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Tight Hamstrings: a Case Study

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

Well… if it’s just your hamstring that’s actually tight then this might be good advice to follow.

But what if it’s something else?

If you accidentally stretch a hamstring that feels “tight” due to a back problem – there is a very good chance you’ll make your condition worse.

This exact scenario happened to a recent client of ours (we’ll call him “Jack”) who came to us with what he thought was a “hamstring strain.”

Jack had been stretching and stretching his hamstrings – which he had been told to do by his chiropractor – but he wasn’t feeling any looser. In fact, his hamstring even started to hurt the more he stretched, so he thought maybe he caused himself a strain.

Was he doing too many stretches? Or perhaps doing them incorrectly?

He made the smart decision to call us for help and came in for an examination.

And the first thing we asked him was…

“Where is your pain?”

Jack pointed to the back of his leg, but when he started describing his symptoms… it turned out they actually started in his butt, traveled down the back of his thigh, and stopped at his knee. But on occasion he’d also feel the tightness in his calf. And since doing all that hamstring stretching, he was even starting to feel pain!

Lesson number 1:

Your hamstring starts at your ischial tuberosity – otherwise known as your “sit bone” – and extends down to just below your knee. Since muscles and joints can’t actually refer symptoms (only nerves and sometimes fascia can do that), feeling pain or tightness anywhere other than your actual hamstring is the very first clue you could be dealing with something other than a hamstring problem.

Since Jack was feeling symptoms in his butt and also down into his calf, we knew immediately that “hamstring strain” was NOT Jack’s problem.

The next step was to figure out where his tightness was coming from.

Lesson number 2:

Since he’d been stretching for several weeks already and was starting to feel more problems in his leg – the likely explanation was that it was coming from his back.

While yesm over-stretching can make you sore, and yes, stretching incorrectly can cause you discomfort… that wasn’t the case with Jack. He was still feeling tight, and now on top of that he was dealing with pain.

All signs were pointing to a problem in his back.

Well now that we had our theory – it was time to test it!

After performing several movement tests with Jack’s back, we were able to produce the exact same tightness AND pain he had been feeling in his leg. And with some different movement tests we were actually able to ELIMINATE his symptoms temporarily.

Since moving his spine in certain directions was responsible for both turning “on” AND turning “off” his leg symptoms, we were able to confirm that he had a back problem – not a hamstring problem.

Pretty cool – right?

Jack thought so… but more importantly… he was glad to finally have some answers! Finally, he had a plan to move forward.

  1. He stopped stretching his hamstring.
  2. He started doing a different – and properly prescribed movement instead – that was designed to eliminate the symptoms in his leg.

We’ll of course need to continue working with Jack to make sure that his leg symptoms not only go away – but that they stay gone. Part of the process will be teaching Jack how to do this on his own in case the problem ever comes back again.

Sadly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a case like Jack’s in my office.

Lucky for Jack, he came to us early on – when his symptoms were mild. Basically, the nerves in Jack’s spine were starting to get irritated, and the result was a “tight” feeling in his hamstring. Nerves don’t like to be stretched, so Jack was actually making his problem worse by stretching and he didn’t even know it. Had he not gotten this addressed – the tightness in his leg could have progressed into full blown sciatica!

If you have any kind of ache or pain that isn’t going away on it’s own with natural movement or stretching – don’t try to figure it out on your own.

And as you learned from Jack’s case – not all movements are created equal. It’s possible you could look up a stretch on Google or YouTube and actually make yourself worse!

Don’t guess… TEST 🙂

And when it comes to pain during movement or certain activities – let the movement experts be the ones to test you and figure it out. All you have to do is click here to schedule a FREE, no-obligation consultation with one of our specialists! These Discovery Sessions are your chance to determine where your pain, tightness, or stiffness may be coming from and if we’re the right people to help fix it.

Why Back Pain Keeps People from Exercising

Did you know that eighty percent of the population suffers from what we call “non-specific low back pain” (NSLBP)?

You might have NSLBP if your back pain:

  • is often chronic
  • comes out of nowhere
  • comes and goes (you have good days and bad days)
  • is not due to a recent or major accident or fall

If you’re reading this right now, odds are very good that YOU are one of the 80% suffering from NSLBP.

Did you also know that research says exercise is the BEST treatment for this type of back pain?

But what do you do if back pain keeps you from doing the one thing that is best for you??

We have an 8-week program designed to tackle this very important problem… but before I get into that, let’s go over some reasons why back pain keeps so many people like you from exercising.

1. FEAR

Back pain is scary! This is the number one reason back pain sufferers don’t exercise. Is the pain you’re feeling good or bad? Should you be feeling any pain at all? Pain is confusing. And when you experience pain during exercise, it can be difficult to know if it’s normal or a warning sign. For many, the safest thing to do is avoid any exercise or movement that causes pain. But doing this can lead to a host of other issues, namely, loss of mobility and in-activity. When you become less mobile and active, your back pain gets worse, and now you’re in a vicious cycle.

2. BULGING DISCS

Most people who suffer from long-standing NSLBP pain eventually find themselves getting an MRI. And 60-70% of the time, it will show one or more bulging discs. If you’ve been following me for a while, you already know that most people over the age of 40 walk around with bulging discs – and that 65% of them feel no pain at all! In other words, if you’ve got a bulging disc, you can’t be certain it’s the cause of your back pain. Research proves this. And being told you’ve got a bulging disc is NOT a reason to avoid exercise. Movement is actually one of the best things you can do for a bulging disc. It may require some customization of your current exercise routine, but a movement specialist can help you with this. Don’t just stop or avoid exercise altogether without talking to one first.

3. YOU WERE TOLD TO REST

Well-meaning doctors and family members who aren’t up to date on the latest back pain research will advise you to rest every time you experience back pain. This might be reasonable advice when you’re dealing with an acute episode of back pain, but it’s terrible advice for chronic back pain sufferers. Rest is one of the worst things someone with chronic back pain can do. Since most people don’t have a thorough understanding of this concept, they find themselves in a yo-yo effect. They rest to “heal” their back pain. When it’s gone they return to exercise. When they hurt their back again they stop and return to rest… I’ve seen so many people fall victim to this perpetuating cycle and it’s a big reason why so many back pain sufferers find themselves with the NEXT problem on this list…

4. YOU’VE GOT A “BAD BACK”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this one and it makes me want to scream! First off, there is no such thing as a “bad back”. There are backs with problems, and there are backs more sensitive to pain than others, but there is no reason to believe your back is inherently “bad” or that you should stop exercising. Not exercising causes almost all back problems to become worse, but it can also turn a “bad back” into a strong and healthy one! For most people, once you get the right guidance, you can quickly find yourself safely and confidently exercising again.

5. INEFFECTIVE CORE STRENGTHENING

Interestingly enough the research on this topic is quite scattered. Much of the research says that targeted core work doesn’t have any added benefit compared to general exercise when it comes to reducing back pain. What the research doesn’t tell you is that your core strength can make or break how well you exercise. If you don’t exercise with good proper form, you’ll end up with back pain. Learning how to properly strengthen your core has a HUGE impact on your ability to exercise in a way that will not cause your back to hurt. I meet a lot of folks who start doing “core exercises” to get their abs stronger and reduce back pain, but they end up hurting their backs instead. That’s because there is a right and a wrong way to properly strengthen your core, especially if you’re prone to back problems.

On Sunday, September 6th, we’re opening enrollment to our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health™ program.

You MUST apply to join this program.

Click here to learn more.

Since this program fills up every time we offer it, we typically give the folks on our VIP waiting list an opportunity to sign up first.

Plus… when you sign up early, you can save up to $200 off the program!

If you’re suffering from NSLBP and you’ve stopped exercising, know that you’re not alone.

This is such a confusing topic and there are so many mixed messages out there about what the “right” and “wrong” thing to do is.

Don’t try to go at it alone!

Exercise is GOOD for your back, but you may just need a little help and guidance — and perhaps proper core strengthening — to get you there.

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.

Woman sleeping facedown on a bed.

Tired all the Time? Get Moving!

All of us have experienced tiredness, exhaustion, and fatigue. Sometimes it hits after a late night spent working or socializing. Other times, our exhaustion seems to come out of nowhere. With our fast-paced modern lifestyles, it’s not surprising that statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report around 15.3 percent of women and 10.1 percent of men regularly feeling very tired or exhausted in the United States.

A lack of sufficient sleep isn’t the only factor that could be contributing to your fatigue – poor dietary habits, excessive napping, unhealthy amounts of stress in your daily life, and living a more sedentary lifestyle are all possibilities according to a recent article published by Medical News Today. It might seem counter-intuitive that more exercise could help you feel less tired, but it’s the truth! Sitting on the couch is one of the worst things you can do for chronic fatigue or tiredness (not to mention the impact it has on your back). Moderate amounts of exercise are proven to boost your energy, not drain it – and getting a good workout in during the day will help you sleep better at night.

If you rarely exercise with intention, or spend most of your day at a desk, it can be challenging to transition into a more active lifestyle. Many people in such circumstances benefit from joining a group fitness class or finding an “exercise buddy” to hold them accountable. Our Pilates classes right here in Portsmouth are a great option because they’re geared towards beginners, and Pilates gives you that full body workout that will leave you feeling invigorated and energized afterwards – but ready to fall right asleep at bedtime! The mindfulness aspect of Pilates as well as the exercise make it helpful for reducing stress, which in turn reduces fatigue.

We say all the time that movement is medicine, and it’s true in more ways than one. Movement is medicine for the aches and pains of your joints and muscles, but it’s also medicine for your stress and exhaustion. Exercise stimulates endorphin release, triggering positive feelings of elation or mild euphoria. Shifting into a more positive mental state during a day when you’re feeling completely drained will help you cope better with whatever you’re dealing with, in addition to giving you more energy to get through it. You don’t need to spend hours at the gym every day – just 30 minutes of movement each day, whether it be walking, running, biking, Pilates, yoga, golf, etc. will make a difference.

Movement is Medicine – When Prescribed Properly!

We hear all the time that “movement is medicine,” but it’s important to add the qualifier – when prescribed properly. If you were sick, you wouldn’t just walk into a pharmacy and blindly pick a medicine without thorough knowledge of what your condition is and a recommendation (or better yet a prescription) from your doctor. When you’re in serious physical pain that keeps you from living the lifestyle you want to live, movement can absolutely be your medicine. You just need to make sure you’re using the right kind…

Every person’s body is different, so every individual dealing with pain has a slightly different experience. That’s why working with a physical therapist – who is trained to customize a treatment plan for your specific issue – is so beneficial. We can identify specific movements that actually are worsening your symptoms, while conversely being able to pick out movements that not only relieve pain in the short term but allow your body to recover fully and become stronger. A lifetime of poor movement patterns can lead to pain and injuries down the road, even in the most athletic and active among us! Physical therapy is all about redesigning those movement patterns and reinforcing correct movement so that people can remain active and pain-free.

Many of our more active clients find that exercising independently will relieve their symptoms for a little bit, but when they wake up the next morning the pain is back in full force. Part of a physical therapist’s job is to help you find the specific exercises that create lasting relief and enable you to go back to your normal activities without having to start over from square one every day. There is no “one size fits all” treatment when it comes to pain, which is why we personalize every client’s treatment to their individual needs and circumstances. We “prescribe” the movements that are right for the individual, not just those that are generally helpful for people with back pain or people with knee problems.

In addition to prescribing specific physical therapy movements, we love to add the movement system of Pilates to our clients’ treatment in order to improve strength, balance, and coordination. It’s incredibly beneficial for clients 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.