Core Stability From the Inside Out

The core stabilization concept keeps being a hot topic for discussions. After more than a decade of core-training frenzy there is still very little evidence that core-training actually produces any positive effects. There is no universally accepted definition of what the make-up and function of the core is.

It all started with the Transversus Abdominis and the abdominal hollowing theory, where people were instructed to pull the belly-button in towards the spine when exercising. It has since been shown that abdominal bracing (tensing the abdominal wall as if preparing for being punched in the stomach) is superior to abdominal hollowing in regards to providing stability for the lumbar spine. Abdominal bracing is good, but it is still approaching the core from the outside in. The abdominal wall is the focus of the training. Real core activation has to come from the inside out.

Definition of Core

Core Stability Model

When looking up “core” in a dictionary we get descriptions like: centre, nucleus, middle, heart and interior.

If someone refers to the core of our planet they mean the absolute centre.  When people train their core they concentrate on the outer layers of the wall equal to the crust and the mantle.

People have to stop treating the core as a hollow tube and learn how to pressurize the “centre” of the tube instead of just tensing the walls.

Core Function

How do we pressurize the “centre”?

Intra-abdominal PressureThe diaphragm contracts and pushes down into the abdominal cavity, which combined with the resistance created by the pelvic floor, and an eccentric contraction of the entire abdominal wall, increases the pressure in front of the spine. The pressure from the front is counteracted by contraction of the lumbar extensor muscles and the spine is fully stabilized.  Without proper diaphragm contraction the increased  IAP will not reach all the way down to the lower lumbar spine, where the loading is most prominent.

Diaphragm

The diaphragm is the key component to core stability. The diaphragm has to contract first and then the abdominal wall and not the other way around. A too early or too strong contraction of the abdominal wall prevents the diaphragm from descending properly and is therefore counterproductive in stabilizing the spine.

At this point I would like to present the results of two interesting MRI studies of the diaphragm by Professor Kolar and colleagues that demonstrated that the diaphragm has dual functions of respiration and stabilization.

The first study (1) demonstrated that the diaphragm has a postural function that can be voluntarily controlled and is independent upon breathing.

The second study (2) showed that the diaphragm can performed its dual functions of stabilization and respiration simultaneously. The diaphragm can perform the breathing task at a lowered position ensuring that the stabilizing pressure is maintained throughout the breathing cycles. There is a close relationship between the diaphragm and Transversus Abdominis which contributes to the respiratory and postural control.

These two studies pointed out that the activity of the diaphragm during stabilization varies greatly amongst individuals, which supports Kolar’s clinical evidence that individuals with limited capability to contract the diaphragm for stabilization have a higher risk of developing back-pain.  The simultaneous activation of the diaphragm’s dual functions is the key to proper core stabilization

It is interesting to note that in the study by Hodges and colleagues which started the core craze, it showed that not only the transversus abdominis but also the diaphragm was activated to stabilize the trunk prior to any limb movement. The transversus got all the attention and turned into the core super-star while the diaphragm got ignored.

Respiratory function of the diaphragm

During inspiration the diaphragm contracts and pushes down into the abdominal cavity which decreases the pressure in the thoracic cavity and the lungs fill up with air.

Diaphragm

The diaphragm participates in all breathing patterns whether they are ideal or dysfunctional. You cannot avoid using the diaphragm when breathing even if you try, unless there is a medical condition preventing the diaphragm from contracting. The commonly used instruction “breathe with the diaphragm“, has no value.  Chest breathing and straight belly-breathing, where only the posterior part of the diaphragm pushes downwards, are two commonly observed dysfunctional breathing patterns, which reduce both the respiratory capacity and core stabilization. In ideal diaphragm contraction the entire diaphragm pushes down into the abdominal cavity and can be observed by an expansion of the lower ribcage and the abdominal wall in all directions.

Assessing diaphragm function

Breathing AssessmentThe diaphragm’s respiratory function can be assessed sitting or lying on the back. Holding the fingers at the lower ribcage, an examiner can feel for a lateral expansion of the ribcage and activation of the postero-lateral parts of the abdominal wall.  An upward or inward movement of the ribcage is a sign of dysfunctional breathing.

Next, the subject’s ability to pressurize all the way down to the lower part of the abdominal cavity when breathing is assessed, both in laying and sitting (holding the ribcage down assists the activation) .

Proper Breathing

After that, the postural function of the diaphragm is assessed. Instruct the individual to pressurize all the way down to the bottom of the abdomen while holding their breath. The instructor should be able to feel the pressure against a hand placed at the lower abdomen.

And finally, get the person to breathe all the way down to the lower abdomen and then maintain that pressure while going through normal breathing cycles. The diaphragm is now performing its breathing function at a lower position. This is real core stabilization.

Each of these steps should be properly activated and the testing positions are excellent to use as entry-level exercises. A resistance band can be strapped around the ribcage or the lower abdomen to pressurize against. It is worth spending a fair amount of time ensuring proper activation of the core before progressing to other exercises.

Here is a video, explaining core activation from the inside out:

YouTube Preview Image

Once proper activation of the core is achieved, only the individual’s imagination limits the exercise progression. Planks, bird-dogs, dead-bugs would be reasonable next steps. Uni-lateral work is an inventive way of keep challenging the core.

Frequently we see discussions regarding whether to perform core-exercises before or after other exercises. After reading this I hope everybody can see that once the diaphragm is properly activated the core will be trained in all exercises and activities. Proper core-activation is fundamental and should be part of everything we do.

The ability of the core to stabilize the spine and torso is the limiting factor in all exercises. Pay close attention to the signs of proper core activation.

 

Abdominal Wall

My favourite method of determining if the core is activated is to observe the lower lateral abdominal wall.  If there are concavities the core is not properly activated. Concavities indicate a Rectus Abdominis dominant pattern.

The contour of the abdominal wall should take on a balanced, slightly rounded appearance which should be maintained throughout performing the exercise with normal respiration.

Some individuals cannot activate the diaphragm properly by themselves and I would recommend they seek assistance from a DNS or Postural Restoration Institute trained Practitioner. Practicing with faulty patterns will only reinforce the dysfunction.

Core-stabilization has to come from the inside out and is controlled via the diaphragm. I recommend anyone who is interested in improving their performance and preventing low back pain to spend the required time to properly activate the core. It is really worth it. I have had experienced Strength athletes achieve new PB’s straight after we have activated their core.

 

References:

1-   Kolar P, Neuwirth J, Sanda J, Suchanek V, Svata Z, Pivec M. Analysis of diaphragm movement during tidal breathing and during its activation while breath holding using MRI synchronized with spirometry. Physiol Res 58:383-392, 2009

2-   Kolar P, Sulc J, Kyncl M, Sanda J, Neuwirth J, Bokarius AV, Kriz J, Kobesova A. Stabilizing function of the diaphragm: dynamic MRI and synchronized spirometric assessment. J Applied Physiol Aug 2010

 

About the author:

Hans LindgrenHans Lindgren is a Doctor of Chiropractic and DNS Practitioner in Brisbane, Australia.  He has a special interest in Functional Stabilization, Rehabilitation and Sports-Performance. Hans runs courses about these topics and also writes a blog on hanslindgren.com.

Free Lower Body Assessment Video by Eric Cressey

Eric Cressey Lower Body AssessmentFor those that have read this website for some time, you know that I am a big fan of online education.  That is why I do this.  I always talk about how much I personally enjoy and learn from websites like RehabWebinars.com, SportsRehabExpert.com, and StrengthCoach.com.  I have had 100’s of people join my in my online mentorship program on the shoulder at ShoulderSeminar.com.  These are all great resources that I use almost daily.

I was recently talking to my friends Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson.  They have  teamed together with Dave Schmitz and BJ Gaddour to start offering an online virtual mentorship program.  This is a no-brainer resource for personal trainers and strength coaches, but I can’t stress enough to the physical therapy, athletic training, and other rehab communities how much I have learned from these guys over the years.  Integrating the thoughts of great strength coaches has made me a better clinician, no doubt in my mind.

These guys are going to share with the world how they deliver staff training, teach movements, design programs and get results for their clients.  I can’t tell you how jealous I am of these guys for being able to share their knowledge in this format.  I wish I could do something like this, but it’s a little different in my current setting, perhaps one day!

They’ll be releasing this program, Elite Training Mentorship, next week but in the mean time Eric just shared an example of some of the great information they’ll be providing.

Watch Eric deliver a complete staff training on Lower Body Assessments.  This is exactly what Eric uses to train his staff and work with his clients.

If you are interested in the Elite Training Mentorship, members will get private access to a secure website where our Eric, Mike, Dave, and BJ will upload private, member only curriculum like:

  • Videos from staff training they hold in their own facilities
  • Examples of programs they’ve written for their actual clients
  • Video examples of how they teach exercises and progressions
  • Handouts they provide to their own staff or interns
  • Templates they use in their own business

I would definitively check this out, as you will get amazing inside access to the minds of some great coaches.  But at least check out the free video from Cressey.  I just finished watching it and thought he did a really good job.

[button link=”http://www.mikereinold.com/elitetrainingmentorship”]Watch the Free Video[/button]

Movement Quality and Compensation

Movement QualityAs humans, we have all mastered one thing in regard to motor control and function – compensation – not exactly the greatest when we talk about movement quality.  We will develop a motor strategy and pattern to accomplish our goals, regardless of wether or not it is efficient.  Many probably consider this a positive trait, but not for those of us that emphasize human performance enhancement.

Can’t extend your hip with your glutes?  Oh well, I guess you have to use your hamstrings more.

Is your rotator cuff torn?  Shoulder stiff?  Well, guess what?  You are still going to figure out a way to reach up and grab something overhead.  Perhaps you will wing your scapula more or contort your spine to accomplish this range of motion, it doesn’t matter exactly what, but you WILL find a way to accomplish this task.

This is even more obvious when we start to talk about those that use their bodies to it’s highest potential, such as athletes.  It seems like athletes can adapt to things like fatigue, tightness, and weakness and still develop a motor strategy to perform successfully.  Perhaps this is what makes them the elite athlete, the ability to compensate better than everyone else!

[box]We have all probably been guilty of getting caught up in worrying about the quantity of movement instead of the quality of movement when looking for dysfunction.  [/box]

Every motion has a group of prime movers and a group of secondary movers.  This is important so that if you have dysfunction of one muscle, you can compensate and still function.  But don’t forget that sometimes our job is to activate that prime mover and get back to efficient movement patterns, focusing on restoring the quality of the movement.

FMS gray cook DVDIf you are interested in this kind of thought process, be sure to check out Gray Cook’s new DVD FMS: Applying the Model to Real Life Examples from Perform Better.  I just ordered a copy and haven’t had a chance to check it out, but it sounds excellent as usual from Gray.  I’ll try to post a review of the DVD after I get a chance to watch it.

Sometimes our goal is not to just see IF a person can move from point A to point B, but rather to see HOW a person performs this task. Keep this in the back of your mind with every person you work with and you’ll gain a new appreciation of performance enhancement.

 

The Importance of Hip Flexion Strength

Today’s post is a guest article written by Chris Johnson on the the importance of hip flexion strength when dealing with lower extremity pathology.

 

The Importance of Seated Hip Flexion Strength

Just over eight years ago, I accepted my first job as a physical therapist at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma (NISMAT) of Lenox Hill Hospital. This experience afforded me the opportunity to train under the late Dr. James A Nicholas, one of the “Founding Fathers” of sports medicine, and the winner of the 2004 President’s Cup award from the Sports Section of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). One of the greatest lessons I learned from Dr. Nicholas pertained to “linkage” and the importance of assessing seated hip flexion strength in patients presenting with lower extremity pathology, especially patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS).

In 1976, Dr. Nicholas and colleagues published an article in The American Journal of Sports Medicine entitled, “A study of thigh muscle weakness in different pathological states of the lower extremity.” This study documented that subjects with patellofemoral problems exhibited significant hip flexor weakness on the involved side when compared to a group of controls. Furthermore, Dr. Nicholas and his co-authors concluded that the hip flexor resistance test affords a quick and accurate way of detecting unilateral weakness of the trunk, thigh flexors, and quadriceps group making it a valuable clinical assessment tool.

More recently (2006), Tim Tyler and colleagues did a study investigating the role of hip muscle function in the treatment of PFPS. This study corroborated Dr. Nicholas’s original findings and demonstrated the importance of addressing hip flexor strength in the context of PFPS. The authors proposed that improving hip flexor strength helps to establish a stable pelvis during gait thus preventing it from going into excessive anterior tilt, which would result in excessive femoral internal rotation. The iliopsoas is also a secondary femoral external rotator and strengthening this muscle helps to align the trochlear groove and patella. It should also be mentioned that this study documented the importance of establishing adequate flexibility of the hip flexors and iliotibial band (ITB), which would induce posterior pelvic tilt and relative femoral external rotation. One of the major takeaways from this article is that in addition to resolving any hip flexor tightness, it is also important to ensure adequate strength of this muscle group.

 

Assessing Hip Flexion Strength

While clinicians and fitness professionals routinely assess for and correct hip flexor tightness, it has been my experience that screening for hip flexor weakness in a seated position is not routinely performed. Considering the research, medical and allied health professionals should include this as part of their screening or examination process, especially in the context of lower extremity pathology such as PFPS. To perform this test, the patient should be seated at the edge of a table or plinth with their back straight and legs dangling over the edge of the table while holding on to the front of the table. The patient is then instructed to flex one hip by bringing the knee up towards the chest and to hold it in place while the examiner pushes down on the thigh with the palm of his or her hand. Comparison is then made to the contralateral side. It is the author’s opinions that break testing is the best approach to strength test the hip flexors given the limited range available in a seated position. Standard manual muscle testing grades can be applied or clinicians can use a handheld dynamometer/manual muscle tester to establish a more specific strength index.

When assessing seated hip flexion strength, there are several key to ensure the test is properly performed. First off, patients should have 120 degrees of clean hip flexion so that they can get the involved extremity in to the proper test position without any compensatory motion. Secondly, patients should hold on the front of the plinth to prevent leaning back, which is a common substitution or trick movement when testing hip flexor strength. This will allow the examiner to isolate the hip flexor muscle group as well, thereby ensuring accurate results. Lastly, pay close attention to the low back during testing as patients presenting with hip flexor weakness often fall into excessive anterior pelvic tilt secondary to poor spinal stability, which can result in shearing of the lumbar segments. This may also indicate the need to incorporate spinal stabilization exercises in to the overall treatment program.  Here is a quick video demonstration:

YouTube Preview Image

 

Next time you find yourself evaluating or treating a patient suffering from a lower extremity injury, make sure to test their seated hip flexion strength, especially in the context of PFPS.  And remember that it is not only important for the hip flexors to be extensible but also for them to be STRONG, and without assign hip flexion strength you’ll never know!

 

References:

  1. Nicholas JA, Strizak AM, Veras G. A study of thigh muscle weakness in different pathological states of the lower extremity. Am J Sports Med. 1976 Nov-Dec:4: 241-8.
  2. Tyler TF, Nicholas SJ, Mullaney MJ, McHugh MP. The role of hip muscle function in the treatment of patellofemoral pain syndrome. Am J Sports Med. 2006 Apr; 34(4): 630-6.

 

About the Author

Chris Johnson, MPT, MCMT, ITCA is a physical therapist and competititive triathlete.  He has a private physical therapy practice in Manhattan.  Youcan learn more from Chris at his website ChrisJohnsonPT.com and Twitter.

Chris has a great website that has a lot of information, especially in regard to running and triathlons.  Thanks for such a great article on the importance of hip flexion strength!

 

 

 

The Difference Between the Location of Symptoms and the Source of Dysfunction

kinetic chain ripple effectLast week we talked about the kinetic chain ripple effect theory and how the kinetic chain has an impact throughout the body, but more of an impact closer to the source of dysfunction.  For this week, I wanted to discuss 3 common injuries that we all see that may actual just be a symptom, and not the actual injury or source of dysfunction.

As a general rule of thumb, we should probably consider that many of our traditional “injuries” that seem to be relentless and not responsive to treatments may actually be coming from elsewhere in the body.  Think back to how patellofemoral pain has been referred to as “the black hole” of orthopedics and how surgery and rehabilitation to correct patella alignment is often unsuccessful.  Perhaps patellofemoral pain is actually just a symptom and not the source of dysfunction.

Below are what I have found to be 3 common “injuries” that may actually just be symptoms from dysfunction somewhere else within the kinetic chain.  There are many more than 3, but these are likely to be some of the most common that you may encounter.  Feel free to leave a comment of more examples that you have encountered.  Furthermore, all three fit into the kinetic chain ripple effect theory as the source of dysfunction is pretty close to the location of symptoms

 

Groin Pain – Source: Hip Joint

I have to admit that in my career I have been stumped by groin strains that seem to be difficult to treat or frequently reinjured.  I am sure we have all seen this in our practices, groin pain that doesn’t really look like a groin strain, but what is it?  As our understanding of the hip has improved, we find that many people with intra-articular hip joint pathology present with groin pain, which is a common pain referral pattern from the hip joint.

Next time you have a patient with groin pain, clear the hip, you’ll be surprised how many times we find that the symptoms are coming from the hip and that will drastically change our treatment program.

 

Lateral Epicondylitis – Source: Cervical Spine

lateral epicondylitisAnother commonly misdiagnosis that I have seen involves lateral epicondylitis.  The C6 nerve root is one of the most commonly involved nerve roots involved in cervical radiculopathy as it exits between the 5th and 6th vertebrae.  Any radiculopathy from this nerve root can cause weakness in wrist extension.  I have seen even a subtle loss of strength of wrist extension cause a raging lateral epicondylitis.  Sometimes this weakness is so subtle that the person doesn’t even realize they have weakness until it is too late.  We continue to function and use our hands with this weakness and overload the area.  So, we can treat the heck out of the lateral epicondylitis, but if we don’t solve the nerve root issue at the cervical spine we will never regain the wrist extension strength that is needed to decrease the symptoms of lateral epicondylitis.

Patellofemoral Pain – Source: The Hip

patellofemoral painWe’ve spent a lot of time discussing the contribution of the hip has on symptoms of patellofemoral pain.  [If you haven’t yet, this would be a great time to sign up for my newsletter and receive a bunch of goodies, including my eBook on Solving the Patellofemoral Mystery.]  Over the last several years, we have made a giant leap in our understanding of why some forms of patellofemoral pain occurs.  More often than not, weakness and dysfunction of the hip muscles, specifically the abductors and external rotators, is a leading cause of biomechanical faults at the knee and subsequent patellofemoral pain.  Similar to lateral epicondylitis above, you can treat the symptoms all day but you aren’t going to solve the problem if you don’t address the source, weakness and dysfunction of the hip.

 

Take Home Message

I’m sure that many of my readers have observed all of the above findings.  Please do comment and add more examples.  So what is the take home message?  For the younger clinicians in the audience, I guess it would have to be that we should probably take a step back a rethink all of the injuries that we see that we consider “difficult to treat” or “unrelenting” such as lateral epicondylitis and patellofemoral pain.  Maybe we need to think of the bigger kinetic chain principle.  Perhaps we are only treating the symptoms and not the true source of the dysfunction.  So next time you seem to have a patient that is not responding to your treatments, take a step back, re-evaluate and assess elsewhere in the kinetic chain and make sure that you haven’t missed the true source of the person’s symptoms.

Does Hip Range Of Motion Correlate to Low Back Pain? Maybe Not in Everyone

hip range of motion back painThe correlation between hip range of motion and low back pain is commonly discussed, though most people tend to agree that limitations or asymmetries in hip motion is a contributing factor to low back pain.  You can read a summary of some research on the correlation between low back pain and hip range of motion in a previous post of mine.  But while there are several studies that show this to be true, there are also some studies that show no correlation at all.  To me, this isn’t very surprising as you really need to assure adequate control of study methodology when designing a research project like this. Grouping several different body types, activity levels, and handiness (righties and lefties) as well as poorly defining “low back pain” can surely throw a wrench in your project and possible allow some false assumptions.

 

Does a Small Loss of Hip Motion Matter to Everyone?

Biomechanically, a loss of hip motion contributing to low back pain makes perfect sense.  Any lack of mobility of the hips needs to be compensated for elsewhere, and unfortunately this will likely occur in the lumbar spine.  The knee is pretty stable, I can see the foot and ankle also contributing, but realistically moving at the lumbar spine is probably going to achieve the person’s goal of rotating the pelvic region the easiest.  This is unfortunate as we would all rather rotate from our hips and thoracic spines rather than lumbar spines.

hip range of motion contribute to low back painWhen looking closely at the research studies that show correlations between lose of hip motion and low back pain, subjects with low back pain had ~5 degrees less motion of their hips.  That is a decent amount of loss of motion, but I’m not sure 5 degrees is limiting for all people.   What if the person you are working with doesn’t need to use their body in the end range of rotation very often?  I bet that the majority of sedentary people don’t really need full hip range of motion to perform their everyday activities.  Walking, for example, only requires approximately 15 degrees in hip and pelvic rotation, no where near full motion.  Yes, a large deviation in hip range of motion will likely be a problem in everyone, but would a small amount of loss of hip rotation impact everyone’s chances of suffering from low back pain?  Maybe not.

 

Hip Range of Motion and Low Back Pain in Rotational Athletes

hip range of motion correlate to low back painRecent studies have assess the correlation between hip range of motion and low back pain in rotational sport athletes, sports like tennis, racquetball, and golf.  To me, this is a much better study design using a specific population of people that need to function at their end range of spine, pelvic, and hip rotation.  One particular study that I thought did a great job with research design, methodology, and subject selection was by Van Dillen in a 2008 issue of Physical Therapy in Sport.

The authors examined 48 subjects that participated in rotational sports.  When comparing those with a history of low back pain to those without, subjects with low back pain exhibited significantly less motion of their hips and significantly more asymmetry between their two hips.  The rotation of their left hips were more limited than their right hips, though only 1 subject in the group was left handed, so I’m not sure if this finding is significant to me or not.

So far, studies looking at rotational athletes have all shown a positive correlation between hip range of motion and low back pain while other studies with less specific patient populations have showed less consistent findings.  So does this mean that tight hips correlate to low back pain?  In rotational athlete it looks like the answer is yes, but in sedentary people, maybe not.

Photo by StuSeeger

Assess All Factors

Regardless, I agree with the thought process of “why not” work on everyone’s tight hips anyway, but just food for thought when working with your next person with low back pain.  Resist the urge to go with what is trendy now and bark up the wrong tree.  Don’t just assume that because they have 5 degrees less hip IR on one side that this is the main contributing factor in their back pain.  Thoroughly assess each person before assuming that their loss of hip range of motion contributes to low back pain.

Femoroacetabular Impingement – Etiology, Diagnosis, and Treatment of FAI

femoroacetabular impingementFemoroacetabular impingement is a pretty hot topic right now.  This week, we have a great guest post from frequent contributor Trevor Winnegge.

Recently, femoroacetabular impingement, or FAI, has been increasingly recognized as a cause of hip pain. While femoroacetabular impingement can be a source of hip pain at any age, this post will focus primarily on the adolescent and young adult.  Femoroacetabular impingement is considered a cause of labral and chondral injuries as well as secondary osteoarthritis of the hip. Emerging evidence suggests that early surgical intervention improves function and perhaps prevents or delays the onset of degenerative changes in the hip joint.[1] I hope to provide a thorough overview of FAI, the signs and symptoms of it, and how to treat FAI in an effort to allow us to play an important role in the management of these patients.  (Photo from Bryan Kelly)

What is Femoroacetabular Impingement?

Femoroacetabular impingement occurs when the femoral head and acetabulum rub abnormally, resulting in damage to the articular cartilage and/or the labrum, as well as limited range of motion (ROM). FAI is commonly classified into 3 forms

  1. Cam impingement deformity
  2. Pincer impingement deformity
  3. Mixed impingement deformity resulting in a combination of the two.

These are clearly seen in the following illustration taken from Lavigne et al.[2]:

femoroacetabular impingement

In a Cam impingement, there is an abnormal contour of the femoral head-neck junction, resulting in impingement against the acetabulum, particularly with flexion, internal rotation, or a combination of flexion and internal rotation of the hip.[3]

Pincer impingement is caused by an acetabular abnormality, usually anterior, resulting in overcoverage of the femoral head. This could be an isolated bony protrusion or it could be a degree of acetabular retroversion. Here the ROM is limited as the femoral head impacts the extended acetabulum which can also lead to labral tears and chondral lesions.[5]

A Mixed type of femoroacetabular impingement is a combination of both Cam and Pincer impingement deformities. It is important to note that both Cam and Pincer impingement have been associated with progressive joint degeneration.

Etiology of Femoroacetabular Impingement

Femoroacetabular impingement is linked to childhood hip disorders such as Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease, Slipped Capitol Femoral Epiphysis, hip dysplasia, septic hip, and prior fractures of the pelvis or femur. [7] Despite those correlations, the majority of FAI cases are of unclear etiology[8]. It is theorized that physeal stresses placed on the femoral head and/or acetabulum during development may play a key role in the onset of FAI. Activities such as gymnastics, dancing, and rigorous sports during the development process are potential sources of FAI.

Diagnosis of Femoroacetabular Impingement

hip c signDiagnosing femoracetabular impingement starts with a good subjective history. Patients will often complain of hip or groin pain- laterally, anterior or posterior. This pain is often acute during a sporting activity or will be insidious onset after prolonged exertion. Patients with FAI are often quite capable of completing their daily tasks, but have difficulty with high demand sports/activities. Typically there is no rest or night pain. When asked to pinpoint their pain, they will often demonstrate a “C” sign, described by Byrd[9], and seen below in this picture from hiparthroscopy-Ireland.com[10].

Patients will report a lack of ROM of the hip, which in an adolescent patient is often described as a functional deficit such as “I can’t do a split anymore” or “I can’t move my leg in this position”. When asked about their activity level, these patients will often be involved in a high level sport or activity such as dance, gymnastics, lacrosse, hockey, tennis, baseball, and football. Objectively, there will be a loss of ROM, particularly hip flexion, IR and adduction. Joint capsule hypomobility may or may not be present. A positive hip impingement sign will often be present, which is flexion, adduction and IR of the hip in a combined movement[11].

Diagnostic Imaging in Femoroacetabular Impingement

Plain film X-rays are most commonly used to view the bony changes of the femoral head and acetabulum. MRI or MR-arthrograms are useful in diagnosing secondary injuries such as chondral lesions and labral tears.

Differential Diagnosis for Femoroacetabular Impingement

Often times, patients with femoroacetabular impingement get misdiagnosed early on and are treated for a variety of diagnoses such as back pain, hip pain, groin pain, bursitis, piriformis syndrome, tendonitis of iliopsoas, groin strain, apophysitis, and “growing pains”[12].

Treatment of Femoroacetabular Impingement

While surgical management of the femoroacetabular impingement remains the an option for treatment, non-operative care can sometimes be successful. Unfortunately, we can not alter the bony changes, but we can normalize soft tissue length, joint capsule mobility, strength and educate on joint preservation techniques. Think of it as treating a patient with a large bone spur in the shoulder that has subacromial impingement. Treatment can be successful despite the bony changes, if the objective deficits are addressed. The success of conservative care for FAI is largely dependent on the patients willingness to modify their sport/activity and become less active in impact sports.

For most adolescents and young adults, this is not an option. While most patients will try conservative care first, often they are unable to fully participate in their sport/activity and seek further management of their FAI. Surgical management can be done open or via the arthroscope, which is becoming the more commonly used method due to its lower level of invasiveness. Surgical treatment is aimed at addressing the secondary injuries such as the chondral lesions and labral tears. The surgeon will address the primary cause of the femoracetabular impingement, typically performing a decompression/osteoplasty.[13] Post-operative rehabilitation is dependent on the procedure performed (labral debridement vs repair; open vs arthroscopy, etc). Typically, recovery from most FAI surgical procedures is 3-4 months, with the expectation that the patient is then able to return to full, unrestricted activity and sport.

In conclusion, I think it is important that we are aware of femoroacetabular impingement and the presentation of FAI. Given it is often misdiagnosed early on, we can play an integral role in the management of these patients. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical for long term health of the hip joint and to allow the patient a lifetime of active living.


  • [1] Roy D. Arthroscopy of the hip in children and adolescents. JChild orthop. 2009 April; 3(2):89-100.
  • [2] www.hipfai.com
  • [3] Leunig M, et al. The Concept of Femoroacetabular Impingement: Current Status and Future Perspectives.
  • Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 March; 46793): 616-622.
  • [4] http://www.choa.org/child-health-glossary/f/fe/femoroacetabular-impingement
  • [5] Leunig M, et al. The Concept of Femoroacetabular Impingement: Current Status and Future Perspectives.
  • Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 March; 46793): 616-622.
  • [6] http://www.choa.org/child-health-glossary/f/fe/femoroacetabular-impingement
  • [7] Leunig M, et al. The Concept of Femoroacetabular Impingement: Current Status and Future Perspectives.
  • Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 March; 46793): 616-622.
  • [8] Philippon M, et al. Femoroacetabular impingement in 45 professional athletes: associated pathologies and return to sport following arthroscopic decompression. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2007 July; 1597):908-914.
  • [9] Byrd JW (2005) Operative hip arthroscopy, 2nd edn. Springer, Berlin.
  • [10] www.hiparthroscopy-Ireland.com
  • [11] Dooley P. Femoroacetabular impingement syndrome. Can Fam Physician. 2008 January; 5491):42-47.
  • [12] www.hipfai.com
  • [13] Ilizaliturri V. Complications of Arthroscopic Femoroacetabular Impingement Treatment: A Review. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 March; 467 (3): 760-768.

Trevor has been practicing PT for over 10 years. He graduated from Northeastern University with a bachelors in PT and a master of science degree. He also graduated from Temple University with a Doctor of physical therapy degree. He is a board certified specialist in orthopedics and also a certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is adjunct faculty at Northeastern University, teaching courses in orthopedics and differential diagnosis. He is currently the Clinical Coordinator of Rehabilitation at Sturdy Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Associates in Attleboro MA.

Mike’s Thoughts

Trevor, great post as always.  Femoroacetabular impingement is a diagnosis that we are seeing more of each year, likely from a combination better awareness and diagnostics.  Unfortunately, we have all probably all missed some patients that were having early symptoms of FAI and treating them for the wrong reasons, like groin pain!  Personally, I have seen “groin strains,” “hip flexor strains,” and even “oblique strains” that were probably actually coming from the hip joint.  Bottom line to me, if the symptoms and exam are not adding up or the person is not responding to treatments be sure to clear the hip of FAI symptoms to make sure you are not missing femoroacetabular impingement.

In regard to treatment, there really are some similarities to the shoulder that can help take the “fear of the unknown” out of treating the hip.  For example, a pincer lesion is really pretty similar to hooked acromion.  How do we treat that in the shoulder?  Open up the subacromial space with retraction and posterior tilt of the shoulder.  How would we treat the hip?  Open up the joint with posterior pelvic tilting, and gaining mobility of the groins and hip flexors.  Just one quick example but enough to get our brains rolling!

If you want to see a great webinar on these types of hip injuries, including some surgical demonstration videos, there is a great webinar on the Recognition and Treatment of Hip Injuries at RehabWebinars.com.  If you are a subscriber, search for that webinar.  If not, click here to learn how to get access to this webinar and many more at RehabWebinars.com.

RehabWebinars.com

 

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Graston Technique: A Case Study and Other Thoughts on Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization Techniques

[box type=”note” icon=”none”]UPDATE: There is a new article that discusses my current recommendations for the best IASTM tool.  This newer article contains my updated recommendation for several Graston alternatives and information on my online educational programming teaching you how to use IASTM.[/box]

Today’s guest post is quick overview of the Graston technique and it’s application within a case study by Eric Schoenberg, MSPT, CSCS.  I thought Eric did a great job with the post and have will share some of my thoughts on instrument assisted soft tissue techniques, such as Graston technique, at the end of this article.

Graston Technique

graston techniqueRegardless of treatment philosophy, it is difficult to dispute the importance of soft tissue work to help treat pathology, correct muscle imbalance, decrease recovery time, and restore proper muscle recruitment and firing patterns.

While there are many available soft tissue options, in my practice, I have found Graston techniques to be particularly useful in both treatment and evaluation.  Many people don’t realize that the Graston technique can also be a valuable diagnostic tool to quickly “scan” or evaluate a patient’s soft tissue quality and determine its contribution to a patient’s current symptoms or injury risk factor.

The Graston technoique concept is grounded in the works of English orthopedist James Cyriax and the concept of cross fiber treatment. The treatment edge of the Graston instruments allows for improved precision in the treatment of fascial restriction and fibrotic/scar tissue.

I wanted to share my experience and techniques with the Graston technique and will use a case study to illustrate the benefits and specificity of the Graston Technique.

The patient is an 18 year old male who is a 3-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball) presenting with 9 month history of anterior knee pain consistent with patellar tendinosis. The patient presents with the following objective findings at evaluation:

  • Point tenderness at inferior pole of patella
  • Pain at end-range supine and prone knee flexion
  • Pain with resisted concentric and eccentric knee extension (Kendall MMT position)
  • Decreased hip mobility B
  • Decreased ankle DF ROM B
  • Decreased lumbopelvic/hip and single leg stability
  • Decreased gluteal/core strength B

The patient is participating in pre-season football conditioning with emphasis on sagittal plane squat/split squat/lunge activities, sprinting (including hills), and plyometrics (sagittal plane). He is using foam roller daily on own to improve tissue quality. His symptoms are gradually worsening with increased training intensity.

After evaluating the patient, I decided to include Graston technique treatment focused on the quadriceps, ITB, adductors, hamstring, gastroc/soleus, and tibialis anterior muscle groups.  Here are a couple of examples:

Graston Technique – Seated Quadciceps

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Graston Technique – Seated Patellar Tendon

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One specific application of Graston technique is the ability to effectively treat the injured area in positions of provocation. This patient experiences symptom reproduction in the split squat/forward lunge position:

Graston Technique – 1/2 Kneel Position

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Graston Technique – Dynamic With Squat:

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Treatment Outcomes

The patient was seen for 3 treatments with full resolution of symptoms. Treatments consisted of the following:

  1. 1. Tissue quality: Graston technique, daily lower body foam roller program
  2. 2. Mobility: hip and ankle mobility exercises, active warm-up corrective exercises
  3. 3. Multiplanar strength: frontal and transverse plane strength (emphasized single leg activity, band walks, lateral lunges, lumbopelvic stability- chops/lifts)
  4. 4. Activity Modification: patient educated in proper jump/land technique, limited sagittal plane repetitions, proper muscle firing patterns

Clinical Observations From Using the Graston Technique:

1. The specificity of the treatment edge and the ability to provide uniform pressure is what sets the technique apart from other manual approaches.

2. The instruments truly enhance the clinician’s ability to detect and treat fascial restrictions and adhesions (particularly effective in positions of provocation).

3. Incorporating stretching and strengthening (tendon-loading) exercises with the instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization is the key to promoting re-alignment of the fibers and helping to fully remodel the injured tissue.

4. Coupling Graston in the clinical setting with self myofascial release (SMR) products, such as foam rollers and other similar equipment at home or in an athletic setting (pre/post activity) is an ideal way to achieve maximum success.

Lastly, at least for me, the most exciting part of using Graston Technique in the clinical setting is feeling better suited to treat the more difficult diagnoses (plantar fasciitis, chronic tendonosis, etc) with the expectation of good clinical outcomes.

 

My goal in writing this article is to present a simple case to allow the reader to appreciate the functionality and ease of use of the Graston Technique. In addition, it is important to note that Graston (along with any soft tissue treatment) should be used in conjunction with skIASTMilled movement evaluation and prescription of corrective exercise to allow for the most effective clinical outcomes.

Eric Schoenberg, MSPT, CSCS is co-owner of Momentum Physical Therapy with offices in Milford, MA and Wellesley, MA.  The owners of Momentum PT are experts in the human movement system. Their mission is to bridge the gap between traditional medicine and fitness with emphasis on patient education and injury prevention.  Visit eric’s blog at www.momentumptblog.blogspot.com.

 

Mike’s Thoughts

[box type=”note” icon=”none”]UPDATE: There is a new article that discusses my current recommendations for the best IASTM tool.  This newer article contains my updated recommendation for several Graston alternatives and information on my online educational programming teaching you how to use IASTM.[/box]

Eric, great article and examples of use of the Graston technique.  I’m sure the patient got better from your very well thought out treatment plan and all of the techniques and exercises you performed in combination with Graston technique.

It is important to note that while this article is specifically about the Graston technique, it also applies to instrumented assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) techniques in general.  Late last year I polled my readers and 20% of you said you used IASTM, including Graston technique, SASTM, and ASTYM.  We could also group in the traditional Gua Sha to this mix as well.

I have used these techniques and do incorporate IASTM in my practice, I have also taken the basic Graston class (though have not taken SASTM and ASYTM classes and have not used their tools).  Here are my thoughts:

  • IASTM is a valuable component of my treatments, but just a component.  Just like everything else, it has its value and it has areas where I would choose another technique.
  • There are a lot of misconceptions here and the internet makes this worse – a huge black and blue down the leg is not what you are trying to achieve using IASTM.  I consider this a sign that you’ve done too much.  This is a misconception.
  • The actual Graston Technique tools and courses are really good.  If you have the budget to go all out for these, great, they will be great to work with. Visit their website for more info, I would be surprised if you were not satisfied with the course and their tools.  They have put a lot of thought and effort into their technique and tools.
  • I do not use the Graston instruments.  I think many more people should learn IASTM techniques.  If you really like the technique and want to learn more or get the better Graston tools, great.  But cost should not be a reason that you don’t learn how to use IASTM.
  • In regard to tools, I go traditional Gua Sha from China.  I have tried other tools, like the Starr Tool, they are good, but more expensive.
  • In regard to Gua Sha tools, you can Google them, there are many shapes and materials for anywhere from $2 to $10.  Horn is a good starting point, but in the grand scheme I would grade them as stone > jade > horn.  Just my opinion.  I have a bunch of horns as they come in a variety of versatile shapes, and a few jades and stones.  So far Bian or Energy stones have felt best for me, but these are closer to $20-$40.  Still cheap in contrast to some of the other instruments.  If you are not sure, start with the horn.

 

What do you think?  What has been your clinical experience with Graston technique, instruments, and other instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization techniques?