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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!

Research shows MRI’s not reliable for back pain

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

Not necessarily.

Here’s the problem. 

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine.  But what we now know from research is that all those findings on an MRI rarely correlate with what’s actually causing your pain. One notable study was the Lancet series – three published papers that investigated how MRI findings related to the treatment of back pain.  Martin Underwood, MD, co-author of the Lancet series, and professor at Warwick Medical School, is quoted in The Guardian saying: “If you get into the business of treating disc degeneration because it has shown up on an MRI, the likelihood is that, in most of those people, it is not contributing to their back pain.”

Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Questions About Your Shoulder Pain? Here are Some Real Answers.

Often when clients come to us with shoulder pain, they’ve already tried several approaches without success. But the real issue is that everyone they’ve seen up to that point has failed to give them an accurate diagnosis.

Without an accurate diagnosis, treatment fails.

It’s not surprising. The true cause of shoulder pain is missed by many and can actually be difficult to diagnose. Sometimes it really is your shoulder, but in other cases the pain is actually caused by a problem in your neck. If there is irritation or inflammation in your neck, but someone is aggressively treating your shoulder, guess what? You aren’t going to see results and your pain may even worsen.

Here are a few questions to ask if you’re wondering if really have a shoulder problem… or if you should be getting help for your neck instead.

Where is your pain?

 When you have an actual shoulder problem, the pain is always going to be just in your shoulder. The most common areas to experience pain are directly in front of your shoulder, directly on top of your shoulder, or in a more involved shoulder problem – like a rotator cuff injury – you might feel achiness on the side of your shoulder and down into the side of your arm a little. If the pain goes past your elbow, is above your shoulder and into your neck (the upper trap area), deep inside of your shoulder, or in the back into the shoulder blade, it’s entirely possible (and maybe even likely) that your neck is involved or totally responsible for your “shoulder pain.”

Do you have numbness, tingling or burning?

These are signs of nerve compression or irritation. If that’s happening in your neck – say due to a bulging disc or restricted/faulty movement patterns that irritate your nerve roots – you can feel it into your shoulder, shoulder blade, or even down into your arm.

What’s particularly misleading is that all of this nerve difficulty in the neck will only be felt in your shoulder or arm.

When do you feel stiff?

Lack of mobility and stiffness are common symptoms associated with a rotator cuff injury or the dreaded “frozen shoulder.” If your neck moves well, is pain free, and your shoulder is stiff, odds are that the problem is in your shoulder. Now, let’s say you’ve got stiffness in your neck as well as your shoulder. It’s possible the neck stiffness is a result of your shoulder not moving properly. However, you’ll never know for sure without a proper assessment. If there is even a hint of a neck issue being fully or partially responsible for your shoulder problem, it must be addressed or you will never achieve full recovery.

I do everything I’m told, why won’t my shoulder get better?

This is probably the number one sign that your shoulder problem is not really a shoulder problem at all. If you’ve had pain for months, or if you fix your pain but it keeps coming back, then there is a very good chance someone has missed something. Quite possibly, it’s a hidden neck problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen. I’ve seen people try three different therapists who’ve prescribed the best rotator cuff exercises on the planet. I’ve seen people get multiple cortisone injections in their shoulder. And worse, I’ve seen people get surgery – only for their shoulder to problem return months or years later. If this sounds like you, then someone has missed the boat and your shoulder problem may not be a shoulder problem at all. You need to find a physical therapist who is a specialist and can properly assess you. They’ll know the right questions to ask, take their time doing a thorough and proper assessment, and get you on the right track to getting better. 

If this post has struck a chord, and you’re wondering if your shoulder problem is really a shoulder problem, then I want to invite you to our next Health & Posture class on Wednesday, July 17th.

Our free Health & Posture classes are an opportunity to hang out with us, meet our team, and ask our specialists anything you want about aches and pains you’re currently dealing with – but can’t seem to get rid of (or keep gone) completely on your own. Each class has a main topic, and on the 17th we will be focusing on neck and shoulder pain — although you can ask any questions you have! 

SPACE IS LIMITED, so make sure you click here to reserve your spot. See you there!

Do You Really Need an MRI?

Do you really need an MRI for that?

This is probably the number one question we get from clients  – especially those who suffer from back or neck pain.  Believe me, I get it! When you have pain that won’t go away, and it’s shooting down your arm or leg, often causing numbness and tingling – it’s scary! Why wouldn’t you want an MRI?  An MRI tells you everything and then you know exactly what to do to fix the problem, right?

Not necessarily….

Don’t get me wrong – MRI’s are an amazing advancement in medical technology.

MRIs can easily detect abnormalities in your brain and spinal cord. They can find tumors, cysts and other abnormal growths in various parts of your body. They can even detect certain heart problems and liver disease.  When you don’t know exactly what’s wrong, but you are showing signs that something is not right, an MRI is an amazing tool to help doctors detect the source of the problem.

The problem isn’t with MRI’s – they do their job magnificently.  The problem is with the way they are being used and prescribed.

Let me explain.

When it comes to neck and back problems, for example, what most people don’t realize is that 70-80% of all spine and musculoskeletal problems are what we call “mechanical” in nature.  That means that your problem has to do with the way you move, bad postural habits learned over the years, or muscular and joint imbalances like weakness and poor flexibility. Many of these mechanical “wear and tear” problems don’t show up until your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s – because it takes a while for bad movement patterns or bad postural habits to take their toll.  The best way to figure out a movement problem is with… well… movement!

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

The easiest way to find out is to ask a physical therapist (we’ll get to that later). But the most common sign is that the problem comes and goes.  Some days you feel great, and then other days you’ll be experiencing severe pain that interferes with your routine and activities.  When the pain comes and goes like that, it is usually NOT due to something serious.  A tumor, or a growth, or a broken bone doesn’t go away. If you feel the pain or discomfort constantly and nothing – not even medication – changes your symptoms very much, that’s an indicator that you should see a doctor and may need an MRI.  But remember what I said – 70-80% of all musculoskeletal problems are mechanical in nature and NOT the result of a significant injury or dangerous growth. To sum it all up – MRIs are not needed as often as they are prescribed.

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

In theory – yes.  But here’s what actually happens.  MRI’s are super powerful and amazing tools.  Because of this, they see everything – including normal age-related changes, such as arthritis, stenosis, degeneration of joints, and even bulging discs. These typical and often unrelated imperfections show up in the MRI and are frequently blamed for the movement problem.

So back to our original question:  Do I really need an MRI?

If you’ve had a bad accident, fall, or trauma – then you’ll want to seek immediate medical attention and an MRI is probably a good idea. But if you are dealing with chronic, long-standing aches and pains that have come and gone over the years and have recently gotten worse – there is a 70-80% chance that it is a movement problem that has finally caught up to you.  It’s best to see a movement expert for this.  A professional and specially trained movement expert (like a specialist physical therapist) knows how to tell if the issue is NOT a movement problem and can send you to a doctor if necessary.  But when you automatically assume that you need an MRI first, you end up spending a lot of money (the average cost of an MRI is $150,000 and you have to pay a portion of this), and often get prescribed unnecessary surgery or procedures for those normal effects of aging that show up in the MRI and get blamed for your problem.

If this story sounds all too familiar, or you’ve been told that you have to get an MRI, get in touch!  We are a specialized physical therapy practice that is well-known for helping people with this exact dilemma and we know how to tell if you need an MRI or not.

Or – download our FREE guide to back pain, written by Dr. Carrie Jose, Portsmouth’s leading back pain specialist and physical therapist. This guide contains her BEST tips – the ones she gives to clients – that will help you get rid of back pain WITHOUT things like pain pills, procedures, and of course MRI’s.

Five Ways to Keep Your Back from Going Out this Holiday Season

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyful, relaxing time, but the reality is that sometimes it’s much more stressful than we’d like. Between family gatherings, shopping, travel, and the disruption of your normal routine, it can be easy for your back to suffer. Here are our tips for staying pain-free this holiday season!

1. Don’t Sit or Stand Too Long

Experts agree that a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to overall health and well-being. Staying still for too long will make you stiff and could eventually lead to muscle spasms and cause injury. Take time during those long family meals to get up and walk around.  Too much sitting, in particular, has become widely known to cause problems with your back and eventually lead to debilitating episodes.  Read more about that here.

2. Minimize Stress

A stressed mind inevitably leads to a stressed body. When you’re experiencing stress, your muscles tense, especially in your neck and back. It also leads to more “stress hormones” flowing through your body (known as cortisol) which can result in muscle soreness and pain. There are several easy ways to decrease stress without avoiding those important family activities and shopping trips! You can start with simple gratitude exercises. Making your first words of the day a statement of gratitude can make a huge difference in your perspective and how you approach the day. Writing these “gratitudes” down and collecting them is also an awesome way to stay mindful of what’s important to you, and can help you let go of the things that are bothering you. Positive thinking and deep, measured breaths throughout the day’s activities could be the best gift you give yourself this holiday season!

3. Watch Your Posture

Be mindful of your posture and body mechanics while wrapping presents, lifting them in and out of the car, and decorating the tree. All of this bending and lifting can take a big toll on your back. Many people throw out their backs lifting because they aren’t using a safe technique to do so, or they don’t know how to properly engage their core muscles. It’s important to lift with your legs, not with your back, and to NEVER hold your breath. Otherwise you could do significant damage over time to the muscles and connective tissue in your spine, thus limiting your mobility, causing pain and discomfort, and increasing the chances you will “throw your back out”.

4. Make Time to Move

The holiday season can be incredibly busy, but it’s important to give yourself time to move. Taking a group walk outside is a good way to spend time with family and friends while still staying active and healthy. There are also plenty of simple in home exercises you can spread throughout your day. Five minutes of stretching or light exercise every couple hours will leave you way more relaxed, limber, and prevent back pain. If you’re looking for an exercise program that will keep you in shape and help you with chronic back problems, check out our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health program starting in January 2018!

5. Travel Right

Many of us travel during the holidays, which can be a major stressor and lead to back pain. Whether you are traveling by car or plane, you will be sitting for long periods of time in a cramped space. It’s important to take frequent breaks in order to stretch your muscles and prevent joint stiffness. Even if you’re flying, you can get up and walk the length of the plane to the bathroom and back- enough to stretch out and get your blood flowing. In your seat, be mindful of your posture and be intentional about stretching your neck, arms, and ankles. Be sure to bring a blanket or dress in layers as well- planes are generally chillier than most people find comfortable, and cold air makes your muscles tense up. Staying warm will keep you relaxed and pain free!  You can also use your extra layers to throw behind your back to use as a make-shift lumbar roll or pillow.  Having something that acts like a lumbar support behind you while sitting minimizes the load on your spine.

We hope you take good care of your back this holiday season, but if you run into any trouble, give us a call at 603-380-7902 or send an email to info@cjphysicaltherapy.edarci.com. You can learn more about all of our specialized Pilates programs that are specifically designed for back-pain sufferers here and stay in touch via Facebook for more helpful information just like this. We’re here to help!