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Tight Hip Flexors? When Stretching isn’t Enough…

When it comes to feeling stiff and immobile, tight hip flexors are the second most common complaint I hear – right after tight hamstrings.

Tight hip flexors are annoying, achy, and they often contribute to lower back pain. When your hips are tight, it can be painful or uncomfortable to walk, run, play golf, exercise, and even stand up straight!

Typically, the recommended treatments for this problem include lots of stretching, foam rolling, massage, and myofascial release.

But what if the stretching and all that other stuff doesn’t work?

What if no matter how often you stretch, the tightness just keeps coming back?

Sometimes – actually often – the tightness you feel in your hip flexors (or any other muscle group for that matter) can be due to weakness or overworking of the muscle.

If this is your problem, then no amount of stretching or foam rolling is going to help you.

Stretching and foam rolling will help to temporarily ease the stiffness from an overworking muscle, but it will only be a bandaid until you tackle the root cause.

You need to first identify WHY these muscles are weak or overworking, and THEN figure out the proper exercise and load that will help turn your hip flexors from feeling tight and overworked – to flexible and mobile.

Your hip flexors consist of the muscle group located in the front of your hip in the area of your groin. They are responsible for flexing or bending your thigh up and toward your chest. But they also play a role in stabilizing your pelvis and lower back… and this is where we see a lot of problems and confusion.

The rectus femoris, part of your quadriceps muscle group, and your psoas, part of your deep abdominal muscle group, are the two major hip flexors. Your rectus muscle is the one primarily responsible for lifting your thigh. When you are walking or running, and repetitively flexing your leg, this is the muscle you are using.

Your psoas, on the other hand, is much shorter and actually attaches to your lumbar spine. Because of this, it has more of a stability role. When functioning properly, it will assist in exercises like the crunch or sit up, and it helps to stabilize your pelvis during any of these movements as well as when you are standing upright. Your psoas, abdominals, and glute muscles all have to work together in harmony for you to have good posture.

Let’s talk about the psoas for a moment… because this is where many folks I speak with are misinformed.

The psoas gets blamed for a lot of things – most notably – tilting your pelvis forward and being the cause of low back pain. The theory is that if you stretch, massage, and “release” your psoas muscle – then you will balance out your pelvis and your back pain will disappear.

Sadly – this is rarely the case. Read more

Five Ways Adding Pilates to your Life will Enhance your Fitness.

Pilates has been around for about 100 years, and it still amazes me how many people have NOT heard of this incredible exercise method. It was first created by Joseph Pilates and initially gained popularity among the dance community as a way to recover from and prevent injuries. But you don’t have to be a dancer to practice Pilates — or enjoy the benefits. 

We’ve been incorporating Pilates into our physical therapy practice for the last 10 years and it’s been transformational for both our clients AND our practice.

Pilates is a full body strengthening system that emphasizes breath, precision, coordination, and core strength. It helps our clients connect to their bodies in a way that they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional strengthening methods. Most of my clients are well into their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and they love Pilates because it helps them have more energy, better balance, improved strength, and more mobility. It allows them to participate in all the activities they love with more ease, and most importantly, significantly decreases their risk for injury.

Here are five reasons why I personally love adding Pilates to any fitness routine, and why you should consider adding it to yours too!

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb. We specialize in back pain, so see a lot of folks with this problem in our office. They’ve often worked with traditional physical therapists or chiropractors in the past to successfully get rid of back pain in the short term, but it keeps coming back. And our clients want it gone for the long-term. A regular practice of Pilates is a safe and sustainable way to help keep your back pain-free. It focuses on core strength but is also a well-balanced exercise system. Full body strength and balance is a critical component for life-long back health, and it is not always addressed in traditional back rehabilitation programs or treatments.

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

One of the keys to truly enhancing your fitness is what I call “balanced strength.” That’s when each part of your body works together to produce the right amount of force, at the right time, to do your favorite activity in the most efficient way possible. Efficiency means you’ll be able to do it for longer and with more ease. We see lots of strong people in our office, and they can’t understand why they’re in pain. It’s entirely possible to be “strong,” but still have certain muscles working harder than others. This creates an imbalance, which eventually leads to problems. Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated, which helps promote balanced strength throughout your body and leads to fewer injuries over time.

3. Pilates helps you get more flexible and mobile.

Do you stretch your hamstrings every single day and get frustrated because they’re still tight? It’s probably because you’re not stretching the right way. What I love about Pilates is that it stretches your body in a dynamic way – with movement – so that muscles lengthen the right way. The days of statically holding a stretch for 30 seconds are long gone. Plus, mobility is extremely important for strength. Muscles work better when your joints move fully and freely. “Mobility before stability” is a phrase you hear daily in our office. And Pilates is a great way to get your joints and muscles mobile while ALSO promoting stability.

4. Pilates puts minimal stress on your joints.

Aging is a real thing, and along with it comes arthritis. The key to combating arthritis is optimizing the area around the affected joint or joints. When you have good mobility, and balanced strength, you have less compressive forces around your joints.  Arthritis doesn’t like compressed, crowded joints. So when you strengthen and stretch your whole body in a good, balanced way – arthritis becomes less painful and stiff. Pilates helps with all this and doesn’t cause any added stress on your joints. There’s a good reason you see lots of folks in their 60’s and 70’s enjoying our classes.

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Huh? Is that even a thing? Yes it is – and it’s almost ALWAYS the missing link for people who feel stuck, or can’t seem to get beyond a certain point in their fitness. It can also be the reason why an activity you’ve been doing “for years” suddenly becomes problematic or painful. If you don’t train your nervous system, it gets lazy, and compensations will develop in your body. Compensations lead to problems when unchecked. Since Pilates is a mind-body exercise, it helps to keep the communication between your brain and your muscles fresh. Pilates emphasizes precise and coordinated movements, which enhance and reinforces this connection.  In other words, your nervous system can’t get lazy when you do Pilates!

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your fitness or rehab routine — what are you waiting for?

As a specialist physical therapist it’s my go-to exercise system for folks over 40 and my favorite way to help people keep their back pain gone.  We’re actually re-launching our signature 8 week program, Pilates 101, on Sept 29th! Pilates 101 is completely dedicated to folks who are new to Pilates, or who have back pain and want to learn how to develop a safe core-strengthening routine. If you want more information, just click 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.

Should You Heat or Ice an Injury?

Earlier this week, we put on a free Zoom workshop all about preventing and overcoming knee pain – and one of the questions that came up was if you should apply heat or ice when something is hurting. This is a VERY common question in our office, so we wanted to share the same advice we give to clients right here!

When to apply ice:

Generally speaking, the best time to apply ice is within 24 to 48 hours immediately following an injury. Application of ice during this stage has been shown to reduce the formation of edema and “secondary injury.” After that, it really becomes a personal choice. If you’re in pain, and ice makes you feel better, go for it! Some research has claimed that icing an injury after 48 hours is “bad” for you. But if you really dig into the research, it’s inconclusive on this topic. What I tell my clients is that if something feels irritated or inflamed – go for ice. It’s a much better and more natural alternative to pain pills!

When to apply heat:

Once you’re into the chronic stages of injury or pain, I’m generally a fan of heat. But the term “heat” is relative – and doesn’t necessarily refer to the application of a heating pad only. In fact, research has shown that heating pads are not able to penetrate deeply enough to actually have an effect on the injured muscle or soft tissue. But it does feel good… which can be beneficial in and of itself because when you “feel” better – your nervous system relaxes. If the superficial heat can relax the nervous system enough so that you can actually tolerate the movements or exercises that WILL actually heal you – then I can see a benefit.

The BEST way to provide “heat” as a way to promote healing to an injury is through movement – but you need the right prescription. The mistakes I often see, especially around 2-4 weeks post injury, is that people aren’t moving enough (if at all), or they are overloading the tissue and moving too much.

Movement truly is medicine, and it’s one of the best and most natural ways to properly heal from an injury – but you MUST get the prescription right.

So there you have it. You can’t really go wrong with either modality. The general rule is that if it’s an acute injury – ice up to 48 hours. For anything else, we typically recommend heat.

If you’re presently healing from an injury and not satisfied with your progress – perhaps you’re just missing the correct prescription. If you’re wondering what that magical movement is, or you’re wondering if the current movement you’re doing is safe, get in touch!

Speaking of movement as a way to heal…

Our Pilates 101: Get Your Back to Health is back!

This is our signature program and it’s designed to help those dealing with lingering back problems learn to move and heal the RIGHT way – from the inside out with proper core strengthening. It’s also ideal for those that had recent back surgery and you’ve already been through your initial stages of general physical therapy.

Interested in learning more or getting on the VIP waitlist for the program? Click here!

Knee Pain while Running? Don’t Blame Arthritis

Is running bad for your knees? Does it cause arthritis?

We get asked these questions a lot, especially by clients who are in their 50s and 60’s and wondering if it’s safe to keep running.

The short answer is no — running is NOT bad for your knees! If you experience knee pain when you run, it’s not that you’ve “aged out” of the sport or that it’s causing arthritis in your knees. This is a very common misconception. In fact, research supports that running may actually be GOOD for your knees!

Staying strong, active, and mobile is your best defense always against osteoarthritis.

Therefore runners, because they are typically active and healthy individuals, often have healthier knees compared to non-runners.

Ok then — so if not arthritis — what really causes knee pain in runners?

In most cases, it’s simply a biomechanical issue that goes unaddressed over time. But the GOOD news is that once identified, these issues can actually be fixed with proper education and strengthening (best offered by movement specialists like us!).

Here are three of the most common factors we see that are often the true culprit of knee pain when you run (not arthritis):

1) Poor ankle mobility

Ankle mobility affects the way force hits your foot, which can impact your knee. If your ankle doesn’t move fully, freely, and adequately, excess forces will be shifted up to your knee. The knee may be forced to flex, rotate, and/or tilt more than it needs to. This, in turn, may result in unwanted loads that the tissues of the knee can’t handle. An expert in biomechanics and movement can not only help you identify if this is the true root of your “knee problem,” but can also help you improve your ankle mobility in order to prevent long term damage to the joints, tendons, and ligaments of your knees. We actually see this as a very common problem in those that have sprained or twisted their ankles in the past. If that’s you, this could be a reason why you’re suffering from knee pain while you run.

2) Weakness in your hips and thighs

There’s a widely perpetuated myth out there that runners don’t need to strength train. That’s simply not true! Adding strength training to your running regimen makes it way less likely that you’ll suffer an injury. When it comes to protecting your knees, developing good, balanced strength in your hips and thighs is critical. The hamstring and quadriceps muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the patella, otherwise known as your kneecap. Since running is extremely repetitive on your joints, especially your knees, it requires they have good durability and endurance — something that is lost quickly when you neglect proper strength training. Often “wear and tear” in your knees (otherwise known as arthritis) will get blamed for your knee pain when in actuality, the loss of strength around your knees is what’s causing that wear and tear to feel worse than it needs to.

3) Unstable core

It may seem like running is all in the legs, but the stability of your pelvis and trunk have a huge influence on how your legs perform. You derive the majority of your power, speed, and stamina from your core muscles and glutes. Much like with ankle mobility, if your core is not performing adequately or efficiently – your legs will have to work harder. A stable core is key for developing and maintaining good balance and rhythm with any activity – but especially running. With a repetitive activity like running, efficiency and form is everything. Without a strong core, it’s impossible for your leg muscles and knee joints to work as efficiently as they were designed to, and it will be really difficult for you to maintain good and proper running form mile after mile. When your core strength is weak, and doesn’t have enough endurance to sustain the amount of miles you want to run, your knees will suffer.

What’s important for you to remember is that arthritis is NORMAL — everyone gets it as they age. 

What doesn’t have to be “normal” is for arthritis to stop you from running, or doing any other activity that you love. You can get surgery to fix the “wear and tear” in your knees, or injections to decrease the inflammation, but if you don’t check and address any underlying biomechanical issues, these fixes will be temporary and your knee pain will keep coming back. And worse… they could force you to stop running all together!

If you’re suffering from knee pain and it’s starting to impact your ability to run or do any other activity that you love, you might want to join us for our next live Zoom workshop: Preventing and Overcoming Knee Pain so you don’t have to stop activities you love! 

It’s FREE and happening on Tuesday, Aug 25th, from 6-7pm. Just follow this link to reserve your virtual seat.

Opioid Addiction in Adults over 40: a Public Health Emergency

The COVID-19 pandemic has been top of mind for months. We’ve all experienced some major curveballs this year, and most people have learned a lot about public health and epidemiology along the way. But why now? Why are we finally learning how viruses attack the respiratory system, what it means to be immunocompromised, and the best practices for disinfecting? Maybe it’s because of the unpredictability and common threat associated with this virus. Although some demographics have an increased risk of serious outcomes, anyone can get this novel coronavirus and anyone can become ill. 

Unfortunately, Covid isn’t the only public health crisis facing Americans in 2020.

The opioid epidemic has been in the news for years, but many of us don’t bother to take precautions or educate ourselves because we don’t think opioid addiction can happen to us.   

That couldn’t be further from the truth!

Anyone can become addicted to opioids. Many of the Americans battling addiction right now don’t have a history of drug abuse. Instead, what they have in common is something relatively routine. They deal with chronic pain or they had a surgery, and a physician prescribed them opioids.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 deaths in 2016” and “an estimated 40% of opioid overdose deaths involved a prescription opioid.” Between 2010 and 2016, opiate prescriptions from surgeons rose by over 18 percent (UCI Health). And according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 21 to 29 percent of patients who are prescribed opioids by physicians end up misusing them. Eight to 12 percent become addicted (NIDA). And the reality of opioid addiction is sobering. In 2017 alone, over 47,000 people in the United States overdosed on opioids and died. 

In 2017, the opioid epidemic was declared a public health emergency.

A public health emergency is just that — public! The emergent status of this crisis is not limited to one demographic or “type” of person. Although media attention through TV and movies tends to focus on heroin and young people getting high, data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration tells us that 63.4% of the adults who misused prescription opioids in 2015 did so to relieve legitimate physical pain. Chances are, we’ve all felt pain at one time or another that ibuprofen or tylenol alone couldn’t get rid of. Everyone is at risk for opioid addiction because anyone could get in a car accident, or require surgery, or develop arthritis. 

Pain-relieving drugs like Oxycodone, Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet, and others can be extremely helpful in some circumstances. But unfortunately, they are often overprescribed thanks to aggressive incentivising and pressure from drug manufacturers. The fact that opioids are so often prescribed after surgery and for patients with chronic pain means that middle aged and older adults are at a higher risk for drug addiction than ever before. In 2016, 14.4 million adults on Medicare (age  65+) had at least one opioid prescription (Consumer Voice). Older adults are also more sensitive to the physical effects of opioids. Side effects such as respiratory depression and cognitive impairment increase in severity as the patient’s age increases, often leading to hospitalizations and even deaths

So many clients in our practice fall into this at-risk demographic.

We have countless clients coming to us with severe chronic pain. Some have already had surgeries or been told that surgery is their only route to a pain-free life. Many have considered opioids to treat their back pain. And we are so grateful that we’ve been able to help hundreds of individuals recover from their injuries AND chronic pain without resorting to drugs, surgery, or both!

We promote both physical therapy and Pilates as alternatives to surgery and for preventing painful musculoskeletal problems because they truly work.

We recognize that most knee, back, and other injuries occur because the surrounding muscles are too weak to support those joints and systems properly — and we have the expertise to retrain your body in correct movement. You may think that your regular exercise and stretching is enough, but oftentimes working specific muscle groups leaves others underdeveloped and your body unbalanced as a whole. Our team of specialists is trained to create individualized solutions for your particular needs, because we believe that movement is medicine — when it’s prescribed properly! The idea of a quick fix is tempting — but a quick fix can easily turn into long term opioid addiction, illness, and even death. Taking the time to teach your body how to heal itself is so much more rewarding in the long run.

Want to learn more about how we can work with you to determine the safest, strongest, most effective route to recovery? Just click here to sign up for a FREE Discovery Session with one of our specialists.

 

This article was authored by Katya Engalichev. Katya is a pharmacy technician, EMT, and graduate student who writes for CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates. 

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!

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.

people walking with face masks

Beyond the Mask: Five Ways to Build Immunity and Stay Healthy

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much of how we live, work, communicate, and think about our health. While precautions like face masks can be helpful, the best way to avoid getting seriously ill is to have a strong, healthy immune system. In our office, we’re helping people’s immune systems by making sure they stay active, healthy, and mobile. We’ve been helping people with back and knee pain recover quickly and manage their conditions from home, so they can get back outside and keep moving and exercising.

Exercising regularly is just one way to keep your immune system strong. Here are five more ways to make sure you’re building immunity during  these strange times!

 

1. Hydrate

 

Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your health in general, but it’s especially important when you’re trying to fight disease. Each individual cell in your body that works for your immune system needs to be fully hydrated to perform its job optimally — and that all depends on how much water you drink!

 

2. Stay Moving

 

In the era of working from home and passing time with friends or family on Zoom, it can be hard to get up from your computer and make sure you’re staying active. But it is so important that we interrupt our sitting and make time to exercise! Keeping your blood flowing allows pathogens to be filtered out more efficiently — plus, sweat can even kill pathogens on the surface of your skin. 

 

3. Get Good Sleep

 

Sleep deprivation has been proven to increase the risk of illness, as well as increasing the risk of more serious long term effects. Sleep is when your body’s cells get to repair themselves — including those immune cells! Plus, getting enough sleep at night can help lower your overall stress. 

 

4. Eat Well

 

Nutrition is key for building and maintaining immunity. You should try to avoid processed foods and integrate more clean alternatives like nuts, berries, eggs, and fish. 

 

5. Get Outside 

 

Scientists are telling us that the novel coronavirus thrives best indoors, and out of UV light. All the more reason to get outside! Soaking up that Vitamin D will boost your immune system and just make you feel better in general. Not to mention that going outside is the one of the best ways to get exercise right now with gyms being closed! 

If you’re currently suffering from back, knee, or any other kind of pain that is preventing you from moving and exercising, give us a call.

We’re currently offering free consultations, both in-person and virtually, to help you figure out what’s going on and give you all the information you need to make the best decision about what to do next.

 

How to Tell Good Pain from Bad Pain

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been inundated with people asking for help.  And we’re so thankful for everyone who is reaching out! 

Since being quarantined at home and off their routines, people are noticing more knee pain and back pain (these are the two biggies) because they are either sitting more — or because they are DOING more.

The folks who have been sitting more have been complaining about more back pain and stiffness, tightness in their hip flexors and knees, and more tension in their necks.

However, the people who have been doing more are noticing increased or NEW aches and pains in their knees, muscles, and joints – and are wondering if this is “normal” or if it’s something to be concerned about.

For some, the aches and pains are quite harmless – and it’s easy enough to stretch out on your own at home. If you’ve been more active lately because you’ve been bored or suddenly have more time, these could be symptoms of “good” pain. It’s not unusual to have more soreness in your muscles and joints with increased activity or exercise.

But for others – these symptoms could be a sign of an underlying problem that was already there – and just now surfacing. And if that’s the case – simple home stretches that you look up online are not going to be enough – and could actually make you worse.

So how do you know?

One way is to look at how your pain behaves. Does it get worse? Or does it get worse, but not until later? Does your pain move around? Or does it come and go? Does it get better and STAY better the more you stretch? Or does the stretch only provide temporary relief — like a bandaid — and your pain just keeps coming back?

Understanding how your pain behaves is how you know whether or not you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing.

And how your pain behaves is not as simple as “getting better” or “getting worse.” 

There is so much grey area when it comes to pain, and it’s where people get really confused.

For example, pain might seem like it’s going away, but then it comes back again. Does that mean you’re better? Or is the problem still there? Sometimes pain will move, and you think it’s a sign of improvement. We see this all the time with back problems. Pain starts in your back and is really painful, but then it moves to your butt, hip, or thigh and is more achy and not as sharp. You think you’re getting better — but most of the time this means your back problem is actually getting worse!

The truth is, you’ve got a 50% chance of getting it right and a 50% chance of getting it wrong. And if you fall on the side of getting it wrong, it can lead to a lot more problems down the line that you won’t be able to fix on your own from home.

The BEST way to figure out if your pain is normal — or if it’s something more — is to talk to an expert.

That’s what we’ve been doing ALL month here. As specialized physical therapists, we have been getting on the phone — or hopping on Zoom — to help you figure out what’s going on in your back, knees, or somewhere else.

It’s totally free to talk to us! We’ll let you know if what you’re experiencing is normal… and if what you’re doing is safe or not.

If you want to get on our schedule — and talk to one of us for free — just fill out this form.

You can talk to us in-person if you’re comfortable leaving your home, or virtually if you’re nervous about leaving. Both methods are equally as effective!

Whatever you do, don’t try to figure out your pain on your own — and don’t just throw pills, ice, or heat at it. This could lead to more problems down the line. Plus, if you let it get bad enough, you may be forced to go to Urgent Care or the ER — two places you DON’T want to be right now.

Instead, get on top of your pain and learn how to treat it properly so that you can be healthy and pain-free for the rest of quarantine!