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Carrie working on a knee

Three Causes of Knee Pain and What to Do

Knee pain has been the hot topic around our office this week!

With the nicer weather we’ve been having – more people are outside – and their knees are “talking” to them.

Knee pain is the second most common complaint of musculoskeletal pain (back pain is number one) and it impacts one-third of all Americans at one time or another.

Most of our clients are in their 50’s and 60’s and love to ski, run, hike and bike. They worry that knee pain could bring an end to their active lifestyles.

The good news is that eighty percent of ALL knee problems can be resolved without procedures or surgery – but it starts with accurately identifying the root cause.

Here are three of the most common causes of knee pain and what you can do to resolve it.

1. Patellofemoral Knee syndrome

Also known as “runner’s knee”, patellofemoral knee syndrome (PFS) is characterized by pain in the front of your knee – usually just below or behind your knee cap. With PFS, the source of the problem typically has to do with unwanted pressure in the front of your knee… that eventually results in pain.

It’s very tempting to just get a cortisone shot – or take pain pills – to reduce the inflammation caused by this wear and tear. But then you’re only addressing the symptoms…

If you truly want to put an end to PFS, you’ll need to find the cause of this problem.

Typically, it’s poor form and movement habits that are the result of an imbalance somewhere between your hips, quads (front of the thigh), and hamstrings (back of the thigh). When you figure that out, you’ll restore healthy, balanced movement in your knee again – and reduce the aggravation at your knee cap.

2. Iliotibial band syndrome

This is a very common problem that is similar to PFS except that you’ll experience pain on the side of your knee instead of the front. Your iliotibial band (ITB) is a large, thick band of tissue that runs along the side of your thigh to the bottom of your knee. Your ITB is formed from a muscle in your hip called tensor fascia latae (TFL).

When your TFL gets overworked – your ITB suffers – and will result in what often feels like stabbing pain at the side of your knee.

The most common treatment I see for this is foam rolling and massage – and while these are great modalities to relieve your symptoms – they do NOT address the root problem.

You must figure out why your TFL is being stressed and overworked if you really want to get rid of your pain. Typically, it’s due to weak glute muscles, the deep ones designed to stabilize your pelvis. Your TFL is neighbor to your glutes so when they decide to be lazy – your TFL loves to help out – and eventually overdoes it.

When you can get these two groups of muscles working properly together – you’ll put an end to ITB syndrome 🙂

3. Osteoarthritis

Many people find out they have osteoarthritis in their knees and think there’s nothing that can be done. They either have to “live with it” or get surgery to replace their knees.

Not true!

First of all… arthritis is normal and it happens to everyone as they age. What is NOT normal is for you to think you’re helpless because of it.

Arthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time. While there isn’t anything you can do to reverse this process – there is plenty you can do to minimize the symptoms you get because of this condition.

It all comes down to balanced joints and movement.

The more mobility you have – and the more stability you have around your knees – the less symptomatic your arthritis will be.

Some key areas to focus on when you’ve got arthritis in your knees is good core strength, and good flexibility in your hips and ankles. If anything is off in these areas – your knees will want to compensate – which could result in aggravation of arthritic symptoms.

“Motion is lotion” is not just a saying – it works! Especially when it comes to arthritis.

If you’re currently suffering from knee pain, remember that there is a very good chance you fall into the eighty percent of people who can successfully get rid of it completely on their own.

There is no need to rely on pain pills – or think that procedures and surgery are your only options!

If you’re curious about what might be causing your knee pain and you’re looking for expert help so that you can avoid injections and surgery – Request a Discovery Session with one of our specialists!

You can do it over Zoom or in person – and our specialists will let you know if you’re a good fit for what we do and if we can help you with your knee pain. 🙂

CLICK HERE to Request a Free Discovery Session.

Could your Hamstring Strain Actually be a Back Problem?

Have you ever strained your hamstring but the pain just doesn’t go away?

It’s been months since you first started hurting, you can’t actually remember how you injured it (it just started aching one day), you’ve been stretching and massaging it diligently, yet your hamstring still hurts.

This happened to a recent client of ours (“Sandy”).

Sandy was a runner and regular gym goer, who one day noticed an ache in her hamstring. She assumed she had just overdone it working out. She rested it a few days and the pain went away, but when she tried to get back to running she couldn’t. Her hamstring pain came right back. Thinking she hadn’t let it heal enough, she went back to resting it, but this time, decided to add some massage and stretching to her routine. 

A few weeks later… you guessed it… Sandy still couldn’t run.

She also noticed the pain in her hamstring started to feel “different.” It was becoming more deep and achy and started to hurt all the time instead of only when she tried to exert it. It even hurt when she sat for too long. She still couldn’t run and was starting to get worried. Her doctor told her it was just a “strain” and that she had to let it heal. The problem was that it wasn’t healing. Several months had now gone by and she was running out of exercises and stretches to try that would “let it heal.”

Luckily, Sandy attended our recent back pain and sciatica class and realized that the pain in her hamstring might not be a strain at all. 

And her instincts were right! Let me explain.

When you truly strain a muscle, it means you have done damage to your muscle tissue. Although it’s possible to have chronic problems from a strain that isn’t rehabilitated properly, strains typically do in fact heal. Once the inflammation from the tissue damage goes away, and you start doing the proper stretching and strengthening, your muscle eventually gets back to normal. Until a muscle strain is fully healed, it will typically be aggravated if you accidentally over-stretch it or exert it. But you usually don’t feel anything when you’re resting the muscle. In Sandy’s case, her hamstring was starting to feel worse when she was resting — the longer she sat, the worse she felt. Your hamstring is completely relaxed when you are sitting, so something wasn’t adding up.

This was the first sign we were likely dealing with something other than a “hamstring strain.” The second sign was that we could take her pain away by moving her back! Yes, you heard that right.

By moving and stretching her back in a specific way, we were able to significantly relieve the pain in her hamstring.

The reason her hamstring was actually hurting was because a nerve had been aggravated in her back. The nerve was causing pain to radiate into her thigh. That’s why it hurt when she sat for too long and it’s why she couldn’t tolerate any running. Sitting puts more stretch and pressure on the nerves in your back, and running puts a lot of compression through your back. Generally speaking, nerves don’t like to be stretched, especially aggravated nerves, and they don’t like to be compressed if they are aggravated either. By stretching her back in a very specific way, we were able to relieve the pressure from the nerve that was giving Sandy her “hamstring strain.” This confirmed that she was indeed having a back problem.

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

If you’ve got pain anywhere in your buttocks, hip, thigh, or leg that isn’t going away — especially if you’ve done your due diligence and tried all the “right things” — it’s possible you could have a back problem causing this pain instead. These types of back problems are easily missed if you don’t know how to accurately assess them and it won’t be picked up by an MRI or X-ray. The best way to figure this out is through specialized movement testing, like we did with Sandy. 

We talked all about this in our recent back pain and sciatica class. If you want access to the recording, just call our office: 603-380-7902. If you want to take the next step and meet us in person — you can schedule a FREE Discovery Session with one of our specialists right here

Why Your Neck Stretches Aren’t Working

Do you suffer from chronic neck pain and ever wonder…

Why don’t my neck stretches work?

Even though you’ve Googled and YouTubed them about a hundred times…

There are a few reasons why stretching your neck might not be doing anything to help get rid of your neck pain.

  1. Your technique could be off
  2. You could be doing the wrong stretch
  3. It could be that you just shouldn’t be stretching your neck at all!

Let’s go over the different reasons why your neck stretches might not be working… and most importantly… what you can do about it.

1. You’re doing it wrong.

Although research studies are inconclusive regarding how long you should hold a particular stretch, most people feel good when they hold a stretch for 30-60 seconds. When it comes to technique, one of the biggest problems I see is not relaxing enough. If you’re tense, or gripping your muscles at the same time you’re stretching, it won’t work very well. It’s important to breathe and move easily into the stretch. If you try to force it or push through pain, you’ll likely tense up.

Now let’s say you’re doing everything right (not tensing or gripping) but your stretches still don’t seem to work.

Some people (myself included) respond better to “moving stretches”. This is where instead of holding one static position for a prolonged period – you repeatedly move through one or several end-range stretches. Neck rolls are a great example of this.

If your neck stretches haven’t been working, try adjusting the way you’ve been stretching… if it works… then you were likely just using the wrong technique.

2. You’re doing the wrong type of stretch.

This one could be a little tougher to figure out on your own. There is a difference between corrective neck stretching and stretching to feel good.

For example, let’s say your neck is tightening up because you’ve been under a lot of stress or you just did a lot of activity that impacts your neck. Generic neck stretches such as bringing your chin to your chest, or pulling your chin to the opposite shoulder (known as an “upper trap stretch”) may be all you need.

In fact, I do stretches like this regularly because I’m constantly leaning over to help patients. I stretch my neck to PREVENT it from having problems and because it feels good.

But let’s say you already have a neck problem, or you have pain or numbness running down your arm.

In these instances, generic neck stretching could make you worse.

You likely need corrective stretches, like what we prescribe for patients in our office.

Corrective stretches are specifically prescribed to address your particular problem in your neck – and are very different from the generalized stretches that are designed to feel good and relieve tension.

If you think you might need corrective stretches for your neck – DO NOT google them – you must see a specialist and have them prescribed to you.

3. You shouldn’t be stretching your neck at all!

This is a very common problem we see… folks come in with complaints of chronic tightness and discomfort in their neck and no matter how often they stretch or massage, it doesn’t go away.

Did you know that chronic neck tightness can be a sign of a weak core?

It’s quite common – and if that is the case for you – no amount of stretching will help – and could even aggravate your problem!

The deep, stabilizing muscles of your neck are connected by fascia to the deep muscles of your core. If your deep core is not working properly, then your neck will often kick in and try to help.

Ever notice that your neck is always sore or tight after a good ab workout?

This could be a sign that your neck is compensating for your core.

Stop stretching your neck, learn how to strengthen your core the right way, and see a specialist who can help you.

In our office, our team of specialists work alongside our Pilates instructors to help folks improve their core strength from the inside out – so that their necks and backs stop getting involved.

If you’re dealing with chronic neck problems that aren’t’ responding to stretching…

There’s a good chance you could be not stretching correctly, the stretches aren’t right for you, or you’ve completely missed the root cause of your neck pain and you shouldn’t be stretching at all!

Want to work with our team of specialists and finally get some help for your neck problem?

CLICK HERE to request a free Discovery Session with one of our specialists.

They’ll set up a time to talk to you about what’s going on with your neck. If you’re a good fit for what we do, then they will help you get started!

This is only for people serious about getting help…

And for those that are finally ready for a long-term solution to their pain – one that will put an end to constantly relying on pain pills – and help you avoid expensive procedures and risky surgery.

Request a Discovery Session here.

5 Tips for Staying Active and Mobile as you Age

Most of our clients are in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and they want to stay as active as possible as they age. However, as we get older, our bodies do need more care and maintenance to age well and avoid injury. Here are some tips we like to give our clients to help them stay active and mobile, prevent injuries, and continue doing everything they love!

1. Keep Moving

I always tell my clients: “You don’t get stiff because you get old, you get old because you get stiff.”

If you want to stay healthy and mobile, you need to keep moving. One of the biggest questions I hear from folks aged 50+ is what to keep doing or stop doing because of arthritis. Remember, arthritis is normal as you age and it’s rarely a reason to stop doing certain exercises. Research has shown that activities like running, when done consistently and with proper form, can actually prevent knee arthritis! A similar and equally effective exercise is walking. Consistent walks will build up your strength and endurance, something that declines as you age, and it helps your balance and coordination. If you walk outside, you can get some fresh air and Vitamin D, which is highly beneficial for a strong immune system – something we all need right now.

2. Maintain a Healthy Diet

What you eat directly affects your ability to keep moving. If you’re not keeping your bones and heart healthy, you’re not going to be able to exercise! Greens like kale, spinach, and arugula are awesome for your bones. Along with citrus fruits, fish, and nuts, these foods help your bones stay strong and durable, which is a big concern for our clients with osteoporosis.

When it comes to taking care of your heart, your diet can have a huge impact. According to Health magazine, “The risk of a heart attack climbs for men after age 45 and for women after age 55.” So as you enter middle-age, be sure to increase the presence of foods in your diet like unsalted nuts, unprocessed oatmeal, raisins, blueberries, and even dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) to help keep your heart healthy! If you have any comorbidities such as diabetes or kidney problems, be sure to check with your doctor or dietician before making any drastic changes to your diet.

3. Work on your Balance

Balance is one of the first things to go as a person gets older, and it’s one of the most crucial factors in helping you prevent falls and avoid injury. Slips and falls due to poor balance can lead to broken bones and fractures, which can be harder to recover from as you age. But if you’re diligent about exercising with the intention of improving your balance, you can maintain (and even improve) it far into your later years. As already mentioned, activities like walking regularly can help, along with activities such as Tai Chi and Yoga. And now, with everything so accessible via Zoom, you can take advantage of these types of activities right from your living room!

4. Strengthen your core

Having a strong core is beneficial at any age, but especially as you get older. Strong abs, hips and buttocks (all part of your core) help you to sit and stand more upright, prevent back and neck pain, and will help you feel stronger and more confident in just about everything that you do. In our office, our favorite core-strengthening activity is Pilates. We especially love it for folks aged 50+ because it’s easy on your joints and it helps to promote flexibility at the same time. We use specialized machines that are beneficial for folks recovering from an injury, and we’ve got Zoom classes requiring no equipment at all that people can do from home. Yet another reason to love Pilates is that it doesn’t just work your core, but your entire body. You can even do portions of Pilates in standing, which helps your balance and coordination! If you’ve never tried Pilates before, we’d love to help you get started.

5. Educate Yourself

Knowledge is power, and a lack of knowledge is one of the biggest reasons I see people decreasing their activity levels unnecessarily. People think that issues like arthritis, bulging discs, or a torn meniscus are reasons to decrease or cease certain activities altogether. But that’s not necessarily true! Most of the things I just mentioned are normal occurrences as we age, and having them show up on an x-ray or MRI is not a reason to change an activity you’ve been doing successfully for years. Plus, regular movement and exercise actually helps these problems.

If you have pain, that’s a different story. Talk to an expert who can help you figure out what’s going on so that you can quickly get back to your activities and not make your pain any worse. Whatever you do, try to avoid Dr. Google. It can send you down a rabbit hole and not all the advice you read will apply directly to you. If you’re dealing with pain that is keeping you from your favorite activities, reach out to experts like us. We offer a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session just so you can ask questions, get honest answers, and figure out if we’re the right fit for your lifestyle. 

How to Keep Knee or Back Pain from Derailing your New Year’s Goals

More than ever right now, people are excited to move on from the strange year that was 2020. And for many, one of the ways to get on with 2021 as fast as possible is to focus on some New Year’s goals! The most popular goals for the New Year continue to revolve around weight loss and exercise. But here is one thing that can get in your way when pursuing those goals… unresolved back or knee pain. So many people make the mistake of thinking that exercise or weight loss alone, is going to “cure” their nagging pain. But that’s not always the case. 

Here are some top tips and advice I give all my clients around this time of year to help you get the most out of your health and fitness goals for 2021, and NOT let something like back or knee pain get in your way…

Mobility before Stability

Your muscles can’t function at their best if you don’t have optimal joint mobility. In other words, you don’t want to strengthen around a joint that isn’t moving at its best, or you’ll encourage compensation. If your nagging back or knee pain is due to inadequate mobility, you’ll run into problems (and more pain) if you suddenly increase your exercise or activity level. We saw this happen at the beginning of the pandemic. People started walking and exercising more and we saw a huge influx of unexpected back and knee pain as a result. Their joints weren’t accustomed to moving so much and it highlighted the lack of mobility and compensations. Don’t let the same thing happen to you! Make sure all of your joints, including your spine, can move fully and freely without any pain before you begin a new exercise program.

Pace yourself

It’s very tempting to go “all in” on your new exercise or weight loss goal… but remember, the tortoise won the race, not the hare. It’s important to not beat yourself up if you’re not seeing immediate results. If you’ve been out of shape for a while and doing something completely new, expect to be sore. But if you’re limping around for days or experiencing sharp pain in your back or knee, there is a chance you overdid it.

My general rule of thumb is to monitor your soreness on a scale of one to ten. I tell my clients to not let their pain go above a five when they are pushing themselves or returning to an exercise we haven’t tried in a while. If you find that your pain level goes above a six, or persists at that level (or higher) for more than a day, there’s a chance you’re overdoing it and setting yourself up for an unwanted injury. When in doubt, listen to your body. And if you’re not sure what it’s saying to you, enlist the help of experts like us!

Stay Hydrated

Most people don’t drink enough water during their regular day, never mind when they increase their activity level. Drinking lots of water has two great benefits. It will give you the extra hydration you need if you’re planning to be more active. And it will help you lose weight by curbing your appetite. Some additional benefits of staying hydrated include increased muscle strength and stamina, more lubrication in your joints, more supple skin, better cardiovascular function, and improved energy and mental alertness. One really easy tip to jumpstart your day is to begin with 10 oz of water first thing upon waking. A good place to start when you’re trying to stay adequately hydrated is to drink at least half your body weight (in ounces) of water every day.  

Get assessed by a movement expert

If you’ve already got some nagging back and knee pain, do yourself a favor and get assessed by a movement expert FIRST, before you begin your new exercise routine or New Year’s goal. Your first thought might be to go see your medical doctor, which of course isn’t a bad idea, but it’s important you understand how different medical professionals look at you when you have knee or back pain.

Medical doctors are trained to screen your whole body and spot for serious problems. If you see them for musculoskeletal pain, they will typically take X-rays and MRI’s to make sure there are no broken bones or serious pathologies. They do not have extensive training to assess how your pain behaves during movement or exercise, which is the majority of people’s problems. That’s where we come in.

A specialty practice like ours will be able to assess your movement in detail, through various movement tests, which will tell a much better story about how your pain may or may not impact the new exercise or weight loss program you’re about to start. Plus, once we know how your pain behaves, what the triggering patterns are, we can also teach you how to control it – so that you don’t have to let nagging back or knee pain derail your 2021!

I hope your New Year is off to an amazing start, and if you want to ensure that back or knee pain doesn’t get in the way of that, reach out for a FREE 30 minute Discovery Session. We would love to talk with you about your goals and be part of your support team as we all launch into 2021!

 

 

Stressed out? Tips to Keep the Holiday Season Happy and Healthy

It’s the middle of December, which means we’re in full holiday swing. Although this is meant to be a time of celebration and joy, many people I speak with just can’t seem to avoid the stress. And it’s not just because we also happen to be dealing with a pandemic… although that’s definitely not helping! Unfortunately, stress levels tend to increase around this time every year. In our office, the phone is ringing off the hook right now from people tweaking their necks and backs. Why? Well, stress! Stress makes us move faster than we are inclined to — or slower than we’re inclined to — and it puts our nervous systems on high alert (otherwise known as “fight or flight”).  It’s a recipe for both mental AND musculoskeletal aches and pains. But the good news is that it’s not as difficult as you think to combat stress and give yourself the happy and healthy holiday season you deserve.

Here are my favorite ways to combat stress any time of year, not just during the holidays or a pandemic:

1. Breathe

I know this might sound cliche, but breathing is one of your best friends when it comes to quickly reducing and interrupting stress. As little as 30 seconds can make a dramatic difference! When you breathe deeply it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The best part is you can do this anywhere — in the car, at the office, while shopping, even in the bathroom. Although breathing may not eliminate stress permanently, it does interrupt it. And interruption is key when it comes to managing stress — both emotional and musculoskeletal.  When you interrupt the ability for the cumulative forces of stress to accumulate, you decrease the toll it can have on your body and brain.

 

2. Practice Gratitude.

Did you know that gratitude helps lower cortisol levels in our bodies by about 23 percent? Prolonged stress causes elevated cortisol levels, which causes lots of different health problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Research shows that when we think about something we appreciate (i.e. practice gratitude), the parasympathetic nervous system (the calming one) is triggered. Our parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for returning the body to its automatic and natural rhythm. So when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your heart rate and cortisol levels lower — which is the opposite of what happens when you’re stressed out. Your sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic nervous systems work together in opposition, and can’t both be in charge at the same time. So when you consciously practice gratitude, you actively lower your stress!

 

3. Move!

Any kind of movement is going to help you control stress for a few reasons… First, it gets your blood flowing which contains endorphins — natural chemicals of the body designed to decrease pain AND stress. Second, movement helps to end the “flight or fight” response of the body. In ancient times, our fight or flight response protected us from danger (like a lion chasing us), by triggering us to run away. Running away (movement) would signal the end of the stress cycle caused by fight or flight by letting the brain know we were safe and out of danger. In our modern worlds, triggers of stress are not as obvious as a lion trying to eat us and tend to be more unassuming and cumulative. The end of the stress cycle is not always clear and can just keep going. Therefore, purposeful movement can help to decrease stress by physiologically ending your natural fight or flight response! Something as simple as walking can do this for you. But even jumping jacks or dancing in your living room can feel good and get your heart rate up enough to do the trick.  

I hope these tips help you feel confident that it is indeed possible to combat any kind of stress you might be feeling right now. Stress is normal, but dealing with it longer than you should doesn’t have to be. And if you’re experiencing any kind of back, knee, hip, or neck pain that is adding to your stress – check out our FREE, expert-authored guides to dealing with all types of pain. Each guide is sent directly to your email inbox so you can reference them at any time! 

Tips to Combat Arthritis this Winter

People tell me all the time: “I don’t need to check the weather anymore, my joints tell me what’s coming.” And as winter approaches, I know I’m going to be hearing more and more of this.

So why is it that arthritis sufferers tend to be impacted more during the colder, wetter months?

The actual science on this is inconclusive. Some studies have completely debunked the myth that weather can affect your joint pain, while others have shown that arthritis sufferers do indeed have what we call “weather sensitivity” — and they feel worse in the cold, especially when it’s about to rain or snow. The working theory behind this is related to barometric pressure. As a storm system develops, barometric pressure (atmospheric pressure) begins to drop. Some scientists believe that this results in expansion and contraction of tissue in and around your joints (tendons, muscles, bones, and even scar tissue). If those tissues are already sensitive due to arthritis, this could irritate them further. Additionally, the lower temperatures of winter are thought to increase the thickness of fluid inside your joints, making them stiffer and perhaps more sensitive to pain during movement.

Regardless of whether this phenomenon is myth or fact, it doesn’t make your pain any less real! The good news is there are things you can do to minimize pain related to arthritis as winter gets closer. 

There are two types of arthritis, inflammatory and non-inflammatory. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, and osteoarthritis is the most common form of non-inflammatory arthritis. Although they have very different causes, weather changes can still have an impact, and there are still things you can do to minimize that impact.

Both forms of arthritis are characterized by one or more of your joints being inflamed.

Inflamed joints do not like to be compressed or irritated. It’s often why people will tend to rest and decrease their activity when they have pain. Add cold winter temps and weather to the mix (along with a pandemic), people just naturally do less this time of year. They think if they take the weight off their joints, or move less, they are protecting their joints. That’s actually not true. What protects your joints is strength and flexibility. The more mobile you are, the less likely your joints will get irritated, even arthritic ones. Have you ever worn a piece of clothing that’s too tight? You get irritated. Same with your joints! If they aren’t free to move, they get angry. The muscles around your joints and how strong they are also play a huge role in minimizing irritation.

In the absence of strength and stability, your body will do what it needs to compensate. The structures around your joint will contract to make your joints stiff and tighter in an attempt to give your joints the stability they are lacking. But arthritic joints don’t want to be stiff and tight, they want to be free and mobile! So if you suffer from arthritis, it’s critical that you have good mobility and good strength — period.

In general, the most important thing you can do for your arthritis any time of year, not just in winter, is to keep moving.

And you will move better when you’re strong and flexible. Movement gets blood flowing, which is our best and most natural form of anti-inflammation. Walking is the easiest and most practical way to get healthy movement daily, but biking and swimming are great choices too. You’ll also want to engage in some form of activity, such as Yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi, that allows you to move your limbs, body and joints in a full range of movement. Cardiovascular activities like walking and biking won’t do that. Pilates is great because it emphasizes both full body strength (which helps balance out your joints) and it promotes flexibility at the same time. It’s why we like to use it in our office. Although it’s easy to just stretch and get more flexible, it’s important that you incorporate strength training into your routine also. Achieving good mobility AND strength is the secret to combating arthritis. Folks tend to only focus on the flexibility part, which is one of the common mistakes I see. 

I hope this helps you better understand why your arthritis might feel worse in winter, and what you can do about it! If you’re suffering from any kind of back or knee pain that is preventing you from being more active and mobile and therefore worsening your arthritis, check out our FREE Back Pain and Knee Pain guides. Just click to have the guide sent straight to your inbox with no obligations or strings attached!

Got a Pain in Your Butt? Here’s what to do first.

Nobody likes a “pain in the butt.” But what do you do when you’re dealing with literal pain in your butt versus the figurative kind?

It starts with figuring out where it’s coming from. Understanding the origin of your pain is necessary if you really want to solve it! One of our Pilates regulars (“Stacy”) has a story that illustrates this concept perfectly.

Stacy had been doing all the right things. She keeps active, does Pilates with us, and walks regularly. But still, she ended up with that dreaded pain in her butt that so many of us deal with on a regular basis. She tried to work through it herself by foam rolling and stretching – but none of that worked to completely eliminate her pain. Plus, her symptoms were starting to limit her Pilates and walking. This made her nervous because staying active and mobile is one of the most important things to Stacy, and the idea of being stuck at home and in pain this winter season made her want to take action now. She did the right thing by going to see our PT team.

Their first course of action was to accurately determine the root cause of Stacy’s butt pain. It could be a few different things.

Most often, symptoms like Stacy’s will get “labeled” generically as any one of the following:

1. Bursitis

They’ll call it this if you’re feeling the pain more in the side of your hip versus center of your butt.

2. Piriformis syndrome

This refers to a pain in the center of your butt. You might feel some tightness as well.

3. Back problem/Sciatica

They’ll call it this if your pain is more diffuse and achy, and perhaps even running into your thigh. This last diagnosis will be more common if you’ve got back pain along with the hip or butt pain.

As I mentioned, any one of these things could be the source of Stacy’s symptoms, and getting it right is critical. The correct diagnosis is the determining factor of whether Stacy’s problem gets resolved for good, or becomes something she deals with for the rest of her life. The problem with diagnosing your butt pain (or any problem for that matter) based on the location of your symptoms alone is that it’s not a reliable diagnosis.

The location of your pain alone does not tell you where your problem is really coming from.

For example, I’ve seen people with pain in their hip and butt that is actually coming from their back – even when they’ve never had a back problem. If your butt pain is coming from your back, and you think it’s “piriformis syndrome,” you’re going to be really disappointed in a few weeks when your pain is still there (or perhaps even worse) because you’ve been going about treating it the wrong way. In order to accurately determine what was really going on with Stacy’s butt pain, we needed to do some specialized movement screens and tests.

Research has shown that your pain’s response to movement, and how it behaves, is a much more reliable way to figure out the source of your problem versus relying on the symptom location alone.

In Stacy’s case, some quick movement tests revealed that her butt pain was indeed coming from her back – even though she did not have any back pain. How did we know? Pretty simple actually. When we asked Stacy to move and bend her back in specific directions, it triggered her butt pain! Her piriformis muscle was also tight – and may still need to be stretched – but it’s very possible that the tightness she is experiencing is also being caused by whatever is going on in her back. It’s possible for nerves to refer both pain and a feeling of “tightness.” We’ll know for sure in a few weeks, because we prescribed Stacy a corrective exercise designed to target the problem in her back and take pressure off the nerve that was triggering her butt pain. In fact, if she had not come to see us and kept stretching what she thought was a tight piriformis, she likely would have aggravated her nerve and made her condition worse. Nerves don’t like to be stretched. This is a great example of why it’s critical to know the true source of your problem before you start treating it.

Hopefully Stacy’s story helped you understand that the first step in getting rid of a pain in your butt, is to accurately determine where it’s coming from! If you’re experiencing unexplained pain in your butt that isn’t going away with stretching or general exercise, perhaps you’re going after the wrong problem. Try paying closer attention to how your symptoms behave. Do you notice they get worse after you’ve been sitting for a while, raking leaves, or driving? Do they move around on you – and go from your butt, to your hip, to the back of your thigh?

Signs like this could mean you’re dealing with a back problem, not a butt problem. Click here for access to our FREE back pain guide! This guide contains our best tips and advice on how to start easing back pain and stiffness right away — and get on the road to pain-free movement just like Stacy did.

Neck Pain During Crunches? Here’s Why & How to Avoid it

Abdominal crunches are one of the most popular “ab exercises” around. It’s a movement that emphasizes upper abdominal strength. You start by lying on your back, typically with your hands behind your head and knees bent. You then lift your head and chest off the floor, “crunching” your upper body into a C-shaped curve.

Over the years, many “experts” have dismissed this exercise, claiming it’s ineffective for core strengthening. While I agree that it shouldn’t be the ONLY core exercise you do — the crunch does have its place. I work on this a lot with my private clients, because it’s a functional move that when done correctly, will help you sit up from the floor with more ease and with less risk of injury. And of course you see variations on this movement all the time in Pilates, which is a key part of our practice and our efforts to help people recover from back pain.

I often hear that people don’t like crunches because they’re uncomfortable or hurt your neck. But when you’re doing a crunch, you want to make sure you’re feeling it in your abs… NOT in your our neck. Here are the biggest problems I see with crunches and how to tell if it’s a technique problem or a neck problem:

You’re not actually using your abs

This sounds pretty obvious, right? But a lot of people have trouble figuring this out. During our Pilates 101 class this week, one woman experiencing neck pain appeared to be doing the move correctly — but she couldn’t feel it in her abs, only in her neck.

It’s because she was using her neck and chest muscles to curl her upper body into the crunch instead of initiating the move from her belly (abs). My tips to correct this were to pull her lower belly in toward her spine and the front of her ribs down toward her belly button. Then, keeping this shape locked in, use her breath (exhale) to help her initiate and start the curl from her abs.

Sometimes people don’t have the abdominal strength yet to perform a crunch from lying flat. If that’s the case, you won’t be able to do this correctly no matter how well you follow my cues. If you think that’s your problem, place a small pillow under the back of your head. This gives you a head start into the curl. Once your abdominals get stronger, you can try doing the crunch with your head starting from the floor again.

Your neck is in the wrong position

When you’re doing a crunch, you want your neck to be slightly curled (chin toward chest). Most people either curl their neck too much, or not enough. If your chin is touching your chest, you’re curled too much. And if you feel your chin and neck jutting forward toward the ceiling, you’re not curled enough. Either of these positions could lead to neck problems down the line if not corrected.

The ideal position for your neck is to begin with a slight nod of the chin (like you’re nodding “yes”) and then keep it there. The rest of the curling motion will come from contracting your trunk and abs. As you curl up, I recommend keeping your eyes focused on your belly and keeping a tennis ball’s distance between your chin and your chest.

Sometimes your hand and arm position can be what causes your neck to be in the wrong place. If your hands are behind your head, be sure you’re not using them to pull your neck forward. Your head should be gently pressing into your hands and your elbows should be at a 45 degree angle from your body. Your abs do the rest.

You have an underlying neck problem

In our practice, we specialize in neck and back pain. When you’ve got an underlying neck problem, doing crunches isn’t a good idea until the underlying problem is resolved.

Let’s say you have a small bulging disc in your neck that you weren’t aware of or that you thought was fixed. The curled position of your neck during a crunch can exacerbate this problem, even if you are using your abs correctly and following every tip I just mentioned above.

Some clues that you might have an underlying neck problem could be pain that shoots into your shoulder blade or numbness and tingling down your arm. You might experience these symptoms during the movement, or even up to several hours after.

Either way, symptoms like this could be a sign that there is more to your neck pain than simply incorrect crunch-technique or weakness in your abs.

If this is happening, it’s a good idea to get it checked out by a movement/mechanical specialist like the physical therapists in our practice. The good news is that we can help your neck feel better even if you do have a problem like bulging discs — and you can get back to doing crunches again without any neck pain.

You can also check out our FREE guide to neck and shoulder pain right here!

It comes right to your email inbox and explores seven easy ways (plus a bonus section!) that are PROVEN to help you ease neck and shoulder pain quickly – without pain medication, procedures, or surgery.

If you have any additional questions or want a more personalized assessment, sign up for a FREE Discovery Session with us! It’s a quick, no-obligations opportunity for you to see if working with us could be the best decision for your health.

When Traditional Physical Therapy Fails…

I’ve been a physical therapist for a very long time — 20 years to be exact — and I’ve seen a lot of changes in healthcare over the course of my career. One of the biggest (and saddest) changes I’ve seen in my field is the overcrowding of clinics. As reimbursements from insurance companies go down, traditional physical therapy clinics have been forced to increase their patient volume. That means you rarely get to spend time with your therapist, and your treatment sessions consist of repetitive exercise sets that you typically can do at the gym or on your own.

If you do manage to get some one-on-one time with your therapist, whether it be for hands-on-care or actual consultation about what’s going on with you, it’s often just a quick 20 minutes. The rest of the time, your poor therapist is usually held hostage by a computer because of all the documentation requirements placed on them, and you’re left on your own doing all those exercises.

Has this happened to you?

With this model of care, it’s impossible for the quality of your treatment NOT to suffer. Many folks I speak with say that traditional physical therapy is a “waste of time.” 

Why bother going when they can do everything on their own at home?

Worse, when traditional physical therapy does fail, most people go back to their doctors hoping for a different solution. Many times, the next step for these folks involves unwanted procedures, pain pills, or surgery.

So what do you do if you don’t want to go down the medical route of procedures or surgery, but the “physical therapy” didn’t work?

Well first, you need to understand what physical therapy actually is, seek that out, and don’t settle for anything less.

Physical therapy is NOT just a bunch of general exercises or ultrasound — at least it’s not supposed to be. After your pain is gone and your problem has been resolved, the role of general exercise is to keep your pain gone, and to continue optimizing your strength, performance, and mobility. That’s what we use our Pilates program for.

When you receive proper physical therapy in the way it was intended, it looks something like this…

Your therapist will first give you a proper examination and an actual diagnosis. Your physical therapy diagnosis might be different than your medical diagnosis. In fact, it should be. For example, you may come to us with a diagnosis of “bulging disc,” but our job is to figure out WHY your disc is bulging. Our diagnosis is going to be related to the specific movements, habits, and musculoskeletal deficiencies that led you to having that problem in the first place (discs don’t just bulge spontaneously). Once we know that, we can come up with a plan for you.

Here’s an example…

Let’s say your bulging disc is due to poor sitting posture, a weak core, and poor mobility in your spine. When your spine doesn’t move well and you sit too much, compensations like bulging discs can occur. Your plan might then consist of strategies for better, less painful sitting postures, as well as some help getting your spine back to full mobility again — so that your bulging disc no longer irritates you.

At this stage in your treatment, any “exercises” given to you should be corrective, very specific to your problem, and should be prescribed specifically to you.

There should be nothing cookie-cutter or general about them — and they should be working!

When you have the right “movement prescription” and when your exercises are corrective versus general — your pain goes away, your problem gets resolved, and most importantly, you’ll know exactly why and can even replicate this on your own in the future.

Once this has all been achieved, THEN we can get you back to the fun stuff like exercises at the gym, Pilates, or yoga — the stuff that is designed to keep you feeling healthy, active, and mobile.

Getting rid of something like back, knee, or neck pain doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to involve pills, procedures, or surgery. But it may require you to be a bit open-minded about HOW you receive physical therapy.

If you’ve had a frustrating experience with physical therapy in the past, don’t just give up!

Consider working with a specialist practice like ours that operates differently from traditional clinics.

Click here to request a Discovery Visit.

It’s completely FREE! A discovery session serves as an opportunity for you to “discover” what’s going on with your body and what we do in our practice. You’ll speak with one of my specialists, find out if we’re a good fit for you, and then get started on a path to natural recovery!