Osteoporosis

What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a bone disease characterized by low bone density (thickness of the bone), decreased bone strength, and a change in the bone structure, which can lead to an increased risk of fracture. The normal bone structure becomes thinned out and porous with poor nutrition, aging, or when osteoporosis develops, lessening the ability of the bone to withstand the typical forces that are applied in everyday living. Fractures from low bone density and osteoporosis can be serious, causing pain and affecting quality of life.

Bone is living tissue. Normally, one type of cell removes bone and another type of cell adds bone in a balanced, ongoing process. In osteoporosis, bones weaken when not enough new bone is formed and/or too much bone is lost. This imbalance commonly begins in women during the first 5 years of menopause. However, it can also occur in men and in children, often due to diseases that affect bone development, such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, spina bifida, cystic fibrosis, or kidney disease. Some medicines, such as steroids, may increase the risk of developing osteoporosis. Athletes who are underweight during the time of peak bone development are also susceptible.

There are many factors that can cause a person to be at risk for developing osteoporosis. It is important to know your risks so that you can be diagnosed and proactive in your treatment.


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Risk Factors for Osteoporosis

Noncontrollable risks

  • Female gender

  • Small frame

  • Advanced age

  • Hormone levels

  • Genetics

  • Predisposing medical conditions

Controllable risks

  • Cigarette smoking

  • Excessive alcohol intake

  • Inactive lifestyle

  • Excessive caffeine intake

  • Lack of weight-bearing exercise

  • Drugs (eg, steroids, heparin)

  • Poor health

  • Low weight

  • Calcium-poor diet

  • Low vitamin D levels

 


How Does it Feel?

Osteoporosis is a disease that can be "silent." There may be no outward symptoms until a fracture occurs. If you are middle-aged or older, you may notice a loss of height or the appearance of a humpback. You may also begin to experience pain between your shoulder blades or above the crest of the pelvis.

People with low bone density may experience fractures in everyday situations that would not occur in persons with healthy bones, such as breaking a hip or a wrist with a fall from a standing height, breaking a rib when opening a window or when receiving a hug, or breaking an ankle after stepping off a curb. These are called fragility fractures and are a red flag for bone disease. Spinal compression fractures, particularly those in the upper back or thoracic spine (area between the neck and the lower back), are the most common fractures, followed by hip and wrist fractures.


How Is It Diagnosed?

If you are seeing a physical therapist for back pain or other rehabilitation issues, the therapist will review your medical, family, medication, exercise, dietary, and hormonal history, conduct a complete physical examination, and determine your risk factors for osteoporosis. The assessment may lead the physical therapist to recommend further testing.

Osteoporosis is best diagnosed through a quick and painless specialized X-ray called the DXA, which measures bone density. The results are reported using T-scores and Z-scores.

  • The T-score compares your score to that of healthy 30-year-old adults. If you have a T-score of -1 or less, you have a greater risk of having a fracture.

  • If the T-score is -2.5 or less you will receive the diagnosis of osteoporosis.

  • The Z-score compares your bone mineral density to those of the same sex, weight, and age. It is used for those whose bone mass has not yet peaked, premenopausal women, and men older than 50.

Other methods of measuring bone density include X-ray, ultrasound, and CT scan. 


How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Your physical therapist can develop a specific program based on your individual needs to help improve your overall bone health, keep your bones healthy, and help you avoid fracture. Your physical therapist may teach you:

  • Specific exercises to build bone or decrease the amount of bone loss

  • Proper posture to protect your spine from fracture

  • Proper alignment during activities of daily living

  • How to improve your balance so as to reduce your risk of falling

  • How to adjust your environment to protect your bone health

Healthy bone is built and maintained through a healthy lifestyle. Your physical therapist will teach you specific exercises to meet your particular needs.

The exercise component for bone building or slowing bone loss is very specific and similar for all ages. Bone grows when it is sufficiently and properly stressed, just as muscle grows when challenged by more than usual weight. Two types of exercise are optimal for bone health: weight-bearing and resistance.

It is best for a physical therapist to provide your individual bone-building prescription to ensure that you are neither overexercising nor underexercising. Typically, exercises are performed 2 to 3 times a week as part of an overall fitness program.

Weight-bearing exercises

  • Dancing

  • Jogging (if your bone density is higher than -3.0)

  • Racquet sports

  • Heel drops

  • Stomping

Resistance exercises

  • Weight lifting in proper spine and lower-extremity alignment

  • Use of exercise bands

  • Gravity resistance (eg, push-ups, prone trunk extension with cushion to protect lowest ribs, single-leg heel raises, squats, lunges, sustained standing yoga poses in neutral spine position)

  • Exercises that reduce or stabilize kyphosis (hunchback)

  • Balance exercises

If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis or low bone density, your physical therapist will work with you to:

  • Build bone or lessen the amount of bone loss at areas most vulnerable to fracture through exercise—hip, spine, shoulder, arms.

  • Improve your dynamic balance to avoid falls.

  • Improve your posture.

  • Adjust your work and living environments to limit risk.

  • Help you avoid exercises and movements that may contribute to spinal fracture, including any type of sit-up or crunch, and excessive spinal or hip twisting.

Conservative treatment of a fracture includes bed rest and appropriate pain treatment. Your physical therapist will work with you to:

  • Decrease your pain through positioning and other pain-relieving modalities. Individualized physical therapist regimens can help reduce pain without the need for medications, such as opioids.

  • Provide appropriate external devices, such as bracing, to promote healing and improve posture.

  • Decrease your risk of a fall, strengthen your muscles, and improve your postural alignment.

  • Avoid exercises that involve too much forward or side bending or twisting.

  • Avoid water or endurance exercises, as they have been shown to negatively affect bone density.

If your pain lasts longer than 6 weeks following a spinal fracture, you can discuss surgical options, such as vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty, with your physical therapist, primary care physician, and surgeon.

Children and adolescents. Physical therapists can educate families and youth groups on proper exercise and posture, and about the need to move daily to build bone strength and prevent bone loss. Children with health issues such as spina bifida, diabetes, Crohn's disease, and cerebral palsy are at a greater risk for bone disease and can particularly benefit from the guidance of a physical therapist. Proper physical conditioning is crucial for children and adolescents: the majority of bone is built during adolescence and peaks by the third decade of life.

Middle-aged and older adults. As people age, they may begin to notice postural, balance, and strength changes. Physical therapists work with middle-aged and older adults to:

  • Develop individualized exercise programs to promote bone growth or lessen bone loss

  • Improve dynamic balance to avoid falls

  • Improve posture

  • Improve the strength of back muscles

  • Improve hip strength and mobility


Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

Osteoporosis can be prevented by building adequate bone density through childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Building strong bones requires an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D, and regular exercise.

There are steps to take to improve bone health at any age. An active lifestyle that includes resistance and weight-bearing exercise is important to maintain healthy bone. It is also important to avoid habits that promote bone loss, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and an inadequate intake of calcium in your diet. Maintaining good body mechanics and posture also contribute to good bone health. We have no control over the genetic tendencies we have inherited, but we can choose to manage osteoporosis through proper medication, diet, and appropriate exercise.

As with any health issue, an overall healthy lifestyle is important for staying well.


Real Life Experiences

Anna is a 69-year-old retired legal secretary. She has enjoyed her early years of retirement, taking long walks in beautiful settings across the United States. Two years into her retirement, however, she began having knee pain during some of her walks, which gradually grew worse. Last year, she had a total knee replacement due to arthritis. She now walks with a cane because of chronic knee and ankle pain, and has experienced a loss of balance. She also has developed a rounded upper back, and low back pain. She seeks the help of a physical therapist.

Anna's physical therapist performs an assessment that includes a medical review for osteoporosis risk factors and for other health issues. He evaluates her range of motion and strength, testing her arms, legs, and trunk—especially her upper back. He tests the flexibility of her spine and her balance, her walking ability, and her risk of falling. Anna's walking style is uneven and she leans heavily on her cane. A DXA scan reveals that Anna has lost bone density in her spine and both hips. A vertebral fracture assessment X-ray shows that she has painless compression fractures of her spine. Her physical therapist diagnoses osteoporosis of the spine.

Anna first works with her physical therapist to improve her posture and knee function through flexibility and strengthening exercises, so she can walk more normally while working on her balance to lower her fall risk. She tells him her main goal is to be able to take walks in the park again.

Anna’s physical therapist teaches her safe trunk movement to avoid spinal fracture. Anna agrees to wear a dynamic trunk brace 2 hours a day to help make her posture more upright. She practices weight-bearing exercises with considerations for her arthritis, and learns resistive strengthening exercises for her spine and hip. Anna's physical therapist designs a gentle home-exercise program for her as well.

By her last visit, the flexibility and strength of Anna’s trunk and legs and her tolerance of physical activity have improved. The quality of her walking and dynamic balance are measurably improved, and her risk of falling has decreased. Anna feels much more confident about managing her condition.

Just this past week, Anna joined a therapeutic senior walking group that meets at the local botanic garden twice a week. She is thrilled to be enjoying gentle walks in nature again, and looks forward to coordinating other activities with her new group of friends!

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 those with osteoporosis. However, if you have a diagnosis of osteoporosis or low bone density, 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 or geriatric 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 osteoporosis.

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 osteoporosis.


Further Reading

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

The following websites are important and reputable resources to obtain more information about improving your bone health:

National Osteoporosis Foundation. Accessed March 28, 2018.   

American Bone Health. Accessed March 28, 2018.

American Bone Health. FORE fracture risk calculator. Accessed March 28, 2018.

Osteoporosis Canada. Accessed March 28, 2018.

Osteoporosis Canada. Too fit to fracture series. Accessed March 28, 2018.

National Bone Health Alliance. Accessed March 28, 2018.

Own the Bone. Accessed March 28, 2018.

National Osteoporosis Foundation and Pilates Anytime. Safe movement video series. Accessed March 28, 2018.

MedBridge. Osteoporosis education courses for physical therapists. Accessed March 28, 2018.

Office of the US Surgeon General. The 2004 Surgeon General’s report on bone health and osteoporosis. Accessed March 28, 2018. 

Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, US Dept of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services. Published June 2008. Accessed March 28, 2018. 

The following articles provide some of the best scientific evidence related to physical therapy treatment of osteoporosis and fracture prevention. 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 Pub Med* 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.

Watson SL, Weks BK, Weis LJ, Harding AT, Horan SA, Beck BR. High-intensity resistance and impact training improves bone mineral density and physical function in postmenopausal women with osteopenia and osteoporosis: the LIFTMOR randomized controlled trial. J Bone Miner Res. 2018;33(2):211–220. Article Summary in PubMed.

Beck BR, Daly RM, Singh MA, Taaffe DR. Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) position statement on exercise prescription for the prevention and management of osteoporosis. J Sci Med Sport. 2017;20(5):438–445. Article Summary in PubMed.

Sözen T, Özışık L, Başaran NÇ. An overview and management of osteoporosis. Eur J Rheumatol. 2017;4(1):46–56. Free Article.

Giangregorio LM, McGill S, Wark JD, et al. Too fit to fracture: outcomes of a Delphi consensus process on physical activity and exercise recommendations for adults with osteoporosis with or without vertebral fractures. Osteoporos Int. 2015;26(3):891–910. Free Article.

Bansal S, Katzman WB, Giangregorio LM. Exercise for improving age-related hyperkyphotic posture: a systematic review. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2014;95(1):129–140. Free Article.

Clark EM, Carter L, Gould VC, Morrison L, Tobias JH. Vertebral fracture assessment (VFA) by lateral DXA scanning may be cost-effective when used as part of fracture liaison services or primary care screening. Osteoporos Int. 2014;25(3):953–964. Article Summary in PubMed.

Siris ES, Adler R, Bilezikian J, et al. The clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis: a position statement from the National Bone Health Alliance Working Group. Osteoporos Int. 2014;25(5):1439–1443. Free Article.

Silva BC, Boutroy S, Zhang C, et al. Trabecular bone score (TBS): a novel method to evaluate bone microarchitectural texture in patients with primary hyperparathyroidism. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013;98(5):1963–1970. Free Article.

Cheung AM, Giangregorio L. Mechanical stimuli and bone health: what is the evidence? Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2012;24:561–566. Article Summary in PubMed.

Pfeifer M, Kohlwey L, Begerow B, Minne HW. Effects of two newly developed spinal orthoses on trunk muscle strength, posture, and quality-of-life in women with postmenopausal osteoporosis: a randomized trial. Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2011;90:805–815. Article Summary on PubMed.

Kasukawa Y, Miyakoshi N, Hongo M, et al. Relationships between falls, spinal curvature, spinal mobility and back extensor strength in elderly people. J Bone Miner Metab. 2010;28:82–87. Article Summary in PubMed.

Nikander R, Kannus P, Dastidar M, et al. Targeted exercises against hip fragility. Osteoporos Int. 2009;20:1321–1328. Article Summary in PubMed.

Hongo M, Itoi E, Sinaki M, et al. Effect of low-intensity back exercise on quality of life and back extensor strength in patients with osteoporosis: a randomized controlled trial. Osteoporos Int. 2007;18:1389–1395. Article Summary in PubMed.

Vainionpaa A, Korpelainen R, Leppaluoto J, Jamsa T. Effects of high-impact exercise on bone mineral density: a randomized controlled trial in premenopausal women. Osteoporos Int. 2005;16:191–197. 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 Mary Saloka Morrison, PT, DScPT, MHS. Reviewed by the editorial board.




Meniscus Tear

Meniscal tears are common injuries to the cartilage of the knee that can affect athletes and nonathletes alike. These tears can be either “acute,” meaning they happen as a result of a particular movement, or “degenerative,” meaning they happen over time. Your physical therapist can help you heal a meniscal tear and restore your strength and movement. If surgery is required, your physical therapist can help you prepare for the procedure and recover following surgery.

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What is a Meniscal Tear?

The meniscus is a cartilage disc that cushions your knee. Each of your knees has 2 menisci (plural of meniscus); one on the inner (medial) part of the knee, and the other on the outer (lateral) part of the knee. Together, they act to absorb shock and stabilize the knee joint.

Meniscal tears can be classified in 2 ways: acute or degenerative. An acute meniscal tear typically is caused by twisting or turning quickly on a bent knee, often with the foot planted on the ground. This mechanism of injury often produces related injuries, such as an ACL tear. Degenerative meniscal tears occur over time, due to repetitive stress being put on the knee, such as in a job or sport that requires a lot of squatting.


How Does it Feel?

When you tear the meniscus, you might experience:

  • A sharp, intense pain in the knee area

  • A "pop" or a tearing sensation in the knee area (acute injury)

  • Swelling within the first 24 hours of injury

  • Difficulty walking or going up or down stairs because of pain or a "catching or locking" sensation in the knee

  • Difficulty straightening or bending the knee fully


How Is It Diagnosed?

Your physical therapist will:

  • Conduct a thorough evaluation that includes a detailed review of your injury, symptoms, and health history.

  • Perform special tests to measure the range of motion (amount of movement) in your knee and determine which specific movements and positions increase your symptoms.

  • Use a series of tests that apply pressure to the meniscus to determine whether it appears to be damaged.

The results of these tests may indicate the need for further diagnostic tests—such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—or a referral to an orthopedic surgeon for consultation.


How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Meniscal tears can often be managed without surgery. A short course of treatment provided by a physical therapist can help determine whether your knee will recover without surgery. Your physical therapist can help control pain and swelling in the knee area and work with you to restore full strength and mobility to your knee. Your treatment may include:

Manual therapy. Your physical therapist may apply manual therapy—hands-on treatment that may include massage, stretching, or joint mobilization—to help reduce swelling and stiffness, and restore muscle function around the knee.

Icing. Your physical therapist will apply ice packs to the knee to help control any pain and swelling, and may instruct you to apply icing at home. Swelling is an important "guide" during your rehabilitation and can indicate your level of ability and recovery. If you experience an increase in swelling, your physical therapist will modify your treatment program or activity level to ensure your safest, most effective recovery.

Compression. Your physical therapist may recommend the use of compression bandages, stockings, or pumps to assist in the reduction of or prevent further accumulation of edema (swelling). Your physical therapist may include them as part of your regular treatments and teach you and your family how to use them at home.

NMES. Your physical therapist may use a treatment called neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES). NMES uses electrical current to gently stimulate/contract the muscles around your knee to help improve their strength.

Assistive devices. It may be necessary to use assistive devices such as crutches, a cane, or a walker in the short term. Your physical therapist will make recommendations about which device is best for you and will instruct you in how to use it properly.

Strengthening exercises. Your physical therapist will design exercises to build and maintain your strength during recovery and help restore full movement to the knee. You will be given a home program of exercises that are specific to your condition. Strengthening the muscles around the knee and throughout the leg helps ease pressure on the healing knee tissue.

Fitness counseling. As you recover, your physical therapist will advise you on ways to improve and maintain your fitness and activity levels, and will help you decide when you are ready to return to full activity.

If Surgery Is Required

Patients with more serious meniscal tears, or those who don’t respond to a course of physical therapy, may need surgery to repair the injured knee. Surgically removing the torn cartilage (a procedure called a meniscectomy) usually is a simple procedure that requires a course of physical therapy treatment following surgery. Many people are able to return to their previous level of activity, including sports, after approximately 4 months of treatment.

Meniscus removal. Following a simple meniscectomy, your rehabilitation will likely be similar to that for nonsurgical meniscal injuries. Your physical therapist may use ice and compression to control pain and swelling and will show you how to use these treatments at home. The focus of your treatment will be on helping you get back your strength and movement through a series of exercises performed in the clinic and at home, as well as with hands-on treatment (manual therapy). Initially, it is likely that you will need to use crutches or a cane for walking. Your physical therapist will help guide you in gradually placing your weight on the knee to stand or walk, to allow the meniscus and other tissue in the knee joint to slowly adjust to increased pressure.

Meniscus repair. Sometimes your surgeon will decide that the torn meniscus can be repaired instead of removed. Research studies show that if a meniscal repair is possible, it can reduce the risk of arthritis developing later in life. Rehabilitation following a meniscal repair is slower and more extensive than with meniscal removal because the repaired tissue must be protected while it is healing. The type of surgical technique performed, the extent of your injury, and the preferences of the surgeon often determine how quickly you will be able to put weight on your leg, stop using crutches, and return to your previous activities.

Following surgery for meniscal repair, your physical therapist will:

  • Help you control pain and swelling

  • Guide you through progressive reloading of weight to the knee to allow the cartilage to slowly adjust to increased compressive stress and pressure

  • Help restore your knee and leg range of motion

  • Teach you exercises to help restore your muscle strength

Return to Activity

Whether your torn meniscus recovered on its own or required surgery, your physical therapist will play an important role in helping you return to your previous activities. Your physical therapist will help you learn to walk without favoring the leg and perform activities like going up and down stairs with ease.

Return to work. If you have a physically demanding job or lifestyle, your physical therapist can help you return to these activities and improve how you perform them.

Return to sport. If you are an athlete, you may need a more extensive course of rehabilitation. Your physical therapist will help you fully restore your strength, endurance, flexibility, and coordination to help maximize your return to sports and prevent reinjury. Return to sport varies greatly from one person to the next and depends on the extent of the injury, the specific surgical procedure, the preference of the surgeon, and the type of sport. Your physical therapist will consider these factors when designing and adjusting your rehabilitation program, and will work closely with your surgeon to help decide when it is safe for you to return to sports and other activities.

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Can this Injury or Condition be Prevented?

There is little research at this time to support exercise or other interventions such as bracing for prevention of meniscal injuries. However, you can make choices to help improve your overall fitness and keep your knees as strong and as healthy as possible. Practices that can help keep your knees strong include:

  • Regular exercise to help strengthen the muscles that support your knees

  • Staying physically active to prepare your body for the demands of a sport or strenuous activity

  • Avoiding twisting or turning quickly while your foot is planted on the ground, to help prevent stress to the knee that can cause a meniscal tear

If you already have knee problems, your physical therapist can help you develop a fitness program that takes your knees into account. Some exercises are better than others for those with a history of knee pain. Many exercises can be modified to fit your specific needs.


Real Life Experiences

Beau is a college sophomore who plays on his intramural lacrosse team. During a recent practice game, Beau twisted his left knee while performing a sharp turn to make a catch. He immediately heard a “pop” and felt pain in his knee joint. He was helped off the field by teammates and led back to his room, where he applied ice and rested for the rest of the evening.

The next morning, Beau felt pain when he put weight on his leg to get out of bed, and found he had difficulty walking; he also noticed some swelling on the inside of his knee. His roommate is in the physical therapy program at his university; he suggested Beau see a physical therapist.

Beau’s physical therapist gets his medical history and asks him to describe what happened in the game to get a sense of what might have happened to his knee. She then performs some tests that include movements that selectively stress the tissues of the knee to see if the symptoms can be provoked. She tells Beau that his symptoms may indicate a meniscal tear. She recommends that he consult with an orthopedic surgeon, who orders magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The surgeon confirms a diagnosis of a medial meniscal tear. After consultation with the surgeon, Beau chooses to have the tear “cleaned up,” and have a small piece of the meniscus removed—a procedure called a meniscectomy.

Prior to surgery, Beau works with his physical therapist, who prescribes exercises and manual therapy to reduce the swelling, improve the knee range of motion, and restore muscle function around the knee—treatments that have been shown to improve surgical outcomes.

Following his surgery, Beau’s physical therapist controls the swelling around the knee joint with ice, and shows Beau how to ice his knee at home. She applies electrical stimulation to speed the recovery of the quadriceps muscle. She teaches him range-of-motion exercises and tells him how often he should be doing them at home. She teaches him how to use crutches to avoid putting pressure and weight on the knee while its tissues heal.

After 1 week, Beau is able to walk without his crutches, but has difficulty bending his knee fully or straightening it when he walks. His physical therapist works with him on improving his walking pattern, and continues to address his knee range of motion, strength, swelling, and pain. His exercises are adjusted as he heals to continue to challenge him and move his recovery forward.

After 3 weeks, Beau has full range of motion and increased strength in his involved leg. He has good balance and no pain while walking. His physical therapist guides him as he returns to jogging and then running. She gives Beau feedback on how much he should be running, how running should feel, and what to do to ensure a symmetrical running pattern to keep his knee and his other joints safe.

At 4 weeks, Beau’s treatment progresses to sports-related rehabilitation activities, which include moving quickly from side to side and learning how to safely turn to field a catch. His physical therapist provides guidance and training to help Beau avoid reinjury. Beau reports his leg muscles have gained strength, and he feels more stable as he executes his movements.

After 6 weeks of treatment, Beau rejoins his team for a playoff game and, with newfound confidence, sets up his teammate for a winning goal!

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 (musculoskeletal) problems or sports injuries.

  • A physical therapist who is a board-certified orthopaedic clinical specialist or who completed a residency or fellowship in orthopedic physical therapy or sports 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:

  • 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 a meniscal tear.

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 meniscal 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.

Beaufils P, Pujol N. Management of traumatic meniscal tear and degenerative meniscal lesions: save the meniscus. Orthop Tramatol Surg Res. 2017 September 2 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1016/j.otsr.2017.08.003. Article Summary in PubMed.

Moses MJ, Wang DE, Weinberg M, Strauss EJ. Clinical outcomes following surgically repaired bucket-handle meniscus tears. Phys Sportsmed. 2017 May 23 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1080/00913847.2017.1331688. Article Summary in PubMed.

Skou ST, Lind M, Holmich P, et al. Study protocol for a randomised controlled trial of meniscal surgery compared with exercise and patient education for treatment of meniscal tears in young adults. BMJ Open. 2017;7(8):e017436. Free Article.

Hare KB, Stefan Lohmander L, Kise NJ, et al. Middle-aged patients with an MRI-verified medial meniscal tear report symptoms commonly associated with knee osteoarthritis. Acta Orthop. 2017 August 8 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1080/17453674.2017.1360985. Free Article.

Katz JN, Brophy RH, Chaisson CE, et al. Surgery versus physical therapy for a meniscal tear and osteoarthritis. N Engl J Med. 2013;368:1675-1684. Article Summary in PubMed.

Logerstedt DS, Snyder-Mackler L, Ritter RC, Axe MJ. Knee pain and mobility impairments: meniscal and articular cartilage lesions. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2010;40(6):A1-A35. Free Article.

Heckmann TP, Barber-Westin SD, Noyes FR. Meniscal repair and transplantation: indications, techniques, rehabilitation, and clinical outcome. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2006;36:795-814. Article Summary in PubMed.

Lowery DJ, Farley TD, Wing DW, et al. A clinical composite score accurately detects meniscal pathology. Arthroscopy.2006;22:1174-1179.  Article Summary in PubMed.

Fitzgerald GK, Piva SR, Irrgang JJ. A modified neuromuscular electrical stimulation protocol for quadriceps strength training following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2003;33:492-501. 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 Christopher Bise, PT, DPT, MS. Reviewed by the MoveForwardPT.com editorial board.




Hip Impingement (Femoroacetabular 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.