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Noticing More Knee Pain during Quarantine?

Aside from back pain, the second most common complaint bringing people into our office these days is knee pain, and lately, I’ve seen a little surge.

Here’s why…

People are sitting a lot more, which leads to increased stiffness in your knees. And a lot of us are doing different kinds of activities than we did 6 weeks ago, which for some, is exposing knee problems they never knew they had.

I spoke to one gentleman last week (we’ll call him “Jack”) who had started walking every day, and running a little bit, because his gym had closed. After about 4 weeks of this, he began experiencing pain in the front of his knee. He put some ice on it, took a break from his daily walks and running, and also resumed some stretches that a former physical therapist had told him to do. This seemed to help, so he resumed his walks and running again. Three days into it… bam… his knee pain returned.

Our specialist team has opened up our schedules to answer people’s questions about what they can do at home right now to take care of any aches or pains.

So Jack took us up on that, because he wanted to know if his knee pain was something to worry about. Did he need to see a doctor? Did he need to let it rest some more? Were there specific exercises he could do?

He did NOT want to stop his walking and running routine, but he definitely didn’t want his knee to get so bad that it would keep him from returning to the gym when it opened back up. He’s 55 years old and staying active and mobile is VERY important to him. We spoke for about 20 minutes and I knew immediately that rest wasn’t going to work, and that X-rays or medication from a doctor wouldn’t do anything either. Those things would only mask the problem. They would take care of the pain in his knee – but wouldn’t correct the source of his problem.

Ironically, the truth about knee problems is that they’re often not actually knee problems!  

With most knee pain, we can trace the underlying issues to a locality directly below the knee (the ankle or foot) or directly above it (the pelvis, hips, core, and low back). If you don’t engage your core throughout your daily movement, it actually puts a huge amount of strain on your knees. As your legs swing and rotate, the torque that should be occurring through your pelvis and hips gets overloaded onto your knees. So as we age, we may start feeling a sense of wear and tear or weakness in our knees that actually comes from a lifetime of improper movement.

The mainstream medical model is focused largely on treating symptoms rather than identifying the root cause of WHY the problem is occuring in the first place.

Pain pills, injections, and even surgery are often recommended before more conservative and natural treatments! And because these quick fixes are merely addressing the symptoms, the physical problems return for the majority of affected individuals. That’s because those knee issues actually stemmed from a different part of the body, and the knee will continue to be overloaded until those biomechanical problems are addressed directly!

Yes – we were able to figure ALL of this out from a FREE phone session.

The next step for Jack was an evaluation with our knee specialist. We scheduled a virtual session over Zoom, she was able to confirm the source of the problem. Turns out the muscles in his hips weren’t firing like they should and it was causing his knees to compensate and work harder than they needed to, which resulted in pain. So we got him doing the correct stretches and specific exercises that would train his hip and pelvis to work like they are supposed to.

In no time, Jack will be back to his walking and running routine, but he will ALSO be in better shape to return to the gym. One of his frustrations before was not being able to do as many squats as he wanted – because they hurt his knees. He had no idea that the problem was actually coming from his hips! So he is pretty excited to try his squats again once his gym opens back up.

If Jack’s story sounds familiar to you, schedule a call with us.

There is no point in sitting at home worrying, or scouring Google for what you should do to fix your pain. We can figure out what’s going on with you over the phone and I’ll let you know if you need to schedule a session with us, see a doctor, or if it’s something you can take care of on your own.

You could also join us for our FREE Virtual Knee Pain Webinar on Thur May 14th from 6-7p!

Research shows MRI’s not reliable for back pain

One of the most popular questions and concerns I get from clients is whether or not they need an MRI for their back or neck problem. When you have persistent pain that won’t go away, or shooting pain or numbness down your arm or leg, it’s scary. It makes sense to get a look inside with an MRI – right?

Not necessarily.

Here’s the problem. 

MRI’s are an amazing technological advancement that will literally show you everything that is going on in your spine.  But what we now know from research is that all those findings on an MRI rarely correlate with what’s actually causing your pain. One notable study was the Lancet series – three published papers that investigated how MRI findings related to the treatment of back pain.  Martin Underwood, MD, co-author of the Lancet series, and professor at Warwick Medical School, is quoted in The Guardian saying: “If you get into the business of treating disc degeneration because it has shown up on an MRI, the likelihood is that, in most of those people, it is not contributing to their back pain.”

Let me explain.

When it comes to neck and back problems, 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 – which coincidentally is also the time that things like disc degeneration show up on an MRI. Disc degeneration and arthritis are normal parts of aging, but they often get blamed for problems they don’t actually cause. The best way to figure out a movement problem is with… well… movement! Not an MRI.

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 who specializes in the spine, and specifically in mechanical neck and back pain.  But one sign you can easily recognize on your own is to take note of how your pain behaves. Does your pain come and go? Do you have good days and bad days? Can you change positions and influence your pain? When your pain is variable, it’s the best sign that your neck or back problem is “mechanical” in nature and due to a movement dysfunction. And that also means you don’t need surgery or any kind of procedure to fix it! In fact, a procedure or surgery could leave you feeling worse off than before.

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 like I mentioned just a moment ago. They also pick up things like bulging discs.

Research has also shown that around 60-70% of the population walk around with bulging discs and have no symptoms. Why?

Because a bulging disc only gives you trouble if you are moving or positioning yourself in an unbalanced way.

If an MRI picks this up, the news is often more devastating than it needs to be and the typical advice is to get an injection or surgery.  Neither of these procedures will fix your movement problem. And what typically happens is the bulge comes back, or appears somewhere else. This is why being “extra-cautious”, and over-prescribing MRI’s when it comes to back and neck pain, is not a good idea. The outcome is usually that people end up dealing with invasive procedures and surgeries they didn’t even need.  

If you’ve had a bad accident, fall, or trauma – then an MRI is 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 movement expert for this. We know how to tell if the issue is something more serious. We can also send you to a doctor right away 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 the likelihood of getting prescribed an unnecessary surgery or procedure is much higher.

If this story sounds all too familiar, or you’ve been told that you must get an MRI for your neck or back problem – feel free to reach out to us and we can help you sort through fact vs fiction.  You could also come to our next “Ask the PT Night” on October 23rd and ask your questions then!

How you actually CAN recover from chronic back pain

There’s nothing more discouraging than being in pain and feeling that there’s no way out of it. Back pain is such a common issue, and unfortunately, many people hold onto the mistaken belief that if you have a “bad back” you’re stuck with it for life. Not true!!

It is totally possible to recover from chronic back pain and return to the activities you used to love.

Great news, right? Let’s talk HOW. 

First of all, keep moving.

There are people in healthcare who will tell you to just avoid anything that irritates your back and accept that you can’t be as active as you once were. But what if basically everything triggers back pain? What if your job requires you to be on your feet or you simply want to tie your own shoes or pick up your grandkids? You don’t have to resign yourself to sedentary days spent popping ibuprofen every four hours and missing out on life. Don’t listen to the people who tell you to avoid movement — because in fact, the solution is the exact opposite. Consistent, correct movement heals your body and keeps it from shutting down. If you’re suffering from back pain, it may be a sign that your movement habits are off. You could benefit from working with a specialist physical therapist to retrain your body in how to move properly throughout your day, thus eliminating unnecessary stress on your spine.  

Along the same lines, make sure you educate yourself.

We offer a FREE workshop at our Portsmouth office every month to answer questions from our community, and our next topic is back pain and sciatica! You may feel like surgery and medication are the only options out there for recovery, but in reality they are just two of the less effective strategies for treating back pain. One of our clients, Sean, was dealing with multiple herniated discs and spoke with us on this exact topic. 

“I was considering back surgery until I found CJ Physical Therapy. I walked out of 

therapy with such relief that the thought of surgery was no longer an option. Therapy 

worked so much better than the steroid injection just a few months earlier, that it gave 

me hope of actually being able to feel like I did before the injury a year earlier.”

Nobody wants to get surgery, but if you haven’t been told about any noninvasive therapeutic routes to remedy your pain, surgery may seem like the only option. But time and time again, we have clients come to us with severe back pain and injuries that are often prescribed surgery — and time and time again, they have FULLY recovered through an individually customized program of physical therapy

If you’re dealing with chronic back pain, don’t be afraid to reach out.

We understand if you’re not yet ready to commit to PT — that’s why we offer FREE Discovery Sessions for potential clients. This 30 minute session is a chance for you to speak with one of our specialists and determine for yourself if we’re the best people to help you. It’s a completely free, no-obligation appointment that will give you all the information you need to make the BEST decision for YOUR health — whether that’s working with us or not! 

Questions About Your Shoulder Pain? Here are Some Real Answers.

Often when clients come to us with shoulder pain, they’ve already tried several approaches without success. But the real issue is that everyone they’ve seen up to that point has failed to give them an accurate diagnosis.

Without an accurate diagnosis, treatment fails.

It’s not surprising. The true cause of shoulder pain is missed by many and can actually be difficult to diagnose. Sometimes it really is your shoulder, but in other cases the pain is actually caused by a problem in your neck. If there is irritation or inflammation in your neck, but someone is aggressively treating your shoulder, guess what? You aren’t going to see results and your pain may even worsen.

Here are a few questions to ask if you’re wondering if really have a shoulder problem… or if you should be getting help for your neck instead.

Where is your pain?

 When you have an actual shoulder problem, the pain is always going to be just in your shoulder. The most common areas to experience pain are directly in front of your shoulder, directly on top of your shoulder, or in a more involved shoulder problem – like a rotator cuff injury – you might feel achiness on the side of your shoulder and down into the side of your arm a little. If the pain goes past your elbow, is above your shoulder and into your neck (the upper trap area), deep inside of your shoulder, or in the back into the shoulder blade, it’s entirely possible (and maybe even likely) that your neck is involved or totally responsible for your “shoulder pain.”

Do you have numbness, tingling or burning?

These are signs of nerve compression or irritation. If that’s happening in your neck – say due to a bulging disc or restricted/faulty movement patterns that irritate your nerve roots – you can feel it into your shoulder, shoulder blade, or even down into your arm.

What’s particularly misleading is that all of this nerve difficulty in the neck will only be felt in your shoulder or arm.

When do you feel stiff?

Lack of mobility and stiffness are common symptoms associated with a rotator cuff injury or the dreaded “frozen shoulder.” If your neck moves well, is pain free, and your shoulder is stiff, odds are that the problem is in your shoulder. Now, let’s say you’ve got stiffness in your neck as well as your shoulder. It’s possible the neck stiffness is a result of your shoulder not moving properly. However, you’ll never know for sure without a proper assessment. If there is even a hint of a neck issue being fully or partially responsible for your shoulder problem, it must be addressed or you will never achieve full recovery.

I do everything I’m told, why won’t my shoulder get better?

This is probably the number one sign that your shoulder problem is not really a shoulder problem at all. If you’ve had pain for months, or if you fix your pain but it keeps coming back, then there is a very good chance someone has missed something. Quite possibly, it’s a hidden neck problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this happen. I’ve seen people try three different therapists who’ve prescribed the best rotator cuff exercises on the planet. I’ve seen people get multiple cortisone injections in their shoulder. And worse, I’ve seen people get surgery – only for their shoulder to problem return months or years later. If this sounds like you, then someone has missed the boat and your shoulder problem may not be a shoulder problem at all. You need to find a physical therapist who is a specialist and can properly assess you. They’ll know the right questions to ask, take their time doing a thorough and proper assessment, and get you on the right track to getting better. 

If this post has struck a chord, and you’re wondering if your shoulder problem is really a shoulder problem, then I want to invite you to our next Health & Posture class on Wednesday, July 17th.

Our free Health & Posture classes are an opportunity to hang out with us, meet our team, and ask our specialists anything you want about aches and pains you’re currently dealing with – but can’t seem to get rid of (or keep gone) completely on your own. Each class has a main topic, and on the 17th we will be focusing on neck and shoulder pain — although you can ask any questions you have! 

SPACE IS LIMITED, so make sure you click here to reserve your spot. See you there!

Do You Really Need an MRI?

Do you really need an MRI for that?

This is probably the number one question we get from clients  – 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.

MRIs 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. They can even detect certain heart problems and liver disease.  When you don’t know exactly what’s wrong, but 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.  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 should see a doctor and 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 you’ll want to seek immediate medical attention and an MRI is probably 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 movement expert for this.  A professional and specially trained movement expert (like a specialist physical therapist) knows how to tell if the issue is NOT 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, get in touch!  We are a specialized physical therapy practice that is well-known for helping people with this exact dilemma and we know how to tell if you need an MRI or not.

Or – download our FREE guide to back pain, written by Dr. Carrie Jose, Portsmouth’s leading back pain specialist and physical therapist. This guide contains her BEST tips – the ones she gives to clients – that will help you get rid of back pain WITHOUT things like pain pills, procedures, and of course MRI’s.

Physical therapy WORKS – Take it From the Ones Who’ve Done it!

Still not sure about PT? Have you heard a lot of conflicting information about what we really do as physical therapists? Do you need relief from an injury or chronic pain but you’ve been told surgery is your only option?

You’re not alone.

So many of our clients have come through our doors for the first time with those same questions. They may have been told over and over again by doctors that their pain or injury isn’t fixable – or if it is, they need extensive surgery and/or drugs. Many have never tried physical therapy before. Some are nervous because they think that it will be painful, and others doubtful that they’re going to learn anything new or helpful. But time and time again, those same individuals end up seeing amazing improvements in strength, mobility, health, and lifestyle. They consistently report how grateful they are to be simply living pain-free or able to participate in their favorite activities again. And we are always so proud of them for putting in the work and being an active participant in their individualized treatment plan!

I could go on and on about the results our awesome clients have seen, but no one says it better than themselves.

When Jeff first came to us he had a shoulder problem that was keeping him from working out at the gym the way he wanted. He’s also a dentist so leaning over his patients all day wasn’t helping. We worked on strategies during the day to help his mobility and then we tackled his stability! He came in and let us know that he was back to his full chest workout and pushups – with zero pain!

David, age 56, suffered from chronic neck and shoulder pain before coming to us for help.

“I couldn’t run more than 2 miles without radiating neck and shoulder pain and I was really uncomfortable at work. Working with CJ Physical Therapy, I learned how to manage my neck without going the surgery route. Now I can run as far as I like without any neck or shoulder pain.”

Another 56 year old, Kathie, took advantage of both our physical therapy and Pilates programs to resolve her shoulder pain.

“Before coming to CJPT & Pilates I was dealing with a shoulder problem that kept me from things like buckling my seat belt, walking the dog, and putting dishes away. I wanted to try something different from the traditional routes I’d tried in the past. Combining physical therapy and Pilates, and working with someone who understood my personal needs, was the difference that gave me my life back.”

Gale, age 65, experienced a positive difference with our practice that she hadn’t received in the physical therapy that was referred to her following a surgery.

“I was dealing with terrible pain and numbness in my arm and wrist after surgery, and there was still no relief after 15 weeks of regular physical therapy. After coming to therapy here, I can now cook, put on make-up, and I’m no longer worried about getting back to hiking or backpacking which I love. Best experience ever!”

Nothing makes us happier than getting to be a part of a positive change in someone’s life. And we love to hear how PT has impacted not just our clients’ health, but their lives overall! Several of our clients have even shared video testimonials of their experience working with us, which can be found here. They are living proof that anyone can benefit from physical therapy. You can be as skeptical as you want – you just have to be willing to give PT an honest shot. And chances are, you’ll be glad you did!

If you’re wondering if physical therapy is right for you – or if a different kind of physical therapy is right for you – please reach out!  We are so happy to help.  If we can’t help you – we’ll find someone that can.

Surgeons in surgery

Surgery versus PT: What You Need to Know

“I have to get surgery for my torn meniscus. I’m going to be out of commission for a while.”

“My back problems have gotten so bad that my doctor says I need surgery to repair the herniated disk.”

“The MRI doesn’t look so good. Hopefully surgery will be a quick fix.”

Sound familiar? Most of us know someone who has been told that they needed surgery for a knee or back issue – or have received that disheartening news ourselves. A herniated disk is one of the most prevalent back problems in adults, and is often treated with lumbar discectomy as the first option. The goal of this surgery is to remove the herniated portion of the disc from the patient’s back, releasing pressure on surrounding nerves and muscles. The goal is for the patient to be able to live without pain post-surgery, but this process usually involves lots of medication and prolonged periods of rest. Another common injury that frequently leads to surgery is a meniscus tear. Your meniscus stabilizes and cushions the knee joint. A tear would be viewed easily on an MRI, which can cause many doctors to immediately prescribe surgery. Following that type of surgery, you would probably spend about two weeks with your leg completely immobilized. Then you would be introduced to a rehabilitation plan that included physical therapy – not to recover from the original injury to your knee, but to recover from the surgery that supposedly fixed it.

Surgery, in the right circumstances, can be extremely beneficial. But unfortunately, it is over-prescribed and often unnecessary, especially for individuals with back and knee pain. Seeing a herniated disc or torn meniscus on the MRI screen may trigger an automatic prescription of surgery and medication- but these “quick fixes” may not be your safest or most helpful options. In fact, MRIs can produce false positives and lead to invasive surgeries for specific injuries that didn’t even exist in the first place. MRIs are a useful tool, but their readings should always be taken with a grain of salt. When given the opportunity, your body will do its best to heal itself. Why not try careful, guided exercise and strength-building before you submit to incisions and long, medicated recoveries?

This is where physical therapy comes in. Consider working with a specialist physical therapist to address your specific injury or pain- someone who doesn’t just prescribe exercise and passive modalities, but genuinely wants to help you recover in a natural and low-risk manner. A specialist physical therapist will carefully listen to your history, analyze your symptoms, come up with a customized plan of action, and problem-solve WITH you versus trying to solve the problem FOR you. One of the primary goals of our practice is to use guided, natural movement to help your body recover to full strength and health based on your own individual needs. Pilates-based rehabilitation is also a uniquely tailored approach to recovery that can make a huge difference. Most knee, back, and other injuries occur because the surrounding muscles are too weak to support those joints and systems properly. You may think that your regular exercise and stretching is enough, but working specific muscle groups can leave others underdeveloped and makes your body unbalanced as a whole. Pilates is a full body workout that starts from your core and balances you both mentally and physically! It won’t create further damage to any injuries because it’s so low impact, and working with a professional will allow you to customize your session to your own individual needs.

Do you live in the Seacoast area and want to learn more about why surgery shouldn’t be your first – let alone ONLY – option for recovery? Click here to get in touch, ask questions, and schedule an appointment. If you’re struggling with back pain, you can even download our FREE report on five easy ways to get rid of back pain WITHOUT surgery! And don’t forget to browse our selection of Pilates classes located right here in Portsmouth.