I have fielded this question a few times from people once I mention that I treat patients using movement. The difference lies mainly in the fact that I treat patients using a specific movement or two based on the patient’s individual issue. Yoga, on the other hand, includes many different movements. Yoga, additionally, is not meant to be medical intervention.
Do some people’s aches and pains go away with yoga? Of course. However, many people’s do not. And some people’s get worse. Certain movements within the course of a yoga class may be beneficial, some may be harmful, some may be inconsequential. When many movements are thrown one’s way, it is often difficult, if there is a change, to know what produced the change.
I appreciate yoga for getting people to adopt different postures and movements, apart from its other attributes. It is quite obvious that our daily movement lacks the variability found in a yoga class. I advocate any initiative that gets people to move more, especially in diverse patterns. I therefore believe yoga offers a wonderful form of exercise or self-care. In contrast, I do not believe it offers a wonderful form of therapy for a musculoskeletal problem.
I find the large majority of patients’ problems come from joints being slightly misaligned. These problems are commonly misdiagnosed, however, since out-of-whack joints can send signals along nerves to soft tissue. The soft tissue is then frequently deemed to be the culprit when it is not. I treat faulty joints by using movement to help them sit right again. This requires a movement with a specific direction, force, and time. I determine those variables as I assess the patient. That movement is then tweaked based on the patient’s response. Generally, within 5 visits, the headache, shoulder pain, sciatica, leg tightness, foot numbness, or low back pain is relieved.
Lastly, what I do is different from yoga simply because I am trained to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal disorders (also known as orthopedic disorders). That means I know how much joints should move, how much strength is normal, how bodies should move, and so on. Importantly, I understand when pain is a temporary necessity for therapeutic purposes and when pain is a warning sign and needs to be avoided. A large part of my job is teaching patients what is normal so they can self-monitor and prevent symptoms from returning in the future.
So please keep moving - in circles, up and down, side to side, and especially backwards. Its benefit cannot be overstated. But in the presence of a problem, remember that your problem is unique and thus requires a unique solution tailored to you. -- Laura
Tendon issues are unfortunately incorrectly diagnosed all the time. That is, issues that are not tendon problems are diagnosed as tendon problems. “Issues” and “problems” refer to tendinopathy, tendinosis, tendonitis, and tendon tears. We have hundreds of tendons in our bodies; they are pieces of tissue that connect our muscles to our bones. Those that get an unfair share of the blame are the four rotator cuff tendons in the shoulder, the two main tendon groups at the elbow, the Achilles tendon of the ankle, and the patellar tendon at the knee. This frequent misdiagnosis happens for two chief reasons.
One, tendon problems are common on images such as MRI so, in the absence of an expert clinical mechanical exam, the tendon is identified as the culprit simply because of a picture. The concern with this is that tendon problems are common on images such as MRI in people with NO pain or other symptoms. So if Sarah has a large supraspinatus tendon tear on her MRI and no shoulder pain and John has a large supraspinatus tendon tear on his MRI and does have shoulder pain, can you assert that the supraspinatus tendon tear is causing his pain? Not from that information alone, you can’t.
(Say your car starts acting funny. You open up the hood to take a quick look. You see a lot of leaves around the engine. Can you assume that the leaves are causing the problem? Or would your mechanic need to run some diagnostic tests? After all, we know that there are plenty of cars with leaves stuck under the hood that run just fine.)
The second reason for this misdiagnosing conundrum? Lack of expert clinical “mechanics.” When I first began as a physical therapist, if a patient came to me with shoulder pain (with or without an MRI report), I performed the orthopedic shoulder tests I learned in school. While there are several tests aimed at diagnosing a rotator cuff tendon problem, these tests are actually not very good. They can regularly be positive when something other than the tendon is at fault. If physical therapists, orthopedists, general practitioners, surgeons, chiropractors, athletic trainers, etc. are still basing their diagnoses (and subsequent treatment) on these tests, they are missing a lot of crucial information.
Once I learned during my post-doctoral coursework that other problems can mimic tendon problems, I began looking for these in the clinic. And, lo and behold, most of the time it is something else causing the patient’s problem. The top two problems that mimic tendon problems are misalignment in the spine joints whose nerves send signals to the area of the tendon (eg the neck) and misalignment in the extremity joint closest the tendon (eg the shoulder).
How do I diagnose a tendon problem then? These are my top two criteria:
In closing, don’t jump to conclusions based on an image or the location of pain. A lot of shoulder pain is coming from the neck or from a shoulder joint that is not sitting properly – not a rotator cuff tendon. Likewise, a lot of pain on the outside of the hip is coming from the low back or from a hip joint that is not sitting properly – not the gluteal tendon. Our bodies are beautiful in their intricacy and nuance, making my job as a mechanical therapist exciting. It is the ability to understand this nuance that makes a clinician effective at diagnosing and treating. --Laura
The article Arthroscopic subacromial decompression for subacromial shoulder pain (CSAW): a multicentre, pragmatic, parallel group, placebo-controlled, three-group, randomised surgical trial reveals no difference between the fake (or sham) surgery and the real surgery.
This type of shoulder surgery, know as subacromial decompression (SAD) is unfortunately still prevalent in the U.S. In this research study, both the sham surgery group and the real surgery group had something important in common: in both groups the shoulder joint was irrigated. Essentially the joint was power-washed. I believe this to be the key part of the intervention, the reason why both the fake and real surgeries provided the same results.
What I find in the clinic is that many joints have a piece of debris obstructing the joint's motion and causing pain. In the extremity joints this is thought to be a piece of fat, cartilage, bone, tendon, or similar. Of course, this can be effectively "power-washed" with repeated movement, too. My job is to find the movement that moves that piece of debris out of the way. My patient's job is then to perform that movement throughout the day and temporarily avoid movements in the opposite direction.
If you have been contemplating shoulder surgery, please read this study and/or contact me with any questions. Hopefully medical providers will no longer suggest this as an option. -- Laura
Joel Laing, a McKenzie specialist in Australia, gives a great demonstration of a rapidly resolvable shoulder issue - specifically, shoulder pain and loss of motion. The wonderful thing about the McKenzie method is that we are trained to actually LOOK for these problems. I was not trained to look for these problems during my physical therapy doctoral program. Now that I know how to diagnose these issues, most patients get better in a handful of visits or less versus weeks/months of PT.
In his case he needs to repeatedly move his shoulder backwards with his palm down. Typically when we find the healing movement the patient needs, the patient does a few sets per day. As Joel also points out, there are often certain movements that make the problem worse as well. While the shoulder heals, we usually ask the patient to avoid those motions for a few days if possible.
When it comes to shoulder pain, the top two diagnoses I see are:
1. The pain is actually coming from the neck or upper mid-back, so we treat the spine with movement and the shoulder pain goes away.
2. The pain is quickly resolvable with targeted shoulder movement (like in Joel's case).
Don't let shoulder pain affect your life; in the large majority of cases we can get it better fast. And don't get a diagnosis based on an MRI. Most people over 30 will have problems in the shoulder on an MRI. Since problems on an image (a torn labrum, degenerated tendons, a torn rotator cuff, bone spurs) are so prevalent in people without pain, what you see doesn't necessarily correlate with your pain. You instead need a quality McKenzie clinical exam. -- Laura
Painful thumbs? Numb fingers or hands? Weak grip? The nerves in the neck and the upper mid-back control the hands. Specifically, nerves C6, C7, C8, and T1. (The "C" stands for cervical, which means neck. The "T" stands for thoracic, which refers to the mid-back.) Most hand issues are a result of the nerves in the neck/upper mid-back being compressed. If someone has problems in BOTH hands, the issue is almost ALWAYS coming from the spine. While it is normal for your hand to fall asleep if you lie on it in a weird position, it is not normal to experience numbness/tingling/pain on a regular basis, even with sleeping. If I determine that your hand symptoms are indeed coming from the nerves in your spine, I treat it with two things: movements to decompress the nerves and postural correction. Posture can refer to your sitting, lounging, and/or sleeping habits. I often suggest modifications to your car seat too. --Laura
This topic has been coming up a lot with my patients recently. Many patients report that they don’t feel pain exactly - they feel tight, or, more usually, really tight. This can apply to the neck, low back, and extremities. Determining the reason a patient feels tight (the diagnosis) and helping fix it is, of course, my job.
True muscle tightness certainly exists. What do I mean by “true muscle tightness?” I mean that the reason you feel tight in a muscle, say the hamstring muscle, is because the hamstring muscle is actually tight. This is most typically a result of an increased or altered load on a muscle – like a workout - and sets in 1-2 days after the change in demand. This tightness may be called soreness, and is a result of normal breakdown in the muscle itself and/or inflammation in the muscle. While people might choose to intervene to reduce this tightness (such as going for a walk, stretching, getting a massage, etc.), it is imperative to note that this tightness is normal, and will pass within a few days on its own. People don’t usually seek medical care for this.
True muscle tightness can come from less strenuous events too. For example, if you wear a new pair of shoes while walking around a city for hours, you might experience tightness in a muscle or two the next day since your muscles experienced a new load due to the different position of your feet. Alternatively, if you were in a cast for 8 weeks, your muscles may also feel tight while they are immobilized. And, of course, if you tear a muscle, if will feel tight as inflammation and then immature scar tissue replaces the torn muscle tissue. In all of these scenarios, the cause of the tightness is normal, obvious, and reversible.
Again, patients usually don’t come to me reporting tightness of the normal variety (since normal muscle tightness will pass on its own). So what makes patients feel tight if it’s not normal true muscle tightness? There are two possibilities:
1. The abnormal sensation of tightness is referred from a joint, either nearby or distant.
A common situation here is a spine joint being out of place and referring a feeling of tightness to a separate area. It can be nearby, like the neck joints sending tightness signals to the upper shoulders. Or it can be more distant, like the low back joints sending tightness signals to the calf. Extremity joints can also send tightness signals. With extremity joints, the signal usually stays close to the problematic joint. The hip joint may send a feeling of tightness down the thigh a bit, for instance. This tightness can be constant or it can come and go.
2. The abnormal sensation of tightness is nerve tension/tightness.
Nerves run throughout our body, passing through and next to muscles. If a nerve is compressed somewhere along its path, it will lose the ability to lengthen, making it indeed tight. The most frequent example of this is the sciatic nerve. When compressed in the low back, it can create a feeling of tightness in the back of the thigh, calf, or foot. Most people, however, just blame the muscle in the area of tightness, not understanding that a nerve is also in that area! This tightness, also, can be constant or it can come and go.
There are movements and simple tests I use in the clinic to determine what is causing the tightness. A simple slump test is used to help differentiate if a hamstring muscle or a sciatic nerve is tight, for instance. The take home message is this: true muscle tightness is usually normal, but persistent or recurring (chronic) tightness is not normal, and is almost always arising from a location away from the site where the tightness is felt. You shouldn’t be stretching, foam rolling, or massaging your arm, back, or leg muscles all the time. Find the joint or nerve causing the feeling of tightness and fix that to get relief for good. -- Laura
Centralization is a very important concept, and is well-documented in many research studies. Problems in the spine often cause pain/numbness/tingling in the extremities (legs, feet, arms, hands) as affected nerves carry symptoms along the distribution of the nerve. Centralization is when symptoms move toward the spine. This is a GOOD thing - even if the spine pain is temporarily more intense (before it goes away for good). By the same token, peripheralization is not a good thing. We don't want pain that is moving farther away from the spine into the periphery (extremities). Keep in mind that centralization also applies when left or right low back pain or left or right neck pain moves to the center of the low back or neck.
Not all patients will experience centralization. Some extremity pain just goes away without moving to the spine first. If you are receiving treatment or are just monitoring or treating yourself, remember to avoid things that peripheralize your symptoms and to perform the activities or movements that centralize your symptoms. When I treat patients with spine or extremity symptoms, I use specific movements to elicit centralization - and prevent peripheralization. If you experience centralization, you know you're on the right track!
Click on the blue link if you'd like to read a bit more about my voyage starting my own practice: Meet Laura Mannering of Laura Mannering Physical Therapy in Fort Lauderdale.
I remember learning about dead butt syndrome (DBS) during a presentation at the clinic where I worked several years ago, two years into my career. I believe the sales rep was there to push taping products, but this topic somehow came up. (Please note: while some refer to all the gluteal muscles becoming weak, others specify the gluteus medius muscle in particular.) This gentleman explained that since people sit all day without using their gluteus muscles, they become weak. Made sense to me! And it had a fun name.
However, when I began using the term with patients whose gluteus medius muscles were in fact weak, and fielding patients' questions regarding the topic, I became skeptical. For one, if sitting dormant all day was the root cause, why wouldn't mostmuscles weaken? And, secondly, if it was sitting combined with lack of daily use of the gluteus medius muscles - lack of moving the hips laterally - that was the trigger, wouldn't the lateral movers of other joints suffer then too?
So I did a bit of "research:" I read a few articles intended for the public. The consensus is that DBS not only affects expert sitters, but also people who exercise, but who don't target the glute muscles enough. That sounds strange. Those could be very different cohorts. Or, the exercisers could also be expert sitters when they're not moving. Here are my two chief complaints with what I found to be the commonly proposed etiology of DBS:
Another article states, "It may seem bizarre for a muscle to just stop functioning out of nowhere." Yes! It is indeed very bizarre! Except when you recall that nerves send power to muscles ... and when there is a problem with the flow of electricity through those nerves, muscles will stop functioning seemingly out of nowhere! This inhibition-driven weakness, while not normal, is extremely common. (In fact, if I tested the primary muscles of the upper and lower extremities of 100 people, I bet not one person would demonstrate full strength. That means not one person would have uninterrupted flow of electricity from their spine to their muscles.) The good news is, once you restore the flow of electrical power from the spine - I use specific movements with my patients to accomplish this - muscles should immediately regain normal strength.
So what is going on with DBS? In the large majority of cases, prolonged sitting (the more slouched, the worse) creates a malalignment in the low back which impedes the flow of electricity via the nerves to the glutes, depriving them of their juice to be strong. The same scenario can create pain in the glutes as pinched nerves can carry pain along their path (or any altered sensation such as tingling or degrees of numbness). That'swhy your butt is dead. To fix it, you'll need to address your low back in order to decompress the nerves. And then, once the power is back on, if your gluteus muscle strength doesn't return completely since the muscles had been dead for so long, you can move on to targeted strengthening exercises to rebuild them. -- Laura
Your car seat alignment is very important for your health! For starters, we tend to spend a decent amount of time in our vehicles. Additionally, the time spent in your car seat is spent in one position. You're typically not moving around by crossing your legs, shifting your weight, etc. - because you can't. So if you're going to be stuck in one position, it better be the best possible position for your spine and body as a whole.
Three things are crucial: (1) Ensure the headrest is not pushing your neck/head forward. I turned mine around. It took time getting used to being in a NEUTRAL position, but now it feels natural (as it should!). (2) Get your bum level with your knees. No sinking into the seat! If you can't adjust your seat, sit on towels or purchase something. I use a wedge I got from my local Relax The Back store to lift up my hips. (3) Get adequate lumbar support. You might have an inflatable support in your car, but even that might not be enough. I use a firm McKenzie lumbar roll. -- Laura
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