Friday, February 23, 2018

Physical therapy…What’s the Point? Q & A on PT with Dr. Hyman

1.  What’s the goal of physical therapy (PT)?

The primary goal of physical therapy is to optimize your body mechanics, so that you may return to sport or chosen physical activity.

While pain relief is not the primary purpose of physical therapy, most often the pain goes away and stays away when body mechanics issues are corrected.

Ideally, all persons with a sports or back injury should see a physical therapist first, before seeing a medical doctor.  The majority of the time, physical therapists will lead you successfully back to full function without a hitch.  In some cases, problems persist despite physical therapy, and then ideally your physical therapist will refer you to a musculoskeletal specialist medical doctor.  I like to use a 4 visit threshold — you should see improvement in PT within 4 visits, and if not, then seeing a specialist doctor is appropriate.  Why not first see your primary care physician?  Well, in most cases your primary care physician will rely on a physical therapist to evaluate and treat an injury.  So if you’ve already been responsible enough to participate in PT, then you’re ready for specialty care with a sports medicine physician.

2.  What should you expect from a PT visit?  

Expect to arrive 10-15 mins early, dressed for exercise.  The sessions usually last 45-60 minutes.  During the initial assessment the physical therapist will get to know you and your problem by taking a history and performing an extensive physical examination. Each follow up session typically involves some period of reassessment (i.e. talking about how you’ve been doing since last session), a physical examination to check biomechanics, sometimes an intervention (i.e. hands on treatment that might feel like massage, stretching, or joint manipulation), and then additional exercise instruction.

We expect you to attend physical therapy sessions once or twice per week for several weeks before we follow up together.  Typically within 4 visits a person will notice some improvement.  The overall duration of physical therapy depends on several factors including the complexity of a condition and its chronicity.

3.  Why spend the time and resources to participate in PT?  Why don’t you just hand me a printed exercise handout?

A physical therapist is a medical exercise specialist, and they are able to design a customized exercise program to help you achieve your particular exercise goals. Each person’s body mechanics are different.  It is the physical therapist’s expertise to understand what normal flexibility and strength looks like.  Every person has areas of inflexibility and areas that are weaker than what is optimal.  Often making tailored corrections to your flexibility or weak areas will make all the difference and allow you to return to full function.

Exercise handouts are designed to treat the “average” person in a general sort of way.  Perhaps up to 50% of the time this approach works.  However, we take your recovery seriously, and we prefer better odds.   With physical therapy intervention for most conditions, the likelihood of improvement goes up to 75-85% in our experience.

Sometimes I’m asked why I can’t just teach the exercises at our office visit.  The simple answer is that I’m not a specialist in teaching people how to properly exercise.  Additionally, most physical therapists understand how to assess biomechanics on a more sophisticated level than most specialist physicians.  So they can both assess complex biomechanical issues, and they are experts in creating an exercise plan to correct those issues.  Just to overemphasize, when I have an injury or issue, I personally go to see a physical therapist because I won’t appreciate my weak spots nearly as well as a physical therapist.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Dr. Hyman, what are steroids and why do we use them?

Debunking Steroid Myths
Most people associate steroids with bodybuilding or injections, but steroids are also naturally occurring meaning that the body can make its own steroids. Steroids that are administered from outside the body, often in the clinical setting, are called “exogenous” steroids. 

The most commonly thought of steroid is “cortisone.” People will use the term “cortisone” interchangeably with steroid. 

So, what are steroids, really?
Steroids are hormones. Hormones are chemicals that signal cells to perform an action at the tissue level. In this case, steroids might signal nerve cells to calm pain signals and are also the most potent anti-inflammatory drug, meaning it will stop a cell from releasing other chemicals that promote inflammation. In our clinic, we use steroids to independently relieve pain by calming the nerve signals that carry pain signals and to suppress inflammation. 

We traditionally use steroids almost anywhere and everywhere—it has been a ubiquitous drug, either given by mouth or injected. Typically, we are using injectable steroids in our practice. Why? Because we have the ability to figure out the specific tissue that is the source of pain and thereby can target that tissue with the injected steroid. If you take steroids by mouth, it goes through the entire system and has a larger chance of affecting cells in your whole body, potentially causing a variety of side effects.

What are the potential side effects of injected and systemic steroids?
Some of the most common and usually temporary steroid side effects are insomnia, mood swings, flu-like symptoms, weight gain, increase in blood sugar, abnormal menses, and palpitations. A reduction in bone density is one longer-term adverse effect of exogenous steroids. Again, steroids are hormones and hormones can have both tissue level and systemic effects. For example, melatonin is a hormone that helps our body sleep and melatonin can be influenced by steroids, thereby creating the side effect of insomnia. Steroids can disrupt all other hormone pathways. While not always true, injected steroid may minimize those systemic side effects. 

And the truthfully, there are probably still some systemic effects of steroids because we have these little blood vessels nearby injured tissues that take up the injectable steroid. So there may be some systemic effects even when injected, potentially. 

Additionally, there is some evidence to suggest that injectable steroids can be damaging to tissue; steroid injections into the knee can degrade the cartilage more quickly and steroid injections may also increase the chance of rupture in some tendons. 

What can steroids help with?
It is important to note the risks of steroids and ensure appropriate use. When steroids are used in a targeted and appropriate manner, they can be a wonder drug; decreasing swelling, reducing pain, and restoring mobility. Typical uses for steroid include: swelling in a soft tissue, bursitis, adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder), and epidural injections into the spine. Steroid injections into these areas carry relatively low risk with great potential improvement for carefully selected patients. 


I’ve been prescribed Prednisone (oral steroids) in the past and it helped. Why not try that?
Again, there is a greater side effect profile with oral steroids because they are distributed throughout the body. The benefits of an oral steroid may also be more transient and may not be prescribed at a high enough dose to be effective. 

How often can I have a steroid injected?
Short answer: it depends on the body part. In weight-bearing joints—like the ankle, knee, and hip—we try to be stingy with steroid and maybe not use it at all. Steroid injections in these joints may last only a few weeks and there is evidence that steroid can increase the rate of cartilage loss in the knee. In contrast, epidural steroid injections into the spine may be given liberally as a tool to prevent surgery and promote an active recovery. Insurance only pays for surgery and steroids for most musculoskeletal and spine pain whereas other treatments may be a better option. Other therapies like prolotherapy, PRP (platelet rich plasma), stem cells, and viscosupplementation are not covered by insurance but may be the better option.