How to Perform a Thorough and Systematic Clinical Examination – Part 2

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Perform a Thorough and Systematic Clinical Examination – Part 2 is now available.


How to Perform a Thorough and Systematic Clinical Examination – Part 2

This month’s Inner Circle webinar is on How to Perform a Thorough and Systematic Clinical Examination – Part 2.  In this presentation, I discuss some of the concepts behind how to structure an excellent clinical examination process.  This will assure that you are always following a systematic process to detect an structural and functional issues, and that you can easily create a plan of treatment to help the person reach their goals.  This is part 2 of 2 and will focus on the objective, assessment, and planning portions of the exam.

This webinar series will cover:

  • The 4 main buckets of any clinical examination process
  • How to assure you follow a systematic approach each and every time
  • How to look for structural pathology, as well as find any suboptimal areas of function that may be related
  • How to take your exam and make an effective assessment and treatment plan

To access this webinar:

 

 

How to Perform a Thorough and Systematic Clinical Examination – Part 1

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Perform a Thorough and Systematic Clinical Examination – Part 1 is now available.


How to Perform a Thorough and Systematic Clinical Examination – Part 1

This month’s Inner Circle webinar is on How to Perform a Thorough and Systematic Clinical Examination – Part 1.  In this presentation, I discuss some of the concepts behind how to structure an excellent clinical examination process.  This will assure that you are always following a systematic process to detect any structural and functional issues, and that you can easily create a plan of treatment to help the person reach their goals.  This is part 1 of 2 and will focus on the general concepts and subjective component of the exam.

This webinar series will cover:

  • The 4 main buckets of any clinical examination process
  • How to assure you follow a systematic approach each and every time
  • How to look for structural pathology, as well as find any suboptimal areas of function that may be related
  • How to take your exam and make an effective assessment and treatment plan

To access this webinar:

 

5 Common Core Exercise Mistakes and Fixes

We’ve come along way over the last decade when it comes to training the core.  Not too long ago, training the core consisted of mainly exercises like sit ups, with no specific attention to how the core functions.

One of the key areas of core training that I focus on to enhance movement quality and performance is stabilizing the core while the arms and legs move.  Essentially proximal stability, with underlying distal mobility of the extremities.

However, don’t forget that the body is amazing at compensating to get the job done.

Any lack of mobility or motor control will often result in compensatory movements.  Many people want to fly through their core program, but often times don’t focus on the quality of the movement.

Here are 5 common core exercise mistakes that I see, along with some suggestions on how to fix them.  I posted these as a series on Instagram, if you want to see more posts like this, be sure to follow me there.

 

Front Plank

A common error I see when people perform a front plank is over relying on the hip flexors to hold the position. You sometimes see them tighten their core but also come up into a bit of hip flexion.

If you hold planks for too long, you may also notice that you slowly creep up into this position as your core fatigues and your hip flexors take over.

There are two easy ways to improve this:

1. Focus on tightening your core AND your glutes.  This should help hold the neutral pelvic position.
2. Perform sets of planks with each rep being ~8-10 seconds, with no break, just a quick reset, instead of sustained holds.⠀This will keep the focus on the core before the hip flexors take over.

 

 

Side Plank

Similar to the front plank, the side plank is easy to use larger muscle groups to compensate.  One easy way to ruin a good side plank is simply to lift the body too high off the table. You’ll see too much side bend and will make this a lateral bend motion instead of a core stability exercise.

To fix this, try performing with a mirror so you can see your form. Your body should be in a straight line with a nice neutral spine.

 

 

Dead Bug

One of the common faults we see with the dead bug core exercises is a loss of neutral spine when the arms or the legs are full extended. ⠀The person tends to focus on getting there hands and feet extended, rather than keeping their core stable.

Remember the goal of the exercise is to brace and stabilize the core while moving the extremities.

Be sure to keep that brace, but also realize that it’s often better to reduce your arm and leg motion a bit if you are struggling and arching your back.⠀I’d rather you make the exercise less challenging, but performed well, then slowly progress over time.

 

 

Bird Dog

I’m a big fan of the bird dog exercise for two main reasons:

1) It’s great exercise to work on driving hip extension with proper core stability. A lot of people hyperextend their back instead of extending their hip.
2) Because you use alternate arm and leg for advanced variations, it also provides some rotational stability through the core.

But people LOVE to perform this exercise poorly by compensating and arching their back.  Many people struggle to extend their hip while keeping their spine stable.  Be sure to keep your core stable and just work on reaching with arms and legs.⠀Similar to the dead bug, I’d rather you reduce the quantity of your motion, and focus on the quality of the motion.

 

 

Glute Bridge

A common flaw with the glute bridge exercise (and hip thrusts) is thinking that you need to go as far as possible, as far as your body will go.

But keep in mind, the goal here is the glutes, not the low back. So the exercise should really be performed to extend you hips and NOT your back.

To help with this, really tighten your anterior core during the exercise and focus on squeezing your glutes. Then, simply stop the motion when the glutes are done squeezing. Many people want to keep going.  They tighten their glutes, but then keep pushing the body higher over the ground.  Resist the urge to continue by hyperextending at your back.

 

 

Want to Learn More About How I Train the Core?

Check out Eric Cressey and I’s Functional Stability Training of the Core program.  We discuss the core in detail and how we rehabilitate and train the core.

 

 

 

 

Is Icing an Injury Really Bad for You? What the Science Says

Today’s article is an excellent review of the effects of cryotherapy, or ice, from my good friend Phil Page, PhD, PT, ATC, CSCS, FACSM.  Man, icing an injury sure has taken some heat (see what I did there…) lately on the internet.  There is a HUGE anti-ice movement.  I’m always amazed at how polarizing social media can be, with people screaming their black or white opinion, when in reality much of what we do is in the grey.  I get questions all the time about wether or not icing is good or bad for you, with many people quick to jump to the conclusion that we should not be icing.  Well, let’s find out what the research actually says.  Phil’s the Director of Research & Education with Performance Health, and one of the best at analyzing the research.

 

Is Icing an Injury Really Bad for You?

You’ve probably heard the debate on whether icing is helpful or harmful. You might be strongly on one side or the other, or maybe you aren’t sure which side you’re on because you’ve heard so many different things.

Despite what you might hear from anti-ice gurus that tend to be sensationalized on the Internet, let’s look at the facts and how we got here.

Ice isn’t the bad guy. Yes, we tend to apply ice in some situations that probably doesn’t help and claim we do so for the wrong reasons.  But the bottom line is that there are several benefits to ice, and ice has not been proven to impede the healing process as many claim.

About 30 years ago as a student athletic trainer at LSU, we frequently used ice, following the research of Dr. Ken Knight, who literally wrote the book on cryotherapy. I, as most other athletic trainers, was keenly aware of the mechanism of ice after an acute injury. As a graduate assistant athletic trainer for baseball at Mississippi State, I continued to advocate ice for my pitchers after they threw. Ice was my best friend.

Suddenly, stories came out that icing was bad for pitchers. As a matter of fact, one story back then was that it actually caused bursitis! Knowing a little about pathophysiology, I quickly dismissed that hogwash…  but the gears were in motion against using ice after pitching.

Fast forward to a few years ago. All of a sudden, ice is again demonized, but this time, it’s a vicious attack:

“Icing is wrong.”

“Ice impedes healing.”

“Icing is harmful.”

Say it ain’t so! Wha are we supposed to do?  Those are some bold claims!

The argument against ice tends to center around ice impeding the healing process as an ‘anti-inflammatory.’ Throughout the healing process (injury, inflammation, repair, remodeling), we need each of those stages to occur in order.  As an anti-inflammatory, the question was if ice actually creates an environment that does not allow the tissue to repair itself?  Interestingly, this same argument came out around the same time as people started questioning NSAIDS for the same reason!

Well, one study did get published (Tseng et al. 2013) titled, “Topical Cooling (Icing) Delays Recovery from Eccentric Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage.” The authors found increased signs of muscle damage after applying ice following eccentric exercise compared to a ‘sham’ application (although I’m not sure how you actually can apply ‘sham’ ice).

Bingo. Proof that ice impedes healing!  Right?  Hold on cowboy. That’s not the whole story.

What you didn’t hear about unless you actually read the study was that the authors concluded:

This study does not provide evidence on whether recovery from pitching-induced muscle damage would be slowed down by topical cooling.”

And while the authors found increased biomarkers in the group receiving cold therapy, there was no difference in strength or pain between the groups.  And I won’t even get into the question of adequate power with an n of 11.  You could argue that the study did not have enough subjects to have much clinical relevance.

Yet, ice was under attack again.

In addition, a few review studies of ice after ankle injuries raised more doubt on the practice of “RICE” (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). The conclusion was that the quality of the research was generally poor quality, and the outcomes were inconclusive.

Note the word, “inconclusive” is not the same as “ineffective.”

And many times, effectiveness of icing was measured by the amount of swelling, rather than the actual healing process and return to activity. And while we know that ice doesn’t do much for swelling after the first 48 hours (Cote et al. 1988), modest cooling has been shown to reduce edema in animal studies (Collins 2008, Deal et al. 2002).

Yet, there we were, left to question if icing for recovery or after acute injuries was actually helping or hurting our athletes.  How did we get to this point?

 

The Claims Against Ice are Largely Based on Pseudoscience

The claim that ice is harmful by delaying the healing process is not supported by science. You may have seen bits and pieces of “science” in the false claim, but it’s a play on science that doesn’t give you the full picture or ability to make such a bold statement.  It’s called pseudoscience….statements that appear to be based on the scientific method, but are not.

Icing is not harmful or wrong to use.

You have witnessed a sham. Like the cup-and-ball game. It happens so fast and seems logical, but it’s a mind-trick.  Here are several things to consider.

Confirmation Bias

This is the tendency for us to accept evidence to confirm our own beliefs or theories. If you think ice is bad, you will tend to accept the information that supports your belief.  This makes us feel good because it confirms our prejudice.

False Logic

If inflammation (A) is necessary to get to healing (C), and ice (B) reduces inflammation (A), then ice (B) must reduce healing (C). FALSE. There is no direct evidence that icing reduces the healing process. In contrast, research supports the fact that ice does not impede healing (Vieira Ramos et al. 2016).  Granted, this was a study from an animal model, but who wants to be a human subject to test that theory?

Circumstantial Evidence

Evidence that attempts to prove a fact by connecting a related event or condition to a conclusion, as opposed to direct observation, is considered ‘circumstantial.’ This could be one of the most common ways science is used to incorrectly support claims. The presence of biomarkers in the blood may be an indirect measure of muscle damage, but it does not prove ‘cause-and-effect’. (Remember the DOMS study I referenced above?) Guilt by association is not the same as ‘causation.’ Using surrogate measures to make a definitive conclusion is a slippery slope.

Inconclusive Conclusions

Poor research (or no research) cannot serve as a basis for a conclusion on efficacy, let alone harm. The evidence on applying ice after an acute ankle injury is ‘inconclusive’ based on only a few studies of poor quality (Bleakley et al. 2004; van den Bekerom et al. 2012). There are no studies that applying ice after an ankle injury reduces recovery time (Hubbard et al. 2004). In fact, one study showed that early application of ice (< 36 hours) resulted in significantly faster return to play compared to delayed cryotherapy (Hocutt et al. 1982).

Comparing Apples to Oranges

Equating 2 things that appear similar, but are actually different, is not a fair comparison. Comparing DOMS to the healing process is not an accurate comparison. We know more about soft tissue healing after an injury than we do about the mechanism of DOMS, which is not a true model of an acute injury. Don’t forget, inflammation is not the same thing as swelling and edema!

Selective Science

Unbalanced reporting. Cherry-picking the literature. All signs of pseudoscience. The anti-ice movement has neglected years of research on the mechanism of ice after injury, focusing only on a select few studies that support (but in reality DON’T support) their argument. Dr. Knight explained that ice is not an ‘anti-inflammatory’ per-say (Knight, 1976); rather, it prevents the secondary injury to tissues by dampening the negative physiological effects of widespread inflammation. His position has been supported by other researchers as well (Ho et al. 1994, Merrick et al. 1999). And to top it off, one study quoted against icing (Bleakley et al. 2004) even concluded, “The sooner after injury cryotherapy is initiated, the more beneficial this reduction in metabolism will be.” Hmmm…the anti-ice crowd must have missed that statement.

 

The Benefits of Ice

Ice is not wrong or harmful.  The theory that ice impedes the normal healing response by limiting inflammation is not well documented in the literature. If you have been swayed by this on the internet, I would urge you to try to research this more and scrutinize the literature.  Be careful of what you see on the internet and ALWAYS seek to validate anything yourself.

Ice has plenty of benefits and clinical validation.

Proper application of cryotherapy can reduce secondary injury and reduce edema formation if applied within the first 36 to 48 hours (remember, ice doesn’t reduce swelling after the acute injury phase, and may not play a huge role in inflammation or recovery).  We do know that ice helps reduce pain, spasm, and guarding, allowing more mobility (Barber et al. 1998, Raynor et al. 2005).   More than anything, ice is a convenient and potent pain reliever, so it’s ok to apply ice to ‘chronic’ conditions as a safer pain reliever at any time. In fact, cryotherapy has been shown to decrease the amount of prescription pain medications needed after surgery (Barber et al. 1998, Raynor et al. 2005).

Sure, there are some times that ice is overused or erroneously used fort the wrong reasons, like reducing swelling after 48 hours.  The clinical research may not be conclusive, but there is no direct evidence that ice impedes healing. The argument that ice is ineffective or harmful is based on pseudoscience, and we need to be aware of this tactic.

Just be careful what you read, everyone has a bias.  #StandUp4Ice.

 

Return to Play Testing After ACL Reconstruction

This week’s article is a guest post from Lenny Macrina.  Lenny discusses a really important topic right now regarding the safe return to sport after ACL reconstruction.  Are we returning people too fast? If you want to learn exactly how Lenny and I return people after ACL reconstruction be sure to check out our acclaimed online program on the Evaluation and Treatment of the Knee.

 

ACL reconstruction surgery continues to dominate the sports medicine and orthopaedic world. Research surrounding ACL surgery is abundant and I have written about it in previous posts on LennyMacrina.com and for Mike on his website. It’s an important topic because of the lack of general consensus on what’s the best way to assess return to play testing, never mind the relatively high failure rates.

For this post, I wanted to discuss the return to play testing after an ACL reconstruction to see what the literature says. I’m not going to lie, I don’t have a formal algorithm like some. I have people hop, skip and jump but don’t necessarily do a formal hop test.

I believe in slowly returning my athletes to their sport in a time that is safe. I carefully watch them move, advance their strength and power exercises and chat about how they feel about their knee.

With that, I wanted to do an extensive literature search to figure out what was the best way to truly test our athletes to determine their readiness.

Is there a best algorithm that will decrease retear rates? If so, why are we not using it for injury reduction programs…or are we?

 

Risks for ACL Reconstruction Failure

The risk of a second ACL injury in a young, active individual is high after a previous ACL reconstruction and return to sport.

Paterno and his group reported 23.5% of young, active patients suffered a second ACL injury in the first 12 months after RTS following ACLR.

Another study by Paterno and his colleagues showed 37.5% suffered a non-contact retear within 24 months after the initial reconstruction.

Surprisingly enough, this group also reported that 29.5% of young, active athletes who returned to cutting and pivoting sports after an ACL reconstruction suffered a second ACL injury 24 months after return to their sport.

A recent review by Wiggins et al showed that young, active athletes are at greater risk to suffer another ACL injury after ACL reconstruction and return to sport compared with uninjured adolescents.

With retear rates so high, there has to be a better strategy to get our athletes back to their sport safely.

 

ACL and Kinesiophobia

We know the mental component involving fear of movement/reinjury, or kinesiophobia, is often the last to come back for the athlete. A good majority of patients have some form of kinesiophobia after an ACL reconstruction and we need to be able to address that too. Numerous studies have shown this and it definitely needs to be understood and addressed as the program is progressed. Here’s another one for you to check out.

Those are just a couple of articles that discuss the self-reported fear that is involved in an athlete’s head. My pubmed search gave me 36 total articles that you may want to check out here.

There’s no denying the power of the mind when a return to play decision has to be made. I want them feeling as strong and confident as possible. It takes time and the days of trying to return someone back in 4-6 months seems to be a thing of the past. I did it.

Some self-reported outcome measurements that are commonly used are the TSK-11, known as the Tampa Scale for KInesiophobia. This is a shortened version of the original TSK-17 that was published previously.

 

 

Another questionnaire that can be use is the ACL-RSI or the Return to Sport after Injury Scale. It is used to assess psychological impact that may be in the athlete’s head. The goal of the questionnaire is to the athlete’s emotion, confidence and self-risk appraisal.

There are many other tools out there that can gauge a patient’s knee function such as the IKDC, KOOS, VAS scale, Lysholm, Tegner, and the Cincinnati Knee Scoring scale. I just wanted to add those in as an informational thing but they don’t necessarily measure the psychological component ad readiness for return to play.

 

Slow and Steady ACL Rehabilitation

I’ve gotten high school seniors back to their sport quickly and bragged about it. Despite their isokinetic test being marginally ok, the docs would clear them because of other circumstances. It’s the last game of the season or it’s their senior year or they made the playoffs and the team ‘needs them.’

It seems as if the literature supports some form of formal testing but there is no clear answer, in my opinion.

The tests that many currently utilize in the clinic have just never felt right to me. I’m not sure we can simply do some hop tests or a step down test and have enough information to decide on whether an athlete is ready to return to their sport. Both tests are in the sagittal plane and don’t account for fatigue or other planes of movements such as the frontal plane (side to side) or transverse plane (rotational motions.)

Never mind that when we are comparing the involved leg to the uninvolved leg during functional testing to determine limb symmetry index (LSI), are we inherently flawed? Does the strength and proprioception of the uninvolved leg diminish months after the ACL reconstruction which makes our battery of tests invalid by inflating the LSI?

 

Rethinking the Way We Determine Return to Play After ACL Surgery

Delaware researchers seem to think that the LSI can overestimate knee function after an ACL surgery. They have shown that doing baseline functional tests soon after the ACL tear gives a better estimate of the body’s strength and functional output.

So if we’re using the uninvolved leg as the comparison leg and it has undergone strength and proprioceptive changes during the 6-12 months of rehab, are we flawed from the start and our LSI testing is invalid and over-estimates an athlete’s return to play?

Maybe that’s one reason why our retear rates are so high.

 

Physical Therapy Is Not Good at Advanced Stage Rehab

Never mind the pink elephant in the room…  many PT’s are poor at prescribing higher level exercises. We just don’t see people past 8-12 weeks after surgery because of insurance visit limitations. We don’t have experience or the access to these patients once they’re discharged from PT.

It’s at this point that the real strength, power, endurance and agility activities really take shape. Unfortunately, most patients are on their own or working with other professionals. It is key that we maintain our relationships with other fitness professionals so we can influence and guide the later-stage rehab process.

But we often don’t, sadly.

It’s a long process, longer than we think and longer than the patient wants it to be.

 

Should We Delay Return to Sport Longer Than 12 Months?

This article talks about how the rehab is multifactorial and can often take 1-2 years to feel comfortable enough.

Even renowned ACL researcher Tim Hewett, known for his injury reduction programs, has advocated for a 2 year return to sport in one of his latest papers.

Most are not functionally ready to return to their sport even though they are cleared by their surgeon. It seems as if time is the number one decision maker and not necessarily functional tests of strength power and endurance.

This paper showed that at 6 months, 2 patients (3.2%) passed all criteria. At 9 months, seven patients (11.3%) passed all RTS criteria. Patients improved in all RTS criteria over time except for the IKDC score. Twenty-nine patients (46.8%) did not pass the strength criterion at 60°/s at 9 months after ACL reconstruction.

While this research paper looked at younger athletes cleared for sports participation After an ACL Reconstruction.  Only 13.9% of the participants passed all of the criteria (IKDC, quadriceps and hamstring strength limb symmetry index (LSI), and single-leg hop test) 1 year after surgery

This study looked to assess the changes over time in patients tested at 6 months and 9 months after ACL reconstruction.  At 6 months, only 2 patients (3.2%) passed all criteria. At 9 months, 7 patients (11.3%) passed all criteria.

What if they had a previous ACL tear and then they subsequently tear the contralateral side? What does the PT use for an index?

A study by the Zwolski group that the use of LSI’s during strength and performance tests may not be an appropriate means of identifying residual deficits in female patients after bilateral ACL reconstruction. They also concluded that “a better indicator of strength performance in this population may need to include a comparison of strength performance values to the normative values of healthy controls.”

There seems to be a persistent issue with getting the quadriceps muscle to return in our athletes. Despite our efforts, there seems to be a neuromuscular component that requires time and persistence.

This study showed that in patients an average of 7.5 months out of surgery demonstrated nearly a 30% weakness. They said diminished motor neuron recruitment or decreased motor-unit–firing frequency was likely contributing to reduced isometric quadriceps strength and interlimb asymmetries.

Another study looked to compare adolescent athletes ages 15-20 years old with adults ages of 21-30 years old. At the 8-month follow-up, 29% of the patients, in both age groups, who had returned to sport had recovered their muscle function in all 5 tests of muscle function (unilateral vertical hop; unilateral hop for distance; and unilateral side hop, isometric quad at 60° and knee flexion at 30°.) At the 12-month follow-up, the results were 20% for the adolescents and 28% for the adult patients.

Again, a large strength deficit at 12 months post-surgery despite our objective testing.

Never mind that most of these studies lum everyone together and don’t account for graft differences. In my opinion, we need to consider graft type as another variable that could contribute to retear rates and return to sport testing. I talked about graft selection in this blog post.

 

How Do We Determine When Safe to Return to Sports?

That’s the million dollar question. There are a few common ways that we can determine when it is safe to return to sports after ACL reconstruction.

 

Isokinetic Testing 

Isokinetic testing has been used for many years and seems to be valid and reliable. Although ths recent systematic review in BJSM stated that  isokinetic strength measures have not been validated as useful predictors of successful RTS.

Oh great, now what?

Don’t forget, back in 1994 Kevin Wilk and his group looked to determine if a correlation exists between three commonly performed clinical tests: isokinetic isolated knee concentric muscular testing, the single-leg hop test, and the subjective knee score in anterior cruciate ligament reconstructed knees. They noted a positive correlation was noted between isokinetic knee extension peak torque (180, 300 degrees/sec) and subjective knee scores, and the three hop tests (p < 0.001).

The problem lies with many clinics having limited access or just don’t use them anymore.

Because of that, we’ve had to adjust our thinking and use ground based testing such as hop tests, isometric strength testing and agility tests.

The research says that “athletes who did not meet the discharge criteria before returning to professional sport had a 4x greater risk of sustaining an ACL graft rupture compared with those who met all 6 RTS criteria (isokinetic strength testing at 60°, 180° and 300°/s, a running t-test, single hop, triple hop and triple crossover hop tests.) In addition, hamstring to quadriceps strength ratio deficits were associated with an increased risk of an ACL graft rupture.

This study says that the single hop for distance and ACL-RSI were found to be the strongest predictive parameters, assessing both the objective functional and the subjective psychological aspects of returning to sport. Both tests may help to identify patients at risk of not returning to pre-injury sport.

 

Hand-Held Isometric Strength Testing

This is another test that is commonly used in return to sport testing after an ACL. I think it could be used but it gives limited information and can be painful if not done correctly. The painful response has been shown to statistically influence outcomes and needs to be modified to prevent alterations in true quadriceps force generation.

Also, the measurements using a hand held dynamometer are often lower than what can be obtained with an isokinetic device, as seen in this study.

I know many use hand-held dynamometry but I just can’t see its value as a return to sport test that is valid.

There are just too many questions about where to put the device to minimize pain while kicking. Also, at what angle do we place the knee to best isolate the quadriceps? Ninety degrees or 60 degrees of flexion? Research seems to look at both methods.

Plus, does a concentric, isometric contraction REALLY give us the information that we truly need to make an informed decision or have we sought a cheaper alternative to isokinetics and embraced it. We PT’s are suckers for the easiest way to diagnose, treat and test and often miss the big picture.

Research can guide us but common sense and experience must play some role as well.  

 

Hop Tests to Determine Return to Play

Hope tests are often utilized by rehabilitation specialists to determine an athlete’s ability to generate and dissipate a force when compared to their contralateral knee. As far as I can see, Noyes was one of the 1st to talk about hop tests in the literature in 1991.

Four common tests are utilized and reported in the literature. They include single leg hop for distance, triple hop for distance, crossover hop for distance and 6-meter time hop. The general rule is to obtain an LSI ≥ 90% compared to the reference limb.

 

As usual, both limbs are tested and the uninvolved limb is used as the reference, which we mentioned previously as an inherent potential flaw (the Delaware study.)

Using these tests can help the rehab specialist reduce ACL re-tears as noted in this study from BJSM in 2016. They showed reinjury rates were “significantly reduced by 51% for each month RTS was delayed until 9 months after surgery, after which no further risk reduction was observed.”

Furthermore, 38.2% of those who failed RTS criteria involving hop tests and quad strength symmetry within 10% suffered re-injuries versus 5.6% of those who passed all of the testing criteria.

 

Closing Thoughts on ACL Return to Sport Testing

My research has confounded my thoughts even more and added to the questions. It seems as if there is no clear way to determine readiness to return to sport after an ACL. Our testing seems somewhat flawed and despite our efforts, ACL retear rates are too high.

To simply say it comes down to strength is not enough. We’re so focused on quadriceps strength that we’re missing the big picture. Of course the quadriceps are highly important, bt don’t forget about hamstring:quadriceps ratios, gluteus strength, force attenuation, and fatigue-state rehab.

Never mind there’s the mental component and the ability to attenuate forces in game situations. These are things we cannot truly test.

We’re missing something but it does seem that the time-based scenario may be an option to consider, meaning they need to stay out of their sport for at least 9 months, and ideally 12-24 months, or as long as they are continually doing their progressive strength training.

I think therein lies the answer. As physical therapists, we don’t do a very good job at advanced strength training and periodization. We can learn a lot from our fellow strength coaches. Plus the fact that the athlete is all too eager to return to their sport without fully understanding the consequences.

Despite all of our testing, we continue to show poor outcomes even 12+ months after reconstruction. I can’t blame the tests, right? It’s the preparation for the tests that seems to be lacking.

What do you do to test your athletes when they’re considering a return to their sport?

 

Learn Exactly How We Evaluate and Treat the Knee

online knee seminarIn our online course at OnlineKneeSeminar.com we discuss the many pathologies of the knee, including ACL reconstruction. We outline a progressive program that starts preoperative and goes until the athlete is ready to return to their sport.  If you are interested in learning are full approach, our course has a lot to offer. You’ll learning exactly how we evaluate and treat the knee and become an expert at knee rehabilitation.

 

 

Special Tests for Rotator Cuff Tears

Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common injuries we see in orthopedic physical therapy.

During the clinical examination of the shoulder, we want to perform special tests designed to detect a rotator cuff tear.  

Below are my 4 favorite special tests for rotator cuff tears that I perform during my clinical examination of the shoulder.  These 4 tests do a good job detecting larger tears that are causing dysfunction.

As rotator cuff tears become more common, we are starting to see them in younger and more active patients.  In these patients, they often have smaller tears and it is much more difficult to detect with our special tests.  These types of patients often present with pain and weakness, and not as much dysfunction as you would see in a traditional older patient with a more degenerative tear.  

This is likely because their rotator cuff tear is either small or partial.  These are often just isolated to the supraspinatus muscles as well, and their other rotator cuff muscles are functioning well.  

As a rotator cuff tear becomes larger, retracted, and more degenerative in nature, the patient’s shoulder dysfunction will become more apparent as it becomes difficult for the rotator cuff as a group to function well.

 

Shoulder Shrug Sign

The first special test I perform to diagnose a rotator cuff tear is the shoulder shrug sign.

During this test, the key to check if they can actively elevate their arm if you help them past their shrug arc.  When the shoulder is positioned below 90 degrees, the line of pull and the force vector of the deltoid muscles is superior.  This is often counterbalanced by the line of pull and force vector of the rotator cuff.

In the image below, the left is the line of pull of the deltoid at various shoulder positions.  The picture on the right is the supraspinatus. Notice how the deltoid starts to have a similar line of pull as the rotator cuff once the shoulder reaches 90-120 degrees of elevation:

If the rotator cuff is torn, then the deltoid is the dominant muscle and the resultant force vector is more superior.  

This is the shrug.

However, one you get the arm overhead, the deltoid is now more in line with the rotator cuff and can help center the humeral head within the glenoid fossa.  

So, you want to passively help them get above this position to see if they can elevate towards the upper range of elevation.

There isn’t really any information in the literature regarding this test.  It’s not something you’d probably find as a specific test for a rotator cuff tear, but something I have clinically found to be relevant to me.

 

Shoulder Drop Arm Test

The next rotator cuff tear special test that I perform is the drop arm test.  The concept of this test is pretty similar to the shrug sign. You passively elevate the arm and see if they can hold that position without the arm dropping, or shrugging.

If the arm drops or shrugs, then the rotator cuff likely isn’t able to counterbalance the superior line of pull of the deltoid.

The research has shown that the sensitivity of the drop arm test is low to moderate, but specificity is high from 80-100%.  This is consistent with most of your clinical examination of the shoulder. You usually have to have a significant tear to start seeing these tests positive.

 

Rotator Cuff Lag Sign

The rotator cuff lag signs are similar special tests as the drop arm test.  Essentially, they are like a drop arm for external rotation of the shoulder instead of elevation.

As rotator cuff tears get larger, they tend to extend from the supraspinatus into the infraspinatus.  The lag signs show a difficulty in the external rotators holding the arm against gravity.

The test appears to be specific in the literature with specificity between 88-100% and several studies in the 90% range.  Sensitivity has varied in studies, but has shown 45-56% sensitivity to detect full thickness supraspinatus tears, 70% in infraspinatus tears, and 100% in teres minor tears.  This makes sense to me as it’s a better test for larger tears extending into the infraspinatus and teres minor.

 

Lag Sign at 90 Degrees

I also like to perform a variation of the lag sign at 90 degrees of elevation.  It is the same test as the traditional lag sign, however, I have found this test to be even more challenging.  I have seen patients that had a positive lag sign at 90 degrees of elevation, and a negative lag sign at 20-30 degrees.  It’s simply a more challenging position for the cuff.

The research has shown this to have specificity between 70-100%, however varying sensitivity from 20-100%.  But again, for the same reasons as the lag sign above.

 

Special Tests for Rotator Cuff Tears

If you use all four of the above special tests as a cluster, I think you’ll often be able to detect a large full thickness rotator cuff tear during your clinical examination.  These tests tend to be more sensitive to larger tears in older and more degenerative patients.

But remember, special tests are just a piece of the puzzle.

 

 

The 5 Biggest Mistakes People Make Returning to Training After a Shoulder Injury

Today’s post is an amazing guest post from two of my colleagues at Champion, Dave Tilley and Dan Pope. It’s really an honor to get to work with these guys everyday, as they are some of the brightest minds in the performance therapy and training industry right now. They recently release an educational product that I recommend everyone check out called Peak Shoulder Performance, learn more about it below, plus take advantage of a special discount for my readers!


We are very fortunate to work at a facility that is on the cutting edge of shoulder rehabilitation and sports performance. As a team at Champion, we have combined our ideas in a collaborative format to innovate some of the most effective methods for optimal shoulder training.

We have also been very fortunate that our professional work has given us first-hand experience helping a very diverse population of clients for shoulder-related issues. We have been lucky to see the systems we’ve created at Champion successfully help clients with shoulder injuries who are Division 1 and professional athletes, elite gymnasts, internationally competitive Olympic weightlifters, CrossFit games competitors, power lifters, and some of the most intense general population fitness enthusiasts out there. We can be very honest in saying that these people push their shoulders to the absolute limit with training and competition.

We mention these things not to seem egotistical or to brag. It is to highlight that a properly designed rehabilitation and performance program can get someone back to the highest level of training in sports.

The 5 Biggest Mistakes People Make Returning to Training After a Shoulder Injury

With this being said, we have found helping someone return to these highly demanding training environments following a shoulder injury is one of the trickiest areas to navigate. The knowledge our mentors have taught us and the experiences working with clients at Champion has given us some great insight to this challenge. We’ve experienced what works, what didn’t, and what really derails people when trying to get back to the training they love. In an effort to help readers out, here are five of the most common errors we see made when trying to return back to training following shoulder injury.

1. Rapidly Increasing Workload When Pain is Gone, or When Athletes are “Cleared”

This is without a doubt the most common error we have made as younger clinicians, and see others make regularly. Nothing is more exciting than when an athlete comes into the clinic saying they have been pain-free or got cleared by a doctor to train. However, we have to be very cautious about how much work we allow people to return to following shoulder injury.

Maybe you’ve heard clients say this:

“My shoulder was feeling much better so I jumped back into training. My pain has flared up again pretty bad. What happened?”

Yikes, not fun. We’ve had that stomach dropping moment more times than we care to admit. But, these things happen and it’s how we learn. With that said, it often feels like a problem that could have been avoided.

To help with this, we recommend you educate clients early in the rehabilitation process. Once you start feeling better, it’s not time to return to training full on. Things may be feeling great, but we still need to follow the continual game plan of progressive loading.

Start with the educational process, and then implement an objective plan of attack for rehabilitation. Things to keep in mind are the basic shoulder demands seen in a traditional training program. Things like vertical pushing and pulling, horizontal pushing and pulling, rotator cuff maintenance care and dynamic stability all come to mind. The plan must be outlined well in advanced and must take into account goals, timelines, and mild fluctuations in progress. If we plan and execute fully on this plan we can avoid athletes having flare up when they return to training.

2. Not Restoring Unilateral Strength Symmetry Before Bilaterally Loading The Shoulder

Everyone is going to have a dominant arm, and many sports require asymmetry for success (throwing sports come to mind). With that said, we see clients every week at Champion who continue to have shoulder pain because they failed to regain the most basic foundation of unilateral shoulder strength and stability before jumping back to training. Must people want to jump back into more fun exercises like bench pressing, pull ups, and push-ups before restoring symmetry.

We have to remember that with almost all shoulder injuries or pain comes protective inhibition and some degree of minor disuse atrophy. The severity of strength loss ranges widely based on the nature and severity of the injury. This is without considering that there may have been unilateral imbalances (right to the left) or training imbalances (push to pull ratios) that may have contributed to the injury in the first place.

At Champion, for athletes that are not asymmetrically biased, we like to see an objective 85% – 90% symmetry index for their baseline strength before progressing to advanced bilateral shoulder exercises in training. Sometimes we do this with dynamometers for basic strength. Other times we follow more multi-joint exercise comparisons for single arm floor presses, single arm pulldowns, single arm bent over rows, and 1/2 kneeling presses. If someone can single overhead press 40lbs for five reps on their uninvolved shoulder but struggles to get five clean repetitions with 20lbs on their involved side, returning to a bilateral barbell press may not be the best route at that time.

There is large variability based on the injury, athlete, and sport, but we suggest trying to write programs that close the gap and then focus in on more progressions. Again, it can save a lot of headaches down the road.

3. Treating the Cause of Shoulder Pain, Not Only The Site of Pain

This is very cliché in the Sports Medicine world, but remains extremely important. As Brandon Buchard says, “Just because it is common knowledge, doesn’t mean it is common practice.”

Before creating a return to a training program for a client, ask yourself,

“Have I considered all of the variables that may have contributed to this shoulder injury in the first place.”

Common overlooked factors include workload ratios, technique, programming, problems in joints adjacent to shoulder joint (lumbopelvic, thoracic, elbow), necessary baseline range of motion, strength, and exercise selection.

Now, there may be too many factors to address at once. Some factors may be out of your control. With that said as medical providers, athletes, and sport coaches we should try to tackle as many as we can. We should aim to educate the client as much as possible. Prioritize the main issues and have an open conversation with the client, parent, or coach for why addressing these issues is so important for both performance and re-injury risk. This drastically helps minimize a recurring problem snow balling down the road.

4. Medical Providers Not Creating Individualized, Objective, Return to Fitness Programs

This point goes in line directly with number one. Without a detailed roadmap for getting back to training goals, athletes often feel scattered and overwhelmed. I have found the best method is to start with a conversation on the primary goals or when the athlete desires to be back to sport. From that date, you can reverse engineer the progressions in training needed to aim for that end goal. Once the timeline is established, you can create a progression of exercises, sets, repetitions, and metabolic work in a periodized fashion. Here is a simplified example I use all the time at Champion

Goal: Pain-Free Body Weight Pull Ups in 2 months

Week 1 & 2:

  • Half kneeling single band pulldowns with bent elbow
  • 4×10, 2x/week, with 3-second eccentric tempo
  • Starting in 150 degrees of shoulder elevation and progressing to full 170 of shoulder elevation

Week 3 & 4:

  • Kneeling single arm Kieser or Weight Stack Pull Downs with bent elbow
  • 4×8, 2x/week, with 3-second eccentric tempo
  • Once 90% symmetry established, switch to bilateral Keiser/Weight Stack Pull Downs

Week 5 & 6:

  • Self-spotted pull-ups, standing on box for lower body assistance as needed
  • 5×5, 2x/week, focusing 1 second top and bottom hold

Week 7 & 8:

  • Progression to appropriate band assistance for 5×5, 2x/week
  • Reducing assistance until light or no band is needed

The exercises, sets, reps, and progression rate can be adjusted based on the injury type, client, and training age. Educate clients that the initial program you write is just the first attempt, and that you may need to adjust on the fly based on good or bad days. There may be small amounts of pain, but we personally tell people no more than a 3/10 and it can’t last for more than 24 hours.

Remember it’s less about the specific exercise prescription, and more about understanding the principles underlying the goal the client says they have. Doing this for the primary movements can be extremely helpful for the client and help you design a better program.

5. Not Continuing Basic Soft Tissue and Cuff Care for Maintenance

This is another shockingly common problem that comes up following successful reintegration to training. Athletes and coaches must remember that just because there is no pain, doesn’t mean you’re back to full function. As athlete’s train more they naturally acquire soft tissue stiffness, fatigue, and imbalances around their shoulder joint. This is variable based on the repetitive activates they are doing. Most commonly, we see the latissimus dorsi, teres major, pecs, upper trap, and subscapularis as culprits that cause losses in basic range of motion. Letting this slowly creep up is an easy way for pain to creep back in.

We must be dedicated to regular soft tissue management, strength balance work and high-level cuff strength. This is for a very similar reason as above. The more athletes tend to train, the more they focus on larger primary muscle groups and miss the same amount of development for their smaller stabilizers. When this imbalance creeps up it may create a situation for injury.

In an ideal world, the importance of this has been explained to the client and they maintain visits coming to see you as a provider. Manual therapy, hands-on strength work, and tweaking programs based on changes are incredibly helpful for athletes to get the most out of their shoulders. We are proud to have a lot of athletes realize the importance of this and continue to come on a bi-weekly or monthly basis for tune-ups.

Bonus – Lack of Communication Between All Parties

Open communication with parents, sport coaches, trainers and physicians is essential for athletes returning back to sports. Everyone needs to be on the same page with the athlete’s rehab. If any link in this chain is broken, athletes can be left frustrated and injuries can linger around. Having this communication ensures the bridge back to performance is successful and each professional is doing their part for the athlete.

If the athlete is an individual competitor, the most critical communication is between yourself and the athlete. The more transparent you can be, and the more open you are to answering athlete questions, the better.

Never be afraid to answer questions or concerns that come up. Be honest about the reality of ups and downs for returning to training, and also the possible positive or negative outcomes that come with big decisions. Discussing timelines, pain levels, proactive exercises, and prognosis can really ease the athletes mind and help them establish high levels of trust with you.

For what it’s worth, we have found that the higher the level of the athlete, the more they value honest and open communication. High level athletes are just people, and really appreciate the down to earth professionals who have their best interest in mind above all else.

Peak Shoulder Performance: The Ultimate Guide to Getting Out of Pain and Returning to High Level Fitness

If you enjoy this information, we’re happy to say it’s just the tip of the iceberg on how we approach returning to training after a shoulder injury. If you want to learn exactly how we return athletes back to high level fitness after a shoulder injury, be sure to check out our recently released online course that has been very well received.

We dive deep into the exact exercise progressions, principles, and maintenance care we use on athletes every day. This course is intended to help athletes themselves, medical providers, and coaches better understand this often-frustrating topic.

We know this information can help a lot of people, so we are going to offer a monster deal and chop off $50 from the original price just for Mike’s readers this week. Check out the link below to learn more, and enter “Reinold50” to cash in on the discount, good for this week only!  Offer ends Friday 3/9/18 at midnight EST:

 

 

Dan Pope DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF L1
CEO of Fitness Pain Free
Dave Tilley DPT, SCS, CSCS
CEO of SHIFT Movement Science

 

 

Sorry, Sitting Isn’t Really Bad for You

Over the last several years, the health concerns surrounding sitting have really been highlighted by the health and fitness crowds, as well as the mainstream media.  In fact, there have been entire books published on this topic.  I’ve seen articles with titles such as “Sitting is Evil,” “Sitting is the New Smoking,” and even “Sitting will kill you.”

Wow, those seem pretty aggressive.  We’ve been sitting since the beginning of time!  I’m going to really shock the world with this comment…

Sorry, sitting isn’t really bad for you.

Yup.  There is nothing wrong with sitting.  I’m actually doing it right now as I write this article.  You probably are too while you read this article.

Don’t get me wrong, sedentary lifestyles are not healthy.  According to the World Health Organization, sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality and raises the risk of health concerns such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and even depression and anxiety.

But let’s get one thing straight:

It’s not sitting that is bad for you, it’s NEVER moving that is bad for you.

By putting all the blame on sitting, we lose focus on the real issue, which is lack of movement and exercise.  We are seeing a shift in people switching to standing desks at work, still not exercising, but thinking that they are now making healthy choices.

This is so backwards it boggles my mind.

It it all begin with the negative myth that “sitting is the new smoking” and completely ignores the true issue.

The body adapts amazingly well to the forces and stress that we apply to it throughout the day.  If you sit all day, your body will adapt.  Your body will lose mobility to areas like your hips, hamstrings, and thoracic spine.  Your core is essentially not needed while sitting so thinks it’s not needed anymore during other activities.  And several muscles groups get used less frequently while sitting and weaken over time, like your glutes, scapular retractors, and posterior rotator cuff.

Your body is a master compensator, and will adapt to the stress applied (or not applied) to make your efficient at what you do all day.

Unfortunately, when all you do is sit all day, and you never reverse this posture or exercise, your body adapts to this stress to make you the most efficient sitter.
That’s right, you get really good at sitting.

For example, think about what happens to the core when you sit all day.

One of the functions of your core is to maintain good posture and essentially to keep the bones of your skeleton from crashing to the floor.  The core is engaged at a low level of muscle activity throughout the day for postural needs.

The problem with sitting is that the chair also serves this function, so your core isn’t needed to keep you upright, the chair serves this function. If sitting is all you do, then when you stand up, your core essentially isn’t accustomed to providing this postural support so you rock back onto your static stabilizers by doing things like standing with a large anterior pelvic tilt and lumbar extension.

bad sitting posture isnt bad for you core control

Unfortunately, this becomes the path of least resistance, and most energy efficient, for your body.  Your core gets used to relying on the chair to function, then when you need it, gets lazy.

Despite what you may read in the media, it’s OK to sit all day.  That is, as long as you are reversing this posture at some point.  This can be as specific as exercises designed to combat sitting and as general as simply taking a walk in the evening.

 

3 Strategies to Combat Sitting All Day

I want to share the 3 things that I often discuss with my patients and clients.  You can apply these yourself or use them to discuss with your clients as well.  But if you sit all day, you really should:

  1. Move, Often
  2. Reverse your posture
  3. Exercise

But the real first step is to stop blaming sitting and start focusing on the real issue.  It’s lack of movement and exercise that is the real concern, not sitting.

 

Step 1 – Move, Often

The first step to combatting sitting all day is to move around often.  The body needs movement variability or it will simply adapt to what it does all day.

I get it, we all work long days, and sitting is often required in many of our jobs.  But the easiest way to minimize the effects of sitting all day is to figure out ways to get up and move throughout the day.

This doesn’t need to be 10 minutes of exercise, it could simply be things like getting up to fill up a water bottle or taking quick 2 minute walk around the office.  When I am not in the clinic or gym, I personally tend to work in my home office.  What I do is try to work in one hour chunks, so I will get up and walk around in between chunks to get a glass of water, snack, or use the bathroom.

This works well for me, but you need to find what works for you.  I know of others that use things like Pomodoro timers, or even some of the newer fitness tracking devices, which can remind you to stand up and move around at set times.

 

Step 2 – Reverse Your Posture

I’ve been talking about the concept of Reverse Posturing for years.  The concept is essentially that we need to reverse the posture that we do the most throughout the day to keep our body balanced and prevent overuse.

Sitting involves a predominantly flexed posture, so doing exercises that promote the posterior chain would be helpful.  These will depend on each person but a basic set of exercises may look like:

  • Thoracic extension
  • True hip flexor stretch
  • Chin nods
  • Shoulder W’s
  • Glute bridges

reverse your posture

I have another article you should check out on the 5 Exercises to Perform if You Sit All Day.  Perform each of these for 10 reps.  These should take 5 minutes to perform and will make a big impact on how you feel throughout the day.

 

Step 3 – Exercise

Remember going back to some of the past concepts above, the body adapts to the stress applied.  To combat this perfectly, a detailed exercise program that is designed specifically for you and comprehensively includes a focus on total body and core control is ideal.

This will assure that the muscle groups that are not being used while sitting all day get the strength and mobility they need, while the core gets trained to stabilize the trunk during functional movements.

If you want to get the most out of your body and stay optimized, you need to do things like work on your hip and thoracic spine mobility, strengthen your rotator cuff, groove your hinge pattern, and learn how to deadlift and work your glutes.

 

Sitting Isn’t Bad For You, Not Moving Is

As a profession, we need to get away from blaming sitting as the enemy and labeling it evil.  Our society is sitting more and more each generation.  We need to be honest with ourselves and realize that sitting isn’t the problem, it’s not moving enough that is the concern.  We need to stop pointing fingers and get to the root of the problem.

Go ahead and sit, just move more often and use these 3 strategies to combat sitting all day.

 

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champion strong online training - multiple devicesWe’re super excited to now offer an amazing online training program, Champion Strong.  It’s our flagship training program that we use at our gym Champion PT and Performance with many of our clients.  It’s designed to give you a comprehensive program to follow at the gym that focuses on helping you look, feel, move, and perform better.

We have video demonstrations of all the exercises, plus a bunch of great educational videos to teach you the major movements.  Plus it has an awesome training app to view, schedule, and log your workouts.

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