Posts

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 simply 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 spine and core muscles. 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 movementis actually the best course of action!

Of course, not all types of movement and exercise are beneficial when you’re in this situation. 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.

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. That middle ground, for a lot of people, is found through physical therapy.

If you deal with back pain and want to start learning how you can help yourself through movement, check out our FREE report right here on five easy ways to get rid of back pain! You can also get in touch with us directly through Facebook or right here.

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.    

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!

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.