If you have surgery to repair a broken foot and then it hurts or rebreaks after you decide to go jogging prematurely, does that mean the surgery was ineffective? If you have a wound cleaned out and you decide, against orders, to go for a swim and it gets infected again, does that mean the debridement wasn’t effective? The intervention is the surgery, but it’s also the instructions that come with it. The intervention is the wound debridement, but it’s also the accompanying directions.
With physical therapy interventions I tend to give patients 1-2 things to do as well as 1-2 things to modify or avoid. Could I give more things to do and more things to avoid? Yes. But people don’t tend to follow a longer list of instructions, so keeping things simple is key. Say, though, to fix your elbow pain you seem to need repeated elbow extension and you wake up one day and symptoms are worse. We need to be critical thinkers. Is it possible the intervention of elbow extension is wrong? Yes. But if you were good before bed and you woke up worse, it’s more likely that sleeping interfered with your intervention rather than the intervention is wrong. When sleeping, we adopt postures unconsciously. It’s quite likely your elbow was simply in a position that made it worse. We need to figure these kind of things out.
There are plenty of examples of things that can interfere. It’s hard to foresee and prevent ALL things that may impede an intervention from working. But when they arise, we need to recognize them for what they are and not simply disregard an intervention that has the potential to work if given the right circumstances. -- Laura
There are diverse opinions when it comes to orthopedics. And you should feel free to explore the myriad thought processes, approaches, opinions, techniques, etc. But when your goal is to fix something, you need to focus on one approach. Let one chef take over, even if just for the time being. Not only does that allow you to focus all your time and energy on the game plan in front of you, but it, most significantly, gives it the greatest odds of success.
If I want someone to repeatedly flex his spine, but another clinician wants him to repeatedly extend it - well, those are obvious contradictions. Doing both at the same time in this example would make zero sense and would preclude either approach from working. Outside of obvious examples, though, there are more subtle ways that things get derailed. For instance, if I tell someone she has a terrific prognosis if we follow these four steps, but her primary care physician keeps telling her therapy won’t help because the x-ray looks bad, then things often stall.
Research all the different options first if you really want to, but give just one approach, just one clinician, the title of head chef at a time. If it’s concluded that another perspective is needed, then you can move on. As the saying goes: we can't have too many cooks in the kitchen. -- Laura
It’s not uncommon that sleeping makes problems worse. That is, symptoms become exacerbated and/or movement becomes limited. Morning stiffness to a small extent is allowable when it comes to spinal flexion, but, otherwise, after being up and about for a few minutes, you should have the same amount of mobility you went to bed with.
During sleep, we often spend considerable time in one position without moving - whether we want to or not. It is my opinion that most orthopedic problems are related to movements and postures, so it makes sense that, just like with sitting or walking, sleeping postures can easily make people worse (or better).
If the thought process is that people need muscular strength to “hold” or “stabilize” joints in the right position, then there must be profound weakness if the simple act of sleeping causes joints to destabilize. Similarly, sleeping should not be aggressive enough to strain/pull muscles.
My thought process is this: I agree healthy joints should be able to withstand prolonged positions while sleeping, but I don’t think the answer is muscle-driven stability. And I don’t think muscles get pulled in our sleep. Benign positions like sitting or lying can indeed move joints - regardless of how much muscle is nearby. And these subtle changes can commonly cause symptoms. On the whole, strength is wonderful, but I believe we need to get the joint better first by moving the joint itself.
It’s true that spinal discs enlarge when we lie down to sleep, and that may be the sole factor why someone has more pain and/or less motion upon waking (vs related to any certain position). But even if that is the causative factor, then, again, I want to primarily address the disc (part of the joint) versus address the musculature around it. It’s also true that not all orthopedic problems are joint problems. Sleeping on a painful tendon can worsen symptoms, too. But most problems do have to do with joints - and addressing them effectively is important. -- Laura
Here are the top four reasons I can fix my orthopedic problems quickly. One, I address them as soon as they happen. Two, I know what to do. Three, I know what temporarily not to do. And, four, I have confidence in the methodology. I think the fourth reason is the most salient. I don’t get sidetracked by an uncle telling me to just get a shot. Or another clinician giving me his/her two cents. Or Google recommending medicines, oils, or any number of theories and movement programs. We all have aches and pains from time to time. By understanding orthopedics and how to approach problems methodically and effectively, even if I know my recovery will take some time, I know the prognosis, don’t have fear, and don’t waste time on unnecessary interventions. -- Laura
A lot of health measures take time, but we don’t often consider them nuisances. For one, because they’re normalized habits and, two, because we easily recognize their value. Many of these revolve around preventing infection. Our musculoskeletal system benefits from daily or at least regular attention as well. Is checking your motion or performing certain movements cumbersome? Well, it does take a few minutes. But if you value bathing and hand washing and devote time to those, you can also value the health of your joints, tissues, and nerves. The choice is yours - and, to be clear, it is a choice. (No equipment is required.) Like infections, musculoskeletal disorders cannot be 100% prevented, but “inconvenient” preventative measures (not just exercise) go a long way. -- Laura
If neck, mid, back, or shoulder blade symptoms are worse with driving or after driving, it’s worth considering your car posture. The same applies to symptoms anywhere in the head, face, shoulder or arm, all the way to your fingers. (The lower portion and bottom seat can play a role in low back and leg problems.) Most cars put the mid back in flexion and the neck in flexion and/or protrusion. In other words, the mid back joints are rounded and the joints of the neck are either bent forward or pushed forward.
If a posture has no effect on symptoms while you’re in the position nor after, and if your movement ability is not negatively affected, then there’s no problem. For a lot of patients with upper body complaints, though, posture in the car does warrant discussion. Many patients note driving is exacerbating and many patients spend a fair amount of time in their cars. The good news? With all of the patients’ cars I’ve assessed, adjusting the ergonomics of the car is easy and inexpensive. The theme is usually (if not always) to get the upper body straight, not flexed. The hardest part is for patients to get used to it - but that beats symptoms! -- Laura
Sometimes the neck isn’t just the neck. Movements affect joints of the neck in distinct ways. When you're at rest in sitting, for instance, the lower cervical is typically in flexion wheras the upper cervical spine is in extension. The designation into three separate sections (upper cervical, mid cervical, and lower cervical) is helpful. Retraction and extension target different parts differently, as do protrusion and flexion. Retraction-extension is not identical to pure extension. Lateral flexion in neutral is different than lateral flexion in retraction. And so on. As I believe most orthopedic disorders are fixed with specific movement, I am specific when it comes to finding that particular movement. -- Laura
Even small, very-fixable problems can cause a lot of pain (or other symptoms). And very often that pain is magnified or compounded by fear - fear of more pain; fear of not being able to move, to work, to return to exercise; fear of the need for invasive treatment. If people had a basic understanding of how the musculoskeletal system worked, they would be better equipped to fix their problems themselves. More importantly, though, they would not have to be so afraid and anxious as they would know that almost all problems are fixable with movement.
I severely burned my hand once. Despite immediately submerging my hand into an ice bath, the pain was intense. As I cried, I repeated aloud to myself: it’s just pain, it’s just pain, it’s just pain. I intrinsically knew it wasn’t something that was going to cause any real problem and I wanted to assure myself that I had nothing to fear. In essence I wanted my cognitive brain to override my emotional center and let the facts win. I simply had to minimize the pain as much as I could, get through it, and I would be fine. People often know this when it comes to cuts, bruises, burns, and the like. They know that despite pain, they don’t have much to fear. This needs to translate to musculoskeletal problems as well. -- Laura
There is a reason some interventions need to be done frequently. When I diagnose orthopedic problems, the frequency of the intervention in the initial phase of rehab is paramount. We brush our teeth frequently throughout the week to keep our teeth clean. What I investigate with patients is: will frequent movement (specific movement) get your body healthy? Once we get it healthy, frequency, like with teeth brushing, is reduced to keep it healthy. -- Laura
So sit-ups flex your spine? So what? We flex our spine thousands of times a day and sit flexed an awful lot as well. As long as you (1) know how to discern if an activity (such as sit-ups) is harming you and (2) know how to correct it if it is, you are good to go. The best way to know if an activity is harming you outside of symptoms is ascertaining if it decreases your motion. (If we’re talking about the low back, that means flexion, extension, left sideglide, and right sideglide.)
I incorporate sit-ups into my workouts as well as other spinal flexion exercises. I like sit-ups with my legs straight and ones with my legs bent. But, what do I also do? I spend 10 seconds every day checking if I have my normal low back motion and also perform prophylactic movements. (I’m lying on my stomach propped on my elbows right now.) If I were just starting sit-ups, I would check right after to make sure they didn’t cause me to lose motion (they never did).
Are there certain things certain people can’t do? Of course. Sit-ups could hurt your back just like brushing your teeth could or a long car ride could; they’re not extra scary. By understanding the concepts of how to keep joints healthy, we don’t have to avoid nor fear specific exercises. I’m here to teach. -- Laura
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