Tag Archive for: low back pain

Physical Therapist

Piriformis syndrome and Sciatica – PT not working?

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

Here is a great question I received from John:

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

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

1) where your pain is coming from and

2) what movement patterns trigger and relieve your symptoms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

When exercise hurts your back instead of helps

When Exercise Hurts Your Back Instead of Helps

The research continues to show that the best treatment for back pain is exercise. But what do you do when exercising hurts your back instead of helps? 

What most people do when exercise flares their back up is they just stop. They simply wait for the pain to go away – and begin the cycle all over again. This is not the best strategy. Instead, why not figure out why exercise might be hurting your back and do something about it?

Here are 5 reasons why exercise might be hurting your back instead of helping:

 

1. Its the wrong type of exercise

While the research isn’t wrong about exercising and back pain – the type of exercise you choose is important. For example, walking is generally considered one of the best exercises for back pain sufferers. But there are certain types of back pain where walking flares you up. In these instances, it doesn’t mean that walking is “bad” for you – and it doesn’t mean you have a serious problem. Many times, it simply means you need a different type of exercise first that gets you back to walking normally. Same goes for strength training and core training. Exercise is good for back pain – but if it flares you up – don’t be quick to blame the exercise. You may just be doing things in the wrong order. Working with a back pain expert can help minimize this and make sure you’re doing the right exercises at the right time – and that won’t flare you up.

2. Stability training is introduced too soon

Stability training is an important part of back pain recovery – but I often see it introduced too soon – and typically before good mobility is fully restored. Mobility is something you always want to look at first. If you don’t have full mobility in your spine, there is a reason. And when your spine doesn’t move well, you risk developing compensatory movement patterns that cause structures in and around your spine to get irritated. When it comes to stability training, there is often resistance or load involved. The last thing you want to do is add load to the spine that is already compensating and irritated. This is a sure-fire way to flare up your back and why exercise might be hurting you instead of helping.

3. You aren’t activating your core

Knowing when and how to properly activate your core is different from having a strong core. You can have the strongest abs in the world – but if you can’t use them when they count – it’s useless.  Knowing how to properly activate your core is essential when you exercise, but especially when you have back pain. If you don’t activate your core properly when you’re lifting weights, or performing complicated movements that require good coordination, you’re setting yourself up for injury. The ability to activate your core properly is developed through motor control training. It’s where we teach your mind how to recognize and activate specific muscles, during specific activities, so that it eventually becomes habitual. If you’re constantly having back pain every time you exercise or try to strengthen your core, it could be that you lack the ability to activate it when it counts.

4. You aren’t breathing properly

Not breathing properly can significantly impact the effectiveness of your exercise routine and impede your ability to perform an exercise properly. As mentioned previously, knowing how to activate your core is crucial when you exercise, and in order to activate your core properly, you must be able to breathe properly. Your deep core is made up of four parts: your deep abdominals, your deep back muscles, your pelvic floor, and your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is what controls your breathing. Let’s say you hold your breath when you exercise. When this happens it means your diaphragm isn’t expanding or contracting in the way it needs to for your deep core to be fully functional. Additionally, when your diaphragm doesn’t work like it should, it adds unnecessary strain to both your back muscles and your discs. If you’re not in tune with your breathing, and you aren’t timing it properly, it’s another reason why exercise might be hurting your back instead of helping.

5. You’re using improper form

The last and most common reason why exercising might be hurting your back is because you aren’t doing it right. There’s a lot of people out there who think posture and form don’t really matter. But they do. If you’re lifting weights – especially when frequently and repetitively – you want your spine to be in good alignment. It might not hurt the first time you lift with improper form, but it will hurt after several weeks or months when you get to your 100th rep. Same goes for body weight exercises. Just because you aren’t adding an external load to your spine doesn’t mean you can’t aggravate it by doing something with poor form over and over. This is where I see most people get in trouble. If you’re going to exercise – and you want to exercise daily – do it with proper form and posture or it’s going to catch up to you and keep causing your back to flare up.

 

If exercising is currently hurting your back instead of helping  – it could be due to one of these 5 reasons. Get expert help to figure out which one it might be. Because at the end of the day – exercise really is good for your back. If done correctly, timely, and in the right order – it will help your back instead of hurt it.

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.

5 Signs Your Core is Weak – And What You Should Do About It!

A strong, healthy core is important for our health and posture. When your core is strong and working properly, you will have less back pain, better posture, and will move with more ease and endurance.  But how do you know if your core strength is where it needs to be? I can tell you that chiseled abs, a thin waist, or the ability to do a hundred sit-ups are NOT reliable signs of a strong core.

Instead, here are five signs to know if your core is weak and what you can do about it:

1. Your Back Hurts

The most common side effect of a weak core is back pain, and yet most people still don’t consider core strengthening as a way to address those problems. Your core’s job is to support your spine and act as the center from which all movement stems. If those muscles are not properly conditioned – meaning – if they aren’t conditioned to engage when they are supposed to – your spine is at risk for being overworked, and muscular strain and tension are inevitable. The pain will most likely occur in your lower back, but can even occur in your neck, making simple tasks like bending, lifting, and walking totally miserable for you.

2. You Have Poor Balance

This may not be an obvious one – but one of the main culprits of poor balance is a weak core!  Your core muscles help to stabilize your pelvis, and a stable pelvis allows you to have better balance.  If the muscles around your pelvis (particularly your hips and glutes) are weak, then your balance will undoubtedly be affected. This may not be an issue that you notice right away.  But next time you’re walking across an icy driveway or unstable surface, you’re going to wish that your balance was at 100%. We incorporate Pilates into our physical therapy practice because it is such an effective whole-body strengthening system that can really make a huge difference in core strength and balance. A strong, coordinated, and engaged core helps you to react to balance challenges more efficiently, and may prevent that next fall!

3. You slouch all the time

Most people struggle to maintain good posture when they have a weak core. It becomes so easy to slouch, and you may not even realize you’re doing it.  Observe your posture right now… Are your shoulders rolled forward? Is your low back missing its natural curve? Is your head poked forward? When you go to correct your posture, does it feel difficult or tiresome to maintain? If so, your core might need some endurance-training!  A lot of people will argue that core strength has nothing to do with your posture. But here’s the thing, a strong core makes it easier and more natural to have good posture, and when better posture becomes effortless, it starts to become your norm. Your whole body – especially your spine – will thank you.

4. Your feet and wrists hurt

Many of our clients come to see us with an initial complaint of foot pain (also known as plantar fasciitis) or wrist pain. It keeps coming back no matter how many times they get rid of it or go to physical therapy. Sound familiar? When you have a weak core, and lack the proper central support and stability you need, your outer muscles and joints will eventually suffer. We already talked about balance. If your core isn’t working to help you stay more stable, your feet will have to work harder, resulting in overtaxing of the tissue on the bottom of your foot. If your middle back can’t support you when you’re pushing or pulling, your wrists (or elbows) will take the brunt and this can result in stiffness or pain over time. If you’ve got any chronic problem that isn’t getting resolved over time, something is missing. In the case of your wrists and feet – it may be a sign of a weak core!

5. You’re always holding your breath 

If you’re always being reminded to breathe when you move or exercise, this is another sign that your core is weak and not working properly. You’ve heard me talk about this before, but your deep core is made up, in part, of your diaphragm, which is your main breathing muscle.  When your core lacks stability, or in most cases, doesn’t know how to engage in the right way to give you the stability it needs, your diaphragm will contract to compensate. One of the most tell-tale signs that this is happening is that you always hold your breathe during exercise. This is probably one of the most overlooked signs of a weak core, and one of the most difficult to correct! It’s why we’ve dedicated an entire module to this topic in our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health program, and it’s one of the most important things we work on with every single client as we prepare them to confidently return to exercise.

What can you do?

I always say – when in doubt – just breath. If you’re breathing through every movement then your diaphragm can’t stay contracted. Start here. If you notice that other things start to get tight and uncomfortable as a result – namely your hips and your neck – then it means you’re now using those muscles instead of your diaphragm to compensate for your weak core. In that case – consider getting expert help because these movement patterns are hard to break on your own. 

There’s so much more to a strong core than 6-pack abs and the ability to hold a plank for days. Pay attention to the more subtle signs I’ve just outlined for you. If you’re noticing one or more – it could be a sign that your core needs some extra love and attention. Give these tips some consideration and see what happens.

If any of these signs sound familiar to you, then you might want to start paying more attention to strengthening your core!

But don’t just start doing sit-ups or planks haphazardly and expect good core strength to follow. Being able to do sit-ups and planks are the RESULT of good core strength.

You must first learn how to strengthen your core properly.

The good news is we’ve got an At Home Pilates 101  Get [Your] Back to Health Program designed to help people do exactly this… and it’s done entirely online and is self-paced. You can do at home and on your own time.

Learn more HERE!

 

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.

Why Strengthening Your Core Could Be Hurting Your Back

As you probably already know, we specialize in back pain and core strengthening via Pilates

So why on earth then – would we be writing about how strengthening your core could actually be hurting your back instead of helping?

One of the number one reasons people come to see us is because they want to strengthen their core – in hopes that it will put an end to their back pain.

But here’s the thing about core strengthening and back pain…

In most cases, it will make you feel better and possibly even take away your pain. But there are many times when going to core strengthening first is not right for your back, and can actually make it worse.

The biggest misconception I see when it comes to getting rid of back pain is that if the pain is gone – the problem is gone.

NOT TRUE!

And this is where people can get in trouble. If they try to strengthen their core too soon, back pain will come back with a vengeance.

Here are a few ways to tell if strengthening your core could be hurting your back instead of helping…

 

1. You feel stiffer after workouts.

As I mentioned previously, the absence of back pain does not mean you have addressed the root cause of your back problem. This is especially true if you’re prone to “throwing your back out” year after year.

One of the precursors to a full-blown back pain episode is stiffness.

If you find that your spine feels more stiff after your core strengthening routine, it could be a sign that you are aggravating your back instead of helping it. It’s only a matter of time before you wake up one morning stuck in pain and unable to move.

In our office, whenever we transition our clients from back pain treatment to our Pilates program, we teach them how to self-assess and check their spines.

This allows them to know if the core strengthening being done in Pilates is starting to aggravate them for some reason. If their self-assessment reveals a stiffening back, they know how to correct this before it turns into pain, allowing them to quickly get back to strengthening without skipping a beat.

2. Your neck hurts

I’ve spoken about this before, but increased neck pain or tension during or after core workouts is typically a sign that you’re not activating your core properly.

If you’re trying to work your core to recover from back pain, this could be a big problem for you. It’s only a matter of time before your back pain returns.

When you don’t know how to activate your core properly, you aren’t able to properly control pressure and tension in your abdomen. And you likely have difficulty controlling and coordinating your breath. When this happens, you can end up with unwanted pressure in your lower back every time you work those abdominals. This will eventually result in back pain.

This is one of those cases where core strengthening could be the right thing for your back, but you just aren’t doing it at a level that is appropriate for you.

Learning how to activate and build your core strength the right way is important all of the time – but it’s critical when you’re recovering from back pain.

3. Your hamstrings are sore and achy

A good core strengthening program targets more than just your abs. You should be strengthening your hips, glutes, and hamstrings as well.

While it’s normal to have some soreness after a good workout, when it comes to back pain, it’s important that you know the difference between muscle soreness and pain caused by nerve irritation.

Where you feel your pain and how it behaves is one of your best clues.

Let’s say that after a good Pilates session you notice soreness in both of your thighs and hamstrings the next day. This is typically considered “good” soreness. It’s symmetrical, feels better when you stretch, and likely subsides in 2-3 days. The more you work out, the less this soreness seems to occur.

But let’s say you feel an ache or a pull-down only one of your hamstrings after a Pilates class. You stretch and it doesn’t help. It possibly even aggravates your leg. You rest, the pain goes away, but then comes right back after your next workout.

This could be a sign that your core strengthening routine is causing irritation to a nerve in your spine.

If you don’t address the irritation, your leg won’t feel any better and your back will start to hurt as well.

Plus, if you feel pain or soreness anywhere in your body after a workout, it’s important that you learn to recognize the difference between good and bad pain so that you can correct problems before they happen.

Looking for ways to safely strengthen your core?

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.

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 Easing Back Pain and Stiffness – click here.

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.

Hamstrings Always Tight? This Could be Why

If you’ve ever felt tightness in your hamstrings, the typical advice you get from friends, family, and even well-meaning healthcare professionals is to stretch them.

But if even your stretches just aren’t working – what then?

You hear me say this a lot… but if you’re constantly stretching… or even foam rolling a tight or tense muscle… and nothing seems to change… then it’s time to start considering that it might be something else.

I see this scenario ALL the time in our office…

Just recently, a gentleman (we’ll call him “Steve”) came to us with what he thought was a “chronic hamstring strain…”

He had been stretching his hamstrings consistently – but they just weren’t loosening up.

He wanted to know if there were better stretches he could be doing to loosen up the tight, uncomfortable feeling he was experiencing in the back of his thigh every day.

First – it was critical to make certain that Steve’s problem was… in fact… a tight hamstring.

If the chronic tightness in the back of Steve’s thigh was due to a hamstring problem, his stretches really should’ve been having some sort of impact.

Instead, the stretches either did nothing… or made his thigh ache.

Sometimes after stretching a lot – he would “feel” his hamstring for the rest of the day – even when he was just sitting. We checked that he was using proper stretching technique – and he was – so something wasn’t right.

When you’re having a problem with your muscle – and only your muscle – you’ll experience discomfort, tightness, or pain when you’re either using that muscle or stretching that muscle.

Otherwise – you should generally feel perfectly fine.

Muscles are made up of what we call contractile tissue. When you truly strain a muscle, this contractile tissue gets disrupted. You heal it by moving and stretching it – and eventually it goes back to normal. On occasion, people don’t move enough after a muscle strain and the tissue can become chronically tight. But still, you would only experience that tightness when trying to use or stretch the muscle.

This wasn’t the case for Steve.

His pain would, on occasion, linger throughout the day when he was resting or sitting. Sometimes he’d notice hamstring discomfort at night when he was trying to sleep.

Steve was feeling symptoms in his hamstring whether he was using that muscle or not – and his stretches weren’t helping.

This immediately tells me that there was another problem causing his symptoms and it was more than just a tight hamstring. – and when hamstring or thigh tightness doesn’t respond to stretching or exercise – we must always consider the lower back.

Since Steve wasn’t feeling any pain in his lower back – he never considered this himself.

But the key was in how Steve’s pain was behaving…

Your pain behaves in different ways depending on where it’s coming from..

As I mentioned previously, when your muscle is the source, your pain behaves in a very specific and repeatable manner.

But if pain is coming from your spine, it can quite literally be all over the place.

You can feel symptoms in your back, your butt, and your limbs. You’ll have good days and bad days. You’ll feel symptoms at rest, and you can certainly feel tightness in your hamstring – just like Steve.

The other interesting thing about problems that originate from the spine is that you’ll often be able to trigger your symptoms by moving your spine.

When we investigated Steve’s spine… we found that when he moved a certain way over and over… it would produce his hamstring tightness.

Bingo!

This explains why Steve’s hamstring stretches were doing absolutely nothing… He was stretching his thigh when he really needed to stretch his back.

Does Steve’s story resonate with you?

If you’re feeling chronic tightness or pain in your hamstring that just isn’t going away – chances are good that you’re missing something.

Do yourself a favor… DON’T check YouTube or “Dr. Google” for advice…

Talk to one of our experts instead.

Best way to do that is request a FREE Discovery Session.

We’ll talk to you about the symptoms in your hamstring and let you know if stretching is enough… or if you need something more!

CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Session with one of our specialists.

 

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.

Should Age be a Reason to Avoid Certain Activities?

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

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

The short answer is no.

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with pain.

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain that.

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

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

But the current research disputes this line of thinking…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here’s what happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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