Common Golf Injuries and How to Avoid Them

Golf season is officially here in New England. And there is nothing worse than an unexpected injury ruining your season.

Just this week, we’ve had some of our regular clients requesting extra “tune-up” sessions — just to make sure their body is ready for golf. After working with us for a while, they know that preventing injuries is far easier than rehabilitating injuries. And the last thing they want is for any kind of pain or injury to get in the way of what can often be a very short golf season around here.

With that said, I thought I’d go over with you some of the most common golf injuries we see and how to avoid them.

Elbow Tendonitis

Tendonitis is characterized as the painful inflammation of a tendon. It’s caused by repetitive movements that overload the tendon, eventually causing it to feel strained and overworked. When it occurs on the inside of your elbow, which is something that happens a lot with golfers, it’s called “golfer’s elbow.” The treatment is ice and rest initially (which means you don’t get to play golf for a while) followed by progressive and proper loading of the tendon to get it back to a healthy state. This whole process, if done properly, takes time… and it can certainly ruin your golf season if it’s not caught early.

What causes elbow tendonitis? We know that technically, it’s inflammation of tendons in your elbow. But what leads to that in the first place? Often weakness in your mid-back and shoulders along with mobility restrictions in your wrists. Your elbow is significantly influenced by what happens above and below it. If your mid-back and shoulder area are weak, the rest of your arm won’t feel supported and your elbow can get overworked. If your wrist is tight and immobile, your elbow will be forced to move more than it should, especially through a golf swing. This will cause extra stress on your tendons and eventually result in tendonitis. The best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure you’ve got adequate mobility in your wrists, and good strength in your mid back and shoulders.

Back Pain

One of the most common ways to hurt your back is with repetitive flexion (bending) and rotation (twisting). Well, what does a round of golf consist of over and over? Repetitive bending and twisting! Every time you swing that golf club, you’re putting your spine through one of its most stressful positions. And if it’s not prepared — it’s going to get injured.

One of the best ways to prepare your spine for a long and healthy golf season is to avoid a lot of sitting and keep it mobile. Sitting for prolonged periods makes your back more susceptible to injury in general, but especially if you’re going to be doing a lot of bending and twisting. Interrupting your sitting frequently during the day is a very easy way to minimize its harmful effects. 

If you lack adequate mobility in your spine, it will feel strained every time you try and swing your club. When you overstress a joint that is stiff, the muscles around it tend to tighten up and spasm in response. It’s important that you take time to optimize and maintain your best spinal mobility for golf season. This will significantly help to decrease the stress that occurs in your spine when you swing in one direction repetitively, and ultimately help you prevent a back injury.

Knee pain

Between walking 18 holes, and the repetitive twisting that happens at your knee when you swing a golf club, there’s the potential for lots of stress (and injury) through your knee joints. If you lack adequate mobility or stability in and around your knees, you’re going to have problems. Much like the elbow, the most common source of knee pain I see in my golfers comes from the joints above and below, and not from the knee itself. To keep your knees mobile and healthy and prevent them from getting overstressed during golf season, it’s important that you take measures to optimize the strength in your core and hips, as well as stability in your feel and ankles. 

The power in your golf swing should come from your hips and core, not from your knees (or back). If they aren’t very strong, your knees will want to try and help, and they are not designed for this. Your knees need to be loose and free during a golf swing. If not, the muscles and ligaments around your knee joint will take on unwanted stress. 

Another cause of unwanted stress to your knee joint is lack of support from your feet and ankles.

Your knees need a stable foundation if they want to bend and twist without stress. If stability below is lacking, your knees will tighten up in an effort to compensate. Moral of the story: make sure you’ve got mobile knees, a strong core and hips, plus stable feet and ankles, so that knee pain doesn’t derail your golf season.

Hopefully these tips help you to understand why golf injuries happen and most importantly, how to prevent them. If you’re feeling stuck and looking for individualized expert help – sign up for a FREE Discovery Session right here. We’re happy to help!

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.

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Five Reasons to Include Pilates in Your Life

Pilates has been around for about 100 years, yet so 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. It’s become very mainstream over the years and for good reason.

I’ve been incorporating Pilates into my physical therapy practice for the last 11 years and it’s been transformational.

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 they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional strengthening methods. Most of my clients are well into their 50’s and 60’s, and they love Pilates because it helps them have more energy, better balance, and improved strength and mobility. It allows them to participate in all the activities they love with more ease – and most importantly – significantly decreases the likelihood of injury.

But not all Pilates classes are created equal. And it’s important you choose your Pilates studio based on what your most important needs are.

Here are five reasons to consider adding Pilates to your life – and things to watch out for when choosing a program:

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb. We see a lot of folks in our office who’ve tried traditional physical therapists or chiropractors, and so many different kinds of core strengthening programs, but still have recurring back pain. They’ve been successful in getting rid of their pain in the short term, but they aren’t able to keep it gone for the long term.

Keeping pain GONE is what we specialize in – and one of the ways we do that is with Pilates. But “general/cookie-cutter” Pilates isn’t always enough.

For example, our Pilates instructors work closely with our PT team and get enhanced training on how to navigate back pain, and we keep our classes small so that we can pay close attention to everyone. If you’re recovering from an injury, or vulnerable to back pain, you’ll want to beware of classes that are overcrowded and not individualized. More than 5-6 people in a class when you’re trying to recover from back pain could be dangerous and increase your likelihood of re-injuring yourself. It’s impossible for your instructor to keep a close eye on you or give you individualized modifications when there are too many people in class.

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

One of the keys to lifelong fitness is what I call “balanced strength.” In other words, each part of your body works together to produce the right amount of force, at the right time. I see lots of “strong” people in my office, but they can’t do the activities they love, because their muscles aren’t working together in the right way at the right time. This can result in compensatory patterns over time – that may predispose you to injury.

Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated. Coordinated strength is essential if you want balanced strength – which will give you the best shot at avoiding injury.

3. Pilates improves your flexibility.

Do you stretch your hamstrings every day but they never seem to improve?

It could be because you’re not stretching the right way – OR – it could be that you shouldn’t be stretching them at all! (Conversation for another day…)

Either way, the great thing about Pilates is that it improves your flexibility in a way that strengthens at the same time. The “old school” way of stretching was to find the most uncomfortable position for your muscle and just hold it for 30 seconds. Research has shown this is not effective in most cases. The best way to stretch is to do it dynamically with movement. In Pilates, you never stop moving, and one of the central concepts to the practice is “lengthening”. Basically, you use the concept of self-induced opposition to strengthen and stretch at the same time – this is how you end up with flexibility that lasts.

4. Pilates minimizes stress on your joints.

Aging is a real thing and along with it comes arthritis. But it’s not a death sentence like most people are led to believe. The key to combating arthritis is maintaining a mobile and well balanced joint. When you optimize everything that surrounds your arthritic joints, your symptoms decrease.

Pilates helps with all this – without causing any additional stress.

Since Pilates is based on the idea of constant opposition – lengthening while strengthening – you end up with a joint that is happy and balanced when you incorporate a regular practice of Pilates into your life. It helps to minimize the impacts of arthritis and even prevent the rate of degeneration.

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Say what? Is this even something I should care about?

Yes it is — and it’s almost ALWAYS a missing link I find for people who’ve been at a certain activity for a really long time, and then suddenly start having pain.

If you don’t train your nervous system, it gets lazy, and compensation patterns develop. When one part of your body is compensating for another, it ultimately leads to imbalance. The right type of Pilates will help with this.

Notice I said “right type.”

If you’re looking to just work out and have fun, then almost any Pilates will do. But if you’re wanting to truly correct your body’s imbalances and train your nervous system, Pilates is still your ticket but it needs to be with a qualified instructor.

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your everyday routine… what are you waiting for!?

It’s my go-to exercise system for folks over the age of 40 and it’s my favorite way to help people keep their back pain gone.

We have a month long FREE Pilates challenge starting Monday March 1st…

Join us! You can sign up by clicking the link right here.

5 Tips for Staying Active and Mobile as you Age

Most of our clients are in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and they want to stay as active as possible as they age. However, as we get older, our bodies do need more care and maintenance to age well and avoid injury. Here are some tips we like to give our clients to help them stay active and mobile, prevent injuries, and continue doing everything they love!

1. Keep Moving

I always tell my clients: “You don’t get stiff because you get old, you get old because you get stiff.”

If you want to stay healthy and mobile, you need to keep moving. One of the biggest questions I hear from folks aged 50+ is what to keep doing or stop doing because of arthritis. Remember, arthritis is normal as you age and it’s rarely a reason to stop doing certain exercises. Research has shown that activities like running, when done consistently and with proper form, can actually prevent knee arthritis! A similar and equally effective exercise is walking. Consistent walks will build up your strength and endurance, something that declines as you age, and it helps your balance and coordination. If you walk outside, you can get some fresh air and Vitamin D, which is highly beneficial for a strong immune system – something we all need right now.

2. Maintain a Healthy Diet

What you eat directly affects your ability to keep moving. If you’re not keeping your bones and heart healthy, you’re not going to be able to exercise! Greens like kale, spinach, and arugula are awesome for your bones. Along with citrus fruits, fish, and nuts, these foods help your bones stay strong and durable, which is a big concern for our clients with osteoporosis.

When it comes to taking care of your heart, your diet can have a huge impact. According to Health magazine, “The risk of a heart attack climbs for men after age 45 and for women after age 55.” So as you enter middle-age, be sure to increase the presence of foods in your diet like unsalted nuts, unprocessed oatmeal, raisins, blueberries, and even dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) to help keep your heart healthy! If you have any comorbidities such as diabetes or kidney problems, be sure to check with your doctor or dietician before making any drastic changes to your diet.

3. Work on your Balance

Balance is one of the first things to go as a person gets older, and it’s one of the most crucial factors in helping you prevent falls and avoid injury. Slips and falls due to poor balance can lead to broken bones and fractures, which can be harder to recover from as you age. But if you’re diligent about exercising with the intention of improving your balance, you can maintain (and even improve) it far into your later years. As already mentioned, activities like walking regularly can help, along with activities such as Tai Chi and Yoga. And now, with everything so accessible via Zoom, you can take advantage of these types of activities right from your living room!

4. Strengthen your core

Having a strong core is beneficial at any age, but especially as you get older. Strong abs, hips and buttocks (all part of your core) help you to sit and stand more upright, prevent back and neck pain, and will help you feel stronger and more confident in just about everything that you do. In our office, our favorite core-strengthening activity is Pilates. We especially love it for folks aged 50+ because it’s easy on your joints and it helps to promote flexibility at the same time. We use specialized machines that are beneficial for folks recovering from an injury, and we’ve got Zoom classes requiring no equipment at all that people can do from home. Yet another reason to love Pilates is that it doesn’t just work your core, but your entire body. You can even do portions of Pilates in standing, which helps your balance and coordination! If you’ve never tried Pilates before, we’d love to help you get started.

5. Educate Yourself

Knowledge is power, and a lack of knowledge is one of the biggest reasons I see people decreasing their activity levels unnecessarily. People think that issues like arthritis, bulging discs, or a torn meniscus are reasons to decrease or cease certain activities altogether. But that’s not necessarily true! Most of the things I just mentioned are normal occurrences as we age, and having them show up on an x-ray or MRI is not a reason to change an activity you’ve been doing successfully for years. Plus, regular movement and exercise actually helps these problems.

If you have pain, that’s a different story. Talk to an expert who can help you figure out what’s going on so that you can quickly get back to your activities and not make your pain any worse. Whatever you do, try to avoid Dr. Google. It can send you down a rabbit hole and not all the advice you read will apply directly to you. If you’re dealing with pain that is keeping you from your favorite activities, reach out to experts like us. We offer a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session just so you can ask questions, get honest answers, and figure out if we’re the right fit for your lifestyle. 

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Tight knots in your muscles? Do’s and Don’ts

At one point or another, or perhaps even this very second, you’ve experienced tight muscle knots somewhere in your body.

They are annoying, nagging, uncomfortable, and quite often painful. The most common area to feel these knots is in your upper traps (the triangle shaped area between your shoulder blades and base of your neck). But other areas of your body that love to get knotted up include your mid and lower back, your hips and butt, the front and sides of your thighs, and the back of your lower legs.

The first thing people think to do when experiencing these tight knots or muscle spasms is to get a massage or try rolling them out with a foam roller. Lately, theraguns seem to be the craze. These devices look like power drills and use percussive therapy to reduce pain and relieve tightness in the affected area. In our office, for really stubborn and painful knots, we use something called dry needling, which is where you take a tiny acupuncture needle and insert it into the tight knot to bring blood flow to the area and release tension.

These are all great options, and for the most part, I put them in the category of “Do’s” when it comes to getting rid of tight muscle knots.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, not so fast. Not all muscle knots are meant to be released.

“Don’t” aggressively release a tight muscle knot until you know why it’s there. 

Sometimes, muscle knots form as a critical compensatory strategy. If released too quickly, they can set off an array of problems. I was just talking to my massage therapist about this, because she’s seen it happen to her own clients. Occasionally, she’ll work her magic to get rid of tight muscle knots only to find the client feels worse after the session. This can happen when the tight knot was there to compensate for a weak muscle elsewhere. 

Let me explain. 

Muscles are connected via highly innervated tissue called fascia. It looks like a spider web and one of its main functions is to connect organs and muscles together. Fascia is still being studied, but one of the theories is that if one muscle group in that fascial line is not doing its job, a different muscle will work extra hard in its place to take up the slack. Eventually, that muscle will get exhausted and tighten up into a knot, because it’s doing more work than it was designed to.

If you release a knot that is “holding the line” together, you’re asking for trouble.

In this example, what I’ve found is that the passive methods of releasing muscles (those I mentioned earlier) aren’t very effective at helping you get rid of the problem. You might actually end up feeling worse or having pain elsewhere. If your tight muscle knot is there to act as a survival mechanism, it’s going to take a more comprehensive and total body approach to resolve it. You’ll need to figure out which muscle or muscles the tight knot is compensating for and address them at the same time you work to release the tight knot. You can keep getting your weekly massage, but you’ve got to pair it up with correctly prescribed exercises.

To summarize, DO figure out why you have a tight muscle knot in the first place.

Is it there because you overworked it in the gym? Maybe you’ve taken on a new project at home that is repetitive in nature? If these are the reasons you’ve got tight knots in your muscles, then DO release them. You’ll likely feel better. And then correct the movement patterns, so the knot doesn’t come back. If you feel worse after releasing the tight knots in your muscles, or the knot keeps coming back, then the problem likely involves more than just that muscle and you need a more comprehensive approach to get rid of it. DON’T continue to release it over and over. If you’re suffering from stubborn knots that won’t go away, get assessed by movement experts like us who can diagnose your problem accurately and help you get rid of your muscle knots for good.

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! 

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!

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!

raking leaves

5 Tips to Avoid Back Pain While Raking Leaves

Fall is officially in full swing here in New England. But as much as we love leaf peeping, leaf raking is turning into a literal pain! As more and more people start their fall clean ups over the next few weeks, we fully expect to be getting more calls and complaints in our office about back pain.

Here are 5 tips (plus a bonus tip!) to help you avoid back pain while raking leaves.

1. Warm up

Crisp, cool fall weather is perfect for walking. Before you start any activity, never mind a repetitive one like raking leaves, it’s a good idea to warm up your body first. Walking is an easy and practical way to get your legs, arms, and spine moving so that your joints feel lubricated and loose ahead of all that yard work.

2. Plan for stretch breaks

The biggest “danger” to your back when it comes to raking leaves is its repetitive nature — specifically the frequent bending of your spine. Our spines were designed to hold us upright, not to bend over and over again in the same direction. One of the simplest ways to protect your back while raking leaves, or any other repetitive activity, is to take quick and frequent rest periods to stretch the opposite way. Stand up tall and stretch backwards. Many of us do this instinctively, but typically not often enough. Best practice is to do this once or twice every 30 min. Your back will thank you.

3. Use your core

You don’t need six-pack abs to prevent back pain while raking leaves, but being mindful of your core can be super beneficial and never hurts. Most back injuries occur when you least expect it… coughing, sneezing, picking something light off the floor. These activities are so mindless and automatic you’re not paying attention to your body or what it’s doing. The same thing can happen when you’re repetitively raking leaves. Each time you pull the rake toward you, think about engaging your abs and bracing your core. This will help keep your spine in a more supported and stable position while bent over. We help people in our office learn to engage and be more mindful of their core all the time. They are surprised at how beneficial this simple tip can be for them with all activities, not just raking leaves.

4. Bend with your knees and hips

After all the raking is done, you’ve got to pick up your leaves. It’s a good idea to be extra mindful of your posture here, especially because you’re more tired and fatigued at this point. The best way to pick anything up (not just leaves) is by squatting and using your legs. The perfect squat starts with your hips. Hinge back at your hips and bring yourself closer to the ground by bending your knees, not your spine. Once you’re in your squat, scoop up the leaves with your arms and use your legs and buttocks to stand upright. Even though the leaves aren’t heavy, this is a good habit to become proficient at. Remember that back pain almost always happens when you’re least expecting it, even picking up something light like a bunch of leaves.

5. Use a leaf blower

This is probably the best way to avoid all the repetitive bending that occurs with traditional leaf raking. However, you still want to be mindful of all the tips I just mentioned. Since it’s hard to stand perfectly upright when you’re blowing leaves, you want to be mindful of your core, take quick stretch breaks, and watch your posture. Holding the leaf blower for prolonged periods can also be quite strenuous on your neck, but all of these tips can help with that too!

Oh – and one more BONUS TIP…

What you do after raking is equally as important as what you do during to help prevent back pain.

One of the biggest mistakes people make after a repetitive or strenuous activity (like raking) is to slump on the couch or recliner and rest. This is one of the worst things you can do to your spine because it’s more pliable and vulnerable after strenuous activity. When you put yourself in a relaxed and sustained bending position – after all that repetitive bending – it can be the icing on the cake. You go to stand up and BOOM – there goes your back. I see it all the time. Do yourself a favor and go for another walk after raking to cool down, and be mindful of the posture you rest in after all that hard work.

To learn more about back pain and how to prevent it, you can download our FREE back pain guide right here! Hopefully these tips give you a few things to think about before you go raking, and most importantly, avoid unwanted back pain so you can enjoy this beautiful fall season.

 

Tight Hip Flexors? When Stretching isn’t Enough…

When it comes to feeling stiff and immobile, tight hip flexors are the second most common complaint I hear – right after tight hamstrings.

Tight hip flexors are annoying, achy, and they often contribute to lower back pain. When your hips are tight, it can be painful or uncomfortable to walk, run, play golf, exercise, and even stand up straight!

Typically, the recommended treatments for this problem include lots of stretching, foam rolling, massage, and myofascial release.

But what if the stretching and all that other stuff doesn’t work?

What if no matter how often you stretch, the tightness just keeps coming back?

Sometimes – actually often – the tightness you feel in your hip flexors (or any other muscle group for that matter) can be due to weakness or overworking of the muscle.

If this is your problem, then no amount of stretching or foam rolling is going to help you.

Stretching and foam rolling will help to temporarily ease the stiffness from an overworking muscle, but it will only be a bandaid until you tackle the root cause.

You need to first identify WHY these muscles are weak or overworking, and THEN figure out the proper exercise and load that will help turn your hip flexors from feeling tight and overworked – to flexible and mobile.

Your hip flexors consist of the muscle group located in the front of your hip in the area of your groin. They are responsible for flexing or bending your thigh up and toward your chest. But they also play a role in stabilizing your pelvis and lower back… and this is where we see a lot of problems and confusion.

The rectus femoris, part of your quadriceps muscle group, and your psoas, part of your deep abdominal muscle group, are the two major hip flexors. Your rectus muscle is the one primarily responsible for lifting your thigh. When you are walking or running, and repetitively flexing your leg, this is the muscle you are using.

Your psoas, on the other hand, is much shorter and actually attaches to your lumbar spine. Because of this, it has more of a stability role. When functioning properly, it will assist in exercises like the crunch or sit up, and it helps to stabilize your pelvis during any of these movements as well as when you are standing upright. Your psoas, abdominals, and glute muscles all have to work together in harmony for you to have good posture.

Let’s talk about the psoas for a moment… because this is where many folks I speak with are misinformed.

The psoas gets blamed for a lot of things – most notably – tilting your pelvis forward and being the cause of low back pain. The theory is that if you stretch, massage, and “release” your psoas muscle – then you will balance out your pelvis and your back pain will disappear.

Sadly – this is rarely the case. Read more