Notes From Physical Therapist, Paula Hunt

Over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain every day, according to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. While some chronic pain manifests without warning, other forms of extreme discomfort can be offset or prevented by different exercises and movements.

Paula Hunt, a registered physical therapist, has an extensive history in a variety of sports, and turned to physical therapy to help lessen pain from years of wear and tear on her body. The most common ailments her clients experience includes low back pain, knee pain (especially from arthritis due to overuse and abuse), and neck pain.

Low Back, Knees, and Necks-Ercises
According to Hunt, when it comes to back pain in particular, it really varies what exercises and movements could help lessen the pain.

“It depends on the cause for lower back pain,” she explained, “but generally back extensions are helpful,” which can be repeated every day or even every hour. 

Helpful back extensions include cobra and standing extensions. For cobra, lie down on the ground, place hands on the floor beneath the shoulders, and use arms to push upward, engaging the lower back muscles. Once up, try to bring the shoulder blades together and down the back, away from the ears. To strengthen the lower back further, try holding the position while putting less pressure on the hands – maybe hovering the hands off the floor.

For a standing extension, place hands on the hips, tuck the tailbone, engage the core muscles, and lean or arch back with an exhale. 

Another option is to lay on the back and hug knees to the chest. Hunt suggested doing these exercises three times in a row, as often as necessary.

For knee strengthening and pain reduction, Hunt said, “The best thing to do is to regularly stretch your hamstrings and strengthen your quadriceps.” 

Lunges or squats will strengthen the quadriceps, and reaching for your toes, for 15 seconds or more at a time, will stretch the hamstrings.

For neck pain, Hunt suggests “posture, posture, posture,” and if that isn’t working out well, then “chin tucks, building chest strength, and building upper back strength,” should do the trick.

Exercises for this could include wide arm pushups, or doing a modified push up by placing the knees on the floor but keeping the hips low.

What about Headaches and Migraines?
After low back pain, The American Academy of Pain Medicine lists headaches and migraines as the most common culprit of chronic pain. When asked about these two conditions, Hunt gives some helpful tips in better understanding their differences.

“Migraines and headaches are very different. Headaches tend to be physical and emotional or stress related; migraines are vascular related,” Hunt explained, meaning migraines are typically caused by some problem with the blood vessels. 

For headaches, Hunt suggested, “Stretching the neck, resting with a towel roll under the neck, or exercising to increase circulation and follow it by stretching.”

For migraines, unfortunately the answer is a little less clear. “Nothing stretch or movement related that I know of. You could try a hot-cold contrast bath for hands, which is often helpful if done early at onset. Caffeine tends to help too,” she said. 

Foam Rolling
In many gyms now, there are multiple types of foam rollers, or elongated, round foam pieces of varying densities. 

When asked about if foam rollers are actually helpful to relieve pain, Hunt said, “They work on releasing the fascia so it’s different from stretching muscle.” 

The fascia is a thin layer of fibrous, connective tissue that encloses muscles and other organs. Sometimes loosening the fascia can lead to muscular relief, similar to how a good massage can make you feel more loose and limber.

Hunt was careful to add that no one exercise or type of bodily manipulation works best, though. 

“They should all be used as part of a whole program with stretching and strengthening.” 

By Kristen Edge