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New Year — New You — New Pain?

New year, new you, right?

We’re officially in 2019 and it’s a brand new start… You’re excited, you’re motivated, and you’re on your way to achieving your goals for the year. But what happens when back pain hits you? Or your knee starts to hurt? Or your hip starts bothering you? The last thing you want is for your new routine to be disrupted and your progress halted…

So how do you know if the pain you’re experiencing is something to really worry about, or if it’s just a result of your body adjusting to a more active routine? (related: Where is your pain really coming from?)

These FOUR questions will help you clarify the type of pain you’re dealing with, help you figure out what to do about it, and most importantly – prevent “new pains” from getting in the way of your goals in the new year!

1. Does your pain come and go?

If the pain comes and goes, and starts to decrease the more you improve your fitness level, it’s probably just a sign that your body is getting used to your new activities. For example, if you’ve started doing squats for the first time and notice some knee pain when you first begin, you shouldn’t worry unless the pain gets progressively worse as you exercise.

Best practice: Keep an eye on this kind of pain – or download one of our FREE GUIDES – but there’s no urgent need to run to the doctor.

2. Does the pain last after the activity but go away the next day?

If your pain follows a pattern — e.g., your knee pain stays with you for the rest of the day after doing your squat sets but is gone when you wake up the next morning — means your body is trying to tell you something. This type of recurrent pattern is a warning sign that your body isn’t responding correctly to the exercise and could start to incur damage. If you’re experiencing a similar phenomenon, now is the time to make an appointment with a specialist physical therapist. Going to the doctor or orthopedic surgeon would be a less productive path to take, as they will likely send you down a rabbit hole of unnecessary tests and procedures (Do you really need an MRI?). But meeting with a physical therapist before the problem becomes too serious can help you adjust your movement and strengthen the right muscles so that you’re able to continue exercising as planned.

Best practice: Talk to a physical therapy specialist who can analyze your movement and the source of your pain.

3. Is the pain causing you to move differently?

People who ignore pain without seeing a physical therapist often end up here, which leads to a more difficult recovery. They often end up limping, walking “crooked,” modifying movements such as bending over, and moving stiffly. This is a result of your body compensating for the pain initially triggered by the exercise. Such compensations start to cause wear and tear on other areas, which only create more problems down the road.  If you’ve hit this phase – it’s still not too late to get some help.  Working directly with a physical therapy specialist will help you to quickly get rid of your pain and correct the compensations you’ve started to develop – so they don’t get worse.

Best practice: Make an appointment with a physical therapy specialist (at our office your first one is FREE)

4. Is your pain causing you to avoid or stop doing something?

When your pain is stopping you from doing something — whether that be doing squats, running, or picking things up off the floor— it’s a sign that your body is in distress and needs help from a physical therapy specialist, orthopedic specialist, or your doctor. However, I encourage people to seek out a physical therapist first. Traditional doctors typically don’t perform movement tests, relying solely on imaging and procedures to make diagnoses. They’re also more likely to prescribe rest, surgery, or painkillers  — despite the fact that 80-90% of ALL aches and pains can be resolved through corrective exercise and movement strategies administered by a movement expert (such as a specialist physical therapist). If the problem does require further intervention, then a physical therapist can refer you to the appropriate medical specialist.  Most states (including NH) don’t require a prescription to see a physical therapist. You can give us a call and come straight in!

Best practice: See if physical therapy can help FIRST by talking to a specialist and getting an evaluation

The moral of the story is, don’t wait to ask for help! You’re better off being extra-careful and addressing your pain early than waiting for it to become a full blown injury. If you are experiencing pain and/or need any help staying on track with your new movement program, don’t hesitate to reach out! You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram and learn more about our services here.

Happy New Year!

Movement is Medicine – When Prescribed Properly!

We hear all the time that “movement is medicine,” but it’s important to add the qualifier – when prescribed properly. If you were sick, you wouldn’t just walk into a pharmacy and blindly pick a medicine without thorough knowledge of what your condition is and a recommendation (or better yet a prescription) from your doctor. When you’re in serious physical pain that keeps you from living the lifestyle you want to live, movement can absolutely be your medicine. You just need to make sure you’re using the right kind…

Every person’s body is different, so every individual dealing with pain has a slightly different experience. That’s why working with a physical therapist – who is trained to customize a treatment plan for your specific issue – is so beneficial. We can identify specific movements that actually are worsening your symptoms, while conversely being able to pick out movements that not only relieve pain in the short term but allow your body to recover fully and become stronger. A lifetime of poor movement patterns can lead to pain and injuries down the road, even in the most athletic and active among us! Physical therapy is all about redesigning those movement patterns and reinforcing correct movement so that people can remain active and pain-free.

Many of our more active clients find that exercising independently will relieve their symptoms for a little bit, but when they wake up the next morning the pain is back in full force. Part of a physical therapist’s job is to help you find the specific exercises that create lasting relief and enable you to go back to your normal activities without having to start over from square one every day. There is no “one size fits all” treatment when it comes to pain, which is why we personalize every client’s treatment to their individual needs and circumstances. We “prescribe” the movements that are right for the individual, not just those that are generally helpful for people with back pain or people with knee problems.

In addition to prescribing specific physical therapy movements, we love to add the movement system of Pilates to our clients’ treatment in order to improve strength, balance, and coordination. It’s incredibly beneficial for clients to have the support system of a physical therapist and a pilates instructor working in tandem to find the right movements to rehabilitate each particular individual. Our goal is always to get our clients back to their full range of movement and activities – we NEVER want to avoid any movement permanently in order to avoid pain – but on the road to that full recovery, the structure of Pilates and the opportunity for physical assistance can be an extremely powerful counterpart to physical therapy.

How Olympian Karen Chen Uses Pilates to Overcome Back Pain

18 year old Karen Chen is already a figure skating sensation – she is one of only three female figure skaters representing the United States at the 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea and recently released a book about her journey to becoming the US National Figure Skating Champion in 2017. However, Karen has had to deal with several injuries and ongoing back problems in her road to international athletic success.

Karen Chen skates in the Championship Ladies Short Program for the 2018 US Figure Skating Championships at the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, January 3, 2018. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

In her book, Finding the Edge, Karen explains that she started experiencing debilitating back pain as a teenager. She was competing at a very high level in figure skating and was worried that her back issues would prevent her from following her dreams of becoming an Olympian someday. She says “I was so worried about my spine and so nervous about the pain that I was tense all the time. And that tension made everything worse. I was tight and my muscles were constantly seizing, which only intensified the sharp pain radiating from my back down through to my legs” (Parade). Karen saw multiple doctors and received varying opinions and advice. Some even thought she might not be able to continue skating. But as Karen says in her book, “champions figure out a way to persist. And in order to help my back, I added more Pilates and core stability work to my off-ice training. All those core muscles help hold my vertebrae in position. If my core was strong, the vertebrae weren’t as likely to slip around and cause further problems.”

We say this all the time to our clients. Pilates strengthens your whole body, starting with your core, and actually prevents back pain! Karen Chen told Us Weekly that she practices Pilates every day. And now she’s competing on the biggest stage in sports, living her dream, because she refused to let her back pain limit her. Instead, she found a way to resolve it that did not involve surgery, pain pills, or other invasive procedures. Now Karen Chen is stronger than ever, and ready to compete in Seoul this week.

Curious about how Pilates can help you? Get in touch! You don’t have to be an Olympian to benefit from Pilates – all you need is the desire to lead a strong, pain-free life. Friend us on Facebook to stay up to date on all the latest news on our Pilates programs right here in Portsmouth, NH.

Do I Really Need an MRI?

Do I really need an MRI for that?

This is probably the number one question and concern I get from clients that I work with – especially those who suffer from back or neck pain.  Believe me, I get it! When you have pain that won’t go away, and it’s shooting down your arm or leg, often causing numbness and tingling – it’s scary!! Why wouldn’t you want an MRI?  An MRI tells you everything and then you know exactly what to do to fix the problem, right?

Not necessarily….

Don’t get me wrong – MRI’s are an amazing advancement in medical technology.  They can easily detect abnormalities in your brain and spinal cord, they can find tumors, cysts and other abnormal growths in various parts of your body, and they can even detect certain heart problems and liver disease.  When you don’t know what’s wrong, and you are showing signs that something is not right, an MRI is an amazing tool to help doctors detect the source of the problem.

The problem isn’t with MRI’s – they do their job magnificently.  The problem is with the way they are being used and prescribed.

Let me explain.

When it comes to neck and back problems, for example, what most people don’t realize is that 70-80% of all spine and musculoskeletal problems are what we call “mechanical” in nature.  That means that your problem has to do with the way you move, bad postural habits learned over the years, or muscular and joint imbalances like weakness and poor flexibility. Many of these mechanical “wear and tear” problems don’t show up until your 40’s, 50’s or 60’s – because it takes a while for bad movement patterns or bad postural habits to take their toll.  The best way to figure out a movement problem is with… well… movement!

But how do you know that it’s a mechanical problem and not something more serious?

The easiest way to find out is to ask a physical therapist (we’ll get to that later). But the most common sign is that the problem comes and goes.  Some days you feel great, and then other days you’ll be experiencing severe pain that interferes with your routine and activities.  When the pain comes and goes like that, it is usually NOT due to something serious or non-mechanical.  A tumor, or a growth, or a broken bone doesn’t go away. If you feel the pain or discomfort constantly and nothing – not even medication – changes your symptoms very much, that’s an indicator that you may need an MRI.  But remember what I said – 70-80% of all musculoskeletal problems are mechanical in nature and NOT the result of a significant injury or dangerous growth. To sum it all up- MRIs are not needed as often as they are prescribed.

So what’s the big deal about getting an MRI?  Isn’t it good just to be extra-cautious?

In theory – yes.  But here’s what actually happens.  MRI’s are super powerful and amazing tools.  Because of this, they see everything – including normal age-related changes, such as arthritis, stenosis, degeneration of joints, and even bulging discs.  These typical and often unrelated imperfections show up in the MRI and are frequently blamed for the movement problem.

So back to our original question:  Do I really need an MRI?

If you’ve had a bad accident, fall, or trauma – then it’s a good idea.  But if you are dealing with chronic, long-standing aches and pains that have come and gone over the years and have recently gotten worse – there is a 70-80% chance that it is a movement problem that has finally caught up to you.  It’s best to see a movementexpert for this.  A professional and specially trained movement expert (like a specialist physical therapist) knows how to tell if the issue is not just a movement problem and can send you to a doctor if necessary.  But when you automatically assume that you need an MRI first, you end up spending a lot of money (the average cost of an MRI is $150,000 and you have to pay a portion of this), and often get prescribed unnecessary surgery or procedures for those normal effects of aging that show up in the MRI and get blamed for your problem.

If this story sounds all too familiar, or you’ve been told that you have to get an MRI, give us a call!  We are a specialized physical therapy practice that is well-known for helping people with this exact dilemma.

You can find us at 53 Green Street in Portsmouth, NH.  Call us at 603-380-7902 or request to speak to one of our specialists for FREE if you’re looking for some help.  Or – download our free guide to back pain!  You can get that by clicking right HERE.

Dr. Carrie Jose, MSPT, DPT, cert. MDT helps people on the NH Seacoast stay active, healthy and mobile – so you can spend time doing the activities you love instead of sitting at the doctor’s office. Her practice, CJ Physical Therapy and Wellness, specializes in using physical therapy and Pilates to help people move and feel better without the use of prescription pain-killers or procedures like injections or surgery.