Pulled Your Back?

April 14, 2011

back health

It’s spring, we’re out enjoying some beautiful Arkansas weather, and it’s easy to end up with a minor injury. One of the most common is a pulled back, or back strain. Lifting something too heavy or lifting in the wrong way, twisting or otherwise making an ill-judged movement, and just asking too much of the back muscles can lead to pulled muscles and resulting pain.

Most pulled back pain goes away within a few weeks by itself. The problem is that responding to a pulled back in the wrong way can increase the time it takes to heal.

First, use ice to reduce inflammation. Heat might feel good, but can actually increase inflammation if it’s used too soon. Once any swelling goes down, heat can relax the muscles and make them feel better.

Second, don’t rush to exercise. Stretching may be okay, and swimming can be a good choice to strengthen the muscle without strain, but you really should get professional advice and supervision to exercise a pulled back. On the other hand, don’t give up strengthening work for weeks or months — there will be consequences. Come to Innovative Spine Rehab if you’re in the Little Rock area, or visit your local physical therapist or back pain center.

Third, while you’re healing, pay attention to your posture to avoid making things worse. Slumping puts strain on your back, even if it feels like resting. Instead, sit in a supportive chair, lie flat on your back, or sit on an exercise ball to keep your core engaged.

In three to six weeks, you should be back outside enjoying your favorite sports.


Your Abs and Your Back

April 8, 2011

We talked about the importance of strengthening the glutes to help support the back. The other muscles that serve your spine are your abs. Many of us are aware of the importance of strong abdominal muscles to keep our backs healthy and comfortable, but the relationships among the muscles of your core can complicate the way you work out.

In fact, working your abs the wrong way can actually hurt your back.

It’s all about the tilt. Get down on all fours and arch your back up like a cat. You’ll have a forward tilt to your pelvis. Now lift up your head and arch up in the other direction like a dog wanting to play — that’s a backward tilt. In between the two is the neutral position that is best for your spine.

When you do crunches, leg lifts, or the old fashioned bicycle, it’s important that you keep your spine in that neutral position. If you arch your back, you’re not working the abs, but just the hip flexors, and you’re putting a strain on your spine.

For these exercises, as well as the plank and other ab workouts, engaging the abdominals is key. They’ll support the spine and get stronger for daily life, too.


The Muscles to Work on for Back Health

April 1, 2011


We talk a lot about how to cope with back pain and how to avoid back injury, but when you take the long view of back health, you have to think lower. Lower back pain is the most common form of spine and back suffering, with nearly 80% of adults experiencing at least some lower back pain during their lives, but you really have to think even lower than that.

Glutes. The gluteus maximus muscles are the ones that support the lower back. Strong glutes will make it far less likely that you’ll experience pain in the lower back — you can be part of the lucky 20% who never do.

Strengthen the glutes with these exercises:

  • squats
  • lunges
  • deadlifts

It’s important to follow correct form with these exercises, so we recommend visiting a physical therapist to learn the correct (and therefore effective) way to do these moves. Your physical therapist can develop a complete workout for you which takes into account your medical history, any current pain, and your goals for the future.

Weak abdominal muscles put extra strain on the lower back, especially if there is extra weight to support, so spend some time training those muscles as well. A balanced workout incorporating strength training, flexibility, and cardiovascular workouts is always your best bet.


The Dangers of — Knitting?

March 25, 2011

knitting pain

Knitting can be relaxing, creative, and fun. It can give you plenty of socks and sweaters. It can keep you feeling productive even when you’re watching TV or talking with friends.

It can also cause you pain.

It’s hard to think of knitting as dangerous, but one Arkansas knitter found that her beloved hobby, after many years, left her arms and wrists sore. “It just doesn’t seem that athletic,” she said.

In fact, it was pain caused by an imbalance. The flexor muscles which close the hand were stronger than the extensor muscles which open the hand. The result was tension and pain. The long-term result, if left untreated, could have been carpal tunnel syndrome.

The solution was a program of exercise designed to stretch and strengthen the extensors.

The same type of injury has been found in the knees of soccer players and the ankles of skiers.  In every case, stretching and strengthening exercises are the solution.

Unfortunately, the exercises most people do, such as squeezing a stress ball or lifting weights, don’t solve the problem. Instead, they may worsen it. These exercises work the flexor muscles even more, increasing the imbalance. Add time on the computer (gripping a mouse) or a long commute (gripping the steering wheel), and the knitter can end up in severe pain.

You can try Pilates exercises if you are not in pain now but want to avoid this imbalance. If you’re experiencing pain, contact Innovative Spine Rehab of Arkansas. You’ll be back to the knitting and purling in no time!


Physical Therapy for Balance, Part II

March 18, 2011

balance therapy

Last week we discussed vestibular dysfuntion and other inner ear problems that lead to trouble with balance. The inner ear is in charge of our sense of balance, and problems in the inner ear, whether from temporary infections or long-term dysfunction, can make balance difficult.

However, there are other reasons people sometimes have trouble with balance. Playing sports that rely heavily on one side of the body can cause the body to develop unevenly, creating an imbalance. More common is the problem of getting too little activity, so that the core muscles that keep the body under control become weak.

Anyone may have a momentary loss of balance: we slip, miss a stair, turn too quickly and misjudge a step. People with fit core muscles and quick reactions catch themselves and think no more about it.

People with slow reactions and weak muscles fall. Add a hard surface, a sharp object in the way, an open stairwell — you can end up in the emergency room.

After a fall leading to injury, physical therapy can help the patient regain full range of motion and ability. But if would be better to avoid the fall in the first place.

Visit Innovative Spine Rehab of Arkansas to plan a complete regimen of strengthening exercises now, before you lose your balance and take a chance of injury.


Physical Therapy for Balance, part I

March 11, 2011

D. Sharon Pruitt

Balance problems account for a lot of trips to the emergency room — some say as much as 75% of those visiting the emergency room for injuries have lost their balance in one way or another.

Is physical therapy the solution?

One of the primary causes of balance problems is a disturbance of the inner ear. The inner ear is in charge of balance. Infections can create the problem in young people. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a condition in which calcium deposits become detached from their places on the sensory hairs in the inner ear, causing sudden vertigo. Both of these conditions can be treated by direct medical intervention.

Depending on the individual, physical therapy may be needed to retrain the body to keep its balance.

Vestibular dysfunction, as ongoing inner-ear problems are called, affects about a third of Americans over 40 and more than half of those age 90 or older. Smoking, high blood pressure, and diabetes make it even more likely that people will develop this problem as they age.

Not everyone who suffers from inner ear problems actually suffers. Some people are troubled by dizziness and vertigo, but some don’t realize that they have the problem until they fall. Because of this, many health care professionals believe that people over 50 should be tested for the condition as part of routine exams.

The test for vestibular dysfunction is very simple. Stand still on a flat surface (choosing a soft surface is a good precaution) and close your eyes. If you have vestibular dysfunction, you’ll fall down, once you no longer have visual cues to help you maintain your balance.

Physical therapy is the solution for vestibular dysfunction. Training the body to feel the balance and strengthening the muscles to maintain it will make for safer, more comfortable movement.



Tendon Injuries: Rest or Physical Therapy?

March 3, 2011

elbow pain

A recent report in the Lancet looked at two common remedies for tendinitis: injections of corticosteroids and rest. Neither produced results as good as physical therapy.The injections, according to a review of studies involving thousands of patients, gave only temporary relief. Rest prevented worsening of the pain, but also appeared to prevent improvement.

Most of us might be pleased to avoid those shots, but rest seems like the best thing for an injury at first glance. Why would resting an injury fail to produce relief?

It’s simple enough when you think about it.

Tendons attach muscles to bones. Overuse can inflame the tendon (that’s why “tendinitis” is sometimes spelled “tendonitis”). Inflammation leads to pain. Sometimes tendinitis flares up without any evidence of inflammation, though, and sometimes it continues long after inflammation has died down.

Resting the injured tendon, especially over a long period, weakens the muscles that support it. Those muscles are then less able to do their jobs.

The tricky part is finding the exercises that will strengthen the muscle without hurting the tendon further. Here’s where a qualified physical therapist comes in. Your physical therapist can identify the precise cause of the pain and develop a regimen of exercises that will lead to a solution.