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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.

The Snow is Coming… 5 Tips to Prevent Hurting your Back

When you live in New England, there is no doubt that at some point you will HAVE to shovel snow.

There are some pros — like it being a good workout and getting out into the fresh air. But for the most part, this activity is known for its cons — that it’s cold, wet, and quite literally, “back-breaking.”

While I can’t help you with the cold and wet part, I CAN help you learn how to protect your back. Here are some tips that I give to my own patients with regard to shoveling.

  1. Shovel early, and frequently. It might feel nice to sit by your fireplace with a hot cup of cocoa, watching the snowflakes fall, but you’ll regret it later. As you wait, that snow is likely to turn into a heavy, wet mess. It’s best to get out there early, while the snow is still lighter and fluffy, and just shovel in smaller, more frequent chunks. Doing any activity more frequently but for a smaller amount of time — say 20 min — will lessen the amount of stress put on your spine.

 

  1. Use your legs. The last thing we think about when it comes to shoveling is proper form. However, form is critical if you want to protect your back! Our spines were designed to have enough endurance to hold us upright and maintain good posture — NOT to lift heavy things. That’s what our glutes and legs are for! Save your spine by using the power of your legs to lift the snow. Bend your knees, stick your bottom out, and lift that snow with your whole body instead of curving over from your spine. Your legs might be sore from all that squatting, but your spine will thank you.

 

  1. Don’t twist, pivot. Once you lift the snow, you’ve got to throw it away. You want to use your whole body to pivot, not twist. When discarding the snow, many just twist their upper body and rotate from their spine, letting their arms and trunk do all the work. Instead, you want to pivot with your whole body by keeping your pelvis (the front of your hips) facing and in line with the shovel throughout the whole movement. If your shovel and arms have gone one way, and your hips are still pointing forward, you’re twisting instead of pivoting (and that is asking for trouble)!

 

  1. Breathe and use your core. No matter what, make sure you’re breathing! When you hold your breath, your deep abdominals can’t function fully.  Additionally, the extra pressure that builds from holding air inside your abdomen has to go somewhere — like into your spine. Prolonged, extra pressure can push out on your discs and make them more vulnerable, especially in a forward-bent position like shoveling. In a proper breath, your diaphragm pushes the air down, your abdominals stretch out a little, and then naturally recoil back. This automatic recoil allows your abdominals to contract and support your spine. Rule of thumb —make sure you’re always breathing, and exhale for better abdominal support when lifting the snow.

 

  1. Make it easy on yourself. If you absolutely must shovel snow and can’t get someone else to do it for you (my favorite tip!), make it as easy on yourself as possible. You can decrease the repetitive strain on your body by using an ergonomic shovel or snow blower. But remember, even with a snow blower, you still need to use your legs, breathe, and engage your core while maneuvering the machine. Just because you aren’t doing all of the heavy lifting doesn’t mean your back won’t still end up in a vulnerable position.

If you’ve ever hurt your back shoveling snow, and want more information and tips like these, click here for a free copy of the back health guide we give to patients! 

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!

Physical therapy WORKS – Take it From the Ones Who’ve Done it!

Still not sure about PT? Have you heard a lot of conflicting information about what we really do as physical therapists? Do you need relief from an injury or chronic pain but you’ve been told surgery is your only option?

You’re not alone.

So many of our clients have come through our doors for the first time with those same questions. They may have been told over and over again by doctors that their pain or injury isn’t fixable – or if it is, they need extensive surgery and/or drugs. Many have never tried physical therapy before. Some are nervous because they think that it will be painful, and others doubtful that they’re going to learn anything new or helpful. But time and time again, those same individuals end up seeing amazing improvements in strength, mobility, health, and lifestyle. They consistently report how grateful they are to be simply living pain-free or able to participate in their favorite activities again. And we are always so proud of them for putting in the work and being an active participant in their individualized treatment plan!

I could go on and on about the results our awesome clients have seen, but no one says it better than themselves.

When Jeff first came to us he had a shoulder problem that was keeping him from working out at the gym the way he wanted. He’s also a dentist so leaning over his patients all day wasn’t helping. We worked on strategies during the day to help his mobility and then we tackled his stability! He came in and let us know that he was back to his full chest workout and pushups – with zero pain!

David, age 56, suffered from chronic neck and shoulder pain before coming to us for help.

“I couldn’t run more than 2 miles without radiating neck and shoulder pain and I was really uncomfortable at work. Working with CJ Physical Therapy, I learned how to manage my neck without going the surgery route. Now I can run as far as I like without any neck or shoulder pain.”

Another 56 year old, Kathie, took advantage of both our physical therapy and Pilates programs to resolve her shoulder pain.

“Before coming to CJPT & Pilates I was dealing with a shoulder problem that kept me from things like buckling my seat belt, walking the dog, and putting dishes away. I wanted to try something different from the traditional routes I’d tried in the past. Combining physical therapy and Pilates, and working with someone who understood my personal needs, was the difference that gave me my life back.”

Gale, age 65, experienced a positive difference with our practice that she hadn’t received in the physical therapy that was referred to her following a surgery.

“I was dealing with terrible pain and numbness in my arm and wrist after surgery, and there was still no relief after 15 weeks of regular physical therapy. After coming to therapy here, I can now cook, put on make-up, and I’m no longer worried about getting back to hiking or backpacking which I love. Best experience ever!”

Nothing makes us happier than getting to be a part of a positive change in someone’s life. And we love to hear how PT has impacted not just our clients’ health, but their lives overall! Several of our clients have even shared video testimonials of their experience working with us, which can be found here. They are living proof that anyone can benefit from physical therapy. You can be as skeptical as you want – you just have to be willing to give PT an honest shot. And chances are, you’ll be glad you did!

If you’re wondering if physical therapy is right for you – or if a different kind of physical therapy is right for you – please reach out!  We are so happy to help.  If we can’t help you – we’ll find someone that can.

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Where is your pain REALLY coming from?

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Don’t assume that where your pain is… is where the problem is!

This is a very common assumption and one that that we’ve been seeing a lot lately. If you watched our most recent Happy Hour on Facebook Live, then you know the story of the young guy who came to us looking for help with his heel pain. I checked out his heel, foot, and leg, but didn’t find any issues that would be causing the pain that he had been experiencing for four years.

I had planned on addressing the heel specifically before examining his back, but when he mentioned that he also felt a lot of tightness from his back into his leg, I decided to check it out. We did a test on his back and when he stood up, he immediately told me that his heel felt better! I was just as surprised as he was.  He was able to walk with less pain and his movement felt better overall. But when he started stretching his calf to his heel again, the pain came right back.

All that stretching he’d been doing day after day – to the area that he thought was the problem – may have actually been doing him more harm than good!

Now, it’s pretty clear that this young client doesn’t have a foot problem – where is pain actually was.  He has a back problem. And that’s something we can work through and fix! But if he never saw a specialist physical therapist like myself, he probably would’ve continued to believe that there was just something irreversibly wrong with his heel, and maybe even limited certain areas of his life, like football and sports, because of that.

Why should this matter to you?

You might not have heel pain or even noticeable back issues, but maybe you have pesky knee pain, a hip that hitches when you walk, or an achy ankle. Maybe you just feel muscle tension that never seems to go away, or weakness performing certain tasks.  These could all be indicators of a problem in your back!  Or somewhere else that just hasn’t been looked at yet, because it doesn’t match the main area of your pain.

If you’ve tried a lot of things and it’s not going away, it’s an indicator that your haven’t found the real source of your problem yet. Especially if you’ve gone to a doctor for pain in another part of your body and they’ve told you that there’s “nothing wrong.” Or maybe you’ve been stretching, massaging, and foam rolling religiously every day – only for it to keep coming back like a vicious cycle.  You might think that by doing this, you’re helping your problem and keeping it from getting worse – and you might be – but you certainly aren’t doing anything to actually address the problem and you aren’t any closer to a real solution. That’s why physical therapists are so important to have as part of your healthcare team – we’re trained to examine and treat the whole person – not just the foot/knee/hip/heel.

Getting Help

We know not everyone is ready to commit to regular physical therapy appointments, and that’s why we offer free Discovery Sessions out of our practice in Portsmouth, NH! All you have to do is fill out this brief form here and we’ll contact you. Discovery Sessions are a great opportunity to talk with a specialist about creating the best plan to get you healthy and feeling your best – without any obligation or commitment.

Feel free to reach out anytime, and be sure to like our Facebook page to stay up to date on Friday Happy Hour videos in the weeks to come!

Surgeons in surgery

Surgery versus PT: What You Need to Know

“I have to get surgery for my torn meniscus. I’m going to be out of commission for a while.”

“My back problems have gotten so bad that my doctor says I need surgery to repair the herniated disk.”

“The MRI doesn’t look so good. Hopefully surgery will be a quick fix.”

Sound familiar? Most of us know someone who has been told that they needed surgery for a knee or back issue – or have received that disheartening news ourselves. A herniated disk is one of the most prevalent back problems in adults, and is often treated with lumbar discectomy as the first option. The goal of this surgery is to remove the herniated portion of the disc from the patient’s back, releasing pressure on surrounding nerves and muscles. The goal is for the patient to be able to live without pain post-surgery, but this process usually involves lots of medication and prolonged periods of rest. Another common injury that frequently leads to surgery is a meniscus tear. Your meniscus stabilizes and cushions the knee joint. A tear would be viewed easily on an MRI, which can cause many doctors to immediately prescribe surgery. Following that type of surgery, you would probably spend about two weeks with your leg completely immobilized. Then you would be introduced to a rehabilitation plan that included physical therapy – not to recover from the original injury to your knee, but to recover from the surgery that supposedly fixed it.

Surgery, in the right circumstances, can be extremely beneficial. But unfortunately, it is over-prescribed and often unnecessary, especially for individuals with back and knee pain. Seeing a herniated disc or torn meniscus on the MRI screen may trigger an automatic prescription of surgery and medication- but these “quick fixes” may not be your safest or most helpful options. In fact, MRIs can produce false positives and lead to invasive surgeries for specific injuries that didn’t even exist in the first place. MRIs are a useful tool, but their readings should always be taken with a grain of salt. When given the opportunity, your body will do its best to heal itself. Why not try careful, guided exercise and strength-building before you submit to incisions and long, medicated recoveries?

This is where physical therapy comes in. Consider working with a specialist physical therapist to address your specific injury or pain- someone who doesn’t just prescribe exercise and passive modalities, but genuinely wants to help you recover in a natural and low-risk manner. A specialist physical therapist will carefully listen to your history, analyze your symptoms, come up with a customized plan of action, and problem-solve WITH you versus trying to solve the problem FOR you. One of the primary goals of our practice is to use guided, natural movement to help your body recover to full strength and health based on your own individual needs. Pilates-based rehabilitation is also a uniquely tailored approach to recovery that can make a huge difference. Most knee, back, and other injuries occur because the surrounding muscles are too weak to support those joints and systems properly. You may think that your regular exercise and stretching is enough, but working specific muscle groups can leave others underdeveloped and makes your body unbalanced as a whole. Pilates is a full body workout that starts from your core and balances you both mentally and physically! It won’t create further damage to any injuries because it’s so low impact, and working with a professional will allow you to customize your session to your own individual needs.

Do you live in the Seacoast area and want to learn more about why surgery shouldn’t be your first – let alone ONLY – option for recovery? Click here to get in touch, ask questions, and schedule an appointment. If you’re struggling with back pain, you can even download our FREE report on five easy ways to get rid of back pain WITHOUT surgery! And don’t forget to browse our selection of Pilates classes located right here in Portsmouth.

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.

Five Ways to Keep Your Back from Going Out this Holiday Season

The holiday season is supposed to be a joyful, relaxing time, but the reality is that sometimes it’s much more stressful than we’d like. Between family gatherings, shopping, travel, and the disruption of your normal routine, it can be easy for your back to suffer. Here are our tips for staying pain-free this holiday season!

1. Don’t Sit or Stand Too Long

Experts agree that a sedentary lifestyle is detrimental to overall health and well-being. Staying still for too long will make you stiff and could eventually lead to muscle spasms and cause injury. Take time during those long family meals to get up and walk around.  Too much sitting, in particular, has become widely known to cause problems with your back and eventually lead to debilitating episodes.  Read more about that here.

2. Minimize Stress

A stressed mind inevitably leads to a stressed body. When you’re experiencing stress, your muscles tense, especially in your neck and back. It also leads to more “stress hormones” flowing through your body (known as cortisol) which can result in muscle soreness and pain. There are several easy ways to decrease stress without avoiding those important family activities and shopping trips! You can start with simple gratitude exercises. Making your first words of the day a statement of gratitude can make a huge difference in your perspective and how you approach the day. Writing these “gratitudes” down and collecting them is also an awesome way to stay mindful of what’s important to you, and can help you let go of the things that are bothering you. Positive thinking and deep, measured breaths throughout the day’s activities could be the best gift you give yourself this holiday season!

3. Watch Your Posture

Be mindful of your posture and body mechanics while wrapping presents, lifting them in and out of the car, and decorating the tree. All of this bending and lifting can take a big toll on your back. Many people throw out their backs lifting because they aren’t using a safe technique to do so, or they don’t know how to properly engage their core muscles. It’s important to lift with your legs, not with your back, and to NEVER hold your breath. Otherwise you could do significant damage over time to the muscles and connective tissue in your spine, thus limiting your mobility, causing pain and discomfort, and increasing the chances you will “throw your back out”.

4. Make Time to Move

The holiday season can be incredibly busy, but it’s important to give yourself time to move. Taking a group walk outside is a good way to spend time with family and friends while still staying active and healthy. There are also plenty of simple in home exercises you can spread throughout your day. Five minutes of stretching or light exercise every couple hours will leave you way more relaxed, limber, and prevent back pain. If you’re looking for an exercise program that will keep you in shape and help you with chronic back problems, check out our Pilates 101: Get [Your] Back to Health program starting in January 2018!

5. Travel Right

Many of us travel during the holidays, which can be a major stressor and lead to back pain. Whether you are traveling by car or plane, you will be sitting for long periods of time in a cramped space. It’s important to take frequent breaks in order to stretch your muscles and prevent joint stiffness. Even if you’re flying, you can get up and walk the length of the plane to the bathroom and back- enough to stretch out and get your blood flowing. In your seat, be mindful of your posture and be intentional about stretching your neck, arms, and ankles. Be sure to bring a blanket or dress in layers as well- planes are generally chillier than most people find comfortable, and cold air makes your muscles tense up. Staying warm will keep you relaxed and pain free!  You can also use your extra layers to throw behind your back to use as a make-shift lumbar roll or pillow.  Having something that acts like a lumbar support behind you while sitting minimizes the load on your spine.

We hope you take good care of your back this holiday season, but if you run into any trouble, give us a call at 603-380-7902 or send an email to info@cjphysicaltherapy.edarci.com. You can learn more about all of our specialized Pilates programs that are specifically designed for back-pain sufferers here and stay in touch via Facebook for more helpful information just like this. We’re here to help!