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5 Tips to Treat Back Pain on your Own and Avoid Surgery

Back pain impacts approximately 31 Million Americans at any given time, and our health care system spends $50 Billion per year on low back pain treatment. It’s the single leading cause of disability keeping people out of work, and it’s the second most common reason for doctor’s visits. Back pain is a big problem in this country. But the even bigger problem, in my opinion, is how the traditional medical system treats and manages those suffering from back pain.

Despite what you may have been told, getting rid of back pain on your own is entirely possible and preventing it can be even easier.

But it starts with understanding what the true cause of back pain is for most people. Eighty percent of back pain is “mechanical” in origin, which means it’s not due to any serious pathology like cancer, infection, or fracture. Mechanical back pain is the result of abnormal or unusual forces occurring in the structures of your spine – like your ligaments, muscles, discs, and vertebrae. These abnormal forces can accumulate slowly over your lifetime or happen quickly in a single event – such as picking something up the wrong way.

The good news is that if abnormal forces can cause your back pain, then reversing those forces can get rid of your back pain. Surgery and other medical procedures won’t do that. They only impact the structure or irritant that is aggravated, like when you remove a piece of your bulging disc. The goal for true back pain recovery is to eliminate what is causing those structures to be aggravated in the first place – and the best way to do that is with healthy movement you can do on your own!

Here are 5 tips to help you minimize abnormal forces on your spine so you can avoid procedures and surgery!

1. Stop sitting so much

Compressive forces on your spine increase by 40% when you sit – and it goes up even more if you’re slouched! Over time, these compressive forces will start to aggravate the ligaments and discs in your spine. Because it happens slowly, you may not notice right away, so one of the best things you can do is interrupt your sitting at least every 30 min. This minimizes the accumulation of abnormal forces on your spine throughout the day.

2. Walk more 


Our spines were designed to be upright and moving. Walking is one of the best and easiest ways to promote this. When you walk regularly, it helps to promote good mobility and blood flow, which can act like lubricant for the structures in your spine. Walking also helps to keep your hips from getting tight. Tight hips can cause abnormal forces to occur at your pelvis, which in turn, will create abnormal forces on your spine.

3. Vary your posture

You might be wondering why I didn’t say “maintain good posture.” To be honest, perfect posture all the time is kind of a myth when it comes to back pain. The truth is your spine is quite resilient and should be able to tolerate lots of different postures – even bad posture for a short period of time – without pain. The problem is when we assume the same posture all the time.

Imagine if you never straightened your knee, eventually it would get stiff and be difficult to move in that direction. The same thing happens in our spines. One of the best things you can do is choose activities (like Yoga or Pilates) that work your spine through lots of different postures and range of motion. This helps keep your spine happy and healthy and it minimizes abnormal forces from the same repeated postures or activities day after day.

4. Strengthen your core

The stronger you are, the more resilient your body is going to be – period. When it comes to back health, having a good strong core is going to minimize stress on ligaments and even discs. When the muscles around your spine are strong, it’s going to be easier for you to lift and carry things, which is one of the most common ways people injure their backs. If your abdominals, glutes, and hips aren’t doing their job, your spine ends up taking more of the stress – and this can lead to both pain and injury. Pilates is my favorite way to strengthen your core because the exercises are designed to target your abdominals.

5. Educate yourself 

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to both diagnosing and treating back pain. You should never let an MRI or X-ray alone dictate what your treatment should be. Remember, the structures in your back don’t get spontaneously irritated. Irritation typically occurs due to abnormal forces on your spine. If you only address the irritated structure – like with an injection, procedure, or surgery – you’re not actually fixing the problem. The best way to address abnormal forces in your spine is with movement – movement that is designed to even out the forces in your spine and relieve pressure from those structures that have become aggravated.

If you don’t currently have back pain – then these tips are going to help you prevent back pain from ever occurring. If you’re currently having some mild back pain or discomfort, then see if any of these tips help you to relieve it on your own! But as always, if you’ve been suffering for a while, then it’s best to seek professional advice from an expert.

Speak with one of our experts for FREE by signing up for a 30 minute Discovery Session here!

You can also access our expertly written guide to managing back pain for free right here.

 

 

 

 

Three Reasons Your Physical Therapy Didn’t Work

Have you been to physical therapy once, twice, maybe even three times for the same thing… and now you’re left wondering why it didn’t work?

Or perhaps you went to physical therapy and it “worked,” but you have to do about 10 exercises per day that if you miss… even once… the pain comes right back. (hint – that means it didn’t actually work.)

This is sadly an all too common occurrence in this profession. However, if you’ve already had the chance to work with us, then you know we are a specialty practice.

But here are three reasons why your treatment in a regular physical therapy clinic might not have worked for you…

For physical therapy to be successful – it MUST start with a full and thorough musculoskeletal examination. But for varying reasons, this isn’t always possible.

The problem in most traditional physical therapy settings is that physical therapists are sometimes restricted with what they can and can’t do. Sometimes the restriction comes from an insurance company, and sometimes they are simply overworked.

If a doctor sends you for knee pain, your PT may only be able to look at and treat your knee. They are “administratively” prevented from giving you the full and thorough examination that you need.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen knee pain being caused by someone’s spine. If I wasn’t able to look at and treat that area, I’d have missed it!

Other times PT’s have too many patients at once, and are forced to take short cuts. This could cause them to miss important details. I’ve been at this for 20 years, and in my opinion, the perfect physical therapy evaluation should consist of three major components: the interview, the examination, and the plan.

Your therapist should be asking you a lot of questions to find out how your pain is impacting you. They should do a lot of movement testing (not just poke you) to confirm why you’re having pain. And lastly, they should clearly explain to you why your pain is behaving the way it is and have a solid plan to solve it – one that is NOT dictated by your insurance company.

If your PT evaluation didn’t look like this, or your therapist was rushed, chances are something got missed.

The second reason I see physical therapy not working for people is because your PT used too many passive modalities.

This includes everything from electrical stimulation, ultrasound, dry needling, Graston technique, traction, laser therapy, and even manual therapy. We call these treatments “passive” because they are done to you.

There is a time and place for these things. But generally speaking, they should only be used to address very specific pain and impairments that are preventing you from moving in a way that is going to produce the real healing.

For example… let’s say you’ve got a tight knot in your upper trap that is giving you neck pain. There are some fabulous modalities like dry needling and massage that will quickly get rid of your pain, but a few days later, the pain will come back…

That’s because the tight knot is the symptom.

The underlying cause of this recurring tight knot is what’s essential to figure out and address.

If all your therapist does is treat the symptom with passive modalities that feel good, your therapy isn’t going to work and you’ll continue to suffer.

The last reason I see physical therapy not working is because there are just too many different exercises being assigned.

Physical therapists LOVE to give homework, but sometimes that homework can turn into two or three pages of exercises.

This is rarely necessary. And the chances of anyone doing all of these exercises every day is highly unlikely.

My firm belief is that your physical therapist should be working on highly specific problems with highly specific exercises. I refer to these as corrective exercises. You typically should only have 3-5 to do at any given time. These corrective exercises should compliment what you are doing in your session, and be designed to specifically address pain, and/or a very specific impairment or weakness.

They should NOT be generalized or cookie cutter – and you should absolutely have a very good understanding of why you are doing them and what they are designed to accomplish.

Ok… so now that you know what quality physical therapy should look like…

If you’re NOT getting it… it might explain why it “didn’t work”.

Sadly, insurance puts a lot of limitations on what physical therapists can and can’t do, which is why a lot of people are starting to move away from using their insurance all together. They know they can get better quality care, and have their problem resolved completely, by paying out of pocket to an office that isn’t tied behind red tape.

Plus, while it might seem cost prohibitive at first, it’s A LOT better than the costly alternative of unnecessary surgery or injections.

Remember that physical therapists are movement experts.

If you’re only doing cookie cutter exercises, riding the bike for 10 min, or just lying on the table every session – you’re not spending adequate time restoring full mobility and quality of movement.

Your physical therapy probably won’t work, and it certainly won’t give you the lasting results you’re looking for.

If this experience is sounding all too familiar – consider working with a practice like ours. We’re not restricted by the red tape and we care about doing things the right way, even if that means more work on our end.

Curious? Talk to one of our specialists for free!

You can do that by Requesting a Free Discovery Session right HERE!

Are you overdoing it on “Vitamin I”?

A few weeks ago, I asked a new client what he had already tried for his back pain. He surprised me by replying with “Vitamin I.”

He could see I was puzzled, so he quickly clarified — Ibuprofen.

It’s the first I’d heard of this term, but is it NOT the first time I’ve heard of people taking Ibuprofen routinely or for prolonged periods. For some it’s because they are in pain already… but for others it’s to prevent pain when they are about to do something they know will hurt.

Ibuprofen is a type of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that is commonly used to reduce inflammation and pain.

Some reasons you might take it are because you’ve had an acute injury such as a sprain or strain, to deal with headaches, because your arthritis flared up, or because you need to bring a fever down.

When you absolutely can’t get control over pain or inflammation naturally (such as with ice, rest, or therapeutic movement) taking Ibuprofen can be helpful.

But when you’re taking it on a regular basis to control and manage pain, or if you find you’re always taking it before certain types of exercise or activity just so you can prevent pain… it’s something to be concerned about.

Long-term use of Ibuprofen has its consequences. Plus, being in pain all the time, or experiencing pain every time you exercise or do a certain activity, is not normal and you should get it checked out.

So what are the consequences of too much “Vitamin I?”

The consequences are minimal if you’re just grabbing Advil every now and then to ease a headache or take the edge off of a particularly painful back pain episode. You’ll always want to check with your doctor or pharmacist first before taking any type of medication — even one like Ibuprofen that is easily accessible over the counter — but assuming you’ve been cleared, it’s rare that you’ll experience any harmful effects from the occasional dose of “Vitamin I.”

The problem is when you’re always reaching for that Advil.

At some point you want to consider what might be causing your pain to keep coming back.

Every time you resort to something like Ibuprofen as a way to control recurring pain, you’re only putting a bandaid on the problem. When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, such as back, knee, hip, shoulder pain or headaches…

Remember that 80% of the time it can be resolved with movement instead of medication.

So consider talking to one of our movement experts who can help you naturally resolve your pain and get you off that “Vitamin I” regimen.

Another common reason people resort to regular use of Ibuprofen is to prevent inflammation or muscle soreness before exercise or vigorous activity. This has become especially common with athletes and weekend warriors.

This is never a good idea.

Research has shown that taking “Vitamin I” ahead of exercise can actually hurt your performance and hinder your recovery. Not to mention the long-term health implications of using Ibuprofen in this manner!

In a study published my Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers discovered that when distance runners took 600mg of Ibuprofen before an event, they ended up with more tissue-damaging oxidative stress afterwards compared to those who took nothing, thus debunking the theory that “Vitamin I” can help you avoid inflammation.

In this case it increased!

Another study done on cyclists found that Ibuprofen can damage your gut during exercise and lead to a leaky small intestine.

And finally, scientists have conducted animal research that shows taking “Vitamin I” as a prophylactic for muscle soreness actually hinders your recovery.

If you’re finding yourself constantly in pain or very sore after or during certain types of exercises and activities, you may want to look at how you’re warming up or preparing for these things.

If you have consistent problem areas such as back or knee pain, there are corrective exercises you can learn that will better prepare your joints for repetitive and strenuous activities.

In many cases, corrective movements can help you avoid pain entirely.

But at the very least, they’ll help to reduce any pain you do experience much faster, and you’ll recover more quickly.

And for tissue inflammation, there are great natural alternatives that are safe to consume before a particularly strenuous workout. Tea, tart cherry juice, and turmeric are all considered natural anti-inflammatories that are safe, and don’t come with the harmful side-effects of “Vitamin I.”

While I’m a huge advocate of avoiding pain medication whenever possible, there are times when taking Ibuprofen makes sense. But it should be occasional and minimal and you should always be checking in with your doctor to make sure it’s safe.

But even when your doctor says it’s ok to use right now, know that long-term use of Ibuprofen can damage your digestive system, interfere with your hormones, and increase your risk of heart attacks and stroke.

It’s always best to look for natural ways to ease pain first.

Movement is my favorite form of medicine.

If you want to find the movement that is YOUR medicine, so you can stop using “Vitamin I” as a bandaid…

Request a FREE Discovery Session with one of my specialists.

They’ll talk to you first to make sure you’re even a good fit for what we do… and if so… let you know how we can help!

Should Age be a Reason to Avoid Certain Activities?

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

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

The short answer is no.

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with pain.

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain that.

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

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

But the current research disputes this line of thinking…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here’s what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips to Avoid Injury When You’re Over 50

Most of our clients are aged 50 or above, and staying as active as possible while they age is a big priority for them. As we get older, our bodies do need more care and maintenance to not only age well but avoid injury. 

Here are some of my top tips I like to give clients to help them stay active and mobile, avoid injuries, and continue doing everything they love.

1. Keep Moving

You’ll often hear me say: “You don’t get stiff because you get old, you get old because you get stiff.” If you want to stay healthy and mobile, you need to keep moving. One of the biggest concerns I hear from folks aged 50+ is whether they should start modifying what they do because of arthritis. Remember, arthritis is normal. It happens to everyone as they age, and it’s rarely a reason to stop doing your favorite activities. In fact, research has shown that activities like running, when done consistently and with proper form, can prevent knee arthritis! The effects of arthritis worsen when you don’t move, which is when I typically see people having problems. Common “injuries” like meniscal tears and bulging discs are more likely to occur in arthritic joints. But the more active you stay, the less likely you are to be impacted by ailments such as this — and the better your joints will feel.

2. Maintain a Healthy Diet

Both osteoporosis and heart health become bigger concerns as we age, and what you eat can have a direct and positive influence. With osteoporosis, your risk of injury, especially from a fall, becomes much greater. Greens like kale, spinach, and arugula are awesome for your bones, along with citrus fruits, fish, and nuts. These foods help your bones stay strong and durable. According to Health magazine, “The risk of a heart attack climbs for men after age 45 and for women after age 55.” As you enter middle-age, increasing the presence of foods like unsalted nuts, unprocessed oatmeal, raisins, blueberries, and even dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) can help keep your heart healthy. Before making any drastic changes to your diet, especially if you’ve got comorbidities such as diabetes or kidney disease, you’ll want to check with your doctor or dietician. But otherwise, paying attention to your diet can have a big impact on how healthy you keep your heart and bones.

3. Work on your Balance

Balance is one of the first things to go as a person gets older, and it’s one of the most crucial factors in helping you prevent falls and avoid injury. Slips and falls due to poor balance can lead to broken bones and fractures, which become more common and harder to recover from as you age. But if you’re intentional about improving your balance when you exercise, it’s not too late to improve it. While there are many great balance exercises you can do at home, I always recommend incorporating balance strategies with movement and activity. Because rarely do we fall when just standing still. Try standing on one leg when you brush your teeth, place one foot up on a stool when washing dishes, walk around on your toes and heels during commercials. These are really easy strategies to incorporate into your daily living. And of course, activities like walking regularly, Tai Chi, Yoga, and our favorite — Pilates — are also great to promote good balance.

4. Strengthen your core

Having a strong core is beneficial at any age, but especially as you get older. Strong abs, hips and buttocks (all part of your core) help you to sit and stand more upright, prevent back and neck pain, and will help you feel stronger and more confident in just about everything that you do. In our office, our favorite core-strengthening activity is Pilates. We especially love it for folks aged 50+ because it’s easy on your joints and it helps to promote flexibility at the same time. But what I love most about Pilates is that it teaches you how to strengthen your core properly and safely, two important things at any age, not just when you’re over 50. When you know how to properly engage and use your core, you start to incorporate it more into other exercises. Suddenly walking, running, Yoga, and lifting weights all become that much more effective, and you’re far less likely to get injured doing them.

5. Educate Yourself

Knowledge is power, and lack of it, is one of the biggest reasons I see people decreasing their activity levels when there is no reason to. People think that things like arthritis, bulging discs, or a torn meniscus are reasons to decrease or cease certain activities. But that’s not necessarily true! Most of the things I just mentioned are normal occurrences as we age, and having them show up on an x-ray or MRI is not a reason to change something you’ve been successfully doing for years. Plus, regular movement and exercise actually helps these problems. If you’ve got pain, that’s a different story. Talk to an expert who can help you figure out what’s going on, so that you can quickly get back to your activities and not make your pain worse. Whatever you do, try to avoid Dr. Google. It can send you down a rabbit hole and not all the advice you read will apply directly to you. 

I hope these tips help and you’re able to incorporate some of them into your daily routine. Your 50+ year old self will thank you! And if you’re looking for that first step, we have a Masterclass on coming up just for you.  

Alec Liberman, functional strength coach and owner of On Target Fitness – and Dr. Carrie Jose, back pain specialist and owner of CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates – understand what it takes to get fit after 50. If you believe that age is just a number – and want to learn the BEST ways to get and stay fit after 50…  Join Alec and Carrie on Tue June 22nd from 6-7p – live on Zoom – for this exclusive Masterclass. Click here to sign up!

Shoulder Injuries after Vaccination? What to look for

Shoulder injuries related to vaccine administration (otherwise known as “SIRVA”) is a rare, but possible occurrence when you get any vaccine.

SIRVA happens when a vaccine is injected into the capsule of your shoulder joint instead of your deltoid muscle. It can also occur if the needle being used is not the correct length for you, or if it’s administered too high or too deeply into your muscle. SIRVA is essentially a shoulder injury that occurs due to an improperly administered vaccine – not from the vaccine itself.

Now, it should be noted that this condition is very rare. However, due to the sheer volume of vaccines being administered right now – we have seen a slight uptick in unresolved shoulder problems here in our office. Anywhere from weeks to months after vaccination. For most, the shoulder pain is very mild and it goes away on its own. But for a select few, their shoulder pain has persisted and manifested into a more severe problem. This could be a sign you have SIRVA.

Since the signs and symptoms don’t show up right away, I thought it would be helpful to go over with you what is considered “normal” versus not normal shoulder pain after you get a vaccine.

You’ve likely heard of the “Moderna arm” by now. This is a mild skin irritation specifically related to the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 that typically involves a mild rash and skin sensitivity after your second shot. It usually lasts about 3-5 days and can be easily treated with topical anti-inflammatories. Moderna arm is not considered to be anything serious, and although it’s not normal to experience this after most traditional vaccines, it is considered a common reaction to the Moderna vaccine. If you’ve recently had your second Moderna shot and are experiencing what you think could be Moderna arm, speak with your doctor or dermatologist if symptoms continue to persist past 5 days, just to make sure there isn’t something else going on.

Localized shoulder pain at the site of your vaccine injection is also normal.

We see this with any type of injection or vaccine into your arm, not just with Covid vaccines. The pain you feel is from the mild trauma caused by the needle being inserted into the soft tissue (muscle) of your arm. It often feels like a bruise, and you may experience a little bit of swelling. It will typically go away after 2-3 days. Even though your arm can be quite sore, the important distinction here is that you’ll still have full, normal function of your arm. In other words, despite the soreness, you can still move your arm freely up and down if you had to without restriction. Your arm soreness will go away with time, but gently massaging the area of pain, and even some easy movement or exercise can help the soreness go away a little faster. 

The symptoms of SIRVA are different, and typically more severe than what I’ve just described above.

If not addressed, some of these symptoms could lead to long lasting shoulder problems. As I alluded to above, one of the main distinctions between “normal” shoulder pain after vaccination and SIRVA is how well your arm functions.

If the needle was accidentally inserted into your joint capsule, for example, you will notice limited mobility and possibly limited strength. When left unaddressed, symptoms like this can manifest into more serious shoulder problems down the line, such as adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder.

If the needle was inserted too high or too deeply, you can end up with shoulder bursitis, which means the needle was inserted beyond your muscular layer and directly into the bursa (a cushiony fluid-filled sack), causing it to become inflamed. Your mobility may or may not be impacted when this happens, but what you’ll notice is that your shoulder pain will take a lot longer than 2-3 days to subside. Bursitis is actually a really simple injury to treat, but where I see most things go wrong is that you can end up with compensatory problems in places like your neck, shoulder blade or elbow the longer it is allowed to persist.

The last thing you might see from an improperly injected needle is rotator cuff tendonitis. What you’ll notice with this is that you’ll likely have full mobility in your shoulder, but it will be very painful and weak to exert force in your arm.  Much like bursitis, this is not a complicated injury to rehabilitate, but if not rehabilitated properly, it leads to other problems that do become more difficult to treat down the line.

So to summarize, your shoulder WILL hurt after getting a vaccine.

And with the Moderna vaccine in particular, you may notice some skin sensitivity, mild swelling, and even a rash.

But these symptoms should go away after a few days.

If you have shoulder pain that persists, and especially if you’re noticing limited mobility, it’s something worth getting checked out.  The last thing you want is for these symptoms to go on longer than needed, or turn into compensatory, long lasting problems. The good news is that even with SIRVA, these problems and symptoms can be successfully treated naturally, and without medications or procedures. We’ve been successfully helping people right here in our office. If you’re worried about a potential shoulder problem after the vaccine and not sure where to turn – reach out. You can schedule a FREE Discovery Session with one of our specialists right here!

 

Why Proper Breathing is Essential for Good Core Strength

When I’m working with clients, one of the most common things I see when someone is having trouble engaging their core is that they tend to hold their breath.

Why is this important?

Because breathing properly allows you to activate your deep core – and good activation of your deep core is essential if you want the rest of your core muscles to work properly and help you prevent things like back pain.

Let me explain…

Your “deep core” is made up of your diaphragm, pelvic floor, transversus abdominus (deepest layer of abdominals) and your multifidi (deepest layer of back muscles). These four muscle groups work together to make up your deep, inner core. If your deep core doesn’t function properly – your outer core muscles (abdominals, glutes, hip and back muscles) won’t have the support they need to work well. This can all lead to inefficient and compensatory movement patterns over time, and contribute to something like back or neck pain.

Your diaphragm controls how well and how deeply you breathe. When working properly, your deep core acts like a piston system, driven by your diaphragm. Upon inhalation, your diaphragm expands, causing your pelvic floor to lengthen and drop. When you exhale, your diaphragm contracts and your pelvic floor lifts like an elevator – all acting like a piston system moving down and up.

Additionally, the pressure created by this system also acts a bit like a balloon. Breathing in expands your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles out, stretching like a balloon would. Exhaling releases the air and allows your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles to contract, like the natural recoil that would occur if you let the air out of a balloon.

So, if this is a natural process, why do so many of us have problems activating our core properly?

It’s because as we age, and allow poor movement and posture habits to form, we “forget” how to breathe normally and most of the time aren’t even aware this is happening.

Here are some of the most common things I see with clients suffering from neck and back pain, and who aren’t activating their deep core properly:

1. Chest breathing

I see a lot of people breathing deeply but the only thing moving is their chest. Instead of their ribs expanding out and back, all you see is their upper chest moving out and up. This is very common, and it happens because your diaphragm isn’t expanding fully and thus, not pushing air down into your belly. Chest breathing often contributes to tight and elevated shoulders, back pain, and even tight hip flexors – because the deep abdominals can’t kick in properly, causing the rest of your body to compensate. Next time you want to take a deep breath, place one hand on your belly and make sure that it’s moving out and in along with your chest. That’s a first step to learning how to breathe properly so that your deep core can activate!

2. Your neck feels tight

Although back pain is often what’s associated with a “weak core”, people can also suffer from neck pain when they lack proper core activation. When people first start working with us for Pilates, a big complaint is they feel tightness in their necks when they are first learning how to activate their core and do a proper chest lift. The fascia (web like substance that holds and surrounds your muscles) of your deep core is connected to the deep fascia of your neck. If you’re not breathing properly and your deep core can’t activate, your neck may try and help out because it’s partly “connected”. We even see neck tightness like this in our experienced Pilates goers – and it’s a clear sign they’ve lost connection to their deep core or perhaps simply lost connection to their breath. Next time you’re doing abdominal work, check in with your neck and see if it feels tense. If so, it could be a sign you’re not fully activating your deep core. Improving how you breathe during abdominal work could help.

3. You hold your breath when you exercise

Did you know your diaphragm is a muscle? When you hold your breath, you’re contracting that muscle. For a muscle to work properly it needs to contract AND relax. If you hold your breath during exercise, it’s impossible for your diaphragm to expand (relax) and push air into your abdominals and activate that piston system we talked about earlier. In other words, your pelvic floor and deep abdominal stabilizers don’t have an opportunity to activate properly when you hold your breath. Without activation of your deep core, the rest of your body is going to have to compensate somehow. And this can set you up for unnecessary aches and pains, or worse, injury. I always say to my clients, “when in doubt, just keep breathing”. Because if you’re actively breathing, you at least have a shot at activating your deep core properly, even if you’re not 100% sure how to do it.

If you have trouble “feeling your abs” when you exercise, your neck and shoulders tense up when you work out, or your back and neck always hurt every time you work your core – it’s a sign you might not be activating your deep core very well.

Remember that good core strength starts with your breath!

Next time you work out, especially core-focused work, pay attention to the way you’re breathing. If you still have trouble, or you’re noticing back or neck pain, then reach out for a FREE Discovery Session or check out our Pilates offerings.

pilates_classes_seacoast_NH

Five Reasons People over 40 are doing Pilates

Recently, Pilates has been gaining popularity with folks over age 40. Why? Well, let’s take a look at the history.

It was first created by Joseph Pilates almost 100 years ago, who suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. When traditional exercise systems failed him, he turned to anatomy books and became obsessed with the human body. Refusing to let his body ailments define him, he eventually developed his own system of exercising, now known as the Pilates method. But the original name for his method was “Contrology,” because the focus of his exercises were to have full control of your movement and to feel empowered in your body.

I’ve been incorporating Pilates into my physical therapy practice for the last 11 years – and it’s been transformational for my clients.

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 they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional strengthening methods. Most of my clients are over the age of 40, and they love Pilates because it helps them have more energy, better balance, and improved strength and mobility. It allows them to participate in all the activities they love with more ease, and significantly decreases their likelihood of injury.

If you’re over 40, and aren’t yet doing Pilates, here are five reasons to get started:

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb. We see a lot of folks in our office who’ve tried traditional physical therapists, chiropractors, and so many kinds of core strengthening programs – but still have recurring back pain. Getting rid of back pain in the short-term is easy, but keeping it gone is the challenge.

We specialize in keeping pain gone, and Pilates helps us do that. Our Pilates instructors work closely with our PT team and get enhanced training on how to navigate back pain. We also keep our classes small so that we can pay close attention to everyone. This is key if you’re recovering from an injury and want to consider Pilates. Beware of classes that are overcrowded and not individualized. More than 5-6 people per class could be dangerous if you’re dealing with back pain. It’s impossible for your instructor to keep a close eye on you or give you individualized modifications.

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

One of the keys to lifelong fitness is what I call “balanced strength.” In other words, each part of your body works together to produce the right amount of force, at the right time. I see lots of “strong” people in my office, but they can’t do the activities they love, because their muscles aren’t working together. Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated. Coordinated strength is essential to a balanced body.

3. Pilates improves your flexibility.

Do you stretch your hamstrings every day but they never seem to improve? It could be because you’re not stretching the right way. The great thing about Pilates is that it improves your flexibility in a way that strengthens at the same time. The “old school” way of stretching was to find the most uncomfortable position for your muscle and just hold it for 30 seconds. Research has shown this is not effective. The best way to stretch is to keep moving and do it dynamically. In Pilates, we do just that! One of the central concepts to Pilates is “lengthening.” This helps you stretch your muscles in a way that results in long lasting, sustainable improvements.

4. Pilates minimizes stress to your joints.

As we age, it’s normal to have arthritis. But it doesn’t have to be the death sentence to activity that most people think. The key to combating arthritis is maintaining a mobile and well balanced joint.  When you optimize everything that surrounds your arthritic joints, your symptoms decrease. Pilates helps with all this – without causing any additional stress. Since Pilates is based on the idea of constant opposition – lengthening while strengthening – you end up with a joint that is happy and balanced. This helps to minimize the impacts of arthritis and even prevent the rate of degeneration as you age.

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Since Pilates emphasizes small, precise movements – it’s very good for your nervous system and coordination. We refer to this as motor control. Having good motor control is key for controlled, coordinated movement.   A strong muscle that isn’t coordinated to “turn on” when it’s needed is almost useless. It’s why strong, healthy people still get back pain. Your core could be strong – but if it isn’t trained to function properly and when it’s supposed to – it won’t help you prevent back pain. When done properly, and with a qualified instructor, Pilates is one of the best exercise methods I’ve found to train your nervous system and improve motor control – which is key for injury prevention.

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your life… what are you waiting for? It’s my go-to exercise system for folks over the age of 40 and it’s my favorite way to help people keep their back pain gone. We’ve recently expanded our group class schedule here in Portsmouth, and will begin offering in-studio Pilates 101 classes for beginners starting in June. You can get on the Pilates 101 waiting list today. Can’t wait? Sign up for classes right here!

Arthroscopic Knee Surgery – Does it Even Work?

While researching for my latest article in the Portsmouth Herald, I came across an interesting study titled: “Arthroscopy for degenerative knees – a difficult habit to break.”

The title of this study is telling.

Arthroscopic knee surgery is still one of the most common surgeries performed, despite research telling us that it’s not nearly as effective as most people are led to believe.

Furthermore, studies now indicate that people who get arthroscopic knee surgery are likely to have knee arthritis that advances more rapidly – resulting in a total knee replacement that could have been avoided.

Arthroscopic knee surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that’s commonly done to help “clean out” your knee joint if you’ve got degenerative arthritis, or to clip out pieces of a torn meniscus that might be irritating your knee.

Sounds pretty simple and harmless – right?

But over the years, research has shown that this procedure is really not necessary in most cases.

Most people can get pain relief and restore function in their knees without ever getting surgery.

One of the earliest studies from 2002 by JB Mosely and colleagues, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that placebo surgery for advanced knee arthritis was just as effective as actual arthroscopic surgery. Since then, numerous studies have shown similar results. Even if you have a torn meniscus or degenerative arthritis in your knee – you can still get better naturally and with conservative treatment like physical therapy.

Despite all this research, surgeons are still performing these procedures more than ever.

In some cases it’s just what the surgeon knows, and they haven’t kept up with the research. Other times, it’s due to poor conservative management and not giving therapy enough time to work.

In our office, we often see people after they’ve tried regular physical therapy first. Since we have a more specialized approach, and we’re able to spend more time with our clients, we tend to get better results and can help clients avoid surgery all together.

But not all physical therapy clinics are afforded that luxury. In those cases, people are led to believe that the physical therapy “didn’t work,” and they get scheduled for surgery.

But what’s the big deal really?

If outcomes are the same regardless of whether you get surgery or not – why not just get it? It’s quicker, and far more convenient than going to weekly therapy appointments…

But despite the term “minimally invasive,” it’s still surgery.

You will have bleeding, swelling, and recovery time. There is trauma that is caused to the soft tissue in and around your knee that has to heal. There’s also the risk of infection, which comes with a whole set of different complications.

And then of course there’s the elephant in the room that nobody likes to talk about…

I’ve seen many of these arthroscopic surgeries performed that had clients feeling WORSE than before surgery. Because it turns out the procedure wasn’t even necessary. Luckily, we’re still able to rehabilitate them. But it’s completely demoralizing and discouraging for our clients.

In general, despite how small the procedure may seem, you want to avoid surgery whenever possible.

Although small, the risks that can happen with surgery simply aren’t worth it – especially when you can get the same results from natural, conservative treatment.

We’ll be talking about this whole topic and more during our next Online Zoom workshop for Knee Pain sufferers, happening Tuesday, April 27th from 6-7 pm.

For some, arthroscopic knee surgery really is necessary. But for most, it can be avoided.

If you’re currently suffering from knee pain and want to learn more about what you can do to not only avoid surgery – but help get rid of knee pain naturally and on your own – be sure to attend our workshop! It’s free to attend. CLICK HERE to reserve your seat.

 

Carrie working on a knee

Three Causes of Knee Pain and What to Do

Knee pain has been the hot topic around our office this week!

With the nicer weather we’ve been having – more people are outside – and their knees are “talking” to them.

Knee pain is the second most common complaint of musculoskeletal pain (back pain is number one) and it impacts one-third of all Americans at one time or another.

Most of our clients are in their 50’s and 60’s and love to ski, run, hike and bike. They worry that knee pain could bring an end to their active lifestyles.

The good news is that eighty percent of ALL knee problems can be resolved without procedures or surgery – but it starts with accurately identifying the root cause.

Here are three of the most common causes of knee pain and what you can do to resolve it.

1. Patellofemoral Knee syndrome

Also known as “runner’s knee”, patellofemoral knee syndrome (PFS) is characterized by pain in the front of your knee – usually just below or behind your knee cap. With PFS, the source of the problem typically has to do with unwanted pressure in the front of your knee… that eventually results in pain.

It’s very tempting to just get a cortisone shot – or take pain pills – to reduce the inflammation caused by this wear and tear. But then you’re only addressing the symptoms…

If you truly want to put an end to PFS, you’ll need to find the cause of this problem.

Typically, it’s poor form and movement habits that are the result of an imbalance somewhere between your hips, quads (front of the thigh), and hamstrings (back of the thigh). When you figure that out, you’ll restore healthy, balanced movement in your knee again – and reduce the aggravation at your knee cap.

2. Iliotibial band syndrome

This is a very common problem that is similar to PFS except that you’ll experience pain on the side of your knee instead of the front. Your iliotibial band (ITB) is a large, thick band of tissue that runs along the side of your thigh to the bottom of your knee. Your ITB is formed from a muscle in your hip called tensor fascia latae (TFL).

When your TFL gets overworked – your ITB suffers – and will result in what often feels like stabbing pain at the side of your knee.

The most common treatment I see for this is foam rolling and massage – and while these are great modalities to relieve your symptoms – they do NOT address the root problem.

You must figure out why your TFL is being stressed and overworked if you really want to get rid of your pain. Typically, it’s due to weak glute muscles, the deep ones designed to stabilize your pelvis. Your TFL is neighbor to your glutes so when they decide to be lazy – your TFL loves to help out – and eventually overdoes it.

When you can get these two groups of muscles working properly together – you’ll put an end to ITB syndrome 🙂

3. Osteoarthritis

Many people find out they have osteoarthritis in their knees and think there’s nothing that can be done. They either have to “live with it” or get surgery to replace their knees.

Not true!

First of all… arthritis is normal and it happens to everyone as they age. What is NOT normal is for you to think you’re helpless because of it.

Arthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time. While there isn’t anything you can do to reverse this process – there is plenty you can do to minimize the symptoms you get because of this condition.

It all comes down to balanced joints and movement.

The more mobility you have – and the more stability you have around your knees – the less symptomatic your arthritis will be.

Some key areas to focus on when you’ve got arthritis in your knees is good core strength, and good flexibility in your hips and ankles. If anything is off in these areas – your knees will want to compensate – which could result in aggravation of arthritic symptoms.

“Motion is lotion” is not just a saying – it works! Especially when it comes to arthritis.

If you’re currently suffering from knee pain, remember that there is a very good chance you fall into the eighty percent of people who can successfully get rid of it completely on their own.

There is no need to rely on pain pills – or think that procedures and surgery are your only options!

If you’re curious about what might be causing your knee pain and you’re looking for expert help so that you can avoid injections and surgery – Request a Discovery Session with one of our specialists!

You can do it over Zoom or in person – and our specialists will let you know if you’re a good fit for what we do and if we can help you with your knee pain. 🙂

CLICK HERE to Request a Free Discovery Session.