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5 Tips to Treat Back Pain on your Own and Avoid Surgery

Back pain impacts approximately 31 Million Americans at any given time, and our health care system spends $50 Billion per year on low back pain treatment. It’s the single leading cause of disability keeping people out of work, and it’s the second most common reason for doctor’s visits. Back pain is a big problem in this country. But the even bigger problem, in my opinion, is how the traditional medical system treats and manages those suffering from back pain.

Despite what you may have been told, getting rid of back pain on your own is entirely possible and preventing it can be even easier.

But it starts with understanding what the true cause of back pain is for most people. Eighty percent of back pain is “mechanical” in origin, which means it’s not due to any serious pathology like cancer, infection, or fracture. Mechanical back pain is the result of abnormal or unusual forces occurring in the structures of your spine – like your ligaments, muscles, discs, and vertebrae. These abnormal forces can accumulate slowly over your lifetime or happen quickly in a single event – such as picking something up the wrong way.

The good news is that if abnormal forces can cause your back pain, then reversing those forces can get rid of your back pain. Surgery and other medical procedures won’t do that. They only impact the structure or irritant that is aggravated, like when you remove a piece of your bulging disc. The goal for true back pain recovery is to eliminate what is causing those structures to be aggravated in the first place – and the best way to do that is with healthy movement you can do on your own!

Here are 5 tips to help you minimize abnormal forces on your spine so you can avoid procedures and surgery!

1. Stop sitting so much

Compressive forces on your spine increase by 40% when you sit – and it goes up even more if you’re slouched! Over time, these compressive forces will start to aggravate the ligaments and discs in your spine. Because it happens slowly, you may not notice right away, so one of the best things you can do is interrupt your sitting at least every 30 min. This minimizes the accumulation of abnormal forces on your spine throughout the day.

2. Walk more 


Our spines were designed to be upright and moving. Walking is one of the best and easiest ways to promote this. When you walk regularly, it helps to promote good mobility and blood flow, which can act like lubricant for the structures in your spine. Walking also helps to keep your hips from getting tight. Tight hips can cause abnormal forces to occur at your pelvis, which in turn, will create abnormal forces on your spine.

3. Vary your posture

You might be wondering why I didn’t say “maintain good posture.” To be honest, perfect posture all the time is kind of a myth when it comes to back pain. The truth is your spine is quite resilient and should be able to tolerate lots of different postures – even bad posture for a short period of time – without pain. The problem is when we assume the same posture all the time.

Imagine if you never straightened your knee, eventually it would get stiff and be difficult to move in that direction. The same thing happens in our spines. One of the best things you can do is choose activities (like Yoga or Pilates) that work your spine through lots of different postures and range of motion. This helps keep your spine happy and healthy and it minimizes abnormal forces from the same repeated postures or activities day after day.

4. Strengthen your core

The stronger you are, the more resilient your body is going to be – period. When it comes to back health, having a good strong core is going to minimize stress on ligaments and even discs. When the muscles around your spine are strong, it’s going to be easier for you to lift and carry things, which is one of the most common ways people injure their backs. If your abdominals, glutes, and hips aren’t doing their job, your spine ends up taking more of the stress – and this can lead to both pain and injury. Pilates is my favorite way to strengthen your core because the exercises are designed to target your abdominals.

5. Educate yourself 

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to both diagnosing and treating back pain. You should never let an MRI or X-ray alone dictate what your treatment should be. Remember, the structures in your back don’t get spontaneously irritated. Irritation typically occurs due to abnormal forces on your spine. If you only address the irritated structure – like with an injection, procedure, or surgery – you’re not actually fixing the problem. The best way to address abnormal forces in your spine is with movement – movement that is designed to even out the forces in your spine and relieve pressure from those structures that have become aggravated.

If you don’t currently have back pain – then these tips are going to help you prevent back pain from ever occurring. If you’re currently having some mild back pain or discomfort, then see if any of these tips help you to relieve it on your own! But as always, if you’ve been suffering for a while, then it’s best to seek professional advice from an expert.

Speak with one of our experts for FREE by signing up for a 30 minute Discovery Session here!

You can also access our expertly written guide to managing back pain for free right here.

 

 

 

 

Three Reasons Your Physical Therapy Didn’t Work

Have you been to physical therapy once, twice, maybe even three times for the same thing… and now you’re left wondering why it didn’t work?

Or perhaps you went to physical therapy and it “worked,” but you have to do about 10 exercises per day that if you miss… even once… the pain comes right back. (hint – that means it didn’t actually work.)

This is sadly an all too common occurrence in this profession. However, if you’ve already had the chance to work with us, then you know we are a specialty practice.

But here are three reasons why your treatment in a regular physical therapy clinic might not have worked for you…

For physical therapy to be successful – it MUST start with a full and thorough musculoskeletal examination. But for varying reasons, this isn’t always possible.

The problem in most traditional physical therapy settings is that physical therapists are sometimes restricted with what they can and can’t do. Sometimes the restriction comes from an insurance company, and sometimes they are simply overworked.

If a doctor sends you for knee pain, your PT may only be able to look at and treat your knee. They are “administratively” prevented from giving you the full and thorough examination that you need.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen knee pain being caused by someone’s spine. If I wasn’t able to look at and treat that area, I’d have missed it!

Other times PT’s have too many patients at once, and are forced to take short cuts. This could cause them to miss important details. I’ve been at this for 20 years, and in my opinion, the perfect physical therapy evaluation should consist of three major components: the interview, the examination, and the plan.

Your therapist should be asking you a lot of questions to find out how your pain is impacting you. They should do a lot of movement testing (not just poke you) to confirm why you’re having pain. And lastly, they should clearly explain to you why your pain is behaving the way it is and have a solid plan to solve it – one that is NOT dictated by your insurance company.

If your PT evaluation didn’t look like this, or your therapist was rushed, chances are something got missed.

The second reason I see physical therapy not working for people is because your PT used too many passive modalities.

This includes everything from electrical stimulation, ultrasound, dry needling, Graston technique, traction, laser therapy, and even manual therapy. We call these treatments “passive” because they are done to you.

There is a time and place for these things. But generally speaking, they should only be used to address very specific pain and impairments that are preventing you from moving in a way that is going to produce the real healing.

For example… let’s say you’ve got a tight knot in your upper trap that is giving you neck pain. There are some fabulous modalities like dry needling and massage that will quickly get rid of your pain, but a few days later, the pain will come back…

That’s because the tight knot is the symptom.

The underlying cause of this recurring tight knot is what’s essential to figure out and address.

If all your therapist does is treat the symptom with passive modalities that feel good, your therapy isn’t going to work and you’ll continue to suffer.

The last reason I see physical therapy not working is because there are just too many different exercises being assigned.

Physical therapists LOVE to give homework, but sometimes that homework can turn into two or three pages of exercises.

This is rarely necessary. And the chances of anyone doing all of these exercises every day is highly unlikely.

My firm belief is that your physical therapist should be working on highly specific problems with highly specific exercises. I refer to these as corrective exercises. You typically should only have 3-5 to do at any given time. These corrective exercises should compliment what you are doing in your session, and be designed to specifically address pain, and/or a very specific impairment or weakness.

They should NOT be generalized or cookie cutter – and you should absolutely have a very good understanding of why you are doing them and what they are designed to accomplish.

Ok… so now that you know what quality physical therapy should look like…

If you’re NOT getting it… it might explain why it “didn’t work”.

Sadly, insurance puts a lot of limitations on what physical therapists can and can’t do, which is why a lot of people are starting to move away from using their insurance all together. They know they can get better quality care, and have their problem resolved completely, by paying out of pocket to an office that isn’t tied behind red tape.

Plus, while it might seem cost prohibitive at first, it’s A LOT better than the costly alternative of unnecessary surgery or injections.

Remember that physical therapists are movement experts.

If you’re only doing cookie cutter exercises, riding the bike for 10 min, or just lying on the table every session – you’re not spending adequate time restoring full mobility and quality of movement.

Your physical therapy probably won’t work, and it certainly won’t give you the lasting results you’re looking for.

If this experience is sounding all too familiar – consider working with a practice like ours. We’re not restricted by the red tape and we care about doing things the right way, even if that means more work on our end.

Curious? Talk to one of our specialists for free!

You can do that by Requesting a Free Discovery Session right HERE!

Why your Cortisone Injection Failed You

When you have joint pain that won’t go away, especially after trying lots of physical therapy, your doctor might recommend you get a cortisone shot.

Cortisone shots are often prescribed for things like back pain, bursitis, bulging discs, cartilage tears, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and many other conditions that are perceived to be inflammatory in nature. While every single one of these conditions can cause things to be inflamed, it doesn’t mean that inflammation is your underlying problem. If something else is causing any of these structures to get irritated and inflamed, then your cortisone injection won’t work. At the very best it will provide you temporary relief, but the problem will ultimately come back in about 6-12 months time.

Cortisone shots also come with many potential problems and side effects. So you really want to be sure that it’s necessary before you get one.

The list includes problems such as: cartilage damage, death of nearby bone, joint infection, nerve damage, temporary facial flushing, temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint, temporary increase in blood sugar, tendon weakening or rupture, thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis), thinning of skin and soft tissue around the injection site, and whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site. And none of these side effects account for human error with the procedure. If your doctor is “off” with his/her injection – you could end up with unnecessary tissue trauma and pain because your shot wasn’t injected correctly.

So when it comes to cortisone shots, you really want to make sure that 1) the root source of your problem is inflammation and 2) you actually need one.

The reason why so many cortisone injections “fail” is because quite often – they weren’t needed in the first place. Even though the actual pain you are experiencing might be due to inflammation, the underlying cause leading to the inflammation could be something else entirely. Cortisone shots are used to address inflammation. But 80% of the time the musculoskeletal pain you’re experiencing is due to a mechanical or movement problem. So while the symptoms you’re experiencing could be due to inflammation, the root cause of your issue could be due to something else. In this case, the cortisone shot will not help – or worse – provide you with temporary relief that leads you to think it did.

Let me explain with a bit of scientific research.

Studies show that 70-80% of people over the age of 50 have a bulging disc on their MRI. 60% have a meniscus tear in their knee. These findings are considered normal as you age. The research also says that not all of these people experience pain. So you can have two people with the exact same MRI findings and one person will be perfectly fine while the other can barely walk. This is how we know that “the finding” (a bulging disc or meniscus tear for example) isn’t necessarily the problem.

The source of the problem is what is causing that bulge or tear to get annoyed.

About 80% of the time it’s going to be something like a faulty movement pattern or “mechanical issue,” such as poor mobility or stability, leading to some compensatory movement strategies in your body. When you don’t move well, structures like normally occurring disc bulges and meniscus tears can get irritated.

For example, let’s say you have a bulging disc in your back. If you sit for most of the day, travel a lot for work, or have a job that involves a lot of repetitive lifting, these types of activities are known to really aggravate a bulging disc. If all you do is inject cortisone to calm down the irritation, you won’t be fixing the real problem… which in this case is your daily movement habits. After about 6 months of returning to all these activities again, the pain WILL come back.

The good news is that there are ways to solve this type of problem (and others) naturally, and without a cortisone injection. But the important thing for you to realize here is that if you did get a cortisone shot recently and it appears to have “failed,” the last thing you want to do is get another one or resort to an even more invasive procedure. It’s possible you didn’t need it in the first place, so you want to make sure that is uncovered first.

So, if you’ve recently had a cortisone shot and it didn’t work, it could very well be that you never actually needed it… or that the wrong problem (inflammation) was being addressed instead of the underlying cause.

If you are considering something like a cortisone shot, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion to make certain you really need it and that it’s the best course of action for your problem. And if you’ve already had one and it didn’t work, don’t worry, odds are good that there is still a solution out there for you… and it doesn’t have to involve more procedures. It could be as simple as learning how to move better! Sign up for a FREE Discovery Session today with one of our specialists to see if we can help you avoid quick fixes like cortisone shots and get long term, lasting results. 

Are you overdoing it on “Vitamin I”?

A few weeks ago, I asked a new client what he had already tried for his back pain. He surprised me by replying with “Vitamin I.”

He could see I was puzzled, so he quickly clarified — Ibuprofen.

It’s the first I’d heard of this term, but is it NOT the first time I’ve heard of people taking Ibuprofen routinely or for prolonged periods. For some it’s because they are in pain already… but for others it’s to prevent pain when they are about to do something they know will hurt.

Ibuprofen is a type of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that is commonly used to reduce inflammation and pain.

Some reasons you might take it are because you’ve had an acute injury such as a sprain or strain, to deal with headaches, because your arthritis flared up, or because you need to bring a fever down.

When you absolutely can’t get control over pain or inflammation naturally (such as with ice, rest, or therapeutic movement) taking Ibuprofen can be helpful.

But when you’re taking it on a regular basis to control and manage pain, or if you find you’re always taking it before certain types of exercise or activity just so you can prevent pain… it’s something to be concerned about.

Long-term use of Ibuprofen has its consequences. Plus, being in pain all the time, or experiencing pain every time you exercise or do a certain activity, is not normal and you should get it checked out.

So what are the consequences of too much “Vitamin I?”

The consequences are minimal if you’re just grabbing Advil every now and then to ease a headache or take the edge off of a particularly painful back pain episode. You’ll always want to check with your doctor or pharmacist first before taking any type of medication — even one like Ibuprofen that is easily accessible over the counter — but assuming you’ve been cleared, it’s rare that you’ll experience any harmful effects from the occasional dose of “Vitamin I.”

The problem is when you’re always reaching for that Advil.

At some point you want to consider what might be causing your pain to keep coming back.

Every time you resort to something like Ibuprofen as a way to control recurring pain, you’re only putting a bandaid on the problem. When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, such as back, knee, hip, shoulder pain or headaches…

Remember that 80% of the time it can be resolved with movement instead of medication.

So consider talking to one of our movement experts who can help you naturally resolve your pain and get you off that “Vitamin I” regimen.

Another common reason people resort to regular use of Ibuprofen is to prevent inflammation or muscle soreness before exercise or vigorous activity. This has become especially common with athletes and weekend warriors.

This is never a good idea.

Research has shown that taking “Vitamin I” ahead of exercise can actually hurt your performance and hinder your recovery. Not to mention the long-term health implications of using Ibuprofen in this manner!

In a study published my Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers discovered that when distance runners took 600mg of Ibuprofen before an event, they ended up with more tissue-damaging oxidative stress afterwards compared to those who took nothing, thus debunking the theory that “Vitamin I” can help you avoid inflammation.

In this case it increased!

Another study done on cyclists found that Ibuprofen can damage your gut during exercise and lead to a leaky small intestine.

And finally, scientists have conducted animal research that shows taking “Vitamin I” as a prophylactic for muscle soreness actually hinders your recovery.

If you’re finding yourself constantly in pain or very sore after or during certain types of exercises and activities, you may want to look at how you’re warming up or preparing for these things.

If you have consistent problem areas such as back or knee pain, there are corrective exercises you can learn that will better prepare your joints for repetitive and strenuous activities.

In many cases, corrective movements can help you avoid pain entirely.

But at the very least, they’ll help to reduce any pain you do experience much faster, and you’ll recover more quickly.

And for tissue inflammation, there are great natural alternatives that are safe to consume before a particularly strenuous workout. Tea, tart cherry juice, and turmeric are all considered natural anti-inflammatories that are safe, and don’t come with the harmful side-effects of “Vitamin I.”

While I’m a huge advocate of avoiding pain medication whenever possible, there are times when taking Ibuprofen makes sense. But it should be occasional and minimal and you should always be checking in with your doctor to make sure it’s safe.

But even when your doctor says it’s ok to use right now, know that long-term use of Ibuprofen can damage your digestive system, interfere with your hormones, and increase your risk of heart attacks and stroke.

It’s always best to look for natural ways to ease pain first.

Movement is my favorite form of medicine.

If you want to find the movement that is YOUR medicine, so you can stop using “Vitamin I” as a bandaid…

Request a FREE Discovery Session with one of my specialists.

They’ll talk to you first to make sure you’re even a good fit for what we do… and if so… let you know how we can help!