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 You are doing it! You are getting yourself in the best shape of your life. Summer 2021 is going to be the year that your beach bod is cut, chiseled, and at its best. You are unstoppable. You thoughtfully and carefully pack everything into your gym bag the night before. You have your water bottle, shaker bottle with protein powder already in it, your towel, and your change of clothes for after. You are locked and loaded with everything in your car. At 6:00 am, you almost hit the snooze button on your alarm, but no! You get yourself up, caffeinated, and ready! It is time to own the day! You make it to the gym (great job!) and get through your cardio warm-up. You make your way to the free weights for a lifting session, and it hits you… your back. Almost out of nowhere, your back feels like it got hit by a ton of bricks, and you can’t, simply can NOT continue working out. What gives?

Back Pain While Exercising

To be completely honest, your back is comprised of a whole lot of muscles layered on top of your spine, rib cage, sacrum, and all your connective tissue. While it appears like a flat surface, there is actually a great deal of anatomy up in there. The cause of back pain while lifting weights could be from any number of things. For example, your lower back pain while exercising is probably a completely different issue and cause than your upper back pain while exercising. We have outlined four common causes of lower (and upper) back pain while exercising below. 

YOUR BACK IS COMPENSATING FOR A WEAK CORE

The simplest explanation for back pain while lifting weights (usually lower back pain) is that your back muscles are compensating for a weak core. This means your abdominal muscles are not pulling their weight (literally), so your lower back is stuck doing all of the extra work, quickly resulting in lower back pain while exercising.

Luckily, the solution to this problem is quite simple. You need to strengthen your core. This is both a long-term and short-term strategy. For the long-term, you will need to make a conscious effort to target and exercise the abdominal muscles. For the immediate and short-term, you will need to do some ab work before lifting any weights. For example, holding a plank position (with your wrists stacked directly under your shoulders) will fire up your abs and prepare them to be an active part of any lifting or exercise you may be doing.

YOUR BACK MUSCLES ARE STRAINED OR INJURED

Another reason that you may be experiencing upper (or lower) back pain while lifting weights or exercising is that you are simply overdoing it. You may have strained or injured back muscles. If this is the case, you need to listen to your body and give yourself a break. When you exercise to the point of soreness, what you are actually experiencing is your muscle fibers tearing. (Even though it sounds scary, this is totally normal). When your muscles recover, the fibers heal back together (usually stronger than they were before). If you don’t allow ample time for recovery before working out, you will experience back pain while lifting weights. If the soreness doesn’t dissipate within a few days, you may be dealing with an injury. If this is the case, you should contact your doctor or a health care professional for further advice.

YOU MAY HAVE AN INJURED SPINAL DISC

Your spine is your central structural element in your entire body. It is comprised of bones, also known as vertebrae (24 of them to be exact). In between the bones are discs, with are softer and more flexible than bone matter. These discs allow your spine to move freely in all directions.

If you move too fast, in the wrong way, or apply force with contact to one of your discs, it can be bumped out of place or injured. If this happens, you will definitely experience lower or upper back pain while exercising. Sometimes injuries of this nature will self-resolve, but if you are still in pain after a couple of days, contact your provider.

YOU MAY BE EXPERIENCING SCIATICA

Your sciatic nerve is a massive nerve that runs from your lower back all the way down the backs of your legs, ending at the tops of each of your feet. When pressure is applied to your sciatic nerve (which can occur from a bulging disc, impact, or other natural causes – hello, pregnancy, we are looking at you), you are going to feel excruciating, pinching sensations that may momentarily cripple you from being able to stand or walk.

Sometimes the solution is to invest in better footwear or spend more time warming up before hitting the weights. Remember that impact is a major cause of sciatic nerve pain, so you want to think about providing a softer cushion for your joints. (This can be accomplished with new and better-quality footwear and knee braces.)

You also may find that heat and cold therapy help treat and prevent sciatic nerve pain. You can take a long, hot bath, followed by a cold shower (or ice bath, if you are feeling ballsy). This will increase the blood flow to that nerve and help prevent it from getting pinched or impacted. Another way to keep sciatica in check is to be more conscious of your posture throughout the day. Make sure you sit up straight while working at a computer all day, and try to keep your spine well-aligned when you are lying down to sleep at night. If you are a side sleeper, place a pillow between your knees.


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If you are experiencing muscle soreness, a stiff neck, or mobility issues, trigger point dry needling may be for you! Dry needling is an alternative therapy that decreases pain in your muscles by deactivating a myofascial trigger point. Trigger points are tiny knots that develop in a muscle when it is injured or overworked. These spots are tender at the site and often refer pain to other areas. This treatment uses a dry needle (a needle without medicine) to deactivate trigger points in your muscle. Read on to learn what the treatment entails, how it is different from Acupuncture, as well as the benefits and side effects of this revolutionary treatment.

What is Dry Needling Therapy?

Dry needling is a skilled intervention in which a filament needle is inserted into the skin and muscle directly at a myofascial trigger point. If you are wondering what that means exactly, you have probably experienced pain in your back and referred to it as having a “knot.” That so-called “knot” is actually a tight and irritated band of muscle fiber. Because it has tightened to a point of forming a bump or nodule, it actually shortens the muscle and restricts your range of motion. This causes pain and inflammation and can have somewhat of a domino effect on your entire body. When muscle groups don’t function to their maximum capacity, other muscles will compensate and you will end up with more “knots” or myofascial trigger points. The treatment of muscles has the greatest effect on reducing the pain mechanisms in the nervous system.

Trigger point dry needling can be used in all phases of healing as well as a “maintenance” tool. The musculoskeletal system is under constant pressure from gravity, stress, work, etc. A regular exercise program combined with good posture can prevent many problems. If the pain returns, “tune-ups” are recommended to treat and prevent serious injuries.

There are a few different techniques that practitioners use. Sparrow pecking or pistoning involves the in-and-out insertion of a needle. The motion is fast and repetitive and stimulates all areas of an affected point. Another technique of dry needling involves a broader stimulation of the entire nervous system. The practitioner will insert needles around the area in pain, but not on the trigger point itself. The needles typically stay in place for longer with this method. The idea is to stimulate the surrounding nerves and muscle tissue in order to create more blood flow and release of tension in the actual trigger point itself.

Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture

At first glance, dry needling and acupuncture may look exactly alike. They both use thin, stainless steel needles. They both involve the insertion of the needles into the skin and they are both beneficial in the treatment of pain and ailments. So, how are they different?

For starters, Acupuncture originated in China (circa 6000 BCE). Since that time, the methods and evolution of the needles used have improved greatly. This ancient Chinese medicine technique has also gained a lot of traction in the Western world, to the point that many U.S. insurance policies now cover it. This ancient form of healing is rooted in Taoist philosophy and tradition. Practitioners would utilize meditation to observe energetic meridians in the body. Using the needles to stimulate specific energetic centers and trigger points, they would direct the flow of energy, releasing any blockages, and encouraging healing.

Dry needle therapy is similar to acupuncture in that the needles target specific trigger points, but the points are actual places of anatomic ailment (i.e. knots) rather than energetic meridians. This means that the target points are tangible and can actually be physically shown. That is not to say that energetic blockages are not real or harmful, but it would be a lot more difficult to show someone a photo of your Chi than it would be to show them a picture of your nodule or bump, caused by a muscle spasm.

For this reason, dry needling may be a bit easier to grasp in the Western world, where people tend to prefer science over spirituality. Performance and placement of dry needling are based on the understanding of neuroanatomy and the physiologic effects on the musculoskeletal system. It involves a thorough evaluation of the musculoskeletal system and identification of trigger points and tissue dysfunction. These areas are where the needles are placed.

In Western medicine, it is also far more common to directly treat the area of the body that is in pain, rather than looking at what may have been the origin. For example, when someone has an injured hip, Western medicine will likely involve targeting the muscles around the hip joint and mobilizing the joint itself. A doctor may prescribe pain medication or a steroid to combat inflammation. When an Eastern medicine practitioner treats a hip injury, he or she will not only aim to mobilize the injured area but will also incorporate breathing and meditation exercises, and perhaps stimulation of the energetic meridians that run through the second or Sacral Chakra.

Related:
Yoga Physical Therapy: Healing From Within

What are the benefits?

The benefits of dry needling include but are not limited to the myofascial release within the neck, back, and shoulders. Dry needle therapy can also reduce headaches (such as migraines and tension-type headaches), foot pain (plantar fasciitis), and leg pain (sciatica, hamstring strains, calf tightness/spasms).

Athletes may enjoy the benefits of trigger point dry needling, as it is capable of increasing one’s range of motion and flexibility as well as providing relief of muscle pain and stiffness.

What are the side effects?

While the side effects of dry needle therapy are common, the majority of them pose no serious risk or long-term complications. The most important precaution for this treatment is the use of sterile needles and also the pre-treatment sterilization of the targeted area. Our Doctors of Physical Therapy use brand new needles out of a package at each point of service and dispose of the needles after use. They also use alcohol prep pads to sterilize your skin before beginning the treatment.

Aside from minor swelling, bruising, bleeding, and temporary soreness at the treatment site, you shouldn’t have much of an adverse reaction. The biggest risk of trigger point needle therapy is the contraction of bloodborne illnesses and/or diseases due to improper sanitation practices. It is more than okay to ask your practitioner to show you the brand new needle in the packaging prior to use and to make sure they are wiping your skin with alcohol.

Where can I go for Dry Needle Therapy?

If you are in the greater Boston metro area, LCG Boston can provide concierge dry needling support and services for any individual.


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They may look like space boots, but NormaTec devices won’t take you to the moon. They will, however, propel you to a faster warm-up and workout recovery. Compression therapy has been hot in the health and fitness industry for decades. NormaTec compression boots have added a whole new level of sophistication, technology, and science to the age-old compression wear products typically found on the market. Read on to learn more. 

What is NormaTec?

Okay, so far, we know that NormaTec boots look like something that an astronaut would wear and that they are some sort of fancy shmancy compression device. But, what makes them different from a brace or even an Ace Bandage? The answer is a whole lot of technology. But don’t worry, you don’t need to purchase an in-home device to enjoy the many benefits of NormaTec. Treatment sessions are now available at many health groups nationwide, including our own! If you are located in the Boston area, book now.

You are probably wondering, “What does NormaTec do?” The technology we are referring to is compressed air on the interior of the boots. They can be programmed to perform pulse massage patterns up and down your legs, increasing blood flow, improving athletic performance, speeding up recovery after training, and relieving pain. Can your Ace Bandage do that? …We didn’t think so.

Who is NormaTec for?

NormaTec is for anyone who has legs and uses them. Seriously! While this kind of treatment will likely appeal mostly to athletes and those who are physically active, the benefit of NormaTec compression doesn’t end there. Anyone who experiences soreness from working on their feet or standing all day, or anyone prone to inflammation, can find relief in NormaTec recovery. If you work in a production or packaging warehouse, you know what we are talking about. If you work in a restaurant or hospital, running from table to table, patient to patient, you know what we are talking about. If you suffer from lymphedema (AKA chronic swelling), then you definitely know what we are talking about! Luckily, there is a solution.

How does NormaTec Work, and What Are the Benefits?

Sometimes, soreness is the result of the overuse of a muscle or joint. (This is typical in athletes.) Other times, the culprit of pain or fatigue is lactic acid. If we use running as an example, the faster you run, the more lactic acid your body produces and consumes. When you hit your maximum speed or maintain a high speed for too long, your body will produce more lactic acid than it can consume (or “clear”) from your bloodstream. 

In layman’s terms, the acid more or less builds up and gets stuck. This will prevent your muscles from being able to contract fully. When that happens, your mobility is compromised, and you aren’t going to be running anywhere. This affects your speed and your overall performance. When left as is, that build-up of lactic acid will leave you feeling very sore until your body can naturally flush it out. NormaTec treatments will speed up the lactate clearance process, reducing soreness, improving range of motion, and allowing your muscles to, once again, be able to contract fully.

NormaTec can also lower Oxidative Stress. If you aren’t aware, Oxidative Stress occurs when your body has an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals can enter your system from external sources (such as environmental sources, like pollution or radiation). Sometimes they are created internally, either during normal metabolic processes or temporarily during natural immune responses. (In the latter scenario, this usually manifests in inflammation while your body is fighting an illness or infection.) 

Cells in your body naturally produce some of the necessary antioxidants to fight the free radicals in your system. Your diet can also aid in adding antioxidants (and, who doesn’t love blueberries?) If you are not watching what you eat, staying active, or if you are a victim of environmental factors, your balance can quickly get out of whack. Oxidative Stress can contribute to faster aging and many other health complications. Given that the entire West coast has basically been on fire for the past several weeks, creating terrible air quality nationwide (Hello, free radicals. Please be gone now!), we know that some of you really understand what Oxidative Stress feels like. Luckily, another awesome benefit of NormaTec is that it lowers your Oxidative Stress levels.

Another benefit of treatments is an increased level of RPS-6, which is an essential protein for rebuilding and repairing muscles. When you exercise, the fibers in your muscles tear. Your body rebuilds them, and they come back stronger. With added levels of RPS-6, this process can occur much faster. The treatments also increase eNOS, which is a precursor to Nitric oxide. Among other beneficial cell processes, Nitric oxide widens blood vessels (this is known as vasodilation), increasing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. This greatly enhances athletic performance. 

NormaTec Compression Therapy also increases peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma coactivator (okay, now say it really fast, five times in a row!) Only joking; it is shortened to PGC1alpha. This plays a key role in regulating cellular energy metabolism, as it participates in the regulation and metabolization of both carbohydrates and lipids. As your PGC1alpha levels rise, you will experience an increase in energy (and, therefore, stronger athletic performance). Users will also experience a thermography impact on the treated and contralateral limb. This is an indicator of improved systematic circulation.

So, what do you say? Is it time to ditch the compression braces and Ace Bandages? Those devices temporarily prevent blood from flowing to a particular area. When they are removed, the blood rushes back to that area, which provides a momentary sensation of relief. With NormaTec boots, the manipulation of blood flow and stimulated response is constant and calculated. The benefits are much greater and longer-lasting.


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