Tag Archive for: pt

Sciatica_Therapy_Portsmouth_NH_2

3 Reasons You Need PT After Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) started to take off in the 1990’s and has since become far more common for spinal conditions such as degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, spinal infections, spondylolisthesis, compression fractures, and spinal tumors.

When you absolutely must have spine surgery (more on that later) – MISS is a far better alternative to open-spine surgery.

You can expect less anesthesia, less blood loss during surgery, reduced risk of infection, less pain after surgery, less pain medication needed, smaller scars, shorter hospital stays, faster recovery time, and quicker return to daily activities and work.

But don’t confuse the term “minimally invasive” with minimal risk.

With MISS – you’re still at risk for many of the same consequences of open-spine surgery should things go wrong. Therefore, you want to make sure you really need spine surgery before you go “under the knife” – even if it’s a tiny one.

Risks of MISS include bad reactions to anesthesia, pneumonia after surgery, blood clots in your legs that could travel to your lungs, infection (although this is significantly minimized with MISS), blood loss during surgery requiring a transfusion, injury to the nerves of your spinal cord that could result in more pain (or even paralysis) than you went in with, and damage to surrounding tissues.

While rare, these are very real risks and they do happen. Risks like this don’t occur with conservative treatment – such as specialized physical therapy.

It’s why I’m a huge advocate of folks not undergoing surgery until all conservative approaches have been exhausted – and/or – you’ve got what we call a progressive neurological deficit occurring (such as quick deterioration in your muscle strength, ability to walk, or ability to control your bowel/bladder).

All that being said – assuming you really do need surgery and will benefit from MISS – you still need physical therapy.

I’m amazed at how many surgeons no longer prescribe rehab after a minimally invasive procedure. Just because recovery time is reduced – doesn’t mean you don’t need a specialist to help you recover properly.

Here are 3 reasons you need PT after minimally invasive spine surgery:

1. Proper scar management

Minimally invasive procedures already do a great job of reducing scar formation because the incisions are smaller and less invasive, but there is still an incision. And the incision with MISS is deep because you have to get to the layers of the spinal nerves, vertebrae, and discs. Because the scars are small, people mistakenly assume they will heal without issue. The truth is they might, but the odds of your scar healing properly are much better with professional scar management. Scar mobilization should begin about 2 wks after MISS.

A specially trained physical therapist will not only help you manage your scar healing, but teach you how to do it on your own as well. You’ll improve blood flow to the area of the incision (which promotes healing), increase soft tissue mobility, and help to reduce any swelling that might form in the area.

2. Restore pre-existing impairments

Odds are pretty good you didn’t end up with spontaneous MISS. You likely had a long road leading to your surgery. It’s critical you go back and address all of the problems that occurred prior to your procedure.

This includes everything from muscle weakness, to poor compensatory movement strategies your body adapted to deal with pain, immobility that occurred either because of pain or to protect you from pain, and residual numbness and/or radiating pain that is still in your legs. MISS might do a great job of quickly getting rid of your back pain, but something led to that pain to begin with.

The absence of pain does not equal the absence of a problem. Now is the perfect time to work with a specialist who will help you not only optimize your recovery from MISS – but make sure the problems/impairments that led you to the operating table to begin with don’t come back.

3. Restore deep core strength

Chronic pain tends to inhibit the ability for muscles to work properly. If you’ve been suffering from back pain for awhile – odds are pretty good your deep core strength is not where it needs to be.

Plus, good core strength is critical for the prevention of future back problems (yes – you can still get back pain after back surgery). Ideally, now that your minimally invasive procedure has either eliminated or significantly reduced your back pain, it’s more critical than ever to work with a specialist who can help you restore your deep core strength. They’ll know how to do it safely and effectively – to not only help you recover from your MISS faster – but keep the original problem from coming back – because it can.

If you’re considering any type of surgery – but especially back surgery – I always advocate getting a second opinion first – even if the procedure is minimally invasive. Eighty percent of the time – back problems can be resolved without surgical procedures.

CLICK HERE to get a second opinion from one of my specialists.

If you truly want to avoid surgery – and we think we can help you do that – we’ll let you know and get you scheduled with us as quickly as possible.

However, if you’ve recently undergone MISS, ask your doctor to refer you to physical therapy. Many surgeons won’t. It’s going to help you recover optimally and faster – and will set you up for the best possible future success when it comes to back problems.

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, or request a free copy of her guide to back pain, email her at info@cjphysicaltherapy.com or call 603-605-0402

Physical Therapist

Piriformis syndrome and Sciatica – PT not working?

I recently polled my readers regarding their most important concerns when it comes to their musculoskeletal health. In other words, what questions were they desperately seeking answers for related to back, neck, knee, hip, shoulder, or ankle pain?

Here is a great question I received from John:

“I’m getting Physical Therapy for lower back pain and sciatica that is said to be from my piriformis. My PT treatment has consisted of various exercises and some massage. Eight sessions in and no change at all. I’m still having pain when sitting or walking a distance. What now?  Do I need an Ultrasound or MRI to see if there is any damage or tear to my piriformis?”

First, John, I’m so sorry to hear you’re still having pain and not seeing any change after a good amount of physical therapy. When it comes to back pain and sciatica, it’s critical that you receive a thorough mechanical and movement examination by your PT before any treatment begins. This should involve repeated testing and retesting of movement and range of motion to determine:

1) where your pain is coming from and

2) what movement patterns trigger and relieve your symptoms

Without this first critical step, you risk missing the root cause of your pain and treating just symptoms. This type of testing is also essential to determine if physical therapy can even resolve your problem. If your physical therapist simply read the prescription from your doctor and dove into generalized treatment protocols – there’s your first problem right there – and it could explain why after 8 sessions you’re seeing no change in your condition.

In your case, it sounds like the massage is intended to treat your symptoms – perhaps your tight, tender piriformis that is believed to be causing your back pain and sciatica. This is perfectly appropriate, however, it’s important to incorporate targeted, therapeutic movement to make the most of what your manual therapy (massage) just did.

In other words, movement is the real “medicine”. Manual therapy is designed to enhance blood flow to and prepare your soft tissue (muscles and ligaments) to be better equipped to tolerate and perform the movement/exercise that is going to have a long-lasting effect.

If the massage and exercise are not done in a specific and targeted way – they aren’t going to have their intended effect. It’s possible this could be happening to you. If you’re not totally clear on what your exercise is for and what the intended effect is – chances are high your exercises haven’t been prescribed to you properly. If you suspect this to be the case, it’s worth your while to try for a different, perhaps more specialized physical therapist before you go jumping into diagnostic tests that could lead you down a rabbit hole of unnecessary procedures or surgery.

Now, let’s assume for a moment that you did receive targeted and high-quality physical therapy treatment and it’s simply not working. This does happen from time to time – but it should only be approximately 20% of the time for the majority of musculoskeletal problems such as back pain and sciatica. And in my opinion, it should be caught well before 8 sessions. In my experience, it takes about 5-6 (quality) PT sessions to figure out if a problem can be resolved with movement and natural means. If not, then a referral to another specialty is necessary.

Are you there yet? I can’t be certain.

But to answer your question about whether or not you need an MRI or Ultrasound… 

If quality, targeted physical therapy has been truly exhausted then yes – either of these diagnostic tests would be the next step in providing valuable information as to what more might be going on.

Ultrasound is a non-invasive diagnostic tool designed to visualize both organs and soft tissue. It could be a good option for examining your piriformis if you are certain that is where your problem is coming from. But piriformis syndrome only accounts for about 30% of all sciatica cases. And typically a tear in your piriformis will not cause pain to radiate down your leg. Most of the time, sciatica is caused by nerve impingement occuring in your lumbar spine (low back). If conservative treatment, like physical therapy, has been fully explored – an MRI could be helpful to see how badly a nerve is being pinched or irritated and whether or not a procedure or surgery is warranted. But in general, the research has shown time and time again that spine surgery is really only successful when you’ve got serious and progressive neurological deficits and symptoms.

In other words, you might have symptoms like foot drop, and your leg is getting weaker and numb by the minute. Otherwise, physical therapy – although it may be slower to work – has equal if not better results compared to surgery and it’s a lot safer.

The caveat, however, is you need to find a good physical therapist.

I hope this helps answer your question. Most importantly – don’t give up hope!

For the next few months I’ll be answering questions like these each week in my articles. If you’ve got your own questions regarding musculoskeletal aches or pains that you want answers for, reach out via the information below.

Local to Portsmouth and feeling frustrated with your current physical therapy treatment just like John?

Reach out – we’d be happy to provide a second opinion. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery call with one of my specialists.

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 info@cjphysicaltherapy.com.

Neck Pain

Tech neck: What it is and How to Cure it

Tech neck – also known as text neck – is a commonly used term to describe neck pain that results from overuse of various electronic devices. If you’re looking down at your cell phone or iPad too much, or sitting in front of your computer too long – and you feel pain in your neck – you are likely suffering from tech neck.

So what’s the big deal? Is this even a real syndrome?

I’ll be honest. I had my doubts at first. I’ve been a physical therapist for 20 years and when I first heard this term I thought it was a joke. But over the last 12-15 years I’ve seen more and more cases pop up and I can tell you with certainty that tech neck is, indeed, a real problem for people.

Tech neck – when allowed to go unaddressed – can result in headaches, tension into your upper shoulders, or even pain and tingling into your arms and hands.

The good news – it’s not only entirely possible to get rid of it – but you can learn how to prevent it all together.

So what can you do about tech neck? Here are three simple tips:

1. Be mindful of your posture

When you’re constantly looking down or hunching forward – it eventually wreaks havoc on your neck. Being mindful of your posture is not only the number one way to cure tech neck – but it’s the best way to prevent it.

The biggest problem with poor posture is that you don’t know it’s a problem until it’s too late. Postural problems take a lot of time to reveal themselves. The changes in your soft tissue and the wear and tear on your spinal joints that occur from being positioned poorly and repeatedly don’t happen overnight – and you rarely notice them when they are first happening.

Truth be told, “bad posture” on occasion is not bad for you and should not cause you any major problems. Poor posture all the time is where you get in trouble. That’s why simply being mindful of how you’re positioned when using your favorite electronic devices can go a long way.

2. Use headphones

Our spines crave movement but also alignment. But we don’t want alignment at the expense of other joints – namely – our shoulders. It’s not always comfortable to hold your phone or iPad in front of your face – which is what you need to do if you want to maintain optimal neck alignment when using your device. While great for your neck – this position can cause strain and tension in your upper shoulders.

For this reason I highly recommend using headphones. Especially wireless headphones. This allows you to keep your phone or iPad on your desk while freely sitting upright and talking. Headphones also allow you to use the speak to text feature quite easily so you don’t have to strain your thumbs or shoulders when talking to your friends, kids, or grandkids.

3. Interrupt your sitting and standing

Prolonged posture in any form is not great for you. Our bodies – especially our spines – crave movement. We hear a lot about the detrimental effects of sitting all the time – but standing all the time isn’t great either. When it comes to sitting, your lower back tends to hunch over time which forces your neck into that “forward head” posture when you’ve been sitting for more than 20 min or so. When you add an electronic device to the mix the effects are even worse.

Because of this – standing desks have become much more common over the past few years. But I see folks having problems from standing too long also. If you don’t have great core engagement, for example, which is important when you’re standing for prolonged periods, you might hold tension in your jaw or neck to compensate. This can create unwanted tension and stiffness in your neck muscles.

How do you combat all this?

Simply interrupt your position. Try not to stay sitting – or standing – longer than 30 min at one time. Your body – and especially your neck – will thank you.

Recognizing tech neck early is crucial and if you catch it in time – it’s very easy to cure on your own.

The problem is that it’s something that tends to creep up over time and not addressed until it’s too late. If you’re suffering from chronic headaches, or symptoms down your arms or into your hands – the tips I’ve given you here may not be enough to address the problem.

Don’t worry – you can still get help with these symptoms naturally and without pills and procedures – you will likely need some expert help.

Talk to someone who understands posture and the importance of healthy movement in your spine – they are the best people to help you cure and prevent tech neck.

Local to Portsmouth, NH?

Consider talking to one of our specialists free. They’ll let you know if you’re a good fit for what we do and get you on our schedule as quickly as possible! CLICK HERE to request a free Discovery Call with someone from my client success team.

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.

Shoulder Pain

The Number One Reason your Shoulder Pain isn’t Going Away

Statistics show that shoulder pain impacts approximately 15.4% of men and 24.9% of women. The prevalence of shoulder pain also tends to increase and become more severe as we age, especially for folks in their 50’s.

There are many reasons why we get shoulder pain. It’s the most mobile joint in your body, making it more susceptible to injury. But why – for some – does it seem to just linger and not go away?

The number one reason is mis-diagnosis. Here are a few examples of what that looks like.

  • Your MRI says you have a rotator cuff tear – so you get surgery – yet the pain comes back or doesn’t fully resolve like they told you it would.
  • You’re told you have impingement syndrome – so you get arthroscopic decompression surgery – no success.
  • Perhaps you’ve been told you have tendonitis in your shoulder and need a cortisone shot – followed by physical therapy. Nope, that didn’t work either.

When it comes to shoulder pain, it’s critical that you know for certain the pain in your shoulder is actually coming from your shoulder. If not, you’re going to waste your time fixing the wrong problem and are more likely to get an unnecessary procedure or surgery. 

So – if your shoulder pain isn’t coming from your shoulder – then where is it coming from? 

The most common culprit is your neck or mid-back. In fact, studies have shown that 40% of the time extremity pain (including shoulder pain) comes from a source in your spine – even when you don’t feel any pain in your spine. 

Here are a few key signs and considerations to help you figure out if your shoulder pain has been misdiagnosed:

1. Where is your pain located?

When your pain is coming from your shoulder, the pain will be localized to your shoulder joint. True shoulder pain is felt directly in front of your shoulder, on top of your shoulder, 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 pain deep inside of your shoulder blade into your mid-back – odds are pretty good that you’re dealing with a spine problem and not a shoulder problem. 

2. 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 something like a bulging disc – or a restricted/faulty movement pattern that is irritating nerve roots in your neck. You might feel symptoms in 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 in your shoulder or arm – and not actually feel anything in your neck. If you’ve got more pain in your arm than you do your shoulder, be sure to get your neck fully checked out. This is a huge area of mis-diagnosis for those suffering with long-standing shoulder pain.

3. How is your posture?

Poor posture can wreak havoc on your shoulder joint – without you even knowing it. If you’ve got a really curved middle back, combined with a “forward head” posture, you’re just setting your shoulder up for failure. Chronic, poor posture will crowd the tendons and structures in your shoulder joint over time. Every time you raise your arm overhead, or try to lift something with an outstretched arm – there will be implications if you’ve got poor posture.

The tricky part about this scenario is that you really will have pain in your shoulder. You’ll have wear and tear of your rotator cuff, and you’re more likely to have degeneration in your shoulder joint that might cause it to feel weak. The confusion here is that the shoulder “problems” are actually symptoms. The real cause is your posture and it’s either been missed or not addressed. The good news is that if you address your posture, most of these “wear and tear” shoulder problems will go away naturally, and you can avoid unnecessary procedures and surgery. This problem flies so under the radar that it’s overlooked all the time.

If you’ve got a true shoulder problem and it’s been diagnosed correctly – it should go away with proper treatment.

If that’s not happening, it’s worth considering that the true source of your shoulder pain has been missed. Start by getting a thorough check of your spine.

Don’t know where to start?

You can request a free Discovery Call with someone from my client success team. They’ll let you know if we can help – tell you if you’re a good fit for what we do – and get you on your way to living pain free. CLICK HERE to request a free Discovery Call.

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.

Why your Cortisone Injection Failed You

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 to speak with my client success team to see if we can help you avoid quick fixes like cortisone shots and get long lasting results. 

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.

Avoiding Radiofrequency Ablation in Your Back – Success Story

Have you heard of Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)?

If you suffer from chronic back pain – there’s a good chance you have. Perhaps it’s even been recommended to you?

It’s a common procedure used to disable nerve fibers that are carrying the pain signal to your brain.

Your brain is what decides whether or not you’re going to experience pain. So the goal behind this procedure is to kill (or in this case burn) the “middle man” – the nerve that is responsible for signaling the pain trigger. An electrical impulse is transmitted through a needle that is designed to burn the nerve endings responsible for your pain.

If it works – the results last anywhere from 6 months to a year – but they typically aren’t permanent.

Most of the people I talk to who rely on this for pain relief have to go back at least once per year or more.

But in some cases… the procedure eventually stops working all together…

And then what?

Well… you’ve usually got just two choices…

  1. Live with it
  2. Get surgery

The good news?

You don’t have to accept either of these options and you don’t even have to rely on this procedure at all if you don’t want to.

How do I know?

Because 80% of all spinal pain is mechanical in nature – which means it’s due to poor or insufficient movement habits. These habits – over time – result in compensatory strategies in your body. These compensatory strategies eventually lead to “pissed-off” muscles, ligaments, or nerves – which result in pain.

So you see…

Getting a procedure like RFA is really only a bandaid.

Why not find out what compensatory strategy might be happening in your body – and from there – what caused it to begin with?

That’s what we prefer to do and I’m excited to tell you about a recent success story where this actually happened…

I was re-evaluating one of our patients (“L”) this week and even though she is still working through some back pain – it’s nothing like when we first began working together.

When we first met – she couldn’t walk very far without back pain and she didn’t even think about getting on a bike. (Biking, hiking, and staying active are things she LOVES to do for herself and with her husband)

When we spoke this week – she was not only walking – but starting to do some trail walking – and she was using her bike trainer at home regularly – all with minimal or no back pain. The next step for her is to get on the road with her bike – we have a goal of her riding 30-50 miles!

I am confident we’ll get there 🙂

But the most important part of this ongoing success story that I want to share is this…

“L” told me that the most valuable accomplishment from working with us so far is that she hasn’t had to return for any RFA!

I almost cried when I heard this… not even remotely exaggerating…

Because not everyone has the courage to see a program through and trust in the process.

But “L” did – and I’m so proud of her for it.

She said one of her goals was to not need this procedure anymore…

I’m excited to say that as of today – she’s officially far past the point when she would normally have returned for her RFA procedure.

And it’s because of our program!

The biggest motivator behind everything I do – every email or article I write – is to empower you.

My mission behind CJPT & Pilates is empowerment by education.

We aim to give you all the information you need so you can make the best decisions for your health – and hopefully those decisions involve less pills, less procedures, and certainly not surgery 🙂

I wanted to share this story with you because it is a perfect example of just that.

Yes – “L” still has back pain – but it’s progressing and we’re working through it – but on her terms and not on the procedure/RFA’s terms.

If you want more details on how we helped “L” work through her chronic back pain and avoid procedures like RFA…

CLICK HERE to talk to someone on my Client Success Team to see if we are a good fit to help you avoid RFA.

Ready to get rid of your back pain? Lucky for you we have a totally FREE guide written by leading back pain specialist, physical therapist, and movement expert, Dr. Carrie Jose! CLICK HERE  to read her BEST tips and advice on how to start easing back pain and stiffness right away!

When exercise hurts your back instead of helps

When Exercise Hurts Your Back Instead of Helps

The research continues to show that the best treatment for back pain is exercise. But what do you do when exercising hurts your back instead of helps? 

What most people do when exercise flares their back up is they just stop. They simply wait for the pain to go away – and begin the cycle all over again. This is not the best strategy. Instead, why not figure out why exercise might be hurting your back and do something about it?

Here are 5 reasons why exercise might be hurting your back instead of helping:

 

1. Its the wrong type of exercise

While the research isn’t wrong about exercising and back pain – the type of exercise you choose is important. For example, walking is generally considered one of the best exercises for back pain sufferers. But there are certain types of back pain where walking flares you up. In these instances, it doesn’t mean that walking is “bad” for you – and it doesn’t mean you have a serious problem. Many times, it simply means you need a different type of exercise first that gets you back to walking normally. Same goes for strength training and core training. Exercise is good for back pain – but if it flares you up – don’t be quick to blame the exercise. You may just be doing things in the wrong order. Working with a back pain expert can help minimize this and make sure you’re doing the right exercises at the right time – and that won’t flare you up.

2. Stability training is introduced too soon

Stability training is an important part of back pain recovery – but I often see it introduced too soon – and typically before good mobility is fully restored. Mobility is something you always want to look at first. If you don’t have full mobility in your spine, there is a reason. And when your spine doesn’t move well, you risk developing compensatory movement patterns that cause structures in and around your spine to get irritated. When it comes to stability training, there is often resistance or load involved. The last thing you want to do is add load to the spine that is already compensating and irritated. This is a sure-fire way to flare up your back and why exercise might be hurting you instead of helping.

3. You aren’t activating your core

Knowing when and how to properly activate your core is different from having a strong core. You can have the strongest abs in the world – but if you can’t use them when they count – it’s useless.  Knowing how to properly activate your core is essential when you exercise, but especially when you have back pain. If you don’t activate your core properly when you’re lifting weights, or performing complicated movements that require good coordination, you’re setting yourself up for injury. The ability to activate your core properly is developed through motor control training. It’s where we teach your mind how to recognize and activate specific muscles, during specific activities, so that it eventually becomes habitual. If you’re constantly having back pain every time you exercise or try to strengthen your core, it could be that you lack the ability to activate it when it counts.

4. You aren’t breathing properly

Not breathing properly can significantly impact the effectiveness of your exercise routine and impede your ability to perform an exercise properly. As mentioned previously, knowing how to activate your core is crucial when you exercise, and in order to activate your core properly, you must be able to breathe properly. Your deep core is made up of four parts: your deep abdominals, your deep back muscles, your pelvic floor, and your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is what controls your breathing. Let’s say you hold your breath when you exercise. When this happens it means your diaphragm isn’t expanding or contracting in the way it needs to for your deep core to be fully functional. Additionally, when your diaphragm doesn’t work like it should, it adds unnecessary strain to both your back muscles and your discs. If you’re not in tune with your breathing, and you aren’t timing it properly, it’s another reason why exercise might be hurting your back instead of helping.

5. You’re using improper form

The last and most common reason why exercising might be hurting your back is because you aren’t doing it right. There’s a lot of people out there who think posture and form don’t really matter. But they do. If you’re lifting weights – especially when frequently and repetitively – you want your spine to be in good alignment. It might not hurt the first time you lift with improper form, but it will hurt after several weeks or months when you get to your 100th rep. Same goes for body weight exercises. Just because you aren’t adding an external load to your spine doesn’t mean you can’t aggravate it by doing something with poor form over and over. This is where I see most people get in trouble. If you’re going to exercise – and you want to exercise daily – do it with proper form and posture or it’s going to catch up to you and keep causing your back to flare up.

 

If exercising is currently hurting your back instead of helping  – it could be due to one of these 5 reasons. Get expert help to figure out which one it might be. Because at the end of the day – exercise really is good for your back. If done correctly, timely, and in the right order – it will help your back instead of hurt it.

Ready to get help with your pain or injury?

Request to speak to one of my specialists to see if we would be the right fit to help you get out of pain. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery with one of my specialists.

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.

Senior Man Suffering From Back Pain Whilst Gardening

5 Tips to Avoid Back Pain While Gardening

Gardening has so many health benefits and it’s an activity many people fall in love with. It gets you outdoors in the fresh air, exposes you to vitamin D, it’s meditative, helps to improve hand-eye coordination, and it’s great exercise. But one thing it’s not always great for is your back. If you love gardening – but cringing about what it might do to your back this Spring – keep reading.

Here are 5 tips to avoid back pain while gardening:

 

1. Avoid bending from the waist

A common gardening posture I see is folks standing with straight or slightly bent knees and bending over from their waist – creating an “L-shape” with their body. While this posture is acceptable to do from time to time – it’s not a good idea to do this over and over again while gardening. This particular posture puts a lot of strain on your lower back as well as the backs of your knees. Over time, your lower back muscles will become very sore and tight, which can make them susceptible to injury when you least expect it. What to do instead? Get in the habit of squatting and bending from your knees. If you must do a particular gardening activity for a sustained period – try being on all-fours – and switch your hands periodically. These positions are much better for your back and you’ll be able to sustain the activity for much longer.

2. Take frequent breaks

It’s easy to get lost in the activity of planting and weeding. But even if you’re choosing good postures like I mentioned above – your back still needs a break. Our spines do not enjoy being bent forward for prolonged periods and when you do this for too long without taking a break – it puts a lot of stress on the vertebral discs in your spine and makes them more likely to bulge. I recommend setting a timer and giving yourself a break every 30 min. Simply stand up and get out of the bent over posture. Your back will thank you and you’ll be able to garden for much longer without risk of injuring your spine.

3. Pivot instead of twist

One of the most vulnerable positions for your back is the combination of bending and rotating. And when done repetitively, you’re almost guaranteed an injury to your spine. When you’re doing things like digging or planting – activities that have you bending and twisting – you want to pivot instead. Keep your body in line with the activity you’re doing. Don’t rotate or twist from your waist. How do you do this? Make sure your hips are always in line with the object you are moving and maneuvering. Keep your ribs in line with your pelvis and always move them as a unit. While it’s ok to bend and twist from your waist on occasion – you’ll find yourself in some trouble when you do this over and over again – especially if you have a history of back pain episodes happening to you in the past.

4. Use gardening tools wisely

Gardening tools can be of significant help when it comes to maintaining good posture and avoiding overuse of your muscles and joints. When you have to lift something heavy – especially repeatedly – use a wheelbarrow. This valuable gardening tool will allow you to lift and move heavy things with significantly less strain on your back. If you’ve got to be on your knees or squatting a lot – consider using a gardening bench. This will make it easier to sustain activities that require prolonged bending or kneeling. Lastly, use tools with longer handles to help avoid crouched over postures. If you can maintain a more upright posture while gardening, you’ll be able to tolerate it longer and with less back pain. 

5. Raise your gardens

Let’s face it, gardening involves bending over and lots of it. Activities like this are just not good for your back when done over and over. Consider modifying your garden to include more raised boxes and beds. This is going to make it so much easier to tend to your plants without having to bend over so much. And when you need to create a work surface – make sure that is raised too. Bending forward isn’t “bad” for your spine – but when you bend all the time without giving your back a break – you’re asking for trouble. Modifying your garden to make it more ergonomic can make a huge difference in the health of your spine.

Gardening has so many positive benefits – and the last thing I want is for back pain to be the thing that stops you from doing something you love. Hopefully these tips give you some important things to consider – and more importantly – help you look at gardening as something enjoyable again versus something you dread because of your back.

Do you have nagging back pain that gets in the way of your everyday activities? Request to talk to one of my specialists to see if we would be the right fit to help you get out of pain. CLICK HERE to request a Free Discovery with one of my specialists.

 

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. 

man getting back pain treatment

5 Reasons Exercise is Hurting your Back

5 Reasons Exercise is Hurting Your Back

The research continues to show that the best “treatment” for back pain is exercise. But what do you do when exercising hurts your back instead of helps? 

This is one of the most common frustrations I hear from my clients. The doctor looks at their back and takes an X-ray. He or she only sees something like arthritis or degenerative disc disease. Surgery doesn’t make sense – so the advice is to go exercise – and specifically to strengthen their core. But when it doesn’t work they are at a loss.

Why would exercise hurt your back when the research overwhelmingly shows that it’s supposed to help? 

Here are 5 reasons why…

1. It’s the wrong type of exercise

While the research isn’t wrong about exercising and back pain – it doesn’t always reveal the specifics on the type of exercise that’s being done. For example, walking is considered one of the best activities for back pain sufferers, and for the majority it will help significantly. But I also have clients who get worse just walking to their mailbox at the end of the driveway. What the research is really saying is that movement – not necessarily “exercise” – is what’s really good for back pain – even acute back pain. But you need to make sure it’s the right type of movement for YOUR specific type of back pain. If you get the type of exercise or movement wrong you’ll feel worse. This is one reason why exercise will sometimes hurt your back instead of help.

2. Stability training is introduced too soon

 

Stability training is an important part of back pain recovery – but I often see it introduced too soon. Mobility is something you always want to look at first. If you don’t have full mobility in your spine, there is a reason. You want to make sure you explore that fully and get the spine moving the way it should be before you begin stabilizing or strengthening it. Every now and then I stabilize first, but it’s rare. More often than not I see that people with long standing back pain are suffering from a mobility problem that was missed. When your spine doesn’t move well, you risk developing compensatory movement pattern. These can cause structures in and around your spine to get irritated. You want to figure that out first before jumping ahead to stability training of your core and spine.

3. You aren’t activating your core

 

Knowing how to properly activate your core is different from having good core strength. You can have the strongest abs in the world – but if you don’t use them when they count – your 6-pack abs are useless.  Knowing how to properly activate your core is essential when you exercise, but especially when you have back pain. If you don’t activate your core properly when you’re lifting weights, or performing complicated movements that require good coordination, you’re setting yourself up for injury.

The ability to activate your core properly is developed through motor control training. It’s where we teach your mind how to recognize and activate specific muscles, during specific activities, so that it eventually becomes habitual. Pilates (when done properly and with a well-trained instructor) can accomplish this quite well. If you’re constantly having back pain every time you exercise or try to strengthen your core, it could be that you lack the ability to activate it when it counts.

4. You aren’t breathing properly

 

Not breathing properly – or not breathing at all – can significantly impact the effectiveness of your exercise routine and impede your ability to perform an exercise properly. As mentioned previously, knowing how to activate your core is crucial when you exercise, and in order to activate your core properly, you must be able to breathe properly. Your deep core is made up of four parts: your deep abdominals, your deep back muscles, your pelvic floor, and your diaphragm.

Your diaphragm is what controls your breathing. Let’s say you hold your breath when you exercise. When this happens it means your diaphragm isn’t expanding or contracting in the way it needs to for your deep core to be fully functional. Additionally, when your diaphragm doesn’t work like it should, it adds unnecessary strain and work to your back muscles. This is one reason why you might not be able to activate your core properly – and why exercise might be hurting your back.

5. You’re using improper form

 

The last and most common reason why exercising might be hurting your back is because you aren’t doing it right. There’s a lot of people out there who think posture and form don’t really matter. But they do. If you’re lifting weights – especially when frequently and repetitively – you want your spine to be in good alignment. It might not hurt the first time you lift with improper form, but it will hurt when you get to your 100th rep. Same goes for body weight exercises. Just because you aren’t adding load to your spine doesn’t mean you can’t aggravate it by doing something with poor form over and over. That’s really where people get in trouble. If you’re going to exercise – and you want to exercise daily – do it with proper form and posture or it’s going to catch up to you and cause you unnecessary back pain.

If exercising is currently hurting your back – it could be one of these 5 things. Get expert help to figure out which one it might be – because at the end of the day – exercise IS good for your back. You just might need some help to get there first.

 

Want to safely strengthen your back? Check out our Pilates 101 Get [Your] Back to Health Program. This is our one-of-a-kind 8-session program that delivers safe, yet highly effective Pilates-based core strengthening exercises that are easy on the joints, and help improve your flexibility and posture. Apply here!

 

Dr. Carrie Jose, Physical Therapist and Pilates expert, owns CJ Physical Therapy & Pilates in Portsmouth and writes for Seacoast Media Group. 

Your Pain’s Location May Not Be Its Source

Tendonitis versus Tendinosis: The Big Difference and Why it Matters

Tendonitis is a term you’re likely familiar with. You’ve probably even suffered from it at some point in your life. It’s an acute, short-term, inflammatory condition typically caused by repetitive overuse of your tendon. Tendinosis, on the other hand, is a chronic, degenerative condition of your tendon. It involves deterioration of collagen, a structural protein in your tendon.  While the two conditions sound very similar, and are often used interchangeably, they couldn’t be more different. And the treatment for each condition should be different too.

Tendons are tight but flexible bands of fibrous tissue that connect your muscle to bone.

 

Without tendons, your muscles would be useless. Tendons are extremely organized, and the fibers are designed in a way to withstand and transmit high forces of tension so your muscle can function properly. 

With tendonitis, your tendon becomes inflamed and irritated, typically due to repetitive overuse.

 

Tendonitis causes pain when you try to move. The most common areas for tendonitis to occur are your elbows, rotator cuff (shoulder), patella (knee), and Achilles tendon (ankle). Tendonitis is an acute condition, and the best treatment is to rest, apply ice, and sometimes take anti-inflammatories to control pain. From there, you want to figure out what caused the tendonitis to occur in the first place and address that. Typically, it’s due to some sort of mismatch between muscle strength and the activity you need to perform, leading your body to compensate and put unwanted stress on your tendon. Once you figure out and correct this pattern, it’s very easy to get rid of your tendonitis!

When you don’t manage tendonitis properly, and it goes on longer than a few months, it can result in tendinosis.

 

Tendinosis is a very different condition where the fibers in your tendon actually start to break down. An important thing to note is that tendinosis no longer involves inflammation of your tendon. So using ice every day, resting it, and taking anti-inflammatories will not help you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to people still doing this 6-8 months after an unresolved tendonitis issue. Second, since tendinosis involves disorganization and degeneration of the fibers that make up your tendon, you have to “re-organize” those fibers in order to resolve tendinosis and get your tendon functioning properly again. 

Passive treatments like ice, rest, and medicine will not help tendinosis.

 

They might help to relieve any pain you’re having from overdoing it or undertreating it — but the tendinosis will continue to progress. Unresolved tendinosis leads to progressive weakening of your tendon over time, making it easily susceptible to full blown tears. This is how so many folks tear their Achilles tendon or rotator cuff, for example, “out of nowhere.” Once I speak with them, they often report that over the years they had recurring bouts of tendonitis in that area. In other words, their tendonitis wasn’t managed properly and it led to chronic tendinosis, making them an easy target for a torn tendon.

So how do you treat tendinosis and prevent more serious problems from happening down the line?

 

You have to re-organize those fibers so your tendon can work properly again! Sounds easy, right? Well technically it is, but the biggest problem is that this process takes time, up to 9 months in many cases. And most patients I come across simply don’t have the patience for this… or they simply aren’t told. The other issue is that if you’re expecting an insurance company to cover your treatment, they typically don’t want you in physical therapy for more than 6-12 weeks at a time. This is not long enough to properly treat tendinosis.

The only way to re-organize those tendons is to put stress on them.

 

You have to put just the right amount of stress to cause a little bit of pain, but not so much that your tendon gets inflamed again.  This is literally the one time where “no pain no gain” is actually true. A properly trained physical therapist who is well-versed in tendinosis will know how to do this. You basically have to retrain the fibers to withstand force again – and this process takes time.  The good news, however, is that if you rehab your tendinosis properly, you can get back to all the activities you love as if nothing ever happened!

If you’re confused after reading this, don’t worry – so is half the medical community. The take home points to remember are that tendonitis involves pain and inflammation, there is no damage to your tendon, and it only lasts about 4-6 weeks. Treatment for this should involve passive modalities like ice and rest, and the focus should be on what caused your tendon to get irritated in the first place. 

But if problems in your tendon have gone on longer than 3 months, you must suspect tendinosis, which no longer involves inflammation but instead, a breakdown of your tendon. Passive treatments will NOT work and could actually prolong your problem – so stop icing and resting. Getting rid of tendinosis requires carefully prescribed loading strategies (aka strengthening) that will properly re-organize your tendon so that it can be strong again! This is extremely challenging to do on your own, so it’s a good idea to talk to an expert about this. You can even schedule a FREE Discovery Session with one of our experts today!