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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.

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!

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!

Three Reasons to Stay Active and Outdoors this November

November is a tricky month when it comes to staying active and healthy. Between the sudden cold and the onset of the holiday season, it can be hard to stay motivated- especially when it comes to going outside. But don’t let that first cold snap keep you homebound! It’s just as important to spend time outside now, in late autumn, as it was in June. And in fact, there are some definite perks to taking that walk through your neighborhood, hike in the woods, or family bike ride in November.

Perk 1: No Bugs!

Sure, sunny and 75 sounds pretty tempting right about now, but have you forgotten the horrors of being swarmed by mosquitoes every time you stepped outside after 5 pm? Or how about those nasty deerflies that made exploring the woods more painful than pleasant? Not to mention the huge tick problem that we have in New Hampshire! The good thing about cold weather is that you can trade the bug spray for a jacket and be totally comfortable, without the fear of getting bitten and even sick as a result.

Perk 2: Work Off That Thanksgiving Dinner!

First of all, taking a walk after the Thanksgiving meal should be added to everyone’s list of holiday traditions. Walking aids digestion and will help with that sluggish feeling you get after eating half a turkey by yourself. And it’s an easy group activity for everyone in the family! Let’s not restrict our walks just to Thanksgiving day though- getting outside consistently and moving can make a huge difference in your health. As it gets colder, it can be tempting to trade outdoor activity for a walk on the treadmill or stationary bike inside or at a gym. There’s nothing wrong with indoor exercise, but a walk outside is better for you than a walk on the treadmill any day. The changing scenery keeps your mind stimulated and gives you a necessary break from electronics – something you won’t get on a treadmill pointed right at a TV.

Perk 3: Healthy Spine, Healthy Life!

Let’s face it – sometimes November weather seems like it’s begging us to forgo exercise regimens forever and curl up on the couch and watch movies instead. Down time is a crucial part of self-care, but we can’t let it take over! The simple movement of consistent walking -and limited time spent seated with bad posture- is what will keep your spine healthy for years to come. And if your spine suffers, even that easy post-dinner walk on Thanksgiving might become too painful for you. Back pain can severely limit mobility and leave you in that vicious cycle of needing to move to get better, but avoiding movement because it hurts. So why not do your best to eliminate that risk altogether, and stay active while enjoying this November outside? If you want to feel the burn before Thanksgiving, check out our two Wednesday Turkey Burn classes right here in Portsmouth!

If you are already struggling with back pain, and don’t know how to move forward, check out our free guide to fixing your own back. And if you have any questions, feel free to visit our website, Facebook page, or send an email. We’d love to hear from you!