Tag Archive for: physical therapy nh

avoid back pain when raking leaves

6 Tips to Protect your Back when Raking Leaves

Leaves are everywhere right now in New England, which means for many, the tedious task of raking them is right around the corner. I love Fall – but I don’t love raking leaves. And raking leaves is even worse when you’re suffering from back pain. The good news is there are many things you can do to protect your back when raking leaves. 

Here are 6 of my most popular tips to protect your back when raking leaves:

1. Warm up before you start.

Just as athletes warm up before a game, so should you before raking. Beginning any physical activity without preparing your body can lead to unwanted strains and injuries. For raking, focus on warm up activities that target your back, shoulders, and legs. Something like a quick walk around the block before you start is an excellent way to warm up. It gets blood flowing to your legs and arms, and the gentle rotational aspect of walking is great for your spine and torso. You could also include some basic stretches into your warmup such as torso twists, shoulder shrugs, and arm circles. This gets some lubrication into your joints and spine to help protect your back once you start raking.

2. Choose the Right Rake.

With any repetitive activity such as raking – good ergonomics is essential. Ergonomics refers to how safe and efficient you are in your working environment. Bad ergonomics will typically cost you unnecessary energy and labor – and can often result in an injury. When it comes to raking, choose a rake with a handle that is long enough so that you can maintain upright posture while using it, and go for one that is light in weight yet still durable. A good, ergonomic rake might require a bit more investment than you were intending, but it will be worth it in the long run because ultimately, a back injury will cost you much more. And knowing how to protect your back from injury is priceless.

3. Bend with your legs and hips

When performing repetitive activities or lifting something heavy, one of the most vulnerable postures for your back to be in is the combined position of flexed (bent forward) and rotated. To protect your back and avoid injury, you want to use your legs and hips to bend and lift. If you’ve got the right rake, it will be easy to maintain an upright posture while raking. And then when it’s time to scoop up the leaves and deposit them, you’ll want to squat using your hips and knees, and pivot with your trunk and pelvis. Avoid lifting with a curved back and twisting from your waist or spine. Maintaining these habits on a regular basis (not just when raking) will help you protect your back from strain or injury that could otherwise be very easily avoided.

4. Take regular breaks

Continuous and repetitive raking can tire out your muscles and make them more susceptible to injury. Plus, when you get into the monotony of raking, the mindlessness of the activity makes it easy to not pay attention to things like maintaining good posture and using good body mechanics. An easy way to combat this is by taking regular breaks. I recommend at least once every 30 min. Set an alarm on your phone or watch to remind you – and when it goes off – stop what you’re doing, put the rake down, and give yourself a quick upright back stretch. This very simple and easy strategy will go a long way in protecting your back when raking leaves.

5. Engage your Core

You don’t need six-pack abs to protect your back while raking leaves, but simply being mindful of your core can be super helpful and certainly won’t hurt you. Most back injuries occur when you least expect it – and when you aren’t paying attention. When you’re raking leaves, or any other mindless, repetitive activity for that matter, make an effort to think about gently drawing in your lower abdominals while you perform the activity. It’s a subtle move, and you should be able to easily breathe and talk while doing it. If you struggle to breathe and talk normally – you’re overdoing it.  This simple act of engaging your core will help keep your spine more supported and stable while raking and it will help protect your back.

6. Keep Moving Afterwards

What you do after raking is equally as important as what you do during to help protect your back from pain and injury. One of the biggest mistakes people make after a repetitive or strenuous activity (like raking) is to slump on the couch or recliner and “rest”. This is one of the worst things you can do to your spine because it’s more pliable and vulnerable right after strenuous activity. And when you put your spine in a relaxed, flexed position while it’s vulnerable – you’re just asking for an injury. You won’t notice it while you’re resting – but you might feel a tweak or strain when you go to stand up – or even up to several hours later. Do yourself a favor and perform some gentle stretching after raking, or go for another walk to help relax your back. And be mindful of your resting postures for a few hours after raking. This is an easy way to protect your back during raking season.

Hopefully these tips give you a few things to think about before you go raking all those leaves in your yard – but most importantly – help you protect your back and avoid unwanted back pain this fall season.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To request a free copy of her guide to back pain CLICK HERE or to get in touch, email her at [email protected].

orthopedic surgery

Three Science-backed Reasons not to Rely on Imaging for Orthopedic Surgery

Approximately 7 million people undergo an orthopedic surgery each year in the United States. Topping this list are elective procedures (meaning they are not life threatening or urgent) such as ACL reconstruction, total hip and knee replacements, arthroscopic surgery (meniscus repairs, shoulder decompression, etc), and spinal fusions.

Now, what if I told you that of the top 10 elective orthopedic surgeries performed, only one (carpal tunnel syndrome) has real evidence to support that surgery will have a better outcome than conservative care. A recent study published by scientists in the UK hospital system and National Health service reviewed thousands of published studies in an effort to find out if orthopedic surgery was truly better than conservative care or placebo procedures. They found that sadly, thousands of patients are undergoing invasive procedures every year with known associated risks and complications. All while there was an equal or better alternative.

One of the biggest reasons this happens is because people rely on imaging (X-rays, MRI’s, CT scans) to determine whether or not they need surgery. Don’t get me wrong, this incredible technology has revolutionized the field of medicine and orthopedics. The problems occur when we fail to look at the full picture (no pun intended) and rely on images alone to make important decisions about our musculoskeletal health.

Here are three science-backed reasons not to rely on imaging alone when considering orthopedic surgery:


1. Imaging does not always correlate with symptoms

One of the most fundamental reasons why imaging alone should not dictate your decision to get orthopedic surgery is the well-documented lack of correlation between image findings and actual symptoms. 

Studies have shown that 20-25% of all people will show a bulging disc in their spine on MRI. This happens even when they don’t have any back pain. At least 50% of adults over the age of 50 will show torn meniscus or cartilage in their knees and feel completely fine. In 2013, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study that found one-third of participants with no knee pain had “abnormal” results in their imaging. This was while one-half of the participants who actually experienced knee pain had completely clear scans. 

We have to start normalizing what aging actually looks like on a scan. Just because you’ve got a bulging disc, torn cartilage, or even “bone on bone” arthritis – it doesn’t mean you need to rush into the operating room.

2. Risk of Over-diagnosis and Overtreatment

Overdiagnosis refers to the identification of conditions that aren’t actually causing symptoms or harming a patient. The biggest culprits here include spinal stenosis, joint arthritis, and degenerative joint conditions. One notable study from 2017 published in PLUS ONE, a peer-reviewed mega journal, found that at least 20% of arthroscopic knee surgeries were overdiagnosed and subsequently overtreated. How did they now? Because even though their scans showed things like “wear and tear” and torn cartilage, they had no relevant dysfunction or clinical findings. The only thing indicating they needed surgery was the overdiagnosis of normal aging in their knee.

A particularly sad story comes to mind as I write about this. I recall treating a man with spinal stenosis who was told by his doctor he needed steroid injections to calm the inflammation in his back. He had 6 weeks until his injections, and during that time, we were able to decrease his pain by about 80%. Since it’s impossible to reverse or stop spinal stenosis without surgery (because it’s related to wear and tear as you age), I knew that his pain was being caused by other unrelated factors. But following doctor’s orders, he still went through with the injections. Unfortunately, he had a bad reaction to the injections that left him worse off than when he started with me. His over-diagnosis of spinal stenosis led to a cascade of over-treatment and worse pain than when he started. 

3. Non-surgical treatments can be equally effective (if not better)

Orthopedic surgery should really only be considered as a last resort. No matter how routine or “non-invasive” the surgery is, there are still risks of infection and complication, and you want to avoid those at all costs. The problem with conservative treatment is that it takes longer to get to the same (or better) result. And let’s face it, we live in a quick fix world and rarely have patience for this, especially when you’ve got a scan that seems to say otherwise.

Study after study shows that arthroscopic knee surgery (in particular) has the same or better results when treated conservatively (physical therapy and exercise). In fact, when you get arthroscopic surgery on your knee, it increases the likelihood you’ll need a total knee replacement. With back surgery, we know that in the first year or two, your pain will be better or gone. But by year 2-3, if your symptoms haven’t crept back in yet, you’ll feel just as good as your peers who forewent surgery. But after year three, your back pain symptoms tend to return, and you’ll often feel worse than your friends who decided to take the conservative approach from the get-go.

The research continues to support that 70-80% of all musculoskeletal pain is mechanical in nature. Mechanical problems have to do with movement dysfunction and lifestyle/postural habits. They don’t show up in a scan, and they are best treated conservatively. When you see something on an image, it’s better to assume it’s irrelevant and that you fall into the 70-80%. This will protect you from being overdiagnosed and help you avoid potentially unnecessary procedures and surgery. Pay attention to your pain, symptoms, and overall function – they tell a much better story than your images.

Are you local to Portsmouth, NH?

Consider seeing one of my Specialists – they’re experts in mechanical pain. In a free Discovery Visit you can tell us everything that’s been going on with you, and determine for yourself if we’re the best people to help you. It’s a no-obligation appointment that will give you all the information you need to make the BEST decision for YOUR health. Whether that’s working with us or not!

CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery Visit.

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. To get in touch, email her at [email protected].