Patellofemoral Knee Pain

Patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) refers to pain at the front of the knee, in and around the kneecap (patella). PFPS is one of the most common types of knee pain experienced in the United States, particularly among athletes, active teenagers, older adults, and people who perform physical labor. Patellofemoral pain affects more women than men and accounts for 20% to 25% of all reported knee pain. Physical therapists design exercise and treatment programs for people experiencing PFPS to help them reduce their pain, restore normal movement, and avoid future injury.

Current research indicates that PFPS is an "overuse syndrome," which means that it may result from repetitive or excessive use of the knee. Other contributing factors may include:

  • Weakness, tightness, or stiffness in the muscles around the knee and hip

  • An abnormality in the way the lower leg lines up with the hip, knee, and foot

  • Improper tracking of the kneecap

These conditions can interfere with the ability of the kneecap to glide smoothly on the femur (the bone that connects the knee to the thigh) in the femoral groove (situated along the thigh bone) during movement. The friction between the undersurface of the kneecap and the femur causes the pain and irritation commonly seen in PFPS. The kneecap also may fail to track properly in the femoral groove when the quadriceps muscle on the inside front of the thigh is weak, and the hip muscles on the outside of the thigh are tight. The kneecap gets pulled in the direction of the tight hip muscles and can track or tilt to the side, which irritates the tissues around the kneecap.

PFPS often occurs in people who are physically active or who have suddenly increased their level of activity, especially when that activity involves repeated knee motion, such as running, stair climbing, squatting, or repeated carrying of heavy loads. Older adults may experience age-related changes that cause the cartilage on the undersurface of the kneecap to wear out, resulting in pain and difficulty completing daily tasks without pain.

PatellofemoralPain_SM.jpg


 

How Does it Feel?

People with PFPS may experience:

  • Pain when walking up or down stairs or hills

  • Pain when walking on uneven surfaces

  • Pain that increases with activity and improves with rest

  • Pain that develops after sitting for long periods of time with the knee bent

  • A "crack" or "pop" when bending or straightening the knee

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your physical therapist will review your health history, perform a thorough examination, and conduct a series of tests to evaluate the knee. Your therapist may observe the alignment of your feet, analyze your walking and running patterns, and test the strength of your hip and thigh muscles to find out whether there is a weakness or imbalance that might be contributing to your pain. Your physical therapist also will check the flexibility of the muscles in your leg, paying close attention to those that attach at the knee.

Generally, X-rays are not needed to diagnose PFPS. Your physical therapist may consult with an orthopedic physician who may order an X-ray to rule out other conditions.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

After a comprehensive evaluation, your physical therapist will analyze the findings and, if PFPS is present, your therapist will prescribe an exercise and rehabilitation program just for you. Your program may include:

Strengthening exercises. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises targeted at the hip (specifically, the muscles of the buttock and thigh), the knee (specifically, the quadriceps muscle located on the front of your thigh that straightens your knee), and the ankle. Strengthening these muscles will help relieve pressure on the knee, as you perform your daily activities.

Stretching exercises. Your physical therapist also will choose exercises to gently stretch the muscles of the hip, knee, and ankle. Increasing the flexibility of these muscles will help reduce any abnormal forces on the knee and kneecap.

Positional training. Based on your activity level, your physical therapist may teach you proper form and positioning when performing activities, such as rising from a chair to a standing position, stair climbing, squatting, or lunging, to minimize excessive forces on the kneecap. This type of training is particularly effective for athletes.

Cross-training guidance. PFPS is often caused by overuse and repetitive activities. Athletes and active individuals can benefit from a physical therapist’s guidance about proper cross-training techniques to minimize stress on the knees.

Taping or bracing. Your physical therapist may choose to tape the kneecap to reduce your pain and retrain your muscles to work efficiently. There are many forms of knee taping, including some types of tape that help align the kneecap and some that just provide mild support to irritated tissues around it. In some cases, a brace may be required to hold the knee in the best position to ensure proper healing.

Electrical stimulation. Your physical therapist may prescribe treatments with gentle electrical stimulation to reduce pain and support the healing process.

Activity-based exercises. If you are having difficulty performing specific daily activities, or are an athlete who wants to return to a specific sport, your physical therapist will design individualized exercises to rebuild your strength and performance levels.

Fitting for an orthosis. If the alignment and position of your foot and arch appear to be contributing to your knee pain, your physical therapist may fit you with a special shoe insert called an orthosis. The orthosis can decrease the stress to your knee caused by low or high arches.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

PFPS is much easier to treat if it is caught early. Timely treatment by a physical therapist may help stop any underlying problems before they become worse. If you are experiencing knee pain, contact a physical therapist immediately. 

Your physical therapist can show you how to adjust your daily activities to safeguard your knees, and teach you exercises to do at home to strengthen your muscles and bones—and help prevent PFPS.

Physical therapists can assess athletic footwear and recommend proper choices for runners and daily walkers alike. Wearing the correct type of shoes for your activity and changing them when they are no longer supportive is essential to injury prevention.

Real Life Experiences

Amelia is a 25-year-old office assistant who loves to start her day with a 5-mile run. Over the past 6 months, she has been training for her first marathon. She began by training on very flat ground and has just moved to a hilly area.

Last week, Amelia began feeling pain in the front of her left knee when running downhill. Today, she had to stop running after 3 miles because of her knee pain. She called her physical therapist.

Amelia's physical therapist completes a comprehensive evaluation, including a screening for other possible conditions that might be causing her pain. He uses special tests to measure her strength and finds that she has weak hip muscles and tenderness around the kneecap. He determines that she has developed PFPS. Amelia is shocked to learn that she also has flat feet, and she’s not wearing the right supportive running shoes.

To begin her treatments, Amelia’s physical therapist applies special tape to the front of her knee to help reduce her pain, and instructs her in the use of ice to decrease her symptoms. He performs gentle movements of her kneecap and the surrounding tissues to help increase mobility and decrease pain. He teaches her special exercises to gently strengthen the weak muscles that support the knee.

He also designs a specific home-exercise program for Amelia to perform between sessions. He provides information about proper shoe choices for her foot and body type, and advises her to purchase shoes that will give her feet the right type of support. He also recommends that she try deep-water running or swimming for a week instead of her regular running program, until her condition improves.

After her first week of physical therapy, Amelia notices a decrease in her pain and an increased ability to walk up and down stairs without pain. Her physical therapist approves her new footwear, and adds more challenging exercises to her session and her home program. He gives her the go-ahead to race-walk. She applies ice only when she has pain.

After 2 weeks, Amelia reports she is feeling even less pain. Her physical therapist continues to increase the intensity of her exercises, and she starts to run again—but only on flat surfaces and short distances combined with longer walk intervals.

After a few more weeks of therapy, Amelia occasionally feels only slight twinges of pain and gradually resumes her prior level of training. Her physical therapist recommends continuation of her stretching and strengthening exercises, and discharges her from physical therapy.

A few months later, Amelia completes her first marathon pain free. She is thrilled to learn that her time was a personal best!

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat a variety of conditions or injuries. You may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with orthopedic, or musculoskeletal, problems.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who has completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic physical therapy and has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist:

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapist's experience in helping people with patellofemoral pain syndrome.

During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of patellofemoral pain syndrome. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free access of the full article, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Tevhen DS, Robertson J. Knee pain: strengthen my hips? But it's my knees that hurt! J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2011-41-571. Article Summary on PubMed.

Davis IS, Powers CM. Patellofemoral pain syndrome: proximal, distal and local factors, an international retreat, April 30-May 2, 2009, Fells Point, Baltimore, MD. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010;40:A1–A16. Article Summary on PubMed.

Fukuda TY, Rossetto FM, Magalhaes E, et al. Short-term effects of hip abductors and lateral rotators strengthening in females with patellofemoral pain syndrome: a randomized controlled clinical trial. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010;40:736–742. Article Summary on PubMed.

Dixit S, DiFiori JP, Burton M, Mines B. Management of patellofemoral pain syndrome. Am Fam Physician. 2007;75:194–202. Free Article.

Powers CM, Ward SR, Chan LD, et al. The effect of bracing on patella alignment and patellofemoral joint contact area. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36:1226-1232. Article Summary on PubMed.

Bizzini M, Childs JD, Piva SR, Delitto A. Systematic review of the quality of randomized controlled trials for patellofemoral pain syndrome. J Ortho Sports Phys Ther. 2003;33:4–20. Article Summary on PubMed.

Crossley K, Bennell K, Green S, et al. Physical therapy for patellofemoral pain: a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Sports Med. 2002;30:857–865. Article Summary on PubMed.


* PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).  PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

 Authored by Christopher Bise, PT, MS, DPT. Revised by Julie Mulcahy, PT. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

 

Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injury

Ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injuries generally occur when repetitive stress damages the inside of the elbow, compromising stability. UCL injuries are most common in athletes who play "overhead" sports, such as volleyball and baseball, which require using the arms in an overhead position. These injuries are occurring in greater frequency with the rise of sport specialization. They are often referred to as "Tommy John" injuries, named after the famous baseball pitcher who underwent the first surgery for a UCL injury in 1974. A physical therapist can help improve your arm's strength and range of motion, and your body's overall stability and balance following a UCL injury.

What Are Ulnar Collateral Ligament Injuries?

The ulnar collateral ligament is a band of tissue that connects the inside of your upper arm (humerus) to the inside of your forearm (ulna). This ligament helps to support and stabilize your arm when you perform a motion, such as throwing a ball. A UCL injury may at first cause pain and tightness in the area. However, over time and with repetitive stress or trauma, the UCL can become stretched and even tear. Surgery is not always necessary to heal a UCL injury, but it may be performed if pain persists or the elbow feels unstable upon a return to sport or other activities.

Signs and Symptoms

With a UCL injury, you may experience:

  • Soreness or tightness along the inside of your elbow

  • Minor swelling and possible bruising along the inside of your arm

  • Possible numbness and tingling in your arm

  • Instability at your elbow joint (a feeling like your elbow might “give out” when you move it through certain motions)

  • Pain when using your arm in an overhead position (eg, throwing/pitching a ball, swinging a racquet)

  • Difficulty warming up for a sport, or needing a longer time to warm up

  • Poorer performance (eg, a decrease in pitching speed)

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health and activity history. Your physical therapist may ask you questions including:

  • When and how did this injury occur? (Sudden or gradual?)

  • How long have you had pain?

  • Have you had any numbness and tingling in your arm?

  • Did you feel a "pop" near your elbow when throwing or performing an overhead activity?

  • Have you experienced any instability (eg, a feeling of your arm “giving out”) when performing an overhead activity?

  • Have you experienced a decrease in job or sport performance?

  • What other sports or activities do you participate in?

  • Have you had to stop playing your sport, or performing your job, because of the injury to your elbow?

Your physical therapist may gently touch the area around your elbow joint to locate the specific area of pain. Your physical therapist may slightly bend your arm while applying pressure along the outside of your elbow joint, or ask you to mimic a throwing motion as the therapist resists against it.

To provide a definitive diagnosis, your physical therapist may collaborate with an orthopedic surgeon. The surgeon may order further tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or magnetic resonance arthrogram (MRA), to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other possible damage.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physical therapist can help improve your arm's strength and range of motion following a UCL injury, and help restore your shoulder and core stability, coordination, and balance. Your therapist also will work with you before and after any necessary surgery, and can help identify other issues that may have contributed to your injury, such as range of motion and strength deficits, or improper throwing mechanics. Your physical therapist will help you:

Boost your healing process. Decreasing stress across the injured area is the best way to promote healing of a UCL injury. Your physical therapist will likely tell you to take some time off from your sport or other activity. Your therapist may educate you on the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) principle and may implement "cross-friction massage" to help the body supply nutrients to the injured ligament.

Strengthen your muscles. After your injury your arm may feel weaker. Strengthening the muscles of your shoulder, upper back, and shoulder blades in addition to those of the forearm will help decrease the stress at the elbow joint. Addressing lower-body balance or any weakness through your hips and trunk also may help decrease stress across your elbow.

Improve your range of motion. After your injury you may notice more difficulty straightening or bending your arm. Your physical therapist will work with you to improve your arm's range of motion, including possibly stretching your shoulder to help decrease stress on your elbow when performing overhead movements.

Correct your movements. While every sport requires different arm positions, certain positions may put an athlete at greater risk for injury to the elbow. Examining and modifying the movements you perform may help you safely return to your sport. Your physical therapist will help design a specific program to allow a gradual full return to activity.

Prepare to return to sport. An important component of preparing for a return to sports after an UCL injury is preparing the arm to properly withstand the stress placed on it during throwing or other overhead motions. Your physical therapist will work with you to establish and implement a progressive program to prepare you for a return to practice and competition.

If Surgery Is Required

If surgery is necessary, your physical therapist may measure your arm strength and range of motion prior to surgery to define a baseline goal to achieve following the procedure.

Immediately following surgery, your arm will likely be placed in a splint, brace, or sling to protect your elbow. Physical therapy will begin within the first week to 10 days following surgery. Your physical therapist will:

  • Provide appropriate guidance. You will receive an individualized treatment program of gradual rehabilitation that will ensure you heal in the safest and most effective way possible. 

  • Protect the graft/repair site in the early postoperative period. You will be provided a brace that will likely need to be worn for 5 to 6 weeks, depending on your surgeon’s preference. Your physical therapist will show you how to ensure you don’t bend your arm too much or rotate your shoulder too far during this time.

  • Improve how far you can move your shoulder and elbow. When you are ready, your physical therapist will help you gently bend and straighten your arm through different exercises and stretching techniques. Your therapist also will gently stretch your shoulder to help decrease stress across the elbow.

  • Improve the strength of your arm. Through a series of exercises, your physical therapist will work with you to improve your arm strength. Your hand grip and forearm strength will likely be the first things you will work on following surgery. As you progress, the exercises will begin to focus more on your shoulder blade and upper back muscles.

  • Improve muscle strength and coordination. As you begin to heal and progress, your exercises will become more specific to your sport or other activity.

Resuming sport-specific activities. An athlete who has experienced a UCL injury can begin to return to throwing at approximately 6 months after surgery. The return is based on the surgeon and physical therapist providing clearance to do so.

Returning to full competition. An athlete generally can be cleared to return to game competition approximately 12 to 14 months after surgery.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Certain factors may increase a person’s chances of injuring the UCL. For example, shoulder and elbow range of motion imbalances may play a role in creating too much stress at the elbow. Balance and coordination deficits also can lead to improper movement during sporting or other activities. Your physical therapist will design an individualized treatment program to address and correct these deficits.

Current evidence suggests the biggest factors for athletes developing this injury are pitch velocity, and the overall volume of throwing and other overhead activities performed in a specific sport. Throwing with high velocity (>83 mph), pitching too many pitches, pitching on short rest, pitching while fatigued, and introducing new pitches in excess are all factors related to exposing the UCL to force that it may not be able to withstand. Other factors such as age, type of sport, and position played also may affect overall arm fitness and health. It is important to keep up with regular arm care and exercises in order to reduce the likelihood of injury. 

Real Life Experiences

Jason is an 18-year-old college baseball player who is also on the Dean’s List at school. Last week, he “pulled an all-nighter” studying for an important test, and pitched an important game on exam day.

Jason pitched a great first inning, but noticed his right elbow began to feel tight in the second inning; he lost some control over his pitches in the third. By the fourth inning, he was pushing through pain and tightness because he didn’t want to let his team down. When throwing a fast ball to the second batter in the fifth inning, he felt a “pop” and a sharp pain in his right elbow. He then felt numbness and tingling on the inside of his right forearm and was unable to continue pitching.

The school’s athletic trainer examined Jason, applied ice to the arm, and put it in a sling. He referred Jason to an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in baseball injuries. The surgeon diagnosed a severe UCL injury. After talking with the surgeon and his family, Jason decided to have surgery to reconstruct the UCL on his right elbow.

Immediately after surgery, Jason was placed in a custom splint that held his elbow at a 90° angle with a sling around his shoulder to support his arm. He began his physical therapy 10 days after his surgery.

Jason’s physical therapist gently removed his splint and helped him begin to move his right elbow and shoulder. He gave Jason a series of exercises to perform at home, to work on his posture, shoulder blade strength, and the overall range of motion of his elbow and shoulder.

Over the next few weeks, Jason teamed with his physical therapist to work on his shoulder and elbow range of motion, single-leg balance exercises, core strengthening, and posture and shoulder-blade exercises. As he regained strength and motion, Jason learned new exercises to strengthen the muscles of his shoulder. His physical therapist measured his range of motion to ensure he was on track, and introduced more intense exercises at the shoulder and elbow.

Jason then began a throwing program that gradually increased the stresses across his elbow as he moved from shorter- to longer-distance throws. His physical therapist and pitching coach instructed him to focus on his mechanics and be aware of the position of his arm, trunk, and legs when he threw.

When the new baseball season began, Jason was able to return to the starting lineup! With careful attention to the instructions of his physical therapist on adequate warm ups, safe throwing motions, maintaining shoulder and arm strength and overall balance, and not throwing too much, he was able to pitch a complete season.

Jason called his physical therapist after his last postseason game, proud to report that he had set a personal record for number of wins and earned run average!

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

Although all physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat UCL injuries, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with UCL injuries. Some physical therapists have a specialized practice with a focus on sports and orthopedics, and more specifically, the upper extremity.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who has completed a residency or fellowship in sports or orthopaedic physical therapy. This physical therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool developed by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist:

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people who have UCL injuries.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for a visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of UCL injuries. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice for treatment both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are listed by year and are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free access of the full article, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Whiteside D, Martini DN, Lepley AS, Zernicke RF, Goulet GC. Predictors of ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in Major League Baseball pitchers. Am J Sports Med. 2016;44(9):2202–2209. Article Summary in PubMed.

Bruce JR, Andrews JR. Ulnar collateral ligament injuries in the throwing athlete. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2014;22(5):315–325. Article Summary in PubMed.

Garrison JC, Cole MA, Conway JE, et al. Shoulder range of motion deficits in baseball players with an ulnar collateral ligament tear. Am J Sports Med. 2012;40(11):2597–2603. Article Summary on PubMed.

Shanley E, Rauh MJ, Michener LA, et al. Shoulder range of motion measures as risk factors for shoulder and elbow injuries in high school softball and baseball players. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39(9):1997–2006. Article Summary on PubMed.

Wilk KE, Macrina LC, Fleisig GS, et al. Correlation of glenohumeral internal rotation deficit and total rotational motion to shoulder injuries in professional baseball pitchers. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39(2):329–335. Article Summary on PubMed.

Fleisig GS, Andrews JR, Cutter GR, et al. Risk of serious injury for young baseball pitchers: a 10-year prospective study. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39(2):253–257. Article Summary on PubMed.

Hariri S, Safran MR. Ulnar collateral ligament injury in the overhead athlete. Clin Sports Med. 2010;29(4):619–644. Article Summary on PubMed.

Lin YC, Thompson A, Kung JT, et al. Functional isokinetic strength ratios in baseball players with injured elbows. J Sport Rehabil. 2010;19(1):21–29. Article Summary on PubMed.

Dines JS, Frank JB, Akerman M, Yocum LA. Glenohumeral internal rotation deficits in baseball players with ulnar collateral ligament insufficiency. Am J Sports Med. 2009;37(3):566–570. Article Summary on PubMed.

Reinold MM, Wilk KE, Macrina LC, et al. Changes in shoulder and elbow passive range of motion after pitching in professional baseball players. Am J Sports Med. 2008;36(3):523–527. Article Summary on PubMed.

Kibler WB, Sciascia AD, Uhl TL, et al. Electromyographic analysis of specific exercises for scapular control in early phases of shoulder rehabilitation. Am J Sports Med. 2008;36(9):1789–1798. Article Summary on PubMed.

Petty DH, Andrews JR, Fleisig GS, Cain EL. Ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction in high school baseball players. Am J Sports Med. 2004;32(5):1158–1164. Article Summary in PubMed.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Revised by David Colvin, PT. Authored by Craig Garrison, PT, PhD, ATC, and Joseph Hannon, PT, DPT. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

 


Total Knee Replacement (Arthroplasty)

The knee is the most commonly replaced joint in the body. The decision to have knee replacement surgery is one that you should make in consultation with your orthopedic surgeon and your physical therapist. Usually, total knee replacement surgery is performed when people have:

  • Knee joint damage due to osteoarthritisrheumatoid arthritis, other bone diseases, or fracture that has not responded to more conservative treatment options

  • Knee pain or alignment problems in the leg that cause difficulty with walking or performing daily activities, which have not responded to more conservative treatment options

What is a Total Knee Replacement (TKR)?

A total knee replacement (TKR), also known as total knee arthroplasty, involves removing the arthritic parts of the bones at the knee joint (the tibia, sometimes called the shin bone; the femur, or thigh bone; and the patella, or kneecap) and replacing them with artificial parts. These parts consist of a metal cap at the end of the femur and a cemented piece of metal in the tibia with a plastic cap on it to allow the surfaces to move smoothly. When appropriate, the back part of the kneecap also may be replaced with a smooth plastic surface.

KneeReplacement-SM.jpg

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

The physical therapist is an integral part of the team of health care professionals who help people receiving a total knee replacement regain movement and function, and return to daily activities. Your physical therapist can help you prepare for and recover from surgery, and develop an individualized treatment program to get you moving again in the safest and most effective way possible.

Before Surgery

The better physical shape you are in before TKR surgery, the better your results will be (especially in the short term). A recent study has shown that even 1 visit with a physical therapist prior to surgery can help reduce the need for short-term care after surgery, such as a short stay at a skilled nursing facility, or a home health physical therapy program.

Before surgery, your physical therapist may:

  • Teach you exercises to improve the strength and flexibility of the knee joint and surrounding muscles.

  • Demonstrate how you will walk with assistance after your operation, and prepare you for the use of an assistive device, such as a walker.

  • Discuss precautions and home adaptations with you, such as removing loose accent rugs that could cause you to “catch” your leg on them when maneuvering with an assistive device, or strategically placing a chair so that you can sit instead of squatting to get something out of a low cabinet. It is always easier to make these modifications before you have TKR surgery.

Longer-term adjustments that are recommended prior to surgery include:

  • Stopping smoking. Seek assistance or advice from your physician on stopping smoking, as you schedule and plan for your surgery. Being tobacco-free will improve your healing process following surgery.

  • Losing weight. Losing excess body weight may help you recover more quickly, and help improve your function and overall results following surgery.

Immediately Following Surgery

You may stay in the hospital for a few days following surgery, or you may even go home on the same day, depending on your condition. If you have other medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, you might need to stay in the hospital or go to a skilled nursing facility for a few days before returning home. While you are in the hospital, a physical therapist will:

  • Educate you on applying ice, elevating your leg, and using compression wraps or stockings to control swelling in the knee area and help the incision heal.

  • Teach you breathing exercises to help you relax, and show you how to safely get in and out of bed and a chair.

  • Show you how to walk with a walker or crutches, and get in and out of a car.

  • Help you continue to do the flexibility and strengthening exercises that you learned before your surgery.

As You Begin to Recover

The goal of the first 2 weeks of recovery is to manage pain, decrease swelling, heal the incision, restore normal walking, and initiate exercise. Following those 2 weeks, your physical therapist will tailor your range-of-motion exercises, progressive muscle-strengthening exercises, body awareness and balance training, functional training, and activity-specific training to address your specific goals and get you back to the activities you love!

Range-of-motion exercises. Swelling and pain can make you move your knee less. Your physical therapist can teach you safe and effective exercises to restore movement (range of motion) to your knee, so that you can perform your daily activities.

Strengthening exercises. Weakness of the muscles of the thigh and lower leg could make you need to still use a cane when walking, even after you no longer need a walker or crutches. Your physical therapist can determine which strengthening exercises are right for you.

Body awareness and balance training. Specialized training exercises help your muscles "learn" to respond to changes in your world, such as uneven sidewalks or rocky ground. When you are able to put your full weight on your knee without pain, your physical therapist may add agility exercises (such as turning and changing direction when walking, or making quick stops and starts) and activities using a balance board that challenge your balance and knee control. Your program will be based on the physical therapist’s examination of your knee, on your goals, and on your activity level and general health.

Functional training. When you can walk freely without pain, your physical therapist may begin to add activities that you were doing before your knee pain started to limit you. These might include community-based actions, such as crossing a busy street or getting on and off an escalator. Your program will be based on the physical therapist's examination of your knee, on your goals, and on your activity level and general health.

The timeline for returning to leisure or sports activities varies from person-to-person; your physical therapist will be able to estimate your unique timeline based on your specific condition.

Activity-specific training. Depending on the requirements of your job or the type of sports you play, you might need additional rehabilitation that is tailored to your job activities (such as climbing a ladder) or sport activities (such as swinging a golf club) and the demands that they place on your knee. Your physical therapist can develop an individualized rehabilitation program for you that takes all of these demands into account.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

If you have knee pain, you may be able to delay the need for surgery by working with a physical therapist to improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles that support and move the knee. This training could even help you avoid surgery altogether. Participating in an exercise program designed by a physical therapist can be one of your best protections against knee injury. And staying physically active in moderately intense physical activities and controlling your weight through proper diet might help reduce the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee getting worse.

Real Life Experiences

Carmella is a 67-year-old grandmother of 3 who has had osteoarthritis in her right knee for a few years. She used to take care of her grandchildren after school each day before her daughter got home from work. Then Carmella's knee became so painful that she could no longer walk up and down stairs or stand for long periods of time. She also had a lot of difficulty getting up from a chair. She had to tell her daughter that she couldn't take care of her grandchildren anymore. She decided to see a physical therapist.

Carmella’s physical therapist began her first session by asking detailed questions about her knee, such as what other treatments Carmella had tried and the outcomes of those treatments. Carmella said she had seen an orthopedic surgeon who had suggested injections, which helped reduce her pain for a period of time. Her physical therapist then asked her how her current knee pain affected her ability to do the things she wanted to do. Carmella said it made her unable to care for her grandchildren, participate in a regular walking program for fitness, or do the things she enjoyed for recreation.

Her physical therapist then took some measurements of her knee range of motion and strength and conducted tests to get a better idea of what was generating her pain. He suggested that she consult with an orthopedic surgeon. After carefully reviewing her condition and learning about her previous treatments and current activity limitations, the surgeon suggested it was time for a total knee replacement. Carmella agreed. The surgeon scheduled the procedure for 1 month later.

To prepare for surgery, Carmella’s physical therapist taught her strengthening and stretching exercises, showed her how to use crutches following surgery, and advised her on preparing her home environment to make it safe post surgery.

The first day after her surgery, a hospital-based physical therapist came to Carmella's room to begin a gentle recovery program. She showed Carmella how to bend and straighten her knee and how to tense and then relax and release her knee, calf, and hip muscles to strengthen them. She then helped Carmella practice sitting at the edge of her hospital bed and standing up using crutches.

The second day after surgery, Carmella started walking with crutches with the physical therapist’s assistance, putting a little weight on her right leg. The physical therapist also instructed her in some gentle leg-strengthening exercises.

On the third day after surgery, Carmella was able to walk using her crutches, monitored by the physical therapist but without her help, in the hospital hallways and up and down a few stairs. Her physical therapist designed an at-home exercise program just for her, and taught it to her. Carmella was discharged home with a pair of crutches.

Once Carmella returned home, a home-care physical therapist regularly visited her at her house to continue her rehabilitation. As she improved, he prescribed more challenging exercises for her that added weights for strengthening. Carmella also began to practice walking with a cane instead of her crutches.

Two weeks after her surgery, Carmella began going to outpatient physical therapy. Her pain progressively decreased and she had noticeable improvements in her knee range of motion and the strength of her lower body. She and her physical therapist developed a plan that would help allow her to get back to her recreational activities as well as allow her to care for her grandchildren.

A few weeks laterCarmella felt hardly any pain in her knee. She could walk without using a cane, but still needed to use a handrail when going up or down stairs. At times, her knee felt "shaky." She told her physical therapist she was still not comfortable taking care of her grandchildren because of these remaining challenges.

Carmella's physical therapist instructed her in more aggressive strengthening and movement exercises for her hips, knees, and ankles. She also worked with her on improving her stair climbing, balance, and agility. Carmella began to feel more confident walking up and down stairs, getting in and out of her car and driving, and performing other daily activities. She felt that her new knee was much more stable.

A few weeks later, Carmella was able to take care of her grandchildren again! She also joined a health club that offered exercise programs for older adults, so she could maintain the benefits she had gained from her physical therapy.

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

Although all physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat people who have a TKR, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with orthopedic, or musculoskeletal, problems

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who has completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic physical therapy, giving the physical therapist advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist:

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapist's experience in helping people with TKR.

During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence about physical therapist treatment of TKR. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice for treatment both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed abstract (summary) of the article or to free access of the entire article, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you when you see your health care provider.

Harmelink KE, Zeegers AV, Hullegie W, et al. Are there prognostic factors for one-year outcome after total knee arthroplasty: a systematic review. J Arthroplasty. 2017 August 1 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1016/j.arth.2017.07.011. Article Summary in PubMed.

Pua YH, Seah FJ, Poon CL, et al. Age- and sex-based recovery curves to track functional outcomes in older adults with total knee arthroplasty. Age Ageing. 2017 August 30 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afx148. Article Summary in PubMed.

Sobh AH, Siljander MP, Mells AJ, et al. Cost analysis, complications, and discharge disposition associated with simultaneous vs staged bilateral total knee arthroplasty. J Arthroplasty. 2017 September 13 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1016/j.arth.2017.09.004. Article Summary in PubMed.

Bistolfi A, Zanovello J, Ferracini R, et al. Evaluation of the effectiveness of neuromuscular electrical stimulation after total knee arthroplasty: a meta-analysis. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2017 October 7 [Epub ahead of print]. Article Summary in PubMed.

Otero-López A, Beaton-Comulada D. Clinical considerations for the use lower extremity arthroplasty in the elderly. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2017;28(4):795–810. Article Summary in PubMed.

Loyd BJ, Jennings JM, Judd DL, et al. Influence of hip abductor strength on functional outcomes before and after total knee arthroplasty: post hoc analysis of a randomized controlled trial. Phys Ther. 2017;97(9):896–903. Article Summary in PubMed.

Piva SR, Teixeira PE, Almeida GJ, et al. Contribution of hip abductor strength to physical function in patients with total knee arthroplasty. Phys Ther. 2011;91:225–233. Free Article.

Dowsey MM, Liew D, Choong PF. The economic burden of obesity in primary total knee arthroplasty. Arthritis Care Res(Hoboken). 2011;63(10):1375–1381. Article Summary on PubMed.

Piva SR, Gil AB, Almeida GJ, et al. A balance exercise program appears to improve function for patients with total knee arthroplasty: a randomized clinical trial. Phys Ther. 2010;90:880–894. Free Article.

Bade MJ, Kohrt WM, Stevens-Lapsley JE. Outcomes before and after total knee arthroplasty compared to healthy adults. J Ortho Sports Phys Ther. 2010;40:559–567. Free Article.

Walls RJ, McHugh G, O’Gorman DJ, et al. Effects of preoperative neuromuscular electrical stimulation on quadriceps strength and functional recovery in total knee arthroplasty: a pilot study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2010;11:119. Free Article.

Topp R, Swank AM, Quesada PM, et al. The effect of prehabilitation exercise on strength and functioning after total knee arthroplasty. PM R. 2009;1:729–735. Article Summary on PubMed.

Kirkley A, Birmingham TB, Litchfield RB, et al. A randomized trial of arthroscopic surgery for osteoarthritis of the knee [published correction appears in: N Engl J Med. 2009;361:2004]. N Engl J Med. 2008;359:1097–1107. Free Article.

Minns Lowe CJ, Barker KL, Dewey M, Sackley CM. Effectiveness of physiotherapy exercise after knee arthroplasty for osteoarthritis: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ. 2007;335:812. Free Article.

Moffet H, Collet JP, Shapiro SH, et al. Effectiveness of intensive rehabilitation on functional ability and quality of life after first total knee arthroplasty: a single-blind randomized controlled trial. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2004;85:546–556. Free Article.

Deyle GD, Henderson NE, Matekel RL, et al. Effectiveness of manual physical therapy and exercise in osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized, controlled trial. Ann Intern Med. 2000;132:173–181. Free Article.

 *PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Authored by Anne Reicherter, PT, DPT, PhDThe author is a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopaedic physical therapyReviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.



De Quervain’s Tendinitis

De Quervain's (dih-kwer-VAINS) tendinitis is a condition that causes pain and tenderness at the thumb side of the wrist, at the base of the thumb and forearm. Pain is worsened with grasping or extending the thumb (pulling it back like "thumbing a ride"). People of all ages can develop this condition, which usually happens when the tendons are strained by prolonged or repetitive use of the hand, rapid or forceful hand use, or use of the hand or arm in an awkward position. Tendons at the wrist become irritated and thickened, resulting in pain when moving the thumb and grasping objects. Common forms of treatment for De Quervain’s include splinting and range-of-motion exercises. Injection for cortisone by a doctor is common treatment. Persistent cases may require surgery.

What is De Quervain’s Tendinitis?

De Quervain's tendinitis is a common condition involving tendons of the wrist. Tendons are tough cords or bands of connective tissue that attach muscles to a bone. The thumb and wrist extensor tendons (Abductor Pollicus Longus and Extensor Pollicus Brevis) are encased in a "sheath" or a tunnel at the wrist, which keeps the tendons in place. De Quervain's tendinitis can occur gradually or suddenly, when the tendons become inflamed or thickened from overload or repetitive use, and have difficulty sliding through the extensor tunnel.

Risk factors for developing De Quervain's tendinitis include:

  • Chronic overuse of the hand.

  • Excessive use of the thumb from texting and gaming.

  • Being female (women are 8 to 10 times more likely to develop this condition than men).

  • Pregnancy.

  • Using the hand or arm in a position that feels awkward.

  • Participation in sports that stress the hand and wrist, such as golf and tennis.

  • Age greater than 40 years.

  • Race; members of the black community may be more likely to experience this problem.

How Does it Feel?

A person who has De Quervain's tendinitis may:

  • Feel localized tenderness, pain, and, swelling at the wrist near where the thumb is attached to the forearm.

  • Have difficulty pinching or grasping with the thumb or hand.

  • Feel pain when moving the wrist from side to side or twisting it.

  • Experience limited motion and feeling of weakness in the thumb.

  • Have difficulty flexing the thumb.

  • Notice a "catching" or "snapping" sensation with movement of the thumb (a less common symptom).

Active use of the hand with activities, such as writing, opening jars, lifting a child, hammering, sports, and any workplace or home activity that involves pinching or grasping with the thumb, can provoke the symptoms of pain, stiffness, and weakness.

Note: Other conditions of the wrist and hand can cause symptoms similar to those stated here. Your physical therapist will help to identify any underlying problems of your joints, tissues, or nerves that may be causing similar symptoms.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your physical therapist will ask you how and when you first experienced symptoms, and what it feels like at the present time. Your therapist will perform a physical exam that will include feeling for tender spots, measuring the flexibility and range of motion of the thumb and wrist, and testing the strength of the thumb muscles and grip. Your physical therapist will also perform a Finkelstein test, which gently stretches the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist through the extensor tunnel. Pain during this test is common with De Quervain’s tendinitis.

Your physical therapist will also perform other tests to rule out any underlying conditions that may mimic De Quervain's symptoms.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

If your physical therapist confirms De Quervain’s Tendinitis from an evaluation, they will work with you to develop an individualized plan with you for this condition.

Your physical therapist will review and evaluate how you use your hand and wrist for functional activity. The review will include your daily activities, work, and sports activities. The physical therapist will try to help you identify what activities or positions that you use that may contribute to the problem. They will instruct you how to make changes in your function to help healing and reduce risk of the problem in the future.

Specific instructions may include avoiding repetitive thumb and/or wrist movements, avoid flexing the thumb, and avoid moving the hand toward the pinkie finger as much as possible. You should also avoid forceful hand movements, and any movements or activities that increase pain.

The therapist may provide a wrist splint to position your wrist and thumb for rest, and to provide compression to help pain and swelling.

Your therapist may also work with you to reduce pain and inflammation.

Ultrasound therapy may be applied to improve pain. This treatment uses ultrasonic sound waves applied over the involved area to improve circulation, reduce swelling, and aide healing of the tissues and tendons.

Iontophoresis is another option to reduce swelling and pain. Iontophoresis is a type of electrical stimulation that is used to administer medication to the problem area through your skin.

Ice or heat may be recommended for short term pain relief. Your therapist will advise you for what is best for your condition.

Exercise is prescribed to improve range of motion and prevent stiffness. Early on, exercise is restricted to avoid aggravating the condition. As the condition improves, exercises will be progressed to improve strength for functional activity, as well as improve active range of motion of the thumb and wrist.

If your symptoms do not respond to conservative care, your physical therapist will refer you to a physician who will determine if you need medication, injection, or surgical care for further recovery.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help Before & After Surgery?

If your De Quervain's problem does require surgery, your physical therapist may fit a splint to your hand and wrist after the procedure. Your physical therapist will help you to control any swelling, maintain and improve your hand and wrist flexibility, build your strength, and improve your range of motion, allowing you to safely return to your preinjury activity levels.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

It may be possible to prevent De Quervain's tendinitis. Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as gender, race, or age; however, physical therapists recommend that you:

  • Avoid chronic overuse of the hand.

  • Avoid or restrict overly forceful use of the wrist.

  • Avoid excessive use of the thumbs for texting and gaming.

  • Avoid putting the wrist and hand in awkward positions while using the hand or arm.

  • Train and condition in sports, such as golf and tennis to minimize wrist and thumb strain.

Your physical therapist can teach you correct and safe hand and wrist positions to maintain during your daily home, work, and sport activities.

Real Life Experiences

Janet is a mother of a 2-year-old boy, and is expecting her second child in 3 months. Her part-time job as a secretary requires her to spend 90% of her work day typing on a keyboard. Recently, Janet noticed her right wrist near her thumb was starting to feel sore after work. When she got home, she had trouble picking up her child because of the pain she felt on the thumb side of her wrist. On a recent weekend, Janet spent a lot of time painting to get her new nursery ready. On Monday morning she felt a constant pain in her wrist and forearm that was worse with grasping. She could hardly pick up her coffee cup. She was unable to work. She called her physical therapist.

Janet's physical therapist performed an evaluation of her wrist and hand. He found swelling and tenderness of the thumb extensor tendons. Gently bending the wrist to the "pinkie side" and flexing the thumb increased her pain. The Finkelstein test confirmed De Quervain’s tendinitis. He also noticed her hand and wrist movements were limited.

Janet's physical therapist treated the area with ultrasound to reduce the pain and swelling, and fitted her with a wrist-thumb spica splint to limit use of the affected tendons, and to provide compression. He showed her how to perform gentle movements of the thumb for stiffness in a way that did not increase her symptoms. He cautioned her to avoid lifting and typing as much as possible for 2 weeks. He also recommended ice to the area for 10 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day, to reduce pain and swelling.

Janet felt improvement after her first treatment. She returned for treatment 2 times a week for ultrasound, soft-tissue massage, and modified exercises.

Two weeks later, Janet reported that her pain was no longer constant, and when present, it felt 50% better. She still experienced pain when lifting her child and using the keyboard for longer than 30 minutes. At her physical therapist's suggestion, Janet modified her work habits; for example, she began using a voice dictation program to reduce the amount of time she spent typing. She was happy to note that holding her coffee cup, and similar activities of daily living were no longer painful.

Janet kept using her splint daily with activity throughout her rehabilitation, and continued to restrict any activities that created or increased her pain symptoms. She also made changes to her workspace as recommended by her physical therapist, and changed the position of her hands to reduce joint stress at her wrist and hand during work.

Four weeks after her initial visit with the physical therapist, Janet's pain was minimal and only occurred with movements that stressed the thumb side of the wrist, such as holding a gallon of milk. She continues her home exercise program for strengthening her wrist, thumb, and grip. She continues to use her splint intermittently with activity. She feels stronger and more confident lifting her child, and is gradually returning to her full activity levels.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat De Quervain's tendinitis. However, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with hand conditions, sports injuries, or repetitive stress injuries of the upper limb.

  • Physical therapists who have a practice with a focus on hand rehabilitation.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist, or who has completed a residency or fellowship in Orthopedic or hand therapy. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people who have De Quervain's tendinitis.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of De Quervain’s tendinitis. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Ashurst JV, Turco DA, Lieb BE. Tenosynovitis caused by texting: an emerging disease. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2010;110(5):294–296. Free Article

Consensus on a Multidisciplinary Treatment Guideline for deQuervain Disease: Results From the European HANDGUIDE Study, Huisstede BMA, Coert JH, Friden J, Hoogvliet P. Physical Therapy 2014; 94:1095-1110.

Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier Publishers; 2008:129-132. 

De Quervain’s tendinitis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Accessed May 12, 2014.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Authored by Mary Kay Zane, PT, OCSReviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.



3 Ways a Physical Therapist Can Help Manage Headaches

Headaches affect 47% of the global population and are described by the type and location of pain in the head. Many headaches are harmless and resolve gradually. However, more frequent moderate to severe headaches can impact your ability to do daily activities and quality of life. 

Different types of headaches include:

  • Tension

  • Cervicogenic or neck muscle-related

  • Migraine

  • Secondary headaches from an underlying condition, such as fever, infectious disease, sinus disorder, or in rare cases, a tumor or more serious illness

  • Unspecified headaches

A physical therapist will perform a clinical examination to diagnose the type of headache and develop an effective treatment plan. Physical therapy has been proven to:

  • Decrease or resolve the intensity, frequency, and duration of headache

  • Decrease medication use

  • Improve function and mobility

  • Improve ease of motion in neck

  • Improve quality of life

A physical therapist treatment plan may include:

  1. Manual therapy: Proven hands-on techniques are designed to alleviate joint and muscle stiffness, increase mobility of the head and neck, decrease muscle tension and spasms, and improve muscle performance.

  1. Exercise: Research has shown that various types of specific exercises will decrease pain, improve endurance, decrease inflammation, and promote overall healing. In addition to individualized prescribed exercises, customized home-exercise programs are an essential part of the treatment plan.

  1. Education: Educational strategies have been found helpful at lessening severity and/or frequency of headaches. These strategies include identifying highly individualized triggers (ie, dietary, sleep, movement/postural habits, stressors, hydration). Effective strategies to alleviate symptoms also include a wide variety of relaxation techniques.

 

Resources

Blanpied PR, Gross AR, Elliott JM, et al. Neck pain: revision 2017. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2017;47(7):A1–A83. Free Article.

Ferracini G, Florencio LL, Dach F, et al. Myofascial trigger points and migraine-related disability in women with episodic and chronic migraine. Clin J Pain. 2017;33(2):109–115. Article Summary in PubMed.

Bevilaqua-Grossi D, Goncalves MC, Carvalho GF, et al. Additional effects of a physical therapy protocol on headache frequency, pressure pain threshold, and improvement perception in patients with migraine and associated neck pain: a randomized clinical trial. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2016;97(6):866–874. Free Article.

Fernandez-de-las-Penas C, Cuadrado ML Physical therapy for headaches. Cephalalgia. 2016;36(12):1134–1142. Article Summary in PubMed.

Irby MB, Bond DS, Lipton RB, Nicklas B, Houle TT, Penzien DB. Aerobic exercise for reducing migraine burden: mechanisms, markers, and models of change processes. Headache. 2016;56(2):357–369. Free Article.

Louw A, Puentedura EJ, Zimney K, Schmidt S. Know pain, know gain? A perspective on pain neuroscience education in physical therapy. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2016;46(3):131–134. Free Article.

Fernandez-de-las-Penas C, Courtney CA. Clinical reasoning for manual therapy management of tension type and cervicogenic headache. J Man Manip Ther. 2014;22(1):45–50. Free Article.

Page P. Cervicgogenic headaches: an evidence-led approach to clinical management. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2011;6(3):254–266. Free Article.

Zito G, Jull G, Story I. Clinical tests of musculoskeletal dysfunction in the diagnosis of cervicogenic headache. Man Ther. 2006;11(12):118–129. Article Summary in PubMed.

Jull G, Trott P, Potter H, et al. A randomized controlled trial of exercise and manipulative therapy for cervicogenic headaches. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2002;27(17):1835-1843. Article Summary in PubMed. 


Authored by Denise Schneider, PT.

Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)

Often called a stiff or “frozen shoulder,” adhesive capsulitis occurs in about 2% to 5% of the American population. It affects women more than men and is typically diagnosed in people over the age of 45. Of the people who have had adhesive capsulitis in 1 shoulder, it is estimated that 20% to 30% will get it in the other shoulder as well. Physical therapists help people with adhesive capsulitis address pain and stiffness, and restore shoulder movement in the safest and most effective way possible.

What is Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)?

Adhesive capsulitis is the stiffening of the shoulder due to scar tissue, which results in painful movement and loss of motion. The actual cause of adhesive capsulitis is a matter for debate. Some believe it is caused by inflammation, such as when the lining of a joint becomes inflamed (synovitis), or by autoimmune reactions, where the body launches an "attack" against its own substances and tissues. Other possible causes include:

  • Reactions after an injury or surgery

  • Pain from other conditions, such as arthritis, a rotator cuff tear, bursitis, or tendinitis, that has caused a person to stop moving the shoulder

  • Immobilization of the arm, such as in a sling, after surgery or fracture

Often, however, there is no clear reason why adhesive capsulitis develops.

 

FrozenShoulder_SM.jpg

How Does it Feel?

Most people with adhesive capsulitis have worsening pain and a loss of movement. Adhesive capsulitis can be broken down into 4 stages; your physical therapist can help determine what stage you are in.

Stage 1: "Prefreezing"

During stage 1 of its development, it may be difficult to identify your problem as adhesive capsulitis. You've had symptoms for 1 to 3 months, and they're getting worse. Movement of the shoulder causes pain. It usually aches when you're not using it, but the pain increases and becomes "sharp" with movement. You'll begin to limit shoulder motion during this period and protect the shoulder by using it less. The movement loss is most noticeable in "external rotation" (this is when you rotate your arm away from your body), but you might start to lose motion when you raise your arm or reach behind your back. Pain is the hallmark feature of this stage; you may experience pain during the day and at night.

Stage 2: "Freezing"

By this stage, you've had symptoms for 3 to 9 months, most likely with a progressive loss of shoulder movement and an increase in pain (especially at night). The shoulder still has some range of movement, but it is limited by both pain and stiffness.

Stage 3: "Frozen"

Your symptoms have persisted for 9 to 14 months, and you have a greatly decreased range of shoulder movement. During the early part of this stage, there is still a substantial amount of pain. Toward the end of this stage, however, pain decreases, with the pain usually occurring only when you move your shoulder as far you can move it.

Stage 4: "Thawing"

You've had symptoms for 12 to 15 months, and there is a big decrease in pain, especially at night. You still have a limited range of movement, but your ability to complete your daily activities involving overhead motion is improving at a rapid rate.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Often, physical therapists don't see patients with adhesive capsulitis until well into the freezing phase or early in the frozen phase. Sometimes, people are being treated for other shoulder conditions when their physical therapist notices the signs and symptoms of adhesive capsulitis. Your physical therapist will perform a thorough evaluation, including an extensive health history, to rule out other diagnoses. Your physical therapist will look for a specific pattern in your decreased range of motion called a "capsular pattern" that is typical with adhesive capsulitis. In addition, your physical therapist will consider other conditions you might have, such as diabetes, thyroid disorders, and autoimmune disorders, that are associated with adhesive capsulitis.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physical therapist's overall goal is to restore your movement, so you can perform your daily activities. Once the evaluation process has identified the stage of your condition, your physical therapist will create an individualized exercise program tailored to your specific needs. Exercise has been found to be most effective for those who are in stage 2 or higher. Your treatment may include:

Stages 1 and 2

Exercises and manual therapy. Your physical therapist will help you maintain as much range of motion as possible and will help reduce your pain. Your therapist may use a combination of range-of-motion exercises and manual therapy (hands-on) techniques to maintain shoulder movement.

Modalities. Your physical therapist may use heat and ice treatments (modalities) to help relax the muscles prior to other forms of treatment.

Home-exercise program. Your physical therapist will give you a gentle home-exercise program designed to help reduce your loss of motion. Your therapist will warn you that being overly aggressive with stretching in this stage may make your shoulder pain worse.

Your physical therapist will match your treatment activities and intensity to your symptoms, and educate you on appropriate use of the affected arm. Your therapist will carefully monitor your progress to ensure a safe healing procedure is followed. 

Pain medication. Sometimes, conservative care cannot reduce the pain of adhesive capsulitis. In that case, your physical therapist may refer you for an injection of a safe anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medication. Research has shown that although these injections don’t provide longer-term benefits for range of motion and don’t shorten the duration of the condition, they do offer short-term pain reduction.

Stage 3

The focus of treatment during phase 3 is on the return of motion. Treatment may include:

Stretching techniques. Your physical therapist may introduce more intense stretching techniques to encourage greater movement and flexibility.

Manual therapy. Your physical therapist may take your manual therapy to a higher level, encouraging the muscles and tissues to loosen up.

Strengthening exercises. You may begin strengthening exercises targeting the shoulder area as well as your core muscles. Your home-exercise program will change to include these exercises.

Stage 4

In the final stage, your physical therapist will focus on the return of "normal" shoulder body mechanics and your return to normal, everyday, pain-free activities. Your treatment may include:

Stretching techniques. The stretching techniques in this stage will be similar to previous ones you’ve learned, but will focus on the specific directions and positions that are limited for you. 

Manual therapy. Your physical therapist may perform manual therapy techniques in very specific positions and ranges that are problematic for you. They will focus on eliminating the last of your limitations.

Strength training. Your physical therapist will prescribe specific strengthening exercises related to any weakness that you may have to help you perform your work or recreational tasks. 

Return to work or sport. Your physical therapist will address movements and tasks that are required in your daily and recreational life.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

The cause of adhesive capsulitis is debatable, with no definitive cause. Therefore, to date, there is no known method of prevention. The onset of the condition is usually gradual, with the disease process needing to "run its course." However, the sooner you contact your physical therapist, the sooner you will receive appropriate information on how to most effectively address your symptoms. 

Real Life Experiences

Cheryl is 47-year-old office manager who swims and hikes on the weekends. A few months ago, Cheryl began having pain in her left shoulder when she reached up to file archived reports at work. At first she ignored it, but then noticed her shoulder was aching after work and sometimes at night. She began to limit her movement due to pain. Just this week, she chose not to visit her local pool for her regular swim. She decided to contact a physical therapist.

Cheryl’s physical therapist took her health history, and asked her to describe when the pain began, and how her current symptoms are affecting her. Cheryl reports no accident or trauma, and that the pain has slowly increased over the past few months. She notes that she has to make adjustments at work because she can’t lift her arm above shoulder level, and that the pain is now affecting her sleep. Her physical therapist conducts a thorough physical examination and diagnoses stage 2 frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis).

He begins Cheryl’s rehabilitation with heat treatments to relax her muscles, and designs an individualized home-exercise program to address her symptoms and help stall any loss of motion. He encourages Cheryl to perform her home exercises every day.

Cheryl’s treatments during this phase consist of gentle movements performed by her physical therapist (manual therapy), to help maintain the shoulder joint’s current range of motion. At this point, he focuses treatment not on increasing the shoulder’s range of motion, but on mobilizing the joint to reduce pain and reduce the amount of movement that is lost.

When Cheryl progresses into stage 3 ("frozen") adhesive capsulitis, her visits to the physical therapist are increased. He uses stretching and manual therapy techniques to improve her range of motion. He updates Cheryl’s home-exercise program to match her current limitations and function.

After a few more weeks of treatment, Cheryl reports minimal pain, and her range of motion is beginning to increase. Her treatment is reduced to weekly visits, and then to twice monthly visits. She begins to slowly return to swimming; her physical therapist prescribes a safe and appropriate program to follow, as she resumes her activities. 

After 2 more months of treatment, Cheryl’s range of motion is normal, and her pain has stopped. She has happily returned to her regular swimming schedule, and feels stronger than she has in years! Cheryl's physical therapist credits her excellent recovery to her full participation in her treatment and home-exercise programs.

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat people who have frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis. You may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with orthopedic, or musculoskeletal, problems.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopaedic physical therapy, manual physical therapy, or specializes in the treatment of the upper extremity. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist:

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapist's experience in helping people with frozen shoulder.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of adhesive capsulitis. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice for treatment of adhesive capsulitis both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Jain TK, Sharma NK. The effectiveness of physiotherapeutic interventions in the treatment of frozen shoulder/adhesive capsulitis: a systematic review. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2014;27:247–273. Article Summary in PubMed.

Russell S, Jariwala A, Conlon R, et al. A blinded, randomized, controlled trial assessing conservative management strategies from frozen shoulder. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2014;23:500–507. Article Summary in PubMed.

Rill BK, Fleckenstein CM, Levy MS, et al. Predictors of outcome after nonoperative and operative treatment of adhesive capsulitis.Am J Sports Med. 2011;39:567–574. Article Summary in PubMed.

Neviaser AS, Hannafin JA. Adhesive capsulitis: a review of current treatment. Am J Sports Med. 2010;38:2346–2356. Article Summary in PubMed.

Jewell DV, Riddle DL, Thacker LR. Interventions associated with an increased or decreased likelihood of pain reduction and improved function in patients with adhesive capsulitis: a retrospective cohort study. Phys Ther. 2009;89:419–429. Free Article.

Kelley MJ, McClure PW, Leggin BG. Frozen shoulder: evidence and a proposed model guiding rehabilitation. J Ortho Sports Phys Ther. 2009;39:135-148. Article Summary in PubMed.

Levine WN, Kashyap CP, Bak SF, et al. Nonoperative management of idiopathic adhesive capsulitis. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2007;16:569–573. Article Summary in PubMed.

Sheridan MA, Hannafin JA. Upper extremity: emphasis on frozen shoulder. Orthop Clin North Am. 2006;37:531–539. Article Summary in PubMed.

Diercks RL, Stevens M. Gentle thawing of the frozen shoulder: a prospective study of supervised neglect versus intensive physical therapy in seventy-seven patients with frozen shoulder syndrome followed up for two years. J Shoulder Elbow Surg.2004:13:499–502. Article Summary in PubMed.

Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.



Guide to Osteoarthritis

"Arthritis" is a term used to describe inflammation of the joints. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and usually is caused by the deterioration of a joint. Typically, the weight-bearing joints are affected, with the knee and the hip being the most common.

An estimated 27 million Americans have some form of OA. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 2 people in the United States (US) may develop knee OA by age 85, and 1 in 4 may develop hip OA in their lifetime. Until age 50, men and women are equally affected by OA; after age 50, women are affected more than men. Over their lifetimes, 21% of overweight and 31% of obese adults are diagnosed with arthritis.

OA affects daily activity and is the most common cause of disability in the US adult population. Although OA does not always require surgery, such as a joint replacement, it has been estimated that the use of total joint replacement in the US will increase 174% for hips and 673% for knees by the year 2030.

Physical therapists help patients understand OA and its complications, provide treatments to lessen pain and improve movement, and offer education about obesity and healthy lifestyle choices. Research has shown that light to moderate activities such as walking, biking, and swimming can provide more benefits than harm to your joints, and promote weight loss. One study showed that just an 11-pound weight loss reduced the risk of OA in the women studied.

More Information on Osteoarthritis:

Other Arthritis Resources:

What is Osteoarthritis?

Your bones are connected at joints such as the hip and knee. A rubbery substance called cartilage coats the bones at these joints and helps reduce friction when you move. A protective oily substance called synovial fluid is also contained within the joint, helping to ease movement. When these protective coverings break down, the bones begin to rub together during movement. This can cause pain, and the process itself can lead to more damage in the remaining cartilage and the bones themselves.

The cause of OA is unknown. Current research points to aging as the main cause. Factors that may increase your risk for OA include:

  • Age. Growing older increases your risk for developing OA because degeneration and aging of the cartilage and synovial fluid increases over time.

  • Genetics. Research indicates that some people's bodies have difficulty forming cartilage. Individuals can pass this problem on to their children.

  • Past injury. Individuals with prior injury to a specific joint, especially a weight-bearing joint (such as the hip or knee), are at increased risk for developing OA.

  • Occupation. Jobs that require repetitive squatting, bending, and twisting (eg, construction, landscaping, childcare) are risk factors for OA. People who perform jobs that require prolonged kneeling (eg, miners, flooring specialists) also are at high risk.

  • Sports. Athletes who repeatedly use a specific joint in extreme ways (eg, pitchers, football linemen, ballet dancers, runners) and those who engage in high-impact joint loading done in a repetitive manner (eg, running, jumping, landing on hard surfaces) may increase their risk for developing OA later in life.

  • Obesity. Being overweight causes increased stress to the weight-bearing joints (such as knees), increasing the risk for development of OA.

How Does it Feel?

Typically, OA causes pain and stiffness in the affected joint. Common symptoms include:

  • Stiffness in the joint, especially in the morning, which eases in less than 30 minutes

  • Stiffness in the joint after sitting or lying down for long periods

  • Pain during activity that is relieved by rest

  • Cracking, creaking, crunching, or other types of joint noise

  • Pain when you press on the joint

  • Increased bone growth around the joint that you may be able to feel

Caution: Swelling and warmth around the joint is not usually seen with OA and may indicate a different condition or signs of inflammation. Please consult a doctor if you have swelling, redness, and warmth in or around a joint.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Osteoarthritis is typically diagnosed by your doctor using an X-ray, but there are signs that may lead your physical therapist to suspect you have OA. Joint stiffness; difficulty moving; joint cracking, creaking, or crunching; and pain that is relieved with rest are typical symptoms. Physical therapists often use the American Academy of Rheumatology criteria for diagnosing knee OA, which lists the presence of pain, plus at least 3 of the following 5 criteria:

  • Age >50 years

  • Stiffness <30 minutes

  • Crepitus (a grinding/crunching sound emitted from the joint with movement)

  • Bone tenderness

  • Bony enlargement

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapist treatment has proven to be an effective treatment for OA, and may help you avoid surgery and use of prescription painkillers. Although the symptoms and progression of OA are different for each person, starting an individualized exercise program and addressing risk factors can help relieve your symptoms and slow the condition's advance.

Your physical therapist may:

  • Perform a thorough examination to determine your symptoms.

  • Observe what activities are difficult for you.

  • Design an individualized exercise program to address your specific needs and improve your movement.

  • Use manual (hands-on) physical therapy to improve movement of the affected joint.

  • Offer suggestions for adjusting your work area to lessen the strain on your joints.

  • Teach you aerobic and strengthening exercises to improve your movement and overall health.

  • Design and teach you a home-exercise program to improve your strength and movement.

  • Teach you an exercise program for safe weight loss, if you need to lose weight to ease pressure on your joints.

  • Recommend simple lifestyle changes that will help keep the weight off.

In cases of severe OA that are not helped by physical therapy alone, surgery, such as a knee or hip replacement, may be necessary. Your physical therapist will refer you to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss the possibility of surgery.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

The development of OA cannot be completely prevented. The best way to slow the onset or progression of OA is to choose a healthy lifestyle by avoiding obesity and participating in regular physical activity or exercise programs.

Workers or athletes who perform repetitive movements that put pressure on specific joints can seek guidance from a physical therapist on proper movement techniques and muscle strengthening to help lessen joint strain, and prolong joint health.

Workers and athletes, as well as older adults, also should learn proper balance and movement techniques to lower their risk of falling and causing injury to a joint.

Real Life Experiences

Estelle is a 65-year-old executive assistant who sits for long hours at work. In recent months, she has noticed stiffness and pain in her right knee when getting up from her desk. Over the previous few weeks, Estelle has felt more pain in her knee when performing everyday tasks like going up and down stairs, or bending to open a file drawer. Her walks to and from the bus on her commute home have become more challenging due to her knee pain. She now has an increasingly hard time getting up and moving in the morning, due to pain and stiffness. Her friend suggests that she see a physical therapist.

At her first visit, Estelle’s physical therapist reviews her overall medical history, and asks her to describe her current symptoms, when and how they started, and her current level of activities. She notes that Estelle is limited in a number of key daily living activities. She conducts a full physical examination, and notes stiffness and limited range of motion in the right knee, as well as bone tenderness. Considering Estelle’s age and her reported incidence of pain, her physical therapist diagnoses knee OA.

Based on Estelle’s current condition and her personal goals, her physical therapist develops a plan of care to help ease her pain and stiffness and get her moving again. She first works with Estelle to help her gain some lost range of motion in her knee area. She applies manual (hands-on) therapy to gently increase movement in the knee area, and teaches Estelle gentle exercises to strengthen the muscle around her knee without increasing her pain.

Because Estelle’s physical therapist knows the importance of cardiovascular fitness and weight management, she has her ride a stationary bike at her physical therapy sessions, and recommends that she begin a low-impact aerobic or aquatic program at her local gym. She also designs a home-exercise program for Estelle, which she adjusts as Estelle’s strength and movement improve.

Over the next couple of months, Estelle notices an increase in motion and flexibility in the knee area, and reports that she feels much less pain when performing her daily living tasks. She has grown more comfortable and consistent with exercising at her local gym, and with her home-exercise program.

At work, Estelle now finds that she can rise from a chair pain free, and perform her office tasks with much more flexibility. Following her physical therapist’s advice, she makes sure that she gets up from her desk regularly to move about and “stretch her legs.”

Just this week, Estelle decides she’ll walk to a bus stop 2 blocks farther away from work, just for the fun of the added exercise!

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat OA, regardless of the affected joint. However, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic physical therapy. This physical therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

  • A physical therapist who specializes in the treatment of osteoarthritis.

You can find physical therapists with these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool by the American Physical Therapy Association that can help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people who have osteoarthritis.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of hip osteoarthritis and hip replacement. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Esser S, Bailey A. Effects of exercise and physical activity on knee osteoarthritis. Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2011;15(6):423–430. Article Summary on PubMed.

Urquhart DM, Tobing JF, Hanna FS, et al. What is the effect of physical activity on the knee joint? A systematic review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(3):432–442. Free Article.

Murphy LB, Helmick CG, Schwartz TA, et al. One in four people may develop symptomatic hip osteoarthritis in his or her lifetime. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2010;18:1372–1379. Free Article.

Cibulka MT, White DM, Woehrle J, et al. Hip pain and mobility deficits—hip osteoarthritis: clinical practice guidelines linked to the international classification of functioning, disability, and health from the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009;39:A1–A25. Free Article.

Murphy L, Schwartz TA, Helmick CG, et al. Lifetime risk of symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2008;59:1207–1213. Free Article.

Kurtz S, Ong K, Lau E, et al. Projections of primary and revision hip and knee arthroplasty in the United States from 2005 to 2030. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2007;89:780–785. Article Summary in PubMed.

Deyle GD, Allison SC, Matekel RL, et al. Physical therapy treatment effectiveness for osteoarthritis of the knee: a randomized comparison of supervised clinical exercise and manual therapy procedures versus a home exercise program. Phys Ther. 2005;85:1301–1317. Free Article.

Messier SP, Loeser RF, Miller GD, et al. Exercise and dietary weight loss in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis: the arthritis, diet, and activity promotion trial.  Arthritis Rheum. 2004;50(5):1501–1510. Free Article.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Authored by Christopher Bise, PT, DPT, MS. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis)

Most people who get tennis elbow don't play tennis! In fact, less than 5% of all cases of tennis elbow occur in people who play tennis. Tennis elbow can happen to anyone who repeatedly uses their elbow, wrist, and hand for their job, sport, or hobby.

Tennis elbow is a painful condition caused by overuse of the "extensor" muscles in your arm and forearm, particularly where the tendons attach to rounded projections of bone (epicondyles) on the outside or lateral aspect of the elbow. The muscles you use to grip, twist, and carry objects with your hand all attach to the "lateral epicondyle" at the elbow. That's why a movement of the wrist or hand can actually cause pain in the elbow.

Prolonged use of the wrist and hand, such as when using a computer or operating machinery —and, of course, playing tennis with an improper grip or technique—can lead to tennis elbow. It can happen to athletes, non-athletes, children, and adults. It occurs more often in men than women, and most commonly affects people between the ages of 30 and 50.

TennisElbow_SM.jpg

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of tennis elbow can occur suddenly as a result of excessive use of the wrist and hand for activities that require force, such as lifting, twisting, or pulling. Forceful activities—like pulling strongly on a lawn mower starter cord—can injure the extensor muscle fibers and lead to a sudden onset of tennis elbow.

More commonly, though, symptoms of tennis elbow develop gradually over a period of weeks or months as a result of repeated or forceful use of the wrist, hand, and elbow. If you work as a grocery store cashier, you might have symptoms of tennis elbow as a result of repetitive (and often too forceful) typing—combined with continuous lifting of grocery bags.

Your symptoms may include:

  • Pain that radiates into your forearm and wrist

  • Difficulty doing common tasks, such as turning a doorknob or holding a coffee cup

  • Difficulty with gripping activities

  • Increased pain when you use your wrist and hand for lifting objects, opening a jar, or gripping something tightly, such as a knife and fork

  • Stiffness in the elbow

  • Weakness in the forearm, wrist, or hand

How Is It Diagnosed?

Tennis elbow usually occurs due to repeated movements. As a result, other muscles and joints in this region of the body may be affected as well. Your physical therapist will perform a careful examination not only of your elbow but of other areas of your body that might be affected and might be contributing to your pain. Your therapist will perform special manual tests that help diagnose the problem and help detect conditions such as muscle weakness that might have led to the problem in the first place. For instance, the therapist might ask you to gently tense or stretch the sore muscles to identify the exact location of the problem. Rarely is an x-ray required to diagnose this condition.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

The First 24 to 48 Hours

For the first 24 to 48 hours after acute onset of your pain, treatment includes:

  • Resting the arm by avoiding certain activities and modifying the way you do others

  • Using 10-20 minute ice treatments

  • Using elastic bandages or supports to take the pressure off of the painful muscles

Your physical therapist will decide if you should use a brace or support to protect your muscles while the area is healing. Depending on severity, your therapist may recommend that you consult with another health care provider for further testing or for consideration of additional treatment such as medication. In rare cases, treatments such as cortisone injection or surgery might be needed. Your physical therapist can help you determine whether you need a referral to another health care provider.

Your physical therapist can design a specific treatment program to speed your recovery. There will very likely be exercises and other treatments that you will be expected to do at home. Your physical therapist also might use special physical therapy treatments to help relieve pain, such as manual therapy, special exercises, and ice or heat treatments or both.

For an "acute" case of tennis elbow—one that has occurred within the past few weeks— it's important to treat as early as possible. Left untreated, tennis elbow may become chronic and last for months and sometimes even years. This is especially true if treatment is focused only on relieving pain and not on correcting the muscle weakness and bad habits that might have led to your condition in the first place.

Improve Your Ability to Move

Your physical therapist may use manual therapy to enable your joints and muscles to move more freely with less pain.

Improve Your Strength

Insufficient muscle strength can lead to tennis elbow. Sometimes the weakness is in the muscles of the wrist and forearm. In many cases, the problem stems from weakness of the supporting postural, or "core," muscles. In fact, you might find that it is necessary to improve your overall level of fitness to help manage your elbow condition. Based on the evaluation, your physical therapist can determine the type and amount of exercises that are right for you.

Physical therapists prescribe several types of exercises during recovery from tennis elbow:

  • Early in the treatment, when the pain is most intense, your therapist may recommend passive exercises in which your wrist and elbow are moved without the use of your muscles.

  • As your symptoms improve, you can move the wrist and elbow actively without assistance.

  • As the muscles become stronger and the symptoms have lessened, you will be able to begin using weights or resistance bands to further increase your strength. The amount of weight will need to be carefully monitored to make sure you continue to progress and avoid re-injuring your muscles.

 

Use Your Muscles the Right Way

Your physical therapist can help you retrain your muscles so that you use them properly. For example, when you lift a heavy grocery bag, you should contract the muscles around your shoulder blade and trunk to provide support for your arm muscles. This simple movement can be easily taught to you by a physical therapist can lessen the stress to the injured muscles and help you return to your normal activities while avoiding re-injury.

Return to Your Activities

Your physical therapist will help you remain active by teaching you how to modify your daily activities to avoid pain and further injury. Sometimes it's necessary to make changes at work, on the playing field, or in the home. Your physical therapist can help you make simple modifications to your work site, your computer set-up, your kitchen devices, your sports equipment, and even your gardening tools to lessen the strain to your hand, wrist, and forearm. Your therapist will emphasize the importance of taking stretch breaks so that your muscles get frequent rest from repetitive movements and standing or sitting in the same position.

Tennis may be a contributing factor to tennis elbow for several reasons. Sometimes the problem results from over-training. In other cases, the weight of the racquet or its grip may need to be adjusted. For others, the problem may stem from improper form, poor overall fitness, or a lack of strength in the supporting or "core" muscles of the trunk and shoulder blades. A physical therapist can help analyze the source of the problem and help find a solution.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Yes! You can help prevent tennis elbow by staying fit, using proper technique in your sport or in your job, and using equipment that is well designed and appropriate for your body type and your level of activity. Your physical therapist can show you how. If you had tennis elbow years ago, you might be at risk for re-injury if the tendons did not have time to completely heal or if your muscle strength and joint mobility were not fully restored. Returning to sports or activities before you have fully recovered might result in an elbow that has persistent pain or is easily or frequently re-injured. A physical therapist can help determine when you are ready to return to your activities and sports and can help make sure that your elbow, forearm, and wrist are strong and ready for action.

Real Life Experiences

You work as a computer graphics engineer. Yesterday, you spent the day gardening with an electric lawn trimmer. This morning you woke up with pain and a feeling of stiffness on the outside of your elbow. The pain increases the more you move your elbow, forearm, and wrist. It also hurts to use your computer mouse or to pick up your coffee cup. You immediately schedule an appointment for an evaluation with a physical therapist. A physical therapist performs a full examination of your elbow and surrounding muscles and joints and can determine whether additional tests or referral to another health care provider is necessary. In most cases of tennis elbow, the therapist will manage your care through your full recovery.

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat a variety of conditions or injuries. You may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with musculoskeletal problems.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopaedics physical therapy. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people with tennis elbow.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of below-knee amputation. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Weber C, Thai V, Neuheuser K, et al. Efficacy of physical therapy for the treatment of lateral epicondylitis: a meta-analysis BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2015 Aug 25;16(1):223. Pubmed Abstract.

Shiri R, Viikari-Juntura E, Varonen H, Heliövaara M. Prevalence and determinants of lateral and medial epicondylitis: a population study. Am J Epidemiol. 2006; 164:1065-74. Pubmed Abstract.

Peterson M, Butler S, Eriksson M, Svärdsudd K. A randomized controlled trial of exercise versus wait-list in chronic tennis elbow (lateral epicondylosis). Ups J Med Sci. 2011; 116:269-79. PubMed Abstract.  Publisher Full Text

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.



Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

Every year, millions of people in the United States develop vertigo, a sensation that you or your surroundings are spinning.The sensation can be very disturbing and may increase the risk of falling. If you've been diagnosed with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), you're not alone—at least 9 out of every 100 older adults are affected, making it one of the most common types of episodic vertigo. The good news is that BPPV is treatable. Your physical therapist will use unique tests to confirm vertigo, and use special exercises and maneuvers to help.

What Is BPPV?

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is a common inner-ear problem affecting the vestibular system, a system used to maintain balance. BPPV causes short periods of dizziness when your head is moved in certain positions, relative to gravity. Benign means that this disorder is not life threatening, and generally, the disorder is not progressive. Paroxysmal means that the vertigo (spinning sensation) occurs suddenly. Positional means that the vertigo is triggered by changes in head position, most commonly when lying down, turning over in bed, or looking up. This dizzy or spinning sensation is called vertigo.

A layer of calcium carbonate material is present naturally in 1 part of your inner ear (the utricle). BPPV occurs when pieces of this material break off and move to another part of the inner ear, the semicircular canals (usually the posterior canal). These tiny calcium crystals (otoconia) are sometimes called “ear rocks.”

When you move your head a certain way, the crystals move inside the canal and stimulate the nerve endings, causing you to become dizzy. The cause of BPPV is usually not known; however, the crystals may become loose due to trauma to the head, infection, conditions, such as Meniere’s disease, or aging. BPPV is more common among females, and it may be hereditary.

InnerEar_sm.jpg

How Does it Feel?

BPPV occurs most commonly following position changing, such as lying down, turning over in bed, bending over, and looking up. A short delay, often less than 15 seconds, may follow a position change before symptoms start. This dizzy sensation, called vertigo, is brief and intense and usually lasts for about 15-45 seconds. However, symptoms may last for up to 2 minutes if the crystals become stuck to part of the inner ear. The episodes of vertigo occur frequently for weeks or months at a time. During these episodes, you may feel like the room is spinning around you, and you also may feel lightheaded, off balance, and nauseous.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of BPPV usually last less than a minute. The signs and symptoms may come and go or may disappear for a period of time, and then recur. Movement of the head causes most of the signs and symptoms of BPPV, which may include:

  • Dizziness

  • A sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving (vertigo)

  • A loss of balance or unsteadiness

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

How Is It Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of BPPV is based on whether you have a particular kind of involuntary eye movement (called "nystagmus"), and whether you have vertigo when your head is moved into certain positions. Your physical therapist will perform tests that move your head in specific ways to see whether vertigo and involuntary eye movement results. These tests will help the therapist determine the cause and type of your dizziness, and whether you should be referred to a physician for any additional testing.

The positional tests are meant to recreate BPPV symptoms. By moving your head into certain positions and watching your eyes, your physical therapist may determine the appropriate repositioning maneuver needed to reduce or eliminate your vertigo.

Many different types and causes of dizziness exist, and dizziness is difficult for people to describe, making BPPV and other causes of dizziness more challenging to diagnose. When talking to your clinician, be as specific as possible when describing your symptoms.

For example, explain if you have lightheadedness or if you see or feel the room spinning during an episode. Also, describe how long your symptoms last (seconds, minutes, hours, or days). Do your best to describe what makes your dizziness better or worse. For example, is your dizziness made worse by movement or position changes? Is your dizziness eased by stillness or rest?

Be sure to discuss any recent illnesses or injuries, problems with your immune system, changes in medications or hormones, or headaches. These clues will be very insightful for your physical therapist and can assist in establishing an accurate diagnosis, or indicate the need for a referral to another specialist.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Fortunately, most people recover from BPPV with a simple but very specific head and neck maneuver performed by a physical therapist. Your physical therapist will guide you through a series of 2-4 position changes. Each position may be held for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, as prescribed by your physical therapist. These repositioning treatments are designed to move the crystals from the semicircular canal back into the appropriate area in the inner ear (the utricle). A repositioning treatment called the Epley maneuver is used for the resolution of posterior canal BPPV, the most commonly involved canal. No medication has been found to be effective with BPPV and, in some cases, medication could cause more harm.

In a very few cases, BPPV cannot be managed with treatment maneuvers, and a surgical procedure called a “posterior canal plugging” may be considered—but, surgical intervention is rare.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

No known ways exist to prevent BPPV, especially when caused by such factors as head injury or aging. Once a person has experienced BPPV, symptoms can return if new crystals break off and get into the semicircular canal, or if you dislodge loose crystals by placing your head in a certain position. Some people report that their BPPV symptoms recur predictably, perhaps seasonally, or with changes in the weather.

Within 3 years of having BPPV, about 50% of people may have a recurrence. BPPV resulting from head trauma is more likely to recur. Once a person has experienced BPPV, symptoms can return if new crystals break. Although your BPPV might return, you'll be able to recognize the symptoms and keep yourself safe until you can get help. Your physical therapist will apply the appropriate maneuver to return the crystals to their correct position in the inner ear, and also will teach you how to do exercises that can reduce or eliminate the symptoms.

Real Life Experiences

Laura B. is a 68-year-old woman with vertigo that began one morning 2 weeks ago when she got out of bed and the world started to spin. Since then, she's been having vertigo, nausea, and problems with her balance. When she visits her physical therapist, he gives her a special questionnaire to find out exactly what brings on her dizziness and balance difficulties. Turning over in bed, bending over, or looking up cause the most severe symptoms.

The physical therapist reviews Laura's medical history to make sure that no past condition may be contributing to the vertigo. He performs an examination, explains what tests he will use, and tells Laura that she should try to keep her eyes open and stay in position. The tests show that in certain positions, Laura's eyes move when they shouldn't, and she has vertigo that lasts 5 seconds. The therapist determines that she has the "canalithiasis form" of vertigo, which means that some crystals are displaced and are flowing through her semicircular ear canals, causing vertigo.

The therapist uses "canalith repositioning" to move the crystals into a proper position, using the Epley maneuver. Afterwards, he asks Laura to wait in the waiting room for a while so that he can retest her. Laura no longer has the symptoms that she had when the therapist tested her the first time, so he shows her how to do the canalith repositioning maneuver at home. She is to perform the maneuver once every day in the morning for 1 week, and then return to the clinic to make sure that she is progressing as expected.

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat people who have dizziness and balance problems. You may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with neurological problems.

  • A physical therapist with specialized training and experience in vestibular rehabilitation.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified neurological clinical specialist, called NCS, or who completed a residency or fellowship in neurologic physical therapy, or who has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people with inner ear injury.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence about treatment of BPPV. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice for treatment both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Hilton MP, Pinder DK. The Epley (canalith repositioning) manoeuvre for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;12:CD003162. Article Summary on PubMed.

Helminski JO. Effectivess of the canalith repositioning procedure in the treatment of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Phys Ther. 2014:94(10):1373–1382. Article Summary on PubMed.

Helminski JO, Zee DS, Janssen I, Hain TC. Effectiveness of particle repositioning maneuvers in the treatment of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo: a systematic review.  Phys Ther. 2010;90:663–678. Free Article

Cohen HS, Sangi-Haghpeykar H. Canalith repositioning variations for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2010;143:405–412. Free Article.

Clinch CR, Kahill A, Klatt LA, Stewart D. Clinical inquiries: what is the best approach to benign paroxysmal positional vertigo in the elderly? J Fam Pract. 2010;59:295–297. Review. Article Summary on PubMed.

Fife TD, Iverson DJ, Lempert T, et al. Practice parameter: therapies for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (an evidence-based review): report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology. 2008;70:2067-2074. Free Article.

Vestibular Disorders Association. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Accessed June 20, 2015.

Authored by Susan J. Herdman, PT, PhD; Shannon L.G. Hoffman, PT, DPT; Marcia Thompson, PT, DPT; Bob Wellmon, PT, PhD, NCS; and APTA’s Section on Neurology. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.



Shoulder Impingement

What is Shoulder Impingement?

Shoulder impingement syndrome is a condition that develops when the rotator-cuff tendons in the shoulder are overused or injured, causing pain and movement impairments. Shoulder impingement syndrome may also be referred to as "subacromial" impingement syndrome because the tendons, ligaments, and bursa under the "acromion" can become pinched or compressed. The shoulder is made up of 3 bones called the humerus, the scapula, and the clavicle. The acromion is a bony prominence on the top of the scapula, which can be felt as a bump at the tip of the shoulder.

The rotator cuff tendon and the bursa sit beneath the acromion. The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that provides a cushion between the bony acromion and the rotator cuff tendon, and it can become compressed underneath the acromion. Impingement symptoms can occur when compression and microtrauma harm the tendons. There are several causes to shoulder impingement syndrome including:

  • Repetitive overhead movements, such as golfing, throwing, racquet sports, and swimming, or frequent overhead reaching or lifting.

  • Injury, such as a fall, where the shoulder gets compressed.

  • Bony abnormalities of the acromion, which narrow the subacromial space.

  • Osteoarthritis in the shoulder region.

  • Poor rotator cuff and shoulder blade muscle strength, causing the humeral head to move abnormally.

  • Thickening of the bursa.

  • Thickening of the ligaments in the area.

  • Tightness of the soft tissue around the shoulder joint called the joint capsule.

How Does it Feel?

Individuals with shoulder impingement may experience:

  • Restriction in shoulder motion with associated weakness in movement patterns, such as reaching overhead, behind the body, or out to the side.

  • Pain in the shoulder when moving the arm overhead, out to the side, and beside the body.

  • Pain and discomfort when attempting to sleep on the involved side.

  • Pain with throwing motions and other dynamic movement patterns.

How Is It Diagnosed?

A physical therapist will perform an evaluation and ask you questions about the pain you are feeling, and other symptoms. Your physical therapist may perform strength and motion tests on your shoulder, ask about your job duties and hobbies, evaluate your posture, and check for any muscle imbalances and weakness that can occur between the shoulder and the scapular muscles.  

Special tests involving gentle movements of your arm and shoulder may be performed to determine exactly which tendons are involved. X-rays may also be taken to identify other conditions that could be contributing to your discomfort, such as bony spurs or abnormalities, or arthritis.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

It is important to get proper treatment for shoulder impingement as soon as it occurs. Secondary conditions can result from the impingement of the tissues in the shoulder, including irritation of the bursa and rotator-cuff tendinitis or tears.

Physical therapy can be very successful in treating shoulder impingement syndrome. You will work with your physical therapist to devise a treatment plan that is specific to your condition and goals. Your individual treatment program may include:

Pain Management. Your physical therapist will help you identify and avoid painful movements, as well as correct abnormal postures to reduce impingement compression. Therapeutic modalities, like iontophoresis (medication delivered through an electrically charged patch) and ultrasound may be applied. Ice may also be helpful to reduce pain.

Manual Therapy. Your physical therapist may use manual techniques, such as gentle joint movements, soft-tissue massage, and shoulder stretches to get your shoulder moving properly, so that the tendons and bursa avoid impingement.

Range-of-Motion Exercises. You will learn exercises and stretches to help your shoulder and shoulder blade move properly, so you can return to reaching and lifting without pain.

Strengthening Exercises. Your physical therapist will determine which strengthening exercises are right for you, depending on your specific condition. Often with shoulder impingement syndrome, the head of the humerus tends to drift forward and upward due to the rotator-cuff muscles becoming weak. Strengthening the rotator-cuff and scapular muscles helps position the head of the humerus bone down and back to ease the impingement. You may also perform resistance training exercises to strengthen your weaker muscles. You will receive a home-exercise program to continue your strengthening long after you have completed your formal physical therapy.

Patient Education. Learning proper posture is an important part of rehabilitation. For example, when your shoulders roll forward as you lean over a computer, the tendons in the front of the shoulder can become impinged. Your physical therapist will work with you to help improve your posture, and may suggest adjustments to your work station and work habits.

Functional Training. As your symptoms improve, your physical therapist will teach you how to correctly perform a range of functions using proper shoulder mechanics, such as lifting an object onto a shelf or throwing a ball. This training will help you return to pain-free function on the job, at home, and when playing sports.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Shoulder impingement syndrome can be prevented by:

  • Maintaining proper strength in the shoulder and shoulder-blade muscles.

  • Regularly stretching the shoulders, neck, and middle-back region.

  • Maintaining proper posture and shoulder alignment when performing reaching and throwing motions.

  • Avoiding forward-head and rounded-shoulder postures (being hunched over) when spending long periods of time sitting at a desk or computer.

Real Life Experiences

Bob is a 33-year-old engineer who spends many hours drafting, creating spreadsheets, and writing reports on his computer at work. He enjoys playing tennis after work a few times a week.

Recently, Bob began feeling pain in his right shoulder when he reached overhead to serve a tennis ball. He felt the same kind of pain when he tried to throw a softball during his daughter's softball practice.

After a few weeks, the shoulder pain worsened and Bob began to have difficulty just reaching into a cupboard to get a glass at home. Last night, the pain in his shoulder woke him up every time he rolled onto it. He decided to call his physical therapist.

Bob's physical therapist performed a full evaluation of his shoulder. She noted he felt pain with certain shoulder movements, and had difficulty performing them due to weakness in the rotator-cuff and scapular muscles. She also saw that he had a rounded posture when sitting. She performed range-of-motion and other special tests on his shoulder. Based on her findings, she diagnosed shoulder impingement syndrome.

Bob and his physical therapist worked together to establish short- and long-term goals for his treatment. She prescribed ice to help decrease his pain, and taught him some gentle movement and strengthening exercises. She performed manual (hands-on) therapy on his shoulder to gently mobilize the joints and tissues.

Bob's physical therapist showed him how to improve his posture when sitting at his desk at work, and taught him a home-exercise program of stretching, strengthening, and postural exercises, which she modified throughout the course of his therapy as his condition improved.

After a few weeks of diligent physical therapy sessions and performing his home-exercise program, Bob reported he was able to raise his shoulder completely overhead without pain or limitation, and sleep on his side comfortably at night.

Today, Bob is back playing tennis pain-free, and is able to "throw long" for his daughter during softball practice.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat shoulder impingement syndrome. However, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with shoulder impingement syndrome. Some physical therapists have a practice with an orthopedic or musculoskeletal focus.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist, or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic or sports physical therapy. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using  Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people who have shoulder impingement syndrome. During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence for the treatment of shoulder impingement. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Khan Y, Nagy MT, Malal J, Waseem M. The painful shoulder: shoulder impingement syndrome. Open Orthop J. 2013;7:347–351. Free Article.

Wilk KE, Hooks TR, Macrina LC. The modified sleeper stretch and modified cross-body stretch to increase shoulder internal rotation range of motion in the overhead throwing athlete. J orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013;43(12):891–894. Free Article.

De Mey K, Danneels LA, Cagnie B, Huyghe L, Seyns E, Cools AM. Conscious correction of scapular orientation in overhead athletes performing selected shoulder rehabilitation exercises: the effect on trapezius muscle activation measured by surface electromyography. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2013;43(1):3–10. Free Article.

Struyf F, Nijs J, Baeyens JP, Mottram S, Meeusen R. Scapular positioning and movement in unimpaired shoulders, shoulder impingement syndrome, and glenohumeral instability. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2011;21(3):352–358. Article Summary on PubMed.

Castagna A, Garofalo R, Cesari E, Markopoulos N, Borroni M, Conti M. Posterior superior internal impingement: an evidence-based review [erratum in: Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(8):604.]. Br J Sports Med. 2010;44(5):382–388. Article Summary on PubMed.

Faber E, Kuiper JI, Burdorf A, Miedema HS, Verhaar JA. Treatment of impingement syndrome: a systematic review of the effects on functional limitations and return to work. J Occup Rehabil. 2006;16(1):7–25. Article Summary on PubMed.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Authored by Julie A. Mulcahy, PT, MPT. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.



Osgood-Schlatter Disease

Osgood-Schlatter disease occurs when there is irritation to the top, front portion of the shin bone (tibia) where the tendon attached to the kneecap (patella) meets the shin bone. It occurs when there is an increased amount of stress placed upon the bones where the tendons attach. This is most often the result of increased activity levels by an adolescent athlete.

Our musculoskeletal system is made up of bones and surrounding soft tissue structures, including muscles, ligaments (which connect bone to bone), and tendons (which connect muscle to bone). These structures all play a role in helping us move.

During adolescence our bodies grow at a rapid rate. As our bodies develop, our bones are growing longer. Throughout this phase, our growth plates (epiphyseal plates) are susceptible to injury. A growth plate is the site at the end of a bone where new bone tissue is made and bone growth occurs. Females typically experience the most rapid growth between approximately 11 to 12 years of age, and males typically experience this growth surge between approximately 13 and 14 years of age. Males experience OS more frequently than females, likely due to an increased rate of sports participation.

Structures in our body might become irritated if they are asked to do more than they are capable of doing. Injuries can occur in an isolated event, but OS disease is most likely the cumulative effect of repeated trauma. OS is most frequently experienced in adolescents who regularly participate in running, jumping, and "cutting" (rapid changes in direction) activities.

When too much stress is present (ie, from rapid growth) and when the body is overworked (ie, either too much overall volume of exercise, or too much repetition), the top of the shin can become painful and swollen. As this condition progresses, the body’s response to bone stress can be an increase in bone production; an adolescent may begin to develop a boney growth that feels like a bump on the front of the upper shin.

OS can start as mild soreness, but can progress to long-lasting pain and limited function, if not addressed early and appropriately.

How Does it Feel?

With Osgood-Schlatter, you may experience:

  • Gradually worsening pain below your knee, at the top of the shin bone.

  • Pain that worsens with exercise.

  • Swelling and tenderness at the top of the shin.

  • A boney growth at the top of the shin.

  • Loss of strength in the quadriceps muscle (connecting the hip to the knee).

  • Increased tightness in the quadriceps muscle.

  • Loss of knee motion.

  • Discomfort with daily activities that use your knee, like kneeling, squatting, or walking up and down stairs.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of OS begins with a thorough medical history, including specific questions regarding athletic participation (sports played, frequency of practices/games, positions). Your physical therapist will assess different measures, such as sensation, motion, strength, flexibility, tenderness, and swelling. Your physical therapist will perform several tests specific to the knee joint, and may ask you to briefly demonstrate the activities or positions that cause your pain, such as walking, squatting, and stepping up or down stairs.

Because the knee and hip are both involved in these aggravating activities, your physical therapist will likely examine your hip as well. Other nearby areas, such as your feet and core, will also be examined to determine whether they, too, might be contributing to your knee condition.

If your physical therapist suspects there may be a more involved injury than increased stress-related irritation (ie, if there is a recent significant loss of motion or strength, or severe pain when the knee is moved), your therapist will likely recommend a referral to an orthopedic physician for diagnostic imaging, such as ultrasound, x-ray, or MRI.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Once other conditions have been ruled out and OS is diagnosed, your physical therapist will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan tailored to your specific knee condition and your goals. The goal of physical therapy is to accelerate your recovery and return to pain-free activity. There are many physical therapy treatments that have been shown to be effective in treating OS, and among them are:

Range of Motion Therapy. Your physical therapist will assess the motion of your knee and its surrounding structures, and design gentle exercises to help you work through any stiffness and swelling to return to a normal range of motion.

Strength Training. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee so that each muscle is able to properly perform its job, and stresses are eased so the knee joint is properly protected.

Manual Therapy.Physical therapists are trained in manual (hands-on) therapy. If needed, your physical therapist will gently move your kneecap or patellar tendon and surrounding muscles as needed to improve their motion, flexibility, and strength. These techniques can target areas that are difficult to treat on your own. 

Pain Management.Your physical therapist may recommend therapeutic modalities, such as ice and heat, or a brace to aid in pain management.

Functional Training.Physical therapists are experts at training athletes to function at their best. Your physical therapist will assess your movements and teach you to adjust them to relieve any extra stress on the front of your knee.

Education. The first step to addressing your knee pain is rest. Your physical therapist will explain why this is important and develop a plan for your complete rehabilitation.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Fortunately, there is much that can be done to prevent the cascade of events that lead to OS. Physical therapists focus on:

  • Educating coaches, parents, and athletes on guidelines for sports participation, explaining common causes of overuse injuries, and providing strategies for prevention.

  • Educating athletes on the risks of playing through pain.

  • Scheduling adequate rest time to recover between athletic events.

  • Tracking a young athlete’s growth curves (height, weight, BMI) to identify periods of increased injury risk.

  • Developing an athlete-specific flexibility and strengthening routine to be followed throughout the athletic season.

  • Encouraging consultation with a physical therapist whenever symptoms appear.

Real Life Experiences

Caleb is a 13-year-old boy who has been playing basketball since he was in the first grade. When younger, Caleb played only during the winter season. Over the course of the last year, however, he has attended 2 basketball camps during the summer, played on his middle-school team during the winter, and is now playing AAU basketball in the spring.

Caleb also chose to join the track team this spring, competing in the high jump and sprint events to improve his basketball skills. Over the past 3 months, Caleb has grown 2 inches, and both he and his basketball coaches are excited about his recent growth.

Recently, Caleb has been busy playing in weekly AAU tournaments with 1 to 2 track meets during the week. But when he got home from track practice on Monday, he told his dad that his leg was hurting. He said that it had begun getting sore while playing basketball over the weekend, but he didn’t want to tell his coach because he wanted to continue to play. Now he feels like the top of his shin is tender to touch, and he is unable to fully bend his knee without increased pain.

His dad realizes that this is more than the expected postactivity soreness; he immediately calls their local physical therapist.

Caleb's physical therapist takes his health history and performs an extensive examination. It becomes clear that Caleb has not scheduled appropriate rest times between his athletic activities, and that he is experiencing a growth spurt. The physical examination reveals that the top of Caleb’s shin is very tender, the area around his knee is swollen, and he has lost knee motion and strength. OS is diagnosed.

Together, Caleb and his physical therapist, father, and basketball and track coaches develop a treatment plan to help him return to pain-free sport participation. It begins with a 2-week period of rest where Caleb performs only minimal running exercise, and works regularly with his physical therapist on stretching, strengthening, balance, and coordination exercises, and on improving his squatting movements.

While at basketball practice, Caleb continues to work on his ball handling and free-throw shooting, activities that won't increase his knee pain.

After 2 weeks, when his knee is less tender, Caleb, his physical therapist, and his coaches develop a plan for his gradual return to full participation in track and basketball. They help Caleb understand how important it is to be honest about his knee pain, and to communicate with his coach if it starts to bother him again.

A month later, Caleb is back participating in all his track and basketball activities. He has changed his routine to allow for adequate warm-up time before and after each practice, and sufficient rest periods between activities. He makes sure his dad or coaches are keeping track of how much time he spends at practice and at rest.

Caleb decides to spend more time during the week working on his stretching, so he can reduce any risk of pain as he continues to grow. At the end of the season, Caleb’s AAU team wins the state championship—and he sets a new personal-best record in both the high jump and the 100-meter sprint!

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and clinical experience to treat a variety of conditions or injuries. You may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with orthopedic or musculoskeletal injuries.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified specialist or has completed a residency in orthopedic or sports physical therapy, as the therapist will have advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that apply to an athletic population.

You can find physical therapists that have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping young athletes with knee pain.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and report activities that make your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions, and also prepare them for a visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of athletic injuries. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Whitmore A. Osgood-Schlatter disease. JAAPA. 2013;26(10):51–52. Article Summary on PubMed.

Maffulli N, Longo UG, Spiezia F, Denaro V. Aetiology and prevention of injuries in elite young athletes. Med Sport Sci. 2011;56:187–200. Article Summary on PubMed.

Stein CJ, Micheli LJ. Overuse injuries in youth sports. Phys Sportsmed. 2010;38(2):102–108. Article Summary on PubMed.

* PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

 Authored by Allison Mumbleau, PT, DPT, SCS. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.



Rotator Cuff Tendinitis

The rotator cuff muscles are a group of 4 muscles that attach the humerus (upper-arm bone) to the scapula (shoulder blade). The rotator cuff muscles help raise, rotate, and stabilize the upper arm. A tendon is a bundle of fibers that connect the muscles to the bone. Rotator cuff tendinitis occurs when the tendon connected to the rotator cuff muscles becomes inflamed and irritated. It can be caused by:

  • Poor posture, such as rounded shoulders caused by leaning over a computer for long periods of time.

  • Repetitive arm movements, such as those performed by a hair stylist or painter.

  • Overhead shoulder motions, such as those performed by baseball pitchers or swimmers.

  • Tight muscles and tissues around the shoulder joint.

  • Weakness and muscle imbalances in the shoulder blade and shoulder muscles.

  • Bony abnormalities of the shoulder region that cause the tendons to become pinched (shoulder impingement syndrome).

How Does it Feel?

Rotator cuff tendinitis is characterized by shoulder pain that can occur gradually over time or start quite suddenly. The pain occurs in the shoulder region and sometimes radiates into the upper arm. It does not usually radiate past the elbow region. You may be symptom free at rest or experience a mild, dull ache; however, pain can be moderate to severe with certain shoulder movements. Reaching behind the body to perform a motion, as in fastening a seat belt, can be very painful. So can overhead activities, such as throwing, swimming, reaching into a cupboard, or combing your hair. The pain can worsen at night, especially when rolling over or attempting to sleep on the painful side. You may notice weakness when lifting and reaching for household items. Holding a heavy platter or taking a pan off the stove may become difficult.

How Is It Diagnosed?

A physical therapist will perform an evaluation and ask you questions about the pain and other symptoms you are feeling. Your therapist may perform strength and motion tests on your shoulder, ask about your job duties and hobbies, evaluate your posture, and check for any muscle imbalances and weakness that can occur between the shoulder and the scapular muscles. Your physical therapist will gently touch your shoulder in specific areas to determine which tendon or tendons are inflamed, and special tests may need to be performed to determine this.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

It is important to get proper treatment for tendinitis as soon as it occurs. A degenerated tendon that is not treated can begin to tear causing a more serious condition. Physical therapy can be very successful in treating rotator cuff tendinitis, tendinosis, and shoulder impingement syndrome. You will work with your physical therapist to devise a treatment plan that is specific to your condition and goals. Your individual treatment program may include:

Pain management. Your physical therapist will help you identify and avoid painful movements to allow the inflamed tendon to heal. Ice, ice massage, or moist heat maybe used for pain management. Therapeutic modalities, such as iontophoresis (medication delivered through an electrically charged patch) and ultrasound may be applied.

Manual therapy. Your physical therapist may use manual techniques, such as gentle joint movements, soft-tissue massage, and shoulder stretches to get your shoulder moving again in harmony with your scapula.

Range-of-motion exercises. You will learn exercises and stretches to help your shoulder and shoulder blade move properly, so you can return to reaching and lifting without pain.

Strengthening exercises. Your physical therapist will determine which strengthening exercises are right for you, depending on your specific condition. You may use weights, medicine balls, resistance bands, and other types of resistance training to challenge your weaker muscles. You will receive a home-exercise program to continue rotator cuff and scapular strengthening, long after you have completed your formal physical therapy.

Patient education. Posture education is an important part of rehabilitation. For example, when your shoulders roll forward as you lean over a computer, the tendons in the front of the shoulder can become pinched. Your physical therapist may suggest adjustments to your workstation and work habits.

Functional training. As your symptoms improve, your physical therapist will help you return to your previous level of function that may include household chores, job duties and sports- related activities. Functional training can include working on lifting a glass into a cupboard or throwing a ball using proper shoulder mechanics. You and your physical therapist will decide what your goals are, and get you back to your prior level of functioning as soon as possible.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Rotator cuff tendinitis can be prevented by:

  • Maintaining proper shoulder and spinal posture during daily activities, including sitting at a computer.

  • Performing daily stretches to the shoulder and upper back to maintain normal movement. Tightness in the upper back, or a rounded shoulder posture will decrease the ability to move your torso, and that makes the shoulder have to work harder to perform everyday activities, such as reaching for objects.

  • Keeping your upper body strong, including the upper back and shoulder-blade muscles will help prevent tendinitis. Many people work the muscles in their chest, arms, and shoulders, but it is also important to work the muscles around the shoulder blade and upper back. These muscles provide a strong foundation for your shoulder function. Without a strong foundation, muscle imbalances occur and put the shoulder at risk for injury.

Real Life Experiences

Mary is a 51-year-old piano teacher with 14 students. She teaches 3 days a week; each session lasts 30 minutes. Mary also plays piano for her church, and for her own enjoyment. A few weeks ago, she began to feel pain in her left shoulder when reaching her arm overhead or behind her body. Her symptoms worsened, and she began experiencing pain even when at rest. Now the pain is so severe, it wakes her up at night; she can no longer sleep on her left side. She contacts her physical therapist.

Mary's physical therapist performs a full evaluation of her shoulder, and her scapula and upper-back strength and mobility. Mary describes how long she sits at the piano each week. Her therapist gently feels all around her shoulder and finds that it is very tender over the rotator cuff region. She has pain when her therapist performs resistive-muscle testing to the rotator cuff. He also discovers that Mary has tightness in her upper back region that limits her ability to fully twist her body to the right and left. Special tests were performed on her shoulder, and the results indicate the rotator cuff is irritated. Based on these findings, he diagnoses rotator cuff tendinitis.

Mary and her physical therapist work together to establish short- and long-term goals for her treatment. He prescribes ice to help decrease her pain, and teaches her some gentle movement and strengthening exercises. He also shows Mary how to improve her posture when sitting at the piano, and teaches her a home-exercise program of stretching, strengthening, and postural exercises, which he modifies throughout the course of her therapy as her condition improves.

Mary and her physical therapist work together in a 6-week program of 2-3 rehabilitation sessions per week. He performs gentle passive movements of her shoulder, scapula, and upper back to increase her joint motion. Mary learns proper movement patterns for reaching her arm overhead. She finds that using a therapeutic chair helps improve her posture and strengthens her core during her piano lessons.

After a few weeks of diligent therapy sessions and working with her home-exercise program, Mary notices she is able to sleep on her left side again without pain, and can easily reach to get a mug from her upper kitchen shelf.

Mary is soon able to return to all of her daily activities and enjoy her life as a piano teacher—free of pain.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat rotator cuff tendinitis. However, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with rotator cuff tendinitis. Some physical therapists have a practice with an orthopedic or musculoskeletal focus.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic or sports physical therapy. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using  Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you are looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people who have rotator cuff tendinitis. During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of rotator cuff tendinitis. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Thornton AL, McCarty CW, Burgess MJ. Effectiveness of low-level laser therapy combined with an exercise program to reduce pain and increase function in adults with shoulder pain: a critically appraised topic. J Sport Rehabil. 2013;22(1):72-78. Article Summary on PubMed.

Childress MA, Beutler A. Management of chronic tendon injuries. Am Fam Physician. 2013;87(7):486-490. Article Summary on PubMed.

Scott A, Docking S, Vicenzino B, et al. Sports and exercise-related tendinopathies: a review of selected topical issues by participants of the second International Scientific Tendinopathy Symposium (ISTS) Vancouver 2012 [erratum in: Br J Sports Med. 2013;47(12):744]. Br J Sports Med. 2013;47(9):536-544. Free Article.

Littlewood C, Ashton J, Chance-Larsen K, et al. Exercise for rotator cuff tendinopathy: a systematic review. Physiotherapy. 2012;98(2):101-109. Article Summary on PubMed.

Andres BM, Murrell GA. Treatment of tendinopathy: what works, what does not, and what is on the horizon. Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2008;466(7): 1539–1554. Free Article.

Senbursa G, Galtaci G, Atay A. Comparison of conservative treatment with and without manual physical therapy for patients with shoulder impingement syndrome: a prospective, randomized clincial trial. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2007;15(7):915-921. Article Summary on PubMed.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Authored by Julie A. Mulcahy, PT, MPT. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

 

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a condition causing heel pain. Supporting the arch, the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue connecting the heel to the ball of the foot, can become inflamed or can tear. You experience pain when you put weight on your foot—particularly when taking your first steps in the morning. The pain can be felt at the heel, or along the arch and the ball of the foot.

Plantar fasciitis is a common foot condition. It occurs in as many as 2 million Americans per year and 10% of the population over their lifetimes.

Factors that contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis include:

  • Age (over 40 years)

  • A job, sport, or hobby that involves prolonged standing or other weight-bearing activity

  • Rapid increases in length or levels of activity, such as beginning a new running program or changing to a job that requires a lot more standing or walking than you are accustomed to

  • Decreased calf muscle flexibility

  • Increased body weight (Body Mass Index greater than 30)

  • Tendency to have a flat foot (pronation)

Plantar fasciitis affects people of all ages, both athletes and non-athletes. Men and women have an equal chance of developing the condition.

Treatment generally reduces pain and restores your ability to put weight on your foot again.

PlantarFasciitis_SM.jpg

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is a condition causing heel pain. Supporting the arch, the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue connecting the heel to the ball of the foot, can become inflamed or can tear. The condition develops when repeated weight-bearing activities put a strain on the plantar fascia. People who are diagnosed with plantar fasciitis also may have heel spurs, a bony growth that forms on the heel bone. However, people with heel spurs may not experience pain.

Plantar fasciitis occurs most frequently in people in their 40s but can occur in all age groups.

The condition can develop in athletes who run a great deal and in non-athletes who are on their feet most of the day, such as police officers, cashiers, or restaurant workers.

Signs and Symptoms

The onset of symptoms of plantar fasciitis frequently occurs with a sudden increase in activity. You might feel a stabbing pain on the underside of your heel, and a sensation of tightness and/or tenderness along your arch.

People with plantar fasciitis may experience pain:

  • In the morning, when stepping out of bed and taking the first steps of the day

  • With prolonged standing

  • When standing up after sitting for awhile

  • After an intense weight-bearing activity such as running

  • When climbing stairs

  • When walking barefoot or in shoes with poor support

As your body warms up, your pain may actually decrease during the day but then worsen again toward the end of the day because of extended walking. Severe symptoms may cause you to limp.

How Is It Diagnosed?

The physical therapist’s diagnosis is based on your health and activity history and a clinical evaluation. Your therapist also will take a medical history to make sure that you do not have other possible conditions that may be causing the pain. Sharing information about the relationship of your symptoms to your work and recreation, and reporting any lifestyle changes, will help the physical therapist diagnose your condition and tailor a treatment program for your specific needs.

To diagnose plantar fasciitis, your therapist may conduct the following physical tests to see if symptoms occur:

  • Massaging and pressing on the heel area (palpation)

  • Gently stretching the ankle to bend the top of the foot toward the leg (dorsiflexion)

  • Gently pressing the toes toward the ankle

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapists are trained to evaluate and treat plantar fasciitis.

When you are diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, your physical therapist will work with you to develop a program to decrease your symptoms that may include:

  • Stretching exercises to improve the flexibility of your ankle and the plantar fascia

  • Use of a night splint to maintain correct ankle and toe positions

  • Selection of supportive footwear and/or shoe inserts that minimize foot pronation and reduce stress to the plantar fascia

  • Application of ice to decrease pain and inflammation

  • Iontophoresis (a gentle way to deliver medication through the skin)

  • Taping of the foot to provide short-term relief

Research shows that most cases of plantar fasciitis improve over time with these conservative treatments, and surgery is rarely required.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Guidelines for the prevention or management of plantar fasciitis include:

  • Choosing shoes with good arch support

  • Replacing your shoes regularly, so that they offer arch support and provide shock absorption to your feet

  • Using a thick mat if you must stand in one place for much of the day

  • Applying good principles to your exercise program, such as including a warm-up and gradually building up the intensity and duration of your exercises to avoid straining the plantar fascia

  • Stretching your calves and feet before and after running or walking

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight

Real Life Experiences

Jason has worked as a cook in a restaurant kitchen for 5 years. He has gradually gained about 25 pounds over those years. He began to develop pain in both his heels about 2 months ago. He does not exercise.

Jason asks a friend who has received physical therapy for advice. His friend suggests he see a physical therapist to find the cause of his heel pain.

Jason's physical therapist conducts a detailed history, asking questions about his health, lifestyle, and work, and performs a thorough evaluation. Jason says that his heel pain is worst when he gets up in the morning. After a shower and walking around for a while, his pain diminishes. However, when he is cooking at the restaurant during the evening shift, his heel pain returns, extending to the balls of his feet. Due to food debris in the restaurant kitchen, Jason says he wears old beat-up sneakers to work.

After conducting a physical examination, Jason's therapist diagnoses plantar fasciitis. She teaches Jason several stretches to perform twice a day and designs a home exercise program that will fit his goals and lifestyle. The therapist recommends he choose a shoe with a good arch support and replace them when they are worn out. She also suggests an orthotic (shoe insert) to place into his new shoes. She instructs him to apply ice to the bottom of his feet several times throughout the day. The therapist does not prescribe a night splint at this time, because Jason has had symptoms for less than 3 months. The therapist recommends that for his general health, Jason begin a low-impact exercise program, including swimming and using an exercise bike. This will help him lose the excess weight he has gained without further aggravating his plantar fasciitis.

Jason follows the advice of his physical therapist. He purchases new footwear for work and performs the stretching exercises and icing as instructed. After 2 weeks, he is 90% pain-free. Jason keeps his follow-up visit with his physical therapist 1 month later to review his condition and adjust his home program.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat plantar fasciitis. However, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with orthopedic and sports injuries, particularly those with experience working with the ankle and foot

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic or sports physical therapy, meaning that this therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people who have heel pain.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of plantar fasciitis. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free access of the full article, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Cole C, Seto C, Gazewood J. Plantar fasciitis: evidence-based review of diagnosis and therapy. Am Fam Physician. 2005;72:2237–2242. Free Article.

Irving DB, Cook JL, Young MA, Menz HB. Obesity and pronated foot type may increase the risk of chronic plantar heel pain: a matched case-control study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2007;8:41. Free Article.

McPoil TG, Martin RL, Cornwall MW, et al. Heel pain—plantar fasciitis: clinical practice guildelines linked to the International Classification of Function, Disability and Health from the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association [erratum in: J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2008;38:648]. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2008;38:A1–A18. .

Riddle DL, Pulisic M, Pidcoe P, Johnson RE. Risk factors for plantar fasciitis: a matched case-control study [erratum in: J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2003;85-A:1338]. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2003;85-A:872–877.  Article Summary on PubMed.

Riddle DL, Schappert SM. Volume of ambulatory care visits and patterns of care for patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis: a national study of medical doctors. Foot Ankle Int. 2004;25:303–310. Article Summary on PubMed.

Scher DL, Belmont PJ Jr, Bear R, et al. The incidence of plantar fasciitis in the United States military. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2009;91:2867–872. Article Summary on PubMed.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine's MEDLINE database.

Authored by Shaw Bronner, PT, PhD, OCS. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

Hip Impingement

Hip impingement involves a change in the shape of the surface of the hip joint that predisposes it to damage, resulting in stiffness and pain. Hip impingement is a process that may precede hip osteoarthritis. It most often occurs in young, active people. A recent study found that 87% of teens and adults with hip pain showed evidence of hip impingement on diagnostic images taken of their hip joints. To treat hip impingement, physical therapists prescribe stretches and strengthening exercises to better balance the muscles around the hip to protect it, and use manual therapies to help restore range of motion and increase comfort.

What is Hip Impingement?

There are 2 types of hip impingement; they may occur alone or together.

Pincer-Type Impingement

  • In pincer-type impingement, the hip socket (acetabulum), which is usually angled forward, may be angled toward the back, or protruding bone may be present on the pelvis side of the hip joint making the socket a deeper recess that covers more of the ball or head of the femur bone.

  • The overgrown bone or incorrect angle of the socket causes the labrum, a rim of connective tissue around the edge of the hip socket, to be pinched. Over time, this extra pressure to the labrum when flexing (moving the leg forward) leads to wear and tear that can cause inflammation and could result in a tear. If this condition persists, eventually the cartilage that lines the hip joint can become worn and form holes.

  • This condition affects men and women equally; symptoms often begin early, appearing at any time between 15 to 50 years of age.

 

Cam-Type Impingement

  • In cam-type impingement, the shape of the bone around the head of the femur—the ball at the top of the bone in the thigh—is misshapen. It can vary from the normal round ball shape, or have overgrown bone formed at the top and front. The nickname “pistol grip” deformity is given to the appearance of the bony overgrowth on x-rays.

  • The overgrown or misshapen bone contacts the cartilage that lines the hip socket, and can cause it to peel away from the bone in the socket. The labrum can become worn, frayed, or torn as well.

  • This condition affects men to women at a ratio of 3 to 1; symptoms often manifest during the teen years and 20s.

HipImpingement-SM.jpg

Signs and Symptoms

Hip impingement may cause you to experience:

  • Stiffness or deep aching pain in the front or side of the hip or front of the upper thigh while resting.

  • Sharp, stabbing pain when standing up from a chair, squatting, rising from a squat, running, "cutting," jumping, twisting, pivoting, or making lateral motions.

  • Hip pain described in a specific location by making a "C" with the thumb and hand and placing it on the fold at the front and side of the hip, known as the "C-sign."

  • Pain that most often starts gradually, but can also remain after another injury resolves.

  • Pain that increases with prolonged sitting or forward leaning.

  • Feeling less flexible at the hips, including a decreased ability to turn your thigh inward on the painful side.

How Is It Diagnosed?

Your physical therapist will evaluate the range of motion (movement) of the hip and surrounding joints, and test the strength of the muscles in that area. Your therapist will feel the hip joint and surrounding muscles to evaluate their condition. The examination will include observing how you move, standing from a sitting position, walking, running, or squatting, as appropriate. Your physical therapist may perform special tests to help determine whether the hip is the source of your symptoms. For instance, the therapist may gently roll your leg in and out (the “log roll” test), or bend your hip up and in while turning the lower leg out to the side (the "FADDIR" test) to assess your condition.

If further diagnosis is needed, your doctor may order diagnostic tests to help identify any joint changes, including x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or diagnostic injections. Hip impingement can occur at the same time as low back, buttock, or pelvic pain, or from conditions such as bursitis or groin strain. The final diagnosis of hip impingement may take some time, especially when other conditions are present.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Without Surgery

When an active person develops hip pain, but does not have severe symptoms or joint damage, the recommended treatment is physical therapy. The following interventions can help decrease pain, improve movement, and avoid the progression of hip impingement and the need for surgery:

  • Improving the strength of your hips and trunk. Strengthening of the hips and trunk can reduce abnormal forces on the already injured joint and help with strategies to compensate.

  • Improving hip muscle flexibility and joint mobility. Stretching tight muscles can reduce abnormal forces that cause pain with motion. Joint mobilization may help ease pain from the hip joint; however, these treatments do not always help range of motion, especially if the shape of the bone at the hip joint has changed.

  • Improving tolerance of daily activities. Your physical therapist can consider your job and recreational activities and offer advice regarding maintaining postures that are healthier for your hip and activity modification. Often this involves limiting the amount of bending at the hip to avoid further hip damage.

 

Following Surgery

Surgery for hip impingement is performed with arthroscopy. This is a minimally invasive type of surgery, where the surgeon makes small incisions in the skin and inserts pencil-sized instruments into the joint to repair damage. The surgeon may perform 1 or several techniques during your procedure as needed. The surgeon may remove or reshape the bone on the pelvis or femur side of the joint, and repair or remove the damaged labrum or cartilage of the hip joint.

Postsurgical physical therapy varies based on the procedure performed. It may include:

  • Ensuring your safety as you heal. Your physical therapist may recommend that you limit the amount of weight you put on the operated leg if there was a repair of the labrum. You may wear a brace to help limit the amount of bending at the hip. You might also use crutches to avoid overloading the leg if the bone on the femur was reshaped.

  • Improving your range of motion, strength, and balance. Your physical therapist will guide you through safe range-of-motion, strengthening, and balance activities to improve your movement as quickly as possible while allowing the surgical site to heal properly.

  • Instructions on returning to an active lifestyle. Most people return to normal daily activities about 3 months after surgery, and to high-level activities and sports 4 to 6 months after surgery. Your physical therapist will recommend a gradual return to activity based on your condition—research shows that 60% to 90% of athletes return to their previous playing ability depending on the surgical procedure performed and the sport.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Currently there are no recommendations to prevent hip impingement. Despite a major increase in research to learn more about hip impingement, there is a great deal that is unknown. For instance, many active young people whose x-rays show hips as being abnormal do not have pain despite continuing to live active lives and participate in sports.

However, there is evidence that physical therapy interventions along with anti-inflammatory drugs can decrease pain, slow joint damage, and improve function. This is particularly important in those with mild hip impingement, those who are attempting to avoid surgery, and those who are not candidates for surgery.

Real Life Experiences

Lindsay is an active high school senior who plays shortstop for her school's softball team. Over the last several months, she has had progressively worsening pain on the front and side of her left hip. It started as an occasional sharp pain when she fielded ground balls at practice, and it eventually developed into aching and stiffness of the hip while resting. Lindsay occasionally develops hip pain while sitting in class or at the movies. In the past couple of weeks, she has found it hard to lean forward to tie her shoes. Her mom has been worrying about her pain and takes Lindsay to her physical therapist.

At the evaluation, the physical therapist finds that Lindsay has weakness around her hip and trunk muscles, decreased hip mobility, pain when flexing the hip, pain returning to a standing position after squatting, and decreased balance when standing on her affected leg. Her physical therapist diagnoses mild hip impingement in her left hip. Lindsay sees her physical therapist 1-2 times a week for the next 6 weeks.

Her treatments focus on developing a home program for strengthening her hips and trunk, and the therapist uses manual therapy for the hip to improve her comfort and allow her to perform more activities. The therapist works with Lindsay to change how she moves when standing from a seated position, and also to modify how she moves when playing the infield in softball. Lindsay also spends less time in the positions that bother her hip in the weight room and on the practice field, following recommendations from her physical therapist. After 3 weeks, the majority of her pain has subsided, and by 6 weeks, she is playing in games pain-free.

Lindsay meets her goal of finishing her senior year with the softball team. However, she is considering other ways to stay active after she graduates that don’t involve bending forward as much.

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat patients who have hip impingement. You may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with musculoskeletal problems. Some physical therapists have a practice with a sports or orthopaedic focus.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in sports or orthopaedic physical therapy. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people with hip impingement.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of problems related to hip impingement. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice for treatment both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Byrd JW. Femoroacetabular impingement in athletes, part I: cause and assessment. Sports Health. 2010;2:321-333. Free Article.

Byrd JW. Femoroacetabular impingement in athletes, part II: treatment and outcomes. Sports Health. 2010;2:403-409. Free Article.

Enseki KR, Martin RL, Draovitch P, et al. The hip joint: arthroscopic procedures and postoperative rehabilitation. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2006:36:516-525. Article Summary in PubMed.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Authored by Jennifer Miller, PT, MPT, SCS. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.



Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

What is Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome?

Often described as the carpal tunnel syndrome of the lower extremity, tarsal tunnel syndrome is a condition that results from the compression of the posterior tibial nerve as it runs through the tarsal tunnel (a structure made up of bone and tissue (retinaculum) on the inside of the ankle). As it passes through the tarsal tunnel, the tibial nerve divides into 3 branches that provide sensation for the heel and bottom of the foot, and aid in the foot's function. When this structure becomes compressed, symptoms, such as pain, numbness, and/or tingling may occur and radiate into the lower leg, foot, and toes. Individuals may also experience muscle weakness in the area.

How Does it Feel?

The most common symptoms of TTS result from irritation of the tibial nerve and its branches. People with TTS may experience:

  • Pain, numbness, or tingling in the foot or ankle, which may radiate into the lower leg, foot, and toes

  • Weakness in the muscles of the lower leg and foot

  • Weakness of the big toe

  • Foot swelling

  • Symptoms that increase with prolonged standing or walking

  • Symptoms that decrease with rest

  • Altered temperatures of the foot and ankle

  • Pain that disrupts sleep

How Is It Diagnosed?

There are several tests that can help a clinician determine if TTS is present. Your physical therapist and/or physician will first take a comprehensive health history, and inquire about your current symptoms. Then your physical therapist may conduct tests, such as:

  • Gently tapping over the posterior tibial nerve in an attempt to reproduce your symptoms.

  • Tensing of the posterior tibial nerve, a maneuver that looks and feels like a "stretch," in an attempt to reproduce your symptoms.

  • Conducting a nerve condition study—a diagnostic test to determine the speed at which a nerve conducts information.

  • Ruling out other conditions, such as plantarfasciitis (inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot).

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapists play a vital role in helping people experiencing TTS to improve and maintain their daily function and activities. Your physical therapist will work with you to develop a treatment plan to help address your specific needs and goals.  

Because the signs and symptoms of TTS can vary, the approach to care will also vary. Your physical therapist may provide the following recommendations and care:

Nerve Gliding Activities. Gentle exercises that move and "glide" the nerves may help reduce symptoms and improve function.

Muscle Strengthening Exercises. Strengthening activities for any muscles affected by TTS, such as the tibialis posterior muscle in the back of your lower leg.

Balance and Coordination Activities. Work to improve your balance and coordination, which are often affected by TTS.

Orthotics/Taping/Bracing. Apply ankle taping, a custom orthotic, or bracing to position the foot to decrease stress on the posterior tibial nerve.

As with many conditions, education is key. Understanding the underlying mechanisms of TTS, and learning to recognize early signs and symptoms of stress may help you better manage the condition.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Although there are no proven strategies for preventing TTS, there are ways to minimize stress to the foot and ankle, such as choosing appropriate footwear, wearing custom orthotics, minimizing the amount of time spent standing on hard surfaces, and improving and maintaining strength in the muscles of your legs, ankles, and feet. These strategies can be discussed further with your physical therapist.

In addition, early detection of the signs and symptoms of TTS will help you and your medical providers begin appropriate management of the condition, which may enhance your long-term well-being.

Real Life Experiences

Kim is a 46-year-old woman who works on an automobile assembly line. Her job involves standing on hard surfaces for prolonged periods of time. Kim recently noticed an onset of pain in her inner ankle after working a few hours, as well as an occasional shooting pain in her big toe. Now, her pain gets progressively worse throughout the day, and often interrupts her sleep. She is afraid of losing her job if she mentions her symptoms to her boss, and really can't afford to miss work. Kim decides to call her physical therapist.

Kim's physical therapist asks about her medical history, and learns that Kim has been diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol. They discuss Kim’s current symptoms.

He examines Kim’s ankle motion and strength, and gently performs procedures to provoke her symptoms. He also observes how she walks, and assesses her balance. Based on these signs and symptoms, he diagnoses tarsal tunnel syndrome.

Over the next several weeks, Kim works with her physical therapist to reduce her pain and improve her function. Her treatments include:

  • Application of a custom orthotic to better support her foot/ankle.

  • Nerve-gliding activities to improve the mobility of the posterior tibial nerve.

  • Balance exercises.

  • Manual therapy to ease her pain and improve her ankle mobility.

  • Strengthening exercises for her affected muscles.

  • Education about modifying her work positioning and activities.

After 4 weeks of physical therapy, Kim reports a significant reduction in her symptoms. She says she no longer fears going to work, and believes that she has taken control of her current situation. She continues to perform the home-based exercises her physical therapist taught her, and is amazed at how comfortable her feet feel throughout the workday—in her new shoes with custom orthotic inserts.

This story highlights an individualized experience of TTS. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific needs.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat conditions, such as TTS. However, when seeking a provider, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist, or who has completed a residency or fellowship in physical therapy. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

  • A physical therapist who is well-versed in the treatment of TTS or other neuropathic disorders.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people with painful conditions

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible. Keeping a journal highlighting when you experience pain will help the physical therapist identify the best way of approaching care.

 

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions, and also prepare them for a visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence for the treatment of Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Alshama AM, Souvlis T, Coppieters MW. A review of plantar heel pain of neural origin: differential diagnosis and management. Man Ther. 2008;13(2):103–111. Article Summary on PubMed.

Kavlak Y, Uygur F. Effects of nerve mobilization exercise as an adjunct to the conservative treatment for patients with tarsal tunnel syndrome. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2011;34(7):441–448. Article Summary on PubMed.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Acknowledgements: Joseph Brence, PT, DPT, FAAOMPT, COMT, DAC. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

Rotator Cuff Tear

What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

The "rotator cuff" is a group of 4 muscles and their tendons (tissues that attach muscles to bones), which connects the upper arm bone, or humerus, to the shoulder blade. The important job of the rotator cuff is to keep the shoulder joint stable. Sometimes, the rotator cuff becomes inflamed or irritated due to heavy lifting, repetitive arm movements, or trauma such as a fall. A rotator cuff tear occurs when injuries to the muscles or tendons cause tissue damage or disruption.

Rotator cuff tears are called either "full thickness" or partial thickness," depending on how severe they are.

  • Full-thickness tears extend from the top to the bottom of a rotator cuff muscle/tendon.

  • Partial-thickness tears affect at least some portion of a rotator cuff muscle/tendon, but do not extend all the way through.

Tears often develop as a result of either a traumatic event or long-term overuse of the shoulder. These conditions are commonly called “acute” or “chronic.”

  • Acute rotator cuff tears are those that occur suddenly, often due to traumas, such as a fall or lifting of a heavy object.

  • Chronic rotator cuff tears are much slower to develop. These tears are often the result of repeated actions with the arms working above shoulder level, such as with ball-throwing sports or certain work activities.

People with chronic rotator cuff injuries often have a history of rotator cuff tendon irritation that causes shoulder pain with movement. This condition is known as shoulder impingement syndrome.

Rotator cuff tears also may occur in combination with injuries or irritation of the biceps tendon at the shoulder, or with labral tears (to the ring of cartilage at the shoulder joint). Your physical therapist will explain the particular details of your rotator cuff tear.

 

RotatorCuff-Tear_SM.jpg

How Does it Feel?

People with rotator cuff tears can experience:

  • Pain over the top of the shoulder or down the outside of the arm

  • Shoulder weakness

  • Loss of shoulder motion

  • A feeling of weakness or heaviness in the arm

  • Inability to lift the arm to reach up, or reach behind the back

  • Inability to perform common daily activities due to pain and limited motion

How Is It Diagnosed?

To help pinpoint the cause of your shoulder pain, your physical therapist will complete a thorough examination that will include learning details of your symptoms, assessing your ability to move your arm, identifying weakness, and performing special tests that may indicate a rotator cuff tear. For instance, your physical therapist may raise your arm, move your arm out to the side, or raise your arm and ask you to resist a force, all at specific angles of elevation.

In some cases, the results of these tests might indicate the need for a referral to an orthopedist or other professional for imaging tests, such as ultrasound imaging, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or a computed tomography (CT) scan.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Once a rotator cuff tear has been diagnosed, you will work with your orthopedist and physical therapist to decide if you should have surgery or if you can try to manage your recovery without surgery.

If you don't need surgery, your physical therapist will work with you to restore your range of motion, muscle strength, and coordination, so that you can return to your regular activities. In some cases, you may learn to modify your physical activity so that you put less stress on your shoulder.

If you decide to have surgery, your physical therapist can help you both before and after the procedure.

Regardless of which treatment you have—physical therapy only, or surgery and physical therapy—early treatment can help you speed the healing process and avoid permanent damage.

If You Have an Acute Injury

If a rotator cuff tear is suspected following a trauma, seek the attention of a physical therapist or other health care provider to rule out the possibility of serious life- or limb-threatening conditions. Once serious injury is ruled out, your physical therapist will help you manage your pain and will prepare you for the best course of treatment.

If You Have a Chronic Injury

A physical therapist can help manage the symptoms of chronic rotator cuff tears as well as improve how your shoulder works. For large rotator cuff tears that can't be fully repaired, physical therapists can teach special strategies to improve shoulder movement. However, if physical therapy and conservative treatment alone do not improve your function, surgical options may exist.

If You Have Surgery

If your condition is severe, you may require surgery to restore use of the shoulder; physical therapy will be an important part of your recovery process. The repaired rotator cuff is vulnerable to reinjury following shoulder surgery; working with a physical therapist is crucial to safely regaining full use of the injured arm. After the surgical repair, you will need to wear a sling to keep your shoulder and arm protected as the repair heals. Your physical therapist will apply treatments during this phase of your recovery to reduce pain and gently begin to restore movement. Once you are able to remove the sling for exercise, your physical therapist will begin your full rehabilitation program.

Your physical therapist will design a treatment program based on both the findings of the evaluation and your personal goals. Your physical therapist will guide you through your postsurgical rehabilitation, which will progress from gentle range-of-motion and strengthening exercises to activity- or sport-specific exercises.

Your treatment program most likely will include a combination of exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff and other muscles that support the shoulder joint. The time line for your recovery will vary depending on the surgical procedure and your general state of health, but return to sports, heavy lifting, and other strenuous activities might not begin until 4 months after surgery and full return may not occur until 9 months to 1 year after surgery. Following surgery, your shoulder will be susceptible to reinjury. It is extremely important to follow the postoperative instructions provided by your surgeon and physical therapist.

Your rehabilitation will typically be divided into 4 phases:

  • Phase I (maximal protection). Phase 1 of treatment lasts for the first few weeks after your surgery, when your shoulder is at the greatest risk of reinjury. During this phase, your arm will be in a sling. You will likely need assistance or need strategies to accomplish everyday tasks, such as bathing and dressing. Your physical therapist will teach you gentle range-of-motion and isometric strengthening exercises, provide hands-on treatments (manual therapy), such as gentle massage, offer advice on reducing your pain, and may use techniques such as cold compression and electrical stimulation to relieve pain.

  • Phase II (moderate protection). This next phase has the goal of restoring mobility to the shoulder. You will reduce the use of your sling, and your range-of-motion and strengthening exercises will become more challenging. Exercises will be added to strengthen the "core" muscles of your trunk and shoulder blade (scapula), and the rotator-cuff muscles that provide additional support and stability to your shoulder. You will be able to begin using your arm for daily activities, but will still avoid heavy lifting. Your physical therapist may use special hands-on mobilization techniques during this phase to help restore your shoulder's range of motion.

  • Phase III (return to activity). This phase has the goal of restoring your strength and joint awareness to equal that of your other shoulder. At this point, you should have full use of your arm for daily activities, but you will still be unable to participate in activities such as sports, yard work, or physically strenuous work-related tasks. Your physical therapist will advance the difficulty of your exercises by adding weight or by having you use more challenging movement patterns. A modified weight-lifting/gym-based program may also be started during this phase.

  • Phase IV (return to occupation/sport). This phase will help you return to work, sports, and other higher-level activities. During this phase, your physical therapist will instruct you in activity-specific exercises to meet your needs. For certain athletes, this may include throwing and catching drills. For others, it may include practice in lifting heavier items onto shelves, or instruction in proper positioning for everyday tasks such as raking, shoveling, or doing housework.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

A physical therapist can help you reduce the worsening of the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear and may decrease your risk of worsening a tear, especially if you seek assistance at the first sign of shoulder pain or discomfort. To avoid developing a rotator cuff tear from an existing shoulder problem, it is imperative to stop performing actions that could make it worse. Your physical therapist can help you strengthen your rotator cuff muscles, train you to avoid potentially harmful positions, and determine when it is appropriate for you to return to your normal activities.

To maintain shoulder health and prevent rotator cuff tears, physical therapists recommend that you:

  • Avoid repeated overhead arm positions that may cause shoulder pain. If your job requires such movements, seek out the advice of a physical therapist to learn arm positions that may be used with less risk.

  • Apply rotator-cuff muscle and shoulder-blade strengthening exercises into your normal exercise routine. The strength of the rotator cuff is just as important as the strength of any other muscle group. To avoid potential harm to the rotator cuff, general strengthening and fitness programs may improve shoulder health.

  • Practice good posture. A forward position of the head and shoulders has been shown to alter shoulder-blade position and create shoulder impingement syndrome.

  • Avoid sleeping on your side with your arm stretched overhead, or lying on your shoulder. These positions can begin the process that causes rotator cuff damage and may be associated with increasing your pain level.

  • Avoid smoking; it can decrease the blood flow to your rotator cuff.

  • Consult a physical therapist at the first sign of symptoms.

Real Life Experiences

Jonathan is a 55-year-old professor who leads a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Recently, with the help of a colleague, he decided to repaint his house. Over the past 3 weeks, he has spent hours a day on a ladder, reaching overhead to scrape old paint and apply new coats. Starting 2 weeks ago, Jonathan began to feel pain in his shoulder after working an hour or so each day. Now, every time he raises his right arm overhead, he feels a sharp pain in his shoulder area. He admits that the pain has been steadily getting worse, and now his arm feels weak. He decides to stop his painting project and call a physical therapist.

Jonathan’s physical therapist takes his health history, noting his lack of daily exercise, and has him describe his symptoms, when they started, and what they now prevent him from doing. He examines Jonathan’s shoulder and arm using the procedures described above. Based on the findings from the examination, Jonathan’s physical therapist suspects that he may have a rotator cuff tear. He advises Jonathan to avoid all activities that require reaching overhead, and to protect the irritated muscles and tendons by performing actions, such as resting his elbow on an armrest when sitting. He refers Jonathan to a physician for an MRI. The test results confirm a diagnosis of a partial-thickness rotator cuff tear.

Jonathan’s physical therapist begins his treatment by teaching him gentle movement and strengthening exercises, and shows him how to apply ice to the shoulder at home to help decrease any irritation and pain. During phase 1 of treatment, he teaches Jonathan specific exercises to help restore pain free range-of-motion and activation of the rotator cuff muscles. 

During phase 2 of Jonathan’s rehabilitation, his physical therapist prescribes exercises to strengthen his rotator cuff and shoulder blade muscles, and addresses any remaining limitations in motion with manual therapy (hands-on treatment) techniques. He teaches Jonathan new movements to improve his posture and his ability to raise his arm without making his symptoms worse.

As Jonathan progresses, his physical therapist adds shoulder exercises that are performed in various positions, functional activities for the arm, and core strengthening exercises. He encourages Jonathan to start taking daily walks and explore other gym-based activities.

Six weeks after starting physical therapy, Jonathan has restored his ability to raise his arm over his head and feels stronger and more fit than he has in years. He has returned to his house painting, with the guidance of his physical therapist. He limits the time spent reaching overhead, adjusts his movements to protect his shoulder at all times, takes daily walks, and performs strengthening exercises to maintain his new-found fitness.

Just this week, a few of Jonathan’s students surprise him by showing up to complete his house-painting project themselves! Jonathan invites them to join him for regular “walk and talk” sessions, where they discuss current class topics while improving their overall fitness.

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat patients who have a rotator cuff tear, but you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with musculoskeletal problems. Some physical therapists have a practice with an orthopedic focus.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic physical therapy has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people with labral tears.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

APTA has determined that the following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence for how to treat rotator cuff tear. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice for treatment both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are listed by year and are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free access of the full article, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Kukkonen J, Joulkainen A, Lehtinen J, et al. Treatment of nontraumatic rotator cuff tears: a randomized controlled trial with two years of clinical and imaging follow-up [published correction appears in: J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2016]. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2015; 97:1729–1737. Article Summary in PubMed.

Eljabu W, Klinger HM, von Knoch M. The natural history of rotator cuff tear: a systematic review. Arch Orthop Trauma Surg.2015;135:1055–1061. Article Summary in PubMed.

Longo UG, Franceschi F, Berton A, et al. Conservative treatment and rotator cuff tear progression. Med Sport Sci. 2012;57:90–99. Article Summary in PubMed.

Düzgün I, Baltacı G, Atay OA. Comparison of slow and accelerated rehabilitation protocol after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair: pain and functional activity.Acta Orthop Traumatol Turc. 2011;45:23–33. Free Article.

Pedowitz RA, Yamaguchi K, Ahmad CS, et al. Optimizing the management of rotator cuff problems.J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2011;19:368–379. Article Summary in PubMed.

Parsons BO, Gruson KI, Chen DD, et al. Does slower rehabilitation after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair lead to long-term stiffness? J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2010;19:1034-1039. Article Summary in PubMed.

Oh JH, Kim SH, Ji HM, et al. Prognostic factors affecting anatomic outcome of rotator cuff repair and correlation with functional outcome. Arthroscopy. 2009;25:30-39. Article Summary in PubMed.

Millar AL, Lasheway PA, Eaton W, Christensen F. A retrospective, descriptive study of shoulder outcomes in outpatient physical therapy.J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2006;36:403–414. Article Summary in PubMed.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).  PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Authored by Charles Thigpen, PT, ATC, PhD, and Lane Bailey, PT, DPT. Reviewed by the 
MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL) Injury

The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is the most commonly damaged ligament in the knee. The MCL can be sprained or torn as a result of a blow to the outer side of the knee, by twisting the knee, or by quickly changing directions while walking or running. MCL injury most often occurs in athletes, although nonathletes can also be affected. A physical therapist treats an MCL sprain or tear to reduce pain, swelling, stiffness, and any associated weakness in the knee or lower extremity.

What is an MCL Injury?

The MCL is a small, thick band of tissue on the inner side of the knee joint. It connects two bones—the thighbone and the shin bone—preventing the knee from bending inward toward the other knee. When the knee is hit on the outer side of the leg (eg, the left side of the left leg), or if the knee is twisted violently, the MCL can overstretch resulting in a partial or complete tear. MCL injuries commonly occur in football players who get "clipped" or hit on the outer side of the knee. Other causes may include twisting and turning while skiing, blows received on the soccer field, trauma experienced in a car accident, or simply turning the knee sharply while the foot is planted on the ground. Healing times vary from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on the severity of the injury.

How Does it Feel?

When you experience an MCL injury, you may feel:

  • Pain on the inner side of the knee

  • Swelling and bruising at the inner side of the knee

  • Swelling that spreads to the rest of the knee joint in 1 or 2 days following injury

  • Stiffness in the knee

  • Difficulty or pain when trying to bend or straighten the knee

  • An unstable feeling, as though the knee may give out or buckle

  • Pain or difficulty walking, sitting down, rising from a chair, or climbing stairs

Signs and Symptoms

With an MCL injury, you may experience

  • A "popping" sound as the injury occurs

  • Pain and swelling in your knee

  • Difficulty moving your knee

  • Difficulty bearing weight on your leg for walking or getting up from a chair

How Is It Diagnosed?

If you see your physical therapist first, the therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health history. Your therapist will also ask you detailed questions about your injury, such as:

  • Did you feel pain or hear a "pop" when you injured your leg?

  • Did you turn your leg with your foot planted on the ground?

  • Did you change direction quickly while running?

  • Did you receive a direct hit to the leg while your foot was planted on the ground?

  • Did you see swelling around the knee in the first 2 to 3 hours following the injury?

  • Does your knee feel like buckling or giving way when you try to use it?

Your physical therapist also will perform special tests to help determine the likelihood that you have an MCL injury. Your therapist will gently press on the outside of your knee while it is slightly bent as well as when it is fully straight to test the strength of the ligament. The therapist will also check the inner side of your knee for tenderness and swelling and measure for swelling with a tape measure. The therapist may use additional tests to determine if other parts of your knee are injured, and will also observe how you are walking.

To provide a definitive diagnosis, your therapist may collaborate with an orthopedic physician or other health care provider. The orthopedic physician may order further tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other damage to the knee. It also helps to determine whether surgery is required. MRI is not required in all cases but may be ordered. Your therapist or doctor may recommend a knee brace, a knee immobilizer, or crutches to reduce pain if the MCL injury is severe.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physical therapist will work with you to design a specific treatment program that will speed your recovery, including exercises and treatments you can do at home. Physical therapy will help you return to your normal lifestyle and activities.

The First 24-48 Hours

Your physical therapist may advise you to:

  • Rest the area by avoiding walking or any activity that causes pain. Crutches and a knee brace may be recommended to reduce further strain on the MCL when walking.

  • Apply ice packs to the area for 15-20 minutes every 2 hours.

  • Compress the area with an elastic bandage wrap.

  • Consult with a physician for further services such as medication or diagnostic tests.

 

Reduce Pain

Your physical therapist may use different types of treatments and technologies to control and reduce your pain, including ice, heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, taping, exercises, and hands-on therapy such as massage.

Improve Motion

Your physical therapist will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in the knee and leg. These might begin with passive motions that the therapist performs for you to gently move your leg and knee joint, and progress to active exercises and stretches that you do yourself.

Improve Strength

Certain exercises will aid healing at each stage of recovery; your physical therapist will choose and teach you the correct exercises and equipment to steadily restore your strength and agility. These may include using cuff weights, stretchy bands, weight-lifting equipment, and cardio-exercise equipment such as treadmills or stationary bicycles.

Improve Balance

Regaining your sense of balance is important after an injury. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises to improve your balance skills.

Speed Recovery Time

Normal healing of time is a few weeks to a few months, depending on which tissues are injured and how severely they are injured. Your physical therapist is trained and experienced in choosing the right treatments and exercises to help you heal, return to your normal lifestyle, and reach your goals faster than you are likely to do on your own.

Return to Activities

Your physical therapist will discuss your goals with you and use them to set your work, sport, and homelife recovery goals. The therapist will design your treatment program to help you reach those goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible. Your physical therapist will apply hands-on therapy, such as massage, and teach you exercises, work retraining activities, and sport-specific techniques and drills to help you achieve your goals.

Prevent Future Injury

Your physical therapist can recommend a home exercise program to strengthen and stretch the muscles around your knee, upper leg, and abdomen to help prevent future injury. These may include strength and flexibility exercises for the leg, knee, and core muscles.

If Surgery Is Necessary

Surgery is rarely necessary in the case of an MCL injury. If surgery is needed, you will follow a recovery program over several weeks guided by your physical therapist, who will help you minimize pain, regain motion, strength, and return to normal activities as quickly as possible after surgery.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

To help prevent a recurrence of the injury, your physical therapist may advise you to:

  • Learn how to not let your knees collapse in toward each other when jumping, running, or turning quickly

  • Practice balance and agility exercises and drills

  • Always warm up before starting a sport or heavy physical activity

  • Follow a consistent strength and flexibility exercise program to maintain good physical conditioning, even in a sport's off-season

  • Wear shoes that are in good condition and fit well

Real Life Experiences

Mark is a 35-year-old accountant who is an avid bowler on the weekends. He lives with his 100-lb Rottweiler dog. One morning, as Mark was quickly turning a corner into the kitchen to grab a ringing phone, his dog ran the other way and accidentally hit Mark’s knee on the outer side of his right leg. Mark lost his balance and fell sideways. His right foot got caught underneath the dog as his body fell to the right, forcing the outer side of the knee to buckle and the inner side of the knee to overstretch. Mark felt a sharp pain on the inner side of his knee, and fell to the ground. Mark felt immediate tenderness on the inner side of his knee, and he could not straighten or bend it.

Mark was able to see his physical therapist that day. The physical therapist performed special tests on the ligaments and cartilage in the knee. She found that just the MCL was injured, and that it was a mild sprain. She immediately applied ice and electrical stimulation to the area for 20 minutes. She wrapped Mark’s knee with a compressive wrap and instructed him to keep it elevated when he was sitting or lying down. She gave Mark crutches and taught him how to use them.

When Mark returned for his next visit, the physical therapist began gently moving the knee to reduce the stiffness. She taught Mark some exercises he could do at home to start improving his muscle strength. She helped him use equipment in the clinic to gently move, stretch, and strengthen his knee and leg.

Mark received physical therapy treatments for 2 weeks, after which he was able to walk and climb stairs with only a little discomfort. His therapist taught him a variety of balance and endurance exercises. By the third week, he was able to return to bowling, and walk around sharp corners in his house, while keeping a watchful eye on his energetic dog!

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat MCL injury. However, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with orthopedic injuries. Some physical therapists have a practice with an orthopedic focus.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who has completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic or sports physical therapy. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists that have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool developed by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people who have your type of injury.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of MCL injury. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Frommer C, Masaracchio M. The use of patellar taping in the treatment of a patient with a medial collateral ligament sprain. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2009;4(2):60-69. Free Article.

Hunt SE, Herrera C, Cicerale S, et al. Rehabilitation of an elite olympic class sailor with MCL injury. N Am J Sports Phys Ther. 2009;4(3):123-131. Free Article.

Edson CJ. Conservative and postoperative rehabilitation of isolated and combined injuries of the medial collateral ligament.Sports Med Arthrosc. 2006;14(2):105-110. Article Summary on PubMed.

Azar FM. Evaluation and treatment of chronic medial collateral ligament injuries of the knee. Sports Med Arthrosc. 2006;14(2):84-90. Article Summary on PubMed.

Fung DT, Ng GY, Leung MC, Tay DK. Effects of a therapeutic laser on the ultrastructural morphology of repairing medial collateral ligament in a rat model. Lasers Surg Med. 2003;32(4):286-293. Article Summary on PubMed.

Reider B. Medial collateral ligament injuries in athletes. Sports Med. 1996;21(2):147-156. Article Summary on PubMed.

Paletta GA, Warren RF. Knee injuries and Alpine skiing: treatment and rehabilitation. Sports Med. 1994;17(6):411-423. ArticleSummary on PubMed.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).  PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

 Authored by Andrea Avruskin, PT, DPT. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

Female Athlete Triad

Female athlete triad (triad) is a syndrome that can manifest across a broad spectrum, but involves the interrelationship between 3 measurable factors: (1) how much energy a woman has available to use for activity (energy availability), (2) the quality and strength of her bones (bone mineral density), and (3) her menstrual cycle. Clinically, imbalances in any one of these areas can lead to eating problems, osteopenia/osteoporosis, and/or menstrual dysfunction. The prevalence of all 3 components of female athlete triad among high school, collegiate, and elite athletes in the United States can be as high as 16%; the prevalence of any one component of the triad in this population can be as high as 60%.

What is Female Athlete Triad?

Female athlete triad is a syndrome that can involve both the physical and mental aspects of health. It develops in female athletes based on 3 factors: energy availability, bone mineral density, and the menstrual cycle.

Energy availability is calculated by how much energy you gain from dietary sources, minus the amount of energy you expend during activity. Typically, with triad poor energy availability is the driving force behind abnormal bone density and menstrual dysfunction. Poor energy availability is caused by poor nutrition; it can occur with or without the presence of an eating disorder. Nutrients act to provide the necessary source of fuel for bones and muscles. Poor nutrition also can have a negative effect on the part of the brain that controls hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. Optimal energy availability supports bone health specifically by maintaining estrogen levels. Estrogen is an important hormone that has a protective effect on bone by supporting the balance between bone building and bone loss. Therefore, lack of estrogen can impact bone density and may increase the risk of bone stress injuries.

Bone mineral density (BMD) defines 1 aspect of bone health. When your bones are not supplied with necessary nutrients or are stressed too much through overexercising, they may begin to weaken. This weakening can lead to osteopenia (lower than normal BMD) and further, osteoporosis (a loss of bone strength that predisposes a person to increased risk of fractures). When a person has low BMD, she may be at an increased long-term risk of bone mineral loss and fracture as she ages.

Menstrual dysfunction refers to abnormal menstrual periods. This spectrum can range from oligomenorrhea (inconsistent menstrual cycles) to amenorrhea (absence of a menstrual period) in females who are of a reproductive age.

Female athletes are at an increased risk of developing triad due to the high demand that athletics place on the female body physically, as well as the increasing societal pressures for performance and image. For example, a female runner may feel that altering or restricting caloric intake will make her a faster runner, therefore gaining an edge on the competition and earning greater success in her sport. Triad can be present in any female athlete, from the elite athlete striving to reach high-performance goals, to the adolescent female whose body is going through normal changes related to puberty. In any case, there are physical and psychological aspects of this syndrome that affect its extent, impact, and treatment.

How Does it Feel?

Female athlete triad is not caused by a sudden traumatic injury; therefore, no immediate symptoms typically appear. Instead, symptoms related to the 3 components of triad may develop over time, ranging from months to years.

A female athlete may begin experiencing the following symptoms, conditions, or changes (separately or together) that may indicate she is developing female athlete triad:

  • Low energy during school, work, or exercise

  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycles

  • Stress-related bone injuries (stress reactions or fractures)

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • An unexplained drop in performance

  • Changes in eating habits

  • Altered sleeping patterns

  • An unusually high focus on performance or image

  • Experiencing high levels of stress

How Is It Diagnosed?

A multidisciplinary team of medical providers typically diagnoses female athlete triad. The team may include medical doctors, nutritionists, physical therapists, certified athletic trainers, and psychologists. However, nonmedical individuals, such as parents, friends, coaches, teammates, teachers, and work colleagues can also be resources to help identify female athletes who demonstrate signs of triad, as these are all people who spend time with the athlete. Often, the athlete does not realize that she has low energy availability or any of the symptoms of triad; therefore, it often becomes the responsibility of a health care professional to educate a patient and her parents and coaches.

If it is suspected that an athlete may be demonstrating 1 or more components of triad, a proper screening interview can help identify the components, including questions about menstrual status and history, history of stress or bone injury, and eating disorder tendencies. These questions may include:

  • Have you ever had a stress fracture?

  • Do you have menstrual periods?

  • Are you trying to or has anyone recommended that you gain or lose weight?

  • Are you on a special diet?

  • Have you ever been diagnosed with an eating disorder?

To diagnose triad, a number of medical and psychological tests and consultations may be recommended, including:

  • Diagnostic imaging of bone health (ie, X-ray, bone density scan [DEXA])

  • Referral to a nutritionist for dietary assessment

  • Referral to a primary care or family medical doctor for monitoring of menstrual function or related medical tests (eg, blood tests, assessment of the natural stages of development, such as the onset of puberty)

  • Referral to a physical therapist for functional assessment (ie, motion, strength, movement quality)

Because triad involves multiple components of health, an athlete who is able to receive care from all relevant health care practitioners has the best chance of developing a comprehensive plan to return to good health and athletic participation/performance.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Physical therapists are trained to identify signs and symptoms of female athlete triad and initiate multidisciplinary care as appropriate and needed. The physical therapist can assist with prevention and the promotion of health, wellness, and fitness, in addition to providing rehabilitation following an injury. Primary prevention includes proper screening of any female athlete for triad, asking questions such as those stated above, and referring the athlete to other appropriate health care professionals.

Physical therapists are also trained to understand the implications that triad may have on exercise prescription. For example, an athlete with a stress fracture due to low BMD should not perform jumping and running movements. Once an athlete's symptoms are resolved, her physical therapist can design an individualized return-to-activity program that encourages a safe, progressive level of activity. A physical therapist also can identify if an athlete is at an increased risk of overuse injury or abnormal loading of the bone or a joint.

Physical therapists are trained to educate athletes and their families about triad, and work with athletes to prevent or resolve the condition—guiding them back to safe, optimal performance levels. In many cases, this attention to and care for a female athlete's overall health can improve her performance in athletics and in school as well, and boost her overall self-esteem. Many athletes report that they are more confident, stronger, and better equipped to achieve their goals when they feel they have strong support and a plan for sustained health.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

The Female Athlete Triad is a very preventable condition.

The most effective approach to prevention is education. As both the level of female participation in competitive sports and the incidence of the Triad have risen over the last 2 decades, a stronger emphasis has been put on educating athletes, parents, and coaches on strategies to prevent the development of causal factors for the Triad. It is important to begin educating young female athletes as early as middle-school age on topics such as healthy eating, smart physical training, recovery and rest, and taking care of their bodies.

Coaches should monitor training and its impact on the overall health of the athlete by encouraging pain-free participation in sports; they may also track training and performance in order to notice any abnormal health or behavioral signs. Individuals involved in the life of a female athlete should promote an open, honest, and safe environment for the athlete so that she feels comfortable discussing challenges or issues she may be facing without the risk of external pressure or judgment.

Real Life Experiences

Jenna is a 17-year-old junior in high school who runs cross-country and track, and swims on a competitive, year-round swim team. Jenna is a very talented athlete. She has been swimming since age 5; last year, with encouragement of her coaches, she decided to start running to improve her fitness for swimming. She immediately ranked in the top 5 runners on the school’s cross-country team. Jenna recently started receiving phone calls from college swim coaches. It has been her dream to earn a scholarship to swim in college, and as she begins to feel like it may be a real possibility, she commits to training harder than ever for both running and swimming.

For several weeks, Jenna practices both sports every day, rushing from the track to the pool with no time to rest or grab a snack. The junior year is the hardest academic year at her school; she has been swamped with homework and only gets around 5 hours of sleep each night.

After finishing in the top 10 at the state cross-country meet in November, Jenna started 2-a-day swim practices without taking any time off. During her weight-room sessions, she began to notice her shin was growing very sore with each workout, and that she wasn’t able to increase her weights like she did last season. Her shin didn’t bother her in the pool, but she had a hard time completing workouts and hitting her running times. She just felt tired all the time, and began to grow discouraged and unmotivated. Her mom took her to see a physical therapist.

Jenna's physical therapist asked her specific questions about her training. Jenna felt comfortable being honest with her. Jenna mentioned that she had started skipping lunch so that she wouldn’t feel lethargic for practice, and rarely had time to eat a full dinner because of her homework load. She told her physical therapist that she was beginning to feel like her chances of getting a college scholarship were slipping away.

Jenna and her physical therapist had a long discussion about the best plan to help her return to good health and achieve her goals. Her physical therapist helped her see that her desire to perform at a high level had become out of balance with her ability to take care of her body. She encouraged Jenna not to feel guilty, but to feel positive about her opportunity to address her challenges. She told Jenna that she may have to rest for a few weeks to begin to restore her full strength. Jenna was frustrated by the situation, but excited to work toward returning to full health. They discussed the plan with her coaches and parents, and everyone was on board.

Jenna's physical therapist referred her to an orthopedic physician for evaluation of her bone health, as well as to a nutritionist to evaluate her diet and come up with a proper fueling plan that met the high physical demands of swimming and running. After resting for several weeks, Jenna began her physical therapy. Her physical therapist designed an individualized program to restore and enhance her strength, endurance, and movement quality. She and her coaches worked on a training plan that would allow adequate rest and recovery.

By the national swim meet that March, Jenna was in the best shape of her life and placed first in her event, setting a new personal-best time. That summer, the college of her choice called with a scholarship offer. Jenna felt happy and healthy entering her senior year, excited for the adventures ahead!

This story was based on a real-life case. Your case may be different. Your physical therapist will tailor a treatment program to your specific case.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to identify female athlete triad. However, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in working with people who have female athlete triad. Some physical therapists have a practice with an orthopedic or musculoskeletal focus.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic or sports physical therapy. This physical therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people with female athlete triad.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of female athlete triad. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Goolsby M, Boniquit N. Bone health in athletes: the role of exercise, nutrition, and hormones. Sports Health. 2017;9(2):108–117. Free Article.

Stickler L, Hoogenboom BJ, Smith L. The female athlete triad: what every physical therapist should know. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(4):563–571. Free Article.

Nazem TG, Ackerman KE. The female athlete triad. Sports Health. 2012;4(4):302–311. Free Article.

Nichols JF, Rauh MJ, Lawson MJ, Ji M, Barkai HS. Prevalence of the female athlete triad syndrome among high school athletes. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2006;160(2):137–142. Free Article.

Donaldson ML. The female athlete triad: a growing health concern. Orthop Nurs. 2003;22(5):322–324. Article Summary on PubMed.

Female Athlete Triad Coalition.  Accessed April 11, 2018.

International Society of Sports Nutrition.  Accessed March 29, 2018.

* PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Authored by Laura Stanley, PT, DPT, board-certified clinical specialist in sports physical therapy. Updated by Valerie Bobb, PT, DPT, board-certified women's health specialist in physical therapy. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.


Shoulder Labral Tear

An unstable shoulder joint can be the cause or the result of a labral tear. "Labral" refers to the ring of cartilage (glenoid labrum) that surrounds the base of the shoulder joint. Injuries to the labrum are common, can cause a great deal of pain, and may make it hard to move your arm. A labral tear can occur from a fall or from repetitive work activities or sports that require you to use your arms raised above your head. Some labral tears can be managed with physical therapy; in severe cases, surgery may be required to repair the torn labrum.

The ring of cartilage called the glenoid labrum provides extra support for the shoulder joint, helping to keep it in place. A shoulder labral tear occurs when part of this ring is disrupted, frayed, or torn. Tears may lead to shoulder pain, an unstable shoulder joint, and, in severe cases, dislocation of the shoulder. Likewise, a shoulder dislocation can result in labral tears.

When you think of the shoulder joint, picture a golf ball (the head of the upper-arm bone, or humerus) resting on a golf tee (the glenoid fossa, a shallow cavity or socket located on the shoulder blade, or scapula). The labrum provides a rim for the socket (golf tee) so that the humerus (golf ball) does not easily fall off. If the labrum is torn, it is harder for the humerus to stay in the socket. The end result is that the shoulder joint becomes unstable and prone to injury.

Because the biceps tendon attaches to the shoulder blade through the labrum, labral tears can occur when you put extra strain on the biceps muscle, such as when you throw a ball. Tears also can result from pinching or compressing the shoulder joint, when the arm is raised overhead.

There are 2 types of labral tears:

  • Traumatic labral tears usually occur because of a single incident, such as a shoulder dislocation or an injury from heavy lifting. People who use their arms raised over their heads—such as weight lifters, gymnasts, and construction workers—are more likely to experience traumatic labral tears. Activities where the force occurs at a distance from the shoulder, such as striking a hammer or swinging a racquet, can cause a traumatic labral tear. Falling on an outstretched arm also can cause this type of tear.

  • Nontraumatic labral tears most often occur because of muscle weakness or shoulder joint instability. When the muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint are weak, more stress is put on the labrum, leading to a tear. People with nontraumatic tears tend to have more "looseness" or greater mobility throughout all their joints, which might be a factor in the development of a tear.

LabralTear_SM.jpg

How Does it Feel?

A shoulder labral tear may cause you to feel:

  • Pain over the top of your shoulder

  • "Popping," "clunking," or "catching" with shoulder movement, because the torn labrum has "loose ends" that are flipped or rolled within the shoulder joint during arm movement, and may even become trapped between the upper arm and shoulder blade

  • Shoulder weakness, often on one side

  • A sensation that your shoulder joint will pop out of place

How Is It Diagnosed?

Not all shoulder labral tears cause symptoms. In fact, when tears are small, many people function without any symptoms. However, healing may be difficult due to the lack of blood supply available to a torn labrum. The shoulder with a labral tear may pop or click without being painful, but if the tear progresses, it is likely to lead to pain and weakness.

If your physical therapist suspects that you have a labral tear, your physical therapist will review your health history and perform an examination that is designed to test the condition of the glenoid labrum. The tests will place your shoulder in positions that may recreate some of your symptoms, such as "popping," "clicking," or mild pain, to help your physical therapist determine whether your shoulder joint is unstable. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) also may be used to complete the diagnosis. Some labral tears may be difficult to diagnose with certainty without arthroscopic surgery. Your physical therapist may consult with an orthopedic surgeon if necessary.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

When shoulder labral tears cause minor symptoms but don’t cause shoulder instability, they usually are treated with physical therapy. Your physical therapist will educate you about positions and activities to avoid, and tailor a treatment plan for your recovery. Your treatment may include:

Manual therapy. Your physical therapist may provide gentle manual (hands-on) therapy to decrease your pain and begin to restore movement in the shoulder area.

Strengthening exercises. Improving the strength of the muscles of the shoulder will help you decrease the stresses placed on the torn labrum and allow for better healing. Your physical therapist may design rotation exercises that target the muscles of the shoulder joint, and shoulder-blade (scapular) exercises to provide stability to the shoulder joint itself.

Stretching exercises. An imbalance in the muscles or a decrease in flexibility can result in poor posture or excessive stress within the shoulder joint. Your physical therapist may prescribe stretching exercises—such as gentle stretches of the chest (pectoralis) muscles—to improve the function of the muscles surrounding the shoulder. Your physical therapist also may introduce middle-back (thoracic) stretches to allow your body to rotate or twist to the side, so the shoulder joint doesn’t have to stretch further to perform tasks, such as swinging a racquet or golf club.

Postural exercises. Your physical therapist will assess your posture, and teach you specific exercises to ensure your shoulders are positioned properly for daily tasks. A forward-head and rounded-shoulder posture puts the shoulders at risk for injury.

Education. Education is an important part of any physical therapy treatment plan. Your physical therapist will help you understand your injury, the reasons for modifying your activities, and the importance of doing your exercises to decrease your risk of future injury.

Home-exercise program. A home-exercise program is an important companion to treatment in the physical therapy clinic. Your physical therapist will identify the stretching and strengthening exercises that will help you steadily improve your shoulder function and meet your work, home, and activity goals.

Following Surgery

In more severe cases, when conservative treatments are unable to completely relieve the symptoms of a labral tear, surgery may be required to reattach the torn labrum. Following surgery, your physical therapist will design a treatment program based on your specific needs and goals, and work with you to help you safely return to your daily activities.

A surgically repaired labrum takes 9 to 12 months to completely heal. Immediately following surgery, your physical therapist will teach you ways to avoid putting excessive stress or strain on the repaired labrum.

As the labrum heals, your physical therapist will introduce resistance and strengthening exercises, such as those listed above, to your treatment plan, to address your specific needs, and help you slowly and safely return to performing daily tasks that require force or lifting. Your physical therapist is trained to gradually introduce movements in a safe manner to allow you to return to your usual activities without re-injuring the repaired tissues.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Forceful activities performed with the arms raised overhead may increase the likelihood of developing a labral tear. To avoid putting excessive stress on the labrum, you need to develop strength in the muscles that surround the shoulder and scapula. Your physical therapist can:

  • Design exercises to help you strengthen your shoulder and shoulder blade muscles

  • Show you how to avoid potentially harmful positions

  • Train you to properly control your shoulder movement and modify your activities to reduce your risk of sustaining a labral injury

  • Provide posture education to help you avoid placing unnecessary forces on the shoulder

  • Help you increase your shoulder and middle-back flexibility


What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat patients who have a shoulder labral tear, but you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with musculoskeletal problems. Some physical therapists have a practice with an orthopedic focus.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedics physical therapy has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people with labral tears.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider.

APTA has determined that the following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence for how to treat labral tears. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice for treatment both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free access of the full article, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Mazzocca AD, Cote MP, Solovyova O, et al. Traumatic shoulder instability involving anterior, inferior, and posterior labral injury: a prospective clinical evaluation of arthroscopic repair of 270° labral tears. Am J Sports Med. 2011;39:1687-1696.  Article Summary on PubMed.

Dodson CC, Altchek DW. SLAP lesions: an update on recognition and treatment. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009;39:71-80. Article Summary on PubMed.

Keener JD, Brophy RH. Superior labral tears of the shoulder: pathogenesis, evaluation, and treatment. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2009;17:627-637. Article Summary on PubMed.

 *PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).  PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.”

Authored by Charles Thigpen, PhD, PT, ATC and Lane Bailey, PT, DPT, CSCS. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.

 


Hip Bursitis

Hip bursitis is a painful condition that affects 15% of women and 8.5% of men of all ages in the United States. The condition tends to develop more in middle-aged and elderly individuals. Hip bursitis can have many causes, but the most common is a repetitive activity, such as walking or running on an uneven surface, which creates friction in the hip area. Athletes often develop hip bursitis after running up and down hills repetitively. The condition can also be caused by abnormal walking, such as limping, due to an uneven leg length, or arthritis in the back, hip, knee, or other joints in the leg. It can also occur without any specific cause. Physical therapy can be an effective treatment for hip bursitis to reduce pain, swelling, stiffness, and any associated weakness in the hip, back, or lower extremity.

Hip bursitis (also called trochanteric bursitis) occurs when one or both of the 2 bursae (fluid-filled sacs on the side of the hip) become damaged, irritated, or inflamed. Bursitis (“-itis” means “inflammation of”) means the bursa has become irritated and inflamed, usually causing pain. Normally, the bursa acts as a cushion for muscles and tendons that are close to it. Certain positions, motions, or disease processes can cause constant friction or stress on the bursa, leading to the development of bursitis. When the bursa becomes injured, those muscles and tendons don’t glide smoothly over it, and they can become painful.

Hip bursitis can be caused by:

  • Repetitive motions (running up and down hills or stairs)

  • Muscle weakness

  • Incorrect posture

  • Direct trauma (being hit or falling on the side of the hip)

  • Differences in the length of each leg

  • Hip surgery or replacement

  • Bone spurs in the hip

  • Infection

  • Diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, psoriasis, or thyroid disease

  • Muscles or tendons in the hip area rubbing the bursa and causing irritation

How Does it Feel?

With hip bursitis, you may experience:

  • Pain on the outer side of the hip, thigh, buttock, or outside of the leg.

  • Pain when you push on the outer side of the hip with your fingers.

  • Pain when lying on the affected hip.

  • Pain when climbing stairs.

  • Pain that worsens when getting up from sitting, such as from a low chair or car seat.

  • Pain when walking or running.

  • Pain when lifting the leg up to the side.

  • Pain when sitting with legs crossed.

How Is It Diagnosed?

If you see your physical therapist first, the physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes taking your health history. Your physical therapist also will ask you detailed questions about your condition, such as:

  • How and when did you notice the pain?

  • Have you been performing any repetitive activity?

  • Did you receive a direct hit to the hip or fall on it? 

Your physical therapist will perform special tests to help determine the likelihood that you have hip bursitis. Your physical therapist will gently press on the outer side of the hip to see if it is painful to the touch, and may use additional tests to determine if other parts of your hip are injured. Your physical therapist also will observe how you are walking.

Your physical therapist will test and screen for other, more serious conditions that could cause lateral hip pain. To provide a definitive diagnosis, your physical therapist may collaborate with an orthopedic physician or other health care provider, who may order further tests (eg, an x-ray) to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other damage to the hip, such as a fracture.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physical therapist will work with you to design a specific treatment program that will speed your recovery, including exercises and treatments that you can do at home. Physical therapy will help you return to your normal lifestyle and activities. The time it takes to heal the condition varies, but results can be achieved in 2 to 8 weeks or less, when a proper stretching and strengthening program is implemented.

During the first 24 to 48 hours following your diagnosis, your physical therapist may advise you to:

  • Rest the area by avoiding walking or any activity that causes pain.

  • Apply ice packs to the area for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 hours.

  • Consult with a physician for further services, such as medication or diagnostic tests.

Your physical therapist will work with you to:

Reduce Pain and Swelling. If repetitive activities have caused the hip bursitis, your physical therapist will help you understand how to avoid or modify your activities to allow healing to begin. Your physical therapist may use different types of treatments and technologies to control and reduce your pain and swelling, including ice, heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, taping, exercises, and hands-on therapy, such as specialized massage.

Improve Motion. Your physical therapist will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in the hip and leg. These might begin with "passive" motions that the physical therapist performs for you to gently move your hip joint, and progress to active exercises and stretches that you do yourself.

Improve Flexibility. Your physical therapist will determine if any leg or spinal muscles are tight, help you to stretch them, and teach you how to stretch them.

Improve Strength. Hip bursitis is often related to weak or injured hip muscles. Certain exercises will aid healing at each stage of recovery; your physical therapist will choose and teach you the correct exercises and equipment to steadily restore your strength and agility. These may include using cuff weights, stretch bands, weight-lifting equipment, and cardio-exercise equipment, such as treadmills or stationary bicycles.

Improve Balance. Regaining your sense of balance is important after an injury. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises to improve your balance skills.

Learn a Home-Exercise Program. Your physical therapist will teach you strengthening and stretching exercises to perform at home. These exercises will be specific for your needs; if you do them as prescribed by your physical therapist, you can speed your recovery.

Return to Activities. Your physical therapist will discuss your activity goals with you and use them to set your work, sport, and home-life recovery goals. Your treatment program will help you reach your goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible. Your physical therapist will teach you exercises, work retraining activities, and sport-specific techniques and drills that match your lifestyle.

Speed Recovery Time. Your physical therapist is trained and experienced in choosing the best treatments and exercises to help you safely heal, return to your normal lifestyle, and reach your goals faster than you are likely to do on your own.

If Surgery Is Necessary

Surgery is not commonly required for hip bursitis. However, if surgery is needed, you will follow a recovery program over several weeks guided by your physical therapist. Your physical therapist will help you minimize pain, regain motion and strength, and return to normal activities in the safest and speediest manner possible.

Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Your physical therapist can recommend a home-exercise program to strengthen and stretch the muscles around your knee, upper leg, and abdomen to help prevent future injury. These may include strength and flexibility exercises for the leg, knee, and core muscles.

To help prevent a recurrence of the injury, your physical therapist may advise you to:

  • Follow a consistent flexibility and strengthening exercise program, especially for the hip muscles, to maintain good physical conditioning, even in a sport's off-season.

  • Always warm up before starting a sport or heavy physical activity.

  • Gradually increase any athletic activity, rather than suddenly increasing the activity amount or intensity.

  • Obtain a professionally fitted shoe insert, if your legs are different lengths.

  • Learn and maintain correct posture.

Real Life Experiences

John is a 30-year-old dentist who enjoys running, biking, and triathlon training. He recently decided to add CrossFit training to his exercise routine, and joined an aggressive CrossFit gym. After running stairs intensely during 1 session, John felt pain developing on the outside of his right hip a few hours later. He realized that he was limping. By the end of the day, he was having trouble climbing stairs because of the hip pain. He contacted his physical therapist.

John's physical therapist asked him how and when he felt the pain. She observed him walking, and noted his limp. She gently touched the soft tissues on the outside of his hip, and noted the tenderness he felt when she pushed right over the bony spot on the outer side of the hip. She tested the strength and flexibility in his hip and back. She concluded that his hip bursa was irritated and inflamed, and that he had some tight and weak muscles in the area. She diagnosed hip bursitis. She asked John about his goals, which he said were to get rid of the pain, walk normally, and return to his previous level of exercising as well as his CrossFit club activities.

John's physical therapist began his treatment by gently stretching the muscles she had found were tight. Next, she applied ice and electrical stimulation to the area to help halt and reverse the inflammation process. She discussed with John the importance of “relative rest” for the hip area, meaning he should avoid activities like stair running, lunges, and squats for a few days, until his pain subsided.

When John returned for his next treatment, he was already feeling less pain. His physical therapist noted that his limp was almost gone. She started teaching John strengthening exercises for the muscle weakness she had found in his hip and back muscles. Only light weights were used to avoid causing new pain. As John improved, the weights were steadily increased.

Two weeks later, John's physical therapist added light jogging to John’s program, which he was able to do without increasing his pain. During the third week, John was improved enough to add lunges. By the fourth week, he was able to begin jogging up stairs in short sessions.

By the fifth week, John was able to rejoin his CrossFit club, although he was mindful to increase his workouts slowly and gradually, especially when it came to running stairs. He learned from his physical therapist to avoid any sudden increases in exercise. John also incorporated some of the special strengthening exercises he learned from his physical therapist into his warm-up and workout.

When he met his physical therapist at the store 6 months later, John was happy to report he was functioning at his top fitness level, and by following the advice he learned from her, he had prevented any recurrence of hip bursitis.

What Kind of Physical Therapist Do I Need?

All physical therapists are prepared through education and experience to treat hip bursitis. However, you may want to consider:

  • A physical therapist who is experienced in treating people with orthopedic injuries. Some physical therapists have a practice with an orthopedic focus.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified clinical specialist, or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic or sports physical therapy. This therapist has advanced knowledge, experience, and skills that may apply to your condition.

You can find physical therapists who have these and other credentials by using Find a PT, the online tool built by the American Physical Therapy Association to help you search for physical therapists with specific clinical expertise in your geographic area.

General tips when you're looking for a physical therapist (or any other health care provider):

  • Get recommendations from family and friends or from other health care providers.

  • When you contact a physical therapy clinic for an appointment, ask about the physical therapists' experience in helping people who have your type of injury.

  • During your first visit with the physical therapist, be prepared to describe your symptoms in as much detail as possible, and say what makes your symptoms worse.

Further Reading

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) believes that consumers should have access to information that could help them make health care decisions and also prepare them for their visit with their health care provider. The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of hip bursitis. The articles report recent research and give an overview of the standards of practice both in the United States and internationally. The article titles are linked either to a PubMed* abstract of the article or to free full text, so that you can read it or print out a copy to bring with you to your health care provider.

Haviv B. Update on trochanteric bursitis of the hip. OA Orthopaedics. 2013;1(1):10. Article summary not available.

Lustenberger DP, Ng VY, Best TM, Ellis TJ. Efficacy of treatment of trochanteric bursitis: a systematic review. Clin J Sport Med. 2011;21(5):447–453. Free Article.

Segal NA, Felson DT, Torner JC, et al. Greater trochanteric pain syndrome: epidemiology and associated factors. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2007;88(8):988–992. Free Article.

Jones DL, Erhard RE. Diagnosis of trochanteric bursitis versus femoral neck stress fracture. Phys Ther. 1997;77(1):58–67. Free Article.

Butcher JD, Salzman KL, Lillegard WA. Lower extremity bursitis [erratum in: Am Fam Physician. 1996;54(2):468]. Am Fam Physician. 1996;53(7):2317–2324.

Hammer WI. The use of transverse friction massage in the management of chronic bursitis of the hip or shoulder. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1993;16(2):107–111. Article Summary in PubMed.

Sears B. Physical therapy for hip pain. About.com website. Accessed December 9, 2014.

Physical therapy management of trochanteric bursitis. Morphopedics website. Accessed December 9, 2014.

Trochanteric bursitis. Cleveland Clinic website. Accessed December 9, 2014.

University of Washington Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. Bursitis, tendinitis, and other soft tissue rheumatic syndromes. Accessed December 9, 2014.

*PubMed is a free online resource developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). PubMed contains millions of citations to biomedical literature, including citations in the National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE database.

Authored by Andrea Avruskin, PT, DPT. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.