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Considering a nursing home after surgery

“Moreover, older adults who are hospitalized are 60 times more likely to develop a disability than those who are not. ”

This is HUGE!

We know some of the common statistics such as an adult over 80 years that falls and breaks a hip has a high likelihood of death within one year.

There is some research about reserve capacity and the body’s ability to withstand a major obstacle such as a fall or hospitalization. Reserve capacity is essentially the amount of ability that a person has that exceeds daily needs.

For instance, if you typically walk 2.5 mph, but have the ability to walk at 5 mph, the reserve capacity would be the difference between usual speed and RESERVE gait speed.

“… recovery of function during a SNF stay is inadequate under usual care”

I’ve worked in a SNF and will attest to this based on experience. I stuck out like a sore thumb during my time in the SNF.

I got many of my patients up and walking. I would stand next to the patient to motivate, encourage and correct any safety issues that I noted during a movement or exercise.

Many of my “peers” were sitting at computers about 20-30 feet away from patients barking out directions from across the gym. The atmosphere was more party like for the roles of professionals, in which many conversations revolves around personal lives of the therapists, instead of the patient.

“The 2017 Medicare payment advisory commission reported no change in functional outcomes as measured by a patient’s ability to perform bed mobility, transfers, and ambulation.”

This is crazy! A patient goes to a rehab unit in order to rehabilitate to a safer functional level. If there are no changes in outcomes…why bother!

I did some research on total knee replacements when creating the protocol for our outpatient facility and there was much research showing that patients that went home after surgery did better than those that went to a “SKILLED” nursing facility.

Again…why bother!

There may be some lower level patients that need the nursing care at a facility like this, but we really do need to do a better job of planning a patient’s discharge from the hospital.

“specifically in SNF’s, annual expenditures comprise 50% of the $60 billion US allotted to post acute care. The discrepancy between high levels of spending in SNF’s and sub optimal outcomes strongly suggest the need for innovative clinical research designed to advance models of care delivery and assert the value of SNF rehabilitation therapists”

☝️ 🤔🤑

Leaving this one to stand on its own.

“… hospital discharge patterns away from SNF towards less costly home health or outpatient services.”

This makes sense and we are seeing this happen for some orthopedic cases that would previously be sent to a SNF. It took incentivizing hospitals and physicians to get them to change the way they treat patients.

“Nursing home literature suggests patient motivation to participate in treatment, such as physical therapy is linearly correlated to patient perceptions of and satisfaction with support from peers, family, and staff.”

Wonder why some patients may not be motivated to work with staff?

Read this article.

Excerpts from:

Gustavson AM, Boxer RS, Nordon-Craft A et al. Advancing Innovation in Skilled Nursing Facilities through Academic Collaboration. PTJ-PAL. 2018;18(3): 5-16

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Back pain using MDT

“Low back pain is the worldwide leading cause of years lived with disability, with an estimated point prevalence of 9.4% and a lifetime prevalence of up to 39%”

If three people are sitting together, the odds are that one of those three had back pain, has back pain or will have back pain. That kind of sucks, unless your the one of the people without pain.

Point prevalence means that any one point in time about 10% of the population will have back pain. There are about 320 million-ish adults in the US. This means that about 30 million adults have back pain at any one point in time.

It’s a great time to be a PT, if we can educate the public that we are well trained and capable of treating back pain.

For patients reading this, not all PTs are equal and just like with a surgical procedure, you’d probably get a couple of opinions before making a decision on YOUR Guy or Gal (after you gain trust in the person all of a sudden they become YOURS). I get it! Some people call me their guy, but I’d like for more people to call me their guy.

***tangent: patients are paying more for healthcare. This could be in the form of a higher deductible, copay, coinsurance or straight cash based. As a patient, you should be looking around for the person that gives you the best value for your dollar. If you ever have questions regarding your treatment, feel free to message me and ask me questions in a free conversation. I have a long commute daily and love having these conversations, which have become a weekly occurrence. You can find me Here

“The presence of centralization is associated with good prognosis in patients with low back pain…recent studies have shown that directional preference and centralization, when I matched with adequate MDT treatment, result in better patient outcomes and then treatment with general range of motion exercises”

Centralization?🤔 I wonder what that is?

If you’re new to this page, you can go back and read my old posts on centralization here

Just know that centralization has been called the trump card to helping patients with back pain…it’s that powerful that it darn near always wins for the patient.

“The level of MDT training should also be considered, as it may impact interventions and risk-adjusted functional outcomes.”

Studies have been Published questioning the reliability of using MDT. I believe that these studies need to be looked at in depth because this particular study shows that those not certified in the method may not be the most reliable in noting a particular “syndrome” in the patient’s presentation. The level of training appears to play a role in the therapist’s ability to assess a Patient.

“only trails in which of therapists were MDT trained were included. To be considered MDT trained, therapist were required to have participated in at least one course offered by the McKenzie institute international focused on applying MDT to patients with LBP”

Based on the above research links, just using therapists that have taken courses in MDT decreases the likelihood that a reliable classification took place, therefore reducing the likelihood that the patient was treated according to the proper principle and finally leads me to believe that I was wasting my time in reading the remainder of the article….I digress. I read it anyways to hear what’s being talked about regarding MDT, both good and bad.

“review were’s screen 354 abstracts and selected 51 articles for fall text review. After review, 17 articles were retained for the meta-analysis; however, of these 17 studies, four did not provide sufficient data to be included in the statistical analyses”

This is part of the problem that I have with systematic reviews and meta analyses. So much of the research gets discarded and not used in the actual article, that we then start to see researcher bias based on the question asked and how the researchers go about obtaining information. Think of it, only 5% of the actual information that they found on their initial screen actually makes it to the cutting room floor.

“MDT versus manual therapy plus exercise: there was moderate evidence of a significant difference in pain after the intervention, with results favoring MDT…There was moderate evidence of no significant difference in disability after the intervention period between MDT and manual therapy plus exercise.”

I think this is 👌. Understanding that MDT is the assessment first and treatment second one must also understand the components of MDT. MDT incorporates manual therapy, exercises, postures and positions. This means that there is something specific to the way that manual therapy and exercises are prescribed in MDT that has a greater affect on pain that just manual therapy and exercise together.

No effect on disability or function over a time period is also not surprising for me. It’s well known amongst those of us that use this method that returning a patient to function is not well taught in MDT, as there are many other courses and methods that speak to this. MDT follows a certain paradigm, with returning to function as part of the paradigm, but because it varies widely from patient to patient, it is best learned from other resources.

“this study found that MDT plus first – line care resulted in significant, but small, improvement in pain intensity compared to first – line care only.”

This is significant! But small. For anyone going to an ED for back pain, they are in significant pain. I’ve spent part of my career working in an ED for this exact population. In the time I worked in the ED, only one patient was unable to find a position, movement or posture that provided relief. This is significant because these patients were able to receive the right care through an outpatient means instead of being admitted to the hospital for “non-specific low back pain”.

These patients didn’t receive the rapid MRI, which in some cases may actually make the patient worse over time. These patients didn’t have a hefty hospital bill and these patients were able to recover in their natural environment thereby reducing the risk of infectious disease acquired in the hospital.

This is significant!

“One study included in the review, despite lacking data for analysis, compared MDT to education and found no significant between – group differences for changes in disability.”

This is not too shocking for me. If the pain is acute (started recently), we know that many with back pain will get some relief over time. Education is powerful in and of itself and a large part of MDT is education based.

If both utilize education as the base for acute pain, then the outcomes may not be much different. No shock here!

“There was moderate evidence of a significant difference in pain after the intervention period, with the results favoring MDT. ”

MDT is a patient response system. This means that after every movement, position or posture the therapist is asking the patient if it reduced symptoms. If the answer is yes, then the PT will typically issue this for a home program. 🙄

It’s no wonder that the system is pretty good at reducing pain in a specific classification; the therapist is giving exercises that have been shown to reduce pain/symptoms.

“Two studies included in the review, which lacked sufficient data to be included in the meta-analysis comparing MDT to modalities, found significant between-group differences for changes in pain, favoring MDT.”

Again, comparing an active intervention (patient takes part in the intervention) to passive interventions (treatment is done to the patient) is expected to lead to an outcome favoring the active intervention. There are multiple reasons for this, but one may simply be interactions with another individual during the session.

“Three studies compared the effects of MDT to combined manual therapy plus exercise in participants with chronic LBP…There was moderate evidence of no significant difference in pain after the intervention period between interventions…There was high quality evidence of no significant difference in disability after the intervention period between interventions.”

Again, this is not too difficult. As a treatment strategy MDT is literally manual therapy plus exercise. It’s comparing two similar interventions, with similar results.

“One study had 2 comparison intervention groups consisting of either MDT exercise in the opposite direction as the directional preference or midrange lumbar/stretching exercises. Only this latter group was included as the comparison to MDT in the current analysis.”

This is the part of the analysis that I don’t quite understand. Why bother 🤷‍♂️ comparing the interventions if one of the treatment groups is removed?

This article is cited frequently by PTs trained in MDT and you can read my analysis of the article Here

Removing one of the groups, specifically the opposite directional preference group, greatly changes how that article impacts the reader.

“There was high quality evidence of a significant difference in disability after the intervention period, with the results favoring MDT.”

Even with removing the group of patients that had a high dropout rate and poorer outcomes, the article still favored MDT over “evidence based” interventions.

“Also, MDT does not explicitly account for pain systems theory, specifically differentiating between pain that is central or peripheral in origin, and for a wider spectrum of psychological factors that could be present in patients with chronic low back pain. ”

This is a good point and those that are well versed in the system would state that there are other classification systems out there that would include this pain system. If you are interested in these systems, I highly encourage readers to take a course by Annie O’Connor, author of A World or Hurt.

You can learn more about Annie by following this Link

Thanks for reading.

Since my last post, I’ve gone through a major job change. I can now be found at PCJ

What would it take to convince you as a patient to give a PT with an MDT certification a chance?

What would it take to convince you as a PT to take an MDT course?

Link to article

A Penny saved is a penny earned

We’ve all been there! That place in which we are sinking instead of swimming. You ain’t alone.

Hear my story below.

Check out my episode “A penny saved is a penny earned” from Movementthinker: a physio’s perspective on Anchor: https://anchor.fm/vincent-gutierrez/episodes/A-penny-saved-is-a-penny-earned-e298p5

PTA’s in an outpatient setting continued

“Low back pain syndromes (LBPS) affect more than 65 million Americans…For approximately 16 million people (8%), back pain is persistent or chronic…”

If you have a little bit of free time, you can read about back pain here.

“…a quarter of all referrals for outpatient physical therapy and one-half of all outpatient physical therapy visits are related to patients with LBPS.”

Hey New Grad ✊ are you 👂?

If you want to get really good at something and ensure job stability, then you should learn as much as you can about back pain.

If one out of every two visits per day is related to back pain, we should all be very comfortable with this diagnosis.

In my first job, I’d say that I had 2,500 visits per year with about 95% of those pertaining to the spine.

“Resnik et al reported that patients who spent more than half of their treatment episode of care with a physical therapist assistant reported worse functional outcomes and utilized more visits compared with patients with less physical therapist assistant involvement.”

Again, this is the second post in the series on PTA’s usage in the outpatient setting.  You can find the first post here.

“It is generally assumed that practitioners must possess many years of clinical experience to achieve the best results with patients and that years of experience are associated with better clinical outcomes.”

What?! I don’t agree with this.

Unfortunately, not all experience is good experience. I’ve read Tony Delitto state in an article that one year repeated twenty times is it ideal. I would much rather have a PT with two years of experience and two years worth of learning from mistakes.

“Almost half of the sample had chronic low back pain.”

This is in line with some of the statistics that I’ve heard stating that back pain makes up about 40% of all chronic pain.

“The top 3 diagnoses were pain (34.8%), sprain or strain (25.5%), and herniated disk (19.3).”

About 90-95% of all back pain is “non-specific”, meaning that we can’t attribute it to a specific tissue strain or sprain. Herniated did a are common in the population, but we can’t always attribute a herniated disc (HNP) as the cause of pain.

“On average, patients in the best clinic performance group improved 19.2 OHS points, while patients in the worst clinic performance group improved an average of 16.4 OHS points.”

This is great news!

This means that on average people get better. I used to work in a clinic in which the manager would try to schedule people with back pain as soon as possible. If we know that they will likely improve and they improve on our watch, then they are likely to use post hoc reasoning and attribute improvement to seeing the PT.

I used to joke with patients and say that they simply need to breathe the city air in the basement of the hospital in order to improve. Obviously, it’s a joke, but we have to tell patients that most injuries improve with time.

“Patients in the best clinic performance group utilized, on average, 7.7 (SD = 4.1) visits per treatment episode compared with 7.9 (SD = 4.1) in the middle clinic performance group and 9.3 (SD = 4.9) in the worst clinic performance group.”

This is where it gets interesting. There wasn’t a major difference in outcomes on the scoring improvement, but some clinics needed an extra 2 visits compared to other clinics, on average.

If an average PT sees 5 evaluations per week and it takes an extra 2 visits, then that ONE PT is averaging an extra 20 visits per month (assuming half of the evaluations are back pain). This means that the therapist keeping patients for more visits is making the clinic an extra $2,000 per month from taking longer to discharge patients.

“…clinics that were lower utilizers of physical therapist assistants were 6.6 times more likely to be classified into the high effectiveness group compared with the low effectiveness group, 6.7 times more likely to be classified into the low utilization group compared with the high utilized group, and 12.4 times more likely to be classified into the best performance group compared with the worst performance group.”

This is essentially stating that clinics that use PTAs with a lower frequency in outpatient tend to be better in terms of outcomes and faster to discharge. This mirrors the link to the study from above.

For me this is interesting because I would have never thought to ask the question in the first place. It’s good to see that someone is doing this research to help clinicians in their decisions to 1. Choose between PT and PTA school and 2. Utilize PTAs and how to best utilize PTAs in an outpatient setting.

“Our strongest finding was that clinics that had lower utilization of physical therapist assistants were much more likely to be in the “best” category of each type of group (i.e. highest effectiveness, lowest utilization, and overall performance).”

Link to article

Rejection

To anyone that has ever felt rejected, you understand.

To anyone that was raised in a single/no parent home because of decisions, you understand.

This scene hits home for me because I have felt that rejection, along with many other kids. This scene plays out in homes regardless of race, income and religion. This scene still affects those that lost parents to addictions, divorce, jail, and choice.

Know that you are not alone and there are many of us that understand. We have been there.

What I still don’t understand is why scenes like this break some people and creates chips on others.

I’ve seen many overcome these situations and go on to become Uber successful due to that chip and having something to prove.

On the flip, I’ve seen some people become so broken that they continue the cycle that broke them.

We all feel rejected at some point.

My wish for the world is that people build resilience and grit in their personality so that these major hurdles become but small bumps as they grow into beautiful people that allow others to love them and be part of that circle of trust.

Check out the video that still makes me tear up.

Efficient and Effective Care

“Proliferation of these staffing models (increasing the use of PTA’s and aides) has been driven by managed care organizations, the introduction of prospective payment systems, and low reimbursement rates, as well as workforce shortages in allied health.”

For those that are unfamiliar with physical therapy and what the titles mean lets do a quick refresher:

PTA = licensed physical therapist assistant (high school + 2 years)

PT = licensed physical therapist (Bachelor’s or Bachelor’s + years)

aide = no required degree with on the job training (no degree needed)

MPT = Master of physical therapy degree (Bachelor’s plus 27 months)

DPT = Doctor of physical therapy degree (Bachelor’s plus 33 months)

Based on the above, one can see that the aide would be paid less than the PTA.  The PTA would get paid less than the PT based on education level alone and all other things are equal.

When insurance companies cut pay to professionals, companies have to decrease their costs in order to continue to make margin.  One way to cut costs is to have fewer PT’s and more PTA’s or aides.  The ethics/legalities of the decision are for a different day.

Some insurance companies are refusing to pay for services provided by PTA’s.

The reason that I bothered to look at this research was a large discussion that took place on a professional FB page in which PTA’s were arguing that the care shouldn’t change from PTA to PT, seeing as PTA’s can perform most treatments that a PT can perform.

I decided to look into this to see if there was a difference and I was shocked by what I found, based on my own experience working in a hospital system.  On the same note, I wasn’t shocked based on some of the reports that I hear from patients and others in the profession.

“Use of support personnel in outpatient therapy settings can double the number of patient visits a therapist can manage per day, thus increasing clinical productivity.”

If I am a PT making $50/hour (using round numbers to keep it simple) and in a typical day I could treat 10 patients with an average reimbursement rate of $95 (please go watch all the videos from Dr. Ben Fung ), then I would cost the company $400 dollars, but make the company $950 dollars.  A gross profit, with the removal of only the PT salary, of $550 dollars per day.

Now, if we have that same PT making $50/hour and a PTA making $30/hour (again round numbers to keep it simple), with each therapist seeing 10 patients per day, then the following numbers are the result.  The salaries would cost $640, but the therapists would generate $1900/day.  A gross profit, with salaries of the therapists removed, of $1260/day.

As you can see, the company would be able to generate more money by hiring PTA’s instead of a second PT.  The question then becomes is it cost effective to have the PTA compared to the second PT.  The answer at a glance is “of course”!, but looking a little deeper may force a company to weigh values (i.e. profit or outcomes) before making that second hire.

“While some advocate use of support personnel to increase productivity without loss of quality, others warn that an over reliance on support personnel can negatively affect outcomes and compromise quality.”

This is essentially the discussion that occurred on FB.  Some people say that PTA’s provide the same quality of care as PT’s and others state that PTA’s offer less quality care than PT’s.

I’ve worked with rockstar PTA’s (plus my wife is a PTA so I am already a little biased) and I’ve worked with some PT’s that I would never refer a patient to (no offense if you think that this is you).

“Three dependent variables were analyzed: high PTA utilization, number of visits per treatment episode, and patients FHS (functional health status) at discharge…high PTA utilization, defined as a patient seen by a PTA 50 percent or more of the treatment time”

High PTA utilization, in this study, meant that the PTA was seen by the PTA for over 50% of the visits.

Again, I have worked in locations in which this was true and locations in which we had no PTA’s, so I have seen the results from both.

Looking at treatments per episode is a means of measuring efficiency of treatment.  It may not be the best measurement, but is one way of looking at treatment efficiency.

Looking at outcomes is one way of looking at effectiveness of treatment.  Again, it may not be the best way, but it is one way.

“…less than 2 percent of patients were treated by the PTA for more than 75% of the treatment time, and 8 percent were treated by the PTA 50% of the time or more.”

I’ve been in clinics without PTA’s and with PTA’s.  This stat will be correlated with the amount of PT’s/PTA’s in the clinic.

In private practice, it was 0 PTA’s.  In the hospital we had 1.5 PTA’s for 4 PT’s.  Currently, in my practice there are 2 PTA’s for 1.5 PT’s.

“The second dependent variable, number of visits per treatment episode…We believed that fewer visits per treatment episode were a marker of greater efficiency of care”

This is debatable by people.  I’ve actually been involved in these on-line debates.  Some people will fight that more visits equals better, but more is not always better.

If we can get patients better in shorter visits, then this seems to be ideal to me.  If additional visits would correlate with increased function, then I would be all for increased visits if the patient is willing and able to pay for increased visits (time and money).

“The majority of physical therapy care was delivered by PTs with no reported assistance from PTAs.”

Again, in a clinic without PTA’s, there will be no reported assistance from PTA’s.  This study used data from FOTO, which included private practices and hospital based practices.

“PTAs were involved in the care of patients only 35% of the time. High PTA utilization was relatively uncommon, with only 7.7 percent of the patients seen by PTAs more than 50% of the time.”

This is interesting.  It is becoming more and more common to find clinics advertising/marketing that the patient will only be seen by a PT, or even a step further a Doctor of Physical Therapy.  I don’t know how well this marketing is going.

When seeing it, it subconsciously implies that a DPT is better than a PTA.  I think that this is very individualized.  For example, a PTA that has continued to improve over the years through independent study may be a better clinician than a PT that never sees patients (administration/teacher/manager).

“Medicare patients who were seen in private practice were 48 percent less likely to have had high PTA utilization.”

Some insurance companies require that a patient be seen by a PT and prohibit PTA’s from treating patients.  This will skew numbers towards the PT in private practice.

“Treatment with a therapy aide for 1-25 percent time and greater than 25 percent compared with 0 percent, and high utilization of the PTA were associated with 1.8, 2.6 and 2.0 more visits, respectively.”

Lets break this down.

Being treated by a therapy aide for 1-25% of the time resulted in 1.8 more patient visits per episode.

Being treated by a therapy aide for > 25% of the time resulted in 2.6 more visits per episode.

Being treated by a PTA for greater than 50% of the time resulted in 2.0 more visits.

Remember, an aide is someone that may not have any college experience or degrees.  The aide is not legally able to treat patients that are payed by the government.

Utilizing an aide only results in slightly more visits than using a PTA! Why is this?!

An aide is paid much less on average than a PTA.  For example, the aide may only cost the employer $12.50/hour.  The PTA will cost the employer $30.00/hour.

I see employers trying to cut costs by hiring more aides (not ethical to call it physical therapy if it is not provided by a licensed physical therapy professional IMO).

If it doesn’t change the outcomes though, who’s to argue against it?

I can see both sides of the coin.  Margins (profits) in physical therapy is small, so cutting costs is a business decision.

Providing quality care is something that IMO we should all strive for.

“Greater than 50% time spent with the PTA was predictive of lower discharge scores as was time spent with a therapy aide.”

This part may be the most important statistic in the article.  Seeing someone other than the PT led to worse outcomes.

This is the statistic that I was looking for because of the original question asked.

In other words, the PT will get a patient better than a non-PT and do it faster in an outpatient setting.

Strong words for businesses and people looking to go to PT school.

What is the future of PTA’s?  I don’t know.  Medicare just announced that they will be reducing reimbursement rates for PTA’s in an outpatient setting.  Pair this with the small margins in physical therapy and the question becomes is it profitable to hire PTA’s in an outpatient setting, seeing patients according to Medicare rules?

“…our analysis shows that Medicare regulations for continuous in-room supervision of PTA’s in private practice are associated with a decreased likelihood of high PTA utilization.”

 

“High utilization of PTA’s, and use of therapy aides were each independently associated with more visits per treatment episode, and lower functional health. Thus our findings suggest that use of care extenders such as PTA’s and therapy aides in place of PT’s is associated with more costly and lower quality care delivery in outpatient rehabilitation.”

 

I advise all people to look to the source:

link to article

 

Physio and whiplash

“Whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) is the term given to the variety of symptoms often reported by people following acceleration/deceleration injury to the neck.”

Most people understand the term whiplash is related to an auto accident. After the basics, everything else is like the teacher from the Charlie Brown An acceleration/deceleration injury is exactly what it sounds like.  I’m sure that if you have an older sibling you understand this concept.  My friends, I won’t say any names (Tom and Carl) used to brake abruptly to see if they could get someone to spill their drink.  It’s kind of like that, only more forceful.

When the car comes to an abrupt stop, the body will continue forward thanks to the laws of inertia.  It will typically be stopped by a seatbelt.  Some though, may be stopped by a windshield.

“Cardinal symptom is neck pain but neck stiffness, dizziness, paresthesia/anesthesia in the upper quadrant, headache and arm pain are also commonly reported.”

I have seen a plethora of patients after a motor vehicle accident (MVA).  Neck pain and stiffness seem to be the most common complaint anecdotally, but I have also seen the headache and arm symptoms.

Part of the problem with such diffuse symptoms is that not every professional will treat the patient, but instead will treat the situation.  This means that when a patient presents with symptoms that may not make sense, the professional then inserts individual bias and believes that the patient must be making up the symptoms.  I have seen this over the years in which the PT/PTA/PA/MD believe that the patient is FOS (not a medical abbreviation).  Be that the case, it is still our job to try to help that patient.  If the patient is exaggerating symptoms, we still have to sift through the exaggerations in order to determine what is organic (with a physical cause) and what is non-organic (without physical cause).

“…whiplash injuries comprise (about) 75% of all survivable road traffic crash injuries.”

Just this year I was involved in two MVA’s.  Neither of which were my fault.  As an aside, I have never met anyone that said an accident was his/her fault, in the clinic at least.  Luckily, both MVA’s that I was involved the other person admitted fault immediately.  The first accident involved me T-boning another car doing 45 mph (someone tried making a U-turn on a 4 lane highway). I experienced shock during the first accident and it took me a while to calm down.  I had back pain and neck pain, but as a professional, I knew that it would subside on its own.  This is exactly what happened, over the course of a month.  The best thing that I did was return to lifting and normal activities.  The second accident involved me being rear-ended with the other person going 40-45 mph.  Again, I had some back and neck pain.

Body heal thyself.  Father time is a powerful motivator and I was back to 100% within a couple of months.

“Consistent with international data indicate that approximately 50% of people who sustain a whiplash injury will not recover but will continue to report ongoing pain and disability one year after the injury”

There are so many variables that go into a person experiencing chronic pain.  Extent of tissue damage is not the only variable that needs to be assessed.  Sometimes people just feel wronged by life and this stress of life may contribute to symptoms.

We know that most tissue damage heals relatively quickly (at least quickly when relative to a lifespan).

“…recovery, if it occurs, takes place within the first 2-3 months following the injury with a plateau in recovery following this time point”

We know that most healing takes place over the course of weeks to months.  With this, we have to question the cause of this roadblock to recovery.  Is it truly tissue damage or is there something else at play?

“…good recovery, where initial levels of pain-related disability were mild to moderate and recovery was good, with 45% of people predicted to follow this pathway”

Glass half empty/Glass half full?

About half of the people with WAD will experience a good outcome.  Considering that not much has to be done with this group, I can see some healthcare providers taking responsibility for good outcomes.  I used to work for a clinic that tried to get people into the clinic as fast as possible with the idea being that if we don’t get the patient in fast enough, then the patient may get better on his/her own.

Think about that? We know that most things get better with time, so we want the patient to believe that it was us and our treatment that helped them the most.  As much as I can see this from a marketing perspective, from a global health perspective…it just ain’t right.

Sometimes the patients just need some advice to stay active and come back in 4-6 weeks if there is no change in symptoms.

I was in a course once talking to a PT and I asked that therapist, who also happened to be a business owner: “how do you know that you have had a successful episode of care?”

That therapist’s answer was: “The insurance has been exhausted”

Whether the therapist was joking or not, the fact that this perception is out there that the patient should be bled dry (at least monetarily) is disturbing.

Remember this when you are working in a clinic (if you’re a healthcare professional) or when you are going to see your healthcare professional.

“…initial moderate to severe pain-related disability, with some recovery but with disability levels remaining moderate at 12 months. Around 39% of injured people are predicted to follow this pathway.”

Now we are starting to play.  I use this term “play” as a measure of patient severity.  For instance, when playing basketball with my 4-year old, it’s not really playing the game as much as it is just toying around.  When playing the game against someone that I have never beaten before, I have to study the player, understand the player’s moves, his/her strengths and weaknesses, tendencies when under pressure, establish my game plan against their moves etc.  This is how I perceive a patient and symptoms when they enter the clinic.  I am studying that patient and the symptoms in order to best understand what that patient is experiencing.

I believe that only through understanding the tendencies of the symptoms are we truly able to help/assist the patient in this journey to reduce pain and return to full function.

“…involves initial severe pain-related disability and some recovery to moderate or severe disability, with 16% of individuals predicted to follow this pathway”

I love listening to this guy. He has a way of explaining severity of pain that is just not taught in most healthcare programs.  Understanding that pain is an experience is more important for the healthcare providers, because without this understanding, we can not explain this phenomenon to the patient.

“The most consistent risk factors for poor recovery are initially higher levels of reported pain and initially higher levels of disability.”

With this, the thought exists that we may be able to affect recovery with WAD if we can simply reduce pain.  We may be able to reduce pain in some populations through education.

Maybe we should attempt to use education as a means to reduce pain before we try other interventions such as heat, cold, manual therapy, etc.

It may go something like this:

Therapist: You know Mr. Smith, I have done my evaluation and there is some good news; you’re going to get better.

Mr. Smith: How do you know?

Therapist: There was nothing in my exam that showed that there was any major structural damage and we know that tissue injuries tend to improve on their own over the course of weeks to months.

Mr. Smith: That is good news!

“lower expectations of recovery have been shown to predict poor recovery”

This may be the factor that healthcare professionals should focus time trying to change.  As much as we speak to patients about tissue damage and injuries, we need to spend time in conversation understanding what they believe the barriers are to a successful recovery.

Taking the extra 10 minutes per session to have these conversations and together problem-solving ways to overcome these barriers may be more important than an extra 2 minutes on an arm bike or an extra set of banded rows etc.

Patients are people first and foremost and not a sum of body parts.  Breaking through perceived barriers is an important first step to providing the right interventions to patients.  Sometimes the intervention is only education and other times it may be more integrative of exercise, manual therapy and other modalities at our disposal.

“Some factors commonly assessed by physiotherapists do not show prognostic capacity. These factors include measures of motor and sensorimotor function such as the craniocervical flexion test, joint repositioning errors and balance loss”

We all learn tests and measures in school.  A great world would be inclusive of tests that actually mean something.  Testing balance and strength and positional awareness are all good tests to take time and give information to physicians or insurance companies, but in the end they don’t actually do much to tell the story of the patient.

We need to identify patients that will respond to therapy and those that may need for than just PT.  With that said, we also need to be able to identify those patients that will get better on their own.  Not all patients need to see a physical therapists, we just don’t have a way of telling one subset from another at this time.

“The QTF classification of whiplash injuries was put forward in 1995 and it remains the classification method still currently used throughout the world”

This is the Quebec Task Force Classification:

I No neck complaints and no physical signs
II Neck complaints of pain, stiffness or tenderness only and no physical signs
III Neck complaints and MS signs including 1. Decreased ROM 2. Point tenderness
IV Neck complaints and Neuro signs including: 1. Decreased or absent DTR 2. Muscle weakness 3. Sensory deficits
V Neck complaint and fracture or dislocation

“Current clinical guidelines for the management of acute WAD recommend that radiological imaging be undertaken only to detect WAD grade IV and that clinicians adhere to the Canadian C-Spine rule when making the decision to refer the patient for radiographic examination”

For those that are unfamiliar with, or forgot, the C-Spine rules (including myself), here is the link.

“…the same general examination procedures usually adopted for the examination of any cervical spine condition but with some additional procedures based on research findings of WAD”

When a patient presents to therapy, with complaints of neck pain, after a motor vehicle accident here are some things that a patient can expect (if you are a PT, then these are the things that we should be doing as an at least)

  1. Range of motion using a large compass
  2. Assessing strength in the arms/neck
  3. Assessing any loss of sensation
  4. Assessing loss of reflexes
  5. Assessing grip strength
  6. Assessing patient perception of symptoms using an outcome meaure
  7. Assessing joint integrity using special tests and symptom change
  8. Assessing nerve irritability

“…many patients with WAD will report diffuse symptoms of sensory loss or gain and generalised muscle weakness, both of which may be bilateral, but these findings do not necessarily indicate peripheral nerve compromise and may be a reflection of altered central nociceptive processes.”

Some clinicians think that if a symptom doesn’t match what was learned in school that the symptom must be made up.  We’ve all been around these clinicians that believe that patients must be “faking”, “malingering” or just out for the $$$ after an accident.

Truth is that we have no reliable way to tell if a patient is “faking”.  We may be able to tell if a patient is providing full effort during our examinations, but we can’t know anything beyond this.

The first thing that we need to understand is that the nervous system is complex.  Now, when I see a patient that reports increased sensitivity in an area, I report it as such.  Previously I would report a decreased sensation in the opposite side tested.  I didn’t understand, at that time, that a person could experience hypersensitivity in an area.

“…strong evidence for the presence of augmented central nervous system processing of nociception in chronic WAD and moderate evidence that cold hyperalgesia is associated with poor recovery from the injury”

The nervous system appears to be boss. When it is experiencing stress, it can drastically change how the person perceived different stimulus. I recently had a patient that was so sensitive that she noted her pain increased with the breeze from a ceiling fan.

Think of a car alarm set to really sensitive. We all have seen a car alarm that goes off from a sideways glance. This appears to be happening with the nervous system. The system has difficulty processing what is a real threat to the system and what is a normal stimulus.

Patients that have difficulty tolerating cold appear to have a heightened car alarm, which may indicate a poor overall recovery.

“The clinical course of WAD, where most recovery occurs in the first 2-3 months”

In my opinion there are too many of us in healthcare with big egos. We tend to use this basic rationale:

Patient got better. Patient was in physical therapy during this time of improvement. Physical therapy must be the reason the patient got better. 🤔

This type of logic is unfortunately mislead.

Other variables, such as time may have a role more so than the interventions performed during this time.

“The mainstay of management for acute WAD is the provision of advice encouraging return to usual activity and exercise, and this apprpach is advocated in current clinical guidelines.”

ADVICE!? That’s the mainstay?!

Not ultrasound?!

Not massage?!

Not electrical stimulation?!

How can this be?!

Body heal thyself. 💪🏼👊

“…recent systematic reviews concluding that there is only modest evidence available supporting activity/exercise for acute WAD. It is not clear which type of exercise is more effective or if specific exercise is more effective than general activty of merely advice to remain active.”

The 🥖 and butter of PT may or may not be affective for treating patients immediately post accident.

Lately, I have been seeing many of these patients and there is much education that goes into time based healing on the first few visits.

“…six sessions of physiotherapy was only slightly more effective than a single session of advice from a physiotherapist”

As much as it pains the many wallets of our profession, I definitely agree with this. Some patients that I have seen actually get some relief just from knowing the clinical expectations post WAD.

“…a graded functional exercise approach and advice demonstrated greater improvements in pain intensity, pain bothersomeness and functional ability, compared to advice alone.”

Think of those six sessions from above.  A traditional clinic may use 6 sessions in 2 weeks.  A clinic that understands the research may use those visits over the course of 6-8 weeks.

A graded functional exercise approach means that the patient is slowly performing more work load over the course of time in order to improve function.  This time period is probably no less than 6 weeks since we know that we see significant changes in strength and movement ability over the course of 6 weeks.

“…the recommendation to clinicians is that health outcomes should be monitored and treatment continued only when there is clear improvement.”

It’s unfortunate that this has to be said.  I have seen some patients treated in a clinic for months without appreciable improvements.  At some point, we have to do what is in the best interest for the patient first and foremost.  Having a patient continue to come into the clinic, in the absence of improvement, is a red flag that there may be something else causing symptoms.  Also, continuing to treat a patient may do more harm than good because the patient takes on attributes of a “sick” person.

It’s a case in which the medical system may actually cause problems through the use of treatments and information.  This type of change in the patient has been labeled as iatrogenic (caused by the medical system).

“Analysis revealed no significant differences in frequency of recovery between pragmatic (medication/physiotherapy/CBT) and usual-care groups at 6 months. There was no improvement in non-recovery rates at 6 months, indicating no advantage of the early interdisciplinary intervention.”

I read previously (I’ll have to go back and look for the article) that early aggressive therapy may actually increase symptoms of patients after a motor vehicle accident.

“Education and advice to return to activity and exercise will still remain the cornerstones of early treatment for WAD”

This year I was rear ended on the highway and T boned on another highway.

Excerpts from:

Sterling M. Physiotherapy Management of Whiplash-Associated Disorders (WAD). Journal of Physiotherapy. 2014;60:5-12.

Symptoms may or may not change

“It is clearly stated that the mechanisms underpinning any reductions in symptoms using the SSMP are not known”

The Shoulder Symptom Modification Procedure is studied and taught by Jeremy Lewis, out of England. I am a fan of this method because I like systems. Both systems that work and systems that tell tell the user when the system doesn’t work. I was able to watch Jeremy Lewis assess and treat patients on stage in front of a crowd of over 500 MDT trained clinicians. The patients that he treated were not just any patients off of the streets though, some of these patients were MDT trained clinicians that failed to improve with the MDT approach. When I saw that he was able to go from one patient to another and abolish symptoms over two days, I was sold!

I wanted to know what he was doing. After I got back from the conference in Austin, I emailed him to ask some questions. He was gracious enough to not only answer all of my questions, but to also send me all of his research and articles on SSMP.

I obviously read through the research and started using the format within my own MDT evaluations. I personally found that this method blends very well with MDT because aside from names, the principles were the same, but he provided additional information for treatment that wasn’t provided in the text booms or course work for MDT.

We know that patients get better. It may not necessarily matter which methods are used, but many patients improve with treatment. How they improve…we have no clue! No one can give the exact mechanism by which patients improve symptoms because there is not one mechanism alone by which symptoms are produced.

For all you reading at home, if your therapist is pompous enough to give you an answer that is an absolute, you may not need to find a new therapist, but you better watch your ears for they may be taking in false information.

“A common aim is symptom reduction,which, if achieved, allows the individual to move with less pain. How this is achieved is unknown”

For the most part, we all have the same goals. Get the patient better. Mind you, there are some that have goals clouded by $$$, but hopefully you find someone that is pure of heart.

I want my patients not only to be able to return to what they were doing prior to an injury, but to inspire them to do more. When a patient gets better, I’d love to take the credit, but I also know that Father Time is pretty good at what he does also.

In the end, the patients get better and we have to be able to say 🤷‍♂️ how it happens sometimes.

“Symptom reduction might not be possible, and attempting symptom change that does not achieve its goal may create hypervigilance or unreasonable patient expectations that ultimately become demotivating and sensitizing.”

We work in a team. We always work in a team. That team is either with the other professionals or with the patient. We can’t allow our biases to infect the patient and we must be vigilant to notice when our own preferences are frustrating the patient.

Enjoy! Any questions you can find me on FB at Dr. Vince Gutierrez.

Excerpts from here