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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.

Hip impingement? Is there a place for PT?

“surgical rates for correction of FAI have escalated, despite limited evidence to support a cause – and – affect relationship between FAI and hip pain.”

It is said that there is an 18X increase in procedures over the decade Studied.

The fact that this surgery has increased at such a dramatic rate may be a result of who the patient sees for the problem.

Physical Therapists do physical therapy.

Surgeons do surgery.

Pain management do management of pain through chemical means.

Chiropractors do chiropractic medicine.

Acupuncturists do acupuncture.

It’s a very easy equation to figure out. Who you see to manage your symptoms will dictate what is done for your symptoms.

“… The evidence from these studies is mostly level four (low level), the reported results are short term, and at least one studies suggest a notably lower level of sport activity at three years surgery. Currently, there are no high – quality randomized studies examining the effectiveness of surgery for FAI”

This makes it difficult to make a broad statement due to the lack of controlled research. For instance, a sham surgery (a surgery in which the patient is cut, but nothing else is done) compared to an actual surgery would start to give us information on the value of the surgery.

Looks like the study is in the process of being Completed.

I personally like case studies and case reports because sometimes a “classic study”, such as a randomized controlled study, may not capture the characteristics of the patient in front of the health care professional.

“75% of surgeons believe that FAI surgery prevent future osteoarthritis, although 62% of the surgeons were either unsure of or did not believe there was an optimal debridement of SAI lesions to prevent future osteoarthritis”

A belief plus 5 dollars will buy a coffee at Starbucks.

Not a fan of these types of studies because it demonstrates the bias of the profession. The shocking statistic is the reverse. The fact that 25% of surgeons don’t believe that surgery prevents future OA is cool. Unfortunately, we don’t know the education level, outside of the fact that the people polled were surgeons, of each person in the poll. For instance, if it’s the best of the bell curve that believe surgery has no effect on OA, then I may side with that opinion. We just have to think critically when reading these numbers.

“… The fact that 34% of both pediatric and adult patients diagnosed with FBI stated that they I knew they wanted FAI surgery (21% not willing to try conservative therapy for six months) suggest that orthopedic/sports patient has a propensity for overconfidence in surgery as the gold standard treatment.”

We are all salespeople for our profession.

Don’t believe me…just check out how many people are selling PTs education on Sales tactics and marketing.

It seems that surgeons are doing a great job of sales in that 1 in 3 believe that surgery is the answer.

As PTs, many of us are learning how our language affects the patient, both positive and negative.

It would be easy for me to convince a patient that they are weak and need us, but I don’t know if that is doing more of a service or disservice st that point.

“We think we could all benefit from learning from our past, when, despite similar increased endorsement of surgical intervention (746% increase in shoulder arthroscopy for impingement over a ten-year span), surgical patients fared no better than those treated conservatively.”

Yup.

Another way to say conservative = non surgical.

I’m going to leave this final quote from the article as the final statement. 👇

“Stop accepting morphology as pathology”

Link to the article

Life purpose and changes

“If you want to change the world, you have to enroll others in your plans and vision.”

Adam Robinson

About 2 years ago I started a blog. It was just for fun and the premise behind the blog is this “the only knowledge wasted is the knowledge not shared”. I saw this quote on a t-shirt; a blog was born.

My goal is to provide high quality content to readers through this blog in order to assist them with making decisions regarding choosing a health care practitioner. The secondary goal is to educate physical therapists at least up to the point of at patients. It sounds cynical that I believe that some patients have more knowledge than the PT, but I also believe that the patient has more to lose and more at stake than the PT.

The PT only has a paycheck at stake, maybe a reputation. The patient has life limitations and issues that may prevent them from truly experiencing life. That way more at stake than the PT has on the line. In this fashion, I have seen patients becoming smarter over the years through forums, FB groups, reading blogs and watching videos.

The reason why I say high quality content is because there are a lot of lies and misinformation on the World Wide Web (internet). Healthcare professionals prey on the weak and ignorant to take their money using scare tactics and unrealistic hype.

I ain’t got nothing to sell you other than making you a better human through work. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I have increasing demands on my time with a family, managing multiple clinics, treating patients and community involvement.

My posts will become fewer and fewer as I try to fit them into my life instead of fitting my life around my work.

Love your life or change it

Dr. Vince Gutierrez, PT

Rehabilitation after a shoulder replacement: What’s the norm?

“There is growing belief among orthopaedic providers that how much formal physical rehabilitation a patient receives is influenced by the patient’s insurance and its willingness to pay for various postoperative therapies.”

This makes sense. Many patients aren’t aware of how much their insurance will cover regarding physical therapy. For example, Medicare will cover 80% of physical therapy after the deductible is met. The deductible is $183. In our state, average coverage of physical therapy is about $90/session. This means that the patient would be responsible for 20% of the $90, or $18/session. This makes the assumption that the patient does not have a secondary insurance that may cover the 20% that Medicare doesn’t cover.

Medicare will cover all PT that is considered medically necessary and cases that go above $3,000 are subject to a manual medical review. This would be about 33 visits per year. Speak to your PT about this in order to verify this information. Each clinic charges a little differently than others and these are the averages in my experience.

Unfortunately, many people that have Medicare as their primary insurance do not understand the physical therapy benefits associated with this insurance.

“A recent study challenged the need for formal physical rehabilitation after anatomic total shoulder arthroplasty (TSA), finding that a home-based, physician-guided therapy program provided similar results with lower costs.”

If a patient can get better without going to PT, we should all be in support of this.

This study tracked patients with Human, which included 20.9 million people. This is a huge sample size. This information was compared with a 5% sampling file of patients utilizing traditional Medicare. The study collected data for a long period of time, from 2010-2015 and the patients had to undergo a TSA or RSA (reverse shoulder arthroplasty). Rehablitation visits were tracked for 6 months after surgery, by tracking charges that are traditionally utilized in rehabilitation. Any date that a specific charge was utilized was counted as 1 visit.

The grouping was paired as follows: 0 visits of rehabilitation, 1-5 visits of rehabilitation, 6-10 visits of rehabilitation, 11-15 visits of rehabilitation, 16-20 visits of rehabilitation, 21-25 visits of rehabilitation, 26-30 visits of rehabilitation and greater than 30 visits.

“The study included 16,507 patients”

This was a huge number of patients. This strengthens the reach of the research. The more patients that are included in a research study, the stronger the statement can be made (regardless of the statement) at the end of the study.

“In general, the Humana cohort had higher overall physical rehabilitation utilization than did the Medicare population across all factors.”

Patients with Medicare are not treated in physical therapy as much as non-Medicare patients.

“The Humana and Medicare populations had a similar percentage of patients with 0 visits.”

“The Humana population had a higher percentage of patients in all visit categories above 1 to 5 visits”

“…with the Midwest having significantly less physical rehabilitation utilization, which is best demonstrated by 69% of patients in the Midwest undergoing only 5 or fewer physical rehabilitation visits, compared to only 54% of patients in the Northeast and 53% of patients in the West.”

This is the anomaly that I would like to know more regarding. Why do patients in the Midwest choose to not utilize PT? This could be poor education of patients regarding the importance of PT. It could also be that PT’s in the Midwest are following more of a HEP based protocol and only having patients return to update the HEP.

“the possibility of patient-directed rehabilitation at home having equivalent outcomes to formal office-based physical rehabilitation was brought to the forefront after Mulieri et al demonstrated equivalent outcomes after TSA when comparing the 2 therapy programs.”

This is a study that I will attempt to get in the next couple of weeks. If a patient does not need PT services in order to improve function, then Boo Hoo for our profession, but we have to do what is best and right by the patient. Should this study demonstrate that PT’s aren’t able to provide additional value beyond not performing therapy, then patient’s should not seek out PT.

I’d like to believe that we have a place in the rehabilitation process post TSA, but I also don’t think that our place is one of > 20 visits.

Excerpts taken from:

Wagner ER, Solberg M, Higgins LD. The Utilization of Formal Physical Therapy After Shoulder Arthroplasty. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2018;48(11):856-863.

 

One piece of equipment that may benefit your rehab process after a shoulder surgery is the following:

https://amzn.to/2BHMpX7

I find that over the door pulleys are easy to use and quick to install.

 

Plantar Fasciitis and Ultrasound: questionable at best

“The plantarfascia is a thick, nonelastic, multilayered connective tissue crossing the plantar part of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is the main cause of pain in the plantar surface of the heel.”

The plantarfascia is located at the bottom of the foot, between the heel and the toes.   It is very thick and a tough band.

A part of physical therapy school includes dissecting the human body.  Some people find this disgusting, but it is actually an honor.  We were told that only 5% of college students will ever be able to dissect the human.  The bottom of the foot is very intricate. There are multiple layers of muscles, but the plantar fascia is a very taut band that requires a scalpel in order to tear.  In other words, it is very strong tissue.

“In the United States, more than 2 million people are treated for plantar fasciitis every year…the most common signs for identifying plantar fasciitis are pain and tenderness in the medial …heel bone, as well as an increase in pain when taking first steps in the morning and pain in prolonged weight bearing.”

First, plantar fasciitis is mostly diagnosed through a patient’s history.

Second, there are a lot of people with plantar fasciitis that seek out treatment.

This leads us to the next statement from the article

“…researchers have not determined the most effective combination of treatments due to the dearth of high quality research in this area.”

Feel good about this condition yet? So many treatment options are available, but few with solid research to back them up.

If you are interested in learning more, check out this  Link

“One of the most widely used electrical devices among physical therapists in Israel and worldwide is therapeutic ultrasound…Yet there is insufficient high quality scientific evidence to support the clinical use of therapeutic ultrasound in treating musculoskeletal problems.”

I find it funny that PT’s should know this information and yet they act opposite of what the evidence indicates.  There are running jokes that using ultrasound may be just as effective turned off as when turned on.

If your PT continues to utilize ultrasound, ask why?

Sometimes the answer may simply be: it is easy, it can be charged and it will do no harm.

Treatment:

Both groups were given stretches for the Achilles/calf and the plantar fascia.  One group was issued ultrasound at a higher intensity in order to create a thermal effect and the other group was given ultrasound that was low intensity and not postulated to have any physiological effect, as the intensity was low and the depth of treatment was considered more superficial.

There was no significant difference in the number of treatments per group.

Result: There was no additive effect of ultrasound on the treatment of plantar fasciitis for pain, function or quality of life.

There are reasons to use ultrasound from a business perspective, but the more and more that I read research I find fewer reasons to perform the intervention medically.

Reference:

Yigal K, Haidukov M, Berland OM et al. Additive Effect of Therapeutic Ultrasound in the Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Orthop Sports Phys. 2018;48(11):847-855.

ACL rehab

“At 13 months post ACLR (Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction), individuals exhibited average knee extensor moments that were 17% smaller in the surgical limb during a bilateral squat against body-weight resistance”

ACL injuries tend to be noted in some non-contact sports such as soccer and basketball. Contact sports, such as football, also have ACL tears noted during contact, such as a tackle that makes the knee buckle inwards.

The patient with an ACL tear will typically opt for surgery if he/she plans on returning to some type of sporting activity. There is a debate as to whether or not to have the surgery if there will be no return to sporting activity.

After the ACL surgery, the research above notes that patients are less likely to use the surgical side during a squatting activity (think getting up from the toilet) and will push more with the non-surgical side.

This makes sense to me. After the surgery, the patient is in a locked long leg brace and is unable to move fluidly on the affected leg. The patient will not spend as much time on the surgical leg because of this and will transfer the weight to the non-surgical side. It becomes a learned habit to transfer the weight to the non-surgical side, but this is just my opinion.

 

“The persistence of under-loading is concerning, as asymmetrical limb loading during landing tasks has been linked to increased risk for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reinjury”

This is important! If we never get the patient to load the leg in order to improve strength and motor control (ability move in the way that the brain dictates), then the patient is at a higher risk of future injuries.

Let me clarify: if you squat and allow your legs to go wet noodle during the squat, it will look like a knocked-kneed version of a squat. This is not inherently horrible, but when asking the body to absorb a large load in this positon, when not trained to absorb this load, may lead to an injury. It all comes down to progressively loading specific positions in order to learn how to hold this position.

This is a major component of Olympic weightling compared to powerlifting. In the performance of the snatch (the most explosive movement in sports), maintaining proper position is extremely important for completing the lift. In powerlifting, the position may be able to be off a little and the athlete can overcome the small error in position.

With regards to ACL rehabilitation, it is important that we ensure that the patient is able to have enough strength to maintain positions without the load (bodyweight jumps, external weight, etc) dictating positional changes.

 

“…the bilateral multijoint nature of a squat allows for compensations that can shift the task demands to the nonsurgical limb (interlimb compensation) or to adjacent joints within the surgical limb (intralimb compensation) to reduce knee extensor moments.”

The bodyweight squat can be performed differently and switches the load from either the hip to the knee.

If you watch someone squat (recommended for all people that will attempt to squat), the person should both watch the knee and the hip. If you look at opening and closing, this will be much easier.

  1. Watch the knee to see how much the knee “closes” or how much the angle changes from the calf to the hamstring
  2. Watch the hip to see how much the hip “closes” or how much the angle changes from the trunk to the thigh

Which joint moves more?

This will help the reader to understand whether the knee joint muscles or hip joint muscles will be the dominant movers during the squat. Those that have knee issues will tend to move the hip joint muscles more than knee joint muscles.

I’ll make a video on this at a later date.

 

“…individuals 1 month post ACLR performed bilateral sit-to-stand tasks with a 38% reduction in vertical ground reaction forces (vGRFs) in the surgical limb”

This very simply means that the person is pushing less with the surgical leg than the non-surgical leg.

This means that the surgical leg is taking less force through it and will not be able to generate the same amount of power. Also, it is typical to see the patient weight shifting towards the non-surgical leg.

“reduced knee extensor moments have been found along with increased hip extensor moments…may rely on interlimb compensations to unload the knee during early rehabilitation but adopt intralimb compensations as they progress through rehabilitation.”

This goes back to the differences in a powerlifting based squat and an Olympic weightlifting based squat. The more upright the torso, the more that the knee takes a load and the less upright the torso, the more the back and hips will take the load.

I am having this exact conversation with a patient currently following an ACLR, attempting to get the patient to increase the load on the knee.

“During early rehabilitation, strategies for restoring symmetrical weight bearing during bilateral tasks should be emphasized and reinforced even during submaximal tasks…efforts should be made to continue to focus on sagittal plane knee loading and avoid compensation with the hip extensors.”

I tend to use a mirror for visual feedback in order to allow the patient to see the weight shift between the legs. This tends to fix the problems for weight shifting. We then progress to doing the squatting motion away from a mirror in order to build in positional awareness without the need for visual cues.

In order to improve the knee to hip ratio regarding which joint moves more, the cues will switch from sitting back on a chair (similar to a box squat which is hip hinge emphasizd) to emphasizing sitting between the feet (similar to an overhead squat) which is more knee joint driven.

If you don’t have a PT that understands how to squat, this may be a difficult movement to restore with physical therapy alone.

It may be prudent to ask your PT to describe a squat prior to starting therapy in order to ensure that your therapist has at least a baseline knowledge of squatting.

If the therapist doesn’t start describing multiple techniques for squatting based on body shape, then the therapist may not be well versed in the movement.

If you have any questions about squatting or ACLR rehabilitation…comment below.

Article: https://www.jospt.org/doi/abs/10.2519/jospt.2018.7977

 

You can find me at Primarycarejoliet.com and wherever you subscribe to podcasts at A physio’s perspective: movementthinker.