HOW PT CAN HELP WITH FMS

HOW CAN PT HELP WITH FIBROMYALGIA?

I was recently asked in an open forum how PT can help fibromyalgia.  I hope the summary of this article sheds light on how important of a role PT’s play in this ailment.

“…Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) as a syndrome characterized by chronic widespread pain and tenderness in at least 11 of 18 predefined tender points”

First, when something is characterized as a “syndrome” it means that there is a cluster of symptoms that are common amongst people, but there is no definite test in order to prove that it is the cause of symptoms.

This makes FMS difficult to treat and understand because we don’t have a specific test in which to try to “fix” the underlying cause.

This article will go into what we know about FMS and what is hypothesized about FMS to further the patient’s knowledge of how PT can help.

“…prevalence rates between 0.5% to 6%”

This means that in the general population we will see this diagnosis between 5 in 1,000 and 6 in 100.  Depending on the setting that a PT works in, the prevalence rate may be much higher.  I can say personally that this is either the primary diagnosis or a secondary diagnosis in about 25% of my current caseload.

“…high comorbidity with other disorders, particularly chronic fatigue syndrome and mental disorders, including depression and anxiety disorder”

FMS is not frequently a diagnosis on its own. The patient with FMS may also have other issues such as chronic fatigue, which is not the same as FMS.  The person may also have a psychological issue, which may play a role in FMS.

“FMS is not only a chronic pain syndrome but also consists of a whole range of symptoms referring to effort intolerance and stress intolerance, as well as hypersensitivity for pain and other sensory stimuli”

Fibromyalgia goes well beyond pain only.  The patient with FMS is not frequently able to tolerate a great deal of activity without worsening of symptoms.  This is a major role for the PT to educate the patient regarding when it is safe to push harder and when the patient may need to back off activity in order to allow the system (read that as body as a whole) to calm down. A good book for this topic is “A World of Hurt” by Annie O’Connor and Melissa Kolski.

Hypersensitivity is a key finding in FMS and this will be spoken about later in the article.

“The precise etiology and pathogenesis of FMS remain undefined, and there is no definite cure”

When I read this, it sounds doom and gloom, but if you read it more like a science person instead of as a layperson it makes sense.  If we don’t know the cause of a specific action, then we can’t possibly know how to stop the action or prevent it in the first place.

“It is not our intention to advocate that physical therapists are able to manage a complex disorder such as fibromyalgia on their own”

Because there are multiple components to the syndrome (remember the psychological issues spoken of earlier), this is not a problem that can be handled by one professional without help from others.  As PT’s, we can play a role in managing this process, but that’s it…we play a role.

“Fibromyalgia syndrome is characterized by sensitization of the central nervous system, which explains the majority of, if not all, symptoms…Once central sensitization is established, little nociceptive input is required to maintain it…an increased responsiveness to a variety of peripheral stimuli, including mechanical pressure, chemical substances, light, sound, cold, heat, and electrical stimuli…results in a large decreased load tolerance of the senses and the neuromuscular system.”

When your nerves are more sensitive, then the sensations that you feel such as pain, heat, pressure, etc may be felt quicker and more intense than those without this syndrome.  This is the concept of little nociceptive input (pain input) is required to maintain sensitivity.  For instance, when someone has a lower threshold for pain (not an ego thing) then smaller deviations will cause pain.  I have treated patients that claimed to have increased pain from being touched by a feather! It is real and the patient’s experience of pain cannot be denied.

“…pain facilitation and pain inhibition is influenced by cognitions, emotions, and behaviors such as catastrophizing, hypervigilance, avoidance behavior and somatization”

This is a great article because the authors did a great job of attempting to summarize FMS in a concise manner. Pain is an experience.  It doesn’t mean that a tissue is injured, as pain can be felt in the absence of injury.  A person can also have a severe injury and not have pain.  A person’s emotional state can override the pain response. For instance, I experienced a major injury to my face in which my nose was pulled from my face during a weightlifting movement.  I had no pain until I actually saw the injury in a mirror.  The injury was unchanged from the minutes of standing at the bar until I went into the locker room and saw the injury.  What changed was my mental state.  I started worrying about severe damage, financial concerns, loss of work etc.  All of these are the same worries that everyone else has when they experience a pain that is not explained (this is the definition of catastrophizing).

Avoidance behavior means that a person will stop performing activities because of fear of making symptoms worse. Finally, somatization indicates that a person experiences symptoms in the absence of a test that can show anything is actually causing the pain.

Avoiding activity and catastrophizing actually causes a change in the nervous system in that it may sensitize the spinal cord.

“…abnormal functioning of the stress system seems to occur mostly in the aftermath of a long period of overburdening by physical and emotional stressors and to be precipitated by an additional trigger in the form of an acute physical or emotional event.”

Now you, as the reader, can see why PT’s can’t solve this puzzle alone.  There are so many variables that play a role in this syndrome that more than one professional needs to be involved in the care.

“…many patients with FMS have maladaptive illness beliefs, cognition, and behaviors that preclude successful rehabilitation.”

The primary intervention that takes place in therapy, almost regardless of the diagnosis, is education.  When a patient understands their own beliefs and how they may play a role in hindering progress, we have actually reached a milestone.  This is very much based in education.  If we can educate the patient enough regarding pain and more importantly how to respond to pain and its meaning, then we can progress towards other interventions.  If we can’t teach the patient or come to a mutual understanding regarding pain and how it is thought to work, then progress will be difficult.  As stated in the following portion of the article; “Poor understanding of pain may lead to the acquisition of maladaptive attitudes and behavior in relation to pain”. This means that the number one treatment that PT’s can offer to patients with FMS, and any other pain disorder for that matter, is education.

“…more adequate pain beliefs lead to increased confidence, which, in turn, leads to increased activity levels. An education course directed at improving self-efficacy for the management of the pain disorder ameliorated symptom severity and improved physical function”

We have to break the cycle of pain.  This may be achieved by breaking any part of the cycle.  The thought is that if we can increase a person’s activity level, or tolerance, that we could improve or decrease how sensitive the nerves are to outside stimuli.  This would allow a person to slowly tolerate more and more activity with less pain over time.  This is considered graded exposure.

“Evidence in support of activity management alone for those with FMS is currently unavailable. However, it is generally included in cognitive behavioral therapy.”

The thought is that if we can reduce the stress (think physical, emotional and otherwise) that a person is experiencing, that we would be able to reduce flare-ups.  This is a good thought, but hasn’t been proven.  What we know is that we need to increase activity levels because there are many good benefits from an active lifestyle such as decreased risk of mortality, increased lifespan, and improved quality of life.

“Limited evidence supports that use of spinal manipulation and moderate evidence supports the use of massage therapy in patients with FMS”

There are many in the field of PT, including the American Physical Therapy Association, has stated that the passive use of physical therapy should be questioned if it is the primary treatment.  Passive therapy is treatment done TO the patient instead of done BY the patient.  This “passive therapy” also fosters the dependence of the patient on the therapist.

When a patient is dependent on a therapist for improvement, the winner is always the therapist and his/her bank account.  In the end, we want to empower the patient to take control of his/her pain status and start to experiment with activity in order to establish a baseline activity that can be performed without flare-ups.

“Strong evidence supports aerobic exercise, and moderate evidence supports muscle strength training for the management of FMS”

This is an easy statement to make, but many patients tell me that “they couldn’t tolerate any exercise”. This is where the therapist-patient team (therapeutic alliance) really comes into play.  It is the therapist’s job to listen to the patient in order to provide treatment strategies that will improve the patient’s fitness levels, WITHOUT flaring-up symptoms.

“Physical exercise is troublesome for many patients with FMS due to activity-induced pain, especially for patients with severe disabilities”

This statement sums up the challenge of physical therapy and the challenge for the physical therapist.  A patient with FMS cannot be issued a check-list of exercises to perform in the clinic.  There has to be a relationship of trust between the therapist and the patient.  When a patient comes into the clinic, he/she trusts that the therapist is issuing interventions with the patient’s end-goal in mind.  If, at any time, the patient feels that the therapist is not providing GREAT care, then the patient needs to leave and find a therapist that treats them as a person and not a number! This is important and will come up again towards the end of the article.

“Nonspecific factors such as the patient’s emotional processing of the encounter with the health care professional, the quality of the therapeutic alliance, and the patient’s treatment preferences may be important in predicting therapeutic outcomes.”

THIS IS HUGE! The emotional processing of the encounter….Read that again….How the patient perceives being treated during the session plays a role in the outcomes. When we know that there is an emotional component to FMS, it is our responsibility to ensure that we accommodate this by trying to provide the best experience as possible. This starts from the initial phone call and progresses through the initial visit.  This perception starts prior to the patient coming into the clinic.  The patient needs to be heard and feel important in order to get the best results. I would say that this should hold true to all patients and not just for those with chronic pain or FMS.

Thanks for reading and I hope it was helpful.

Excerpts taken from:

Nijs J, Mannerkorpi K, Descheemaeker F, et al. Primary Care Physical Therapy in People with Fibromyalgia: Opportunities and Boundaries Within a Monodisciplinary Setting. Phys Ther. 2010;90(12):1815-1822.

Did therapy help your knee pain? If no…continue to read. 

Did therapy help your knee pain? 

“Knee osteoarthritis (OA) is one of the leading causes of pain and disability worldwide”

This is an indication of how prevalent this condition is in the world. Arthritis is seen as a byproduct of aging, but this doesn’t mean that it directly causes pain.

“…exercise intervention has been shown to be efficacious and is recommended in multiple guidelines; however, its treatment effect has been reported to be modest.”

Everyone can benefit from exercise, but the extent of the benefit for patients with knee pain may not be that “miracle” that people expect.  

“Although the statistical effectiveness of exercise for knee OA has been clearly demonstrated and may be equivalent or better than commonly prescribed medications, the effect on pain reduction and function remains modest.”

Exercise is a powerful tool or at least among the most powerful that we have now. In saying this though, it is not a magic elixir.  

“The MDT approach has been extensively used to classify and treat patients with spinal pain. Studies have shown the MDT approach to be valid, reliable, able to successfully predict outcomes and associated with decreased lumbar surgery rates, pain, and disability.”

If this doesn’t sound great, then I don’t know what does! MDT (Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy) is a specific assessment and treatment style that Is not taught in school. One must go through advanced courses and take a test to say that they are competent at using the method. Ask your therapist if they have taken any courses in the method and if they have achieved the certification through the Institute. This is the only way to determine if the therapist that you are seeing is competent to utilize the principles of the system.  

“The most prevalent and well-studies MDT subgroup is the ‘derangement’ classification. This classification has been described in all joints and has been associated with a rapid response to specific end-range exericses…”

Would you like your symptoms to rapidly improve? Who wouldn’t? Roughly 40% of patients with knee pain may have symptoms that respond rapidly to a single exercise. Turning off pain doesn’t have to be difficult. In many patients, it only takes a single exercise to reduce or turn off the pain. This has to be followed-up with a constant assessment in order to determine which exercises the joint will tolerate at a specific point in time in order to ensure that the symptoms do not return when not in the clinic. There has been a lot of research in the medical world regarding Low Back Pain, but this article is the first that I have seen using the same principles for osteoarthritic knees.  

“…significant treatment main effects were present for all primary outcomes. The MDT derangement subgroup had improved scores at 2 weeks and 3 months compared to the MDT nonresponder subgroup for all primary outcomes”

This is huge! This sentence essentially states that doing one exercise is more beneficial than doing many for a small subset of patients. Now for a little more information on a derangement. If there is one exercise that can greatly improve your pain, then there will be multiple exercises that either have no effect or make the pain worse. If your therapist is not at least looking for and ruling out this preferential exercise or direction of movement, you may be in therapy for a longer period with a longer list of home exercises. These exercises may or may not have a positive or negative effect on patient’s whose symptoms are rapidly reducible.  

“The physical therapists were credentialed in the McKenzie system, and results may not be applicable to non-McKenzie-trained therapists.”

This sentence stands on its own. Anyone claiming to use a method should at least be trained and credentialed in using the method. In the Joliet area, there are only two of us endorsed by the McKenzie Institute to utilize this method.  

 

In short, this study was performed on patients waiting to receive a total knee replacement, which means that they were shown to have severe arthritis on an X-ray. The patients receiving McKenzie-based treatment outperformed those receiving traditional evidence based guideline therapy and those that received no therapy. Seek out an MDT trained clinician if you are experiencing knee pain.  

 

I can be found at:

Functional Therapy and Rehabilitation

903 N. 129th Infantry Dr

Suite 500

Joliet, IL

815-483-2440

I see patterns

I see patterns, quick flashback to the Sixth Sense.

 

“Nonspecific LBP accounts for the great majority of cases of LBP and is defined as LBP for which there is no identifiable cause (e.g, injury or disease). As a result, treatment recommendations commonly involve a one-size-fits-all approach.”

This is reality. When someone has back pain, it is a guess and a poor one at that as to what is the cause of the back pain. Herniated discs? Sure. Arthritis? Sure, why not. Spinal stenosis? Must be. Cancer? Naw, this one we could rule in or out with imaging. The sinister (read really bad) stuff can be picked up through imaging and is assumed to be the cause of pain. What else is out there? Lumbago…WTF is this about? My favorite is back pain. For real, this is how it works. The patient goes to the doctor with a complaint of back pain and after the end of the session, the doctor says…You have back pain. Here’s your script for back pain. See me in a few weeks.

The problem when we can’t identify different causes of back pain, then all back pain is treated via a “shake and bake” or cookie cutter approach. Is Suzy’s back pain the same as Johnny’s, probably not since the symptoms aren’t even in the same location, but it is still coming from the back so it must be treated the same way. There’s a reason that we as the industry of healthcare have failed in treating back pain…we can’t even define it.

 

“The current treatment classification system (ie, a small group [5%-10%] of patients with identified specific pathology versus the large group [90% -95%] with nonspecific LBP) is clearly not working well.”

Have you seen the numbers?! Not working well is an understatement. Here are some scary stats. The 5-10% that physicians can diagnose are those sinister (read really bad) problems.

“Subgrouping patients in LBP does not need to be complex or difficult”

Everyone subgroups patients. Tony Delitto has stated in an article (It’s late and I don’t want to go find it so trust me…I’m a professional) that everyone classifies patients, but the classifcation system may be very rudimentary. For instance, if someone comes in with a history of back pain and has failed at therapy elsewhere, we would say that this person may fail again. This is a way of classifying, albeit not a good one, but one way. There are methods of classifying back pain (don’t see this as diagnosing) based on signs and symptoms and response to movement or other interventions. This is a slightly more sophisticated way. There are methods that have withstood the rigor of research and demonstrate moderate reliability in the assessment of back pain.

 

“A good example in the LBP field is the STarT Back trial that used a simple prognostic tool (9 questions only) to match patients to treatment packages appropriate for them.”

I was fortunate enough to hear Nadine Foster, one of the authors of the original study, speak at a spine conference in 2013. The questionnaire can help clinicians, especially the primary care coordinator (Physician Assistant, Primary care physician, orthopedist, Advance Nurse Practitioner) determine if the patient may improve without treatment or if PT could be beneficial. The final category that a patient could be classified into is the inclusion of physical therapy with the addition of a psychosocial approach to pain.

 

“Clinicians are usually favorable to the idea of individualized treatments for nonspecific LBP.”

If all back pain were created equal, then I’d be in favor for all treatments being equal. When a patient comes in looking crooked with 9/10 pain, then that patient should not receive the same treatment as someone that has 1/10 pain and is looking to return to sports. Different presentations call for different solutions. There is an excellent book out there for patients and insurance companies called: Rapidly Reversible Low Back Pain by an orthopedic surgeon. He follows the thought and ideas of Robin McKenzie.

“Put simply, if there is a subgroup that does well, it must be balanced by a subgroup that does poorly.”

This research is out there, but because it doesn’t meet the stringent standards of most research studies, it is frowned upon. The problem with the study is that the authors of the study aren’t blinded to the treatments and patient classification. This means that the authors could be biased in one way or another. Aside from this, the study is a legitimate study assessing varying treatment for low back pain. There was one group that did very well and one group that did poorly. One group was in the middle of the two, but leaned more towards poor than well. Check out the study from Audrey Long

“Two aspects of human nature that could explain this situation (treatment effect) are that we tend to see patterns where none exist (patternicity) and that we presume we have more control over events than we truly do (illusion of control).”

This is great stuff. I actually printed off the articles so that I could read them later. I’d love to believe that this isn’t me…but wouldn’t everyone. I’d love to believe that I actually see dead people…I mean patterns and no, not the patterns that people create when they see a shadow and believe it’s a ghost. It does intrigue me though to learn more about pattern recognition.

“…we must conclude that in general, the current research initiatives and achievement in this field are far from optimal and not yet ready to be implemented in clinical practice.”

I wish I could agree with this, but then we are treating all patients the same. If we can’t give individualized instruction to each patient, then it doesn’t matter who the patient sees for their problem. It doesn’t matter that one person’s back pain started 2 years ago and hasn’t subsided or that another’s started this week and is expected to improve with time. Both patient’s would get the same treatment approach if we can’t classify.

 

 

Get PT 2nd

“out of 137 patients, 100 had been recommended for spinal fusion. After evaluation, the group advised 58 of those patients to pursue a non operative plan of care”
There’s a slogan going around social media saying “GETPT1ST” I don’t know if I completely agree with the saying, but I can’t disagree with that either. The saying could just as well be get PT second. At some point a second opinion has to come in to play for a patient’s dysfunctions or pain. That second opinion, in my belief, has to come from someone without a financial stake in the surgery. This could be a physiatrist, PT, or a separate surgeon, which was done in the study cited. 
The take home point is that 58% of those recommended for spinal fusion were recommended to seek a separate form of care, thus advised to avoid the surgery initially. What this means for the patients is that a second opinion should always be sought out, because the person advising a plan of care is advising it from their perspective. I’d love to say that everyone has the patient’s best interest in mind, but I can’t. In that case, the patient must become more educated and advocate for him/herself. For instance, a surgeon does surgery, a physical therapist does physical therapy and a physiatrist does physiatry. We see problems from different lenses and therefore will advise different plans of care for varying presentations. Some patients need surgery and some don’t. Some patients need physical therapy and some don’t. We can’t say PT first because PT is not magic and can’t fix everyone’s issues. 
“As clinicians, we bring our own biases into the treatment plan for patients”
Want to decrease unnecessary surgeries? Have a multidisciplinary team do evaluations, researchers say. PT in Motion. April 2017:46. 

Results based care

Results based care

 

I’m going to get away from typing out all of the quotes, which is what I have been doing for the previous year, for the sake of time. I have opinions that can be expressed without the need for the direct quotes. I’ll still link to the article so one can go back to read it if interested.

 

Health care is changing. We are moving from a fee-for-service type of setting to pay-for-performance setting. Some of us are thinking “about damn time!”

 

Fee for service indicates that a person gets paid for doing things to do. For instance, if I keep you for 90 minutes and do a bunch of stuff with you, then I would get paid much more than if I only spent 45 minutes with you. Now, if I see you for 90 minutes and see you 3 times per week for 4 weeks, then I would make a lot more money from the patient than if I saw for 45 minutes 1-2x per week. There is absolutely no incentive to get a patient better quickly. Do the patient’s realize this? I hope that this article goes viral so that the patient’s have a better opportunity to read this information. Some health care providers would hate for this to happen and other are thinking “HELL YEAH!”

 

Pay for performance: Some of the ways that this is being done is that a certain dollar amount is allocated for a specific diagnosis and this amount is paid regardless of how often or how many times I see the patient. I now have a huge incentive to get you better fast and to make you as independent as possible so that you no longer need to seek treatment for the same issue. If the patient can get better faster, then there is more money to be made in healthcare because we are not treating out of fear, but instead out of ambition. Some companies are afraid to discharge a patient because there may not be another patient taking that spot anytime soon. I’ve worked in these situations multiple times before, so I am not talking out of my A$$. Treating out of ambition allows the therapist to apply the evidence as best fits for the patient in front of us in order to get that patient better faster. No offense, but I want my patients to get better and leave. Hopefully, to never come back for the same thing again. I was listening to an episode of Mechanical Care Forum in which the therapist (Mark Miller) was describing an embarrassing moment in which Mark had a patient returning to therapy for the same complaint that the patient was there previously. He was proud because he thought the patient was coming back because he did such a good job the first time and the patient was satisfied with the treatment, but Robin Mckenzie, one of the most influential PT’s of the last century, noted that if the patient was actually better and if Mark did his job then the patient would know how to address the situation without seeking help again. I want to treat with the hope that the patient will only come back because they have a separate issue that needs a consultation for treatment. This is the ambition that I am talking about.

 

The article speaks of staying up to date on the literature, regularly attending continuing education classes, learning new approaches, tracking outcomes and adjusting treatment according to the patient. I would love to say that 100% of PT’s are performing all of the above in the list, but I can’t. There are countless articles speaking to the reasons that PT’s give for not staying up to date with the research, which indicates that there are some aren’t doing their professional or social duty. I take this stuff seriously. It’s Easter and I am typing about the stuff I just read. It sucks to take time away from work in order to find the articles, read them and then try to put the information out on the World Wide Web for patients and other therapists to read and criticize. I’d love to relax with my beverage of choice and just not think about it, but my patients and society, as a whole deserves better from my profession and me.

 

Anyway, Medicare is moving more towards a pay for performance method of healthcare and their goals are pretty aggressive. Medicare will have up to 50% of patients on this type of fee schedule by 2018 and for those that are still fee-for service, medicate will tie the payment to outcome measures in 90% of the cases by 2018.

 

I’m doing my part to educate, educate and overeducate the patient in order to get the patient on board with treatment. If I can get the patient to play an active role in the treatment, then I know that I have a better chance of getting that patient better.

Themes taken from:

Jannenga H. Tracking for success: Why outcome measures are essential to your practice. IMPACT. Jan 2017:53.

Call a spade a spade

  1. “Although numerous propositions have been put forward in the literature about how we might usefully subclassify low back pain (LBP), we must first consider the potential utility and futility of such aspirations and ask, “Will it change the outcomes of patients?”

 

This first statement in the paper is great. All therapist classify patients using either a sophisticated method (which will be spoken of in this paper) or a method that lacks sophistication (a patient’s education level, income level, etc). The big question that we have to ask is “does any of it really matter”.

 

  1. “Within this arena, there are two schools of though-nominalist and essentialist. Nominalists define a disease by its symptom profile (CLBP = back pain of duration > 3 months). Essentialists state that each specific disease has an underlying pathophysiology, implying treatment of the disease requires treatment of the pathology”

 

This is fun for me to read. I never though of it this way, but I guess that I would be a nominalist in most cases. Rarely do I believe that the underlying pathophysiology must be treated in order to resolve symptoms. Let me give you an example. For patients that have degenerative disc disease (this is a very common diagnosis in the clinic and most will have this over the course of the lifetime) there is nothing that I will do to regenerate the disc, but I may be able to teach the patient how to either shut off the pain or manage the pain. This would be the nominalist in me. The essentialist in me has another example, which is also a real example in the clinic. There was a patient coming to therapy for treatment of his shoulder. In the process of treating the shoulder he developed back pain (not while in the clinic with me). Anyway, he neglected to tell me about the back pain, but later in the course of care (all within a couple of weeks) went to an urologist for urinary issues. He never told his urologist about the back pain and was advised to use a catheter to urinate! Anyway, he told me about his catheter issues and I was curious. I asked if he was experiencing any back pain or leg pain and sure enough he was. I called a surgeon that I trust and the patient was in surgery within a day. He had an issue that required surgical correction of a pathological issue. In this case, I am an essentialist. Now that I think about it, I am not sure if one can root for only one team.

 

  1. “These classifications can broadly be divided into three groups: (1) those that consider clinical descriptors, (2) those that describe prognosis, and (3) those that consider response to treatment.”

 

I am credentialed in Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy, formerly known as the McKenzie Method. In this respect I am a little biased and it is important that you guys know that I am biased towards one method before reading the rest of the article. MDT would be a patient response approach.

 

Other systems, such as the Treatment Based Classification System (TBCS), which wasn’t even considered in this article it looks like, is a system that is based on clinical prediction rules. This means that if you come in and say some key words and test positive on some key tests that it would dictate a specific category of treatment, which is completely different from a patient that speaks of different key words and test negative on key tests.

 

  1. “We identified 28 classification systems of CLBP (chronic low back pain)…systems that described subclasses based on pathoanatomy, pahtophysiology, or clinical signs and symptoms without attempting to predict outcome or direct treatment were labeled as ‘diagnostic’…systems attempting to predict outcome irrespective of treatment were termed ‘prognostic’…systems that suggested treatments for different subclasses were termed ‘treatment based’…16 diagnostic, seven prognostic, and five treatment-based classification systems for CLBP.”

 

Typically, when I am writing a blog post I go to the back of my library (actually a trunk in the crawlspace) and grab an article that I read years ago. (I know…I am a nerd because I keep research articles that I read years ago). Anyway, re-reading the highlights of this article is like reading the article for the first time. I forgot that there were this many classification systems out there. Typically only a few are spoken of in the clinic and these are: the movement impairment system, Quebec Task Force, Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy, Treatment Based Classification System and the Canadian Back Institute Classification System.

 

I will have to read the highlights of the article again in order to figure out which system fits into which category.

 

  1. “The first description of a treatment based system was by McKenzie, who classified patients into three main syndromes based on physical signs, symptom behavior, and their relations to end-range lumbar test movements”

 

Is it wrong that I was pounding my chest when I was typing the above sentence? This reminds me that I will have to write a blog on the history of MDT. One can see the history of MDT in the book Against the Tide.

 

  1. “Riddle and Rothstein assessed 49 physical therapists with varying clinical experience, in their ability to classify 363 patients according to the McKenzie system. Their ability to agree at the subsyndrome level was poor…Agreement among examiners was only marginally improved for classification into the three main syndromes…Agreement among examiners was better in three studies that assessed physical therapists who completed a certification in the McKenzie method with percent agreement ranging from 74% to 91% for subsyndromes and 93% to 100% for main syndromes.”

 

This tells us a few things. First is that those certified in using a method are actually good at using the method and those that aren’t certified aren’t as good at using a method. I think that this thought process would hold true for many aspects of different professions. I actually had a discussion on FB about this topic and I don’t think that it is the magic of the certification that increases agreement, but the hours upon hours of studying that went into preparation for the test that increases therapist’s competency of using a method. When a therapist is certified though, the agreement is close to perfect.

 

  1. “Movement System Impairment classification…proposed by Van Dillen et al and includes five categories based on signs and symptoms elicited with direction-specific tests in the direction of lumbar flexion, extension, rotation, rotation with flexion, or rotation with extension…shown to be reliable in three different studies”

 

I’ll have to read more about this system because at a glance it sounds eerily similar to McKenzie’s method. Both appear to have a “directional preference” based treatment and avoidance (I’ll assume only temporarily) of the aggravating factors.

 

  1. “Canadian Back Institute Classification system…recognition of syndromes or patterns of pain with no direct reference to pathoanatomy…the classification was based on the location of dominant pain, whether the pain was constant or intermittent, and which movements or postures exacerbated or alleviated the symptoms…shown to be reliable in one study.”

 

Again…these systems are starting to sound familiar and similar to each other. Figure out the symptom location, what makes them worse, what makes them better, is it mechanical or chemical and then name it for what it is. This appears to be the same in the three classification systems.

 

  1. “Movement and Motor Control Impairment (MCI) classification system by O’Sullivan proposed treatment based on subgroups of patients with CLBP categorized by five distinct patterns based on a specific direction of MCI…flive categories included flexion pattern (loss of motor control into trunk flexion resulting in excessive abnormal flexion strain), flexion/lateral shifting pattern (MCI around the lumbar spine with a tendency to flex and laterally shift at the symptomatic segment), active extension pattern (MCI around the lumbar spine with a tendency to hold the lumbar spine actively into extension), passive extension pattern (loss of lumbar motor control around the lumbar spine with a tendency to passively overextend at the symptomatic segment), and multidirectional pattern (MCI around the lumbar spine in multiple directions)…The percent agreement was 70%.”

 

It seems like this system is all about a loss of control at the lumbar spine. The agreement of classification isn’t bad at 70%. I struggle with this system because it does not appear to be a patient response based system. I’ll have to read more into this system. The first thing that I think of is “how do we know if we are doing the right thing and how long do we have to wait in order to determine if we are moving in the right category.

 

  1. “An RCT assessed the classification system by McKenzie by randomizing 260 patients into two groups: Group A was treated with the McKenzie method, and group B was treated with intensive dynamic strengthening training…tendency toward a difference in reduction of disability using the Low Back Pain Rating Scale in favor of the McKenzie group at the 2-month follow-up assessment, but no differences at the end of treatment (4 months) and at the 8-month follow-up evaluation.”

 

Some would look at this and say that MDT was no better than strengthening at 4 and 8 months. Others would look at it and say that MDT was better than strengthening at 2 months. If you were a patient, which would you rather have? Would you rather be better at 4 months or two months…knowing that you would be at the same place in 8-months? This study doesn’t seem too realistic in that once a patient is improved with MDT, then the treatment would transition towards a functional strengthening phase.

 

  1. “…overall strength of evidence …is High for the McKenzie and Movement Impairment Classification systems, especially when examiners have been extensively trained; Insufficient for the Canadian Back Institute Classification; and Moderate for the MCI Classification”

 

This sentence sums it up. MDT has moderate evidence to support that it is highly reliable. The Canadian Back Institute Classification system has low evidence to show that it is insufficiently reliable.

 

If I were a therapist going to learn a new method, I would have to start with MDT based on the volume of studies demonstrating reliability.

 

  1. “Once it is established that patients can be classified reliably, it then must be demonstrated that by directing a specific treatment at the subgroup, one can expect an improvement in treatment outcomes.”

 

This means that once we know what we are seeing…can we fix what we see? What is the purpose of classifying a patient into a group if the treatment for that group is ineffective?

 

  1. “This suggests that the ideal classification system should minimize the number of subgroups to ensure that the user can become confident (and competent) it its use with little training.”

 

Holy smoly do I disagree. We just said that the subgroups must lead to a specific treatment that performs better than other forms of treatment. If we minimize the number of subgroups, then we are minimizing the impact of subgrouping. For instance, if we state that there is only one subgroup, then what is the likelihood of the treatment for that one subgroup helping all of the patients? We already know that it’s pretty low…this is how we got into this mess to begin with. In the past, all low back pain was treated very similarly, with horrible effects. Now, if there is only one subgroup, we can be assured that most people would fit into this subgroup. Therefore, the therapists would be highly reliable in choosing the group in which to place the patient. THIS DOESN’T MEAN THAT IT WILL ACTUALLY BE EFFECTIVE TREATMENT!

Back pain is very costly in the US. We need to do a better job of minimizing the disability from LBP and educating the patients regarding back pain natural course and how to live and manage this ailment. There have been other systems created since this article was published in 2011 and we will see how these systems fair over time.

Excerpts from:

Fairbank J, Gwilym SE, France JC, et al. The Role of Classification of Chronic Low Back Pain. Spine. 2011;36(215):519-542.

 

link to article

 

 

  1. Lumbar spinal stenois (LSS)…defined by any narrowing of the spinal canal and/or nerve root canals…In patients with severe LSS, a space reduction of 67% has been found in the spinal canal.”

 

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the holes of the spine. The spine has 3 holes in it in the lumbar region. Each hole carries a nerve. It could either be the nerve of the spinal cord down the middle, and larger, hole. It could be the nerve roots out of the holes on the side of the spine. Each hole needs to be big enough so that it doesn’t irritate the nerve that it allows to pass through the hole. Picture a water pipe. If you put too much stuff in the pipe it will clog up. Sometimes there are tissues that can make their way into the holes of the spine to clog the holes. When the hole is clogged, the nerves don’t have as much room to do their job (transmitting signals to and from the brain). Now take that same pipe and come back and look at it over decades. There will be sludge and stuff built up around the pipe. This is essentially creating a smaller diameter on the inside of the pipe. This smaller diameter due to sludge is also creating a smaller hole. This could happen in the spine with severe arthritis or degenerative disc issues in which the hole gets smaller. A visual is much better so maybe this will help. image for spinal stenosis

 

  1. “…estimated the incidence of LSS in Denmark to 272 per one million inhabitants per year”

 

In other words, it is not very common in Denmark.

 

  1. “…it is important to discriminate between LSS and disc generated pain since these conditions have different prognoses and the range of evidence based treatments are different, as well.”

 

The treatment between the two issues, discogenic back pain and stenotic back pain, is very different. A thorough evaluation can start to correlate symptoms with either discogenic pain or non-discogenic pain. Many patients believe that an MRI will be the answer to why they have pain, but unfortunately this isn’t so.

 

  1. “a valid and reliable clinical assessment protocol for identifying LSS would be valuable in terms of choosing relevant treatment and informing the patient about the prognosis as early as possible.”

 

This article was written in 2009. The medical profession has existed for eons. There is still not a valid way to assess a patient in order to determine spinal stenosis. There are biologically plausible ways, meaning that when I assess you, I can make an educated guess from some of the findings in the history and physical, but it is not a valid (proven) way of coming to a conclusion.

 

  1. “The high sensitivity and specificity of MRI suggests this is a good test for ruling in and out the disease.”

 

The MRI does a great job of telling us what is abnormal, but it doesn’t do a great job of telling us if the abnormal finding is causing symptoms. As seen in the link above, there are abnormal findings in a population without symptoms. We have to take the imaging findings and see if they make sense after performing a physical exam.

 

  1. “…history will provide strong clues to the presence of spinal stenosis…more than 65 years of age…prolonged history of low back pain and intermittent radiating symptoms having developed gradually…limited walking capacity…Movements or positions involving flexion e.g. sitting or stooping, will often abolish symptoms…total loss of lumbar extension range is usually found, while flexion most often is well preserved.”

 

The typical patient with lumbar spinal stenosis will notice that the ability to walk has gradually reduced over time and there is a need to sit due to back or leg pain. Sitting will typically turn down or off the symptoms rapidly. This patient will have limited motion into extension (think of looking over your head to see the stars or bending backwards while standing).

 

  1. “…stenosis from zygapophyseal joint hypertrophy, ligament thickening or other degenerative changes, it cannot be expected that physical exercise or manual treatment will create a lasting change in the degree of space reduction in the spinal canal or intervertebral foramina”

 

In the presence of physical changes to the bones, ligaments or loss of disc height, there is nothing that a PT can do to change these back to the way that they were previously. These have been described as wrinkles on the inside. If we look at your face we can start to see how much age you have based on the wrinkles in the face. This is also done on the inside in that some “degenerative” changes are normal. Wrinkles are normal; they are not symptoms of anything sinister. The same can be said for physical changes on the inside. They don’t have to be pain generators. It takes a physical exam to determine how your symptoms respond and whether or not this matches the images on an MRI or X-ray. Even then, we can’t say that movement won’t help, only that we won’t change the physical “inside wrinkles”.

 

  1. “The main purpose of this pilot study is to evaluate the validity and intertester reliability of an algorithm of physical examination tests, in relation to identifying symptomatic lumbar spinal stenosis.”

 

This is good. A pilot study is like a pilot for a t.v. show. This is done to see if additional episodes should be done. This study will conclude if additional studies on this topic should be done.   What it hopes to find is a reliable (consistent) way of determining validity (actually seeing what the test hopes to see) in testing for lumbar spinal stenosis. A test that is both reliable and valid should be able to test for spinal stenosis regardless of who is performing the test and who is measuring the test.

 

  1. “Two patients were classified as “LSS” and five patients “Not LSS”, meaning a 29% prevalence of “LSS” Intertester agreement for overall diagnostic conclusion was 100%”

 

There are so few patients that this study will likely not yield any results that are actionable. The interesting thing is that the examiners agreed 100% of the time. This is not common in the medical field to have 100% agreement on near anything.

 

  1. “…the algorithm in its present form can not be used as a screening test to rule out LSS, although it may be able to diagnose the condition.”

 

There were so few people in the study that it is hard for any clinician to put it to use in the clinic. It may be able to diagnose the condition in that it demonstrated a specificity of 1.0, which is really good.

 

 

Excerpts taken from:

 

Lengsoe L, Lyhne S, Melbye M. An algorithm for clinical identification of spinal stenosis-a pilot study of validity and intertester reliability. International J of MDT. 2009;4(2):21-28.

 

Can’t find the abstract to the study, but it is listed under the author’s CV http://pure.au.dk/portal/en/persons/martin-melbye(ed4ee688-2d9e-4c17-b0b1-44a5b4b59ada)/publications/an-algorithm-for-clinical-identification-of-spinal-stenosis–a-pilot-study-of-validity-and-intertester-reliability(6d714ee0-d910-11de-9e3b-000ea68e967b).html