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Tips to Combat Arthritis this Winter

People tell me all the time: “I don’t need to check the weather anymore, my joints tell me what’s coming.” And as winter approaches, I know I’m going to be hearing more and more of this.

So why is it that arthritis sufferers tend to be impacted more during the colder, wetter months?

The actual science on this is inconclusive. Some studies have completely debunked the myth that weather can affect your joint pain, while others have shown that arthritis sufferers do indeed have what we call “weather sensitivity” — and they feel worse in the cold, especially when it’s about to rain or snow. The working theory behind this is related to barometric pressure. As a storm system develops, barometric pressure (atmospheric pressure) begins to drop. Some scientists believe that this results in expansion and contraction of tissue in and around your joints (tendons, muscles, bones, and even scar tissue). If those tissues are already sensitive due to arthritis, this could irritate them further. Additionally, the lower temperatures of winter are thought to increase the thickness of fluid inside your joints, making them stiffer and perhaps more sensitive to pain during movement.

Regardless of whether this phenomenon is myth or fact, it doesn’t make your pain any less real! The good news is there are things you can do to minimize pain related to arthritis as winter gets closer. 

There are two types of arthritis, inflammatory and non-inflammatory. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, and osteoarthritis is the most common form of non-inflammatory arthritis. Although they have very different causes, weather changes can still have an impact, and there are still things you can do to minimize that impact.

Both forms of arthritis are characterized by one or more of your joints being inflamed.

Inflamed joints do not like to be compressed or irritated. It’s often why people will tend to rest and decrease their activity when they have pain. Add cold winter temps and weather to the mix (along with a pandemic), people just naturally do less this time of year. They think if they take the weight off their joints, or move less, they are protecting their joints. That’s actually not true. What protects your joints is strength and flexibility. The more mobile you are, the less likely your joints will get irritated, even arthritic ones. Have you ever worn a piece of clothing that’s too tight? You get irritated. Same with your joints! If they aren’t free to move, they get angry. The muscles around your joints and how strong they are also play a huge role in minimizing irritation.

In the absence of strength and stability, your body will do what it needs to compensate. The structures around your joint will contract to make your joints stiff and tighter in an attempt to give your joints the stability they are lacking. But arthritic joints don’t want to be stiff and tight, they want to be free and mobile! So if you suffer from arthritis, it’s critical that you have good mobility and good strength — period.

In general, the most important thing you can do for your arthritis any time of year, not just in winter, is to keep moving.

And you will move better when you’re strong and flexible. Movement gets blood flowing, which is our best and most natural form of anti-inflammation. Walking is the easiest and most practical way to get healthy movement daily, but biking and swimming are great choices too. You’ll also want to engage in some form of activity, such as Yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi, that allows you to move your limbs, body and joints in a full range of movement. Cardiovascular activities like walking and biking won’t do that. Pilates is great because it emphasizes both full body strength (which helps balance out your joints) and it promotes flexibility at the same time. It’s why we like to use it in our office. Although it’s easy to just stretch and get more flexible, it’s important that you incorporate strength training into your routine also. Achieving good mobility AND strength is the secret to combating arthritis. Folks tend to only focus on the flexibility part, which is one of the common mistakes I see. 

I hope this helps you better understand why your arthritis might feel worse in winter, and what you can do about it! If you’re suffering from any kind of back or knee pain that is preventing you from being more active and mobile and therefore worsening your arthritis, check out our FREE Back Pain and Knee Pain guides. Just click to have the guide sent straight to your inbox with no obligations or strings attached!

Knee Pain while Running? Don’t Blame Arthritis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Poor ankle mobility

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

2) Weakness in your hips and thighs

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

3) Unstable core

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

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

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

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

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

Noticing More Knee Pain during Quarantine?

Aside from back pain, the second most common complaint bringing people into our office these days is knee pain, and lately, I’ve seen a little surge.

Here’s why…

People are sitting a lot more, which leads to increased stiffness in your knees. And a lot of us are doing different kinds of activities than we did 6 weeks ago, which for some, is exposing knee problems they never knew they had.

I spoke to one gentleman last week (we’ll call him “Jack”) who had started walking every day, and running a little bit, because his gym had closed. After about 4 weeks of this, he began experiencing pain in the front of his knee. He put some ice on it, took a break from his daily walks and running, and also resumed some stretches that a former physical therapist had told him to do. This seemed to help, so he resumed his walks and running again. Three days into it… bam… his knee pain returned.

Our specialist team has opened up our schedules to answer people’s questions about what they can do at home right now to take care of any aches or pains.

So Jack took us up on that, because he wanted to know if his knee pain was something to worry about. Did he need to see a doctor? Did he need to let it rest some more? Were there specific exercises he could do?

He did NOT want to stop his walking and running routine, but he definitely didn’t want his knee to get so bad that it would keep him from returning to the gym when it opened back up. He’s 55 years old and staying active and mobile is VERY important to him. We spoke for about 20 minutes and I knew immediately that rest wasn’t going to work, and that X-rays or medication from a doctor wouldn’t do anything either. Those things would only mask the problem. They would take care of the pain in his knee – but wouldn’t correct the source of his problem.

Ironically, the truth about knee problems is that they’re often not actually knee problems!  

With most knee pain, we can trace the underlying issues to a locality directly below the knee (the ankle or foot) or directly above it (the pelvis, hips, core, and low back). If you don’t engage your core throughout your daily movement, it actually puts a huge amount of strain on your knees. As your legs swing and rotate, the torque that should be occurring through your pelvis and hips gets overloaded onto your knees. So as we age, we may start feeling a sense of wear and tear or weakness in our knees that actually comes from a lifetime of improper movement.

The mainstream medical model is focused largely on treating symptoms rather than identifying the root cause of WHY the problem is occuring in the first place.

Pain pills, injections, and even surgery are often recommended before more conservative and natural treatments! And because these quick fixes are merely addressing the symptoms, the physical problems return for the majority of affected individuals. That’s because those knee issues actually stemmed from a different part of the body, and the knee will continue to be overloaded until those biomechanical problems are addressed directly!

Yes – we were able to figure ALL of this out from a FREE phone session.

The next step for Jack was an evaluation with our knee specialist. We scheduled a virtual session over Zoom, she was able to confirm the source of the problem. Turns out the muscles in his hips weren’t firing like they should and it was causing his knees to compensate and work harder than they needed to, which resulted in pain. So we got him doing the correct stretches and specific exercises that would train his hip and pelvis to work like they are supposed to.

In no time, Jack will be back to his walking and running routine, but he will ALSO be in better shape to return to the gym. One of his frustrations before was not being able to do as many squats as he wanted – because they hurt his knees. He had no idea that the problem was actually coming from his hips! So he is pretty excited to try his squats again once his gym opens back up.

If Jack’s story sounds familiar to you, schedule a call with us.

There is no point in sitting at home worrying, or scouring Google for what you should do to fix your pain. We can figure out what’s going on with you over the phone and I’ll let you know if you need to schedule a session with us, see a doctor, or if it’s something you can take care of on your own.

You could also join us for our FREE Virtual Knee Pain Webinar on Thur May 14th from 6-7p!

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Where is your pain REALLY coming from?

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Don’t assume that where your pain is… is where the problem is!

This is a very common assumption and one that that we’ve been seeing a lot lately. If you watched our most recent Happy Hour on Facebook Live, then you know the story of the young guy who came to us looking for help with his heel pain. I checked out his heel, foot, and leg, but didn’t find any issues that would be causing the pain that he had been experiencing for four years.

I had planned on addressing the heel specifically before examining his back, but when he mentioned that he also felt a lot of tightness from his back into his leg, I decided to check it out. We did a test on his back and when he stood up, he immediately told me that his heel felt better! I was just as surprised as he was.  He was able to walk with less pain and his movement felt better overall. But when he started stretching his calf to his heel again, the pain came right back.

All that stretching he’d been doing day after day – to the area that he thought was the problem – may have actually been doing him more harm than good!

Now, it’s pretty clear that this young client doesn’t have a foot problem – where is pain actually was.  He has a back problem. And that’s something we can work through and fix! But if he never saw a specialist physical therapist like myself, he probably would’ve continued to believe that there was just something irreversibly wrong with his heel, and maybe even limited certain areas of his life, like football and sports, because of that.

Why should this matter to you?

You might not have heel pain or even noticeable back issues, but maybe you have pesky knee pain, a hip that hitches when you walk, or an achy ankle. Maybe you just feel muscle tension that never seems to go away, or weakness performing certain tasks.  These could all be indicators of a problem in your back!  Or somewhere else that just hasn’t been looked at yet, because it doesn’t match the main area of your pain.

If you’ve tried a lot of things and it’s not going away, it’s an indicator that your haven’t found the real source of your problem yet. Especially if you’ve gone to a doctor for pain in another part of your body and they’ve told you that there’s “nothing wrong.” Or maybe you’ve been stretching, massaging, and foam rolling religiously every day – only for it to keep coming back like a vicious cycle.  You might think that by doing this, you’re helping your problem and keeping it from getting worse – and you might be – but you certainly aren’t doing anything to actually address the problem and you aren’t any closer to a real solution. That’s why physical therapists are so important to have as part of your healthcare team – we’re trained to examine and treat the whole person – not just the foot/knee/hip/heel.

Getting Help

We know not everyone is ready to commit to regular physical therapy appointments, and that’s why we offer free Discovery Sessions out of our practice in Portsmouth, NH! All you have to do is fill out this brief form here and we’ll contact you. Discovery Sessions are a great opportunity to talk with a specialist about creating the best plan to get you healthy and feeling your best – without any obligation or commitment.

Feel free to reach out anytime, and be sure to like our Facebook page to stay up to date on Friday Happy Hour videos in the weeks to come!

Five Foods that are Great for Your Joints

One of the most important factors in living an active lifestyle is the health and endurance of your joints. If you’re in pain, you’re much less likely to exercise, and joint pain will likely keep you much more sedentary than is healthy. But did you know that there are several foods that can make a huge difference for your joints? The following are some examples of nutritious foods that can help get you moving pain-free.

1. Nuts

You can’t go wrong with a healthy assortment of nuts. Being so high in protein, they’ll give you long-lasting energy, but they’re also great for repairing damage due to inflammation in your joints. They’re also full of healthy fats- something your body needsto repair itself!

2. Red Apples

Apples are red because of a type of compound called anthocyanins, which also happen to be strong anti-inflammatories! They’re also full of antioxidants that have been linked to arthritis prevention, cancer cell inhibition, and decreased cholesterol. Apples can be an easy to-go snack, or you can mix them into oatmeal, make a fruit salad, or even add thin apple slices to your favorite sandwich for a refreshing crunch and flavor.

3. Salmon

Salmon and other oily fish have an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, which are an integral component of joint health. They help keep your cartilage strong and your whole body flexible! Omega – 3 is something your body needs to function, but can’t make on its own – so it’s crucial that you give your body these fatty acids through your food!

4. Carrots and Other Orange Veggies

Vitamin A is key when it comes to fighting inflammation – and carrots have tons of Vitamin A! So do other orange vegetables like sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Vitamin A also helps keep your immune system, skin, and vision at their best. Carrots are an easy and tasty snack when eaten raw, either solo or combined with ranch dip and other veggies. You can also bake these orange veggies together for a delicious dinner side dish!

5. Berries

First of all, berries are delicious. They can be eaten so many ways, and are an especially sweet pick me up in the morning! The health benefits are awesome – berries contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds that fight inflammation. Berries are known as a food that both combats arthritis and leaves you feeling full, without overeating! Plus, they’re sweet enough to serve as a dessert, and definitely healthier than most other dessert options. What’s not to love?

If you struggle with occasional or chronic joint pain, and want to combine these awesome foods with a concrete plan that will get you moving at your best, get in touch. At CJ Physical Therapy and Wellness, we’re all about helping people make the best decisions for their health and living life to the fullest – without pain pills, procedures, or expensive surgeries!