tasks by alternating them with the lighter tasks. For example, take a break from taking out dead shrubs by spending some time tidying up plastic pots from last year’s garden. After moving heavy pots, rest your back and arms by doing a light task such as starting seeds. When you alternate heavy and light tasks, you use your body in different ways, thus reducing overuse.
  1. Take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks. Early spring cleaning often involves repetitive tasks such as clearing debris and weeding. Staying in these forward bent positions for long periods or repeatedly reaching down and coming back up can be very hard on your back. Remember to take frequent breaks to stretch your back and legs and walk around a bit. A good place to start is to take a 10 minute break for every 30 minutes of work.
  1. Sharpen your pruners and saws: Dull blades are not only dangerous but very hard on your hands and arms. Pruning is much easier, more precise and better for you and your plants with sharp tools in good working order. Pruning can also be a repetitive task, so take frequent breaks to rest your hands and arms, especially if you are pruning thicker branches.
  1. Remember your biomechanics: All the basics of proper lifting and carrying very much apply in the garden. Bend your knees, carry objects close to you, alternate sides when you are carrying buckets or watering cans and get help for awkward or very heavy lifting.
  1. Bring your work to you: Whenever possible, bring your work to your level. Use a waist level surface for potting, transplanting, seed saving, tool maintenance and any other task you can easily lift onto the surface.
  1. Cool down with some stretching: After a day in the garden, take a few minutes to stretch out, especially your back, shoulders and hips. Your therapist can help design a program that is right for you. Hold stretches for at least 20-30 seconds and remember stretching should never be painful.
  1. Start out slow: As tempting as it is to spent the entire day working in the garden, consider limiting your time to a few hours the first day. Or at very least, take a good long lunch break, put your feet up and admire you work.

Pillow Talk: The Importance of Sleep Posture

Choosing the Right Pillow. New Heights Physical Therapy in Vancouver WA and Portland OR.

By: Gema Sanchez, PT

Having the right pillow can make all the difference in getting a good night’s sleep, especially if you have head or neck pain. The purpose of a pillow is to support to your head and neck in good posture as you sleep. Which pillow fits you best depends on two factors: the side/shape of your body and what position you sleep in.

Neutral Position

The first step to choosing the perfect pillow is understanding what position your head and neck should be in. Whether you are sitting, standing or laying down, the optimal head position is neutral. In neutral, your head is positioned centered on your body facing forward, not tipped or rotated in any direction. This position optimizes spinal alignment and minimizes stress on the muscles, ligaments and tendons. When you are laying down, the pillow should be supporting your head so that it can rest in a neutral position.

One good way to see what position your head is in when you are sleeping is to have someone sit at the side of your bed and take pictures of you laying down with your pillow.  Look at the pictures and analyze the position of your head in relationship to your body. Is is positioned in neutral? When you are laying on your side, the pillow needs to fill the space between the bed and your head. If the pillow is too thin, your head will be tipped down toward the bed and if it is too thick your head will be tipped up toward the ceiling. When laying on your back, the pillow needs to fill the space between the bed and the back of your head. If the pillow is too thin, your head will be tipped back toward the bed and if it is too thick your head will be tipped up toward your chest. Also, look at the curve of your neck. Your pillow should be completely filling that space and supporting your neck.

Pillow Types

A good pillow is made of something that is both flexible and resilient. You need to be able to form it to the curve of your neck to support it but it still has to be solid enough to support the weight of your head. Feather pillows or synthetic pillows with similar qualities to feathers do this very well. They are also easy to reshape as you change sleeping position.

Memory foam pillows do a good job of supporting the head when you are laying on your back, but are often too firm to cradle and support the neck well. You can’t fold them to adjust the thickness, so they are usually not thick enough to provide good support when you are laying on your side.

Some pillows are shaped specifically for back or side sleepers. But they are not one size fits all. The curved part of the pillow meant to support your neck is not adjustable, so for many people, they are either too large or too small. Also, very few people stay in one position when they are sleeping. So, for instance, if you are using a pillow designed for a side sleeper and you roll onto your back, the pillow cannot adjust to your new position and will not give you the support you need.

The Pillow Test 

Pillows wear out over time, so if your pillow is older, check to see if it still has enough loft to do it’s job. Try this test: fold the pillow in half and release it. It should bounce back to it’s original shape. If it doesn’t, it is no longer able to loft up and provide you with enough support. Replace it.

Stomach Sleepers

What about sleeping on your stomach? If you have neck pain, you have likely been told that you should not sleep on your stomach. Applying what we now know about head posture, you can see that the reason for this is that in order to breathe while you are sleeping on your stomach you have to position your head rotated to the extreme right or left. This position is very stressful on the neck.  If you can train yourself to avoid sleeping in this position, do. But changing your preferred sleeping position can be very difficult and you may find yourself rolling onto your stomach in your sleep. In order to protect your neck while laying on your stomach you need to position your head as close to neutral as possible while still allowing room to breathe. One way to do this is by resting your forehead on the edge of the pillow. This allows your head to stay in neutral while providing room to breathe. Another is to ditch the pillow altogether and rest your head in the crook of your elbow. This allows you to breathe with your head positioned only slightly in rotation.

Here’s to perfect pillows and a good night’s sleep!

Pregnancy Related Low Back and Pelvic Pain

By: Gema Sanchez, PT

Prevalence of low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy has been estimated to be as high as 90%. It is so common that many obstetricians consider it a normal finding in pregnancy. Many women also consider pain to be an inevitable and normal part of pregnancy and do not seek treatment, despite significant limitations in day to day activities. As many as 80% of pregnant women report that back pain affects daily activities such as walking, rolling over in bed, getting out of a chair and getting out of bed.

Low back and pelvic pain during pregnancy also has significant repercussions post-partum. Risk of return of pain in a subsequent pregnancy has been estimated at 85%. One study found 20% of women with back pain during pregnancy reported residual pain three years later and 10% of women with chronic low back pain link the onset of their pain to pregnancy. This is unfortunate, since several studies have shown that simple interventions for pain during pregnancy such as exercise, education and manual therapy techniques can significantly improve pain and function during pregnancy and prevent persisting and chronic pain post-partum.

Exercise combined with education (in anatomy and physiology, posture, pain, normal pelvic changes, self help management, ADL modifications) has been found to be an effective treatment for pregnancy related lumbar, pelvic, and symphysis pubis pain. In 2014, Van Benten et al reviewed 22 randomized controlled trials on the effectiveness of physical therapy interventions in treating lumbopelvic pain during pregnancy.  They concluded that exercise combined with education had a positive effect on pain, disability and/or sick leave. In one of the reviewed studies, Shim et al provided education and an exercise program to a group of 56 women with pregnancy related lumbar and pelvic pain. After 12 weeks, the women in the intervention group reported an almost three point decrease in pain. Education and exercise were also provided to late pregnancy subjects with symphysis pubis pain and dysfunction in the study by Depledge, et al. They found that after only one week of education and exercise, average pain decreased by 31.8% and disability decreased by 38.6%.

Osteopathic manual techniques, practiced by osteopathic physicians and physical therapists, have also been shown to be effective for pregnancy related back pain. Licciardone et al compared the effect of the addition of 5-7 sessions of osteopathic manual techniques (soft tissue, myofascial release, muscle energy and range of motion mobilization) to usual obstetric care in 146 women with late pregnancy back pain. They found that back pain decreased and back specific functioning deteriorated less in those women who received the manual techniques.

Low back pain, pelvic pain and functional limitations because of pain should not be considered an inevitable or normal part of pregnancy. Intervention during pregnancy can decrease pain, improve function and reduce the risk of persisting and chronic pain. Physical therapy at New Heights Physical Therapy Plus provides safe and effective customized assessments and interventions in all stages of pregnancy and post-partum.

In June, we will be welcoming a new physical therapist, Julie Burtis. Julie specializes in women’s health and will be splitting her time between the West and East clinics. She will be giving a lecture on Postpartum Rehab at New Heights (East Clinic) on June 29th from 6-7PM.

Top 5 Impediments to Healing

Top 5 Impediments to Healing. New Heights Physical Therapy in Vancouver WA and Portland OR.

When we become injured or sick, it is often in our nature to think there is a one-solution fix. We see our primary care physicians or our physical therapists in hopes that they alone will rid us of our ailments. However, this is not always possible and although our healthcare team plays a critical part in our healing process, there are often behaviors we practice outside the clinic that stand in the way of optimal recovery.

Here at New Heights, our PTs have identified a number of barriers that prevent optimal recovery. The top five were:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Inactivity or TOO MUCH activity
  • Poor hydration
  • Stress/Anxiety/Depression
  • Poor attitude

Other barriers include environmental toxins and lack of sleep. All play a part in our body’s ability to repair itself. Processed foods, pushing through pain and not giving our bodies enough time to heal can lead to chronic inflammation which in turn leads to degeneration and loss of function in the affected area. Factors such as chronic stress or anxiety cause our bodies to be in a constant state of tension, inhibiting the healing process.

Because our PTs recognize these and many other barriers, New Heights’ Portland Clinic is hosting wellness classes and lectures that focus on a holistic health approach. Every month, we invite experts from around the Portland-Metro area to come and share what they know. A majority of these offerings are free and open to both patients and the community.

This fall’s highlights:

  • Dr. Tyna Moore, ND, DC, will be leading a lecture about gut health and how the foods we eat can either promote or inhibit reactions such as inflammation
  • Dr. Kathy Alvarez, MD, will be speaking on stress management and the importance of understanding the effects stress has on the body
  • There will also be lectures on osteoporosis, concussion awareness, sports injury prevention, bike fittings and many others

In addition to the monthly lectures, weekly wellness classes have been developed to help relieve stress and promote healing. Our new yoga instructor, Heather Beckett, will be leading Yoga Steps every Monday, for those new to yoga or recovering from an injury. She will also be leading a Dynamic Yoga Flow class on Wednesdays for those ready for a bigger challenge. Furthermore, group acupuncture and CHILL classes provide more opportunity to de-stress, while MELT classes work to rehydrate to your connective tissue, reduce inflammation and increase joint mobility.

Our goal in providing these classes and lectures is to help build an awareness for the intricacies of our bodies and to recognize that in order to reach optimal health we must take care of multiple systems. Our hope is that you will take control of your health by joining us. For more information about our wellness classes and lectures visit our online wellness class schedule or call 971-339-3405.

References: U.S. News & World Report, American Psychological Association