Category Archives: Injury prevention

15 Minute Rehabilitation: It’s Time to Unplug

While working as an athletic trainer I was frustrated and furious with the constant flow of athletes ‘needing’ certain treatment. I was tired of students and support staff hooking athletes up to every biophysical modality in the athletic training room. Why? They had no clue – it felt good to the athlete, it ‘worked’, it was easy, the coach said to – my blood beginning to boil.

It seemed every injury for all athletes was treated by the wonderful benefits of electrical stimulation. After a quick evaluation the injured body part is surrounded by electrodes and covered with a comfy hot or cold pack. For 20 minutes the athlete sat there with a special tingly, prickly feeling that gives those in pain a warm fuzzy feeling. As a health care provider there is nothing easier than slapping on a few electrodes and walking away for 20 minutes; it’s easy and clients love it. I must admit that I have fallen victim to the persuasive effect of e-stim as both an athlete and health care provider. But it was time to unplug. The overuse of modalities coupled with the under usage of manual therapy and rehabilitation was sickening. So what did I do?

I unplugged it all. I took all of the modalities and put them in one room with one table. It was not to be used unless a valid reason existed to do so. Holy s***, did I make some people mad. Instantly, coaches and athletes, became health care experts saying it was needed. But for the fellow athletic trainers – they understood. It made them learn reasons why to use modalities. It also help them look at the treatment of injuries in another way. This method also enhanced their ability to identify and correct common human movement dysfunction than causes pain.

Before I go further and before those in support of  modality usage start throwing data at me, stop. E-Stim (along with the other biophyscial modalities) is a versatile modality, has few contraindications and is a quick easy way to reduce pain in most clients. For this reason e-stim is often the first tool of choice.  The effectiveness and subsequent overuse of e-stim, is secondary to pain relief. A structure called the substantia gelatinosa (SG), lies in the IV Laminae of the dorsal horn in the spinal cord. This structure is where nociceptive (pain) fibers terminate and decisions with regards to how pain should be handled are determined. Also terminating in the SG are A Delta fibers (sensory fibers). E-stim has several modulations, but the most common is for a theory called “Gate Control Theory”. Essentially, electrical impulses from e-stim therapy bombard the SG through the A Delta Sensory fibers and over-ride the nociceptive fibers and ‘turn-off’ pain. The pain relief can last from minutes to several hours.

Unfortunately, all too often, athletic trainers try to control pain rather than fix the problem. Rather than spending 20 minutes turning off pain, why not allocate the time to long-term pain relief and correcting dysfunction? Why not spend 20 minutes correcting a muscle imbalance, which will lead to lifelong change and keep athletes out of your athletic training room? All you are doing is putting a band-aid on a problem, unfortunately you have to keep putting that band-aid on everyday for the entire season. I said it before and will say it again – Athletic Trainers need to transition from triage to rehabilitation and optimizing functional movement. However, I understand the problem: it is a time crunch. Athletic training rooms are vastly understaffed – making it difficult to dedicate 20 minutes of rehabilitation time to one athlete, when 3oo are lined up at the door. So we have a time crunch, but there is a solution…

Almost all injuries we see in the athletic training room are a result of:  altered length tension relationships, altered arthrokinematics, altered neuromuscular recruitment. Collectively, these issues are what makes up human movement dysfunction. You name the injury – tendonitis, ACL tears, PFPS, fasciitis, MTSS, impingement, rotator cuff pathologies, you get the point – can be linked back to human movement dysfunction. The good is that human movement dysfunction is identifiable, preventable and correctable. The better is that the strategies to correct human movement dysfunction can be done in less than 15 minutes per day.

Yes, I said it – you can perform a 15 minute rehabilitation session. I presented on this topic at the NATA District 10 and District 2 conference and even did a few customized workshops. A colleague presented on the topic at the June 2012, NATA conference. Imagine correcting a problem, preventing injury, or rehabilitating an athlete in 15 minutes per day. That would be better than slapping on a pair of electrodes and setting up hi-frequency biphasic sensory-level stimulation. You will fix the problem and reduce pain. How you ask?

As I said above, human movement dysfunction is often composed of three problems, all which are identifiable during human movement assessments. The assessments will indicate where human movement impairments exist. But lets say for example we have a patient with patellar tendonitis, we would likely see functional impairments somewhere along the lower extremity. Below is a sample program I would do in 15 minutes.

Decrease neurological drive to hypertonic tissue – 3 minutes 

Exercise: Self-Myofascial Release or Manual therapy

  • Gastrocnemius/Soleus – 60 seconds
  • Adductors – 60 sec
  • TFL/IT-band – 60 sec

Lengthen hypertonic muscle or joint tissue – 3 minutes

Exercise: Static stretch or joint mobilization

  • Gastrocnemius/Soleus Stretch – 1 set @ 30 sec
  • Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch – 1 set @ 30 sec
  • Adductor stretch – 1 set @ 30 sec
  • Posterior joint mobilizations at the ankle – 90 seconds

Increase neurological drive to hypotonic tissue – ~ 6 minutes

Exercise: Isolated Strengthening or positional isometrics

  • Resisted Ankle Dorsiflexion – 2 sets x 15 reps (slow) (2 minutes)
  • Resisted Hip Abduction and External Rotation- 2 sets x 15 reps (slow) (2 minutes)
  • Resisted Hip Extension – 2 sets x 15 reps (slow)  (2 minutes)

Integrated Dynamic Functional Motion – ~ 3 minutes

Exercise: Integrated movements

  •  Ball Squats w/Resistance Band Around Knees – 2 sets x 15 reps (slow)

Note this is just a sample program. In the above instance I assumed the client had limited ankle dorsiflexion and muscle imbalance at the hip musculature. The specific human movement impairment will be client and injury dependent. That said, you can follow the same formula and perform rehab in the same amount of time that it takes to perform e-stim. Too often we use the time crunch as an excuse for our failure to perform due diligence as health care practitioner. We have a job – that is to keep athletes healthy. Let’s choose the path that works – not the band-aid.

 

The Dreaded Hamstring Strain

How many times are we going to see an athlete suffer from recurrent hamstring strains? How many times are we going to see delayed recovery from a mild hamstring pull? Unfortunately, it’s going to continue, because some health and wellness specialists (ATCs, PTs, and Strength coaches) are looking in the wrong area. Sometime ago I had a disagreement with the parent of an athlete (the parent also happened to be a chiropractor).

The parent was upset that I was not fixing the hamstring in rehabilitation. He said, ‘She needs flexibility and strengthening of the hamstring! You are not doing that!’ The concerned parent actually complained to my athletic director. Now I have my boss challenging me on my treatment.  Ugh, such is the life of an Athletic Trainer. Thankfully, after conversation, he backed me up.

Now, before I swarmed by an angry mobs of chiropractors trying to beat me with sticks, this is not about chiropractors – this is just one example of the trap that many health care practitioners – Athletic Trainers, PTs, OTs, RKTs, DC, MD, LMTs, etc – fall in to.  Many practitioners are too concerned with ‘the what‘ rather than ‘the how‘ and ‘the why‘.

This particular parent was upset and did not understand why I was not addressing the what. In my defense, I was dedicating some time to fixing the what – using ultrasound, massage, PROM, etc – to facilitate proper tissue healing. However, I knew this would not fix the problem. In this particular instance (and most hamstring injuries) I needed to correct human movement dysfunction (poor neuromuscular recruitment, suboptimal arthrokinematics, and altered length-tension relationships). This will fix the problem and go a long way in prevention of re-injury. Flexibility and strengthening of the hamstring is not needed.

Don’t get me wrong, flexibility is a good thing, but hamstring flexibility is way overrated. Take yoga as an example, yoga is  known for improving flexibility (among other things). In fact, I’ve prescribed yoga to many of my clients. Unfortunately, many yoga poses place the already lengthened hamstrings under further stretch. Hamstring strains are very common in Yoga enthusiasts, especially amateurs. It is so common, it was given a name – Yoga Butt. Yoga butt is essentially a tear of the proximal hamstrings, subsequent to repetitive lengthening of the hamstrings.   There is a reason for this.

Secondary, to pattern overload or prolonged static posturing many individuals suffer from chronic hypertonicity and mechanical shortening of the psoas.  A chronically tight psoas will cause altered reciprocal inhibition of its functional antagonist, the gluteus maximus. With this muscle imbalance an abnormal force coupling occurs yielding poor arthrokinematics in the form of an anterior pelvic tilt. Because of the hamstring’s proximal attachment to the ischial tuberosity an anterior pelvic tilt will cause the hamstring to migrate superiorly and posteriorly, essentially lengthening the muscle. If you recall from your applied kinesiology course, muscles have optimal length tension relationships – a zone where maximal muscle force can be produced. The longer or shorter a muscle is, the less the muscular force can be applied or tolerated.

In addition to this, with the glute inactivity caused by altered reciprocal inhibition. So now a synergistic muscle must help with glutes ability to perform hip extension. Which muscle is going to this? You guessed it – the hamstring.  This is called synergistic dominance – the hamstring (synergist) must dominate the movement of hip extension.

If you recall from above, the hamstrings are working in a lengthened and suboptimal position. Coupled with this it is being asked to do more work. So, when we are applying the greatest amount of muscular tension – eccentric contraction near end ROM (such as sprinting) – the hamstring fails. Commonly it fails near the proximal attachment secondary to a line of pull change.

Why do we see so many hamstring injuries? Because health and wellness professionals are not identifying or intervening to correct human movement dysfunctional patterns.

Why do we see so many recurrent hamstring injuries? Because we are not fixing what needs to be fixed and allowing the hamstring to work inefficiently.

Why are we seeing delayed recovery? Because we are using antiquated rehabilitation techniques. We are focusing on the hamstring when the problem exists elsewhere.

Correcting movement dysfunction and optimizing function will fix the problem. This is so much easier in the long run. Recently there has been a slew of research published discussing the effectiveness of high-intensity eccentric hamstring strengthening on the prevention and rehabilitation of hamstring injuries. Yes, eccentric hamstring exercises work, but why? They work because you are making the hamstring more tolerable and able to function with poor mechanics. Again, this is not fixing the problem. To fix the problem you must address glute weakness and hip flexor tonicity.

The Importance of Pitch Count

Image Courtesy of: Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

As a college athlete Stephen Strasburg was one of the most sought after pitchers in the history of baseball. He destroyed opposing batters with a ridiculous fast baseball and off-speed pitches that seemed to roll off of a table. In 2009, he was the number 1 overall draft pick by the Washington Nationals. Soon after he blitzed through the minor leagues with a stat line that made fantasy baseball owners drool. In his major league debut he recorded 14 strikeouts, 0 walks and 2 earned runs. This Superman was real and he had arrived. However, this Superman also had his own kryptonite – the Ulnar Collateral Ligament.

In August, 2010, the Nationals announced that Stephen suffered a torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) and would undergo surgery. Recovery from this surgery is at least one year. He was able to come back and finish off the 2011 season, in a limited fashion while in the minor leagues. Finally, at the start of the 2012 season he came back to the big leagues. So far all is well in 2012. He is arguably the most dominant pitcher in MLB. But his time will end in just a few days. Continue reading

Women are Wimps!!

STOP! Before you start throwing knives at my head I don’t really think women are wimps. If I did my wife would be waiting for me when I get home to prove me wrong. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Women have demonstrated continued increase in sports endeavors and are much faster, more aggressive and powerful than in past decades. However, secondary to the increased participation in sport, women are sustaining many more injuries.

Females between the ages of 15-25 years are most often injured, with the majority of these injuries are to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).  Females are 2-5 times more likely than males to sustain an injury to the ACL. This injury is primarily noted in basketball and soccer, but is still prevalent in many other sports such as volleyball, softball and gymnastics.  Women over the age of 25 are also more susceptible to recreational sporting injuries compared to males.  Many of these injuries are also musculoskeletal in nature, such as ankle sprains, shoulder tendinopathy, and chronic knee pain such as chondromalacia, PFPS and ITB Syndrome. Looking at the glass half-full though,most of these injuries can be prevented with correction of movement dysfunction.

With the increased participation in sport and the commonality of musculoskeletal injuries it is prudent to understand typical movement dysfunction patterns that bring about these injuries.  Secondary to genetics, body morphology and muscle recruitment females are susceptible to lower extremity impairment syndrome.

Lower extremity impairment syndrome is a combination of muscle imbalances, joint dysfunction, and poor muscle recruitment patterns from the low back to the foot. The impairment syndrome can be characterized by foot pronation, knee valgus, femoral internal rotation, and lordosis at the low back.  When performing functional activities, such as running or cutting, these characterizations are amplified. Ultimately, this leads to ACL tears or the aforementioned chronic pain syndromes.

The good news is these poor biomechanical patterns can be corrected following focused rehabilitation techniques designed to improve muscle synergy as well as joint mechanics. Many studies have been done to show a significant reduction in the incidence of injuries, such as ACL tears, by correcting these impairments. If you are having chronic pain in the lower extremity, it might be a result of lower extremity impairment. This is a good thing, because it can be corrected.

Prevent Dysfunctional Movement by Improving Ankle Mobility – A Research Review of Manual Therapy Techniques

Topic Overview:

A single joint with altered arthrokinematics can precipitate a kinetic chain domino effect that will wreck havoc on functional human movement.  One such joint is the ankle, where altered arthrokinematics has been linked to several forms of human movement dysfunction and subsequent musculoskeletal injury. Specifically, limited ankle dorsiflexion, has been associated with patellar tendionopathy, ipsilateral gluteus medius weakness, plantar fasciitis, medial tibial stress syndrome, contralateral shoulder pathologies, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, recurrent ankle sprains, chondromalacia, ACL tears, Iliotibial band syndrome, increasing frontal plane motion of the knee, external snapping hip syndrome and osteitis pubis (just to name a few).  In addition to the aforementioned injuries athletes ware at risk of significant performance declines in overall power, agility, and speed.  I am not saying that these are all caused from limited ankle dorsiflexion, but I am saying that limited ankle dorsiflexion can cause these issues.

These issues can create a huge headache for the athlete, health care practitioner, personal trainer or performance coach. So, the question is what can we do that to prevent or treat these dysfunctional patterns or injuries? Simple, increase ankle dorsiflexion. But how? There are several treatment methods so I began thinking what is the single best way to improve ankle dorsiflexion; static stretching, manual therapy, soft tissue release, dynamic flexibility? I could come up with only one solid, and universal one stop treatment option – manual therapy, specifically Movement with Mobilization (MWM). So I found a good research article to review that talks about MWM and the effect it has on ankle dorsiflexion.

Complete Reference: Vicenzino B, Branjerdporn M, Teys P, Jordan K. Initial Changes in Posterior Talar Glide and Dorsiflexion of the Ankle After Mobilization With Movement in Individuals With Recurrent Ankle Sprain. J Ortho Sports Phys Ther Jul 2006;36(7):464-71.

Introduction to the Study:

Mobilization with Movement  (MWM) techniques are commonly utilized to improve joint range of motion and reduce pain. Recent evidence indicates posterior glide of the talus and ankle dorsiflexion is deficient in patients suffering from recurrent ankle sprains. Clinicians have used MWM techniques as an effective tool to increase posterior talar glide and increase talocrural dorsiflexion. The purpose of this study is to evaluate effectiveness of two MWM techniques (weight-bearing and non-weight bearing) for treatment of recurrent ankle inversion ankle sprains.

Study Limitations:

  • Imaging studies have not been done to validate assessment of posterior talar glide.
  • Age range was limited to University’s student population age range of 18-27.
  • Time from injury only  9.4 months (mean) since most recent injury

Methods:

Subjects:

  • 16 subjects (8 male, 8 female) age 18-27 from University of Queensland student population. Subjects must have history of recurrent unilateral ankle sprains, must not have had injury on contralateral side and must not have had injury within the past 6 months.

Dependent Variables:

  • Posterior Talar Glide – Posterior glide was applied while passively dorsiflexing at the ankle and flexing the knee.  Posterior talar glide measured with use of tibial inclinometer.
  • Weight-Bearing Ankle Dorsiflexion – Standing lunge until anterior knee touches wall. Measurement taken via tape measurement of toe to wall distance was taken.

Independent Variables:

  • Weight Bearing  Mobilization with Movement (MWM-WB)
  • Non-Weight Bearing Mobilization With Movement (MWM-NWB)
  • Control Group               

Procedures:

  • Randomized, double-blind, repeated-measures, cross over control design.

Statistical Analysis:

  • Three repeated trials of posterior talar glide and dorsiflexion taken pre and post treatment.
  • Omnibus 3×2 repeated-measures ANOVA
  • Paired t tests to determine pretreatment differences of affected and unaffected limbs for intrastudy use.

Results:

  • Pretreatment:
    • Posterior Talar Glide – 2.4° for the affected side and 6.3° for unaffected side.
    • Dorsiflexion – 4.2° affected side and 6.4° unaffected side.
  • Post treatment :
    • Posterior talar glide increased to 4.0° or 55% following MWM-WB.
    • Posterior talar glide increased to 4.1° or 50% following MWM-NWB.
    • Dorsiflexion increased to 4.8° or 26% following MWM-WB.
    • Dorsiflexion increased to 4.8° or 26% following MWM-NWB.
    • Control group increased to 3.3° or 17% following MWM-WB
    • Control group increased to 4.4° or 9% following MWM-NWB

Conclusion:

Overall, both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing MWM demonstrated significant positive effectiveness for improving posterior talar glide and ankle dorsiflexion. Maximum possible effect (MPE) for posterior talar glide utilizing Weight bearing MWM and non weight-bearing MWM was 55% and 50% respectively. MPE for ankle dorsiflexion was 26% for both weight-bearing and non-weight bearing MWM.  There was not a significant difference when comparing weight bearing and non-weight bearing MWM.

If you are an athlete, health care practitioner, personal trainer or performance coach and think that your issue might be associated with limited ankle mobility seek out a qualified practitioner. They will be able to identify if dorsiflexion limitations exist and will be able to treat that limitation properly and restore proper function.