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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!

Setting Goals for the New Year: Part Three — Achieving Your Long Term Goal

If you’re keeping up with our goal-setting series, you may have already chosen a long term goal (or several) for 2019. If not, check out the post here!

Choosing a goal is an important step, but there’s no use having a goal if you’re not going to put the work in to achieve it. The downside to big, long term goals is that they can be overwhelming. Even when you can visualize where you want to be, it’s hard to know how to get there!

The answer? Break your long term goal into a series of short term goals.

Short term goals are things you know you can get done. For example, buying a new pair of running shoes or replying to an email. They’re simple, straightforward, and easy to build on. If you break your long term goal into the right short term goals, you may reach your objective without even realizing it!

So for example, let’s say your long term goal was to lose a certain amount of weight by the end of 2019. You want to be more active in order to lose the weight, but your knees bother you when you walk for prolonged periods. Here’s an example of what some of your short term goals could look like.

By January 15th: Make an appointment with a physical therapist to address knee pain.

By March 1st: Sign up for a group Pilates class to improve fitness.

May: Take a 20 minute walk outside 3 times per week.

June: Take a 30 minute walk outside 3 times per week.

July: Take a 30 minute walk outside 5 times per week.

By August 1st: Sign up for another Pilates class or other fitness class.

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Pilates class with Jennifer in our Portsmouth office at CJPT & Pilates!

Every short term goal should have a specific time frame and directly aid in reaching your long term goal.

The more you simplify each step, the more attainable your ultimate goal will feel! Plus, you’ll have rewards along the way for each short term goal—like getting rid of chronic pain, spending more time outdoors, and even meeting new people in Pilates class. No matter what you want to achieve, you can always break it down into manageable chunks that yield their own worthwhile perks.

Ready to incorporate physical therapy and Pilates into your health-related goals for 2019? Check out our website to sign up for a free Pilates Taster or free PT Discovery Session!

Setting Goals for the New Year: Part Two — Choosing a Long Term Goal

In the first part of this series, we focused on the precursor to goal setting — identifying a specific obstacle that’s getting in your way. The next step is determining a specific, measurable, long term goal.

One way to come up with a long term goal is by asking yourself, “where do I want to be a year from now?”

What do you want to be different about your life this time next year? If you identified an issue that is negatively affecting your life right now — such as chronic low back pain or being overweight — you can turn your desire to resolve that issue into a long term goal. For example, your goal could be to weigh 25 pounds less by December of 2019. Or maybe your knee has been bothering you for a few years, and your goal is to be able to go skiing again without pain. You could decide to run a 5k next Thanksgiving or simply want to be able to pick up your grandkids. The examples are endless, but the point is that it’s your goal. It’s specific to your desires and involves overcoming a specific obstacle in your life.

Setting a long term goal will provide a purposeful context for your day-to-day choices.

Once you’ve set a specific goal and shared it with your accountability team, you’ll be able to use it to guide your everyday actions. For example, eating healthy would have the purpose of helping you achieve your weight loss goal, as would participating in a Pilates class. Going to physical therapy would be helping you fix your body mechanics and relieve your back pain. In each example, the action in question (proper nutrition, Pilates, physical therapy) is undeniably good for you — but we rarely do things just because it’s objectively good for our bodies. We want to feel good, look good, and avoid pain. Having a specific long term goal will help you apply those healthy choices to a larger purpose and context — which will hopefully serve to motivate you as well.

Now, how do you stay focused?

The first step is writing your goal down on paper. Not in the notes on your phone, not just keeping a vague memory in your head — write it down. Then, post that paper somewhere you’ll see it every day. It could be your bathroom mirror, your bedroom door, your car dashboard — anywhere that forces the goal to become a part of your day. If you haven’t yet established an accountability team, read our post about gathering a group of trusted individuals (including your PT!) who can help you stay focused and motivated. Then, share your goal with them, and ask that they check up on you periodically to see how your progress is going. Finally, stay tuned for our next post in this series, where we’ll talk about breaking your long term goal into a set of smaller, more manageable short term goals.

In the meantime, check out our website and see how you can get a head start on a healthier New Year. We’re launching our signature Pilates 101 program next week and spots will fill fast, so sign up here to get on our early bird/pre-enrollment list! If you’re age 40+ and improving your core strength is part of your goal setting – then this program is perfect for you – especially if you’re also dealing with back pain.

If you have any questions about physical therapy, pilates, accountability, and/or goal setting, don’t hesitate to reach out or leave us a note on our Facebook page!

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5 Reasons to Take Pilates When You’re 40+

Pilates is good for anyone and everyone… but especially for middle aged and older adults. Here are just some of the reasons to take Pilates classes if you’re in your 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond!

1. Relieve -and prevent- back pain

Many people who come to us with back pain think that their pain would prevent them from participating in an exercise program like Pilates – but the truth is, it’s the opposite! Guided, individualized Pilates combined with a physical therapy regimen is actually one of the best things you could do for your back. We even have specific Pilates classes geared towards people with back pain! Pilates strengthens your entire body, starting from your core, which naturally prevents future back issues stemming from muscular weakness or imbalance. Furthermore, Pilates (combined with PT) teaches correct movement – which is the number one way to relieve any current pain!

2. Increase balance

Since Pilates is all about core strength, it makes sense that continued practice can improve your balance by leaps and bounds! This is an especially important benefit for the older adults who do Pilates with us. As we age, our balance unfortunately deteriorates. However, those changes are not irreversible! Pilates retrains the balance and strength that makes falls less likely.

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One of our group classes!

 

3. Improve flexibility

You don’t have to be flexible to start Pilates, but you will see your range of motion improve drastically after consistent practice! Improving flexibility is especially important as we age. The founder of the Pilates system himself, Joseph Pilates, once said,

 “if your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old; if it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”

The years you’ve spent on earth is just a number… but it’s the condition of your body that dictates your age – not the other way around! And flexibility is the cornerstone to musculoskeletal health and resilience.

4. Reduce stress

We know that exercise in general is a great stress reliever, but Pilates is especially beneficial because it focuses on literally releasing that stress from your body through guided, intentional movement. Plus, having a regular Pilates class to attend can be a consistent fixture in your life that can serve as an outlet for all your day to day stresses!

5. Improve physique

“In 10 sessions you’ll feel the difference, in 20 sessions you’ll see a difference, and in 30 sessions you’ll have a whole new body.”

That’s another great quote from Joseph Pilates! Pilates is one of the best full body workouts out there, and it’s super effective for improving muscle tone overall and shedding excess body fat. If you practice Pilates regularly, you’ll continue to gain strength overall, which will improve your ability and performance in any other physical activity you enjoy!

Are you over the age of 40 and wondering if Pilates is a good fit for you? Check out our website to learn more!

Setting Goals for the New Year that you’ll Actually Achieve

2018 is almost here, which means lots of us will be discussing resolutions or considering ways to make the upcoming year our best yet. The start of the new year is a great opportunity to let go of negative energy and bad habits from 2017, while focusing on forming new habits that will help us be our healthiest, happiest selves. Setting detailed goals is a constructive way to approach 2018 that can help you feel more motivated and hopeful about the year as a whole.

The idea of New Year’s resolutions is great, but we all know that few people actually stick to them after 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. For example, NBC listed the top 5 New Year’s resolutions of 2017 as follows: “get healthy, get organized, live life to the fullest, learn new hobbies, and 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. If your goal is to run the Boston Marathon this April, but you’ve never run more than a mile in your life, you’ll probably just end up feeling discouraged and defeated. A more attainable goal might be to run a local 5k this summer. You can lay out a training plan -i.e., your concrete steps towards the goal- for how far and how frequently you need to run each week, cross training, and any other preparation. That way, when January 2nd rolls around, your goal isn’t to be able to run a 5k- it’s to run half a mile three times this week. Manageable goals are really composed of a bunch of “micro-goals” that are necessary and fulfilling components of the process.

The running example illustrates an individualized and intentional approach to the whole “get healthy” idea. 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, and the final results might differ drastically as well. Furthermore, “health” as a state of being is not something that can be achieved and forgotten about. Leading a healthy lifestyle is an ongoing responsibility that does not just go away once you reach a desired weight or eat enough vegetables. So instead of resolving to “get healthy,” it would be much more productive to set health related goals that reflect your individual experience. 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. If the steps towards your goal can be tracked, scheduled,or measured,you’ll know when you’re making progress.

Need help setting healthy goals for the new year? We can help! Get in touch anytime via our website or Facebook. Be sure to follow us on Instagram as well @cjphysicaltherapy. You can also see our Pilates offerings here! Happy New Year!

5 Signs Your Core is Weak – And What You Should Do About It!

 

A strong, healthy core isn’t marked by chiseled abs or a thin waist- in fact, the abdominal muscles are just a small part of a much larger system. The muscles in your back, your glutes, trunk, and stomach all work together to keep your spine safe and your movements effective. If any of the following phenomena ring true for you, it’s likely that your core is weak and it’s time to get serious about strengthening those muscles – properly.

(If you are looking for a program right here in Portsmouth, NH that teaches you how to strengthen your core the right way- then be sure to check out our Pilates 101 programs by clicking here.)

1. Your Back Hurts

The most common side effect of a weak core is back pain, and yet most people still don’t consider core strengthening as a way to address those problems. Your core’s job is to support your spine and act as the center from which all movement stems. If those muscles are not properly conditioned – meaning, if they aren’t conditioned to engage when they are supposed to – your spine is at risk for damage, and muscular strain and tension is inevitable. The pain will most likely occur in your lower back, but can even occur in your neck, and can make simple tasks like bending, lifting, and walking totally miserable for you.

2. You Have Poor Balance

This may not be an obvious one – but one of the main culprits to poor balance is a weak core!  Your core muscles help to stabilize your pelvis and a stable pelvis allows you to have better balance.  If the muscles around your pelvis, particularly your glutes, are weak then your balance will undoubtedly be affected. This may not be an issue that you notice.  In fact, you may be so used to living with a weak core that you’re just accustomed to imbalance, and can compensate for it with other muscle and strategies.  But next time you’re walking across an icy driveway, you’re going to wish that your balance was at 100%.  Having a strong, coordinated, and engaged core helps your body to be able to quickly react to balance challenges, and keeps you from falling or hurting yourself!  If you continue to rely on compensation strategies for good balance, eventually they fail – so taking some time to properly strengthen your core is key.

3. You Always Slouch

Most people struggle to maintain good posture when they have a weak core. It’s so easy to slouch, you may not even realize you’re doing it until you start being mindful of your body.  Observe your posture right now. Are your shoulders rolled forward? Is your back missing its natural inward curve through the spine? When you adjust your posture, does it feel difficult or tiresome to maintain? If so, your core needs strengthening!  A lot of people will argue that core strength has nothing to do with your posture.  But here’s the thing, a strong core won’t prevent you from having poor posture, but poor posture will actually start to feel uncomfortable for you and less “natural” when your core is strong, conditioned, and naturally engaged.

4. You’re always “tweaking” or “straining” something

Because of the popularity and marketability of workouts that claim to give you six pack abs or amazing glutes, we sometimes forget that without a true, strong core – these workouts won’t be possible!  Eventually, your body will break down because it doesn’t have a strong foundation (your core!). Every activity, from throwing a ball for your dog to climbing stairs, is affected by the strength or weakness of your core. If you have a weak core, you’re more likely to strain muscles in your arms and legs.  I’ve actually seen a lot of knee and elbow problems that relate back to weakness in the core. If you feel like you exercise all the time but don’t seem to actually be getting stronger (aka – you keep tweaking or injuring yourself), then there is a very good chance that your core is weak!

5. You Dread Planks or Push ups

Both planks and push-ups are a great test of your core strength. A lot of people think of these more as arm exercises – but here’s a little hint – if you feel like all you are doing is strengthening your arms with these moves – then you definitely aren’t engaging your core!  If you’re still unsure as to how much work you need to put into building core strength, try holding a plank while taking 10 full deep breaths.  You should be able to maintain your plank for all the breaths without letting your back arch and certainly without feeling any back pain or tension.  If you can’t, don’t feel bad- it just means you have the opportunity to get stronger!

Even if you can hold the plank, you’re in great shape, and you never have back pain, core strengthening is still important. But odds are you’re like the rest of us, and do experience at least one of these signs of a weak core. Don’t worry! There are tons of ways to engage those muscles consistently and build strength. Our personal favorite is Pilates! Pilates is a movement system designed specifically to strengthen the whole body, starting with the core. It promotes spine health and has helped relieve a lot of back pain for many of our clients! In fact, we’re reopening our signature Pilates 101 program in January 2019. If you’re anywhere near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and want to learn more about the program, click here. Spaces are limited in order to provide each participant the personalized attention and instruction they deserve, so don’t miss your chance to sign up! We’d love to see you!