By Robin Saunders Ryan, PT MS


I want to talk more about the power of positivity… Trying to be positive when you’re experiencing stress or pain is difficult, and do-gooders who spout trite advice can come off as annoying, at best!


nesting birds

New research by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, takes the pressure off of trying to be positive all the time. Her theory promotes “micro-moments” of positivity as a key to improving long-term well being. The concept is that repeated brief moments of positive feelings can provide a buffer against stress and depression and improve both physical and mental health.


After reading about this theory in Jane Brody’s April 3rd New York Times article (Turning Negative Thinkers into Positive Ones), I spent a day trying to be hyper-aware of tiny moments that made me happy. Here are a few things I remember:


  1. Discovering that birds moved into the new birdhouse I bought at the Uptown Art Fair.
  2. Noticing the bright, lime-green color of fresh buds on these really cool trees in my neighborhood. 
  3. Being charmed by the baby in the Target checkout line –she flashed me the BIGGEST toothless smile!


Try it out! Dr. Fredrickson’s research has shown that micro-moments of positivity are cumulative, and that we can train the circuitry in the brain to promote more positive responses with repeated practice.

Is Your Headache a Pain in the Neck?

by Robin Saunders Ryan PT, MS

Did you know? Many headaches are caused by neck problems. The term for these types of headaches is “cervicogenic.” The joints, discs, ligaments, and muscles contain nerve endings that can refer pain to the head. Although neck related headaches are most common at the base of the skull, your pain can also be felt in the face, forehead, eyes, temples, and even the upper back and shoulders.

headache neck pain cervicogenic

If your headache is accompanied by a feeling of stiffness, tenseness, or decreased motion in your neck, upper back, or shoulders, there is probably a neck-related component to your headaches. You should see a physical therapist for an evaluation.

Here’s what we will do:

  • Assess the motion of each of your neck (cervical) joints – Your cervical spine has seven vertebrae – each “segment” has a disc and facet joints, along with the ligaments that hold it all together. We can often find a problem at one or two of these segments. The treatment for this type of problem involves mobilization of the stiff segment.headache neck pain cervicogenic
  • Assess the muscles of your head, neck, and upper back. The muscles that control rotation, side bending, head tilting, looking up and down, etc… can get out of balance – especially when repetitive motion, static postures, or abnormal posture is involved. The treatment for muscle imbalance involves myofascial release, manual stretching, and very specific muscle exercises.
  • Assess your posture and lifestyle – Good alignment of the head and neck will minimize the forces on your neck structures. Poor posture, especially when sitting for prolonged periods, is one of the most common causes of neck related headaches and The treatment for poor posture is exercise and education and, sometimes, assistive devices, or a change in your chair or work station.

Medication can help headache pain temporarily, but unless you get to the root cause of neck related headaches, you are only treating the symptoms. Our physical therapists are skilled at headache evaluation and treatment. We can help your physician assess whether neck treatment would be of benefit.

Herniated Disc – Should I be afraid?

Robin Saunders Ryan, MS, PT


A common cause of back pain and sciatica is herniated disc. When our patients first hear that diagnosis, many of them are afraid, because they may know someone who had surgery or might have had a poor outcome. MRIs, CTs, and even drawings of herniated discs can be really frightening!

herniated disc


In fact, most people with a diagnosis of herniated disc do very well with conservative care. We use manual therapy, and teach you proper positioning and exercise to counteract the stressful forces that your work, hobbies and habits place on your back.


A 2016 study in the New England Journal of Medicine* followed a 29-year-old female with herniated disc and nerve compression causing right leg pain and numbness. Five months after epidural injection and physical therapy, an MRI showed that the herniation had disappeared.


Here’s another fun fact: Depending on age, up to 80% of people with NO SYMPTOMS have evidence of disc problems on MRI or CT scan**. This means that, even if you have a herniated disc, it might not be related to your pain. You might just need good, old-fashioned, back rehabilitation. It’s amazing what a handful of targeted exercises can do! Our therapists perform a very specific evaluation to determine which exercises you need to counteract any stability, weakness or range-of-motion problems.


Fear can be debilitating. Don’t let a diagnosis of herniated disc scare you away from doing the things you love. Try physical therapy!


*NEJM. 2016; 374:1564

**Am J Neuroradiol. 2015; 36(4):811-816

Text Neck – Yes, it’s a Thing!

Check out this article in the Washington Post about a new phenomenon in health care: It’s informally called “text neck”, and it refers to the neck and upper back pain, headaches, and even arm and hand symptoms that can be caused by excessive texting. Looking down at your phone is only half the problem. A sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, static positions, and muscle imbalances – these can all contribute to the syndrome. Physical therapists are movement specialists! If you’re having trouble with “text neck” or anything else, give us a call – we can help.


Should I Stretch Before I Exercise?

by Lisa Martens, DPT

Stretching is something that we have been taught to do ever since our physical education classes growing up. Static stretching of holding a particular stretch for 30-60 seconds has been highly debated over the past few years. Research now shows that a static stretching prior to exercise can negatively affect your muscles power, strength, and overall performance.

Dynamic stretching consists of active movements that elicit a stretch, but are not held for any length of time. Through repetitive movements, it helps prepare your muscles and joints for your workout. By properly warming up your body prior to exercise, it can help decrease your risk of injury. One of the benefits to dynamic stretching, is that it can be individualized based on your activity. A runner’s dynamic stretching would look very different compared to a cyclist’s due to the different movements required for each sport. Talk to your physical therapist today about an appropriate dynamic stretching routine you can incorporate for your specific exercise goals.



by Cathy Piela, OTR/L

People don’t touch a hot stove and go back and touch it again. When it hurts to move after an injury the tendency is to stop moving. This can lead to fear and avoidance of movement which can be detrimental to recovery. We tend to direct our attention to pain and this actually increases our pain and leads to avoidance. When people stop doing the activity that they enjoy they can get depressed and quickly roll into the vicious cycle of chronic pain.

Movement promotes blood flow and helps normalize the tissue. Occasionally the physician recommends non-weightbearing or temporary rest and it is important to follow instructions. However, after the recommended rest period is over it is important to resume activity.

Begin slowly with activities that are meaningful to you. Walk the dog for half a block or stand long enough to prepare a light meal. Set realistic goals for yourself to move towards being able to do the activities that are important to you. It is frightening to move when you hurt so be sure to relax your muscles and your mind before you attempt activity so that you’re not increasing your pain by tensing your muscles. Breathe. A physical or occupational therapist at Saunders Therapy Centers can help you to gauge your activity appropriately, and soon you’ll be moving again!

Physical Therapy FIRST for Low Back Pain!

By Robin Saunders Ryan, PT, MS CEO

 When you need help for back pain, who do you think of first? A recent study* showed that patients who saw a physical therapy FIRST for back pain experienced significantly lower total costs compared with both the no-PT and PT-later groups, including lower out-of-pocket expenses. PT-first patients had significantly lower rates for emergency room visits, imaging, and opioid prescriptions compared with the other groups.

In Minnesota, you can self-refer for physical therapy – you do not always need a physician’s referral, and we are skilled at determining when help from your medical doctor is necessary. Call us to find out if physical therapy is the right FIRST STEP for you!

*Study sponsored by Health Care Cost Institute: http://www.healthcostinstitute.org/files/HCCI-Issue-Brief-Unrestricted-Access-to-Physical-Therapy.pdf