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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!

How to NOT let Aches and Pains Ruin your New Year’s Goals

It’s that time of year, when we start looking ahead and setting goals for ourselves. It’s especially exciting now because we aren’t only entering a new year – but a new DECADE!

Exercising more and losing weight are the top New Year’s resolutions on everyone’s lists year after year. But what if you’re suffering from back or knee pain?  One of the worst things you can do is ignore pain and assume that by simply exercising more or losing weight, your ailments will just go away. It’s certainly a reasonable expectation, however, I typically see an influx of people calling my office right around March because these aches and pains have not only worsened — but derailed their New Year’s goals completely.

I don’t want to see that happen for you. So here are my top tips to NOT let aches and pains ruin your New Year’s goals:

1. Get assessed by an expert:

 

Your first thought might be to go see your doctor if you’re suffering from something like back or knee pain. But most medical doctors are trained to screen you for problems like broken bones or serious pathologies – not to actually assess your movement. You need to know how your pain behaves during everyday functional movements to truly fix it – and to avoid unnecessary procedures and surgery.  X-rays, MRI’s, or simply moving your limbs around on a treatment table won’t do that… but that is what a medical doctor is trained to do. A specialty physical therapy practice 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, we’ll be able to give you customized modifications so that you can embark on your new goal while decreasing your risk of injury.

2. Mobility before Stability:

This is a saying you hear me say all the time in my office. Your muscles won’t function at their best if you don’t have optimal joint mobility. In other words, you don’t want to strengthen around a stiff joint, or you’ll encourage compensation. Full and free mobility requires adequate flexibility in your joints as well as your muscles. Most people don’t think – or even know – how to assess their joint mobility. If you’re suffering from chronically stiff joints, you’ll want to get them checked before you start a new exercise program. I recommend seeing a movement expert, like those employed in our office, to make sure you’re ready and able to start on that new exercise program you’re so excited about!

3. Stay Hydrated:

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 and improve your daily hydration intake is to begin with 10 oz of water first thing upon waking. Add a squeeze of lemon for extra vitamin C and supported weight loss.

4. Pace yourself:

It’s very appealing and motivating to go “all in” on your new exercise or weight loss goal and 10x it… and I applaud you for it. But remember, you have 12 months, and really, the rest of your life to accomplish your goal in any way that you see fit. In other words, take pleasure and pat yourself on the back for simply setting a goal. That’s a first step that many don’t even get to. Be proud of yourself for setting an intention and envisioning a better quality of life. To give yourself the best odds of staying on that path, I encourage you to listen to your body and take your time in acclimating to a new exercise program. Don’t fight your body if it’s talking to you.  Our bodies talk to us for a reason. If you need help figuring out what your body is trying to say to you – click here to schedule a FREE Discovery Session with us in Portsmouth. We’re happy to translate for you!

Happy New Year – and Happy New Decade! 

Setting Goals for the New Year? We can help!

A new decade is on the horizon, and so are new health and wellness goals for many of us!

Are you already discussing resolutions or considering ways to make 2020 your best yet? The new year is a great opportunity to form new habits that will help us become our healthiest, happiest selves. Setting detailed goals is a constructive way to approach the 2020’s that can help you feel more motivated and hopeful about the future.

The idea of New Year’s resolutions is great, but most people only stick to them for a couple weeks.

Resolutions are so often left unfulfilled in part because they’re usually pretty general statements that are made without much forethought, intention, or planning. At some point we’ve probably all resolved to “get healthy” or “eat more vegetables” or “spend less money.” All worthy ideas, but can you see why people don’t follow through?! There’s WAY too much wiggle room, and nowhere near enough specificity. That’s why oftentimes, setting goals with distinct processes will help you accomplish much more than a run-of-the-mill resolution.

There are two essential factors in goal setting. First, the goal must be attainable. Secondly, you must define concrete steps that you intend to take towards reaching that goal.

Most of us want to be healthier, but what does that actually look like? One person’s journey to becoming healthy could be totally different from another’s. These goals can be made in conjunction with a health professional such as a physical therapist, especially if they relate to mobility, strength, and physical activity. Many of us have intended to “exercise more,” but those two words rarely yield results. A more effective goal might be to enroll in a Pilates class, take a half hour walk outside five days a week, drink the recommended 64 ounces of water each day, or to do ten minutes of stretching every morning after getting out of bed.

A group program such as Pilates can be especially helpful because it gives you a sense of accountability and camaraderie. In fact, our signature Pilates 101 program is relaunching in January, and we are so excited about it! Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health is a one-of-a-kind 8-week program that delivers safe, yet highly effective Pilates-based core strengthening exercises that are easy on the joints, designed to lessen back pain, and help improve your flexibility and posture.

If you can track, schedule, or measure the steps of your goal, you’ll know when you’re making progress. If those steps happen alongside people who share similar goals and under the direction of a movement expert who can support you for two whole months — even better!

So, let’s finish off this decade strong — and don’t miss out on Pilates 101! These spots go fast, so apply now to make sure you don’t miss your chance.

Research shows MRI’s not reliable for back pain

One of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI for their back or neck problem. When you have persistent pain that won’t go away, or shooting pain or numbness down your arm or leg, it’s scary. It makes sense to get a look inside with an MRI – right?

Not necessarily.

Here’s the problem. 

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine.  But what we now know from research is that all those findings on an MRI rarely correlate with what’s actually causing your pain. One notable study was the Lancet series – three published papers that investigated how MRI findings related to the treatment of back pain.  Martin Underwood, MD, co-author of the Lancet series, and professor at Warwick Medical School, is quoted in The Guardian saying: “If you get into the business of treating disc degeneration because it has shown up on an MRI, the likelihood is that, in most of those people, it is not contributing to their back pain.”

Let me explain.

When it comes to neck and back problems, 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 – which coincidentally is also the time that things like disc degeneration show up on an MRI. Disc degeneration and arthritis are normal parts of aging, but they often get blamed for problems they don’t actually cause. The best way to figure out a movement problem is with… well… movement! Not an MRI.

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 who specializes in the spine, and specifically in mechanical neck and back pain.  But one sign you can easily recognize on your own is to take note of how your pain behaves. Does your pain come and go? Do you have good days and bad days? Can you change positions and influence your pain? When your pain is variable, it’s the best sign that your neck or back problem is “mechanical” in nature and due to a movement dysfunction. And that also means you don’t need surgery or any kind of procedure to fix it! In fact, a procedure or surgery could leave you feeling worse off than before.

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 like I mentioned just a moment ago. They also pick up things like bulging discs.

Research has also shown that around 60-70% of the population walk around with bulging discs and have no symptoms. Why?

Because a bulging disc only gives you trouble if you are moving or positioning yourself in an unbalanced way.

If an MRI picks this up, the news is often more devastating than it needs to be and the typical advice is to get an injection or surgery.  Neither of these procedures will fix your movement problem. And what typically happens is the bulge comes back, or appears somewhere else. This is why being “extra-cautious”, and over-prescribing MRI’s when it comes to back and neck pain, is not a good idea. The outcome is usually that people end up dealing with invasive procedures and surgeries they didn’t even need.  

If you’ve had a bad accident, fall, or trauma – then an MRI is 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 movement expert for this. We know how to tell if the issue is something more serious. We can also send you to a doctor right away 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 the likelihood of getting prescribed an unnecessary surgery or procedure is much higher.

If this story sounds all too familiar, or you’ve been told that you must get an MRI for your neck or back problem – feel free to reach out to us and we can help you sort through fact vs fiction.  You could also come to our next “Ask the PT Night” on October 23rd and ask your questions then!

Is Pilates the missing link in your fitness?

Pilates has been around for about 100 years, and it still amazes me how many people have NOT heard of this incredible exercise method.

It was first created by Joseph Pilates and initially gained popularity among the dance community as a way to recover from and prevent injuries. But you don’t have to be a dancer to practice Pilates — or enjoy the benefits.

I’ve been incorporating Pilates into my physical therapy practice for the last 10 years and it’s been transformational for both my clients AND my practice.

Pilates is a full body strengthening system that emphasizes breath, precision, coordination, and core strength — and it helps my clients connect to their bodies in a way that they haven’t been able to achieve with traditional strengthening methods.

Most of my clients are well into their 50’s and 60’s, 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 most importantly, significantly decreases the likelihood that their injury will come back.

Here are five reasons why Pilates was a missing link in my physical therapy practice, and why it might be the missing link to YOUR life-long fitness as well.

1. Pilates helps prevent back pain.

Once you hit 40, your risk of back injury starts to climb. We see a lot of folks with recurring back pain in our office. They’ve seen traditional physical therapists or chiropractors who get rid of their pain in the short term, but they aren’t able to keep it gone. Regular practice of Pilates is a safe and sustainable way to help keep your back pain-free. It focuses on core strength but also is a well-balanced exercise system — so it keeps your back feeling mobile in all directions — a missing link in most “back strengthening programs.”

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

One of the keys to lifelong fitness is what I call “balanced strength.” That’s when each part of your body works together to produce the right amount of force, at the right time, to do your favorite activity in the most efficient way possible. Efficiency means you’ll be able to do it for a lot longer. I see lots of strong people in my office, but often certain muscles are working harder than others. And this can cause problems down the line. Pilates emphasizes full body strength that is coordinated — and this leads to a balanced body.

3. Pilates helps you get flexibility the right way.

Do you stretch your hamstrings every single day and find they just never get more flexible? It’s probably because you’re not stretching the right way — or maybe you don’t even need to be stretching them at all! What I love about Pilates is that it stretches your body in a dynamic way — with movement — so that muscles lengthen the right way and where they are supposed to. “Mobility before stability” is a phrase you will hear me say often, and it’s one of the keys to life-long fitness.

4. Pilates puts very little stress on your joints.

Aging is a real thing and along with it comes arthritis. But it’s not a death sentence like most people are led to believe! 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 and doesn’t cause any added stress. When your joints are happier, it becomes much easier to do your favorite activities – hopefully for life!

5. Pilates trains your nervous system.

Huh? Is that even a thing? Yes it is — and it’s almost ALWAYS a missing link that I see for people who’ve been at a certain activity for a really long time and then suddenly things start breaking down. They start experiencing pain when they never have before. If you don’t train your nervous system, it gets lazy, and that is how compensations develop in your body. Pilates helps with this because it is a mind-body exercise that emphasizes balanced strength and coordination. Your nervous system can’t get lazy when you do Pilates!

If you’re not yet incorporating Pilates into your fitness or rehab routine — what are you waiting for?

If you’re a local, click here to learn more about our Pilates program and see if it might be a good fit for you! If you’re brand new to Pilates – click here to learn about our signature Pilates 101 program – designed specifically for folks dealing with back problems.

How you actually CAN recover from chronic back pain

There’s nothing more discouraging than being in pain and feeling that there’s no way out of it. Back pain is such a common issue, and unfortunately, many people hold onto the mistaken belief that if you have a “bad back” you’re stuck with it for life. Not true!!

It is totally possible to recover from chronic back pain and return to the activities you used to love.

Great news, right? Let’s talk HOW. 

First of all, keep moving.

There are people in healthcare who will tell you to just avoid anything that irritates your back and accept that you can’t be as active as you once were. But what if basically everything triggers back pain? What if your job requires you to be on your feet or you simply want to tie your own shoes or pick up your grandkids? You don’t have to resign yourself to sedentary days spent popping ibuprofen every four hours and missing out on life. Don’t listen to the people who tell you to avoid movement — because in fact, the solution is the exact opposite. Consistent, correct movement heals your body and keeps it from shutting down. If you’re suffering from back pain, it may be a sign that your movement habits are off. You could benefit from working with a specialist physical therapist to retrain your body in how to move properly throughout your day, thus eliminating unnecessary stress on your spine.  

Along the same lines, make sure you educate yourself.

We offer a FREE workshop at our Portsmouth office every month to answer questions from our community, and our next topic is back pain and sciatica! You may feel like surgery and medication are the only options out there for recovery, but in reality they are just two of the less effective strategies for treating back pain. One of our clients, Sean, was dealing with multiple herniated discs and spoke with us on this exact topic. 

“I was considering back surgery until I found CJ Physical Therapy. I walked out of 

therapy with such relief that the thought of surgery was no longer an option. Therapy 

worked so much better than the steroid injection just a few months earlier, that it gave 

me hope of actually being able to feel like I did before the injury a year earlier.”

Nobody wants to get surgery, but if you haven’t been told about any noninvasive therapeutic routes to remedy your pain, surgery may seem like the only option. But time and time again, we have clients come to us with severe back pain and injuries that are often prescribed surgery — and time and time again, they have FULLY recovered through an individually customized program of physical therapy

If you’re dealing with chronic back pain, don’t be afraid to reach out.

We understand if you’re not yet ready to commit to PT — that’s why we offer FREE Discovery Sessions for potential clients. This 30 minute session is a chance for you to speak with one of our specialists and determine for yourself if we’re the best people to help you. 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 — whether that’s working with us or not! 

Physical Therapy and Pilates: The Perfect Pair

We all know the joke:

Patient: “When I go like this, my arm hurts.”

To which the doctor responds: “Well, don’t do that!”

With physical therapy, just “not moving” is never an option. Instead of telling the individual in this scenario to avoid the movement altogether, I would say, “let’s do it differently.”

People typically have muscle and skeletal pain because of one or more stressors occurring in joints or muscles.

When I treat a patient, I am often working to help them change the mechanics of their movement and therefore decrease or eliminate those stressors. It’s one of the main reasons why I incorporate Pilates into my treatments. It’s also why most of my patients will tell you that it is often difficult to tell where physical therapy leaves off and fitness exercises begin. And that’s precisely the way it should be.

Pilates teaches correct movement throughout the whole body. Each exercise is carefully designed to direct and reinforce the way in which a healthy musculoskeletal system should function. By practicing Pilates, you are strengthening your muscles correctly in a way that is conducive to all forms of exercise, as well as improving posture and balance. It’s a really great supplement to physical therapy because as you’re retraining or rehabilitating a specific part of your body, you have the opportunity to match that progress holistically.

Did you know that 90% of ALL musculoskeletal problems (aches, pains, and strains) can be resolved WITHOUT pain pills, procedures, or surgery?

So chances are, whether you’re suffering from sciatica, neck pain, an achy knee, herniated discs, or any number of physical issues, your pain can be resolved through physical therapy. And if you want to return to your daily activities even stronger than before — you can supplement your physical therapy sessions with Pilates.

Pilates-based physical therapy is excellent for people of any age who want to start an exercise program but might be afraid of injury or pain. Our practice actually specializes in treating clients aged 40+, and many of our clients in their 60s and 70s practice Pilates regularly! We offer a range of classes right out of our physical therapy practice in Portsmouth, which gives you the opportunity to combine your rehabilitation sessions with some therapeutic, strength building exercise for the whole body. Our group classes are geared towards beginners — no experience necessary! And if you’re interested, but don’t want to make a commitment, no worries. You can schedule a FREE Pilates Taster with us to see how Pilates can help you.

Want to find out if Pilates is something you should be incorporating into your physical therapy? Talk to one of our specialists for free! 

5 Tips to Save your Neck and Back During Summer Travel

Summer is FINALLY here, which means many of us are getting ready to do some traveling! Whether you’re headed up to the mountains for a weekend or planning a flight across the Atlantic, it’s so important that you make sure you’re taking care of your body. Back and neck pain are the most common travel-related complaints we get from clients, and we want to make sure everyone has these five tips in their back pocket to prevent pain and injury!

1. Interrupt your sitting

The biggest strain on your body while traveling — whether you’re on a plane, bus, train, or in a car — is undoubtedly the prolonged periods of sitting in cramped spaces. Our bodies are made to move continuously throughout the day. On road trips, getting out of the car is critical for keeping your neck and back healthy. If you pull over at rest stops for a bathroom break, try adding a five or ten minute walk each time. Take advantage of scenic vistas to walk around, and ask your physical therapist for tips on healthy stretches that work for you to lengthen your spine and work through any pain or stiffness.

Flying is notorious for triggering back pain and spasms, especially in older adults. If you fall asleep on planes, you’re also more likely to end up sleeping in an uncomfortable position (often putting a lot of strain on your neck) and wake up feeling stiff and sore. If you can, we recommend choosing an aisle seat on planes so that you can get up and move more frequently without bothering your neighbors. Try getting up every 30 minutes to an hour on longer flights to walk to the back of the plane, stretch, and spend five minutes standing (if it is safe to do so, of course!). And if you plan on sleeping for part of the flight, try using a supportive neck pillow to reduce the strain on your vertebrae.

2. Use lumbar support

In addition to neck pillows on flights, you might want to invest in some reliable lumbar support for all modes of travel. We use lumbar pillows specially designed to take the pressure off of your spine that accumulates while sitting for prolonged periods. They help maintain the natural arc of your spine and promote healthy posture. You can even use a lumbar support pillow when sitting at your desk at work or home!

3. Stay hydrated

We all know that it’s important to stay hydrated, but why is it especially critical for avoiding back and neck pain during travel?

Well, water is the vehicle responsible for transporting nutrients to your cells, including the nutrients your muscle cells need to do their job. Dehydration causes muscle cramps because it deprives your body of electrolytes. Proper hydration increases strength, balance, and flexibility. Water also helps to lubricate your joints, which is a bonus for keeping your spine working smoothly and allowing it to support the movements of your entire body. So if you’re planning to hit the road soon, make sure you bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up regularly. And the extra bathroom breaks will give you an excuse to stay moving!

4. Pack light

No matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, traveling involves packing, and packing too much stuff can be a quick recipe for back pain. Anyone who has flown knows that lugging multiple bags and/or suitcases around an airport is not only exhausting and stressful, but can leave you sore and unbalanced for days. Plus, you may have to lift a heavy bag in and out of the overhead compartment or carry a backpack with you as you’re exploring your destination.

Even if you’re traveling by car, you still have to load and unload your bags, carry them to wherever you’re staying, and still make sure there’s enough space in the vehicle for everyone to have decent legroom! Your best bet is to pack light, no matter what kind of trip you’re taking. If you’re bringing a suitcase with wheels, pack heavier items in there so that you don’t put unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders. Opt for a backpack instead of an over-the-shoulder bag to avoid uneven distribution of pressure, and stock it with your water bottle, small travel essentials, and healthy snacks.

5. Prepare your body

The best way to prevent injury or pain in general is to maintain an active lifestyle that incorporates healthy, biomechanically correct movement on a daily basis. If you have a trip coming up, it may be worth investing in your health beforehand and meeting with a physical therapist to take an inventory of your body’s specific needs as well as potential problems. A physical therapist can help you learn how to strengthen your whole body in a way that both improves flexibility and gets rid of tension and pain. They can also teach you specific, individually customizable exercises to do during travel that will help your body take care of itself and prevent injury.

Are you taking a trip soon? Try these suggestions and let us know if they worked for you! You can also reach out to schedule a FREE Discovery Session with us! This 30-min session is a chance for you to speak with one of our specialists, tell us everything that’s been going on with you, and determine for yourself if we can help prepare you for your travels or improve your strength and mobility in general.

Happy summer, and safe travels!

Why Rest Might Be the WORST Advice for Your Back Pain

The majority of the people who come through our doors are seeking relief from back pain. Unfortunately, many of them have been told -or have simply assumed- that the best way to recover from their pain is to ice and lie down – and use their back muscles as little as possible. They’ve been advised to rest, relax, and limit their movement until the pain goes away.

The problem with this model for treatment is that it goes against everything we know about the basic principles of joint and tissue healing. Our modern health research suggests that early movement is actually the BEST way to head off chronic back pain! Of course, if you’ve suffered a trauma like a car accident or a major fall, you should absolutely go get checked out by a medical professional and follow their advice based on your injuries. But if you are dealing with a chronically aching back or general soreness, stiffness, and pain, it turns out that movement is actually the best course of action!

Of course, not ALL types of movement and exercise are safe or beneficial when you’ve hurt your back…

That’s where physical therapy comes in! A physical therapist is able to identify specific movements that actually work through and relieve that pain, based on your individual condition. We call these initial exercises “first aid movements” – and they are especially helpful because you can use them any time you might tweak your back in the future! Knowing the specific movements that can help your back muscles relax and work fluidly with the rest of your body again can be a lifesaver if you work a physical job or rely on your ability to be active and mobile every day. And NOT knowing these movements can prolong your back injury and give it a better chance of coming back… often much sooner than you’d like.

If you’re experiencing acute back pain, of course it doesn’t make sense to continue with all of your activities as usual if they are just exacerbating your symptoms. But there is a middle ground between overdoing it and completely stopping the movement that your body craves. Talk to a physical therapist who specializes in back pain so they can help you figure out which movement is the safest and best for a quick and early recovery from back pain.

If you’re dealing with back pain right now and want to start learning how you can help yourself through movement (instead of pills) right away, check out our FREE report right here!

Do You Really Need an MRI?

Do you really need an MRI for that?

This is probably the number one question we get from clients  – 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.

MRIs 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. They can even detect certain heart problems and liver disease.  When you don’t know exactly what’s wrong, but 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.  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 should see a doctor and 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 you’ll want to seek immediate medical attention and an MRI is probably 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 movement expert for this.  A professional and specially trained movement expert (like a specialist physical therapist) knows how to tell if the issue is NOT 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, get in touch!  We are a specialized physical therapy practice that is well-known for helping people with this exact dilemma and we know how to tell if you need an MRI or not.

Or – download our FREE guide to back pain, written by Dr. Carrie Jose, Portsmouth’s leading back pain specialist and physical therapist. This guide contains her BEST tips – the ones she gives to clients – that will help you get rid of back pain WITHOUT things like pain pills, procedures, and of course MRI’s.