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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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. 

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!

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.

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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!

Could your Hamstring Strain Actually be a Back Problem?

Have you ever strained your hamstring but the pain just doesn’t go away?

It’s been months since you first started hurting, you can’t actually remember how you injured it (it just started aching one day), you’ve been stretching and massaging it diligently, yet your hamstring still hurts.

This happened to a recent client of ours (“Sandy”).

Sandy was a runner and regular gym goer, who one day noticed an ache in her hamstring. She assumed she had just overdone it working out. She rested it a few days and the pain went away, but when she tried to get back to running she couldn’t. Her hamstring pain came right back. Thinking she hadn’t let it heal enough, she went back to resting it, but this time, decided to add some massage and stretching to her routine. 

A few weeks later… you guessed it… Sandy still couldn’t run.

She also noticed the pain in her hamstring started to feel “different.” It was becoming more deep and achy and started to hurt all the time instead of only when she tried to exert it. It even hurt when she sat for too long. She still couldn’t run and was starting to get worried. Her doctor told her it was just a “strain” and that she had to let it heal. The problem was that it wasn’t healing. Several months had now gone by and she was running out of exercises and stretches to try that would “let it heal.”

Luckily, Sandy attended our recent back pain and sciatica class and realized that the pain in her hamstring might not be a strain at all. 

And her instincts were right! Let me explain.

When you truly strain a muscle, it means you have done damage to your muscle tissue. Although it’s possible to have chronic problems from a strain that isn’t rehabilitated properly, strains typically do in fact heal. Once the inflammation from the tissue damage goes away, and you start doing the proper stretching and strengthening, your muscle eventually gets back to normal. Until a muscle strain is fully healed, it will typically be aggravated if you accidentally over-stretch it or exert it. But you usually don’t feel anything when you’re resting the muscle. In Sandy’s case, her hamstring was starting to feel worse when she was resting — the longer she sat, the worse she felt. Your hamstring is completely relaxed when you are sitting, so something wasn’t adding up.

This was the first sign we were likely dealing with something other than a “hamstring strain.” The second sign was that we could take her pain away by moving her back! Yes, you heard that right.

By moving and stretching her back in a specific way, we were able to significantly relieve the pain in her hamstring.

The reason her hamstring was actually hurting was because a nerve had been aggravated in her back. The nerve was causing pain to radiate into her thigh. That’s why it hurt when she sat for too long and it’s why she couldn’t tolerate any running. Sitting puts more stretch and pressure on the nerves in your back, and running puts a lot of compression through your back. Generally speaking, nerves don’t like to be stretched, especially aggravated nerves, and they don’t like to be compressed if they are aggravated either. By stretching her back in a very specific way, we were able to relieve the pressure from the nerve that was giving Sandy her “hamstring strain.” This confirmed that she was indeed having a back problem.

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

If you’ve got pain anywhere in your buttocks, hip, thigh, or leg that isn’t going away — especially if you’ve done your due diligence and tried all the “right things” — it’s possible you could have a back problem causing this pain instead. These types of back problems are easily missed if you don’t know how to accurately assess them and it won’t be picked up by an MRI or X-ray. The best way to figure this out is through specialized movement testing, like we did with Sandy. 

We talked all about this in our recent back pain and sciatica class. If you want access to the recording, just call our office: 603-380-7902. If you want to take the next step and meet us in person — you can schedule a FREE Discovery Session with one of our specialists right here

MRI

How MRI’s Lead Back Pain Sufferers Toward Unnecessary Procedures

One of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI when they are experiencing back pain or sciatica. It’s pretty standard protocol, but is it necessary? In most cases, no.

About 70 to 80% of back problems, even sciatica, are considered mechanical in nature and quite normal.

That means there isn’t anything “serious” causing your pain. Serious causes of back pain include things like a tumor, infection, fracture, or severely compromised nerve. Your symptoms will be pretty specific and obvious to a back pain specialist and will typically require advanced medical intervention.

An MRI can be useful in these cases to get more clarity before medical intervention begins.

But when your back pain is mechanical in nature, an MRI is more often than not misleading and may lead to unnecessary procedures or surgery.

If you’ve had back pain for years, it comes and goes, or you’ve had relief in the past from things like physical therapy or chiropractic treatment, you most likely have mechanical back pain. The root cause of mechanical back pain cannot be diagnosed by an MRI.

And if your back pain falls into the mechanical category, and you get an MRI anyway, you can end up with treatments you don’t need. Over the years, I’ve seen so many people with mechanical back pain get major medical procedures that were irreversible and made them worse.

Here’s the problem.

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine. Everything from bulging discs, arthritis, stenosis, and degenerative discs, which are all considered normal as we age, but are usually not the root cause of your back pain. What typically happens is the MRI finds them, and your back pain gets blamed on them. But what we know from research is that all those common MRI findings I just mentioned rarely correlate with what’s actually causing your back pain.

Research has shown consistently that you can have two people with identical MRI’s showing something like bulging discs and arthritis, but only one of them will be suffering in pain. That’s how we know the root cause of your back pain is coming from something else.

One notable study was the Lancet series – three published papers that investigated how MRI findings related to the treatment of back pain.

Martin Underwood, MD, co-author of the Lancet series, and professor at Warwick Medical School, is quoted in The Guardian saying: “If you get into the business of treating disc degeneration because it has shown up on an MRI, the likelihood is that, in most of those people, it is not contributing to their back pain.”

If you notice that certain positions or movements relieve your back pain, or you feel better after walking and exercise, your back pain is likely mechanical in nature, and you don’t need an MRI to diagnose you. Mechanical back pain responds to specialized movement therapy and a selectively progressed exercise protocol. Mechanical back pain does not respond well in the long run to injections, procedures, or surgery, which is what you can end up with if you get an MRI and don’t really need one.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen over the years get surgery for a bulging or herniated disc only to find that it didn’t help their problem, or it came back again with a vengeance.

And once you have surgery, mechanical back pain can actually become more difficult to fix because your tissues and ligaments are now compromised from surgical scarring, no matter how minimally invasive they say your surgery will be.

If you’re confused, I don’t blame you. It’s why we are doing a free online class for back pain and sciatica sufferers Tuesday, March 16th, from 6 to 7 p.m.

We’ll be going over why so many people suffer from back pain, how to tell if your back problem is mechanical or if you’ve got something more serious going on, why MRI’s are so confusing and may lead you to getting unnecessary procedures and surgery, and we’ll be sharing tips on how to get control of your back pain naturally and on your own.

If you miss the class — no worries! You can sign up for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session with one of our specialists right here.

5 Tips for Staying Active and Mobile as you Age

Most of our clients are in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and they want to stay as active as possible as they age. However, as we get older, our bodies do need more care and maintenance to age well and avoid injury. Here are some tips we like to give our clients to help them stay active and mobile, prevent injuries, and continue doing everything they love!

1. Keep Moving

I always tell my clients: “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 questions I hear from folks aged 50+ is what to keep doing or stop doing because of arthritis. Remember, arthritis is normal as you age and it’s rarely a reason to stop doing certain exercises. Research has shown that activities like running, when done consistently and with proper form, can actually prevent knee arthritis! A similar and equally effective exercise is walking. Consistent walks will build up your strength and endurance, something that declines as you age, and it helps your balance and coordination. If you walk outside, you can get some fresh air and Vitamin D, which is highly beneficial for a strong immune system – something we all need right now.

2. Maintain a Healthy Diet

What you eat directly affects your ability to keep moving. If you’re not keeping your bones and heart healthy, you’re not going to be able to exercise! 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, which is a big concern for our clients with osteoporosis.

When it comes to taking care of your heart, your diet can have a huge impact. According to Health magazine, “The risk of a heart attack climbs for men after age 45 and for women after age 55.” So as you enter middle-age, be sure to increase the presence of foods in your diet like unsalted nuts, unprocessed oatmeal, raisins, blueberries, and even dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) to help keep your heart healthy! If you have any comorbidities such as diabetes or kidney problems, be sure to check with your doctor or dietician before making any drastic changes to your diet.

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 can be harder to recover from as you age. But if you’re diligent about exercising with the intention of improving your balance, you can maintain (and even improve) it far into your later years. As already mentioned, activities like walking regularly can help, along with activities such as Tai Chi and Yoga. And now, with everything so accessible via Zoom, you can take advantage of these types of activities right from your living room!

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. We use specialized machines that are beneficial for folks recovering from an injury, and we’ve got Zoom classes requiring no equipment at all that people can do from home. Yet another reason to love Pilates is that it doesn’t just work your core, but your entire body. You can even do portions of Pilates in standing, which helps your balance and coordination! If you’ve never tried Pilates before, we’d love to help you get started.

5. Educate Yourself

Knowledge is power, and a lack of knowledge is one of the biggest reasons I see people decreasing their activity levels unnecessarily. People think that issues like arthritis, bulging discs, or a torn meniscus are reasons to decrease or cease certain activities altogether. 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 an activity you’ve been doing successfully for years. Plus, regular movement and exercise actually helps these problems.

If you have 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 any 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. If you’re dealing with pain that is keeping you from your favorite activities, reach out to experts like us. We offer a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session just so you can ask questions, get honest answers, and figure out if we’re the right fit for your lifestyle. 

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

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

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

Tip #1: Interrupt your sitting

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

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

Tip #2: Use a lumbar pillow

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

Ever heard of the dreaded “forward head?”

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

Tip #3: Adjust your car seat

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

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

Tip #4: Use a neck pillow when you sleep

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to reserve your seat!