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These 4 Simple Exercises Will Lower Your Risk For Hip Pain
March 8, 2022

As we saw in our last post, several conditions can develop in the hip and can go on to cause pain and dysfunction. These problems can strike at any age, but are more likely to develop later in life and in females, with the highest incidence of hip pain occurring in women aged 40–60 years.

In most cases, a combination of age–related changes and overuse are responsible, while traumatic injury may be the culprit for certain patients. Whatever the cause, the toll that hip pain takes is often similar, as patients will variably lose their ability to move and function freely. Walking, running, and sitting/standing typically become more labor–intensive tasks, and these limitations will likely persist if no action is taken.

While it’s not possible to reverse or stop natural age–related changes, you can take preventive steps on your own that will lower your risk for hip pain. One of the most effective tactics is to regularly perform exercises that target the muscles of the hip. Doing so will improve both the strength and flexibility of the hip, which means less strain and better overall functioning that equates to a reduced injury risk.

Large, thick muscles of the buttocks and thighs surround the hip and are responsible for the significant amount power that the joint can generate. These muscles are typically classified according to the type of movement that they permit:

  • Flexors and extensors: move the leg back and forth
  • Abductors: move the leg out to the side
  • Adductors: move the leg inward toward the other leg
  • Rotators: move the toes inward (internal rotation) or outward (external rotation)

Of these, the hip abductors are usually the weakest group of muscles. The abductors are found in the buttocks and include the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and tensor fascia lata muscles. These muscles contribute in major ways to our ability to stand, walk, and rotate our legs easily, meaning weak abductors can interfere with daily functioning in significantt ways. With that in mind, here are 4 of our favorite exercises to stretch and strengthen the hip abductors and reduce your risk for pain:

Our top 4 exercises to help you avoid hip pain To see videos of each exercise, go to www.MyRTR.net and enter prescription code PW3LGZ2U

  1. Clam shell side lying
    • Lie on your side with your knees slightly bent
    • Keep your heels together and raise your top knee up toward the ceiling
    • Repeat for two sets of 12 repetitions
    • Switch sides and repeat
    • You can add a resistance band to make the exercise more challenging
  2. Hip abduction in hook lying with band
    • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet shoulder–width apart
    • Place a resistance band around your thighs, just above the knees
    • Separate your knees about 6 inches by pressing your knees into the band and tightening your buttocks
    • Repeat for two sets of 12 repetitions
  3. Hip burners (foot pointed down)
    • Lie on your side with your top leg straight and bottom leg slightly bent at the hip and knee
    • Raise your top leg up about 6 inches and slightly point your foot down toward floor
    • Keeping your top leg straight, slowly move it up and back in a diagonal pattern
    • Make sure to move only through the hip while keeping your spine straight
    • Repeat for two sets of 12 repetitions
    • Switch sides and repeat
  4. Hip abduction in quadruped
    • Begin on your knees with your hands flat on the floor and looking downwards
    • Draw in your stomach muscles
    • Keeping your spine straight, move your leg out to the side about 4–6 inches, keeping your knee bent throughout the motion
    • Repeat for two sets of 12 repetitions
    • Switch sides and repeat
  5. Regularly performing these exercises—every other day or so—will keep your hips strong and will lower your injury risk. But if an issue does arise, it’s best to consult with a physical therapist, who will perform a comprehensive evaluation and design a personalized treatment program that’s suitable for your needs, abilities, and goals. In our two next posts, we’ll look at some evidence that shows why a physical therapy program is effective for various hip–related conditions.

For Hip Pain, A Physical Therapist Could Be Your Best Bet
March 1, 2022

The hip is a resilient joint that can sustain repeated strain and a significant amount of wear and tear. This durability is due to the joint’s complex and multifaceted anatomy, which includes a robust architecture that is built for stability. The hip is also incredibly flexible, allowing for a massive range of motion that is second only to the shoulder in this capacity.

But despite these strengths, the hip also has a concrete set of limits, just like every other joint in the body. Regularly participating in activities that engage the hip, not taking enough time to recover after exercise, and aging all take a toll on the joint. And over time, the sum of these factors can often result in an injury or lasting pain.

Many conditions can negatively affect the functioning of the hip and complicate the daily life of sufferers as a result. After hip pain develops, movement can become a taxing affair. Standing up from a chair, getting into a car, and walking even short distances may be met with intense strain and discomfort. As a result, some individuals will become less active to avoid this pain, even though inactivity can lead to worse outcomes in the long run.

Common hip conditions versus red flags

When hip pain occurs, a targeted intervention will be needed to address a patient’s deficits and help them regain functional abilities. Physical therapy is often the best option available for most of these cases because it not only reduces pain levels, but also teaches patients to overcome their limitations independently by moving better and more efficiently. Physical therapy is also appropriate for patients of all ages and for most conditions that produce hip pain, with a few exceptions. To help you determine if physical therapy is right for you, here are five of the most common hip conditions that physical therapists treat, followed by some red flags, which usually suggest a more serious problem is present that requires the care of another health professional:

5 common hip conditions seen by physical therapists

  1. Femoroacetabular impingement
    • Arises when small bony projections (bone spurs) develop along either the femur (upper leg bone) or acetabulum (socket of hip), causing these bones to rub against each other directly without protection
    • Over time, the resulting friction between these two bones can damage the hip joint
    • Symptoms include pain or stiffness in the groin or outside the hip, which grows worse with turning, twisting, or squatting motions
  2. Labral tear
    • A rip in the labrum, which covers the acetabulum and secures the head of the femur in place
    • The labrum can be torn by sudden trauma or repetitive motion and overuse in sports like hockey, golf, and soccer, age–related changes, structural problems, or some combination of these factors
    • Femoroacetabular impingement can also damage the labrum and lead to a tear over time
    • Symptoms are similar to those of femoroacetabular impingement, including pain or stiffness, pain in the buttocks area, a clicking or locking sound in the hip, and instability
  3. Arthritis
    • Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are among the most common causes of hip pain
    • While the course of both conditions is slightly different, both involve the wearing away of the cartilage that surrounds the ends of bones in the hip joint, resulting in less protection and eventually friction between them as it progresses
    • In osteoarthritis, this wearing process is due to age–related changes, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition in which the body mistakenly attacks the joint’s cartilage
    • Symptoms include pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness, and a general inability to move the hip and perform routine hip–related activities
  4. Hip bursitis
    • Each hip joint contains two bursae (singular bursa), which are fluid–filled sacs that ease friction between the bones, muscles, and tendons that comprise it
    • Bursitis is the inflammation of a bursa, which typically results from repeated overuse or strain of the hip
    • The primary symptom is a dull, burning pain on the outer hip that’s made worse with excessive walking or climbing stairs
  5. Hip tendinitis
    • Inflammation of any of the tendons that flex the hips
    • Usually caused by repetitive strain and overuse, often from sports or other forms of physical activity
    • Symptoms include pain that develops gradually over time, tenderness, and stiffness in the morning or after long periods of rest

Red flags

  • History of a severe fall
  • Suspected hip fracture
  • Signs of infection (eg, pus or fluid, redness, fever, blisters, worsening swelling)
  • Known or suspected cancer (eg, significant bone pain, which may suggest a bone tumor)
  • Extreme bruising, swelling, or throbbing pain
  • Persistent swelling and pain without any recent injury
  • Severe muscle spasm
  • Inability to place any pressure on the leg of the injured hip

If you notice any of these red flags, see your primary care physician as soon as possible or—for severe injuries—go to the emergency department or urgent care clinic immediately. But in the absence of any red flags, we strongly recommend seeing a physical therapist for your hip pain as soon as possible to get started on a comprehensive treatment program that will help you regain your abilities.

Physical Therapy Can Prepare Patients For Surgery When Necessary
February 22, 2022

As we described in our first post, knee osteoarthritis is a disorder that involves the cartilage in a knee joint. In a normal knee, the ends of each bone are covered by cartilage, a smooth substance that protects the bones from one another and absorbs shock during impact. In knee osteoarthritis, this cartilage becomes stiff and loses its elasticity, which makes it more vulnerable to damage. Cartilage may begin to wear away over time, which greatly reduces its ability to absorb shock and increases the chances that bones will touch one another. When this occurs, it typically leads to pain within and around the knee that gets worse with activities like walking, going up/down stairs, or sitting/standing, as well as swelling, tenderness, and stiffness.

Although no treatment can slow or stop this loss of cartilage, physical therapy is strongly recommended as an initial intervention for all cases of knee osteoarthritis. Undergoing a course of physical therapy can help reduce pain levels and preserve knee function through movement-based strategies like stretching and strengthening exercises, hands-on therapy, bracing, and recommendations on how to modify bothersome activities.

But many patients with knee osteoarthritis still wind up needing to have their knee joint replaced surgically with a total knee arthroplasty (TKA) at some point in the future. These patients usually fail to improve to an adequate degree with physical therapy and other non-surgical interventions. In addition, most—or all—of the protective cartilage surrounding the ends of the bones has completely worn away. This results in bone rubbing against bone when the knee moves, which is extremely painful and makes walking and other movements extremely challenging. Prior to surgery, however, some patients are referred to physical therapy for a preoperative treatment program, which is intended to improve outcomes after surgery.

Below, we describe the findings of two recent studies that highlight how physical therapy is effective both for patients with active knee osteoarthritis and for those who are preparing to have a TKA for their damaged knee:

Study #1

In the first study, published in 2021, 40 patients with knee osteoarthritis were randomly assigned to either the exercise group or the control group. Participants in the exercise group completed an exercise program that included three 50-minute treatment sessions per week for six weeks. These patients completed two sets of exercises that were intended to strengthen the quadriceps muscles of the thigh. Participants in control group received 10 minutes of infrared therapy to the knee without any other interventions and were otherwise advised to continue with their daily activities. All patients were assessed for pain, range of motion, and several other outcomes before beginning treatment and immediately afterwards.

Results showed that patients in the exercise group experienced significantly greater improvements in pain, stiffness, physical function, and passive and active range of motion. Therefore, it appears that participating in an exercise therapy program can lead to notable gains that will likely improve quality of life for patients with knee osteoarthritis.

Study #2

The other study was a 2021 systematic review and meta-analysis in which researchers performed a comprehensive search of five medical databases to identify trials that evaluated the effectiveness of participating in an exercise therapy program prior to undergoing a TKA. This search led to 12 studies fitting the necessary inclusion criteria, which included data on 889 patients who were evaluated at regular intervals for up to 12 weeks after surgery.

According to results, patients who underwent the preoperative exercise intervention had more knee flexibility at 6–12 weeks after surgery, stronger quadriceps muscles, better scores on an arthritis-specific test, and greater quality of life scores compared to patients in the control group. This suggests that preoperative exercises can lead to major improvements in the early rehabilitation period after surgery.

We hope these recent studies have provided you with an even better understanding of the various benefits of physical therapy for patients with knee and thigh pain. And if you’re currently bothered by pain in these regions or anywhere else in the body, we invite you to come in for a visit so we can determine the cause and get you started on path to recovery right away.

Physical Therapy Is Just As Effective As Surgery For Meniscus Tears
February 15, 2022

The meniscus is a tough, rubbery, C‐shaped piece of cartilage that rests between the tibia and femur in the knee. Each knee has two menisci (plural of meniscus), with one on the inner (medial meniscus) and one on the outer side (lateral meniscus) of the knee. Both menisci perform the same function: absorb shock and stabilize the knee. As we mentioned in our first post, meniscus tears occur commonly from twisting or turning too quickly on a bent knee, often when the foot is planted. But older adults can also experience degenerative meniscus tears, in which the meniscus has weakened and thinned over time, which makes it more vulnerable to tear from minor trauma.

Many people incorrectly assume that surgery is necessary for all meniscus tears. Although this may be true for some tears in certain patients, it is not always the case. The treatment for meniscus tears depends on the size, type, and severity of the tear, and many patients have successful outcomes with conservative (non‐surgical) treatment alone. Nearly all conservative treatment programs involve physical therapy, which is intended to help patients regain their lost physical function and overcome the resulting impairments from the damage to the meniscus.

Patients indicated for physical therapy program who commit to their program can often expect to experience a complete recovery and eventually return to sports. But many patients who stand to benefit from physical therapy still undergo av surgical procedure called arthroscopic partial meniscectomy (APM). This procedure involves a surgeon using small incisions to guide a camera and surgical instruments to remove part of the damaged meniscus, and it is currently one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the world. Millions of arthroscopic knee surgeries are performed worldwide each year, although it’s not clear if APM leads to better outcomes than conservative treatments like exercise and physical therapy.

Highlighting the value of physical therapy with research

Two recent studies published in 2020 compared the effectiveness of conservative interventions like exercise and physical therapy to APM for patients with meniscus tears. Both studies were systematic reviews with meta‐analyses, meaning researchers systematically searched for and then analyzed all published medical literature on this topic.

Study #1 In the first study, researchers identified 6 randomized‐controlled trials (RCTs; the gold standard for evaluating specific interventions), which featured data on 879 patients, to include in the analysis. These trials evaluated whether APM followed by structured exercise therapy or exercise therapy on its own was more effective for patients with a degenerative meniscus tear.

Results showed that APM followed by structured exercise therapy was more effective structured exercise therapy alone in terms of pain control and physical function within 6 months; however, there were no differences between these two groups by 12 and 24 months. These findings suggest that while there was an advantage of surgery in the short term, exercise alone led to similar outcomes in the long term, and could therefore be a viable option that avoids the costs and potential complications of surgery.

Study #2

In the second study, researchers included 10 RCTs in the analysis, which featured data on 1,525 patients with a degenerative meniscus tear. In most of these studies, patients were randomly assigned to either undergo APM or participate in an exercise therapy program, while one study compared APM to steroid injections and another compared APM to a surgery in which no structures were repaired.

In all studies, no significant difference in knee pain was observed between the conservative group and APM group at any follow‐up evaluations. In 8 of 10 studies, no significant differences were observed in knee function between the conservative and APM group. The main finding of this review is that arthroscopic surgery for degenerative meniscal tears does not lead to superior outcomes compared to exercise therapy at least for a medium‐term follow‐up.

These studies show that many degenerative meniscal tears can be successfully managed with exercise and physical therapy, as surgery does not appear to elicit better overall outcomes.

Try These 4 Helpful Exercises For Knee Or Thigh Pain
February 8, 2022

Knee pain has a way of reminding patients of its presence at regular intervals throughout the day. For many individuals that are affected, knee pain is the first thing they notice upon waking up in the morning, and it is often felt during many daily activities—like walking up stairs, getting in and out of a car, and bending down to pick up items—until bedtime.

Some patients may respond to knee pain with what might sound like a logical solution: try to move the painful knee as little as possible to avoid further pain and aggravation. This approach may seem sensible, but in truth, it will more harm than good. Limiting your knee movement equates to less overall mobility, and with that comes reduced flexibility and weaker muscles surrounding the knee. This will in turn lead to an increased risk for injuries and other problems in the future if the behavior continues.

Instead, the goal should be to focus on keeping the knee mobile and increasing the strength of the muscles that surround the knee, particularly the quadriceps (muscles in front of the thigh), hamstrings (muscles in the back of the thigh), and the gastrocnemius (one of the calf muscles). Strengthening these muscles will lead to better support and stability of the knee joint, which is fundamental for overcoming knee pain. With this in mind, we strongly recommend the following exercises to treat and prevent knee and thigh pain:

Our top 4 exercises for knee and thigh pain

  1. Sit to stand transition
    • Sit toward the edge of a chair with good posture
    • Tighten your abdominal muscles
    • Shift your weight slightly forward and stand up
    • Slowly lower back to starting position
    • Repeat for 2 sets of 12 repetitions, once every other day
  2. Step ups (forward)
    • Start by standing straight with a step—or similar object—in front of you
    • Step up onto the step—or object—while keeping your knee lined up over the middle of your foot
    • Repeat for 2 sets of 12 repetitions, once every other day
  3. Step ups (lateral)
    • Start by standing straight with a step—or similar object—in front of you
    • Step up onto the step—or object—while keeping your knee lined up over the middle of your foot
    • Return to the starting position
    • Repeat for 2 sets of 12 repetitions, once every other day
  4. Forward Lunge
    • Start by standing up straight
    • Lunge forward, making sure to keep your knee lined up over the middle of your foot
    • Return to the starting position
    • Repeat for 2 sets of 12 repetitions, once every other day
  5. By regularly performing these four exercises, you’ll gradually improve your strength, flexibility, and balance. As a result, these improvements will help alleviate any knee or thigh pain you’re experiencing, boost your overall physical function, and reduce your risk for future issues. But for knee or thigh pain that persists after committing to these at–home exercises, your next step should be to see a physical therapist. Read our next two posts for a several examples that show why physical therapy is the best choice for most cases of knee and thigh pain.

Is A Physical Therapist Right For Your Knee or Thigh Pain?
February 1, 2022

Certain regions of the body are simply more likely to be painful than others, and the knees are very high on this list. Knee pain ranks behind just back pain as the second most common condition involving the muscles and bones, and in adults aged 65 and older, it is the greatest cause of disability.

The knee is the largest and one of the most complex joints in the body, and this complexity is a main reason why it is so vulnerable to injury. The nearly constant use of the knee during all standing, walking, and running activities also plays a major role.

The knee is a hinge joint that’s responsible for bearing weight and allowing the leg to extend and bend back and forth with minimal side–to–side motion. It primarily joins the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia), but also includes the kneecap (patella) and other lower leg bone (fibula). The patella is a small, triangle–shaped bone that sits in the front of the knee within the quadriceps muscle, and it’s lined with the thickest layer of cartilage in the body to protect it from the significant forces of regular movements.

Separating common knee diagnoses from red flags

If pain develops in the knee or thigh, you may be unsure what to do next. For mild pain that’s manageable, it’s common—and recommended—to wait a week or two and see if it subsides on its own or after trying some pain–relieving modalities like ice. But for severe knee or thigh pain and pain that persists or gets worse over several weeks, you should seek out help from a medical professional.

Physical therapists are movement experts who can effectively treat most types of knee and thigh pain with a comprehensive treatment approach that focuses on addressing deficits with targeted interventions. Certain causes of knee pain, however, may require the expertise of other healthcare professionals to safely manage. To help you differentiate between the two, below are some of the most common knee diagnoses that physical therapists treat, followed by a few key red flags that suggest an underlying condition is present that requires additional care:

Common knee diagnoses

  • Knee osteoarthritis: an extremely common disorder in which the cartilage lining the ends of bones in the knee gradually wears away, which reduces its ability to absorb shock, thereby increasing the risk for these bones contacting one another; usually leads to pain, stiffness, and swelling that make it difficult to walk and move the knees normally
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee): accounts for 16–25% of all running injuries and involves the patella rubbing against the groove of the femur, which causes a dull pain behind or around the patella; this pain is often aggravated by running, squatting, climbing stairs, or sitting, and may also be accompanied by swelling or a “popping” of the patella when bending the knee
  • Patellar tendinopathy (jumper’s knee): caused by repetitive strain to the patellar tendon, which attaches the bottom of the patella to the top of the tibia; leads to pain and stiffness at the front or below the patella and/or in the quadriceps, as well as an aching sensation that’s usually brought on after exercise
  • ACL tear: the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which helps stabilize the upper leg bone to the knee, can be damaged or torn when an athlete suddenly cuts or changes direction; ACL tears are most common in football, basketball, and soccer, and usually sideline athletes for extended periods of time
  • Meniscus tear: tears of the meniscus, a tough piece of cartilage that absorbs shock and stabilizes the knee, typically occur from twisting or turning too quickly on a bent knee, often when the foot is planted; degenerative meniscus tears may also occur in older adults; symptoms include pain, swelling, and difficulty extending the knee
  • Iliotibial band syndrome: an injury in which the iliotibial band—which runs from the hip to the top of the tibia—becomes irritated or inflamed from rubbing against the patella, leading to pain on the outside of the knee or hip that usually arises after running
  • Hamstring strain: the three muscles in the back of the thigh form the hamstring; any of these muscles can be pushed beyond their limits in sports that involve sprinting, running, or lots of stretching; soccer, basketball, tennis, and football are some of the most common culprits
  • Quadriceps strain: involves a partial or complete tear of one of the four quadriceps muscles—which are located in the front of the thigh—or their tendons; this injury is common in sports and usually occurs when an athlete is trying to accelerate and the muscles are placed under more force than they can withstand

Red flags

  • Extreme bruising, swelling, or throbbing pain
  • Significant bone pain, which may suggest a bone tumor
  • Persistent swelling and pain that develops without any recent injury
  • Lacerations
  • Signs of infection (eg, pus or fluid, redness, fever, blisters, worsening swelling)
  • Inability to place any pressure on the injured leg

We hope this guidance helps you determine whether physical therapy is the right call if you’re experiencing knee or thigh pain. In our next post, we provide you with 4 effective exercises you can perform on your own that will help to prevent and treat this type of pain.

Adding Hands-On Therapy Is Beneficial For Chronic Ankle Instability
January 25, 2022

Most patients will make a complete recovery after sustaining an initial ankle sprain, but this is not always the end of the story. Up to 70% of patients who experience a lateral ankle sprain will go on to develop a condition called chronic ankle instability, a condition in which there’s an increased risk for repeat ankle sprains and recurring symptoms (pain, weakness, giving way) in the future. Patients with chronic ankle instability experience changes in the function of their nervous system that may lead to decreased postural control, joint position awareness, and more ankle instability. The combined result of these changes is a higher risk for a second ankle sprain to occur, and with each additional sprain, this risk continues to rise.

This underlines the importance of proper rehabilitation after the first ankle sprain, which can significantly reduce the risk for chronic ankle instability. As we’ve discussed, the best way to accomplish this is through a personalized rehabilitation program with a physical therapist. All rehab programs are personalized for each patient, but most will include a variety of interventions like strengthening and stretching exercises, manual (hands–on) therapy, and balance training.

Combining manual therapy and exercise–based rehabilitation improves outcomes

Physical therapy is also the best option if chronic ankle instability develops, and a recently published study shows why. For the study, researchers aimed to determine whether adding manual therapy to an exercise–based rehabilitation program resulted in greater improvements in patient–reported outcomes than exercise–based rehabilitation alone.

To answer this question, they performed a search of several databases and screened the results using specific criteria. Of the 28 studies that were identified, only three fit the inclusion criteria. The three included studies involved either two or three treatment groups that all performed exercises, with one group in each study also receiving manual therapy from a physical therapist. The exercises featured in these studies were primarily designed to increase ankle strength and balance, and one of the exercises included was the single leg balance exercise described in second post. All exercises increased in difficulty each week as the program progressed.

A thorough review of these studies showed that adding manual therapy to exercise–based rehabilitation led to greater improvements in patient–reported outcomes compared to exercise–based rehabilitation alone. The quality of all three studies included was rated as high, which further strengthens their findings. As a result of this high–quality evidence, an A grade recommendation was given that there is likely a benefit of adding manual therapy to an exercise–based rehabilitation program for chronic ankle instability.

Therefore, if you’ve recently suffered a first or repeat injury, or if you’re dealing with any other type of ankle or foot pain, we strongly recommend that you come in for a visit and get started on a rehabilitation program that will reduce your risk for future complications.

Physical Therapy Can Improve Outcomes And Reduce Reinjury Risk
January 18, 2022

As we mentioned in our first post, ankle sprains are extremely common, especially for athletes. In fact, if you’re actively involved in sports, there’s a rather strong chance that you will sprain your ankle at some point in your career. Ankle sprains account for up to 45% of all sports injuries, and approximately 25,000 people sprain their ankle every day. The sport you play will also affect your odds, as basketball, football, and soccer all have the highest rates of sprains. This mainly has to do with the movements that are common in each sport, as basketball involves lots of jumping and cutting, which are both largely responsible for ankle sprains.

Ankle sprains involve the ligaments of the ankle joint, which are flexible bands of tissue that connect one bone to another. Ligaments are elastic and can be stretched to a certain length and then return to their original position, but they have a limit. When any of the ankle ligaments are stretched beyond their maximum range of motion, damage will occur, resulting in an ankle sprain. Ankle sprains are generally categorized into the following three groups:

  • Grade 1 (mild): ligament(s) stretched but there is no tear; symptoms involve mild pain and tenderness, some swelling and stiffness
  • Grade 2 (moderate): most common type of sprain; ligament(s) partially torn; symptoms include significant swelling and bruising, moderate pain, and trouble walking
  • Grade 3 (severe): ligament(s) completely torn; symptoms involve severe swelling and pain, especially while walking, instability of joint, extreme loss of motion, possible difficulty bearing weight on foot

Depending on its location in the ankle, a sprain can be further categorized as either lateral, medial, or high. Lateral ankle sprains take place on the outside part of the ankle, which is the most common site for a sprain (about 80% of all sprains). High ankle sprains are less common (up to 15% of sprains) and are often seen in football, downhill skiing, and other field sports, while medial sprains are the least common (about 6%).

Evidence to support the benefits of early physical therapy after an ankle sprain

After experiencing an ankle sprain, it’s essential to take some time off and address the immediate symptoms of pain and inflammation with the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation). However, after most symptoms have subsided, patients should begin physical therapy as soon as possible. This approach is recommended because it can help patients recover quicker and avoid future ankle sprains, as well as chronic ankle instability, a condition in which individuals are more prone to continue spraining their ankle.

The benefits of early physical therapy for lateral ankle sprains have been highlighted in a recently published study called a scoping review. For this study, researchers performed a search and identified 37 articles that evaluated the effectiveness of early rehabilitation for lateral ankle sprains. Among the studies included were 5 systematic reviews and 7 randomized controlled trials, both of which are considered high quality types of research.

After reviewing these studies, researchers found that undergoing early dynamic training after a lateral ankle sprain led to a shorter time to return to sports, increased functional performance, and a lower rate of self–reported re–injury. Therefore, athletes and other patients that sprain their ankle should strongly consider seeing a physical therapist as soon as possible to increase their chances of a faster recovery and a lower risk for additional injuries in the future.

In our final post, we’ll review another study that shows why seeing a physical therapist is also a smart choice for patients with chronic ankle instability.

Your Foot or Ankle Hurting Maybe It’s Time to See A Physical Therapist
January 4, 2022

Whether you spend most of your day sitting at a desk or on your feet, and whether you’re extremely active or you rarely exercise, your feet and ankles may hurt for various reasons. These structures are built for durability to withstand the weight of your entire body, but as with all other structures, they have limits. When pushed beyond this threshold, pain will often develop in the foot or ankle, either immediately or over time.

But if you injure your foot or ankle or start noticing pain in those regions, it might be difficult to determine if you should seek out treatment or wait it out. You may also be aware that physical therapy is an available option for some painful conditions, but not know if it’s right for yours. Below, we offer some guidance on when it’s appropriate to visit a physical therapist and when you might need to see another healthcare provider.

Understanding which conditions are best suited for physical therapy

If your foot or ankle is bothering you, assessing the answers to a few key questions can help you decide whether you should take action and if a physical therapist is right for you. Among the first questions to ask should be if your pain is a new occurrence or something you’ve been dealing with for a long while, as well as how severe your pain is.

For mild pain that you just started noticing, it’s probably safe to wait a short while—about a week or so—to see if it resolves on its own. But if you’ve recently suffered a traumatic injury that’s interfering with your ability to get around throughout the day, seeing a physical therapist is usually the right call. One exception is if you’ve suffered from a broken bone, which will usually require more immediate medical attention at a doctor’s office. Fractures are considered red flags, which we’ll discuss in more detail later in this post.

If you’ve been dealing with foot or ankle pain for a long while, particularly pain that gets worse with physical activity, visiting a physical therapist is once again the best choice you can make. Physical therapists are movement experts that can usually make a diagnosis based on a thorough physical examination and detailed interview, and we use this information to develop personalized treatment programs to address any impairments identified.

There are three foot and ankle conditions in particular that are extremely common and respond well to physical therapy: ankle sprains, Achilles tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis. Each of these is described in more detail below:

  • Ankle sprain: ankle sprains are the most common sports–related injury in both children and adults; this injury typically occurs when an individual twists their ankle or lands awkwardly, which can push ligaments beyond their limits; pain, swelling, tenderness, and difficulty bearing weight are all signs of ankle sprain
  • Plantar fasciitis: this condition results from inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes; when this tissue is overstrained from repeated activity—like running—it becomes inflamed, which leads to a stabbing pain near the heel that’s most noticeable upon waking up; plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain
  • Achilles tendinitis: another overuse injury related to inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscle to the back of the heel; it’s most common in runners who do lots of speed training, uphill running, or who rapidly increase their training intensity or duration, and it leads to heel pain that usually comes on gradually as a mild ache in the back of the leg or above the heel

Other causes of foot and ankle pain that can effectively be treated with physical therapy include the following:

  • Shin splints: a condition that develops when any of the muscles that support the shinbone are overworked, usually from repeated activities; leads to pain in the middle or bottom third of the inside of the shin, which usually gets worse with activity and decreases with rest
  • Intrinsic muscle strain: the intrinsic muscles are several smaller muscles located on the bottom of the foot, which support the arch of the foot and are sometimes referred to as the “core” muscles of this area; any of these muscles can become strained from overactivity, which leads to symptoms like those of plantar fasciitis
  • Heel bursitis: each heel has a bursa, which is a fluid–filled sac that cushions and lubricates the tendons and muscles that slide over the bone; this bursa can become inflamed from rapid increasing the intensity of one’s workout schedule, and the symptoms are often similar to those of Achilles tendinitis

Identifying red flags that suggest the need for other interventions

Although most causes of pain in the foot and ankle can be identified and managed by a physical therapist, there are certain signs—or “red flags”—that suggest a more serious problem is present that requires further investigation from other healthcare professionals. As we mentioned above, one of these is a foot or ankle fracture, which typically results from a severe injury that may involve high speeds, a fall from a height, or a crushing force. If you’ve experienced an injury of this sort that’s led to severe pain, swelling, and bruising, you should go to the emergency department, urgent care center, or your primary care doctor for more immediate medical attention.

The same goes for any foot or ankle injuries that involve an open wound, particularly if there are signs of infection, such as worsening pain or swelling, redness, or pus. These cases require an evaluation from a primary care doctor or another appropriately trained healthcare provider. Similarly, if a tumor is detected or suspected in the foot or ankle—such as chondrosarcoma, the most common cancer in this region—you should consult with an oncologist immediately. Other red flags include:

  • Extreme bruising, swelling, or throbbing pain
  • Inability to bear weight on the foot
  • Pins and needles or numbness in both lower legs
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction
  • Urinary incontinence

If you notice any of these red flags, see your primary care doctor as soon as possible. However, if you do see a physical therapist, you can take comfort in knowing that he or she is also trained to identify red flags and will direct you to the appropriate healthcare professional when necessary. And after completing treatment for the underlying condition that has been flagged, most patients will still benefit from a course of physical therapy to help them regain their strength, flexibility, balance, and physical function.

In our next post, we’ll describe some effective exercises to reduce your risk for foot and ankle pain.

2021 In Review Part 4: Physical Therapy Knee-Related Conditions
December 28, 2021

The knee is the fourth and final region of the body we’re going to examine, as it ranks up there with the back, neck, and shoulder as one of the most common regions in which pain develops. Knee pain is especially common in athletes of sports that involve lots of cutting motions and is the leading cause of disability in older adults, but sports and advanced age are far from the only factors that can increase the risk for knee problems.

The knee is the largest and one of the most complex joints in the body, and its complexity is one of the main reasons it’s so vulnerable to injury. The frequency with which it’s used also plays a significant role. The knee is a hinge joint that’s responsible for bearing weight and allowing the leg to extend and bend back and forth with minimal side–to–side motion. It primarily joins the thighbone (femur) to the shinbone (tibia), but also includes the kneecap (patella) and other lower leg bone (fibula). The patella is a small, triangle–shaped bone that sits in the front of the knee within the quadriceps muscle, and it’s lined with the thickest layer of cartilage in the body because of the massive forces it takes on.

In children and adolescents, most cases of knee pain are caused by traumatic injuries that typically occur in sports with lots of cutting movements like basketball, football, and soccer. Sprains of the ligaments and strains of the muscles and tendons are most common, but the meniscus, ACL, and other ligaments can also be torn from strong forces upon the knee. Later in life, some knee issues occur less often while others become more likely to emerge. Knee osteoarthritis accounts for most cases of knee pain in older adults, affecting about 45% of this population. Common symptoms include pain, stiffness, and swelling that makes it incredibly difficult for these individuals to walk and move the knees normally.

The risk for traumatic injuries (eg, sprains, strains, and tears) also remains high for adults that stay active in sports and physical activities, and the risk overuse injuries tends to increase with older age because of the gradual breaking down of structures that occurs over time. Common overuse injuries of the knee include the following:

  • Patellar tendinopathy (jumper’s knee): results from repeated strain of the patellar tendon that attaches the bottom of the patella to the top of the tibia; symptoms include pain and stiffness at the front or below the patella and/or in the quadriceps, and an ache that typically develops after from exercise
  • Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee): involves the patella rubbing against the groove of the femur and accounts for up to 25% of all running injuries; common symptoms are a dull pain behind or around the patella, which may be aggravated by running, squatting, climbing stairs, or sitting
  • Patellar instability: a general term used to describe intermittent pain that comes with the feeling of the patella moving excessively or being unstable; symptoms are pain that’s felt under, around, or most commonly, in front of the patella
  • Iliotibial band syndrome: an injury in which the iliotibial band—which runs from the hip to the top of the tibia—becomes irritated or inflamed from rubbing against the patella; symptoms include pain on the outside of the knee or hip that usually arises after running

For knee pain that doesn’t improve with at–home exercises, see a physical therapist

If you find yourself dealing with knee pain, either from a traumatic incident or due to sustained damage over time, one of the first steps you can take is to try managing it on your own at home with some targeted exercises. These include stretching exercises like the quadriceps stretch, hamstring stretch, calf stretch, and knee range of motion exercise, and strengthening exercises like the wall sit, bridge exercise, single–leg heel raise, and partial lunge. If these exercises fail to produce notable improvements, the next step is to see a physical therapist, preferably sooner than later.

Physical therapists frequently see patients with all types of knee–related conditions and are adept at creating treatment plans that are tailor–made for each patient’s specific condition, abilities, and goals. A typical treatment program for knee pain will include the following:

  • Strengthening exercises to build back up the weakened muscles of the leg
  • Stretching and range of motion exercises to increase flexibility and regain normal mobility
  • Plyometrics, or jump training (especially for patients recovering from ACL tears)
  • Recommendations on how to modify activities to minimize the risk for future injuries
  • Exercises to improve body awareness, balance, and neuromuscular control, which is the body’s ability to stay strong and stable during all movements
  • Activity–specific training for athletes and active individuals

Research has shown that physical therapy can significantly improve patient outcomes and help them avoid knee surgery in certain cases. One powerful study called a randomized clinical trial found that physical therapy led to similar improvements in physical function when compared to surgery for patients with meniscus tears, while a follow–up analysis of this trial showed that physical therapy is more cost–effective than surgery for meniscus tears. A systematic review and meta–analysis of 14 studies also found that manual therapy, an important component of most knee treatment programs, is likely to be effective and safe for improving pain, stiffness, and physical function in patients with knee osteoarthritis.

As we’ve shown you in these posts, seeing a physical therapy is nearly always the smartest, safest choice you can make if you’re dealing with pain or dysfunction in these four regions or anywhere else in the body. Therefore, if pain is holding you back from living your life or being as active as you’d like to be, we invite you to come in for a visit and witness first–hand what physical therapy can do for you.

On behalf of our staff, Happy Holidays, and we’ll see you soon.