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Start Back Screening Tool

“Lifetime prevalence for LBP (low back pain) has been reported to be between 60% and 95% and 34% of the participants in a large population study in Norway reported to have had LBP last week”

These numbers are scary, but are consistent with other published research that notes about 80% of the population will have back pain at some point in life. Think of how lucky you would have to be to go an entire lifetime without having back pain based on these numbers?

It can happen, as I’ve seen patients in their 80’s with a first time occurrence of back pain.

The part that is sad for me, as a PT, is that less than 10% of these people will ever get in to see a PT for back pain.

“Due to the lack of diagnostic tests that can identify objective signs of the condition, most of the patients are characterized as having ‘non-specific LBP'”

If you’re not familiar with the numbers, it has been said that any diagnosis trying to name a specific tissue (disc herniation, arthritis, spondylisthesis, spinal stenosis etc) is only correct about 10% of the time. The more severe the diagnosis the more likely that the specific tissue is the correct diagnosis (such as a tumor, spinal cord injury, infection).

Because of this, a majority (90%) of back pain is just labeled as “non-specific low back pain”. The problem with this is that the treatment for a non-specific problem tends to be…non-specific.

Don’t get me wrong, a majority of back pain doesn’t need much treatment, if any at all, and tends to improve over the course of 6 weeks. Some pains from the back require a specific treatment and a treatment outside of this Specific treatment can worsen symptoms.

This means that we have to actually attempt to classify a patient’s presentation. Understand please that a classification is not a diagnosis but instead more of putting the symptoms into a non-specific “bucket” that most resemble that presentation. For instance, there could be a bucket for fast changing, slow changing and unchanging. There could be buckets for a primarily psychosocial component, chemical component or a bio mechanical component.

“Based on the SBT (Keele Start Back Tool) scores, patients can be categorized into three subgroups: patients with low, medium, or high risk for developing persistent LBP and activity limitations….the low risk group should receive minor attention from health professionals and self management strategies are recommended for these patients. The medium risk group should be offered physiotherapy. For the high risk group more psychologically informed interventions are recommended”

This statement may upset some of my colleagues in PT, but we aren’t always needed for patients that experience back pain. For instance, it is advocated to see a PT if you have pain lingering more than a couple of Days. I’m not sure I completely agree with this, as much back pain reduces spontaneously. The last thing you, as the patient should want is to pay for unneeded treatments. The last thing that I want to do as a PT is to take a patients money if I am not needed at that time.

Again, don’t get me wrong there is a group of patients, with back pain, that should be treated by a Physical Therapist. These patients will score higher on the Start Back Screening Tool.

With that said, it is important that the patient be classified correctly within the first 6 weeks of experiencing symptoms. Some research demonstrates an early classification is beneficial and others demonstrate that it should be done within 6 weeks of symptoms. The reason for this is that the patient may benefit from more psychologically informed interventions, which should be performed by someone with

“To be useful as a screening tool in physiotherapy practice, it is important that the SBT-scoring is reliable and that the allocation to risk groups reflects the severity of the patients back problems.”

There are two things that we look at in terms of performing testing. One, is the test valid. This means does the test actually tell us what we think it tells us.

The second thing is reliability. This means that if I have multiple therapist from different settings performing the same exact task, would I get similar or exact scoring if performed on the same exact patient by different therapists.

“The SBT consists of nine items; referred leg pain, comorbid pain, disability, bothersomeness, catastrophizing, fear, anxiety, and depression…. The total score range from 0 to9, with nine indicating worst prognosis. The last five items are summarized into a psychosocial sub scale with five as the maximal score, indicating high risk for development of chronic LBP”

For more information about scoring, I personally like to use the Shirley Ryan website of outcome measures found here.

“Patients with a total score of 0-3 are classified as low risk (minimal treatment, eg self-management strategies).

I use this tool frequently in PT. I rarely have patients score a 3 or less, but this may be because they are already filtered out by the physician in primary care.

I recently had a patient score a 3 and lo and behold his symptoms were abolished in 6 weeks without intervention.

It’s a small sample size, but it seems to match the research.

To summarize: the STarT Back Screening Tool is an option to utilize in practice in order to determine if a patient

1. Requires little/no intervention and will return to prior level of function (PLOF) through regression to the mean (time > interventions).

2. Requires PT/Rehab only

3. Requires a more psychologically intensive approach to care.

Click here for original research article.

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STarT Back Screening tool revisited

“…changes in psychosocial risk factors during the course of treatment may provide important information for a patient’s long-term prognosis”

As professionals, we should be performing repeated assessments of patients during the plan of care (POC) and not waiting until the patient is ready for discharge (either because their benefits have been exhausted, the insurance company dictates that an assessment needs to be performed or the patient self-discharged). Performing repeated assessments throughout the POC allows us, as professionals, to understand if the patient is improving, worsening or remaining unchanged with care and to assist us in modifying the POC.

The STarT Back Screening Tool is one method of assessing psychosocial factors that may impede rehab potential.

“… repeated assessments during an episode of care can also provide valuable information about changes in a given variable that can be used for treatment monitoring”

Utilizing a standardized approach to assessing a patient will enable the professional (PT in my case) to determine if a patient is catastrophizing, losing hope, or requires the assistance of a more psychologically focused treatment approach.

“The STarT Back Tool (SBT) is a Screening questionnaire consisting of nine items related to physical and psychosocial statements that are used to categorize patients based on risk (low, medium, or high) for persistent LBP-related disability.”

Here is a copy of the tool in question.

“Wideman et al found that early changes in SBT scores were predictive of four month treatment related changes in several relevant psychological and clinical outcome measures.”

This is a little different than what is expected from an outcome tool. For instance, many tools are utilized to tell the clinician where the patient is at currently and if this patient Hs a risk of developing chronic pain.

When we utilize multiple scores instead of a standalone score, this is indicative of how a patient will progress over the course of time.

“all patients (in this study) were referred for physical therapy by a physician and did not seek physical therapy services through direct access… this setting was considered secondary care.”

This is an important topic. For instance, the previous blog post indicated that the tool gives us information when read minister over a 4-week time period. This indicates that there are changes that occur over the course of 4 weeks.

Many complaints of low back pain improve independently over the course of 6 weeks. If a patient is issued this test at the first visit and classified as low, medium or high, this may lead to an inaccurate classification. Seeing as this study issued the tool to patients in a secondary care (meaning that the patients were referred by a physician) indicates that the patient is not being seen within the first few days of injury.

“1. Aged 18-65 years,

2. Seeking physical therapy for LBP (symptoms are T12 or lower, including radiating pain into the buttocks and lower extremity), and

3. Able to read and speak English”

“treatment was not standardized or tracked in this study and was provided at the discretion of the physical therapist.”

This may also be an issue, as there is a newer study that indicates the treatment interventions may have a role in the patient’s scoring.

Please see the previous post about how to utilize this tool.

“…123 patients (84.2% of the entire sample) who completed the SBT at intake and 4 weeks…The percent of patients for each SBT risk category who were classified differently at intake and four weeks was 81.8% for SBT high risk, 76.0% for SPT medium risk and 11.3% for SBT low risk.”

This indicates that a patient’s initial score should be interpreted with caution because there is a high probability that it will change over the course of 4 weeks.

“most patients either improved (48.8%) or remained stable (40.6%) based on changes in SBT categorization.”

“Thirteen (10.6%) patients were categorized as worsened based on changes in SBT categorization, with six of those patients categorized as SB team high-risk at intake and four weeks later.”

This is interesting to me. Typically, in PT, a therapist will cite regression to the mean. This essentially states that given time the patient will transition from an extreme score towards a more moderate score. This doesn’t account for those that transition from a moderate score towards a more extreme score. To me, this indicates that the episode of care had an effect, albeit a negative effect, on this patient encounter.

Primary findings of this present study were as follows:

1. At over 4 weeks, approximately 11% of patients worsened SBT risk;

2. Clinicians should be less confident in the stability of an intake SBT categorization of high risk than that of medium and low risk;

3. Prediction of 6-month pain intensity scores was not improved when considering intake or 4-week change for SBT categorization; and

4. Prediction of 6-month disability scores was improved when considering intake, 4-week, and 4-week-change SBT categorization”

This indicates that the first measurement may not be a good indication of what will take place with the patient regarding disability over time and some patients can be made worse with therapy. We already knew the second part from previous blog posts.

Excerpts from:

Beneciuk JM, Fritz J, George SZ. The STarT Back Screening Tool for Prediction of 6-month Clinical Outcomes: Relevance of Change Patterns in Outpatient Physical Therapy Settings. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2014;44(9):656-664.

Clinical Practice guidelines for Bell’s Palsy

Let me start by saying that I have seen few cases of Bell’s palsy comparatively. I can say I’ve seen no more than 10 cases in 12 years and reading this practice guideline, I can understand why it’s not a large percentage of patients seen in the clinic.

This post will be linked to the next blog post on Bell’s palsy because there are some conflicting recommendations, but not dramatically different.

“Bell’s Palsy, named after the Scottish anatomist, Sir Charles Bell, is the most common acute mononeuropathy…most common diagnosis associated with facial nerve weakness/paralysis”

I enjoy history. I didn’t know about Sir Charles Bell and I found this piece informative. Whenever a new disease or species is found, sometimes the discovered of the new xyz gets to name the new xyz. It is one way to keep their name alive. It could’ve also been described according to the actual dysfunction, as facial nerve palsy would indicate to everyone what is happening to the patient.

Once you see a patient with Bell’s palsy, it is never forgotten. The dysfunction can have dramatic effects on patients in terms of livelihood and willingness to go out in public.

People close to me know that I am a huge wrestling fan. One of the greatest, if not the greatest announcer in the history of professional wrestling is Jim Ross. His was the first time that I can remember learning of Bell’s palsy and it’s possible that his diagnosis cost him his job. It’s at least written about in other forums that there is a relationship. It was a long time before I got to hear about slobberknockers on tv again. Jim is back to work and his disease is visible to those that look close enough at his face.

“…rapid unilateral facial nerve paresis (weakness) or paralysis (complete loss of movement) of unknown cause.”

I have seen this run the gamut from barely noticeable to unable to close the eye or mouth. At the worse end of the spectrum, the person had major issues with drinking because there was incomplete mouth closure, which caused liquids to spill out of the mouth. Also, the same person was unable to move the eye or cheek muscles. An eye patch was required.

“…may cause significant temporary oral incompetence and an inability to close the eyelid, leading to potential injury”

With issues of mouth and eye closure, imagine how hard it is to keep the eye moist. Blinking assists in lubricating the eye, not to mention that the eye has difficulty producing moisture from the gland in the corner of the eye in the presence of Bell’s palsy.

“Treatments are generally designed to improve facial function and facilitate recovery”

The patients that I have seen, remember only a handful, I believe that only one person improved. At no point in time do I take credit for that, as a majority of patients improve over the course of 3 months. This patient was referred to me at the 6 week mark and time may have been more important than anything I did regarding the patients recovery.

“…the following should be considered:

-Bell’s palsy is rapid onset (<72 hours)”

I’ve had patients associate Bell’s palsy with a cold breeze blowing on them at night. They say this because the onset is so quick that some literally woke up with it. The patients attempt to find answers for why things happen. As a healthcare provider we have to do our best to educate and reassure the patient that it was nothing that they did to cause this phenomenon.

-“Bell’s palsy is diagnosed when no other medical etiology is identified as a cause of the facial weakness”

This is a diagnosis of exclusion. As mentioned at some point in this article, differential diagnosing needs to be performed in order to ensure that there is nothing sinister or other diagnosis causing this problem.

-“bilateral Bell’s palsy is rare”

I have personally never heard of bilateral Bell’s palsy and have obviously never seen it with my low level of experience treating this issue.

-“Currently, no cause for Bell’s palsy has been identified”

This has to be stated to patients. They will matrix and try to come up with a cause, which can create a change in behavior and the spreading of “old wives tales”. The most common one I hear is that the window being open caused a breeze while sleeping, or a fan was blowing on my face causing a breeze, to cause the symptoms.

-“other conditions may cause facial paralysis, including stroke, brain tumors, tumors of the parotid gland or infratemporal fossa, cancer involving facial nerve, and systemic infectious diseases including zoster, sarcoidosis, and Lyme disease”

These are all major issues that require a thorough history and possible imaging to determine if Bell’s palsy is the true diagnosis or if there is something obvious causing symptoms.

-“Bell’s palsy may occur in men, women, and children, but is more common in those 15-45 years old; those with diabetes, upper respiratory ailments, or compromised immune systems;or during pregnancy”

It affects both genders (I’ve seen both men and women), a wide age spectrum (I’ve never seen anyone older than 50) and multiple comorbidities can increase risk.

“…paresis/paralysis typically progresses to its maximum severity within 72 hours of onset of the paresis/paralysis”

This is good to know as a PT. It’s rare for us to see these patients in the acute, or immediately after it starts, stage. Because of this, should we see a progressively worsening condition, it would be prudent to refer the patient back to the physician in order to rule out any other medical concerns.

“Facial paresis or paralysis is thought to result from facial nerve inflammation and edema”

This is one of the explanations, but again there is no known cause.

“The facial nerve carries nerve impulses to muscles of the face, and also to the lacrimal glands, salivary glands, taste fibers from the anterior tongue, and general sensory fibers from the tympanic membrane”

This can cause the corners of the mouth to droop. The person may be unable to fully close the mouth to suck out of a straw.

The lacrimal glans is the little pink thing on the inside of the nose-side of the eye. This gland is responsible for keeping the eye moist.

“…may experience dryness of the eye or mouth, taste disturbance or loss, hyperacusis, and sagging of the eyelid or corner of the mouth”

Because it also supplies “power” to the tastebuds, this can affect taste. I’ve known many patients of those that I treated that lost weight because food was no longer appetizing.

“Most patients with Bell’s palsy show some recovery without intervention within two to three weeks after onset of symptoms, and completely recover within three to four months”

This is a very important statistic. Without knowing this, a patient referred to PT within days of the diagnosis, whom shows improvement within weeks, may lead the PT to believe that physical therapy has more significant effects than actually occurs.

“… facial function is completely restored in nearly 70 percent of Bell’s palsy patients with complete paralysis within 6 months and as high as 94% of patients with incomplete paralysis”

This information must be highlighted with patients. The effects of this diagnosis can be dramatic the first few weeks and hope needs to be restored in these patients.

Good ol JR is back to announcing wrestling!

“…as many as 30% of patients do not recover completely”

This needs to be addressed, but the education needs to be flipped to show that 70% recover partially or fully.

“Long-term, the disfigurement of the face due to incomplete recovery of the facial nerve can have devastating effects on psychological well-being and quality of life”

Two patients that I have treated in my past avoided going outside. Not to paint them in a negative light, but they lived like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. These two needed positive reinforcement in order to return to a life outside of the home.

I felt bad that these two have excluded themselves from the community because they wanted to return to normalcy, but didn’t want to be stared at in the process.

“…patients with facial paralysis can have impaired interpersonal relationships and may experience profound social distress, depression, and social alienation”

“The guideline is intended for all clinicians in any setting who are likely to diagnose and manage patients with Bell’s palsy”

As a PT, I will only discuss the information that is relevant to my profession or scope of practice.

1. “Clinicians should assess the patient using history and physical examination to exclude identifiable causes of facial paresis or paralysis in patients presenting with acute onset unilateral facial paresis or paralysis”

A thorough history is important regardless of the ailment. When paralysis is the end result, a thorough differential needs to happen in order to rule out other factors that could affect the facial nerve.

For instance, using the objective portion of the examination can help to rule out a stroke. The history can help to rule in cancer.

As a PT, ensure that you are taking a good history and physical exam in order to ensure that nothing is being missed.

2. “Clinicians should not obtain routine laboratory testing in patients with new onset Bell’s palsy”

“Risk: Missing a potential cause of Lyme disease, which is considered based on a thorough history.

Benefit: avoiding unnecessary testing and treatment, false positives and cost savings”

This is outside of the scope of PT and I will defer.

3. “Clinicians should not routinely perform diagnostic imaging for patients with new onset Bell’s palsy.”

“Benefit: avoidance of unnecessary radiation exposure, incidental findings, contrast reactions and cost savings”

“Risk: missing other causes of facial paresis”

“Opportunity for patient education”

4. “Clinicians should prescribe oral steroids within 72 hours of symptom onset for Bell’s palsy patients 16 years and older”

“Benefit: improvement in facial nerve recovery, faster recovery”

“Risk: steroid side effects and cost of therapy

Exceptions: diabetes, morbid obesity, previous steroid intolerance and psychiatric disorders.”

5. “clinicians should not prescribe oral antiviral therapy alone for patients with new onset Bell’s palsy”

“Benefits: avoidance of medication side effect, cost savings”

Risks: none

6. “clinicians may offer oral antiviral therapy in addition to oral steroids within 72 hours of symptom onset for patients with Bell’s palsy”

Benefit: small potential improvement in facial nerve function

Risks: treatment side effects, cost of treatment

Patient preference: “significant role for shared decision making”

Exceptions: same for corticosteroid use

6. “clinicians should implement eye protection for Bell’s palsy patients with impaired eye closure”

Eye protection is standard of care.

Risks: costs of eye protection implementation, potential side effects of medication.”

This falls into the plan of care for PTs. Sometimes the amount of time that the patient has with a physician is less than 10 minutes. (I’ve read that an average patient physician visit is 11 minutes).

Because of this, the patient may not fully understand what to do once diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, and this can be within the role of the PT.

7. “Clinicians should not perform electrodiagnostic testing in Bell’s palsy patients with incomplete facial paralysis”

8. “Clinicians may offer electrodiagnostic testing to Bell’s palsy patients with complete facial paralysis”

Benefit: provide prognostic information for the clinician and patient, identification of potential surgical candidate

Risks: patient discomfort and cost of testing

8. “no recommendation can be made regarding surgical decompression for Bell’s palsy patients”

“Concerned about the facial deformity may make it some patients willing to pursue a major operation for a small increase in the chance of complete recovery while others may be more willing to except the chance of poor outcome to avoid surgery”

“The group was divided as to whether the evidence supported no recommendation, or an option for surgery. This difference of opinion derived from controversy regarding the strength of evidence”

9. “No recommendation can be made regarding the effect of acupuncture in Bell’s palsy patients”

“The GDG was divided regarding whether to recommend against acupuncture, or to make no recommendation.”

10. “no recommendation can be made regarding the effect of physical therapy in Bell’s palsy patients”

There are conflicting statements regarding varying clinical practice guidelines.

I have only had one patient with Bell’s palsy that demonstrated significant improvement greater than 90 days since the diagnosis. Is it possible that time had a strong let effect than PT…sure…it’s possible.

Typically, the recovery would’ve taken place by three months, but the patient made progress while in therapy.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that PT is the end all be all for many diagnoses or patients, but I do believe that the interventions had an effect on this particular case.

There may be some patients that could benefit from therapy. In saying this, my experience would tell me that it is a small percentage of patients.

“patient may benefit psychologically from engaging in physical therapy exercises”

11. “clinicians should reassess or refer to a facial nerve specialist those Bell’s palsy patients with 1. New or worsening neurologic findings at any point, 2. Ocular symptoms developing at any point, or 3. Incomplete facial recovery three months after initial symptom onset”

“Identifying alternate diagnoses in the absence of recovery, and potential assessment for rehabilitative options…However based on the natural history of Bell’s palsy, the majority of patients will show complete recovery three months after onset.”



Click to find the Article.

Ankle strength

Some people have lost strength in the ankle due to a litany of issues such as:

Nerve damage

Muscle strain

Shin splints

Ankle fracture

Etc

Getting a stronger ankle joint doesn’t have to be complicated.

Some people have the ability to get stronger, but others may not have that ability.

Check with a licensed professional to see if the nerves are working properly before starting a structured exercise program for the ankle.

This is a basic exercise and is intended for general education.

Training for game day…everyday

Image: Kaufman SF. The Martial artist’s Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi’s Classic Book of Strategy

There is so much to unpack here.

First, don’t do as I do because you may have different goals than I.

When I worked at Sams Club, I could have two conversations: gym stuff and Sams stuff. I was so single minded. I would go to school in undergrad and read Ironmind, Flex, Powerlifting USA and books by authors such as the great Mel Siff, Mike Menzter, Fred Hatfield and others.

I wanted to make myself better at the things I enjoyed and school was just something I had to do in order to eventually make money.

I became employee of the year at Sams Club in 2003 and quit the same year to go work at a gym making half that money and to start PT school.

Once in PT school, I still devoted my time to learning about lifting. I went deeper into methodologies and theories of exercise.

Once I graduated from PT school, I devoted all of my free time to becoming a better physical therapist. I want to be the best (warrior) at this craft (physical therapy) that I could attain.

This is not necessarily healthy. I want to start by saying this because it’s been told to me my entire career.

I studied research between sets at the gym. I read textbooks multiple times over. I sacrificed personal relationships to become better…I won’t even say good, but better than the day before.

I’m glad I put all of that time in during those first ten years.

This does not conform to the thought of work-life balance. Again, I’ve heard this my entire career.

When looking at balance, it has to be what makes you happy. Not everyone has the same definition of happiness. When I go to work, I’m sure my patients are grateful that I sacrificed a decade of my life to get better at my craft. When I believe in something I give it my attention. In giving it my attention, I give my time. In giving my time, I am giving my life.

I understand that not everyone is devoted to their craft, but I would hope those depending on that craft can see the difference between those who do and those who don’t.

Cervical myelopathy: how to test clinically

“… The onset is often insidious with long periods of episodic, stepwise progression, and may present with a vast array of clinical findings from patient to patient.”

Cervical myelopathy is like neck pain to the extreme. It isn’t just a neck issue, but it ends up encompassing anything below the neck. It can cause arm symptoms, leg symptoms, difficulty walking, weakness throughout the body, spastic robot-like walking, and breathing issues.

This is a neck problem that needs to be addressed ASAP!

Let’s take a look at some of the research on this problem, what your therapist should check, and when it’s time for the patient to be sent back to a physician for imaging to determine if the patient is a candidate for surgery…it is that important.

Some quick stories (or not so quick).

I’ve had two patients with cervical myelopathy. One patient had symptoms of this, but also had arm problems from a previous injury. Because of this, the CSM (cervical spine myelopathy) was delayed in diagnosis until the patient demonstrated abnormal gait…10 months later!

The second case was picked up in the clinic immediately on the first day. I performed this cluster, to be learned later, on the patient and he was very positive. We had a conversation about the need for imaging and a consult with a neurosurgeon. The patient essentially said…thanks but no thanks.

Unfortunately this patient lost use of his hands and developed a walking pattern that was very abnormal before he decided that surgery was the right choice.

Here’s a quick Video describing CSM.

“May involve lower extremities first, weakness of the legs, and spasticity”

Spasticity is an issue that could be seen in walking for some people, but is testing using movements under speed like in this Video

What we will see is that the body reflexively slows down or stops the movement from happening rapidly.

“lower motor neuron findings in the upper extremities such as loss of strength, atrophy, and difficulty in fine finger movements, may present”

This means that we may see generalized weakness, loss of muscle mass (smaller muscles) and difficulty with picking up pennies and buttoning buttons.

“neck stiffness, shoulder pain, paresthesias in one or both arms or hands, or radiculopathic signs”

Neck stiffness is self explanatory. The neck movement may not be fluid or it may be restricted due to pain. There may be symptoms such as pain, tingling or numbness radiating into the shoulder(s) regions, arm(s) region or down to the hand(s) region. We may also see changes in sensation or reflexes.

“An MRI is most useful because the tool expresses the amount of compression placed on the spinal cord, and demonstrates relatively high levels of sensitivity and specificity.”

There is little reason for a PT to recommend an MRI, unless there are specific conditions found during the evaluation. The type of presentation notes above is one reason for a PT to recommend an MRI to the referring physician or the patient’s primary care physician.

X-rays do not do a good job of demonstrating any soft tissue (muscle/spinal cord/disc/ligaments/tendons) abnormalities.

Mind you, this presentation is not common and for the most part, an early MRI is not indicated for neck or back pain.

“The tests, when used alone, are not overtly diagnostic and may lead to a number of false negatives and in rare occasions, false positives”

It is recommended that, when CSM is suspected, the physical therapist use the cluster (groups) of testing in order to strengthen the likelihood of this suspicion. One test used alone is not enough to consider other testing.

“in reality, the diagnosis of CSM involves MRI findings and clinical findings, with equal weighting of both results”

Because the clinical exam is so important for this diagnosis and subsequent imaging, it is important that the PT and physician be familiar with the testing described.

“Of the 10 variables included in the regression modeling, the tests of Babinski and Hoffman’s signs, the Inverted Supinator sign, gait Abnormality, and age > 45 years were retained.”

I’ll be honest. In my first 10 years, I never tested for the inverted supinate sign or Hoffman’s sign until I read this paper. This is a testimony to continuing one’s education beyond taking courses. I don’t recall (those that know me know that I have a pretty good memory) ever learning this cluster through any of the coursework that I took since 2007.

After reading this article, I practiced these tests on a bunch of healthy individuals, those with neck pain in which I didn’t suspect a spinal cord issue, so that I could get better st the test and understand the normal response. This way, I learned the test mechanics and felt confident performing the test on anyone. It enabled me to understand the difference between the “healthy” patients on which I tested this specific cluster and the few in which had a positive test.

Rant: I hear it from so many students and new grads that they feel like they haven’t learned how to perform the tests or what to see as a result of the test because they only get to test healthy individuals. Having gone through the mechanics of this cluster for years, I hope that students understand that they must become confident at performing the mechanics of the test (kinesthetic learning) and know how a healthy response looks. One may go his/her entire career without ever seeing this presentation, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t perform the test and understand a normal result. I bring this up because I hear the same type of arguments regarding vestibular testing and ocular testing.

Every patient that has a history of stroke gets a vestibular-ocular exam because there may be lingering positive testing after the neurological event. This again strengthens my ability to perform the test and increases my likelihood that I will see positive testing…so I know what it looks like for future patient evaluations that may come in off of the street through direct access.

“A finding that included three of five positive tests yielded a positive likelihood ratio of 30.9 and a post test probability of 94%”

Even if you’re not a statistician, this is important information.

A positive likelihood ratio greater than 10 is an indication that your testing is giving a result that increases the chances of that being the diagnosis.

A post-test probability of 94% indicates that there is less than a 10% chance that the diagnosis or classification is incorrect after testing.

This is a much better percentage than we have of most orthopedic issues.

“”this study found that selected combinations of clinical findings that consisted of (1) gait deviation; (2) + Hoffman’s sign; (3) inverted supinator sign; (4) + Babinski test and (5) age > 45 years were affective in ruling out and ruling in cervical spine myelopathy.”

If you are a student and plan on treating patients…you must know these tests.

If you are a therapist treating these patients…you must know, be confident administering and understand the repercussions of a positive test.

If you are a patient…know that not all therapists have the same training and some may not even know these tests exist. I hope this makes you take a more thoughtful approach in choosing your next PT.

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Reflections on “The Alchemist” Part XII

“Once you get into the desert, there’s no going back. And when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.”

In 2017, I made the decision to leave a good paying job, with good benefits and it was only an 15 minute commute.

I walked away to take a chance on a better position. It started at less pay, worse benefits, and a 45-60 minute commute each way.

I never looked back. I poured 100% of my efforts into this new position because…there was no going back. I made the decision to better myself and my family’s lot in life. This means that I am working way more than I ever had in the previous job, but it has a much higher upside than the last job would’ve been able to afford my family. There were some growing pains, as now I get paid when we make money and if there is no money being paid, I don’t make as much. It’s the life of an employee vs an employer.

Never take for granted the position of employee. It comes with perks, such as low cost of entry (for the most part just sitting through interviews and hoping to get paid), it comes with a salary (unless you are commission based), it gives benefits such as vacation and sick time.

The role of employer is not as predictable. It has a higher cost of entry. The employer has to purchase equipment , pay employee taxes, doesn’t come with a standard salary (employees get paid first) and it’s is much harder to take a day off when there is no one else that will give the business the same care that the employer does.

This quote applies to any decision in life. Gary Vaynerchuk is famous for saying “don’t do anything half pregnant”. In other words, go all in.

When you have a family depending on you, this is much easier. When you’re younger, you have the ability to taste a bunch of different aspects of life to determine what direction you want to go all in.

But once you make your decision, you go all In and don’t look back!

Patients with Medicare using PT

“Services were required because the individual needed therapy services”

For a person to need therapy services, they must have a plan of care certified as necessary by a physician or other referring professional.

“A plan for furnishing such services has been established by a physician/NPP or by a therapist providing such services and is Eperiodically reviewed by a physician/NPP”

A PT is allowed to establish a plan of care for patients, but the insurance doesn’t necessarily have to pay for it. In order for Medicare to pay for a plan of care that is established by a physical therapist, a physician or other referring provider must sign off on that plan of care.

“Services are or were furnished while the individual is or was under the care of a physician…In certifying an outpatient plan of care for therapy a physician/NPP is certifying that the above conditions are met. Certification is required for coverage and payment of a therapy claim.”

If a physician/NPP provides a referral at the time of evaluation, this ensures that the patient was under the care of a referral source at the time of the evaluation. This becomes important because there are patients that will wait to start therapy for months or years after a referral was issued. There is not guarantee that the referral source will certify the POC at this later date. If this POC is not certified, then the treatment will not be covered by Medicare.

“Claims submitted for outpatient PT, OT, and SLP services must contain the National Provider (NPI) of the certifying physician identified for a PT, OT, and SLP plan of care”

Although this is a technicality, this may cause a denial of payment if the NPI number, of the referring professional, is not included on claims.

“Although there is no Medicare requirement for an order, when documented in the medical record, an order provided evidence that the patient both needs therapy services and is under the care of a physician. The certification requirements are met when the physician certifies the plan of care”

Again, this needs to be reiterated over and and over, the patient needs to be under the care of a physician when in physical therapy. The referral can serve to show that the patient was under the care of a physician at the time of the initial evaluation. In the end, the only thing that matters is that the physician/NPP signs off on the plan of care established by the PT.

“Payment is dependent on the certification of the plan of care rather than the order, but the use of an order is prudent to determine that a physician is involved in care and available to certify the plan”

Have you had enough of this yet.

Do you think that there is a reason this is spelled out so frequently in the documentation?

Some don’t follow the rules of the game.

“The services must relate relate directly and specifically to a written treatment plan as described…must be established before treatment is begun…written or dictated.”

We all know that a plan is required.

Some don’t know how to write frequency and duration.

Some don’t know how to write interventions, or some perform interventions not written.

They must be written and signed off on in order to perform.

“The signature and professional identity of the person who established the plan, and date it was established must be recorded with the plan”

No brainer…or is it?

Stamped signatures are not signatures according to CMS, and stamps are not approved.

“Outpatient therapy services shall be furnished under a plan established by:

A physician/NPP

The physical therapist who will provide the physical therapy services”

This is critical. A therapist doesn’t need to have a POC signed if the physician/NPP creates the plan and it is abided by the PT verbatim.

Also, the PT doesn’t need to be licensed if practicing under a physician.

“The plan may be entered into the patient’s therapy record either by the person who established the plan or by the provider’s or supplier’s staff when they make a written record of that person’s oral orders before treatment is begun.”

This is a formality, but it has to do with dictating a note. Treatment can not be started by anyone other than the PT or immediately supervised by the PT that created the plan, before it is entered into record.

“The evaluation and treatment may occur and are both billable either on the same day or at subsequent visits.”

I tend to do one billable unit on the days of an evaluation. This is based on how much time you spend with the patient covering an intervention, or if an untamed intervention is performed.

“Therapy may be initiated by qualified professionals or qualified personnel based on a dictated plan. Treatment may begin before the plan is committed to writing only if the treatment is performed or supervised by the same clinician who established the plan”

This means that the PT or PTA can start treatment on the initial visit. The PT must be in the office supervising the PTA at this point.

Some people, like Anthony Maritato, use this method to establish a relationship between the treating therapist and the patient.

Others, like Rick Gawenda, find this to be a less efficient use of time.

“It is acceptable to treat under two separate plans of care when different physicians/NPP refer a patient for different conditions. It is also acceptable to combine the plans of care into one plan covering both conditions if one or the other referring physician/NPP is willing to certify the plan for both conditions”

I’ve seen some clinic totally prefer to treat the patient 2x/week for one ailment and 2x/week for another ailment.

Take a guess why…it sure ain’t for the patient’s benefit.

Medicare limits how many units can be charged in a session (essentially how much money can be paid in a session). If there is a way around this, you can bet that money hungry clinics will find this workaround.

“The plan of care shall contain, at minimum, the following information as required by regulation:

Diagnosis

Long term goals

Type amount and frequency of therapy services”

The evaluation doesn’t need much. It would be great if it established medical necessity, but is it required…NOPE!

The diagnosis can either be ICD codes or the written diagnosis since it is not spelled out.

“Long term treatment goals should be developed for the entire episode of care in the current setting”

This is something new to many therapists. Medicare doesn’t specifically require short term goals. If they are not required, do they need to be done? In school it is taught to set short term goals as a step towards the long term goal. In reality, every minute counts. The time spent creating and typing short term goals could be used elsewhere. Creating short term goals is literally robbing Peter to pay Paul, but Paul doesn’t need the money.

“…long term goals may be specific to the part of the episode that is being certified. Goals should be measurable and pertain to identified functional impairments”

Goals should be measurable and timely. They should relate to function. There is a lot of grey area in this portion. Subjective measurements are not the most reliable and maybe shouldn’t be used in goal writing.

I see frequently “to increase hip abduction strength to 4/5”

This goal is measurable, albeit loosely and has no tie to function.

I personally like to use outcome measures and specific functional testing in my goal writing. For instance, the patient will improve the (TUG, Tinetti, Berg, chair rise, single leg stance, lower/upper extremity functional scale, yellow flag risk form) in order to …

“…documentation should state the clinical reasons progress cannot be shown”

This is built into many EMRs now.

Sometimes I will write that the symptoms are not reducible through movement or modulation. Other times, I will write that the patient is not consistent with the HEP. Sometimes, it’s that it is a maintenance case and the patient is unsafe to perform exercises with an untrained professional due to fall risk, BP fluctuations or rapidly changing SpO2.

This is where it really pays off to have read some of the textbooks that were recommended in PT school. I particularly recommend the ACSM handbook.

“The amount of treatment refers to the number of times in a day the type of treatment will be provide…one treatment session a day is assumed”

In an outpatient setting, this is typically one. In an acute or subacute setting it may be BID (twice in a day) or even TID (thrice in a day).

“The frequency refers to the number of times in a week the type of treatment is provided”

I struggle with this one. Many therapists are putting 3 times per week for 4 weeks on all their plans. This isn’t being done because they believe it’s what is best for the patient, but because there is a corporate policy to get as many visits in per week as able.

I get frustrated with this type of plan. If you are a therapist and working in this setting, but only putting this plan down to keep from rocking the boat…you are abusing Medicare and should call CMS to report this activity.

Please and thank you.

“The duration is the number of weeks, or the number of treatment sessions, for THIS plan of care.”

This question is asked frequently. I will typically put down the number of weeks if I know that the surgeon only wants so many weeks of PT per a protocol. If it is not protocol based, the. I will typically put down the total number of visits expected for the episode.

Many of my patients (>80%) require an authorization and are typically given 12 visits to start. In this case, I will make the plan for 12 visits or 90 days, whichever comes sooner. I know that I have to do a progress note and get a recertification and ask for more visits at this time anyways.

“It may be appropriate for therapists to taper the frequency of visits as the patient progresses toward and independent or caregiver assisted self-management program with the intent of improving outcomes and limiting treatment time.”

Again, I frequently get 12 visits to start. I try to make these visits as worthwhile for the patient as possible. For some cases I will see 3 times per week, but for many I will see 1 visit per week or 2 per 10 days. This way we are able to see the patient for the timeline of change that is expected. For instance, strength usually occurs in the first 6 weeks due to neuromuscular changes and hypertrophy happens after this timeframe. If we are seeing the patient for 12 visits in 4 weeks, then we may have exhausted the benefits before noting the change.

To me, that is a waste. Many patients agree with me on this because we make the POC together based on their finances (copays need to be paid each day regardless of how many times you are seen per week), work schedules and need/expectation to change over a given time period.

Again…PTs, if you don’t have this autonomy to create your own Plan of Care, are you truly an autonomous practitioner or are you simply a technician that is doing what a higher figure is telling you to do?

“When tapered frequency is planned, the exact Number of treatments per frequency level is not required to be projected in the plan, because the changes should be made based on assessment of daily progress”

This is one of the aspects that I take advantage of in the plan. At this point, I will write 12 visits over 12 weeks or 12 visits over 6 weeks. This way I may start at 3 visits and taper down to one visit per week.

“The clinician should consider any comorbidities, tissue healing, the ability of the patient and/or caregiver to do more independent self-management as treatment progresses, and any other factors related to frequency and duration of treatment”

I had a patient that hadn’t walked in years. The person had fluctuating blood pressures with activity and at times therapy was halted due to elevated BP. This patient was not safe to perform gait training independently due to fall risk and intermittent cardiac crises. This patient was treated 1-2 times per week with gait training and performed a Nu Step at home. The interventions that were skilled were performed in the clinic and the unskilled interventions were issued for HEP.

“…optional elements: short term goals, goals and duration for the current episode of care, specific treatment interventions, procedures, modalities or techniques and the amount of each.”

As much as this says “optional”, I’m not sure it is fully optional. For instance, this report notes that a therapist did not have the type of intervention in his POC as one of many reasons for repayment.

“Changes to procedures and modalities do not require physician signature when they represent adjustments to the plan that result from a normal progression in the patient’s disease or condition or adjustments to the plan due to the lack of expected response unchanged. Only when the patient’s condition changes significantly, making revision of term goals necessary, is a physician/NPP’s signature required on the change.”

For me personally, when there is a major change in status that requires a change in goals and expectations, I phone the physician and alert the medical team to the change in status. I feel that it is important to relay this information to the physician personally, in addition to writing a progress note or re-evaluation.

“Certification requires a dated signature on the plan of care or some other document that indicates approval of the plan of care… The date of the certification is signed is important to determine if it is timely or delayed”

This small detail is important. Although the physician may sign it, it also must be dated. I’ve had to send many evaluations back for a date.

“The physician/NPP’s certification of the plan satisfies all of the certification requirements noted above in (section) 220.1 for the duration of the plan of care, or 90 calendar days from the date of the initial evaluation, whichever is less.”

This is where things get confusing. If you set your plan for 90 days, then everything is good and no confusion.

If you set your plan for 6 weeks, then you would need to get another certification past 6 weeks.

I’ve seen some therapists just write the plan for 90 days on each evaluation in order to check the 90 day box. Don’t be that person. Put thought into your plan and don’t just set up your plan for 90 days because it’s the maximal allowable in one episode.

My duration varies from 4 weeks for acute back pain, 6 weeks for vestibular dizziness up to 12 weeks for neurological disorders. The only downside of doing this is that there is paperwork more frequently. The upside is that it forces a reassessment, which indicates whether or not a patient is responding to care.

“…the physician/NPP shall certify the initial plan as soon as it is obtained, or within 30 days of the initial therapy treatment.”

At my clinic, we have a spreadsheet that has the evaluation name, date and signature (yes/no). Once the signature is obtained, the name is removed from the spreadsheet.

Also, when discharging a chart we have a checklist of items that are expected to be in the chart. The signed evaluation is one of these items on the checklist.

“Evidence of diligence in providing the plan to the physician may be considered by the Medicare contractor during review in the event of a delayed certification”

Again, this is more of a standard operating procedure. When a note is faxed to a physician, the fax cover letter becomes a part of the record. This is done to demonstrate that due diligence was performed in attempting to get a note signed.

“Payment and coverage conditions require that the plan must be reviewed, as often as necessary but at least whenever it is certified or re-certified to complete the certification requirements. It is not required that the same physician/NPP who participated initially in recommending and planning the patient care certify and/or re-certify the plans”

This is also an opportunity for PTs. If a patient has a better relationship with the PCP compared to the orthopedic surgeon, it may be prudent to have the patient get the PCP to sign off on the recertification.

“If the physician wishes to restrict the patient’s treatment beyond a certain date when a visit is required, the physician should certify a plan only until the date of the visit.”

The evaluation template that we use from Theraoffice provides an area for the physician to change the plan if deemed appropriate.

“Certifications and recertification’s by Doctors of podiatric medicine must be consistent with the scope of the professional services provided by a doctor of podiatric medicine as authorized by applicable state law… Chiropractors may not certify or recertify plans of care for therapy services.”

This is huge. For instance, a podiatrist physician is only allowed to write a referral for their scope of practice. Seeing a patient from a podiatrist for an ailment that is outside of the scope of practice may result in a sticky situation, like Seinfeld encountered.

Also, Chiropractic physicians are not allowed to certify plans of care for PT. This applies to Medicare. You must be aware of the patient’s insurance in order to determine if other insurances have the same regulations.

“… The provider is precluded from charging the beneficiary for services denied as a result of missing certification”

This means that the provider or company that the provider work for will hound the physician’s office to get the evaluation or progress report signed. Otherwise, the amount paid was not approved to be performed.

The clinics are not allowed to charge the patient due to a lack of certification.

This is not meant to be legal advice, as this is my take on the Important passages from This manual regarding our profession.

If in need of more information on Medicare compliance, check out Nancy Beckley or Rick Gawenda

Part I: TBCS revision

“In order to optimize the treatment effect, patients with LBP should be classified into homogeneous subgroups and matched to a specific treatment. Subgroup-matched treatment approaches have ben shown to result in improved outcomes compared with nonmatched alternative methods.”

There is more information coming out over time that demonstrates certain patients do well with specific treatments related to that particular patient.

Looking at the broad scale, there are many people with LBP across the world.  Not everyone with LBP has similar symptoms or will respond to the same treatment.

For instance, if your pain gets worse with repeated or prolonged bending, prolonged sitting an standing slouched, your treatment will look differently than someone that gets better with the aforementioned activities.

This is what is meant by subgrouping patients into groups.  We take the patient’s presentation and history and match that to an intervention that tends to work well for that group.

One such method of subgrouping can be found here.

This article will highlight a different approach to subgrouping, the Treatment-Based Classification System. This is a post that I previously wrote on this system.

“There are 4 primary LBP classification systems that attempt to match treatments to subgroups of patients using a clinically driven decision-making process: 1. the mechanical diagnosis and therapy classification model described by McKenzie, 2. the movement system impairment syndromes model described by Sahrmann, 3. the mechanism-based classification system described by O’Sullivan and 4. the treatment-based classification system described by Delitto et al.”

I won’t hide from my deficiencies.  I am well versed in the MDT system and fairly well versed in the treatment based classification system.  I am not well versed in the MIS or the MBC.  I will limit my advice to that which I am knowledgeable.

Yet, these systems-without exceptions- have 4 main shortcomings:

  1. No single system is comprehensive enough in considering the various clinical presentations of patients with LBP or how to account for changes in the patient’s status during an episode of care.
  2. Each system has some elements that are difficult to implement clinically because they require expert understanding in order to be utilizied efficiently.
  3. None of these classification systems consider the possibility that some patients with LBP do not require any medical or rehabilitation intervention and are amendable for self-care management.
  4. The degree to which the psychosocial factors are considered varies greatly among these systems, which runs contrary to the clinical practice guidelines established by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) that advocate using the biopsychosocial model as a basis for classification.”

I will address these points regarding my knowledge of MDT and TBC.  I will not address the MIS or the MBC due to my lack of knowledge regarding these systems.

1. No single system is comprehensive enough or accounts for changes in status during an episode of care.

First, I can’t fully agree with this statement.  Yes, there is no system to date that can account for every patient that walks through the door.  This is true.  This is why a therapist must be well versed in multiple systems.  For instance, MDT is a system that doesn’t take into account non-movement based pain presentations.  When paired with an approach that takes this patient presentation into account, it makes for a great pairing.

The TBC does not account for change during the patient’s episode of care.  Once a patient is classified and the intervention is applied, there is no algorithm for further improvement or progression.

This is not true though for MDT.  For instance, a patient can be classified into one of three categories.  The first two categories have built in progressions, regressions and modifications to movement.  The third category is a category that doesn’t require much intervention aside from advice.

With the first category, derangement (another way to say this would be rapidly changing) there is a clear progression.  Let’s start with the term derangement.  No one likes this term to be used for patients.  It’s a long running joke that we should never tell patients that they have a derangement. Words do matter and the patient’s perception of this term may be just as important as our expectations for the patient.

Now, moving on to the important part of the post.  When a person is classified as a der…I mean a rapidly changing presentation, here is what the progression looks like in the clinic:

  1. Reduce the der…Dangit! I almost did it again.  Make the symptoms better quickly.
  2. Make sure that the patient can maintain the reduction in symptoms.
  3. Return to the functional activities that the patient would normally do during the day without reproducing symptoms
  4. Teach how to prevent the symptoms from returning

That seems like a fairly simple strategy when bringing patients through a program in PT, but unfortunately this simple construct is lost on a lot of professionals.

 

Why you ask?

 

Thanks for asking.

 

Because unfortunately, there is no profit in getting people better.  Shhhh….You didn’t hear it from me.

 

Regarding the second category of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy: Dysfunctional tissues, it also comes with a game plan that is easier to follow than the first, but not as fun to implement.

Also, the name dysfunction is another term that I have gotten away from in the clinic.  Again, patients don’t want to be deranged or dysfunctional, although if given the choice, I would much rather have a derangement.  They want to know is it going to improve and if yes, what’s the timeline.

These issues are like hamstring or achilles problems…they tend to get better if left alone until….WHAM! You goin for a quick sprint to keep your child from running out of the door at the grocery store.  OR you run down the stairs because you are feeling froggy.

It let’s you know….DUFUS! YOU NEVER CORRECTED THIS PROBLEM!

This tissue issue (say that 5 times fast!) needs to be loaded to the point of pain and then allowed to recover before it is loaded again.

Like one of my mentors Annie O’Connor says in her courses “No pain… No gain…No guts…No glory”

This example is rarely used in therapy, but this is one case in which this example is fitting.  Ideally, this tissue is loaded consistently.  I have seen research that states the achilles tendon should be loaded about 1200X/week.  That’s a whole hell of a lot of repetitions.

As a matter of fact, if you would like to read more about this, you can find a previous article that I commented at this link.

  1. “Each system has some elements that are difficult to implement clinically because they require expert understanding in order to be utilized efficiently.”

I would wholeheartedly agree with this statement.  There is research that demonstrates good reliability when MDT is applied by those that have taken, and passed, the credentialing exam.  It has been shown multiple times, but here is one of the more current articles.

The systems are not easy to use, nor should they be easy to utilize.  It irritates me to no end when I hear about a therapist “using the McKenzie exercises” even though he/she has no idea regarding the wrongness of the statement.  Open mouth…insert foot.

There has to be something sacrificed in order to learn a method or system.  Time, money, life…these are all things that I sacrificed in order to get to where I am at in my career, which much to learn remaining.

 

“None of these classification systems consider the possibility that some patients with LBP do not require any medical or rehabilitation intervention and are amendable for self-care management.”

Again, can I disagree with these statements.  At one of the MDT conferences (they blend together), Nadine Foster presented on the STarTBack screening tool.  MDT is advancing to keep up with the research.

Those that keep up with the research or attend MDT-based conference, understands that not all patients require follow-up, or even an evaluation!  Some patients do get better with time.

To follow-up with this, there is still one classification that I didn’t describe yet. This is the postural syndrome. In this syndrome, the patient has no signs or symptoms of a problem…unless he/she maintains one position for too long.  Once the patient moves from that position…the symptoms disappear.  It’s like Wizzo (it’s a Chicago thing).  I bet you didn’t know that you were going to get a history lesson.

“The degree to which the psychosocial factors are considered varies greatly among these systems, which runs contrary to the clinical practice guidelines established by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) that advocate using the biopsychosocial model as a basis for classification.”

I agree with this, in that MDT or the TBCS doesn’t appear to utilize psychosocial factors in classifying patients.  There is another classification that appears to be paired well with MDT.  Check out this podcast with Annie describing this system.

This will be continued in the next article that goes more into depth on TBCS.

If you would like to read the article highlighted above, you can find it at this link.

Thanks for reading.  For those that gained a little knowledge from this article…please share so others can learn about classification of low back pain.

 

 

A novel case study

I was just speaking about this case to one of the PTs that works with me this week, and felt it a good learning opportunity to post to the inter webs.

78 year old male was referred to me from another PT. The patient underwent 6 weeks of PT with another therapist also certified in MDT.

I helped train that PT and she felt that the patient should be referred to me to see if there was anything missed during the appointments.

The patient had an extrusion at L3, affecting quad strength. He also had a loss of light touch sensation at the anterior thigh.

His only complaint was pain that would wake him up at 2 AM, which was very intense. He would take a Norco and walk for 30-45 minutes to reduce his pain. He could sleep until 6 or 7 AM, which is when the excruciating pain would return. Again, he would take a Norco and walk. The pain would go away and not return the rest of the day until 2AM. He was very active with Tai Chi and Kung Fu over 10 hrs per week.

His only complaint was pain in the middle of the night.

I couldn’t provoke his pain during the evaluation.

He had already been through 6 weeks of PT without change, so I was only trying to figure out his sleep issue.

I had a working hypothesis

1. Overnight, the disc imbibes fluid and increases in size.

2. It was possible that the change in fluid content was increasing his pain since the pain went away when he was up walking during the night

3. If I could prevent the disc from taking on fluid, his pain might shut off

That was my only thought pattern that made sense for his symptoms.

I had him sleep in a recliner and to call me in 2 days with the result.

He was painfree in the recliner and did not wake at all.

Because he already had 6 weeks with an MDT trained clinician, I didn’t feel that bringing him into the clinic was going to be productive, so I followed by phone.

After two weeks, which is how long it is expected to see results if given the right direction and load, he was able to return to bed without waking.

This patient returned to therapy for a different issue a year later and we had a conversation about his back (he was seeing a different therapist). His strength recovered and he didn’t require surgery.

Moral of the story:

1. Sometimes you have to think outside of the box

2. Don’t let the image dictate treatment

3. Only treat the patient if we can improve their lot in life

4. Always develop a relationship with the patient you are treating.