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MRI

How MRI’s Lead Back Pain Sufferers Toward Unnecessary Procedures

One of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI when they are experiencing back pain or sciatica. It’s pretty standard protocol, but is it necessary? In most cases, no.

About 70 to 80% of back problems, even sciatica, are considered mechanical in nature and quite normal.

That means there isn’t anything “serious” causing your pain. Serious causes of back pain include things like a tumor, infection, fracture, or severely compromised nerve. Your symptoms will be pretty specific and obvious to a back pain specialist and will typically require advanced medical intervention.

An MRI can be useful in these cases to get more clarity before medical intervention begins.

But when your back pain is mechanical in nature, an MRI is more often than not misleading and may lead to unnecessary procedures or surgery.

If you’ve had back pain for years, it comes and goes, or you’ve had relief in the past from things like physical therapy or chiropractic treatment, you most likely have mechanical back pain. The root cause of mechanical back pain cannot be diagnosed by an MRI.

And if your back pain falls into the mechanical category, and you get an MRI anyway, you can end up with treatments you don’t need. Over the years, I’ve seen so many people with mechanical back pain get major medical procedures that were irreversible and made them worse.

Here’s the problem.

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine. Everything from bulging discs, arthritis, stenosis, and degenerative discs, which are all considered normal as we age, but are usually not the root cause of your back pain. What typically happens is the MRI finds them, and your back pain gets blamed on them. But what we know from research is that all those common MRI findings I just mentioned rarely correlate with what’s actually causing your back pain.

Research has shown consistently that you can have two people with identical MRI’s showing something like bulging discs and arthritis, but only one of them will be suffering in pain. That’s how we know the root cause of your back pain is coming from something else.

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.”

If you notice that certain positions or movements relieve your back pain, or you feel better after walking and exercise, your back pain is likely mechanical in nature, and you don’t need an MRI to diagnose you. Mechanical back pain responds to specialized movement therapy and a selectively progressed exercise protocol. Mechanical back pain does not respond well in the long run to injections, procedures, or surgery, which is what you can end up with if you get an MRI and don’t really need one.

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen over the years get surgery for a bulging or herniated disc only to find that it didn’t help their problem, or it came back again with a vengeance.

And once you have surgery, mechanical back pain can actually become more difficult to fix because your tissues and ligaments are now compromised from surgical scarring, no matter how minimally invasive they say your surgery will be.

If you’re confused, I don’t blame you. It’s why we are doing a free online class for back pain and sciatica sufferers Tuesday, March 16th, from 6 to 7 p.m.

We’ll be going over why so many people suffer from back pain, how to tell if your back problem is mechanical or if you’ve got something more serious going on, why MRI’s are so confusing and may lead you to getting unnecessary procedures and surgery, and we’ll be sharing tips on how to get control of your back pain naturally and on your own.

If you miss the class — no worries! You can sign up for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session with one of our specialists right here.

Why Your Neck Stretches Aren’t Working

Do you suffer from chronic neck pain and ever wonder…

Why don’t my neck stretches work?

Even though you’ve Googled and YouTubed them about a hundred times…

There are a few reasons why stretching your neck might not be doing anything to help get rid of your neck pain.

  1. Your technique could be off
  2. You could be doing the wrong stretch
  3. It could be that you just shouldn’t be stretching your neck at all!

Let’s go over the different reasons why your neck stretches might not be working… and most importantly… what you can do about it.

1. You’re doing it wrong.

Although research studies are inconclusive regarding how long you should hold a particular stretch, most people feel good when they hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds. When it comes to technique, one of the biggest problems I see is not relaxing enough. If you’re tense, or gripping your muscles at the same time you’re stretching, it won’t work very well. It’s important to breathe and move easily into the stretch. If you try to force it or push through pain, you’ll likely tense up.

Now let’s say you’re doing everything right (not tensing or gripping) but your stretches still don’t seem to work.

Some people (myself included) respond better to “moving stretches”. This is where instead of holding one static position for a prolonged period – you repeatedly move through one or several end-range stretches. Neck rolls are a great example of this.

If your neck stretches haven’t been working, try adjusting the way you’ve been stretching… if it works… then you were likely just using the wrong technique.

2. You’re doing the wrong type of stretch.

This one could be a little tougher to figure out on your own. There is a difference between corrective neck stretching and stretching to feel good.

For example, let’s say your neck is tightening up because you’ve been under a lot of stress or you just did a lot of activity that impacts your neck. Generic neck stretches such as bringing your chin to your chest, or pulling your chin to the opposite shoulder (known as an “upper trap stretch”) may be all you need.

In fact, I do stretches like this regularly because I’m constantly leaning over to help patients. I stretch my neck to PREVENT it from having problems and because it feels good.

But let’s say you already have a neck problem, or you have pain or numbness running down your arm.

In these instances, generic neck stretching could make you worse.

You likely need corrective stretches, like what we prescribe for patients in our office.

Corrective stretches are specifically prescribed to address your particular problem in your neck – and are very different from the generalized stretches that are designed to feel good and relieve tension.

If you think you might need corrective stretches for your neck – DO NOT google them – you must see a specialist and have them prescribed to you.

3. You shouldn’t be stretching your neck at all!

This is a very common problem we see… folks come in with complaints of chronic tightness and discomfort in their neck and no matter how often they stretch or massage, it doesn’t go away.

Did you know that chronic neck tightness can be a sign of a weak core?

It’s quite common – and if that is the case for you – no amount of stretching will help – and could even aggravate your problem!

The deep, stabilizing muscles of your neck are connected by fascia to the deep muscles of your core. If your deep core is not working properly, then your neck will often kick in and try to help.

Ever notice that your neck is always sore or tight after a good ab workout?

This could be a sign that your neck is compensating for your core.

Stop stretching your neck, learn how to strengthen your core the right way, and see a specialist who can help you.

In our office, our team of specialists work alongside our Pilates instructors to help folks improve their core strength from the inside out – so that their necks and backs stop getting involved.

If you’re dealing with chronic neck problems that aren’t’ responding to stretching…

There’s a good chance you could be not stretching correctly, the stretches aren’t right for you, or you’ve completely missed the root cause of your neck pain and you shouldn’t be stretching at all!

Want to work with our team of specialists and finally get some help for your neck problem?

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

They’ll set up a time to talk to you about what’s going on with your neck. If you’re a good fit for what we do, then they will help you get started!

This is only for people serious about getting help…

And for those that are finally ready for a long-term solution to their pain – one that will put an end to constantly relying on pain pills – and help you avoid expensive procedures and risky surgery.

Request a Discovery Session here.

The Location of Your Pain may NOT be its Source…

One of the most confusing topics we deal with in our practice is pain. And there’s lots of advice out there on what to do about it…

Should you rest or move? Apply heat or ice? See a doctor or let it go away on its own?

Before you can even think about a solution to your pain, you must first accurately determine where it’s coming from. If you have pain in your knee, but it’s actually coming from your back, the best knee treatment in the world is not going to fix it.

Inaccurate diagnosis of pain is a BIG reason why so many people suffer longer than they need to, and undergo unnecessary surgeries.

You must accurately determine the source of your pain for treatment to be effective, and the location of your pain alone is not a reliable way to do that.

For example, I’ve seen people in my office with what they think is unrelenting tennis elbow, only to find out it was actually a problem in their neck causing it. I’ve seen people disappointed after a failed knee surgery, because the problem was never in their knee and actually coming from their back.

Isolated extremity pain (knees, elbows, shoulders) is one of the most misdiagnosed problems we see in our office.

A recent study by Richard Rosedale, et al. in the Journal of Manipulative Therapy investigated this – and it was found that over 40% of people suffering from isolated extremity pain actually had a spinal source of symptoms.

In other words, their extremity pain was actually coming from their neck or back.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen folks with unexplained shoulder pain lasting months or years get better as soon as we begin treating their neck, even though they never had neck pain.

Same for knees…

It’s possible to have knee pain that is caused by your back, without ever hurting your back!

Confused? I don’t blame you.

But more importantly, how do you figure out the source of your pain when it’s not always where you’re feeling it?

As already mentioned, the most common place for this to happen is with extremities. If you’ve got shoulder, elbow, knee or foot pain – and you don’t ever recall a specific injury to it – you MUST consider that it could be coming from your spine.

There’s a 44% chance that it is!

Where this gets really confusing is that typically your doctor will order an MRI when you’ve got isolated knee or shoulder pain that won’t go away. And if you’re over 40 years old, the MRI will almost always show “something” – a torn rotator cuff, torn meniscus, arthritis, or wear and tear.

Remember that these are normal signs of aging in everyone, and may not be the cause of your pain.

If you haven’t already had your spine checked properly as a possible source, you can’t rely on these findings (or the location of your pain) as an accurate diagnosis. That is how people end up having surgeries they don’t really need.

Whenever someone comes into our office with isolated extremity pain, we don’t even look at it without an exam of their neck and back first.

By moving your spine repeatedly, and in certain directions, we can often produce – or take away – the pain you’re feeling in your knee or shoulder.

Why?

Because if the pain in your extremity is caused by a pinched or aggravated nerve, moving your spine around is going to influence that, and tell us where the source really is.

An MRI and X-ray won’t be able to determine this for you with certainty – because sometimes your nerve only gets irritated when you move a certain way – or when you’re in a certain position. Since MRI’s and X-rays can’t see what’s going on while you’re moving, you can’t rely on those tests alone to tell you exactly where your pain is coming from.

If you’ve had pain in one of your extremities for a while now, and it’s not going away, it’s possible you’ve missed the source.

That source could be your spine.

And if you’re considering some kind of surgery or procedure, you definitely want to rule that out first.

Specialized movement exams like we do in our office are one of the most reliable ways to figure this out. If you’ve had unexplained pain in your knee or shoulder that isn’t going away, CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Session with one of our specialists.

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.

When Traditional Physical Therapy Fails…

I’ve been a physical therapist for a very long time — 20 years to be exact — and I’ve seen a lot of changes in healthcare over the course of my career. One of the biggest (and saddest) changes I’ve seen in my field is the overcrowding of clinics. As reimbursements from insurance companies go down, traditional physical therapy clinics have been forced to increase their patient volume. That means you rarely get to spend time with your therapist, and your treatment sessions consist of repetitive exercise sets that you typically can do at the gym or on your own.

If you do manage to get some one-on-one time with your therapist, whether it be for hands-on-care or actual consultation about what’s going on with you, it’s often just a quick 20 minutes. The rest of the time, your poor therapist is usually held hostage by a computer because of all the documentation requirements placed on them, and you’re left on your own doing all those exercises.

Has this happened to you?

With this model of care, it’s impossible for the quality of your treatment NOT to suffer. Many folks I speak with say that traditional physical therapy is a “waste of time.” 

Why bother going when they can do everything on their own at home?

Worse, when traditional physical therapy does fail, most people go back to their doctors hoping for a different solution. Many times, the next step for these folks involves unwanted procedures, pain pills, or surgery.

So what do you do if you don’t want to go down the medical route of procedures or surgery, but the “physical therapy” didn’t work?

Well first, you need to understand what physical therapy actually is, seek that out, and don’t settle for anything less.

Physical therapy is NOT just a bunch of general exercises or ultrasound — at least it’s not supposed to be. After your pain is gone and your problem has been resolved, the role of general exercise is to keep your pain gone, and to continue optimizing your strength, performance, and mobility. That’s what we use our Pilates program for.

When you receive proper physical therapy in the way it was intended, it looks something like this…

Your therapist will first give you a proper examination and an actual diagnosis. Your physical therapy diagnosis might be different than your medical diagnosis. In fact, it should be. For example, you may come to us with a diagnosis of “bulging disc,” but our job is to figure out WHY your disc is bulging. Our diagnosis is going to be related to the specific movements, habits, and musculoskeletal deficiencies that led you to having that problem in the first place (discs don’t just bulge spontaneously). Once we know that, we can come up with a plan for you.

Here’s an example…

Let’s say your bulging disc is due to poor sitting posture, a weak core, and poor mobility in your spine. When your spine doesn’t move well and you sit too much, compensations like bulging discs can occur. Your plan might then consist of strategies for better, less painful sitting postures, as well as some help getting your spine back to full mobility again — so that your bulging disc no longer irritates you.

At this stage in your treatment, any “exercises” given to you should be corrective, very specific to your problem, and should be prescribed specifically to you.

There should be nothing cookie-cutter or general about them — and they should be working!

When you have the right “movement prescription” and when your exercises are corrective versus general — your pain goes away, your problem gets resolved, and most importantly, you’ll know exactly why and can even replicate this on your own in the future.

Once this has all been achieved, THEN we can get you back to the fun stuff like exercises at the gym, Pilates, or yoga — the stuff that is designed to keep you feeling healthy, active, and mobile.

Getting rid of something like back, knee, or neck pain doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to involve pills, procedures, or surgery. But it may require you to be a bit open-minded about HOW you receive physical therapy.

If you’ve had a frustrating experience with physical therapy in the past, don’t just give up!

Consider working with a specialist practice like ours that operates differently from traditional clinics.

Click here to request a Discovery Visit.

It’s completely FREE! A discovery session serves as an opportunity for you to “discover” what’s going on with your body and what we do in our practice. You’ll speak with one of my specialists, find out if we’re a good fit for you, and then get started on a path to natural recovery!

Carrie working on a client's shoulder

Shoulder Pain not Going Away? This could be why…

Whether it’s shoulder pain, neck pain, back pain, or knee pain that you’re dealing with — if you have a nagging pain or injury that just won’t go away no matter what you try, it’s a clue that you’re missing something.

We see this ALL the time in our office with shoulders.

Folks just like you come to us wondering why their shoulder still hurts after trying ice, heat, rest, physical therapy, massage, and every possible shoulder exercise you could imagine.

The pain either goes away temporarily, or sometimes it gets WORSE!

When it comes to shoulder pain, it’s critical that you know for certain if the pain is actually coming from your shoulder, or somewhere else. If not, you risk trying to fix the wrong problem… and that explains EXACTLY why your shoulder pain isn’t going away.

So… if your shoulder pain isn’t caused by your shoulder — where is it coming from?

The most common culprit is actually your NECK. Below are a few key signs to help you figure out if that’s the case…

(PS – we’re doing an online workshop on this topic in just a few weeks.)

Where is your pain?

When your pain is coming from your shoulder, the pain will always be localized to your shoulder alone. True shoulder pain is felt directly in front of your shoulder, directly on top, or in a more involved shoulder problem (like a rotator cuff injury) you might feel some achiness down the side of your arm… but it will never go below your elbow.

If the pain goes past your elbow and into your forearm or hand, or radiates above your shoulder into your neck (the upper trap area), or if you feel it deep inside of your shoulder blade in your mid-back, odds are pretty good that you’re dealing with a neck problem and not just a shoulder problem. This could be the reason why your shoulder pain isn’t going away.

Do your symptoms involve numbness, tingling or burning?

These are signs of nerve compression or irritation. If that’s happening, it’s likely coming from your neck – and could be due to a bulging disc or a restricted/faulty movement pattern that is irritating nerve roots in your neck. An isolated shoulder problem typically does NOT involve nerve root compression or irritation. This is much more common in a problem related to your neck, and if that’s what’s happening, you will feel symptoms into your shoulder, shoulder blade, or even down into your arm. What’s particularly misleading is that it’s entirely possible to feel all these nerve symptoms and not actually feel anything localized to your neck. This is a big reason why shoulder pain caused by a neck issue gets missed by so many health practitioners.

Have you lost mobility or range of motion?

Lack of mobility and stiffness are common symptoms associated with a rotator cuff injury or the dreaded “frozen shoulder.” If your neck moves well and is pain free, but your shoulder is stiff and immobile, odds are good that the problem is actually in your shoulder and you just haven’t found the right treatment approach yet. BUT… if you have a stiff and painful neck, and you lack mobility in your shoulder, then it’s absolutely imperative that you investigate your neck. If your care provider only focuses on stretching and improving your shoulder mobility, and never bothers to look at your neck, it’s possible you could be missing a key component to full recovery… and that’s why your shoulder pain keeps coming back.

Confused? I don’t blame you.

If so – then I invite you to join our next online workshop!

It’s completely free — and will be LIVE over Zoom — which means you can join us from the comfort of your own home.

We’ll be talking all about neck and shoulder problems, how to tell the difference, why MRI’s and X-rays are often misleading… and most importantly — what you can do to start actually resolving this pain for yourself WITHOUT pain meds, procedures, or surgery.

Click here to reserve your seat!

 

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!

What is Dry Needling?

At CJ Physical Therapy and Pilates, our goal is to help you live a pain-free life without pain pills or invasive procedures.

Trigger Point Dry Needling is one of several strategies we use to treat muscles that are extremely tense and in spasm. The spasm causes the muscle to be in constant tension which reduces blood flow, decreases oxygen, and can produce fibrotic unhealthy tissue over time (scarring). When a physical therapist inserts the very thin acupuncture needle (dry needle) into a knotted up muscle, it creates a local twitch reflex. Research shows that this not only relaxes the muscle, it breaks up the pain cycle by improving blood flow and oxygen to the muscle. This whole process helps to reduce and normalize inflammation in the area to promote healing. However, dry needling is not necessary for everyone, so it’s important that you know what it is and when it can be used to improve your health! Here’s our advice when it comes to pursuing dry needling treatment.

Work with a physical therapist to use dry needling in conjunction with movement based rehabilitation.

Dry needling can work wonders to relax your muscles. However, they’re just going to get tense and damaged again if you don’t learn how to use them properly and address any movement dysfunction that may be occurring. You don’t want to think of it as a quick fix! Dry needling is just the first step for some individuals who aren’t able to begin a physical therapy or movement regimen without first breaking up the pain cycles in the muscles that are prohibiting healthy movement. Dry needling serves as a “helper” to relax those muscles – and should be integrated with physical therapy treatment and strengthening activities such as Pilates.

Don’t be afraid of trying dry needling!

It can be uncomfortable for some people, but others say they feel no pain at all. It’s not dangerous and has lasting positive effects when used in conjunction with hands-on physical therapy under the direction of a specialist. Furthermore, our clients love it:

“After two back surgeries in my 20s and a new hip at 58, I figured I was lucky just to be walking. Dry needling has transformed the way I move. I’m more flexible. My walking stride has more length and I can stand longer.” – John

Do you have questions about dry needling? Want to see what a specialty physical therapy practice can do for you? We offer FREE Discovery Sessions right here in Portsmouth that give you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have! It’s a completely free, no-obligation appointment that will give you all the information you need to make the BEST decision for YOUR health. All you have to do is fill out this quick form, and we’ll be in touch!

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.

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. Check out our free guide for getting rid of back pain and stiffness here.

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.

If any of these signs seem 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 engage and strengthen your core properly.

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.