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Movement is Medicine – When Prescribed Properly!

We hear all the time that “movement is medicine,” but it’s important to add the qualifier – when prescribed properly. If you were sick, you wouldn’t just walk into a pharmacy and blindly pick a medicine without thorough knowledge of what your condition is and a recommendation (or better yet a prescription) from your doctor. When you’re in serious physical pain that keeps you from living the lifestyle you want to live, movement can absolutely be your medicine. You just need to make sure you’re using the right kind…

Every person’s body is different, so every individual dealing with pain has a slightly different experience. That’s why working with a physical therapist – who is trained to customize a treatment plan for your specific issue – is so beneficial. We can identify specific movements that actually are worsening your symptoms, while conversely being able to pick out movements that not only relieve pain in the short term but allow your body to recover fully and become stronger. A lifetime of poor movement patterns can lead to pain and injuries down the road, even in the most athletic and active among us! Physical therapy is all about redesigning those movement patterns and reinforcing correct movement so that people can remain active and pain-free.

Many of our more active clients find that exercising independently will relieve their symptoms for a little bit, but when they wake up the next morning the pain is back in full force. Part of a physical therapist’s job is to help you find the specific exercises that create lasting relief and enable you to go back to your normal activities without having to start over from square one every day. There is no “one size fits all” treatment when it comes to pain, which is why we personalize every client’s treatment to their individual needs and circumstances. We “prescribe” the movements that are right for the individual, not just those that are generally helpful for people with back pain or people with knee problems.

In addition to prescribing specific physical therapy movements, we love to add the movement system of Pilates to our clients’ treatment in order to improve strength, balance, and coordination. It’s incredibly beneficial for clients to have the support system of a physical therapist and a pilates instructor working in tandem to find the right movements to rehabilitate each particular individual. Our goal is always to get our clients back to their full range of movement and activities – we NEVER want to avoid any movement permanently in order to avoid pain – but on the road to that full recovery, the structure of Pilates and the opportunity for physical assistance can be an extremely powerful counterpart to physical therapy.

Three Easy Tips to Keep your Back from “Going Out”

Most people – four out of five to be exact! – will experience a debilitating back pain episode at one point during their lives, and typically we put more effort into caring for our backs during those times than when we’re feeling good. But it’s critical that we take good care of our backs all the time, not just when we’re in pain!

1. Stand Up & Take a Load Off

When we sit for too long, the burden of our weight is placed abnormally on our spine and can cause damage over time. Before long, those small loads add up to real pain. It makes sense when you consider that our bodies were designed to stand, sit, crawl, run, kneel, bend and move through the world in many different ways. It was never designed to sit in one position for prolonged periods, day after day. Sit too long, too often, and it can lead to bulging discs and weak, brittle muscles that are prone to tearing and other damage.

The solution? Limit your sitting to half-hour periods with a few minutes of standing in between, and you’ll reduce the uni-directional forces on your spine. In other words, if you sit for a long time at work or at home, stand up and walk around a little bit every thirty minutes. Aside from participating in regular strengthening exercise, like Pilates, this is the easiest way for the average person to prevent back injury (and heal your back faster if you already have an injury).

2. Watch for Curves

We have natural curves in our spine that help us handle stress and loads.  Whether sitting or standing, it’s important to maintain these curves.  When standing, our spinal curves occur more naturally and are usually easier to maintain.  When we sit, the protective curves in our spine are harder to maintain and often disappear.  And while a healthy core and strong back muscles are important to back health, they won’t protect your back if you sit for long periods, or when the curve in your lumbar area disappears while you’re sitting.

Fortunately, the solution is as simple as rolling up a towel and placing it between your chair or car seat and the small of your back (just above the belt line). Using a purpose-designed lumbar roll is my favorite choice, and what I use for low-back support. You can use a lumbar roll in your office chair, car, and on the plane if you’re flying! If you want to learn where you can get on of your own contact us about them here. Or  see in more detail how to use them in our free e-book!

3. Extend instead of Bend

The human spine (and entire body) craves balance, which means both extension and flexion.  But we spend the majority of our time in flexion, bending over to put shoes and socks on, brushing our teeth, driving, sitting at work and then driving home. At home we bend forward to cook, sit some more as we eat and then curl up on our couch or an easy chair. As long as we’re not gymnasts or circus performers, it’s safe to say we could all use a little more extension in our day.  A really good exercise is to stand and place your hands on your lower back for support and then arch back as far as you can go.  Repeat this 10 times, at least once per day.  This is also a great activity to do when you are interrupting your sitting during the day.  If you’ve never arched you back like this before, it may feel stiff or even hurt a little at first. But, with a gradual increase in frequency, it will feel less stiff and more natural over the course of a few days.  If it doesn’t, or becomes troublesome for you, stop and consult with a qualified physical therapist who specializes in back pain.

If you like these tips and want to learn even more ways to prevent debilitating back episodes, check out our FREE report right here! It reveals five easy ways (plus two bonus tips!) that are PROVEN to help you ease back pain quickly – without pain medication, frequent doctor’s visits, or surgery. And don’t forget to check out our Pilates programs if you’re looking for a way to exercise that will target – and resolve – back pain!

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!

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!

Do I Really Need an MRI?

Do I really need an MRI for that?

This is probably the number one question and concern I get from clients that I work with – 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.  They 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, and they can even detect certain heart problems and liver disease.  When you don’t know what’s wrong, and 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 or non-mechanical.  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 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 it’s 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 movementexpert for this.  A professional and specially trained movement expert (like a specialist physical therapist) knows how to tell if the issue is not just 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, give us a call!  We are a specialized physical therapy practice that is well-known for helping people with this exact dilemma.

You can find us at 53 Green Street in Portsmouth, NH.  Call us at 603-380-7902 or request to speak to one of our specialists for FREE if you’re looking for some help.  Or – download our free guide to back pain!  You can get that by clicking right HERE.

Dr. Carrie Jose, MSPT, DPT, cert. MDT helps people on the NH Seacoast stay active, healthy and mobile – so you can spend time doing the activities you love instead of sitting at the doctor’s office. Her practice, CJ Physical Therapy and Wellness, specializes in using physical therapy and Pilates to help people move and feel better without the use of prescription pain-killers or procedures like injections or surgery.