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.

Not all patients get the same treatment for pain because not all therapists have the same knowledge

“Exponential increases in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning to identify these damaged structures (believed to be causing low back pain) have led to escalating rates of spinal fusions and disc replacements.”

There is a trend towards increased surgery rates in the US for low back pain.  We see upwards of a 777% increase in spine surgery for low back pain.  The sad part is that the your chance of having surgery is more dependent on your geographic location than other variables.  It has been said that if you are trying to avoid a surgery that you should also avoid an MRI…which takes us to the next fact.

“…evidence that abnormal MRI findings are prevalent in asymptomatic populations and are poor predictors of future LBP (low back pain) and disability”

In other words, if you go looking for a problem…you’re likely to find one.  The “problem” on the MRI may not actually be causing your symptoms though, as we see “problems” with people that have no symptoms.  To put it another way, if a “herniated disc” was always a cause of pain, then everyone with a herniated disc will have pain.  We know that this isn’t true.  This indicates that the structure/tissue that is a “problem” on the MRI may not be causing any problems at all during your day.

“…providing a patient with a pathoanatomical diagnosis can result in increased fear and iatrogenic disability”

Lots of big words there, so let’s work through this together.

Patho: bad

Anatomical: body parts

Therefore: pathoanatomical = bad body parts

This is typically what you hear when you have imaging (MRI, X-ray, CT scan) performed.  Herniated disc, degenerative joint, arthritis, stenosis. All of these words mean that something abnormal was seen on the image.

Iatro: means relating to medical treatment

Genic: means coming from

This means that the “iatrogenic disability” could be disability coming from medical treatment.

I know what you’re asking: “How can the medical interaction with a doctor/therapist/medical professional be causing the disability?”

This is a great question that the authors of the article will go into in a short while. More to come.

“It is increasingly clear that persistent and disabling LBP is not an accurate measure of local tissue pathology or damage alone…it is best seen as a protective mechanism produced by the neuro-immune-endocrine systems in response to the individual’s perceived level of danger, threat or disruption to homeostasis.”

WHAAAT?!

This means that the tissue that was previously damaged may not be the culprit for prolonged pain.  For instance, your body can have a protective mechanism produced by the brain when it feels threatened.  The brain is powerful in creating change. For instance, watch this video to see how quickly it can start to change.

“…pain and behavioral responses may fluctuate based on a person’s perception of threat, levels of attention to pain, mood, contextual social stressors, sleep, and activity levels.”

If you feel threatened, your pain levels may increase.  Removing threat through distraction has been shown to be helpful in multiple studies.  Tetris seems to be one of the most studied games.  Also, math is more painful to some than others.  In the clinic, I have used math as a distraction and watched how pain rapidly resolves and some patients are able to perform movements that they wouldn’t consider performing if they weren’t distracted.  There is some thoughts that the more often we ask you about pain…the worse it actually gets because we force the patient to emphasize the feelings of pain compared to their current function.  Finally, we know that a lack of sleep can cause a myriad of problems from difficulty concentrating to an increase in pain due to increased nerve sensitivity.  These are all factors that play a role when a patient comes to the clinic experiencing pain.

“This contemporary understanding demands a shift away from providing a simplistic structural and/or biomechanical diagnosis and treatment for LBP…enables the patient to become a partner in a therapeutic journey”

For some patients, we can correlate a “problem” on the MRI with their symptoms, but in a subgroup of patients, we are unable to do this.  For that subgroup, we need to look past the pathoanatomical model and therapeutic alliance (the teamwork between the therapist and patient) becomes very important in order to empower the patient with regards to symptom response and education.

“Growing evidence suggests that current practice is discordant with contemporary evidence, and is in fact often exacerbating the problem.”

We may not need to abandon the patho model completely, but we as practitioners need to have more than just the patho model.  In order to prevent iatrogenic pain beliefs, we need to grow our skills in order to better help you…the patient.  If you are going to therapy and are not seeing relief within 6 visits and don’t feel that your therapist has a strong understanding of your pain…seek a second opinion. Not all Medical Doctors are the same, and the same can be said for physical therapists.

Excerpts taken from

O’Sullivan P, Caneiro JP, O’Keefe M, O’Sullivan K. Viewpoint: Unraveling the complexity of low back pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016;46(11):932-937.

 

 

Not knowing versus not learning

“Ignorance: a limited understanding of all the relevant physical laws and conditions that apply to any given problem or circumstance”

I don’t think that this is much of a problem in the physical therapy profession for the basic concepts of the profession.  The issue of ignorance comes into play when we start discussing current evidence.  A new graduate’s primary responsibility is to pass the boards ( a national test in order to determine basic competency in order to practice as a PT).  Unfortunately, the boards are based off the books used during the physical therapy program and the books are based from research that is at least 5 years old or older.  This means that the students are being tested on material that is greater than 5 years old.  Current published research may not make its way into an educational programs curriculum due to time constraints.  In this fashion, the students may be ignorant to current research or niche research.

“Ineptitude: meaning that knowledge exists, but an individual or group fails to apply that knowledge correctly in a particular circumstance. “

This is common.  We know that therapists are not staying current with published research.  Time and access are two barriers to staying up to date on the research.  Just a quick example.  I dedicate 10 minutes per day to reading.  Even 10 minutes per day is hard to fit in with all the other hats that I must wear such as: business partner (http://www.goodliferehab.com/) , father, husband, running a separate Facebook page that interviews influencers and performing community lectures.  There is only so much time in the day and I can understand how some therapists will have a difficult time fitting learning into their day.  Barriers to obtaining current research can be the cost of a subscription to get the journal articles.  For instance, I pay over $1,000/year just to have access to research.  This is a big chunk of money when you consider all the other life activities that aren’t free.  Pair this with the fact that the “average” salary for PT is 80,000 ish and that students have well over $100,000 in debt.

, that $1,000/year over the lifetime of a career becomes expensive!

“For instance, through numerous scientific breakthroughs, there has been a repudiation of ‘folk’ treatments in our profession-such as hot packs or ultrasound for heat therapy-in favor of treatments based on scientific evidence.”

Going to PT should not resemble going to a spa! If you are going to PT and getting electrodes placed on you…getting hot packs placed on you…getting rubbed with gel while someone is moving a wand on your skin…or getting a rubdown…THAT IS NOT PHYSICAL THERAPY! On the flip side, PT should not resemble personal training! Going to your therapist and getting a list of exercises for you to perform independently while your therapist is chatting with others…IS NOT PHYSICAL THERAPY! The closes profession that I can equate therapy to is that of a teacher-student (and not always is the therapist the teacher!).  This healthcare relationship should be a personal relationship that takes place in a private setting allowing for open communication between the therapist and patient.  The patient should walk out of each session with more knowledge than they walked in with. The patient should understand why interventions are performed…or better yet why some aren’t performed.  We need to get away from the tradition of PT and move towards what the evidence tells us.

“However, despite the excellent EBP (current evidence) resources now available, ineptitude remains a major 21st century challenge in medical and rehabilitation care”

I have a dare for all of you reading this.  When you go see your next healthcare practitioner I want you to ask a simple question: “How much education do you get every 2 years?” In PT, we are required to get a minimal amount of continuing education to maintain our license.  DO YOU WANT TO BE TREATED BY SOMEONE THAT IS ONLY GETTING THE MINIMAL AMOUNT OF EDUCATION OR SOMEONE THAT IS DEVOTING TIME TO FURTHER THEIR KNOWLEDGE OUTSIDE OF THE MINIMAL STANDARDS FROM EACH STATE!

“…3 types of influence that have been shown to relate to the rate of spread of an innovation: (1) perceptions of the innovation, (2) characteristics of those who adopt the innovation or fail to do so, and (3) contextual factors”

The following will discuss how these all relate.

“First, the perceived benefit of the proposed innovation relative to its cost is the most powerful influence.”

For instance, a hot pack may not give much benefit, but it is cheap and relatively safe.  You will see this frequently in a PT clinic that sees a high volume of patients because of its relative ease of use and safety…assuming the therapist is asking you how you’re doing and checking a few things before, during and after.

Cold laser treatment is slower to take off in our profession because it is an out of pocket intervention…which means that your insurance company won’t pay for it regardless of whether it works.  This intervention is slower to be used in the clinic because it may be cost prohibitive for some patients.

“Second, rapidity of change is directly related to how compatible the innovation is to values, beliefs, and history.”

There are some “treatments” that become popular during years of summer Olympics.  In 2012, a specific brand of tape was seen on many of the “big name” volleyball players.  The thought was that it “kept things more supported”.  There is no research that conclusively states anything near this type of statement…but there is a lot of research that says the opposite.  We still see it used in clinics today…which is okay, if the rationale for using it is what is intended from our current knowledge base.  For instance, we know that it reduces pain and allows for increased ROM…sometimes.  If the patients are educated in this regard and not that it “keeps things in place” …go for it.  It seems like 2016 was the year of the octopus.  If you looked at one of the “world’s most famous swimmers”, it looked like he wrestled with an octopus underwater.  This technique has been around for centuries.  Some therapists are starting to do it because patients are asking for it.

“Third, the complexity of an innovation affects the rate of its adoption, and, as expected, simple innovations spread faster than complicated ones.”

Ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and traction are all very easy to perform…since the machine does most, if not all, of the work.  These were quickly adopted into our profession and are hard to convince some clinicians to stop using…regardless of what the evidence states.

More complicated interventions such as “critical thinking” are harder to adopt.  For instance, when assessing a patient with back pain or vestibular issues, there is a plethora of research showing that if we can classify it that we have a better outcome.  Classifying the problem requires (1) knowledge, (2) assessment, (3) application, which is a lot harder than just pushing a button on a machine.

Some of the personality types are as follows: 1. Innovators, 2. Early adopters, 3. Early majority 4. Late majority, 5. Laggards

A lot of these are self-explanatory, but it trends from those that jump onto something quickly to those that just hate change.

“Organizations that foster social exchange among its members are likely to see faster adoption of innovations as compared with institutions and organizations that foster habits of isolation and tradition.”

Essentially, workplaces that allow for communication will allow for change faster than workplaces that keep everyone separate.  This has to do with changing a culture.  A business that has a fluid culture (one that is easily adjusted), is more apt to change than one that has a strict culture.

“Publishing our work in journals is essential-but publication of research is not, by itself, sufficient if our goal is to change clinical practice. People follow the lead of other people they know and trust when they decide whether to take up an innovation and change the way they practice!”

This is huge! Any profession is a small world and PT is no different.  To push the profession forward, we must depend on more than just published research.  There are many influencers in our sphere such as Dr. Ben Fung, Dr. Jarod Hall, the team from PT on ICE, the team from Evidence in Motion, Dr. Richard Severin, and myself (I’m always trying to sneak my way into this group of titans).  By seeing others lead the way, it is much easier to follow.  Only the innovators and early adopters will feel comfortable at the front of the pack.

As a patient and therapist, you may want to assess your therapists/mentor and determine which of the 5 personality types he/she has.

 

Thanks for reading.  Please leave a comment on my FB page letting me know what you think.

EXCERPTS TAKEN FROM:

Jette AM. Editorial: Overcoming Ignorance and Ineptitude in 21st Century Rehabilitation. Phys Ther. 2017;97:497-498.

 

link to abstract

 

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. 

Revision ACL surgery

“anterior cruciate ligament… Sixth most common procedure performed by orthopedist, with more than 100,000 ACL reconstruction’s being performed annually in the United States”
In comparison to other types of surgeries, this is not a large prevalence. Anytime there is a surgery though, that injury is important to that one patient. This article cut my attention because of the author Dr. Bach. He practices fairly close to my region and I’ve seen previous patients from him. It’s always helpful to learn about the procedures that physicians perform in your area so that way you can be better prepared to treat the patients that these physicians operate on.
” The definition of ACL failure in simple terms includes symptomatic instability, pain, extensor dysfunction, and arthrofibrosis.”
  This essentially means that if there are continued symptoms after the surgery, that the surgery was a failure. I treated one patient previously, not from this doctor, in which the screw from the initial ACL reconstruction was never moved. The patient continues to have pain immediately upon starting therapy and I was beating my head against the wall trying to figure out why the patient continued to have pain. As a physical therapist we hate seeing patients experience symptoms that we can’t control. After sending the patient back to the doctor, it was found that the previous screw was in the joint space and causing the patient’s symptoms.
“Failures that occur within six months of reconstruction can be due to surgical technique, incomplete graft incorporation, and excessive rehabilitation or premature for trying to athletic competition.” 
The case described above, is an example of an error with surgical technique. I have also seen cases in which the patient was progressed through rehab to aggressively and the patient continued to worsen over the course of time. We have to honor the patient’s pain response when giving exercises and trying to make progressions.
“Revision ACL reconstruction’s are a “salvage” procedure to allow the patient to perform activities of daily living… Only 54% returned to their pre-injury level of activity”
To freeze this bluntly, let’s get it right the first time. As a physical therapist I will take part of the blame because sometimes our profession may progress patient a little to rapidly. We have to honor the patient’s pain and movement response.
There are a few parts of this article that I found very interesting. The doctors described patient positioning on the table and we are making conscious effort’s in order to reduce lumbar extension for prolonged periods of time in order to reduce strain on the lumbar spine. They went into great detail to describe how they remove the screw or insert the screw deeper from the initial ACL reconstruction surgery. I didn’t know that they could insert the screw deeper instead of just remove the screw all together.
“with the help of a physical therapist, and emphasis is placed on achieving full extension and equaling the opposite knee. Full flexion is usually achieved by 6 to 10 weeks.”
I fully appreciate the special mention a physical therapist in this article. The physicians did not have to describe this portion at the end of the article. PT’s are part of the medical team. If you or anyone you know is recovering from an ACL reconstruction, please seek out a physical therapist by word-of-mouth or through recommendations from friends and family. One could also look online to investigate the therapist that is treating you or your family member. The therapist that you were seeing should be educating you or your family member at each session and explaining the rationale behind each exercise, movement or hands on technique.
Excerpts taken from:
Creighton RA, Bach BR. Revision anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction with patellar tendon allograft: surgical technique. Sports med are thre revision anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction with patellar tendon allograft: surgical technique. Sports med arthrosc review. 2005;13(1):38-45.