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Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. What you need to know.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. What you need to know.

I was recently doing some research on how often back surgery fails – and I came across more than one research paper talking about “Failed Back Surgery Syndrome”.

Say what?

I knew that approximately 50% of back surgeries were unsuccessful, but I didn’t know it was common enough that they had actually coined the term!

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome refers to patients with chronic, long standing back pain, with or without referred leg pain, who have had one or more surgical interventions that have failed to treat the pain.

It’s also known as “post-surgical spine syndrome” – and it’s estimated to occur in 20 – 40% of all surgical cases.

A systematic review of the literature of patients under the age of 70 suffering from disc herniations, and who underwent discectomies, found that between 5 and 36% of these folks suffered from recurring back or leg pain after 2 years. Another study by Skolaksy et al investigating 260 patients with degenerative changes in their spine who underwent surgery for spinal stenosis – found that almost 30% of these patients had either no change – or increased pain – 12 months after surgical laminectomy with or without lumbar fusion.

Despite these statistics, approximately 500,000 Americans are still undergoing back surgery every year to relieve their pain.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates back surgery to cost us $11 billion annually. That’s a lot of money to spend on something that isn’t even guaranteed to work.

So why ARE we spending so much money on back surgery when for almost half of these people, it’s not successful?

Well first, back pain is not fun. It can be excruciating, debilitating, and can have a significant impact on your life and happiness. If you’re told surgery will fix your problem (and it often does take your pain away in the short-term), why wouldn’t you choose this option?

Second, there is a major problem with the way back pain is diagnosed.

Most of the time, back pain is diagnosed via imaging (X-rays or MRI’s) and a treatment plan is based off of the results of those images. If you’ve got a bulging disc with severe leg pain or numbness, they recommend you cut it out. If you’ve got severe degenerative changes causing stenosis, they recommend fusion.

Back pain should always be diagnosed first with specialized movement testing.

Why?

Because we now know from research that 70-80% of all back pain is considered “mechanical”- meaning the root cause or your pain is due to poor mobility or movement habits, and not actually caused by the findings in your images.

Findings such as bulging discs, disc degeneration, and stenosis are all a normal part of aging and there are plenty of people out there who have these exact same findings and no pain at all. What typically happens is that your inefficient movement patterns, or immobility problems, will exacerbate these structures and findings – and that is when you start to experience pain.

This explains why so many back surgeries are unsuccessful and why more people than necessary end up with Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. When underlying movement or mobility problems go undiagnosed, and are not addressed first, your symptoms come back. It may not be right away, and could be up to a few years, but they do return. And sadly, they become even more difficult to address after one or more surgery has occurred.

So if you’ve got back pain and are considering surgery, definitely think twice and be sure you’ve been fully examined by a mechanical back pain expert FIRST.

And if you’ve already had back surgery and it didn’t work to fully resolve your symptoms and get you back to doing everything you love to do – there’s still hope for you – a good place to start is with a proper mechanical back pain exam to see what was missed prior to your surgery.

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 to catch a replay of her online Back Pain & Sciatica Masterclass – visit cjphysicaltherapy.com

Are your Back MRI results reliable? Research says otherwise.

Are your Back MRI results reliable? Research says otherwise.

Whenever pain flares up – one of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI. When you have persistent pain that won’t go away, or shooting pain or numbness down your arm or leg, it’s scary. It makes sense to get a look inside with an MRI, right?

Not necessarily.

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine. But what we now know from research is that all those findings on an MRI don’t always correlate with what’s actually causing your pain.

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.”

Let me explain.

When it comes to back problems – or joint problems in general – what most people don’t realize is that 70-80% of all spine and musculoskeletal problems are what we call “mechanical” in nature.

That means your pain has to do with the way you move, bad postural habits learned over the years, or muscular and joint imbalances like weakness and poor flexibility. Many of these mechanical “wear and tear” problems don’t show up until your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s – which coincidentally is also the time that things like disc degeneration and other age-related changes show up on an MRI.

What it’s important to understand is that disc degeneration, arthritis, and bulging discs are ALL a normal part of aging, but they often get blamed for problems they don’t actually cause. In other words, the source of your pain is often a movement dysfunction learned and repeated over time that is irritating you – not the age-related changes themselves. The best way to figure out if your problem is movement-related vs structure-related is… well… with a movement assessment… NOT an MRI.

So how does movement testing work and why is it more reliable than an MRI? 

This is a great question and not one that is easily explained… but I’m going to try!

When your back, neck or joint pain is mechanical in nature – one of the most important things to look at and pay attention to is how your pain behaves. Not necessarily where it’s located. With pain – the most important thing to determine is how it reacts against certain triggers and with different activities.

Does your pain come and go? Do you have good days and bad days? Can you change positions and influence your pain?

When your pain is variable, it’s the most reliable sign that your pain is “mechanical” in nature. It also means you don’t need surgery or any kind of procedure to fix it. In fact, a procedure or surgery could leave you feeling worse off than before. Let’s say you “cut out” the structure – or inject it to make it numb – your movement problem hasn’t gone away and it’s only a matter of time before it starts aggravating something else.

Take home point… MRI’s are a super powerful and amazing diagnostic tool – but their results when it comes to diagnosing neck, back, or joint pain MUST be taken with a grain of salt – and should absolutely be coupled with an expert mechanical joint evaluation before you decide on a treatment plan.

Because if you are dealing with chronic, long-standing aches and pains that have come and gone over the years – or have recently gotten worse – there is a 70-80% chance that it is a mechanical problem finally catching up to you and not a structural problem.

Figure out the root source of your neck, back, or joint pain by seeing a movement expert who specializes in mechanical pain FIRST. Because when you automatically assume that you need an MRI first, and you base your whole treatment plan off of those results – you can end up down a rabbit hole of unnecessary medical procedures or surgery that ultimately won’t give you the long-term relief you’re looking for.

Local to Portsmouth, NH? Join us for our next free online Back Pain & Sciatica class happening Wed Oct 13th from 6-7p on Zoom.

CLICK HERE to reserve your seat.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes weekly articles published in Seacoast online. 

 

 

Should Age be a Reason to Avoid Certain Activities?

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

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

The short answer is no.

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with pain.

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain that.

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

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

But the current research disputes this line of thinking…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here’s what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should you Rest when your Back Hurts?

Back pain is the most common type of problem we see here in our office. And the number one question I get from people who’ve hurt their back is, “should I rest until it feels better?” 

The short answer is “no.” 

But I understand why this is confusing. It’s scary to move, or know which exercise is best when something hurts, especially if it’s your back. We also get conflicting advice from the medical community. Many people suffering with back pain have been told they should rest, ice, lie down, and use their back muscles as little as possible until they recover. They’ve been told they should limit their movement and activity until their pain goes away.

Well what if I told you that for 80% of all back problems – movement is actually the BEST medicine.

Research even supports this. Most back pain falls into the category of what we call “mechanical low back pain” – and this type of back pain responds best to movement over anything else. It’s important to note that although movement is good when your back hurts, you want to pick the right type of movement. Generally speaking, early movement like walking is considered one of the best things you can do for your back, along with very specific mobility exercises in a direction designed to relieve your pain quickly. But you’ll want to avoid things like lifting heavy weights at first, or bending/stretching over excessively. If your back pain involves an irritated nerve, stretching forward, even though it might feel good, can often worsen your problem.

So what’s the big deal? Why is it so bad to rest until your back pain goes away?

Although most back pain will go away on its own with time, the problem with resting instead of moving is that it can prolong the time it takes to truly heal. And in some cases, rest can make your back problem worse. Too much rest leads to deconditioning of your muscles, and can even lead to biomechanical changes to the curves in your spine. Resting may take your back pain away, but it’s going to leave you feeling much stiffer and weaker, putting you at risk to just hurt your back all over again. One of the biggest problems I see with back injuries is a lack of mobility, sometimes due to weakness and sometimes due to not moving around enough. A flexible spine is a healthy spine. That’s why choosing activities like walking and corrective stretching exercises over rest will not only relieve your back pain, but will give you a better chance at keeping the pain gone over time.

Another issue with too much resting, especially lying down, is the impact on your discs.

Back problems frequently involve some variation of a bulging disc, and when you lie down, your disc changes in size. Lying down does relieve pressure from your disc, but also causes it to absorb more fluid, making it bigger. You won’t know this is happening until you go to get up. That enlarged disc will not feel good when it gets pinched. It’s why most people who are dealing with back pain feel worse first thing in the morning, just after getting out of bed. Their pain eases once they stand and start moving around a bit. When you walk around and move, you get natural compression of your disc, keeping the disc bulge smaller and thus, less of an irritant. A bulging disc in your spine is a pretty classic form of mechanical low back pain, and we already know that mechanical back pain responds best to movement.

Remember that the absence of back pain does not mean the absence of a back problem.

Back problems can be complicated and they love to linger under the surface until one day, a certain movement just tweaks you. The best way to figure out a back problem – and heal a back problem quickly – is with movement. As tempting as it is, don’t just rest to get rid of your back pain. Try walking, and even some easy stretching, and take note of what happens. You’ll either start to feel better the more you move or worse. If your pain is easing up with the movement you’ve chosen – you’re on the right track! If your pain is not responding or getting worse, then it’s a clue you need to see a professional. Either way, movement is your friend, because it’s going to tell you something. Rest won’t do that for you and if anything, potentially prolong the issue when you could have been doing something about it.

If you’re looking for a new, safe way to get moving, check out our Pilates offerings. New clients can even try UNLIMITED Pilates offerings for 5 weeks with our New Client Pass!

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

MRI

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!

The Location of Your Pain may NOT be its Source…

One of the most confusing topics we deal with in our practice is pain. And there’s lots of advice out there on what to do about it…

Should you rest or move? Apply heat or ice? See a doctor or let it go away on its own?

Before you can even think about a solution to your pain, you must first accurately determine where it’s coming from. If you have pain in your knee, but it’s actually coming from your back, the best knee treatment in the world is not going to fix it.

Inaccurate diagnosis of pain is a BIG reason why so many people suffer longer than they need to, and undergo unnecessary surgeries.

You must accurately determine the source of your pain for treatment to be effective, and the location of your pain alone is not a reliable way to do that.

For example, I’ve seen people in my office with what they think is unrelenting tennis elbow, only to find out it was actually a problem in their neck causing it. I’ve seen people disappointed after a failed knee surgery, because the problem was never in their knee and actually coming from their back.

Isolated extremity pain (knees, elbows, shoulders) is one of the most misdiagnosed problems we see in our office.

A recent study by Richard Rosedale, et al. in the Journal of Manipulative Therapy investigated this – and it was found that over 40% of people suffering from isolated extremity pain actually had a spinal source of symptoms.

In other words, their extremity pain was actually coming from their neck or back.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen folks with unexplained shoulder pain lasting months or years get better as soon as we begin treating their neck, even though they never had neck pain.

Same for knees…

It’s possible to have knee pain that is caused by your back, without ever hurting your back!

Confused? I don’t blame you.

But more importantly, how do you figure out the source of your pain when it’s not always where you’re feeling it?

As already mentioned, the most common place for this to happen is with extremities. If you’ve got shoulder, elbow, knee or foot pain – and you don’t ever recall a specific injury to it – you MUST consider that it could be coming from your spine.

There’s a 44% chance that it is!

Where this gets really confusing is that typically your doctor will order an MRI when you’ve got isolated knee or shoulder pain that won’t go away. And if you’re over 40 years old, the MRI will almost always show “something” – a torn rotator cuff, torn meniscus, arthritis, or wear and tear.

Remember that these are normal signs of aging in everyone, and may not be the cause of your pain.

If you haven’t already had your spine checked properly as a possible source, you can’t rely on these findings (or the location of your pain) as an accurate diagnosis. That is how people end up having surgeries they don’t really need.

Whenever someone comes into our office with isolated extremity pain, we don’t even look at it without an exam of their neck and back first.

By moving your spine repeatedly, and in certain directions, we can often produce – or take away – the pain you’re feeling in your knee or shoulder.

Why?

Because if the pain in your extremity is caused by a pinched or aggravated nerve, moving your spine around is going to influence that, and tell us where the source really is.

An MRI and X-ray won’t be able to determine this for you with certainty – because sometimes your nerve only gets irritated when you move a certain way – or when you’re in a certain position. Since MRI’s and X-rays can’t see what’s going on while you’re moving, you can’t rely on those tests alone to tell you exactly where your pain is coming from.

If you’ve had pain in one of your extremities for a while now, and it’s not going away, it’s possible you’ve missed the source.

That source could be your spine.

And if you’re considering some kind of surgery or procedure, you definitely want to rule that out first.

Specialized movement exams like we do in our office are one of the most reliable ways to figure this out. If you’ve had unexplained pain in your knee or shoulder that isn’t going away, CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Session with one of our specialists.

Considering Back Surgery? Read this First

Approximately 500,000 Americans undergo back surgery to relieve their pain every year, and according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHTQ), this costs approximately $11 billion annually. The worst part — it turns out only 5 percent of these people actually need back surgery. And for many folks — the pain just ends up coming back.

So why are we spending so much money on back surgery when the majority of people don’t actually need it?

First of all, back pain is not fun. It can be excruciating, debilitating, and can have a significant impact on your life and happiness. If you’re told surgery will fix your problem (and it often does take your pain away in the short-term), why wouldn’t you choose this option? 

Well, if you knew the facts, you might be willing to hold off on a surgical “quick fix” and investigate options that are less risky. The research shows over and over that 80% of the population suffers from “non-specific low back pain,” meaning, it’s not from something structural like a tumor, broken bone, or deformity. The research also shows that non-specific low back pain does NOT benefit from surgery! The better solution for the majority of back pain sufferers is correctly prescribed movement followed by regular exercise to maintain your strength (especially your core) and postural endurance.

So again, why are we spending so much money on back surgery when the research and data clearly show it’s not the best course of action for the majority of back pain sufferers? 

There are a few reasons. First, most of the time we just don’t know any better.

Back pain is typically diagnosed with imaging (X Rays and MRI’s). Although these highly specific tests are critically beneficial after a major trauma or accident, or when you suspect something more serious is going on (like a tumor or broken bone), they are not the best way to diagnose non-specific low back pain. That’s because these tests are designed to show you everything – including all the normal, age-related changes that occur in your spine such as arthritis, degenerative discs, stenosis, and even bulging discs.

The truth is that 60-80% of people walk around with these findings in their spine all the time and have absolutely zero pain.

That means that your back pain is likely coming from something else, typically, a bad movement pattern or habit. Poor posture and movement habits can exacerbate a bulging disc or stenosis, and this is where the confusion comes in. Surgically “fixing” your bulging disc or stenosis will not correct your poor habits. That’s why so many people suffering from back pain get surgery only to find their pain comes back several months or years later. What you need to do is find the true cause of your low back pain and attempt to address that first before ever considering something like surgery.

The second reason back surgery is so common and over-prescribed is because it does a great job at taking pain away quickly where conservative therapy often fails. Conservative therapy really can help you get rid of back pain and keep it gone – but it has to be done correctly. And sadly, there are many well-meaning therapists, trainers, and movement professionals out there that lack the expert knowledge to get it right. If you don’t get the correct conservative treatment for your back pain, you’ll assume it didn’t work, and will be more apt to get surgery.

So how do you know you’re getting correct and effective conservative treatment? Quite simply, it will work, and fairly quickly! 

Remember, 80% of all low back pain responds to the right conservative treatment. You’ll notice obvious improvement in your back pain within 2 weeks. If you fall into the 20% where conservative treatment doesn’t work as well, it will be pretty obvious to a back pain expert almost immediately. In our office, for example, we have special movement screens and tests that we perform on everyone to determine if you’re in the 80% or the 20%. If you fall into the 20%, we know right away and can send you to your doctor, or a surgeon, for one of those highly specific tests to see what’s really going on.

The take home point is this: If you currently suffer from on and off back pain, have tried every treatment you can think of, and are just tired of it because it really hurts – I completely understand why back surgery would be an attractive option for you right now.

But please consider the facts and research first before you make the decision to go under the knife. Back surgery has its risks, and there is no going back from the unimaginable happening. If you have back pain that you’re ready to solve for good — sign up for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session with one of our specialists today!