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The Snow is Coming… 5 Tips to Prevent Hurting your Back

When you live in New England, there is no doubt that at some point you will HAVE to shovel snow.

There are some pros — like it being a good workout and getting out into the fresh air. But for the most part, this activity is known for its cons — that it’s cold, wet, and quite literally, “back-breaking.”

While I can’t help you with the cold and wet part, I CAN help you learn how to protect your back. Here are some tips that I give to my own patients with regard to shoveling.

  1. Shovel early, and frequently. It might feel nice to sit by your fireplace with a hot cup of cocoa, watching the snowflakes fall, but you’ll regret it later. As you wait, that snow is likely to turn into a heavy, wet mess. It’s best to get out there early, while the snow is still lighter and fluffy, and just shovel in smaller, more frequent chunks. Doing any activity more frequently but for a smaller amount of time — say 20 min — will lessen the amount of stress put on your spine.

 

  1. Use your legs. The last thing we think about when it comes to shoveling is proper form. However, form is critical if you want to protect your back! Our spines were designed to have enough endurance to hold us upright and maintain good posture — NOT to lift heavy things. That’s what our glutes and legs are for! Save your spine by using the power of your legs to lift the snow. Bend your knees, stick your bottom out, and lift that snow with your whole body instead of curving over from your spine. Your legs might be sore from all that squatting, but your spine will thank you.

 

  1. Don’t twist, pivot. Once you lift the snow, you’ve got to throw it away. You want to use your whole body to pivot, not twist. When discarding the snow, many just twist their upper body and rotate from their spine, letting their arms and trunk do all the work. Instead, you want to pivot with your whole body by keeping your pelvis (the front of your hips) facing and in line with the shovel throughout the whole movement. If your shovel and arms have gone one way, and your hips are still pointing forward, you’re twisting instead of pivoting (and that is asking for trouble)!

 

  1. Breathe and use your core. No matter what, make sure you’re breathing! When you hold your breath, your deep abdominals can’t function fully.  Additionally, the extra pressure that builds from holding air inside your abdomen has to go somewhere — like into your spine. Prolonged, extra pressure can push out on your discs and make them more vulnerable, especially in a forward-bent position like shoveling. In a proper breath, your diaphragm pushes the air down, your abdominals stretch out a little, and then naturally recoil back. This automatic recoil allows your abdominals to contract and support your spine. Rule of thumb —make sure you’re always breathing, and exhale for better abdominal support when lifting the snow.

 

  1. Make it easy on yourself. If you absolutely must shovel snow and can’t get someone else to do it for you (my favorite tip!), make it as easy on yourself as possible. You can decrease the repetitive strain on your body by using an ergonomic shovel or snow blower. But remember, even with a snow blower, you still need to use your legs, breathe, and engage your core while maneuvering the machine. Just because you aren’t doing all of the heavy lifting doesn’t mean your back won’t still end up in a vulnerable position.

If you’ve ever hurt your back shoveling snow, and want more information and tips like these, click here for a free copy of the back health guide we give to patients! 

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!

 

5 Ways to Prevent Injury In Your 50s

Many of our clients are in the 50+ range, and we love seeing how these adults are staying active as they get older! However, as we age, our bodies do need more care and have different needs when it comes to exercise. Here are some tips that we like to pass on to our “more mature” clients, including our Pilates students!

1. Stay Moving

This is true for everyone – if you want to be healthy, you need to keep moving. But it’s especially relevant to older adults who might find that they don’t have the stamina for high impact workouts anymore. There are plenty of ways to exercise that are easy on your joints and still help you maintain the mobility that’s crucial for balance and strength as you age! Walking is often overlooked, but consistent walks will build up your strength and endurance greatly. Also, walking outside is a great way to get some fresh air and enjoy the beginnings of spring! For a more structured exercise regimen, consider trying Pilates! Pilates is a full body workout that is gentle on achy joints and allows you to move at your own pace. It will also improve your balance and coordination!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Maintain a Healthy Diet

What you eat directly affects your ability to keep moving – because if you’re not keeping your bones and heart healthy, you’re not going to be able to exercise! Greens like kale, spinach, and arugula are awesome for your bones. Along with citrus fruits, fish, and nuts, these foods help your bones stay strong and durable, and can help you recover faster from a fracture. It’s also crucial that as you get older, you’re intentional about taking care of your heart. According to Health magazine, “The risk of a heart attack climbs for men after age 45 and for women after age 55.” So as you enter middle-age, be sure to increase the presence of foods like unsalted nuts, unprocessed oatmeal, raisins, blueberries, and even dark chocolate (over 70% cacao) in your diet!

3. Choose Your Activities Wisely

We love seeing passionate adult athletes who still enjoy their sports as they get older! However, it’s important to understand that the risk of injury associated with certain sports tends to increase as you age. Contact sports, like basketball, soccer, etc., may lead to more broken bones and fractures when you’re in your 50s than they would’ve in your 20s. As you get older, your bone mass and cartilage both decrease, so be aware that collisions and falls could result in more severe injury. Also, note that non-contact sports like tennis, golf, and softball aren’t without their risks either.  With these activities we tend to see more soft-tissue-type injuries, like labral or ligament tears in the shoulders or knees. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to give up your sport – or be afraid to continue with them- just be aware of the risks, and take steps to prevent injury by giving yourself longer warm-up and cool-down periods and trying to avoid collisions. If you aren’t sure what an age-appropriate warm-up or cool-down looks like, talk to a physical therapist!  We can help.

4. Work on Balance

Balance is one of the first things to go as a person gets older – and it’s one of the most crucial elements in avoiding injury. Slips and falls can lead to broken bones and fractures that only get harder to recover from as you get older! But if you’re diligent about exercising with the intention of improving your balance, you can maintain it far into your later years. As mentioned before, Pilates is an excellent way to work on balance. It starts with your core, which is essential for good balance, but continues to work the whole body, leaving you much stronger and steadier. Yoga is also a great activity to work on your balance.  You can do simple yoga exercises at home too! It’s always a good idea to talk to a physical therapist about what is safe and practical for you, but one of my favorite home balance is activities is to practice standing on one leg when you brush your teeth! It’s super practical and very easy to implement.

5. Educate Yourself

The best way to prevent injury and make sure that you’re exercising safely is to find a regular healthcare provider -like a PT- whose goal is to KEEP you healthy and mobile versus only helping after an injury occurs. It’s possible to develop a good relationship with your PT to where you can access them and speak directly to them whenever you need them, instead of having to go through all the red tape of insurance and PCPs. Our biggest priority in our office is YOU, the client – your health, your happiness, and your ability to get the help you need, when you need it!

If you think it’s time to find a PT who can help you stay active as you age, want to try Pilates, or both, just let us know! Taking care of your body while staying active is essential to preventing injury, and we are here to help.

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!

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!