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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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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.

Symptoms may or may not change

“It is clearly stated that the mechanisms underpinning any reductions in symptoms using the SSMP are not known”

The Shoulder Symptom Modification Procedure is studied and taught by Jeremy Lewis, out of England. I am a fan of this method because I like systems. Both systems that work and systems that tell tell the user when the system doesn’t work. I was able to watch Jeremy Lewis assess and treat patients on stage in front of a crowd of over 500 MDT trained clinicians. The patients that he treated were not just any patients off of the streets though, some of these patients were MDT trained clinicians that failed to improve with the MDT approach. When I saw that he was able to go from one patient to another and abolish symptoms over two days, I was sold!

I wanted to know what he was doing. After I got back from the conference in Austin, I emailed him to ask some questions. He was gracious enough to not only answer all of my questions, but to also send me all of his research and articles on SSMP.

I obviously read through the research and started using the format within my own MDT evaluations. I personally found that this method blends very well with MDT because aside from names, the principles were the same, but he provided additional information for treatment that wasn’t provided in the text booms or course work for MDT.

We know that patients get better. It may not necessarily matter which methods are used, but many patients improve with treatment. How they improve…we have no clue! No one can give the exact mechanism by which patients improve symptoms because there is not one mechanism alone by which symptoms are produced.

For all you reading at home, if your therapist is pompous enough to give you an answer that is an absolute, you may not need to find a new therapist, but you better watch your ears for they may be taking in false information.

“A common aim is symptom reduction,which, if achieved, allows the individual to move with less pain. How this is achieved is unknown”

For the most part, we all have the same goals. Get the patient better. Mind you, there are some that have goals clouded by $$$, but hopefully you find someone that is pure of heart.

I want my patients not only to be able to return to what they were doing prior to an injury, but to inspire them to do more. When a patient gets better, I’d love to take the credit, but I also know that Father Time is pretty good at what he does also.

In the end, the patients get better and we have to be able to say 🤷‍♂️ how it happens sometimes.

“Symptom reduction might not be possible, and attempting symptom change that does not achieve its goal may create hypervigilance or unreasonable patient expectations that ultimately become demotivating and sensitizing.”

We work in a team. We always work in a team. That team is either with the other professionals or with the patient. We can’t allow our biases to infect the patient and we must be vigilant to notice when our own preferences are frustrating the patient.

Enjoy! Any questions you can find me on FB at Dr. Vince Gutierrez.

Excerpts from here

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”.

The importance of sleep

“Humans spend roughly a third of their lives sleeping.”

Some people say that there will be time for sleeping when we die.  Unfortunately, by having this attitude, one may get to test it sooner rather than later.  There is no shame in sleeping.  Some wear it as a badge of honor that only 4 hours of sleeping is needed, but as you’ll see later this is not a good idea.  Here’s a list of power people that sleep less than the 6-8 hours per night recommended.

“…it has been recommended to consider sleep as another vital sign, as sleep can give insight into the functioning and health of the body.”

There have been multiple suggested vital signs such as pain, walking speed and now sleep.  I am not saying that sleep isn’t important, but to call it a vital sign may be over-rated.

“…between 50 and 70 million adults in the US experience chronic sleep disturbances, and 62% experience a sleep problem several nights a week.”

Sleep is vital, but maybe not a “vital sign”.  If you are having a problem with sleep, this could be a sign of something more serious, if not it could lead to something more serious.

For instance, my daughter has Down Syndrome.  This is a genetic mutation of the 23rd chromosome, which leads to multiple physical changes.  One of the changes is a larger than average tongue and smaller air passages.  This is in combination with low muscular tone.  The incidence of sleep apnea in kids with Down Syndrome is 50-100%.  One of the side effects of sleep apnea is right sided heart failure, pulmonary hypertension, and delayed growth.  These are some serious effects of a lack of sleep.  I can speak for my daughter, but she will undergo a sleep study around the age of 3-4.  I have some patients that have sleep issues and this is what I hear about doing a sleep study:

“It will be too inconvenient”

“I don’t want to know the results”

“I don’t want to have anyone watch me sleep”

In the grand scheme of things, I will not let ego override my daughter’s long term health.  I don’t understand this belief system, but will always try to educate the patients in order to ensure that my patient’s health is as good I know that it has the potential to be.

“Costs associated with insomnia, which is the most prevalent sleep disorder, are over $100 billion per year due to health care costs, accidents, and decreased work.”

Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is termed insomnia.  Think of how much money we spend in health care related costs.  Add musculoskeletal pain costs to isomnia costs and the total is 340 billion.

If you could save $100,000/year, it would take you 3,400,000 years to save 340 billion dollars. If you could save $10,000 every single day, then it would only take you 93,151 years to save 340 billion.

As you can see, if we can start to improve national health, then we have the potential to save more money than I could count to in a lifetime.

“…proposed that knowledge about sleep and skills to screen sleep disorders and to promote quality sleep are important components for physical therapists to promote health and wellness.”

I’ll be honest.  We don’t learn much about sleep in school.  At least we didn’t 10 years ago.  It’s hard to say if this has changed much in the previous decade, as I don’t hear many new graduates talking about sleep.  Everything that I learned about sleep and health has come from a few podcasts from people like:

  1. Dr. Kirk Parsley
  2. Tim Ferriss
  3. Dave Asprey

It’s great that there is more research being published in the field of PT regarding sleep, but this is a population health issue and needs to be addressed by all health care professionals.

“Of the 43% who reported that they do not routinely assess their patient’s sleep habits or sleep quality, the most frequently reported reason was: ‘I do not know how to assess sleep habits or sleep quality.'”

I am not surprised by this number…actually I am.  I am shocked that it is not higher.  I am shocked that half of all therapists are actually assessing sleep habits or sleep quality.  I think that most of us, in orthopedics ask whether or not sleep is disturbed, but I don’t know if this qualifies for asking about quality and sleep habits.  Actually, I hope it doesn’t because this is a basic question that doesn’t assess much other than sleep or no sleep due to pain.

I ask my patients about urinating during the night, how many hours of sleep is achieved during the night, what the environment (room) is like regarding electronic devices and lights.

This is stuff that I had to learn on my own and wasn’t even mentioned in a Doctorate program.

“sleep is critical for immune function, tissue healing, pain modulation, cardiovascular health, cognitive function and learning and memory.”

We already talked about heart health and sleep quality in the personal story of my daughter.

There is some published research regarding a lack of sleep and an increase in Substance P.

Dr. Kirk Parsley speaks frequently of the effects of a lack of sleep on cognition.

“Without adequate sleep, people can experience increased pain perception, loss of function and reduced quality of life, depression, increased anxiety, attention deficits, information processing disruption, impaired memory and reduced ability to learn new motor skills, and are at an increased risk for accidents, injuries and falls.”

I don’t think that too many people will argue about the importance of sleep.  We absolutely need it, but some can go days without sleep.  Albeit, there will be some side effects.

“People with sleep disturbances report increased sensitivity to pain, but also those experiencing high pain intensity have reported significantly less total sleep time, delayed sleep onset, increased nighttime wakening, and decreased sleep efficiency.”

As a therapist, this part plays an important role in my care.  I would estimate that about 90% of my patients are coming to me for some sort of pain complaint.  Sometimes this pain can keep the patient awake.  Knowing the role of Substance P regarding pain and sleep, I ask 100% of my patients about sleep.  If sleep is disturbed, then I know that I have to attempt to understand the problems with sleep.  If the problems go beyond sleep hygiene, then the patient is referred out to a doctor that specializes in sleep studies.

“providing interventions to improve sleep may impact pain and thus improve outcomes”

This is why it is so important for PT’s to ask about sleep!  It may affect our outcomes!

We are all (I’m an optimist) trying to get patients better and we have to look at all of the variables that we can manipulate in order to achieve this goal.

“understanding the important relationship between sleep and pain could profoundly influence the treatment interventions targeted toward changing the patient’s experience of pain”

Just by improving sleep, we may be able to decrease a patient’s pain experience and improve function as a result.

“long duration of sleep (>8-9 h per night) was associated with an increased mortality due to cardiovascular disease and increased risk of developing coronary heart disease…short sleep duration (<5-6 h per night) was associated with an increased risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease and weakly associated with developing other cardiovascular diseases.”

This is the paradox of sleep.  Get too little and no bueno, but get too much and equally no bueno.  Looks like 6-8 hours per night appears to be the right amount.  Reading this paragraph makes me think of the three bears.

“Sleep apnea…increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease…heart failure and stroke…breathing stops temporarily, which decreases the level of oxygen in the body alerting the brain to excite certain receptors.”

Fight or flight? When a person stops breathing, the body becomes excitable and stresses out.  This stress can raise BP, increase heart rate and cause other neurological responses.

“About 75% of people with depression experience symptoms of insomnia…almost 20% of those with insomnia have clinically significant depression and anxiety.”

This is a quick question that we can ask when someone notes that they have anxiety or depression, which is typically asked on a history intake form.

“sleep may play an important role to the development of Alzheimer’s disease”

This has to do with neurofibrillar tangles in the brain.  This is another topic of concern for me and my family.

We are doing a lot of studying in order to understand the ramifications of Down Syndrome and there is a high likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

We put some coconut oil in her cereal and oatmeal.

“…sleep hygiene has been associated with improved sleep quality in college students and in patients with low back pain…reduce pain and fatigue in people with fibromyalgia”

Sleep hygiene is ensuring that the environment and other factors surrounding the act of sleep are ideal for sleeping.

 

Sleep hygiene education

  1. “Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day and exposure to bright natural light is helpful to set your natural biological clock”
    1. some people will use blue lights in the AM to try to help with waking or to prevent the “winter blues”
  2. Use your bed only for sleep and sex. Do not eat, work, or watch TV in bed.
    1. Getting a little graphic, but the bed needs to be a place meant for things done horizontal.
  3. Develop a relaxing bedtime routine
  4. Avoid moderate to vigorous activity at least 2-3 hours before bedtime
  5. Avoid caffeinated foods and drinks at least 4 hours before bedtime
  6. Refrain from drinking alcohol or smoking at least 3-4 hours before bedtime.  It can cause you to wake up during the night and smoking can act as a stimulant
  7. Do not take un-prescribed or over the counter sleeping pills
  8. Avoid daytime napping so that you are tired at night and can fall asleep easily.
    1. Some people advocate for polyphasic sleep
  9. Make your sleeping environment comfortable and relaxing. Avoid light, wear earplugs and use a mask if needed
  10. Avoid eating a large meal or spicy food 2-3 hours before going to bed
  11. Talk to your doctor or health professional if you still have trouble sleeping.

Thanks for reading.

You can find me at movementthinker on Itunes and if you have questions can also send me a message at Goodliferehab.com.

Excerpts taken from:

Siengsukon CF, Al-dughmi M, Stevens S. Sleep Health Promotion: Practical Information for Physical Therapists. Phys Ther. 2017;97:826-836.

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 back pain has a definitive cause

“Findings such as disk height loss and disc bulges are coming in individuals without low back pain.”

Disc bulges, degenerative joint disease, spinal stenosis, do you all a result of living in this world. We have gravity acting a force on us almost 16 hours a day. Anytime that there is a problem, we want to blame something or somebody. Low back pain is an enigma at times. we can draw correlations, we can come up with risk factors, we can even tell you how to treat it sometimes, but what we can’t do is tell you exactly what causes your back pain.

“Surprisingly, disc protrusions were associated with a lower risk of subsequent back pain. Nerve root contact and central stenosis had the largest hazard ratios on baseline imaging findings, and they were associated with incident back pain in the expected direction but not statistically significant. Self identified Depression was the strongest predictor of subsequent back pain, with a greeter hazard ratio than any imaging findings.”

What should be taken from the above statistics is that mental health plays a role in pain. There are a lot of new studies that are associating catastrophizing and external locus of control with increased pain levels. Work by Nadine Foster demonstrates screen for patients who will have a difficult time improving with therapy alone. New were books, such as the one by Annie O’Connor and Melissa Kolski (two people with whom I’ve studied at our RIC), goes into great detail regarding pain science. Big picture, we can not neglect the patient’s emotional well-being when attempting to treat the patients physical complaints.

“Our results indicate that depression is a strong predictor of who will subsequently reports low back pain then baseline imaging findings.Subjects with self reported depression at baseline were 2.3 times is likely to have back pain compared with those who do not report depression.”

There is obviously a psycho social component to low back pain. The question is… Chicken or the egg. Is a person more likely to be depressed because they have back pain that is not improving? Or is that person more likely to have back pain because they are depressed? I don’t think that there are cause and affect articles in the literature at this point, but there is definitely a high correlation between patients who are depressed and patient who continue to report low back pain.

“In our analysis of baseline data, we concluded that central stenosis, nerve root contact, and disc extrusion were the most important imaging findings related to prior low back pain. Our current analysis indicates that central stenosis, disc extrusion, and route contact may also be risk factors for future low back pain.”

In other words, if you have a major deformity you will probably have pain. This doesn’t mean that you will definitely have pain, it just increases your risk of experiencing symptoms.

The moral of the story is that we cannot deny the brain. The brain has the ability to see pain, and some patients are more susceptible to seeing this pain. Don’t get me wrong, a thorough mechanical evaluation should be performed when a patient has pain, but when this patient is not inclined to respond to mechanical therapy, the patient should be referred to someone that can better handle this patient’s pain.Sometimes, that person will be a behavioral therapist, a psychotherapist, or a clinical psychologist. Physical therapists are not always the go to in order to treat a patient’s pain.
Excerpts from:

Jarvik JG, Haegerty PJ, Boyko EJ. Three-Year Incidence of Low Back Pain in an Initially Asymptomatic Cohort. Spine. 2005;30(13):1541-1548.

Slump test: what’s it mean?

This is a common test performed in the clinic. The article goes into great detail (again not written about here because I don’t really have an opinion about the technique) of how to perform the test. I highly recommend reading the article for all health care practitioners that care for patients with spinal pain.

 

  1. “neuropathic pain (NeP) as “pain caused by a lesion or disease of the somatosensory system”

 

This is a great start to what will be a good read. If I were to say this to most PT students that come into my clinic, I would get the “Bambi in the head light look”. The fastest way to say this is that neuropathic pain is a pain that may be coming from a structure that is innervated (has nerves). This doesn’t really tell me anything though.

 

  1. the presence of NeP has been linked with poor recovery, along with higher health care costs and lower quality of life.”

 

This makes sense to me. If you have pain, that is coming from somewhere, you are more likely to require more treatment than someone that has pain coming from nowhere and are less likely to enjoy your life than someone that is pain-free.

 

  1. “The diagnosis of NeP typically consists of a thorough history and an extensive neurosensory examination to identify both positive (exaggerated responses to stimuation, such as allodynia) and negative (various sensory and motor losses) signs…usually performed by a specialist, requires a lot of time to complete, and in many regions involves a long waiting period for the consultation”

 

As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I happen to be said specialist. This type of patient typically takes longer to evaluate than someone that only consists of weakness or deconditioning. There is much more to look at. I don’t know if I would say that it involves a long waiting period for the consultation. I think that this has more to do with a person’s type of insurance regarding wait time. For instance, if you are willing to pay out of pocket for the assessment, and pay what the “chargemaster” (an inflated charge board that no one ever really pays…unless they can’t afford insurance) states, then I am sure that I can fit you in for a $400-600 evaluation tomorrow. (We don’t actually make that much for an evaluation, but insurance companies would love you to believe that we do).

 

  1. “The straight leg raise (SLR) test is the most commonly used neurodynamic test for the lower extremity. The slump test is another…”

 

The SLR test is easy to perform and most physicians are aware of its implication in discogenic pain. I include it when I am trying to make a point to physicians and insurance companies regarding a possible pain generator. I prefer to use the slump test because it is easier for me to test when I already have the patient sitting in the chair testing lower extremity strength (testing nerve electrical power). If I have a positive slump test, then I will typically perform a SLR test in order to “paint a better picture” of the patient to the insurance company.

  1. “Key components of the clinical exam included pain (location, behavior, quality), motor function (strength/weakness, reflexes), sensory function (mechanical/thermal sensation), autonomic function (sweating, hypotension), and the SLR test”

 

You’d be surprised (or may you wouldn’t if this also describes you) regarding how many patients are surprised that a PT would take their blood pressure. I read a statistic years back regarding the following: 50% of patients seen in an outpatient clinic have undocumented hypertension. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to stop a session to call a doctor to inform them of a patient’s hypertension. I had one patient argue with me years ago that he wasn’t there for blood pressure issues, but to have his pain fixed. Unfortunately, his BP was higher than the maximal allowable threshold for exercise and I sent him back to the doctor. (Mind you, my current state is not a direct access state, which means that the patient had to be referred by someone prior to coming to therapy). The patient was apologetic the next session when the doctor told him what the numbers could mean regarding DEATH! That’s right…I save lives. Just kidding, but not really. If you see a therapist, your blood pressure should be checked at least on the first visit. If it is not, question the intentions/ignorance of the therapist. Could be oversight on the therapist’s part. I used to be that therapist.

 

Also, your sensation and strength should be tested in certain circumstances. Again, just ask your therapist why/why not the above testing was/wasn’t completed. There should be a good rationale for the answer. We love to teach…at least I do.

 

  1. The authors of the article did an excellent job of describing positioning for testing, so if you are in health care and would use the slump test, it is a good refresher. Highly recommend it.

 

  1. “…designated as positive if the following conditions were met: (1) pain or sensations were reduced with neck extension, and (2) there was a right-to-left difference in pain distribution or there was a difference between right and left knee extension.”

 

This is something that most PT students, and I must surmise that new professionals miss while in the clinic. This is the small details of the test. Is there a loss of knee extension on one knee? The only way to know is to have someone teach it to the student or for the student to go out on his/her own to learn it. What profession are you in? In your profession, who is the best in your workplace? What separates that person from anyone else in the workplace? Usually it is initiative, persistence, self-learning, confidence, experience, etc. This same thing can be said for the PT profession. We aren’t all born with these characteristics; they are honed over years of working and studying. If all we do is work, then we may gain experience, but the experience may be that of missed details.

 

  1. “From these data, a difference of 10 degrees or more was used to indicate a positive slump test component.”

 

Again, small details. Many students are not looking at the angle change in the slump test and although 10 degrees is small when eye-balled, it can be huge when it is the difference between being able to stretch out and push the gas pedal with or without pain.

 

  1. “very little can be interpreted when the slump test is positive but the pain does not extend below the knee.”

 

Students need to know this stuff! We learn in school that if it produces pain, that the test is positive, especially if the pain is reduced when the patient is then asked to look up. This means little in terms of telling us important information.

 

  1. “The sequential combination of the 2 tests provided an effective means of ruling out those without NeP and ruling in a large proportion of those with NeP.”

 

This is important for students and PT’s to understand. If the patient has no pain production with the slump test, then “nerve pain” can effectively be ruled out due to the small rate of false negatives. When a patient has pain below the knee, then “nerve pain” can be ruled in.

 

This was an excellent article going more in depth than anything we learn in school. I have been using this test for years and have slowly incorporated the information into practice over the years, but I now know that there is a good reason to look at the knee extension change. When studying the McKenzie Method (MDT), we are taught to look at the angle changes when performing these “dural tension” based tests. It is informal when taught in the course, but here is the formal information.

 

Quotes taken from:

 

Urban LM. Macneil BJ. Diagnostic Accuracy of the Slump Test for Identifying Neuropathic Pain in the Lower Limb. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2015;45(8):596-603.

Ivory tower of PT

 

This was a refreshing article regarding the creation of a progression to a doctoring program for a school in Australia. Although this school is a world away from my practice, they face the same situations that we do here in the states. I was impressed with the thoroughness of the article’s message and am excited to see the students that graduate from a program like the one described. I would love to see this type of program offered in the states, as I personally don’t feel that this type of education is being offered. At least I haven’t seen many students that possess these traits in my clinic yet. Those that do, I am uncertain if they were learned in school or through inherent characteristics.

 

  1. “Chronic disease management requires holistic, patient-centered care, with collaborating and respectful teams of interdisciplinary providers (physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and allied health workers).”

 

I see where the authors are going with this, in that they are creating the lead in for the rest of the article. On a side note…I can remember in 6th grade reading/composition learning how to make a house in order to get a point across. You had to start with the roof, which is the overall theme and then build the house down from the roof by adding in the thesis and supporting points. Mrs. Hart..I didn’t forget. With that in mind…that analogy doesn’t apply to this type of writing, as I simply brainstorm and just try to keep up with my thoughts on paper.

 

Back to it. We should be collaborating for all patients, not just chronic illness based patients. All patients should expect the same high level of care, which involves calling other professionals with results if need be. I see way to often the lack of communication when working with patients in the clinic. Luckily, no one has suffered greatly from the lack of communication, but luck shouldn’t be my basis of success.

 

  1. “health care ‘now requires large enterprises, teams of clinicians, high-risk technologies, and knowledge that outstrips any one person’s abilities’”

 

I beg your pardon?! I am very capable mind you…just kidding. No one person can know all of all things. It is important for a PT, or any one for that matter, to know his/her weaknesses and place him/herself in a position to leverage strengths, while hiding weaknesses. For instance, I am very good at orthopedics, which means that if I work in a clinic that sees more than just orthopedic patients (which I currently do), then I have to partner my skills with those of someone that is very good at everything else. Luckily, I have. If I were to ever leave to open up my own practice, I would have to either 1. Work on my weaknesses (I’ve never been a fan of that) or 2. Be so good at treating orthopedic conditions that I can refer those patients that encompass my weakness to a colleague or a friend at another clinic. WHAAA?! Turn away patients…sacrilegious! I wouldn’t want my mother to see me if she had Dandy Walker syndrome…it’s not my specialty.

 

  1. “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently implemented bundled payments for hip and knee replacements…the hospital that performs the surgery will be accountable for the costs and quality of related care for the episode of care…The payment structure incentivizes better coordinated care”

 

SIGN ME UP! Accountability paired with incentives to improve patient outcomes. This is a great thing. Some people are scared of this bundled payment thing, as they talk only about loss of profits. I only see rewards for fixing patients quicker, with fewer complications, leading to increased pay.

 

EVERYONE NEEDS TO WAKE UP THOUGH! This is happening. You need to do a better job of choosing your provider. If you ask a friend and learn that the friend got crappy care from their provider…don’t go there! Even if others (namely health care professionals) are trying to push you in that direction, make more informed decisions. Get a second opinion before going there.

 

  1. “The curricula need to engage students to develop the necessary attributes, knowledge and skills in health leadership, policy, advocacy, and research…physical therapy curricula need to be forward thinking and innovative.”

 

AWESOME SAUCE! Now…I’ll believe it when I see it. I totally agree that PT’s need to be better trained when coming out of a Doctorate program, but unfortunately tradition appears to be taught more so than forward thinking…or thinking in general. We have come past the recognition and regurgitation aspect of therapy. We need to do a better job of teaching how to think.

 

The rest of the article went deeper into the curriculum for the program. I highly recommend any and all teachers of health care to read this article. It touched on some very important points and I look forward to practicing alongside those that graduate from a program like the one described in the article.

 

Quotes taken from:

 

Dean CM, Duncan PW. Preparing the Next Generation of Physical Therapists for Transformative Practice and Population Management: Example From Macquarie University. Phys Ther. 2016; 96:272-274

“They” say it’s not accupuncture

DRY NEEDLING? WHAT’S OUT THERE?

 

  1. “Myofascial pain syndrome is characterized by the presence of one or more symptomatic myofascial trigger points (MTrPs) located in skeletal muscle. Myofascial trigger points are palpable, localized areas of hyperalgesic muscle tissue typically located in a taught band of fibers”

Myofascial pain syndrome is pain believed to be originating from the myofascia. I feel like Webster’s dictionary at this point. You know what I mean? For instance when you look up a word such as ambulation and the first definition is: The act of ambulating. Thanks wise guy!

Let’s start with myofascial. There are two types of fascia spoken of in the research. The first is superficial (superficialis) fascia and the second is deep (profundus) fascia. There is this awesomely boring book to read about fascia if you are ever having trouble falling asleep (Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body: The science and clinical applications in manual and movement therapy). I only recommend it if you are really interested because it is very long and very boring. I guess that we also have to start with “What is fascia?” In school we didn’t learn much about this tissue. For those that graduated before 2012, we were only taught that it is the white stuff that we have to cut through in order to see the muscles. It was more of a nuisance than an actual tissue to pay attention to. Boy, have things changed! If you have watched any of Kelly Starrett’s videos or read the book: Supple Leopard (which I highly recommend to most of my athletic patients), then you will see many ways in which the fascia can be moved and “loosened”. Fascia is a very tough tissue that helps to give us shape and encompasses the entire body. It covers our muscles and even covers the small structures that make up an entire muscle. Big picture: it’s everywhere. The research on it is still young and we don’t know its full purpose yet, but are starting to understand that when it is angry…it let’s us know.

These MTrPs are palpable, meaning that we can feel them if we attempt to feel you up. They are the “knots” that most people complain about. Some of these “knots” are like small marbles and others are like small sausage links. Either way, they are hyperalgesic, which means…for a lack of a better term…angry.

 

  1. “In addition, research indicates active MTrPs have greater concentrations of inflammatory and nociceptive agents, as well as a lower pH, compared to non-pathologic muscle fibers”

There are some details hidden this sentence. The first is the description of “active” trigger points. If some are active, then others are inactive. These are historically called latent trigger points. This type of trigger point has the same palpable nature of a trigger point, but doesn’t cause pain. I don’t know of any research that looks at the pH of latent trigger points. Think about it though. The only way that we can really know if a trigger point is active or inactive is to play with it and see if it hurts.

 

  1. “It has been suggested that TDN (trigger point dry needling) hyperstimulates the pain-generating area and thereby normalizes the local sensory inputs. Another hypothesis suggests that TDN causes natural opioid-mediated pain suppression by stimulating local alpha-delta nerve fibers.”

The take home point from this is that we have no idea how this may work! There are theories as to the why it works, but there are articles showing that it works. Put this in perspective…I consistently say that our profession is in its infancy regarding research, but I really should say that we are in our toddler stage. I have a young daughter and am just waiting for her “Why” stage. As a curious father myself, I always want to answer the question when I can, but at the same time I know that I will (through no fault of my own, as it appears to be a genetic trait of parents) answer her question with “because I said so”.

 

  1. “Trigger point dry needling is administered by inserting a thin, solid filiform needle directly into the palpable trigger point…then incrementally manipulated within the tissue in order to elicit a localized twitch response (LTR) and removed once the MTrP has been released”

Picture a pincushion…enough said! I like why’s, but there aren’t many with this regards. I can remember during a clinical, the clinical instructor was teaching me acupressure techniques in which you hold a force downward onto the knot and wait for the patient’s pain response to change or hold for 90 seconds, whichever comes first. This just seemed so arbitrary to me. What I saw was that I was going to dig my thumb into a patient and wait for them to tell me that it doesn’t hurt as much. People aren’t dumb. In the words of Dr. House… all people lie. If I tell you that I will push into your skull with enough force to cause you pain and that I will stop when your symptoms are better…what will you do? I think I’d be fixed.

There are too many vague descriptions for me with regards to this technique. “Incrementally manipulated”? What does this even mean? I can see a session lasting for hours and coming into the room every 10 minutes to “release the muscle”. This technique may work, but we still don’t have enough information to make this type of treatment standard yet.

 

  1. “Moderate to severe adverse events causing significant distress or further medical treatment (e.g., fainting, headache, nausea) occurred at a rate of <0.04%”

This means that 4 in 10,000 will have an adverse reaction. Hypersensitivy to aspirin is between 1-2 in 100. Overall, this appears to be a safe intervention, but we still have yet to see if it is effective.

 

  1. “TDN is more effective than stretching and percutaneus electric nerve stimulation, and at least equally as clinically effective as manual MTrP release and other needling treatments”

This means that dry needling has more promise than basic stretching, but is no better than many other techniques to reduce pain.

 

  1. “It appears that TDN, as performed and measured in each study, does not influence strength, variably improves ROM and function and frequently decreases pain”

We know that it helps pain. We don’t know how it helps pain. There are two major theories for affecting pain: the bottom-up theory and the top-down theory. The bottom-up theory is using an external stimulus to reduce your painful complaint. Again, if I put an ice pack on your painful area or hit a separate area with a hammer, your initial pain will reduce. The top down theory is not spoken of in the research very often. This is using your brain to reduce your pain, such as with meditation. It is also called the endogenous (internal) opioid (cocaine) theory. Aside from pain relief, there appears to be little evidence that it helps any other complaints. Since a majority of patients are coming to therapy for pain complaints, this could be used as an adjunct to mechanical (movement based) therapy in order to reduce pain complaints. (As of today’s date, I have absolutely no training in this treatment).

 

  1. “TDN treatment may allow for improved tolerance to other interventions, such as manual therapy and therapeutic exercise, with potential for overall accelerated progression and more lasting positive results”

This statement sums up my thoughts on this type of treatment approach. It can be used as an adjunct to get the patient back to where the research is strong…exercise. I will have to look into the legalities of performing this type of intervention in our state, as each state has it’s own rules regarding invasive procedures for PT’s.

 

MORAL: Using dry needling techniques can be useful for pain reduction, but has no other effects. This could be an intervention in order to return the patient back to functional activities assuming the patient has demonstrated that he/she will be a non-responder to a mechanical (movement based) intervention program.

 

EXCERPTS TAKEN FROM:

Boyles R, Fowler R, Ramsey D, Burrows E. Effectiveness of trigger point dry needling for multiple body regions: a systematic review. JMMT.2015;23(5):276-293.