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Five Ways Adding Pilates to your Life will Enhance your Fitness.

Pilates has been around for about 100 years, and it still amazes me how many people have NOT heard of this incredible exercise method. It was first created by Joseph Pilates and initially gained popularity among the dance community as a way to recover from and prevent injuries. But you don’t have to be a dancer to practice Pilates — or enjoy the benefits. 

We’ve been incorporating Pilates into our physical therapy practice for the last 10 years and it’s been transformational for both our clients AND our practice.

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 that they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional strengthening methods. Most of my clients are well into their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, and they love Pilates because it helps them have more energy, better balance, improved strength, and more mobility. It allows them to participate in all the activities they love with more ease, and most importantly, significantly decreases their risk for injury.

Here are five reasons why I personally love adding Pilates to any fitness routine, and why you should consider adding it to yours too!

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb. We specialize in back pain, so see a lot of folks with this problem in our office. They’ve often worked with traditional physical therapists or chiropractors in the past to successfully get rid of back pain in the short term, but it keeps coming back. And our clients want it gone for the long-term. A regular practice of Pilates is a safe and sustainable way to help keep your back pain-free. It focuses on core strength but is also a well-balanced exercise system. Full body strength and balance is a critical component for life-long back health, and it is not always addressed in traditional back rehabilitation programs or treatments.

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

One of the keys to truly enhancing your fitness is what I call “balanced strength.” That’s when each part of your body works together to produce the right amount of force, at the right time, to do your favorite activity in the most efficient way possible. Efficiency means you’ll be able to do it for longer and with more ease. We see lots of strong people in our office, and they can’t understand why they’re in pain. It’s entirely possible to be “strong,” but still have certain muscles working harder than others. This creates an imbalance, which eventually leads to problems. Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated, which helps promote balanced strength throughout your body and leads to fewer injuries over time.

3. Pilates helps you get more flexible and mobile.

Do you stretch your hamstrings every single day and get frustrated because they’re still tight? It’s probably because you’re not stretching the right way. What I love about Pilates is that it stretches your body in a dynamic way – with movement – so that muscles lengthen the right way. The days of statically holding a stretch for 30 seconds are long gone. Plus, mobility is extremely important for strength. Muscles work better when your joints move fully and freely. “Mobility before stability” is a phrase you hear daily in our office. And Pilates is a great way to get your joints and muscles mobile while ALSO promoting stability.

4. Pilates puts minimal stress on your joints.

Aging is a real thing, and along with it comes arthritis. The key to combating arthritis is optimizing the area around the affected joint or joints. When you have good mobility, and balanced strength, you have less compressive forces around your joints.  Arthritis doesn’t like compressed, crowded joints. So when you strengthen and stretch your whole body in a good, balanced way – arthritis becomes less painful and stiff. Pilates helps with all this and doesn’t cause any added stress on your joints. There’s a good reason you see lots of folks in their 60’s and 70’s enjoying our classes.

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Huh? Is that even a thing? Yes it is – and it’s almost ALWAYS the missing link for people who feel stuck, or can’t seem to get beyond a certain point in their fitness. It can also be the reason why an activity you’ve been doing “for years” suddenly becomes problematic or painful. If you don’t train your nervous system, it gets lazy, and compensations will develop in your body. Compensations lead to problems when unchecked. Since Pilates is a mind-body exercise, it helps to keep the communication between your brain and your muscles fresh. Pilates emphasizes precise and coordinated movements, which enhance and reinforces this connection.  In other words, your nervous system can’t get lazy when you do Pilates!

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your fitness or rehab routine — what are you waiting for?

As a specialist physical therapist it’s my go-to exercise system for folks over 40 and my favorite way to help people keep their back pain gone.  We’re actually re-launching our signature 8 week program, Pilates 101, on Sept 29th! Pilates 101 is completely dedicated to folks who are new to Pilates, or who have back pain and want to learn how to develop a safe core-strengthening routine. If you want more information, just click here!

 

 

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!

Movement is medicine (when prescribed properly)

I have a confession to make. A few months ago I hurt my own back.

Yes, you read that correctly, the back pain expert injured her own back! I preach this ALL the time to my clients, but one of the reasons I’m so passionate about helping people with back problems is because the treatment is not cookie-cutter. But once we find what works for you, physical therapy is so effective and rewarding.

In my case, I was able to use very specific movements to get rid of my back pain, and then start focusing on strengthening exercises to keep it gone. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments when I wanted to call my doctor and ask him for pain pills, and even the idea of an injection crossed my mind once or twice. But because I keep up with the research, I know that pills and injections really don’t work well for long-term results. Aside from the many potential complications and side effects, quick-fix treatments tend to mask your pain and keep you from doing the real work that is necessary to keep the problem from recurring in the future.

At CJPT & Pilates, long-term solutions are the only thing we are interested in. We believe that movement is medicine.

For all musculoskeletal injuries, including back pain, the research shows that movement and exercise really is the best course of treatment in about 80% of all cases. OK, I know what you’re thinking. If it were that easy, why can’t you just go to the gym, to yoga, or follow an exercise video at home to get rid of your own back or knee pain?

It’s because although movement IS medicine, it only works when prescribed for you properly.

Let me explain.

I’m working with a gentleman right now who’s had back pain for over a year. It started after a car accident. He’s tried regular physical therapy, chiropractic, steroid injections and radiofrequency ablation. None of it worked. He feels good when he exercises and moves around, but the pain always comes back.

When he came to see us, the really interesting thing I noticed about his back was when he put himself in certain positions, he would stand up and literally be crooked. His spine would shift to one side, and become very painful and stiff. In the PT-world we call this a lateral shift, and it’s a sign that indicates he likely has a bulging disc. The great thing about a bulging disc is that they tend to respond very well to corrective movements. Once we know what movement “fixes” you, we can prescribe it to you. This gentleman can now make himself straight and get rid of his back pain in under a minute. Of course the goal is to get him to the point where he no longer needs this corrective movement, but for now, it quite literally is his medicine.

I think the reason more people don’t use this approach is because it requires a little bit of work, and you don’t often see the results immediately. When you get an injection, or even take a pill, the pain is gone in a few hours and it will often stay gone for a period of time without you really needing to do much. With movement, you have to stick with it and do it correctly for it to work. And although you can get an immediate reduction in pain from the correctly prescribed movement, it takes several weeks for it to start to stick and produce long-term relief.

But here’s the best part about using movement as medicine — it’s natural, there are no harmful side-effects, and you can do it completely on your own.

If you’ve been suffering in pain for awhile and tired of using pills or quick fixes to manage your pain, sign up for a FREE Discovery Session with us to find out if movement can be your medicine instead! You can also check out our free back pain guide right here.

The Big Reason why Back Pain Keeps Coming Back

If you’re reading this and you’re over the age of 40, odds are pretty good that you’ve experienced back pain at some point in your life. The odds are also pretty good that you’ve experienced back pain more than once.

Every few months or maybe once per year – your back “acts up”. You get rid of it – but it ALWAYS comes back.

Sound familiar?

Well… you’re not alone. Four out of five people are impacted by back pain, and for many, it’s a constant back-and-forth year after year.

But why? Why does back pain always seem to come back?

There are essentially two main reasons:

  1. Back pain is primarily addressed with “quick-fixes” and passive modalities
  2. You (or your doctor) let MRIs make the decisions about your treatment

Quick fixes and passive modalities…

This is the most common way people tend to address their back pain. And it’s the number one reason why it always comes back.

What is a passive modality? It’s something that is done TO you. It’s where you walk in somewhere, lay on a table, and you receive some kind of treatment. This could be chiropractic care, massage, craniosacral therapy, acupuncture, even injections and surgery. You have no active role in the process — it’s completely passive.

Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these treatments. They are GREAT for getting rid or your back pain — and quite often quickly. And they are also great for helping you with other problems, such a stress relief. (I LOVE getting my massage once per month!)

But when your back pain keeps coming back, it’s a big sign something is missing. These treatments are only addressing your symptoms – for example – tight muscles, tension in your nerves, stiff or out of place joints. These things are all the result of your back problem – not the cause. And it’s the number one reason why your back problem keeps coming back – because the root cause – the thing that is causing you to have tight muscles or stiff joints – is never addressed.

When MRI’s make the decision…

Traditionally, the medical community diagnoses your back pain with images. They use X-rays and MRI’s to see what’s going on inside your spine, and from there, they make a determination of what your treatment should be.

This is a big problem, because what shows up in your MRI isn’t always the reason for your pain. For example, your MRI might show a herniated or bulging disc in your spine. Your doctor will immediately blame that for your pain. And depending on how “bad” it looks, they may suggestion injections or surgery. But the truth is, another person could have the exact same visual results as you on their MRI and have no back pain at all.

So why is it that one person can have a bulging disc with no back pain, and another person can have a bulging disc with excruciating back pain?

It’s because the root cause of back pain is more complicated than your anatomy. Research has shown time and time again that 80% of all back pain is primarily influenced by your habits and the way you move, not by what’s going on structurally in your spine.

So you can go in and cut out the disc, but if you don’t identify and correct your poor movement habits that led to that bulging disc in the first place — it’s either going to come back or bulge somewhere else. It’s why surgery only has a 50% success rate for helping people keep back pain away for the long-term.

If you’re confused right now – I don’t blame you.

It’s why so many people suffer from back pain!

It’s also why we offer the opportunity for you to come talk to us for FREE if you’re tired of suffering from back pain with no real answers.

Click here to request a FREE Discovery Session with on of my specialists.

You can also download this FREE GUIDE on how taking care of back pain on your own. It was written especially with the recent quarantine in mind – where so many people have been stuck at home and off their routines.

Either way, you should know that if you want your back pain to stop coming back — it IS possible. You just might have the wrong approach and could benefit from some specialist care to finally get you going in the right direction.

exercise

Can you get rid of Back Pain with Exercise?

With small group fitness, Pilates studios such as our own, and many gyms reopening again on June 1st, people are itching to get back into their exercise routines. In our last post, we talked about tips and considerations on things you can do to ensure your body is ready to go back, especially after weeks of quarantine.

But many folks I speak with have had back pain for years, long before quarantine. So many people have tried weekly massage, daily stretching and foam rolling, and every exercise under the sun — only to find that their back pain ALWAYS comes back.

Research has confirmed many times over that exercise is the best “treatment” for back pain.

While prescription medication, steroid injections, and even surgery may be more successful at getting your back pain gone quickly — a proper exercise routine beats these things out every time. Outcomes are either the same, or better, when you choose exercise over those procedures. It’s why in our business, we focus on empowering you through movement — instead of pills or procedures! If a long-term solution is what you’re looking for, and you want to end the merry-go-round of your back pain always returning, then proper exercise is the best route hands down.

Sounds simple, right? Why then, do four out of five people continue to suffer from debilitating back pain?

It’s because not all back pain is created equal, and neither is exercise. The tricky part is that for most back pain, any kind of movement is going to make you feel better. Our bodies are designed to move and not sit still. It’s why you wake up feeling stiff and painful, and better after you’ve moved around for about an hour. Movement brings blood flow to our muscles and joints, and exercise spreads pain-reducing endorphins throughout our body. But more often than not, the pain comes back the next day, or in come cases, feels worse two or three days later. And the frustrating part is that you never know exactly what you did — so you just rinse and repeat — hoping the next day it finally “works”.

Exercise DOES work to help your back pain, just like the research says, but it needs to be specific.

Skill and coordination also matter. One exercise can act like a miracle for one person’s back pain, while it aggravates another’s. I see this all the time in my office. The nuances come down to cues, tiny little tweaks, or sometimes you need a different exercise all together for your particular body.

Back pain is not cookie-cutter, and your exercise prescription shouldn’t be either. You don’t want to go on for years just managing your back pain when you could actually get rid of it entirely with the right movement strategy.

As you enter back into the world of fitness, take note of how your body and especially your back is feeling. The correct exercise routine is going to make you feel better, and STAY better. You’ll notice continued progress, and you won’t have to foam roll and stretch every single day to manage your back pain. The wrong exercise routine will make you feel worse, often several days or months later, and the worst part is you won’t be sure where it came from.

If this sounds familiar, or you find this back pain cycle starts happening to you when you return to the gym, feel free to give us a call. You can talk to a specialist for free and find out if your exercise routine is sufficient for your type of back pain. We’ll also be going over all of this (and more) in our FREE back pain and sciatica workshop on Tuesday June 16th! It’s all online via Zoom, and you can sign up right here.

work from home, coronavirus, back pain, quarantine

Back Pain Doesn’t Go Away for the Coronavirus!

The coronavirus (COVID-19) is forcing everyone to adapt to new routines — but many of us are still experiencing the same old chronic pain. In fact, your back pain may start acting up again now due to stress, decreased exercise, and more time spent at home on your computer. The important thing is that you don’t ignore it! Listen to your body and KEEP MOVING!  

Prior to seeing us, many of our clients who suffer from back pain were told that the best way to recover was to ice and lie down. They were advised to rest, relax, and limit their movement until the pain goes away. The problem with this model for treatment is that it goes against everything we know about the basic principles of joint and tissue healing.

Our modern health research suggests that early movement is actually the BEST way to head off chronic back pain!

Of course, if you’ve suffered a trauma like a car accident or a major fall, you should absolutely go get checked out by a medical professional and follow their advice based on your injuries. But if you are dealing with a chronically aching back or general soreness, stiffness, and pain, it turns out that movement is actually the best course of action!

But not ALL types of movement and exercise are safe or beneficial when you’ve hurt your back…

That’s where physical therapy comes in! A physical therapist is able to identify specific movements that actually work through and relieve that pain, based on your individual condition. We call these initial exercises “first aid movements” – and they are especially helpful because you can use them any time you might tweak your back in the future! If you’re experiencing acute back pain, of course it doesn’t make sense to continue with all of your activities as usual if they are just exacerbating your symptoms. But there is a middle ground between overdoing it and completely stopping the movement that your body craves. 

But how are we supposed to see a physical therapist, you ask, when everything is shutting down to contain this coronavirus? 

We have a plan! We’re offering live virtual options for both our FREE Back Pain & Sciatica class on Thursday, April 9th and our Pilates 101: Get Your Back to Health program starting Tuesday April 14th. So please don’t let the pandemic keep you from signing up or sharing this info with others you know who may need our help!

Is Pilates the missing link in your fitness?

Pilates has been around for about 100 years, and it still amazes me how many people have NOT heard of this incredible exercise method.

It was first created by Joseph Pilates and initially gained popularity among the dance community as a way to recover from and prevent injuries. But you don’t have to be a dancer to practice Pilates — or enjoy the benefits.

I’ve been incorporating Pilates into my physical therapy practice for the last 10 years and it’s been transformational for both my clients AND my practice. Every March, we join participants from all across the globe to share the love for the original work of Joseph Pilates. Over the years, much of Pilates has turned contemporary, but for one month – the Pilates community pays respect to his traditional, classical Mat exercises. This movement is known as March MATness, and anyone can join!

Pilates is a full body strengthening system that emphasizes breath, precision, coordination, and core strength — and it helps my clients connect to their bodies in a way that they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional strengthening methods.

Most of my clients are well into their 50’s and 60’s, 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 most importantly, significantly decreases the likelihood that their injury will come back.

Here are five reasons why Pilates was a missing link in my physical therapy practice, and why it might be the missing link to YOUR life-long fitness as well.

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb. We see a lot of folks with recurring back pain in our office. They’ve seen traditional physical therapists or chiropractors who get rid of their pain in the short term, but they aren’t able to keep it gone. Regular practice of Pilates is a safe and sustainable way to help keep your back pain-free. It focuses on core strength but also is a well-balanced exercise system — so it keeps your back feeling mobile in all directions — a missing link in most “back strengthening programs.”

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

One of the keys to lifelong fitness is what I call “balanced strength.” That’s when each part of your body works together to produce the right amount of force, at the right time, to do your favorite activity in the most efficient way possible. Efficiency means you’ll be able to do it for a lot longer. I see lots of strong people in my office, but often certain muscles are working harder than others. And this can cause problems down the line. Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated — and this leads to a balanced body.

3. Pilates helps you get flexibility the right way.

Do you stretch your hamstrings every single day and find they just never get more flexible? It’s probably because you’re not stretching the right way — or maybe you don’t even need to be stretching them at all! What I love about Pilates is that it stretches your body in a dynamic way — with movement — so that muscles lengthen the right way and where they are supposed to. “Mobility before stability” is a phrase you will hear me say often, and it’s one of the keys to lifelong fitness.

4. Pilates puts very little stress on your joints.

Aging is a real thing and along with it comes arthritis. But it’s not a death sentence like most people are led to believe! 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 and doesn’t cause any added stress. When your joints are happier, it becomes much easier to do your favorite activities – hopefully for life!

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Huh? Is that even a thing? Yes it is — and it’s almost ALWAYS a missing link that I see for people who’ve been at a certain activity for a really long time and then suddenly things start breaking down. They start experiencing pain when they never have before. If you don’t train your nervous system, it gets lazy, and that is how compensations develop in your body. Pilates helps with this because it is a mind-body exercise that emphasizes balanced strength and coordination. Your nervous system can’t get lazy when you do Pilates!

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your fitness or rehab routine — what are you waiting for?

March MATness is the perfect time to get started with Pilates. We’re celebrating by sending the Pilates exercise of the day right to your inbox, modeled by our expert Pilates instructors! Just follow this link to sign up for our challenge and gain access to daily videos, exclusive offers, and promos!  The fun starts on March 1st!!

syringe

Steroid injections may do more harm than good, research shows

Have you been told you need to get a cortisone injection? Have you already tried them more than once? 

Research is now showing that cortisone injections may hurt more than help in the long run! 

The results of a recent study from Radiology has raised concerns in the medical community about potentially adverse effects on joints following corticosteroid injections. These injections are commonly used to treat arthritis, especially osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. The researchers in this study observed patients who had previously received steroid injections and found that some of the patients exhibited further joint damage on medical imaging tests. According to the original article, these patients presented with “accelerated OA [osteoarthritis] progression, subchondral insufficiency fracture, complications of osteonecrosis, and rapid joint destruction, including bone loss.” 

The joint issues that can be triggered by cortisone injections don’t just show up right after the procedure — which makes it easy to see the steroid shot as a quick fix with no drawbacks.

And it’s true that there are usually no short-term side effects. However, when it comes to your joints, it’s all about the long game. And it’s worth noting that an analysis from the Cochrane Review in 2015 found that the benefits of steroid injections usually wear off after about six months…  meaning it’s a temporary “band-aid” solution to a bigger problem — a band-aid with the potential to result in permanent degradation of your joints!  

Arthritis is an issue we see all the time in our physical therapy practice, and that’s why patient and physician concerns with steroid injections are so relevant to us. Many of our clients have had injections suggested to them or have gone through with the procedure but not experienced any long-term healing. In many cases, this can be an overly simplified answer to the very complicated question of individual pain. Physical therapy, on the other hand, isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Our treatment model is entirely based around addressing the root cause of your pain instead of just providing temporary relief. Plus, we’re all about keeping your treatment non-invasive, movement-based, and entirely customized to YOU. 

If you’ve been told that you need a cortisone injection in your back, knee, or shoulder, think twice and get informed about other options!

If you’d like a NATURAL route to pain relief — and one that will make you more mobile and active at the same time — come talk with us! You can even schedule a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session with our specialists right now — no strings attached. 

Research shows MRI’s not reliable for back pain

One of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI for their back or neck problem. When you have persistent pain that won’t go away, or shooting pain or numbness down your arm or leg, it’s scary. It makes sense to get a look inside with an MRI – right?

Not necessarily.

Here’s the problem. 

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine.  But what we now know from research is that all those findings on an MRI rarely correlate with what’s actually causing your pain. 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.”

Let me explain.

When it comes to neck and back problems, what most people don’t realize is that 70-80% of all spine and musculoskeletal problems are what we call “mechanical” in nature.  That means that your problem has to do with the way you move, bad postural habits learned over the years, or muscular and joint imbalances like weakness and poor flexibility. Many of these mechanical “wear and tear” problems don’t show up until your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s – which coincidentally is also the time that things like disc degeneration show up on an MRI. Disc degeneration and arthritis are normal parts of aging, but they often get blamed for problems they don’t actually cause. The best way to figure out a movement problem is with… well… movement! Not an MRI.

But how do you know that it’s a mechanical problem and not something more serious?

The easiest way to find out is to ask a physical therapist who specializes in the spine, and specifically in mechanical neck and back pain.  But one sign you can easily recognize on your own is to take note of how your pain behaves. Does your pain come and go? Do you have good days and bad days? Can you change positions and influence your pain? When your pain is variable, it’s the best sign that your neck or back problem is “mechanical” in nature and due to a movement dysfunction. And that also means you don’t need surgery or any kind of procedure to fix it! In fact, a procedure or surgery could leave you feeling worse off than before.

So what’s the big deal about getting an MRI?  Isn’t it good just to be extra-cautious?

In theory – yes.  But here’s what actually happens.  MRI’s are super powerful and amazing tools.  Because of this, they see everything – including normal age-related changes like I mentioned just a moment ago. They also pick up things like bulging discs.

Research has also shown that around 60-70% of the population walk around with bulging discs and have no symptoms. Why?

Because a bulging disc only gives you trouble if you are moving or positioning yourself in an unbalanced way.

If an MRI picks this up, the news is often more devastating than it needs to be and the typical advice is to get an injection or surgery.  Neither of these procedures will fix your movement problem. And what typically happens is the bulge comes back, or appears somewhere else. This is why being “extra-cautious”, and over-prescribing MRI’s when it comes to back and neck pain, is not a good idea. The outcome is usually that people end up dealing with invasive procedures and surgeries they didn’t even need.  

If you’ve had a bad accident, fall, or trauma – then an MRI is a good idea.  But if you are dealing with chronic, long-standing aches and pains that have come and gone over the years and have recently gotten worse – there is a 70-80% chance that it is a movement problem that has finally caught up to you.  It’s best to see a movement expert for this. We know how to tell if the issue is something more serious. We can also send you to a doctor right away if necessary. But when you automatically assume that you need an MRI first, you end up spending a lot of money (the average cost of an MRI is $150,000, and you have to pay a portion of this), and the likelihood of getting prescribed an unnecessary surgery or procedure is much higher.

If this story sounds all too familiar, or you’ve been told that you must get an MRI for your neck or back problem – feel free to reach out to us and we can help you sort through fact vs fiction.  You could also come to our next “Ask the PT Night” on October 23rd and ask your questions then!

Knee pain? Top three causes and what to do about it.

Knee pain is one of the most common complaints that brings people into our office.

Since most of our clients are in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, they start to really worry that knee pain could bring an end to their active lifestyle. But that doesn’t have to be the case! The good news is that unless you’ve had some serious trauma (like a major accident or fall), 80% of all knee problems can be resolved without any kind of procedure or surgery – and most importantly – you can learn how to continue managing them on your own so that they never get in the way of your favorite activities again.

Sound too good to be true?

It’s not – I promise – but the first step is figuring out where your knee pain is coming from. Once you know that, you can get on the right path to resolve it.

Here are three of the most common causes I see that make people suffer from knee pain and what you can do about them:

1. Iliotibial band syndrome

This is a very common problem that typically affects runners, avid walkers, and hikers. It is often misdiagnosed and confused with patellofemoral syndrome (see below). Your iliotibial band (IT band) is a very large thick band on the side of your knee that will often get overworked due to a muscular imbalance elsewhere in your body (usually your hips and core). When this happens, you’ll feel pain that is on the side of your knee that is usually very sore and tender to touch, and typically sharp and stabbing versus achy. It will impact you most when you’re going downhill or down the stairs.

It’s important to note that even though a tight, and painful IT band is the structure causing you to have pain – it is typically a symptom of an underlying problem. Like I said before, IT band problems are usually the result of your core and hips not stabilizing your pelvis properly – which ultimately results in your knee not receiving the support it needs when you’re running, walking, or hiking.

Getting rid of the actual pain is the easy part… in our office we use things like dry needling, soft tissue work, and sometimes even some taping. But if you want to keep the pain gone – you MUST address the underlying causes as well. This is what a lot of people miss. We love using Pilates-based exercises in our office because they not only target your core, but also get your muscles working in a coordinated, symmetrical fashion, helping to keep things balanced as you get back to your favorite activities.

2. Patellofemoral Knee syndrome

This problem is very similar to IT band syndrome, with just a few key differences. This first is that it can impact almost anyone – not just runners, hikers, and walkers. You’ll also experience the pain in the front of your knee – typically under your kneecap – and it will tend to be more achy than sharp. This problem will often come on very slowly and can be more chronic than its IT band cousin. You’ll feel this more when you’re going up stairs, up hills, and with squatting. You’ll also notice stiffness and pain in the front of your knee after sitting awhile – that usually will go away once you start moving.

Much like IT band syndrome – these are all symptoms of an underlying cause. A weak core and hips can cause this problem too, but I usually see more weaknesses in glutes and hamstrings with this one. When the backs of your hips and legs aren’t kicking in like they should, it can result in tight hip flexors or quads. This is a super common culprit for patellofemoral syndrome. So once again, you can get rid of the pain quite easily in most cases, but you must make sure to determine – and address – the root cause so that you can keep this pain gone for good.

3. Osteoarthritis

Many people hear that they have osteoarthritis in their knee and think there isn’t anything they can do about it. Not true!! Arthritis is often blamed for knee problems but it isn’t always the cause of what you’re feeling… Let me explain….

When arthritis is the true cause and culprit for your knee problem, it will be painful and stiff all the time. You’ll lack significant mobility and it will be almost impossible to walk and bear weight without support or a cane. When this is truly your problem – you are a great candidate for total knee replacement surgery. Now here’s the catch… sometimes your X-ray or MRI will show that you have terrible arthritis or that you have “bone-on-bone”… but that doesn’t mean you need to rush to surgery! Your symptoms should really decide that.

If your pain comes and goes (meaning you have good days and bad days), if you can walk around most days and go up and down the stairs and your knee just “catches”, or maybe you feel stiff a lot but this eases up with movement – you might have arthritis in your knee but it is not the root cause of your knee problem. Because here’s a hint – arthritis does NOT come and go – but other common musculoskeletal problems can. When your pain comes and goes, you know it can’t be entirely from arthritis.

So what should you do?

With arthritis, whether it’s partially to blame, or whether it’s just something that shows up on the X-ray and gets blamed… we still need to look at the surrounding structures and root cause of the problem.

If your quads are really tight, and the muscles around your knee are imbalanced, this can create compressive forces in your knee joint which will exacerbate what might normally just be “mild” arthritis (compression will aggravate arthritis). You could also have weakness or problems in your ankles, feet, or core that are causing your knee to work harder than it needs to. This can cause pain all on its own, OR aggravate your arthritis. The point is, get checked by a musculoskeletal expert – people trained like us – so that instead of just fishing for the problem or only treating symptoms, you are getting to the root cause of your problem and setting yourself up for success!

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may benefit from working with a specialist physical therapist who can help you get back to the activities you love – without pain pills or unnecessary procedures. You can click right here to request a FREE Discovery session with one of our specialists. We’d love to help you figure out the root cause of your knee problem so that you can get back to doing everything you love – instead of spending time in the doctor’s office 🙂

Not quite ready for a solution yet but looking for more information? Request a seat at our next Health and Posture class! It’s totally free and the next topic just happens to be all about hip and knee problems! Figure out if your problem is arthritis, IT band syndrome, patellofemoral syndrome, or something else entirely… with other folks just like you.