Clinical Examination Article Archives

Check out all my articles on clinical examination and evaluating injuries.  Explore the archives below or click the button to subscribe and never miss another post.

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How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility is now available.

How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility

How to assess overhead shoulder mobilityThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is a live demonstration of How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility .  In this recording of a live student inservice from Champion, I overview my process for assessing loss of overhead mobility.  This is a very common occurrence at Champion and something we do all day.  Many people don’t even realize they have a mild loss of mobility.

In this webinar, I’ll cover:

  • Why you must look at the shoulder, scapula, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine
  • What to look for during active elevation
  • How to assess for passive loss of motion
  • A couple of easy tweaks to assess if loss of mobility is coming from the joint or soft tissue
  • How to teach someone self assessments so they can monitor themselves

To access this webinar:

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute Weakness?

Lower crossed syndrome, as originally described by Vladimir Janda several decades ago, is commonly sited to describe the muscle imbalances observed with anterior pelvic tilt posture.

Janda Assessment and Treatment of Muscle ImbalanceJanda described lower crossed syndrome to explain how certain muscle groups in the lumbopelvic area get tight, while the antagonists get weak or inhibited.  Or, as Phil Page describes in his book overviewing the Janda Approach, “Weakness from from muscle imbalances results from reciprocal inhibition of the tight antagonist.”  Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalances: The Janda Approach is an excellent book that I recommend if you’re new to the concepts.

When you look at a drawing of this concept, you can see how it starts to make sense.  Tightness in the hip flexors and low back are associated with weakness of abdominals and glutes.

Lower Cross Syndrome

 

I realize this is a very two dimensional approach and probably not completely accurate in it’s presentation, however it not only seems to make biomechanical sense, it also correlates to what I see at Champion nearly daily.

Yet despite the common acceptance of these imbalance patterns, there really isn’t much research out there looking at these correlations.

 

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute Weakness?

Do Tight Hip Flexors Correlate to Glute WeaknessA recent study was publish in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy looking at the EMG activity between the two-hand and one-hand kettlebell swing.  While I enjoyed the article and comparision of the two KB swing variations, the authors had one other finding that peaked my interest even more.  And if you just read the title of the paper, you would have never seen it!

In the paper, the authors not only measured glute EMG activity during the kettlebell swing, but they also measure hip flexor mobility using a modified Thomas Test.  The authors found moderate correlations between hip flexor tightness and glute EMG activity.

The tighter your hip flexors, the less EMG was observed in the glutes during the kettlebell swing. [Click to Tweet]

While this has been theorized since Janda first described in the 1980’s, to my knowledge this is the first study that has shown this correlation during an exercise.

 

Implications

It’s often the little findings of study that help add to our body of knowledge.  This simple study showed us that there does appear to be a correlated between your hip flexor mobility and EMG activity of the glutes.  There are a few implications that you can take from this study:

  • Both two-hand and one-hand kettlebell swings are great exercises to strengthen the glutes
  • However, perhaps we need to assure people have adequate hip flexor mobility prior to starting.  I know at Champion we feel this way and spend time assuring people have the right mobility and ability to hip hinge before starting to train the kettlebell swing
  • If trying to strengthen the glutes, it appears that you may also want focus on hip flexor mobility, as is often recommended.  While a common recommendation, I bet many people skip this step.
  • This all makes your strategy to work with people with anterior pelvic tilt even more important.  Here is how I work with anterior pelvic tilt.

So yes, it does appear that hip flexor mobility correlates to glute activity and should be considering when designing programs.

 

How to Assess the Scapula

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Assess the Scapula is now available.

How to Assess the Scapula

How to assess scapular dyskinesisThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is a live demonstration of How to Assess the Scapula.  In this recording of a live student inservice from Champion, I overview everything you should (and shouldn’t) be looking for when assessing the scapula.  When someone has a big nerve injury with significant winging or scapular dyskinesis, the assessment of the scapula is pretty easy.  But how do you detect the subtle alterations in posture, position, and dynamic movement?  By being able to identify a few subtle findings, you can really enhance how you write a rehab or training program.

In this webinar, I’ll cover:

  • What to look for in regard to static posture and scapular position
  • How to check to see if static postural asymmetries really have an impact on dynamic scapular movement
  • What really is normal scapulothoracic rhythm (if there really is a such thing as normal!)?
  • How to reliably assess for scapular dyskinesis
  • How winging during the concentric and eccentric phases of movement changes my thought process
  • How to see if scapular position or movement is increasing shoulder pain
  • How to see if scapular position or movement is decreasing shoulder strength

To access this webinar:

A Simple Test for Scapular Dyskinesis You Must Use

A common part of my examinations includes assessing for abnormal scapular position and movement, which can simply be defined as scapular dyskinesis.  Scapular dyskinesis has long been theorized to predispose people to shoulder injuries, although the evidence has been conflicting.

Whenever data is conflicting in research articles, you need to closely scrutinize the methodology.  One particular flaw that I have noticed in some studies looking at the role of scapular dyskinesis in shoulder dysfunction has involved how the assess and define scapular dyskinesis.

Like anything else, when someone has a significant issue with scapular dyskinesis it is very apparent and obvious on examination.  But being able to detect subtle alterations in the movement of the scapula may be more clinically relevant.  There’s a big difference between someone that has a large amount of winging while concentrically elevating their arm versus someone that has a mild issues with control of the scapula while eccentrically lowering their arm.

Most people will not have a large winging of their scapula while elevating their arm.  This represents a more significant issue, such as a nerve injury.  However, a mild amount of scapular muscle weakness can change the way the scapula moves and make it difficult to control while lowering.

 

A Simple Test for Scapular Dyskinesis

One of the simplest assessments you can perform for scapular dyskinesis is watching the scapula move during shoulder flexion.  Performing visual assessment of the scapula during shoulder flexion has been shown to be a reliable and valid way to assess for abnormal scapular movement.

That’s it.  Crazy, right?  That simple!  Yet, I’m still amazed at how many times people tell me no one has ever looked at how well their scapula moves with their shirt off.

However, there is one little tweak you MUST do when performing this assessment…

You have to use a weight in their hand!

Here is a great example of someone’s scapular dyskinesis when performing shoulder flexion with and without an external load.  The photo on the left uses no weight, while the photo on the right uses a 4 pound dumbbell:

scapular dyskinesis

As you can see, the image on the right shows a striking increase in scapular dyskinesis.  I was skeptical after watching him lift his arm without weight in the photo on the left, however, everything became very clear when adding a light weight to the shoulder flexion movement.  With just a light load, the ability to prevent the scapula from winging while eccentrically lowering the arm becomes much more challenging.

I should also note that there was really no significant difference in scapular control or movement during the concentric portion of the motion raising his arms overhead:

scapular winging concentric

This person doesn’t have a significant issue or nerve damage, he simply just needs some strengthening of his scapular muscles.  But if you didn’t observe his scapula with his shirt off or with a dumbbell in his hand, you may have missed it!

 

How to Assess for Scapular Dyskinesis

In this month’s Inner Circle webinar, I am going to show you a live demonstration of how I assess scapular position and movement.  I’ve had past talks on how to assess scapular position and how to treat scapular dyskinesis, however I want to put it all together with a demonstration of exactly how I perform a full scapular movement assessment and go over things I am looking for during the examination.

I’ll be filming the video and posting later this month.  Inner Circle members will get an email when it is posted.

 

 

 

How to Assess for a Tight Posterior Capsule of the Shoulder

Over the years, the idea of posterior capsular tightness and glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) in baseball pitchers has grown in popularity despite not much evidence.

I routinely see baseball players ranging from kids to MLB pitchers that have been told they have GIRD and need to aggressively stretch their posterior capsule and into shoulder internal rotation.  One of the first recommendations I make is essentially addition by subtraction – stop focusing on these areas!  I’ve discussed at length my feelings on why I don’t use the sleeper stretch, which is something I haven’t used in over a decade and none of my athletes have a loss of internal rotation.

Many people assume that GIRD is caused my posterior capsular tightness, without assessing the posterior capsule itself.  Blindly applying treatments without completely assessing the person is always a bad idea, especially considering GIRD may be normal and not even an issue.

Assessing the posterior capsule can be tricky and most text books continue to demonstrate the technique poorly.  I wanted to share a quick video showing how to assess the posterior capsule of the shoulder.

Perform your assessment of the posterior capsule this way and you’ll realize most people can actually sublux posteriorly and that mobilizing the posterior capsule isn’t what they need for GIRD!  Keep in mind this is applicable for athletes, you can certainly get a tight posterior capsule for many reasons, I just don’t think this is the primary cause of GIRD so shouldn’t be the primary treatment.

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!

shoulder seminarThe online program at takes you through an 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:

  • The 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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How to Assess Shoulder Capsular Mobility

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on Assessing Shoulder Capsular Mobility is now available.

Assessing Shoulder Capsular Mobility

Assessing Shoulder Capsular Mobility - Social MediaThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on Assessing Shoulder Capsular Mobility.  This is a recording of an actual inservice we performed with the students and interns at Champion this week.  I’m super excited to be able to record and share things like this with my Inner Circle.  It’s like having a front row seat at our inservices!  I think this offers many benefits over the traditional webinar/lecture format, as you can watch the interaction and also see some of the clinical techniques better.

In this webinar, we discuss:

  • The anatomy of the shoulder capsule and glenohumeral ligaments
  • How different arm positions stress different aspects of the capsule
  • How to determine which ligament and aspect of the capsule is tight
  • How to assess range of motion at different positions to assess different portions of the capsule
  • How to perform range of motion and capsular mobility assessment of the shoulder
  • Clinical tips on the assessment technique

To access this webinar:

Scalene Hypertrophy

I recently evaluated yet another Major League baseball player with the “yips,” or what I like to call thoracic outlet syndrome.  I really don’t believe in the yips at all and feel that thoracic outlet syndrome is almost always to blame.  Telling a professional athlete it’s all in their head or some mysterious mechanical flaw is just insulting.

One of the major reasons that thoracic outlet syndrome occurs in baseball pitchers is from hypertrophy of the scalene muscles (and sternocleidomastoid).  Throwing a baseball causes many adaptations to the body, including this increase in scalene size.

Here is a video of the athlete inhaling with his head turned to each side.  Notice the significantly larger scalene and sternocleidomastoid on his right side.

 

scalene hypertrophy

I wish I had a magic trick to help in this situation.  I will perform manual therapy on the scalene muscles, surround musculature, 1st rib, and thoracic cage, however, it’s hard to combat the hypertrophy associated with throwing.

Understanding what to look for is the first step, though.  Scalene hypertrophy is a subtle finding to detect on examination.

 

 

Should We Stop Blaming the Glutes for Everything?

Today’s guest post comes from John Snyder, PT, DPT, CSCS.  John, who is a physical therapist in Pittsburgh, has a blog that has been honored as the “Best Student Blog” by Therapydia the past two years.  He’s a good writer and has many great thoughts on his website.  John discusses some of our common beliefs in regard to the role of the proximal hip on knee pain.  I’ll add some comments at the end as well, so be sure to read the whole article and my notes at the end.  Thanks John!

Should We Stop Blaming the Glutes for Everything?

should we stop blaming the glutes

Anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) rupture1,2 and patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS)3,4,5 are two of the most common lower extremity complaints that physicians or physical therapists will encounter. In addition to the high incidence of these pathologies, with regards to ACL injury, very high ipsilateral re-injury and contralateral injury have also been reported6,7,8.

With the importance of treating and/or preventing these injuries, several researchers have taken it upon themselves to determine what movement patterns predispose athletes to developing these conditions. This research indicates that greater knee abduction moments9,10, peak hip internal rotation11, and hip adduction motion12 are risk factors for PFPS development. Whereas, for ACL injury, Hewett and colleagues13 conducted a prospective cohort study identifying increased knee abduction angle at landing as predictive of injury status with 73% specificity and 78% sensitivity. Furthermore, as the risk factors for developing both disorders are eerily similar, Myer et al performed a similar prospective cohort study finding that athletes demonstrating >25 Nm of knee abduction load during landing are at increased risk for both PFPS and ACL injury14.

Does Weak Hip Strength Correlate to Knee Pain?

With a fairly robust amount of research supporting a hip etiology in the development of these injuries, it would make sense that weakness of the hip musculature would also be a risk factor, right?

A recent systematic review found very conflicting findings on the topic. With regards to cross-sectional research, the findings were very favorable with moderate level evidence indicating lower isometric hip abduction strength with a small and lower hip extension strength with a small effect size (ES)15. Additionally, there was a trend toward lower isometric hip external rotation and moderate evidence indicates lower eccentric hip external rotation strength with a medium ES in individuals with PFPS15. Unfortunately, the often more influential prospective evidence told a different story. Moderate-to-strong evidence from three high quality studies found no association between lower isometric strength of the hip abductors, extensors, external rotators, or internal rotators and the risk of developing PFPS15. The findings of this systematic review indicated hip weakness might be a potential consequence of PFPS, rather than the cause. This may be due to disuse or fear avoidance behaviors secondary to the presence of anterior knee pain.

Does Hip Strengthening Improve Hip Biomechanics?

Regardless of its place as a cause or consequence, hip strengthening has proved beneficial in patients with both PFPS16,17,18 and following ACL Reconstruction19, but does it actually help to change the faulty movement patterns?

Gluteal strengthening can cause several favorable outcomes, from improved quality of life to decreased pain, unfortunately however marked changes in biomechanics is not one of the benefits. Ferber and colleagues20 performed a cohort study analyzing the impact of proximal muscle strengthening on lower extremity biomechanics and found no significant effect on two dimensional peak knee abduction angle. In slight contrast however, Earl and Hoch21 found a reduction in peak internal knee abduction moment following a rehabilitation program including proximal strengthening, but no significant change in knee abduction range of motion was found. It should be noted that this study included strengthening of all proximal musculature and balance training, so it is hard to conclude that the results were due to the strengthening program and not the other components.

Does Glute Endurance Influence Hip Biomechanics?

All this being said, it is possible that gluteal endurance may be more influential than strength itself, so it would make sense that following isolated fatigue of this musculature, lower extremity movement patterns would deteriorate.

Once again, this belief is in contrast to the available evidence. While fatigue itself most definitely has an impact on lower extremity quality of movement, isolated fatigue of the gluteal musculature tells a different story. Following a hip abductor fatigue protocol, patients only demonstrated less than a one degree increase in hip-abduction angle at initial contact and knee-abduction angle at 60 milliseconds after contact during single-leg landings. In agreement with these findings, Geiser and colleagues performed a similar hip abductor fatigue protocol and found very small alterations in frontal plane knee mechanics, which would likely have very little impact on injury risk23.

Can We Really Blame the Glutes?

The biomechanical explanation for why weakness or motor control deficits in the gluteal musculature SHOULD cause diminished movement quality makes complete sense, but unfortunately, the evidence at this time does not agree.

While the evidence itself does not allow the gluteal musculature to shoulder all of the blame, this does not mean we should abandon addressing these deficits in our patients. As previously stated, posterolateral hip strengthening has multiple benefits, but it is not the end-all-be-all for rehabilitation or injury prevention of lower extremity conditions. Proximal strength deficits should be assessed through validated functional testing in order to see its actual impact on lower extremity biomechanics on a patient-by-patient basis. Following this assessment, interventions should be focused on improving proximal stability, movement re-education, proprioception, fear avoidance beliefs, graded exposure, and the patient’s own values, beliefs, and expectations.

John SnyderJohn Snyder, PT, DPT, CSCS received his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 2014. He created and frequently contributes to SnyderPhysicalTherapy.com (Formerly OrthopedicManualPT.com), which is a blog devoted to evidence-based management of orthopedic conditions.  

Mike’s Thoughts

John provides an excellent review of many common beliefs in regard to the influence of the hip on knee pain.  While it is easy to draw immediate conclusions from the result of one study or meta-analysis, one must be careful with how they interpret date.

I think “anterior knee pain,” or even PFPS, is just too broad of a term to design accurate research studies.  It’s going to be hard to find prospective correlations with such vague terminology.  Think of it as watering down the results.  Including a large sample of people, including men, women, and adolescents and attempting to correlate findings to “anterior knee pain” is a daunting task.

Imagine if we followed a group of adolescents from one school system for several years.  Variations in gender, sport participation, recreational activity, sedentary level, and many more factors would all have to be considered.  Imagine comparing the development of knee pain in a 13 year old sedentary female that decided she wanted to run cross country for the first time with an 18 year old male basketball player that is playing in 3 leagues simultaneously.  Two different types of subjects with different activities and injury mechanisms.  But, these two would be grouped together with “anterior knee pain.”

What do we currently know?  We know hip weakness is present in people with PFPS and strengthening the hips reduces symptoms.  As rehabilitation specialists, that is great, we have a plan.  I’m not sure we can definitely say that hip weakness will cause knee pain, but I’m also not sure we can say it won’t.  Designing a prospective study to determine may never happen, there are just too many variables to control.

John does a great job presenting studies that require us to keep an open mind.  I’m not sure we can make definitive statements from these results, but realize that there are likely many more variables involved with the development of knee pain.  Hip strength and biomechanics may just be some of them.  Thanks for sharing John and helping us to remember that it’s not always the glutes to blame!