Tag Archive for: movement heals

When You Can’t Feel Your Abs

I’ve been a physical therapist for 20 years, a Pilates instructor for 11, and have been specializing in back pain for the past 10 years of my career.

When it comes to strengthening your core and preventing back pain, I am an expert in my field. Yet for some reason this morning, during my Pilates workout, I just couldn’t feel my abs. I teach people how to do this every single day yet this morning, I couldn’t seem to access my own.

What was happening?

And more importantly – if it can happen to someone like me – it can certainly happen to someone with less training than I have. I started to think about all the reasons this could be happening to me. Had I gotten enough sleep? What had I eaten the day before? Could it be stress?

And then it hit me.

I had just come back from a 2-day course where I’d been sitting far more than usual. I sat for 8 hours straight, two days in a row, not to mention all the very cramped sitting I did on the plane to and from this course. When one of my clients is about to have a few days like this, I recommend they get up from their chair and stretch backwards as frequently as possible every few hours.

But guess what – I didn’t follow any of my own advice. The result? A stiff back and sleepy abs upon my return.

Our bodies are highly intelligent and have every capacity to heal themselves when given the right environment. Conversely, when in the wrong environment, our bodies will also do what it takes to naturally protect from harm and injury. In my case, I came home from this course with a stiff lower back.

Back stiffness is the first sign that your back is not happy, which means your chances of tweaking it or exacerbating an old back injury are higher. When any joint is stiff and not moving well, including the joints/vertebrae in your lower back, the muscles surrounding that joint will become naturally inhibited or weakened. This occurs on purpose as a protection mechanism. Your body doesn’t want a fully contracted muscle compressing an unhappy joint. In the case of your lower back, the muscles that can get inhibited when your back is not happy include your abdominals as well as back muscles.

So what can you do?

The good news is I’ve already helped you with step one: awareness. Inhibited muscles are not the same as weak muscles. In my case, I do have strong abdominals. My weekly routine consists of a regular Pilates practice, lifting weights, and I perform activities like hiking and running that engage my core. Yet despite all this, my abs were simply not having it this particular morning. They were not set up for a successful workout.

The combination of my stiff back and having sat for several days just meant that I needed to do something different to prepare my lower back and abdominals for this workout – so that I wouldn’t injure myself. My sleepy abs and stiff back were, in effect, trying to tell me just that. All I needed to do was have the awareness this was happening so I could take appropriate action.

It’s no different than when you go on vacation and you get off your routine by eating more than usual. You might return a bit bloated and not feeling your best self. This kind of feeling we are accustomed to. And might respond by getting a bit strict with our diets until feeling back on track. Our joints can react similarly to a change in routine – we’re just not as accustomed to the signs and symptoms that let us know. But once you are – you can easily manage this and avoid injury. Had I pushed through my Pilates routine as normal this morning despite sensing that my back and abdominal function was off – there’s a good chance I’d be sitting here writing to you with full on back pain instead of just some lingering stiffness.

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. If this is a recurring pattern for you, your abdominals and deep core may not be functioning at their best and you could be caught in a vicious cycle of trying to improve your core strength only to keep hurting your back.

The missing solution for you might be that nobody has fully examined your back in a way to ensure that it’s moving fully and freely like it should. Once your back moves well, you can usually start to strengthen your abdominals without a problem.

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

The take home point here is that if you keep experiencing weakness in a particular area despite trying to strengthen it consistently, it’s possible you could have a problem in your joints that is keeping your muscles from fully activating like they should.

Talk to one of my specialists about it.

Someone from my client success team will call you right away and see if you are a good fit for what we do. At the end of the day – we’re here to help.

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

syringe

Shoulder Still Hurting After Your Covid-19 Booster?

Shoulder pain is quite normal after any vaccine.

But prolonged shoulder pain isn’t.

Shoulder injuries related to vaccine administration (otherwise known as “SIRVA”) is a rare, but possible occurrence when you get a vaccine or booster shot. Shoulder injections should enter the deltoid muscle. But SIRVA occurs when a healthcare professional administers the vaccine too high, or too deep into your shoulder.

When not properly administered, your next booster shot could graze your bone or nerve, or even puncture your bursa (a fluid-filled sac that protects your shoulder tendons).

Pain from SIRVA can be really difficult to distinguish from the normal pain that occurs after a shot in your arm. But it’s critical you know what to look for. Because if left untreated, SIRVA can cause prolonged problems in your shoulder over time.

I’ve seen folks end up with entirely preventable rotator cuff tears, bursitis, and tendonitis – all because someone didn’t take their complaints of shoulder pain after getting a Covid shot in their arm seriously enough.

Normal shoulder pain after a Covid vaccine or booster shot:

Mild skin sensitivity and localized shoulder pain is quite normal after a Covid vaccine or booster shot. Some people experience what is now known as “Covid arm” – a mild rash and skin sensitivity that can occur anywhere from a few days to even a week after receiving your shot. You’ll experience skin sensitivity and/or swelling that might look similar to cellulitis.

While annoying, Covid arm is not considered dangerous or threatening.

The symptoms will typically go away after a week or two and in the meantime, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about over the counter or prescription remedies that can address the symptoms of itchiness or swelling.

Localized shoulder pain at the site of your vaccine or booster shot is also normal. The pain you feel is from the mild trauma caused by the needle being inserted into the soft tissue (muscle) of your arm. It often feels like a bruise, and you may experience a little bit of swelling. It will typically go away after 2-3 days. Even though your arm can be quite sore, the important distinction here is that you’ll still have full, normal function of your arm. In other words, despite the soreness, you can still move your arm freely up and down if you had to without restriction.

Your arm soreness will go away with time, but gently massaging the area of pain, and even some easy movement or exercise can help the soreness go away faster.

Abnormal shoulder pain after a Covid vaccine or booster shot:

The symptoms of SIRVA are different, and typically more severe than what I’ve just described above. If not addressed, some of these symptoms could lead to long lasting shoulder problems or compensatory problems elsewhere.

As I’ve already alluded to, one of the main distinctions between “normal” shoulder pain after a vaccination shot and SIRVA is how well your arm functions. If the needle was accidentally inserted into your joint capsule, for example, you will notice limited mobility and possibly limited strength. If unaddressed, symptoms like this can manifest into more serious shoulder problems down the line such as adhesive capsulitis or frozen shoulder.

If the needle was inserted too high or too deeply, and beyond your muscular layer, it could have injured your bursa. This could cause it to become inflamed, turning into shoulder bursitis. Your mobility may or may not be impacted when this happens, but you’ll notice prolonged shoulder pain that doesn’t subside after 2-3 days like it should. Bursitis is actually a really simple injury to treat. But with SIRVA, it’s often dismissed as normal pain after the shot.

When ignored – shoulder bursitis can lead to compensatory movements due to pain – and cause problems later on in places like your neck, shoulder blade or even elbow.

One last common problem we see as a result of SIRVA is rotator cuff tendonitis. Much like bursitis, you may have normal motion in your shoulder, but what you’ll notice with this is again, the pain will persist longer than it should. But unlike bursitis, you’ll also have pain and weakness when you exert force through that tendon – particularly with overhead movements or lifting something with an outstretched arm.

This is also not a complicated injury to rehabilitate, but if not addressed, could turn into a more serious problem such as a rotator cuff tear or chronic tendonosis – conditions that are more difficult to treat.

To recap – your shoulder will hurt after getting a vaccine.

It’s normal. And you may even experience Covid arm. But these symptoms should go away and not remain.

And you should still have normal function of your shoulder, despite the pain.

If you have shoulder pain that persists, and especially if you’re noticing limited mobility, it’s something worth getting checked out. The last thing you want is for these symptoms to go on longer than needed, or turn into compensatory, more complicated problems.

The good news is that even with SIRVA, your shoulder pain can be successfully treated naturally, and without medications or procedures. Don’t let a healthcare professional brush off your concerns and blame your prolonged shoulder pain on your booster shot.

Talk to a musculoskeletal expert who understands this sort of thing and get some help!

CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Call with our Client Success Team.

They’ll let you know if we can help – and if you’re a good fit for our services – get you scheduled as soon as possible.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To request a free copy of one of her guide to neck and shoulder pain CLICK HERE or to get in touch, email her at info@cjphysicaltherapy.com.

Flip Flops

Are Flip flops Aggravating Your Plantar Fasciitis?

Now that summer is here – it’s flip flop and sandal season for many. Unfortunately, this also typically results in a rise in foot pain and plantar fasciitis cases. One of my readers recently wrote to me and asked about this.

Here’s what Jennifer wanted to know:

“Now that I’m wearing flip flops again, I noticed that my plantar fasciitis is acting up. Is there anything I can do? Do I need to stop wearing flip flops?”

This is a great question Jennifer. In order to answer your question, let’s look at a few reasons why plantar fasciitis occurs in the first place. Ideally, if you can stay on top of your plantar fasciitis and/or prevent it all together, flip flops won’t even be an issue.

First – what is plantar fasciitis? 

It’s inflammation of your plantar fascia – the tissue that makes up the arch (bottom) of your foot. Your plantar fascial runs from the base of your heel, down the length of your foot, and into your toes. It’s responsible for both the mobility and stability of your foot so that you can propel yourself during walking and running. When you land on your foot your arch falls or flattens – this is called pronation. The response to this action is that your foot then stiffens or supinates – this is where your foot gets the power to push off. If any part of this mechanism is not functioning properly, your plantar fascia can become stressed and overworked – leading to inflammation/plantar fasciitis.

What causes your plantar fascia to become overworked?

Basically anything that impacts or disrupts the natural mechanics of your foot to pronate and supinate. Most commonly, poor mobility in either your ankle or 1st toe is the culprit – but even tight hips and weak glutes can cause problems all the way down to your foot. Anything that impacts the way your foot hits the ground has an opportunity to influence the level of force and energy transmitted through your foot and arch when you walk, which in turn impacts the natural pronation/supination mechanism. When disrupted, your plantar fascia will attempt to compensate for the pronation/supination mechanism. If this continues to happen, your plantar fascia eventually becomes angry and irritated – resulting in plantar fasciitis. 

Flip flops, or any other shoe for that matter, can either “protect” your arch, or cause it to overwork. Technically speaking, if your foot mechanics are sound and the arch of your foot is strong and mobile, footwear should have a negligible impact on your plantar fascia. Sadly, this is rarely the case for many people. Because of how much we sit, and how little we walk around barefoot, the bottoms of our feet are simply not as conditioned as they could be. This is really the problem – not so much what you put on your feet. If you’re accustomed to wearing supportive and cushioned shoes all the time, and then suddenly switch to flatter, less supportive flip flops in the summer, it’s going to be a shock to your foot. And if you’re prone to plantar fasciitis, it’s going to flare up during flip flop season.

The best thing you can do to prevent and treat plantar fasciitis is to not neglect your feet.

Performing consistent mobility exercises for your toes and ankles is key, as well as conditioning for the strength and stability of your arch. Balance exercises, toe exercises, and plyometric (jumping) exercises are all important, as well as making it a point to walk around without shoes as often as you can. If you’ve already got an ongoing problem with your foot, then I wouldn’t recommend haphazardly incorporating these exercises into your routine without guidance. Talk to an expert who can help you. Plantar fasciitis, when addressed correctly, is very treatable, and you could be back to enjoying flip flops in no time.

Are you local to Portsmouth, NH and looking for help with foot pan?

CLICK HERE to request a discovery call with our Client Success Team to see if we would be a good fit for you!

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 one of her guides to back, neck, knee, or shoulder pain, email her at info@cjphysicaltherapy.com.

Neck Pain

Tech neck: What it is and How to Cure it

Tech neck – also known as text neck – is a commonly used term to describe neck pain that results from overuse of various electronic devices. If you’re looking down at your cell phone or iPad too much, or sitting in front of your computer too long – and you feel pain in your neck – you are likely suffering from tech neck.

So what’s the big deal? Is this even a real syndrome?

I’ll be honest. I had my doubts at first. I’ve been a physical therapist for 20 years and when I first heard this term I thought it was a joke. But over the last 12-15 years I’ve seen more and more cases pop up and I can tell you with certainty that tech neck is, indeed, a real problem for people.

Tech neck – when allowed to go unaddressed – can result in headaches, tension into your upper shoulders, or even pain and tingling into your arms and hands.

The good news – it’s not only entirely possible to get rid of it – but you can learn how to prevent it all together.

So what can you do about tech neck? Here are three simple tips:

1. Be mindful of your posture

When you’re constantly looking down or hunching forward – it eventually wreaks havoc on your neck. Being mindful of your posture is not only the number one way to cure tech neck – but it’s the best way to prevent it.

The biggest problem with poor posture is that you don’t know it’s a problem until it’s too late. Postural problems take a lot of time to reveal themselves. The changes in your soft tissue and the wear and tear on your spinal joints that occur from being positioned poorly and repeatedly don’t happen overnight – and you rarely notice them when they are first happening.

Truth be told, “bad posture” on occasion is not bad for you and should not cause you any major problems. Poor posture all the time is where you get in trouble. That’s why simply being mindful of how you’re positioned when using your favorite electronic devices can go a long way.

2. Use headphones

Our spines crave movement but also alignment. But we don’t want alignment at the expense of other joints – namely – our shoulders. It’s not always comfortable to hold your phone or iPad in front of your face – which is what you need to do if you want to maintain optimal neck alignment when using your device. While great for your neck – this position can cause strain and tension in your upper shoulders.

For this reason I highly recommend using headphones. Especially wireless headphones. This allows you to keep your phone or iPad on your desk while freely sitting upright and talking. Headphones also allow you to use the speak to text feature quite easily so you don’t have to strain your thumbs or shoulders when talking to your friends, kids, or grandkids.

3. Interrupt your sitting and standing

Prolonged posture in any form is not great for you. Our bodies – especially our spines – crave movement. We hear a lot about the detrimental effects of sitting all the time – but standing all the time isn’t great either. When it comes to sitting, your lower back tends to hunch over time which forces your neck into that “forward head” posture when you’ve been sitting for more than 20 min or so. When you add an electronic device to the mix the effects are even worse.

Because of this – standing desks have become much more common over the past few years. But I see folks having problems from standing too long also. If you don’t have great core engagement, for example, which is important when you’re standing for prolonged periods, you might hold tension in your jaw or neck to compensate. This can create unwanted tension and stiffness in your neck muscles.

How do you combat all this?

Simply interrupt your position. Try not to stay sitting – or standing – longer than 30 min at one time. Your body – and especially your neck – will thank you.

Recognizing tech neck early is crucial and if you catch it in time – it’s very easy to cure on your own.

The problem is that it’s something that tends to creep up over time and not addressed until it’s too late. If you’re suffering from chronic headaches, or symptoms down your arms or into your hands – the tips I’ve given you here may not be enough to address the problem.

Don’t worry – you can still get help with these symptoms naturally and without pills and procedures – you will likely need some expert help.

Talk to someone who understands posture and the importance of healthy movement in your spine – they are the best people to help you cure and prevent tech neck.

Local to Portsmouth, NH?

Consider talking to one of our specialists free. They’ll let you know if you’re a good fit for what we do and get you on our schedule as quickly as possible! CLICK HERE to request a free Discovery Call with someone from my client success team.

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.

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.

Shoulder Pain

Neck Pain Not Going Away? 3 Reasons Why

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

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

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

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

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

 

1. Your neck problem is disguised as shoulder pain:

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

2. Your core is weak:

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

3. Not working with an expert:

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

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

 

Ready to get rid of your neck pain?

Check out this totally free guide on 7 Easy Ways to Get rid of Neck & Shoulder Pain to learn easy tips that are PROVEN to help your neck and shoulder pain – without pills, procedure, or surgery. CLICK HERE to get the free guide.

 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.

Are your Back MRI results reliable? Research says otherwise.

Are your Back MRI results reliable? Research says otherwise.

Whenever pain flares up – one of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI. 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.

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 don’t always 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 back problems – or joint problems in general – 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 your pain 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 and other age-related changes show up on an MRI.

What it’s important to understand is that disc degeneration, arthritis, and bulging discs are ALL a normal part of aging, but they often get blamed for problems they don’t actually cause. In other words, the source of your pain is often a movement dysfunction learned and repeated over time that is irritating you – not the age-related changes themselves. The best way to figure out if your problem is movement-related vs structure-related is… well… with a movement assessment… NOT an MRI.

So how does movement testing work and why is it more reliable than an MRI? 

This is a great question and not one that is easily explained… but I’m going to try!

When your back, neck or joint pain is mechanical in nature – one of the most important things to look at and pay attention to is how your pain behaves. Not necessarily where it’s located. With pain – the most important thing to determine is how it reacts against certain triggers and with different activities.

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 most reliable sign that your pain is “mechanical” in nature. It 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. Let’s say you “cut out” the structure – or inject it to make it numb – your movement problem hasn’t gone away and it’s only a matter of time before it starts aggravating something else.

Take home point… MRI’s are a super powerful and amazing diagnostic tool – but their results when it comes to diagnosing neck, back, or joint pain MUST be taken with a grain of salt – and should absolutely be coupled with an expert mechanical joint evaluation before you decide on a treatment plan.

Because if you are dealing with chronic, long-standing aches and pains that have come and gone over the years – or have recently gotten worse – there is a 70-80% chance that it is a mechanical problem finally catching up to you and not a structural problem.

Figure out the root source of your neck, back, or joint pain by seeing a movement expert who specializes in mechanical pain FIRST. Because when you automatically assume that you need an MRI first, and you base your whole treatment plan off of those results – you can end up down a rabbit hole of unnecessary medical procedures or surgery that ultimately won’t give you the long-term relief you’re looking for.

 

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth, NH.