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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!

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 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!

Setting Goals for the New Year: Part One – What to address FIRST?

New Year’s may still seem pretty far away, but if you plan on setting any resolutions or goals for 2019, you should start now. The earlier you set your goals, the more likely you are to achieve them. But choosing meaningful and positive goals is a process. That’s why we’re launching this four-part blog series to be your guide as we head into the end of 2018!

The first step is identifying what you want to change – FIRST.

A typical New Year’s resolution might be to lose weight or be more active. But before you can address those goals, it’s important to take a quick inventory of your body and identify obstacles that might get in the way.  The last thing you want is to get all excited about a goal, only to have those aspirations quickly deflated because you neglected to see the whole picture.

Let’s take the weight loss goal for example. Coming from a physical therapist’s point of view, that might mean asking yourself, “what hurts?” or “what has physically been bothering me?”  What are one or two things that could possibly get in your way of completing this goal?  Maybe your body is feeling great, you could still be struggling on other levels. It’s important to be honest with yourself and identify anything and everything that could be an obstacle to your goal. Once you can recognize and become aware of this issue, you have the opportunity to resolve it!

But how do you do that?  First, you have to get specific. For example, if you want to address your back pain in the New Year, so that you can be more active and lose weight in 2019, it’s not enough to simply say “I have a problem with back pain.”  When we get specific, we are able to take what may seem like a big, overwhelming problem – and turn it into bit size actionable chunks….

Start with focusing on the what, when, where, and why of the problem.

“Back pain” in itself is a general term. It’s more likely that instead of your entire back hurting at the same level all the time, you have a specific area (or areas) that hurts during specific activities. For instance, your “what” (the specific problem at hand) could be low back pain. The “when” could be in the evening after a long day on your feet. “Where” could be your living room when you’re trying to get up off the couch, or the golf course after a swing. “Why” could be a combination of factors that are causing you to experience the pain. For example, your body mechanics might be off to the point where it’s causing degradation of your vertebrae. Learning to move properly (for instance, with a physical therapist) would be a logical way to address that “why.”

Next, write down your focused description of the problem.

The simple act of writing something down will clarify and solidify your intentions. In this example, we started with the general statement “I have a problem with back pain.” We broke that down into parts, so that now you might say:

“I am experiencing severe low back pain. It typically occurs in the evenings after I’ve spent a long day on my feet, particularly when I’m moving from sitting to standing. This is likely a result of poor body mechanics, as I have never been instructed in proper movement to relieve back pain. This is the issue I intend to resolve so that I can be more active in 2019 and lose 20 lbs.”

Our next blog post will consider this series and discuss how to set a specific long term goal.

Stay tuned for this post coming out on 11/20! In the meantime, you may want to consider how physical therapy could help you in improving your overall health this upcoming New Year. You may not have a specific physical complaint like the one we described in this post, but working with a physical therapist can actually help you PREVENT these issues from arising later on! As we continue to age, it becomes more likely that we will experience back pain and numerous other issues. The great thing about PT is that it strengthens your body in all the right ways to guard against joint degeneration, stiffness, achiness, muscular weakness, and loss of balance (just to name a few benefits).

If you want to know if one of our specialists can help you, apply for one of our FREE Discovery Visits right here in Portsmouth!

 

Five Foods that are Great for Your Joints

One of the most important factors in living an active lifestyle is the health and endurance of your joints. If you’re in pain, you’re much less likely to exercise, and joint pain will likely keep you much more sedentary than is healthy. But did you know that there are several foods that can make a huge difference for your joints? The following are some examples of nutritious foods that can help get you moving pain-free.

1. Nuts

You can’t go wrong with a healthy assortment of nuts. Being so high in protein, they’ll give you long-lasting energy, but they’re also great for repairing damage due to inflammation in your joints. They’re also full of healthy fats- something your body needsto repair itself!

2. Red Apples

Apples are red because of a type of compound called anthocyanins, which also happen to be strong anti-inflammatories! They’re also full of antioxidants that have been linked to arthritis prevention, cancer cell inhibition, and decreased cholesterol. Apples can be an easy to-go snack, or you can mix them into oatmeal, make a fruit salad, or even add thin apple slices to your favorite sandwich for a refreshing crunch and flavor.

3. Salmon

Salmon and other oily fish have an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, which are an integral component of joint health. They help keep your cartilage strong and your whole body flexible! Omega – 3 is something your body needs to function, but can’t make on its own – so it’s crucial that you give your body these fatty acids through your food!

4. Carrots and Other Orange Veggies

Vitamin A is key when it comes to fighting inflammation – and carrots have tons of Vitamin A! So do other orange vegetables like sweet potatoes and butternut squash. Vitamin A also helps keep your immune system, skin, and vision at their best. Carrots are an easy and tasty snack when eaten raw, either solo or combined with ranch dip and other veggies. You can also bake these orange veggies together for a delicious dinner side dish!

5. Berries

First of all, berries are delicious. They can be eaten so many ways, and are an especially sweet pick me up in the morning! The health benefits are awesome – berries contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds that fight inflammation. Berries are known as a food that both combats arthritis and leaves you feeling full, without overeating! Plus, they’re sweet enough to serve as a dessert, and definitely healthier than most other dessert options. What’s not to love?

If you struggle with occasional or chronic joint pain, and want to combine these awesome foods with a concrete plan that will get you moving at your best, get in touch. At CJ Physical Therapy and Wellness, we’re all about helping people make the best decisions for their health and living life to the fullest – without pain pills, procedures, or expensive surgeries!

Would a Tech-Detox be Good for your Health?

Technology is a huge part of all of our lives, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We rely on digital technology to do our jobs, communicate with friends and family, find answers to our most pressing questions, and so much more. If you’re reading this right now, it’s because you have access to the internet via your computer, phone, or other device.A 2016 report published by CNN tells us that on average, Americans spend over 50 hours per week online. This “world at your fingertips” has so many great assets, and yet it can be damaging to your health if you never take a break.

Too much screen time can disrupt normal sleep patterns and cause insomnia, lead to increased feelings of isolation, and decrease your attention span over time. And from a physical therapist’s standpoint, walking around looking down at your phone or sitting hunched at your computer for hours on end is terrible for your spine!

There’s no need to give up technology altogether – smartphones and other devices are an important part of the world we live in. However, research shows it can be incredibly beneficial to engage in a sort of “detox” from your gadgets and take a break! This doesn’t have to be as extreme as locking up your phone for a week or quitting social media altogether. You can take small strides towards freeing up those hours that you would otherwise spend online. For example, you can turn your phone off in the evenings, for instance at 5 or 6:00, so that you are not staring at a screen for several hours before bed. This allows your brain to produce its natural levels of melatonin, which your body needs to both fall and stay asleep! Another option would be to delete certain apps off of your phone. Is Facebook a big time suck for you? Try eliminating it from your mobile devices so that you can only access it from a computer. That way, you can prevent distraction when you’re out and about this summer. You can also delete those games that you play out of boredom or habit- which will free up your storage as well as your time! It’s hard to put away the phone altogether, because many of us rely on it for things like its camera function and music. If you’re carrying your phone with you constantly, try putting it on airplane mode. You won’t get texts or social media alerts, but you’ll still have access to your camera, music, calendar, and clock (including timers, alarms, and the stopwatch). You’ll be less distracted, but still get to enjoy the versatile functionality of your smartphone.

If you spend a lot of time during the day on the computer for your job, or have other commitments that require screen time, consider incorporating timed breaks into your day every 25 minutes to stretch and/or walk around. Easy everyday movement and mobility exercises really help to invigorate the body, and taking these breaks will ease tension in your back. You can read more about how prolonged sitting is tough on your back here. If your job requires constant sitting, try to stay up and moving when you get home. It’s easy to flop onto the couch after a long day, but consider stretching or doing a simple in-home workout while watching TV. Or instead of devoting hours strictly to TV watching altogether, you can catch up on your shows while making dinner or folding laundry, for example. Pairing a mobile activity with a passive activity like watching TV will not only make you more productive, but it will also save your back from the pressure and imbalance of prolonged sitting!

Do you have a tech-detox tip to share? Let us know on Facebook! We love to hear your thoughts, and invite you to get in touch if you have any questions about your back pain, mobility, or activity level.