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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!

Common Golf Injuries and How to Avoid Them

Golf season is officially here in New England. And there is nothing worse than an unexpected injury ruining your season.

Just this week, we’ve had some of our regular clients requesting extra “tune-up” sessions — just to make sure their body is ready for golf. After working with us for a while, they know that preventing injuries is far easier than rehabilitating injuries. And the last thing they want is for any kind of pain or injury to get in the way of what can often be a very short golf season around here.

With that said, I thought I’d go over with you some of the most common golf injuries we see and how to avoid them.

Elbow Tendonitis

Tendonitis is characterized as the painful inflammation of a tendon. It’s caused by repetitive movements that overload the tendon, eventually causing it to feel strained and overworked. When it occurs on the inside of your elbow, which is something that happens a lot with golfers, it’s called “golfer’s elbow.” The treatment is ice and rest initially (which means you don’t get to play golf for a while) followed by progressive and proper loading of the tendon to get it back to a healthy state. This whole process, if done properly, takes time… and it can certainly ruin your golf season if it’s not caught early.

What causes elbow tendonitis? We know that technically, it’s inflammation of tendons in your elbow. But what leads to that in the first place? Often weakness in your mid-back and shoulders along with mobility restrictions in your wrists. Your elbow is significantly influenced by what happens above and below it. If your mid-back and shoulder area are weak, the rest of your arm won’t feel supported and your elbow can get overworked. If your wrist is tight and immobile, your elbow will be forced to move more than it should, especially through a golf swing. This will cause extra stress on your tendons and eventually result in tendonitis. The best way to prevent this from happening is to make sure you’ve got adequate mobility in your wrists, and good strength in your mid back and shoulders.

Back Pain

One of the most common ways to hurt your back is with repetitive flexion (bending) and rotation (twisting). Well, what does a round of golf consist of over and over? Repetitive bending and twisting! Every time you swing that golf club, you’re putting your spine through one of its most stressful positions. And if it’s not prepared — it’s going to get injured.

One of the best ways to prepare your spine for a long and healthy golf season is to avoid a lot of sitting and keep it mobile. Sitting for prolonged periods makes your back more susceptible to injury in general, but especially if you’re going to be doing a lot of bending and twisting. Interrupting your sitting frequently during the day is a very easy way to minimize its harmful effects. 

If you lack adequate mobility in your spine, it will feel strained every time you try and swing your club. When you overstress a joint that is stiff, the muscles around it tend to tighten up and spasm in response. It’s important that you take time to optimize and maintain your best spinal mobility for golf season. This will significantly help to decrease the stress that occurs in your spine when you swing in one direction repetitively, and ultimately help you prevent a back injury.

Knee pain

Between walking 18 holes, and the repetitive twisting that happens at your knee when you swing a golf club, there’s the potential for lots of stress (and injury) through your knee joints. If you lack adequate mobility or stability in and around your knees, you’re going to have problems. Much like the elbow, the most common source of knee pain I see in my golfers comes from the joints above and below, and not from the knee itself. To keep your knees mobile and healthy and prevent them from getting overstressed during golf season, it’s important that you take measures to optimize the strength in your core and hips, as well as stability in your feel and ankles. 

The power in your golf swing should come from your hips and core, not from your knees (or back). If they aren’t very strong, your knees will want to try and help, and they are not designed for this. Your knees need to be loose and free during a golf swing. If not, the muscles and ligaments around your knee joint will take on unwanted stress. 

Another cause of unwanted stress to your knee joint is lack of support from your feet and ankles.

Your knees need a stable foundation if they want to bend and twist without stress. If stability below is lacking, your knees will tighten up in an effort to compensate. Moral of the story: make sure you’ve got mobile knees, a strong core and hips, plus stable feet and ankles, so that knee pain doesn’t derail your golf season.

Hopefully these tips help you to understand why golf injuries happen and most importantly, how to prevent them. If you’re feeling stuck and looking for individualized expert help – sign up for a FREE Discovery Session right here. We’re happy to help!

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

Why Back Pain Keeps People from Exercising

Did you know that eighty percent of the population suffers from what we call “non-specific low back pain” (NSLBP)?

You might have NSLBP if your back pain:

  • is often chronic
  • comes out of nowhere
  • comes and goes (you have good days and bad days)
  • is not due to a recent or major accident or fall

If you’re reading this right now, odds are very good that YOU are one of the 80% suffering from NSLBP.

Did you also know that research says exercise is the BEST treatment for this type of back pain?

But what do you do if back pain keeps you from doing the one thing that is best for you??

We have an 8-week program designed to tackle this very important problem… but before I get into that, let’s go over some reasons why back pain keeps so many people like you from exercising.

1. FEAR

Back pain is scary! This is the number one reason back pain sufferers don’t exercise. Is the pain you’re feeling good or bad? Should you be feeling any pain at all? Pain is confusing. And when you experience pain during exercise, it can be difficult to know if it’s normal or a warning sign. For many, the safest thing to do is avoid any exercise or movement that causes pain. But doing this can lead to a host of other issues, namely, loss of mobility and in-activity. When you become less mobile and active, your back pain gets worse, and now you’re in a vicious cycle.

2. BULGING DISCS

Most people who suffer from long-standing NSLBP pain eventually find themselves getting an MRI. And 60-70% of the time, it will show one or more bulging discs. If you’ve been following me for a while, you already know that most people over the age of 40 walk around with bulging discs – and that 65% of them feel no pain at all! In other words, if you’ve got a bulging disc, you can’t be certain it’s the cause of your back pain. Research proves this. And being told you’ve got a bulging disc is NOT a reason to avoid exercise. Movement is actually one of the best things you can do for a bulging disc. It may require some customization of your current exercise routine, but a movement specialist can help you with this. Don’t just stop or avoid exercise altogether without talking to one first.

3. YOU WERE TOLD TO REST

Well-meaning doctors and family members who aren’t up to date on the latest back pain research will advise you to rest every time you experience back pain. This might be reasonable advice when you’re dealing with an acute episode of back pain, but it’s terrible advice for chronic back pain sufferers. Rest is one of the worst things someone with chronic back pain can do. Since most people don’t have a thorough understanding of this concept, they find themselves in a yo-yo effect. They rest to “heal” their back pain. When it’s gone they return to exercise. When they hurt their back again they stop and return to rest… I’ve seen so many people fall victim to this perpetuating cycle and it’s a big reason why so many back pain sufferers find themselves with the NEXT problem on this list…

4. YOU’VE GOT A “BAD BACK”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this one and it makes me want to scream! First off, there is no such thing as a “bad back”. There are backs with problems, and there are backs more sensitive to pain than others, but there is no reason to believe your back is inherently “bad” or that you should stop exercising. Not exercising causes almost all back problems to become worse, but it can also turn a “bad back” into a strong and healthy one! For most people, once you get the right guidance, you can quickly find yourself safely and confidently exercising again.

5. INEFFECTIVE CORE STRENGTHENING

Interestingly enough the research on this topic is quite scattered. Much of the research says that targeted core work doesn’t have any added benefit compared to general exercise when it comes to reducing back pain. What the research doesn’t tell you is that your core strength can make or break how well you exercise. If you don’t exercise with good proper form, you’ll end up with back pain. Learning how to properly strengthen your core has a HUGE impact on your ability to exercise in a way that will not cause your back to hurt. I meet a lot of folks who start doing “core exercises” to get their abs stronger and reduce back pain, but they end up hurting their backs instead. That’s because there is a right and a wrong way to properly strengthen your core, especially if you’re prone to back problems.

On Sunday, September 6th, we’re opening enrollment to our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health™ program.

You MUST apply to join this program.

Click here to learn more.

Since this program fills up every time we offer it, we typically give the folks on our VIP waiting list an opportunity to sign up first.

Plus… when you sign up early, you can save up to $200 off the program!

If you’re suffering from NSLBP and you’ve stopped exercising, know that you’re not alone.

This is such a confusing topic and there are so many mixed messages out there about what the “right” and “wrong” thing to do is.

Don’t try to go at it alone!

Exercise is GOOD for your back, but you may just need a little help and guidance — and perhaps proper core strengthening — to get you there.

4 Tips to Save your Neck and Back During Summer Road Trips

Now that summer is in full swing, but a lot of people don’t feel comfortable flying, many of us are planning road trips for those special summer getaways! It’s always fun to hit the road and explore a new place — but first, let me help you out with some tips to save your neck and back…

(For more tips – check out our Free Guides section on our website and also join us for our next virtual workshop all about neck and shoulder pain!)

Tip #1: Interrupt your sitting

The biggest strain on your body while traveling is undoubtedly the prolonged periods of sitting. Our bodies are made to move continuously throughout the day. Too much sitting puts extra load and compression on your spine, and can trigger an underlying problem you weren’t even aware of.

On road trips, getting out of your seat is critical for keeping your neck and back healthy. Try to plan extra time in your trip to pull over at rest stops and walk around. We recommend interrupting your sitting every 30 minutes for good neck and back health. I understand keeping up with that frequency on a long road trip is difficult, but something is better than nothing! You’ll want to capitalize on your rest stops by moving around instead of sitting.

Tip #2: Use a lumbar pillow

A proper lumbar pillow is not only essential for good lower back alignment while sitting, but also for proper neck alignment. We have natural curves in our spine that are designed to absorb shock and disperse load. When those curves aren’t maintained, especially for prolonged periods, you get abnormal and unwanted forces throughout your spine – resulting in pain and stiffness.

Ever heard of the dreaded “forward head?”

That’s the posture your neck assumes when it needs to compensate for lower back slouching. We sell lumbar pillows in our office, but you can also try making your own by rolling up a towel or sweatshirt. Just make sure the roll is thick enough to maintain the natural curve in your lower back without much effort while you sit. The built-in lumbar supports that come with your car are typically NOT adequate enough.

Tip #3: Adjust your car seat

This is an often overlooked, but important component to achieve healthy posture while driving. Too often, I see folks driving around with seats that are either too far away or too close to their steering wheel. If you’re too close, it will cause you to sit overly straight or upright, resulting in unnecessary strain in your neck and low back. If your seat is too far back, then it will be virtually impossible to maintain the natural curve in your lower spine, even with one of our lumbar pillows. Your arms will need to overreach for the steering wheel, causing strain in your shoulders. And your neck will assume that forward head posture just to remain upright, causing strain to your neck.

You want to make sure your seat is positioned in a way that allows your neck to be easily balanced on top of your spine and pelvis – without much effort. Your elbows should be at an approximate 90 degree angle when your hands are on the steering wheel, and there should be a relaxed 45 degree bend at your knee so that your foot can easily switch from gas to break without you having to constantly flex your thigh. Having your car seat positioned correctly before you take a long drive will significantly decrease the strain on your neck and back.

Tip #4: Use a neck pillow when you sleep

On road trips – we often sleep on mattresses that are less than optimal and certainly not as comfy as our own. Using a neck pillow while you sleep can significantly decrease morning pain and stiffness caused by poor sleeping postures.

Getting a good night’s sleep and not waking up in pain has a lot to do with the position you sleep in.

Just like with sitting, you want your sleeping position to be as balanced as possible. When you sleep on your stomach, your neck has no choice but to stay turned and extended to one side all night. Prolonged poor postures are not great for any joint in your body, but especially those in your neck. Your neck is the most mobile section of your spine which makes it much easier to “kink” if in a poor position. Sleeping on your back is not terrible, and it’s what many people prefer.., but depending on how firm or soft the mattress you’re sleeping on is… it could be difficult to maintain the natural curves in your neck and back while you sleep. If you sleep in a slouched position all night long, you’ll wake up with pain and stiffness.

If you can tolerate it, my favorite position for sleeping is on your side and with a neck pillow. This allows both your neck and low back to stay relaxed and with their natural curves.

To make a neck pillow, use a small towel roll about 3 inches in diameter and stuff it the long way inside the bottom of your pillow case. When you rest your head on the pillow, it acts like a comfy support to maintain good neck alignment while sleeping on your side. We can also order one for you!

Speaking of neck pain, our next online workshop is happening on Tuesday, July 21st from 6-7pm and it’s all about neck and shoulder pain! Join from the comfort of your home — because it’s virtual!

Click here to reserve your seat!

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.

Setting Goals for the New Year? We can help!

A new decade is on the horizon, and so are new health and wellness goals for many of us!

Are you already discussing resolutions or considering ways to make 2020 your best yet? The new year is a great opportunity to form new habits that will help us become our healthiest, happiest selves. Setting detailed goals is a constructive way to approach the 2020’s that can help you feel more motivated and hopeful about the future.

The idea of New Year’s resolutions is great, but most people only stick to them for a couple weeks.

Resolutions are so often left unfulfilled in part because they’re usually pretty general statements that are made without much forethought, intention, or planning. At some point we’ve probably all resolved to “get healthy” or “eat more vegetables” or “spend less money.” All worthy ideas, but can you see why people don’t follow through?! There’s WAY too much wiggle room, and nowhere near enough specificity. That’s why oftentimes, setting goals with distinct processes will help you accomplish much more than a run-of-the-mill resolution.

There are two essential factors in goal setting. First, the goal must be attainable. Secondly, you must define concrete steps that you intend to take towards reaching that goal.

Most of us want to be healthier, but what does that actually look like? One person’s journey to becoming healthy could be totally different from another’s. These goals can be made in conjunction with a health professional such as a physical therapist, especially if they relate to mobility, strength, and physical activity. Many of us have intended to “exercise more,” but those two words rarely yield results. A more effective goal might be to enroll in a Pilates class, take a half hour walk outside five days a week, drink the recommended 64 ounces of water each day, or to do ten minutes of stretching every morning after getting out of bed.

A group program such as Pilates can be especially helpful because it gives you a sense of accountability and camaraderie. In fact, our signature Pilates 101 program is relaunching in January, and we are so excited about it! Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health is a one-of-a-kind 8-week program that delivers safe, yet highly effective Pilates-based core strengthening exercises that are easy on the joints, designed to lessen back pain, and help improve your flexibility and posture.

If you can track, schedule, or measure the steps of your goal, you’ll know when you’re making progress. If those steps happen alongside people who share similar goals and under the direction of a movement expert who can support you for two whole months — even better!

So, let’s finish off this decade strong — and don’t miss out on Pilates 101! These spots go fast, so apply now to make sure you don’t miss your chance.

man getting back pain treatment

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!

5 Signs Your Core is Weak – And What You Should Do About It!

A strong, healthy core is important for our health and posture. When your core is strong and working properly, you will have less back pain, better posture, and will move with more ease and endurance.  But how do you know if your core strength is where it needs to be? I can tell you that chiseled abs, a thin waist, or the ability to do a hundred sit-ups are NOT reliable signs of a strong core.

Instead, here are five signs to know if your core is weak and what you can do about it:

1. Your Back Hurts

The most common side effect of a weak core is back pain, and yet most people still don’t consider core strengthening as a way to address those problems. Your core’s job is to support your spine and act as the center from which all movement stems. If those muscles are not properly conditioned – meaning – if they aren’t conditioned to engage when they are supposed to – your spine is at risk for being overworked, and muscular strain and tension are inevitable. The pain will most likely occur in your lower back, but can even occur in your neck, making simple tasks like bending, lifting, and walking totally miserable for you. Check out our free guide for getting rid of back pain and stiffness here.

2. You Have Poor Balance

This may not be an obvious one – but one of the main culprits of poor balance is a weak core!  Your core muscles help to stabilize your pelvis, and a stable pelvis allows you to have better balance.  If the muscles around your pelvis (particularly your hips and glutes) are weak, then your balance will undoubtedly be affected. This may not be an issue that you notice right away.  But next time you’re walking across an icy driveway or unstable surface, you’re going to wish that your balance was at 100%. We incorporate Pilates into our physical therapy practice because it is such an effective whole-body strengthening system that can really make a huge difference in core strength and balance. A strong, coordinated, and engaged core helps you to react to balance challenges more efficiently, and may prevent that next fall!

3. You slouch all the time

Most people struggle to maintain good posture when they have a weak core. It becomes so easy to slouch, and you may not even realize you’re doing it.  Observe your posture right now… Are your shoulders rolled forward? Is your low back missing its natural curve? Is your head poked forward? When you go to correct your posture, does it feel difficult or tiresome to maintain? If so, your core might need some endurance-training!  A lot of people will argue that core strength has nothing to do with your posture. But here’s the thing, a strong core makes it easier and more natural to have good posture, and when better posture becomes effortless, it starts to become your norm. Your whole body – especially your spine – will thank you.

4. Your feet and wrists hurt

Many of our clients come to see us with an initial complaint of foot pain (also known as plantar fasciitis) or wrist pain. It keeps coming back no matter how many times they get rid of it or go to physical therapy. Sound familiar? When you have a weak core, and lack the proper central support and stability you need, your outer muscles and joints will eventually suffer. We already talked about balance. If your core isn’t working to help you stay more stable, your feet will have to work harder, resulting in overtaxing of the tissue on the bottom of your foot. If your middle back can’t support you when you’re pushing or pulling, your wrists (or elbows) will take the brunt and this can result in stiffness or pain over time. If you’ve got any chronic problem that isn’t getting resolved over time, something is missing. In the case of your wrists and feet – it may be a sign of a weak core!

5. You’re always holding your breath 

If you’re always being reminded to breathe when you move or exercise, this is another sign that your core is weak and not working properly. You’ve heard me talk about this before, but your deep core is made up, in part, of your diaphragm, which is your main breathing muscle.  When your core lacks stability, or in most cases, doesn’t know how to engage in the right way to give you the stability it needs, your diaphragm will contract to compensate. One of the most tell-tale signs that this is happening is that you always hold your breathe during exercise. This is probably one of the most overlooked signs of a weak core, and one of the most difficult to correct! It’s why we’ve dedicated an entire module to this topic in our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health program, and it’s one of the most important things we work on with every single client as we prepare them to confidently return to exercise.

If any of these signs seem familiar to you, then you might want to start paying more attention to strengthening your core! But don’t just start doing sit-ups or planks haphazardly and expect good core strength to follow. Being able to do sit-ups and planks are the RESULT of good core strength. You must first learn how to engage and strengthen your core properly.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH.  To get a free copy of her guide to taking care of back pain – click here.