- Your Bridge to Health -

Top 3 Exercises To Reduce Your Risk for Wrist And Elbow Pain
July 12, 2022

Most people don’t realize just how much they rely on their wrists and elbows to function properly until a problem arises. This is often the case for anyone with wrist or elbow pain, which can cause daily life to become a series of obstacles to overcome, often leading many patients to skip many activities altogether to avoid aggravating pain. This in turn can cause performance issues at work or in sports, which may equate to lost wages or fitness impairments over time.

Therefore, it’s important to take steps to reduce your risk for wrist and elbow pain in the first place. Many people are unaware that their profession itself could be contributing to this type of pain, especially if repetitive movements&like typing on a computer, cutting hair, working on an assembly line&are involved. While we would never recommend changing your professions unless the circumstances were dire, there are some ways you can reduce your risk for repetitive strain injuries, such as adjusting your posture and the positioning of your hands and wrists, trying to avoid repetitive and straining movements, and modifying your workstation positioning and habits. In addition, we strongly recommend the following exercises for boosting your strength and flexibility, which will in turn help you avoid injury:

Our top 3 exercises to prevent wrist or elbow pain To see videos of each exercise, go to www.MyRTR.net and enter prescription code XGXLMGKL

  1. Resisted Elbow Extension with Weight
    • Lie on your back with one elbow supported by the opposite arm
    • Hold a small dumbbell (2–5 lbs) in one hand
    • Straighten your elbow against the resistance of the weight
    • Hold for 5 seconds
    • Complete 2 sets of 12 repetitions for each arm, two times per week
  2. Resisted Hammer Curls with Weight
    • Stand with your arms by your side with your thumb facing forward
    • Hold a small dumbbell (2–5 lbs) in one hand
    • Bend your elbow, leading with your thumb
    • Hold for 5 seconds
    • Complete 2 sets of 12 repetitions for each arm, two times per week
  3. Resisted Elbow Flexion: Palm Up
    • Stand with your arms by your side and palm facing forward
    • Hold a small dumbbell (2–5 lbs) in one hand
    • Flex your elbow while bringing your hand toward shoulder
    • Hold for 5 seconds
    • Complete 2 sets of 12 repetitions for each arm, two times per week

In our next post, we’ll break down a study that highlights the benefits of physical therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Understanding Causes Of Wrist And Elbow Pain, And When To Get Help
July 5, 2022

In a typical day, you use your hands, wrists, and elbows extremely frequently. From vigorously brushing your teeth in the morning to switching the lights off before bed and during most other actions in between, these joints are very often in a state of movement. But over time, performing certain tasks on a repetitive basis can go on to damage some of these structures and lead to injury.

A repetitive strain injury is a potentially disabling condition that results from overuse of a body region or structure—usually the hand or wrist, and sometimes the elbow—after performing the same movement over and over. Repetitive motions, like typing on a computer, cutting hair, working on an assembly line, or even using a cellphone can all cause increase stress and fatigue of different structures, resulting in pain and other symptoms in these regions.

Common wrist and elbow conditions vs red flags

Carpal tunnel syndrome is by far the most common and well-known repetitive strain injury in these areas, as it affects up to 5% of the adult population. But there are several other repetitive strain injuries that can also affect the wrist or elbow. Below, we break down some of the most common conditions that can produce pain and limit movement in the wrist and elbow, all of which can be effectively treated by a physical therapist. This is followed by some key red flags to be aware of that may suggest a bigger issue is present:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: a repetitive strain injury that is likely caused by tasks that involve repeated hand motions, awkward positioning of the hand or wrist, vibration, or excessive gripping; individuals who work in industries like manufacturing, food processing, and textiles are likely at the highest risk; over time, these movements can cause the median nerve within the carpal tunnel to be compressed, which leads to pain, tingling, weakness, and/or numbness in the hand or wrist
  • Wrist tendinitis: a condition in which one or more tendons in the wrist becomes inflamed and irritated, which leads to pain and disability; tendinitis can occur at any age but is more common in adults; as tendons age, they become less elastic and can tolerate less stress, which makes it easier for them to become damaged
  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis: this is a type of tendinitis that develops on the thumb side of the wrist; it causes pain and tenderness in the wrist or below the base of the thumb and often gets worse with repetitive hand or wrist movements; as with other types of tendinitis, tenosynovitis is more common after the age of 40
  • Dupuytren’s contracture: an abnormal thickening of tissue between the skin and tendons in the palm, which may limit the use of the fingers or eventually cause them to be pulled in towards the palm in a bent position; the causes of this condition are unknown, but it’ more common in men over the age of 50
  • Ulnar tunnel syndrome (Guyon’s canal syndrome): this condition is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, but it involves compression of the ulnar nerve, which leads to a tingling sensation in the ring and little fingers; it’s particularly common in weightlifters and cyclists
  • Golfer’s elbow (medical epicondylitis): this condition results from repeated bending of the wrist, which damages the muscles and tendons in the elbow and eventually leads to inflammation; it’s most common in golfers, but can occur from other sports and activities that strain the elbow, and the clearest indication is pain on the inside of the elbow that’s most noticeable when performing any type of gripping activities
  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis): a repetitive strain injury caused by repeatedly performing the same movements—in tennis, other racquet sports, or one’s profession—over and over; common symptoms are pain and a burning sensation on the outside of the forearm and elbow that gets worse with activity, as well as weakened grip strength

Red flags

  • Signs of infection or septic arthritis (eg, pus or fluid, redness, fever, blisters, worsening swelling)
  • Constant pain, including pain at night
  • Deep, intense pain
  • Pain associated with unexplained weight loss and/or fever
  • Suspected fracture or dislocation from severe trauma to the wrist or elbow
  • Known or suspected cancer (eg, significant bone pain, which may be suggestive of a bone tumor)
  • Persistent swelling and pain without any recent injury
  • Severe muscle spasm

In our next post, we’ll provide you with our top picks for exercises that can reduce your risk for developing wrist or elbow pain.

Several Exercises To Help Patients With Frozen Shoulder
June 28, 2022

One of the few common shoulder diagnoses that does not directly involve the rotator cuff is adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder. This condition occurs when scar tissue forms within the shoulder, causing the shoulder capsule to thicken and tighten around the shoulder joint and reducing the amount of space for the shoulder normally. Although frozen shoulder affects up to 5% of the population, the reasons why it develops are not yet clear. Common consensus suggests that not moving the shoulder normally for long periods is a leading factor, as most people who get frozen shoulder have kept their shoulder immobilized due to a recent injury, surgery, or pain. People between the ages of 40–60, women, and patients with arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health conditions are also more likely to develop frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder usually comes on slowly and gets progressively worse over time with more pain and loss of motion. It is typically divided into the following four stages:

  • Stage 1: consists of the onset of symptoms, which gradually get worse over 1–3 months
  • Stage 2: the “freezing” stage, which generally occurs 3–9 months after symptoms begin and is very painful
  • Stage 3: the “frozen” stage, which involves the shoulder becoming even more stiff and difficult to move
  • Stage 4: the “thawing” stage, which occurs within 12–15 months and involves pain decreasing significantly and range of motion starting to improve

Physical therapy is commonly recommended for frozen shoulder because it is an effective intervention that addresses symptoms at every stage; however, certain questions about the exercises used in physical therapy remain unanswered. Therefore, a comprehensive study called a systematic review and meta–analysis was conducted to 1) compare the effectiveness of exercises alone and exercises in combination with other interventions and no exercises and 2) determine what kind of exercises are most effective for frozen shoulder.

33 studies evaluating exercise therapy for frozen shoulder are reviewed

To conduct the study, researchers performed a search of three medical databases for relevant studies about the effectiveness of exercise therapy for frozen shoulder. This led to 33 studies being accepted into the review, which saw patients treated with a variety of exercises, including individually prescribed exercises and those prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment program. The findings of all included studies were then reviewed and analyzed with the goal of answering the two stated research questions.

Results showed that exercises—both on their own and as part of a program—improved range of motion (ROM), function, disability, and pain, and the type of exercise performed had little to no impact on these improvements. Also, adding physical modalities—like ultrasound, ice, or heat—to exercises did not provide any benefits to treatment outcomes, and programs that included exercises resulted in larger active ROM gains than programs that did not. These findings support the effectiveness of physical therapy for frozen shoulder and suggest that the type of exercises performed and whether they are done alone or combined with other interventions may not be important, so long as they are featured in a rehabilitation program.

Therefore, if you’re currently dealing with symptoms that sound like frozen shoulder, we strongly recommend contacting us to schedule an appointment and getting started on a path to recovery.

Physical Therapy May Have Same Outcomes For Shoulder Pain as Surgery
June 21, 2022

As we discussed in our first post, nearly 85% of shoulder conditions involve the rotator cuff, and among the most common of these is shoulder impingement syndrome (SIS). SIS results from the rotator cuff tendons becoming compressed—or “impinged”—as they pass through a small bone on top of the shoulder blade called the acromion. Over time, this causes the tendons to become irritated and inflamed, which eventually leads to bothersome symptoms like swelling and tenderness, loss of strength, restricted movement, and pain.

SIS is most prevalent in individuals that regularly perform lots of overhead activities like golfers, swimmers, baseball and tennis players, as well as painters and construction workers. The condition can also result from an injury that compresses the structures of the shoulder—like a fall—or from frequently sleeping on your side. Sleeping in this position regularly can strain the shoulder and cause impingement over time.

SIS is closely related to rotator cuff tendinitis and subacromial pain, and in some cases, the terms are used interchangeably. When any of these conditions develop, the best course of action is a comprehensive physical therapy program, which helps patients work through their pain to regain strength, flexibility, and physical function; however, many patients still opt to undergo a surgical procedure called arthroscopic subacromial decompression (ASD) to treat their shoulder pain. An abundance of research has shown that this procedure does not lead to any significant benefits, but it remains one of the most frequently performed procedures in the world, and some professionals still advocate for it. To better understand the outcomes of these patients, a study was conducted that compared the return–to–work rates for patients with subacromial pain who underwent different interventions.

Study periodically monitors more than 200 patients for 5 years

A total of 210 patients with subacromial pain for more than 3 months were enrolled in the study and randomly assigned to one of three treatment groups: exercise therapy, diagnostic arthroscopy, or ASD. Patients in the exercise therapy group underwent a supervised, individually designed physical therapy program that included daily home exercises and 15 visits to a physical therapy clinic. Patients in the diagnostic arthroscopy group underwent a “sham” procedure in which an examination of the shoulder was performed with a small camera inserted surgically, but no repairs were made to the shoulder. Patients in the ASD group were treated surgically with the ASD procedure, which involved the careful removal of some portions of bone and a structure called the bursa. Patients in the diagnostic arthroscopy and ASD groups also participated in a postoperative physical therapy program. All patients were assessed at the beginning of the study and then again 2 years and 5 years later.

Two years after these interventions, 78% of patients in the exercise group, 80% of patients in the diagnostic arthroscopy group, and 82% of patients in the ASD group were found to be actively working. Five years after the intervention, these figures were 66% for the exercise group, 69% for the diagnostic arthroscopy group, and 67% for the ASD group, meaning there were no significant differences between the three groups at both 2 years and 5 years after the interventions. Therefore, based on these findings, physical therapy can be considered just as effective as ASD for helping patients with subacromial pain recover and maintain their improvements in the long term. Given the fact that exercise therapy is also safer and less expensive than surgery, it’s clear why it continues to be the recommended option for most patients with SIS and why surgery should be avoided.

If you’re dealing with symptoms that sound like subacromial pain, please take the first step in your path to recovery by giving us a call and scheduling an appointment.

In our next post, we’ll break down another study that underlines the beneficial effects of physical therapy for frozen shoulder.

Our Top 3 Exercises To Reduce Your Risk for Shoulder Pain
June 13, 2022

Shoulder pain can be an extremely bothersome issue in your life. Although you may not realize it, you use your shoulder on a frequent basis every day, since it permits many of the movements that involve your arms. Therefore, if a problem arises that leads to pain and prevents your shoulder from moving normally, it can become a major burden to your daily life.

As we discussed in our last post, there are many conditions that could be responsible for shoulder pain. In some cases, the cause may be a single, traumatic event like a hard fall to the ground or sports-related injury. Other patients will experience a gradual onset of shoulder pain due to repeated damage from overhead activities, which is often the case in rotator cuff tendinitis, shoulder impingement syndrome, shoulder instability, and bursitis.

If you’re concerned that you may develop shoulder pain–perhaps because you play an overhead sport or have a job that involves overhead movements–you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to reduce this risk. The good news is that yes, it may be possible to avoid some types of shoulder pain with a dedicated approach. There is no single, foolproof way to stop all shoulder pain from occurring because numerous variables are involved, but one of the best steps you can take is to regularly perform shoulder exercises. Doing so will improve the strength and flexibility of muscles and joints surrounding the shoulder, thereby making the joint more stable and less prone to injury. With that said, here are our top 3 exercises to prevent shoulder pain:

Shoulder pain can be an extremely bothersome issue in your life. Although you may not realize it, you use your shoulder on a frequent basis every day, since it permits many of the movements that involve your arms. Therefore, if a problem arises that leads to pain and prevents your shoulder from moving normally, it can become a major burden to your daily life.

As we discussed in our last post, there are many conditions that could be responsible for shoulder pain. In some cases, the cause may be a single, traumatic event like a hard fall to the ground or sports-related injury. Other patients will experience a gradual onset of shoulder pain due to repeated damage from overhead activities, which is often the case in rotator cuff tendinitis, shoulder impingement syndrome, shoulder instability, and bursitis.

If you’re concerned that you may develop shoulder pain–perhaps because you play an overhead sport or have a job that involves overhead movements–you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to reduce this risk. The good news is that yes, it may be possible to avoid some types of shoulder pain with a dedicated approach. There is no single, foolproof way to stop all shoulder pain from occurring because numerous variables are involved, but one of the best steps you can take is to regularly perform shoulder exercises. Doing so will improve the strength and flexibility of muscles and joints surrounding the shoulder, thereby making the joint more stable and less prone to injury. With that said, here are our top 3 exercises to prevent shoulder pain:

Our top 3 exercises to prevent shoulder pain

To see videos of each exercise, go to www.MyRTR.net and enter prescription code MKGD8BSV

  1. Scapular W’s with Resistance Band
    • Anchor a resistance band at shoulder height
    • Stand with good posture, arms out to your side at shoulder height, and your elbows bent at 90 degrees
    • Pull your arms backward against the resistance of the band and squeeze your shoulder blades together
    • Hold for 5 seconds
    • Complete 2 sets of 12 repetitions, every other day
  2. Resisted Horizontal Abduction with Band (Hip Hinge)
    • Stand with a resistance band anchored under both feet
    • Hold one end of the resistance band in each hand and cross the band
    • Lean forward slightly at your hips, keeping your spine straight
    • Raise your arms straight out to the side against the resistance of the band
    • Hold for 5 seconds
    • Complete 2 sets of 12 repetitions, every other day
  3. Resisted PNF D2 Flexion with Band #2
    • Stand holding a resistance band in both hands
    • Move one arm up and out against the resistance of the band while rotating your thumb upward
    • Follow this hand with your eyes
    • Hold for 5 seconds
    • Complete 2 sets of 12 repetitions, every other day

In our next post, we’ll break down a study that highlights the effectiveness of physical therapy for shoulder impingement syndrome.

Physical Therapy Is Your Best Bet For Most Causes Of Shoulder Pain
June 7, 2022

Shoulder pain is an extremely common complaint. Up to 26% of the population is currently affected by it, and it ranks third—behind back pain and knee pain—in musculoskeletal conditions that lead people to consult their doctor. About 1% of the population visits a doctor for shoulder pain each year, and while the specific backstory may vary from patient to patient, most cases follow a relatively similar progression.

The causes of shoulder pain can generally be categorized into two groups: 1) traumatic (acute) injuries that damage certain structures of the shoulder immediately, and 2) overuse injuries, which occur gradually over time due to continuous strain on the shoulder. In both cases, those who are most likely to experience shoulder pain are individuals who regularly perform overhead movements. These types of movements are necessary in professions like painting and construction, and in sports like baseball, swimming, and tennis, making those who are involved in these activities vulnerable to several types of shoulder issues.

Any component of the shoulder can be damaged in an acute or overuse injury, but most shoulder conditions—about 85%—involve the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is an important group of four muscles that surround the bones of the shoulder. Each of these muscles spans from a different part of the shoulder blade (scapula) to the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) to form a “cuff” that controls and stabilizes the shoulder. Several problems can affect the rotator cuff or other structures within the shoulder to cause pain, stiffness, or other symptoms that lead to movement restrictions and activity limitations. To help you get a better sense of what can go wrong, here are six of the most common conditions that affect the shoulder:

6 most common shoulder conditions

  • Shoulder bursitis: a bursa is a fluid–filled sac that acts as a cushion to prevent structures from rubbing against each other; the subacromial bursa in the shoulder is the largest bursa in the body, and when it becomes inflamed—often from regularly performing too many overhead activities—the result is shoulder bursitis; the most common symptom is pain at the top, front, and outside of the shoulder that gets worse with sleeping and overhead activity
  • Rotator cuff tendinitis (shoulder tendinitis): the most common cause of shoulder pain, this condition results from irritation or inflammation of any of the rotator cuff tendons, which occurs gradually over time; the main symptoms are pain and swelling in the front of the shoulder and side of the arm, usually while raising or lowering the arm
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome: a condition in which the bursa or any rotator tendons are trapped (or impinged) by the two main bones of the shoulder—the humerus and a piece of the scapula called the acromion—which is usually due to an outgrowth of bone (bone spur); symptoms include shoulder pain and weakness, and difficulty reaching up behind the back
    • Note: Over time, shoulder impingement can lead to shoulder tendinitis and/or bursitis, and in some cases the names of these conditions may be used interchangeably
  • Rotator cuff tear: this injury is the result of one of the rotator cuff tendons detaching from the bone, either partially or completely; it can occur either traumatically due to a single incident, or gradually over time, which is usually the case in older patients; the most common symptom is pain during the day and at night, and when lying on the shoulder or lifting or lowering the arm
  • Frozen shoulder: a condition that occurs when scar tissue forms within the shoulder capsule, another structure that helps to keep the shoulder stable; this causes the shoulder capsule to thicken and tighten around the shoulder joint, which means there is less room for the shoulder to move normally, eventually causing it to “freeze;” symptoms include pain and stiffness that makes it difficult or impossible to move the shoulder
  • Shoulder dislocation: an injury in which the ball of the shoulder (humerus) pops out of the socket (glenoid); this is typically due to a forceful motion, and the dislocation can be either partial or complete; symptoms include pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the shoulder

Understanding red flags that could suggest an underlying problem

Regardless of what shoulder condition is present, in most cases, the best course of action is a comprehensive course of physical therapy. Physical therapists are movement experts whose goal is to guide patients back to full strength and function with an exercise–based approach. However, in rare cases, patients with certain urgent or severe conditions will require the care of another healthcare provider. To help you determine whether seeing a physical therapist is the right call, here are some potential red flags to be aware of if you’re dealing with shoulder pain:

  • Deep, intense pain
  • Pain associated with unexplained weight loss and/or fever
  • Constant pain, including pain at night when the shoulder is at rest
  • Signs of infection or septic arthritis (eg, pus or fluid, redness, fever, blisters, worsening swelling)
  • Severe trauma to the shoulder that may have resulted in a fracture or dislocation
  • Known or suspected cancer (eg, significant bone pain, which may be suggestive of a bone tumor)
  • Persistent swelling and pain without any recent injury
  • Severe muscle spasm

If you notice any of these red flags, see your primary care physician as soon as possible or—for traumatic 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 shoulder pain as soon as possible to get started on a comprehensive treatment program that will help you regain your abilities over time.

In our next post, we’ll provide three of the best exercises to help keep your shoulders strong and reduce your risk for pain.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome Can Lead To Chronic Neck Pain
May 24, 2022

Myofascial pain syndrome and dysfunction of the muscles that support the upper spine and shoulders can lead to a variety of symptoms in these regions, including neck pain. The reasons neck pain develops are complex and often difficult to pinpoint, but research has shown that posture and muscle activation patterns are potential risk factors.

Patients with chronic neck pain—meaning pain lasting more than three months—have been found to display differences in the way muscles like the trapezius, levator scapulae, and rhomboids behave. These patients also have less muscle strength and activity than healthy individuals. Therefore, exercises that strengthen and stabilize these muscles to regulate their activity are recommended for patient with chronic neck pain, but the amount of research on this topic is limited. For this reason, a study was conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of various strengthening and stabilization exercises for patients with chronic neck pain.

Three groups of patients assessed before and after 6–week interventions

For the study, patients with neck pain for at least three months were recruited and screened to determine if they were eligible. This led to 72 patients being included, who were randomly assigned to one of three groups: the neck exercise training group, combined training group, or the control group. In the neck exercise training group, patients completed a training program under the guidance of three physical therapists 3 days per week for 6 weeks, with each session lasting 40–60 minutes. The program consisted of three strengthening and stretching exercises that targeted the muscles of the neck.

In the combined training group, patients completed the neck exercise training program plus a scapular stabilization training program. The scapular stabilization training program included 7 strengthening and stretching exercises that targeted muscles in the scapular region that are associated with chronic neck pain.

Patients in the control group participated in a session in which they were taught a home exercise program that mainly instructed them on proper body posture for daily activities like lifting, pressing, and pulling tasks, as well as office ergonomics. All patients were assessed before and after completing these interventions with various outcome measures, including pain, neck range of motion, scapula downward rotation index (SDRI), and forward head angle (FHA). SDRI and FHA are used to assess posture and muscular dysfunction in the upper spine and torso region.

Results showed that pain, SDRI, and FHA decreased in both the neck exercise training group (except SDRI) and combined training group. Neck range of motion also increased significantly in the combined training group. Overall, patients in both the neck exercise training group and combined training group improved compared to the control group, but the combined training group reported significantly greater improvements than the neck exercise training group. Therefore, this study suggests that both neck exercises and scapular stabilization exercises is beneficial for patients with chronic neck pain, and combining these two interventions can lead to even greater benefits in pain, flexibility, and posture.

If you’re dealing with myofascial pain syndrome, chronic neck pain, or any other movement–related issues, we strongly urge you to consider scheduling an appointment with one of our physical therapists, who can diagnose your condition and get you started on a comprehensive rehabilitation program right away.

Hands-On Techniques Can Help Patients With Myofascial Pain Syndrome
May 17, 2022

As we’ve explained, myofascial pain syndrome is one of the most common musculoskeletal conditions, with up to 85% of the population likely to be affected by it at some point. If symptoms arise—which are most likely to be noticed in the mid‐to‐upper spine—it can have a range of negative repercussions, including decreased work capacity, impaired sleep quality, and a worse overall quality of life.

Regularly performing the exercises that we described in our last post will undoubtedly reduce the risk for myofascial pain syndrome in the upper spine, but symptoms may still occur, since numerous factors contribute to the development of this condition. If you notice signs or symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome (eg, deep aching, throbbing sensation, tightness, or stiffness at or near tender trigger points in the upper spine), we strongly recommend seeing a physical therapist as soon as possible. Physical therapists utilize a variety of interventions that are all intended to alleviate pain and improve physical function.

One intervention called the pressure release technique is one of the most recommended manual therapies for myofascial pain syndrome in this region. It involves the therapist applying pressure to the upper spine for 30, 60, or 90 seconds with the goal of immediately relieving pain; however, the effect of each of these durations has not yet been studied. Therefore, a study was conducted to determine which duration of the pressure release technique is best for patients with myofascial pain syndrome.

60 patients randomly assigned to one of three groups

Researchers recruited patients to participate in the study who were aged between 18–40 years and who had at least one myofascial trigger point in the levator scapulae. This led to 60 patients being included, who were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Patients in each group underwent the pressure release technique to the levator scapulae, but the duration lasted for either 30, 60, or 90 seconds. This technique was applied with the physical therapist’s thumb or index and middle fingers directly over the myofascial trigger point, and the amount of compression was increased when the therapist felt a reduction in the resistance of the underlying soft tissues. All patients were assessed for their threshold for pressure pain, strength, neck range of motion, and stretch pain intensity immediately before and after the intervention.

Results showed that the pressure release technique led to several improvements at each of the three durations. However, comparing these values showed that the improvements were greatest in the 90‐second group, followed by the 60‐second group, and finally the 30‐second group. Most notably, patients who underwent the pressure release technique for 60 or 90 seconds experienced significant improvements in both strength and the threshold for pressure pain. This study suggests that just one manual therapy technique frequently used by physical therapists can lead to significant benefits for patients with myofascial pain syndrome.

In our next post, we’ll look at another study that highlights how various exercises used in physical therapy can also help patients with issues in the mid‐to‐upper spine.

Combined Exercise Program Benefits Patients With Chronic Neck Pain
May 10, 2022

As we explained in our last post, myofascial pain syndrome is a common condition that can affect any muscle in the body, but the muscles of the upper back, neck, and shoulder are most likely to be involved. The deep, aching pain and stiffness that results from the characteristic trigger points of myofascial pain syndrome often then go on to impair one’s mobility and degrade quality of life in the process.

One of the best ways to avoid myofascial pain in these regions is to keep the muscles of the trunk and upper spine strong and flexible. To accomplish this, we recommend regularly performing exercises that target these problematic muscles, which will help to reduce the risk myofascial pain and alleviate pain if it does develop. Here are our top 4 exercises for preventing myofascial pain:

Our top 4 exercises for myofascial pain

To see videos of each exercise, go to www.MyRTR.net and enter prescription code 9ZWVZRK8

  1. Seated trunk rotation
    • Sit in a chair with one arm over the backrest
    • Reach across your body and grasp the back of the chair with your opposite arm
    • Slowly rotate your trunk until a stretch is felt
    • Hold the stretch for 10 seconds
    • Complete one set of three repetitions, every other day
  2. Seated spinal flexion/extension
    • Sit in a chair with your hands behind your head and back straight, and feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
    • Slowly bend forward, starting at the waist and gradually bending upper trunk and head toward the floor
    • Return to an upright position, leading with the head
    • Hold the stretch for 10 seconds
    • Complete one set of five repetitions, every other day
  3. Rhomboid stretch
    • Sit toward the middle or edge of a chair
    • Bend forward and grasp the opposite side of the leg of a chair with your hand
    • Keep your arm straight and slowly raise your body up while maintaining a grasp of the chair leg
    • Hold when you feel a comfortable stretch for 10 seconds
    • Complete one set of three repetitions, every other day
  4. Levator scapula stretch
    • Place one hand on the back of your neck and the other hand on top of your head
    • Sitting tall, use the hand on top of your head to pull your chin toward your armpit until a comfortable stretch is felt
    • Hold for 30 seconds
    • Complete one set of three repetitions, every other day
  5. In our next post, we’ll break down a study about a hands-on technique for myofascial pain.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome Can Be A Common Cause of Upper Back Issues
May 3, 2022

The spine is possibly the most problematic area of the body. From the base of the spine up to the upper back and neck, there are various ways in which pain can manifest and produce disability. Although pain is most common in the lower back, several issues may cause bothersome pain in the upper spine as well. The most common of these is a condition called myofascial pain syndrome, which is closely related to rhomboid trigger points and levator scapulae pain.

Fascia is thin, connective tissue that surrounds and connects every muscle in the body. Fasciae (plural of fascia) hold muscles together and allow them to stretch and contract smoothly, without creating any friction that can damage the muscles. This explains the root word “fascia” in myofascial pain syndrome, whereas “myo” refers to muscles the muscles that these fasciae connect.

Common sites of myofascial pain

Myofascial pain involves triggers points, which are areas of tenderness and stiffness within muscles and fasciae that reduce range of motion. These trigger points are essentially muscle fibers that are stuck in contraction, which causes the muscle(s) to tighten and eventually prevents blood from flowing to the area. Trigger points feel like small bumps or knots when touched, and when enough of these occur in a certain area, the result is myofascial pain. Trigger points—and resulting myofascial pain—can develop in any muscle of the body but are most common in the upper back, shoulders, and neck, especially the following muscles:

  • Trapezius: the trapezius is a large, broad muscle shaped like a triangle that extends from the base of the skull to the middle of the back; it helps give you the ability to tilt and turn your head and neck, shrug and stabilize your shoulders, and twist your arms; the upper trapezius is one of the most common sites for myofascial pain because it takes on a significant amount of pressure, especially when carrying items
  • Levator scapulae: this is a long and slender pair of muscles shaped like straps that run from the top of the spine to the top edge of the shoulders; the main function of these muscles is assisting with the raising and rotating of your shoulder blade; they also stabilize this region
  • Rhomboids: this is a pair of upper back muscles that run diagonally from the neck and chest vertebrae of the spine down to the back of the shoulder blades; the rhomboids attach the upper limbs to the shoulder blades and help to pull the shoulder blades together during contraction

Approximately 44 million Americans are affected by myofascial pain syndrome, and about 85% of people will experience it at some point in their lives. Middle–aged women who are not physically active appear to have the highest risk for myofascial pain syndrome. Experts are yet to determine why myofascial pain syndrome occurs, but it’s believed that injury or trauma to the spine—from physical activity or repetitive muscle strain—likely plays a role. Other possible causes include consistently using poor posture, which can strain muscles, as well as lack of muscle activity or muscle weakness, stress, working in cold environment, and a pinched nerve.

Although symptoms vary from person to person, myofascial pain is usually described as a deep aching, a throbbing sensation, or tightness and stiffness, which occurs either at the trigger point or in a nearby area (referred pain). Patients will also report the presence of trigger points that cause pain when touched—and sometimes without being touched—tender or sore muscles, and/or weakness. Trigger points and dysfunction of the muscles described above can lead to pain and reduced range of motion neck and shoulders as well.

Red flags

If you notice these symptoms, it’s best to see a physical therapist sooner rather than later, as they can effectively treat myofascial pain with a comprehensive and individualized treatment program. But there are also certain signs that may suggest something else is afoot that may require treatment from another medical professional. These red flags include the following:

  • History of fever, chills, or recent illness (could suggest the presence of an infection)
    • Other signs of infection include pus or fluid, redness, fever, blisters, and worsening swelling
  • New episode of low back pain under 18 years or over 50 years
    • For those under 18 years, pain may suggest a congenital defect, spondylolysis, or vertebral fracture
    • For those over 50 years, pain may suggest a tumor or infection
  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction (associated with a condition called cauda equina syndrome)
  • Extreme bruising, swelling, or throbbing pain
  • Significant bone pain (may suggest a bone tumor)
  • Persistent swelling and pain that develops without a recent injury
  • Compromised immune system
  • Recent surgery or spinal injection

In our next post, we’ll describe 4 exercises that will help to reduce your risk for experiencing myofascial pain syndrome.