Posted on 10/6/2017 by Melissa Bloom, P.T., DPT, NCS
Cooler temperatures, students returning to school and the start of another football season are all the telltale signs of fall. And with football back, reports of concussion will inevitably follow. While advancements continue to be made in regards to concussion prevention and treatment, the long-term effects of head trauma, specifically chronic trauma encephalopathy (CTE), remains a huge concern.
You may have previously heard of CTE from the movie “Concussion,” or even from recent media reports. CTE is a tough topic for me. My trouble with the conversation is that there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties. With the potential for serious injuries, there is the chance for panic and decisions made on emotions versus science. Moreover, ignoring the conversation leads to misinformation. So, it’s time we talk about CTE; what is it and what it means for the future of football.
What is CTE?
CTE is a progressive neurodegenerative disease associated with repetitive head trauma. CTE involves cellular pathological changes similar, but different, to Alzheimer’s disease. The buildup of Tau protein in the brain causes cell death, atrophy and abnormal functioning. CTE can currently only be diagnosed after death by examining the brain under a microscope.
Symptoms can be physical, involving gait abnormalities and slowness of speech, or psychiatric and behavioral, including personality changes, depression and aggression. Various cognitive and processing deficits are also common with CTE, including difficulty thinking, concentrating and remembering.
One consistent scientific challenge is understanding the extent to which age-related changes, psychiatric or mental illness, alcohol or drug use, coexisting dementia or other unknown factors play a role in developing CTE. Currently, this is largely unknown and has not been accounted for in research. CTE is more common in contact sports, but other factors in these athletes may also lead to the disease.
Recent Study and Media Interviews
Earlier this year, the Journal of American Medical Association released an article on CTE. The study looked at participation in American football along with multiple physical and psychosocial variables, and they compared these factors to diagnosis of CTE. Results of this study travelled across the media quickly, with the overall conclusion that players of American football may be at increased risk for CTE. Of the 202 individuals in the study, they found 177 were diagnosed with CTE. The researchers further concluded that 99 percent of subjects who played in the National Football League (NFL) were diagnosed with CTE. What a headline.
Not to downplay the severity of CTE and valid concerns that exist about it, but I want to discuss some limitations about what we can take from these results. First, they conducted their study with football players whose brains were donated for research of CTE, creating a significant selection bias. It was known that their brains would be studied regarding a possible connection with CTE and their participation in contact sports. Individuals and their families who participated (i.e., donated their brain) may have noticed symptoms consistent with CTE prior to death, which led to their participation.
What trends did they find?
Beyond the expected motor, cognitive and psychological involvement known to accompany CTE, there were other notable trends. Substance abuse was noted in 67 percent of those diagnosed with mild CTE, and 49 percent in those diagnosed with severe CTE.
The presence of co-morbid neurodegenerative diseases was also common, including Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body Dementia (LBD) and other motor neuron diseases. In fact, more than 19 percent of the subjects with CTE presented with LBD alone. The current study was not designed to determine the impact these factors had on the development of CTE.
Even the authors note that caution must be used in interpreting the high frequency of CTE in their sample. Their results do not allow for estimates of prevalence, due to the lack of comparison groups. Additionally, the sample population was not representative of the overall population of former players of American football. The majority of players only play youth or high school levels, but most individuals in this study played at the college or pro level.
Evidence supports an association between long-term cognitive, neurobehavioral and psychiatric problems with participation in contact sports, such as football, boxing, soccer, etc. While it seems plausible there is a connection between CTE and repetitive impacts seen with American football, it is currently not possible to determine the causality or risk factors with any certainty. We need to proceed cautiously and collect additional research. However, concussion screenings and efforts to minimize concussion can improve the current health of players even if the long-term effects are unknown.
There is an inherent risk with contact sports for concussive and sub-concussive impacts. The challenge now is evaluating the risk given uncertain long-term consequences and the many scientific questions we don't have answered. For now, let’s continue to play smart, wear protective gear, get baseline tested for concussion and, should a concussion occur, thoroughly go through the rehabilitation process for safe return-to-play and activity.
Melissa Bloom By: Melissa Bloom, P.T., DPT, NCS. Melissa is a physical therapist with Physiotherapy Associates in Atlanta, GA. Melissa is a board certified neurology specialist. She specializes in vestibular rehabilitation and concussion management and teaches nationally on both topics.
Physio, NovaCare Rehabilitation and Select Physical Therapy are part of the Select Medical Outpatient Division family of brands.
Posted on 9/13/2017 by Andrew Piraino, P.T., DPT, OCS, CSCS
Low back pain is common. It’s so common that about 80 percent of adults will at one point experience this condition. It ranks among one of the top reasons to see a physician and costs the United States more than $100 billion dollars every year.
When faced with an episode of low back pain, it’s easy to go into crisis mode. You may be routed through various specialists and receive various imaging tests, such as X-rays and MRI. These tests can reveal scary findings, such as “herniated discs,” but don’t panic.
First, many of these findings are normal. Researchers have found that in adults without low back pain, two of out three have an abnormality at one disc or more. This makes imaging of limited use, unless something like a fracture is present that needs surgical management. Physicians agree; the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends against any imaging for low back pain for the first six weeks unless serious signs are present, such as trauma.
Often, you may be referred for physical therapy. You may have some familiarity with various exercises and hands-on treatment provided by therapists. But why is physical therapy unique, and what exactly does it do?
Physical therapists today are doctoral-level trained specialists in human movement, completing four years of undergraduate education, three years of doctoral training and often further residency or fellowship training in addition to board certification. Poor movements and postures can cause low back pain and, therefore, physical therapists are optimally equipped to address the cause of the problem rather than treating the symptoms. Just like the song lyrics to ‘Dem Bones,’ each area of the body affects another, which is what physical therapists are trained to observe and address.
For example, take a truck driver who has worsening low back pain with sitting in his truck and bending (pictured below). While a massage at his back area makes him better temporarily, his pain always returns several days later. A physical therapist may look at this driver and find he has tight hamstrings (the muscles on the back of the thigh). Every time he straightens his right leg to reach his pedal, his tight hamstrings pull his back into a bent position (Figure B). And so, all day long, as he drives, his back is bent over and over while he operates the gas and brake pedals. Try sitting up straight and then straightening your knee. You may find it’s hard to do!
Low Back Pain
A - Driver at rest.
B - Driver's hamstring pulls on his pelvis and bends his back whenever he tries to use the pedal.
C - Driver after physical therapy treatment to improve his hamstring flexibility... no more dysfunction!
While physical therapy may provide hands-on treatment to alleviate pain, it would also include exercise to decrease stiffness of his hamstrings, which would allow him to move without causing his back to compensate every time (Figure C). Therefore, our truck driver is able to sit and drive all day without pain. Rather than seeking symptom relief, he now knows what caused the pain, and the exercises and positioning to prevent it from returning.
This is a simple example, but it appreciates the entire body’s contribution to movement and pain, rather than focusing on the area of pain alone. Hopefully this demystifies what physical therapists do, and how they work to optimize each person’s movement and prevent their painful condition from returning!
If you are experiencing low back pain, please call one of our conveniently located centers in your area to experience the power of physical therapy today! For more information and to watch a brief informational video, please click here.
Andrew PirainoBy: Andrew Piraino, P.T., DPT, OCS, CSCS, treats at Select Physical Therapy in Pasadena, TX and is involved with our orthopaedic physical therapy residencies at the market and national level. He completed doctorate and residency training at the University of Southern California in 2012 and 2013, respectively, and is board certified in orthopaedics. Andrew specializes in orthopaedic movement dysfunction across the lifespan, from young, recreational athletes to adults with complex multi-system involvement.
Posted on 8/23/2017 by Colleen Boucher, P.T., DPT
Wearing proper clothing, getting the right amount of sleep and practicing proper stretching techniques are vital to an athlete’s success. But, just as is important is eating the right foods. A proper diet will allow athletes to remain active, maximize function and minimize risk for injury. Eating the right foods will also address factors that may limit performance such as fatigue, which can cause deterioration in skill or concentration during an event.
Using guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, we believe practicing these tips will help athletes remain active in their favorite sport. What and when you eat prior to physical activity makes a big difference in the way you perform and recover.
Eat three to four hours before your workout and make sure you’re eating food that not only contains adequate amounts of proteins and carbohydrates, but also provides sustainable energy, speeds recovery time and boosts performance. Early fatigue caused by malnutrition can result in improper mechanics, creating predisposition to injury.
Athletes should eat a diet that gets the bulk of its calories from carbohydrates, an athlete’s main fuel. Eating foods such as breads, cereals, pasta, fruit and vegetables will help to achieve maximum carbohydrate storage.
Re-fueling after exercise is just as important. Eating protein, carbohydrates and a small amount of fat after activity prevents the breakdown of muscles and can lead to better next-day performance. While protein doesn’t provide energy, it is needed to maintain muscles. Focus on incorporating foods with high-quality protein, such as fish, poultry, nuts, beans, eggs and milk.
Practicing proper hydration is equally important in reaching your optimal level of success. Athletes, especially those participating in high-intensity sports, should drink fluids early and often. An easy way to ensure you’re properly hydrated is focusing on the color of your urine. A pale yellow means you’re getting enough fluids, while a bright yellow or dark color means you need to drink more. We encourage athletes to:
Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours prior practice.
Drink 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during activity.
Drink 7 to 10 ounces of water after practice for every two pounds of body weight lost.
Drinking the right liquids is also a key factor in an athlete’s diet. Milk is preferred by many athletes as it provides a good balance of protein and carbohydrates. Sports drinks are great for replenishing electrolytes, which are lost when you sweat. If you’re losing a lot of fluid as you sweat, it’s a good idea to dilute sports drinks with equal amounts of water to ensure you’re getting the right balance of fluid and electrolytes. If possible, drink chilled fluids, which are more easily absorbed than room-temperature liquids and can help to cool your body.
Finally, avoid extreme diets as they increase the risk of micro-nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin and mineral supplements aren’t necessary if your diet includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Often, these supplements require supervision and monitoring for safety and effectiveness.
By: Colleen Boucher, P.T., DPT, center manager from NovaCare Rehabilitation’s Sicklerville, NJ center. Colleen has been a part of the NovaCare team since 2001 and enjoys treating all types of patients. She has a strong interest in vestibular rehabilitation and concussion management.
Posted on 7/20/2017 by NovaCare Rehabilitation and Select Physical Therapy
The dog days of summer are upon us, but you don’t have to stop exercising outside just because of the warmer temperatures. NovaCare Rehabilitation’s Paul Hansen, ATC, from our Minnesota community, and Select Physical Therapy’s Andy Prishack, P.T., ATC/L, center manager, from the Fair Oaks, VA center, explain how to keep safe while enjoying some of your favorite summer activities.
• Avoid exercising between the hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. as that is considered the hottest part of the day. Limit high intensity workouts to either early morning or early evening hours when the sun’s radiation is minimal.
• Stay hydrated by drinking a glass or two of water before you head outside. If possible, carry a bottle of water or even a hydration pack and take a drink every 15 minutes even if you’re not thirsty. The easiest thing to do is pay attention to the color of your urine. Pale and clear means you’re well hydrated; if it’s dark you need to drink more fluids.
• Wear clothing that’s light in color, lightweight and has vents or mesh. Microfiber polyesters and cotton blends are good examples. The lighter colors will help reflect heat and the cotton material will help with the evaporation of sweat.
• Feeling nauseous, dizzy or exhausted, along with moist and flushed skin are symptoms of heat exhaustion. Stop what you’re doing and get out of the heat. Remove or loosen any tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths. Slowly drink a half-glass of cool water to rehydrate yourself and continue doing so every 15 minutes until you feel better.
With the temperature rising, many are also headed to the nearest body of water with kayaks, surf and paddle boards. Water sports are an excellent way to get in exercise and challenge our upper body strength and balance. Heather Wnorowski, P.T., from NovaCare Rehabilitation’s Sewell, NJ center, has a few tips to keep in mind for the water sports novice and seasoned pro.
• Always get in an adequate warm-up. While the temperatures may be warm, it doesn’t mean our muscles are. Dynamic stretching is a great way to get your blood circulating and muscles warm before hitting the water.
• Since water sports are heavily dependent on our shoulders, it’s important to strengthen your postural and rotator cuff muscles in order to avoid repetitive stresses and impingements of the shoulder.
• Don’t forget the rotational mobility of your mid-back! Kayaking and other paddle sports involve a lot of thoracic spine rotation in order to propel you forward. Make sure you’re able to twist from side to side without pain before heading out for a day on the water.
• Last but not least is balance! Balance is an important part of maintaining an upright position while on the water. Practice standing on one leg at home. Once you’ve mastered that, try standing on a foam cushion and closing your eyes. Make sure you have someone or something nearby to hold onto in case you lose your balance.
Have a great summer and be sure to stay safe out in the heat!