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PT and tendons: where are we at?

“Complicating matters further is the mismatch between reported pain (and disability) and imaging (and pathology), as well as evidence of widespread sensory nervous system sensitization in some tendonopathies.”

A little background. Pain is not always viewable. This is a large debate even among the highest level of pain organizations. The IASP (Thanks to Colin Windhu for catching a mistake) is looking to change the definition of pain to include tissue based problems, or at least perceived problems.

Not all pain has a tissue based component, as some have a cognitive and emotional based component. For instance, I treated a person that was so afraid of performing activities that this person developed a pain from the thought of movement. After establishing that movement was safe, this person more than 10X increased the ability on a functional test…in less than 6 weeks.

This person, and others that I’ve worked with, have a “stinking thinking” type of pain. This may not be the fault of the patient, but instead it may be the fault of the faulty medical system. One that drives fear.

How many people have heard a physician say

“This is the worst spine I have seen”

“You shouldn’t squat/run because it’s bad for your knees”

“You shouldn’t work with heavy weights because it’s bad for your back”

“Your knees/hips are bone on bone and you will need a new knee/hip in the future”

Your pain is because you have a rotator cuff tear/disc herniation/arthritis etc”

These types of interactions do more to hurt the patient than help the patient and can start the cycle of inactivity out of fear of breaking oneself.

Don’t buy into the hype. A little stat, when a physician diagnoses your back pain as a herniated disc, arthritis, muscle strain, stenosis, etc do you know that the diagnosis is only right about 10% of the time?!

People are hanging their health habits in a guess that has a worse chance of being right than flipping a coin. You would have better odds of getting 4 of a kind in Texas Holdem.

Let’s start by not placing too much weight into the diagnosis because it’s a best guess at best.

Here’s what we think may happen. Some pain can cause more pain. Nerves can communicate with each other.

It’s similar to an infection. Any nerve that comes in contact with the nerve that is irritated can then become infected (irritated). Hmm?

I’ve seen many patients that experience widespread pain even though “everything is healthy”.

Yet another reason not to hang your hat on one specific tissue problem.

“… A diagnosis of tendinopathy is reasonably easy to make clinically, on the basis localized pain over the tendon that is associated with loading of the tendon.”

If you hurt your biceps and you ask your biceps to work, it makes sense that it may not like that.

If you hurt/injured your biceps and it hurts when you make your ankle muscles work, we wouldn’t expect that to create a problem in the biceps if the problem is localized to the biceps.

Make sense?

In other words, when a tendon is injured, we expect specific behaviors like

1. Pain with contraction under load that may increase with increasing loads

2. Pain with compression of that area

3. Pain with stretching that specific area

4. No issues when that area is not moving.

If the symptoms operate outside of this narrow set of parameters, it may not be only a tendon issue. This is not to say there isn’t a tendon issue, but instead is meant to say that the tendon may only be a part of the problem and we have no idea how much of a part it is until more assessment is done.

“…management of tendinopathy should optimally involve addressing loading of the tendon”

A tendon connects a muscle to a bone. It doesn’t have a ton of blood flow and can be slow to heal.

It needs to work in order to get back to its normal function.

This is what it means to load the tendon. Make it work, but don’t irritate/create harm. As long as the tendon/pain is not worse following an activity…awesomesauce…no harm done.

“Management of load…usually commenced with complete removal of offending activities and the introduction of appropriate and graduated loading activities”

If you break your leg, you will expect to be on crutches. This is to allow the bone time to heal. This stage lasts anywhere from 4-6 weeks. Loading before then one is ready to accept load can result in worsening the injury. You would know this because the pain worsened or you would break it further.

Loading a tendon before it is ready to be loaded OR more than it is ready to accept will lead to increased pain in that area, pain that is lasting and worsening function over time.

These are the clues a patient needs to give their attention towards.

Sometimes you need to remove all load from a tendon to allow it to rest and others you can perform your normals daily activities, but any more would result in increased pain that lingers.

When the pain no longer lingers after an activity, it is time to do more activities and create a new norm.

It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than this. Some research shows that 1200 repetitions of calf raises should be performed weekly, but it doesn’t have to be this structured.

“…requires patient buy-in…involves the clinician educating the patient about the nature of the tendinopathy, its relationship to loading, and a likely recovery trajectory.”

This is by far and away the most important detail.

If the patient is not educated on how the body should respond AFTER performing the activity, then the patient may be reluctant to continue anything that creates transient (short-lived) pain.

This is one of those issues that only gets better with direct loading. It doesn’t “fix” with time because it needs to be strong enough to handle the loads that you would throw at it on a daily basis.

“This exercise program should be adequately supervised, reviewed, and progressed to ensure adherence and resolution of the tendinopathy.”

SOAPBOX: ADEQUATELY SUPERVISED DOES NOT MEAN THREE TIMES PER WEEK FOR SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS. THE PATIENT SHOULD BE PERFORMING THE HOME PROGRAM AND THE THERAPIST IS IDEALLY ONLY A PHONE CALL AWAY. THE PATIENT SHOULD RETURN IF SOMETHING U EXPECTED HAS OCCURRED OR THE PATIENT NO LONGER IS ABLE TO REPRODUCE THE SYMPTOMS WITH THE LOAD THEY ARE USING AT HOME.

“(a) symptom-guides management, (b) symptom-modification management (c) compressive versus tensile load (d) stages of loading through the rehabilitation process (isometric and isotonic strengthening, energy storage and release, return to play), and (e) what I will refer to as movement competency…in a way that does not provoke pain.”

This doesn’t need to be summarized and is great advice for most soft tissue disorders.

“In the lower limb (Achilles tendon, patellar tendon), it appears that pain up to 5/10 on a numeric pain rating scale during and after training is not harmful and may be desirable”

This is a little more aggressive than I go initially, but the patient’s response gets to dictate how hard we push.

If there is a 3 point change and the patient is no worse after repeatedly creating a 3-point change, the. They have earned the right to go to a 4-point change. At some point, we would predict that too much of an increase would lead to an inflammatory effect, but we just don’t know what that number is for that specific patient.

The only way we will ever know is to test it.

“The fad of giving all patients with tendinopathy an eccentric exercise program from the onset has largely abated; however, after adequate strength of the muscle has been achieved, it is necessary to use eccentric exercises to reinstitute the energy storage/return capacity of the musculotendinous complex”

Not sure if this is any different than just load the tissue. The tissue needs to be able to contract under load and stretch under load. That’s normal mechanics for a muscle.

“Movement competency…is mainly about the form and shape (posture and alignment) with which physical activity is performed.”

This is consistent with what Dr. Kelly Starrett has been preaching for years through his books, videos and interviews.

A squat should look like a certain shape and many things look similar, such as a lunge (squat with one leg), clean start position, deadlift start position, standing up from the toilet etc.

Of course I know there are nuances between the squat and deadlift regarding hip height and back angle, the clean and lunge regarding shin angle etc, but in the end the basic shape still applies (knee bent and hip bent with shoulders forward and back fairly flat with head looking straight ahead). The similarities are where most people need to function and the nuances are what make the exceptional athletes different.

Link to article

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ACL rehab

“At 13 months post ACLR (Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction), individuals exhibited average knee extensor moments that were 17% smaller in the surgical limb during a bilateral squat against body-weight resistance”

ACL injuries tend to be noted in some non-contact sports such as soccer and basketball. Contact sports, such as football, also have ACL tears noted during contact, such as a tackle that makes the knee buckle inwards.

The patient with an ACL tear will typically opt for surgery if he/she plans on returning to some type of sporting activity. There is a debate as to whether or not to have the surgery if there will be no return to sporting activity.

After the ACL surgery, the research above notes that patients are less likely to use the surgical side during a squatting activity (think getting up from the toilet) and will push more with the non-surgical side.

This makes sense to me. After the surgery, the patient is in a locked long leg brace and is unable to move fluidly on the affected leg. The patient will not spend as much time on the surgical leg because of this and will transfer the weight to the non-surgical side. It becomes a learned habit to transfer the weight to the non-surgical side, but this is just my opinion.

 

“The persistence of under-loading is concerning, as asymmetrical limb loading during landing tasks has been linked to increased risk for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reinjury”

This is important! If we never get the patient to load the leg in order to improve strength and motor control (ability move in the way that the brain dictates), then the patient is at a higher risk of future injuries.

Let me clarify: if you squat and allow your legs to go wet noodle during the squat, it will look like a knocked-kneed version of a squat. This is not inherently horrible, but when asking the body to absorb a large load in this positon, when not trained to absorb this load, may lead to an injury. It all comes down to progressively loading specific positions in order to learn how to hold this position.

This is a major component of Olympic weightling compared to powerlifting. In the performance of the snatch (the most explosive movement in sports), maintaining proper position is extremely important for completing the lift. In powerlifting, the position may be able to be off a little and the athlete can overcome the small error in position.

With regards to ACL rehabilitation, it is important that we ensure that the patient is able to have enough strength to maintain positions without the load (bodyweight jumps, external weight, etc) dictating positional changes.

 

“…the bilateral multijoint nature of a squat allows for compensations that can shift the task demands to the nonsurgical limb (interlimb compensation) or to adjacent joints within the surgical limb (intralimb compensation) to reduce knee extensor moments.”

The bodyweight squat can be performed differently and switches the load from either the hip to the knee.

If you watch someone squat (recommended for all people that will attempt to squat), the person should both watch the knee and the hip. If you look at opening and closing, this will be much easier.

  1. Watch the knee to see how much the knee “closes” or how much the angle changes from the calf to the hamstring
  2. Watch the hip to see how much the hip “closes” or how much the angle changes from the trunk to the thigh

Which joint moves more?

This will help the reader to understand whether the knee joint muscles or hip joint muscles will be the dominant movers during the squat. Those that have knee issues will tend to move the hip joint muscles more than knee joint muscles.

I’ll make a video on this at a later date.

 

“…individuals 1 month post ACLR performed bilateral sit-to-stand tasks with a 38% reduction in vertical ground reaction forces (vGRFs) in the surgical limb”

This very simply means that the person is pushing less with the surgical leg than the non-surgical leg.

This means that the surgical leg is taking less force through it and will not be able to generate the same amount of power. Also, it is typical to see the patient weight shifting towards the non-surgical leg.

“reduced knee extensor moments have been found along with increased hip extensor moments…may rely on interlimb compensations to unload the knee during early rehabilitation but adopt intralimb compensations as they progress through rehabilitation.”

This goes back to the differences in a powerlifting based squat and an Olympic weightlifting based squat. The more upright the torso, the more that the knee takes a load and the less upright the torso, the more the back and hips will take the load.

I am having this exact conversation with a patient currently following an ACLR, attempting to get the patient to increase the load on the knee.

“During early rehabilitation, strategies for restoring symmetrical weight bearing during bilateral tasks should be emphasized and reinforced even during submaximal tasks…efforts should be made to continue to focus on sagittal plane knee loading and avoid compensation with the hip extensors.”

I tend to use a mirror for visual feedback in order to allow the patient to see the weight shift between the legs. This tends to fix the problems for weight shifting. We then progress to doing the squatting motion away from a mirror in order to build in positional awareness without the need for visual cues.

In order to improve the knee to hip ratio regarding which joint moves more, the cues will switch from sitting back on a chair (similar to a box squat which is hip hinge emphasizd) to emphasizing sitting between the feet (similar to an overhead squat) which is more knee joint driven.

If you don’t have a PT that understands how to squat, this may be a difficult movement to restore with physical therapy alone.

It may be prudent to ask your PT to describe a squat prior to starting therapy in order to ensure that your therapist has at least a baseline knowledge of squatting.

If the therapist doesn’t start describing multiple techniques for squatting based on body shape, then the therapist may not be well versed in the movement.

If you have any questions about squatting or ACLR rehabilitation…comment below.

Article: https://www.jospt.org/doi/abs/10.2519/jospt.2018.7977

 

You can find me at Primarycarejoliet.com and wherever you subscribe to podcasts at A physio’s perspective: movementthinker.

Prone lying

I hear it frequently…this is an exercise?!

Sure, if it fulfills the purpose of making one more mobile, more resilient and more awesome!

This position is called prone lying and just means that you are lying face down.

For people with back pain, this has been referred to as the rescue position.

This position can be highly effective in reducing back or leg pain in 49-64% of people with symptoms.

Is it for everyone?

No..of course not. There is not a single exercise that is beneficial for 100% of the population that has pain, but there are patterns.

If your pain worsens with sitting, bending or twisting then this may be beneficial.

If your symptoms worsen withstanding or walking, this position may not work well for your symptoms.

Some things to note:

1. If you get into this position and your symptoms move further away from your spine…no good and you should stop and seek a full evaluation

2. If your symptoms move closer to your spine, you should pick up the book “Treat Your Own Back”.

Power cleans

This is a higher level exercise in order to increase power output and increase strength specific to this type of movement. There may be carry-over to jumping or lifting objects to shoulder height.

This exercise works many of the muscles of the body with an emphasis on the posterior chain.

You’ll see my heels leave the ground, which works the calf muscles. The knees go from bent to straightened, which work the quadriceps. The hip moves from closed to open, which works the glutes/hamstrings. The muscles of the back work to maintain positions and keep the spine from slouching. The arm and shoulder muscles work to pull the weight and hold the weight on the shoulders.

You can see that as the weight gets heavier that the technique breaks down. This is similar to everyday scenarios. For instance, if you have the strength to stand up from a chair without your arms over 10 times, we could work on technique, but if you can’t do one then your body will try to find the most convenient way to make it happen…even if the technique is not the best.

Any questions comment below.