Tips to Combat Arthritis this Winter

People tell me all the time: “I don’t need to check the weather anymore, my joints tell me what’s coming.” And as winter approaches, I know I’m going to be hearing more and more of this.

So why is it that arthritis sufferers tend to be impacted more during the colder, wetter months?

The actual science on this is inconclusive. Some studies have completely debunked the myth that weather can affect your joint pain, while others have shown that arthritis sufferers do indeed have what we call “weather sensitivity” — and they feel worse in the cold, especially when it’s about to rain or snow. The working theory behind this is related to barometric pressure. As a storm system develops, barometric pressure (atmospheric pressure) begins to drop. Some scientists believe that this results in expansion and contraction of tissue in and around your joints (tendons, muscles, bones, and even scar tissue). If those tissues are already sensitive due to arthritis, this could irritate them further. Additionally, the lower temperatures of winter are thought to increase the thickness of fluid inside your joints, making them stiffer and perhaps more sensitive to pain during movement.

Regardless of whether this phenomenon is myth or fact, it doesn’t make your pain any less real! The good news is there are things you can do to minimize pain related to arthritis as winter gets closer. 

There are two types of arthritis, inflammatory and non-inflammatory. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, and osteoarthritis is the most common form of non-inflammatory arthritis. Although they have very different causes, weather changes can still have an impact, and there are still things you can do to minimize that impact.

Both forms of arthritis are characterized by one or more of your joints being inflamed.

Inflamed joints do not like to be compressed or irritated. It’s often why people will tend to rest and decrease their activity when they have pain. Add cold winter temps and weather to the mix (along with a pandemic), people just naturally do less this time of year. They think if they take the weight off their joints, or move less, they are protecting their joints. That’s actually not true. What protects your joints is strength and flexibility. The more mobile you are, the less likely your joints will get irritated, even arthritic ones. Have you ever worn a piece of clothing that’s too tight? You get irritated. Same with your joints! If they aren’t free to move, they get angry. The muscles around your joints and how strong they are also play a huge role in minimizing irritation.

In the absence of strength and stability, your body will do what it needs to compensate. The structures around your joint will contract to make your joints stiff and tighter in an attempt to give your joints the stability they are lacking. But arthritic joints don’t want to be stiff and tight, they want to be free and mobile! So if you suffer from arthritis, it’s critical that you have good mobility and good strength — period.

In general, the most important thing you can do for your arthritis any time of year, not just in winter, is to keep moving.

And you will move better when you’re strong and flexible. Movement gets blood flowing, which is our best and most natural form of anti-inflammation. Walking is the easiest and most practical way to get healthy movement daily, but biking and swimming are great choices too. You’ll also want to engage in some form of activity, such as Yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi, that allows you to move your limbs, body and joints in a full range of movement. Cardiovascular activities like walking and biking won’t do that. Pilates is great because it emphasizes both full body strength (which helps balance out your joints) and it promotes flexibility at the same time. It’s why we like to use it in our office. Although it’s easy to just stretch and get more flexible, it’s important that you incorporate strength training into your routine also. Achieving good mobility AND strength is the secret to combating arthritis. Folks tend to only focus on the flexibility part, which is one of the common mistakes I see. 

I hope this helps you better understand why your arthritis might feel worse in winter, and what you can do about it! If you’re suffering from any kind of back or knee pain that is preventing you from being more active and mobile and therefore worsening your arthritis, check out our FREE Back Pain and Knee Pain guides. Just click to have the guide sent straight to your inbox with no obligations or strings attached!

Five Easy Ways to Keep Active and Moving this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving might look a lot different this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to stay active during the holiday. And if you suffer from back or knee pain, it’s especially important to find ways to keep active and moving. Our spine and joints don’t like to be sedentary for prolonged periods. That’s especially true if you have arthritis. You may not notice any pain while you’re sitting or relaxing, but you WILL pay for it the next day. 

Here are five very easy ways to keep active and moving this Thanksgiving:

1. Interrupt your sitting.

This is quite possibly the easiest and most effective strategy to minimize pain and stiffness in your back and knees. I give this tip out all the time, not just for Thanksgiving. Our bodies were not designed to sit for prolonged periods, so getting up frequently (I recommend once every 30 min) keeps your knees, hips, and spine from getting painful and stiff. 

2. Do a Turkey Trot!

Thanksgiving Turkey Trots are a tradition for many. But just because races aren’t happening live and in person this year, doesn’t mean you still can’t get out there! Plus, many of these popular events have switched to virtual and have arranged ways for people to still participate but on their own time, and socially distanced. Turkey Trots are typically 5K’s – or 3.2 miles – so grab your dog, headphones, or favorite podcast or audiobook and start your morning off right. Whether you walk or jog, it will feel great to get your Thanksgiving Day started with lubricated joints and blood flowing. 

3. Stretch during Commercials.

Yes – the Macy’s Day parade is still happening (on TV only) and there will of course be football. A very easy way to keep yourself from sitting or slouching too much because you’re watching TV is to get up during commercials! I literally teach my clients to do “TV exercises”. Choose some very easy stretches or mobility exercises to do during the commercial breaks. It’s the perfect opportunity to do a quick 2 min exercise or stretch.  It doesn’t have to be complicated. Choose from a quick set of squats, some heel raises, a set of planks, or back stretches on the floor or in standing. You can alternate through these during each commercial break.

4. Walk for Dessert.

Just because you did that Turkey Trot in the morning doesn’t mean you have to be done for the day! Skip the dessert (maybe) and go for a nice easy walking stroll after dinner. Walking is one of the best exercises you can do. And it gives you many of the same benefits of running (only slower). Walking is very functional, and it’s good for your hips, back and knees. Since we tend to sit and bend so much during the day, walking is a very natural and active way to get some much needed lengthening and stretching into our bodies. Plus, it can’t hurt to work off some of those Thanksgiving calories!

5. Help with set up and clean up.

You may not like this tip, and your kids and grandkids might fight you on it, but it’s another easy way to keep moving on Thanksgiving Day. If you’re suffering from back problems, be careful bending and repetitively leaning over when you’re collecting or setting dishes down. And watch your posture when you’re cleaning dishes or loading the dishwasher. An easy fix for this, and a great way to protect your spine from the harmful effects of too much bending, is to remember to stand up straight and stretch backwards often and frequently whenever you’re doing an activity that requires a lot of bending forward. And remember to bend from your hips and knees instead of curving over from your spine.  And of course, if your back is so bad that it prevents you from being able to help clean up, or do any of the other activities I mentioned in this article, please reach out! 

I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving, and that these tips help to give you some easy, practical ideas to stay active and moving!

Got a Pain in Your Butt? Here’s what to do first.

Nobody likes a “pain in the butt.” But what do you do when you’re dealing with literal pain in your butt versus the figurative kind?

It starts with figuring out where it’s coming from. Understanding the origin of your pain is necessary if you really want to solve it! One of our Pilates regulars (“Stacy”) has a story that illustrates this concept perfectly.

Stacy had been doing all the right things. She keeps active, does Pilates with us, and walks regularly. But still, she ended up with that dreaded pain in her butt that so many of us deal with on a regular basis. She tried to work through it herself by foam rolling and stretching – but none of that worked to completely eliminate her pain. Plus, her symptoms were starting to limit her Pilates and walking. This made her nervous because staying active and mobile is one of the most important things to Stacy, and the idea of being stuck at home and in pain this winter season made her want to take action now. She did the right thing by going to see our PT team.

Their first course of action was to accurately determine the root cause of Stacy’s butt pain. It could be a few different things.

Most often, symptoms like Stacy’s will get “labeled” generically as any one of the following:

1. Bursitis

They’ll call it this if you’re feeling the pain more in the side of your hip versus center of your butt.

2. Piriformis syndrome

This refers to a pain in the center of your butt. You might feel some tightness as well.

3. Back problem/Sciatica

They’ll call it this if your pain is more diffuse and achy, and perhaps even running into your thigh. This last diagnosis will be more common if you’ve got back pain along with the hip or butt pain.

As I mentioned, any one of these things could be the source of Stacy’s symptoms, and getting it right is critical. The correct diagnosis is the determining factor of whether Stacy’s problem gets resolved for good, or becomes something she deals with for the rest of her life. The problem with diagnosing your butt pain (or any problem for that matter) based on the location of your symptoms alone is that it’s not a reliable diagnosis.

The location of your pain alone does not tell you where your problem is really coming from.

For example, I’ve seen people with pain in their hip and butt that is actually coming from their back – even when they’ve never had a back problem. If your butt pain is coming from your back, and you think it’s “piriformis syndrome,” you’re going to be really disappointed in a few weeks when your pain is still there (or perhaps even worse) because you’ve been going about treating it the wrong way. In order to accurately determine what was really going on with Stacy’s butt pain, we needed to do some specialized movement screens and tests.

Research has shown that your pain’s response to movement, and how it behaves, is a much more reliable way to figure out the source of your problem versus relying on the symptom location alone.

In Stacy’s case, some quick movement tests revealed that her butt pain was indeed coming from her back – even though she did not have any back pain. How did we know? Pretty simple actually. When we asked Stacy to move and bend her back in specific directions, it triggered her butt pain! Her piriformis muscle was also tight – and may still need to be stretched – but it’s very possible that the tightness she is experiencing is also being caused by whatever is going on in her back. It’s possible for nerves to refer both pain and a feeling of “tightness.” We’ll know for sure in a few weeks, because we prescribed Stacy a corrective exercise designed to target the problem in her back and take pressure off the nerve that was triggering her butt pain. In fact, if she had not come to see us and kept stretching what she thought was a tight piriformis, she likely would have aggravated her nerve and made her condition worse. Nerves don’t like to be stretched. This is a great example of why it’s critical to know the true source of your problem before you start treating it.

Hopefully Stacy’s story helped you understand that the first step in getting rid of a pain in your butt, is to accurately determine where it’s coming from! If you’re experiencing unexplained pain in your butt that isn’t going away with stretching or general exercise, perhaps you’re going after the wrong problem. Try paying closer attention to how your symptoms behave. Do you notice they get worse after you’ve been sitting for a while, raking leaves, or driving? Do they move around on you – and go from your butt, to your hip, to the back of your thigh?

Signs like this could mean you’re dealing with a back problem, not a butt problem. Click here for access to our FREE back pain guide! This guide contains our best tips and advice on how to start easing back pain and stiffness right away — and get on the road to pain-free movement just like Stacy did.

Movement Strategies to Combat the Stress of Pandemics and Politics

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been far from a typical year. We continue to find ourselves in a state of uncertainty — and it’s causing people to live in a constant state of stress.  

Eight months ago, when this pandemic began, we saw a huge surge in back and neck pain coming into the office. At first, I knew it was due to people being stuck at home and off their routines. But now, and especially with the current political climate, I’m seeing a different and more prevalent kind of stress-induced pain in my office. It’s caused by the body’s natural “fight or flight” response and it’s taking a real physical toll. People feel it in their necks, backs, hips, and shoulders and are looking for help to get rid of it.

Why does this happen?

Fight or Flight is a natural (and important) stress response to anything your brain perceives as stressful or frightening. Back in the caveman days, this was essential to our survival. If you saw a lion, for example, and he looked hungry, you needed to be able to quickly get yourself out of danger. Fight or flight is your body’s way of doing just that. Your heart and respiratory rate increase, so that more blood and oxygen can be pumped toward your brain and muscles – where you need it most – so that you can quickly run and flee away from danger. Another consequence of fight or flight is tense, tight muscles. Your body does this to protect you from the threat. Our ancestors would only find themselves in this situation once in a while. The rest of the time, their bodies functioned normally and without this stressful response. 

Fast forward to our modern day lifestyles… our brains perceive threats and stressors differently.

Everything from a big presentation due at work to a difficult conversation with your boss, spouse, or kid’s teacher, to bad news flooding our newsfeeds and email every second of the day can activate this response. Add a pandemic and election cycle on top of all that, and we find ourselves living in a chronic state of fight or flight. And we are evolutionarily conditioned to look for ways to escape these situations to get “out of danger.” 

Even though fight or flight is natural and embedded deeply into our brains, it was meant to be life-saving and reserved for very specific situations – not all day every day. If your body never comes out of this, your muscles become chronically tight, resulting in constant pain and tension. Stretching and massage might help to temporarily relieve these symptoms, but they will come right back if you don’t learn to manage your fight or flight response for what it is. 

How do you manage and interrupt your fight or flight response?

One easy way is to breathe. This is one of the most practical ways to calm your nervous system by lowering your heart and respiratory rate. You can literally do this in 30 seconds starting the moment you feel any kind of tension or tightness in your body. The better you become at recognizing tension in your body ahead of time, the easier it will be to interrupt and stop your fight or flight response. Simple, deep breathing is a signal to your nervous system that you are safe – and that you don’t need to prepare to run or flee by tightening up all of your muscles.

Daily exercise is another easy way to combat stress.

When you’re in fight or flight, your body is preparing to either engage the threat or run from it. If you don’t do either of these things, your nervous system doesn’t know that you’re out of “danger.” Intentional movement and exercise solves this problem and helps to close the loop of your flight or flight response. With regular movement and exercise, you can help better regulate this response since it is so constant in our lives right now. Our exercise of choice is Pilates. It’s a particularly effective exercise system to combat fight or flight because it involves focused and controlled breathing and it works your whole entire body. And since we work with so many folks suffering from neck and back pain, we also love it because Pilates targets your core. Good core strength is one of the BEST ways to keep neck and back pain away.  

If you’re dealing with any kind of back, neck, knee, or shoulder pain that is keeping you from moving in a way that helps you to decrease stress – please reach out to us. And you’ll want to reach out sooner rather than later… because this month, we’re rolling out our annual Black Friday Sale! Once a year we offer new and existing clients an opportunity to get our BEST deals for the entire year on physical therapy sessions, private Pilates sessions, small-group Pilates classes (Zoom and In-Studio), and more. Just click here to get access to the Black Friday sale as soon as it launches on November 22nd!

Is Shoulder Pain “Impinging” on Your Lifestyle?

If you’ve ever had pain in your shoulders when you try to raise your arms overhead, pull off a sweatshirt, grab a gallon of milk from the fridge, or place grocery bags on the counter, you were likely dealing with shoulder “impingement syndrome…” otherwise known as “rotator cuff impingement” or “rotator cuff tendonitis.”

They call it “impingement” because your rotator cuff tendons get pinched between the round head of your shoulder bone and a hook-shaped bone in your shoulder blade called the acromion.

The pinching tends to happens every time you raise your arm above ninety degrees. After a while, the pinching eventually irritates your tendon, resulting in pain and inflammation. These symptoms are exacerbated and pronounced with any arm movements above shoulder height. Most of the time, the root cause of this problem has been there for a long time, but it’s only just now manifesting itself as pain — and this so-called “impingement syndrome.”

So what causes your rotator cuff tendon to get pinched or impinged in the first place?

Most of the time, the answer is POSTURE.

If your upper back is stiff, curved, and lacks adequate mobility, it’s going to impact how your shoulder blades move and position themselves. With a stiff and curved upper back, your shoulder blades will respond by moving out and up. This scenario makes that hook-like bone (the acromion) sit more forward and more down than it should. When this happens, there isn’t enough room for your tendon when you lift your arms above shoulder height. The bony surfaces above and below your tendon create friction, and this eventually turns into pain and inflammation.

The tempting and easy “fix” is to get a cortisone shot or attack the inflammation more conservatively with ice and topical anti-inflammatory agents.

But what you need to understand is that in most cases, “impingement syndrome” is actually the SYMPTOM. The root cause is usually coming from immobility and poor movement patterns in the upper back or neck. If you really want to get rid of your shoulder pain, get back to lifting and carrying things without any worry, and have full and free mobility of your arms, it’s essential that you identify and address the root cause and not just the symptoms. Since there is an 80% chance your shoulder pain is a mechanical or movement problem — the best people to examine and address this FIRST are movement experts like us.

So moral of the story… next time you go to the doctor complaining of shoulder pain and you hear the words “impingement syndrome” or “rotator cuff tendonitis” — don’t assume you need a cortisone shot or surgery to fix it.

Neither of these solutions will likely give you the long-term solution you’re looking for. The very last thing you want to do is get some kind of procedure or surgery that either masks the pain or corrects the wrong problem. You want to do everything possible to preserve the integrity of your tendon, and the best way to do that is by optimizing mobility and using natural movement and strength training prescribed by movement experts.

Interested in seeing if physical therapy could resolve your shoulder pain? Try a FREE Discovery Session on us. This is a chance for you to speak with one of our specialists, tell us everything that’s been going on with you, and determine for yourself if we’re the best people to help you. It’s a completely free, no-obligation appointment that will give you all the information you need to make the BEST decision for YOUR health – whether that’s working with us or not!