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Fight Back: 3 (Inexpensive) Ways to Lessen Back Pain

Low back pain. Millions of Americans have had it or will have it at some point. It’s estimated that it affects nearly 80% of us at one point in our lives (Adriaan Louw, Everyone Has Back Pain, 2015). And then there’s the expense. Billions of dollars go toward medications and surgeries to combat the common condition, though these costly solutions may be temporary or ineffective.

So how do back pain sufferers, or those who might be forced to deal with the formidable beast somewhere down the road, rise to the challenge? Here are three simple and affordable (compared to the alternatives) actions we can take to help prevent or alleviate pain.

1.    Increase Movement
Sitting has actually been called the new smoking. While this may be a bit of a stretch, it goes to show that many experts agree on the dangers of prolonged sitting. The fact is, we’ve become a sitting society (sit in the car on the way to work, sit at work for eight hours, sit in the car on the way home, sit on the couch), and our spines — not designed for this — are feeling the effects.

Due to this stagnant behavior, we tend to suffer from a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the discs of the spine. As physical therapist and research specialist Adriaan Louw says, “Motion is lotion.” When we don’t move enough, we don’t hydrate the discs, leading to more stiffness and less flexibility (think Tin Man from Wizard of Oz).

So what’s the best way to increase movement? Most experts recommend 30-40 minutes of moderate exercise four days per week. But even those of us who are achieving that outside of work might still struggle with back problems if we spend numerous hours plastered to an office chair. To be aware of how long you’ve been sitting at work, set a reminder on your phone, watch, or computer that tells you to get up and move. Take periodic breaks to get water or just get up and walk around.

A great way to increase movement and provide the back with therapeutic exercise is to use a foam roller. Foam rollers provide rejuvenating massage and tension release, helping to hydrate fascia (the body’s connective tissue). These foam roller videos demonstrate how to foam roll to relieve lower back pain.

Can’t foam roll at work? Incorporate some basic stretching into your day as your job allows. Occupational therapist Angela Kneale provides some ideas on how to do this without even leaving your desk in her exercise book, Desk Pilates. Another excellent way to reduce sitting time is to use a raise-lower workstation that allows you to stand while at your computer; many companies are now implementing them.

2.    Improve Posture
Sure, we’ve all heard this one before. But the way we carry ourselves while walking, lifting heavy objects, sitting and sleeping has a direct impact on our spine. And as we know from point #1, many people spend a good portion of the day sitting, so proper posture and alignment is crucial.

The spine’s natural ‘S-shaped’ curve provides the key. Many people tend to slouch forward while at a desk or computer, eliminating their natural curve and proper alignment. It’s so easy to do, it usually happens without realizing it.

Spine Illustration

To counteract slouching, try a posture awareness device that keeps the head from moving too far forward. The OPTP Posture Supporter™ can be worn discreetly underneath clothes to help reduce poor postural habits. It promotes awareness of spinal posture and assists in retraction of the shoulders.

OPTP Posture Supporter
OPTP Posture Supporter™

Another product that helps promote proper sitting position is a lumbar roll. Placed behind your lower back (lumbar region of the spine) on a chair or vehicle seat, it encourages good alignment while providing a comfortable support. One the most popular pain relief products of all time is the Original McKenzie® Lumbar Roll™, a foam cushion that has helped thousands achieve freedom from low back pain. Its simple design is the brainchild of the late Robin McKenzie, a world-renowned therapist who was also responsible for the famous McKenzie Method® of self-treatment.
McKenzie Lumbar Roll
Original McKenzie® Lumbar Roll™

Recent advancements in technology also offer promise for posture improvement. Everything from wearable devices to computer screen sensors have been designed to detect your positioning, providing reminders and feedback for adjustment. Although prices are still fairly high for these new smart gadgets, the market will surely be seeing more of them in the near future.  

3.    Get Stronger
Our muscles can also be a culprit. Because the lower back is not an area of the body that is often worked in most exercise programs, the muscles in this region can become underutilized and weak. It’s important to include forms of exercise that directly address the low back, hips, pelvis, and abdominals, helping to make these core muscles stronger. Stronger back muscles will not only alleviate pain, but also help prevent injury, especially in the case of lifting heavy objects.

Training core muscles can be done in many ways. Simple, classic moves such as sit-ups, squats and planks can be easily performed using just your own body weight. Practices that endorse controlled, focused movement such as Pilates and yoga are also excellent for enhancing core strength. Consider signing up for a class with a local instructor or practicing basic moves at home. Many exercises can be done without the aid of equipment, though these core strength and stability products make excellent props for use during Pilates and general fitness routines. As always, make sure to consult with your physician before starting any exercise program.

Looking to give your conventional chair an upgrade? All those hours spent sitting at work can be put to better use by simply replacing a regular desk chair with a stability ball. Actively balancing on a stability ball requires the subtle use of core muscles, strengthening them while you’re responding to emails. It’s like a workout while you work!

Ultimately, it’s up to us to take control of our own back pain. It requires effort, but making small lifestyle changes can lead to big benefits down the road. Not everyone will be able to avoid injury, surgical procedures, or hospital stays. But for many of us, a little self-help can go a long way toward achieving an active, pain-free life. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” 

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - May 31, 2017

3 Amazing Pilates Props You Need to Try

When Joseph Pilates first administered his exercise regimen in early 1900s Germany, it was practiced mainly by soldiers returning from war. Much has changed since those beginning days, but the method continues to be admired by many all over the world. More and more people today are discovering the benefits of Pilates, an exercise discipline that inspires focused, controlled movements.   

Advances in Pilates equipment have provided us with fresh new exercises, as well as creative challenges for existing ones. While the following three props might not have been part of Joseph Pilates’ original vision, they might be just what you need to spark motivation and take your workout to the next level.

1.    ActivMotion Bar®
What is it?
The ActivMotion Bar is a unique piece of fitness equipment that was developed by personal trainer and strength and conditioning specialist Derek Mikulski. At first glance, it may seem just like any other weighted bar you’d find in the gym. But once you pick it up, you quickly realize that’s not the case. Weighted ball bearings inside the bar shift back and forth, creating instability as well as a very intriguing sound. The shifting weight challenges and activates your core muscles during exercise, with some studies revealing as much as a 173% increase in core engagement over traditional fitness tools.

What makes it amazing?
Unlike other props you may have used during Pilates workouts, the ActivMotion Bar is constantly moving, providing continuous feedback regarding your positioning, areas of weakness, and imbalances. Being that it requires more strength and stability to operate, the bar forces you to become aware of your body and engage muscles you may not otherwise use in order maintain controlled balance.

How do you use it?
The ActivMotion Bar can be used during either mat or reformer workouts. Half roll-down variations where you either attempt to keep the bar stable or tilt it from side to side are just one of many moves that work nicely with this unique tool’s design. The bars come in several weight and length variations, though the 4.5lb ActivMotion Bar is ideal for Pilates. A book by Derek Mikulski, Activating Functional Mobility, explains in more detail how to use the bar and demonstrates exercises for Pilates, therapy, and golf.
ActivMotion Bar ExerciseActivMotion Bar Exercise

2.    Stretch Out Strap™
What is it?
The Stretch Out Strap is a woven strap with multiple loops designed to help you get a good stretch, promoting flexibility and range of motion for major muscle groups. While the strap was originally intended as more of a pre and post-workout tool (warmup before athletic event or stretching afterward for aiding in injury prevention), Pilates and yoga enthusiasts have found that it’s perfect for use during an exercise routine as well.   

What makes it amazing?
The simplicity of the Stretch Out Strap’s design makes it incredibly easy to use, and the multiple loops ensure that people of all different sizes can make it work for them. The multiple loops also allow for a wide variety of exercises, bringing a new twist on familiar movements. For those who might not be quite as flexible, the loops enable them to perform movements more comfortably and effectively; movements that may have been more difficult or otherwise not possible. Another benefit: The small, lightweight strap is easily folded up and placed in a bag for taking to the studio.      

How do you use it?
Traditional Pilates movements integrate nicely with the Stretch Out Strap. The strap assists in exercises that lengthen and strengthen the body, helping build greater control and awareness of movement. The classic spine roll is an example of a move that is enhanced with the strap. By placing your hands in the strap loops at holding them taut above your head while performing spine rolls, you make this move more challenging and obtain additional core strengthening benefits. Moves such as this, along with many others, can be found in Angela Kneale’s exercise book, Stretch Out Strap Pilates Essentials.

Stretch Out Strap Spine Roll 3Stretch Out Strap Spine Roll 2Stretch Out Strap Spine Roll 1

What is it?
The two-sided design of the SMARTOLLER foam roller is unlike other foam rollers on the market. With both a flatter side and a rounder side, it provides the ability to easily make any exercise less challenging or more challenging. Like traditional full-length rollers it measures 36” in length, allowing you to fully lie on it to perform a wide range of exercises. The unique two-in-one roller is the creation of physical therapist and certified Pilates instructor Stacy Barrows.   

What makes it amazing?
The SMARTROLLER offers the same benefits of tension release, self-massage and increased flexibility that traditional foam rollers do, but its dual-sided design takes things one step further. Used with the flatter side down it is ideal for balance movements, while placing the rounder side down provides a more challenging, dynamic workout. In addition to Pilates moves, the SMARTROLLER can also be integrated into training principles of the Feldenkrais Method®, a sensorimotor learning approach that promotes higher states of body awareness.

How do you use it?
Since the SMARTROLLER offers both a traditional rounder side as well as a flatter side, you can choose your level of challenge. For those who are less experienced, exercises can be performed with the flatter side down for increased stability. A simple flip to the rounder side down results in more of a core stability challenge. Exercises such as the abdominal curl-up (pictured with the spine resting comfortably along the flat side) are excellent for core strengthening. This is just one of many possibilities demonstrated in Barrows’ SMARTROLLER Guide to Optimal Movement, an exercise manual designed for diverse ages and abilities.

SmartRoller Sit Up

Keep Evolving
Pilates, both its exercises and equipment, continues to evolve. As we learn more about health science, the practice will only further be enhanced by a deeper understanding of the body and new tools designed to promote strong, efficient movement. By adding products like the ones mentioned above to your routine, you, too will be able to evolve; mixing things up and adapting to your needs as you progress. 

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - May 31, 2017

3 Foam Roller Exercises You Need to Try

Sure, the word on the street is out that foam rollers are great for self-massage, myofascial release, reducing muscle soreness, and increasing flexibility. But how many times have you thought about using a foam roller during exercise, as opposed to preparation for it or recovery from it afterward?

Magical Versatility
The foam roller can actually be used to perform a wide variety of exercise movements. Who knew? Turns out that a lot of folks in the Pilates and yoga scene did. In these disciplines, the roller is often used to create an instability that challenges the core, promoting strength and balance. Other movements use the roller in ways that increase flexibility and range of motion, such as stretching exercises. Like many fitness products, foam rollers hold possibilities for movement that are nearly endless, limited only by the imagination. But if you’re not feeling terribly creative, don’t worry…we have three great exercises demonstrated below, just waiting for you to try.    

Exercise #1: Toe Taps
This classic Pilates mat exercise is a great way to integrate the core and lower body. Adding the foam roller provides an extra balance and stability challenge, providing even further core engagement. When done slowly with precision, you can really feel the deep core muscles being worked.

How to Perform:
  • Lie vertically along the length of the roller as pictured
  • Rest your hands along the ground for stabilization
  • Keeping both feet together, pull your knees toward your chest as shown
  • Slowly, with focused control, lower one leg at a time until you tap your toes on the floor
  • Return to starting position, then continue to alternate lowering each leg
Description: Foam Roller Toe Tap Demo 1Description: Foam Roller Toe Tap Demo 2

Exercise #2: Push-Up Combo

Push-ups have been long regarded as one of the best exercises you can do for building upper body strength. This spin on the classic takes it to the next level. A great training and conditioning or general fitness exercise, it adds a “pike” component to challenge your core as well as your upper body.

How to Perform:
  • Begin with your hands placed on the roller in push-up position, feet close together
  • Perform a standard push-up
  • Roll the roller in toward you and perform a pike
  • Roll the roller back out away from you, extending into the top position of a push-up
  • Slowly lower yourself back down into starting position, then repeat 
Description: Foam Roller Push Up Demo 1

Exercise #3: Abdominal Crunch
The basic crunch is not an extremely difficult move. But performing crunches while balanced lengthwise along the roller makes for a much different experience. The instability of the roller requires more balance, making it an effective move that promotes a broader range of core activation.

How to Perform:
  • Lie vertically along the length of the roller as pictured
  • Place your hands behind your head
  • Slowly curl upward using your abdominal muscles
  • Don’t go too far forward; keep tension on the abs and avoid straining the neck

Looking for more?
Ask your fitness instructor if he/she is aware of more ways to use the foam roller in your exercise routines. Pilates instructor and integrative health coach Angela Kneale also has some great exercises for the foam roller in her books PRO-ROLLER Pilates Essentials and PRO-ROLLER Pilates Challenge. And don’t forget the plethora of foam roller exercise videos out there that can help you put that roller to good use. With so many ways to use the foam roller, you’re sure to enjoy all the creative challenges that it offers.

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - May 31, 2017

Goop Summit: Food, Foam Rolling & Everything Wellness

You might have heard about goop, Gwyneth Paltrow’s ambitious project that encompasses all things trending in the healthy lifestyle space. From content to products, the goop website and its various forms of outreach embrace topics such as clean-eating recipes, fashion, mindfulness, travel, and fitness. Here’s more about goop and their upcoming wellness summit scheduled for June 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

The Scoop on goop
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow started goop as a weekly newsletter in 2008. According to the goop website (goop.com), she wanted “A place to organize her unbiased travel recommendations, health-centric recipes, and shopping discoveries for friends, and she also wanted to get her own questions—about health, fitness, and the psyche—answered.” The endeavor grew and has now become, as the website says, “A fully formed lifestyle site, offering a tight curation of products and content.”
Going All-In on Wellness
In goop Health, goop’s upcoming wellness summit, is being held on June 10 in Los Angeles. The event will share an array of healthy living content in the form of guest speakers and breakout sessions. Although just one day, the in-depth event promises to be packed with valuable information in the form of “…panels, keynotes, and restorative interactive sessions from the health-defining doctors and experts we rely on at goop.” Attendees will also get exclusive access to a market set to include beauty products, food companies, wellness products, and more. As the site says, “In goop Health brings our most requested and shared wellness content to life.”
Foam Rolling: Art & Science
The event will feature a number of wellness sessions led by health professionals. Topics include Crystal Therapy, Mani Time, I.V. Drip, Aura Photography, Flower Remedy Station, Sound Bath, and The Foam Rolling Physique. The Foam Rolling Physique session will be led by fascia and alignment expert Lauren Roxburgh, dubbed “the body whisperer” by goop. According to the website, Lauren will take participants “Through a revitalizing roller routine designed to flush toxins from the lymphatic system, reduce pain, and diminish cellulite — while lengthening and toning the body.”
While it might sound like a foreign concept, it’s one that Lauren Roxburgh has perfected. The certified Structural Integration practitioner and celebrity trainer released her first exercise book just a little over a year ago; Taller, Slimmer, Younger: 21 Days to a Foam Roller Physique. All of the book’s movements utilize the foam roller, and are part of a system based on the Rolfing “10 Series” combined with elements of Pilates. The program guides the reader through a series of foam rolling techniques for a balanced, aligned and more youthful body, as well as a calmer state of being — all in just 15 minutes a day over the course of 21 days.
Lauren, who was named by Shape Magazine as one of their "50 Hottest Trainers in America," developed her signature technique as a way to help busy clients with body transforming, muscular sculpting, stress releasing, and fascial remodeling. Her quest for the ideal foam roller eventually led her to OPTP, where she collaborated to develop the LoRox Aligned Roller™. The unique foam roller features raised, circular bumps that aid in lymphatic drainage and decreasing inflammation. Not only will the LoRox Aligned Roller be used in Lauren’s session at the event, but attendees will receive complimentary goodie bags that include a portable version; the LoRox Aligned Travel Roller™.

The Who’s Who of Health
Anyone attending In goop Health will have an amazing opportunity to see and hear from some of the biggest names in the industry. Wellness experts and celebrities that will be in attendance include:
  • Tracy Anderson, fitness trainer
  • Dr. Robin Berman, psychiatrist
  • Tory Burch, CEO & designer, Tory Burch LLC
  • Cameron Diaz, actress, author, advocate
  • Dr. Steven Gundry, surgeon & author of the Plant Paradox
  • Dr. Alejandro Junger, founder, The Clean Program
  • Jenni Konner, writer & Lenny Letter cofounder
  • Elise Loehnen, Head of Content, goop
  • Seamus Mullen, chef, restaurateur, author
  • Dr. Amy Myers, functional medicine practitioner
  • Gwyneth Paltrow, CEO & founder, goop
  • Esther Perel, psychotherapist
  • Nicole Richie, entrepreneur, philanthropist, actress
  • Dr. Habib Sadeghi, integrative practitioner & Be Hive of Healing cofounder
  • Dr. Sherry Sami, integrative orthodontist & Be Hive of Healing cofounder
  • Dr. Oscar Serrallach, family practitioner
  • Dr. Phil Stutz & Barry Michels, psychotherapists & authors 
Being There 
Although the trendiest, health-forward folks in LA will be attending In goop Health, most of us won’t be so lucky. The summit has three ticket price levels offering a range of experiences, but all three packages recently sold out according to a check of the event’s webpage. We’ll just have to live vicariously through the photos and event summary sure to come on social media and the goop website.

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - May 25, 2017

It’s Almost Here: ISPI 2017 Clinical Conference

The International Spine & Pain Institute (ISPI) Clinical Conference will once again be held at the Hilton in Bloomington, MN. This year’s conference will be held June 9-11, and the theme will be Neuroplasticity: Reshaping the Treatment of Pain.

The conference will focus on reshaping pain from a neuroplasticity perspective. Increasing understandings of the functional and structural changes of the brain in people struggling with pain provide exciting opportunities to help with their suffering, and the presentations at this event will focus on these opportunities. The conference will feature both keynote presentations as well as breakout sessions on targeted topics.

This year’s scheduled special topics and lab sessions include:
  • Neuroplasticity and the treatment of pain
  • Graded motor imagery
  • Neuroplasticity for shoulders
  • Motor control
  • Dystonia and sensory processing disorders
  • Neuroplasticity and dry needling
  • CRPS, CLBP and neuroplasticity
  • Mirror therapy
  • Virtual reality
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Phantom limb
Physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, and many other healthcare providers who address patients with chronic pain will benefit from the knowledge shared at the event. The ISPI Clinical Conference provides a chance to hear from many international and nationally recognized speakers, including the following:
  • Paul Hodges PT, PhD, MedDr, DSc, BPhty(Hons), FACP
  • Siobhan Schabrun PT, PhD, BPhy(Hons)
  • Nancy Byl PT, PhD, FAPTA
  • Hunter Hoffman PhD
  • Steve Schmidt PT, M.Phys, OCS, FAAOMPT
  • Kory Zimney PT, DPT, CSMT, TPS
  • Louie Puentedura PT, DPT, PhD, OCS, FAAOMPT, CSMT, TPS
  • Adriaan Louw PT, PhD, CSMT, TPS
  • Paul Mintken PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT
  • Edo Zylstra PT, DPT, OCS
  • Kevin Farrell PT, PhD, OCS, FAAOMPT
  • Debra Rico PT, DPT, CSMT
  • Colleen Louw PT, MEd, CSMT
  • Rebecca Vogsland DPT, OCS, CMTPT, CSMT, TPS
  • Lindsay Marth MA, OTR/L, TPS 
As title sponsor of the event, OPTP will be providing therapy products and educational resources for viewing and sale, including exclusive neuroscience education products by guest speaker Adriaan Louw.

Anyone interested in attending the event can view complete information and register online at the ISPI website.

READ MORE Josh Crane, OPTP Staff Writer - May 24, 2017

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