Three Ways to Keep Your Back From "Going Out"

How Ignoring Back pain could ruin your New Year’s Resolutions

Now is the time when people shift their focus to the New Year and start thinking about new and exciting goals for themselves. But ignoring back pain could ruin your New Year’s resolutions.

According to statista.com – the three most popular New Year’s goals are:

1) Doing more exercise and improving their fitness

2) Losing weight

3) Saving money.

 Would you be surprised to know that if you are currently suffering from back pain – and you continue to ignore it – it could significantly impact your chances of success at achieving any of these goals?

 Let me explain.

 Let’s start with doing more exercise and improving fitness…

Most people think that if they start exercising more – especially their core – it will solve their back problem. Not necessarily. While the research studies show (overwhelmingly) that exercise is one of the best treatments for back pain – what they don’t reveal is that there are typically some key things that must be in place in order for exercise to be effective.

For example, you must have good mobility before you start focusing on stability (or strengthening). If you’ve got a stiff back, general exercise could be all you need, and you’ll notice improvement. But you won’t know until you get going and by then it could be too late.

What if your back is stiff because it’s compensating for something – say a bulging disc or muscle weakness? If that’s the case, and you go all in with an exercise program in January, it’s only a matter of time (usually about 3 months in) before your back becomes worse, forcing you to abort your grand plan for the new year. When stability is there for a compensatory reason, it’s important to figure that out before adding more exercise or strengthening to the mix.

This is one way back pain could derail your New Year’s resolution of doing more exercise and improving your fitness.

Say you want to lose weight.

This is a fabulous goal. And if you’ve got back pain, losing weight will surely help. But once again, it’s critical to understand why you’ve got back pain in the first place.

For example, being overweight is rarely the cause of back pain. A few extra pounds can certainly exacerbate your back problem, but it doesn’t usually cause back pain all on it’s own. The most common causes of back pain are mechanical (movement) problems. In other words – bad movement habits such as sitting all the time, bending and rotating too much, or having terrible posture can all lead to back pain slowly over time. If you lose weight, but never correct these mechanical/movement problems, your back pain isn’t going to improve.

When it comes to the process of losing weight, in addition to watching your diet, more exercise is often incorporated into a weight loss plan. If you’ve got back pain, it’s more than likely due to poor movement habits. More exercise will not address these, and worse, could exacerbate the problem. If your back pain increases, not only will you not want to exercise, but you could be more inclined to sit at home and eat more – completely derailing your New Year’s resolution of losing weight.

Finally – we come to saving money.

What on earth could back pain have to do with this? Well, you’ve probably heard the saying: “If you think wellness is expensive, try illness”. And this couldn’t be truer.

When you ignore back pain, it’s only going to get more expensive to address later. As back pain worsens, you’ll have less willpower to bear it, and you’ll be more likely to opt for expensive fixes such as outpatient procedures and surgery. Not to mention the rehab that needs to take place afterwards for an optimal recovery and the expensive tests that need to take place before-hand to ensure you’re ready for surgery. When you ignore a back problem it’s only a matter of time before it becomes unbearable. And when we’re desperate, we make poor decisions, which often leads to more money spent than necessary. All that money (and more) that you set out to save as part of your New Year’s goals eventually goes to waste.

Instead, get in front of your back pain. For 80% of back pain cases, there is a natural, movement-based solution.

Natural solutions are far less expensive – and much safer long term compared to something like surgery. While the impact of ignoring back pain may seem indirect when it comes to a New Year’s resolution of saving money – it will impact you in some way – at some point – in a monetary way if you don’t address it now.

 When you’ve got back pain (or any pain for that matter) that isn’t going away, it’s your body trying to tell you something.

Don’t ignore it.

It’s only a matter of time before it gets worse and starts to derail more than just your New Year’s goals.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH. To get a free copy of her Guide to Easing Back Pain and Stiffness – click here.

Traveling for the Holidays? Tips to Ease Back and Neck Pain

Are you traveling for the Holidays? Unlike last year, there’s a lot more people getting out of town to see friends and family they didn’t get to see last year. Personally, I love to travel. But what I don’t love is the back and neck pain that often comes with it. The good news is you can prevent – or significantly minimize it – with tips to ease and back and neck pain during holiday travel. Whether you’re traveling by train, plane, or automobile… 

Here are 5 tips to ease back and neck pain during Holiday travel:

 

1. Walk at Rest stops and Airports

Walking is not only great exercise but it’s well known for helping ease back and neck stiffness. Our bodies like to be upright and generally don’t like to be still and sitting for very long. If you’re flying somewhere this Holiday season, walk around the terminal while waiting for your flight instead of sitting. Don’t take the people mover – get those extra steps in and walk instead. If you’re driving somewhere long distance, make a point to stop along the way and be sure to get out and walk a little. Bonus – walking is great for hip and knee stiffness too.

2. Stay Hydrated

When it comes to back and neck pain – people don’t really think of hydration as something that makes a difference. The discs between our vertebrae need fluid to do their job – which is to provide cushion and shock absorption. They can get dry and brittle when not properly hydrated which can exacerbate back and neck pain. When you add travel to the mix, which involves a lot more sitting than you might do on a normal day, you put even more stress on your discs. So remembering to drink enough water when you travel is very important. Opting for foods like watermelon, lettuce, spinach and soups can help you stay hydrated as well as avoiding beverages that contain caffeine and alcohol. 

3. Interrupt your Sitting

If you make a point to walk when you can, and drink plenty of water, interrupting your sitting is going to naturally happen and not be that difficult. As I mentioned already, our bodies were not meant to be sitting for prolonged periods and it’s one of the top reasons so many people suffer from unnecessary back and neck pain. When you sit, there is more pressure on your vertebral discs. But more than that, they start to weaken in certain areas from too much sitting – making you more susceptible for a disc bulge or herniation. Prolonged sitting also puts extra stretch on your muscles. Over time this contributes to them losing their elasticity – making them weaker and more painful – and easier to strain. My general rule is to always interrupt your sitting at least once every 30 min. This interruption acts as a reset button for your spine and helps to minimize the cumulative forces responsible for all of the problems I just mentioned.

4. Stretch in your Seat

If you absolutely can’t stand up and interrupt your sitting – the next best thing is to move and stretch in your seat. While it’s not as ideal as standing up – it’s certainly better than just sitting there. My two favorite stretches to do while sitting are: 1) the chin tuck and 2) thoracic extension. 

To perform the chin tuck…

To stretch your thoracic spine…

5. Use a lumbar Roll

Our spine is made up of distinct curves for a very good reason. They are designed to balance forces and sustain shock – and it’s best if you can maintain them. When you sit, the curve in your lower back (lumbar spine) decreases, or sometimes disappears all together. While it’s perfectly acceptable to sit like this for small increments of time (remember the 30 min rule), your spine will not like this after several hours. Plus, your neck responds by changing it’s curve to a “forward head” position as well. One of the best things you can do is use a cylindrical lumbar roll to help maintain the natural curve in your lumbar spine. Place it right at your lower back any time you’re sitting and you’ll find that your back and neck have a lot less strain. 

Give one more more of these tips to ease back and neck pain during holiday travel a try – you’ll see that easing your back or neck pain by even 30% could have a big impact on your travels.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH. To get a free copy of her Guide to Easing Back Pain and Stiffness – click here.

Tips for Getting through the Holidays injury and stress-free

The Holidays are here – and while it’s meant to be a joyous time of year – for many reasons it also brings a lot of stress to people’s lives. People find it difficult to get through the Holiday season both injury and stress-free. Besides the obvious mental toll that increased stress levels tend to cause, it also has an impact on virtually all systems of your body. Stress puts our nervous systems on high alert – otherwise known as “fight or flight”.  This is a recipe for all sorts of things such as increased blood pressure, shortness of breath, increased muscle tension, increased cortisol production, an unhappy gut, and more neck and back pain.

But the good news is that it’s not as difficult as you think to combat stress on your own – and give yourself the injury and stress-free Holiday Season you deserve.

Here are 3 tips for getting through the Holidays injury and stress-free:

 

1. Breathe 

I know this might sound cliche, but breathing is one of your best friends when it comes to quickly reducing and interrupting stress. As little as 30 seconds can make a dramatic difference. When you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The best part is you can do this anywhere — in the car, at the office, while shopping, even in the bathroom. Although breathing may not eliminate stress permanently, it does interrupt it. And interruption is key when it comes to managing stress — both emotional and musculoskeletal.  When you interrupt the ability for the forces of stress to accumulate, you decrease the toll it can have on your body and brain.

2. Practice Gratitude

Did you know that gratitude helps lower cortisol levels in our bodies by about 23 percent? Prolonged stress causes elevated cortisol levels, which causes lots of different health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Research shows that when we think about something we appreciate (i.e. practice gratitude), the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming one) is triggered. Our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for returning the body to its automatic and natural rhythm. So when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your heart rate and cortisol levels lower — which is the opposite of what happens when your sympathetic nervous system is activated and you’re stressed out. Your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems can’t both be in charge at the same time – so when you consciously practice gratitude – you actively lower your stress.

3. Get Moving 

Any kind of movement is going to help you control stress for a few reasons. First, it gets your blood flowing which contains endorphins — natural chemicals of the body designed to decrease pain and stress. Second, movement helps to end the “flight or fight” response of your body. In ancient times, our fight or flight response protected us from danger (like a lion chasing us), by triggering us to run away. Running away (movement) would signal the end of the stress cycle caused by fight or flight by letting the brain know we were safe and out of danger. In our modern world, triggers of stress are not as obvious as a lion trying to eat us. The end of the stress cycle is not always clear and can just keep going – one of the ways stress becomes chronic. Therefore, purposeful movement can help decrease stress by physiologically ending your natural fight or flight response. Something as simple as walking can do the trick. But even jumping jacks or dancing in your living room can feel good and get your heart rate up enough to end the fight or flight cycle.  

I hope these tips help you feel confident that it is indeed possible to get through the Holidays injury and stress- free completely on your own. 

Give these easy and practical tips a try and see how you do!

If you find that you can’t, it’s always a good idea to talk to a professional who can help you. A little bit of stress is normal, but being chronically stressed is not.

Cheers to a happy, healthy, injury and stress-free Holiday Season!

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH. To get a free copy of her guide to taking care of back pain naturally – click here.