Tag Archive for: chronic pain

Sciatica_Therapy_Portsmouth_NH_2

3 Reasons You Need PT After Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) started to take off in the 1990’s and has since become far more common for spinal conditions such as degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, spinal infections, spondylolisthesis, compression fractures, and spinal tumors.

When you absolutely must have spine surgery (more on that later) – MISS is a far better alternative to open-spine surgery.

You can expect less anesthesia, less blood loss during surgery, reduced risk of infection, less pain after surgery, less pain medication needed, smaller scars, shorter hospital stays, faster recovery time, and quicker return to daily activities and work.

But don’t confuse the term “minimally invasive” with minimal risk.

With MISS – you’re still at risk for many of the same consequences of open-spine surgery should things go wrong. Therefore, you want to make sure you really need spine surgery before you go “under the knife” – even if it’s a tiny one.

Risks of MISS include bad reactions to anesthesia, pneumonia after surgery, blood clots in your legs that could travel to your lungs, infection (although this is significantly minimized with MISS), blood loss during surgery requiring a transfusion, injury to the nerves of your spinal cord that could result in more pain (or even paralysis) than you went in with, and damage to surrounding tissues.

While rare, these are very real risks and they do happen. Risks like this don’t occur with conservative treatment – such as specialized physical therapy.

It’s why I’m a huge advocate of folks not undergoing surgery until all conservative approaches have been exhausted – and/or – you’ve got what we call a progressive neurological deficit occurring (such as quick deterioration in your muscle strength, ability to walk, or ability to control your bowel/bladder).

All that being said – assuming you really do need surgery and will benefit from MISS – you still need physical therapy.

I’m amazed at how many surgeons no longer prescribe rehab after a minimally invasive procedure. Just because recovery time is reduced – doesn’t mean you don’t need a specialist to help you recover properly.

Here are 3 reasons you need PT after minimally invasive spine surgery:

1. Proper scar management

Minimally invasive procedures already do a great job of reducing scar formation because the incisions are smaller and less invasive, but there is still an incision. And the incision with MISS is deep because you have to get to the layers of the spinal nerves, vertebrae, and discs. Because the scars are small, people mistakenly assume they will heal without issue. The truth is they might, but the odds of your scar healing properly are much better with professional scar management. Scar mobilization should begin about 2 wks after MISS.

A specially trained physical therapist will not only help you manage your scar healing, but teach you how to do it on your own as well. You’ll improve blood flow to the area of the incision (which promotes healing), increase soft tissue mobility, and help to reduce any swelling that might form in the area.

2. Restore pre-existing impairments

Odds are pretty good you didn’t end up with spontaneous MISS. You likely had a long road leading to your surgery. It’s critical you go back and address all of the problems that occurred prior to your procedure.

This includes everything from muscle weakness, to poor compensatory movement strategies your body adapted to deal with pain, immobility that occurred either because of pain or to protect you from pain, and residual numbness and/or radiating pain that is still in your legs. MISS might do a great job of quickly getting rid of your back pain, but something led to that pain to begin with.

The absence of pain does not equal the absence of a problem. Now is the perfect time to work with a specialist who will help you not only optimize your recovery from MISS – but make sure the problems/impairments that led you to the operating table to begin with don’t come back.

3. Restore deep core strength

Chronic pain tends to inhibit the ability for muscles to work properly. If you’ve been suffering from back pain for awhile – odds are pretty good your deep core strength is not where it needs to be.

Plus, good core strength is critical for the prevention of future back problems (yes – you can still get back pain after back surgery). Ideally, now that your minimally invasive procedure has either eliminated or significantly reduced your back pain, it’s more critical than ever to work with a specialist who can help you restore your deep core strength. They’ll know how to do it safely and effectively – to not only help you recover from your MISS faster – but keep the original problem from coming back – because it can.

If you’re considering any type of surgery – but especially back surgery – I always advocate getting a second opinion first – even if the procedure is minimally invasive. Eighty percent of the time – back problems can be resolved without surgical procedures.

CLICK HERE to get a second opinion from one of my specialists.

If you truly want to avoid surgery – and we think we can help you do that – we’ll let you know and get you scheduled with us as quickly as possible.

However, if you’ve recently undergone MISS, ask your doctor to refer you to physical therapy. Many surgeons won’t. It’s going to help you recover optimally and faster – and will set you up for the best possible future success when it comes to back problems.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, or request a free copy of her guide to back pain, email her at info@cjphysicaltherapy.com or call 603-605-0402

Physical Therapist

Piriformis syndrome and Sciatica – PT not working?

I recently polled my readers regarding their most important concerns when it comes to their musculoskeletal health. In other words, what questions were they desperately seeking answers for related to back, neck, knee, hip, shoulder, or ankle pain?

Here is a great question I received from John:

“I’m getting Physical Therapy for lower back pain and sciatica that is said to be from my piriformis. My PT treatment has consisted of various exercises and some massage. Eight sessions in and no change at all. I’m still having pain when sitting or walking a distance. What now?  Do I need an Ultrasound or MRI to see if there is any damage or tear to my piriformis?”

First, John, I’m so sorry to hear you’re still having pain and not seeing any change after a good amount of physical therapy. When it comes to back pain and sciatica, it’s critical that you receive a thorough mechanical and movement examination by your PT before any treatment begins. This should involve repeated testing and retesting of movement and range of motion to determine:

1) where your pain is coming from and

2) what movement patterns trigger and relieve your symptoms

Without this first critical step, you risk missing the root cause of your pain and treating just symptoms. This type of testing is also essential to determine if physical therapy can even resolve your problem. If your physical therapist simply read the prescription from your doctor and dove into generalized treatment protocols – there’s your first problem right there – and it could explain why after 8 sessions you’re seeing no change in your condition.

In your case, it sounds like the massage is intended to treat your symptoms – perhaps your tight, tender piriformis that is believed to be causing your back pain and sciatica. This is perfectly appropriate, however, it’s important to incorporate targeted, therapeutic movement to make the most of what your manual therapy (massage) just did.

In other words, movement is the real “medicine”. Manual therapy is designed to enhance blood flow to and prepare your soft tissue (muscles and ligaments) to be better equipped to tolerate and perform the movement/exercise that is going to have a long-lasting effect.

If the massage and exercise are not done in a specific and targeted way – they aren’t going to have their intended effect. It’s possible this could be happening to you. If you’re not totally clear on what your exercise is for and what the intended effect is – chances are high your exercises haven’t been prescribed to you properly. If you suspect this to be the case, it’s worth your while to try for a different, perhaps more specialized physical therapist before you go jumping into diagnostic tests that could lead you down a rabbit hole of unnecessary procedures or surgery.

Now, let’s assume for a moment that you did receive targeted and high-quality physical therapy treatment and it’s simply not working. This does happen from time to time – but it should only be approximately 20% of the time for the majority of musculoskeletal problems such as back pain and sciatica. And in my opinion, it should be caught well before 8 sessions. In my experience, it takes about 5-6 (quality) PT sessions to figure out if a problem can be resolved with movement and natural means. If not, then a referral to another specialty is necessary.

Are you there yet? I can’t be certain.

But to answer your question about whether or not you need an MRI or Ultrasound… 

If quality, targeted physical therapy has been truly exhausted then yes – either of these diagnostic tests would be the next step in providing valuable information as to what more might be going on.

Ultrasound is a non-invasive diagnostic tool designed to visualize both organs and soft tissue. It could be a good option for examining your piriformis if you are certain that is where your problem is coming from. But piriformis syndrome only accounts for about 30% of all sciatica cases. And typically a tear in your piriformis will not cause pain to radiate down your leg. Most of the time, sciatica is caused by nerve impingement occuring in your lumbar spine (low back). If conservative treatment, like physical therapy, has been fully explored – an MRI could be helpful to see how badly a nerve is being pinched or irritated and whether or not a procedure or surgery is warranted. But in general, the research has shown time and time again that spine surgery is really only successful when you’ve got serious and progressive neurological deficits and symptoms.

In other words, you might have symptoms like foot drop, and your leg is getting weaker and numb by the minute. Otherwise, physical therapy – although it may be slower to work – has equal if not better results compared to surgery and it’s a lot safer.

The caveat, however, is you need to find a good physical therapist.

I hope this helps answer your question. Most importantly – don’t give up hope!

For the next few months I’ll be answering questions like these each week in my articles. If you’ve got your own questions regarding musculoskeletal aches or pains that you want answers for, reach out via the information below.

Local to Portsmouth and feeling frustrated with your current physical therapy treatment just like John?

Reach out – we’d be happy to provide a second opinion. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery call with one of my specialists.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To request a free copy of her guide to back pain CLICK HERE or to get in touch, email her at info@cjphysicaltherapy.com.

Traveling

4 Tips to Avoid Neck and Back Pain When Traveling

4 Tips to Avoid Neck and Back Pain When Traveling

Memorial Day weekend is the “unofficial” start of summer – and AAA estimates that 39.2 million people will travel this weekend. That’s 8.3% more than last year, and it’s going to mean the exacerbation of neck and back pain for a lot of folks out there – especially the over 40 crowd.

So why does traveling wreak such havoc on our spines? 

Road trips, planes and trains typically involve lots of sitting and driving, which necks and backs just don’t like when done frequently and for prolonged periods. You’re typically off your routine when you travel, and sleep on surfaces you’re not accustomed to.  Any one of these things – but especially when combined together – can flare up old patterns of neck and back pain.

The good news is there are lots of things you can do when traveling to ease neck and back pain. Here are 4 of my top tips:

 

1. Use the 30 Min. Rule

The biggest strain on your body while traveling is undoubtedly the prolonged periods of sitting – often in cramped spaces. Our bodies are made to move continuously throughout the day. Whenever possible, getting out of your seat often is critical for keeping your neck and back healthy and mobile. Motion is lotion. And one of the best things you can do for your neck and back is to interrupt any prolonged posture – especially sitting – once every 30 min. If you’re unable to actually stand for a few seconds, then try arching your back or stretching your arms up over your head while sitting. Do a few neck rolls and chin tucks to stretch your spine. The more you move, the better your spine is going to feel.

2. Use a Lumbar Roll

Our spine is made up of distinct curves for a very good reason. They are designed to balance forces and sustain shock – and it’s best if you can maintain them. When you sit, the curve in your lower back (lumbar spine) decreases, or sometimes disappears all together, when not supported. While it’s perfectly acceptable to sit like this for small increments of time, it will start to cause problems after several hours. Prolonged curvature of your low back puts unwanted stress on the discs, ligaments, and muscles in your spine.

Your neck also responds to this posture by assuming a position we call “forward head”. This can give you headaches, neck pain, and cause extra tension to occur in your mid back and upper shoulders. One of the best things you can do is use a cylindrical lumbar roll to help maintain the natural curve in your low back. If you’re driving, the lumbar support in your seat usually isn’t enough. Take a small towel roll, sweatshirt, or pillow and place it at the small of your back any time you’re sitting. You’ll find it’s easier to maintain the natural curves in your spine – and you’ll have a lot less strain on your neck and back.

3. Bring your own pillow

Sleeping on surfaces we’re not accustomed to can not only ruin a vacation but set us up for unwanted neck and back pain. If possible – bring your favorite pillow from home – or ask for extra pillows wherever you’re staying. If a mattress is too firm for you – you can use pillows to cushion areas of your body like hips and shoulders so that you don’t wake up sore. Conversely, if a mattress is too soft, you can use extra pillows to build up the surface under your waist if you’re a side sleeper, under the small of your back if you’re a back sleeper, and under your belly if you’re a stomach sleeper.

Lastly, if a pillow is too fluffy or too flat – your neck will end up paying for it. When you’re sleeping – the goal is to position yourself in a way that allows your spine to stay in neutral alignment. You don’t want your head tilted down or up – it’s the fastest way to stir up an old neck injury or wake up with a tension headache.

4. Extend instead of bend

Did you know that the average person bends or flexes forward between three and five thousand times per day? When you’re traveling – you’re going to be on the upper end of that metric. Our spines crave balance. And because of the disproportionate amount of time we spend bent over – we need to make a concerted effort to move our spines in the opposite direction. When you’re traveling – look for opportunities to be upright and mobile.

Walking is an excellent, therapeutic activity for your spine – plus – it’s a great way to see the sights wherever you’re going. When you’re practicing the 30 min rule, give your back and neck a nice stretch backwards each time you stand to interrupt your sitting. But probably more important than what you do during travel is what you do when you’re back home. Be cautious when jumping back into your typical gym or exercise routine. All the sitting and bending that comes with travel makes your spine vulnerable for injury. It’s very common to get injured a week or two after you’re home – seemingly “out of nowhere”.

 

Looking for more help with your neck and back pain?

Sign up for a FREE Discovery Session today to speak with my client success team to see if we can help you get rid of your neck and back pain for good.

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.

Why your Cortisone Injection Failed You

Why your Cortisone Injection Failed You

When you have joint pain that won’t go away, especially after trying lots of physical therapy, your doctor might recommend you get a cortisone shot.

Cortisone shots are often prescribed for things like back pain, bursitis, bulging discs, cartilage tears, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and many other conditions that are perceived to be inflammatory in nature. While every single one of these conditions can cause things to be inflamed, it doesn’t mean that inflammation is your underlying problem. If something else is causing any of these structures to get irritated and inflamed, then your cortisone injection won’t work. At the very best it will provide you temporary relief, but the problem will ultimately come back in about 6-12 months time.

Cortisone shots also come with many potential problems and side effects. So you really want to be sure that it’s necessary before you get one.

The list includes problems such as: cartilage damage, death of nearby bone, joint infection, nerve damage, temporary facial flushing, temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint, temporary increase in blood sugar, tendon weakening or rupture, thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis), thinning of skin and soft tissue around the injection site, and whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site. And none of these side effects account for human error with the procedure. If your doctor is “off” with his/her injection – you could end up with unnecessary tissue trauma and pain because your shot wasn’t injected correctly.

So when it comes to cortisone shots, you really want to make sure that 1) the root source of your problem is inflammation and 2) you actually need one.

The reason why so many cortisone injections “fail” is because quite often – they weren’t needed in the first place. Even though the actual pain you are experiencing might be due to inflammation, the underlying cause leading to the inflammation could be something else entirely. Cortisone shots are used to address inflammation. But 80% of the time the musculoskeletal pain you’re experiencing is due to a mechanical or movement problem. So while the symptoms you’re experiencing could be due to inflammation, the root cause of your issue could be due to something else. In this case, the cortisone shot will not help – or worse – provide you with temporary relief that leads you to think it did.

Let me explain with a bit of scientific research.

Studies show that 70-80% of people over the age of 50 have a bulging disc on their MRI. 60% have a meniscus tear in their knee. These findings are considered normal as you age. The research also says that not all of these people experience pain. So you can have two people with the exact same MRI findings and one person will be perfectly fine while the other can barely walk. This is how we know that “the finding” (a bulging disc or meniscus tear for example) isn’t necessarily the problem.

The source of the problem is what is causing that bulge or tear to get annoyed.

About 80% of the time it’s going to be something like a faulty movement pattern or “mechanical issue,” such as poor mobility or stability, leading to some compensatory movement strategies in your body. When you don’t move well, structures like normally occurring disc bulges and meniscus tears can get irritated.

For example, let’s say you have a bulging disc in your back. If you sit for most of the day, travel a lot for work, or have a job that involves a lot of repetitive lifting, these types of activities are known to really aggravate a bulging disc. If all you do is inject cortisone to calm down the irritation, you won’t be fixing the real problem… which in this case is your daily movement habits. After about 6 months of returning to all these activities again, the pain WILL come back.

The good news is that there are ways to solve this type of problem (and others) naturally, and without a cortisone injection. But the important thing for you to realize here is that if you did get a cortisone shot recently and it appears to have “failed,” the last thing you want to do is get another one or resort to an even more invasive procedure. It’s possible you didn’t need it in the first place, so you want to make sure that is uncovered first.

So, if you’ve recently had a cortisone shot and it didn’t work, it could very well be that you never actually needed it… or that the wrong problem (inflammation) was being addressed instead of the underlying cause.

If you are considering something like a cortisone shot, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion to make certain you really need it and that it’s the best course of action for your problem. And if you’ve already had one and it didn’t work, don’t worry, odds are good that there is still a solution out there for you… and it doesn’t have to involve more procedures.

It could be as simple as learning how to move better!

Sign up for a FREE Discovery Session today to speak with my client success team to see if we can help you avoid quick fixes like cortisone shots and get long lasting results. 

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.

Common Golf Injuries and How to Avoid Them

Most golfers I know won’t let anything stop them from being out on the course – especially here in New England where the golf season is not very long.

But let’s face it, when something hurts, playing 9-holes is just not as fun.

Jack Nicklaus had it right when he said, “Professional golfers condition to play golf; amateur golfers play golf to condition.” That explains why 62 percent of amateurs will sustain a significant golf injury, typically because they’re out of shape, have poor swing mechanics, or don’t adequately warm up.

Here are three common golf injuries and things you can do 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 understand why golf injuries happen and most importantly, how to prevent them. If you’re feeling stuck and looking for individualized expert help – request a FREE Discovery Session. We look forward to speaking with you!

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.

Avoiding Radiofrequency Ablation in Your Back – Success Story

Have you heard of Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)?

If you suffer from chronic back pain – there’s a good chance you have. Perhaps it’s even been recommended to you?

It’s a common procedure used to disable nerve fibers that are carrying the pain signal to your brain.

Your brain is what decides whether or not you’re going to experience pain. So the goal behind this procedure is to kill (or in this case burn) the “middle man” – the nerve that is responsible for signaling the pain trigger. An electrical impulse is transmitted through a needle that is designed to burn the nerve endings responsible for your pain.

If it works – the results last anywhere from 6 months to a year – but they typically aren’t permanent.

Most of the people I talk to who rely on this for pain relief have to go back at least once per year or more.

But in some cases… the procedure eventually stops working all together…

And then what?

Well… you’ve usually got just two choices…

  1. Live with it
  2. Get surgery

The good news?

You don’t have to accept either of these options and you don’t even have to rely on this procedure at all if you don’t want to.

How do I know?

Because 80% of all spinal pain is mechanical in nature – which means it’s due to poor or insufficient movement habits. These habits – over time – result in compensatory strategies in your body. These compensatory strategies eventually lead to “pissed-off” muscles, ligaments, or nerves – which result in pain.

So you see…

Getting a procedure like RFA is really only a bandaid.

Why not find out what compensatory strategy might be happening in your body – and from there – what caused it to begin with?

That’s what we prefer to do and I’m excited to tell you about a recent success story where this actually happened…

I was re-evaluating one of our patients (“L”) this week and even though she is still working through some back pain – it’s nothing like when we first began working together.

When we first met – she couldn’t walk very far without back pain and she didn’t even think about getting on a bike. (Biking, hiking, and staying active are things she LOVES to do for herself and with her husband)

When we spoke this week – she was not only walking – but starting to do some trail walking – and she was using her bike trainer at home regularly – all with minimal or no back pain. The next step for her is to get on the road with her bike – we have a goal of her riding 30-50 miles!

I am confident we’ll get there 🙂

But the most important part of this ongoing success story that I want to share is this…

“L” told me that the most valuable accomplishment from working with us so far is that she hasn’t had to return for any RFA!

I almost cried when I heard this… not even remotely exaggerating…

Because not everyone has the courage to see a program through and trust in the process.

But “L” did – and I’m so proud of her for it.

She said one of her goals was to not need this procedure anymore…

I’m excited to say that as of today – she’s officially far past the point when she would normally have returned for her RFA procedure.

And it’s because of our program!

The biggest motivator behind everything I do – every email or article I write – is to empower you.

My mission behind CJPT & Pilates is empowerment by education.

We aim to give you all the information you need so you can make the best decisions for your health – and hopefully those decisions involve less pills, less procedures, and certainly not surgery 🙂

I wanted to share this story with you because it is a perfect example of just that.

Yes – “L” still has back pain – but it’s progressing and we’re working through it – but on her terms and not on the procedure/RFA’s terms.

If you want more details on how we helped “L” work through her chronic back pain and avoid procedures like RFA…

CLICK HERE to talk to someone on my Client Success Team to see if we are a good fit to help you avoid RFA.

Ready to get rid of your back pain? Lucky for you we have a totally FREE guide written by leading back pain specialist, physical therapist, and movement expert, Dr. Carrie Jose! CLICK HERE  to read her BEST tips and advice on how to start easing back pain and stiffness right away!

shoulder_pain_seacoast_nh

Shoulder Impingement Syndrome – Treating the cause over symptoms

If you’ve ever had pain in your shoulders when you try to raise your arms overhead, pull off a sweatshirt, grab a gallon of milk from the fridge, or place grocery bags on the counter – you were likely dealing with shoulder impingement syndrome – also known as rotator cuff impingement.

They call it impingement syndrome because your rotator cuff tendons literally get “impinged” between the round head of your shoulder joint and a hook-shaped bone in the front of your shoulder joint (called the acromion) that is part of your shoulder blade. This can occur for a number of reasons… You could have a deformity that causes this, an injury could lead to this, arthritis could contribute to this, or poor posture can cause it.

Any of these scenarios can cause crowding in the space where your rotator cuff tendon passes in front of your shoulder – and if this happens often enough – it’s going to get irritated every time you raise your arm past 90 degrees.

When this first begins to happen, it will typically cause acute inflammation, and you may be diagnosed with rotator cuff tendonitis. But eventually, the more constant pain and irritation of tendonitis subsides and you only feel pain when you go to raise your arm or reach in certain directions. This is more commonly known as shoulder impingement.
With the exception of a deformity, almost all cases of shoulder impingement can (and should) be resolved naturally. The tempting and easy fix is to get a cortisone shot to calm the inflammation. But what you need to understand is that impingement syndrome – in most cases – is actually the symptom of a more overarching problem. And injecting the tendon with cortisone will often cause more harm than good. While the cortisone will temporarily mask your problem, it will eventually cause damage to your tendon if you keep getting injections.

Remember, impingement is caused by crowding of the space where your tendon passes through. You can temporarily take the inflammation away and it will feel better – but unless you address the reason for the crowded space – your problem will keep coming back.

So how do you naturally get rid of shoulder impingement for the long term?

First, you must address the reason for the crowded space in your shoulder joint where your tendon passes through. Most often – it’s due to poor postural habits and immobility around your shoulder joint – specifically your neck and upper back. For example, if your upper back is stiff, curved, and lacks adequate mobility – it’s going to impact how your shoulder blades move and are positioned. With a stiff and curved upper back, your shoulder blades will respond by moving out and up. This scenario makes that hook-like bone (the acromion) sit more forward and down than it should. When this happens, there isn’t enough room for your tendon when you lift your arm above shoulder height. The bony surfaces above and below your tendon create friction and this eventually turns into pain and inflammation. This can happen slowly over time – or more quickly if you’ve got something like arthritis where that space might have naturally already narrowed. Another common scenario is after a shoulder injury. Your neck and upper back may have learned to compensate for a time while you were healing from your injury – and the result is some unwanted postural deformities that can lead to impingement of your rotator cuff tendon.

When it comes to shoulder pain, always make sure to examine your neck and upper back first.

If there are poor postural habits there, your shoulder will undoubtedly be impacted. If you really want to get rid of your shoulder impingement – and back to lifting, reaching, and carrying things without any worry – it’s essential that you identify and address the root cause, not just the symptoms (inflammation of the tendon). Next time you go to the doctor complaining of shoulder pain – and you hear the words “impingement syndrome” or “rotator cuff tendonitis” – don’t assume you need rest, ice, a cortisone shot, or surgery to resolve it. None of these solutions will give you the long-term solution you’re looking for. The very last thing you want to do is choose passive treatment interventions that either mask the pain or prolong the problem because they only address symptoms. You want to do everything possible to preserve the integrity of your tendon – and the best way to do that is by optimizing the mobility and strength around your shoulder joint first – before resorting to more aggressive measures like cortisone or surgery.

Ready to get help with your pain or injury?

Request to speak to one of my specialists to see if we would be the right fit to help you get out of pain. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery with one of my specialists.

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 shoulder pain – click here.

Is it Safe to Push Through Pain?

“No pain no gain” is a common phrase we hear but is it accurate? Not always. And it’s important to know when it’s safe – and not safe – to push through your pain. While unpleasant – pain provides us with important information that when understood – can be extremely valuable.

But first, what is pain exactly?

Britannica.com defines pain as “a complex experience consisting of a physiological response to a noxious stimulus”. Say what? In simpler terms – pain is our warning mechanism. It’s designed to alert us of harmful stimuli that are primarily associated with injury or threat of injury. The key word here is threat. Not all stimuli are harmful, even if it elicits pain. And that is where our cognitive brain must kick in to interpret the signal of pain and decide… should or shouldn’t you push through pain?

So how does your brain decide?

Well, your brain learns how to deal with pain from experience. And how those experiences are shaped is important. For example, if your brain is conditioned to think that all pain signals are “bad” or harmful – it’s going to always trigger you to withdraw or freeze. While this might be the safest option from a glance, it’s not always the most effective, and it can cause you more problems down the line. In fact, this is how a lot of chronic pain problems are formed. Your body becomes hypersensitive to pain signals because your brain never learns how to interpret them properly. For some suffering from chronic pain – it’s because your brain has been conditioned to think all pain is dangerous and your body – in turn – will reject any attempt to rectify it.

The best response to pain is to examine how it behaves versus judging it at first glance. There are some instances where pain and damage are synonymous and obvious – such as burns, trauma, broken bones, etc. But for most musculoskeletal aches and pains – it’s not so clear. How your pain behaves in specific situations and over time is what’s most important and it’s how your brain learns what to do.

Does it get worse? Does your pain move around? Does it come and go? Does it get better and stay better the more you move? Or does it worsen the more you move? Understanding how your pain behaves is the first and most important thing to look at when it comes to pushing through your pain or holding back.

For example, let’s look at an acute back pain episode.

It’s typically debilitating, and the last thing you want to do is move. If you rest, your pain will eventually subside, but you’ve taught your brain that doing nothing is the best response, until you hurt your back again. This strategy will only get you so far. Eventually, rest doesn’t work anymore and you’re at a loss. Movement is almost always the best solution for back pain – even when it’s scary. The first time you try to move after a debilitating back pain episode is typically terrible. But the secret to movement is in its repetition.

You want to evaluate how your back pain responds to any given movement over time versus just once. Does it get better and stay better the more you move or stretch a certain way? Or does it only get better temporarily? The response you’re looking for is getting and staying better. This is the kind of experience that reinforces your brain to take an active approach to pain and appropriately push through it. When you have the opposite response, then you know to stop.

I like to think of pain’s behavior like a traffic signal.

When you move in a specific way more often and it feels better – green light – keep going. When you perform a specific movement and it feels worse – stop – that’s a red light. Yellow lights are murky and where you need to decide whether or not it’s wise to push through pain. If pain is not changing and staying the same – or you consistently have good days and bad days – then you might want to “push”. You’ll find yourself at either a green light or red light. This is where you get valuable and reliable information about your pain and know exactly what to do.

Pain is a complicated concept that even those in the medical field have difficulty understanding and managing well. I’m not a fan of managing pain via medication. While it might be a successful strategy for getting rid of pain quickly – it tells you nothing and gives you the best chance of it coming back again or living a life hooked on that medication. Eighty percent of the time the best “medicine” for pain is movement. Use these guidelines to help you figure out if you’re on the right track or not – but the best advice when it comes to getting rid of musculoskeletal pain is to talk to an expert who understands how pain behaves and can help you figure out how to manage it on your own.

Ready to get help with your pain or injury?

Request to speak to one of my specialists to see if we would be the right fit to help you get out of pain. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery with one of my specialists.

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.

Common Pickleball Injuries and what to do

If you haven’t heard of pickleball yet, odds are good you will very soon. Pickleball is quickly becoming one of the most popular recreational sports in the US, especially in the over 50 crowd. It’s essentially a cross between tennis, racket ball, and ping pong. The court is smaller than in tennis and the net is set lower. People love pickleball because it’s a great way to not only get exercise – but to socialize and meet new friends.

But like any other sport, injuries happen. And because injuries become more significant and harder to rehabilitate as you get older – it’s important to have an awareness about the common injuries that tend to occur in pickleball players and what you can do to prevent them.

Here are four of the most common injuries I see in Pickleball and what you can do:

 

1. Rotator cuff strains

Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles in your shoulder that play a critical role in both stability and mobility of your shoulder joint. Because pickleball involves repetitive swinging – your shoulder is at risk for overuse injuries and strains. To help minimize the risk of rotator cuff injury, it’s important to ensure that you have good mobility in your shoulder joint, and good mid-back or scapular strength. Your scapula is also called your shoulder blade – if your scapular muscles are weak – then your rotator cuff might be tasked with extra work or strain. The more mobile your shoulder is, and the more balanced the strength around your shoulder joint is, the more effective your rotator cuff will be when playing a repetitive sport like pickleball.

2. “Pickleball” elbow

This is pretty much identical to tennis elbow – known medically as lateral epicondylitis. It causes pain and tenderness on the side of your elbow or forearm – and happens due to overuse of your forearm muscles – typically due to poor mechanics above, below, or in the elbow itself. To prevent this, you want to make sure the areas above and below your elbow joint are strong and stable. Your shoulder needs to be both strong and mobile for when you swing – otherwise your elbow will compensate and try to help out. Your wrist needs to be stable when holding the racket – or your elbow will need to kick in and try to help. The ligaments and muscles around your elbow aren’t designed to do the job of both your shoulder and your wrist – so if you don’t give these areas some love – you could end up with pickleball elbow.

3. Ankle sprains

Because there is a lot of pivoting and starting/stopping directions during pickleball – it’s easy to sprain your ankle if you’re not careful. Most ankle sprains occur from rolling on the outside of your ankle. This results in bruising, pain and swelling of the ligaments along the side of your ankle. While this injury does heal over time, it can often result in chronic weakening or scarring of those ligaments as well as tightness in your ankle joint – which only makes you susceptible to future ankle sprains. It’s best to make sure you have a good warm-up before you play. One that conditions your ankle and feet for quick stepping and flexibility. You also want to make sure you have strong hip muscles. If your side hip muscles aren’t strong and helping you stay stable in your pelvis – your ankle will take the brunt – and you’ll be more likely to sprain it.

4. Achilles tendonitis

Your Achilles tendon is a very strong, thick tendon that connects your calf muscle to your heel. It’s responsible for generating a lot of power to help you spring off your foot and jump. Its power is generated from its ability to stretch and then contract. Therefore, your ankle needs to have good mobility in order for your Achilles tendon to do its job. If your ankle is stiff and tight, you could be at risk for developing Achilles tendonitis. One other consideration is the strength of your glutes (or butt). Calf muscles love to compensate for weak gluteal muscles. If that happens over and over, they become tight and can put extra strain on your Achilles tendon – since they are connected. So make sure your butt is strong and your ankle is mobile in order to help prevent this common pickleball injury.

If you’re a pickleball lover – or perhaps wanting to get into this popular sport for the first time – I hope these tips help you to become more aware of what you can do to protect yourself from injury.

Ready to get help with your pain or injury?

Request to speak to one of my specialists to see if we would be the right fit to help you get out of pain. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery with one of my specialists.

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. 

 

Senior Man Suffering From Back Pain Whilst Gardening

5 Tips to Avoid Back Pain While Gardening

Gardening has so many health benefits and it’s an activity many people fall in love with. It gets you outdoors in the fresh air, exposes you to vitamin D, it’s meditative, helps to improve hand-eye coordination, and it’s great exercise. But one thing it’s not always great for is your back. If you love gardening – but cringing about what it might do to your back this Spring – keep reading.

Here are 5 tips to avoid back pain while gardening:

 

1. Avoid bending from the waist

A common gardening posture I see is folks standing with straight or slightly bent knees and bending over from their waist – creating an “L-shape” with their body. While this posture is acceptable to do from time to time – it’s not a good idea to do this over and over again while gardening. This particular posture puts a lot of strain on your lower back as well as the backs of your knees. Over time, your lower back muscles will become very sore and tight, which can make them susceptible to injury when you least expect it. What to do instead? Get in the habit of squatting and bending from your knees. If you must do a particular gardening activity for a sustained period – try being on all-fours – and switch your hands periodically. These positions are much better for your back and you’ll be able to sustain the activity for much longer.

2. Take frequent breaks

It’s easy to get lost in the activity of planting and weeding. But even if you’re choosing good postures like I mentioned above – your back still needs a break. Our spines do not enjoy being bent forward for prolonged periods and when you do this for too long without taking a break – it puts a lot of stress on the vertebral discs in your spine and makes them more likely to bulge. I recommend setting a timer and giving yourself a break every 30 min. Simply stand up and get out of the bent over posture. Your back will thank you and you’ll be able to garden for much longer without risk of injuring your spine.

3. Pivot instead of twist

One of the most vulnerable positions for your back is the combination of bending and rotating. And when done repetitively, you’re almost guaranteed an injury to your spine. When you’re doing things like digging or planting – activities that have you bending and twisting – you want to pivot instead. Keep your body in line with the activity you’re doing. Don’t rotate or twist from your waist. How do you do this? Make sure your hips are always in line with the object you are moving and maneuvering. Keep your ribs in line with your pelvis and always move them as a unit. While it’s ok to bend and twist from your waist on occasion – you’ll find yourself in some trouble when you do this over and over again – especially if you have a history of back pain episodes happening to you in the past.

4. Use gardening tools wisely

Gardening tools can be of significant help when it comes to maintaining good posture and avoiding overuse of your muscles and joints. When you have to lift something heavy – especially repeatedly – use a wheelbarrow. This valuable gardening tool will allow you to lift and move heavy things with significantly less strain on your back. If you’ve got to be on your knees or squatting a lot – consider using a gardening bench. This will make it easier to sustain activities that require prolonged bending or kneeling. Lastly, use tools with longer handles to help avoid crouched over postures. If you can maintain a more upright posture while gardening, you’ll be able to tolerate it longer and with less back pain. 

5. Raise your gardens

Let’s face it, gardening involves bending over and lots of it. Activities like this are just not good for your back when done over and over. Consider modifying your garden to include more raised boxes and beds. This is going to make it so much easier to tend to your plants without having to bend over so much. And when you need to create a work surface – make sure that is raised too. Bending forward isn’t “bad” for your spine – but when you bend all the time without giving your back a break – you’re asking for trouble. Modifying your garden to make it more ergonomic can make a huge difference in the health of your spine.

Gardening has so many positive benefits – and the last thing I want is for back pain to be the thing that stops you from doing something you love. Hopefully these tips give you some important things to consider – and more importantly – help you look at gardening as something enjoyable again versus something you dread because of your back.

Do you have nagging back pain that gets in the way of your everyday activities? Request to talk to one of my specialists to see if we would be the right fit to help you get out of pain. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery with one of my specialists.

 

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.