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

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!

 

 

Why Back Pain Keeps People from Exercising

Did you know that eighty percent of the population suffers from what we call “non-specific low back pain” (NSLBP)?

You might have NSLBP if your back pain:

  • is often chronic
  • comes out of nowhere
  • comes and goes (you have good days and bad days)
  • is not due to a recent or major accident or fall

If you’re reading this right now, odds are very good that YOU are one of the 80% suffering from NSLBP.

Did you also know that research says exercise is the BEST treatment for this type of back pain?

But what do you do if back pain keeps you from doing the one thing that is best for you??

We have an 8-week program designed to tackle this very important problem… but before I get into that, let’s go over some reasons why back pain keeps so many people like you from exercising.

1. FEAR

Back pain is scary! This is the number one reason back pain sufferers don’t exercise. Is the pain you’re feeling good or bad? Should you be feeling any pain at all? Pain is confusing. And when you experience pain during exercise, it can be difficult to know if it’s normal or a warning sign. For many, the safest thing to do is avoid any exercise or movement that causes pain. But doing this can lead to a host of other issues, namely, loss of mobility and in-activity. When you become less mobile and active, your back pain gets worse, and now you’re in a vicious cycle.

2. BULGING DISCS

Most people who suffer from long-standing NSLBP pain eventually find themselves getting an MRI. And 60-70% of the time, it will show one or more bulging discs. If you’ve been following me for a while, you already know that most people over the age of 40 walk around with bulging discs – and that 65% of them feel no pain at all! In other words, if you’ve got a bulging disc, you can’t be certain it’s the cause of your back pain. Research proves this. And being told you’ve got a bulging disc is NOT a reason to avoid exercise. Movement is actually one of the best things you can do for a bulging disc. It may require some customization of your current exercise routine, but a movement specialist can help you with this. Don’t just stop or avoid exercise altogether without talking to one first.

3. YOU WERE TOLD TO REST

Well-meaning doctors and family members who aren’t up to date on the latest back pain research will advise you to rest every time you experience back pain. This might be reasonable advice when you’re dealing with an acute episode of back pain, but it’s terrible advice for chronic back pain sufferers. Rest is one of the worst things someone with chronic back pain can do. Since most people don’t have a thorough understanding of this concept, they find themselves in a yo-yo effect. They rest to “heal” their back pain. When it’s gone they return to exercise. When they hurt their back again they stop and return to rest… I’ve seen so many people fall victim to this perpetuating cycle and it’s a big reason why so many back pain sufferers find themselves with the NEXT problem on this list…

4. YOU’VE GOT A “BAD BACK”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this one and it makes me want to scream! First off, there is no such thing as a “bad back”. There are backs with problems, and there are backs more sensitive to pain than others, but there is no reason to believe your back is inherently “bad” or that you should stop exercising. Not exercising causes almost all back problems to become worse, but it can also turn a “bad back” into a strong and healthy one! For most people, once you get the right guidance, you can quickly find yourself safely and confidently exercising again.

5. INEFFECTIVE CORE STRENGTHENING

Interestingly enough the research on this topic is quite scattered. Much of the research says that targeted core work doesn’t have any added benefit compared to general exercise when it comes to reducing back pain. What the research doesn’t tell you is that your core strength can make or break how well you exercise. If you don’t exercise with good proper form, you’ll end up with back pain. Learning how to properly strengthen your core has a HUGE impact on your ability to exercise in a way that will not cause your back to hurt. I meet a lot of folks who start doing “core exercises” to get their abs stronger and reduce back pain, but they end up hurting their backs instead. That’s because there is a right and a wrong way to properly strengthen your core, especially if you’re prone to back problems.

On Sunday, September 6th, we’re opening enrollment to our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health™ program.

You MUST apply to join this program.

Click here to learn more.

Since this program fills up every time we offer it, we typically give the folks on our VIP waiting list an opportunity to sign up first.

Plus… when you sign up early, you can save up to $200 off the program!

If you’re suffering from NSLBP and you’ve stopped exercising, know that you’re not alone.

This is such a confusing topic and there are so many mixed messages out there about what the “right” and “wrong” thing to do is.

Don’t try to go at it alone!

Exercise is GOOD for your back, but you may just need a little help and guidance — and perhaps proper core strengthening — to get you there.

Should You Heat or Ice an Injury?

Earlier this week, we put on a free Zoom workshop all about preventing and overcoming knee pain – and one of the questions that came up was if you should apply heat or ice when something is hurting. This is a VERY common question in our office, so we wanted to share the same advice we give to clients right here!

When to apply ice:

Generally speaking, the best time to apply ice is within 24 to 48 hours immediately following an injury. Application of ice during this stage has been shown to reduce the formation of edema and “secondary injury.” After that, it really becomes a personal choice. If you’re in pain, and ice makes you feel better, go for it! Some research has claimed that icing an injury after 48 hours is “bad” for you. But if you really dig into the research, it’s inconclusive on this topic. What I tell my clients is that if something feels irritated or inflamed – go for ice. It’s a much better and more natural alternative to pain pills!

When to apply heat:

Once you’re into the chronic stages of injury or pain, I’m generally a fan of heat. But the term “heat” is relative – and doesn’t necessarily refer to the application of a heating pad only. In fact, research has shown that heating pads are not able to penetrate deeply enough to actually have an effect on the injured muscle or soft tissue. But it does feel good… which can be beneficial in and of itself because when you “feel” better – your nervous system relaxes. If the superficial heat can relax the nervous system enough so that you can actually tolerate the movements or exercises that WILL actually heal you – then I can see a benefit.

The BEST way to provide “heat” as a way to promote healing to an injury is through movement – but you need the right prescription. The mistakes I often see, especially around 2-4 weeks post injury, is that people aren’t moving enough (if at all), or they are overloading the tissue and moving too much.

Movement truly is medicine, and it’s one of the best and most natural ways to properly heal from an injury – but you MUST get the prescription right.

So there you have it. You can’t really go wrong with either modality. The general rule is that if it’s an acute injury – ice up to 48 hours. For anything else, we typically recommend heat.

If you’re presently healing from an injury and not satisfied with your progress – perhaps you’re just missing the correct prescription. If you’re wondering what that magical movement is, or you’re wondering if the current movement you’re doing is safe, get in touch!

Speaking of movement as a way to heal…

Our Pilates 101: Get Your Back to Health is back!

This is our signature program and it’s designed to help those dealing with lingering back problems learn to move and heal the RIGHT way – from the inside out with proper core strengthening. It’s also ideal for those that had recent back surgery and you’ve already been through your initial stages of general physical therapy.

Interested in learning more or getting on the VIP waitlist for the program? Click here!

4 Tips to Save your Neck and Back During Summer Road Trips

Now that summer is in full swing, but a lot of people don’t feel comfortable flying, many of us are planning road trips for those special summer getaways! It’s always fun to hit the road and explore a new place — but first, let me help you out with some tips to save your neck and back…

(For more tips – check out our Free Guides section on our website and also join us for our next virtual workshop all about neck and shoulder pain!)

Tip #1: Interrupt your sitting

The biggest strain on your body while traveling is undoubtedly the prolonged periods of sitting. Our bodies are made to move continuously throughout the day. Too much sitting puts extra load and compression on your spine, and can trigger an underlying problem you weren’t even aware of.

On road trips, getting out of your seat is critical for keeping your neck and back healthy. Try to plan extra time in your trip to pull over at rest stops and walk around. We recommend interrupting your sitting every 30 minutes for good neck and back health. I understand keeping up with that frequency on a long road trip is difficult, but something is better than nothing! You’ll want to capitalize on your rest stops by moving around instead of sitting.

Tip #2: Use a lumbar pillow

A proper lumbar pillow is not only essential for good lower back alignment while sitting, but also for proper neck alignment. We have natural curves in our spine that are designed to absorb shock and disperse load. When those curves aren’t maintained, especially for prolonged periods, you get abnormal and unwanted forces throughout your spine – resulting in pain and stiffness.

Ever heard of the dreaded “forward head?”

That’s the posture your neck assumes when it needs to compensate for lower back slouching. We sell lumbar pillows in our office, but you can also try making your own by rolling up a towel or sweatshirt. Just make sure the roll is thick enough to maintain the natural curve in your lower back without much effort while you sit. The built-in lumbar supports that come with your car are typically NOT adequate enough.

Tip #3: Adjust your car seat

This is an often overlooked, but important component to achieve healthy posture while driving. Too often, I see folks driving around with seats that are either too far away or too close to their steering wheel. If you’re too close, it will cause you to sit overly straight or upright, resulting in unnecessary strain in your neck and low back. If your seat is too far back, then it will be virtually impossible to maintain the natural curve in your lower spine, even with one of our lumbar pillows. Your arms will need to overreach for the steering wheel, causing strain in your shoulders. And your neck will assume that forward head posture just to remain upright, causing strain to your neck.

You want to make sure your seat is positioned in a way that allows your neck to be easily balanced on top of your spine and pelvis – without much effort. Your elbows should be at an approximate 90 degree angle when your hands are on the steering wheel, and there should be a relaxed 45 degree bend at your knee so that your foot can easily switch from gas to break without you having to constantly flex your thigh. Having your car seat positioned correctly before you take a long drive will significantly decrease the strain on your neck and back.

Tip #4: Use a neck pillow when you sleep

On road trips – we often sleep on mattresses that are less than optimal and certainly not as comfy as our own. Using a neck pillow while you sleep can significantly decrease morning pain and stiffness caused by poor sleeping postures.

Getting a good night’s sleep and not waking up in pain has a lot to do with the position you sleep in.

Just like with sitting, you want your sleeping position to be as balanced as possible. When you sleep on your stomach, your neck has no choice but to stay turned and extended to one side all night. Prolonged poor postures are not great for any joint in your body, but especially those in your neck. Your neck is the most mobile section of your spine which makes it much easier to “kink” if in a poor position. Sleeping on your back is not terrible, and it’s what many people prefer.., but depending on how firm or soft the mattress you’re sleeping on is… it could be difficult to maintain the natural curves in your neck and back while you sleep. If you sleep in a slouched position all night long, you’ll wake up with pain and stiffness.

If you can tolerate it, my favorite position for sleeping is on your side and with a neck pillow. This allows both your neck and low back to stay relaxed and with their natural curves.

To make a neck pillow, use a small towel roll about 3 inches in diameter and stuff it the long way inside the bottom of your pillow case. When you rest your head on the pillow, it acts like a comfy support to maintain good neck alignment while sleeping on your side. We can also order one for you!

Speaking of neck pain, our next online workshop is happening on Tuesday, July 21st from 6-7pm and it’s all about neck and shoulder pain! Join from the comfort of your home — because it’s virtual!

Click here to reserve your seat!

How Stress Leads to Back Pain

There is a lot going on in the world right now. And it’s impacting people in different ways. Many folks I speak with have been experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions — and their bodies are reflecting that. It’s resulting in symptoms such as more headaches, tension in their jaw, neck pain, and more back pain. Holding stress in your body is an interesting phenomenon, and there is still a lot of research to be done as to why exactly this happens.

Here are some of the top theories and reasons why stress can increase back pain.

Social conditioning:

Many of us are taught from a young age that expressing emotions, particularly negative emotions, is “bad” or “unacceptable.” The result is that you may have learned to hold stress inside your body when faced with a stressful situation. Researchers who study this believe that the muscle tension we develop is the result of “unspoken social beliefs” that we adopted as children in order to feel accepted or liked. This pattern carries into adulthood and becomes embedded into our subconscious systems, i.e. our nervous system. Later on, when faced with certain types of stress, our muscles react based on how we’ve taught our nervous system to repress (versus express) and immediately tense up. If you grew up learning to bury emotions and tension in your back, you’ll still feel more back pain as an adult whenever you’re stressed.

Trauma:

Trauma is often thought of as one, big physical event that is typically violent. But you can experience less obvious emotional or “micro-traumas” over the years that go unrealized over the course of your life. Then there is accidental trauma, such as a car accident or terrible fall, that was not deliberately afflicted on you. Regardless of the type of trauma or its perceived severity, the point here is that your body reacted in a certain way when you experienced it, and it “remembers.” Sometimes not right away, and sometimes not until years later, but stressful, emotional events such as what is going on in the world right now can trigger your body to react to trauma all over again. This could result in back pain if that is where your body held or experienced the stress at the time of the trauma.

Environmental Stressors and Habits:

This is something we help people with all the time in our office. Your daily physical and postural habits have a huge impact not only in how your body feels from day to day, but in how well it recovers from pain or injury. If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that sitting too much is one of the number one causes of persistent and chronic back pain. And stress plays a role in this. When you’re stressed, you tend to be less motivated and you may opt for unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as more TV and more couch time. You stay home instead of heading out for a walk or to exercise. This type of behavior, often influenced by stress, can exacerbate and even cause back pain.

Regardless of how or why stress impacts your body or your back pain, there is one thing I know for sure: MOVEMENT HELPS.

But what if your back pain has gotten so bad that now you can’t move, even if you want to? Or just the idea of moving and exercising has you fearful that you could worsen your back pain?

The first step is awareness. Is stress truly the main source of your back pain, is it something else, or is it a combination of the two? Knowing why your back actually hurts in the first place is essential for determining the correct intervention. If your back pain is primarily due to stress, and you’re about to undergo back surgery, that surgery won’t help you. Your back pain will just come back the next time you are stressed.

If you’re looking for help with back pain and are wondering whether or not stress could be the reason you’re feeling more of it right now, sign up for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session with one of our specialists. Many of our clients, after meeting with us for the first time, tell us how relieved they are to find out there is hope for getting rid of their back pain, even if they’ve suffered for years.