Tag Archive for: healthy

Hip Flexors Always Tight? Maybe stop stretching.

When it comes to chronically stiff muscles – tight hip flexors are the second most common complaint I hear after tight hamstrings. Tight hip flexors are annoying, achy, and they often contribute to lower back pain. When your hips are always tight, it can interfere with your ability to enjoy walking, running, golfing, and just exercise in general.

Typically – the recommended treatment for tight hip flexors is to stretch – right along with advice to foam roll and massage. But what do you do when none of that works? What if no matter how often you stretch, the tightness just keeps coming back?

First, you need to make sure that the tightness you feel in your hips is actually due to tight hip flexors. Just because your muscles feel tight – doesn’t mean they are tight. 

Let me explain.

Your hip flexors (or any muscle for that matter) can feel tight for different reasons. They can literally be shortened and constricted – in which case – they need stretching – and lots of it. But they can also feel tight due to weakness or being overworked. If your hip flexors are weak, they are going to feel strained when you use them, which can create a sensation of tightness. If your hip flexors are compensating for another underperforming muscle group – say your deep core – then a sensation of tightness may occur because they are simply tired and overworked.

So the first and most important thing you need to figure out is what is causing the sensation of tightness in your hips. Are they actually short and tight? Are they weak? Or do they simply need a break?

Let’s do a quick anatomy review of your hip flexors to help you figure this out…

Your hip flexors consist of the muscle group located in the front of your hip and groin. They are responsible for bending (flexing) your thigh up and toward your chest. But they also play a role in stabilizing your pelvis and lower back – and this is where I see a lot of problems and confusion. The rectus femoris, part of your quadriceps muscle group, and your psoas, part of your deep abdominal muscle group, are the two major hip flexors. Your rectus muscle is the one primarily responsible for lifting (flexing) your thigh. When you are walking or running, and repetitively flexing your leg, this is the muscle primarily at play. Your psoas, on the other hand, is much shorter and has a connection to your lower back. Because of this, it has more of a stability role. When functioning properly, it will assist in exercises like the crunch or sit up, and also work alongside your deep abdominals and glute muscles to help you have good upright posture when you’re sitting or standing.

Let’s talk about the psoas for a moment, because this is where many folks I speak with are misinformed. The psoas gets blamed for a lot of things – most notably – tilting your pelvis forward and being the cause of low back pain. The theory is that if you stretch, massage, and “release” your psoas muscle, then you will balance out your pelvis and your back pain will disappear. Sadly, this is rarely the case. Most of the time, your psoas feels tight because it’s either too weak and not able to keep up with what it’s being tasked to do, or it’s overworking to compensate for your deep abdominals not working properly. Either way, the result will be an angry psoas that retaliates against you by feeling tight and achy. And stretching it over and over again will simply not work.

Now sometimes your hip flexors – particularly your rectus femoris – can get deconditioned from not being used enough – and this can result in actual constriction of your muscle tissue. This typically happens slowly over time, and is more likely to occur if you sit too much and aren’t very active. In this case, you actually do need stretching to fix the problem – but one of the reasons it doesn’t work – is because you aren’t doing it properly. When your muscle tissue is actually constricted – it requires a very specific stretching protocol to work. The days of holding a stretch for 30 sec and repeating it 3x are long over. If your muscle fibers have actually become constricted – the only way for them to improve their length is to remodel. They need a lot of stress to remodel (aka get longer) and the only way to accomplish this is to stretch repeatedly and often.

At the end of the day, if you’ve got chronically tight hip flexors and you’re stretching all the time, you’re either doing it wrong or shouldn’t be doing it at all. Perhaps you need to strengthen your hip flexors so they don’t feel so tense all the time? Or maybe your core isn’t kicking in and you need to strengthen that instead? Don’t stress yourself trying to figure it out on your own.

Talk to an expert who gets this.

Stretching a muscle that feels tight isn’t always your answer, and you’ll know this because stretching over and over just isn’t fixing the problem. 

Request to speak to one of my specialists to see if we are the right fit to help get to the root cause of your tight hip flexors. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery.

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

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!

Neck Pain

Neck Pain Not Going Away? 3 Reasons Why

Over 30% of people report they have neck pain, and of those, 50% will continue to have problems without any real answers or solutions. The last 2 years of the pandemic saw people becoming generally less active, falling off their routines, and working from home in less than optimal “work stations”. It’s no surprise that people are suffering from more neck pain than usual.

Having been a mechanical spine pain specialist for the last 10 years – and a physical therapist for just over 20 – I can tell you that resolving neck pain is trickier than resolving back pain.

And there are some good reasons for that. Your neck is the most mobile area of your spine – which makes it more complicated to manage – and the muscles in your neck are a bit more fragile than some of the bigger muscles in your lower back. The way you strengthen muscles in your neck can’t be approached in the same manner you might tackle your lower back – for example.

While there are several reasons for your neck pain not going away – the biggest culprit I have found is inaccurate diagnosis. Without an accurate diagnosis – your neck pain treatment fails – and it’s more likely you’ll be prescribed injections or pills to relieve your neck pain and get stuck with this treatment regimen for the long-term.

Here are three reasons why the root cause of your neck pain might be getting missed – and why your neck pain just isn’t going away:

 

1. Your neck problem is disguised as shoulder pain:

Shoulder problems are confused with neck problems more often than you would think. If this happens – you risk spending weeks (or months) trying to resolve shoulder pain that is actually a neck problem. Not only will your shoulder pain not fully resolve – your neck pain won’t either – and could actually become worse. Because your neck is so mobile, it’s easy for nerves in your neck to get irritated and refer pain into the middle of your shoulder blade, top of your shoulder, or down the side of your arm. When you consider this, it makes sense why neck problems are so easily mis-diagnosed as shoulder problems. It’s a very common scenario that not only results in neck pain not going away – but persistent shoulder problems too. My general rule of thumb – if you’ve been working on a particular problem persistently and consistently for 2-3 weeks or more without significant improvement – something is missing. You’re either treating the wrong thing or have the wrong treatment approach. It happens a lot with neck pain so be sure to pay attention to this common error – especially if you’ve got coinciding shoulder pain.

2. Your core is weak:

Lack of core strength is commonly associated with back problems – but believe it or not – it can have a lot to do with neck pain too. Most people are familiar with how muscles and joints are connected – but did you know your muscles and organs are connected as well? They’re connected by a web of tissue called fascia – and this connection is often referred to as myofascial. “Myofascially speaking” – your deep neck muscles are connected to your core. If your core isn’t functioning properly – your neck will try to compensate and it will result in neck pain. Do you consistently feel neck pain or tightness every time you do a core workout? This could be a sign that your neck is compensating for your core – and there’s a good chance proper core strengthening is what’s missing. It could explain why your neck pain isn’t going away no matter how aggressively you treat it.

3. Not working with an expert:

The anatomy of your neck, more so than the rest of your spine, is fairly intricate and quite mobile. Not only does this require special care and accuracy when it comes to examining your neck, it makes it easy for someone who is not expertly trained to miss things. For example, one of the most common things I see is someone thinking that full range of motion has been restored in your neck when it hasn’t. If you start strengthening your neck when it doesn’t have full mobility, you can run into problems later on that result in persistent pain. Additionally, strengthening the muscles in your neck, especially in a neck that hurts, needs to be done carefully. The muscles in your neck were designed for stability – which is very different from say – the muscles in your legs – which are designed for power. You can’t approach strengthening them in the same way. All too often I see neck strengthening exercises that are too aggressive for the small muscles in your neck. This results in unnecessary neck tension – and delayed resolution of neck pain.

Generally speaking – if you’ve been suffering from neck pain for a while now – and despite trying lots of different treatments you’re still having problems – there’s a really good chance you’ve got the wrong treatment approach because you’ve been misdiagnosed. Don’t settle for relying on pills or injections for the rest of your life. And don’t undergo any kind of surgery or procedure until you’ve truly exhausted all possible causes of your neck pain. Ideally, find a neck pain expert and work with them, particularly one who prioritizes natural, movement-based solutions over pills and procedures. If diagnosed properly, it’s not only possible to get rid of your neck pain naturally, but learn to keep it gone all 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.

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. 

Why Pilates?

Why Pilates?

If you’ve ever experienced muscle and/or skeletal pain, it was probably the result of one or more mechanical stressors occurring in joints or muscles. When I treat a patient, I am often working to help them change the mechanics of their movement and therefore decrease or eliminate those stressors. It’s one of the main reasons why I incorporate Pilates into my treatments. It’s also why most of my patients will tell you that it is often difficult to tell where physical therapy leaves off and fitness exercises begin — which is precisely the way it should be.

Pilates isn’t just about strength and balance, it’s about body mechanics.

Each exercise is carefully designed to direct and reinforce the way in which a healthy musculoskeletal system should function. By practicing Pilates, you are strengthening your muscles correctly in a way that is conducive to all forms of exercise, as well as improving posture and balance. It’s a really great supplement to physical therapy because as you’re retraining or rehabilitating a specific part of your body, you have the opportunity to match that progress holistically.

Many people who come to us with back pain think that their pain would prevent them from participating in an exercise program like Pilates – but the truth is, it’s the opposite! Guided, individualized Pilates combined with a physical therapy regimen is actually one of the best things you could do for your back. We even offer a specific at home program  designed for people with back pain! It’s incredibly beneficial for clients dealing with pain or injury to have the support system of a physical therapist and a Pilates instructor working in tandem to find the right movements to rehabilitate each particular individual.

Our goal is always to get our clients back to their full range of movement and activities.

We NEVER want to avoid any movement permanently in order to avoid pain. But on the road to that full recovery, the structure of Pilates and the opportunity for physical assistance can be an extremely powerful counterpart to physical therapy. Pilates strengthens your entire body, starting from your core, which naturally prevents future back issues stemming from muscular weakness or imbalance. Furthermore, Pilates (combined with PT) teaches correct movement – which is the number one way to relieve any current pain!

Are you experiences nagging back pain and want to incorporate pilates to help? We offer a program just for you! Our At Home Pilates 101 Get [Your] Back to Health program might be perfect for you, to apply and learn more CLICK HERE! We’d love to have you start your Pilates journey with us.

Travel Plans? Avoid Neck and Back Pain on the go

We typically see an uptick in travel plans every August. But this year we’re seeing more than ever given that travel was basically non-existent for the entirety of last year.

Traveling is so good for the mind and soul – but it’s not always fun for your neck and back.

When our clients get back from a long trip, we hear common complaints of stiff necks and backs, aggravated sciatica, and just overall achiness.

The good news is you can prevent or significantly minimize most of these symptoms with just a few easy tips. Whether you’re traveling by train, plane, or automobile – here are some of my top tips for easing neck and back pain when you travel.

1. Remember 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. On road trips, or on planes and trains, getting out of your seat 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 minutes. 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. While it’s perfectly acceptable to sit like this for small increments of time (remember the 30 min rule), your spine will not like this after several hours. Plus, your neck responds by changing it’s curve as well. Typically, you’ll find your neck in what we call a “forward head” posture if your lower and mid back or curved over.

One of the best things you can do is use a cylindrical lumbar roll to help maintain the natural curve in your lumbar spine. Place it right at your lower back any time you’re sitting and you’ll find that your spine has a lot less strain.

Want to purchase a lumbar roll for yourself? We have them right here in our office. Reply back to this email if you want us to put one aside for you 🙂

3. Stay hydrated

We all know that it’s important to stay hydrated, but why is it especially critical for avoiding back and neck pain during travel? Well, water is the vehicle responsible for transporting nutrients to your cells, including the nutrients your muscle cells need to do their job. Dehydration causes muscle cramps because it deprives your body of electrolytes. Proper hydration increases strength, balance, and flexibility. Water also helps to lubricate your joints, which is a bonus for keeping your spine working smoothly and allowing it to support the movements of your entire body. So, if you’re planning to hit the road soon, make sure you bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up regularly. And the extra bathroom breaks will give you an excuse to stay moving!

4. Pack light

No matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, traveling involves packing, and packing too much stuff can be a quick recipe for back pain. Anyone who has flown knows that lugging multiple bags and/or suitcases around an airport is not only exhausting and stressful but can leave you sore and unbalanced for days. Even if you’re traveling by car, you still have to load and unload your bags, and carry them to wherever you’re staying. Your best bet is to pack light. If you’re bringing a suitcase with wheels, pack heavier items in there so that you don’t put unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders. Opt for a backpack instead of an over-the-shoulder bag to avoid uneven distribution of pressure, and stock it with your water bottle, small travel essentials, and healthy snacks.

5. Prepare your body

The best way to prevent injury or pain (in general) is to stay as mobile as you can and maintain an active lifestyle. Oftentimes when you travel, you are walking more than usual and doing more activities than you are accustomed to when you’re home. If you’ve got an active trip planned, it’s best to prepare your body beforehand. Something else to consider is your sleeping surface. Different mattresses and sleeping surfaces can really wreak havoc on your neck and back. It’s a good idea to bring your favorite pillow with you, and plan to use extra blankets or clothing items to provide extra cushioning or support where you need it. Whatever you can do to simulate what it’s like to sleep at home is going to help minimize neck and back stiffness.

I hope at least one of these tips helps you to have less back and neck pain on your next travel excursion.

Need more tips?

CLICK HERE – to talk to one of my specialists for free if you’re currently looking for help with neck and back pain right now.

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

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 treat back pain on your own and avoid 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.

Getting and Staying Fit when you’re Over 50

The importance of being healthy and fit has taken center stage these last 18 months, but especially for the over 50 crowd. Most people aged 50+ who want to get and stay fit struggle, because what might work for someone in their 20’s or 30’s just doesn’t make sense for them in their 50’s. As you age, both your needs AND your priorities change. 

By the time you hit age 50, you may start to suffer from things like arthritis, degenerative and aging joints, and more back and knee pain. And if you aren’t suffering from them yet, you’re worried about when you will. First, let me just tell you that it is 100% possible to get and stay fit after 50. I have the joy of working with folks aged 50+ every day who are the healthiest they’ve ever been in their lives. So what’s their secret?

Here are 5 habits my healthiest clients aged 50+ stick to so they can get and stay fit:

1. Get enough sleep

The myth that you don’t need as much sleep as you get older is false. Most research indicates that even when you’re over 50, you should still be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. When you don’t get enough sleep, it catches up to you. You lack energy, making you less motivated to exercise and more likely to eat sugary, unhealthy foods. Lack of sleep lowers your immune system, affects your memory and ability to focus, impacts your balance, and increases your chances of developing high blood pressure. In general, lack of sleep is going to significantly impact your ability to eat well and exercise, two essential ingredients for getting and staying fit after age 50. 

2. Keep Nutrition Simple

If you’re over age 50, you’ve likely seen every cleanse, crash diet, health shake, weight loss pill, or gimmick known to man.  There literally isn’t a trick left in the book you haven’t seen.  At age 50+ you also typically aren’t in the mood to be a nutritional extremist either. It’s a good idea to just keep things simple. Focus on eating nutritious whole foods (things that are unprocessed) and drink plenty of water. Start your day with an 8oz glass of water and then aim to drink at least 3 more bottles after that. When you’re planning meals, make your plate up with half vegetables, one quarter protein, and one quarter whole grains. Adding a little bit of healthy fat consisting of plant oils is a good idea too. Good nutritional habits give you the energy and stamina you need to get and stay fit!

3. Lift Weights

I can’t tell you how often I get asked “is it safe to be lifting heavy weights at my age?” People worry that lifting heavy weights could be “bad” for their spine or knees once they’re aged 50+. Lifting weights is not only good for you, but perfectly safe when done correctly. But it’s important that your workout is customized and takes into account any injuries or ailments you may have. Arthritis in your joints, bulging discs, and even meniscus tears are all normal things that occur as you age. They don’t mean you can’t exercise — but you do want to make sure your strength training routine reflects this.

As a physical therapist, the two biggest things I look at when I’m examining someone’s strength routine are form and loading strategies. Good and proper form is critical to protect your joints and back. “Loading” refers to how much weight you lift and how often (reps). This changes as you age because the integrity of your soft tissue (muscles and ligaments) is different. Loading strategies also need to be adapted if you’re injured or in pain. A good strength coach and physical therapist, especially when working together, can make sure that you have a strength training routine that is not only safe but perfect for your age and ability.

4. Strengthen your Core

After age 50 things like balance and reaction times start to become more compromised, and the likelihood of back pain increases. Maintaining good core strength helps with all of this and becomes more important than ever at age 50+. The biggest problem I see with people trying to strengthen their core is that they just don’t know how to do it properly. They may be doing all the right things, but with all the wrong muscles. If you’re new to core strengthening, or perhaps you’ve been doing it awhile but your core strength still isn’t where you want it to be, consider trying Pilates. It’s long been known as the staple of core strengthening because it requires you to perform very controlled and precise movements while focusing on your breath. Having proper control over your breath, body, and movement are the cardinal signs of a truly functioning and strong core. 

5. Address Pain

This may seem obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people either ignore or just work around their pain. When you ignore your pain, you risk developing other problems due to your body compensating. These compensation strategies may last you for a short time, but eventually they will catch up to you. When you’re over 50, recovering from injury is harder and takes longer. So although preventing injury is your best strategy, don’t just ignore pain if you’re experiencing it. When you work around pain, it’s impossible to get the most you can out of your workouts and this delays your ability to get and stay fit. If you’re always having to modify exercise or compensate for pain, not only is this frustrating, but you delay getting to the root cause of your problem. Simply put, if you’re experiencing musculoskeletal pain — get it addressed.

We are a team of specialists who are specifically trained to help you address these issues. If you’re interested in an assessment, consultation, or simply want a couple questions answered — sign up for one of our FREE Discovery Sessions! This 30 minute session allows you to talk one-on-one with a movement expert to figure out what you want, need, and how you’re going to get there.

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. 

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.