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You Threw Your Back Out! Now What?

Most of us have experienced that sudden unexpected sharp low back pain and the inability to fully stand up erect afterward. If you haven’t yet, chances are you likely will at some point. Unfortunately, we oftentimes do not expect it to happen as it either occurs with the most obscure unthreatening activities (picking up a pencil, wresting with your kids, getting out of the car, etc.) or when we believe we are physically prepared to take on load (deadlifting, squatting, etc.) but the aftermath tells us otherwise. So, when it happens, what should you do?

First, don’t panic. Take a moment to catch your breath and evaluate the situation. Yes, it can be extremely painful and alarming but 99.999% of the time it isn’t life threatening. To assist ruling out more severe pathology (cancer, spinal cord injury, etc.), think about the how the pain started and the resulting symptoms. Below are some criteria to help:

  • Is the pain associated with a low-traumatic specific cause or mechanism (picking something up, twisting, etc.)?
  • Does the pain change with movement and/or position (ex: worsens with bending, better with sitting, better with walking, worse in the morning, etc.)?
  • Are you experiencing any other concerning symptoms (ex: changes in bowel/bladder function, nausea/vomiting, numbness/tingling, unexplained weight fluctuations, paralysis or severe sudden weakness, dizziness, headaches, etc.)?

If you can answer “yes” to the first two questions and “no” to the third, then the pain is likely “mechanical”, meaning it is not life threatening and is associated with the movement-related parts of the body. More severe and worrisome causes of back pain typically present as a constant unrelenting pain without an identifiable cause, pain that does not change regardless of movement/position, and pain along with other worrisome symptoms like those in question three above. Additionally, high-velocity traumatic causes of back pain (high-speed car accident, fall from high surface, etc.) should also be medically evaluated to rule out fractures. If you deem your pain as life threatening or suspect a fracture, definitely get it medically evaluated as soon as possible. If not, then congrats! You are the proud owner of acute low back pain and should keep reading.

Next, keep moving. Old school medical advice directed back pain patients to stay off their feet and oftentimes prescribed “bed rest” for prolonged periods. Turns out this treatment strategy is more harmful than good. Current medical literature supports continued activity, starting with lower level activities and gradually increasing workload until back to prior level of function. Sitting and laying around avoiding aggravating movements may seem logical to allow the body to heal; however, it’s common for individuals to actually feel WORSE after prolonged periods of rest. The longer you stay away from being active, the higher the risk of becoming deconditioned, weaker, and stiffer while potentially developing fear avoidance behaviors and acute depression if avoiding activities typically enjoyed.

With that said, it is not wise to continuously push through painful movements with the “pain is weakness leaving the body” mentality. Doing so can aggravate healing tissues (similar to picking a healing scab) as well as increase your body’s sensitivity to movement, resulting in higher pain levels. (Note: Pain is a very complicated output of the brain after it receives/processes multiple stimuli, to include pain receptors. The complexity is a whole other article on its own, but you can trust me on this!). So, the goal is to avoid the far ends of the activity spectrum: not enough and too much. Like Goldilocks, you need to find the middle “just right” point that keeps you moving without overdoing it. Light range of motion exercises and stretching is typically recommended along with light cardiovascular exercise like walking or riding a stationary bike. Check out the video below for some good exercises commonly prescribed for acute low back pain.

While going through the recovery process, it’s crucial to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle to promote a good healing response. Because physical activity is usually restricted initially, maintaining a well-balanced diet is key to prevent unnecessary weight gain and provide the body the right nutrients to optimize healing. Binge watching Netflix and eating a tub of ice cream is not a good approach. Sleep, too, is very important. One of our biggest healing-promoting hormones is Growth Hormone which naturally spikes during our deep sleep cycles. Additionally, our biggest stress hormone Cortisol (which limits recovery) naturally lowers while asleep. Reducing and disrupting sleep patterns therefore decreases the body’s natural ability to heal by reducing the “good” hormone we need while maintaining elevated levels of the “bad” hormone. I also recommend avoiding tobacco use and heavy alcohol consumption as both can reduce blood flow and the oxygen/nutrients delivered by the cardiovascular system, resulting in delayed healing.

The last piece of advice I can offer is to stay positive, be patient, and embrace the roller coaster ride of recovery. You will get better, it may just take some time. Each injury and person are unique; therefore, timelines, progression, and symptoms will vary. And if you have a history of low back pain episodes, each recovery will be different. Mindset is HUGE when injured (go back to the previous comment about the complexity of pain output). Feeling down and out mentally can carry over to how you feel physically. Also, remember that recovery is not a smooth ride with predictable improvements each day but more like a bumpy roller coaster ride with ups, downs, and loopy-loops (see below image). It’s common to experience a “bad day” after a “good day”. This does not indicate further harm or reinjury but is a common response as the body progresses.

So, in summary, tweaking your back happens. And, unfortunately, it sucks. However, you will recover. The body is amazing and able to heal despite all the day-to-day abuse thrown its way. There are things you can do to promote the recovery progress as described above: stay moderately active, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and have a positive mindset. Typical acute pain episodes improve over one to three weeks. If your pain persists longer, intensifies, or progresses to include “red flag” symptoms (see question 3 above), you should consult a medical provider to further assist.

Shameless Physical Therapy Plug: Seeing a physical therapist early in the back pain episode can further assist in the recovery process. If your state and health insurance allow for direct access to physical therapy without a referral (like South Carolina), I encourage seeking a physical therapist first to avoid delayed care and possibly unnecessary imaging and medication prescriptions.

I hope this is helpful. Definitely reach out to us at Vertex PT Specialists if you have any questions or concerns. Or if you are in the Columbia, SC area, we would love to help you out if your back pain continues to nag you!


Dr. Pat Casey, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, SFMA, CF-L1
pat.casey@vertexpt.com
803.973.0100

PBFR Monthly Membership

Vertex PT Specialists is proud to offer Personalized Blood Flow Restriction (PBFR) via the FDA approved Delfi Personalized Tourniquet System (PTS).

We currently have 5 spots available for PBFR monthly memberships at a rate of $50/month.

Your monthly membership includes:

  • Screening to ensure you are appropriate and have no contraindications to use the Delfi PTS
  • Training on operating the Delfi PTS for upper and lower extremity exercise protocols
  • Training on the evidenced based strength, endurance, and cell swelling PBFR protocols

Upon completion of initial training, your membership will allow you to come in and use the Delfi PTS 3 days per week during regular office hours at our Millwood location only.  Please note, PBFR is already included as part of the rehabilitation process, therefore you do not have to be an established patient to sign up for a membership.

In addition to being a powerful tool to improve and enhance the recovery of our patients, the Delfi PTS is also scientifically proven to increase strength and hypertrophy at very light loads (20% of 1 rep max).  This means that an athlete can make considerable gains without causing muscle damage, making the PTS perfect to use as a supplementary tool and/or on rest days.  More info on this topic can be found at vertexpt.com/pbfr.  For well-trained endurance athletes, PBFR has been shown to increase VO2 max by 11.6% in as little as 2 weeks!

If you’d like to sign up for a membership, or need more information on personalized blood flow restriction, please email us at info@vertexpt.com or call us at 803.851.3506.

 

 

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Doc and Jock Podcast

Dr. Vaughn was recently interviewed on the Doc and Jock Podcast.

Some of the topics discussed:

  • The Vertex PT Specialists business model
  • Running gait correctives
  • The pec major tears at this year’s CrossFit Games Regionals
  • Tiger Woods
  • Lumbar spine surgeries
  • The opioid epidemic
  • and more…

Click this link to listen.

Or click this link to download on iTunes.

 

Words that Harm

How many times have you been given a phrase by a physician that, perhaps, wasn’t phrased as well as it could be? “You’ve got a time bomb in your chest” or “I don’t know how you’re walking around with that spine!” As I venture through all the information that’s required in my Orthopedic Residency, this is the one subject that I wish more healthcare providers understood.

 

Too often, I hear a new patient tell me that their referring physician told them their spine is “riddled with bulging discs” to the point that they “shouldn’t be able to move.” Put yourself in that patient’s shoes. In that moment, how would you feel? You’ve been in pain for a long time, you’ve maybe had failed alternative treatments, perhaps you’re on pain medication that you don’t like taking. And the medical professional you’ve been sent to says they can’t even fathom how you’re able to move based on what they’ve seen on your images. There’s no way in that moment you feel great about your situation. And likely you have no hope for a more conservative treatment to finally get some relief.

 

Why would a medical professional say such words to their patients, if there were the possibility of being more supportive or hopeful? It’s suggested that possibly we no longer hear the words we say; we’ve become desensitized to the anxiety or fear that they cause. Perhaps we don’t have time to think of better phrases or words to say; with the way healthcare has gone in recent years, doctors don’t have a ton of time to spend with each patient. Physical therapists, who would typically have the most time with their patients, in many clinics are seeing multiple patients at a time. So instead of explaining how MRIs have shown bulging discs in patients who are asymptomatic or how patients with debilitating pain have no significant findings on MRI, they rush through the exercises for the day and hope that patient doesn’t have any questions. It was further suggested that maybe we use fear-evoking words as a method of getting compliance out of the patient. If we tell the patient that the only way to make sure “this heartbeat isn’t the last” is if they start exercising or begin taking their medication, the fear becomes helpful to that professional. But none of these reasons are acceptable for using language that has been shown to cause undue anxiety and poor results in our patients.

What we’re learning now is how important the brain is in how we perceive pain. Many new approaches in physical therapy seek to retrain the brain and our thoughts about pain.  One of the best ways I think we can seek to provide that re-training is through better use of language. Instead of getting stuck in these negative connotation words or phrases that cause fear, I think we should seek to determine words that evoke inspiration in our patients.

So, what words should be used by healthcare professionals? Words that allow patients to feel comfortable enough to ask questions are a good place to start. Miscommunication between healthcare professionals and patients due to the patient being afraid to ask a question about their condition is unacceptable. Clear, precise language that helps the patient understand exactly what is going on in their body, while taking into consideration the patient’s understanding and educational level. Metaphors that don’t cause negative emotional reactions can be helpful, too – as the car alarm analogy that is used to explain chronic pain situations (Neuroscience Pain Education). Healthcare professionals should seek to find and use words that will boost a patient’s self-confidence in their ability to control their situation and to inspire hope for recovery or rehabilitation.

As a physical therapist, I hope to never lose the humility that allows me to talk to a patient on their level. I hope to be able to always inspire patients to take control of their situations (within their means) and to be able to manage their symptoms without dependence on me. I hope to never get caught up on medical jargon that evokes fear in my patients, and instead build a trusting relationship where all questions can be asked and answered comfortably.

Bedell, S., Graboys, T., Bedell, E., Lown, B. Words that Harm, Words that Heal. Archive of Internal Medicine, 2004; 164:1365-1368.

Louw, A., Zimney, K., O’Hotto, C., Hilton, S. The clinical application of teaching people about pain. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09593985.2016.1194652

Dr. Tristan Faile, PT, DPT
tristan@vertexpt.com

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Concussion Nutrition (Part 2)

Patients with concussions or Mild traumatic brain injury often complain of stress and have been shown to possess higher plasma cortisol levels. Vitamin C supplementation has been shown to decrease cortisol which is commonly known as the “stress hormone”. A 1500mg daily dose of oral Vitamin C may decrease the production of the the adrenal hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, which are immunosuppressive at high levels.

Be sure to consult with your physician before taking dietary supplements.

Peters, E. M., Anderson, R., Nieman, D. C., Fickle, H., & Jogessar, V. (2001). Vitamin C supplementation attenuates the increases in circulating cortisol, adrenaline and anti-inflammatory polypeptides following ultramarathon running. International journal of sports medicine, 22(07), 537-543.

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Concussion Nutrition (Part 1)

Omega 3-6-9 and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may be beneficial in patients with concussions by serving not only as a vascular and neuroprotectant but by enhancing the repair process of damaged brain cells. In fact, dietary supplementation with DHA increases serum levels and, if given prior to concussion or Mild TBI, it may reduce the injury response by mitigating permanent brain cell death.

Be sure to consult with your physician before taking dietary supplements.

Hasadsri, L., Wang, B. H., Lee, J. V., Erdman, J. W., Llano, D. A., Barbey, A. K., … & Wang, H. (2013). Omega-3 fatty acids as a putative treatment for traumatic brain injury. Journal of neurotrauma, 30(11), 897-906.
Mills, J. D., Hadley, K., & Bailes, J. E. (2011). Dietary supplementation with the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid in traumatic brain injury. Neurosurgery, 68(2), 474-481.
Wu, A., Ying, Z., & Gomez-Pinilla, F. (2007). Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation restores mechanisms that maintain brain homeostasis in traumatic brain injury. Journal of neurotrauma, 24(10), 1587-1595.

Assess your Mortality with the Sitting-Rising Test (SRT) AKA Brazilian Get Up Test

The Sitting Rising Test (SRT), originally developed in Brazil, is a simple measure of flexibility, strength, and balance that can predict who will live longer and whose lives will be cut short.
 
To perform:
 
1. Stand in comfortable clothes, with your shoes off, and plenty clear space around you.
 
2. Without leaning on anything, lower yourself to a sitting position on the floor.
 
3. Now stand back up, trying not to use your hands, knees, forearms or sides of your legs.
 
(If you have joint pain or may be at risk of falling, DO NOT PERFORM this without the supervision of a physical therapist).
 
Everyone starts with a score of 10 (as Darryl demonstrates in the video), 1 point is deducted each time a hand, arm, knee, or side of the leg is used for support and half a point is deducted for any loss of balance.
 
In a study published in the European Journal of Cardiology, researchers had more than 2,000 patients ages 51 to 80, take the SRT. People who scored fewer than eight points on the test were twice as likely to die within the next six years compared with those who scored higher; those who scored three or fewer points were more than five times as likely to die within the same period compared with those who scored more than eight points.
 
Overall, each point increase in the SRT score was associated with a 21 percent decrease in mortality from all causes.
 
We hope this information can help get more people walking through the doors of a gym rather than rolling into an emergency room.
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Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Biceps and Triceps

This is a sample super-set that I use as a finisher using the Occlusion Cuff for biceps and triceps hypertrophy.