Joint derangements are about 80% of all orthopedic problems. Derangements are when a joint isn't sitting properly, leading to pain, stiffness, tightness, and so on. They are usually rapidly reversible! Unfortunately, people are often given structural diagnoses instead (here, it's an AC sprain) or told they have a muscle or tendon problem.
If a joint derangement is diagnosed, we use repeated movements to restore joint alignment. This patient had shoulder pain and limited movement following a car accident. One movement fixes her symptoms (bringing her arm across her body) - and one movement worsens her symptoms (bringing her arm back away from her body). McKenzie experts are trained to find WHICH movement is best for you. -- Laura
Mechanical pain isn’t a new concept - it’s the most common kind of pain. Besides pain, tightness, numbness, clicking/locking, and tingling are also possible symptoms. The bad news is usually mechanical problems are diagnosed incorrectly as structural problems (eg torn meniscus). The good news is almost all are fixable - if you find a clinician who can diagnose and treat them, like a McKenzie expert.
Mechanical problems are those that, simply, can be fixed with movement. Examples include pinched nerves, dysfunctional tendons, pulled muscles, and frozen shoulders. However, the biggest subset of mechanical problems is joint derangements. Derangements (misalignments) are when something (somehow!) obstructs the joint, such as a fat pad; a herniated/bulging disc; a bone fragment; or a piece of meniscus, labrum, or cartilage. Treatment for muscles/tendons involves tissue remodeling movement; joint derangements require specific movements to restore proper alignment.
Outside of mechanical problems there are structural, chemical/inflammatory, and nervous system problems, among others. Most healthcare providers and patients conclude that symptoms are from a structural issue because of unreliable orthopedic tests and MRIs. Orthopedic tests are false positives in the presence of mechanical derangements and MRIs consistently show abnormalities that are irrelevant. An expert mechanical exam is needed. -- Laura
I always write about not basing orthopedic treatment on imaging findings. We should also not base our treatment on clinical findings that appear to be structural without repeatedly moving the spine and/or extremity. Clinical orthopedic tests for the shoulder have been proven to be unreliable (for example, tests for rotator cuff tears, labral tears, impingement, or tendinopathy). McKenzie clinicians move your spine and extremities, looking for immediate cause and effect. Here, while it looks like the patient has a shoulder problem, when the McKenzie clinician moves her thoracic spine, it resolves. -- Laura
When people twist or roll an ankle, the common diagnosis is that the ligaments are sprained. However, the joint itself is also affected! Here, a patient who twisted her ankle is treated successfully with simple repeated movements of the ankle JOINT. Therefore, the ankle JOINT was injured, not the ligaments. She was discharged with full recovery at visit number 2.
Clinicians MUST assess joints as joints are injured far more commonly than soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments. (I learned how to assess joints like this through my post-doctoral studies with the McKenzie Institute, not in school.) -- Laura
The McKenzie method, aka mechanical diagnosis and therapy (MDT), is an assessment and treatment approach for musculoskeletal (orthopedic) problems, head to toe. The assessment is crucial; successful patient outcomes only occur with correct classification combined with paired treatment. MDT’s focuses include utilizing repeated movements, patient self-treatment, and injury prevention.
The most common of the four MDT classifications is derangements (at least 70% of all orthopedic problems!). Derangements – misaligned joints – create pain locally or distant from the joint (eg calf pain coming from the spine) and obstruct movement. Importantly, they’re usually rapidly reversible using specific movements to restore proper alignment. Clinicians not trained in MDT most significantly don’t recognize derangements and therefore don’t efficiently treat the bulk of patients’ complaints.
The other three are tissue dysfunctions, posture syndrome, and “other.” Tissue dysfunctions include joint tissue problems (eg frozen shoulder) and muscle/tendon tissue problems (eg Achilles, patella, rotator cuff, and elbow tendinopathies). In general, treatment involves progressive tissue loading to stimulate remodeling, typically taking a few months. Posture syndrome is rarely encountered and is treated with education. “Others” are problems such as post-surgical conditions, centrally-dominated pain, structural deformities, inflammatory processes, and many others. They’re treated with protocols tailored to the individual issue. -- Laura
Running is a wonderful activity which exercises our body’s musculoskeletal system and others. I encourage running for nearly anyone interested, but don’t advocate it being one’s only form of exercise. (Movement variety is key!) There are differing opinions when it comes to running; unfortunately, many are incorrect.
First, there is a correct way to run, just like there’s a correct way to pitch a fastball or land a ski jump. Small variations exist - and may be allowable - but remaining mostly injury-free requires correct technique. Yes, we have a “natural” way of running, but the stresses we place on our bodies over time usually change how we move. These stresses, when imbalanced, often lead to misaligned joints, tight muscles, restricted nerves, etc. If we have any imperfections, running, an extremely repetitive sport, will expose them. Something will give.
Secondly, though these frequent running injuries appear common for the recreational runner, I argue they’re not normal. When running correctly, every joint, tendon, etc. from our head to our toes moves in the biomechanical way it was intended. To ensure someone is moving correctly, I teach starting with the joints of the spine (the body’s fuse box) and going from there. -- Laura
Learn more about Robin McKenzie and the method he developed for treating patients. Dr. Yoav Suprun, DPT, Dip. MDT talks to Robin regarding posture, MRI use, exercise versus passive care, and more. Enjoy! --Laura
Osteoarthritis (OA) is prevalent with aging. So is gray hair. And wrinkles. OA is a form of joint degeneration, just like gray hair and wrinkles represent types of degeneration. But we think of hair and skin changes kindlier, accepting them as normal, harmless parts of getting older.
OA, on the other hand, gets a bad rap – a painful rap – when in fact it can also be normal and harmless. An association between OA and pain is unfortunately widely believed. If someone’s knee hurts and a knee MRI shows osteoarthritis, we quickly blame the osteoarthritis for the pain and tell ourselves that it can’t be fixed (unless we have surgery). When our head or skin hurts, do we automatically blame our grays or our wrinkles?
It is clear OA doesn’t necessarily cause pain because we find plenty of OA in people without pain. In fact, a person over 60 undeniably has OA somewhere in her body. Pain in a joint may be from OA, but it may also be from an irritated nerve, a dysfunctional tendon, or a misalignment in the joint – which are all typically very fixable! Expert McKenzie clinicians identify (and then treat) the true cause of someone’s pain. -- Laura
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
Find more information about the world of orthopedics here!