It is not osteoporosis that causes fractures.


We all know someone who has had a bone mineral density test and been diagnosed with osteopenia or osteoporosis.  This means they have lower than normal bone mineral density and hence their bones may be more fragile.  This in itself does not necessarily cause fractures but does need to be addressed.

A comprehensive, multifaceted approach to the treatment of osteopenia and osteoporosis will have a significant impact on bone density.  Clearly there are suitable medications one can take which your physician can address (beyond my scope of practice for sure).  I am sure you have all seen the numerous commercials on TV for these medications with that classic … “Ask your doctor about Boniva (or whatever medication they are advertising)” at the end.

The predictive value of bone mineral density measurements has been called into question in that it can under or overestimate density by 20% to 50%.  If it underestimates the density of the bone, you may receive unnecessary treatment.  If it overestimates bone mineral density you may not receive the most effective treatment.  So, what should you do?

Recognize that it is the fall that causes fractures and not the osteoporosis or osteopenia.  So if you address the physical limitations causing falls you will reduce the frequency of falls and thus reduce fractures.  75% of fractures occur in people without osteoporosis.  80% of low impact fractures occur in people who do not have osteoporosis.  Yes, it is the falls.

Preventing falls among older adults reduces the incidence of fractures, sometimes by over 50%.  Scientific evidence supports a reduction in fall frequency through strength and balance training, followed by reductions in the number of psychotropic drugs, dietary supplementation with Vitamin D and calcium and, in high risk populations, assessment and modification of home hazards.

This is where physical therapy is involved.  A fall prevention program should include targeted strengthening and stretching, static and dynamic balance training, posture modification, home hazard removal and of course an ongoing home exercise program which should be completed on a daily basis.

How do you know if you, a friend or a family member may need a fall prevention (and hence fracture prevention) program?  Answer “YES” to one of the questions below and you should consult with a physical therapist.

  1. Do you have difficulty going from a sitting to a standing position?
  2. Have you fallen without a known precipitating event?
  3. Have you fallen more than once in the past 6 months?
  4. Does it take you longer than 13 seconds to get up from a seated position and walk 10 feet?
  5. Do you have osteopenia or osteoporosis?
  6. Are you unsure if you would benefit from a fall prevention program?

Do your own assessment and decide if you, a family member or a friend may need to address balance issues with a physical therapist.  You will be glad you did.

Antibiotic treatment of Low Back Pain


I recently came across an interesting pair of research papers in which low back pain was treated with antibiotics successfully.  This research is published in the European Spine Journal April 2013, volume 22, Issue 4, pages 690-696 and 697-707.

This concept took me by surprise.  Dic herniations can apparently become infected with the bacteria from plaque in your teeth and from acne.  The link between dental hygene and cardiovascular disease, and I think diabetes (not sure), has previously been documented so I do not think this premise is a far stretch.  The authors investigated nuclear disc material from patients who underwent surgery for annular tears and removal of visible nuclear tissue.  43% of patients had evidence of infections.

They then treated patients with chronic low back pain and vertebral bone edema with antibiotics for 100 days (that’s a long time).  The antibiotic treatment significantly improved the chronic low back pain when compared to placebo.

Well!  I am somewhat taken aback but realize this is very interesting and may explain some cases of low back pain that do not progress as well as they should.

Your call to Action:

  1. What do you think of this?
  2. If you are a healthcare provider, post your comments please.
  3. Forward this onto someone who may have some comments and have them post their thoughts to our blog.
  4. Have an incredible week!

Swelling and Knee Function


The most read post on this blog deals with “Swelling, Effusion, Edema and Bruising – What’s the difference?”.  I will take the concept one step further and discuss how knee swelling or joint effusions impact your ability to control your knee extension when you walk.

So, you injure your knee and develop swelling inside the joint.  You may notice your knee giving way.  That means when you transfer weight onto your injured leg the knee buckles.  This is due to the quadriceps (front of your thigh) not contracting efficiently and hence not controlling the knee in extension.  Knee extension is vital in walking because it stabilizes the leg to accept the transferred weight from the opposite leg when you are in stance phase of gait.  If the knee is unable to go fully straight while stepping onto it you have difficulty swinging the other leg through to take another step.

This happens because of the swelling (and possibly pain too) within the joint.  A neural reflex is set up by distension of the joint structures.  It passes through the spinal cord and back to inhibit the quadriceps.  It is then difficult to contract them at the right time and with sufficient speed during the gait cycle.  Hence, unsafe walking and difficulty going up and down stairs, for example.  You may notice immediate deterioration of your ability to contract the quadriceps following injury with a joint effusion.

To regain quadriceps function and hence to restore normal and safe walking you must control the swelling (see earlier post on this topic), avoid increasing it by careful activity modification and do specific exercises to regain normal quadriceps function.  Physical therapists will instruct you in specific neuromuscular reeducation exercises to restore the quadriceps recruitment pattern.  Such exercises may include seated quad sets, straight leg raises or short arc quad recruitment.  These may be done with neuromuscular electrical stimulation (not TENS – that’s for pain and totally different type of current form) to facilitate recruitment of the muscle.  In addition, you will be given terminal knee extension exercises in standing such as straightening the knee against a wall with a towel roll behind your knee against the wall or fully extending your knee against tension created by an elastic sports cord.

So, controlling swelling in a joint is necessary to regain function of the muscles moving that joint.  This process is used in all knee injuries that result in joint effusions as well as in all postoperative rehabilitation, for example, following ACL reconstruction, meniscus repairs and debridement as well as total knee replacements.

What have you found helpful in the past?

What worked for you?  What didn’t?

Post your comments here so other people can learn from your experiences.  We would love to here from you.

Motivated to Get Healthy Via the Cost of Healthcare.


My last post on hip pain suggests the need for us all to be educated healthcare consumers and takes us back to the original goal of this blog – to be a credible, unbiased (by selling, advertizing or marketing products, for example) healthcare information source within the expertise of the writer.  Clearly, if it takes 21 months and three providers to correctly diagnose hip pain, we must all be willing and able to ask questions of our healthcare providers (doctors, physical therapists, physicians assistants, nurses, hospitals, insurance companies).

$2.8 trillion ($2,800,000,000,000 – enough zeros?) is estimated to be spent on healthcare in 2013. In 2010, we spent just over $8000 per capita in the US and our life expectancy at birth ranks below countries that spend far less. Spain spends about $3000 per capita and has a life expectancy at birth of 82 and Japan spends $4000 per capita and has a life expectancy of 83.

Consider that the healthcare industry spent $5.36 billion lobbying Congress from 1998 to 2012 while the defense lobbyists spent $1.53 billion. Will this system change to your benefit as a patient?  I do not think it will change in the near future and will thus continue to cost us all way more than we can afford.

I suggest we make the healthcare system challenges a mute point by using this reality as motivation to take charge of our own health. For example, what small lifestyle change can you make to start on the road to a healthier you today?

As a physical therapist I am partial to movement so why not move more each day. That means doing little things such as walking stairs, walking at lunchtime, taking family time and walking around your neighborhood after work with your kids, standing up from your office chair 10 times every two hours, anything you can think of that will increase your activity level.

A dietician may have ideas such as portion control, cutting out refined and fatty foods, eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water.  All you dieticians out there, feel free to post your ideas of simple, easy ideas people can use to start the process of improving their health.

What about a wellness visit to your primary care doctor?  Dr Ronald Hicks in Sparks, Nevada has been my primary care physician for almost 17 years.  Every visit I have with him involves discussions about some form of healthy living (sun block, exercise, diet, stress), and I am a health person.  He tells me he has many diabetic patients who do not control their blood glucose using simple dietary restrictions, exercise, regular montoring and medication use.  I am floored by this.  If we know what we need to do to control a disease which is potentially fatal, why do we not do it? (A lead into a future post maybe?)

In conclusion, at Custom Physical Therapy I have the priviledge of working with a variety of wonderful people all of whom have different needs.  Everyday, there are people who can make small changes in lifestyle and thus have large gains in health.  However, such lifestyle changes do not come easy and require motivation.  With this post, I am suggesting we use the cost of healthcare as motivation to make the needed changes to become healthier.  You will save on  healthcare costs down the road as we will only use the expensive healthcare system when we truly need to.  Prevention is the word.

YOUR TO DO LIST:

  1. What one aspect of your lifestyle will you change today to start on the road to a healthier you? 
  2. Post your idea on this blog – I would love to read about it.
  3. Send this post to someone you would like to join with on the quest to save $$$ by becoming a healthier you.
  4. Schedule a wellness checkup with your primary care physician – let the doc know your desire to become healthier.
  5. Be happy and get healthy!

Hip pain – 21 months to diagnosis?


A study by Burnett et al in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (2006) documented an average time from injury to accurate diagnosis for hip pain due to labral tears as 21 months.  People with this type of hip pain saw an average of 3.3 providers before definitive treatment was initiaited.  In 17% of their study group of 66 patients, surgery was recommended on a different anatomic site.  Once the correct diagnosis was made and the hip arthroscopy was performed, 89% of the patients were clinically better off than before surgery.  That is positive.

Hip pain can originate from a number of structures and as a result can be easily misdiagnosed.  Low back pain can refer pain to the hip area.  Sacroiliac joint dysfunction can too.  Hip pain can be due to bony problems such as impingement or due to damage to the cartilage structure around the socket, that is the labrum (similar to the shoulder – see an earlier post on this blog).  It can originate from strain or tearing of the lignaments around the hip joint as well as from all the many muscles which control the hip joint.  In addition, pain may originate from the pubic area where the abdominal muscles and the hip adductors attach, commonly called athletic pubalgia or a sports hernia.  Finally, hip pain can be a consequence of referred pain from the leg.

Hip pain is typically localized to the groin area.  It may also be felt laterally over the outside of the hip or in the buttock.  There may be clicking, popping and snapping in the hip joint associated with the pain.  Walking, running, ascending and descending stairs, putting shoes on (figure 4 sitting) and lying on the affected side may be challenging.

Your to do list:

  1. If you have back pain that radiates to the hip area (buttock, side of your leg, groin) ask your doctor or physical therapist to evaluate the hip.  At Custom Physical Therapy we check the hip with every low back pain patient so we do not miss the diagnosis.
  2. Educate yourself on the hip so you can ask questions of your doctor and physical therapist.  Do not let your hip pain get misdiagnosed and take 21 months to be correctly treated.
  3. Call us at Custom Physical Therapy if you have any questions regarding your hip pain.  Mention you are calling with specific questions regarding this post on hip pain.  We can answer your questions.
  4. There are some really top notch hip doctors in Reno, Nevada.  Call us if you want to know who they are.
  5. Please forward this on to your friends, family and coworkers via email, Facebook, Twitter or word of mouth.

Thank you for being part of Custom Physical Therapy.  Here’s to your healthy hips!

Physical therapy

Here is a poll to take and watch the results.


Knee Pain! Osteoarthritis!


To my fellow Boomers out there ….. How are your knees doing?  We are an active sector of the population and we want to remain that way for the health benefits (and the fun!) thereof.  Knee pain due to osteoarthritis, whether one or both knees, has a dramatic impact on a person’s ability to continue with their chosen active lifestyle and, if it gets painful enough, may impact activities of daily living such as getting into and out of a car or a chair, cooking a meal or simply walking.

 WHY KNEE OSTEOARTHRITIS?

Osteoarthritis affects 25 million North Americans and is symptomatic in 13% of people aged 55 years and older.  It has been shown to be the most frequent cause of functional disability including being dependent on alternative forms of mobility due to the tremendous pain with walking.  Ouch!  The prevalence of osteoarthritis is rapidly increasing due to two main factors.  Firstly, the aging of the American population (that includes us!) is increasing the share numbers of people older than 55 years.  Secondly, the rapidly increasing obesity in our population is increasing the rate of joint degeneration.  One study reported 83% of males who had knee osteoarthritis were obese compared to 42% of males without it.  Wow!  Now there is a statistic that says a lot and leaves nothing to the imagination as to what we need to do to address the issue.

WHAT IS IT?

Osteoarthritis is the joints response to structural damage caused by mechanical problems.  It is the body’s attempt to repair a joint under unusual stress and often leads to a stable, pain free joint.  If this process fails (is insufficient for the magnitude of mechanical stress placed on the joint) the knee becomes symptomatic and hence functionally debilitating.

MECHANICAL STRESS YOU SAY?

Pathological mechanical stress of the knee joint may be due to:

  1. Increased overall load through the weight bearing joint surfaces (e.g. obesity).
  2. Reduced load bearing surface area thereby increasing the pressure (same force through a smaller area) exerted through the joint (e.g. misaligned joint: bandy or bow-legged).
  3. Repetitive impulsive loading of the joint (e.g. trauma, doing moguls).

Obesity increases the overall load through the joint and overwhelms the joint tissues resulting in osteoarthritis.  Being bandy or bow-legged reduces the weight bearing surface area in the knee joints (shifts it from throughout the knee to one side or the other of the joint) and results in excessive wear and tear of the joint on the outer or inner surfaces respectively.  Sustaining a serious injury to the knee in which ligaments are torn and the joint surfaces are banged together in the injury may initiate the osteoarthritic “repair” process as well.  Thus, when stress on the joint tissues exceeds their physiological tolerance breakdown ensues and osteoarthritis begins.

HOW CAN WE ADDRESS THE CAUSATIVE FACTORS?

Weight loss in an effort to attain a normal body weight for your frame is paramount in reducing the forces through the knees.  Walking results in a force through the knee equal to 3 – 4 times your body weight each step.  If you lose 20 – 50 pounds in an effort to attain your normal weight, you reduce the forces through your knees by 80 – 200 pounds each step you take!  Talk about happier knees!  An 11.2 pound weight loss over a 10 year period has been shown to reduce the likelihood of developing knee osteoarthritis by 50%.

For misaligned knee joints (those of you who are bandy or bow-legged) there are unloading braces to modify (increase) the load bearing surface and hence reduce stress to the one side of the affected knee.

In all osteoarthritic knee joints muscle weakness, joint stiffness and poor balance are factors.  Muscles around the knee joint serve to cause movement in bending and straightening the knee, can reduce mechanical stresses to the joint by absorbing loads applied to the limb (e.g. cushioning during landing a jump or when skiing) and stabilize the knee joint during daily tasks of walking, running, lifting and carrying to name a few.  Patients with knee osteoarthritis are 20% to 40% weaker in their quadriceps than people without the condition.  As the disease worsens the knee muscle activation patterns become less efficient and less specific and joint proprioception (the brain’s ability to know what is happening at the joint and react accordingly) is suppressed.  A well constructed, evidence-based physical therapy program will improve strength, range of motion and proprioception and result in improvements in physical function, pain and quality of life.  Modifying the mechanical problems causing the osteoarthritis together with addressing the inflammatory and pain aspects of the disease process through pharmacological intervention from your physician can result in an 86% success rate in improving your function.  Who would not like that!?

All our physical therapists at Custom Physical Therapy have undergone specialized training for treating osteoarthritis.  The therapists work as part of a team comprised of you the patient, your physician and the physical therapist.  Using physical therapy interventions to modify the mechanical factors impacting the progression of osteoarthritis together with the physician addressing the pharmacological aspects and the patient being compliant with an exercise and stretching program (see our very first post on this blog) as well as brace use, if prescribed, the team of patient-physical therapist-doctor minimizes the effect of the disease process on your function.

YOUR CALL TO ACTION!

  1. If you are overweight start a simple lifestyle change that entails weight loss (Call Joe Dibble, dietician at Sierra      Strength and Speed, for a consult.  He is really knowledgeable and practical.)
  2. Call Custom Physical Therapy so we can evaluate your      arthritic knees and set you up with appropriate treatment.
  3. Forward this post to someone you know who has sore      knees or you think may be interested in the information.

You are encouraged to call Custom Physical Therapy to talk to one of our accredited physical therapists about your knee pain.  You may be a candidate for this customized evidence-based program specifically developed to improve your function which deteriorated due to knee osteoarthritis.

Break a Leg? Literally!


I really enjoyed Laura’s blogging of her total knee replacement.  I think this is a great idea and one which can help other people who are potential knee replacement candidates get a sense of what the process looks like from a patient’s perspective.

Great job, Laura.  We all hope you are doing well.

Break a Leg? Literally!.

2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,800 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.