physical therapy

How to Know if You’re Getting Quality Physical Therapy

How to Know if You’re Getting Quality Physical Therapy

I’ve been a Physical Therapist for just over 20 years and I’ve seen a lot of changes in my field over the course of my career. One of the biggest (and saddest) changes I’ve seen is the overcrowding of physical therapy clinics. This has ultimately impacted the quality of care you receive. Reimbursements from insurance companies have gone down. In turn, traditional physical therapy clinics have been forced to increase their volume of patients.

That means you rarely get to spend time with your therapist anymore. And your treatment sessions may consist of repetitive exercise sets that you typically can do at the gym or on your own, and that aren’t all that prescriptive or effective. If you do manage to get some one-on-one time with your therapist – whether it be for hands-on-care or actual consultation about what’s going on with you – it’s often just a quick 20 min.

The rest of the time, your well-meaning therapist is often held hostage to a computer because of all the documentation requirements placed on them (just to get paid and keep their jobs).

The end result… you spend an hour or two at the clinic each week doing “supervised” exercises that may or may not be addressing your problem. As this model of care is becoming more and more standard, it’s impossible for the quality of your treatment not to suffer. Many folks I speak with say that traditional physical therapy is a “waste of time”.

Why bother going when they can do everything on their own at home?

Worse – when traditional PT does fail – what next? Most people go back to their doctors hoping for a different solution. But in most cases – after the perceived “failure” of PT – the logical next step involves unwanted procedures or surgery.

But what if you don’t need that? What if quality physical therapy could have fixed your problem – but you just didn’t know what that looked like?

Herein lies a major problem in the current management of musculoskeletal conditions such as back, neck, knee and ankle pain. It’s important that you understand what quality physical therapy is and isn’t – so that ultimately you can advocate for the best treatment – and not settle for anything less.

Let’s start with what quality physical therapy is not…

It’s not a bunch of general exercises and ultrasound treatments. It shouldn’t consist of you riding a bike for 10 min, lying on a hot pack with e-stim for 15 min, and then getting some generalized massage before they send you off on your way. And most certainly, quality physical therapy does not feel cookie cutter or like a waste of time.

Quality physical therapy treatment – on the other hand – is customized, specific, and obvious.

When you receive quality physical therapy – it’s about so much more than making you feel good and reducing your present symptoms. Of course that’s a happy byproduct. But quality physical therapy treatment should consist of a proper musculoskeletal diagnosis. This will explain to you exactly why you’re having symptoms.

No more guessing games. And spoiler alert – your physical therapist’s diagnosis – when done properly – is often different and far more specific than your doctor’s. From there – you should have a clear plan to eliminate and/or get your pain back to something manageable. In other words, you should feel so good that you never even would have called your doctor or PT in the first place.

But what’s the most important aspect of your treatment?  What distinguishes quality physical therapy from the regular kind? It’s how things work and function when you’re not at physical therapy.

In other words – do you always feel good when you leave only for the pain to come back the next day?

You should leave every visit with a crystal clear path forward.

It’s critical that you know how to keep your pain gone after your physical therapy is finished as well as prevent it from coming back. Generalized, non-prescriptive exercises won’t be enough to accomplish this. You need very specific and purposeful treatment – and in a nutshell – that’s what quality physical therapy looks like. And you know what – it works.

When done correctly – 80% of all musculoskeletal problems can be resolved naturally and without procedures or surgery – even without pain pills for that matter. I love my chosen field and I continue to have faith in my colleagues. Quality physical therapy does still exist – you just may have to go hunting for it.

Sadly, the insurance-based model of physical therapy reimbursement has made it harder to deliver quality physical therapy for clinics. You may need to be prepared to pay out of pocket for some or all of your treatment in order to receive the quality physical therapy you deserve.

It’s worth the extra cost. Especially when you consider the alternative and risk of a failed procedure or surgery. That can have a much bigger “cost” at the end of the day.

Trust me – I’ve seen it.

Are you local to Portsmouth, NH?

If you’re dealing with pain – book a Free Discovery Visit with one of my Specialists. We will ask you what’s been going on -and determine if we would be the right fit to work with you.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, or request a free copy of one of her guides to back, neck, knee, or shoulder pain, email her at [email protected].

Medicare

Medicare cuts coming in Jan. Why you should pay attention.

On Nov 1st, the Federal government issued a final ruling that’s going to result in Medicare cuts of 4.5%. In an already dysfunctional and overcrowded healthcare system – this is going to be a problem for you (the consumer) – and here’s why

Healthcare is ultimately a business. And its goal is to make a profit. Revenue and profit come from things like procedures, tests, images, and surgery – not from disease prevention and keeping people healthy.

What does that mean for you?

It means health care specialities such as orthopedic surgery, neurology, and gastroenterology (for example) – those that are procedurally-driven – generate higher revenues and get paid more for their services.

On the flip side – disciplines like primary care physicians, rehab therapies (like physical therapy), and endocrinologists (those that manage chronic conditions like diabetes and osteoporosis) – get paid less.

The consequence is that the disciplines who actually need more time with you- so they can get to know you and your lifestyle – because that’s what is required to give you a good strategy for disease and injury prevention- are forced to do more work for less.

Eventually, something has to give…

Family medicine doctors have to see patients every 10 minutes and that’s if you can even get in to see them in a timely fashion. Physical therapists have to see multiple patients per hour, resulting in 12-16 patients per day.

These caseloads and demands are not supportive of a health care practitioner truly getting to know you as a person, what your concerns are, or what your particular lifestyle and burdens are. (A recent commentary by Shirlene Obuobi, MD in the Washington Post illustrates this dilemma quite well.)

These are all critically important factors if you want to get effective treatment and advice that’s going to match your needs and deliver the outcome you want.

The consequence is sub-par preventative care. And you risk unnecessarily getting shuffled off to the “specialist” who uses fancy tests and procedures (instead of getting to know you and asking questions) to make (often costly) decisions about your health.

Now, my intention here is not to paint specialists who use procedures and tests as their norm of examination as the “bad guys”.

The problem is you, the patient, is getting pawned off on them too soon because the people who are meant to protect you and help you defend against disease and injury are getting crushed (and not valued) by the health insurance companies.

Medicare tends to be the leader and everyone else follows suit. If these 2023 cuts go through, commercial insurers will be next.

So what can you do?

First, you must do everything in your power to become educated about health and wellness so you can prevent disease and injuries on your own.

This may require hiring certain, key, preventative health care professionals to guide you – such as getting your own dietician, your own physical therapist, and your own mental health professional. Ironically, we already do this without even thinking about it when it comes to our dental care.

Why wouldn’t we want to do this with other aspects – like digestive, mental, and musculoskeletal health?

Health insurance companies add red-tape when it comes to accessing these services – such as requiring a referral – which our already overburdened primary care physicians don’t have time to give. This leads me to my second recommendation… start thinking outside the box and be willing and able to invest in the health care you both desire and need.

Believe it or not, going outside of your health insurance and paying out of pocket for preventative health care services is not as expensive as you may think and your options open up exponentially. Especially if you budget and plan for it. At some point, it’s not going to be in your favor to rely on your health insurance to fund all your healthcare needs anymore – because it’s clear they’re not interested. Instead, look at your finances and start budgeting.

One of the best ways to do this is to open up a health savings account. If your health plan doesn’t allow for that, then open up a separate savings account to save on your own. More and more practitioners are ditching insurance – if not leaving their respective professions altogether. If you want to stay out of the hospital or big corporate health care systems and see someone private who has the time to care about you – you’ll need to be prepared to pay. Personally, I believe this is the way to go but I understand it’s not for everyone.

However, with some planning and foresight, it could be.

While I hope things do eventually change for the long-term – I believe that staying educated, taking some control over the administration and funding of your health care in the short term, is a far better alternative than heading to Washington and fighting Congress on your own.

Are you local to Portsmouth, NH? CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Session with us – we’ll ask you what’s been going on – and see if we’re the right fit to help you.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, or request a free copy of one of her guides to back, neck, knee, or shoulder pain, email her at [email protected].

How Stress Leads to Pain

How Stress Leads to Pain

How Stress Leads to Pain

People are dealing with more stress than ever 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.

Stress impacts everything from your gut, to your immune system, to your mental health, to your musculoskeletal system.

When it comes to musculoskeletal pain – common areas in your body that easily get impacted include your shoulders, jaw, head, and lower back.

Stress is your human response to physical, emotional, or mental changes in your body or living environment.

According to internal medicine physician Richard Lang, MD, PhD from the Cleveland Clinic: “Stress doesn’t necessarily cause certain conditions, but it can make the symptoms of those conditions worse.” And it’s easy to fall into a vicious cycle – whereas your physical symptoms worsen – your stress increases – and so on and so on. 

We know without a doubt that stress impacts our bodies – but exactly how or why this happens is an interesting phenomenon that is still being researched.

But for now – here are some of the working theories on how stress leads to physical 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 any type of stress, our muscles react based on how we’ve taught them. If you grew up learning to bury emotions and tension somewhere in your body as a response to stress, it’s easy to continue that pattern into adulthood.

Trauma

When we think of trauma – we often associate it with one big event or injury – such as an accident, major fall, or perhaps a violent crime or incident. This type of trauma typically results in obvious physical damage such as broken bones, bruises, or soft tissue and organ injuries. But trauma can also be more emotional in nature and less obvious. Emotional “micro-traumas” typically occur over the course of a lifetime and go unrealized for years. And regardless of the type of trauma or its perceived severity, your body reacts and “remembers” the emotional impact. But these memories are rarely conscious. Similar to what happens with social conditioning, if you’re faced with a stressful situation later in life that reminds your brain of a previous trauma, your body may still react like it did when the actual trauma occurred, except you won’t consciously know it.

For some folks, until they’re able to associate their physical symptoms with the deep, often emotional trauma that happened much earlier in life, they may continue to suffer or worse, resort to lifelong medications to manage their pain. If you’ve suffered from chronic pain and been told there is no “logical” evidence or reason for it, it’s possible it could be related to undiagnosed trauma. Find a therapist (psychology today is a great resource) who’s been specifically trained in this to help you.

Environmental Stressors and Habits 

Your environment and daily habits can have a huge impact on how your body feels from day to day, and they can also influence both physical and emotional stress. For example, if you’ve been reading my articles for awhile, you know that sitting too much is a number one cause of back and neck pain. Sitting too much could be the result of your job – or stress.

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’ll be less reluctant to exercise or go for a walk. How you set up your environment can play a big role in combating stress at home. If you’re working from home – choose a set up where you can stand at your computer for part of the day and reduce the physical stress that sitting has on your body. Get the TV out of your bedroom so you’re more likely to get a good night’s sleep and less likely to turn the news on first thing in the morning – which can be a source of stress in and of itself. The take home point is that life is hard enough, set yourself up for success by creating an environment that encourages good daily habits.

Regardless of how or why stress impacts your body, there is one thing I know for certain, movement helps.

Start there and see what happens. Regular, every day movement helps you both physically and mentally and I have yet to see any negative consequences from a daily movement or exercise habit. If musculoskeletal pain is currently keeping you from daily movement – then talk to an expert who can help. 

Request to talk to one of my specialists to see if we would be the right fit to help you get out of pain. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery visit with one of my specialists.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, or request a free copy of one of her guides to back, neck, knee, or shoulder pain, email her at [email protected].

Sciatica_Therapy_Portsmouth_NH_2

3 Reasons You Need PT After Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) started to take off in the 1990’s and has since become far more common for spinal conditions such as degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, spinal infections, spondylolisthesis, compression fractures, and spinal tumors.

When you absolutely must have spine surgery (more on that later) – MISS is a far better alternative to open-spine surgery.

You can expect less anesthesia, less blood loss during surgery, reduced risk of infection, less pain after surgery, less pain medication needed, smaller scars, shorter hospital stays, faster recovery time, and quicker return to daily activities and work.

But don’t confuse the term “minimally invasive” with minimal risk.

With MISS – you’re still at risk for many of the same consequences of open-spine surgery should things go wrong. Therefore, you want to make sure you really need spine surgery before you go “under the knife” – even if it’s a tiny one.

Risks of MISS include bad reactions to anesthesia, pneumonia after surgery, blood clots in your legs that could travel to your lungs, infection (although this is significantly minimized with MISS), blood loss during surgery requiring a transfusion, injury to the nerves of your spinal cord that could result in more pain (or even paralysis) than you went in with, and damage to surrounding tissues.

While rare, these are very real risks and they do happen. Risks like this don’t occur with conservative treatment – such as specialized physical therapy.

It’s why I’m a huge advocate of folks not undergoing surgery until all conservative approaches have been exhausted – and/or – you’ve got what we call a progressive neurological deficit occurring (such as quick deterioration in your muscle strength, ability to walk, or ability to control your bowel/bladder).

All that being said – assuming you really do need surgery and will benefit from MISS – you still need physical therapy.

I’m amazed at how many surgeons no longer prescribe rehab after a minimally invasive procedure. Just because recovery time is reduced – doesn’t mean you don’t need a specialist to help you recover properly.

Here are 3 reasons you need PT after minimally invasive spine surgery:

1. Proper scar management

Minimally invasive procedures already do a great job of reducing scar formation because the incisions are smaller and less invasive, but there is still an incision. And the incision with MISS is deep because you have to get to the layers of the spinal nerves, vertebrae, and discs. Because the scars are small, people mistakenly assume they will heal without issue. The truth is they might, but the odds of your scar healing properly are much better with professional scar management. Scar mobilization should begin about 2 wks after MISS.

A specially trained physical therapist will not only help you manage your scar healing, but teach you how to do it on your own as well. You’ll improve blood flow to the area of the incision (which promotes healing), increase soft tissue mobility, and help to reduce any swelling that might form in the area.

2. Restore pre-existing impairments

Odds are pretty good you didn’t end up with spontaneous MISS. You likely had a long road leading to your surgery. It’s critical you go back and address all of the problems that occurred prior to your procedure.

This includes everything from muscle weakness, to poor compensatory movement strategies your body adapted to deal with pain, immobility that occurred either because of pain or to protect you from pain, and residual numbness and/or radiating pain that is still in your legs. MISS might do a great job of quickly getting rid of your back pain, but something led to that pain to begin with.

The absence of pain does not equal the absence of a problem. Now is the perfect time to work with a specialist who will help you not only optimize your recovery from MISS – but make sure the problems/impairments that led you to the operating table to begin with don’t come back.

3. Restore deep core strength

Chronic pain tends to inhibit the ability for muscles to work properly. If you’ve been suffering from back pain for awhile – odds are pretty good your deep core strength is not where it needs to be.

Plus, good core strength is critical for the prevention of future back problems (yes – you can still get back pain after back surgery). Ideally, now that your minimally invasive procedure has either eliminated or significantly reduced your back pain, it’s more critical than ever to work with a specialist who can help you restore your deep core strength. They’ll know how to do it safely and effectively – to not only help you recover from your MISS faster – but keep the original problem from coming back – because it can.

If you’re considering any type of surgery – but especially back surgery – I always advocate getting a second opinion first – even if the procedure is minimally invasive. Eighty percent of the time – back problems can be resolved without surgical procedures.

CLICK HERE to get a second opinion from one of my specialists.

If you truly want to avoid surgery – and we think we can help you do that – we’ll let you know and get you scheduled with us as quickly as possible.

However, if you’ve recently undergone MISS, ask your doctor to refer you to physical therapy. Many surgeons won’t. It’s going to help you recover optimally and faster – and will set you up for the best possible future success when it comes to back problems.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, or request a free copy of her guide to back pain, email her at [email protected] or call 603-605-0402

Physical Therapist

Piriformis syndrome and Sciatica – PT not working?

I recently polled my readers regarding their most important concerns when it comes to their musculoskeletal health. In other words, what questions were they desperately seeking answers for related to back, neck, knee, hip, shoulder, or ankle pain?

Here is a great question I received from John:

“I’m getting Physical Therapy for lower back pain and sciatica that is said to be from my piriformis. My PT treatment has consisted of various exercises and some massage. Eight sessions in and no change at all. I’m still having pain when sitting or walking a distance. What now?  Do I need an Ultrasound or MRI to see if there is any damage or tear to my piriformis?”

First, John, I’m so sorry to hear you’re still having pain and not seeing any change after a good amount of physical therapy. When it comes to back pain and sciatica, it’s critical that you receive a thorough mechanical and movement examination by your PT before any treatment begins. This should involve repeated testing and retesting of movement and range of motion to determine:

1) where your pain is coming from and

2) what movement patterns trigger and relieve your symptoms

Without this first critical step, you risk missing the root cause of your pain and treating just symptoms. This type of testing is also essential to determine if physical therapy can even resolve your problem. If your physical therapist simply read the prescription from your doctor and dove into generalized treatment protocols – there’s your first problem right there – and it could explain why after 8 sessions you’re seeing no change in your condition.

In your case, it sounds like the massage is intended to treat your symptoms – perhaps your tight, tender piriformis that is believed to be causing your back pain and sciatica. This is perfectly appropriate, however, it’s important to incorporate targeted, therapeutic movement to make the most of what your manual therapy (massage) just did.

In other words, movement is the real “medicine”. Manual therapy is designed to enhance blood flow to and prepare your soft tissue (muscles and ligaments) to be better equipped to tolerate and perform the movement/exercise that is going to have a long-lasting effect.

If the massage and exercise are not done in a specific and targeted way – they aren’t going to have their intended effect. It’s possible this could be happening to you. If you’re not totally clear on what your exercise is for and what the intended effect is – chances are high your exercises haven’t been prescribed to you properly. If you suspect this to be the case, it’s worth your while to try for a different, perhaps more specialized physical therapist before you go jumping into diagnostic tests that could lead you down a rabbit hole of unnecessary procedures or surgery.

Now, let’s assume for a moment that you did receive targeted and high-quality physical therapy treatment and it’s simply not working. This does happen from time to time – but it should only be approximately 20% of the time for the majority of musculoskeletal problems such as back pain and sciatica. And in my opinion, it should be caught well before 8 sessions. In my experience, it takes about 5-6 (quality) PT sessions to figure out if a problem can be resolved with movement and natural means. If not, then a referral to another specialty is necessary.

Are you there yet? I can’t be certain.

But to answer your question about whether or not you need an MRI or Ultrasound… 

If quality, targeted physical therapy has been truly exhausted then yes – either of these diagnostic tests would be the next step in providing valuable information as to what more might be going on.

Ultrasound is a non-invasive diagnostic tool designed to visualize both organs and soft tissue. It could be a good option for examining your piriformis if you are certain that is where your problem is coming from. But piriformis syndrome only accounts for about 30% of all sciatica cases. And typically a tear in your piriformis will not cause pain to radiate down your leg. Most of the time, sciatica is caused by nerve impingement occuring in your lumbar spine (low back). If conservative treatment, like physical therapy, has been fully explored – an MRI could be helpful to see how badly a nerve is being pinched or irritated and whether or not a procedure or surgery is warranted. But in general, the research has shown time and time again that spine surgery is really only successful when you’ve got serious and progressive neurological deficits and symptoms.

In other words, you might have symptoms like foot drop, and your leg is getting weaker and numb by the minute. Otherwise, physical therapy – although it may be slower to work – has equal if not better results compared to surgery and it’s a lot safer.

The caveat, however, is you need to find a good physical therapist.

I hope this helps answer your question. Most importantly – don’t give up hope!

For the next few months I’ll be answering questions like these each week in my articles. If you’ve got your own questions regarding musculoskeletal aches or pains that you want answers for, reach out via the information below.

Local to Portsmouth and feeling frustrated with your current physical therapy treatment just like John?

Reach out – we’d be happy to provide a second opinion. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery call with one of my specialists.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To request a free copy of her guide to back pain CLICK HERE or to get in touch, email her at [email protected].

Common Golf Injuries and How to Avoid Them

Most golfers I know won’t let anything stop them from being out on the course – especially here in New England where the golf season is not very long.

But let’s face it, when something hurts, playing 9-holes is just not as fun.

Jack Nicklaus had it right when he said, “Professional golfers condition to play golf; amateur golfers play golf to condition.” That explains why 62 percent of amateurs will sustain a significant golf injury, typically because they’re out of shape, have poor swing mechanics, or don’t adequately warm up.

Here are three common golf injuries and things you can do 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 understand why golf injuries happen and most importantly, how to prevent them. If you’re feeling stuck and looking for individualized expert help – request a FREE Discovery Session. We look forward to speaking with you!

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

Tips to Fix Morning Back Pain

Morning Back Pain? Things you can do.

One of the most common complaints from chronic back pain sufferers is back pain first thing in the morning.

For some folks it rears its ugly head on occasion and appears out of nowhere – as if they’ve thrown their back out. For others it’s like ground-hog-day – they go to bed feeling great but wake up every morning feeling stiff and achy. 

Why does this happen? Shouldn’t your back feel better after a good night’s sleep?

Back pain impacts people in different ways. Both the location of your pain as well as the time of day you feel your worst can be indicators of where your back pain is coming from and what’s going on.

Some of the most common causes of morning back pain include:

  1. Poor sleeping position
  2. A crappy mattress
  3. Bulging discs

Let’s go through each one and talk about tips to help morning back pain.

1. Poor sleeping position

The sleeping position that aggravates you is going to depend on the underlying cause of your back pain. Sometimes sleeping on your back with legs elevated is what makes your back feel worse in the morning – even if it feels amazing while you’re in this position.  For others, sleeping on their stomach is the thing that wreaks havoc on their spine. 

The most back-friendly position is to sleep on your side. Side-sleeping allows you to put your spine in a neutral position – which is where you get in the least amount of trouble.

It’s really challenging to achieve a neutral spine when you’re on your back or stomach.  If it bothers your hips or shoulders to sleep on your side – I recommend placing a pillow under your waist as well as your head – and if needed – also one between your thighs.

2. A Crappy Mattress

Over the course of my career, I’ve probably been asked at least 1000 times what the best mattress is to sleep on. The answer is “it depends”. Your most important concern should be to find a mattress that you feel comfortable on and that gives you the best night’s sleep. This is different for everyone. Some prefer soft and plush, while others prefer firm and supportive.

But here’s the thing – if you don’t have an underlying back problem then the surface you sleep on will be irrelevant. In most cases, I find that when a mattress aggravates your back, it’s a sign that you’ve got a back problem brewing that needs some attention.

That being said – for those that do suffer from generalized, chronic back pain – a firmer, more supportive mattress is going to be your best bet.

3. Bulging Discs

This is the most common reason I see for morning back pain.

Your vertebral disc has three primary functions:

  1. Absorb shock
  2. Help hold the vertebrae of your spine together
  3. Contribute to the mobility in your spine

The interesting thing about vertebral discs is that they are made up primarily of water.

Over the course of a normal day – and over the course of life – your discs will compress and decrease their water content. At night, your disc literally re-hydrates and can gain up to 17-25 mm of height. While this may be beneficial to someone who’s arthritis is to blame for their back pain, it is not beneficial for someone suffering from a bulging disc.

Remember when I mentioned that your disc is partially responsible for mobility in your spine? When you have a building disc – that bulge restricts your mobility. If it fills up with fluid overnight – you’re going to wake up feeling a lot more restricted and in a lot more pain.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix I can reveal for you on this one. The best advice I can give you is that if you’re waking up every morning in a lot of pain and you’re afraid to move – there’s a good chance you’re suffering from bulging discs, and you should see someone who can help you with this.

If you’re waking up every morning with back pain…

then hopefully this information helps you have a better understanding as to why it might be happening. Although a crappy mattress could be the reason, I caution you not to default to that. More often than not, there’s an underlying problem in your back that needs to be addressed.

But the good news is that 80% of the time there is a natural, movement-based solution that can address your back pain successfully without relying on pills or procedures.

Are you experiencing back pain and looking to get help without pills or procedures?

Request to talk to one of my specialists to see if we would be the right fit to help you get out of pain. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery with one of my specialists.

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

 

 

Your Pain’s Location May Not Be Its Source

Tendonitis versus Tendinosis: The Big Difference and Why it Matters

Tendonitis is a term you’re likely familiar with. You’ve probably even suffered from it at some point in your life. It’s an acute, short-term, inflammatory condition typically caused by repetitive overuse of your tendon. Tendinosis, on the other hand, is a chronic, degenerative condition of your tendon. It involves deterioration of collagen, a structural protein in your tendon.  While the two conditions sound very similar, and are often used interchangeably, they couldn’t be more different. And the treatment for each condition should be different too.

Tendons are tight but flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect your muscle to bone.

 

Without tendons, your muscles would be useless. Tendons are extremely organized, and the fibers are designed in a way to withstand and transmit high forces of tension so your muscle can function properly. 

With tendonitis, your tendon becomes inflamed and irritated, typically due to repetitive overuse.

 

Tendonitis causes pain when you try to move. The most common areas for tendonitis to occur are your elbows, rotator cuff (shoulder), patella (knee), and Achilles tendon (ankle). Tendonitis is an acute condition, and the best treatment is to rest, apply ice, and sometimes take anti-inflammatories to control pain. From there, you want to figure out what caused the tendonitis to occur in the first place and address that. Typically, it’s due to some sort of mismatch between muscle strength and the activity you need to perform, leading your body to compensate and put unwanted stress on your tendon. Once you figure out and correct this pattern, it’s very easy to get rid of your tendonitis!

When you don’t manage tendonitis properly, and it goes on longer than a few months, it can result in tendinosis.

 

Tendinosis is a very different condition where the fibers in your tendon actually start to break down. An important thing to note is that tendinosis no longer involves inflammation of your tendon. So using ice every day, resting it, and taking anti-inflammatories will not help you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to people still doing this 6-8 months after an unresolved tendonitis issue. Second, since tendinosis involves disorganization and degeneration of the fibers that make up your tendon, you have to “re-organize” those fibers in order to resolve tendinosis and get your tendon functioning properly again. 

Passive treatments like ice, rest, and medicine will not help tendinosis.

 

They might help to relieve any pain you’re having from overdoing it or undertreating it — but the tendinosis will continue to progress. Unresolved tendinosis leads to progressive weakening of your tendon over time, making it easily susceptible to full blown tears. This is how so many folks tear their Achilles tendon or rotator cuff, for example, “out of nowhere.” Once I speak with them, they often report that over the years they had recurring bouts of tendonitis in that area. In other words, their tendonitis wasn’t managed properly and it led to chronic tendinosis, making them an easy target for a torn tendon.

So how do you treat tendinosis and prevent more serious problems from happening down the line?

 

You have to re-organize those fibers so your tendon can work properly again! Sounds easy, right? Well technically it is, but the biggest problem is that this process takes time, up to 9 months in many cases. And most patients I come across simply don’t have the patience for this… or they simply aren’t told. The other issue is that if you’re expecting an insurance company to cover your treatment, they typically don’t want you in physical therapy for more than 6-12 weeks at a time. This is not long enough to properly treat tendinosis.

The only way to re-organize those tendons is to put stress on them.

 

You have to put just the right amount of stress to cause a little bit of pain, but not so much that your tendon gets inflamed again.  This is literally the one time where “no pain no gain” is actually true. A properly trained physical therapist who is well-versed in tendinosis will know how to do this. You basically have to retrain the fibers to withstand force again – and this process takes time.  The good news, however, is that if you rehab your tendinosis properly, you can get back to all the activities you love as if nothing ever happened!

If you’re confused after reading this, don’t worry – so is half the medical community. The take home points to remember are that tendonitis involves pain and inflammation, there is no damage to your tendon, and it only lasts about 4-6 weeks. Treatment for this should involve passive modalities like ice and rest, and the focus should be on what caused your tendon to get irritated in the first place. 

But if problems in your tendon have gone on longer than 3 months, you must suspect tendinosis, which no longer involves inflammation but instead, a breakdown of your tendon. Passive treatments will NOT work and could actually prolong your problem – so stop icing and resting. Getting rid of tendinosis requires carefully prescribed loading strategies (aka strengthening) that will properly re-organize your tendon so that it can be strong again! This is extremely challenging to do on your own, so it’s a good idea to talk to an expert about this. You can even schedule a FREE Discovery Session with one of our experts today!

 

Hamstrings Always Tight? This Could be Why

If you’ve ever felt tightness in your hamstrings, the typical advice you get from friends, family, and even well-meaning healthcare professionals is to stretch them.

But if even your stretches just aren’t working – what then?

You hear me say this a lot… but if you’re constantly stretching… or even foam rolling a tight or tense muscle… and nothing seems to change… then it’s time to start considering that it might be something else.

I see this scenario ALL the time in our office…

Just recently, a gentleman (we’ll call him “Steve”) came to us with what he thought was a “chronic hamstring strain…”

He had been stretching his hamstrings consistently – but they just weren’t loosening up.

He wanted to know if there were better stretches he could be doing to loosen up the tight, uncomfortable feeling he was experiencing in the back of his thigh every day.

First – it was critical to make certain that Steve’s problem was… in fact… a tight hamstring.

If the chronic tightness in the back of Steve’s thigh was due to a hamstring problem, his stretches really should’ve been having some sort of impact.

Instead, the stretches either did nothing… or made his thigh ache.

Sometimes after stretching a lot – he would “feel” his hamstring for the rest of the day – even when he was just sitting. We checked that he was using proper stretching technique – and he was – so something wasn’t right.

When you’re having a problem with your muscle – and only your muscle – you’ll experience discomfort, tightness, or pain when you’re either using that muscle or stretching that muscle.

Otherwise – you should generally feel perfectly fine.

Muscles are made up of what we call contractile tissue. When you truly strain a muscle, this contractile tissue gets disrupted. You heal it by moving and stretching it – and eventually it goes back to normal. On occasion, people don’t move enough after a muscle strain and the tissue can become chronically tight. But still, you would only experience that tightness when trying to use or stretch the muscle.

This wasn’t the case for Steve.

His pain would, on occasion, linger throughout the day when he was resting or sitting. Sometimes he’d notice hamstring discomfort at night when he was trying to sleep.

Steve was feeling symptoms in his hamstring whether he was using that muscle or not – and his stretches weren’t helping.

This immediately tells me that there was another problem causing his symptoms and it was more than just a tight hamstring. – and when hamstring or thigh tightness doesn’t respond to stretching or exercise – we must always consider the lower back.

Since Steve wasn’t feeling any pain in his lower back – he never considered this himself.

But the key was in how Steve’s pain was behaving…

Your pain behaves in different ways depending on where it’s coming from..

As I mentioned previously, when your muscle is the source, your pain behaves in a very specific and repeatable manner.

But if pain is coming from your spine, it can quite literally be all over the place.

You can feel symptoms in your back, your butt, and your limbs. You’ll have good days and bad days. You’ll feel symptoms at rest, and you can certainly feel tightness in your hamstring – just like Steve.

The other interesting thing about problems that originate from the spine is that you’ll often be able to trigger your symptoms by moving your spine.

When we investigated Steve’s spine… we found that when he moved a certain way over and over… it would produce his hamstring tightness.

Bingo!

This explains why Steve’s hamstring stretches were doing absolutely nothing… He was stretching his thigh when he really needed to stretch his back.

Does Steve’s story resonate with you?

If you’re feeling chronic tightness or pain in your hamstring that just isn’t going away – chances are good that you’re missing something.

Do yourself a favor… DON’T check YouTube or “Dr. Google” for advice…

Talk to one of our experts instead.

Best way to do that is request a FREE Discovery Session.

We’ll talk to you about the symptoms in your hamstring and let you know if stretching is enough… or if you need something more!

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

 

Three Reasons Your Physical Therapy Didn’t Work

Have you been to physical therapy once, twice, maybe even three times for the same thing… and now you’re left wondering why it didn’t work?

Or perhaps you went to physical therapy and it “worked,” but you have to do about 10 exercises per day that if you miss… even once… the pain comes right back. (hint – that means it didn’t actually work.)

This is sadly an all too common occurrence in this profession. However, if you’ve already had the chance to work with us, then you know we are a specialty practice.

But here are three reasons why your treatment in a regular physical therapy clinic might not have worked for you…

For physical therapy to be successful – it MUST start with a full and thorough musculoskeletal examination. But for varying reasons, this isn’t always possible.

The problem in most traditional physical therapy settings is that physical therapists are sometimes restricted with what they can and can’t do. Sometimes the restriction comes from an insurance company, and sometimes they are simply overworked.

If a doctor sends you for knee pain, your PT may only be able to look at and treat your knee. They are “administratively” prevented from giving you the full and thorough examination that you need.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen knee pain being caused by someone’s spine. If I wasn’t able to look at and treat that area, I’d have missed it!

Other times PT’s have too many patients at once, and are forced to take short cuts. This could cause them to miss important details. I’ve been at this for 20 years, and in my opinion, the perfect physical therapy evaluation should consist of three major components: the interview, the examination, and the plan.

Your therapist should be asking you a lot of questions to find out how your pain is impacting you. They should do a lot of movement testing (not just poke you) to confirm why you’re having pain. And lastly, they should clearly explain to you why your pain is behaving the way it is and have a solid plan to solve it – one that is NOT dictated by your insurance company.

If your PT evaluation didn’t look like this, or your therapist was rushed, chances are something got missed.

The second reason I see physical therapy not working for people is because your PT used too many passive modalities.

This includes everything from electrical stimulation, ultrasound, dry needling, Graston technique, traction, laser therapy, and even manual therapy. We call these treatments “passive” because they are done to you.

There is a time and place for these things. But generally speaking, they should only be used to address very specific pain and impairments that are preventing you from moving in a way that is going to produce the real healing.

For example… let’s say you’ve got a tight knot in your upper trap that is giving you neck pain. There are some fabulous modalities like dry needling and massage that will quickly get rid of your pain, but a few days later, the pain will come back…

That’s because the tight knot is the symptom.

The underlying cause of this recurring tight knot is what’s essential to figure out and address.

If all your therapist does is treat the symptom with passive modalities that feel good, your therapy isn’t going to work and you’ll continue to suffer.

The last reason I see physical therapy not working is because there are just too many different exercises being assigned.

Physical therapists LOVE to give homework, but sometimes that homework can turn into two or three pages of exercises.

This is rarely necessary. And the chances of anyone doing all of these exercises every day is highly unlikely.

My firm belief is that your physical therapist should be working on highly specific problems with highly specific exercises. I refer to these as corrective exercises. You typically should only have 3-5 to do at any given time. These corrective exercises should compliment what you are doing in your session, and be designed to specifically address pain, and/or a very specific impairment or weakness.

They should NOT be generalized or cookie cutter – and you should absolutely have a very good understanding of why you are doing them and what they are designed to accomplish.

Ok… so now that you know what quality physical therapy should look like…

If you’re NOT getting it… it might explain why it “didn’t work”.

Sadly, insurance puts a lot of limitations on what physical therapists can and can’t do, which is why a lot of people are starting to move away from using their insurance all together. They know they can get better quality care, and have their problem resolved completely, by paying out of pocket to an office that isn’t tied behind red tape.

Plus, while it might seem cost prohibitive at first, it’s A LOT better than the costly alternative of unnecessary surgery or injections.

Remember that physical therapists are movement experts.

If you’re only doing cookie cutter exercises, riding the bike for 10 min, or just lying on the table every session – you’re not spending adequate time restoring full mobility and quality of movement.

Your physical therapy probably won’t work, and it certainly won’t give you the lasting results you’re looking for.

If this experience is sounding all too familiar – consider working with a practice like ours. We’re not restricted by the red tape and we care about doing things the right way, even if that means more work on our end.

Curious? Talk to one of our specialists for free!

You can do that by Requesting a Free Discovery Session right HERE!