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What Exactly Is a SLAP Tear? Top 5 Things You Need to Know About a Superior Labral Lesion

Superior Labral SLAP Tear**Updated in 2017**

A very common diagnosis for shoulder injuries is a superior labral tear, or SLAP tear.  SLAP stands for Superior Labral tear Anterior to Posterior.  There many different variations of SLAP tears, which have different levels of severity and treatment strategies.  Back in the day, surgeons would want to operate on all SLAP tears but we learned that some do well without surgery.  In fact, some SLAP tears aren’t even worrisome .

Understanding how a SLAP lesion occurs and what exactly is happening pathologically is extremely important to diagnose and treat these shoulder injuries appropriately.

 

Classification of SLAP Lesions

As you can see in the figure, the long head of the biceps tendon inserts directly into the superior labrum.  There are several variations of injuries that can occur to the superior labrum where the biceps anchor attaches.

Following a retrospective review of 700 shoulder arthroscopies, Snyder et al: Arthroscopy 1990, identified 4 types of superior labrum lesions involving the biceps anchor. Collectively they termed these SLAP lesions, in reference to their anatomic location: Superior Labrum extending from Anterior to Posterior. This was the original definition but as we continue to learn more about SLAP tears, they certainly do not always extend from anterior to posterior. But, the most important concept to know is that a SLAP lesion is an injury to the superior labrum near the attachment of the biceps anchor.

SLAP Tear Classification

Type I SLAP Lesions

Type I SLAP lesions were described as being indicative of isolated fraying of the superior labrum with a firm attachment of the labrum to the glenoid. These lesions are typically degenerative in nature. At this time, it is currently believed that the majority of the active population may have a Type I SLAP lesion and this is often not even considered pathological by many surgeons.

 

Type II SLAP Lesions

Type II SLAP lesions are characterized by a detachment of the superior labrum and the origin of the tendon of the long head of the biceps brachii from the glenoid resulting in instability of the biceps-labral anchor. These is the most common type of SLAP tear. When we receive a script from a surgeon to treat a “SLAP repair” he or she is more than likely talking about a Type II SLAP and surgery to re-attach the labrum and biceps anchor.

Three distinct sub-categories of type II SLAP lesions have been further identified by Morgan et al: Arthroscopy ’90. They reported that in a series of 102 patients undergoing arthroscopic evaluation 37% presented with an anterosuperior lesion, 31% with a posterosuperior lesion, and 31% exhibited a combined anterior and superior lesion.

These findings are consistent with my clinical observations of patients. Different types of patients and mechanisms of injuries will result in slightly different Type II lesions. For example, the majority of overhead athletes present with posterosuperior lesions while individuals who have traumatic SLAP lesions typically present with anterosuperior lesions. These variations are important when selecting which special tests to perform based on the patient’s history and mechanism of injury.

 

Type III SLAP Lesions

Type III SLAP lesions are characterized by a bucket-handle tear of the labrum with an intact biceps insertion. The labrum tears and flips into the joint similar to a meniscus. The important concept here is that the biceps anchor is attached, unlike a Type II.

 

Type IV SLAP Lesions

Type IV SLAP lesions have a bucket-handle tear of the labrum that extends into the biceps tendon. In this lesion, instability of the biceps-labrum anchor is also present, similar to that seen in the type II SLAP lesion. This is basically a combination of a Type II and III lesion.

What is complicated about this classification system is the fact that the Type I-IV scale is not progressively more severe. For example a Type III SLAP lesion is not bigger, or more severe, or indicative to more pathology than a Type II SLAP lesion.
To further complicate things, Maffet et al: AJSM ’95 noted that 38% of the SLAP lesions identified in their retrospective review of 712 arthroscopies were not classifiable using the I-IV terminology previously defined by Snyder. They suggested expanding the classification scale for SLAP lesions to a total of 7 categories, adding descriptions for types V-VII.
  • Type V SLAP lesions are characterized by the presence of a Bankart lesion of the anterior capsule that extends into the anterior superior labrum.
  • Type VI SLAP lesion involve a disruption of the biceps tendon anchor with an anterior or posterior superior labral flap tear.
  • Type VII SLAP lesions are described as the extension of a SLAP lesion anteriorly to involve the area inferior to the middle glenohumeral ligament.

These 3 types typically involve a concomitant pathology in conjunction with a SLAP lesion. Although they provided further classification, this terminology has not caught on and is not frequently used. For example, most people will refer to a Type V SLAP as a Type II SLAP with a concomitant Bankart lesion.

Since then there have been even more classification types described in the literature, up to at least 10 that I know of, but don’t worry, nobody really uses them.

 

Top 5 things you need to know about classifying SLAP lesions

Here’s all you need to know about classifying SLAP tears:

  1. Just worry about Type I-IV SLAP lesions and realize that any classification system above Type IV just means that there was a concomitant injury in addition to the SLAP tear.
  2. You can break down and group Type I and Type III lesions together. Both involved degeneration of the labrum but the biceps anchor is attached. Thus, these are not unstable SLAP lesions and are not surgically repaired. This makes surgery (just a simple debridement) and physical therapy easier.
  3. You can also break down and group Type II and Type IV lesions together. Both involve a detached biceps anchor and require surgery to stabilize the biceps anchor. Type IV SLAP tears are much more uncommon and will involve the repair and a debridement of the bucket handle tear.
  4. Type II lesions are by far the most common that you will see in the clinic and are almost always what a surgeon is referring to when speaking of a “SLAP repair.”  That being said, we are seeing trends towards NOT repairing SLAP II lesions, as they may be more common than once expected.  This is especially true in overhead athletes.
  5. We all may have a Type I lesion, it is basically just fraying and degeneration of the labrum.

 

 

shoulder seminarLearn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

If you want to learn even more about the shoulder, my online course at ShoulderSeminar.com will teach you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder.  It is packed with tons of educational content that will help you master the shoulder, including detailed information on the clinical examination and treatment of SLAP tears.

 

 

 

5 Ways to Decrease the Risk for an ACL Injury

Injuries to the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) are some of the most common injuries in the active population. As incidence of other injuries have decreased, injuries involving the ACL have rose astronomically over the years.  There have been numerous studies done looking at what causes the ACL to tear. More specifically, female athletes are 4-5x more likely to tear their ACL as compared to their male counterparts.

Like with any injury, it cannot be blamed on one thing. Injuries are multi-factorial as well as non-preventable.  Injuries will always happen.  The only thing that we can do is to decrease the frequency or incidence of them. Luckily, as we continue to learn more about the mechanism of injury, we have developed some strategies to reduce your chance of ACL injuries.

 

5 Ways to Decrease the Risk for an ACL Injury

Here are 5 things to focus on when designing programs to reduce ACL injuries.

 

Optimize Mobility

If you look at the human body, there are many joints. Some of those joints require mobility and some of those joints require stability. Depending on which plane of motion you are in, mobility or stability is usually more imperative than the other.

When it comes to mobility, there are certain joints in the body that we need to have optimal mobility in order to decrease the risk for an injury to the ACL. The two joints that come to mind are the talocrural joint of the ankle, and the femoroacetabular joint of the hip.

For the ankle, specifically dorsiflexion range of motion is imperative to decrease strain at the knee. If the ankle doesn’t have the ability to dorsiflex and absorb force during a land from a jump or cutting maneuver, the mid foot or knee are the two joints that will have to have increased mobility to accommodate the athletic endeavor.

 

Ankle Mobility

To assess for adequate ankle mobility, use the Knee to Wall Ankle Mobility Test.

Key Points:

  • Place your foot 4 inches away.
  • Keeping your foot flat on the floor, attempt to touch your knee to the wall.
  • Don’t allow for valgus or varus collapse.

If you can reach the wall from 4 inches, then you have sufficient ankle mobility to run, squat, and perform without playing increased stress through the knee due to poor ankle mobility.

The other joint in the body that needs to have optimal mobility is the hip.  The motions at the hip that need adequate mobility are hip flexion, hip extension, hip abduction, hip internal and external rotation.

Now, you may be saying, “Wow, that’s a lot of areas that need mobility.”  Well, let’s break it down!

 

Hip Flexion

5 ways to reduce ACL injuriesAnecdotally, I like to see clients present with full hip flexion. If there is decreased mobility into hip flexion, this can send a signal to the brain to alter movement and muscle firing patterns and in turn, can affect how someone lands or moves.

A quick and easy test is to test passive hip flexion range of motion.  

This involves bringing your knee towards your chest. Ideally, your thigh should reach the inferior aspect of your rib cage. Now, everyone is made differently and depending upon what sport you play, hip structure can vary from person to person.

If you cannot reach your thigh to your rib cage, slightly abduct your thigh and see if you can go further. If you can, then your hips are structured a little differently.

 

Hip Extension

Key Points:

  • Thigh should be able to reach parallel to ground.
  • Knee should be at 90 degrees to thigh.
  • Thigh should drop straight down and not flare out towards side of body.

Hip extension mobility is necessary to be able to activate the gluteus maximus and hamstrings in order to decrease incidence of a valgus collapse. If adequate hip extension mobility is not present, then muscular compensation will occur and in turn, possible injury.

 

Hip Internal Rotation (IR)

Even though hip internal rotation is part of the combination of movements that contribute to an ACL injury, not having the requisite mobility is a risk factor. If the body doesn’t have certain available ranges of motion, then the brain and central nervous system are not able to prevent going into those said ranges of motion. Therefore, if someone doesn’t have adequate hip internal rotation, then the body has no way to prevent that motion from occurring.

VandenBerg et al. in Arthroscopy: The Journal of Arthroscopic & Related Surgery that “risk of ACL injury is associated with restricted hip IR, and as hip IR increases, the odds of having an ACL tear decreases.”

 

Hip External Rotation

Hip external rotation is important because avoidance of a knee valgus position is necessary to avoid injury to the ACL. Having adequate hip external range of motion will allow the athlete to be able to get into an athletic position to avoid that valgus position.

 

Learn How to Land

You watch any NFL or NBA game and guys are jumping to catch a ball to to tap in a rebound for 2 points. Most injuries to the ACL don’t occur on the jumping portion as it does on the landing portion.

When athletes have to land from a jump, the body has to absorb 7-10x their body-weight in forces from the ground.  If joints aren’t in an ideal position to absorb and adapt to stress, injuries can happen.

landing mechanics ACL injury

Photo credit

Therefore, we need to assess athletes in their landing patterns and mechanics to make sure their body is resilient and capable to land properly.

 

Step Down Test

 

The Step Down Test is a simple way to determine an athlete’s predisposition to absorbing eccentric stress. Ideally, we like to see the pelvis, hip, knee, and ankle remain in a line during descent.

 

If someone steps down and the femur internally rotates and the knee goes into valgus collapse,  this is something that needs to be rectified.

If you want to use a more quantitative analysis of landing mechanics and skill as compared to the contralateral limb, then here are 3 tests that can help with that.

 

Single Leg Hop for Distance

Key Points:

  • Instruct the athlete to jump as far as then can and land on 1 leg.
  • They must stick the landing without hopping around or using their leg/arm for balance.
  • Perform 2 trials.  Measure each jump, take the average of the 2 trials, then repeat on the opposite leg.

 

Triple Hop for Distance

Key Points:

  • Instruct the athlete to jump as far as they can, land on 1 leg, and continue for 2 more hops, sticking the 3rd landing
  • They must stick the landing without hopping around or using their leg/arm for balance.
  • Perform 2 trials.  Measure each jump, take the average, then repeat on the opposite leg.

 

Crossover Hop for Distance

Key Points:

  • Instruct the athlete to jump as far as they can, land on 1 leg, and continue for 2 more hops, sticking the 3rd landing while crossing over a tape line on the floor with each jump.
  • They must stick the landing without hopping around or using their leg/arm for balance.
  • Perform 2 trials.  Measure each jump, find the average, then repeat on the opposite leg.

Now that you have the average for all 3 jumps, we need to determine if the difference between the two limbs is significant. According to Adams in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy, limb symmetry indexes of 90% have previously been suggested as the milestone for determining normal limb symmetry in quadriceps strength and functional testing.

According to Phil Plisky, one of the developers of the Y-Balance Test, he advocates that the athlete’s reconstructed lower extremity be within 95% on the non-involved leg.

To determine if distances hopped are significant, the involved limb must be within 90-95% of the non-involved side. If it is less than 90%, then that athlete is at risk for future knee injury.

Using a regimen consisting of single leg plyometrics in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes as well as single leg exercises that focus on power development can help to improve any major deficits.

 

Achieve Symmetry

If an athlete presents with a gross asymmetry, their risk for injury can increase 3-17x. Besides using the Hop Tests, one way to assess gross asymmetry is also using the Y-Balance Test.

The Y-Balance Test consists of 3 lower and upper body movements. For the sake of this post, we will be focusing on the lower body. The movements consist of:

y balance test ACL injuries

Photo credit

If there is greater than a 4 cm difference right vs left on the anterior reach (1st picture), this is considered a risk factor for a lower extremity injury.

Smith, Chimera, and Warren found in Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise that “ANT (anterior)  asymmetry >4 cm was associated with increased risk of noncontact injury.”

If there is greater than a 6 cm difference right vs left on the posteromedial or posterolateral reaches, pictures 2 and 3, then this is considered a risk factor for a lower extremity injury.

Asymmetry is a normal thing.  Everyone from elite level athletes to the average joe has natural asymmetries right vs left. Some asymmetries may not change and some asymmetries may make someone the elite level athlete that they are. Having a relative asymmetry right vs left is ok, but having a gross asymmetry is not.

 

Enhance Core Stability

The core musculature is responsible for providing a stable base for the pelvis, hips, knees, ankles, etc. to function off of in life and in sport. If a stable base is not provided, then it can create instability and injury further down or up the kinetic chain.

Decreased core stability can cause:

  • Pelvic Drop
  • Femoral Internal Rotation
  • Knee Valgus
  • Tibial External Rotation
  • Subtalar Excessive Pronation

All these movements are associated with injuries of the ACL. By stabilizing proximally and providing a stable base for all of the aforementioned areas to work off of, this can decrease the risk for injury.

In order to test for core stability, the Trunk Stability Push-Up (TSPU) by Functional Movement is a good test.

This is a great test to determine if someone can maintain a neutral spine while performing a push-up, but also to determine if they have a base level of core stability to maintain a certain trunk position during life/sport.

If someone cannot maintain a specific trunk position, this doesn’t mean that they have a “weak core.” or weak upper extremities. It means that the athlete doesn’t have the capability to stabilize their core proximally in order to exude force distally.

 

Learn How to Decelerate

Most athletes are fast or at least quick on their feet. The great athletes can speed up and slow down better than anyone. One common risk factor we see with ACL injuries is the inability or subpar ability to be able to decelerate.

What this means is that if someone is going to stop or change direction, they need to have the necessary skills to control their body in space when going from accelerating, to decelerating, and then back to accelerating again.

All fast cars are fast! All really fast cars have great brakes!

In order to assess an athlete’s ability to decelerate, observe how the do with change of direction drills.  For example, movements such as:

 

Sprint/Backpedal w/ Redirection

Lateral Shuffles w/ Redirection

Sprint with 45 Degree Cut

Sprint with 90 Degree Cut

Backpedal, Stop, to 90 Degree Sprint

Backpedal, Stop, to 45 Degree Sprint

All of these various movements test an athlete’s ability to accelerate, decelerate and change directions in all planes of movement. A coach, personal trainer, or physical therapist should be present to provide the athlete with the redirection component. This makes it more random and unpredictable to make sure the athlete can react and move appropriately.

While observing these various change of direction movements, observe the mechanics of the pelvis and lower extremity.

Does the pelvis and hip/knee stay in a relative stable and neutral position when decelerating and stopping?

Does the pelvis and hip/knee go into a valgus collapse during decelerating, stopping, and accelerating phases of movement? Compare these right versus left lower extremities.

If you are having trouble observing these things with the naked eye, film it!  There are apps such as DartFish or Hudl that you can download to film athletes and then you can watch it in slow motion to observe any differences side to side.

If differences are seen in right and left comparison, then work on change of direction drills. When first starting off, start the athlete at ½ or ¼ speed so that they can work on their deceleration, stopping, and accelerating mechanics.

We don’t necessarily want to bombard the athlete with too much information about biomechanics of the lower extremity, but having a basic discussion with them and showing them how they currently move and how you would want them to move safely and more efficiently is ideal.

Then once, then can master ¼ or ½ speed, then increase the speed of the drills until you are working at full speed on both sides. There are a multitude of drills out there to work on acceleration, deceleration, stopping, and change of direction. Make sure start with the sagittal plane, and then progress into the frontal and transverse planes.  

If you can’t master the sagittal plane, then the frontal and transverse planes will be much more challenging.

Assessing mobility, landing mechanics, relative lower extremity symmetry, core stability, and acceleration/deceleration can all help to improve an athlete’s performance as well as decrease their risk for an ACL injury.

 

About the Author

Andrew Millett is a Boston-based physical therapist in the field of orthopedic and sports medicine physical therapy.  He helps to bridge the gap between physical therapy and strength and conditioning.  Visit his website at AndrewMillettPT.com.

 

 

 

Meniscus Repair Rehabilitation: Why Are We Still Stuck in the 90’s?

Meniscus injuries within the knee are a common occurrence.  In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that meniscus surgery is the most frequent surgical procedure performed by orthopedic surgeons in the United States, with more than 50% of the procedures performed in patients 45 years of age or older.

Despite this high occurrence, many inconsistencies continue to exist in the rehabilitation of a patient following meniscus repair surgery, particularly involving the rate of weightbearing and range of motion.

I’m still shocked by this and wanted to discuss the recent research that is lending to a more progressive approach to return people safely back to their prior level of function.

Rehabilitation Follow Meniscus Repair

meniscus repair surgery weightbearingRehabilitation after surgical debridement of the meniscus is pretty straightforward. We return the patient’s range of motion, strength and function per their symptoms and let pain and swelling guide the rehab process (a very general guide but one often employed by many rehabilitation specialists).

However, when the meniscus is actually repaired and not just debrided, there are other factors to consider.  When a meniscus is repaired, the tear is approximated using stitches to allow the tear to heal.  

Rehabilitation following a meniscus repair has to be more conservative, however, despite research saying otherwise, there are still many rehabilitation protocols floating around the orthopaedic and sports medicine world that recommend limiting weight-bearing and range of motion after a meniscal repair.  We continue to ignore the literature because of fear that the ‘stress’ on the meniscus with walking and range of motion may be too high.

Unfortunately, many of these commonly used protocols are from the 1990’s. (The current protocols we use can be found at RehabilitationProtocols.com)

So if we’re going to talk 90’s protocols, take a look at these studies from way back when from Shelbourne  and Barber  that showed excellent results in patients undergoing a combined ACL-meniscus repair procedure and utilizing no limitations in weightbearing or range of motion, similar to a protocol for an isolated ACL reconstruction.

Recent studies from VanderHave and Lind on isolated meniscus repairs have shown similar results using an “aggressive” program of immediate weightbearing compared to a more conservative approach.

I certainly wouldn’t consider these “aggressive” programs, they simply used immediate weightbearing and range of motion.

Again, these studies show meniscal repair outcomes are no different while using restricted weightbearing and range of motion versus an “aggressive” protocol of immediate weight-bearing and unlimited range of motion.

Early Weightbearing After Meniscus Repair

meniscus repair surgery range of motionBut what about the exact mechanisms that many are still fearful of allowing early in the process, like early walking and range of motion? Won’t that put the repair in a position to fail?

We typically immobilize people in full extension during weightbearing, locked in a brace for 4-6 weeks after meniscal repair surgery.

So, if immobilized in extension, why do we limit weightbearing?

During weightbearing, compressive forces are loaded across the menisci. These tensile forces create ‘hoop stresses’, which expand the menisci in extension. These hoop stresses are thought to be helping the healing process in many tears by approximating the tissue.

Furthermore, the compressive loads applied while weightbearing in full extension following a vertical, longitudinal repair or bucket-handle repair have been shown to reduce the meniscus and stabilize the tear, as noted by Rodeo  and more recently by McCulloch.

Early Range of Motion After Meniscus Repair

What about early range of motion?

There is very limited literature on the influences of range of motion on meniscal movement. Thompson showed that during flexion, the posterior excursion of the medial meniscus was 5.1 mm, while that of the lateral meniscus was 11.2 mm.

Looking at meniscal movement as the knee flexes in weightbearing and non-weightbearing you can see there’s less motion, although I really don’t think we know how much motion is detrimental. The motion has been shown to help improve blood flow to the area. This is huge and may aid in the healing process!meniscus biomechanics

What Do We Recommend?

Anecdotally, I can say we have handled meniscal repairs to allow weightbearing and range of motion to tolerance for many years.  Some of the top orthopedic surgeons in the world that I have worked with currently handle a meniscal repair the same as an ACL reconstruction with a meniscal repair .

For an isolated meniscal repair, I prefer the knee continue to be immobilized in full extension for 4-6 weeks but allowed full weightbearing immediately (if a longitudinal repair). For complex repairs, I would recommend limiting weightbearing to partial but understand that the hoop stresses could aid in healing and are arguably helpful and necessary.  For both cases, I would recommend passive range of motion to tolerance.

Trust me, I respect the healing meniscus and continually monitor patients as I progress their range of motion and weight-bearing activities. Things like new joint line pain along the site of the repair, new swelling or a change in pain patterns, and even clicking (although most people have this) are all signs that I may want to further assess and modify my progression.

Based off of this, I continue to stand by my rehab guidelines of full, pain free passive range of motion and immediate weightbearing after a vertical longitudinal meniscal repair. The literature is screaming this same thing at us but we continue to ignore their calls and revert to the 90’s!

What do the surgeons that you work with recommend?  Are any of them still recommending rehab guidelines based on outdated research?  Comment below and let me know, I want to hear what the rest of the country is seeing!

Learn How I Evaluate and Treat the Knee

If you want to learn even more about meniscus rehabilitation, we discuss all of this this and much more in our online knee course at OnlineKneeSeminar.com where we teach you exactly how we evaluate and treat the knee.  Click below to learn more:

6 Keys to ACL Rehabilitation

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on 6 Keys to ACL Rehabilitation is now available.

 

6 Keys to ACL Rehabilitation

6 keys to acl rehabilitationThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on 6 Keys to ACL Rehabilitation.  In this presentation, I’ll go over the 6 key foundational principles that you need to understand to maximize your results with ACL rehab.  There are many surgical and patient variables that may speed up or slow down the standard rehab progression, however, you can build an optimal program by following these 6 principles.

This webinar will cover:

  • The #1 complication after ACL rehab, prolonged weakness, and how to minimize this
  • The two most important things to focus on during the first week of rehabilitation
  • How to develop advanced strength programs and alter periodization schemes in the rehab setting
  • My simple, yet effective, criteria to return to activities

 

To access this webinar:

 

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

how pelvic tilt influences hamstring and spine mobilityHow many people come to you and complain that they have tight hamstrings?  It seems like an epidemic sometimes, right?  I know it’s pretty common for me, at least.  

Many people just tug away at their hamstrings and aggressively stretch, which may not only be barking up the wrong tree, but also disadvantageous.

I have really gotten away from blindly stretching the hamstrings without a proper assessment, as I feel that pelvic position is often the reason why people think they are tight.  This is pretty easy to miss.

In the video below, I want to explain and help you visualize the how pelvic tilt influences hamstring mobility and spine position.  Often times the hamstrings feel “tight” or “short” when in reality their pelvic position is just giving us this illusion.  I talk about this a lot with clients at Champion and often find myself making these drawings on our whiteboard.

Keep this in mind next time you think someone has tight hamstrings or has too much thoracic kyphosis.  Often times the key is in the hips!

 

How Pelvic Tilt Influences Hamstring and Spine Mobility

 

Strategies for Anterior Pelvic Tilt

If you are interested in learning more, I have a couple of great webinars for my Inner Circle members that you may find helpful:

Hip Variations and Why My Squat Isn’t Your Squat

Today’s article is an AMAZING guest post from my friend Dean Somerset.  I’ve been talking a lot lately about how hip anatomy should change your mechanics and why exercises like squats should be individualized based on each person, but Dean blows this topic out of the water with this article.  If you love this stuff as much as I, check out the link at the bottom for Dean and Tony Gentilcore’s new program, The Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of what is covered in the program.

 

Hip Variations and Why My Squat Isn’t Your Squat

In a recent workshop, I had a group of 50 fit and active fitness professionals and asked them all to do their best bodyweight squat with a position that felt good, didn’t produce pain, and was as deep as they could manage. As you can imagine, looking around the room produced 50 different squats. Some were wide, narrow, deep, high, turned out feet or some variation all of the above.

Did these differences mean there was a standard everyone should aim for, and those who weren’t there had to try to improve their mobility or strength or balance in that position? Maybe, but there’s probably a bunch of other reasons as to why 50 people have 50 different squats.

A standard requirement for powerlifting is to squat to a depth that involves having the crease of the hips below the vertical position of the knee. That’s probably the only known requirement for squat depth out there. The universal recommendation of “ass to grass” depth being the best thing since sliced bread may sound nice on paper (or in Instagram videos or Youtube segments), but it might be something that’s relatively difficult for some people to achieve, and for others it could be downright impossible, regardless of how much mobility work or soft tissue attacks they go through. The benefits of a deep squat seem to only be reserved for those who have the ability to express those benefits by accessing that range of motion without some other compensatory issue.

Let’s just consider simple stuff like anthropometric differences between individuals. Someone who is taller will have a bigger range of motion to go through to hit a parallel position than someone who is shorter, and someone with longer femurs in relation to their torso length will have a harder time maintaining balance over their base of support compared to someone who has shorter femurs. A long femur could be any femur that comprises more than 26% of an individual’s’ total height. So someone who is tall and long femured will have trouble getting down to or below parallel due to simply having the limb lengths to allow the bar to stay over the base of support during the squat motion without losing balance one way or the other.

Not as commonly known is the degree of retroversion or anteversion the femoral necks can make. The shaft of the femur doesn’t just always go straight up and insert into the pelvis with a solid 90 degree alignment. On occasion the neck can be angled forward (femoral head is anterior to the shaft) in a position known as anteversion, or angled backward (femoral head is posterior to the shaft) in a position known as retroversion. Zalawadia et al (2010) showed the variances in femoral neck angles could be as much as 24 degrees between samples, which can be a huge difference when it comes to the ability to move a joint through a range of motion.

hip variations squat

The acetabulum could itself be in a position of anteversion or retroversion, and this difference itself could be more than 30 degrees. This means the same shaped acetabulum would give someone who has the most anteverted acetabulum 30 extra degrees of flexion than someone who had the most retroverted acetabulum, but would give them 30 degrees more extension than the anteverted hips.

There’s also the differences in centre-edge angles, or the angle made from the center of the femoral head through the vertical axis and the outer edge of the lateral acetabulum. Laborie et al (2012) measured this angle in 2038 19 year old Norwegians, and found that it ranged from 20.8 degrees to 45.0 degrees with a mean of 32 in males and 31 in females.

hip anatomy squat

Now to throw even another monkey wrench into the problem, there’s the simple fact that your left and right hips can be at different angles from each other! Zalawadia (same guy as before) showed that the angle of anteversion or retroversion of the femur could be significantly different from left to right, sometimes more than 20 degrees worth of difference.

squat anatomy

All of this can have a direct effect on their available range of motion. You can’t easily mobilize bone into bone and create a new range from that interaction, so if one person has hips where the bony alignment and shape doesn’t causes earlier contact in a specific direction compared to someone else who has a different shaped and aligned hip structure, it’s going to show in their overall mobility.

Elson and Aspinal (2008) showed that there can be a massive variation in both passive and active movements of the hip across age ranges and gender differences. They showed a true hip flexion range of between 80-140 degrees (mean of 25)with no lumbar rounding, a strict active straight leg raise with no lumbar rounding range of 30-90 degrees (mean of 70), and active leg raise with lumbar rounding of 50-90 degrees (mean of 86). This means someone in their sample managed to get 60 degrees more hip flexion than someone else in the sample. There was also a range of between 5-40 degrees of hip extension too, and across an age range from 19-89 years old, that’s a notable difference, especially if you work in general populations where everyone walks into the gym and over to the squat rack.

D’Lima et al (2000) found that hip flexion ROM could be as low as 75 degrees with 0 degrees of both acetabular anteversion or femoral anteversion, but as high as 155 degrees, with 30 degrees of both acetabular anteversion or femoral anteversion. An increase in femoral neck diameter of as little as 2mm was able to reduce hip flexion range by 1.5 – 8.5 degrees, depending on the direction of motion.

So essentially, your ability to achieve a specific range of motion is as much up to your unique articular geometry as it is to your strength and mobility. In many cases, it’s entirely independent of your strength and mobility, and no amount of stretching, mashing, crushing, or stripping will improve it. In many cases, trying to achieve that range of motion that’s outside of your joints ability to achieve will cause less desirable results, like bone to bone contact and irritation (potentially leading to things like femoroacetabular impingement), or compensatory movement from other joints like the SI joint or lumbar spine.

So with as much involved with the structure as I’ve presented here, and how impactful it can be to the end result of total motion of the hips during exercises, how can you determine whether it’s a limiting factor or not? If you happen to have X-ray vision you can do a good job of this, but you’d likely be charging a heck of a lot more money than you are right now for your services.

What we have available is a detailed assessment that focuses on a combination of features.

Involving a passive assessment to assume a theoretically available range of motion and shape of movement capability, an active assessment to see how they can use that range and whether there’s a difference between the two, and then determining strength or motor pattern aptitudes for the movements can be the best tools we have at our disposal, and then coaching the movement until their face sweats blood.

By using multiple approaches to assessing available and usable range of motion, you can get multiple views into a room that can paint a broader picture of what’s available. If the person has the ability to easily let their knee drop to their chest on your treatment table and squat to the floor, there’s obviously no restriction to their range of motion. If they have trouble breaking 90 degrees, even if they move wider through abduction and external rotation, their active range is limited through multiple tests, and their ability to show you a squat shows a lumbar flexion at around 90 degrees of hip flexion as well, the odds of you mobilizing that tissue to produce a significantly bigger range may be limited.

 

Passive Assessment of Hip Structure

 

Active Hip Flexion Capability Against Gravity

 

Active Rockback for Hip Flexion without Gravity Influence

 

Supported Squat Assessment


If all of these tests show a specific limitation to the range of motion consistently across all situations, it could be assumed that there would be a structural limitation versus passive insufficiency, weakness or other considerations. If active testing is limited but passive or supported assessments are fine, there could be a strength or motor pattern limitation holding the movement back.

Now sure, there’s a lot of brakes that could be restricting that range, from things like scar tissue to guarding and some soft tissue restrictions. Doing some work to help reduce that can help improve overall range of motion, but in some cases will be limited to just minimal gains. In some situations, trainers or therapists may work on improving range of motion for weeks or months and see no improvement, and in many cases the deck would be stacked against them seeing any improvement at all.

customized squat pattern

As mentioned earlier, there could also be an asymmetric structural element at play, which may necessitate an asymmetric setup for the movement where one foot is either turned out more, held slightly forward or back, or even turned into something like a one-heel elevated squat. The difference between this and a lunge is merely how far back that elevated foot is relative to the other foot, but again it’s taking advantage of potential asymmetries in structure and allowing an asymmetric set up to be more congruent with the individual.

Another way to think of it is if we have a potentially asymmetric structure yet force a symmetric set up on it, we may be creating an imbalance or compensative element in our training versus preventing it.

The Complete Hip and Shoulder Blueprint

complere shoulder and hip blueprintThese and many more elements are discussed in Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint, a new continuing education resource from Tony Gentilcore and Dean Somerset. This digital video product is 11 hours of lecture and hands on where they break down pertinent anatomy, considerations for program design, and delve into assessments, corrective options, and training considerations for these 2 highly involved complex structures.

The series is currently on a launch sale pricing, and the entire package is available for only $137 versus the regular pricing of $177. The sale is on from November 1 through 5, so act quickly to get your copy.  Click below to learn more or check out the below preview video!

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Shoulder Impingement – 3 Keys to Assessment and Treatment

Shoulder impingement really is a pretty broad term that most of us likely take for granted.  It has become such a junk term, such as “patellofemoral pain,” especially with physicians.  It seems as if any pain originated from around the shoulder could be labeled as “shoulder impingement” for some reason, as if that diagnosis is helpful to determine the treatment process.

Unfortunately, There is no magical “shoulder impingement protocol” that you can pull out of your notebook and apply to a specific person. [Click to Tweet]

I wish it were the simple.

A thorough examination is still needed.  Each person will likely present differently, which will require a variations on how you approach their rehabilitation.

But the real challenge when working with someone with shoulder impingement isn’t figuring out they have shoulder pain, that’s fairly obviously.  It’s figuring out why they have shoulder pain.

 

 

Shoulder Impingement: 3 Keys to Assessment and Treatment

To make the treatment process a little more simple, there are three things that I typically consider to classify and differentiate shoulder impingement.

  1. Location of impingement
  2. Structures involved
  3. Cause of impingement

Each of these can significantly vary the treatment approach and how successful you are helping each person.

 

Location of Impingement

The first thing to consider when evaluating someone with shoulder impingement is the location of impingement.  This is generally in reference to the side of the rotator cuff that the impingement is located, either the bursal side or articular side.

shoulder impingement assessment and treatment

See the photo of a shoulder MRI above.  The bursal side is the outside of the rotator cuff, shown with the red arrow.  This is probably your “standard” subacromial impingement that everyone refers to when simply stating “shoulder impingement.”  The green arrow shows the inside, or articular surface, of the rotator cuff.  Impingement on this side is termed “internal impingement.”

The two are different in terms of cause, evaluation, and treatment, so this first distinction is important.  More about these later when we get into the evaluation and treatment treatment.

 

Impinging Structures

To me, this is more for the bursal sided, or subacromial, impingement and refers to what structure the rotator cuff is impinging against.  As you can see in the pictures below (both side views), your subacromial space is pretty small without a lot if room for error.  In fact, there really isn’t a “space”, there are many structures running in this area including your rotator cuff and subacromial bursa.

Shoulder impingement

You actually “impinge” every time you move your arm.  Impingement itself is normal and happens in all of us, it is when it becomes excessive or abnormal that pathology occurs.

I try to differentiate between acromial and coracoacromial arch impingement, which can happen in combination or isolation.  There are fairly similar in regard to assessment and treatment, but I would make a couple of mild modifications for coracoacromial impingement, which we will discuss below.

 

Cause of Impingement

The next thing to look at is the actual reason why the person is experiencing shoulder impingement.  There are two main classifications of causes, that I refer to as “primary” or “secondary”shoulder  impingement.

Primary impingement means that the impingement is the main problem with the person.  A good example of this is someone that has impingement due to anatomical considerations, with a hooked tip of the acromion like this in the picture below.  Many acromions are flat or curved, but some have a hook or even a spur attached to the tip (drawn in red):

shoulder impingement

 

Secondary impingement means that something is causing impingement, perhaps their activities, posture, lack of dynamic stability, or muscle imbalances are causing the humeral head to shift in it’s center of rotation and cause impingement.  The most simply example of this is weakness of the rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff and larger muscle groups, like the deltoid, work together to move your arm in space.  The rotator cuff works to steer the ship by keeping the humeral head centered within the glenoid.  The deltoid and larger muscles power the ship and move the arm.

Both muscles groups need to work together.  If rotator cuff weakness is present, the cuff may lose it’s ability to keep the humeral head centered.  In this scenario, the deltoid will overpower the cuff and cause the humeral head to migrate superiorly, thus impinging the cuff between the humeral head and the acromion:

evaluation and treatment of shoulder impingement

 

Other common reasons for secondary impingement include mobility restrictions of the shoulder, scapula, and even thoracic spine.  We see this a lot at Champion.  In the person below, you can see that they do not have full overhead mobility, yet they are trying to overhead press and other activities in the gym, flaring up their shoulder.

shoulder impingement mobility

If all we did with this person was treat the location of the pain in his anterior shoulder, our success will be limited.  He’ll return to gym and start the process all over if we don’t restore this mobility restriction.

The funny thing about this is that people are almost never aware that they even have this limitation until you show them.

 

 

Differentiating Between the Types of Shoulder Impingement

In my online program on the Evidence Based Evaluation and Treatment of the Shoulder, I talk about different ways to assess shoulder impingement that may impact your rehab or training.  There are specific tests to assess each type of impingement we discussed above.

The two most popular tests for shoulder impingement are the Neer test and the Hawkins test.  In the Neer test (below left), the examiner stabilizes the scapula while passively elevating the shoulder, in effect jamming the humeral head into the acromion.  In the Hawkins test (below right) the examiner elevates the arm to 90 degrees of abduction and forces the shoulder into internal rotation, grinding the cuff under the subacromial arch.

Shoulder impingement tests

You can alter these tests slightly to see if they elicit different symptoms that would be more indicative to the coracoacromial arch type of subacromial impingement.  This would involve the cuff impingement more anteriorly so the tests below attempt to simulate this area of vulnerability.

The Hawkins test (below left) can be modified and performed in a more horizontally adducted position.  Another shoulder impingement test (below right) can be performed by asking the patient to grasp their opposite shoulder and to actively elevate the shoulder.

how to assess shoulder impingement

There is a good chance that many patients with subacromial impingement may be symptomatic with all of the above tests, but you may be able to detect the location of subacromial impingement (acromial versus coracoacromial arch) by watching for subtle changes in symptoms with the above four tests.

Internal impingement is a different beast.

This type of impingement, which is most commonly seen in overhead athletes, is typically the result of some hyperlaxity in the anterior direction.  As the athlete comes into full external rotation, such as the position of baseball pitch, tennis serve, etc., the humeral head slides anterior slightly causing the undersurface of the cuff to impingement on the inside against the posterior-superior glenoid rim and labrum.  This is what you hear of when baseball players have “partial thickness rotator cuff tears” the majority of time.

shoulder internal impingement

 

 

The test for this is simple and is exactly the same as an anterior apprehension test.  The examiner externally rotates the arm at 90 degrees abduction and watches for symptoms.  Unlike the shoulder instability patient, someone with internal impingement will not feel apprehension or anterior symptoms.  Rather, they will have a very specific point of tenderness in the posterosuperior aspect of the shoulder (below left).  Ween the examiner relocates the shoulder by giving a slight posterior glide of the humeral head, the posterosuperior pain diminishes (below right).

how to assess shoulder internal impingement

 

3 Keys to Treating Shoulder Impingement – How Does Treatment Vary?

There are three main keys from the above information that you can use to alter your treatment and training programs based on the type of impingement exhibited:

Subacromial Impingement Treatment

To properly treat, you should differentiate between acromial and coracoacromial impingement.  Treatment is essentially the same between these two types of subacromial impingement, however, with coracoacromial arch impingement, you need to be cautious with horizontal adduction movements and stretching.  This is unfortunate as the posterior soft tissue typically needs to be stretched in these patients, but you can not work through a pinch with impingement!

A “pinch” is impingement of an inflamed structure!

Also, I would avoid elevation in the sagittal plane or horizontal adduction exercises.

 

Primary Versus Secondary Shoulder Impingement

This is an important one and often a source of frustration in young clinicians.  If you are dealing with secondary impingement, you can treat the persons symptoms all you want, but they will come back if you do not address the route of the pathology!

I do treat their symptoms, that is why they have come to see me.  I want to reduce inflammation.  However, this should not be the primary focus if you want longer term success.

This is where a more global look at the patient, their posture, muscle imbalances, and movement dysfunction all come into play.  Break through and see patients in this light and you will see much better outcomes.

A good discussion of the activities that are causing their symptoms may also shed some light on why they are having shoulder pain.  Again, using the example above, if you don’t have full mobility and try to force the shoulder through this tightness you are going to likely cause some issues.  This is especially true if you add speed, loading, and repetition to elevation, such as during many exercises.

 

Internal Impingement

One thing to realize with internal impingement is that this is pretty much a secondary issue.  It is going to occur with any cuff weakness, fatigue, or loss of the ability to dynamically stabilize.   The athlete will show some hyperlaxity in this athletic “lay back” shoulder position.  Treat the cuff weakness and it’s ability to dynamically stabilize to relieve the impingement.  How to treat internal impingement is a huge topic that I cover in a webinar for my Inner Circle members.

 

Learn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

If you are interested in mastering your understanding of the shoulder, I have my acclaiming online program teaching you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder at ShoulderSeminar.com!

The online program at takes you through an online 8-week program with new content added every week.  You can learn at your own pace in the comfort of your own home.  You’ll learn exactly how I approach:

  • shoulder seminarThe evaluation of the shoulder
  • Selecting exercises for the shoulder
  • Manual resistance and dynamic stabilization drills for the shoulder
  • Nonoperative and postoperative rehabilitation
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Shoulder instability
  • SLAP lesions
  • The stiff shoulder
  • Manual therapy for the shoulder

The program offers 21 CEU hours for the NATA and APTA of MA and 20 CEU hours through the NSCA.

Click below to learn more!

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Should Everyone Deadlift?

Many people have called the deadlift, “the king of all exercises.”  And rightfully so, as there may not be a bigger bang-for-your-buck exercise out there.

In my opinion, the deadlift is the most underutilized exercise in rehabilitation.  Perhaps the move is intimidating?  Perhaps people are afraid of barbells?  Perhaps people are worried patients may hurt their backs?  Perhaps rehab professionals don’t know enough about strength and conditioning?

I always say that I am a much better physical therapist because I am also a strength coach, and always keep learning from many great strength coaches.

As the gap between rehab and performance continues to narrow, the deadlift may be the final exercise to cross the chasm.  We shouldn’t be afraid of the deadlift, however, we also need to understand the the conventional deadlift is not for everyone.

 

Why Everyone Should Deadlift

should everyone deadliftOne of the most important trends in rehabilitation and strength and conditioning over the last decade or two has been the move away from muscle-based exercises and shift towards movement-based exercises.  Rather than work on quad strength, work on squatting, for example.  (Photo credit by the man, the myth, and the deadlift legend Tony Gentilcore)

The deadlift is essentially a hip hinge pattern, which is extremely functional and equally elusive for many people.

Put simply, people can’t hinge anymore!  It’s amazing.

As our society changes and relies more on poor posture patterns, prolonged seated periods, and things like excessive use of smartphones, I’m amazed how it seems even kids can’t touch their toes anymore.

Working on a poor hip hinge pattern is extremely helpful for so many different issues that I see every day.  From back pain, to knee pain, to even poor sport performance.

We have become so anterior chain dominant.  Luckily, the deadlift hits the entire posterior chain in one big lift.  

So the the deadlift really helps with the hip hinge pattern, but there are so many other benefits including working on better posture, glute development, lower extremity power development, a stronger core, stronger lats, and even enhanced grip strength.  

You can see why it’s such a big bang-for-your-buck exercise.

 

Why Everyone Shouldn’t Deadlift

Wait a minute…

I just spent the first half talking about how beneficial the deadlift is for so many people.  Why shouldn’t everyone perform a deadlift?

Let me clarify – I’m talking about the conventional barbell deadlift.

Take a step back and remember that we are more concerned about movements, than muscles, right?  So luckily there are many variations of hinging, and even deadlifts, that can be utilized to achieve all the above great goals.

Perhaps the deadlift is so underutilized in the rehab setting because everyone just looks at the conventional barbell deadlift.  That’s like going straight to the top, saying that there is no way you can perform that exercise, then just scrapping all forms of deadlifts and hip hinge exercises.

Most people that walk into the door at Champion have no chance at being successful at a conventional barbell deadlift.  Among other things, you need:

  • Good mobility
  • An understanding of the hinge pattern neuromuscular pattern
  • The ability to load, essentially lift a weight with intent

Most people don’t have at least 2-3 of these qualities.

We’ll try to get them there with the right blend of mobility drills, corrective exercises, and manual therapy, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait to start deadlifting.  We just need to start at a more regressed level.

So, don’t immediately scrap the deadlift, find a way to incorporate it.  Work within your mobility and limited range, try a variation using a kettlebell or sumo stance, and use submaximal loads until you can groove a proper hip hinge pattern.

deadlift variations

One of my favorite resources on deadlift technique and variations is this excellent article by Mike Robertson.

As you improve, you can incorporate more advanced forms of the deadlift, but don’t simply scrap the deadlift until then, modify!

 

3 Ways to Modify a Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

If you want to learn more, I have an Inner Circle webinar on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform.  In this presentation, I break down the 3 most common reasons why people often don’t perform a deadlift, the inability to load, poor hinge patterns, and altered hip anatomy.  Deadlifts are great, and really underutilized in rehab, but with these 3 modifications, anyone should be able to perform them.

To access this webinar:

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