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January 19, 2015

Tum Sleeping

Greetings again from Chiropractic Help, and best wishes for a healthy 2015; tum sleeping is a significant cause of neck pain.

That won't happen by mere wishful thinking; specific and sometimes very difficult choices are at the fore; ask anyone who has made the decision to give up smoking or lose a significant amount of weight.

The easier decisions are to go for a walk every day, or to add a food like an apple a day, or leaf of lettuce to your menu; this month we will focus on flaxseed. It's no sweat to enjoy a tablespoon a day on your muesli; it has almost no taste and you'll barely notice you are eating it. 

Neck pain

But first to an important topic; tum sleeping. It's a significant contributor to neck pain and headaches.

Some of you who are long in the tooth will remember the name of a Dr Benjamin Spock, a paediatrician who wrote a book called Baby and Child Care; it became the premier book on rearing your kids for several generations. It sold fifty million copies.

One of his seminal ideas was that your baby should be placed on his tum because he would be less likely to drown in his vomit; it seemed like a good concept at the time but, like many untested but seemingly rationally sound ideas, it's absolute folly.

Babies who sleep on their tums are more likely to succumb to cot death; and they would be habituated into tum sleeping.

How not to sleep

Tum Sleeping

Lying flat on your belly is the only way not to sleep; notice the left arm lying behind her, with her head turned to the right. This would be equally bad if the right hand was under her pillow; it's the left arm that's the problem.

Spinal nutrition

During the night, in the weightless position, fluid is imbibed by the joints of the spine, bring in fresh nutrients and oxygen to the hyaline cartilage that lines the bones; it has no blood supply of its own. We literally grow taller at night.

Then during the day, in the upright position, gravity compresses the spine, squeezing out that extra fluid, taking the waste products of cartilage metabolism with it; and we shorten again.

It's a vital part of spinal nutrition and anything that inhibits that normal physiology will contribute to spinal arthritis.

Neck twisted for long periods

If you lie on your tum for several hours, with the neck twisted to one side, it increases the pressure in the joints, inhibiting that imbibing of fresh nutrients needed for adequate cartilage nutrition. Cartilage starved of those vital substances and oxygen will soon start to complain; discomfort and stiffness in the neck in the morning is the first sign.

It obviously stresses the muscles too, with those on the side of the neck under tension for long periods.

Likewise, when watching television or at a dinner party make sure that your best friend isn't sitting adjacent to you; what's more, keep moving your head periodically. When you are driving on a long journey too.

Immobilisation arthritis

Physiologists have now proved beyond all doubt that joints that are not in motion become arthritic; in white mice it's been shown that the degeneration of the hyaline cartilage actually begins within 13 hours if a joint is fused.

It is the most important cause of osteoarthritis; some of you may know of someone who has had their knee or ankle for example placed in a caste for an extended period. When the POP is removed the joint has ankylosed; turned to concrete.

This has profound implications for those of you who have had whiplash injuries; spinal joints that become fixated after injury become arthritic. This process of immobilisation arthritis is at the heart of chiropractic; in the neck it particularly affects the uncovertebral joints of Luschka. When they become arthritic it invariably causes pain and tingling in the arm.

Chiropractic Coalface

From the practice, and from letters that I get from you, it's clear that sleeping on the tum is a great contributor to neck and arm pain; and headaches too.

"L said again that her headaches are much better since your couple treatments, the neck exercises and C's massage; fewer and milder attacks, but she is still struggling to remain off her tum at night."

This step up to better health is one of the more difficult; it's been ingrained by generations of Dr Spock devotees.

Any other posture is fine

This is only an opinion, it's not so much a case of this is how you must sleep, but rather how you should not sleep.

  1. On your back is fine for your neck though you may get a dirty sock in the mouth if you snore!
  2. On either side is fine.
  3. And now for the best posture in my opinion:
  • Lie on your side with your arms in front of you.
  • Cross your arms so the one locks the other.
  • Roll forwards on to your folded arms and pelvis.

Placing the lower arm under your pillow or head is also fine. Keeping the arms up near your head puts the brachial plexus of nerves from the neck under the least tension too. With your arm behind you, and your head turned in the opposite direction places maximum stretch on those nerve roots.

This is fine.

This too is fine.

Rolling the pelvis forward is my favourite, but may be difficult if you are having a difficulties in the lower back or pelvis. Let your body tell you which is the best of these postures.

How many pillows?

There isn't a a right or wrong answer, but I prefer one thinnish, feather pillow for choice; but that's just an opinion.

Two thick pillows might make your head and neck jut upwards. No pillow at all would allow your head to dangle too low.

Two extra pillows

Like anything else that you've been doing daily for years, tum sleeping is difficult to break; patients tell me that it takes about two weeks of concerted work, with much gnashing of teeth and sometimes bad nights. Rather a few weeks of irritation than a lifetime of neck pain.

Two helpers:

  1. Place a pillow in front of you, and another behind you. Then you simply can't roll on your tum.
  2. Ask your spouse to wake you every time they find that you are tum sleeping. 

Health is additive

Health, both good and bad, is additive; if you eat a healthy diet, exercise and don't smoke your chances of reaching a healthy old age, with all your marbles intact are greatly increased; the unexpected still happens.

If you're a couch potato, eat little omega-3 foods and never take proper holidays, then burn out and vascular disease are high on the agenda; there again, there are exceptions that prove every rule.

If you've had a neck injury, and you practise tum sleeping and you sit all day staring at a computer screen, and eat crap, then you are set up for lifelong visits to the chiropractor, physiotherapist, bucketfuls of pills and perhaps getting better acquainted with the neurosurgeon.

Omega 3

There are three omega 3 fatty acids; one is found in plants, most richly in freshly ground flax seeds; walnuts are good too; this has nothing to do with tum sleeping, but may help the noxious effects of lying on your belly with your head and neck turned to the side for long periods.

The other two are mainly found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and pilchards. Not everyone's favourite but these pilchard fish cakes are delicious and easy to bake.

Just google omega 3 and you will be astonished at the benefits, and the serious effects if you have too little in the diet. It comprises nearly 10% of the brain.

I'll list just four; that should be enough to convince you that you, your children and parents should be daily having omega 3 foods in your diet.

  • Inflammation in the joints, muscles and blood vessels.
  • In pregnant women, children who are significantly less intelligent. 
  • Hyperactive children suffering from attention deficit.
  • In the elderly, a significantly smaller brain size, two years older than those who have adequate omega-3; premature senile dementia.


Whilst one could, and perhaps should have fatty fish in the diet daily, it is a lot simpler to purchase a coffee grinder and a large bag of cheap whole flaxseeds. Grinding them takes ten seconds, and might just help the neck pain coming from tum sleeping.

It's important to have freshly ground flaxseed; the oil is a very strong antioxidant, hence its value. Exposed to the air it goes rancid very quickly. Whole seeds pass straight through the alimentary canal.

Add a tablespoon to your muesli daily; it's all about foods to reduce inflammation; it might even help overcome some of the deleterious effects of tum sleeping.

It's perhaps radical, but I believe every single family should do this, if you value your marbles; I cheat a little by grinding enough for three days and keeping the remainder in an airtight container in the fridge. Flaxseed oil?

  • Freshly ground flaxseed versus oil. 

Aging gracefully

Inevitably I expect, since I'm myself on my sixty seventh orbit of the sun, much of this column is about an overwhelming desire to reach eighty with all my marbles and joints intact, sit under the trees I once planted and enjoy my grandchildren.

"In spite of illness, in spite even of the arch enemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is

  • unafraid of change,
  • insatiable in intellectual curiosity,
  • interested in big things, and
  • happy in small ways."

Edith Wharton

I've just downloaded Wharton's Age of Innocence, one dollar, onto my Kindle; she was the first woman to be honoured with a Pullitzer for it.

As I've mentioned many times, I am honoured to receive Dr Mardy's column; it's an inspiration. What's more it's free. Google him.

Another quote from his weekly column:

"Years are only garments, and you either wear them
   with style all your life, or else you go dowdy to the grave."
Dorothy Parker

Inspiring books

Forget me not by Jacqueline Falcomer.

I say it often enough, there are almost zero fictional books for the lay person on chiropractic other than Bernard Preston's Frog, Bats and Clogs.

I'm very happy to report there's a newcomer to the scene; only chapter one is available for free at this moment, but Jacqueline assures me it will be soon be available on your Kindle. I absolutely loved chapter one.

If you're in interested in chiropractic, good books and aren't averse to bull fighting, you'll love this; watch out for it on Amazon.

Till next month, then... yours in better health.

Barrie Lewis DC and Bernard Preston DC!

PS. Feel free to forward this to family and friends, your chiropractor and even your medical doctor! You can support this site by purchasing one of Bernard Preston's chiropractic books. Dirt cheap on you Kindle, tablet or smartphone.

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