Tag Archive for: back pain

How Stress Leads to Pain

How Stress Leads to Pain

How Stress Leads to Pain

People are dealing with more stress than ever right now and it’s impacting people in different ways. Many folks I speak with have been experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions — and their bodies are reflecting that.

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

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

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

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

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

But for now – here are some of the working theories on how stress leads to physical pain.

Social conditioning 

Many of us are taught from a young age that expressing emotions, particularly negative emotions, is “bad” or “unacceptable.” The result is that you may have learned to hold stress inside your body when faced with a stressful situation. Researchers who study this believe that the muscle tension we develop is the result of “unspoken social beliefs” that we adopted as children in order to feel accepted or liked. This pattern carries into adulthood and becomes embedded into our subconscious systems, i.e. our nervous system. Later on, when faced with any type of stress, our muscles react based on how we’ve taught them. If you grew up learning to bury emotions and tension somewhere in your body as a response to stress, it’s easy to continue that pattern into adulthood.

Trauma

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

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

Environmental Stressors and Habits 

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

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

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

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

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

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

avoid back pain when raking leaves

5 Tips to Avoid Back Pain when Raking Leaves

We are in peak leaf-raking season right now in New England.

Leaves are everywhere – and the daily sound of leaf blowers in my neighborhood has become somewhat meditative.

I love Fall – but I don’t love raking leaves. And raking leaves is even worse when you’re suffering from back pain.

The good news – it’s not as hard as you think to avoid back pain while doing this repetitive, monotonous activity…

Here are 5 tips to help you avoid back pain when you’re raking leaves:

1. Take a walk before you start.

Walking is a really great activity for your back in general, but it’s also a really easy way to warm-up your entire body ahead of an hour or more of repetitive raking. Personally, I love nothing more than taking a walk in the cool, crisp Fall air.

Why not take a quick walk around the block before you get into your raking?

This simple activity will bring blood flow to your arms, legs, and spine – and get all your joints moving and warm ahead of the full body activity that is raking.

2. Stretch every 30 minutes.

The biggest “danger” to your back when it comes to raking leaves is the repetitive nature of it – specifically the frequent bending and rotation of your spine.

Our spines were designed to hold us upright, not to bend and twist over and over again in the same direction. One of the simplest ways to protect your back while raking leaves, or any other repetitive activity, is to take quick and frequent rest periods to stretch. Every 30 min or so, stop what you’re doing, and give yourself a simple stretch backwards. This very simple action can go a long way in avoiding excessive back pain while raking.

3. Bend with your legs and hips.

As mentioned above – one of the worst activities for your lower back is repetitive bending and rotation – which is very easy to do if you’re not paying attention while raking leaves.

One way to avoid this is to use your hips and legs to bend and rotate. Using your legs and hips to bend and get lower to the ground when raking minimizes the bending at your spine – and pivoting at your pelvis to throw the leaves away minimizes the rotation to your spine.

Don’t get me wrong, your back will still likely be sore after taking even when “doing everything right” – but the stress will be significantly less and can help you avoid throwing out your back a day or two later – because yes – this is the timeframe when it will usually occur if you didn’t use good habits while raking your leaves.

4. Engage your core.

You don’t need six-pack abs to prevent back pain while raking leaves, but being mindful of your core can be super beneficial and it certainly won’t hurt you. Most back injuries occur when you least expect it… coughing, sneezing, picking something light off the floor.

These activities are so mindless and automatic that you’re typically not paying attention to what your core might be doing – or not doing. Raking leaves is an equally mindless activity. Each time you pull the rake toward you or lift it, think about drawing your belly in and engaging your abs. This will help keep your spine more supported and stable while raking.

5. Keep moving afterwards.

What you do after raking is equally as important as what you do during to help prevent back pain.

One of the biggest mistakes people make after a repetitive or strenuous activity (like raking) is to slump on the couch or recliner and rest. This is one of the worst things you can do to your spine because it’s more pliable and vulnerable after strenuous activity. When you put yourself in a relaxed and sustained bending position – after all that repetitive bending – it can be the icing on the cake.

You go to stand up and “boom” – there goes your back. I see it all the time. Do yourself a favor and go for another walk after raking to cool down, and be mindful of the posture you rest in after all that hard work.

Hopefully these tips give you a few things to think about before you go raking, and most importantly, avoid unwanted back pain so you can enjoy this beautiful fall season.

Are you local to Portsmouth, NH and looking for help with your back pain?

Consider speaking to one of my specialists.

You can tell us everything thats been going on and we’ll see if we’re fit to help you – and give you all of the information you need to make the best decisions for your health.

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

Three Ways to Keep Your Back From "Going Out"

Three Ways to Keep your Back from “Going Out”

Four out of five people will experience a debilitating back pain episode at one point during their lives.

Typically, we put more effort into caring for our backs during those times than when we’re feeling good. But it’s critical that we take good care of our backs all the time, not just when we’re in pain.

The real secret to keeping your back healthy is in your daily habits.

Here are three ways to take care of your back on a daily basis so that you can keep it from “going out”:

 

1. Avoid sitting for prolonged periods.

When we sit for too long, the burden of our weight is placed abnormally on our spine and can cause damage over time. Before long, those small loads add up to real pain. It makes sense when you consider that our bodies were designed to stand, sit, crawl, run, kneel, bend and move through the world in many different ways. It was never designed to sit in one position for prolonged periods, day after day. Sit too long, too often, and it can lead to bulging discs and weak, brittle muscles that are prone to tearing and other damage.

The solution?

Limit your sitting to half-hour periods with a few minutes of standing in between, and you’ll reduce the uni-directional forces on your spine. In other words, if you sit for a long time at work or at home, stand up and walk around a little bit every thirty minutes. I give this advice to every single client I have who comes to see me with back problems, and it’s one of the easiest ways for the average person to prevent a debilitating back problem over the long term.

2. The curves in your spine matter

We have natural curves in our spine that help us handle stress and loads. Whether sitting or standing, it’s important to maintain these curves. When standing, our spinal curves occur more naturally and are usually easier to maintain. But when we sit, the protective curves in our spine are harder to maintain and often disappear, and you’re often completely unaware it’s happening.

While strong back and abdominal muscles are an important component to maintaining a healthy back, they do very little when it comes to sitting and maintaining those curves, which is a common misconception in the medical and fitness community.

Fortunately, the solution is simpler than you think. Using a lumbar roll every time you sit goes a long way in helping you maintain the natural curves in your spine – and with minimal effort or thought. The good news is you can craft one quite easily on your own using a small towel roll or pillow. Simply place it between the small of your back and the chair and it will help you to maintain the natural lordosis (or curve) of your lower back. Give it a try. You’ll be amazed at how effective this one simple tip is for helping to control and prevent back pain.

(Did you know we have Lumbar Rolls right here in our Portsmouth office? Email info@cjphysicaltherapy.com if you’re local and want to get one)

3. Extend instead of bend.

Did you know that the average person bends or flexes forward between three and five thousand times per day?

That’s a lot of bending over time and eventually something will give – and it tends to be your lower back. Our spines crave balance, but unfortunately, our modern-day lives are designed to have us bending forward more than we should. Sitting in front of a computer, putting shoes and socks on, driving, house and yard work, even brushing our teeth are all daily activities that involve bending forward in some way.

To combat this, we need to make a concerted effort to extend instead of bend. A really simple exercise you can do every day is to stand and extend your spine. Place your hands on your lower back for support and then arch back as far as you can go. Repeat this 10 times, at least once per day. If you’ve never arched your back like this before, it may feel stiff or even hurt a little at first. But with a gradual increase in frequency, it will feel less stiff and more natural over the course of a few days. If it doesn’t, or becomes troublesome for you, then it’s important to speak with a specialist.

Getting rid of a back problem really isn’t as complicated as you think – and it could be as easy as starting with simple tips like these.

These tips are considered basic “back hygiene” that everyone should consider incorporating into their daily routine. But if you’ve had several back pain episodes year after year, or every few months, these tips may only take you so far and it’s important to enlist the help of an expert.

CLICK HERE to request a FREE Discovery Call with one of my specialists.

Someone from my client success team will call you right away and see if you are a good fit for what we do.

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

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How MRI’s Lead Back Pain Sufferers to Unnecessary Procedures

Have you ever had back pain and wondered…

Do I need an MRI to figure it out? One of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI when they are experiencing back pain or sciatica. It’s pretty standard protocol when you go see a doctor – but is it necessary?

In most cases… NO.

About 70-80% of back problems, even sciatica, are considered mechanical in nature and quite normal. That means there isn’t anything “serious” causing your pain.

Serious causes of back pain include things like a tumor, infection, fracture, or severely compromised nerve. Your symptoms will be pretty specific and obvious to a back pain specialist – and will typically require advanced medical intervention. An MRI can be useful in these cases to get more clarity before medical intervention begins. But when your back pain is mechanical in nature, an MRI is more often than not misleading – and may lead to unnecessary procedures or surgery.

If you’ve had back pain for years, it comes and goes, or you’ve had relief in the past from things like physical therapy or chiropractic treatment…

You most likely have mechanical back pain.

The root cause of mechanical back pain can NOT be diagnosed by an MRI. And if your back pain falls into the mechanical category, and you get an MRI anyway, you can end up with treatments you don’t need. Over the years, I’ve seen SO many people with mechanical back pain get major medical procedures that were irreversible and made them worse.

Here’s the problem….

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine. Everything from bulging discs, arthritis, stenosis, and degenerative discs, which are all considered normal as we age, but are usually NOT the root cause of your back pain.

What typically happens is the MRI finds them, and your back pain gets blamed on them.

But what we know from research is that all those common MRI findings I just mentioned rarely correlate with what’s actually causing your back pain. Research has shown consistently that you can have two people with identical MRI’s showing something like bulging discs and arthritis, but only one of them will be suffering in pain.

That’s how we know the root cause of your back pain is coming from something else!

One notable study was the Lancet series – three published papers that investigated how MRI findings related to the treatment of back pain. Martin Underwood, MD, co-author of the Lancet series, and professor at Warwick Medical School, is quoted in The Guardian saying: “If you get into the business of treating disc degeneration because it has shown up on an MRI, the likelihood is that, in most of those people, it is not contributing to their back pain.”

If you notice that certain positions or movements relieve your back pain, or you feel better after walking and exercise, your back pain is likely mechanical in nature, and you don’t need an MRI to diagnose you. Mechanical back pain responds to specialized movement therapy and a selectively progressed exercise protocol. Mechanical back pain does NOT respond well in the long run to injections, procedures, or surgery, which is what you can end up with if you get an MRI and don’t really need one.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen over the years get surgery for a bulging or herniated disc only to find that it didn’t help their problem – or it came back again with a vengeance. And once you have surgery, mechanical back pain can actually become more difficult to fix because your tissues and ligaments are now compromised from surgical scarring, no matter how minimally invasive they say your surgery will be.

If you’re confused, I don’t blame you.

We’ll be talking all about this and more in our upcoming Masterclass for Back Pain & Sciatica sufferers!

We’ll be going over why so many people suffer from back pain, how to tell if your back problem is mechanical or if you’ve got something more serious going on, why MRI’s are so confusing and may lead you to getting unnecessary procedures and surgery…

Spaces are limited – so be sure to reserve your seat today so you don’t miss out 🙂

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

When You Can’t Feel Your Abs

I’ve been a physical therapist for 20 years, a Pilates instructor for 11, and have been specializing in back pain for the past 10 years of my career.

When it comes to strengthening your core and preventing back pain, I am an expert in my field. Yet for some reason this morning, during my Pilates workout, I just couldn’t feel my abs. I teach people how to do this every single day yet this morning, I couldn’t seem to access my own.

What was happening?

And more importantly – if it can happen to someone like me – it can certainly happen to someone with less training than I have. I started to think about all the reasons this could be happening to me. Had I gotten enough sleep? What had I eaten the day before? Could it be stress?

And then it hit me.

I had just come back from a 2-day course where I’d been sitting far more than usual. I sat for 8 hours straight, two days in a row, not to mention all the very cramped sitting I did on the plane to and from this course. When one of my clients is about to have a few days like this, I recommend they get up from their chair and stretch backwards as frequently as possible every few hours.

But guess what – I didn’t follow any of my own advice. The result? A stiff back and sleepy abs upon my return.

Our bodies are highly intelligent and have every capacity to heal themselves when given the right environment. Conversely, when in the wrong environment, our bodies will also do what it takes to naturally protect from harm and injury. In my case, I came home from this course with a stiff lower back.

Back stiffness is the first sign that your back is not happy, which means your chances of tweaking it or exacerbating an old back injury are higher. When any joint is stiff and not moving well, including the joints/vertebrae in your lower back, the muscles surrounding that joint will become naturally inhibited or weakened. This occurs on purpose as a protection mechanism. Your body doesn’t want a fully contracted muscle compressing an unhappy joint. In the case of your lower back, the muscles that can get inhibited when your back is not happy include your abdominals as well as back muscles.

So what can you do?

The good news is I’ve already helped you with step one: awareness. Inhibited muscles are not the same as weak muscles. In my case, I do have strong abdominals. My weekly routine consists of a regular Pilates practice, lifting weights, and I perform activities like hiking and running that engage my core. Yet despite all this, my abs were simply not having it this particular morning. They were not set up for a successful workout.

The combination of my stiff back and having sat for several days just meant that I needed to do something different to prepare my lower back and abdominals for this workout – so that I wouldn’t injure myself. My sleepy abs and stiff back were, in effect, trying to tell me just that. All I needed to do was have the awareness this was happening so I could take appropriate action.

It’s no different than when you go on vacation and you get off your routine by eating more than usual. You might return a bit bloated and not feeling your best self. This kind of feeling we are accustomed to. And might respond by getting a bit strict with our diets until feeling back on track. Our joints can react similarly to a change in routine – we’re just not as accustomed to the signs and symptoms that let us know. But once you are – you can easily manage this and avoid injury. Had I pushed through my Pilates routine as normal this morning despite sensing that my back and abdominal function was off – there’s a good chance I’d be sitting here writing to you with full on back pain instead of just some lingering stiffness.

If you’re reading this, and you’re over the age of 40, odds are pretty good that you’ve experienced back pain at some point in your life. The odds are also pretty good that you’ve experienced back pain more than once. If this is a recurring pattern for you, your abdominals and deep core may not be functioning at their best and you could be caught in a vicious cycle of trying to improve your core strength only to keep hurting your back.

The missing solution for you might be that nobody has fully examined your back in a way to ensure that it’s moving fully and freely like it should. Once your back moves well, you can usually start to strengthen your abdominals without a problem.

If you’re confused right now – I don’t blame you.

The take home point here is that if you keep experiencing weakness in a particular area despite trying to strengthen it consistently, it’s possible you could have a problem in your joints that is keeping your muscles from fully activating like they should.

Talk to one of my specialists about it.

Someone from my client success team will call you right away and see if you are a good fit for what we do. At the end of the day – we’re here to help.

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

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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

Physical Therapist

Piriformis syndrome and Sciatica – PT not working?

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

Here is a great question I received from John:

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

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

1) where your pain is coming from and

2) what movement patterns trigger and relieve your symptoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traveling

4 Tips to Avoid Neck and Back Pain When Traveling

4 Tips to Avoid Neck and Back Pain When Traveling

Memorial Day weekend is the “unofficial” start of summer – and AAA estimates that 39.2 million people will travel this weekend. That’s 8.3% more than last year, and it’s going to mean the exacerbation of neck and back pain for a lot of folks out there – especially the over 40 crowd.

So why does traveling wreak such havoc on our spines? 

Road trips, planes and trains typically involve lots of sitting and driving, which necks and backs just don’t like when done frequently and for prolonged periods. You’re typically off your routine when you travel, and sleep on surfaces you’re not accustomed to.  Any one of these things – but especially when combined together – can flare up old patterns of neck and back pain.

The good news is there are lots of things you can do when traveling to ease neck and back pain. Here are 4 of my top tips:

 

1. Use the 30 Min. Rule

The biggest strain on your body while traveling is undoubtedly the prolonged periods of sitting – often in cramped spaces. Our bodies are made to move continuously throughout the day. Whenever possible, getting out of your seat often is critical for keeping your neck and back healthy and mobile. Motion is lotion. And one of the best things you can do for your neck and back is to interrupt any prolonged posture – especially sitting – once every 30 min. If you’re unable to actually stand for a few seconds, then try arching your back or stretching your arms up over your head while sitting. Do a few neck rolls and chin tucks to stretch your spine. The more you move, the better your spine is going to feel.

2. Use a Lumbar Roll

Our spine is made up of distinct curves for a very good reason. They are designed to balance forces and sustain shock – and it’s best if you can maintain them. When you sit, the curve in your lower back (lumbar spine) decreases, or sometimes disappears all together, when not supported. While it’s perfectly acceptable to sit like this for small increments of time, it will start to cause problems after several hours. Prolonged curvature of your low back puts unwanted stress on the discs, ligaments, and muscles in your spine.

Your neck also responds to this posture by assuming a position we call “forward head”. This can give you headaches, neck pain, and cause extra tension to occur in your mid back and upper shoulders. One of the best things you can do is use a cylindrical lumbar roll to help maintain the natural curve in your low back. If you’re driving, the lumbar support in your seat usually isn’t enough. Take a small towel roll, sweatshirt, or pillow and place it at the small of your back any time you’re sitting. You’ll find it’s easier to maintain the natural curves in your spine – and you’ll have a lot less strain on your neck and back.

3. Bring your own pillow

Sleeping on surfaces we’re not accustomed to can not only ruin a vacation but set us up for unwanted neck and back pain. If possible – bring your favorite pillow from home – or ask for extra pillows wherever you’re staying. If a mattress is too firm for you – you can use pillows to cushion areas of your body like hips and shoulders so that you don’t wake up sore. Conversely, if a mattress is too soft, you can use extra pillows to build up the surface under your waist if you’re a side sleeper, under the small of your back if you’re a back sleeper, and under your belly if you’re a stomach sleeper.

Lastly, if a pillow is too fluffy or too flat – your neck will end up paying for it. When you’re sleeping – the goal is to position yourself in a way that allows your spine to stay in neutral alignment. You don’t want your head tilted down or up – it’s the fastest way to stir up an old neck injury or wake up with a tension headache.

4. Extend instead of bend

Did you know that the average person bends or flexes forward between three and five thousand times per day? When you’re traveling – you’re going to be on the upper end of that metric. Our spines crave balance. And because of the disproportionate amount of time we spend bent over – we need to make a concerted effort to move our spines in the opposite direction. When you’re traveling – look for opportunities to be upright and mobile.

Walking is an excellent, therapeutic activity for your spine – plus – it’s a great way to see the sights wherever you’re going. When you’re practicing the 30 min rule, give your back and neck a nice stretch backwards each time you stand to interrupt your sitting. But probably more important than what you do during travel is what you do when you’re back home. Be cautious when jumping back into your typical gym or exercise routine. All the sitting and bending that comes with travel makes your spine vulnerable for injury. It’s very common to get injured a week or two after you’re home – seemingly “out of nowhere”.

 

Looking for more help with your neck and back pain?

Sign up for a FREE Discovery Session today to speak with my client success team to see if we can help you get rid of your neck and back pain for good.

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 your Cortisone Injection Failed You

Why your Cortisone Injection Failed You

When you have joint pain that won’t go away, especially after trying lots of physical therapy, your doctor might recommend you get a cortisone shot.

Cortisone shots are often prescribed for things like back pain, bursitis, bulging discs, cartilage tears, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and many other conditions that are perceived to be inflammatory in nature. While every single one of these conditions can cause things to be inflamed, it doesn’t mean that inflammation is your underlying problem. If something else is causing any of these structures to get irritated and inflamed, then your cortisone injection won’t work. At the very best it will provide you temporary relief, but the problem will ultimately come back in about 6-12 months time.

Cortisone shots also come with many potential problems and side effects. So you really want to be sure that it’s necessary before you get one.

The list includes problems such as: cartilage damage, death of nearby bone, joint infection, nerve damage, temporary facial flushing, temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint, temporary increase in blood sugar, tendon weakening or rupture, thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis), thinning of skin and soft tissue around the injection site, and whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site. And none of these side effects account for human error with the procedure. If your doctor is “off” with his/her injection – you could end up with unnecessary tissue trauma and pain because your shot wasn’t injected correctly.

So when it comes to cortisone shots, you really want to make sure that 1) the root source of your problem is inflammation and 2) you actually need one.

The reason why so many cortisone injections “fail” is because quite often – they weren’t needed in the first place. Even though the actual pain you are experiencing might be due to inflammation, the underlying cause leading to the inflammation could be something else entirely. Cortisone shots are used to address inflammation. But 80% of the time the musculoskeletal pain you’re experiencing is due to a mechanical or movement problem. So while the symptoms you’re experiencing could be due to inflammation, the root cause of your issue could be due to something else. In this case, the cortisone shot will not help – or worse – provide you with temporary relief that leads you to think it did.

Let me explain with a bit of scientific research.

Studies show that 70-80% of people over the age of 50 have a bulging disc on their MRI. 60% have a meniscus tear in their knee. These findings are considered normal as you age. The research also says that not all of these people experience pain. So you can have two people with the exact same MRI findings and one person will be perfectly fine while the other can barely walk. This is how we know that “the finding” (a bulging disc or meniscus tear for example) isn’t necessarily the problem.

The source of the problem is what is causing that bulge or tear to get annoyed.

About 80% of the time it’s going to be something like a faulty movement pattern or “mechanical issue,” such as poor mobility or stability, leading to some compensatory movement strategies in your body. When you don’t move well, structures like normally occurring disc bulges and meniscus tears can get irritated.

For example, let’s say you have a bulging disc in your back. If you sit for most of the day, travel a lot for work, or have a job that involves a lot of repetitive lifting, these types of activities are known to really aggravate a bulging disc. If all you do is inject cortisone to calm down the irritation, you won’t be fixing the real problem… which in this case is your daily movement habits. After about 6 months of returning to all these activities again, the pain WILL come back.

The good news is that there are ways to solve this type of problem (and others) naturally, and without a cortisone injection. But the important thing for you to realize here is that if you did get a cortisone shot recently and it appears to have “failed,” the last thing you want to do is get another one or resort to an even more invasive procedure. It’s possible you didn’t need it in the first place, so you want to make sure that is uncovered first.

So, if you’ve recently had a cortisone shot and it didn’t work, it could very well be that you never actually needed it… or that the wrong problem (inflammation) was being addressed instead of the underlying cause.

If you are considering something like a cortisone shot, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion to make certain you really need it and that it’s the best course of action for your problem. And if you’ve already had one and it didn’t work, don’t worry, odds are good that there is still a solution out there for you… and it doesn’t have to involve more procedures.

It could be as simple as learning how to move better!

Sign up for a FREE Discovery Session today to speak with my client success team to see if we can help you avoid quick fixes like cortisone shots and get long lasting results. 

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.