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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! 

 

How Stress Leads to Back Pain

There is a lot going on in the world right now. And it’s impacting people in different ways. Many folks I speak with have been experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions — and their bodies are reflecting that. It’s resulting in symptoms such as more headaches, tension in their jaw, neck pain, and more back pain. Holding stress in your body is an interesting phenomenon, and there is still a lot of research to be done as to why exactly this happens.

Here are some of the top theories and reasons why stress can increase back pain.

Social conditioning:

Many of us are taught from a young age that expressing emotions, particularly negative emotions, is “bad” or “unacceptable.” The result is that you may have learned to hold stress inside your body when faced with a stressful situation. Researchers who study this believe that the muscle tension we develop is the result of “unspoken social beliefs” that we adopted as children in order to feel accepted or liked. This pattern carries into adulthood and becomes embedded into our subconscious systems, i.e. our nervous system. Later on, when faced with certain types of stress, our muscles react based on how we’ve taught our nervous system to repress (versus express) and immediately tense up. If you grew up learning to bury emotions and tension in your back, you’ll still feel more back pain as an adult whenever you’re stressed.

Trauma:

Trauma is often thought of as one, big physical event that is typically violent. But you can experience less obvious emotional or “micro-traumas” over the years that go unrealized over the course of your life. Then there is accidental trauma, such as a car accident or terrible fall, that was not deliberately afflicted on you. Regardless of the type of trauma or its perceived severity, the point here is that your body reacted in a certain way when you experienced it, and it “remembers.” Sometimes not right away, and sometimes not until years later, but stressful, emotional events such as what is going on in the world right now can trigger your body to react to trauma all over again. This could result in back pain if that is where your body held or experienced the stress at the time of the trauma.

Environmental Stressors and Habits:

This is something we help people with all the time in our office. Your daily physical and postural habits have a huge impact not only in how your body feels from day to day, but in how well it recovers from pain or injury. If you’ve been following us for a while, you know that sitting too much is one of the number one causes of persistent and chronic back pain. And stress plays a role in this. When you’re stressed, you tend to be less motivated and you may opt for unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as more TV and more couch time. You stay home instead of heading out for a walk or to exercise. This type of behavior, often influenced by stress, can exacerbate and even cause back pain.

Regardless of how or why stress impacts your body or your back pain, there is one thing I know for sure: MOVEMENT HELPS.

But what if your back pain has gotten so bad that now you can’t move, even if you want to? Or just the idea of moving and exercising has you fearful that you could worsen your back pain?

The first step is awareness. Is stress truly the main source of your back pain, is it something else, or is it a combination of the two? Knowing why your back actually hurts in the first place is essential for determining the correct intervention. If your back pain is primarily due to stress, and you’re about to undergo back surgery, that surgery won’t help you. Your back pain will just come back the next time you are stressed.

If you’re looking for help with back pain and are wondering whether or not stress could be the reason you’re feeling more of it right now, sign up for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session with one of our specialists. Many of our clients, after meeting with us for the first time, tell us how relieved they are to find out there is hope for getting rid of their back pain, even if they’ve suffered for years.

The Big Reason why Back Pain Keeps Coming Back

If you’re reading this and you’re over the age of 40, odds are pretty good that you’ve experienced back pain at some point in your life. The odds are also pretty good that you’ve experienced back pain more than once.

Every few months or maybe once per year – your back “acts up”. You get rid of it – but it ALWAYS comes back.

Sound familiar?

Well… you’re not alone. Four out of five people are impacted by back pain, and for many, it’s a constant back-and-forth year after year.

But why? Why does back pain always seem to come back?

There are essentially two main reasons:

  1. Back pain is primarily addressed with “quick-fixes” and passive modalities
  2. You (or your doctor) let MRIs make the decisions about your treatment

Quick fixes and passive modalities…

This is the most common way people tend to address their back pain. And it’s the number one reason why it always comes back.

What is a passive modality? It’s something that is done TO you. It’s where you walk in somewhere, lay on a table, and you receive some kind of treatment. This could be chiropractic care, massage, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, even injections and surgery. You have no active role in the process — it’s completely passive.

Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these treatments. They are GREAT for getting rid or your back pain — and quite often quickly. And they are also great for helping you with other problems, such a stress relief. (I LOVE getting my massage once per month!)

But when your back pain keeps coming back, it’s a big sign something is missing. These treatments are only addressing your symptoms – for example – tight muscles, tension in your nerves, stiff or out of place joints. These things are all the result of your back problem – not the cause.

And it’s the number one reason why your back problem keeps coming back – because the root cause – the thing that is causing you to have tight muscles or stiff joints – is never addressed.

When MRI’s make the decision…

Traditionally, the medical community diagnoses your back pain with images. They use X-rays and MRI’s to see what’s going on inside your spine, and from there, they make a determination of what your treatment should be.

This is a big problem, because what shows up in your MRI isn’t always the reason for your pain. For example, your MRI might show a herniated or bulging disc in your spine. Your doctor will immediately blame that for your pain. And depending on how “bad” it looks, they may suggest injections or surgery. But the truth is, another person could have the exact same visual results as you on their MRI and have no back pain at all.

So why is it that one person can have a bulging disc with no back pain, and another person can have a bulging disc with excruciating back pain?

It’s because the root cause of back pain is more complicated than your anatomy. Research has shown time and time again that 80% of all back pain is primarily influenced by your habits and the way you move, not by what’s going on structurally in your spine.

So you can go in and cut out the disc, but if you don’t identify and correct your poor movement habits that led to that bulging disc in the first place — it’s either going to come back or bulge somewhere else. It’s why surgery only has a 50% success rate for helping people keep back pain away for the long-term.

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

It’s why so many people suffer from back pain!

It’s also why we offer the opportunity for you to come talk to us for FREE if you’re tired of suffering from back pain with no real answers.

Click here to request a FREE Discovery Session with on of my specialists.

You can also download this FREE GUIDE on how taking care of back pain on your own. It was written especially with the recent quarantine in mind – where so many people have been stuck at home and off their routines.

Either way, you should know that if you want your back pain to stop coming back — it IS possible. You just might have the wrong approach and could benefit from some specialist care to finally get you going in the right direction.

Research shows MRI’s not reliable for back pain

One of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI for their back or neck problem. 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.

Here’s the problem. 

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 rarely 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 neck and back problems, 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 that your problem 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 show up on an MRI. Disc degeneration and arthritis are normal parts of aging, but they often get blamed for problems they don’t actually cause. The best way to figure out a movement problem is with… well… movement! Not an MRI.

But how do you know that it’s a mechanical problem and not something more serious?

The easiest way to find out is to ask a physical therapist who specializes in the spine, and specifically in mechanical neck and back pain.  But one sign you can easily recognize on your own is to take note of how your pain behaves. 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 best sign that your neck or back problem is “mechanical” in nature and due to a movement dysfunction. And that 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.

So what’s the big deal about getting an MRI?  Isn’t it good just to be extra-cautious?

In theory – yes.  But here’s what actually happens.  MRI’s are super powerful and amazing tools.  Because of this, they see everything – including normal age-related changes like I mentioned just a moment ago. They also pick up things like bulging discs.

Research has also shown that around 60-70% of the population walk around with bulging discs and have no symptoms. Why?

Because a bulging disc only gives you trouble if you are moving or positioning yourself in an unbalanced way.

If an MRI picks this up, the news is often more devastating than it needs to be and the typical advice is to get an injection or surgery.  Neither of these procedures will fix your movement problem. And what typically happens is the bulge comes back, or appears somewhere else. This is why being “extra-cautious”, and over-prescribing MRI’s when it comes to back and neck pain, is not a good idea. The outcome is usually that people end up dealing with invasive procedures and surgeries they didn’t even need.  

If you’ve had a bad accident, fall, or trauma – then an MRI is a good idea.  But if you are dealing with chronic, long-standing aches and pains that have come and gone over the years and have recently gotten worse – there is a 70-80% chance that it is a movement problem that has finally caught up to you.  It’s best to see a movement expert for this. We know how to tell if the issue is something more serious. We can also send you to a doctor right away if necessary. But when you automatically assume that you need an MRI first, you end up spending a lot of money (the average cost of an MRI is $150,000, and you have to pay a portion of this), and the likelihood of getting prescribed an unnecessary surgery or procedure is much higher.

If this story sounds all too familiar, or you’ve been told that you must get an MRI for your neck or back problem – feel free to reach out to us and we can help you sort through fact vs fiction.  You could also come to our next “Ask the PT Night” on October 23rd and ask your questions then!

How you actually CAN recover from chronic back pain

There’s nothing more discouraging than being in pain and feeling that there’s no way out of it. Back pain is such a common issue, and unfortunately, many people hold onto the mistaken belief that if you have a “bad back” you’re stuck with it for life. Not true!!

It is totally possible to recover from chronic back pain and return to the activities you used to love.

Great news, right? Let’s talk HOW. 

First of all, keep moving.

There are people in healthcare who will tell you to just avoid anything that irritates your back and accept that you can’t be as active as you once were. But what if basically everything triggers back pain? What if your job requires you to be on your feet or you simply want to tie your own shoes or pick up your grandkids? You don’t have to resign yourself to sedentary days spent popping ibuprofen every four hours and missing out on life. Don’t listen to the people who tell you to avoid movement — because in fact, the solution is the exact opposite. Consistent, correct movement heals your body and keeps it from shutting down. If you’re suffering from back pain, it may be a sign that your movement habits are off. You could benefit from working with a specialist physical therapist to retrain your body in how to move properly throughout your day, thus eliminating unnecessary stress on your spine.  

Along the same lines, make sure you educate yourself.

We offer a FREE workshop at our Portsmouth office every month to answer questions from our community, and our next topic is back pain and sciatica! You may feel like surgery and medication are the only options out there for recovery, but in reality they are just two of the less effective strategies for treating back pain. One of our clients, Sean, was dealing with multiple herniated discs and spoke with us on this exact topic. 

“I was considering back surgery until I found CJ Physical Therapy. I walked out of 

therapy with such relief that the thought of surgery was no longer an option. Therapy 

worked so much better than the steroid injection just a few months earlier, that it gave 

me hope of actually being able to feel like I did before the injury a year earlier.”

Nobody wants to get surgery, but if you haven’t been told about any noninvasive therapeutic routes to remedy your pain, surgery may seem like the only option. But time and time again, we have clients come to us with severe back pain and injuries that are often prescribed surgery — and time and time again, they have FULLY recovered through an individually customized program of physical therapy

If you’re dealing with chronic back pain, don’t be afraid to reach out.

We understand if you’re not yet ready to commit to PT — that’s why we offer FREE Discovery Sessions for potential clients. This 30 minute session is a chance for you to speak with one of our specialists and determine for yourself if we’re the best people to help you. It’s a completely free, no-obligation appointment that will give you all the information you need to make the BEST decision for YOUR health — whether that’s working with us or not! 

Why Rest Might Be the WORST Advice for Your Back Pain

The majority of the people who come through our doors are seeking relief from back pain. Unfortunately, many of them have been told -or have simply assumed- that the best way to recover from their pain is to ice and lie down – and use their back muscles as little as possible. They’ve been advised to rest, relax, and limit their movement until the pain goes away.

The problem with this model for treatment is that it goes against everything we know about the basic principles of joint and tissue healing. Our modern health research suggests that early movement is actually the BEST way to head off chronic back pain! Of course, if you’ve suffered a trauma like a car accident or a major fall, you should absolutely go get checked out by a medical professional and follow their advice based on your injuries. But if you are dealing with a chronically aching back or general soreness, stiffness, and pain, it turns out that movement is actually the best course of action!

Of course, not ALL types of movement and exercise are safe or beneficial when you’ve hurt your back…

That’s where physical therapy comes in! A physical therapist is able to identify specific movements that actually work through and relieve that pain, based on your individual condition. We call these initial exercises “first aid movements” – and they are especially helpful because you can use them any time you might tweak your back in the future! Knowing the specific movements that can help your back muscles relax and work fluidly with the rest of your body again can be a lifesaver if you work a physical job or rely on your ability to be active and mobile every day. And NOT knowing these movements can prolong your back injury and give it a better chance of coming back… often much sooner than you’d like.

If you’re experiencing acute back pain, of course it doesn’t make sense to continue with all of your activities as usual if they are just exacerbating your symptoms. But there is a middle ground between overdoing it and completely stopping the movement that your body craves. Talk to a physical therapist who specializes in back pain so they can help you figure out which movement is the safest and best for a quick and early recovery from back pain.

If you’re dealing with back pain right now and want to start learning how you can help yourself through movement (instead of pills) right away, check out our FREE report right here!