Regularly sitting for prolonged periods, especially slouched, can lead to orthopedic problems. But the problems arise almost always from joints, not muscles. I continually hear people (health professionals, notably) declare that sitting’s “shortened” position of the hip flexors can cause painful, tight hip flexors. Granted this doesn’t affect all sitters (nothing does), but if large amounts of time in shortened states can lead to painfully tight muscles, then where is the observable pattern? Why aren’t more biceps affected secondary to prolonged elbow bending? Where’s the complaint of painful anterior neck muscles as our heads are so often forward?
Though I make my case verbally, people won’t budge. It’s likely the only way to prove my point would be to demonstrate an evaluation and treatment of someone with this given “diagnosis.” In the absence of that, I put forth that, one, we have ways of clinically determining if this is occurring, which, importantly, involves ruling out joints and nerves. Two, if we consider joint mechanics, deranged upper-mid lumbar segments and hip joints can send referred/radicular pain to the hip flexor area. Deranged elbows usually refer pain to the medial, lateral, or posterior elbow. And neck derangements typically send pain posteriorly and laterally – rarely anteriorly. The deranged joint pattern is observable. --Laura
If you are not well-versed in ruling out the spine as the source of an extremity symptom, you are missing roughly half of the sources of patients’ problems. This issue can be mitigated if the patient has been referred from someone whom you trust has already effectively clinically cleared the spine. Often, however, people with knee pain go directly to a “knee doctor” or those with numb hands visit a “hand doctor” who, in my experience, only examine that specific body part.
A system, an algorithm, is needed to ensure success in any paradigm. In my practice, experience and pattern recognition factor in, but a structured process directs my evaluation and treatment. Most importantly, a patient’s spine is investigated before moving on to an extremity. I’ll say we need to ensure the problem is not coming from a faulty fuse box (since so often it is). How long I spend on this inquiry can be minutes, it can be days - it depends on the individual case.
There is certainly a role for these professionals, but our current utilization methods need revamping. Let’s use extremity specialists only when it’s clear-cut that that intervention would be most effective for helping patients. --Laura
If you lie propped up on your elbow for some time, it’s likely when you go to first move it, it’s stiff. Same with sitting on a crossed hip or ankle. As you start to move, the joint rapidly loosens and there’s no lasting impact. Do this enough, though, and it can become harder for a joint to consistently rebound to its correct alignment. And as the joint further deforms, this stiffness may become pain.
While this applies to extremity joints, these days it seems more prevalent in the spine. If your day entails primarily kneeling, it can become increasingly stiff and painful to straighten your knee(s). More commonly, though, if your day is spent protruding your neck looking at a computer or rounding your back driving in a car’s bucket seat, your spine may enter the stiffness-pain paradigm.
For many joints, it can be hard to notice stiffness/motion loss. Detecting stiffness, however, is often important in the prevention of pain, especially with previously painful joints. I therefore teach my patients how to self-test their affected joint each day. If stiffness is spotted, their corrective exercise should be performed to restore full joint motion and prevent unwanted escalation into pain. --Laura
Many, many bodily joints and tissues need to function well to be able to fully bend forward. Poor hamstrings, though … they always get blamed!
To regain forward bending ability, I hardly ever loosen patients’ hamstrings. However, say a patient did simply need looser hamstrings - then clinical care is hardly needed. (Stretching is not rocket science!) With consistent home stretching, hamstring length better consistently improve.
In almost all cases, forward bending is limited because lumbar structures are moving improperly. Usually it’s that the joints themselves are misaligned. In other cases, compressed/adhered/trapped nerves create nerve tension that limits this movement (with or without contemporary joint malalignment).
Forward bending (lumbar flexion) is usually restored once we get the patients’ lumbar structures moving properly again. Importantly, using forward bending to achieve this is beneficial in only a small group of patients. More commonly I utilize lumbar extension or sidegliding.
So why do people say they “feel it” in their hamstrings? It’s either that they’re actually feeling the sciatic nerve(s) pull or that, in attempting to bend further, their body eeeks out more motion in the only structures it can – muscles and tendons – so they “feel it” there. Expert mechanical clinicians know better. --Laura
When discussing athletic performance, we think of coaches, strength and conditioning specialists, trainers, and so on, but my role comprises the foundation. Power, balance, and mobility are certainly trainable, but if your body is not fully normal to begin with, training will only get you so far. If performance prowess is your goal, you need normal nerve conduction, nerve extensibility, strength, mobility, biomechanics, etc. first. (Having no symptoms doesn’t mean everything is functioning normally.)
Consider jumping. If there’s even a slight derangement (painful or not) in the lumbosacral spine, the electricity supplying necessary muscles can be impeded. Tiny malalignments in the foot, ankle, knee, hip, or spine joints can affect strength, mobility, balance, and movement patterns with jumping. Abnormalities with muscles or tendons themselves (rare) will also impact jumping.
My expertise is in ensuring people have normal physiology before they go train to make it exceptional. (There are, of course, some allowances.) Perhaps most importantly, I teach people how to self-assess and self-treat so they can always perform with optimized physiology. It takes only minutes. I believe that many “off” days are due to minor, transient joint malalignments - which can easily be self-detected and corrected if you learn how. --Laura
The primary law with tendons is first clinically (not via imaging) ruling out that it’s not a joint problem masquerading as a tendon problem. Joint misalignments (spine and extremities) can cause pain in tendinous areas and inhibit muscles, which unfortunately leads many clinicians to treat innocent tendons. If the “tendon” is taking forever to heal, it’s likely not the tendon. Tendon/muscle pathology comprises a small proportion of problems.
When it’s indeed a tendon, rehabilitation is relatively straightforward. A tendon’s collagen often needs to be remodeled to become functional again. This is accomplished by regularly (several times per day) loading the tendon for a few months. It may never look normal again, however. Causes why the tendon became dysfunctional initially should be addressed, and proper spine and extremity mechanics should be ensured.
The load a tendon needs is individual-specific. I find the load that creates pain (about 6/10) for 15-20 minutes following the exercise - which may be isometric, concentric, eccentric, or ballistic. Once a load doesn’t meet that criterion, the load is increased so it’s effective. Tendon rehabilitation is largely about 1) ensuring it’s a tendon, 2) educating the patient, and 3) encouraging briefly painful self-management with limited office visits. -- Laura
Ever wonder why, with all the technological medical advances in orthopedics, our population doesn’t seem better? In conservative care, there’s been electric stimulation, ultrasound, laser, and less techy modalities such as tape and soft tissue tools. Outside conservative care, we’ve gone so far as to make injecting steroids, fusing spines, electrifying nerves, and removing and replacing whole joints commonplace!
Perhaps the worst offender is the MRI. Imaging is certainly warranted in a few situations (as is surgery), but it’s current widespread use isn’t. Not only is this expensive for society, but overreliance is bad medicine: MRIs cannot reliably demonstrate cause and effect regarding symptoms and they often create needless fear in patients’ minds that they’re degenerating.
The human body has an amazing capacity to heal itself; orthopedic issues such as fractures, tears, disc herniations, sprains, etc. are regularly alleviated with time, not medical intervention. However, when a body’s independent healing falters, learning the right movement (and learning which to temporarily avoid) is key. Immobilization is rarely necessary. A clinician who uses her ears and brain to thoughtfully understand a patient’s problem should realize that a self-management protocol based on movement – nature’s best remedy – is almost always the best medicine. -- Laura
A mechanical examination begins with a methodical verbal history, typically producing one or two diagnoses to prove or disprove during the examination. Key information I elicit includes location of all/any symptoms, mechanism of injury, injury duration and trend, and activities that worsen/improve symptoms.
In the mechanical exam, I care precisely about tests’ effects. I examine the effect of upright posture. I check active and passive movement at the affected joint(s). If the patient has an extremity complaint, I always look at spine motion too. I often check nerve tension (arm or leg). The patient performs something that generates symptoms, such as squatting or lifting a bag - a “functional baseline.” Strength is also tested: for all upper body complaints I test roughly 8 arm muscles. With all lower body complaints, I test 6 leg muscles. With distinct extremity problems, I additionally strength test the specific muscles at those joints.
Next, most importantly, the patient performs repeated movements in the direction I have determined and we reassess relevant findings (symptom behavior, motion, nerve tension, strength, and/or functional baseline). Based on cause/effect, other directions may be tested. Before leaving, one specific movement is chosen for the patient to perform frequently at home. --Laura
In orthopedics, the core comprises a specific group of muscles in the trunk/pelvis. (Others use core generally to mean trunk.) Core muscle strength is beneficial. Just as arm, chest, and foot strength are beneficial! Core muscles are not exemplary. They’re no more our “foundation” than our foot muscles or those running the length of our spine.
Many erroneously treat orthopedic low back pathology by strengthening the core. Assuming core muscle strength can be accurately assessed, if one or more of them is weak, the question is why. Muscles become weak (and painful) from pulls/tears. However, these are very rare when it comes to the large muscles of the core. (Tears follow a consistent, predictable pattern, too, which should make them obvious to an attentive clinician.) Pain can create weakness, but absent a clear tear, the pain usually originates from something other than the muscle.
The number one reason any muscle is weak (the large majority of cases) is because its electricity from nerves has been inhibited – either at the spine or extremity joints. It’s a joint problem. Therefore, in most cases strengthening a weak muscle (or entire group!) is simply attacking a symptom, which won’t fully resolve the problem. -- Laura
Treating symptoms (and signs) alone will not fix a problem. Yet I consistently see people consistently attacking their symptoms. In many cases this has even been advised by a healthcare professional. Examples of signs and symptoms include: pain, tightness, achiness, weakness, clicking, locking, numbness, stiffness, buckling or giving way, tingling, and imbalance.
The question is always: what is causing this/what is the diagnosis? Why does your back hurt? Why is your foot numb? Why is your knee giving out? Why is your calf tight? Why does your shoulder ache? Why is your quadriceps or grip weak? Why can’t you balance on your left? Why is your pelvis rotated? Why is your neck stiff?
There are many diagnoses that create each of these symptoms, such as nerve impingement (at the spine or in the extremities), misaligned joints, torn structures such as muscles, and dysfunctional tendons. Very often the cause is located away from the symptoms. And even these causes have causes - which need to be addressed, like changing sitting posture to prevent nerves from being pinched in the spine. An expert diagnosis from a professional who understands all the possible diagnoses and then finds and treats the cause is warranted. -- Laura
Find more information about the world of orthopedics here!