Got questions? We’ve got answers! Here are answers to questions about: can ab work-outs hurt your back; stiff neck causes; tennis elbow without playing tennis.

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Can Ab workouts hurt your back?

Q: Vickie from Middleton: I work out a lot at the gym and I have been doing a lot of ab work lately but I think it is bothering my back. A friend of mine said one of your shows talked about sit-ups and crunches and how they weren’t good for your back. What can I do for my abs and how can I help my back because I don’t want to stop working out.

A: Unfortunately sit-ups , crunches and most ‘ab-machines’ do cause low back pain if you do these exercises on a regular basis. The reason sit-ups and crunches give people back pain is that they tighten a muscle that is already too tight. And, these exercises do not really strengthen the abdominal muscles as much as they strengthen a muscle called the ‘ilio-psoas’. That causes most people who keep doing these exercises to have back pain. I teach our patients to do the spinal decompression exercises to strengthen their abs and the standing hip extension exercise to strengthen their gluteal muscles which stretches the ilio-psoas to make up for all the sitting that people do.

What causes this stiff neck?

Q: Mark from Danvers: I have been waking up in the morning with a very stiff neck, but it eases up during the day and then feels stiff and achy again at the end of the day. I have been taking Advil and it seems to help. Any ideas how this got started and how long it will take to go away?

A: When your pain is something that you just woke up with and did not have an obvious and immediate start it is usually caused by several factors all coming together gradually. That means it is a combination of factors that will ALL need fixing rather than one simple reason.

For instance, people who are stomach sleepers usually end up having a stiff neck sooner or later and they will never completely get better until they stop a life-long bad habit.

The problem with Advil and other NSAID’s is that they do not encourage healing or improve the situation.  They just make you feel better without changing what caused the problem.

Problems that you ‘just wake up with’ usually take longer to go away because they have been coming on for a long time.

A combination of good hands on care to restore normal function of joints and muscles with the right exercises and improved nutrition gets most people back to health without drugs or surgery.

How can I have tennis elbow when I don’t play tennis? 

Q: Maria from Beverly: I started getting pain in my left elbow area after I trimmed a bunch of arborvitae bushes around my house 2 weeks ago. A friend said I might have tennis elbow, and I told her I have never played tennis in my life. She said you don’t have to play tennis to have tennis elbow. So what should I do to get better?

A: Your friend is right you can get ‘tennis elbow’ without ever playing tennis. It is caused by overusing muscles that attach at your elbow and run down to move your wrist and hand. Using a brace that restricts movement of your hand and wrist will help. And, getting the right muscle therapy care is also important. You can try doing this at home by rubbing your fingers back and forth across the grain of the hurting muscle for several minutes until the pain diminishes by half. Then follow up with ice for 15 minutes. Keep using a wrist brace that stops your hand from moving. A brace on your elbow will not help much at all.