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Case study of two patients with sciatica

Check out my episode “Episode 15” from Movementthinker: a physio’s perspective on Anchor: https://anchor.fm/vincent-gutierrez/episodes/Episode-15-e2bkk9

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Back pain using MDT

“Low back pain is the worldwide leading cause of years lived with disability, with an estimated point prevalence of 9.4% and a lifetime prevalence of up to 39%”

If three people are sitting together, the odds are that one of those three had back pain, has back pain or will have back pain. That kind of sucks, unless your the one of the people without pain.

Point prevalence means that any one point in time about 10% of the population will have back pain. There are about 320 million-ish adults in the US. This means that about 30 million adults have back pain at any one point in time.

It’s a great time to be a PT, if we can educate the public that we are well trained and capable of treating back pain.

For patients reading this, not all PTs are equal and just like with a surgical procedure, you’d probably get a couple of opinions before making a decision on YOUR Guy or Gal (after you gain trust in the person all of a sudden they become YOURS). I get it! Some people call me their guy, but I’d like for more people to call me their guy.

***tangent: patients are paying more for healthcare. This could be in the form of a higher deductible, copay, coinsurance or straight cash based. As a patient, you should be looking around for the person that gives you the best value for your dollar. If you ever have questions regarding your treatment, feel free to message me and ask me questions in a free conversation. I have a long commute daily and love having these conversations, which have become a weekly occurrence. You can find me Here

“The presence of centralization is associated with good prognosis in patients with low back pain…recent studies have shown that directional preference and centralization, when I matched with adequate MDT treatment, result in better patient outcomes and then treatment with general range of motion exercises”

Centralization?🤔 I wonder what that is?

If you’re new to this page, you can go back and read my old posts on centralization here

Just know that centralization has been called the trump card to helping patients with back pain…it’s that powerful that it darn near always wins for the patient.

“The level of MDT training should also be considered, as it may impact interventions and risk-adjusted functional outcomes.”

Studies have been Published questioning the reliability of using MDT. I believe that these studies need to be looked at in depth because this particular study shows that those not certified in the method may not be the most reliable in noting a particular “syndrome” in the patient’s presentation. The level of training appears to play a role in the therapist’s ability to assess a Patient.

“only trails in which of therapists were MDT trained were included. To be considered MDT trained, therapist were required to have participated in at least one course offered by the McKenzie institute international focused on applying MDT to patients with LBP”

Based on the above research links, just using therapists that have taken courses in MDT decreases the likelihood that a reliable classification took place, therefore reducing the likelihood that the patient was treated according to the proper principle and finally leads me to believe that I was wasting my time in reading the remainder of the article….I digress. I read it anyways to hear what’s being talked about regarding MDT, both good and bad.

“review were’s screen 354 abstracts and selected 51 articles for fall text review. After review, 17 articles were retained for the meta-analysis; however, of these 17 studies, four did not provide sufficient data to be included in the statistical analyses”

This is part of the problem that I have with systematic reviews and meta analyses. So much of the research gets discarded and not used in the actual article, that we then start to see researcher bias based on the question asked and how the researchers go about obtaining information. Think of it, only 5% of the actual information that they found on their initial screen actually makes it to the cutting room floor.

“MDT versus manual therapy plus exercise: there was moderate evidence of a significant difference in pain after the intervention, with results favoring MDT…There was moderate evidence of no significant difference in disability after the intervention period between MDT and manual therapy plus exercise.”

I think this is 👌. Understanding that MDT is the assessment first and treatment second one must also understand the components of MDT. MDT incorporates manual therapy, exercises, postures and positions. This means that there is something specific to the way that manual therapy and exercises are prescribed in MDT that has a greater affect on pain that just manual therapy and exercise together.

No effect on disability or function over a time period is also not surprising for me. It’s well known amongst those of us that use this method that returning a patient to function is not well taught in MDT, as there are many other courses and methods that speak to this. MDT follows a certain paradigm, with returning to function as part of the paradigm, but because it varies widely from patient to patient, it is best learned from other resources.

“this study found that MDT plus first – line care resulted in significant, but small, improvement in pain intensity compared to first – line care only.”

This is significant! But small. For anyone going to an ED for back pain, they are in significant pain. I’ve spent part of my career working in an ED for this exact population. In the time I worked in the ED, only one patient was unable to find a position, movement or posture that provided relief. This is significant because these patients were able to receive the right care through an outpatient means instead of being admitted to the hospital for “non-specific low back pain”.

These patients didn’t receive the rapid MRI, which in some cases may actually make the patient worse over time. These patients didn’t have a hefty hospital bill and these patients were able to recover in their natural environment thereby reducing the risk of infectious disease acquired in the hospital.

This is significant!

“One study included in the review, despite lacking data for analysis, compared MDT to education and found no significant between – group differences for changes in disability.”

This is not too shocking for me. If the pain is acute (started recently), we know that many with back pain will get some relief over time. Education is powerful in and of itself and a large part of MDT is education based.

If both utilize education as the base for acute pain, then the outcomes may not be much different. No shock here!

“There was moderate evidence of a significant difference in pain after the intervention period, with the results favoring MDT. ”

MDT is a patient response system. This means that after every movement, position or posture the therapist is asking the patient if it reduced symptoms. If the answer is yes, then the PT will typically issue this for a home program. 🙄

It’s no wonder that the system is pretty good at reducing pain in a specific classification; the therapist is giving exercises that have been shown to reduce pain/symptoms.

“Two studies included in the review, which lacked sufficient data to be included in the meta-analysis comparing MDT to modalities, found significant between-group differences for changes in pain, favoring MDT.”

Again, comparing an active intervention (patient takes part in the intervention) to passive interventions (treatment is done to the patient) is expected to lead to an outcome favoring the active intervention. There are multiple reasons for this, but one may simply be interactions with another individual during the session.

“Three studies compared the effects of MDT to combined manual therapy plus exercise in participants with chronic LBP…There was moderate evidence of no significant difference in pain after the intervention period between interventions…There was high quality evidence of no significant difference in disability after the intervention period between interventions.”

Again, this is not too difficult. As a treatment strategy MDT is literally manual therapy plus exercise. It’s comparing two similar interventions, with similar results.

“One study had 2 comparison intervention groups consisting of either MDT exercise in the opposite direction as the directional preference or midrange lumbar/stretching exercises. Only this latter group was included as the comparison to MDT in the current analysis.”

This is the part of the analysis that I don’t quite understand. Why bother 🤷‍♂️ comparing the interventions if one of the treatment groups is removed?

This article is cited frequently by PTs trained in MDT and you can read my analysis of the article Here

Removing one of the groups, specifically the opposite directional preference group, greatly changes how that article impacts the reader.

“There was high quality evidence of a significant difference in disability after the intervention period, with the results favoring MDT.”

Even with removing the group of patients that had a high dropout rate and poorer outcomes, the article still favored MDT over “evidence based” interventions.

“Also, MDT does not explicitly account for pain systems theory, specifically differentiating between pain that is central or peripheral in origin, and for a wider spectrum of psychological factors that could be present in patients with chronic low back pain. ”

This is a good point and those that are well versed in the system would state that there are other classification systems out there that would include this pain system. If you are interested in these systems, I highly encourage readers to take a course by Annie O’Connor, author of A World or Hurt.

You can learn more about Annie by following this Link

Thanks for reading.

Since my last post, I’ve gone through a major job change. I can now be found at PCJ

What would it take to convince you as a patient to give a PT with an MDT certification a chance?

What would it take to convince you as a PT to take an MDT course?

Link to article

PTA’s in an outpatient setting continued

“Low back pain syndromes (LBPS) affect more than 65 million Americans…For approximately 16 million people (8%), back pain is persistent or chronic…”

If you have a little bit of free time, you can read about back pain here.

“…a quarter of all referrals for outpatient physical therapy and one-half of all outpatient physical therapy visits are related to patients with LBPS.”

Hey New Grad ✊ are you 👂?

If you want to get really good at something and ensure job stability, then you should learn as much as you can about back pain.

If one out of every two visits per day is related to back pain, we should all be very comfortable with this diagnosis.

In my first job, I’d say that I had 2,500 visits per year with about 95% of those pertaining to the spine.

“Resnik et al reported that patients who spent more than half of their treatment episode of care with a physical therapist assistant reported worse functional outcomes and utilized more visits compared with patients with less physical therapist assistant involvement.”

Again, this is the second post in the series on PTA’s usage in the outpatient setting.  You can find the first post here.

“It is generally assumed that practitioners must possess many years of clinical experience to achieve the best results with patients and that years of experience are associated with better clinical outcomes.”

What?! I don’t agree with this.

Unfortunately, not all experience is good experience. I’ve read Tony Delitto state in an article that one year repeated twenty times is it ideal. I would much rather have a PT with two years of experience and two years worth of learning from mistakes.

“Almost half of the sample had chronic low back pain.”

This is in line with some of the statistics that I’ve heard stating that back pain makes up about 40% of all chronic pain.

“The top 3 diagnoses were pain (34.8%), sprain or strain (25.5%), and herniated disk (19.3).”

About 90-95% of all back pain is “non-specific”, meaning that we can’t attribute it to a specific tissue strain or sprain. Herniated did a are common in the population, but we can’t always attribute a herniated disc (HNP) as the cause of pain.

“On average, patients in the best clinic performance group improved 19.2 OHS points, while patients in the worst clinic performance group improved an average of 16.4 OHS points.”

This is great news!

This means that on average people get better. I used to work in a clinic in which the manager would try to schedule people with back pain as soon as possible. If we know that they will likely improve and they improve on our watch, then they are likely to use post hoc reasoning and attribute improvement to seeing the PT.

I used to joke with patients and say that they simply need to breathe the city air in the basement of the hospital in order to improve. Obviously, it’s a joke, but we have to tell patients that most injuries improve with time.

“Patients in the best clinic performance group utilized, on average, 7.7 (SD = 4.1) visits per treatment episode compared with 7.9 (SD = 4.1) in the middle clinic performance group and 9.3 (SD = 4.9) in the worst clinic performance group.”

This is where it gets interesting. There wasn’t a major difference in outcomes on the scoring improvement, but some clinics needed an extra 2 visits compared to other clinics, on average.

If an average PT sees 5 evaluations per week and it takes an extra 2 visits, then that ONE PT is averaging an extra 20 visits per month (assuming half of the evaluations are back pain). This means that the therapist keeping patients for more visits is making the clinic an extra $2,000 per month from taking longer to discharge patients.

“…clinics that were lower utilizers of physical therapist assistants were 6.6 times more likely to be classified into the high effectiveness group compared with the low effectiveness group, 6.7 times more likely to be classified into the low utilization group compared with the high utilized group, and 12.4 times more likely to be classified into the best performance group compared with the worst performance group.”

This is essentially stating that clinics that use PTAs with a lower frequency in outpatient tend to be better in terms of outcomes and faster to discharge. This mirrors the link to the study from above.

For me this is interesting because I would have never thought to ask the question in the first place. It’s good to see that someone is doing this research to help clinicians in their decisions to 1. Choose between PT and PTA school and 2. Utilize PTAs and how to best utilize PTAs in an outpatient setting.

“Our strongest finding was that clinics that had lower utilization of physical therapist assistants were much more likely to be in the “best” category of each type of group (i.e. highest effectiveness, lowest utilization, and overall performance).”

Link to article

Physio and whiplash

“Whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) is the term given to the variety of symptoms often reported by people following acceleration/deceleration injury to the neck.”

Most people understand the term whiplash is related to an auto accident. After the basics, everything else is like the teacher from the Charlie Brown An acceleration/deceleration injury is exactly what it sounds like.  I’m sure that if you have an older sibling you understand this concept.  My friends, I won’t say any names (Tom and Carl) used to brake abruptly to see if they could get someone to spill their drink.  It’s kind of like that, only more forceful.

When the car comes to an abrupt stop, the body will continue forward thanks to the laws of inertia.  It will typically be stopped by a seatbelt.  Some though, may be stopped by a windshield.

“Cardinal symptom is neck pain but neck stiffness, dizziness, paresthesia/anesthesia in the upper quadrant, headache and arm pain are also commonly reported.”

I have seen a plethora of patients after a motor vehicle accident (MVA).  Neck pain and stiffness seem to be the most common complaint anecdotally, but I have also seen the headache and arm symptoms.

Part of the problem with such diffuse symptoms is that not every professional will treat the patient, but instead will treat the situation.  This means that when a patient presents with symptoms that may not make sense, the professional then inserts individual bias and believes that the patient must be making up the symptoms.  I have seen this over the years in which the PT/PTA/PA/MD believe that the patient is FOS (not a medical abbreviation).  Be that the case, it is still our job to try to help that patient.  If the patient is exaggerating symptoms, we still have to sift through the exaggerations in order to determine what is organic (with a physical cause) and what is non-organic (without physical cause).

“…whiplash injuries comprise (about) 75% of all survivable road traffic crash injuries.”

Just this year I was involved in two MVA’s.  Neither of which were my fault.  As an aside, I have never met anyone that said an accident was his/her fault, in the clinic at least.  Luckily, both MVA’s that I was involved the other person admitted fault immediately.  The first accident involved me T-boning another car doing 45 mph (someone tried making a U-turn on a 4 lane highway). I experienced shock during the first accident and it took me a while to calm down.  I had back pain and neck pain, but as a professional, I knew that it would subside on its own.  This is exactly what happened, over the course of a month.  The best thing that I did was return to lifting and normal activities.  The second accident involved me being rear-ended with the other person going 40-45 mph.  Again, I had some back and neck pain.

Body heal thyself.  Father time is a powerful motivator and I was back to 100% within a couple of months.

“Consistent with international data indicate that approximately 50% of people who sustain a whiplash injury will not recover but will continue to report ongoing pain and disability one year after the injury”

There are so many variables that go into a person experiencing chronic pain.  Extent of tissue damage is not the only variable that needs to be assessed.  Sometimes people just feel wronged by life and this stress of life may contribute to symptoms.

We know that most tissue damage heals relatively quickly (at least quickly when relative to a lifespan).

“…recovery, if it occurs, takes place within the first 2-3 months following the injury with a plateau in recovery following this time point”

We know that most healing takes place over the course of weeks to months.  With this, we have to question the cause of this roadblock to recovery.  Is it truly tissue damage or is there something else at play?

“…good recovery, where initial levels of pain-related disability were mild to moderate and recovery was good, with 45% of people predicted to follow this pathway”

Glass half empty/Glass half full?

About half of the people with WAD will experience a good outcome.  Considering that not much has to be done with this group, I can see some healthcare providers taking responsibility for good outcomes.  I used to work for a clinic that tried to get people into the clinic as fast as possible with the idea being that if we don’t get the patient in fast enough, then the patient may get better on his/her own.

Think about that? We know that most things get better with time, so we want the patient to believe that it was us and our treatment that helped them the most.  As much as I can see this from a marketing perspective, from a global health perspective…it just ain’t right.

Sometimes the patients just need some advice to stay active and come back in 4-6 weeks if there is no change in symptoms.

I was in a course once talking to a PT and I asked that therapist, who also happened to be a business owner: “how do you know that you have had a successful episode of care?”

That therapist’s answer was: “The insurance has been exhausted”

Whether the therapist was joking or not, the fact that this perception is out there that the patient should be bled dry (at least monetarily) is disturbing.

Remember this when you are working in a clinic (if you’re a healthcare professional) or when you are going to see your healthcare professional.

“…initial moderate to severe pain-related disability, with some recovery but with disability levels remaining moderate at 12 months. Around 39% of injured people are predicted to follow this pathway.”

Now we are starting to play.  I use this term “play” as a measure of patient severity.  For instance, when playing basketball with my 4-year old, it’s not really playing the game as much as it is just toying around.  When playing the game against someone that I have never beaten before, I have to study the player, understand the player’s moves, his/her strengths and weaknesses, tendencies when under pressure, establish my game plan against their moves etc.  This is how I perceive a patient and symptoms when they enter the clinic.  I am studying that patient and the symptoms in order to best understand what that patient is experiencing.

I believe that only through understanding the tendencies of the symptoms are we truly able to help/assist the patient in this journey to reduce pain and return to full function.

“…involves initial severe pain-related disability and some recovery to moderate or severe disability, with 16% of individuals predicted to follow this pathway”

I love listening to this guy. He has a way of explaining severity of pain that is just not taught in most healthcare programs.  Understanding that pain is an experience is more important for the healthcare providers, because without this understanding, we can not explain this phenomenon to the patient.

“The most consistent risk factors for poor recovery are initially higher levels of reported pain and initially higher levels of disability.”

With this, the thought exists that we may be able to affect recovery with WAD if we can simply reduce pain.  We may be able to reduce pain in some populations through education.

Maybe we should attempt to use education as a means to reduce pain before we try other interventions such as heat, cold, manual therapy, etc.

It may go something like this:

Therapist: You know Mr. Smith, I have done my evaluation and there is some good news; you’re going to get better.

Mr. Smith: How do you know?

Therapist: There was nothing in my exam that showed that there was any major structural damage and we know that tissue injuries tend to improve on their own over the course of weeks to months.

Mr. Smith: That is good news!

“lower expectations of recovery have been shown to predict poor recovery”

This may be the factor that healthcare professionals should focus time trying to change.  As much as we speak to patients about tissue damage and injuries, we need to spend time in conversation understanding what they believe the barriers are to a successful recovery.

Taking the extra 10 minutes per session to have these conversations and together problem-solving ways to overcome these barriers may be more important than an extra 2 minutes on an arm bike or an extra set of banded rows etc.

Patients are people first and foremost and not a sum of body parts.  Breaking through perceived barriers is an important first step to providing the right interventions to patients.  Sometimes the intervention is only education and other times it may be more integrative of exercise, manual therapy and other modalities at our disposal.

“Some factors commonly assessed by physiotherapists do not show prognostic capacity. These factors include measures of motor and sensorimotor function such as the craniocervical flexion test, joint repositioning errors and balance loss”

We all learn tests and measures in school.  A great world would be inclusive of tests that actually mean something.  Testing balance and strength and positional awareness are all good tests to take time and give information to physicians or insurance companies, but in the end they don’t actually do much to tell the story of the patient.

We need to identify patients that will respond to therapy and those that may need for than just PT.  With that said, we also need to be able to identify those patients that will get better on their own.  Not all patients need to see a physical therapists, we just don’t have a way of telling one subset from another at this time.

“The QTF classification of whiplash injuries was put forward in 1995 and it remains the classification method still currently used throughout the world”

This is the Quebec Task Force Classification:

I No neck complaints and no physical signs
II Neck complaints of pain, stiffness or tenderness only and no physical signs
III Neck complaints and MS signs including 1. Decreased ROM 2. Point tenderness
IV Neck complaints and Neuro signs including: 1. Decreased or absent DTR 2. Muscle weakness 3. Sensory deficits
V Neck complaint and fracture or dislocation

“Current clinical guidelines for the management of acute WAD recommend that radiological imaging be undertaken only to detect WAD grade IV and that clinicians adhere to the Canadian C-Spine rule when making the decision to refer the patient for radiographic examination”

For those that are unfamiliar with, or forgot, the C-Spine rules (including myself), here is the link.

“…the same general examination procedures usually adopted for the examination of any cervical spine condition but with some additional procedures based on research findings of WAD”

When a patient presents to therapy, with complaints of neck pain, after a motor vehicle accident here are some things that a patient can expect (if you are a PT, then these are the things that we should be doing as an at least)

  1. Range of motion using a large compass
  2. Assessing strength in the arms/neck
  3. Assessing any loss of sensation
  4. Assessing loss of reflexes
  5. Assessing grip strength
  6. Assessing patient perception of symptoms using an outcome meaure
  7. Assessing joint integrity using special tests and symptom change
  8. Assessing nerve irritability

“…many patients with WAD will report diffuse symptoms of sensory loss or gain and generalised muscle weakness, both of which may be bilateral, but these findings do not necessarily indicate peripheral nerve compromise and may be a reflection of altered central nociceptive processes.”

Some clinicians think that if a symptom doesn’t match what was learned in school that the symptom must be made up.  We’ve all been around these clinicians that believe that patients must be “faking”, “malingering” or just out for the $$$ after an accident.

Truth is that we have no reliable way to tell if a patient is “faking”.  We may be able to tell if a patient is providing full effort during our examinations, but we can’t know anything beyond this.

The first thing that we need to understand is that the nervous system is complex.  Now, when I see a patient that reports increased sensitivity in an area, I report it as such.  Previously I would report a decreased sensation in the opposite side tested.  I didn’t understand, at that time, that a person could experience hypersensitivity in an area.

“…strong evidence for the presence of augmented central nervous system processing of nociception in chronic WAD and moderate evidence that cold hyperalgesia is associated with poor recovery from the injury”

The nervous system appears to be boss. When it is experiencing stress, it can drastically change how the person perceived different stimulus. I recently had a patient that was so sensitive that she noted her pain increased with the breeze from a ceiling fan.

Think of a car alarm set to really sensitive. We all have seen a car alarm that goes off from a sideways glance. This appears to be happening with the nervous system. The system has difficulty processing what is a real threat to the system and what is a normal stimulus.

Patients that have difficulty tolerating cold appear to have a heightened car alarm, which may indicate a poor overall recovery.

“The clinical course of WAD, where most recovery occurs in the first 2-3 months”

In my opinion there are too many of us in healthcare with big egos. We tend to use this basic rationale:

Patient got better. Patient was in physical therapy during this time of improvement. Physical therapy must be the reason the patient got better. 🤔

This type of logic is unfortunately mislead.

Other variables, such as time may have a role more so than the interventions performed during this time.

“The mainstay of management for acute WAD is the provision of advice encouraging return to usual activity and exercise, and this apprpach is advocated in current clinical guidelines.”

ADVICE!? That’s the mainstay?!

Not ultrasound?!

Not massage?!

Not electrical stimulation?!

How can this be?!

Body heal thyself. 💪🏼👊

“…recent systematic reviews concluding that there is only modest evidence available supporting activity/exercise for acute WAD. It is not clear which type of exercise is more effective or if specific exercise is more effective than general activty of merely advice to remain active.”

The 🥖 and butter of PT may or may not be affective for treating patients immediately post accident.

Lately, I have been seeing many of these patients and there is much education that goes into time based healing on the first few visits.

“…six sessions of physiotherapy was only slightly more effective than a single session of advice from a physiotherapist”

As much as it pains the many wallets of our profession, I definitely agree with this. Some patients that I have seen actually get some relief just from knowing the clinical expectations post WAD.

“…a graded functional exercise approach and advice demonstrated greater improvements in pain intensity, pain bothersomeness and functional ability, compared to advice alone.”

Think of those six sessions from above.  A traditional clinic may use 6 sessions in 2 weeks.  A clinic that understands the research may use those visits over the course of 6-8 weeks.

A graded functional exercise approach means that the patient is slowly performing more work load over the course of time in order to improve function.  This time period is probably no less than 6 weeks since we know that we see significant changes in strength and movement ability over the course of 6 weeks.

“…the recommendation to clinicians is that health outcomes should be monitored and treatment continued only when there is clear improvement.”

It’s unfortunate that this has to be said.  I have seen some patients treated in a clinic for months without appreciable improvements.  At some point, we have to do what is in the best interest for the patient first and foremost.  Having a patient continue to come into the clinic, in the absence of improvement, is a red flag that there may be something else causing symptoms.  Also, continuing to treat a patient may do more harm than good because the patient takes on attributes of a “sick” person.

It’s a case in which the medical system may actually cause problems through the use of treatments and information.  This type of change in the patient has been labeled as iatrogenic (caused by the medical system).

“Analysis revealed no significant differences in frequency of recovery between pragmatic (medication/physiotherapy/CBT) and usual-care groups at 6 months. There was no improvement in non-recovery rates at 6 months, indicating no advantage of the early interdisciplinary intervention.”

I read previously (I’ll have to go back and look for the article) that early aggressive therapy may actually increase symptoms of patients after a motor vehicle accident.

“Education and advice to return to activity and exercise will still remain the cornerstones of early treatment for WAD”

This year I was rear ended on the highway and T boned on another highway.

Excerpts from:

Sterling M. Physiotherapy Management of Whiplash-Associated Disorders (WAD). Journal of Physiotherapy. 2014;60:5-12.

Prone lying

I hear it frequently…this is an exercise?!

Sure, if it fulfills the purpose of making one more mobile, more resilient and more awesome!

This position is called prone lying and just means that you are lying face down.

For people with back pain, this has been referred to as the rescue position.

This position can be highly effective in reducing back or leg pain in 49-64% of people with symptoms.

Is it for everyone?

No..of course not. There is not a single exercise that is beneficial for 100% of the population that has pain, but there are patterns.

If your pain worsens with sitting, bending or twisting then this may be beneficial.

If your symptoms worsen withstanding or walking, this position may not work well for your symptoms.

Some things to note:

1. If you get into this position and your symptoms move further away from your spine…no good and you should stop and seek a full evaluation

2. If your symptoms move closer to your spine, you should pick up the book “Treat Your Own Back”.

McKenzie Method and back pain

I recently just read a case study, which I will be referencing a lot in the future paragraphs, regarding the use of MDT in the treatment of a patient with pain.  This is not uncommon, but what makes it special is that that the patient has a diagnosis of recent transverse process fractures in the spine.  Hope you find it interesting also!

 

First, Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) is also known informally as the McKenzie Method.  You can read more about the method with this link.  Also, this method is used by therapists all across the world as seen  here. Finally, if you are looking for more in depth information on the method, it can be found here.  There is so much information out there regarding MDT that there is no need for me to go back and explain it all again.  Read the previous stuff that I did. 

Patient characteristics

  1. 24 y/o female referred with left sided back pain
  2. 10 week previous involved in accident in which she was hit by a car while walking
  3. Transverse processes fractures from L2-L4
  4. Evaluation occurred about 10 weeks following accident

Examination:

  1. PT and MD agreed to patient generated forces only
    1. This is important! The most important part of this statement is the communication that is taking place between the PT and the physician prior to the patient entering the clinic. Also of importance to note is the trust that the physician has in not only the therapist, but also the method, as the patient was specifically referred for an MDT assessment. 
  2. Left low back tightness and numbness constantly
    1. Pain was intermittent
  3. Sometimes worse with sitting and tenderness when sitting against a hard-back chair, sometimes worse with activity and waking a few times per night due to pain
    1. The above is also important as this indicates high irritability as the symptoms can be constant and pressure can increase the symptoms. Also, the patient is waking during the night, which is historically correlated to an inflammatory process, but can also be position related. 
  4. The patient was better with standing, walking and lying
    1. This could mean that the patient has a directional preference for extension, prefers to be unloaded or is better with movement. The only way to figure out how these variables play a role in her symptoms is to start playing/manipulating the variables and watch the outcomes.  This is no different than any other science-based projects.  We have the opportunity to work with patients that trust us.  We have a responsibility to work with the patient in order to educate them as to the process of attempting to narrow down the variables at play regarding the symptoms.  Once the patient is agreeable to working together, we can change the inputs to the brain and assess the outputs in terms of physical changes and perceived changes from the patient. 
  5. Worse with postural correction, but no worse with using a lumbar roll.
    1. Postural correction, when performed according to the book is a hands-on technique and in doing so may be too much for the patient to tolerate. The fact that the patient is no worse with a lumbar roll means that extension, in and of itself, may not be bad but increasing the range in a loaded position may not be preferable at this time.
  6. Patient was issued back bends, repeated extension in standing, after the first session due to her complaints with flexion based movements and improving with standing and walking.
  7. Visit 2 overall unchanged and the patient was instructed to lean against a countertop to provide a fulcrum to lean against during the movement. This is, theoretically, to allow for increased force during the movement.
    1. The worst response to any movement that I can see in the clinic is “no overall change”. If we can’t change the patient’s symptoms or movement patterns, or strength, then it is hard to predict if the patient will respond to therapy over the course of care.  If the patient gets worse during the evaluation, it is not good/bad, just a response.  The thought is that if the patient is able to change for the worse, then the PT should be able to create a change for the better.  It’s simplistic thinking, but in the presence of a mechanical and not chemical issue, it is a common response to see in the clinic.
  8. Patient was better with either the countertop version of backbends or when doing pressups
    1. This is a version of progression and alternative versions of the same exercise. For example, the thought is that during a pressup, the patient is able to move further into the range of extension than during a back bend.  This may be because of eccentric loading of the global flexors or because of gravity assistance during the pressup on the lumbar spine.  I haven’t seen any research that definitively states why, but these are the thoughts.
  9. By the third visit, the patient reported 80% improvement with no pain.
    1. This is very common to see when a patient presents with a mechanical response and is categorized as a derangement (see all of the links above). It’s not uncommon to reduce symptoms in less than 7 visits. 

 

The big picture lessons from this case are:

  1. Don’t be afraid to assess a patient systematically.
  2. Communicate with other members of the health care team.
  3. Be willing to change your plan when something isn’t progressing accordingly.

Elenburg JL, Foley BS, Roberts K, Bayliss AJ. Case Report: Utilization of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) for the treatment of a lumbar pain in the presence of known lumbar transverse process fractures: a case study. JMMT. 2016;24(2):74-79.

If you are having back pain and want to be evaluated by a certified MDT therapist, you can find me here.

HOW PT CAN HELP WITH FMS

HOW CAN PT HELP WITH FIBROMYALGIA?

I was recently asked in an open forum how PT can help fibromyalgia.  I hope the summary of this article sheds light on how important of a role PT’s play in this ailment.

“…Fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) as a syndrome characterized by chronic widespread pain and tenderness in at least 11 of 18 predefined tender points”

First, when something is characterized as a “syndrome” it means that there is a cluster of symptoms that are common amongst people, but there is no definite test in order to prove that it is the cause of symptoms.

This makes FMS difficult to treat and understand because we don’t have a specific test in which to try to “fix” the underlying cause.

This article will go into what we know about FMS and what is hypothesized about FMS to further the patient’s knowledge of how PT can help.

“…prevalence rates between 0.5% to 6%”

This means that in the general population we will see this diagnosis between 5 in 1,000 and 6 in 100.  Depending on the setting that a PT works in, the prevalence rate may be much higher.  I can say personally that this is either the primary diagnosis or a secondary diagnosis in about 25% of my current caseload.

“…high comorbidity with other disorders, particularly chronic fatigue syndrome and mental disorders, including depression and anxiety disorder”

FMS is not frequently a diagnosis on its own. The patient with FMS may also have other issues such as chronic fatigue, which is not the same as FMS.  The person may also have a psychological issue, which may play a role in FMS.

“FMS is not only a chronic pain syndrome but also consists of a whole range of symptoms referring to effort intolerance and stress intolerance, as well as hypersensitivity for pain and other sensory stimuli”

Fibromyalgia goes well beyond pain only.  The patient with FMS is not frequently able to tolerate a great deal of activity without worsening of symptoms.  This is a major role for the PT to educate the patient regarding when it is safe to push harder and when the patient may need to back off activity in order to allow the system (read that as body as a whole) to calm down. A good book for this topic is “A World of Hurt” by Annie O’Connor and Melissa Kolski.

Hypersensitivity is a key finding in FMS and this will be spoken about later in the article.

“The precise etiology and pathogenesis of FMS remain undefined, and there is no definite cure”

When I read this, it sounds doom and gloom, but if you read it more like a science person instead of as a layperson it makes sense.  If we don’t know the cause of a specific action, then we can’t possibly know how to stop the action or prevent it in the first place.

“It is not our intention to advocate that physical therapists are able to manage a complex disorder such as fibromyalgia on their own”

Because there are multiple components to the syndrome (remember the psychological issues spoken of earlier), this is not a problem that can be handled by one professional without help from others.  As PT’s, we can play a role in managing this process, but that’s it…we play a role.

“Fibromyalgia syndrome is characterized by sensitization of the central nervous system, which explains the majority of, if not all, symptoms…Once central sensitization is established, little nociceptive input is required to maintain it…an increased responsiveness to a variety of peripheral stimuli, including mechanical pressure, chemical substances, light, sound, cold, heat, and electrical stimuli…results in a large decreased load tolerance of the senses and the neuromuscular system.”

When your nerves are more sensitive, then the sensations that you feel such as pain, heat, pressure, etc may be felt quicker and more intense than those without this syndrome.  This is the concept of little nociceptive input (pain input) is required to maintain sensitivity.  For instance, when someone has a lower threshold for pain (not an ego thing) then smaller deviations will cause pain.  I have treated patients that claimed to have increased pain from being touched by a feather! It is real and the patient’s experience of pain cannot be denied.

“…pain facilitation and pain inhibition is influenced by cognitions, emotions, and behaviors such as catastrophizing, hypervigilance, avoidance behavior and somatization”

This is a great article because the authors did a great job of attempting to summarize FMS in a concise manner. Pain is an experience.  It doesn’t mean that a tissue is injured, as pain can be felt in the absence of injury.  A person can also have a severe injury and not have pain.  A person’s emotional state can override the pain response. For instance, I experienced a major injury to my face in which my nose was pulled from my face during a weightlifting movement.  I had no pain until I actually saw the injury in a mirror.  The injury was unchanged from the minutes of standing at the bar until I went into the locker room and saw the injury.  What changed was my mental state.  I started worrying about severe damage, financial concerns, loss of work etc.  All of these are the same worries that everyone else has when they experience a pain that is not explained (this is the definition of catastrophizing).

Avoidance behavior means that a person will stop performing activities because of fear of making symptoms worse. Finally, somatization indicates that a person experiences symptoms in the absence of a test that can show anything is actually causing the pain.

Avoiding activity and catastrophizing actually causes a change in the nervous system in that it may sensitize the spinal cord.

“…abnormal functioning of the stress system seems to occur mostly in the aftermath of a long period of overburdening by physical and emotional stressors and to be precipitated by an additional trigger in the form of an acute physical or emotional event.”

Now you, as the reader, can see why PT’s can’t solve this puzzle alone.  There are so many variables that play a role in this syndrome that more than one professional needs to be involved in the care.

“…many patients with FMS have maladaptive illness beliefs, cognition, and behaviors that preclude successful rehabilitation.”

The primary intervention that takes place in therapy, almost regardless of the diagnosis, is education.  When a patient understands their own beliefs and how they may play a role in hindering progress, we have actually reached a milestone.  This is very much based in education.  If we can educate the patient enough regarding pain and more importantly how to respond to pain and its meaning, then we can progress towards other interventions.  If we can’t teach the patient or come to a mutual understanding regarding pain and how it is thought to work, then progress will be difficult.  As stated in the following portion of the article; “Poor understanding of pain may lead to the acquisition of maladaptive attitudes and behavior in relation to pain”. This means that the number one treatment that PT’s can offer to patients with FMS, and any other pain disorder for that matter, is education.

“…more adequate pain beliefs lead to increased confidence, which, in turn, leads to increased activity levels. An education course directed at improving self-efficacy for the management of the pain disorder ameliorated symptom severity and improved physical function”

We have to break the cycle of pain.  This may be achieved by breaking any part of the cycle.  The thought is that if we can increase a person’s activity level, or tolerance, that we could improve or decrease how sensitive the nerves are to outside stimuli.  This would allow a person to slowly tolerate more and more activity with less pain over time.  This is considered graded exposure.

“Evidence in support of activity management alone for those with FMS is currently unavailable. However, it is generally included in cognitive behavioral therapy.”

The thought is that if we can reduce the stress (think physical, emotional and otherwise) that a person is experiencing, that we would be able to reduce flare-ups.  This is a good thought, but hasn’t been proven.  What we know is that we need to increase activity levels because there are many good benefits from an active lifestyle such as decreased risk of mortality, increased lifespan, and improved quality of life.

“Limited evidence supports that use of spinal manipulation and moderate evidence supports the use of massage therapy in patients with FMS”

There are many in the field of PT, including the American Physical Therapy Association, has stated that the passive use of physical therapy should be questioned if it is the primary treatment.  Passive therapy is treatment done TO the patient instead of done BY the patient.  This “passive therapy” also fosters the dependence of the patient on the therapist.

When a patient is dependent on a therapist for improvement, the winner is always the therapist and his/her bank account.  In the end, we want to empower the patient to take control of his/her pain status and start to experiment with activity in order to establish a baseline activity that can be performed without flare-ups.

“Strong evidence supports aerobic exercise, and moderate evidence supports muscle strength training for the management of FMS”

This is an easy statement to make, but many patients tell me that “they couldn’t tolerate any exercise”. This is where the therapist-patient team (therapeutic alliance) really comes into play.  It is the therapist’s job to listen to the patient in order to provide treatment strategies that will improve the patient’s fitness levels, WITHOUT flaring-up symptoms.

“Physical exercise is troublesome for many patients with FMS due to activity-induced pain, especially for patients with severe disabilities”

This statement sums up the challenge of physical therapy and the challenge for the physical therapist.  A patient with FMS cannot be issued a check-list of exercises to perform in the clinic.  There has to be a relationship of trust between the therapist and the patient.  When a patient comes into the clinic, he/she trusts that the therapist is issuing interventions with the patient’s end-goal in mind.  If, at any time, the patient feels that the therapist is not providing GREAT care, then the patient needs to leave and find a therapist that treats them as a person and not a number! This is important and will come up again towards the end of the article.

“Nonspecific factors such as the patient’s emotional processing of the encounter with the health care professional, the quality of the therapeutic alliance, and the patient’s treatment preferences may be important in predicting therapeutic outcomes.”

THIS IS HUGE! The emotional processing of the encounter….Read that again….How the patient perceives being treated during the session plays a role in the outcomes. When we know that there is an emotional component to FMS, it is our responsibility to ensure that we accommodate this by trying to provide the best experience as possible. This starts from the initial phone call and progresses through the initial visit.  This perception starts prior to the patient coming into the clinic.  The patient needs to be heard and feel important in order to get the best results. I would say that this should hold true to all patients and not just for those with chronic pain or FMS.

Thanks for reading and I hope it was helpful.

Excerpts taken from:

Nijs J, Mannerkorpi K, Descheemaeker F, et al. Primary Care Physical Therapy in People with Fibromyalgia: Opportunities and Boundaries Within a Monodisciplinary Setting. Phys Ther. 2010;90(12):1815-1822.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patho: bad

Anatomical: body parts

Therefore: pathoanatomical = bad body parts

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

Iatro: means relating to medical treatment

Genic: means coming from

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

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

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

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

WHAAAT?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpts taken from

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

 

 

I see patterns

I see patterns, quick flashback to the Sixth Sense.

 

“Nonspecific LBP accounts for the great majority of cases of LBP and is defined as LBP for which there is no identifiable cause (e.g, injury or disease). As a result, treatment recommendations commonly involve a one-size-fits-all approach.”

This is reality. When someone has back pain, it is a guess and a poor one at that as to what is the cause of the back pain. Herniated discs? Sure. Arthritis? Sure, why not. Spinal stenosis? Must be. Cancer? Naw, this one we could rule in or out with imaging. The sinister (read really bad) stuff can be picked up through imaging and is assumed to be the cause of pain. What else is out there? Lumbago…WTF is this about? My favorite is back pain. For real, this is how it works. The patient goes to the doctor with a complaint of back pain and after the end of the session, the doctor says…You have back pain. Here’s your script for back pain. See me in a few weeks.

The problem when we can’t identify different causes of back pain, then all back pain is treated via a “shake and bake” or cookie cutter approach. Is Suzy’s back pain the same as Johnny’s, probably not since the symptoms aren’t even in the same location, but it is still coming from the back so it must be treated the same way. There’s a reason that we as the industry of healthcare have failed in treating back pain…we can’t even define it.

 

“The current treatment classification system (ie, a small group [5%-10%] of patients with identified specific pathology versus the large group [90% -95%] with nonspecific LBP) is clearly not working well.”

Have you seen the numbers?! Not working well is an understatement. Here are some scary stats. The 5-10% that physicians can diagnose are those sinister (read really bad) problems.

“Subgrouping patients in LBP does not need to be complex or difficult”

Everyone subgroups patients. Tony Delitto has stated in an article (It’s late and I don’t want to go find it so trust me…I’m a professional) that everyone classifies patients, but the classifcation system may be very rudimentary. For instance, if someone comes in with a history of back pain and has failed at therapy elsewhere, we would say that this person may fail again. This is a way of classifying, albeit not a good one, but one way. There are methods of classifying back pain (don’t see this as diagnosing) based on signs and symptoms and response to movement or other interventions. This is a slightly more sophisticated way. There are methods that have withstood the rigor of research and demonstrate moderate reliability in the assessment of back pain.

 

“A good example in the LBP field is the STarT Back trial that used a simple prognostic tool (9 questions only) to match patients to treatment packages appropriate for them.”

I was fortunate enough to hear Nadine Foster, one of the authors of the original study, speak at a spine conference in 2013. The questionnaire can help clinicians, especially the primary care coordinator (Physician Assistant, Primary care physician, orthopedist, Advance Nurse Practitioner) determine if the patient may improve without treatment or if PT could be beneficial. The final category that a patient could be classified into is the inclusion of physical therapy with the addition of a psychosocial approach to pain.

 

“Clinicians are usually favorable to the idea of individualized treatments for nonspecific LBP.”

If all back pain were created equal, then I’d be in favor for all treatments being equal. When a patient comes in looking crooked with 9/10 pain, then that patient should not receive the same treatment as someone that has 1/10 pain and is looking to return to sports. Different presentations call for different solutions. There is an excellent book out there for patients and insurance companies called: Rapidly Reversible Low Back Pain by an orthopedic surgeon. He follows the thought and ideas of Robin McKenzie.

“Put simply, if there is a subgroup that does well, it must be balanced by a subgroup that does poorly.”

This research is out there, but because it doesn’t meet the stringent standards of most research studies, it is frowned upon. The problem with the study is that the authors of the study aren’t blinded to the treatments and patient classification. This means that the authors could be biased in one way or another. Aside from this, the study is a legitimate study assessing varying treatment for low back pain. There was one group that did very well and one group that did poorly. One group was in the middle of the two, but leaned more towards poor than well. Check out the study from Audrey Long

“Two aspects of human nature that could explain this situation (treatment effect) are that we tend to see patterns where none exist (patternicity) and that we presume we have more control over events than we truly do (illusion of control).”

This is great stuff. I actually printed off the articles so that I could read them later. I’d love to believe that this isn’t me…but wouldn’t everyone. I’d love to believe that I actually see dead people…I mean patterns and no, not the patterns that people create when they see a shadow and believe it’s a ghost. It does intrigue me though to learn more about pattern recognition.

“…we must conclude that in general, the current research initiatives and achievement in this field are far from optimal and not yet ready to be implemented in clinical practice.”

I wish I could agree with this, but then we are treating all patients the same. If we can’t give individualized instruction to each patient, then it doesn’t matter who the patient sees for their problem. It doesn’t matter that one person’s back pain started 2 years ago and hasn’t subsided or that another’s started this week and is expected to improve with time. Both patient’s would get the same treatment approach if we can’t classify.

 

 

Wait…PT’s perform manipulations?!

Wait…PT’s perform manipulations?!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

EXCERPT FROM:

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