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

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

Does taping in addition to PT provide increased benefits?

 

This is a look at a popular form of taping using in the PT profession. This was popularized in the Summer Olympics years ago and has increased in usage in the PT profession, regardless of what the evidence states.

 

  1. “Low back pain is a significant public health problem that affects approximately 39% of individuals worldwide at some point in their lifetime”

 

This is like beating a drum. If you follow the blog, I have written many times over the year regarding how expensive back pain is in the developed countries. One aspect that surprises me is how low this number actually is. In other articles, it talks about the lifetime prevalence rate between 70-80%. I would have to surmise that “worldwide” changes this number. I don’t have the reason why, but I have my guesses. I would guess that those “undeveloped” countries are spending less time on their kiester and more time either in a deep squat or standing position.

 

  1. “Several interventions commonly used by physical therapists, such as manual therapy techniques and exercises, are endorsed in most guidelines as effective treatments for patients with low back pain…”

 

Moving is better than not moving (in most cases). It’s funny because when I was a personal trainer (many, many years ago) I used to think of Physical Therapists as overpaid personal trainers. I completely disagree…sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, there are some PT’s that only prescribe 3 sets of 10 repetitions because it is traditional and for those PT’s I would agree that they are overpaid personal trainers. When prescribing exercise, we always have to think; “what’s the goal”. If the goal is pain reduction, than 3 sets of 10 may not be appropriate. If the goal is absolute strength or power or endurance, then 3 sets of 10 may not be appropriate. If the goal is hypertrophy…you got me…it may be appropriate for some patients for some muscle groups. In the end, 3 sets of 10 for everyone is no better than 3 sets of 5.

 

This isn’t meant to blast the PT profession, but if you are being treated in PT…Look around! If you are doing the same exercises as everyone else, then you have to question whether you are exactly like everyone else?

 

  1. “Kinesio Taping method was introduced at the Olympic Games in Athens and has since gained in popularity”

 

We have seen these tapes for the most part. The colorful tape worn on shoulders or backs of athletes. In the summer games, especially for women’s volleyball (I’m sure other sports have them, I just seem to watch more of this than anything else except for weightlifting), these colorful tapes are apparent. I use the tape, not for the reason indicated, but it makes for a great thumb wrap when using the hook grip in weightlifting.

 

  1. “The evidence of the benefits that Kinesio Taping can provide for patients with chronic low back pain is still scarce”

 

I could sell a cup of water to a drowning person in the ocean. I could easily sell Kinesio taping to my patients and others in the athletic arena, but I have yet to read a well-performed study that shows it is better than not using Kinesio tape. It’s the modern day ultrasound…It works until it doesn’t.

 

  1. “There is no current evidence to support the use of this method.”

 

This is not to say that it doesn’t work…yet, but of the studies performed thus far…it doesn’t work. One of two things will happen over time: 1. The company(ies) that sell the tape will continue to publish their own case studies to show the efficacy and/or 2. The peer reviewed journals will stop publishing all of the negative studies because academia will stop performing studies that consistently give the same results.

 

  1. “…the objective of this randomized controlled trial was to compare the effectiveness of adding Kinesio Taping to a physical therapy program in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain.”

 

This is a well-performed study. Randomized doesn’t mean that the study is done randomly or half-assed, but the people in the study (guinea pigs) are separated in a scientific manner.

 

6a. Misc: There is a bunch of instructions for how the study was actually performed in the Methods. This is boring to the non-medical reader, and sometimes boring for those of us that read research. I will spare you the details. Just know that the study is well-performed.

 

  1. “The group that received physical therapy plus Kinesio Taping had the elastic tape applied to the lower back at the end of the sessions”

 

Essentially, if the tape is to provide greater benefit than exercise alone, this group should outperform the exercise-alone group in the data measured.

 

  1. “The corresponding author is certified by the Kinesio Taping Association International and provided training to the therapists on how to apply the Kinesio Tape”

 

This is important. If there is a method to perform on a patient, but the participating therapists are not certified in the method, then it could be that the practitioner doesn’t know the method well enough to perform the method. Since at least one of the authors is certified, it would make this a moot point.

 

  1. “After 5 weeks of treatment, the between-group comparisons showed no advantage of using Kinesio Taping in these patients for all primary outcomes…the addition of Kinesio Taping to physical therapy did not enhance treatment outcomes at any point in time.”

 

Crickets chirping………….Enough said.

  1. “Our data corroborate the results of 3 previous randomized controlled trials that do not support the application of Kinesio Taping in patients with chronic nonspecific low back pain.”

 

This means that if you want to tape your thumbs in order to lift weights, then go ahead, but using this type of tape (there are many different manufacturers of this type of tape) for back pain may not be ideal.

 

QUOTES TAKEN FROM: (Also, the initials of the first author is actually MAN, that’s awesome)

 

Added MAN, Costa LOP, De Freitas DG, et al. Kinesio Taping Does Not Provide Additional Benefits in Patients With Chronic Low Back Pain Who Receive Exercise and Manual Therapy: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016;46(7):506-513.

Boys…put your balls away

MORAL: Boys, put your balls away. Nothing more to add

 

  1. “Developing core strength has been emphasized as a valuable component in general and sports conditioning programs in addition to active rehabilitation programs for individuals with low back pain (LBP).”

 

What is the core? We all see the late night infomercials talking about core strength and see people with washboard abs. Is this core? Not exactly. Picture this: the strike zone in baseball. Not the MLB, because that strike zone is almost non-existent, but little league baseball. The old middle of the thighs to the letters of the jersey, that’s the strike zone. Now, picture all of the bones and muscles that are in this area. Do the same thing for the side of the body and the back of the body. Most everyone neglects the back and sides. We all want that beach body you know. Unfortunately, that beach body is all show and no go.

 

Core stabilization is more of a communication thing than an Incredible Hulk thing. The muscles of the “core” (strike zone) have to be able to transfer the amount of force that your legs are generating and apply it to something that your arms want to do. All of the body by Jakes or ab rockers won’t get you there. They will do a great job of strengthening your target muscles for that specific exercise, but they won’t do anything for making you a better athlete or better person for that matter.

 

  1. “Numerous studies have placed individuals on trunk exercise programs that in turn resulted in a greater increase in endurance and decline in reports of LBP episodes”

 

If you are a couch potato, than doing anything may be better than doing nothing. If this is you, then stop reading because the ab rocker is waiting for the next set. If you aspire to more than just couch potato, then doing unweighted trunk strengthening exercises may not be enough for you.

 

  1. “It is apparent that training while under unstable conditions does increase the activity of these (trunk) muscles”

 

Enter the Bosu ball or the Swiss Ball. This one statement has created rooms of balls in gyms and has spawned people marching in place while sitting on a ball in the physical therapy clinic. If you are one of these people and really think that you are being uber effective, then this article may be offensive. PUT YOUR BALLS AWAY!

 

But I can already hear you say: “increased activity” blah, blah, blah. Look, being busy is not the same as being productive. Increasing activity does not lead to increasing strength, unless you are increasing the load as well. When I say load, I mean weight. The kind of stuff of the legends of Paul Anderson, Franco Columbo, Kaz (he is so legendary that he only needs to go by his nickname). Look these people up. I can say with certainty that they weren’t training on balls.

 

  1. “Behm et al had subjects perform various trunk-stabilizing exercises with stable and unstable (Swiss ball) conditions. Results indicated that the abdominal stabilizers, LSES (back muscles) and ULES (upper back muscles) exhibited significantly greater activity with the unstable conditions. The 2 most effective exercises for trunk activation were the side bridge and superman”

 

Again is you are weak than doing anything is better than doing nothing. If you have weak muscles, then lifting a spoon is difficult and your muscles will get activated. “Only the strong survive.” I don’t want to activate, I want to get jacked. Why? Because someone that is strong will be able to get their butt off of the toilet at the age of 80, without the use of handrails. Someone that is jacked will not have difficulty getting off of the floor and being a stereotype like on the commercial. People…it is not about turning on muscles. I can turn on my butt muscles by squeezing my ass cheeks together. Activation does not equal functional and surely doesn’t mean strong.

 

The Swiss ball is one of the worst things to be introduced into our profession. That’s right…I said it! We as a profession spend way too much time training unstable situations when the patient needs to get stronger. I can hear the PTs arguing now: “What about balance patients? What about patients that need to walk on unstable surfaces?” Great! Do Swiss ball stuff for this purpose, but stop selling the unstable training as a means to get stronger. I am saying “I AGREE WITH YOU”! Ok, now get rid of the Swiss ball for all other purposes. We are doing the patient a disservice. The logic made sense years ago, but the research just isn’t there.

 

On a side note: I want as many patients as possible to read this blog. This way the patient can be armed with facts to go into the PT with in order to question the activities that are being performed in the clinic. If I can’t give a good reason for why I am doing what I am doing, then fire me! We are in a day and age in which results will be the driver of our profession. This is already starting to happen with “bundled payments for total joints” ( I highly suggest that you educate yourself on this also. I may or may not write about this soon). We need to make sure that as health professionals that we continue to get smarter and better at what we do. Patients need to continue to educate themselves about their health for two reasons 1. IT’S YOUR BODY! 2. You will challenge your health care provider to either get better or get lost.

 

The two most effective exercises for trunk activation are the side bridge and superman, said no strongman, crossfitter or strongman ever!

 

  1. “Swiss balls have been incorporated into strength training programs on the belief that a labile surface will provide a greater challenge to the trunk muscles, increase the dynamic balance of the user and possibly help to stabilize the spine in order to prevent injuries”

 

Coming soon: Humans on Mars. Same kind of statement. The above quote starts by talking about beliefs. Look, are we a faith or are we a science? We can’t have both. If we believe something to be true…it also has to be true. For a long time, the world was flat. We believed it to be true, so it was true. We have come a long way since Galileo. We actually have to test our beliefs to see if it is worth using.

 

I am a meathead. Swiss balls are fun to play tug-o-war or work on balance (such as advocated by Paul Check), but they are not good for building stability. To be stable is to be the opposite of mobile. We need to make our trunk opposite of mobile. We can do this by resisting a heavy load.

 

  1. “…one must ensure that their training regimen incorporates training specificity”

 

Joe Weider. The name brings back memories of the old Weider barbell sets sold at Sears. We had the concrete filled plastic weights. My how far we have come…and yet the same principles still apply. If you want to get better at throwing a punch, don’t work on kicks and if you want to be a better swimmer, don’t practice skydiving. If we want to be strong and stable (i.e. immobile), then we need to practice on being strong and stable.

 

  1. “The practical application of training the trunk stabilizers from a supine or prone position may not transfer effectively to the predominately erect activities of daily living”

 

If we pair point 6 and point 7, then there’s only one real reason to practice exercises in a horizontal position…you know what I mean (wink, wink).

 

Anyway, the new buzz words are functional fitness. The above statement is essentially saying that doing exercises that are not similar to what you would do during your day may not be functional. You hear the old joke about 12 oz curls, yeah I’ve heard it too. If all you do all day is drink grape nehi, then you don’t need to do anymore than that. It’s functional for you.

 

  1. “Perhaps a combination of relatively high-intensity resistance using free weights (light to moderate instability) can provide greater activation than the very popular instability exercises commonly used today”

 

DUH! Anyway, the authors are finally talking about a quantity of activation. There is no doubt that lifting a beer bottle will activate your arms and trunk muscles, but I’ll take the guy that is lifting kegs for fun if I was a betting man.

 

  1. “The 80% 1RM squat exercise exhibited significantly greater LSES EMG activity than all other exercises…exceeding the body weight squat, deadlift, superman, sidebridge exercises by 56, 56.6,65.5 and 53.1% respectively”

 

When compared to dead lifting, side bridging and superman, the squat is THE KING OF ALL EXERCISES! For lumbar spine muscles. Hear that all you bird-doggers! Hear that all you supermanners! There is nothing better than loading a heavy barbell with 45 pound plates and squatting down and standing up. I miss the sound of the 45 pound plates vibrating next to each other when you walk the bar out. I use bumper plates nowadays. Not as much testosterone as the steel, but a hell of a lot safer for my garage floor if I have to dump the weight.

 

Put it into perspective, this exercise is 50% better than most popular exercises. Everyone can squat. Everyone has to get off of the toilet. If you don’t, you will end up in a home because no one wants to help you off of the toilet and wipe your behind for free.

 

  1. “The 80% 1 RM deadlift exercise exhibited significantly greater ULES EMG activity than all other exercises”

 

There is a reason why powerlifters have such thick backs. They specialize in the 2 exercises that work both the lower and upper lumbar muscles.

 

  1. “…it may be unnecessary to add calisthenic-type instability exercises to a training program to promote core stability if full-body, dynamic, upright exercises are implemented in the program”

 

Time to turn off the t.v. Stop buying all of the infomercial crap and just get up off the couch…now sit down…stand up…sit down…stand up…sit down. Now go do the same thing while holding a can of soup. You are now stronger than you were yesterday.

 

Excerpts taken from:

Hamlyn N, Behm DG, Young WB. TRUNK MUSCLE ACTIVATION DURING DYNAMIC WEIGHT-TRAINING EXERCISES AND ISOMETRIC INSTABILITY ACTIVITIES. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research. 2007;21(4):1108-1112.