Why Your Neck Stretches Aren’t Working

Do you suffer from chronic neck pain and ever wonder…

Why don’t my neck stretches work?

Even though you’ve Googled and YouTubed them about a hundred times…

There are a few reasons why stretching your neck might not be doing anything to help get rid of your neck pain.

  1. Your technique could be off
  2. You could be doing the wrong stretch
  3. It could be that you just shouldn’t be stretching your neck at all!

Let’s go over the different reasons why your neck stretches might not be working… and most importantly… what you can do about it.

1. You’re doing it wrong.

Although research studies are inconclusive regarding how long you should hold a particular stretch, most people feel good when they hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds. When it comes to technique, one of the biggest problems I see is not relaxing enough. If you’re tense, or gripping your muscles at the same time you’re stretching, it won’t work very well. It’s important to breathe and move easily into the stretch. If you try to force it or push through pain, you’ll likely tense up.

Now let’s say you’re doing everything right (not tensing or gripping) but your stretches still don’t seem to work.

Some people (myself included) respond better to “moving stretches”. This is where instead of holding one static position for a prolonged period – you repeatedly move through one or several end-range stretches. Neck rolls are a great example of this.

If your neck stretches haven’t been working, try adjusting the way you’ve been stretching… if it works… then you were likely just using the wrong technique.

2. You’re doing the wrong type of stretch.

This one could be a little tougher to figure out on your own. There is a difference between corrective neck stretching and stretching to feel good.

For example, let’s say your neck is tightening up because you’ve been under a lot of stress or you just did a lot of activity that impacts your neck. Generic neck stretches such as bringing your chin to your chest, or pulling your chin to the opposite shoulder (known as an “upper trap stretch”) may be all you need.

In fact, I do stretches like this regularly because I’m constantly leaning over to help patients. I stretch my neck to PREVENT it from having problems and because it feels good.

But let’s say you already have a neck problem, or you have pain or numbness running down your arm.

In these instances, generic neck stretching could make you worse.

You likely need corrective stretches, like what we prescribe for patients in our office.

Corrective stretches are specifically prescribed to address your particular problem in your neck – and are very different from the generalized stretches that are designed to feel good and relieve tension.

If you think you might need corrective stretches for your neck – DO NOT google them – you must see a specialist and have them prescribed to you.

3. You shouldn’t be stretching your neck at all!

This is a very common problem we see… folks come in with complaints of chronic tightness and discomfort in their neck and no matter how often they stretch or massage, it doesn’t go away.

Did you know that chronic neck tightness can be a sign of a weak core?

It’s quite common – and if that is the case for you – no amount of stretching will help – and could even aggravate your problem!

The deep, stabilizing muscles of your neck are connected by fascia to the deep muscles of your core. If your deep core is not working properly, then your neck will often kick in and try to help.

Ever notice that your neck is always sore or tight after a good ab workout?

This could be a sign that your neck is compensating for your core.

Stop stretching your neck, learn how to strengthen your core the right way, and see a specialist who can help you.

In our office, our team of specialists work alongside our Pilates instructors to help folks improve their core strength from the inside out – so that their necks and backs stop getting involved.

If you’re dealing with chronic neck problems that aren’t’ responding to stretching…

There’s a good chance you could be not stretching correctly, the stretches aren’t right for you, or you’ve completely missed the root cause of your neck pain and you shouldn’t be stretching at all!

Want to work with our team of specialists and finally get some help for your neck problem?

CLICK HERE to request a free Discovery Session with one of our specialists.

They’ll set up a time to talk to you about what’s going on with your neck. If you’re a good fit for what we do, then they will help you get started!

This is only for people serious about getting help…

And for those that are finally ready for a long-term solution to their pain – one that will put an end to constantly relying on pain pills – and help you avoid expensive procedures and risky surgery.

Request a Discovery Session here.

The Location of Your Pain may NOT be its Source…

One of the most confusing topics we deal with in our practice is pain. And there’s lots of advice out there on what to do about it…

Should you rest or move? Apply heat or ice? See a doctor or let it go away on its own?

Before you can even think about a solution to your pain, you must first accurately determine where it’s coming from. If you have pain in your knee, but it’s actually coming from your back, the best knee treatment in the world is not going to fix it.

Inaccurate diagnosis of pain is a BIG reason why so many people suffer longer than they need to, and undergo unnecessary surgeries.

You must accurately determine the source of your pain for treatment to be effective, and the location of your pain alone is not a reliable way to do that.

For example, I’ve seen people in my office with what they think is unrelenting tennis elbow, only to find out it was actually a problem in their neck causing it. I’ve seen people disappointed after a failed knee surgery, because the problem was never in their knee and actually coming from their back.

Isolated extremity pain (knees, elbows, shoulders) is one of the most misdiagnosed problems we see in our office.

A recent study by Richard Rosedale, et al. in the Journal of Manipulative Therapy investigated this – and it was found that over 40% of people suffering from isolated extremity pain actually had a spinal source of symptoms.

In other words, their extremity pain was actually coming from their neck or back.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen folks with unexplained shoulder pain lasting months or years get better as soon as we begin treating their neck, even though they never had neck pain.

Same for knees…

It’s possible to have knee pain that is caused by your back, without ever hurting your back!

Confused? I don’t blame you.

But more importantly, how do you figure out the source of your pain when it’s not always where you’re feeling it?

As already mentioned, the most common place for this to happen is with extremities. If you’ve got shoulder, elbow, knee or foot pain – and you don’t ever recall a specific injury to it – you MUST consider that it could be coming from your spine.

There’s a 44% chance that it is!

Where this gets really confusing is that typically your doctor will order an MRI when you’ve got isolated knee or shoulder pain that won’t go away. And if you’re over 40 years old, the MRI will almost always show “something” – a torn rotator cuff, torn meniscus, arthritis, or wear and tear.

Remember that these are normal signs of aging in everyone, and may not be the cause of your pain.

If you haven’t already had your spine checked properly as a possible source, you can’t rely on these findings (or the location of your pain) as an accurate diagnosis. That is how people end up having surgeries they don’t really need.

Whenever someone comes into our office with isolated extremity pain, we don’t even look at it without an exam of their neck and back first.

By moving your spine repeatedly, and in certain directions, we can often produce – or take away – the pain you’re feeling in your knee or shoulder.

Why?

Because if the pain in your extremity is caused by a pinched or aggravated nerve, moving your spine around is going to influence that, and tell us where the source really is.

An MRI and X-ray won’t be able to determine this for you with certainty – because sometimes your nerve only gets irritated when you move a certain way – or when you’re in a certain position. Since MRI’s and X-rays can’t see what’s going on while you’re moving, you can’t rely on those tests alone to tell you exactly where your pain is coming from.

If you’ve had pain in one of your extremities for a while now, and it’s not going away, it’s possible you’ve missed the source.

That source could be your spine.

And if you’re considering some kind of surgery or procedure, you definitely want to rule that out first.

Specialized movement exams like we do in our office are one of the most reliable ways to figure this out. If you’ve had unexplained pain in your knee or shoulder that isn’t going away, CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Session with one of our specialists.

How to Keep Knee or Back Pain from Derailing your New Year’s Goals

More than ever right now, people are excited to move on from the strange year that was 2020. And for many, one of the ways to get on with 2021 as fast as possible is to focus on some New Year’s goals! The most popular goals for the New Year continue to revolve around weight loss and exercise. But here is one thing that can get in your way when pursuing those goals… unresolved back or knee pain. So many people make the mistake of thinking that exercise or weight loss alone, is going to “cure” their nagging pain. But that’s not always the case. 

Here are some top tips and advice I give all my clients around this time of year to help you get the most out of your health and fitness goals for 2021, and NOT let something like back or knee pain get in your way…

Mobility before Stability

Your muscles can’t function at their best if you don’t have optimal joint mobility. In other words, you don’t want to strengthen around a joint that isn’t moving at its best, or you’ll encourage compensation. If your nagging back or knee pain is due to inadequate mobility, you’ll run into problems (and more pain) if you suddenly increase your exercise or activity level. We saw this happen at the beginning of the pandemic. People started walking and exercising more and we saw a huge influx of unexpected back and knee pain as a result. Their joints weren’t accustomed to moving so much and it highlighted the lack of mobility and compensations. Don’t let the same thing happen to you! Make sure all of your joints, including your spine, can move fully and freely without any pain before you begin a new exercise program.

Pace yourself

It’s very tempting to go “all in” on your new exercise or weight loss goal… but remember, the tortoise won the race, not the hare. It’s important to not beat yourself up if you’re not seeing immediate results. If you’ve been out of shape for a while and doing something completely new, expect to be sore. But if you’re limping around for days or experiencing sharp pain in your back or knee, there is a chance you overdid it.

My general rule of thumb is to monitor your soreness on a scale of one to ten. I tell my clients to not let their pain go above a five when they are pushing themselves or returning to an exercise we haven’t tried in a while. If you find that your pain level goes above a six, or persists at that level (or higher) for more than a day, there’s a chance you’re overdoing it and setting yourself up for an unwanted injury. When in doubt, listen to your body. And if you’re not sure what it’s saying to you, enlist the help of experts like us!

Stay Hydrated

Most people don’t drink enough water during their regular day, never mind when they increase their activity level. Drinking lots of water has two great benefits. It will give you the extra hydration you need if you’re planning to be more active. And it will help you lose weight by curbing your appetite. Some additional benefits of staying hydrated include increased muscle strength and stamina, more lubrication in your joints, more supple skin, better cardiovascular function, and improved energy and mental alertness. One really easy tip to jumpstart your day is to begin with 10 oz of water first thing upon waking. A good place to start when you’re trying to stay adequately hydrated is to drink at least half your body weight (in ounces) of water every day.  

Get assessed by a movement expert

If you’ve already got some nagging back and knee pain, do yourself a favor and get assessed by a movement expert FIRST, before you begin your new exercise routine or New Year’s goal. Your first thought might be to go see your medical doctor, which of course isn’t a bad idea, but it’s important you understand how different medical professionals look at you when you have knee or back pain.

Medical doctors are trained to screen your whole body and spot for serious problems. If you see them for musculoskeletal pain, they will typically take X-rays and MRI’s to make sure there are no broken bones or serious pathologies. They do not have extensive training to assess how your pain behaves during movement or exercise, which is the majority of people’s problems. That’s where we come in.

A specialty practice like ours will be able to assess your movement in detail, through various movement tests, which will tell a much better story about how your pain may or may not impact the new exercise or weight loss program you’re about to start. Plus, once we know how your pain behaves, what the triggering patterns are, we can also teach you how to control it – so that you don’t have to let nagging back or knee pain derail your 2021!

I hope your New Year is off to an amazing start, and if you want to ensure that back or knee pain doesn’t get in the way of that, reach out for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session. We would love to talk with you about your goals and be part of your support team as we all launch into 2021!

 

 

Considering Back Surgery? Read this First

Approximately 500,000 Americans undergo back surgery to relieve their pain every year, and according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHTQ), this costs approximately $11 billion annually. The worst part — it turns out only 5 percent of these people actually need back surgery. And for many folks — the pain just ends up coming back.

So why are we spending so much money on back surgery when the majority of people don’t actually need it?

First of all, 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? 

Well, if you knew the facts, you might be willing to hold off on a surgical “quick fix” and investigate options that are less risky. The research shows over and over that 80% of the population suffers from “non-specific low back pain,” meaning, it’s not from something structural like a tumor, broken bone, or deformity. The research also shows that non-specific low back pain does NOT benefit from surgery! The better solution for the majority of back pain sufferers is correctly prescribed movement followed by regular exercise to maintain your strength (especially your core) and postural endurance.

So again, why are we spending so much money on back surgery when the research and data clearly show it’s not the best course of action for the majority of back pain sufferers? 

There are a few reasons. First, most of the time we just don’t know any better.

Back pain is typically diagnosed with imaging (X Rays and MRI’s). Although these highly specific tests are critically beneficial after a major trauma or accident, or when you suspect something more serious is going on (like a tumor or broken bone), they are not the best way to diagnose non-specific low back pain. That’s because these tests are designed to show you everything – including all the normal, age-related changes that occur in your spine such as arthritis, degenerative discs, stenosis, and even bulging discs.

The truth is that 60-80% of people walk around with these findings in their spine all the time and have absolutely zero pain.

That means that your back pain is likely coming from something else, typically, a bad movement pattern or habit. Poor posture and movement habits can exacerbate a bulging disc or stenosis, and this is where the confusion comes in. Surgically “fixing” your bulging disc or stenosis will not correct your poor habits. That’s why so many people suffering from back pain get surgery only to find their pain comes back several months or years later. What you need to do is find the true cause of your low back pain and attempt to address that first before ever considering something like surgery.

The second reason back surgery is so common and over-prescribed is because it does a great job at taking pain away quickly where conservative therapy often fails. Conservative therapy really can help you get rid of back pain and keep it gone – but it has to be done correctly. And sadly, there are many well-meaning therapists, trainers, and movement professionals out there that lack the expert knowledge to get it right. If you don’t get the correct conservative treatment for your back pain, you’ll assume it didn’t work, and will be more apt to get surgery.

So how do you know you’re getting correct and effective conservative treatment? Quite simply, it will work, and fairly quickly! 

Remember, 80% of all low back pain responds to the right conservative treatment. You’ll notice obvious improvement in your back pain within 2 weeks. If you fall into the 20% where conservative treatment doesn’t work as well, it will be pretty obvious to a back pain expert almost immediately. In our office, for example, we have special movement screens and tests that we perform on everyone to determine if you’re in the 80% or the 20%. If you fall into the 20%, we know right away and can send you to your doctor, or a surgeon, for one of those highly specific tests to see what’s really going on.

The take home point is this: If you currently suffer from on and off back pain, have tried every treatment you can think of, and are just tired of it because it really hurts – I completely understand why back surgery would be an attractive option for you right now.

But please consider the facts and research first before you make the decision to go under the knife. Back surgery has its risks, and there is no going back from the unimaginable happening. If you have back pain that you’re ready to solve for good — sign up for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session with one of our specialists today! 

 

Stressed out? Tips to Keep the Holiday Season Happy and Healthy

It’s the middle of December, which means we’re in full holiday swing. Although this is meant to be a time of celebration and joy, many people I speak with just can’t seem to avoid the stress. And it’s not just because we also happen to be dealing with a pandemic… although that’s definitely not helping! Unfortunately, stress levels tend to increase around this time every year. In our office, the phone is ringing off the hook right now from people tweaking their necks and backs. Why? Well, stress! Stress makes us move faster than we are inclined to — or slower than we’re inclined to — and it puts our nervous systems on high alert (otherwise known as “fight or flight”).  It’s a recipe for both mental AND musculoskeletal aches and pains. But the good news is that it’s not as difficult as you think to combat stress and give yourself the happy and healthy holiday season you deserve.

Here are my favorite ways to combat stress any time of year, not just during the holidays or a pandemic:

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 cumulative 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 you’re stressed out. Your sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic nervous systems work together in opposition, and can’t both be in charge at the same time. So when you consciously practice gratitude, you actively lower your stress!

 

3. Move!

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 the 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 worlds, triggers of stress are not as obvious as a lion trying to eat us and tend to be more unassuming and cumulative. The end of the stress cycle is not always clear and can just keep going. Therefore, purposeful movement can help to decrease stress by physiologically ending your natural fight or flight response! Something as simple as walking can do this for you. But even jumping jacks or dancing in your living room can feel good and get your heart rate up enough to do the trick.  

I hope these tips help you feel confident that it is indeed possible to combat any kind of stress you might be feeling right now. Stress is normal, but dealing with it longer than you should doesn’t have to be. And if you’re experiencing any kind of back, knee, hip, or neck pain that is adding to your stress – check out our FREE, expert-authored guides to dealing with all types of pain. Each guide is sent directly to your email inbox so you can reference them at any time! 

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!

Five Ways Adding Pilates to your Life will Enhance your Fitness.

Pilates has been around for about 100 years, and it still amazes me how many people have NOT heard of this incredible exercise method. It was first created by Joseph Pilates and initially gained popularity among the dance community as a way to recover from and prevent injuries. But you don’t have to be a dancer to practice Pilates — or enjoy the benefits. 

We’ve been incorporating Pilates into our physical therapy practice for the last 10 years and it’s been transformational for both our clients AND our practice.

Pilates is a full body strengthening system that emphasizes breath, precision, coordination, and core strength. It helps our clients connect to their bodies in a way that they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional strengthening methods. Most of my clients are well into their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and they love Pilates because it helps them have more energy, better balance, improved strength, and more mobility. It allows them to participate in all the activities they love with more ease, and most importantly, significantly decreases their risk for injury.

Here are five reasons why I personally love adding Pilates to any fitness routine, and why you should consider adding it to yours too!

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb. We specialize in back pain, so see a lot of folks with this problem in our office. They’ve often worked with traditional physical therapists or chiropractors in the past to successfully get rid of back pain in the short term, but it keeps coming back. And our clients want it gone for the long-term. A regular practice of Pilates is a safe and sustainable way to help keep your back pain-free. It focuses on core strength but is also a well-balanced exercise system. Full body strength and balance is a critical component for life-long back health, and it is not always addressed in traditional back rehabilitation programs or treatments.

2. Pilates strengthens your whole body, not just your core.

One of the keys to truly enhancing your fitness is what I call “balanced strength.” That’s when each part of your body works together to produce the right amount of force, at the right time, to do your favorite activity in the most efficient way possible. Efficiency means you’ll be able to do it for longer and with more ease. We see lots of strong people in our office, and they can’t understand why they’re in pain. It’s entirely possible to be “strong,” but still have certain muscles working harder than others. This creates an imbalance, which eventually leads to problems. Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated, which helps promote balanced strength throughout your body and leads to fewer injuries over time.

3. Pilates helps you get more flexible and mobile.

Do you stretch your hamstrings every single day and get frustrated because they’re still tight? It’s probably because you’re not stretching the right way. What I love about Pilates is that it stretches your body in a dynamic way – with movement – so that muscles lengthen the right way. The days of statically holding a stretch for 30 seconds are long gone. Plus, mobility is extremely important for strength. Muscles work better when your joints move fully and freely. “Mobility before stability” is a phrase you hear daily in our office. And Pilates is a great way to get your joints and muscles mobile while ALSO promoting stability.

4. Pilates puts minimal stress on your joints.

Aging is a real thing, and along with it comes arthritis. The key to combating arthritis is optimizing the area around the affected joint or joints. When you have good mobility, and balanced strength, you have less compressive forces around your joints.  Arthritis doesn’t like compressed, crowded joints. So when you strengthen and stretch your whole body in a good, balanced way – arthritis becomes less painful and stiff. Pilates helps with all this and doesn’t cause any added stress on your joints. There’s a good reason you see lots of folks in their 60’s and 70’s enjoying our classes.

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Huh? Is that even a thing? Yes it is – and it’s almost ALWAYS the missing link for people who feel stuck, or can’t seem to get beyond a certain point in their fitness. It can also be the reason why an activity you’ve been doing “for years” suddenly becomes problematic or painful. If you don’t train your nervous system, it gets lazy, and compensations will develop in your body. Compensations lead to problems when unchecked. Since Pilates is a mind-body exercise, it helps to keep the communication between your brain and your muscles fresh. Pilates emphasizes precise and coordinated movements, which enhance and reinforces this connection.  In other words, your nervous system can’t get lazy when you do Pilates!

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your fitness or rehab routine — what are you waiting for?

As a specialist physical therapist it’s my go-to exercise system for folks over 40 and my favorite way to help people keep their back pain gone.  We’re actually re-launching our signature 8 week program, Pilates 101, on Sept 29th! Pilates 101 is completely dedicated to folks who are new to Pilates, or who have back pain and want to learn how to develop a safe core-strengthening routine. If you want more information, just click here!