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Movement Strategies to Combat the Stress of Pandemics and Politics

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been far from a typical year. We continue to find ourselves in a state of uncertainty — and it’s causing people to live in a constant state of stress.  

Eight months ago, when this pandemic began, we saw a huge surge in back and neck pain coming into the office. At first, I knew it was due to people being stuck at home and off their routines. But now, and especially with the current political climate, I’m seeing a different and more prevalent kind of stress-induced pain in my office. It’s caused by the body’s natural “fight or flight” response and it’s taking a real physical toll. People feel it in their necks, backs, hips, and shoulders and are looking for help to get rid of it.

Why does this happen?

Fight or Flight is a natural (and important) stress response to anything your brain perceives as stressful or frightening. Back in the caveman days, this was essential to our survival. If you saw a lion, for example, and he looked hungry, you needed to be able to quickly get yourself out of danger. Fight or flight is your body’s way of doing just that. Your heart and respiratory rate increase, so that more blood and oxygen can be pumped toward your brain and muscles – where you need it most – so that you can quickly run and flee away from danger. Another consequence of fight or flight is tense, tight muscles. Your body does this to protect you from the threat. Our ancestors would only find themselves in this situation once in a while. The rest of the time, their bodies functioned normally and without this stressful response. 

Fast forward to our modern day lifestyles… our brains perceive threats and stressors differently.

Everything from a big presentation due at work to a difficult conversation with your boss, spouse, or kid’s teacher, to bad news flooding our newsfeeds and email every second of the day can activate this response. Add a pandemic and election cycle on top of all that, and we find ourselves living in a chronic state of fight or flight. And we are evolutionarily conditioned to look for ways to escape these situations to get “out of danger.” 

Even though fight or flight is natural and embedded deeply into our brains, it was meant to be life-saving and reserved for very specific situations – not all day every day. If your body never comes out of this, your muscles become chronically tight, resulting in constant pain and tension. Stretching and massage might help to temporarily relieve these symptoms, but they will come right back if you don’t learn to manage your fight or flight response for what it is. 

How do you manage and interrupt your fight or flight response?

One easy way is to breathe. This is one of the most practical ways to calm your nervous system by lowering your heart and respiratory rate. You can literally do this in 30 seconds starting the moment you feel any kind of tension or tightness in your body. The better you become at recognizing tension in your body ahead of time, the easier it will be to interrupt and stop your fight or flight response. Simple, deep breathing is a signal to your nervous system that you are safe – and that you don’t need to prepare to run or flee by tightening up all of your muscles.

Daily exercise is another easy way to combat stress.

When you’re in fight or flight, your body is preparing to either engage the threat or run from it. If you don’t do either of these things, your nervous system doesn’t know that you’re out of “danger.” Intentional movement and exercise solves this problem and helps to close the loop of your flight or flight response. With regular movement and exercise, you can help better regulate this response since it is so constant in our lives right now. Our exercise of choice is Pilates. It’s a particularly effective exercise system to combat fight or flight because it involves focused and controlled breathing and it works your whole entire body. And since we work with so many folks suffering from neck and back pain, we also love it because Pilates targets your core. Good core strength is one of the BEST ways to keep neck and back pain away.  

If you’re dealing with any kind of back, neck, knee, or shoulder pain that is keeping you from moving in a way that helps you to decrease stress – please reach out to us. And you’ll want to reach out sooner rather than later… because this month, we’re rolling out our annual Black Friday Sale! Once a year we offer new and existing clients an opportunity to get our BEST deals for the entire year on physical therapy sessions, private Pilates sessions, small-group Pilates classes (Zoom and In-Studio), and more. Just click here to get access to the Black Friday sale as soon as it launches on November 22nd!

Pilates Class at CJPT & Pilates

When Gyms Reopen — Will Your Body be Ready?

The state of New Hampshire is slowly reopening, and we are so excited that small-group fitness classes can return to gyms and studios on June 1st! While many businesses, including ours, have adapted by offering online services — most clients we speak with can’t wait to get back in the studio again. 

The big question is — will your body be ready?

If you’ve stuck with your strength and mobility routine and have been working out regularly from home, then you have a better chance than most to bounce right back.

But not everyone has taken advantage of online virtual exercise services, and many I speak with have opted to do nothing and just wait. Many have resorted to more frequent walking, running, or biking as a substitute for their usual exercise routines.

Any physical activity is better than no physical activity, but daily cardio is not the same as strength training. It’s just not going to be enough to get you by if your plan is to jump right back into the same pre-Covid workout routine that you left behind.

It takes months to gain appreciable muscle strength and improve mobility… but it only takes two to three weeks to lose it all.

The biggest mistake that I expect to see once gyms and even our own Pilates studio reopens is that people will assume their body is ready to pick back up exactly where it left off. And within about two to three weeks of that, injuries WILL start to happen.

What can you do?

If you’re not in any pain, but all you’ve been doing is cardio, then it’s a good idea to start incorporating strength and mobility back into your routine now. Your body will be much happier when it gets back into the gym or studio, and you’ll be less likely to experience some kind of injury. My best recommendation is to utilize the online services that your favorite gym or studio already offers — or find a facility that is offering them. In our studio, for example, we have online virtual Pilates classes daily. We guide you through the movements using precise cueing, and watch you while you’re moving. This allows us to give you in the moment corrections and make sure that you’re getting the most out of your workout. While it’s not exactly the same as your instructor being right there next to you, it’s the next best thing.

If you’re already experiencing pain or stiffness, perhaps because you’ve been walking or running more than you’re used to, you’ll want to talk to a movement specialist like us before you jump back into your previous exercise routine.

We know how to screen your muscles and joints properly, and can guide you toward not only getting rid of your pain, but we will also ensure that you’re set up to thrive in your workouts once we’re allowed to reopen again. Another big misconception I see is that people assume their pain will just go away once they start exercising again. While that may be true for some, most of the time it goes the other way, and your pain either gets worse or manifests itself somewhere else because your body starts to compensate for the problem.

I spoke with a gentleman earlier this week who was suffering from knee pain and stiffness because he went from walking 2-3 miles per week to walking 2-3 miles per DAY with his wife. He wants to get back on the golf course, and due to the restrictions on using golf carts, more walking is going to be necessary. His knee won’t be able to handle that in its current state, plus it will get worse if he pushes it. So I’m excited that he took us up on our offer to talk for free about what was going on with his knee. Now we’re going to get him the help he needs!

If you have any questions about pain that you might be experiencing, or want to ask about getting into a Pilates class this June, give us a call!

We are still offering FREE Zoom or in-person consultations to help people figure out what to do about their pain while they are stuck at home or slowly re-entering the world.

people walking with face masks

Beyond the Mask: Five Ways to Build Immunity and Stay Healthy

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much of how we live, work, communicate, and think about our health. While precautions like face masks can be helpful, the best way to avoid getting seriously ill is to have a strong, healthy immune system. In our office, we’re helping people’s immune systems by making sure they stay active, healthy, and mobile. We’ve been helping people with back and knee pain recover quickly and manage their conditions from home, so they can get back outside and keep moving and exercising.

Exercising regularly is just one way to keep your immune system strong. Here are five more ways to make sure you’re building immunity during  these strange times!

 

1. Hydrate

 

Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your health in general, but it’s especially important when you’re trying to fight disease. Each individual cell in your body that works for your immune system needs to be fully hydrated to perform its job optimally — and that all depends on how much water you drink!

 

2. Stay Moving

 

In the era of working from home and passing time with friends or family on Zoom, it can be hard to get up from your computer and make sure you’re staying active. But it is so important that we interrupt our sitting and make time to exercise! Keeping your blood flowing allows pathogens to be filtered out more efficiently — plus, sweat can even kill pathogens on the surface of your skin. 

 

3. Get Good Sleep

 

Sleep deprivation has been proven to increase the risk of illness, as well as increasing the risk of more serious long term effects. Sleep is when your body’s cells get to repair themselves — including those immune cells! Plus, getting enough sleep at night can help lower your overall stress. 

 

4. Eat Well

 

Nutrition is key for building and maintaining immunity. You should try to avoid processed foods and integrate more clean alternatives like nuts, berries, eggs, and fish. 

 

5. Get Outside 

 

Scientists are telling us that the novel coronavirus thrives best indoors, and out of UV light. All the more reason to get outside! Soaking up that Vitamin D will boost your immune system and just make you feel better in general. Not to mention that going outside is the one of the best ways to get exercise right now with gyms being closed! 

If you’re currently suffering from back, knee, or any other kind of pain that is preventing you from moving and exercising, give us a call.

We’re currently offering free consultations, both in-person and virtually, to help you figure out what’s going on and give you all the information you need to make the best decision about what to do next.

 

5 Ways to Save your Back While Stuck at Home

Staying at home during the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t have to mean staying stationary. If you already have occasional or chronic back pain, it’s so important to take extra care of your spine during this time! Even people who rarely experience back pain may see new flare-ups due to increased time spent sitting at home.

For many, work stations at home are not ergonomically ideal or perhaps even nonexistent. On top of that, social-distancing and closed fitness facilities are likely to reduce our overall level of activity and mobility throughout the day. Combined, prolonged, poor posture and reduced mobility are the main ingredients for increasing back and neck pain. But have no fear! There are still many ways to prevent your back pain from kicking up, even while stuck at home!

1. Stand Up & Take a Load Off

When we sit for too long, the burden of our weight is placed abnormally on our spine and can cause damage over time. Before long, those small loads add up to real pain. It makes sense when you consider that our bodies were designed to stand, sit, crawl, run, kneel, bend and move through the world in many different ways. It was never designed to sit in one position for prolonged periods, day after day. Sit too long, too often, and it can lead to bulging discs and weak, brittle muscles that are prone to tearing and other damage.

The solution? Limit your sitting to half-hour periods with a few minutes of standing in between, and you’ll reduce the uni-directional forces on your spine. In other words, if you sit for a long time at work or at home, stand up and walk around a little bit every thirty minutes. Aside from participating in regular strengthening exercise, like Pilates, this is the easiest way for the average person to prevent back injury (and heal your back faster if you already have an injury).

2. Watch for Curves

We have natural curves in our spine that help us handle stress and loads.  Whether sitting or standing, it’s important to maintain these curves.  When standing, our spinal curves occur more naturally and are usually easier to maintain.  When we sit, the protective curves in our spine are harder to maintain and often disappear.  And while a healthy core and strong back muscles are important to back health, they won’t protect your back if you sit for long periods, or when the curve in your lumbar area disappears while you’re sitting.

Fortunately, the solution is as simple as rolling up a towel and placing it between your chair or car seat and the small of your back (just above the belt line). Using a purpose-designed lumbar roll is my favorite choice, and what I use for low-back support. You can use a lumbar roll in your office chair, car, and on the plane if you’re flying! If you want to learn where you can get on of your own contact us about them here. Or see in more detail how to use them in our free e-book!

3. Extend instead of Bend

The human spine (and entire body) craves balance, which means both extension and flexion.  But we spend the majority of our time in flexion, bending over to put shoes and socks on, brushing our teeth, driving, sitting at work and then driving home. At home we bend forward to cook, sit some more as we eat and then curl up on our couch or an easy chair. As long as we’re not gymnasts or circus performers, it’s safe to say we could all use a little more extension in our day.  A really good exercise is to stand and place your hands on your lower back for support and then arch back as far as you can go.  Repeat this 10 times, at least once per day.  This is also a great activity to do when you are interrupting your sitting during the day.  If you’ve never arched you back like this before, it may feel stiff or even hurt a little at first. But, with a gradual increase in frequency, it will feel less stiff and more natural over the course of a few days.  If it doesn’t, or becomes troublesome for you, stop and consult with a qualified physical therapist who specializes in back pain.

4. Stay Hydrated

We all know that drinking water is important, but don’t forget WHY! Water lubricates the joints, keeps the body’s soft tissues and fascia hydrated, and boosts exercise performance (yes, including at-home Pilates!). Water also improves skin health and elasticity — keeping you looking (and feeling) young! Water is also essential for digestion, flushing the body of waste and reducing unnecessary snacking. Water makes up 90% of our blood – which helps regulate the body temperature, deliver oxygen to all the cells in our body, and improve concentration and reasoning. Now more than ever, to stay healthy and mobile – make sure you are getting at least 7-8 cups of high quality H2O per day!

5. Build Stability

Mobility and then stability! Stability comes from a strong core. It can seem challenging to maintain strength with little equipment at home, but there are, in fact, plenty of ways to activate your muscles without any equipment at all! A basic strengthening flow daily can help keep our muscles active, blood flowing and reduce likelihood of pain. The flow you see below targets some of our most commonly weak muscle groups in a simple-to-do floor routine.

 

If you like these tips and want to learn even more ways to prevent debilitating back episodes, you can sign up for access to our FREE COVID-19 back pain survival guide right here!  And don’t forget to check out our Virtual Pilates programs if you’re looking for a way to exercise in your home that will target — and resolve — back pain. We have virtual small group classes at least once every day, Monday through Friday. We’re here for you through this quarantine and beyond!