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.

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. 

Wait…PT’s perform manipulations?!

Wait…PT’s perform manipulations?!

 

“Without the ability to match patients to specific interventions, clinicians are left without evidence or guidance for their decision-making”

 

This couldn’t be truer. If we believe that all patients with back pain are the same, then we will give all patients the same treatment. If not all patients respond to the same treatment, then we can say that not all back pain is the same. We have to be able to classify which patients are most likely to respond to a specific treatment; otherwise we are just throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping that some sticks. When a patient walks into the clinic, I am forming hypotheses as soon as I see the patient get out of the chair in the waiting room. By watching a patient move from the chair to walking and from walking to sitting, we can start to assess pain response (facial expressions) and movement quality (upright versus bent forward or sideways in addition to stride length of the legs and how much rotation is happening with arm swing). We can also have a short chat with the patient to determine how the patient describes their symptoms. Some patients are okay with waiting until we get to the private area before telling their story and others just want to start unloading their story before I have pen to paper to write things down. These are all of the actions that I take into consideration before we even get to the room to assess the patient.

 

“Identifying methods for classifying patients with LBP has been identified as an important research priority”

 

Why do most things matter…MONEY! We as a country lose almost $100 billion per year on back pain. This is a lot of money. If we were to put in a dollar every second to pay for this, it would take 31 years to equal $1 billion! As you can see, LBP is an ailment that we have to figure out in order to keep healthcare solvent.

 

“The purpose of this study was to develop a clinical prediction rule for identifying patients with LBP likely to respond favorably to a specific manipulation technique.”

 

This is a derivation study, the first step of trying to come up with a clinical prediction rule. One must understand CPR’s prior to reading and implementing the research. Here is a quick link that has to do with the types of CPR (clinical prediction rules). Also, there is much controversy surrounding CPR’s from people such as Dr. Chad Cook, who I highly respect. I don’t know if I would go as far as he does in saying that Clinical Prediction Rules are dead, but they do have to be read thoroughly and criticized. They also have to be validated and placed into an environment in which they can be utilized in order to have an environmental impact. This has been done with diagnostic CPR’s such as the ankle or knee rules.

 

Me personally, I don’t believe that we should give up on a quest to determine which intervention works best for a specific set of the population. We can provide value to our customers by providing the best evidence based treatments that we have available. To kill off a method of prescribing treatment limits a therapist’s ability to confidently provide treatment.

“…patients with LBP at two outpatient facilities: Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Air Force Medical Center…between the ages of 18 and 60 years…baseline Oswestry disability score had to be at least 30%”

 

This study is highly specific to a military crowd, with an average age of younger than 40. Now if this is not the patient that is being treated in my clinic, it is difficult for me to make the correlation from one population to another. The only thing that we can say for certain about the results of this study is that is pertains to the population that was involved in the study. The baseline Oswestry disability score (for more on the Oswestry see this link.

 

“After the manipulation, the therapist noted whether a cavitation was heard or felt by the therapist or patient.”

 

The cavitation is the audible pop that people think of when getting a fast manipulation. This is similar to popping your knuckles. This pop is not needed for a manipulation to occur, as the movement and speed instead of by the noise that occurs define the manipulation.

 

“A maximum of two attempts per side was permitted.”

 

This doesn’t make sense to me to perform multiple manipulations directed at the same region. The authors noted that if no cavitation was produced that another manipulation would be performed up to four maximum manipulations. We just covered that an audible pop is not needed, so I am unsure why two were allowed for the patient. Let’s just assume that a patient gets better from the manipulation, was it one manipulation or two manipulations that improved the patient? Is it possible that a patient could get better with one, but then get worse with the second…even though a cavitation is heard? There are too many variables that start to play into this study.   This is the landmark study for giving the prediction recommendations for spinal manipulation in PT. Which brings us to the next point.

 

“Two additional treatment components were included: 1) instruction in a supine pelvic tilt range of motion exercise…and 2)instruction to maintain usual activity level within the limits of pain.”
Now we have 3 possible variables introduced into this science experiment. Any scientist would look at this and say that there are too many independent variables, which can affect the outcome. The first is obviously the manipulation. The second is the pelvic tilt. The third is time.

 

“The mean OSW (Oswestry Disability Index) score at baseline was 42.4+/-11.7, and at study conclusion was 25.1 +/- 13.9.”

 

This means that the scores initially ranged from 31-53 and the final scores ranged from 11-39. A change of 10 can be considered significant, so there was a significant change overall for the better.

 

“Thirty-two patients (45%) were classified as treatment successes, and 39 (55%) were nonsuccesses”

 

A majority of patients didn’t respond to the intervention(s), but it was close to a coin flip. This indicates that if we manipulated everyone that came through the door, we would have a success (about 50% improvement in ability) in about half of the patients. This isn’t a bad ratio if it is only done in one visit.

 

“…duration of symptoms < 16 days, at least one hip with >35 degrees of internal rotation, hypomobility with lumbar spring testing, FABQ work subscale score <19, and no symptoms distal to the knee…were used to form the clinical prediction rule.”

 

Here it is! All students are expected to memorize this by the time that they graduate from PT school. All PT’s (at least those that work on backs) are expected to know these criteria for manipulation. There are of course some that will state that CPR’s aren’t very effective in practice, but this rule seems to have stood the test of time over many studies.

 

“…a subject with four or more variables present at baseline increases his or her probability of success with manipulation from 45% to 95%. If the criteria were changed to three of more variables present, the probability of success was only increased to 68%”

 

WHAAAT!? If someone has 4 of the 5 guidelines from above, the success was 95%! This is yuge. I’ll take those odds of success to the tables any day of the week. Now with this said, I have manipulated very few patients. Those that I have manipulated had immediate positive results and the pain was abolished…didn’t return upon follow-up over the course of 2 weeks. I may not be manipulating as many patients as I could, but I also give the patient the opportunity to independently manage and abolish before attempting to perform a manipulation. It’s a theory from another spine management system.

 

“In the present study, only one manipulation technique was used, and it is unknown whether other techniques would provide similar results.”

 

This is also very important to state. There was little research regarding manipulations in the physical therapy research. It must be said that not all manipulations are created equal and that performing a different technique may not have the same result. It may be better or worse. We can only extrapolate this study’s results to those that would match the type of patient treated in this study and the manipulation performed in this study.

 

 

 

 

EXCERPT FROM:

Flynn T, Fritz J, Whitman J et al. A Clinical Prediction Rule for Classifying Patients with Low Back Pain Who Demonstrate Short-Term Improvement With Spinal Manipulation. Spine. 2002;27(24):2835-2843.

 

 

  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

 

 

 

 

What should you avoid if you have back pain?

 

  1. “ Low back pain (LBP) is though to occur in almost 80% of adults at some point in their lives”

 

This is an article from the 1980’s. It’s been over 20 years since this article was written and these statistics still hold true over time. As much as we have advanced technologically, it doesn’t really seem to be helping the prevalence of back pain. I’ve seen in places where this is called the common cold of musculoskeletal issues because it will affect so many people over the course of a lifetime.

 

  1. “…back problems are the most frequent cause of limitation of activity (work, housekeeping, or school) in persons younger than 45 years.”

 

This is a problem. If I have to take time off of work because of back pain, then there is less food on my table. I’m sure that this holds true for many of those reading this blog. We have to do better. Back pain doesn’t have to disable a person. We need to do a better job of educating the public regarding back pain. There was a recent article that notes that people should try drug-free options first for low back pain. PT is one of those “drug-free” options.

 

Every day about 1,000 people are treated in the emergency department for misuse of opioids. About 40 people per day die of opioid overdose. These numbers are staggering! It doesn’t have to be so.

 

stats on opioids

 

  1. “Only routine examination, postoperative checkups, and upper respiratory tract symptoms surpass back problems as a cause of office visits to physicians.”

 

This may have changed in the past 20 years. I read recently that back pain accounts for more visits than all other issues except for respiratory tract symptoms (i.e. the common cold). This is a lot of people with back problems. Not many patients are referred to PT. There is an article that reports about 7% of patients seek out PT. When they do get referred, not all PT’s practice with the same treatment parameters. Do your research as to what clinic you are attending, because they are not all the same in regards to cost and effectiveness.

 

  1. “A variety of exercise regimens for LBP has been advocated. The three most commonly recommended regimens are (1_ hyperextension exercises to strength paravertebral muscles; (2) general “mobilizing exercises” to improve overall spinal range of motion; and (3) isometric flexion exercises designed to strengthen both abdominal and lumbar muscles, creating a “corset of muscles.”

 

Lots has changed in the research, but unfortunately not a lot has changed in practice from my point of view. I still see the same “core stability” training done on many patients even though the research doesn’t support one type of “core training” over another. There have been more interventions added to the research and application, such as thrust manipulations, directional preference based exercises, cognitive behavioral therapy and others just to name a few.

 

  1. “Several trials shoed no advantage of traction over alternative treatments, but statistical power was not reported.”

 

This article is over 20 years old! The advice at that time is similar to the current stance based on the research. The problem with this is that there are still many therapists using traction. Saying this differently, there are still some therapists that frequently use traction. This could only be for one of two reasons:

  1. Ignorance. As much as I would love to say that all therapists are reading journal articles at home, we know that this is not the case. Based on some research, there are therapists that don’t even know how to find the research and if they can find it, they won’t take the time out of their day to read it. This is a problem because it is our profession. I never stop wearing the hat of physical therapist, in the same light as I never stop wearing the hat of husband and father.
  2. Greed. A therapist doesn’t need to spend much time with the patient while they are on traction. Traction is paid whether the therapist is by your side or not. In this fashion, the therapist can spend time with another patient and charge that other patient for his/her time while the therapist is charging you for traction.

 

Don’t get me wrong; there are cases in which to use traction. When it is the last viable option to try to get a patient better or to keep the patient from an unwanted surgery. In other words, it is used as a last case scenario. You can see a previous post on traction if you are interested.

 

  1. “For these reasons, its (bed rest) value for patients with typical findings of a herniated disk is not disputed…Thus, there is suggestive evidence for the efficacy of strict bed rest for some patients without sciatica…”

 

Wholly Moley! This has changed dramatically. Bed rest is rarely recommended for anything. The repercussions of spending hours to days in bed far outweigh standing with benign low back pain. This article summarizes the negative effects.

 

  1. “Spinal manipulation remains highly controversial, partly because in the United States it is often equated with the practice of chiropractic.”

 

Physical Therapists are able to manipulate the spine and other areas of the body. No one profession owns this treatment. Chiropractors have done a much better job of educating the public about the treatments that they perform. Don’t be surprised if your therapist wants to perform a manipulation. Lot’s has changed in 20 years.

 

  1. “This study did serve to demonstrate that placebo effects with a nonfunctioning stimulator are common”

 

This is interesting that the thought of TENS (a form of treatment in which pads are placed on a specific body part and an electrical current is introduced throughout the pads in order to reduce pain) 20 years ago was that it could also be the placebo effect that is creating the change. Patients seem to like it in the short-term, but there is major controversy over this intervention. So much so that medicare questions its effectiveness for back pain.

 

  1. “The use of corsets, TNS (TENS), and conventional traction are not yet supported by any rigorous trials.”

 

This was stated 20 years ago! I believe that if you walked into any physical therapy clinic that you would still see these interventions applied to the patient…because insurance companies continue to pay for them. Although there is much research to indicate that these interventions have little to no place in therapy, many times their use is due to the two reasons given above. If you are in a place in which these are the treatments that take up a majority of your sessions, question your therapists. This is the advice given by the professional organization of physical therapists, the APTA.

 

Excerpts taken from:

 

Deyo R. Conservative Therapy for Low Back Pain: Distinguishing Useful From Useless Therapy. JAMA. 1983;250(8):1057-1062.

 

What do pigs and humans have in common?

“The majority of in vitro research has examined repeated axial loading with the spine in a neutral position from which observed herniations are extremely rare.”

 

This means that loading much weight onto your shoulders doesn’t appear to affect the disc negatively, aside from compressing it. Picture the people doing strongman, powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting or Crossfit. All of these sports are safe regardless of how much weight is being used, as long as technique remains good, while under the weight.

 

“The most consistent development of disc herniation with repeated loading conditions was achieved by Gordon et al. In vitro human lumbar motion segments were flexed from a neutral posture to 7 degrees of flexion with a small axial twist motion. All 14 of the motion segments examined failed with herniations of the Intervertebral disc (either nuclear protrusion or extrusion) with an average of 40,000 loading cycles to failure. It appears that load, motion, degenerative condition, and repetition require further investigation as prerequisites to disc herniation.”

 

Stu is one of the great gurus of back pain. He states in his papers that he does not endorse a specific number of flexion cycles to create a herniation. This is individual for each person. Also of note is that the above experiment is not done on a live person, but on a cadaver. This means that there is little compensatory motion that can occur, which may occur in real life. For example, there is one paper (don’t have it currently, but I will find it for later) that postulates that the posterior longitudinal ligament (a strong ligament on the back of the spine) may be a protective mechanism for back pain, which would then work to prevent a disc herniation by absorbing some of the flexion load. It’s just an idea though and is no more right or wrong than the number of loading cycles found in the above quote.

 

“The cervical spines of 26 porcine specimens were obtained immediately following death. Pig cervical spines have been shown to be the section closest to human lumbar spines for anatomical and biomechanical characteristics.”

 

The authors make is sound so humane that they waited until the pigs died, but then went on to say that the mean age was 6 months. They died for science. What is most important though is that this study was performed on pig spines! The results can be correlated to humans, but again this will not be precise because the subjects aren’t real live humans.

 

“The remains of any soft tissue and discs were dissected from the cranial and caudal endplates.”

 

The muscles were removed. The muscles, tendons and ligaments provide active and passive support to the joint. Without this support, we are only looking at how the spine joint moves in a vacuum. This again makes it hard to take the results of this study and apply them to humans. We can though take the idea of the study and generalize it to another spine.

“Herniation occurred with modest levels of compression and flexion/extension movements but with a high number of motion cycles. Specimens tested in the lowest compressive force group had nuclei that were intact after 86,400 flexion cycles…All herniations that were created during testing occurred in the posterior or posterior-lateral areas of the annulus.”

 

The first thing to take from this is that the spinal segment is strong. It can withstand over 80,000 cycles of flexion/extension, without resting, and some were able to withstand the force without significant anatomical changes. All herniations were posterior or posterior lateral. This is consistent with what we see in the clinic. Very rarely is there an anterior herniation, but in real life there is also a very strong ligament on the anterior portion of the spine, which would impede a herniation in this direction.

 

“…highly repetitive flexion/extension motions and modest flexion/extension moments, even with relatively low magnitude compression joint forces, consistently resulted in Intervertebral disc herniations. Larger axial compressive force resulted in more frequent and more severe disc injuries…there is no doubt that disc herniation is a cumulative process that can result with modest forces if sufficient flexion/extension cycles are applied.”

 

This is a mouthful. Let’s start by saying that if you spend a lot of time in a flexed (slouched posture position), this may lead to a posterior disc herniation. It’s kind of like the straw that broke the camel’s back. It may not happen the first time, but the more often one spends in flexion the more that the nucleus (the pudding substance inside the disc) will travel towards the border of the disc (annulus). This article doesn’t state what happens to the disc when we rest and stop spending time in a flexed position. For instance, what is not stated is that if we flexion for an entire day, but then move in the opposite direction (extension), do we then counteract the effects of flexion? This article doesn’t say this, but one would have to infer if we could create a herniation that we can reduce a herniation with movement. More to come in future posts.

 

“While there may be a tendency to identify an event that ‘caused’ an intervertebral disc herniation, this work together with our other experiments have led us to form the opinion that this is only a culminating event and that the real cause had already occurred.”

 

This quote says it best and I will leave it at that.

 

Thanks for reading. If you would like to learn more about a topic, feel free to ask a question on here or at my Facebook page @movementthinker. I love reading research and if I can read something that may help you specifically then it is more functional than just reading stuff that I enjoy.

 

Callaghan JP, McGill SM. Intervertebral disc herniation: studies on a porcine model exposed to highly repetitive flexion/extension motion with compression force. Clinical Biomechanics. 2001;16:28-37.

 

link to article