Category Archives: Sports Medicine

Ice: The Overused Modality?

Many years ago I got tired of watching my athletes roll in to the ice-for-injuriesathletic training room and slap on ice. These athletes are in a drug-like induced state of ice addiction. Their athletic trainers keep feeding the disease, by recommending cold treatment and doing the easy – here’s ice, shut-up, leave. I felt I was doing a disservice to my athletes and asked myself, “Why are we icing this injury?” I never had an answer that was supported by evidence. So I began my own case study.

I took 9 Division I athletes (6 patellar tendinopathy, 2 bicipital tendinopathy and 1 subacromial impingement) and  had the athletes cease all cryotherapy and electrical stimulation.

Continue reading

ACL Injury: New Information on Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Consequences

I have written about knee injuries so much. Every day we are bombarded with research that quite frankly, it gets boring. The problem is with approximately a quarter-million ACL injuries per year, it is safe to say the injury is rampant. The devastating nature and commonality of the injury has provided loads of information on prevention, rehabilitation and mechanisms of injury. I am not going to regurgitate them all, but do want to share some recently published articles that sports medicine experts should read.

Article 1: Negahban, Et al. A systematic review of postural control during single-leg stance in patients with untreated anterior cruciate ligament injury. Knee Surgery Sports Traumatology and Arthroscopy, May, 2013.

I love systematic lit reviews and this SLR aimed to determine postural control on those with ACL injuries. We have many internal systems and senses that help us balance.  Beyond the use of our eyes and ears to sense balance, tiny mechanoreceptors and proprioceptors exist in our tissue that sense abnormal movement. This study found that when the eyes are closed individuals with ACL injuries had increased postural sway and loss of balance. This indicates that the injury and inflammation following injury inhibits our body’s internal mechanism to sense balance. When rehabilitating, be sure to emphasize proprioception exercises.

Article 2: Thomas, Abbey, et al.  Lower Extremity Muscle Strength After Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury and Reconstruction. Journal of Athletic Training published online first, 2013.

Despite advances in rehabilitation and the numerous studies published on ACL rehabilitation protocols, we appear to be failing. This study shows that at 6 months Status Post ACL reconstruction that global weakness still exists. When comparing strength output from injured vs. uninjured legs it appears the knee-extensors (quads) and knee flexors (hamstrings) are weaker at 6 months when compared to the contralateral side. Conversely hip and ankle strength was not significantly different at 6 months. The timeline to return a player back to competition and activity is 6 months following activity and/or 95% strength of the uninjured side. This study indicates 6 months might be too early. Also, we may need to adjust our strengthening protocols to further stress knee flexion / extension strength.

Article 3 – Bell, DR, Clark, MA, Padua, DA, et al., Two- and 3-Dimensional Knee Valgus Are Reduced After an Exercise Intervention in Young Adults With Demonstrable Valgus During Squatting. Journal of Athletic Training published online first, 2013.

Darin Padua and the UNC Department of Exercise and Sport Science has done a lot of work on knee displacement and correlating the findings with ankle hypomobility and hip underactivity. This particular model used the NASM Corrective Exercise Model as the intervention procedure. This method systematically turns off hyperactive tissue and activates hypotonic tissues. The data revealed that following intervention of the ankle and hip medial knee displacement was significantly reduced.  This information is important as several studies have shown medial knee displacement to be a primary cause of ACL injuries and chronic knee pain.

Article 4: Ericksen, et, al. Different Modes of Feedback and Peak Vertical Ground Reaction Force During Jump Landing: A Systematic Review. Journal of Athletic Training published online first, 2013.

The inability of the body to absorb and control joint movement during high levels of ground reaction forces has been shown to increase risk of ACL injury as well as other chronic knee conditions.  This study evaluated the effect of expert provided and self-analysis feedback reduced peak ground reaction forces. This is not a paramount study but does shows the effectiveness of verbal queuing and observation to correct suboptimal neuromuscular control, specifically during landing and absorption of ground reaction forces through the kinetic chain. Rehab practitioners should incorporate feedback to teach clients appropriate muscle control during ACL rehabilitation.

I would like to say thank you to Darin Padua, PhD, ATC for keeping me abreast with current data. Darin is a leader in sports medicine research and specifically has many published papers on ACL injuries. Darin manages his blog site and also shares info on his twitter account. If you are a health and wellness professional seeking important information rehabilitation and prevention of injury, I recommend you give Darin a follow.

Cheers!

Mechanotransduction

You have an athlete with a stress fracture. The physician prescribes active rest and places the athlete in a non-weight bearing boot. Sound familiar? Suppose I told you the better option is to place some load on that bone and non-weight bearing is not recommended. Would you think I am nuts? Maybe I can convince you otherwise. Let me explain but, before you read the next paragraph and decide to leave the page, bear with me. What follows this introductory piece may provide insight to further understanding of injury pathophysiology and could revolutionize the future of rehabilitation science.

In January 2013 the Annals of Human Genetics published an article that demonstrated Achilles Tendinopathy is associated with gene polymorphism (Abrahams, et al., 2013). I am not a geneticist by any stretch of the imagination, so pardon my basic explanation. COL51A is a gene that encodes the development and organization of Type V collagen. Type V collagen is a collagen that is distributed in tissues as a component of extracellular matrix and composed of one pro alpha 2 (V) and two pro alpha 1 (V) chains. This collagen can be found in ligaments, tendons, and connective tissue. COL51A plays an integral role in development and maintenance of connective tissue. Abrahams, et al. (2013) demonstrated that polymorphisms occur in the COL51A gene causing altered structure of collagen resulting in tendionpathy. Continue reading

Knee Pain? Ignore it; Fix the Hip!

I have posted on this topic many, many times. Unfortunately, many still revert to antiquated rehabiltiation protocols. Thus, I feel compelled to keep talking about it.  If you or a client has knee pain focus on the hip, not the knee. There is so much data out there on linking decreased glute strength to knee pain. A weak or inhibited glute medius is unable to control femoral internal rotation and obligatory knee frontal plane motion.  These motions are a primary cause in knee pain – traumatic and acute. Today I discovered two, recently-published, systematic reviews to prove my point.

The first review examined 47 studies which looked at factors causing Patellofemoral Pain Syndromeknee_patella_intro01  (PFPS) (1). This review identified decreased muscle strength for hip abduction and hip external rotation as an important factor associated with the cause of PFPS. The pooled data also found increased Q-angle and sulcus angle to be factors – both of which have been linked to muscle imbalance.

The second systematic review was more specific by evaluating gluteal muscle activity – via EMG – and PFPS (2). The authors identified ten studies to be included in their review, with six of these studies considered to be high-quality and eight studies having a score of 8 or higher on the Downs and Black scale. The authors conclude there is moderate to strong evidence linking delayed or short Glute medius muscle activity to PFPS. The authors also state, “If gluteal muscle activation is delayed, frontal and transverse plane hip motion control may be impaired, leading to increased stress on the PFJ and subsequent symptoms associated with PFPS.”

Rehabilitation practitioners should note this when developing rehabilitation programs. Specifically targeting glute weakness and inhibition will limit hip internal rotation and obligatory knee frontal plane motion. Correcting faulty movement patterns will allow for optimal neuromuscular recruitment and joint kinematics, ultimately relieving or preventing pain.

If you are wondering which exercises will target the glute medius look at the study published in the recent JOSPT (3) and my recent blog titled “The Glute vs TFL Muscle Battle: Proper Exercise Selection to Correct Muscle Imbalance. The data represented in the JOSPT article demonstrate the bilateral bridge, unilateral bridge, side step, clam, squat and two quadruped exercises are best for activating the glute medius.

Are you ready to change your rehabilitation program?

References:

  1. Lankhorst NE, Bierma-Zeinstra, SMA, and van Middelkoop, M. Factors associated with patellofemoral pain syndrome: a systematic review.  Br J Sports Med.  2013;47:193–206.
  2. Barton CJ, Lack, S, Malliaras, P, and Morrissey, D. Gluteal muscle activity and patellofemoral pain syndrome: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med. 2013; 47:207–214.
  3. Selkowitz, DM, Beneck, GJ, and Powers CM. Which Exercises Target the Gluteal Muscles While Minimizing Activation of the Tensor Fascia Lata? Electromyographic Assessment Using Fine-Wire Electrodes. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013; 43(2):54-64.

The Glute vs TFL Muscle Battle: Proper Exercise Selection to Correct Muscle Imbalance

Reference:
Selkowitz, DM, Beneck, GJ, and Powers CM. Which Exercises Target the Gluteal Muscles While Minimizing Activation of the Tensor Fascia Lata? Electromyographic Assessment Using Fine-Wire Electrodes. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013; 43(2):54-64.

Overview and Introduction:
JandaSyndromesVladamir Janda revolutionized human movement dysfunction and rehabilitation when he described three compensatory movement patterns as a result of pattern overload and static posturing. Most musculoskeletal injuries are multifactorial, but more often than Janda’s described three compensation patterns – upper crossed syndrome, lower crossed syndrome and pronation distortion syndrome – are the key contributor to our pain complaints.

Since Janda introduced this topic research has continued to answer what and why questions surrounding these compensatory patterns. We have learned hypertonic / hypotonic muscles and the delicate interplay they have on integrated functional movement. Studies continue to show how these dysfunctional patterns lead to our most common injuries – PFPS, ITBS, Achilles tendinopathy, plantar fasciitis, epicondylopathy, biceps tendinosis, impingement syndromes, MTSS, etc.

As research evolves we continue to fine-tune our clinical decision making. For several years now rehabilitation journals have published articles linking a myriad of injuries to lower-crossed syndrome, gluteal inhibition, and over-activation of the tensor fasciae latae (TFL). We have learned that these should be a focal point in our rehabilitation techniques to resolve lower extremity overuse injuries. The article by Selkowitz, et al., in the Feb 2103 edition of JOSPT is unique and what I believe to be one of the most clinically relevant studies to be published in the last few months. I liked it so much I had to blog it.

Statement of the Problem:
A common descriptor associated with lower-crossed syndrome is femoral internal rotation and hip adduction. From a rehabilitation perspective we must enhance neuromuscular firing of hip abduction and external rotation. In addition we must inhibit over activity of hip adductors and hip internal rotators.

As a health care practitioner we understand the delicate interplay of functional anatomy. The problem is how do we inhibit a chronically hypertonic TFL while activating the hypotonic gluteal group if they both produce similar movements? It is a fine balance we must be cognizant of when designing rehabilitation programs.

This study examined which exercises elicit the greatest gluteal (medius / maximus) activation while minimizing activation of the TFL. This is exactly what we need to know when designing a rehabilitation program to target lower crossed compensatory patterns.

Study Methodology:
Electromyographic data of the gluteus medius and superior gluteus maximus was collected utilizing fine-wire electrodes on 20 healthy participants during the execution of 11 exercises.

Results:
Seven of the 11 exercises -bilateral bridge, unilateral bridge, side step, clam, squat and two quadruped variations – demonstrated statistically significant greater muscle activation in the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus when compared to the TFL. Side-lying hip abduction, hip hike, the lunge, and the step-up were either not significant or demonstrated higher TFL values compared to the gluteal group.

The authors ranked the exercises in order of highest gluteal to TFL ratios. Clam, side step, and unilateral bridge had the highest ratios, while lunge, hip hike, and squat had the lowest ratios.

Clinical Application of Data:
Altered arthrokinematics and muscle imbalances are a common cause of overuse injuries. Lower-crossed syndrome is a common compensatory pattern that is associated with hypertonicity of the hip flexors complex, which elicits altered reciprocal inhibition of the gluteal group. Targeting this dysfunctional pattern using proper exercise selection indicated here can prevent injuries, improve patient outcomes, and restore optimal function. When designing your program be sure to reference the material here to determine a proper rehabilitation program.

Limitations:
Studies are equivocal on reliability of surface EMG vs intramuscular. However, the authors cite using the method by Delagi and Perotto, which appears reliable. Still one has to question specificity and sensitivity to a minimal degree.

The participants were instructed on proper exercise technique. However, substitutions patterns are common in patients exhibiting muscle imbalance. Any slight deviation from proper technique can skew the data. I am curious how closely exercise technique was monitored and what occurred when deviation did occur.

Summary:
Like I said from the top, rarely do we have a published data with such clinical relevance. Studies that show how deep ultrasound penetrates a rats muscle are great, but clinically have little clinical utility. Data revealed here will guide decision making on proper exercise selection and ensure they are applying the proper strengthening exercise to specifically target the underactive glutes while avoiding the over active TFL. Kudos to the authors.

Treatment for Pelvic Rotation and Low Back Pain

Do you have a patient with chronic low back pain, pelvic pain or lateral hip pain? The problem could be an oft-overlooked Anterior Innominate Lesion, commonly referred to as Anterior Iliac Rotation. This malalignment is hard to identify unless the clinician is specifically evaluating for body alignment.

Simply described, anterior innominate is anterior / inferior rotation of the ASIS when compared to the contralateral ASIS. This unilateral rotational movement of is often a result repetitive movement patterns. Repetitive movement results in hypertonicity of hip flexors (primarily the rectus femoris and TFL), hypotonicity of the abdominals, hamstrings, and glutes, as well as increased laxity of the sacrotuberous ligament. The force coupling caused by the hyper/hypotonic structures yields the unilateral rotary movement of the pelvis.

The result is a chronic, dull achy pain that is unrelenting at times. Pain is typically felt across the entire low back. Focal tenderness upon palpation is commonly unremarkable. The patient may also have complaints of thoracic pain, lateral hip pain and potentially groin. Pain maybe exacerbated with athletic activity, or static postures such as prolonged sitting and standing.

As with many postural disorders, treatment for anterior rotation is best served through the use of manual therapy techniques. In my experience, there are two quick and easy treatments: muscle energy techniques (MET) and spray and stretch. Spray and stretch technique is a nice way to inhibit and elongate tonic musculature. Ischemic pressure massage to active trigger points of involved muscles followed the application of a vapocoolant spray, during a passive stretch works well. Although both treatment forms are effective, I prefer MET, as it is fast, effective, and incorporate a semi-functional component through contraction and relaxation of muscle.

When it comes to MET (or most manual therapy techniques for that matter) I often refer to anything by Leon Chaitow’s methods. In this particular instance, I have provided a video clip of a MET that can help both anterior and posterior pelvic rotation in one treatment session. I think the physiotherapists across the Atlantic do a great job of manual therapy, thus I chose a video that was made in the UK.

It is not uncommon to relieve patient pain with just one application of MET. For patients with significant malalignment this treatment may need to be performed twice daily for several weeks in conjunction with traditional functional rehabilitation designed to enhance neuromuscular efficiency.

So, if you have been a patient complaining of low back pain, be sure to observe for postural malalignment. You might find anterior innominate rotation. If so, you can utilize these techniques to resolve the problem quickly and restore optimal function.

Foot Center of Pressure Reduces Kinetic Chain Dysfunction and Chronic Pain

If you read my blog before you are well aware that I am a big proponent of identifying human movement dysfunction and correcting functional imbalances to reduce chronic pain, such as knee osteoarthritis (OA), patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS), and low back disorders such as sacroiliac dysfunction, facet arthropathy, or generalized lumbago.

A few years ago I read about a new neuromuscular technique called AposTherapy.  For those unfamiliar, AposTherapy corrects gait abnormalities by retraining muscles to adopt an optimal gait mechanics. The primary goal of AposTherapy is to correct the foot center of pressure (COP) during gait. This is done by wearing a unique, foot-worn biomechanical device. At the time, I heard good results about the use of AposTherapy, but data was too young to consider valid just yet or share-able, just yet.

Recently, when looking at functional rehabilitation techniques for chronic knee pain I came across an interesting study in the Journal of Biomechanics the evaluates the benefits of AposTherapy, to correct kinetic chain dysfunction responsible for the development of knee OA (1). The results of the study were significant. Following the intervention patients demonstrated significant reduction in knee adduction (valgus) moment (KAM). Several authors have demonstrated KAM to be a primary cause of knee OA, including Miyazaki, who noted KAM correlates with the progression of knee OA (2). In addition, patients who participated in AposTherapy demonstrated increased walking velocity, reduced pain, and improvement of functional living (1).

The foot-worn biomechanical device alters foot COP, allowing for proper kinetic chain alignment neuromuscular efficiency. Clark and Lucett, noted that dysfunction at one joint precipitates altered movement patterns, at adjacent joints, both proximally and distally (3). This is the foundation of AposTherapy. By correcting  foot COP during gait, altered joint mechanics up the kinetic chain are nullified and neuromuscular efficiency is enhanced. Overtime, strength gains occur allowing for optimal gait patterns. Sharma, stressed the role of neuromuscular ineffciency, suggesting that secondary to elevated joint stress with higher impact loads and altered joint mechanics facilitate the pathogenesis of the chronic joint disease (4).

Biomechanical interventions focusing on foot COP, neuromuscular development and agility, enhance functional ability, reduce pain and increase spatiotemporal patterns of gait (1).  Working knowledge of human movement dysfunction and human movement compensation patterns are prudent to health practitioners.  Health practitioners should emphasize and correct human movement dysfunction when treating clients with chronic joint pain such as and certainly not limited to knee OA, PFPS, SI pain, and other  low back disorders like facet arthropathy.  Training to enhance neuromuscular recruitment, force-coupling, as well as the correction of altered length-tension relationships and poor joint arthrokinematics will go far in reduction of pain, prevention of chronic pain, and improved functional outcomes.

What techniques do you implement to train for optimal neuromuscular efficiency?

References:

1. Haim, A, et al. Reduction in knee adduction moment via non-invasive biomechanical training: A longitudinal gait analysis study. J of Biomechanics. 45 (2012) 41–45.

2. Miyazaki, T., Wada, M., Kawahara, H., et al. Dynamic load at baseline can predict radiographic disease progression in medial compartment knee osteoarthritis. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.  2002. 61, 617–622.

3. Clark, MA, and Lucett, SC. NASM Essentrials of Corrective Exercise Training. Lippincott, WIlliams and Wilkins. 2010.

4. Sharma, L., Dunlop, D.D., Cahue, S., et al. Quadriceps strength and osteoarthritis progression in malaligned and lax knees. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2003. 138, 613–619.

Postactivation Potentiation (PAP)

For years there has been a gap between performance enhancement and injury management. Strength coaches fail to address rehabilitation  and injury prevention during performance training whereas health care practitioners (ATs, PTs, OTs) fail to address performance training during injury management. There are some who continually seek to merge the two disciplines, by utilizing the unique training principles from each side. I am not saying ALL fail to bridge the gap, but it certainly is the majority.  Health care practitioners could be a bit more boundaryless and integrate performance enhancement concepts and protocols into injury management programming. One method we can use is Postactivation Potentiation or (PAP). Continue reading

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.

Arthritis: Causation, Symptomalogy, and Management

According to the CDC approximately 1 in 5 adults and 50% of older adults (> 65 yrs of age) have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis (1). The physical pain associated with arthritis is well documented, however, there is a large social impact on arthritis suffers. From an outsiders perspective, arthritis goes undetected. Outsiders do not see the pain or suffering that arthritic patients must suffer through. They are often labeled as weak, malingerer’s, or even lazy. Point is, many people with arthritis are having difficulty performing simple activities of daily living.

The purpose of this blog is to provide a high-level overview of the disease and share basic exercise and dietary guidelines that can provide a holistic approach to reducing symptoms, improve quality of life, and functional outcomes.

Disease Overview: 

There are more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues which surround the joint and other connective tissue (1). It is the most common chronic musculoskeletal condition in older adults. The two most common forms of arthritis include osteoarthritis (caused by damage or wear and tear) and rheumatoid arthritis (autoimmune causes).

Osteoarthritis:

Osteoarthritis (OA) is characterized by the gradual deterioration of cartilage within a joint (2). It is commonly developed in load-bearing or highly mobile joints, such as the knee, hips, fingers, lower back, and feet. Often, those who suffered a significant injury to a joint are at an increased risk of developing OA. For example, knee OA is very common following ACL tears and surgery. The internal joint damage caused by the injury compounded by incomplete rehabilitation (prolonged inflammation and muscle weakness) are the perfect ingredients for OA development.

The synovium of a joint produces the lubricating substance, synovial fluid. Healthy cartilage functions much like a sponge, it is receives nourishment by absorbing synovial fluid during joint movement. As we age, the synovium decreases its production of synovial fluid, we move less, and inflammation the articular cartilage increases resulting in dehydrated / malnourished cartilage). This creates a vicous inflammatory cycle.

Inflammation causes pain, loss of function, which eventually leads to muscle wasting and cartilage deterioration. Overtime, the poor cartilage condition can result in the formation of exotosis (bone spurs) that further damage the joint structures, increases pain, and creates a loss of function.

The most common symptoms of OA are pain, inflammation, reduced range of motion, and grinding sensations upon movement. As cartilage continues to detoriorate, pieces of cartilage my break free and float withing the joint (osteochondritis dissecans). The floating bodies will sometimes lock or catch the joint during movement. This locking or catching is very uncomfortable and sometimes painful.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis. Since pain is alleviated with rest, many of those afflicted tend to avoid regular exercise for fear of pain or flare-ups. Despite this, a recent study demonstrated that older adults who regularly participate in aerobic and resistance exercise are effectively able to relieve arthritic pain and improve joint function (4, 5). This creates a paradox for optimal treatment (movement vs. rest).

Rheumatoid arthritis:

Rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 1% of Americans. It is an autoimmune disease where by the body’s own immune system attacks joint structures, including cartilage, synovial membrane, and ligaments. Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic condition characterized by periods of activity and remission where affected joints are painful and swollen in addition to whole body symptoms of fever and malaise. Currently, there is no cure of rheumatoid arthritis, but there are medications designed to relieve symptoms.

Rheumatoid arthritis of the hands

 

Holistic Approach to Arthritis Treatment and Prevention:

Although I have great respect for western medicine and the research that pharmaceutical companies do to help cure chronic diseases, I have always been a believer in the holistic approach. The body is a self-healer – its own internal mechanic.

As I mentioned previously, cartilage gets nourishment through dynamic pressure gradients caused by movement and joint loading. Most people with arthritis can safely participate in physical activity programs to help the disease. Many studies have shown physical activity to have a positive effect on the reduction of arthritic pain. A 2010 agenda released by CDC lists physical activity as a priority intervention to improve arthritis symptoms and prevent arthritis-related limitations in activity (6). Unfortunately, there is a fine line; arthritis causes pain and subsequently, sufferers will not move due to pain. The perpetuates the disease and worsens symptoms. So movement is prudent, however we must be careful and be cognizant of exacerbating the issue. Below are some exercise guidelines.

Exercise Guidelines:

Things to avoid:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis results in early morning stiffness, so avoid early morning exercise.
  • Avoid end ranges of motion exercise as extreme cases may allow you to move in a small mid-range of motion only.
  • Be certain to distinguish between exertional pain in the muscles and pain in the joints.
  • If any movement causes moderate pain in a joint, stop immediately and modify or regress the exercise.
  • Always move joints through a slow and controlled range of motion.
  • Avoid fast or jerky movements.
  • Progress and increase exercise intensity very slowly.

Exercise tips and suggestions:

  • Exercise sessions should be relatively short and of low to moderate intensity.
    • Use circuit training (to give body parts a rest between exercises)
  • Aerobic exercise should be comprised of multiple sessions of using various cardio equipment (treadmill, to bike, to rower, etc)
  • Flexibility:
    • Self myofascial release (foam rolling) might be painful, but try it.
    • Static stretching as tolerated but avoid end range of motion for the joint
  • Resistance:
    • Low intensity
    • 1–3 sets of 10–12 repetitions 2–3 days per week
    • Work on core musculature
    • Use a circuit or peripheral heart action training system.
    • Avoid high reps or high loads.
  • Use thera-bands or cuffs when possible to avoid gripping if hand and grip strength is a problem.
  • In severe cases training sessions maybe have to be limited to short bouts (8-10 minutes at a time).
  • Emphasize the development of functional flexibility and eccentric control through simple reactive training exercises.
    • forward lunge with emphasis on lowering.
    • Eccentric training will improve soft tissue to absorb ground reaction forces and reduce the force transmission to damaged joint structures.
  • Water aerobics or swimming may be the best environment for clients with severe arthritis.

Dietary Considerations:

Arthritis is a chronic inflammation cycle, where inflammatory mediators remained elevated and a continued process of degradation ensues. Individuals with chronically elevated inflammatory markers are at high risk of chronic disease and now research shows that poor diet can also contribute to increased inflammatory markers. I wrote about this in a previous blog entry titled “Is Your Diet Making You Sick?”.

Excessive consumption of refined carbohydrates and low dietary fiber intake is strongly associated with the production of proinflammatory molecules (7). One large study compared a western diet, which contained more red meat, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat to a paleolithic diet (8). The Western diet group had greater levels of inflammatory markers, including C- reactive protein (CRP) and E-selectin when compated to those following a paleo-like diet (8).

Clinical studies in found frequent nut and seed consumption is associated with lower levels of CRP, Insulin-like growth factor (IL-6) and fibrinogen(9). Consuming an almond-enriched diet for four weeks significantly decreased serum E-selectin compared with the control diet in healthy men and women (9).

The rise of these inflammatory diseases over the past few decades may be linked to the Western diet of saturated fats, low antioxidants, and refined carbohydrates. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish and nuts as well as whole grains and high fiber have been shown to reduce chronic inflammation markers in the blood.

Summary:

Arthritis is a serious chronic inflammatory disease which has both physiological and psychological effects on overall health. Pharmaceutical companies continue to search for a magical cure for arthritic conditions, but to date nothing has been found. Thankfully, we can do something to help relieve the pain and symptoms of arthritis. Creating a safe and systematic physical activity program can help prevent cartilage deterioration and improve overall function. In addition, a dietary change can also help. By limiting intake of refined carbohydrates, excessive sugar, and foods high  in saturated fat we can lower chronically elevated inflammatory markers that are responsible for chronic diseases such as arthritis. I hope these tips help you or someone you know improve quality of life.

 References:

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis_related_stats.htm. retrieved August, 23, 2012
  2. Ferrini AF, Ferrini RL. Health in the Later Years. 4th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2008.
  3. Hills, B. A., Ethell, M. T., and Hodgson, D. R. Release of Lubricating Synovial Surfactant By Intra-Articular Steroid.  Br J of Rheum. 1998;37:649–652.
  4. Petrella RJ. Is exercise an effective treatment of osteoarthritis of the knee? West J Emerg Med.2001; 174(3): 191-196.
  5. Ettinger WH, Burns R, Messier SP, et al. A randomized trial comparing aerobic exercise and resistance exercise with a health education program in older adults with knee osteoarthritis. The Fitness Arthritis and Seniors Trial (FAST). JAMA. 1997: 277(1): 25-31
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Arthritis Foundation. A National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis. 2010
  7. Neustadt J. Western Diet and Inflammation. IMCJ. Vol. 10: 2  Apr/May 2011.
  8. Lopez-Garcia E, Schulze MB, Fung TT, et al. Major dietary patterns are related to plasma concentrations of markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction. Am JClin Nutr.2004;80(4):1029-1035.
  9. Rajaram, S, Connell, KM, and Sabate´ J. Effect of almond-enriched high-monounsaturated fat diet on selected markers of inflammation: a randomised, controlled, crossover study. BR J of Nut.  2010: 103, 907–912.

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

Exercise as Medicine: Exercise Reduces Nerve Related Pain

How many of you suffer or know someone who suffers from chronic nerve related (neuropathic ) pain? Some of the most common types include: sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, radiculopathy/itis, stenosis, migraines, compression syndromes, or peripheral neuropathy. Now, how many of these individuals are stuck taking medication like; antidepressants, anticonvulsants, or painkillers like opiates or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications?

I have witnessed several incidents of individuals suffering from chronic pain getting stuck in the vicious cycle of medication. Take one medication to relieve inflammation, another to reduce pain, another to depress nerve action, then compound this with taking additional medications to control the side effects (i.e. acid reflux, sleep deprivation, constipation, etc).

I have always been in favor of the holistic approach to health. Let the body heal itself with exercise as medicine, diet or natural remedies. Earlier this year a study was published in Anesthesia and Analgesia, which talks about the benefit of exercise as medication for nerve related pain. After reading the article I had to share, even if it is a laboratory study.
The study examined rats with neuropathic pain then put the rats through exercise programming. The results demonstrate significant reductions in neuropathic pain following exercise. Exercise reduced characteristic of typical neuropathic pain. In addition, the exercise significantly reduces the expression of inflammatory proteins and neuropathic pain. Cytokines are a common cause of chronic inflammation and often neuropathic pain is a result of chronic inflammation. Exercise can reduce cytokine release and chronic inflammation.

Don’t get me wrong I appreciate Western Medicine. However, where have we gone? We have turned our back on the easiest and most beneficial thing we can do for our body – exercise. Start exercising and stop the dependency on drugs.

Reference:
Yu-Wen Chen, Yung-Tsung Li, Yu Chung Chen, Zong-Ying Li, Ching-Hsia Hung. Exercise Training Attenuates Neuropathic Pain and Cytokine Expression After Chronic Constriction Injury of Rat Sciatic Nerve. Anesthesia & Analgesia. 114 (6): 2012.

Osteoporosis 101

Several physiological and anatomical changes occur within the human body as individual’s age. One of the most prevalent changes occurs in the musculoskeletal system. Bone mass declines with age similar to muscle mass. Bone mass peaks around 30 years of age and then gradually declines. The cause of bone loss is multifactorial, including inactivity, changes in hormone levels, and improper nutrition. In regards to physical activity, the age-associated decline in muscular strength parallels the loss of bone mass (1). Research shows a significant risk factor for osteoporosis is physical inactivity.

Osteoporosis is a chronic disease characterized by a thinning and weakening of bones (2). Osteoporosis is determined as having a bone mineral density more than 2.5 standard deviations below the young adult mean value (3). Once bone mineral density reaches such a low-level, any imposed stress or force may lead to a fracture.

The most common fracture sites for people with osteoporosis include the wrist, thoracic spine, and proximal femur. This is due to a greater proportion of trabecular bone, which is more fragile when calcium is lost. Here are some interesting statistics in regards to osteoporosis:

  • Approximately 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis.
  • Almost 35 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteopenia, which is a bone density lower than normal and can lead to osteoporosis.
  • 40% of Caucasian women will fracture a wrist, spine, or hip in their lifetime.
  • Almost 20% of hip fractures lead to permanent disability.
  • By 2020, half of all Americans over the age of 50 will be at risk for fracture due to weak bones (4).

As a living tissue, bone is constantly in a state of flux. Specialized bone cells called osteoblasts mediate the addition of calcium by adding to the bone matrix, and other cells called osteoclasts mediate the removal of calcium from the bone matrix. As we age, bone construction slows and bone degeneration accelerates, leading to osteoporosis. There are several risk factors for osteoporosis which include; history of fractures due to insignificant trauma, family history of osteoporosis, postmenopausal females, men over the age of 70, history of smoking at least one pack of cigarettes per day, and low body mass.

Unlike skeletal muscle, structural changes to bone tissue lead to very few functional decrements. That said health and fitness professionals must keep bone loss in mind especially when working with older adults who have Osteoporosis. To mitigate the loss of bone with age, older adults should engage in strategies that will have a protective effect on bone mass. The force of gravity imposes stress on bones. Gravity gives weight to an object due to the acceleration of that object toward the center of the earth. The force the skeleton is exposed to when absorbing ground reaction forces causes the skeleton to be loaded and will increase bone integrity and strength. Lifting weights will impose a stress to bone due to the articulation of the muscle, fascia, and bone.

According to research weight-bearing exercise with significant loading of bone helps to preserve bone mass in older adults (5). High-intensity resistance training with heavy loads relative to maximal strength also shows an increase in bone mineral density in older adults, while moderate intensity resistance training shows a smaller effect (6).

References:

  1. Burr DB. Muscle strength, bone mass, and age-related bone loss. J Bone Miner Res. 1997;12(10):1547-1551.
  2. Liu H, Paige NM, Goldzweig CL, et al. Screening for osteroporosis in men: a systematic review for an American College of Physicians guideline. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148(9):685- 701.
  3. Kanis J, Melton LJ, Christiansen C. et al. The diagnosis of osteoporosis. J Bone Miner Res. 1994; 9: 1137-1141.
  4. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Nutrition Action Health Newsletter. 2005;32(3)., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008.
  5. Kelley GA, Kelley KS, Tran ZV. Exercise and BMD in men: a meta-analysis. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2001; 80: 65-77.
  6. Cussler EC, Lohman TG, Going SB, et al. Weight lifted in strength training predicts bone change in postmenopausal women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003; 35(1): 10-17.

The Season Ending ACL

What is happening in the world of sports? Last week sports talk radio was abuzz over significant injuries to Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert of the NBA. Now we lose yet another sports star – future hall of famer, Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees – all three stars suffered ACL tears. This rash of injuries has created much debate on the issue. People are asking why? Did the shortened pre-season lead to this rise in injury? Did the condensed schedule lead to the injury? Are these just chance freak injuries? The answer to all is yes. However, each of these injuries could have been prevented.

Many original research studies and systematic literature reviews have shown a significant reduction in ACL injuries following implementation of neuromuscular training. In fact, a systematic literature review was recently published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (March 2012). This showed that ACL injury prevention programming provides a significant reduction in ACL injury. Many others literature reviews and research papers have also shown the effectiveness of neuromuscular training programs. A shortened pre-season may have led to the increased injury rate, because players were not exposed to the pre-season neuromuscular training. Unfortunately, not all teams apply injury prevention programming as part of the workout routine.

As for the condensed season schedule; a condensed season schedule with limited recovery dates will yield higher incidence of injury. A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine (2011) shows that injury rates in a short recovery group demonstrated a significantly greater overall injury rate, practice injury rate, and game injury rate compared to those in the extended recovery group. The injury rates were 6.2 times greater for overall injury, 4.7 times greater for game injury, and 3.3 times greater for practice injury in the short recovery group. That said, these injuries could have been prevented, even if neuromuscular training was not implemented during the pre-season. As the season progresses a gradual decline of neuromuscular efficiency occurs. This leads to the breakdown of mechanics and subsequent injury. ACL injuries can be prevented. Identifying faulty mechanics as the season progresses and then applying corrective techniques to fix those mechanics will go a long way in preventing non-contact ACL injuries.