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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.

Local to Portsmouth, NH? Join us for our next free online Back Pain & Sciatica class happening Wed Oct 13th from 6-7p on Zoom.

CLICK HERE to reserve your seat.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes weekly articles published in Seacoast online. 

 

 

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5 Tips to Treat Back Pain on your Own and Avoid Surgery

Back pain impacts approximately 31 Million Americans at any given time, and our health care system spends $50 Billion per year on low back pain treatment. It’s the single leading cause of disability keeping people out of work, and it’s the second most common reason for doctor’s visits. Back pain is a big problem in this country. But the even bigger problem, in my opinion, is how the traditional medical system treats and manages those suffering from back pain.

Despite what you may have been told, getting rid of back pain on your own is entirely possible and preventing it can be even easier.

But it starts with understanding what the true cause of back pain is for most people. Eighty percent of back pain is “mechanical” in origin, which means it’s not due to any serious pathology like cancer, infection, or fracture. Mechanical back pain is the result of abnormal or unusual forces occurring in the structures of your spine – like your ligaments, muscles, discs, and vertebrae. These abnormal forces can accumulate slowly over your lifetime or happen quickly in a single event – such as picking something up the wrong way.

The good news is that if abnormal forces can cause your back pain, then reversing those forces can get rid of your back pain. Surgery and other medical procedures won’t do that. They only impact the structure or irritant that is aggravated, like when you remove a piece of your bulging disc. The goal for true back pain recovery is to eliminate what is causing those structures to be aggravated in the first place – and the best way to do that is with healthy movement you can do on your own!

Here are 5 tips to help you minimize abnormal forces on your spine so you can avoid procedures and surgery!

1. Stop sitting so much

Compressive forces on your spine increase by 40% when you sit – and it goes up even more if you’re slouched! Over time, these compressive forces will start to aggravate the ligaments and discs in your spine. Because it happens slowly, you may not notice right away, so one of the best things you can do is interrupt your sitting at least every 30 min. This minimizes the accumulation of abnormal forces on your spine throughout the day.

2. Walk more 


Our spines were designed to be upright and moving. Walking is one of the best and easiest ways to promote this. When you walk regularly, it helps to promote good mobility and blood flow, which can act like lubricant for the structures in your spine. Walking also helps to keep your hips from getting tight. Tight hips can cause abnormal forces to occur at your pelvis, which in turn, will create abnormal forces on your spine.

3. Vary your posture

You might be wondering why I didn’t say “maintain good posture.” To be honest, perfect posture all the time is kind of a myth when it comes to back pain. The truth is your spine is quite resilient and should be able to tolerate lots of different postures – even bad posture for a short period of time – without pain. The problem is when we assume the same posture all the time.

Imagine if you never straightened your knee, eventually it would get stiff and be difficult to move in that direction. The same thing happens in our spines. One of the best things you can do is choose activities (like Yoga or Pilates) that work your spine through lots of different postures and range of motion. This helps keep your spine happy and healthy and it minimizes abnormal forces from the same repeated postures or activities day after day.

4. Strengthen your core

The stronger you are, the more resilient your body is going to be – period. When it comes to back health, having a good strong core is going to minimize stress on ligaments and even discs. When the muscles around your spine are strong, it’s going to be easier for you to lift and carry things, which is one of the most common ways people injure their backs. If your abdominals, glutes, and hips aren’t doing their job, your spine ends up taking more of the stress – and this can lead to both pain and injury. Pilates is my favorite way to strengthen your core because the exercises are designed to target your abdominals.

5. Educate yourself 

There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to both diagnosing and treating back pain. You should never let an MRI or X-ray alone dictate what your treatment should be. Remember, the structures in your back don’t get spontaneously irritated. Irritation typically occurs due to abnormal forces on your spine. If you only address the irritated structure – like with an injection, procedure, or surgery – you’re not actually fixing the problem. The best way to address abnormal forces in your spine is with movement – movement that is designed to even out the forces in your spine and relieve pressure from those structures that have become aggravated.

If you don’t currently have back pain – then these tips are going to help you prevent back pain from ever occurring. If you’re currently having some mild back pain or discomfort, then see if any of these tips help you to relieve it on your own! But as always, if you’ve been suffering for a while, then it’s best to seek professional advice from an expert.

Speak with one of our experts for FREE by signing up for a 30 minute Discovery Session here!

You can also access our expertly written guide to managing back pain for free right here.

 

 

 

 

Why your Cortisone Injection Failed You

When you have joint pain that won’t go away, especially after trying lots of physical therapy, your doctor might recommend you get a cortisone shot.

Cortisone shots are often prescribed for things like back pain, bursitis, bulging discs, cartilage tears, osteoarthritis, tendonitis, and many other conditions that are perceived to be inflammatory in nature. While every single one of these conditions can cause things to be inflamed, it doesn’t mean that inflammation is your underlying problem. If something else is causing any of these structures to get irritated and inflamed, then your cortisone injection won’t work. At the very best it will provide you temporary relief, but the problem will ultimately come back in about 6-12 months time.

Cortisone shots also come with many potential problems and side effects. So you really want to be sure that it’s necessary before you get one.

The list includes problems such as: cartilage damage, death of nearby bone, joint infection, nerve damage, temporary facial flushing, temporary flare of pain and inflammation in the joint, temporary increase in blood sugar, tendon weakening or rupture, thinning of nearby bone (osteoporosis), thinning of skin and soft tissue around the injection site, and whitening or lightening of the skin around the injection site. And none of these side effects account for human error with the procedure. If your doctor is “off” with his/her injection – you could end up with unnecessary tissue trauma and pain because your shot wasn’t injected correctly.

So when it comes to cortisone shots, you really want to make sure that 1) the root source of your problem is inflammation and 2) you actually need one.

The reason why so many cortisone injections “fail” is because quite often – they weren’t needed in the first place. Even though the actual pain you are experiencing might be due to inflammation, the underlying cause leading to the inflammation could be something else entirely. Cortisone shots are used to address inflammation. But 80% of the time the musculoskeletal pain you’re experiencing is due to a mechanical or movement problem. So while the symptoms you’re experiencing could be due to inflammation, the root cause of your issue could be due to something else. In this case, the cortisone shot will not help – or worse – provide you with temporary relief that leads you to think it did.

Let me explain with a bit of scientific research.

Studies show that 70-80% of people over the age of 50 have a bulging disc on their MRI. 60% have a meniscus tear in their knee. These findings are considered normal as you age. The research also says that not all of these people experience pain. So you can have two people with the exact same MRI findings and one person will be perfectly fine while the other can barely walk. This is how we know that “the finding” (a bulging disc or meniscus tear for example) isn’t necessarily the problem.

The source of the problem is what is causing that bulge or tear to get annoyed.

About 80% of the time it’s going to be something like a faulty movement pattern or “mechanical issue,” such as poor mobility or stability, leading to some compensatory movement strategies in your body. When you don’t move well, structures like normally occurring disc bulges and meniscus tears can get irritated.

For example, let’s say you have a bulging disc in your back. If you sit for most of the day, travel a lot for work, or have a job that involves a lot of repetitive lifting, these types of activities are known to really aggravate a bulging disc. If all you do is inject cortisone to calm down the irritation, you won’t be fixing the real problem… which in this case is your daily movement habits. After about 6 months of returning to all these activities again, the pain WILL come back.

The good news is that there are ways to solve this type of problem (and others) naturally, and without a cortisone injection. But the important thing for you to realize here is that if you did get a cortisone shot recently and it appears to have “failed,” the last thing you want to do is get another one or resort to an even more invasive procedure. It’s possible you didn’t need it in the first place, so you want to make sure that is uncovered first.

So, if you’ve recently had a cortisone shot and it didn’t work, it could very well be that you never actually needed it… or that the wrong problem (inflammation) was being addressed instead of the underlying cause.

If you are considering something like a cortisone shot, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion to make certain you really need it and that it’s the best course of action for your problem. And if you’ve already had one and it didn’t work, don’t worry, odds are good that there is still a solution out there for you… and it doesn’t have to involve more procedures. It could be as simple as learning how to move better! Sign up for a FREE Discovery Session today with one of our specialists to see if we can help you avoid quick fixes like cortisone shots and get long term, lasting results. 

Shoulder Injuries after Vaccination? What to look for

Shoulder injuries related to vaccine administration (otherwise known as “SIRVA”) is a rare, but possible occurrence when you get any vaccine.

SIRVA happens when a vaccine is injected into the capsule of your shoulder joint instead of your deltoid muscle. It can also occur if the needle being used is not the correct length for you, or if it’s administered too high or too deeply into your muscle. SIRVA is essentially a shoulder injury that occurs due to an improperly administered vaccine – not from the vaccine itself.

Now, it should be noted that this condition is very rare. However, due to the sheer volume of vaccines being administered right now – we have seen a slight uptick in unresolved shoulder problems here in our office. Anywhere from weeks to months after vaccination. For most, the shoulder pain is very mild and it goes away on its own. But for a select few, their shoulder pain has persisted and manifested into a more severe problem. This could be a sign you have SIRVA.

Since the signs and symptoms don’t show up right away, I thought it would be helpful to go over with you what is considered “normal” versus not normal shoulder pain after you get a vaccine.

You’ve likely heard of the “Moderna arm” by now. This is a mild skin irritation specifically related to the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 that typically involves a mild rash and skin sensitivity after your second shot. It usually lasts about 3-5 days and can be easily treated with topical anti-inflammatories. Moderna arm is not considered to be anything serious, and although it’s not normal to experience this after most traditional vaccines, it is considered a common reaction to the Moderna vaccine. If you’ve recently had your second Moderna shot and are experiencing what you think could be Moderna arm, speak with your doctor or dermatologist if symptoms continue to persist past 5 days, just to make sure there isn’t something else going on.

Localized shoulder pain at the site of your vaccine injection is also normal.

We see this with any type of injection or vaccine into your arm, not just with Covid vaccines. 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 a little faster. 

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. As I alluded to above, one of the main distinctions between “normal” shoulder pain after vaccination 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. When left 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, you can end up with shoulder bursitis, which means the needle was inserted beyond your muscular layer and directly into the bursa (a cushiony fluid-filled sack), causing it to become inflamed. Your mobility may or may not be impacted when this happens, but what you’ll notice is that your shoulder pain will take a lot longer than 2-3 days to subside. Bursitis is actually a really simple injury to treat, but where I see most things go wrong is that you can end up with compensatory problems in places like your neck, shoulder blade or elbow the longer it is allowed to persist.

The last thing you might see from an improperly injected needle is rotator cuff tendonitis. What you’ll notice with this is that you’ll likely have full mobility in your shoulder, but it will be very painful and weak to exert force in your arm.  Much like bursitis, this is not a complicated injury to rehabilitate, but if not rehabilitated properly, it leads to other problems that do become more difficult to treat down the line.

So to summarize, your shoulder WILL hurt after getting a vaccine.

And with the Moderna vaccine in particular, you may notice some skin sensitivity, mild swelling, and even a rash.

But these symptoms should go away after a few days.

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, long lasting problems. The good news is that even with SIRVA, these problems and symptoms can be successfully treated naturally, and without medications or procedures. We’ve been successfully helping people right here in our office. If you’re worried about a potential shoulder problem after the vaccine and not sure where to turn – reach out. You can schedule a FREE Discovery Session with one of our specialists right here!

 

Why Proper Breathing is Essential for Good Core Strength

When I’m working with clients, one of the most common things I see when someone is having trouble engaging their core is that they tend to hold their breath.

Why is this important?

Because breathing properly allows you to activate your deep core – and good activation of your deep core is essential if you want the rest of your core muscles to work properly and help you prevent things like back pain.

Let me explain…

Your “deep core” is made up of your diaphragm, pelvic floor, transversus abdominus (deepest layer of abdominals) and your multifidi (deepest layer of back muscles). These four muscle groups work together to make up your deep, inner core. If your deep core doesn’t function properly – your outer core muscles (abdominals, glutes, hip and back muscles) won’t have the support they need to work well. This can all lead to inefficient and compensatory movement patterns over time, and contribute to something like back or neck pain.

Your diaphragm controls how well and how deeply you breathe. When working properly, your deep core acts like a piston system, driven by your diaphragm. Upon inhalation, your diaphragm expands, causing your pelvic floor to lengthen and drop. When you exhale, your diaphragm contracts and your pelvic floor lifts like an elevator – all acting like a piston system moving down and up.

Additionally, the pressure created by this system also acts a bit like a balloon. Breathing in expands your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles out, stretching like a balloon would. Exhaling releases the air and allows your abdominals and pelvic floor muscles to contract, like the natural recoil that would occur if you let the air out of a balloon.

So, if this is a natural process, why do so many of us have problems activating our core properly?

It’s because as we age, and allow poor movement and posture habits to form, we “forget” how to breathe normally and most of the time aren’t even aware this is happening.

Here are some of the most common things I see with clients suffering from neck and back pain, and who aren’t activating their deep core properly:

1. Chest breathing

I see a lot of people breathing deeply but the only thing moving is their chest. Instead of their ribs expanding out and back, all you see is their upper chest moving out and up. This is very common, and it happens because your diaphragm isn’t expanding fully and thus, not pushing air down into your belly. Chest breathing often contributes to tight and elevated shoulders, back pain, and even tight hip flexors – because the deep abdominals can’t kick in properly, causing the rest of your body to compensate. Next time you want to take a deep breath, place one hand on your belly and make sure that it’s moving out and in along with your chest. That’s a first step to learning how to breathe properly so that your deep core can activate!

2. Your neck feels tight

Although back pain is often what’s associated with a “weak core”, people can also suffer from neck pain when they lack proper core activation. When people first start working with us for Pilates, a big complaint is they feel tightness in their necks when they are first learning how to activate their core and do a proper chest lift. The fascia (web like substance that holds and surrounds your muscles) of your deep core is connected to the deep fascia of your neck. If you’re not breathing properly and your deep core can’t activate, your neck may try and help out because it’s partly “connected”. We even see neck tightness like this in our experienced Pilates goers – and it’s a clear sign they’ve lost connection to their deep core or perhaps simply lost connection to their breath. Next time you’re doing abdominal work, check in with your neck and see if it feels tense. If so, it could be a sign you’re not fully activating your deep core. Improving how you breathe during abdominal work could help.

3. You hold your breath when you exercise

Did you know your diaphragm is a muscle? When you hold your breath, you’re contracting that muscle. For a muscle to work properly it needs to contract AND relax. If you hold your breath during exercise, it’s impossible for your diaphragm to expand (relax) and push air into your abdominals and activate that piston system we talked about earlier. In other words, your pelvic floor and deep abdominal stabilizers don’t have an opportunity to activate properly when you hold your breath. Without activation of your deep core, the rest of your body is going to have to compensate somehow. And this can set you up for unnecessary aches and pains, or worse, injury. I always say to my clients, “when in doubt, just keep breathing”. Because if you’re actively breathing, you at least have a shot at activating your deep core properly, even if you’re not 100% sure how to do it.

If you have trouble “feeling your abs” when you exercise, your neck and shoulders tense up when you work out, or your back and neck always hurt every time you work your core – it’s a sign you might not be activating your deep core very well.

Remember that good core strength starts with your breath!

Next time you work out, especially core-focused work, pay attention to the way you’re breathing. If you still have trouble, or you’re noticing back or neck pain, then reach out for a FREE Discovery Session or check out our Pilates offerings.

Could your Hamstring Strain Actually be a Back Problem?

Have you ever strained your hamstring but the pain just doesn’t go away?

It’s been months since you first started hurting, you can’t actually remember how you injured it (it just started aching one day), you’ve been stretching and massaging it diligently, yet your hamstring still hurts.

This happened to a recent client of ours (“Sandy”).

Sandy was a runner and regular gym goer, who one day noticed an ache in her hamstring. She assumed she had just overdone it working out. She rested it a few days and the pain went away, but when she tried to get back to running she couldn’t. Her hamstring pain came right back. Thinking she hadn’t let it heal enough, she went back to resting it, but this time, decided to add some massage and stretching to her routine. 

A few weeks later… you guessed it… Sandy still couldn’t run.

She also noticed the pain in her hamstring started to feel “different.” It was becoming more deep and achy and started to hurt all the time instead of only when she tried to exert it. It even hurt when she sat for too long. She still couldn’t run and was starting to get worried. Her doctor told her it was just a “strain” and that she had to let it heal. The problem was that it wasn’t healing. Several months had now gone by and she was running out of exercises and stretches to try that would “let it heal.”

Luckily, Sandy attended our recent back pain and sciatica class and realized that the pain in her hamstring might not be a strain at all. 

And her instincts were right! Let me explain.

When you truly strain a muscle, it means you have done damage to your muscle tissue. Although it’s possible to have chronic problems from a strain that isn’t rehabilitated properly, strains typically do in fact heal. Once the inflammation from the tissue damage goes away, and you start doing the proper stretching and strengthening, your muscle eventually gets back to normal. Until a muscle strain is fully healed, it will typically be aggravated if you accidentally over-stretch it or exert it. But you usually don’t feel anything when you’re resting the muscle. In Sandy’s case, her hamstring was starting to feel worse when she was resting — the longer she sat, the worse she felt. Your hamstring is completely relaxed when you are sitting, so something wasn’t adding up.

This was the first sign we were likely dealing with something other than a “hamstring strain.” The second sign was that we could take her pain away by moving her back! Yes, you heard that right.

By moving and stretching her back in a specific way, we were able to significantly relieve the pain in her hamstring.

The reason her hamstring was actually hurting was because a nerve had been aggravated in her back. The nerve was causing pain to radiate into her thigh. That’s why it hurt when she sat for too long and it’s why she couldn’t tolerate any running. Sitting puts more stretch and pressure on the nerves in your back, and running puts a lot of compression through your back. Generally speaking, nerves don’t like to be stretched, especially aggravated nerves, and they don’t like to be compressed if they are aggravated either. By stretching her back in a very specific way, we were able to relieve the pressure from the nerve that was giving Sandy her “hamstring strain.” This confirmed that she was indeed having a back problem.

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

If you’ve got pain anywhere in your buttocks, hip, thigh, or leg that isn’t going away — especially if you’ve done your due diligence and tried all the “right things” — it’s possible you could have a back problem causing this pain instead. These types of back problems are easily missed if you don’t know how to accurately assess them and it won’t be picked up by an MRI or X-ray. The best way to figure this out is through specialized movement testing, like we did with Sandy. 

We talked all about this in our recent back pain and sciatica class. If you want access to the recording, just call our office: 603-380-7902. If you want to take the next step and meet us in person — you can schedule a FREE 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.

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!

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.