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Five Reasons People over 40 are doing Pilates

Recently, Pilates has been gaining popularity with folks over age 40. Why? Well, let’s take a look at the history.

It was first created by Joseph Pilates almost 100 years ago, who suffered from asthma, rickets, and rheumatic fever. When traditional exercise systems failed him, he turned to anatomy books and became obsessed with the human body. Refusing to let his body ailments define him, he eventually developed his own system of exercising, now known as the Pilates method. But the original name for his method was “Contrology,” because the focus of his exercises were to have full control of your movement and to feel empowered in your body.

I’ve been incorporating Pilates into my physical therapy practice for the last 11 years – and it’s been transformational for my clients.

Pilates is a full body strengthening system that emphasizes breath, precision, coordination, and core strength. It helps our clients connect to their bodies in a way they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional strengthening methods. Most of my clients are over the age of 40, and they love Pilates because it helps them have more energy, better balance, and improved strength and mobility. It allows them to participate in all the activities they love with more ease, and significantly decreases their likelihood of injury.

If you’re over 40, and aren’t yet doing Pilates, here are five reasons to get started:

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb. We see a lot of folks in our office who’ve tried traditional physical therapists, chiropractors, and so many kinds of core strengthening programs – but still have recurring back pain. Getting rid of back pain in the short-term is easy, but keeping it gone is the challenge.

We specialize in keeping pain gone, and Pilates helps us do that. Our Pilates instructors work closely with our PT team and get enhanced training on how to navigate back pain. We also keep our classes small so that we can pay close attention to everyone. This is key if you’re recovering from an injury and want to consider Pilates. Beware of classes that are overcrowded and not individualized. More than 5-6 people per class could be dangerous if you’re dealing with back pain. It’s impossible for your instructor to keep a close eye on you or give you individualized modifications.

2. Pilates strengthens your whole body, not just your core.

One of the keys to lifelong fitness is what I call “balanced strength.” In other words, each part of your body works together to produce the right amount of force, at the right time. I see lots of “strong” people in my office, but they can’t do the activities they love, because their muscles aren’t working together. Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated. Coordinated strength is essential to a balanced body.

3. Pilates improves your flexibility.

Do you stretch your hamstrings every day but they never seem to improve? It could be because you’re not stretching the right way. The great thing about Pilates is that it improves your flexibility in a way that strengthens at the same time. The “old school” way of stretching was to find the most uncomfortable position for your muscle and just hold it for 30 seconds. Research has shown this is not effective. The best way to stretch is to keep moving and do it dynamically. In Pilates, we do just that! One of the central concepts to Pilates is “lengthening.” This helps you stretch your muscles in a way that results in long lasting, sustainable improvements.

4. Pilates minimizes stress to your joints.

As we age, it’s normal to have arthritis. But it doesn’t have to be the death sentence to activity that most people think. The key to combating arthritis is maintaining a mobile and well balanced joint.  When you optimize everything that surrounds your arthritic joints, your symptoms decrease. Pilates helps with all this – without causing any additional stress. Since Pilates is based on the idea of constant opposition – lengthening while strengthening – you end up with a joint that is happy and balanced. This helps to minimize the impacts of arthritis and even prevent the rate of degeneration as you age.

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Since Pilates emphasizes small, precise movements – it’s very good for your nervous system and coordination. We refer to this as motor control. Having good motor control is key for controlled, coordinated movement.   A strong muscle that isn’t coordinated to “turn on” when it’s needed is almost useless. It’s why strong, healthy people still get back pain. Your core could be strong – but if it isn’t trained to function properly and when it’s supposed to – it won’t help you prevent back pain. When done properly, and with a qualified instructor, Pilates is one of the best exercise methods I’ve found to train your nervous system and improve motor control – which is key for injury prevention.

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your life… what are you waiting for? It’s my go-to exercise system for folks over the age of 40 and it’s my favorite way to help people keep their back pain gone. We’ve recently expanded our group class schedule here in Portsmouth, and will begin offering in-studio Pilates 101 classes for beginners starting in June. You can get on the Pilates 101 waiting list today. Can’t wait? Sign up for classes right here!

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Tight knots in your muscles? Do’s and Don’ts

At one point or another, or perhaps even this very second, you’ve experienced tight muscle knots somewhere in your body.

They are annoying, nagging, uncomfortable, and quite often painful. The most common area to feel these knots is in your upper traps (the triangle shaped area between your shoulder blades and base of your neck). But other areas of your body that love to get knotted up include your mid and lower back, your hips and butt, the front and sides of your thighs, and the back of your lower legs.

The first thing people think to do when experiencing these tight knots or muscle spasms is to get a massage or try rolling them out with a foam roller. Lately, theraguns seem to be the craze. These devices look like power drills and use percussive therapy to reduce pain and relieve tightness in the affected area. In our office, for really stubborn and painful knots, we use something called dry needling, which is where you take a tiny acupuncture needle and insert it into the tight knot to bring blood flow to the area and release tension.

These are all great options, and for the most part, I put them in the category of “Do’s” when it comes to getting rid of tight muscle knots.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, not so fast. Not all muscle knots are meant to be released.

“Don’t” aggressively release a tight muscle knot until you know why it’s there. 

Sometimes, muscle knots form as a critical compensatory strategy. If released too quickly, they can set off an array of problems. I was just talking to my massage therapist about this, because she’s seen it happen to her own clients. Occasionally, she’ll work her magic to get rid of tight muscle knots only to find the client feels worse after the session. This can happen when the tight knot was there to compensate for a weak muscle elsewhere. 

Let me explain. 

Muscles are connected via highly innervated tissue called fascia. It looks like a spider web and one of its main functions is to connect organs and muscles together. Fascia is still being studied, but one of the theories is that if one muscle group in that fascial line is not doing its job, a different muscle will work extra hard in its place to take up the slack. Eventually, that muscle will get exhausted and tighten up into a knot, because it’s doing more work than it was designed to.

If you release a knot that is “holding the line” together, you’re asking for trouble.

In this example, what I’ve found is that the passive methods of releasing muscles (those I mentioned earlier) aren’t very effective at helping you get rid of the problem. You might actually end up feeling worse or having pain elsewhere. If your tight muscle knot is there to act as a survival mechanism, it’s going to take a more comprehensive and total body approach to resolve it. You’ll need to figure out which muscle or muscles the tight knot is compensating for and address them at the same time you work to release the tight knot. You can keep getting your weekly massage, but you’ve got to pair it up with correctly prescribed exercises.

To summarize, DO figure out why you have a tight muscle knot in the first place.

Is it there because you overworked it in the gym? Maybe you’ve taken on a new project at home that is repetitive in nature? If these are the reasons you’ve got tight knots in your muscles, then DO release them. You’ll likely feel better. And then correct the movement patterns, so the knot doesn’t come back. If you feel worse after releasing the tight knots in your muscles, or the knot keeps coming back, then the problem likely involves more than just that muscle and you need a more comprehensive approach to get rid of it. DON’T continue to release it over and over. If you’re suffering from stubborn knots that won’t go away, get assessed by movement experts like us who can diagnose your problem accurately and help you get rid of your muscle knots for good.

Noticing More Knee Pain during Quarantine?

Aside from back pain, the second most common complaint bringing people into our office these days is knee pain, and lately, I’ve seen a little surge.

Here’s why…

People are sitting a lot more, which leads to increased stiffness in your knees. And a lot of us are doing different kinds of activities than we did 6 weeks ago, which for some, is exposing knee problems they never knew they had.

I spoke to one gentleman last week (we’ll call him “Jack”) who had started walking every day, and running a little bit, because his gym had closed. After about 4 weeks of this, he began experiencing pain in the front of his knee. He put some ice on it, took a break from his daily walks and running, and also resumed some stretches that a former physical therapist had told him to do. This seemed to help, so he resumed his walks and running again. Three days into it… bam… his knee pain returned.

Our specialist team has opened up our schedules to answer people’s questions about what they can do at home right now to take care of any aches or pains.

So Jack took us up on that, because he wanted to know if his knee pain was something to worry about. Did he need to see a doctor? Did he need to let it rest some more? Were there specific exercises he could do?

He did NOT want to stop his walking and running routine, but he definitely didn’t want his knee to get so bad that it would keep him from returning to the gym when it opened back up. He’s 55 years old and staying active and mobile is VERY important to him. We spoke for about 20 minutes and I knew immediately that rest wasn’t going to work, and that X-rays or medication from a doctor wouldn’t do anything either. Those things would only mask the problem. They would take care of the pain in his knee – but wouldn’t correct the source of his problem.

Ironically, the truth about knee problems is that they’re often not actually knee problems!  

With most knee pain, we can trace the underlying issues to a locality directly below the knee (the ankle or foot) or directly above it (the pelvis, hips, core, and low back). If you don’t engage your core throughout your daily movement, it actually puts a huge amount of strain on your knees. As your legs swing and rotate, the torque that should be occurring through your pelvis and hips gets overloaded onto your knees. So as we age, we may start feeling a sense of wear and tear or weakness in our knees that actually comes from a lifetime of improper movement.

The mainstream medical model is focused largely on treating symptoms rather than identifying the root cause of WHY the problem is occuring in the first place.

Pain pills, injections, and even surgery are often recommended before more conservative and natural treatments! And because these quick fixes are merely addressing the symptoms, the physical problems return for the majority of affected individuals. That’s because those knee issues actually stemmed from a different part of the body, and the knee will continue to be overloaded until those biomechanical problems are addressed directly!

Yes – we were able to figure ALL of this out from a FREE phone session.

The next step for Jack was an evaluation with our knee specialist. We scheduled a virtual session over Zoom, she was able to confirm the source of the problem. Turns out the muscles in his hips weren’t firing like they should and it was causing his knees to compensate and work harder than they needed to, which resulted in pain. So we got him doing the correct stretches and specific exercises that would train his hip and pelvis to work like they are supposed to.

In no time, Jack will be back to his walking and running routine, but he will ALSO be in better shape to return to the gym. One of his frustrations before was not being able to do as many squats as he wanted – because they hurt his knees. He had no idea that the problem was actually coming from his hips! So he is pretty excited to try his squats again once his gym opens back up.

If Jack’s story sounds familiar to you, schedule a call with us.

There is no point in sitting at home worrying, or scouring Google for what you should do to fix your pain. We can figure out what’s going on with you over the phone and I’ll let you know if you need to schedule a session with us, see a doctor, or if it’s something you can take care of on your own.

You could also join us for our FREE Virtual Knee Pain Webinar on Thur May 14th from 6-7p!

What is Dry Needling?

At CJ Physical Therapy and Pilates, our goal is to help you live a pain-free life without pain pills or invasive procedures.

Trigger Point Dry Needling is one of several strategies we use to treat muscles that are extremely tense and in spasm. The spasm causes the muscle to be in constant tension which reduces blood flow, decreases oxygen, and can produce fibrotic unhealthy tissue over time (scarring). When a physical therapist inserts the very thin acupuncture needle (dry needle) into a knotted up muscle, it creates a local twitch reflex. Research shows that this not only relaxes the muscle, it breaks up the pain cycle by improving blood flow and oxygen to the muscle. This whole process helps to reduce and normalize inflammation in the area to promote healing. However, dry needling is not necessary for everyone, so it’s important that you know what it is and when it can be used to improve your health! Here’s our advice when it comes to pursuing dry needling treatment.

Work with a physical therapist to use dry needling in conjunction with movement based rehabilitation.

Dry needling can work wonders to relax your muscles. However, they’re just going to get tense and damaged again if you don’t learn how to use them properly and address any movement dysfunction that may be occurring. You don’t want to think of it as a quick fix! Dry needling is just the first step for some individuals who aren’t able to begin a physical therapy or movement regimen without first breaking up the pain cycles in the muscles that are prohibiting healthy movement. Dry needling serves as a “helper” to relax those muscles – and should be integrated with physical therapy treatment and strengthening activities such as Pilates.

Don’t be afraid of trying dry needling!

It can be uncomfortable for some people, but others say they feel no pain at all. It’s not dangerous and has lasting positive effects when used in conjunction with hands-on physical therapy under the direction of a specialist. Furthermore, our clients love it:

“After two back surgeries in my 20s and a new hip at 58, I figured I was lucky just to be walking. Dry needling has transformed the way I move. I’m more flexible. My walking stride has more length and I can stand longer.” – John

Do you have questions about dry needling? Want to see what a specialty physical therapy practice can do for you? We offer FREE Discovery Sessions right here in Portsmouth that give you the opportunity to ask any questions you may have! It’s a completely free, no-obligation appointment that will give you all the information you need to make the BEST decision for YOUR health. All you have to do is fill out this quick form, and we’ll be in touch!

Setting Goals for the New Year: Part One – What to address FIRST?

New Year’s may still seem pretty far away, but if you plan on setting any resolutions or goals for 2019, you should start now. The earlier you set your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. But choosing meaningful and positive goals is a process. That’s why we’re launching this four-part blog series to be your guide as we head into the end of 2018!

The first step is identifying what you want to change – FIRST.

A typical New Year’s resolution might be to lose weight or be more active. But before you can address those goals, it’s important to take a quick inventory of your body and identify obstacles that might get in the way.  The last thing you want is to get all excited about a goal, only to have those aspirations quickly deflated because you neglected to see the whole picture.

Let’s take the weight loss goal for example. Coming from a physical therapist’s point of view, that might mean asking yourself, “what hurts?” or “what has physically been bothering me?”  What are one or two things that could possibly get in your way of completing this goal?  Maybe your body is feeling great, you could still be struggling on other levels. It’s important to be honest with yourself and identify anything and everything that could be an obstacle to your goal. Once you can recognize and become aware of this issue, you have the opportunity to resolve it!

But how do you do that?  First, you have to get specific. For example, if you want to address your back pain in the New Year, so that you can be more active and lose weight in 2019, it’s not enough to simply say “I have a problem with back pain.”  When we get specific, we are able to take what may seem like a big, overwhelming problem – and turn it into bit size actionable chunks….

Start with focusing on the what, when, where, and why of the problem.

“Back pain” in itself is a general term. It’s more likely that instead of your entire back hurting at the same level all the time, you have a specific area (or areas) that hurts during specific activities. For instance, your “what” (the specific problem at hand) could be low back pain. The “when” could be in the evening after a long day on your feet. “Where” could be your living room when you’re trying to get up off the couch, or the golf course after a swing. “Why” could be a combination of factors that are causing you to experience the pain. For example, your body mechanics might be off to the point where it’s causing degradation of your vertebrae. Learning to move properly (for instance, with a physical therapist) would be a logical way to address that “why.”

Next, write down your focused description of the problem.

The simple act of writing something down will clarify and solidify your intentions. In this example, we started with the general statement “I have a problem with back pain.” We broke that down into parts, so that now you might say:

“I am experiencing severe low back pain. It typically occurs in the evenings after I’ve spent a long day on my feet, particularly when I’m moving from sitting to standing. This is likely a result of poor body mechanics, as I have never been instructed in proper movement to relieve back pain. This is the issue I intend to resolve so that I can be more active in 2019 and lose 20 lbs.”

Our next blog post will consider this series and discuss how to set a specific long term goal.

Stay tuned for this post coming out on 11/20! In the meantime, you may want to consider how physical therapy could help you in improving your overall health this upcoming New Year. You may not have a specific physical complaint like the one we described in this post, but working with a physical therapist can actually help you PREVENT these issues from arising later on! As we continue to age, it becomes more likely that we will experience back pain and numerous other issues. The great thing about PT is that it strengthens your body in all the right ways to guard against joint degeneration, stiffness, achiness, muscular weakness, and loss of balance (just to name a few benefits).

If you want to know if one of our specialists can help you, apply for one of our FREE Discovery Visits right here in Portsmouth!