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Getting and Staying Fit when you’re Over 50

The importance of being healthy and fit has taken center stage these last 18 months, but especially for the over 50 crowd. Most people aged 50+ who want to get and stay fit struggle, because what might work for someone in their 20’s or 30’s just doesn’t make sense for them in their 50’s. As you age, both your needs AND your priorities change. 

By the time you hit age 50, you may start to suffer from things like arthritis, degenerative and aging joints, and more back and knee pain. And if you aren’t suffering from them yet, you’re worried about when you will. First, let me just tell you that it is 100% possible to get and stay fit after 50. I have the joy of working with folks aged 50+ every day who are the healthiest they’ve ever been in their lives. So what’s their secret?

Here are 5 habits my healthiest clients aged 50+ stick to so they can get and stay fit:

1. Get enough sleep

The myth that you don’t need as much sleep as you get older is false. Most research indicates that even when you’re over 50, you should still be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. When you don’t get enough sleep, it catches up to you. You lack energy, making you less motivated to exercise and more likely to eat sugary, unhealthy foods. Lack of sleep lowers your immune system, affects your memory and ability to focus, impacts your balance, and increases your chances of developing high blood pressure. In general, lack of sleep is going to significantly impact your ability to eat well and exercise, two essential ingredients for getting and staying fit after age 50. 

2. Keep Nutrition Simple

If you’re over age 50, you’ve likely seen every cleanse, crash diet, health shake, weight loss pill, or gimmick known to man.  There literally isn’t a trick left in the book you haven’t seen.  At age 50+ you also typically aren’t in the mood to be a nutritional extremist either. It’s a good idea to just keep things simple. Focus on eating nutritious whole foods (things that are unprocessed) and drink plenty of water. Start your day with an 8oz glass of water and then aim to drink at least 3 more bottles after that. When you’re planning meals, make your plate up with half vegetables, one quarter protein, and one quarter whole grains. Adding a little bit of healthy fat consisting of plant oils is a good idea too. Good nutritional habits give you the energy and stamina you need to get and stay fit!

3. Lift Weights

I can’t tell you how often I get asked “is it safe to be lifting heavy weights at my age?” People worry that lifting heavy weights could be “bad” for their spine or knees once they’re aged 50+. Lifting weights is not only good for you, but perfectly safe when done correctly. But it’s important that your workout is customized and takes into account any injuries or ailments you may have. Arthritis in your joints, bulging discs, and even meniscus tears are all normal things that occur as you age. They don’t mean you can’t exercise — but you do want to make sure your strength training routine reflects this.

As a physical therapist, the two biggest things I look at when I’m examining someone’s strength routine are form and loading strategies. Good and proper form is critical to protect your joints and back. “Loading” refers to how much weight you lift and how often (reps). This changes as you age because the integrity of your soft tissue (muscles and ligaments) is different. Loading strategies also need to be adapted if you’re injured or in pain. A good strength coach and physical therapist, especially when working together, can make sure that you have a strength training routine that is not only safe but perfect for your age and ability.

4. Strengthen your Core

After age 50 things like balance and reaction times start to become more compromised, and the likelihood of back pain increases. Maintaining good core strength helps with all of this and becomes more important than ever at age 50+. The biggest problem I see with people trying to strengthen their core is that they just don’t know how to do it properly. They may be doing all the right things, but with all the wrong muscles. If you’re new to core strengthening, or perhaps you’ve been doing it awhile but your core strength still isn’t where you want it to be, consider trying Pilates. It’s long been known as the staple of core strengthening because it requires you to perform very controlled and precise movements while focusing on your breath. Having proper control over your breath, body, and movement are the cardinal signs of a truly functioning and strong core. 

5. Address Pain

This may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people either ignore or just work around their pain. When you ignore your pain, you risk developing other problems due to your body compensating. These compensation strategies may last you for a short time, but eventually they will catch up to you. When you’re over 50, recovering from injury is harder and takes longer. So although preventing injury is your best strategy, don’t just ignore pain if you’re experiencing it. When you work around pain, it’s impossible to get the most you can out of your workouts and this delays your ability to get and stay fit. If you’re always having to modify exercise or compensate for pain, not only is this frustrating, but you delay getting to the root cause of your problem. Simply put, if you’re experiencing musculoskeletal pain — get it addressed.

We are a team of specialists who are specifically trained to help you address these issues. If you’re interested in an assessment, consultation, or simply want a couple questions answered — sign up for one of our FREE Discovery Sessions! This 30 minute session allows you to talk one-on-one with a movement expert to figure out what you want, need, and how you’re going to get there.

Should Age be a Reason to Avoid Certain Activities?

We’re continuing with our topic of the month – Getting Fit After 50 – and people have been asking me…

Are there certain types of exercise I should avoid once I hit a certain age?

The short answer is no.

Most of our clients are over the age of 50 and they do everything from surfing, to playing tennis, hockey, running, and even tap dancing!

None of these activities are considered “easy on the joints,” but they do them anyway.

So why is it that some folks see age as just a number – where others use it as a reason to stop doing certain things?

After age 50, the number one reason I see people avoid activities they want to do is because of pain. The second most common reason is because they were told to.

Let’s start with pain.

Having been a physical therapist for twenty years, I know a thing or two about what goes through people’s minds when they are dealing with back or joint pain. In most cases, the pain itself is not the biggest concern. People are willing and able to tolerate a certain amount of pain at the expense of doing what they truly love. We do it all the time in our 20’s or 30’s… and don’t think twice about it.

But as we age – a little bit of fear starts to set in when we’re in pain.

We’ve typically seen or heard horror stories from friends or family who have paid the price for either pushing through – or ignoring pain all together. When we’re younger, we’re more likely to approach pain with a “wait and see” approach. But as we age – pain becomes a bigger concern and we’re more likely to seek professional medical help sooner.

This leads me to the second reason people over 50 will just stop doing certain exercises…

Because they were told to. And often by a well-meaning health care professional.

Let me explain that.

Our medical system is overloaded, and everyone does the best they can to keep up. But if you’re a musculoskeletal health professional who’s NOT up with current medical research – you’re likely to give advice based on “old-school” ways of thinking.

For example, diagnosing all musculoskeletal pain based on X-rays and MRI’s… If your X-ray shows “bone on bone” arthritis – then a joint replacement is assumed to be your only option. If your MRI shows a meniscus tear or bulging disc – then you automatically need arthroscopic surgery.

But the current research disputes this line of thinking…

And says 80% of ALL musculoskeletal problems – even when you’re over 50 – can be solved without surgeries or other procedures.

How your pain behaves is what matters most. Not your age or arthritis. The best way to explain this concept is with a case study!

This client (we’ll call him “Jim”) is 57 years old and was told knee replacement surgery was his only option to resolve the knee pain he was suddenly experiencing.

When he questioned the knee replacement and asked if he could wait, his doctor’s response was that because of his age – and because of the “bone on bone” arthritis that was showing on his X-ray – surgery was his best option. Otherwise, if he wanted to wait, he would need to stop the running and hiking he had been enjoying so much until very recently.

Research studies show that the indication of osteoarthritis on X-ray alone does not mean it’s the cause of your pain.

In other words, it’s entirely possible Jim’s knee pain could be due to something other than his “bone on bone” arthritis.

Did he really need surgery? And did he really need to stop some of his exercises because of arthritis or his age?

Ceasing his activities would have certainly made Jim’s arthritis worse. And if he went through with the knee replacement without being completely sure if arthritis was the main cause of his knee pain – he not only risks unnecessary surgery – but also risks getting set back several months for recovery.

This would delay his ability to get back to running and hiking even further.

Although age is most of the time NOT a factor in your choice of exercise… it is a factor when it comes to how quickly you’re able to recover from surgery.

So here’s what happened.

We prescribed him a corrective movement strategy to see if arthritis was the main factor causing his knee pain. And just like we see over and over again – his knee pain significantly improved after just a few visits!

Research says that if pain responds quickly to a corrective movement done repeatedly – your pain is primarily due to a mechanical origin – and not arthritis. Arthritis doesn’t change that quickly – in fact it doesn’t change at all (unless you get surgery). But mechanical pain does.

Turns out that Jim’s knee pain was due to some mechanical imbalances in his knee joint, and NOT the arthritis. Arthritis was a factor for sure – it made his knee stiff – but it was not the main cause of his knee pain.

If you’re getting older… know that age related changes like arthritis are quite normal and nothing to be afraid of.

And arthritis, along with your age, are certainly not reasons to avoid exercise.

Jim was given medical advice to have a surgery he does NOT need yet based solely on his X-ray and his age. But there are SO many other factors worth considering as well.

If you want more information on this topic – as well as other things that plague the over 50 crowd – join us for our next online Zoom workshop.

We’re teaming up with On Target Fitness for this one and we’re very excited about it!

It’s happening Tuesday, June 22nd from 6-7pm. It’s FREE – and completely online. You don’t even have to leave your home!

If you want to reserve a seat in our Getting Fit After 50 Masterclass – CLICK HERE!

Why Proper Breathing is Essential for Good Core Strength

When I’m working with clients, one of the most common things I see when someone is having trouble engaging their core is that they tend to hold their breath.

Why is this important?

Because breathing properly allows you to activate your deep core – and good activation of your deep core is essential if you want the rest of your core muscles to work properly and help you prevent things like back pain.

Let me explain…

Your “deep core” is made up of your diaphragm, pelvic floor, transversus abdominus (deepest layer of abdominals) and your multifidi (deepest layer of back muscles). These four muscle groups work together to make up your deep, inner core. If your deep core doesn’t function properly – your outer core muscles (abdominals, glutes, hip and back muscles) won’t have the support they need to work well. This can all lead to inefficient and compensatory movement patterns over time, and contribute to something like back or neck pain.

Your diaphragm controls how well and how deeply you breathe. When working properly, your deep core acts like a piston system, driven by your diaphragm. Upon inhalation, your diaphragm expands, causing your pelvic floor to lengthen and drop. When you exhale, your diaphragm contracts and your pelvic floor lifts like an elevator – all acting like a piston system moving down and up.

Additionally, the pressure created by this system also acts a bit like a balloon. Breathing in expands your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles out, stretching like a balloon would. Exhaling releases the air and allows your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles to contract, like the natural recoil that would occur if you let the air out of a balloon.

So, if this is a natural process, why do so many of us have problems activating our core properly?

It’s because as we age, and allow poor movement and posture habits to form, we “forget” how to breathe normally and most of the time aren’t even aware this is happening.

Here are some of the most common things I see with clients suffering from neck and back pain, and who aren’t activating their deep core properly:

1. Chest breathing

I see a lot of people breathing deeply but the only thing moving is their chest. Instead of their ribs expanding out and back, all you see is their upper chest moving out and up. This is very common, and it happens because your diaphragm isn’t expanding fully and thus, not pushing air down into your belly. Chest breathing often contributes to tight and elevated shoulders, back pain, and even tight hip flexors – because the deep abdominals can’t kick in properly, causing the rest of your body to compensate. Next time you want to take a deep breath, place one hand on your belly and make sure that it’s moving out and in along with your chest. That’s a first step to learning how to breathe properly so that your deep core can activate!

2. Your neck feels tight

Although back pain is often what’s associated with a “weak core”, people can also suffer from neck pain when they lack proper core activation. When people first start working with us for Pilates, a big complaint is they feel tightness in their necks when they are first learning how to activate their core and do a proper chest lift. The fascia (web like substance that holds and surrounds your muscles) of your deep core is connected to the deep fascia of your neck. If you’re not breathing properly and your deep core can’t activate, your neck may try and help out because it’s partly “connected”. We even see neck tightness like this in our experienced Pilates goers – and it’s a clear sign they’ve lost connection to their deep core or perhaps simply lost connection to their breath. Next time you’re doing abdominal work, check in with your neck and see if it feels tense. If so, it could be a sign you’re not fully activating your deep core. Improving how you breathe during abdominal work could help.

3. You hold your breath when you exercise

Did you know your diaphragm is a muscle? When you hold your breath, you’re contracting that muscle. For a muscle to work properly it needs to contract AND relax. If you hold your breath during exercise, it’s impossible for your diaphragm to expand (relax) and push air into your abdominals and activate that piston system we talked about earlier. In other words, your pelvic floor and deep abdominal stabilizers don’t have an opportunity to activate properly when you hold your breath. Without activation of your deep core, the rest of your body is going to have to compensate somehow. And this can set you up for unnecessary aches and pains, or worse, injury. I always say to my clients, “when in doubt, just keep breathing”. Because if you’re actively breathing, you at least have a shot at activating your deep core properly, even if you’re not 100% sure how to do it.

If you have trouble “feeling your abs” when you exercise, your neck and shoulders tense up when you work out, or your back and neck always hurt every time you work your core – it’s a sign you might not be activating your deep core very well.

Remember that good core strength starts with your breath!

Next time you work out, especially core-focused work, pay attention to the way you’re breathing. If you still have trouble, or you’re noticing back or neck pain, then reach out for a FREE Discovery Session or check out our Pilates offerings.

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Five Reasons People over 40 are doing Pilates

Recently, Pilates has been gaining popularity with folks over age 40. Why? Well, let’s take a look at the history.

It was first created by Joseph Pilates almost 100 years ago, who suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. When traditional exercise systems failed him, he turned to anatomy books and became obsessed with the human body. Refusing to let his body ailments define him, he eventually developed his own system of exercising, now known as the Pilates method. But the original name for his method was “Contrology,” because the focus of his exercises were to have full control of your movement and to feel empowered in your body.

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

Pilates is a full body strengthening system that emphasizes breath, precision, coordination, and core strength. It helps our clients connect to their bodies in a way they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional strengthening methods. Most of my clients are over the age of 40, and they love Pilates because it helps them have more energy, better balance, and improved strength and mobility. It allows them to participate in all the activities they love with more ease, and significantly decreases their likelihood of injury.

If you’re over 40, and aren’t yet doing Pilates, here are five reasons to get started:

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb. We see a lot of folks in our office who’ve tried traditional physical therapists, chiropractors, and so many kinds of core strengthening programs – but still have recurring back pain. Getting rid of back pain in the short-term is easy, but keeping it gone is the challenge.

We specialize in keeping pain gone, and Pilates helps us do that. Our Pilates instructors work closely with our PT team and get enhanced training on how to navigate back pain. We also keep our classes small so that we can pay close attention to everyone. This is key if you’re recovering from an injury and want to consider Pilates. Beware of classes that are overcrowded and not individualized. More than 5-6 people per class could be dangerous if you’re dealing with back pain. It’s impossible for your instructor to keep a close eye on you or give you individualized modifications.

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

One of the keys to lifelong fitness is what I call “balanced strength.” In other words, each part of your body works together to produce the right amount of force, at the right time. I see lots of “strong” people in my office, but they can’t do the activities they love, because their muscles aren’t working together. Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated. Coordinated strength is essential to a balanced body.

3. Pilates improves your flexibility.

Do you stretch your hamstrings every day but they never seem to improve? It could be because you’re not stretching the right way. The great thing about Pilates is that it improves your flexibility in a way that strengthens at the same time. The “old school” way of stretching was to find the most uncomfortable position for your muscle and just hold it for 30 seconds. Research has shown this is not effective. The best way to stretch is to keep moving and do it dynamically. In Pilates, we do just that! One of the central concepts to Pilates is “lengthening.” This helps you stretch your muscles in a way that results in long lasting, sustainable improvements.

4. Pilates minimizes stress to your joints.

As we age, it’s normal to have arthritis. But it doesn’t have to be the death sentence to activity that most people think. The key to combating arthritis is maintaining a mobile and well balanced joint.  When you optimize everything that surrounds your arthritic joints, your symptoms decrease. Pilates helps with all this – without causing any additional stress. Since Pilates is based on the idea of constant opposition – lengthening while strengthening – you end up with a joint that is happy and balanced. This helps to minimize the impacts of arthritis and even prevent the rate of degeneration as you age.

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Since Pilates emphasizes small, precise movements – it’s very good for your nervous system and coordination. We refer to this as motor control. Having good motor control is key for controlled, coordinated movement.   A strong muscle that isn’t coordinated to “turn on” when it’s needed is almost useless. It’s why strong, healthy people still get back pain. Your core could be strong – but if it isn’t trained to function properly and when it’s supposed to – it won’t help you prevent back pain. When done properly, and with a qualified instructor, Pilates is one of the best exercise methods I’ve found to train your nervous system and improve motor control – which is key for injury prevention.

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your life… what are you waiting for? It’s my go-to exercise system for folks over the age of 40 and it’s my favorite way to help people keep their back pain gone. We’ve recently expanded our group class schedule here in Portsmouth, and will begin offering in-studio Pilates 101 classes for beginners starting in June. You can get on the Pilates 101 waiting list today. Can’t wait? Sign up for classes right here!

Arthroscopic Knee Surgery – Does it Even Work?

While researching for my latest article in the Portsmouth Herald, I came across an interesting study titled: “Arthroscopy for degenerative knees – a difficult habit to break.”

The title of this study is telling.

Arthroscopic knee surgery is still one of the most common surgeries performed, despite research telling us that it’s not nearly as effective as most people are led to believe.

Furthermore, studies now indicate that people who get arthroscopic knee surgery are likely to have knee arthritis that advances more rapidly – resulting in a total knee replacement that could have been avoided.

Arthroscopic knee surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that’s commonly done to help “clean out” your knee joint if you’ve got degenerative arthritis, or to clip out pieces of a torn meniscus that might be irritating your knee.

Sounds pretty simple and harmless – right?

But over the years, research has shown that this procedure is really not necessary in most cases.

Most people can get pain relief and restore function in their knees without ever getting surgery.

One of the earliest studies from 2002 by JB Mosely and colleagues, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that placebo surgery for advanced knee arthritis was just as effective as actual arthroscopic surgery. Since then, numerous studies have shown similar results. Even if you have a torn meniscus or degenerative arthritis in your knee – you can still get better naturally and with conservative treatment like physical therapy.

Despite all this research, surgeons are still performing these procedures more than ever.

In some cases it’s just what the surgeon knows, and they haven’t kept up with the research. Other times, it’s due to poor conservative management and not giving therapy enough time to work.

In our office, we often see people after they’ve tried regular physical therapy first. Since we have a more specialized approach, and we’re able to spend more time with our clients, we tend to get better results and can help clients avoid surgery all together.

But not all physical therapy clinics are afforded that luxury. In those cases, people are led to believe that the physical therapy “didn’t work,” and they get scheduled for surgery.

But what’s the big deal really?

If outcomes are the same regardless of whether you get surgery or not – why not just get it? It’s quicker, and far more convenient than going to weekly therapy appointments…

But despite the term “minimally invasive,” it’s still surgery.

You will have bleeding, swelling, and recovery time. There is trauma that is caused to the soft tissue in and around your knee that has to heal. There’s also the risk of infection, which comes with a whole set of different complications.

And then of course there’s the elephant in the room that nobody likes to talk about…

I’ve seen many of these arthroscopic surgeries performed that had clients feeling WORSE than before surgery. Because it turns out the procedure wasn’t even necessary. Luckily, we’re still able to rehabilitate them. But it’s completely demoralizing and discouraging for our clients.

In general, despite how small the procedure may seem, you want to avoid surgery whenever possible.

Although small, the risks that can happen with surgery simply aren’t worth it – especially when you can get the same results from natural, conservative treatment.

We’ll be talking about this whole topic and more during our next Online Zoom workshop for Knee Pain sufferers, happening Tuesday, April 27th from 6-7 pm.

For some, arthroscopic knee surgery really is necessary. But for most, it can be avoided.

If you’re currently suffering from knee pain and want to learn more about what you can do to not only avoid surgery – but help get rid of knee pain naturally and on your own – be sure to attend our workshop! It’s free to attend. CLICK HERE to reserve your seat.

 

Common Golf Injuries and How to Avoid Them

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

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

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

Elbow Tendonitis

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

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

Back Pain

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

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

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

Knee pain

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

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

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

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

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

Could your Hamstring Strain Actually be a Back Problem?

Have you ever strained your hamstring but the pain just doesn’t go away?

It’s been months since you first started hurting, you can’t actually remember how you injured it (it just started aching one day), you’ve been stretching and massaging it diligently, yet your hamstring still hurts.

This happened to a recent client of ours (“Sandy”).

Sandy was a runner and regular gym goer, who one day noticed an ache in her hamstring. She assumed she had just overdone it working out. She rested it a few days and the pain went away, but when she tried to get back to running she couldn’t. Her hamstring pain came right back. Thinking she hadn’t let it heal enough, she went back to resting it, but this time, decided to add some massage and stretching to her routine. 

A few weeks later… you guessed it… Sandy still couldn’t run.

She also noticed the pain in her hamstring started to feel “different.” It was becoming more deep and achy and started to hurt all the time instead of only when she tried to exert it. It even hurt when she sat for too long. She still couldn’t run and was starting to get worried. Her doctor told her it was just a “strain” and that she had to let it heal. The problem was that it wasn’t healing. Several months had now gone by and she was running out of exercises and stretches to try that would “let it heal.”

Luckily, Sandy attended our recent back pain and sciatica class and realized that the pain in her hamstring might not be a strain at all. 

And her instincts were right! Let me explain.

When you truly strain a muscle, it means you have done damage to your muscle tissue. Although it’s possible to have chronic problems from a strain that isn’t rehabilitated properly, strains typically do in fact heal. Once the inflammation from the tissue damage goes away, and you start doing the proper stretching and strengthening, your muscle eventually gets back to normal. Until a muscle strain is fully healed, it will typically be aggravated if you accidentally over-stretch it or exert it. But you usually don’t feel anything when you’re resting the muscle. In Sandy’s case, her hamstring was starting to feel worse when she was resting — the longer she sat, the worse she felt. Your hamstring is completely relaxed when you are sitting, so something wasn’t adding up.

This was the first sign we were likely dealing with something other than a “hamstring strain.” The second sign was that we could take her pain away by moving her back! Yes, you heard that right.

By moving and stretching her back in a specific way, we were able to significantly relieve the pain in her hamstring.

The reason her hamstring was actually hurting was because a nerve had been aggravated in her back. The nerve was causing pain to radiate into her thigh. That’s why it hurt when she sat for too long and it’s why she couldn’t tolerate any running. Sitting puts more stretch and pressure on the nerves in your back, and running puts a lot of compression through your back. Generally speaking, nerves don’t like to be stretched, especially aggravated nerves, and they don’t like to be compressed if they are aggravated either. By stretching her back in a very specific way, we were able to relieve the pressure from the nerve that was giving Sandy her “hamstring strain.” This confirmed that she was indeed having a back problem.

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

If you’ve got pain anywhere in your buttocks, hip, thigh, or leg that isn’t going away — especially if you’ve done your due diligence and tried all the “right things” — it’s possible you could have a back problem causing this pain instead. These types of back problems are easily missed if you don’t know how to accurately assess them and it won’t be picked up by an MRI or X-ray. The best way to figure this out is through specialized movement testing, like we did with Sandy. 

We talked all about this in our recent back pain and sciatica class. If you want access to the recording, just call our office: 603-380-7902. If you want to take the next step and meet us in person — you can schedule a FREE Discovery Session with one of our specialists right here

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!

Setting Goals for the New Year? We can help!

A new decade is on the horizon, and so are new health and wellness goals for many of us!

Are you already discussing resolutions or considering ways to make 2020 your best yet? The new year is a great opportunity to form new habits that will help us become our healthiest, happiest selves. Setting detailed goals is a constructive way to approach the 2020’s that can help you feel more motivated and hopeful about the future.

The idea of New Year’s resolutions is great, but most people only stick to them for a couple weeks.

Resolutions are so often left unfulfilled in part because they’re usually pretty general statements that are made without much forethought, intention, or planning. At some point we’ve probably all resolved to “get healthy” or “eat more vegetables” or “spend less money.” All worthy ideas, but can you see why people don’t follow through?! There’s WAY too much wiggle room, and nowhere near enough specificity. That’s why oftentimes, setting goals with distinct processes will help you accomplish much more than a run-of-the-mill resolution.

There are two essential factors in goal setting. First, the goal must be attainable. Secondly, you must define concrete steps that you intend to take towards reaching that goal.

Most of us want to be healthier, but what does that actually look like? One person’s journey to becoming healthy could be totally different from another’s. These goals can be made in conjunction with a health professional such as a physical therapist, especially if they relate to mobility, strength, and physical activity. Many of us have intended to “exercise more,” but those two words rarely yield results. A more effective goal might be to enroll in a Pilates class, take a half hour walk outside five days a week, drink the recommended 64 ounces of water each day, or to do ten minutes of stretching every morning after getting out of bed.

A group program such as Pilates can be especially helpful because it gives you a sense of accountability and camaraderie. In fact, our signature Pilates 101 program is relaunching in January, and we are so excited about it! Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health is a one-of-a-kind 8-week program that delivers safe, yet highly effective Pilates-based core strengthening exercises that are easy on the joints, designed to lessen back pain, and help improve your flexibility and posture.

If you can track, schedule, or measure the steps of your goal, you’ll know when you’re making progress. If those steps happen alongside people who share similar goals and under the direction of a movement expert who can support you for two whole months — even better!

So, let’s finish off this decade strong — and don’t miss out on Pilates 101! These spots go fast, so apply now to make sure you don’t miss your chance.

Knee pain? Top three causes and what to do about it.

Knee pain is one of the most common complaints that brings people into our office.

Since most of our clients are in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, they start to really worry that knee pain could bring an end to their active lifestyle. But that doesn’t have to be the case! The good news is that unless you’ve had some serious trauma (like a major accident or fall), 80% of all knee problems can be resolved without any kind of procedure or surgery – and most importantly – you can learn how to continue managing them on your own so that they never get in the way of your favorite activities again.

Sound too good to be true?

It’s not – I promise – but the first step is figuring out where your knee pain is coming from. Once you know that, you can get on the right path to resolve it.

Here are three of the most common causes I see that make people suffer from knee pain and what you can do about them:

1. Iliotibial band syndrome

This is a very common problem that typically affects runners, avid walkers, and hikers. It is often misdiagnosed and confused with patellofemoral syndrome (see below). Your iliotibial band (IT band) is a very large thick band on the side of your knee that will often get overworked due to a muscular imbalance elsewhere in your body (usually your hips and core). When this happens, you’ll feel pain that is on the side of your knee that is usually very sore and tender to touch, and typically sharp and stabbing versus achy. It will impact you most when you’re going downhill or down the stairs.

It’s important to note that even though a tight, and painful IT band is the structure causing you to have pain – it is typically a symptom of an underlying problem. Like I said before, IT band problems are usually the result of your core and hips not stabilizing your pelvis properly – which ultimately results in your knee not receiving the support it needs when you’re running, walking, or hiking.

Getting rid of the actual pain is the easy part… in our office we use things like dry needling, soft tissue work, and sometimes even some taping. But if you want to keep the pain gone – you MUST address the underlying causes as well. This is what a lot of people miss. We love using Pilates-based exercises in our office because they not only target your core, but also get your muscles working in a coordinated, symmetrical fashion, helping to keep things balanced as you get back to your favorite activities.

2. Patellofemoral Knee syndrome

This problem is very similar to IT band syndrome, with just a few key differences. This first is that it can impact almost anyone – not just runners, hikers, and walkers. You’ll also experience the pain in the front of your knee – typically under your kneecap – and it will tend to be more achy than sharp. This problem will often come on very slowly and can be more chronic than its IT band cousin. You’ll feel this more when you’re going up stairs, up hills, and with squatting. You’ll also notice stiffness and pain in the front of your knee after sitting awhile – that usually will go away once you start moving.

Much like IT band syndrome – these are all symptoms of an underlying cause. A weak core and hips can cause this problem too, but I usually see more weaknesses in glutes and hamstrings with this one. When the backs of your hips and legs aren’t kicking in like they should, it can result in tight hip flexors or quads. This is a super common culprit for patellofemoral syndrome. So once again, you can get rid of the pain quite easily in most cases, but you must make sure to determine – and address – the root cause so that you can keep this pain gone for good.

3. Osteoarthritis

Many people hear that they have osteoarthritis in their knee and think there isn’t anything they can do about it. Not true!! Arthritis is often blamed for knee problems but it isn’t always the cause of what you’re feeling… Let me explain….

When arthritis is the true cause and culprit for your knee problem, it will be painful and stiff all the time. You’ll lack significant mobility and it will be almost impossible to walk and bear weight without support or a cane. When this is truly your problem – you are a great candidate for total knee replacement surgery. Now here’s the catch… sometimes your X-ray or MRI will show that you have terrible arthritis or that you have “bone-on-bone”… but that doesn’t mean you need to rush to surgery! Your symptoms should really decide that.

If your pain comes and goes (meaning you have good days and bad days), if you can walk around most days and go up and down the stairs and your knee just “catches”, or maybe you feel stiff a lot but this eases up with movement – you might have arthritis in your knee but it is not the root cause of your knee problem. Because here’s a hint – arthritis does NOT come and go – but other common musculoskeletal problems can. When your pain comes and goes, you know it can’t be entirely from arthritis.

So what should you do?

With arthritis, whether it’s partially to blame, or whether it’s just something that shows up on the X-ray and gets blamed… we still need to look at the surrounding structures and root cause of the problem.

If your quads are really tight, and the muscles around your knee are imbalanced, this can create compressive forces in your knee joint which will exacerbate what might normally just be “mild” arthritis (compression will aggravate arthritis). You could also have weakness or problems in your ankles, feet, or core that are causing your knee to work harder than it needs to. This can cause pain all on its own, OR aggravate your arthritis. The point is, get checked by a musculoskeletal expert – people trained like us – so that instead of just fishing for the problem or only treating symptoms, you are getting to the root cause of your problem and setting yourself up for success!

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may benefit from working with a specialist physical therapist who can help you get back to the activities you love – without pain pills or unnecessary procedures. You can click right here to request a FREE Discovery session with one of our specialists. We’d love to help you figure out the root cause of your knee problem so that you can get back to doing everything you love – instead of spending time in the doctor’s office 🙂

Not quite ready for a solution yet but looking for more information? Request a seat at our next Health and Posture class! It’s totally free and the next topic just happens to be all about hip and knee problems! Figure out if your problem is arthritis, IT band syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome, or something else entirely… with other folks just like you.