Spooky creaks and cracks coming from your knees?

Do the cracks in your knees “spook” you out?

Yes – it’s Halloween – and we’re having some fun over here…

But in all seriousness – when it comes to cracking in your knees (or any joint for that matter) – people get nervous.

First of all, cracking in your knees (as well as your other joints) is quite common – and most of the time there’s a reasonable explanation for it.

Crepitus is the term used to describe any grinding, creaking, cracking, grating, crunching , or popping that occurs when you move a joint like your knee. You can experience this at any age – but it’s certainly more common as you get older.

So what causes crepitus – and should it be a concern…

The most common causes of crepitus include air bubbles popping inside your joint, tendons or ligaments snapping over your joint’s bony structures, or the degeneration of your joint’s cartilage that generally occurs with arthritis. You may experience uncomfortable sensations, or even a tiny bit of pain when this happens, but in most cases, none of this should scare or concern you.

It’s all a normal part of aging and wear and tear.

But if the cracking in your joints starts to become more regular – is accompanied by joint swelling and more constant pain – or if the cracking turns to “clunking” and your knee starts to feel unstable… then you’re smart to be concerned and it’s possible something more serious could be going on.

If you suspect something like this could be happening – get your knees checked out by an expert.

But assuming you haven’t let your knees get to the “concerned stage” yet… and the most annoying thing to you right now is the cracking, grinding, or crunching…

There are things you can do to prevent it from getting worse.

The first thing I always recommend is to keep moving.

Motion is lotion.

And regular movement throughout the day helps keep your joints lubricated. It’s like applying WD-40 to a creaky door hinge – when your joints creak – move them to lubricate them.

The second important thing to consider if you want to reduce crepitus and prevent it from becoming something more serious is your biomechanics.

Biomechanics refers to how well your muscles and joints function together.

If you’ve got imbalances – it will impact the way your joints move and function – causing more creaking and cracking.

For example, let’s say your hips are on the weak side. How your knees tolerate various activities depends a lot on how strong your hips are. I’ve experienced this first hand… I love to hike. And if my hips aren’t doing their part, I feel the entire hike in my knees, especially on the way down.

And you know what else happens?

My knees crack a lot more on the days after I hike.

The imbalances in my body cause more stress on my knees and the result is they crack a lot more. Now, as I mentioned previously, this isn’t a big concern for me… yet. My knees don’t hurt – they are just very noisy. But in the interest in prevention – I make a conscious effort to regularly stretch my quads, and strengthen my hips and core – so that I can keep this problem at bay and not let it get worse.

My FAVORITE way to do this is with Pilates.

Specifically… on the Pilates Reformer!

When you use the Pilates Reformer – it allows you to both strengthen and lengthen at the same time – as well as focus on your coordination. These three things – when combined together – help to significantly optimize your biomechanics.

If you’ve never used the Pilates Reformer and want to give it a try – check out our Pilates program HERE.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth. To get a FREE copy of her guide to knee pain – CLICK HERE

Three Easy Tips to Keep your Back from “Going Out”

Three Easy Tips to Keep your Back from “Going Out”

Most people – four out of five to be exact! – will experience a debilitating back pain episode at one point during their lives, and typically we put more effort into caring for our backs during those times than when we’re feeling good. But it’s critical that we take good care of our backs all the time, not just when we’re in pain!

1. Stand Up & Take a Load Off

When we sit for too long, the burden of our weight is placed abnormally on our spine and can cause damage over time. Before long, those small loads add up to real pain. It makes sense when you consider that our bodies were designed to stand, sit, crawl, run, kneel, bend and move through the world in many different ways. It was never designed to sit in one position for prolonged periods, day after day. Sit too long, too often, and it can lead to bulging discs and weak, brittle muscles that are prone to tearing and other damage.

The solution? Limit your sitting to half-hour periods with a few minutes of standing in between, and you’ll reduce the uni-directional forces on your spine. In other words, if you sit for a long time at work or at home, stand up and walk around a little bit every thirty minutes. Aside from participating in regular strengthening exercise, like Pilates, this is the easiest way for the average person to prevent back injury (and heal your back faster if you already have an injury).

2. Watch for Curves

We have natural curves in our spine that help us handle stress and loads.  Whether sitting or standing, it’s important to maintain these curves.  When standing, our spinal curves occur more naturally and are usually easier to maintain.  When we sit, the protective curves in our spine are harder to maintain and often disappear.  And while a healthy core and strong back muscles are important to back health, they won’t protect your back if you sit for long periods, or when the curve in your lumbar area disappears while you’re sitting.

Fortunately, the solution is as simple as rolling up a towel and placing it between your chair or car seat and the small of your back (just above the belt line). Using a purpose-designed lumbar roll is my favorite choice, and what I use for low-back support. You can use a lumbar roll in your office chair, car, and on the plane if you’re flying! If you want to learn where you can get on of your own contact us about them here. Or  see in more detail how to use them in our free e-book!

3. Extend instead of Bend

The human spine (and entire body) craves balance, which means both extension and flexion.  But we spend the majority of our time in flexion, bending over to put shoes and socks on, brushing our teeth, driving, sitting at work and then driving home. At home we bend forward to cook, sit some more as we eat and then curl up on our couch or an easy chair. As long as we’re not gymnasts or circus performers, it’s safe to say we could all use a little more extension in our day.  A really good exercise is to stand and place your hands on your lower back for support and then arch back as far as you can go.  Repeat this 10 times, at least once per day.  This is also a great activity to do when you are interrupting your sitting during the day.  If you’ve never arched you back like this before, it may feel stiff or even hurt a little at first. But, with a gradual increase in frequency, it will feel less stiff and more natural over the course of a few days.  If it doesn’t, or becomes troublesome for you, stop and consult with a qualified physical therapist who specializes in back pain.

If you like these tips and want to learn even more ways to prevent debilitating back episodes, check out our FREE report right here! It reveals five easy ways (plus two bonus tips!) that are PROVEN to help you ease back pain quickly – without pain medication, frequent doctor’s visits, or surgery. And don’t forget to check out our Pilates programs if you’re looking for a way to exercise that will target – and resolve – back pain!

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. What you need to know.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. What you need to know.

I was recently doing some research on how often back surgery fails – and I came across more than one research paper talking about “Failed Back Surgery Syndrome”.

Say what?

I knew that approximately 50% of back surgeries were unsuccessful, but I didn’t know it was common enough that they had actually coined the term!

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome refers to patients with chronic, long standing back pain, with or without referred leg pain, who have had one or more surgical interventions that have failed to treat the pain.

It’s also known as “post-surgical spine syndrome” – and it’s estimated to occur in 20 – 40% of all surgical cases.

A systematic review of the literature of patients under the age of 70 suffering from disc herniations, and who underwent discectomies, found that between 5 and 36% of these folks suffered from recurring back or leg pain after 2 years. Another study by Skolaksy et al investigating 260 patients with degenerative changes in their spine who underwent surgery for spinal stenosis – found that almost 30% of these patients had either no change – or increased pain – 12 months after surgical laminectomy with or without lumbar fusion.

Despite these statistics, approximately 500,000 Americans are still undergoing back surgery every year to relieve their pain.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates back surgery to cost us $11 billion annually. That’s a lot of money to spend on something that isn’t even guaranteed to work.

So why ARE we spending so much money on back surgery when for almost half of these people, it’s not successful?

Well first, back pain is not fun. It can be excruciating, debilitating, and can have a significant impact on your life and happiness. If you’re told surgery will fix your problem (and it often does take your pain away in the short-term), why wouldn’t you choose this option?

Second, there is a major problem with the way back pain is diagnosed.

Most of the time, back pain is diagnosed via imaging (X-rays or MRI’s) and a treatment plan is based off of the results of those images. If you’ve got a bulging disc with severe leg pain or numbness, they recommend you cut it out. If you’ve got severe degenerative changes causing stenosis, they recommend fusion.

Back pain should always be diagnosed first with specialized movement testing.

Why?

Because we now know from research that 70-80% of all back pain is considered “mechanical”- meaning the root cause or your pain is due to poor mobility or movement habits, and not actually caused by the findings in your images.

Findings such as bulging discs, disc degeneration, and stenosis are all a normal part of aging and there are plenty of people out there who have these exact same findings and no pain at all. What typically happens is that your inefficient movement patterns, or immobility problems, will exacerbate these structures and findings – and that is when you start to experience pain.

This explains why so many back surgeries are unsuccessful and why more people than necessary end up with Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. When underlying movement or mobility problems go undiagnosed, and are not addressed first, your symptoms come back. It may not be right away, and could be up to a few years, but they do return. And sadly, they become even more difficult to address after one or more surgery has occurred.

So if you’ve got back pain and are considering surgery, definitely think twice and be sure you’ve been fully examined by a mechanical back pain expert FIRST.

And if you’ve already had back surgery and it didn’t work to fully resolve your symptoms and get you back to doing everything you love to do – there’s still hope for you – a good place to start is with a proper mechanical back pain exam to see what was missed prior to your surgery.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, or to catch a replay of her online Back Pain & Sciatica Masterclass – visit cjphysicaltherapy.com

Are your Back MRI results reliable? Research says otherwise.

Are your Back MRI results reliable? Research says otherwise.

Whenever pain flares up – one of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI. When you have persistent pain that won’t go away, or shooting pain or numbness down your arm or leg, it’s scary. It makes sense to get a look inside with an MRI, right?

Not necessarily.

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine. But what we now know from research is that all those findings on an MRI don’t always correlate with what’s actually causing your pain.

One notable study was the Lancet series – three published papers that investigated how MRI findings related to the treatment of back pain. Martin Underwood, MD, co-author of the Lancet series, and professor at Warwick Medical School, is quoted in The Guardian saying: “If you get into the business of treating disc degeneration because it has shown up on an MRI, the likelihood is that, in most of those people, it is not contributing to their back pain.”

Let me explain.

When it comes to back problems – or joint problems in general – what most people don’t realize is that 70-80% of all spine and musculoskeletal problems are what we call “mechanical” in nature.

That means your pain has to do with the way you move, bad postural habits learned over the years, or muscular and joint imbalances like weakness and poor flexibility. Many of these mechanical “wear and tear” problems don’t show up until your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s – which coincidentally is also the time that things like disc degeneration and other age-related changes show up on an MRI.

What it’s important to understand is that disc degeneration, arthritis, and bulging discs are ALL a normal part of aging, but they often get blamed for problems they don’t actually cause. In other words, the source of your pain is often a movement dysfunction learned and repeated over time that is irritating you – not the age-related changes themselves. The best way to figure out if your problem is movement-related vs structure-related is… well… with a movement assessment… NOT an MRI.

So how does movement testing work and why is it more reliable than an MRI? 

This is a great question and not one that is easily explained… but I’m going to try!

When your back, neck or joint pain is mechanical in nature – one of the most important things to look at and pay attention to is how your pain behaves. Not necessarily where it’s located. With pain – the most important thing to determine is how it reacts against certain triggers and with different activities.

Does your pain come and go? Do you have good days and bad days? Can you change positions and influence your pain?

When your pain is variable, it’s the most reliable sign that your pain is “mechanical” in nature. It also means you don’t need surgery or any kind of procedure to fix it. In fact, a procedure or surgery could leave you feeling worse off than before. Let’s say you “cut out” the structure – or inject it to make it numb – your movement problem hasn’t gone away and it’s only a matter of time before it starts aggravating something else.

Take home point… MRI’s are a super powerful and amazing diagnostic tool – but their results when it comes to diagnosing neck, back, or joint pain MUST be taken with a grain of salt – and should absolutely be coupled with an expert mechanical joint evaluation before you decide on a treatment plan.

Because if you are dealing with chronic, long-standing aches and pains that have come and gone over the years – or have recently gotten worse – there is a 70-80% chance that it is a mechanical problem finally catching up to you and not a structural problem.

Figure out the root source of your neck, back, or joint pain by seeing a movement expert who specializes in mechanical pain FIRST. Because when you automatically assume that you need an MRI first, and you base your whole treatment plan off of those results – you can end up down a rabbit hole of unnecessary medical procedures or surgery that ultimately won’t give you the long-term relief you’re looking for.

Local to Portsmouth, NH? Join us for our next free online Back Pain & Sciatica class happening Wed Oct 13th from 6-7p on Zoom.

CLICK HERE to reserve your seat.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes weekly articles published in Seacoast online.