Category Archives: physiotherapy

Frozen Shoulder/Adhesive Capsulitis

By Carla Cranbury, PT

What is it?

Frozen shoulder, also called adhesive capsulitis, is a gradual onset shoulder condition characterized by pain and limited range of motion. This is caused by inflammation and tightening of the shoulder capsule. Typical initial symptoms are pain midway between the shoulder and the elbow and difficulty reaching behind the back. Most women will report that they have difficulty doing up their bra and men difficulty putting on their belt.

Why does it happen?

Limited research has been able to discern one certain cause of frozen shoulder – in short, we don’t know. We do know that it is most common in middle aged women (aged 40-65) and people with diabetes. It also is more likely to occur after a virus, a lingering shoulder injury or after shoulder or upper limb surgery.

How long does it take?

Frozen shoulder goes through three main stages, each of which can take weeks to months:

  • Freezing – pain is noticed and range of motion becomes progressively limited
  • Frozen – pain is reduced, but range of motion is further restricted
  • Thawing – pain is reduced and range of motion gradually returns

Can physio help?

Physiotherapy cannot speed up the course of the condition – everyone has to go through each of the three stages in order to recover. The total process of frozen shoulder can take one to two years to resolve.

What physio can do is help you retain function while going through frozen shoulder, decrease some pain, and ensure a full recovery. Maintaining mobility through the process is important and is where physiotherapy can help the most. Physio will also help prevent other injuries that can be caused by compensating for the frozen shoulder – this is especially significant as it is common for the other shoulder to get the same condition.

Your physiotherapist will give you exercises to maintain as much movement as possible and instruct you on how to perform them properly to ensure you are not compensating for the limited range of motion. Hands on manual therapy will help stretch out the capsule to make the exercises easier to perform. Modalities such as ice, heat, TENS, and acupuncture can also be used to decrease pain.

Though frozen shoulder can be a lengthy and frustrating process, the right care can make it more manageable and prevent any further complications.

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Reeves B. The natural history of the frozen shoulder syndrome. Scand J Rheumatol. 1975;4:193–6.[PubMed]
Greene WB. Essentials of musculoskeletal care. 2. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons; 2001
Pal B, Anderson J, Dick WC, Griffiths ID. Limitation of joint mobility and shoulder capsulitis in insulin- and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Br J Rheumatol. 1986;25:147–51. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/25.2.147. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
Bridgman JF. Periarthrits of the shoulder in diabetes mellitus. Ann Rheum Dis. 1972;74:738–46.
Hazleman BL. Frozen shoulder. In: Rockwood CA Jr, Matsen FA III, editors. The shoulder. 2. WB Saunders: Philadelphia; 1990.
Harryman DT, Lazurus MD, Rozencwaig R. The stiff shoulder. In: Rockwood Cam Matsen FA, Wirth MA, Lippitt SB, editors. The shoulder. 3. Saunders: Philadephia; 2004.
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Injury Prevention and Physiotherapy

By Cassandra Kroner, PT

best-chicago-group-step-class.jpgIt is a common misconception that you only need to see a physiotherapist if you have an injury or pain. Physiotherapists have a wide range of skills, and recognizing the risk for future injury is one of them. Injury prevention is applicable to all individuals, regardless of their activity level, from the office worker to the athlete, and especially for those with previous injuries that could reoccur.

Repetitive Strain Factors

  • Occupation
  • Training errors
  • Age
  • Excessive or repetitive loads
  • Inappropriate footwear
  • Structural abnormalities
  • Muscle control
  • Core stability
  • Joint alignment
  • Muscle strength and flexibility imbalances
  • Previous injury
  • Posture

In general there are two types of injuries – traumatic and repetitive strain. Traumatic injuries are easier to understand, as they are the result of a singular event that causes damage. On the other hand, repetitive strain injuries occur when stressors that normally do not cause harm are repeated to the point of causing micro trauma that builds over time until the tissue becomes inflamed and injured. These injuries tend to begin subtly, and gradually increase in severity. Combined with the multi-factorial list of possible contributing factors, repetitive strain injuries can be challenging to diagnose and treat. However, in most cases repetitive strain injuries can be avoided with a good injury prevention and maintenance program.

A Common Factor: Muscle Imbalance

When an individual is involved in one specific sport or has a repetitive aspect to their job, the muscles are put under a great deal of strain to repeatedly perform the same movements. Sedentary jobs involving prolonged postures can have similar effects with certain muscles constantly working for long periods. Over time, muscle imbalances develop as the muscles that are being used the most continue to get strong while the reciprocating muscles become lengthened and weak. These muscle imbalances can cause movement restrictions that affect performance and increase stress on the body. Increased stress on muscles, joints and ligaments eventually leads to a repetitive strain injury.

15250-a-young-woman-stretching-outdoors-before-exercising-pv-630x390.jpgThe First Steps Toward Injury Prevention

Getting started on the road to injury prevention is as simple as booking an appointment with a physiotherapist. If you are unsure how injury prevention could apply to you or if you could be at risk for injury, speaking with a physiotherapist can help clarify your needs and goals. The same expert assessment skills physiotherapists use to diagnose injury will be used to proactively assess for risk factors that could lead to future injury. Your lifestyle, the demands of your job, and the specific sports or activities you participate in will be considered, along with the assessment findings, to develop an individualized treatment plan. This plan could involve manual therapy to correct joint restrictions or muscle length imbalance, strength and flexibility exercises, correction of movement patterns, and education.

By addressing several predisposing factors to injury, the body is optimally prepared to handle the demands of the workplace or sport. This can translate to decreased frequency and severity of future injuries, with the added benefit of a shortened recovery time in the event an injury does occur. Don’t wait for an injury to strike to take charge of your health!

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The Sitting Solution

By Carla Cranbury, PT

Let’s face it, we sit a lot. Between working, commuting, and watching television, the Canada Health Measures Survey found that most Canadian adults spend 9 hours and 48 minutes of their waking time being sedentary. Most of us know that physical activity is good for us, but did you know that just sitting less (regardless of exercise) can also be beneficial in the long term?

A study published in 2009 followed more than 17 000 Canadians for 12 years. Over the twelve years they compared the participants’ daily sitting time and leisure time physical activity with mortality rates of various causes. What they found was that the amount of daily sitting time was positively associated with mortality rates from all causes, except cancer. Basically the more people sit, the higher the risk of mortality. This even includes people who are physically active, showing that high amounts of sitting time cannot be compensated for with exercise, even if it exceeds the current minimum physical activity recommendations.

Other studies have echoed similar findings. A seven year study reported that people who spend less than half their time sitting have a lower risk of mortality than those who spend more than half their day sitting. Another six year study reported that women who spend 16+ hours sitting per day have an elevated risk for cardiovascular disease compared with women who sit for less than 4 hours a day.

These studies are not to say that physical activity is not important – it still is, and it is still beneficial for your health. Physical activity also contributes to decreased time spent sitting.  What these studies are saying is the physiology associated with excessive sitting is different than the physiological benefits of exercise, and therefore excessive sitting cannot be compensated for with periods of exercise.

So now that you know, what can you do?

If you work at a desk most of the day, sitting can be hard to avoid. Some options are:

  • Ask your work if they can accommodate an ergonomically sound standing desk
  • Take frequent breaks from sitting to walk around
  • Go for a walk on your lunch break
  • Walk to your co-workers desk to talk to them instead of sending an email
  • Park at the back of the parking lot to get a few extra steps
  • Take the stairs!
  • Take frequent standing breaks throughout the day
  • Discover new ways to be active during your leisure time – ditch the TV and get outside

It’s the small changes to your daily routine that can add up and make a big difference. The best time to start is today!

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References

Katzmarzyk, Peter T. et al. “Sitting Time And Mortality From All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, And Cancer”. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 41.5 (2009): 998-1005. Web.

“Directly Measured Physical Activity Of Adults, 2012 And 2013”. Statcan.gc.ca. N.p., 2017. Web.

Manson, J.E., P. Greenland, and A.Z. LaCroix. “Walking Compared With Vigorous Exercise For The Prevention Of Cardiovascular Events In Women”. ACC Current Journal Review 12.1 (2003): 29. Web.

Weller, Iris and Paul Corey. “The Impact Of Excluding Non-Leisure Energy Expenditure On The Relation Between Physical Activity And Mortality In Women”. Epidemiology 9.6 (1998): 632-635. Web.

How Physiotherapy Can Help With Osteoporosis

By Lana Kovacevic, PT

Exercise step classOsteoporosis is a condition of reduced bone strength that causes bones to be more likely to break (1). It is a progressive disease in which the density and quality of bone decreases over time making it more fragile. Current trends show that more and more people are affected by osteoporosis each year (1). Among Canadian men and women, an estimated 1 in 4 women have osteoporosis compared to 1 in 8 men (1).

Why is osteoporosis so concerning?

The major threat to healthy aging and independent mobility for those with osteoporosis is the risk of sustaining a fragility fracture. A fragility fracture is a broken bone that results from minimal trauma or stress – stress which typically would not cause a bone to break (1). An example would be breaking a bone in the wrist or hip after falling from standing height (1). After an initial fragility fracture, you become more than two times as likely to sustain another fracture in the future (1). The most common bones to be injured are those of the wrist, upper arm, ribs, spine, pelvis, and hip (1).

Who is at risk for osteoporosis?

Canadian guidelines recommend that all postmenopausal women and men over the age of 50 years be screened for their risk of osteoporosis (1). A diagnosis is made following an X-ray that measures bone mineral density. This test is recommended for those who have at least 1 major or 2 minor risk factors (1).

Figure 1: Some key major and minor risk factors for osteoporosis (1)

Major Risk Factors Minor Risk Factors
  • Age over 65 years
  • Family history of osteoporosis fracture
  • Early menopause (before age 45)
  • Glucocorticoid therapy for more than 3 months
  • Falls
  • Smoking
  • Diet low in calcium
  • Body weight less than 57 kg
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

How can I check if I am at risk for osteoporosis?

A convenient online tool for estimating the risk of osteoporosis fracture exists called the FRAX® Fracture Risk Assessment Tool. Click on this link to get an estimate of your personal risk. If you are concerned about your risk for osteoporosis, it is best to consult your family doctor.

How is osteoporosis treated?

Apart from medical management with medication and supplementation, exercise is a key component of treatment. Exercise has been shown to slow the loss of bone mineral density and reduce the risk of falling (1). This means that exercise can be beneficial for both preventing osteoporosis as well as managing symptoms for those already diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Can physiotherapy and exercise help if…

…I’m concerned about developing osteoporosis in the future?

For anyone at an increased risk of osteoporosis or those with a family history of osteoporosis, taking part in weight-bearing physical activity and activity that involves some impact is best for preventing bone loss. Starting this type of exercise at a younger age may make you less likely to suffer from osteoporosis in older age.

…I’ve already been diagnosed with osteoporosis?

For those with osteoporosis, exercise is important to help minimize bone density loss. It is also critical for reducing the risk of falling and therefore, a broken bone. Risk of falling is higher for people with poor strength, balance, posture, and with poor postural stability. All of these factors can be addressed and improved with a proper exercise program.

…I’ve already had a fragility fracture and want to avoid having another one in the future?

A safe exercise program is also beneficial for those who have already suffered a broken bone associated with osteoporosis. Less than 20% of women (or 1 in 5) and 10% of men (or 1 in 10) who have had a fracture are given the appropriate treatment to prevent a future fracture (2). It is important to restore safe movement patterns during recovery from a fracture as well as to reduce the risk of sustaining another fracture.

Each person is unique and should have an exercise program that is tailored to their specific needs. A physiotherapist can assess, treat, and teach you how to reduce your risk of osteoporosis, manage your symptoms, and improve your general health and physical functioning.

Reference:

  1. Brown JP, Josse RG. 2002 clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of osteoporosis in Canada. CMAJ. 2002. 167(10); S1-34.
  2. Papaioannou A, Morin S, Cheung AM, Atkinson S, Brown JP, Feldman S, et al. 2010 clinical practice guidelines for the diagnosis and management of osteoporosis in Canada: summary. CMAJ. 2010. 182(17): 1-10.

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Shin Splints

RunnerMedial tibial stress syndrome, commonly called “shin splints”, is a term used to describe pain and tenderness felt on the inside, lower border of the shin bone. Shin splints are commonly experienced by athletes who take part in activities involving repetitive running and jumping, particularly after a sudden increase in activity level (either duration, distance or intensity). The repetitive stress placed on the bones, muscles and joints of the lower leg during these high impact activities may result in irritation and inflammation of the shin bone (tibia).

Shin splint pain is usually described as a dull ache. It usually develops slowly over time, first being noticed at the end of activity. Some athletes may complain of pain at the beginning and end of activity, but not affecting their performance. Over time, pain will commence during activity and eventually may be felt during regular day to day activities such as walking. As shin splints progress, they also make the lower leg sore to touch.

Bones- Shin SplintsThere are a number of factors that may predispose an athlete to develop shin splints including: flat feet, rigid arches, muscle weakness, and/or muscle tightness. Other contributing factors may include running downhill, running on hard surfaces, running in worn-out footwear, or playing sports with frequent stops and starts (e.g. basketball, squash, tennis). While the pain presentation is often similar across individuals, there are a variety of bio-mechanical abnormalities in the pelvis, hips, knees, and ankles that can also lead to the development of shin splints.

Proper treatment requires a detailed assessment by a registered Physiotherapist to identify and target the contributing factors as well as the location of pain. Treatment includes rest, ice, specific joint mobilizations, an individualized stretching and strengthening program, and if needed a gradual return to regular activity. During recovery, aerobic fitness can be maintained with low impact activities such as swimming and biking. If left untreated, the repetitive stress on the tibia may result in a stress fracture yielding a longer recovery time.

A physiotherapist can perform a full assessment to determine the exact cause of an athlete’s pain and develop a treatment program to relieve pain, facilitate return to activity, and prevent future injury.

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Physiotherapy for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is pain, numbness, and tingling, in the wrist and hand particularly in the thumb, index and middle finger. This syndrome affects approximately 3-6% of the general population. The carpal tunnel is a small passageway at the wrist that tendons and the median nerve run through as they travel into the hand. The tunnel is surrounded by bone and connective tissue so it does not easily stretch or expand, making structures within it susceptible to irritation which can cause the median nerve to be compressed. If left untreated and the condition worsens, symptoms may progress to include weakness in the hand.

Causes and Risk Factors
A combination of several of the following factors can increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome:

  • Chronic stress on wrist/hand – typically affecting the dominant hand, often due to working posture or repetitive motions (eg. using computers for several hours a day, assembly-line workers, musicians, using vibrating power tools)
  • Trauma to the wrist (eg. fracture, sprain) – can cause damage to the nerve or swelling to other structures that will narrow the carpal tunnel
  • Pregnancy – hormonal changes can affect tendons and cause swelling
  • Arthritis – bony growths into the tunnel narrow the space
  • Congenital Predisposition – women and smaller individuals may have narrower carpal tunnels, reducing space for the nerve
  • Diabetic or Metabolic Disorders – negatively affect the body’s nerves

Symptoms
The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Gradual onset of pain, burning, tingling, numbness or itching in the palm, thumb and/or index and middle fingers
  • Feeling of weakness and swelling in the hand, with difficulty grasping small items, making a fist and performing fine motor tasks
  • Urge to shake out the hand to relieve the tingling sensations

In the early stages, symptoms will often be intermittent. However, as the condition worsens symptoms are more severe and begin to persist for longer periods of time. Pain and numbness tends to be worse at night for a lot of individuals.

Treatment
It is advised to seek treatment from a professional as soon as carpal tunnel symptoms arise as the condition will not typically resolve on its own.

Medication: Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs (eg. Ibuprofen) may provide short term relief from mild symptoms. Corticosteroid injections are a much stronger anti-inflammatory, and may also be a temporary option to help relieve pressure and symptoms for those with relatively mild symptoms.

Physiotherapy: Seeking help from a registered physiotherapist is one of the best options for treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome. Physiotherapy will include manual therapy on your wrist to improve the mobility of the joints and stretch tight muscles and tendons in the wrist and fingers, helping to remove any scar tissue buildup that may hinder recovery. The Physiotherapist will also incorporate nerve gliding techniques to help improve the mobility of the median nerve through the carpal tunnel. Ultrasound may be used over the carpal tunnel area to reduce inflammation which helps to relieve symptoms. Your physiotherapist may also suggest a brace or splint to immobilize the wrist while working or performing aggravating activities. They will provide education about activity modification to avoid aggravating positions, such as holding the wrist in a flexed (bent) position. Your physiotherapist will also prescribe specific stretching and strengthening exercises for the fingers, thumb, hand and arm to progress through later stages of recovery. They will provide education on proper posture while working to prevent relapse.

Surgery: With very severe cases of carpal tunnel syndrome where nonsurgical treatment does not provide any relief, surgery may be an option. The surgery typically consists of cutting the roof of the carpal tunnel, to provide more room for the tendons and median nerve and decrease compression. Full recovery back to original strength in the hand may take 6-12 months.

While carpal tunnel is a relatively common condition, it is often misdiagnosed, thus it is a good idea to seek treatment from a registered physiotherapist upon the onset of symptoms in order to have the best chance of full recovery and to prevent irreversible damage. Your physiotherapist will be able to recommend appropriate treatment options, whether that be manual therapy, bracing, or if necessary, surgical intervention.

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Tennis Elbow

Tennis Elbow

Lateral epicondylitis, more commonly referred to as “tennis elbow”, is a term used to describe pain just above the elbow joint on the outer side of the arm. Contrary to popular belief, tennis elbow is not a condition that is exclusive to tennis players or athletes. The term tennis elbow was coined from the fact it can be a significant problem for as many as 50% of tennis players during their careers. However, less than 5% of reported cases of tennis elbow result from playing tennis!

More specifically, tennis elbow is a tendinopathy at the origin of the extensor carpi radialis brevis tendon (the tendon that is responsible for wrist extension). This tendinopathy is due to degeneration of, or damage to the tendon causing inflammation and subsequently, pain. In order to understand what causes tennis elbow, it is important to first understand tendons and how they function. Tendons are like “ropes” made of collagen tissue. They are flexible, but do not stretch when pulled. It is the job of the tendon to connect muscle to bone. In the case of tennis elbow, the area on the bone where the tendons attach, just above the elbow on the lateral side (or outer side) of the arm, are sometimes incapable of handling the force of the arm muscles. Strong forces or sudden impact to the tendons at this point of attachment are what cause damage, like small tears in the fibers of the tendon (similar to a rope becoming frayed).

Activities that exacerbate tennis elbow symptoms are those that involve repetitive motion of the arm, forearm, wrist, and hand. Movements that are commonly associated with the development of tennis elbow are: lifting, gripping something tightly in combination with inward or outward rotation of the forearm, jerky throwing motions, swatting with the hand, and simultaneous rotation of the forearm and bending of the wrist. Racquet sports may be the most “popular” activity to associate with tennis elbow, but as previously mentioned most cases are the result of a wide range of actions that include, but are not limited to: painting/plastering, excessive and repetitive use of a computer mouse, carpentry work, gardening and repetitive lifting and carrying.

Tennis elbow can be suspected when performing routine tasks, such as gripping objects or turning doorknobs, become painful. A physician or physiotherapist can diagnose tennis elbow by discussing symptoms and examining the affected arm. Diagnostic tests are not typically necessary for an accurate diagnosis, however, a physician may request an X-ray or MRI imaging if symptoms do not improve with treatment.

Treatment options for tennis elbow include modifying activities that exacerbate symptoms. Movements that cause an increase in pain should be avoided to help allow the tendon to heal. Pain management is also important to consider. Anti-inflammatory painkillers are commonly used for some symptomatic relief, however physiotherapy remains the most successful tool in the treatment of tennis elbow long-term. A physiotherapist will perform manual therapy on the affected arm, to mobilize the underlying stiff joints and tight structures. Modalities such as ice, and ultrasound, as well as taping may be used to ease pain and encourage healing. A physiotherapist will implement stretching and strengthening exercises to help restore normal function of the arm, and also prevent tennis elbow from occurring in the future.

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