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Why Proper Breathing is Essential for Good Core Strength

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

Why is this important?

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

Let me explain…

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Chest breathing

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

2. Your neck feels tight

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

3. You hold your breath when you exercise

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

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

Remember that good core strength starts with your breath!

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

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Five Reasons People over 40 are doing Pilates

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

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

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

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

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

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

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

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

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

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

3. Pilates improves your flexibility.

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

4. Pilates minimizes stress to your joints.

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

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

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

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

Could your Knee Pain be Caused by your Lower Back?

One of the most important things to get right when it comes to successfully resolving knee pain is to correctly identify the source.

Is your knee pain actually due to a problem in your knee? Or is the root cause of your knee pain coming from somewhere else in your body – such as your lower back?

One of the biggest clues that you’ve missed the root source of your knee pain is that it doesn’t go away after trying everything that “should” help it. Perhaps you’ve tried ice, heat, pain medication, foam rolling, strengthening, and stretching… but no matter what, your knee pain just won’t seem to go away.  This is often when knee doctors start to get involved, which is great if you actually have a knee problem. Knee pain that doesn’t respond to conservative treatment should be looked at further. It’s possible that you might need some kind of procedure or surgical intervention.

But what if your knee pain is a symptom of something else? If so, and you don’t get it properly checked, then you risk having unnecessary knee surgery. 

I just spoke to someone who this happened to. She had knee surgery to “clean out” some wear and tear from arthritis after trying several months of physical therapy. She was told it would be a “quick recovery” and that her pain would be significantly reduced. Well, three months later, her knee is feeling worse than pre-surgery. And to fix the NEW pain she has, they tell her she will need even more surgery! She came to us for a second opinion, and the very first thing we did was screen her lower back to see if it might be the cause of her knee pain. Turns out it was! This woman’s knee pain was never actually coming from her knee, and she ended up having unnecessary surgery because the root cause – her lower back – was missed. 

How does a misdiagnosis like this even happen?

One of the biggest culprits is imaging. If you’re over age 40, and you get an X-ray or MRI taken of your knees, there is a 60-80% chance they’ll find arthritis or meniscus (cartilage) tears. Studies have shown that arthritic changes and meniscus tears are a normal part of aging, so they will show up on your images even if you don’t have any knee pain. This is why you should never dictate your treatment plan, and certainly not surgery, based on an MRI or X-ray alone.

Here are a few clues to help you figure out if your knee pain could be coming from your back.

First, pay attention to how and when your knee pain started. If you’ve had a fall or some kind of trauma to your knee, and you experience knee pain or swelling shortly after, then odds are very good you have an isolated knee problem. With isolated knee injuries, you often know exactly when and how you hurt your knee. It may have been associated with a pop or specific strain of some kind. But if your knee pain comes on slowly or out of nowhere, then you must consider that the source of the problem could be elsewhere. 

Another clue is how your pain behaves. When your lower back is the source, often you’ll have difficulty pinpointing exactly where your knee pain is. It may feel dull or even numb. It might move around, or perhaps travel up or down your leg. One day your knee will feel great, and other days it could feel excruciating. When someone comes into our office with pain like this, we ALWAYS check their lower back first. Knee pain that moves around a lot, or that comes and goes frequently, can quite often be due to a back problem.

If you’ve been suffering from knee pain for awhile, it’s worth considering that the root source of your problem could be your lower back.

Before you think about getting images of your knee, or undergoing some kind of surgery or procedure, you’ll want to make certain that your knee problem is indeed a knee problem.

We’re actually giving an online workshop on this topic on Tuesday, April 27th, from 6-7pm, live on Zoom. It’s free to attend, and we’ll be going over this topic in even more detail. We’ll also be talking about some of the more common knee problems, what causes them, and what you can do about them on your own at home, so that you don’t have to rely on things like pain medication or injections.

If you’d like to reserve a virtual “seat,” just click the link here!

Could your Hamstring Strain Actually be a Back Problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And her instincts were right! Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

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

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

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How MRI’s Lead Back Pain Sufferers Toward Unnecessary Procedures

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, but is it necessary? In most cases, no.

About 70 to 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 cannot 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. It’s why we are doing a free online class for back pain and sciatica sufferers Tuesday, March 16th, from 6 to 7 p.m.

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, and we’ll be sharing tips on how to get control of your back pain naturally and on your own.

If you miss the class — no worries! You can sign up for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session with one of our specialists right here.

Why Strengthening Your Core Could Be Hurting Your Back

As you probably already know, we specialize in back pain and core strengthening via Pilates

So why on earth then – would we be writing about how strengthening your core could actually be hurting your back instead of helping?

One of the number one reasons people come to see us is because they want to strengthen their core – in hopes that it will put an end to their back pain.

But here’s the thing about core strengthening and back pain…

In most cases it will make you feel better and possibly even take away your pain. But there are many times when going to core strengthening first is not right for your back, and can actually make it worse.

The biggest misconception I see when it comes to getting rid of back pain is that if the pain is gone – the problem is gone.

NOT TRUE!

And this is where people can get in trouble. If they try to strengthen their core too soon, back pain will come back with a vengeance.

Here are a few ways to tell if strengthening your core could be hurting your back instead of helping…

1. You feel stiffer after workouts.

As I mentioned previously, the absence of back pain does not mean you have addressed the root cause of your back problem. This is especially true if you’re prone to “throwing your back out” year after year.

One of the precursors to a full blown back pain episode is stiffness.

If you find that your spine feels more stiff after your core strengthening routine, it could be a sign that you are aggravating your back instead of helping it. It’s only a matter of time before you wake up one morning stuck in pain and unable to move.

In our office, whenever we transition our clients from back pain treatment to our Pilates program, we teach them how to self-assess and check their spines.

This allows them to know if the core strengthening being done in Pilates is starting to aggravate them for some reason. If their self assessment reveals a stiffening back, they know how to correct this before it turns into pain, allowing them to quickly get back to strengthening without skipping a beat.

2. Your neck hurts

I’ve spoken about this before, but increased neck pain or tension during or after core workouts is typically a sign that you’re not activating your core properly.

If you’re trying to work your core to recover from back pain, this could be a big problem for you. It’s only a matter of time before your back pain returns.

When you don’t know how to activate your core properly, you aren’t able to properly control pressure and tension in your abdomen. And you likely have difficulty controlling and coordinating your breath. When this happens, you can end up with unwanted pressure in your lower back every time you work those abdominals, which will eventually result in back pain.

This is one of those cases where core strengthening could be the right thing for your back, but you just aren’t doing it at a level that is appropriate for you.

Learning how to activate and build your core strength the right way is important all of the time – but it’s critical when you’re recovering from back pain.

3. Your hamstrings are sore and achy

A good core strengthening program targets more than just your abs. You should be strengthening your hips, glutes, and hamstrings as well.

While it’s normal to have some soreness after a good workout, when it comes to back pain, it’s important that you know the difference between muscle soreness and pain caused by nerve irritation.

Where you feel your pain and how it behaves is one of your best clues.

Let’s say that after a good Pilates session you notice soreness in both of your thighs and hamstrings the next day. This is typically considered “good” soreness. It’s symmetrical, feels better when you stretch, and likely subsides in 2-3 days. The more you work out, the less this soreness seems to occur.

But let’s say you feel an ache or a pull down only one of your hamstrings after a Pilates class. You stretch and it doesn’t help. It possibly even aggravates your leg. You rest, the pain goes away, but then comes right back after your next workout.

This could be a sign that your core strengthening routine is causing irritation to a nerve in your spine.

If you don’t address the irritation, your leg won’t feel any better and your back will start to hurt as well.

Plus, if you feel pain or soreness anywhere in your body after a workout, it’s important that you learn to recognize the difference between good and bad pain, so that you can correct problems before they happen.

If any of this is sounding familiar, and you’re not sure if strengthening your core right now is good for your back…

Join us for our next Back pain and Sciatica Class happening on Tuesday March 16th from 6-7p.

RESERVE YOUR SEAT HERE

It will be live via Zoom so you don’t have to leave your home, and it’s FREE to join.

Can’t make it live? No problem. Reserve your seat anyway and we’ll send you a complimentary replay of the class 🙂

Here are just a few things we’ll be going over…

  • Why so many people suffer from back pain
  • When you should and shouldn’t strengthen your core
  • Why MRI’s and x-rays are unreliable for diagnosing back problems
  • How to get control of your back pain without pills, procedures, injections, or surgery.

Reserve your seat HERE for our Free Online Back Pain & Sciatica Class – Tuesday March 16th from 6-7p – from the comfort of your own home via Zoom.

Hope to see you in the class!

Why Your Neck Stretches Aren’t Working

Do you suffer from chronic neck pain and ever wonder…

Why don’t my neck stretches work?

Even though you’ve Googled and YouTubed them about a hundred times…

There are a few reasons why stretching your neck might not be doing anything to help get rid of your neck pain.

  1. Your technique could be off
  2. You could be doing the wrong stretch
  3. It could be that you just shouldn’t be stretching your neck at all!

Let’s go over the different reasons why your neck stretches might not be working… and most importantly… what you can do about it.

1. You’re doing it wrong.

Although research studies are inconclusive regarding how long you should hold a particular stretch, most people feel good when they hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds. When it comes to technique, one of the biggest problems I see is not relaxing enough. If you’re tense, or gripping your muscles at the same time you’re stretching, it won’t work very well. It’s important to breathe and move easily into the stretch. If you try to force it or push through pain, you’ll likely tense up.

Now let’s say you’re doing everything right (not tensing or gripping) but your stretches still don’t seem to work.

Some people (myself included) respond better to “moving stretches”. This is where instead of holding one static position for a prolonged period – you repeatedly move through one or several end-range stretches. Neck rolls are a great example of this.

If your neck stretches haven’t been working, try adjusting the way you’ve been stretching… if it works… then you were likely just using the wrong technique.

2. You’re doing the wrong type of stretch.

This one could be a little tougher to figure out on your own. There is a difference between corrective neck stretching and stretching to feel good.

For example, let’s say your neck is tightening up because you’ve been under a lot of stress or you just did a lot of activity that impacts your neck. Generic neck stretches such as bringing your chin to your chest, or pulling your chin to the opposite shoulder (known as an “upper trap stretch”) may be all you need.

In fact, I do stretches like this regularly because I’m constantly leaning over to help patients. I stretch my neck to PREVENT it from having problems and because it feels good.

But let’s say you already have a neck problem, or you have pain or numbness running down your arm.

In these instances, generic neck stretching could make you worse.

You likely need corrective stretches, like what we prescribe for patients in our office.

Corrective stretches are specifically prescribed to address your particular problem in your neck – and are very different from the generalized stretches that are designed to feel good and relieve tension.

If you think you might need corrective stretches for your neck – DO NOT google them – you must see a specialist and have them prescribed to you.

3. You shouldn’t be stretching your neck at all!

This is a very common problem we see… folks come in with complaints of chronic tightness and discomfort in their neck and no matter how often they stretch or massage, it doesn’t go away.

Did you know that chronic neck tightness can be a sign of a weak core?

It’s quite common – and if that is the case for you – no amount of stretching will help – and could even aggravate your problem!

The deep, stabilizing muscles of your neck are connected by fascia to the deep muscles of your core. If your deep core is not working properly, then your neck will often kick in and try to help.

Ever notice that your neck is always sore or tight after a good ab workout?

This could be a sign that your neck is compensating for your core.

Stop stretching your neck, learn how to strengthen your core the right way, and see a specialist who can help you.

In our office, our team of specialists work alongside our Pilates instructors to help folks improve their core strength from the inside out – so that their necks and backs stop getting involved.

If you’re dealing with chronic neck problems that aren’t’ responding to stretching…

There’s a good chance you could be not stretching correctly, the stretches aren’t right for you, or you’ve completely missed the root cause of your neck pain and you shouldn’t be stretching at all!

Want to work with our team of specialists and finally get some help for your neck problem?

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

They’ll set up a time to talk to you about what’s going on with your neck. If you’re a good fit for what we do, then they will help you get started!

This is only for people serious about getting help…

And for those that are finally ready for a long-term solution to their pain – one that will put an end to constantly relying on pain pills – and help you avoid expensive procedures and risky surgery.

Request a Discovery Session here.

PhysicalTherapy Porstmouth NH

Five Reasons to Include Pilates in Your Life

Pilates has been around for about 100 years, yet so many people have NOT heard of this incredible exercise method. It was first created by Joseph Pilates and initially gained popularity among the dance community as a way to recover from and prevent injuries.

But you don’t have to be a dancer to practice Pilates or enjoy the benefits. It’s become very mainstream over the years and for good reason.

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

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 well into their 50’s and 60’s, 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 most importantly – significantly decreases the likelihood of injury.

But not all Pilates classes are created equal. And it’s important you choose your Pilates studio based on what your most important needs are.

Here are five reasons to consider adding Pilates to your life – and things to watch out for when choosing a program:

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 or chiropractors, and so many different kinds of core strengthening programs, but still have recurring back pain. They’ve been successful in getting rid of their pain in the short term, but they aren’t able to keep it gone for the long term.

Keeping pain GONE is what we specialize in – and one of the ways we do that is with Pilates. But “general/cookie-cutter” Pilates isn’t always enough.

For example, our Pilates instructors work closely with our PT team and get enhanced training on how to navigate back pain, and we keep our classes small so that we can pay close attention to everyone. If you’re recovering from an injury, or vulnerable to back pain, you’ll want to beware of classes that are overcrowded and not individualized. More than 5-6 people in a class when you’re trying to recover from back pain could be dangerous and increase your likelihood of re-injuring yourself. It’s impossible for your instructor to keep a close eye on you or give you individualized modifications when there are too many people in class.

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 in the right way at the right time. This can result in compensatory patterns over time – that may predispose you to injury.

Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated. Coordinated strength is essential if you want balanced strength – which will give you the best shot at avoiding injury.

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 – OR – it could be that you shouldn’t be stretching them at all! (Conversation for another day…)

Either 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 in most cases. The best way to stretch is to do it dynamically with movement. In Pilates, you never stop moving, and one of the central concepts to the practice is “lengthening”. Basically, you use the concept of self-induced opposition to strengthen and stretch at the same time – this is how you end up with flexibility that lasts.

4. Pilates minimizes stress on your joints.

Aging is a real thing and along with it comes arthritis. But it’s not a death sentence like most people are led to believe. 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 when you incorporate a regular practice of Pilates into your life. It helps to minimize the impacts of arthritis and even prevent the rate of degeneration.

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Say what? Is this even something I should care about?

Yes it is — and it’s almost ALWAYS a missing link I find for people who’ve been at a certain activity for a really long time, and then suddenly start having pain.

If you don’t train your nervous system, it gets lazy, and compensation patterns develop. When one part of your body is compensating for another, it ultimately leads to imbalance. The right type of Pilates will help with this.

Notice I said “right type.”

If you’re looking to just work out and have fun, then almost any Pilates will do. But if you’re wanting to truly correct your body’s imbalances and train your nervous system, Pilates is still your ticket but it needs to be with a qualified instructor.

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your everyday routine… what are you waiting for!?

It’s my go-to exercise system for folks over the age of 40 and it’s my favorite way to help people keep their back pain gone.

We have a month long FREE Pilates challenge starting Monday March 1st…

Join us! You can sign up by clicking the link right here.

5 Tips for Staying Active and Mobile as you Age

Most of our clients are in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and they want to stay as active as possible as they age. However, as we get older, our bodies do need more care and maintenance to age well and avoid injury. Here are some tips we like to give our clients to help them stay active and mobile, prevent injuries, and continue doing everything they love!

1. Keep Moving

I always tell my clients: “You don’t get stiff because you get old, you get old because you get stiff.”

If you want to stay healthy and mobile, you need to keep moving. One of the biggest questions I hear from folks aged 50+ is what to keep doing or stop doing because of arthritis. Remember, arthritis is normal as you age and it’s rarely a reason to stop doing certain exercises. Research has shown that activities like running, when done consistently and with proper form, can actually prevent knee arthritis! A similar and equally effective exercise is walking. Consistent walks will build up your strength and endurance, something that declines as you age, and it helps your balance and coordination. If you walk outside, you can get some fresh air and Vitamin D, which is highly beneficial for a strong immune system – something we all need right now.

2. Maintain a Healthy Diet

What you eat directly affects your ability to keep moving. If you’re not keeping your bones and heart healthy, you’re not going to be able to exercise! Greens like kale, spinach, and arugula are awesome for your bones. Along with citrus fruits, fish, and nuts, these foods help your bones stay strong and durable, which is a big concern for our clients with osteoporosis.

When it comes to taking care of your heart, your diet can have a huge impact. According to Health magazine, “The risk of a heart attack climbs for men after age 45 and for women after age 55.” So as you enter middle-age, be sure to increase the presence of foods in your diet like unsalted nuts, unprocessed oatmeal, raisins, blueberries, and even dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) to help keep your heart healthy! If you have any comorbidities such as diabetes or kidney problems, be sure to check with your doctor or dietician before making any drastic changes to your diet.

3. Work on your Balance

Balance is one of the first things to go as a person gets older, and it’s one of the most crucial factors in helping you prevent falls and avoid injury. Slips and falls due to poor balance can lead to broken bones and fractures, which can be harder to recover from as you age. But if you’re diligent about exercising with the intention of improving your balance, you can maintain (and even improve) it far into your later years. As already mentioned, activities like walking regularly can help, along with activities such as Tai Chi and Yoga. And now, with everything so accessible via Zoom, you can take advantage of these types of activities right from your living room!

4. Strengthen your core

Having a strong core is beneficial at any age, but especially as you get older. Strong abs, hips and buttocks (all part of your core) help you to sit and stand more upright, prevent back and neck pain, and will help you feel stronger and more confident in just about everything that you do. In our office, our favorite core-strengthening activity is Pilates. We especially love it for folks aged 50+ because it’s easy on your joints and it helps to promote flexibility at the same time. We use specialized machines that are beneficial for folks recovering from an injury, and we’ve got Zoom classes requiring no equipment at all that people can do from home. Yet another reason to love Pilates is that it doesn’t just work your core, but your entire body. You can even do portions of Pilates in standing, which helps your balance and coordination! If you’ve never tried Pilates before, we’d love to help you get started.

5. Educate Yourself

Knowledge is power, and a lack of knowledge is one of the biggest reasons I see people decreasing their activity levels unnecessarily. People think that issues like arthritis, bulging discs, or a torn meniscus are reasons to decrease or cease certain activities altogether. But that’s not necessarily true! Most of the things I just mentioned are normal occurrences as we age, and having them show up on an x-ray or MRI is not a reason to change an activity you’ve been doing successfully for years. Plus, regular movement and exercise actually helps these problems.

If you have pain, that’s a different story. Talk to an expert who can help you figure out what’s going on so that you can quickly get back to your activities and not make your pain any worse. Whatever you do, try to avoid Dr. Google. It can send you down a rabbit hole and not all the advice you read will apply directly to you. If you’re dealing with pain that is keeping you from your favorite activities, reach out to experts like us. We offer a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session just so you can ask questions, get honest answers, and figure out if we’re the right fit for your lifestyle. 

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Tight knots in your muscles? Do’s and Don’ts

At one point or another, or perhaps even this very second, you’ve experienced tight muscle knots somewhere in your body.

They are annoying, nagging, uncomfortable, and quite often painful. The most common area to feel these knots is in your upper traps (the triangle shaped area between your shoulder blades and base of your neck). But other areas of your body that love to get knotted up include your mid and lower back, your hips and butt, the front and sides of your thighs, and the back of your lower legs.

The first thing people think to do when experiencing these tight knots or muscle spasms is to get a massage or try rolling them out with a foam roller. Lately, theraguns seem to be the craze. These devices look like power drills and use percussive therapy to reduce pain and relieve tightness in the affected area. In our office, for really stubborn and painful knots, we use something called dry needling, which is where you take a tiny acupuncture needle and insert it into the tight knot to bring blood flow to the area and release tension.

These are all great options, and for the most part, I put them in the category of “Do’s” when it comes to getting rid of tight muscle knots.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, not so fast. Not all muscle knots are meant to be released.

“Don’t” aggressively release a tight muscle knot until you know why it’s there. 

Sometimes, muscle knots form as a critical compensatory strategy. If released too quickly, they can set off an array of problems. I was just talking to my massage therapist about this, because she’s seen it happen to her own clients. Occasionally, she’ll work her magic to get rid of tight muscle knots only to find the client feels worse after the session. This can happen when the tight knot was there to compensate for a weak muscle elsewhere. 

Let me explain. 

Muscles are connected via highly innervated tissue called fascia. It looks like a spider web and one of its main functions is to connect organs and muscles together. Fascia is still being studied, but one of the theories is that if one muscle group in that fascial line is not doing its job, a different muscle will work extra hard in its place to take up the slack. Eventually, that muscle will get exhausted and tighten up into a knot, because it’s doing more work than it was designed to.

If you release a knot that is “holding the line” together, you’re asking for trouble.

In this example, what I’ve found is that the passive methods of releasing muscles (those I mentioned earlier) aren’t very effective at helping you get rid of the problem. You might actually end up feeling worse or having pain elsewhere. If your tight muscle knot is there to act as a survival mechanism, it’s going to take a more comprehensive and total body approach to resolve it. You’ll need to figure out which muscle or muscles the tight knot is compensating for and address them at the same time you work to release the tight knot. You can keep getting your weekly massage, but you’ve got to pair it up with correctly prescribed exercises.

To summarize, DO figure out why you have a tight muscle knot in the first place.

Is it there because you overworked it in the gym? Maybe you’ve taken on a new project at home that is repetitive in nature? If these are the reasons you’ve got tight knots in your muscles, then DO release them. You’ll likely feel better. And then correct the movement patterns, so the knot doesn’t come back. If you feel worse after releasing the tight knots in your muscles, or the knot keeps coming back, then the problem likely involves more than just that muscle and you need a more comprehensive approach to get rid of it. DON’T continue to release it over and over. If you’re suffering from stubborn knots that won’t go away, get assessed by movement experts like us who can diagnose your problem accurately and help you get rid of your muscle knots for good.