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

Pilates Class at CJPT & Pilates

When Gyms Reopen — Will Your Body be Ready?

The state of New Hampshire is slowly reopening, and we are so excited that small-group fitness classes can return to gyms and studios on June 1st! While many businesses, including ours, have adapted by offering online services — most clients we speak with can’t wait to get back in the studio again. 

The big question is — will your body be ready?

If you’ve stuck with your strength and mobility routine and have been working out regularly from home, then you have a better chance than most to bounce right back.

But not everyone has taken advantage of online virtual exercise services, and many I speak with have opted to do nothing and just wait. Many have resorted to more frequent walking, running, or biking as a substitute for their usual exercise routines.

Any physical activity is better than no physical activity, but daily cardio is not the same as strength training. It’s just not going to be enough to get you by if your plan is to jump right back into the same pre-Covid workout routine that you left behind.

It takes months to gain appreciable muscle strength and improve mobility… but it only takes two to three weeks to lose it all.

The biggest mistake that I expect to see once gyms and even our own Pilates studio reopens is that people will assume their body is ready to pick back up exactly where it left off. And within about two to three weeks of that, injuries WILL start to happen.

What can you do?

If you’re not in any pain, but all you’ve been doing is cardio, then it’s a good idea to start incorporating strength and mobility back into your routine now. Your body will be much happier when it gets back into the gym or studio, and you’ll be less likely to experience some kind of injury. My best recommendation is to utilize the online services that your favorite gym or studio already offers — or find a facility that is offering them. In our studio, for example, we have online virtual Pilates classes daily. We guide you through the movements using precise cueing, and watch you while you’re moving. This allows us to give you in the moment corrections and make sure that you’re getting the most out of your workout. While it’s not exactly the same as your instructor being right there next to you, it’s the next best thing.

If you’re already experiencing pain or stiffness, perhaps because you’ve been walking or running more than you’re used to, you’ll want to talk to a movement specialist like us before you jump back into your previous exercise routine.

We know how to screen your muscles and joints properly, and can guide you toward not only getting rid of your pain, but we will also ensure that you’re set up to thrive in your workouts once we’re allowed to reopen again. Another big misconception I see is that people assume their pain will just go away once they start exercising again. While that may be true for some, most of the time it goes the other way, and your pain either gets worse or manifests itself somewhere else because your body starts to compensate for the problem.

I spoke with a gentleman earlier this week who was suffering from knee pain and stiffness because he went from walking 2-3 miles per week to walking 2-3 miles per DAY with his wife. He wants to get back on the golf course, and due to the restrictions on using golf carts, more walking is going to be necessary. His knee won’t be able to handle that in its current state, plus it will get worse if he pushes it. So I’m excited that he took us up on our offer to talk for free about what was going on with his knee. Now we’re going to get him the help he needs!

If you have any questions about pain that you might be experiencing, or want to ask about getting into a Pilates class this June, give us a call!

We are still offering FREE Zoom or in-person consultations to help people figure out what to do about their pain while they are stuck at home or slowly re-entering the world.

How to NOT let Aches and Pains Ruin your New Year’s Goals

It’s that time of year, when we start looking ahead and setting goals for ourselves. It’s especially exciting now because we aren’t only entering a new year – but a new DECADE!

Exercising more and losing weight are the top New Year’s resolutions on everyone’s lists year after year. But what if you’re suffering from back or knee pain?  One of the worst things you can do is ignore pain and assume that by simply exercising more or losing weight, your ailments will just go away. It’s certainly a reasonable expectation, however, I typically see an influx of people calling my office right around March because these aches and pains have not only worsened — but derailed their New Year’s goals completely.

I don’t want to see that happen for you. So here are my top tips to NOT let aches and pains ruin your New Year’s goals:

1. Get assessed by an expert:

 

Your first thought might be to go see your doctor if you’re suffering from something like back or knee pain. But most medical doctors are trained to screen you for problems like broken bones or serious pathologies – not to actually assess your movement. You need to know how your pain behaves during everyday functional movements to truly fix it – and to avoid unnecessary procedures and surgery.  X-rays, MRI’s, or simply moving your limbs around on a treatment table won’t do that… but that is what a medical doctor is trained to do. A specialty physical therapy practice will be able to assess your movement in detail, through various movement tests, which will tell a much better story about how your pain may or may not impact the new exercise or weight loss program you’re about to start. Plus, we’ll be able to give you customized modifications so that you can embark on your new goal while decreasing your risk of injury.

2. Mobility before Stability:

This is a saying you hear me say all the time in my office. Your muscles won’t function at their best if you don’t have optimal joint mobility. In other words, you don’t want to strengthen around a stiff joint, or you’ll encourage compensation. Full and free mobility requires adequate flexibility in your joints as well as your muscles. Most people don’t think – or even know – how to assess their joint mobility. If you’re suffering from chronically stiff joints, you’ll want to get them checked before you start a new exercise program. I recommend seeing a movement expert, like those employed in our office, to make sure you’re ready and able to start on that new exercise program you’re so excited about!

3. Stay Hydrated:

Drinking lots of water has two great benefits. It will give you the extra hydration you need if you’re planning to be more active. And it will help you lose weight by curbing your appetite. Some additional benefits of staying hydrated include increased muscle strength and stamina, more lubrication in your joints, more supple skin, better cardiovascular function, and improved energy and mental alertness. One really easy tip to jumpstart your day and improve your daily hydration intake is to begin with 10 oz of water first thing upon waking. Add a squeeze of lemon for extra vitamin C and supported weight loss.

4. Pace yourself:

It’s very appealing and motivating to go “all in” on your new exercise or weight loss goal and 10x it… and I applaud you for it. But remember, you have 12 months, and really, the rest of your life to accomplish your goal in any way that you see fit. In other words, take pleasure and pat yourself on the back for simply setting a goal. That’s a first step that many don’t even get to. Be proud of yourself for setting an intention and envisioning a better quality of life. To give yourself the best odds of staying on that path, I encourage you to listen to your body and take your time in acclimating to a new exercise program. Don’t fight your body if it’s talking to you.  Our bodies talk to us for a reason. If you need help figuring out what your body is trying to say to you – click here to schedule a FREE Discovery Session with us in Portsmouth. We’re happy to translate for you!

Happy New Year – and Happy New Decade! 

The Snow is Coming… 5 Tips to Avoid Hurting your Back

When you live in New England, there is no doubt that at some point you will HAVE to shovel snow.

There are some pros — like it being a good workout and getting out into the fresh air. But for the most part, this activity is known for its cons — that it’s cold, wet, and quite literally, “back-breaking.”

While I can’t help you with the cold and wet part, I CAN help you learn how to protect your back. Here are some tips that I give to my own patients with regard to shoveling.

  1. Shovel early, and frequently. It might feel nice to sit by your fireplace with a hot cup of cocoa, watching the snowflakes fall, but you’ll regret it later. As you wait, that snow is likely to turn into a heavy, wet mess. It’s best to get out there early, while the snow is still lighter and fluffy, and just shovel in smaller, more frequent chunks. Doing any activity more frequently but for a smaller amount of time — say 20 min — will lessen the amount of stress put on your spine.

 

  1. Use your legs. The last thing we think about when it comes to shoveling is proper form. However, form is critical if you want to protect your back! Our spines were designed to have enough endurance to hold us upright and maintain good posture — NOT to lift heavy things. That’s what our glutes and legs are for! Save your spine by using the power of your legs to lift the snow. Bend your knees, stick your bottom out, and lift that snow with your whole body instead of curving over from your spine. Your legs might be sore from all that squatting, but your spine will thank you.

 

  1. Don’t twist, pivot. Once you lift the snow, you’ve got to throw it away. You want to use your whole body to pivot, not twist. When discarding the snow, many just twist their upper body and rotate from their spine, letting their arms and trunk do all the work. Instead, you want to pivot with your whole body by keeping your pelvis (the front of your hips) facing and in line with the shovel throughout the whole movement. If your shovel and arms have gone one way, and your hips are still pointing forward, you’re twisting instead of pivoting (and that is asking for trouble)!

 

  1. Breathe and use your core. No matter what, make sure you’re breathing! When you hold your breath, your deep abdominals can’t function fully.  Additionally, the extra pressure that builds from holding air inside your abdomen has to go somewhere — like into your spine. Prolonged, extra pressure can push out on your discs and make them more vulnerable, especially in a forward-bent position like shoveling. In a proper breath, your diaphragm pushes the air down, your abdominals stretch out a little, and then naturally recoil back. This automatic recoil allows your abdominals to contract and support your spine. Rule of thumb —make sure you’re always breathing, and exhale for better abdominal support when lifting the snow.

 

  1. Make it easy on yourself. If you absolutely must shovel snow and can’t get someone else to do it for you (my favorite tip!), make it as easy on yourself as possible. You can decrease the repetitive strain on your body by using an ergonomic shovel or snow blower. But remember, even with a snow blower, you still need to use your legs, breathe, and engage your core while maneuvering the machine. Just because you aren’t doing all of the heavy lifting doesn’t mean your back won’t still end up in a vulnerable position.

If you’ve ever hurt your back shoveling snow, and want more information and tips like these, click here for a free copy of the back health guide we give to our very own patients! 

Physical therapy WORKS – Take it From the Ones Who’ve Done it!

Still not sure about PT? Have you heard a lot of conflicting information about what we really do as physical therapists? Do you need relief from an injury or chronic pain but you’ve been told surgery is your only option?

You’re not alone.

So many of our clients have come through our doors for the first time with those same questions. They may have been told over and over again by doctors that their pain or injury isn’t fixable – or if it is, they need extensive surgery and/or drugs. Many have never tried physical therapy before. Some are nervous because they think that it will be painful, and others doubtful that they’re going to learn anything new or helpful. But time and time again, those same individuals end up seeing amazing improvements in strength, mobility, health, and lifestyle. They consistently report how grateful they are to be simply living pain-free or able to participate in their favorite activities again. And we are always so proud of them for putting in the work and being an active participant in their individualized treatment plan!

I could go on and on about the results our awesome clients have seen, but no one says it better than themselves.

When Jeff first came to us he had a shoulder problem that was keeping him from working out at the gym the way he wanted. He’s also a dentist so leaning over his patients all day wasn’t helping. We worked on strategies during the day to help his mobility and then we tackled his stability! He came in and let us know that he was back to his full chest workout and pushups – with zero pain!

David, age 56, suffered from chronic neck and shoulder pain before coming to us for help.

“I couldn’t run more than 2 miles without radiating neck and shoulder pain and I was really uncomfortable at work. Working with CJ Physical Therapy, I learned how to manage my neck without going the surgery route. Now I can run as far as I like without any neck or shoulder pain.”

Another 56 year old, Kathie, took advantage of both our physical therapy and Pilates programs to resolve her shoulder pain.

“Before coming to CJPT & Pilates I was dealing with a shoulder problem that kept me from things like buckling my seat belt, walking the dog, and putting dishes away. I wanted to try something different from the traditional routes I’d tried in the past. Combining physical therapy and Pilates, and working with someone who understood my personal needs, was the difference that gave me my life back.”

Gale, age 65, experienced a positive difference with our practice that she hadn’t received in the physical therapy that was referred to her following a surgery.

“I was dealing with terrible pain and numbness in my arm and wrist after surgery, and there was still no relief after 15 weeks of regular physical therapy. After coming to therapy here, I can now cook, put on make-up, and I’m no longer worried about getting back to hiking or backpacking which I love. Best experience ever!”

Nothing makes us happier than getting to be a part of a positive change in someone’s life. And we love to hear how PT has impacted not just our clients’ health, but their lives overall! Several of our clients have even shared video testimonials of their experience working with us, which can be found here. They are living proof that anyone can benefit from physical therapy. You can be as skeptical as you want – you just have to be willing to give PT an honest shot. And chances are, you’ll be glad you did!

If you’re wondering if physical therapy is right for you – or if a different kind of physical therapy is right for you – please reach out!  We are so happy to help.  If we can’t help you – we’ll find someone that can.

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Where Does PT Leave Off and Fitness Instruction Begin?

We all know the joke: Patient: “When I go like this my arm hurts.” To which the doctor responds: “Well, don’t do that!” In physical therapy, that joke is not as silly as it sounds. In fact, instead of telling the arm-moving subject in the joke to “not do that.” I would say, “let’s do it differently.”

 

People have muscle and skeletal pains most often because of one or more stressors occurring in joints or muscles. When I treat a patient, I am often working to help them change the mechanics of the way they move and hence, decrease or eliminate the stressors. It’s one of the main reasons I incorporate Pilates into my treatments. It’s also why most of my patients will tell you that it is often difficult to tell where physical therapy leaves off and fitness exercises begin. And, that’s precisely the way it should be.

 

 

In fact, I often help runners, weight lifters and even fitness instructors who are experiencing pain simply by changing the way they move when they exercise. And then I take it a step further, and collaborate with other fitness professionals you might be working with, to be sure that the work you are doing with them is complimenting everything that we do. I don’t believe in turf wars. I prefer collaboration.

Pilates-based physical therapy is also excellent for those at any age who want to start an exercise program, but might be afraid of injury or pain. My clients who practice Pilates with me range from 25 – 79!  If you are local, I have a new small-group Moving with Confidence Pilates Wellness class starting in March. It’s designed to help those who have been away from fitness to get back into exercise safely, efficiently and affordably, and it’s also for those that want to get more in-tune with their body. When you are more in-tune with your body, you are not only better at preventing injuries, but better at navigating any fitness class or workout that you desire.