Tag Archive for: active

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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 info@cjphysicaltherapy.com or call 603-605-0402

5 Summer Activities on the Seacoast to Keep You Active, Healthy, and Mobile!

With the weather getting warmer, it’s time to start appreciating all the amazing assets that the Portsmouth area has to offer for summer fun! The best way to prevent back pain and all-around stiffness or soreness is to stay moving as much as possible, and what better way to do so than out in nature?

Here are some of our favorite places to walk, bike, and otherwise enjoy the outdoors!

 

1. Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge

The Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 1,000 acres of protected land in Newington, NH. Its two main trails are open to both hiking and biking and offer a close look at the flora and fauna of the Great Bay area. While visiting the reserve, you might see bald eagles, foxes, otters, turtles, deer, and a huge variety of songbirds. There are two main trails for the public to explore this unique and largely untouched area. The half mile Upper Peverly Pond path is a boardwalk trail, meaning it is fully wheelchair accessible and inviting for both young children and seniors! The William Furber Ferry Way trail is a more ambitious, yet not intimidating, two miles that delves deeper into the forest and features a beaver pond and old orchard.

NH Wetlands

2. Picnic by the Sea at New Castle

New Castle’s Great Island Common is a perfect destination for a relaxed, yet active day spent outdoors. You can spend the morning kayaking, an excellent core and upper body workout, and then kick back with a picnic on the beach or lawn. The park area also offers a large playground if you’re accompanied by young children. No matter where you stand, you’ll have a breathtaking view of the ocean, multiple lighthouses, and boats entering and leaving the harbor.

3.  Take a bike ride around Portsmouth

Get some exercise in while riding along all of the scenic views that the Seacoast area has to offer! Port City Bike Tours brings groups on historic and coastal bike tours with 5 different routes to chose from for a private or public tour. All of the tour guides are local to the area and have a love for New Hampshire history and historic preservation! Check out all the info here.

4. Odiorne State Park

Odiorne is the ocean lover’s ideal hike- gorgeous views of the rocky coastline, twisting trails through the woods that open up onto a salt marsh, and a paved bike path all in one place. Odiorne is comprised of about 330 acres of protected land, and is open year round to walkers and explorers! In the summer, you can even go tidepooling while you walk along the shore. You might find sea stars, snails, minnows, crabs, and more! And you will undoubtedly see seagulls throughout the entire coastline walk. On the wooded trails, you could come across deer, songbirds, chipmunks, and squirrels. Odiorne is a great place to stretch your legs and get some fresh air while enjoying the seacoast at its best!

5. Try Stand-Up Paddleboarding

Stand-Up Paddleboarding is a perfect way to get a core workout in while enjoying the ocean! This low-impact outdoor activity has gained popularity over recent years not only for being great exercise, but also because standing at your full height above the water gives you a unique view of your surroundings – which are beautiful at any location along the Seacoast! The balance and core stability that goes into paddleboarding is something we focus on with our Pilates program as well. In fact, Pilates and paddleboarding would be great activities to pair this summer!

Is pain getting in the way of you doing your favorite summer activities?  CLICK HERE for a free discovery visit with one of our specialists to see how we can help!

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.

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.

Hip Flexors Always Tight? Maybe stop stretching.

When it comes to chronically stiff muscles – tight hip flexors are the second most common complaint I hear after tight hamstrings. Tight hip flexors are annoying, achy, and they often contribute to lower back pain. When your hips are always tight, it can interfere with your ability to enjoy walking, running, golfing, and just exercise in general.

Typically – the recommended treatment for tight hip flexors is to stretch – right along with advice to foam roll and massage. But what do you do when none of that works? What if no matter how often you stretch, the tightness just keeps coming back?

First, you need to make sure that the tightness you feel in your hips is actually due to tight hip flexors. Just because your muscles feel tight – doesn’t mean they are tight. 

Let me explain.

Your hip flexors (or any muscle for that matter) can feel tight for different reasons. They can literally be shortened and constricted – in which case – they need stretching – and lots of it. But they can also feel tight due to weakness or being overworked. If your hip flexors are weak, they are going to feel strained when you use them, which can create a sensation of tightness. If your hip flexors are compensating for another underperforming muscle group – say your deep core – then a sensation of tightness may occur because they are simply tired and overworked.

So the first and most important thing you need to figure out is what is causing the sensation of tightness in your hips. Are they actually short and tight? Are they weak? Or do they simply need a break?

Let’s do a quick anatomy review of your hip flexors to help you figure this out…

Your hip flexors consist of the muscle group located in the front of your hip and groin. They are responsible for bending (flexing) your thigh up and toward your chest. But they also play a role in stabilizing your pelvis and lower back – and this is where I 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 (flexing) your thigh. When you are walking or running, and repetitively flexing your leg, this is the muscle primarily at play. Your psoas, on the other hand, is much shorter and has a connection to your lower back. 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 also work alongside your deep abdominals and glute muscles to help you have good upright posture when you’re sitting or standing.

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. Most of the time, your psoas feels tight because it’s either too weak and not able to keep up with what it’s being tasked to do, or it’s overworking to compensate for your deep abdominals not working properly. Either way, the result will be an angry psoas that retaliates against you by feeling tight and achy. And stretching it over and over again will simply not work.

Now sometimes your hip flexors – particularly your rectus femoris – can get deconditioned from not being used enough – and this can result in actual constriction of your muscle tissue. This typically happens slowly over time, and is more likely to occur if you sit too much and aren’t very active. In this case, you actually do need stretching to fix the problem – but one of the reasons it doesn’t work – is because you aren’t doing it properly. When your muscle tissue is actually constricted – it requires a very specific stretching protocol to work. The days of holding a stretch for 30 sec and repeating it 3x are long over. If your muscle fibers have actually become constricted – the only way for them to improve their length is to remodel. They need a lot of stress to remodel (aka get longer) and the only way to accomplish this is to stretch repeatedly and often.

At the end of the day, if you’ve got chronically tight hip flexors and you’re stretching all the time, you’re either doing it wrong or shouldn’t be doing it at all. Perhaps you need to strengthen your hip flexors so they don’t feel so tense all the time? Or maybe your core isn’t kicking in and you need to strengthen that instead? Don’t stress yourself trying to figure it out on your own.

Talk to an expert who gets this.

Stretching a muscle that feels tight isn’t always your answer, and you’ll know this because stretching over and over just isn’t fixing the problem. 

Request to speak to one of my specialists to see if we are the right fit to help get to the root cause of your tight hip flexors. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery.

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.

When exercise hurts your back instead of helps

When Exercise Hurts Your Back Instead of Helps

The research continues to show that the best treatment for back pain is exercise. But what do you do when exercising hurts your back instead of helps? 

What most people do when exercise flares their back up is they just stop. They simply wait for the pain to go away – and begin the cycle all over again. This is not the best strategy. Instead, why not figure out why exercise might be hurting your back and do something about it?

Here are 5 reasons why exercise might be hurting your back instead of helping:

 

1. Its the wrong type of exercise

While the research isn’t wrong about exercising and back pain – the type of exercise you choose is important. For example, walking is generally considered one of the best exercises for back pain sufferers. But there are certain types of back pain where walking flares you up. In these instances, it doesn’t mean that walking is “bad” for you – and it doesn’t mean you have a serious problem. Many times, it simply means you need a different type of exercise first that gets you back to walking normally. Same goes for strength training and core training. Exercise is good for back pain – but if it flares you up – don’t be quick to blame the exercise. You may just be doing things in the wrong order. Working with a back pain expert can help minimize this and make sure you’re doing the right exercises at the right time – and that won’t flare you up.

2. Stability training is introduced too soon

Stability training is an important part of back pain recovery – but I often see it introduced too soon – and typically before good mobility is fully restored. Mobility is something you always want to look at first. If you don’t have full mobility in your spine, there is a reason. And when your spine doesn’t move well, you risk developing compensatory movement patterns that cause structures in and around your spine to get irritated. When it comes to stability training, there is often resistance or load involved. The last thing you want to do is add load to the spine that is already compensating and irritated. This is a sure-fire way to flare up your back and why exercise might be hurting you instead of helping.

3. You aren’t activating your core

Knowing when and how to properly activate your core is different from having a strong core. You can have the strongest abs in the world – but if you can’t use them when they count – it’s useless.  Knowing how to properly activate your core is essential when you exercise, but especially when you have back pain. If you don’t activate your core properly when you’re lifting weights, or performing complicated movements that require good coordination, you’re setting yourself up for injury. The ability to activate your core properly is developed through motor control training. It’s where we teach your mind how to recognize and activate specific muscles, during specific activities, so that it eventually becomes habitual. If you’re constantly having back pain every time you exercise or try to strengthen your core, it could be that you lack the ability to activate it when it counts.

4. You aren’t breathing properly

Not breathing properly can significantly impact the effectiveness of your exercise routine and impede your ability to perform an exercise properly. As mentioned previously, knowing how to activate your core is crucial when you exercise, and in order to activate your core properly, you must be able to breathe properly. Your deep core is made up of four parts: your deep abdominals, your deep back muscles, your pelvic floor, and your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is what controls your breathing. Let’s say you hold your breath when you exercise. When this happens it means your diaphragm isn’t expanding or contracting in the way it needs to for your deep core to be fully functional. Additionally, when your diaphragm doesn’t work like it should, it adds unnecessary strain to both your back muscles and your discs. If you’re not in tune with your breathing, and you aren’t timing it properly, it’s another reason why exercise might be hurting your back instead of helping.

5. You’re using improper form

The last and most common reason why exercising might be hurting your back is because you aren’t doing it right. There’s a lot of people out there who think posture and form don’t really matter. But they do. If you’re lifting weights – especially when frequently and repetitively – you want your spine to be in good alignment. It might not hurt the first time you lift with improper form, but it will hurt after several weeks or months when you get to your 100th rep. Same goes for body weight exercises. Just because you aren’t adding an external load to your spine doesn’t mean you can’t aggravate it by doing something with poor form over and over. This is where I see most people get in trouble. If you’re going to exercise – and you want to exercise daily – do it with proper form and posture or it’s going to catch up to you and keep causing your back to flare up.

 

If exercising is currently hurting your back instead of helping  – it could be due to one of these 5 reasons. Get expert help to figure out which one it might be. Because at the end of the day – exercise really is good for your back. If done correctly, timely, and in the right order – it will help your back instead of hurt it.

Ready to get help with your pain or injury?

Request to speak 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 taking care of back pain – click here.

Why Pilates?

Why Pilates?

If you’ve ever experienced muscle and/or skeletal pain, it was probably the result of one or more mechanical stressors occurring in joints or muscles. When I treat a patient, I am often working to help them change the mechanics of their movement and therefore decrease or eliminate those stressors. It’s one of the main reasons why 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 — which is precisely the way it should be.

Pilates isn’t just about strength and balance, it’s about body mechanics.

Each exercise is carefully designed to direct and reinforce the way in which a healthy musculoskeletal system should function. By practicing Pilates, you are strengthening your muscles correctly in a way that is conducive to all forms of exercise, as well as improving posture and balance. It’s a really great supplement to physical therapy because as you’re retraining or rehabilitating a specific part of your body, you have the opportunity to match that progress holistically.

Many people who come to us with back pain think that their pain would prevent them from participating in an exercise program like Pilates – but the truth is, it’s the opposite! Guided, individualized Pilates combined with a physical therapy regimen is actually one of the best things you could do for your back. We even offer a specific at home program  designed for people with back pain! It’s incredibly beneficial for clients dealing with pain or injury to have the support system of a physical therapist and a Pilates instructor working in tandem to find the right movements to rehabilitate each particular individual.

Our goal is always to get our clients back to their full range of movement and activities.

We NEVER want to avoid any movement permanently in order to avoid pain. But on the road to that full recovery, the structure of Pilates and the opportunity for physical assistance can be an extremely powerful counterpart to physical therapy. Pilates strengthens your entire body, starting from your core, which naturally prevents future back issues stemming from muscular weakness or imbalance. Furthermore, Pilates (combined with PT) teaches correct movement – which is the number one way to relieve any current pain!

Are you experiences nagging back pain and want to incorporate pilates to help? We offer a program just for you! Our At Home Pilates 101 Get [Your] Back to Health program might be perfect for you, to apply and learn more CLICK HERE! We’d love to have you start your Pilates journey with us.

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.

2 Reasons People Over the Age of 50 Avoid Exercises

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.

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.