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.

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!.

Total Knee Replacement Season – What does the rehab look like?


Total joint replacements surgeries tend to increase towards the end of the year because insurance deductibles have been met and out-of-pocket expenses tend to be less.  An additional cost to the patient is the rehabilitation after the surgery, which also tends to impact insurance deductibles.

The most frequent type of joint replacement that needs the most rehabilitation is the total knee replacement, also known as total knee arthroplasty (TKA).  So what does the rehabilitation process involve?

The first thing to understand is that 50% of a successful outcome is the caliber of the surgery.  If you have done your due diligence by being an educated healthcare consumer (see my very first post on this blog) and asked the best surgeon to do your total knee arthroplasty, you should be pretty confident that the actual prosthesis is the right size and was put in correctly.  That is the easy part of the process; after all you slept through it!

Then you wake up and realize your knee hurts.  It is swollen, stiff, and the muscles in your thigh (both quadriceps in the front and hamstrings in the back) do not contract well despite you attempting to make them to work.  You have difficulty transferring from supine (lying on your back) to sitting and then to standing.  Now you have to walk with a walker, another foreign experience.   After 3-5 days, the doctor may send you home from the hospital.  Now you need to get into the car to be driven home.  This requires you to bend your new knee, another daunting thought.  Once home you need to do the right thing to keep your progress going and prevent complications such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT: a blood clot) in either one of your legs, arthrofibrosis (excessive scarring from the surgery) and infection.

HELP!

Physical therapists now become your best friends and should be for a number of weeks to months following the surgery.  You will be guided through a steady progression to return you to full function.

FIRST INPATIENT PHYSICAL THERAPY:

You will have inpatient physical therapy to get you ready for returning home i.e. avoid DVTs, know how to take care of your surgical wound and, you need to learn how to walk safely with a walker.  You will also need to ascend and descend stairs,  You should return home with enough active range of motion (AROM) to get into and out of the car and be instructed in transfers from supine to sitting to standing as well as how to get in and out of a chair.  Detailed instruction should be given regarding how to control the postoperative swelling.

Avoiding DVTs:  perform the embolic isometric contraction sequence of the calf, quadriceps and gluteus musculature (in that order).  Also, do ankle pumps.

Surgical wound care:  keep it dry, no showering – I have had one patient, 13 years ago, who decided to shower before the surgical wound was healed sufficiently.  The knee became infected and was never the same again.  Luckily it was not a TKA and the infection, therefore, did not enter the bone.  It is worthwhile doing it right and accepting you will be a little dirtier than usual!

Walking:  The majority of TKA patients start walking with a front wheel walker, day one or two after surgery.  The large base of support gives the individual more stability.  You must use an assistive device as your quadriceps (muscles comprising the front of the thigh) are not contracting efficiently.  This is because of the incision and the pain impacting the function of the extensor mechanism (quadriceps + patella + patella tendon).  As a result, you have difficulty straightening your knee and controlling it in full extension.  When you transfer weight to the leg, the knee will have a tendency to give way (knee buckles under the weight) and you may fall.

Negotiating stairs with your walker:  The inpatient physical therapist will teach you the correct technique for going up and down stairs with and without the walker.  All homes have at least one to three steps to ascend from the garage to the house or at the front door.  Just remember:  the nonsurgical leg does all the work so you lead with it up stairs and lower your surgical side down with it when going down stairs.

AROM:  Immediately you need to start working on getting your new knee straight (OUCH!) and getting it bending (OUCH!).  The inpatient physical therapist should show you simple but effective exercises such as passive knee extension, hamstring and calf stretching to get it straight.  They will also instruct you in heel slides to regain knee flexion.  If you leave the hospital with full knee extension (straight knee) and 90° of flexion, you will be ahead of the game.  With 90° of flexion you can get into and out of as well as sit in the car that will take you home.

Transfers:  Inpatient physical therapists are the gurus at instructing in transfers under a variety of circumstances, all in an effort to get you more functional and independent.  You should leave the hospital knowing exactly how to do a variety of transfers e.g. change positions in bed, sit to stand, in and out of a car, the commode,  avoiding low chairs like a couch.  You walker is your friend here to and you must focus on safety in all your mobility.

Control the swelling:  This is a vital component of regaining full range and quadriceps function and should be a major focus immediately following surgery. (read the second post on this blog which discussed this topic in detail).  Make sure you get iced in the hospital for 45 minutes at a time, all around your knee at least 4-6 times a day.  You, the patient, must be vocal about this to get it done.  You will be glad you followed this procedure.  Recognize you will have bandages around your knee so it will take a while for the cold to penetrate them.  Do not get the bandages wet (see paragraph above on infection!).  Once the bandages are removed (7 to 10 days after surgery) you will ice for 30 minutes.

Now you are home.  Feel better already, albeit a little beaten up I am sure.  Out patient physical therapy now takes over.  (if you are frail, you may get home health physical therapy but make sure they follow the following guidelines).

OUT PATIENT PHYSICAL THERAPY:

The other 50% of a good outcome is dependent on a good relationship between you and your physical therapists.  Here is where the hard work really starts and you must be dedicated.  Focus on the right things and you will get a great result.

Note: There is no need for the physical therapist to aggressively bend or straighten your knee.  This may inflame the joint and increase the likelihood of arthrofibrosis.  I typically set my patients specific goals to attain each week and it is their responsibility to achieve the range required.  I measure at the beginning of each physical therapy session to track progress.  If they struggle to improve at the agreed upon rate (typically 10° to 15° of active flexion per week), then I will step in and stretch their knee gently.

Rehabilitation is typically broken down into phases.  Transition from one phase to the next is dependent on specific criteria such as degree of pain and swelling.  Progression is not based purely on a timeline.

Phase 1:  Post op days 1-10

Goals:

  1. Understand the goals of the rehabilitation process.
  2. Good pain control (pain less than 5/10)
  3. Good control of swelling.
  4. Can contract your quadriceps.
  5. Can do a straight leg raise (SLR) with minimal lag (minimal loss of full knee extension when you raise your leg off the table while sitting).
  6. Full passive extension (straight knee).
  7. Active knee flexion 90°.
  8. Independent gait and transfers.

Phase 2: Weeks 2 – 12 post-op

Goals:

  1. AROM 0°-130° (we routinely are attaining 140° or more)
  2. Mild joint effusion (swelling within the joint).
  3. Can keep knee straight between physical therapy sessions.
  4. Full SLR.
  5. Normal gait pattern.
  6. Independent in a suitable gym and/or home program based on specific individual needs of the patient at discharge.

So, there is a lot of work to do in recovering from a total knee replacement.  It is not rocket science but it does require focused dedication.  Focus on the right things based on your discussion with the physical therapist and be dedicated with your home exercises as well as those in the physical therapy clinic.

Your call to action:

  1. If you are planning on a total knee replacement (or any other joint replacement) and have questions of any sort, call us at Custom Physical Therapy and a physical therapist will address your questions.  Call 775-331-1199.
  2. Forward this to a friend, family member or coworker who may be having a total knee replacement.
  3. Forward this post to your physician and have them post a comment.  It would be great to have their input too.
  4. If you have had a total knee arthroplasty, please post a comment.  People having knee replacements would benefit from hearing what worked and what challenges you faced during your recovery.
  5. Do something kind for a stranger today!

 Thanks for reading this.

 André

Shoulder Instability – Part 2 of Shoulder Series.


We see many patients with shoulder instability thanks to either genetics giving them ligamentous laxity (you can’t pick your parents) or due to trauma causing a subluxation or dislocation (You have to live life!).

 
What is shoulder instability?


Recall the last post in which I described the bony structure of the shoulder as a basketball on a tea cup saucer – built for mobility. In an effort to keep the basketball centered in the tea cup saucer you have the rotator cuff muscles (“SITS” – Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Subscapularis) functioning to control the biomechanics of the glenohumeral joint. The long head of the biceps muscle runs over the top of the humeral head (the ball) and attaches at the 12 o’clock position on the glenoid fossa (the socket). In addition, there are very strong ligaments within the joint capsule. This joint capsule surrounds the ball and socket like a rubber boot that encases the springs of a car – the entire joint is within the capsule. The ligaments within the capsule are the superior, middle and inferior glenohumeral ligaments. Then we have the labrum, a triangular shaped ring of cartilage around the glenoid fossa (the socket). It deepens the socket.

Such an incredible structure must have specific functions. Broadly categorized they are:

1. Create static stability – this is done by the ligaments, the capsule, the bony/labral structure.

2. Create dynamic stability – done by the rotator cuff and the long head of the biceps muscle.

Shoulder instability occurs when either static or dynamic stability is constrained. Let us look at two broad categories of shoulder instability:

 
1. Atraumatic Instability – failure of the static and dynamic stabilizing forces due to genetic ligamentous laxity and/or rotator cuff malfunction (weakness, poor proprioception). You may be aware of someone who does that age-old party trick of subluxating (partially dislocating and relocating) his/her humeral head inferiorly (downward) under his/her own muscle power. This creates a sulcus sign – a divot beneath the acromion (recall from the previous post?) as the humeral head drops downward. Why? The above listed static restraints are looser than normal and hence there is more movement in the joint.

 
2. Traumatic Instability – need I say this one really hurts!? If there is a blow to the proximal humerus (upper arm) forcing the arm into combined extension (backwards), abduction (away from the body) and external rotation (hand rotated outwards) there may be an anterior dislocation. The humeral head pops out of the glenoid fossa to the front. If there is axial loading of the humerus (a force directed upward from the elbow to the shoulder like falling forwards onto your outstretched hand with elbows locked or falling onto your elbows) while the humerus is adducted (across your body) and internally rotated (hand turned inwards), the shoulder will dislocate posteriorly (backwards). Very rarely is there an inferior dislocation and even less so a superior one – we will not cover these in this post.

 
What does physical therapy do for a patient with either an atraumatic or a traumatic dislocation?

 
1. Atraumatic dislocation: The primary goal in physical therapy is to maximize the rotator cuff function so that the dynamic stabilizers can compensate for the failed static stabilizers. Yes, this means improving the rotator cuff strength. This is, however, not enough. The rotator cuff muscles must work in concert with each other and with the primary (larger and stronger) muscles which move the shoulder e.g. deltoid, pectoralis major. Rhythmic stabilization exercises are done to train the rotator cuff to keep the humeral head centered in the glenoid fossa while performing a variety of both static and dynamic tasks in the clinic. The rotator cuff muscles must contract together to compress the humeral head into the glenoid fossa thus creating a secure scapulohumeral connection (recall last post?). They must also be able to contract selectively to resist the forces created by the primary movers of the shoulder so that the humeral head does not move off center too much. If it does move off center the shoulder could subluxate, dislocate or simply impinge tendons on the acromion thus causing pain and dysfunction.

 
2. Traumatic dislocation: The primary goal after a traumatic dislocation is to avoid surgical stabilization. However, this mechanism of injury frequently requires surgery due to damage to stabilizing structures. However, a well constructed rehabilitation program can prove beneficial in avoiding surgery or, at least, can maximize the range of motion and rotator cuff strength preoperatively which, in my experience, results in a significantly better outcome following surgery. The physical therapist will help the patient regain normal range of motion and strength while protecting any traumatized (torn?)(unstable!) structures. Techniques used by the therapist will be joint and soft tissue mobilization to improve the accessory motions of the humeral head within the glenoid fossa, appropriate stretching to regain full range of motion while protecting traumatized structures and then progressive strengthening of the rotator cuff musculature in a selective manner – for example, anterior dislocations need stability anteriorly so more focus will be placed on tightening up and strengthening anterior structures.

 
In summary:
1. If you need to choose between atraumatic or traumatic shoulder instability I would suggest the atraumatic variety! This typically responds well to an expertly designed shoulder stabilization program (which you do for the rest of your life!).
2. Traumatic dislocations of the shoulder frequently require surgical intervention.
3. Shoulder joint function is dependent on static and dynamic stability mechanisms functioning in concert.
4. When you go to physical therapy for shoulder instability you should be prepared to work really hard both in the clinic WITH the physical therapist AND at home doing a comprehensive home exercise program specifically designed for your shoulder and your needs.

 
YOUR CALL TO ACTION!
1. Please forward this on to your friends, family members and co-workers.
2. Call us with any questions you may have regarding this post or stop by one of our clinics to get your questions answered.
3. POST something on this blog. Custom Physical therapy would love to hear from you.

NEXT POST: SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT

Shoulder Pain – Part 1


Shoulder pain can be due to tendinitis, tears of the rotator cuff, a labral tear, an unstable joint, referred pain from the neck, an acromioclavicular joint separation, a dislocation, or buritis, to name a few musculoskeletal causes. This post is the begining of a series addressing shoulder pain, a fairly common problem.  In 2003, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated shoulder pain affected 13.7 million people in the United States.

A brief description of the anatomy will help with understanding the reason for the different causes of shoulder pain.

Consider the bony construction of the joint:  There is very little bony stability in the design of the shoulder.  It is designed for mobility.  The head of the humerus (the ball) sits in the glenoid fossa (the socket) like a basket ball sits on a tea cup saucer.  Yes, thats the geometry, a really big ball on a small shallow socket.  Clearly this is built for mobility and not stability.  Contrast this anatomy with the hip joint which is build for stability.  Here the head of the femur (the ball) sits deep in the acetabulum (the socket) which almost surrounds the ball (it is deeper than the glenoid fossa) giving far greater structural support to the joint from the bony anatomy.  This contrast in design between the hip and the shoulder fits perfectly with the function of the joints:  the hip is a weight bearing joint for walking while the shoulder is a non-weight bearing joint which serves to place our hand anywhere in space so we can use the fine motor skills of our hand e.g. scratch your back, tie your shoes, put on a shirt, push open a door, pull a rope, play tennis, throw a ball, shoot hoops!

The glenoid fossa is part of the scapular (shoulder blade) which is attached to the rest of the skeleton via the clavicle.  The acromioclavicular joint (A-C joint) is the joint between the part of the scapular called the acromion and the distal (away from the midline of the body) end of the clavicle.  This is where shoulder pain may be felt from an A-C joint separation (more in later posts).  The sternoclavicular joint (S-C joint) is the joint between the proximal (midline) end of the clavicle and the sternum (“breast bone”) and is the only bony attachment of the shoulder to the rest of the skeleton!  Yes, the scapula floats freely on the back of the rib cage and is held in place by numerous muscles which orchestrate its movement when you use your arm.  A floating scapula and a huge ball in a shallow, small socket … now that is a joint made for movement!

Why is this important to physical therapy?

Look at the moving parts that have to function together for optimal use of your arm!  The scapula has to rotate to angle the glenoid fossa correctly with various arm movements e.g. reaching to a cupboard above shoulder height.  This is not possible if the A-C joint and the S-C joint are not moving correctly.  So these joints have a combined function – if one is not moving well then the arm may not move correctly and you may have shoulder pain.   The muscles controlling scapular motion also need to be contracting at the right time with the right force to ensure correct positioning of the glenoid.  Physical therapists evaluate and treat all these aspects of shoulder function in patients with shoulder pain.

Consider the soft tissue construction of the joint:  What is the rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is a set of 4 muscles which originate on the scapula and insert strategically around the humeral head.  Working together, these muscles control the biomechanics of the glenohumeral joint keeping the ball centered in the socket.  You can visualize the rotator cuff as the seal balancing a ball (the humeral head) on its nose (the glenoid fossa or socket).  They are frequently referred to by the acronym SITS muscles:

  1. Supraspinatus
  2. Infraspinatus
  3. Teres minor
  4. Subscapularis

The supraspinatus muscle is the most commonly involved muscle in shoulder pain as it passes through the small space between the top of the humeral head and beneath the acromion of the scapula.  It can thus be compressed between these 2 bones (referred to as impingement).  If the biomechanics of the joint is abnormal (various reasons) there can be repeated tendon irritation against the acromion thus creating shoulder pain.  Alternately, the shoulder pain can be a consequence of the supraspinatus tendon being forcefully compressed between the humeral head and the acromion e.g. jamming the shoulder joint by falling forward onto your hand with your elbow straight, or pinching the tendon if you fall onto an outstretched hand forcing your arm all the way above your head.  The resultant inflammation of the supraspinatus tendon is referred to as rotator cuff tendinits.  Repetitive overhead tasks (e.g. electrician working overhead, pitching in baseball, lifting packages to shelves above shoulder height) may also inflame this tendon as the rotator cuff, as a whole, may fatigue and hence alter the biomechanics of the shoulder resulting in impingement and hence shoulder pain.

The other 3 rotator cuff muscles (infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis) serve as shoulder depressors.  That is, they pull the head of the humerus (the ball) downwards as the arm is elevated.  This reduces the compression of the supraspinatus tendon as described above.  So, if you are lifting a heavy object overhead to a shelf and the shoulder depressors are over powered by the muscles doing the lifting,  the humeral head will ride high in the glenoid (the socket) and result in impringement as described above.

In summary, the shoulder is a very complex joint.  It’s function is dependent on synchronous functioning of the muscles which move the scapula as well as the rotator cuff which keep the ball of the joint centered in the socket.  These muscles must have suitable strength, balanced (front and back of shoulder) flexibility as well as sufficient endurance.

A well trained physical therapist will evaluate all these aspects of shoulder function and determine what deficits are causing the shoulder pain.  He/she will then design a rehabilitation program to address the cause of the shoulder pain, correcting the deficiencies thereby abolishing the pain and regaining full function.

YOUR CALL TO ACTION:

  1. Post a question (or topic) you would like to see addressed.
  2. Forward this to a friend, family member or co-worker.
  3. Call us with any questions you might have.
  4. Await the next post on shoulder pain: Glenohumeral instability. 

Tendinitis


Tendinitis is the inflammation of a tendon and of tendon-muscle attachments i.e. where the tendon attaches to the bone (insertional tendinitis).  It is an overuse phenomenon, can be excrutiatingly painful and functionally debilitating.  Treatment should focus on addressing the cause of the tendinitis, reducing the inflammation and the pain, and remodelling the tendon through a controlled exercise progression.

Most frequently seen diagnoses in our physical therapy clinic are rotator cuff tendinitis (supraspinatus tendinitis), posterior tibial and peroneal tendinitis (pain in the foot and ankle), tennis elbow (lateral epidondylitis), achilles tendinitis, patella tendinitis and iliotibial band syndrome. Interestingly, we have recently been seeing an increase in tendinitis of the guteus medius (hip abductor muscle).  We see golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis) less frequently than tennis elbow.

Despite tendinitis occuring in tendons all over the body, the approach to treating the condition remains the same for each structure involved.  You treat the tendonitis by following a specific intervention progression.  The exercises are different for the different tendons but the principle remains the same:

 

Treat the cause of tendinitis.

It does not matter what tendon is involved, the cause is most frequently overuse.  Overuse means the stress the tendon has had to endure, as a result of the force it is being asked to apply (both intensity and frequency), results in microtrauma to the tendon structure and hence inflammation.  If the tendon is not given rest, it does not have the opportunity to recover.  Examples of activities which can result in tendinitis include typing, repeated gripping on a production line, fly fishing, overhead lifting or repeated jumping.  Ankle sprains may cause tendinitis in the posterior tibialis and peroneal tendons of the foot.

So, the first line of attack is to decipher what the causative activities are and modify them.  For most rapid resolution, these should be stopped completely to avoid the continuous trauma to the tendon.  Sometimes this is not possible and a program of relative rest must be designed by the physical therapist:patient team.

 

Treat the inflammation.

Part of controlling the inflammation is reducing the stress on the tendon.  The physical therapist will address this with you in detail.  As mentioned above, rest gives the tendon the opportunity to recover from the microtrauma (as noted above).  Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or even streroids may be prescribed by your physician at the same time.  Physical therapy interventions to control inflammation include ice in the form of an ice pack or even ice massage and, iontophoresis – the administration of an anti-inflammatory, dexamethazone, to the tendon utilizing electrical currenct to faciltiate the passage of the medication through the skin (Yes!  No needles!).

 

Treat the pain.

By following the above suggestions, pain should subside over time as the inflammation is controlled.  If the pain is severe enough your physician may subscribe analgesics (pain killers).

 

Remodel the tendon.

Here is where the work is!  Your physical therapist will teach you how to stretch the involved tendon as well as progress you through a specific exercise regimen which involves both concentric and eccentric exercises which will stress the tendon.  A concentric exercise is one in which the muscle contracts and shortens at the same time e.g. the bicep contracts to bend the elbow bringing the coffee cup to your mouth.  An eccentric contraction is one in which the contracting muscle is lengthening while it contracts e.g. the bicep contracts and lengthens as it controls the extending elbow to put the coffee cup back down on the table.  An eccentric contraction places more tension on the tendon than a concentric contraction and can thus promote tendon remodelling.  Eccentric exercises are more aggressive than the concentric type.

The goal of the stretching and strengthening progression is to stimulate tendon remodelling.  This improves the flexibility and tensile strength of the tendon.  This, in turn, improves the tendons ability to tolerate the original activity which caused the tendinitis.

 

Soft tissue mobilization?  Deep transverse friction?

What about soft tissue mobilization and deep transverse friction?  Soft tissue mobilization of the involved muscle belly and, indeed, of the surrounding musculature can be helpful in alleviating discomfort.  It is less aggressive than deep transverse friction and is definitely more comfortable.

Deep transverse friction is used to stimulate blood flow in the involved tendon and break up any adhesions which may have developed as a consequence of the microtrauma of the tendinitis.  It is done by applying significant pressure (up to 7/10 pain) over the tendon with the thumb or index finger and rubbing in a direction transverse to the direction of the tendon fibers.  Sound like fun!?  It is done in conjunction with the tendon remodelling exercises detailed above.

 

YOU CALL TO ACTION:

  1. Make sure you visit us early on in the process because it is much easier to treat than if you have had tendinits for more than a few weeks.  EARLY INTERVENTION!
  2. Make sure you specifically ask to be sent to physical therapy the very first visit you have with your doctor so you can be shown the specific exercises and enjoy the hands-on treatment from the physical therapist.
  3. Pass this on to someone you know who has tendinitis.
  4. Call us with any questions you may have: 775-331-1199.