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Your first step to recovery

Medial Elbow Pain Explained

Medial elbow pain is also known as medial epicondylitis or golfer’s elbow. It is typically associated with pain on the inside (medial side) of your elbow and can spread into your forearm and wrist. This pain is the result of overloading and damage to the tendons that flex your wrist towards your palm.

 

Causes

This condition is triggered by damage to tendons and muscles which control your fingers and wrist. This damage is associated with excessive or repeated stresses- particularly repetitive and forceful finger and wrist movements, incorrect lifting, hitting and throwing techniques, lack of warmups and/or poor muscle conditioning.

Key risk factors for developing medial elbow pain may include smoking, obesity, being of in age bracket of 40 years old and over and undertaking repetitive activity with your arms for at least two hours daily. High risk occupations may include chefs, office desk workers, plumbers, construction workers, painters, butchers and assembly line workers. Those who partake in sports such as golf, racket sports, rowing, weight lifting and baseball are also at a higher risk.

 

Symptoms

Symptoms may be triggered suddenly due to a traumatic incident or may gradually develop over time and include but are not limited to:

  • Tenderness and pain is typically felt on the inner side of your elbow (particularly on the bony knob), and may refer along the inner side of your forearm and down to your wrist and fingers. It often worsens with certain movements. For example, bending your wrist towards your palm against resistance, or when squeezing a rubber ball.
  • You may feel stiffness in your elbow, and making a fist may hurt
  • You may experience weakness in your forearm, wrist and hand
  • You may experience tingling and numbness that can radiate into one or more fingers — typically to your ring and little fingers.

Diagnosis

This condition is typically diagnosed based on your medical and occupation history and a physical exam by your doctor or physiotherapist. To evaluate stiffness, strength and pain, your clinician may apply pressure to the impacted region and get you to move your elbow, wrist and fingers in various ways. You may also be referred on for imaging such as X-rays and Ultrasounds to aid diagnosis.

Management

A mix of non-surgical treatment options are effective for the majority of medial elbow pain cases, and self-resolves over time. You should rest your elbow and painful activities should be avoided. But it is very vital to maintain gentle movements of the forearm, elbow, and wrist through its range of motion.

Potential treatment options include:

  • Ice
  • Rest
  • Physiotherapy and acupuncture
  • Anti-inflammatory medications as recommended by your doctor or pharmacist
  • The use of a wrist and forearm brace or splint to support and rest your forearm

As your initial elbow pain lessens, your muscles around the elbow, forearm and wrist should be safely strengthened and stretched under guidance of a physiotherapist. Your physiotherapist will advise you on particular exercises, give you appropriate symptom management advice and take you through a personalised graduated rehabilitation program. If you continue to experience pain after 6-8 weeks of treatment, your physiotherapist can refer you back to your doctors, to consider administration of a cortisone injection into the elbow to help reduce pain and inflammation, and further referral onto see a specialist to seek guidance on other treatment options.

Prevention

Having a good comprehension of risk of injury and being conscious of your everyday activities may aid in the prevention of medial elbow pain. You should:

  • Adopt appropriate technique and form when undertaking repetitive activities or sporting motions
  • Keep up with adequate wrist, forearm, and shoulder muscle strength
  • Undertake gentle wrist and forearm stretches pre and post activities
  • Adopt appropriate posture and body mechanics when lifting heavy objects to reduce joint strain- especially if doing so repetitively

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) Explained

 

RSI is typically defined as an overuse disorder- a gradual build-up of overload to nerves, tendons, and muscles arising from repetitive movements or activities. Repetitive use of the same motions leads to inflammation and damage to these soft tissues. This disorder mostly affects the upper limb- particularly the elbows, hands and wrists.

 

Causes

Possible causes of RSI include but are not limited to:

  • Undertaking the same and repetitive movements and stressing the same muscle groups
  • Working in cold environments
  • Assuming a sustained and/or awkward posture for prolonged periods of time
  • Undertaking a particular activity for prolonged periods of time with no rest-breaks
  • Frequent and prolonged use of vibrating equipment
  • Adopting poor postures from working at inappropriately designed workstations
  • Undertaking a motion which involves carrying and/or lifting heavy items

 

 

Symptoms

RSI leads to a gradual development of a broad variety of symptoms, which range from mild to severe in severity. RSI particularly affects the muscles and joints of your wrists, hands, elbows, forearms, shoulders, neck. Having said this, RSI can affect other areas of the body as well.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Tingling
  • Cramping
  • Increased sensitivity to heat and cold
  • Tenderness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of strength
  • Throbbing
  • Soreness
  • Achiness
  • Stiffness
  • Struggling with typical activities of daily living, such as gripping and twisting motions, carrying light weights, writing, kitchen prepping, dressing, personal cares etc

You may develop these symptoms when you undertake a task repetitively for a period of time, and can settle when you stop. Symptoms may settle over a few hours or over the course of a few days. However, if left untreated or is poorly managed, a minor RSI may gradually progress to a nasty chronic injury.

 

Diagnosis

 

If you experience mild discomfort whilst completing particular activities at home or at your job, it is a good idea to see your GP or physiotherapist to talk about RSI. But an RSI is not always simple to diagnose as there is no particular clinical test for it. Your GP will enquire about your medical history, occupation and work environment, and other activities to attempt to identify any repetitive motions you undertake that may be the cause of your symptoms. A physical examination will be undertaken, where they will assess your movement, check for pain, inflammation, sensation, tenderness, strength and reflexes in the impacted body part. RSI may be triggered by specific health disorders like bursitis, carpal tunnel, tigger finger, ganglion cyst, or tendonitis (inflammation in your tendons). Your GP can refer you on further diagnostic tests such as X-rays, Ultrasounds, blood tests, MRIs, nerve conduction tests etc, to determine if these underlying disorders may be the cause of your symptoms. You may be also be referred onto a physiotherapist and acupuncturist for conservative treatment and management for mild-moderate issues. If symptoms persist, you will then be referred onto a specialist.

 

Management

Initial treatment options for the management of RSI symptoms is conservative. This includes:

  • Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE principles)
  • Taking regular breaks between tasks and looking after your posture
  • Undertaking your activities and movements with appropriate form and posture
  • Intake of Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), both oral and topical as prescribed by the GP
  • Use of cold and heat to the impacted area
  • Administration of steroid injections into inflamed joints and tendons
  • Tailored exercise prescription from physiotherapists to correct posture and strengthen and stretch affected muscles
  • Acupuncture
  • Stress reduction and relaxation training
  • Use of splints and braces to help protect and rest the affected muscles and tendons

Ergonomically appropriate adjustments to your workstation and work environment may be recommended by your physio and GP- for example resetting your desk and chair if you’re working at computer, and alterations to your equipment and activities/motions to lessen the strain and stress on your muscles and joints. Surgery may be necessary in some cases.

 

Prevention

Minimizing repetitive actions particularly if they involve the use of heavy machinery or vibration. Improving your working posture and work-environment as well a taking regular breaks. Employers often undertake risk-assessments when you join a company to determine that the work area is ergonomically fit, comfortable and appropriate for you. You may be able to request for an assessment if you have not had one or are having issues with your work environment

Piriformis Syndrome

Piriformis syndrome refers to the dysfunction of the piriformis muscle which irritates the sciatic nerve. It is characterized by deep buttock region pain that radiates down leg and foot often accompanied by pins and needles and numbness traveling along the path of the sciatic nerve.

The simplistic reason for this widely distributed pain comes down to the piriformis muscle itself – Their close proximity means that direct trauma to the buttock region or the supporting structures can result in inflammation and muscle dysfunction which can compress and irritate the sciatic resulting in referred symptoms.

Piriformis syndrome symptoms may include:

  • Localised deep buttock region pain
  • Pain with continuous sitting or standing for 15 mins or over
  • Pins and needles along the leg down to the outer foot
  • Numbness in outer leg or foot (often resolves on movements)
  • Deep squatting or bending
  • Pain on direct palpation

Anatomy

 

The piriformis muscle originates from the outer surface of a large fused bone of our pelvis called the sacrum. It travels adjacently and inserts into the top of the hip joint. The piriformis muscle is a very active muscle involved in stabilizing the hip and pelvis during majority of our activities (walking, running, standing, sitting or standing, turning in bed). When the piriformis muscle contracts it helps the hip rotate outwards (external rotation) and lift thigh out and up (abduct).

The sciatic nerve originates from where the very base of the spine and the sacrum join known as the lumbosacral region (lower back and saddle region). In this region five separate branches of nerves travel outside of the bony openings of the spine called the nerve roots and connect into a single large nerve – the sciatic nerve. It then travels through the pelvis deep into the buttock region close proximity the piriformis and gluteal muscles. In some individuals the piriformis muscles can travel through the piriformis muscle subjecting them to piriformis syndrome.

Diagnosis

There are no specific tests to diagnose piriformis syndrome. Diagnosis of piriformis syndrome is made by the report of symptoms and by physical exam using a variety of movements to elicit pain to the piriformis muscle. In some cases, a contracted or tender piriformis muscle can be found on physical exam.

In cases where there is underlying pathology (such as disc injury, arthritis, sacroiliac dysfunction or hip injury) resulting in true sciatica – piriformis syndrome may develop to become an additional muscular dysfunction that is required to be addressed. Because symptoms can be similar in other conditions, radiologic tests such as MRIs may be required to rule out other causes of sciatic nerve compression, such as a herniated disc.

Consultation with a physiotherapist in this case is highly recommended as they will perform a comprehensive clinical examination to identify the root cause of your symptoms.

Exercises for piriformis syndrome

Corrective exercises with a combination of strength and flexibility regimen is an essential way to treat true piriformis syndrome (without involvement of other underlying pathologies).

The exercises outlined below follow a phase-by-phase progressive regimen to strength key muscles of the hip, buttock and legs.

As you work through these exercises expect to feel some pain during and after your exercise. Pain you may feel during the exercise is an expected sign of muscle activity. Pain you may feel after the exercises is an expected sign of muscle healing and recovery. However, if you are unable to participate in the exercises due to symptom deterioration – it is highly recommended you consult your physiotherapist to rule out other potential causes.

Otherwise, to help you gauge the correct amount of pain you should expect during exercise – use this scale. The ideal range should be 2 to 5. If your baseline pain is over 6 or 7 – it is recommended that you consult your doctor for pain relief appropriate to manage your pain, followed by a consult with a physiotherapist. Your physiotherapist will be able to modify the following exercises or prescribe alternative exercises best suited based on your current level of function and symptoms.

Symptom noting – is a great way to keep track of your progress and symptom behaviour.

  • Take a diary
  • Note down pain before you begin the exercise.
  • Note down the pain rating after each exercise.
  • Note down pain at the end of the day
  • Repeat the pain recording process for the next 4-5 days
  • Examine the trend in your symptoms.

Interference with everyday tasks – Your participation or level of exertion with everyday activities may interfere with your symptoms impacting your exercise tolerance. It is therefore important to note any of these interferences’ contributory to your pain.

Phase 1 – is a beginner stage.

This phase is intended for gently priming muscle activation. It will demand your concentration on technique and compliance to change the possible compensation your body has been used to as a result of pain. This phase can last between 1-2 weeks.

Instructions:

3 sets of 10 repetitions. Hold each repetition for 8-10 seconds. Rest 10-15 seconds between sets, 30 seconds between exercises. Do this exercise 1-2 times per day.

Bridges

 

Lie on your back.
Bend both knees and place your feet flat on the bed.
Lift your buttocks from the bed.
Place your buttocks back on the bed.
Repeat this exercise and remember to continue to breathe properly.


Clam shells

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lie on your side with your feet, ankles and knees together.
Bend the legs a little and tighten your core stability muscles.
Keeping the feet together, lift the top knee up.
Make sure you don’t roll your body back with the movement.
Control the movement as you bring the knee back down to the starting position.


Phase 2 – intermediate stage

The intermediate phase is similar to the beginner stage with the difference of using changing elements of progression to challenge the muscles capacity further. In this stage you may choose to progress the exercises by choosing to change ONE factor:

  • Increase repetitions
  • Increase hold time
  • Increase sets
  • Add appropriate resistance

Instructions:

  • 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions. Hold each repetition for 10-15 seconds.
  • Rest 10-15 seconds between sets, 30 seconds between exercises.
  • Do this exercise 1-2 times per day.

Bridges with resistance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tie a resistance band around both thighs, just above your knees.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and legs hips width apart.
There should be tension in the band.
Raise your hips up into a bridge, keeping the knees hips width apart.
Control the movement back down to the start position, maintaining constant tension on the band.


Clams with resistance

Lie on your side and place a band above your knees, approximately an inch or two above the knee joint.
Bend your legs a little, keeping the feet in line with your back.
Use your core stability muscles to keep the body stable.
Keeping your feet together, lift the top knee up against the resistance of the band.
Ensure you stay on your side and do not roll your hips and your body back with the movement.
Lower the knee back down, controlling the resistance.


Phase 3 – advance stage

Body weight squats

Start position is standing straight with the arms out in front and bent at the elbows, the fists should be clenched and the palms facing inwards.
Move downwards into a squat position so that the knees are aligned over the toes and the heels are in contact with the floor, make sure the back is straight.
Keep the head and chest upright and the gaze horizontal.
Hold for 2 seconds and return to the start position.


Lunges

Stand straight with your arms to the side or on your hips.
Take a large step forwards on your affected leg, then drop your hips directly down between both feet, bending your hips and knees to a 90 degrees.
Push back up to the starting position, and repeat.
Make sure you take a large enough step that your front knee does not travel over your foot, and ensure your knee travels directly forwards.
Keep your body up straight throughout the movement.


Crab walks

Place a band around your ankles and gather some tension.
Side-step keeping constant tension on the band.
Make sure you do not bring your feet too close together and keep your toes and knees pointing forwards.


Phase 4 – return to activities

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Stretching

Do you always need to stretch the muscle? The answer is NO. While stretching is an important tool to improve muscle elasticity. You may not always need to stretch a muscle if it is NOT tight. Thus, stretching is recommended to be limited to areas you feel are TIGHT when you perform a given movement. Check the affected side and unaffected side – don’t need to stretch a muscle that doesn’t need to be stretched.

Seated piriformis stretch 

Start in a seated position.
Cross the symptomatic leg your ankle is resting on, to the opposite knee.
Apply gentle pressure to the knee as you lean forward, increasing the depth of the stretch.
Hold this position, you should feel a comfortable tension with no pain.


Pigeon stretch

 

Start on your hands and knees.
Cross the symptomatic leg underneath you, then lower your hips down to the ground.
Rest your body forwards on your arms.
You should feel a stretch across the buttock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Managing your Medial Knee Pain: MCL injuries

What is it?

Although your knee has free movement going forwards and backwards, its’ sideward movements are restricted by the robust collateral ligaments on either sides of your knee. The medial collateral ligament (MCL) is situated on the inner part of your knee, but on the outside of your joint. The MCL connects the top of your shinbone (tibia) to the bottom of your femur (thighbone). It helps hold your bones together, provides stability and prevents your knee from bending sideways away from your body.

Injuries to the MCL are from the result of a direct blow to the outer part of your knee- and is most commonly seen in contact sports such as football and soccer. These injures may either over-stretch or cause a tear in the ligament. Whilst surgery may be needed in some severe cases, it is not always the go-to form of management.

Read on to know how physiotherapy can help manage your MCL related-knee pain.

 

 

Mechanism of Injury

Injury to the MCL typically occurs when a force drives the lower leg in a sideward direction away from your upper leg and body. Awkwardly landing from a height, twisting of your knee with your foot fixated to the ground, or from a direct blow to the outer part of your knee- most commonly seen in contact sports, are frequent causes of injury to the MCL.

 

 

Grading of MCL Injuries

MCL injuries are often graded using the system below:

Grade 1: Regarded as a minor injury- means that the MCL has been overstretched but not torn

Grade 2: Regarded as a moderate injury- means that there is a partial tear in MCL, and presents with some degree of instability in the knee

Grade 3: Regarded as a severe injury- means that the MCL has completely ruptured/torn, and presents with noticeable joint instability

 

Often 3 MCL injuries are associated with concurrent medial meniscus and ACL ligament damage, which may need surgical intervention. But, the good news is that most MCL injuries may be treated well with conservative physiotherapy management. It usually takes between 2-8 weeks for Grade 1 and 2 MCL injuries to heal, and a graduated rehabilitation programme is highly commended for prevention of future injury.

 

 

Signs and Symptoms

Because injury to the MCL may present with similar symptoms as with other knee injuries such as ACL damage, it is vital to have a medical professional such as your physiotherapist evaluate your injury.

Common symptoms of an MCL injury may include:

  • Tenderness and pain along in the inner part of your knee
  • Swelling in the knee
  • Experience catching and locking sensations in the knee joint
  • A ‘pop’ sound at the time of injury
  • Actual or feeling of giving way of the knee (often indicate grade 2 or 3 injury)

 

 

Diagnosis

Your physiotherapist will discuss your injury and its presenting symptoms, past medical history (including a history of any prior knee injuries) and will also undertake a thorough physical examination. During the physical examination, your physiotherapist will assess the structures of your injured knee and compare them to the non-injured side. The range of motion, strength and stability of your knee will be assessed. You may be referred on for imaging such as X-rays and Ultrasounds to help aid the diagnosis. For more severe MCL injuries, and if your symptoms do not resolve with conservative physiotherapy management, you may be referred onto a specialist who may consider referring you for an MRI to get a deeper look at your knee.

 

Management

The management options for MCL injuries will be dependent on the severity of the injury. In the initial stages of injury, management is focused on controlling swelling and pain, whilst allowing your body to initiate healing processes via inflammation. This is typically achieved through the P.O.L.I.C.E. principles (Protect, Optimal Loading, Ice, Compression and Elevation).

Over the counter medication such as ibuprofen and paracetamol may be taken to reduce pain. Other stronger painkillers and NSAIDs may be prescribed by your doctor to help reduce swelling and inflammation as well.

After assessing your knee, your physiotherapist will frame a rehabilitation programme with exercises tailored to your needs. The purpose of physiotherapy is to help restore your knee’s range of motion, stability and strength, which in turn will then allow you to safely return to your usual day-to-day and sporting activities as soon as possible.

Management of most MCL injuries usually only involves knee bracing and physiotherapy treatment. However, in some cases, surgery may be recommended. Particularly if there is damage to more than one ligament or structure in your knee or if you continue to experience instability in spite of physiotherapy.

MANAGING FALLS IN OLDER ADULTS

Having a fall is dangerous at any age, however, they become more frequent and may most probably result in injury in adults 55 years and over. It is also estimated that in Aotearoa, approximately a third of older adults over the age of 65 sustain a fall every year. This leads to harmful consequences for them, especially for those who live alone. Alongside, sustaining serious injuries, you may face loss of independence, mobility and confidence. But!!! The good news is that there are a number of ways that you can reduce your risk of falling.

 

So Why Do Older Adults Have Falls?

  • Poor lower limb strength
  • Cognitive and functional impairment
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Prior and/or ongoing history of falls
  • Vision deficits
  • Balance or gait disorders
  • Medication related- especially when using anti-depressants, sedatives, anti-arrhythmics, anti-hypertensives, diuretics, and anti-convulsants
  • Hazards around your home environment such as loose carpets, slippery surfaces, poor lighting, lack of safety equipment particularly in the bathroom/toilet
  • Medical conditions such as vertigo, dizziness, diabetes, postural hypotension, drop attacks, and fainting spells

 

The Vicious Falls Cycle

Older adults who have had a fall may limit what they do because of their loss of self-confidence and fear of falling. Whilst this may seem like the most sensible thing for them to do, it increases their risk of falls. This is because, this leads to a further reduction in muscle strength, coordination and balance. Hence, it is healthier for older adults to keep up with their activities they enjoy as safely as they can, work on improving their muscle strength, coordination and balance, and manage their blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and weight under the guidance of their doctor.

 

 

Falls prevention tips

 

Below are some measures you may take to prevent yourself from falling:

Exercise regularly: A number of benefits include better sleep, improved muscle strength, balance and flexibility, increased energy levels, stronger bones, better management of weight, blood sugars and blood pressure. Exercise programs tailored especially for muscle strength and balance have resulted in a reduction in the number of falls and injuries resulting from falls by approximately 30% and 50%. It is advised that you speak to your doctor or physiotherapist before initiating or progressing your exercise levels.

Keeping your vision in check: Vision deficits makes getting around safely a lot harder. Therefore, you should get your eyes checked yearly and wear your contact lenses or glasses with the correct prescription strength.

Being aware of the effects of your medication: As they may have certain side effects that increase your risk of falls. You should review your medications with your doctor for side effects like drowsiness or dizziness.

Reduce hazards at home: Most falls typically take place at home. So be sure to make your home safer by removing tripping hazards, having adequate lighting, and adding in handrails in hallways and bathrooms/toilets.

Other tips:

  • Taking your time to get up and when moving around- no rushing!
  • Having a personal medical alarm (please talk to your doctor about how to get one)
  • Using a night light when you get up at night
  • Wearing appropriate, supportive and well-fitted shoes
  • Not using an easily moveable object to stabilise yourself
  • Using the support of handrails in bathrooms and hallways
  • Avoiding or being very careful on wet or slippery floors
  • Appropriately using your walking aids

 

If You Have Had a Fall

If you sustain a fall, it is vital for you to stay calm.

If you think you are able to get up safely, try to bend your knees, roll to your side, and attempt to get into a 4-point kneeling position. If there is a chair near by or if you are able to crawl towards one, you can use it as support to get yourself up. Please take your time and rest as needed.

If you are unable to get up safely, attempt to crawl or roll towards a phone. You may call out to other members in your household or your neighbour. If you’re at risk of falls, please do consider the use of a personal medical alarm to call out for help when you have a fall.

After a fall, please contact your doctor as soon as you can for an assessment of potential injuries sustained, muscle strength and balance to help prevent future falls. You may be directed to community or in-home sessions to enhance your balance and strength. Please discuss this with your doctors.

Dealing with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic inflammatory condition associated with swelling, pain, fatigue, and joint deformity. Although there are no known cures for this condition at present, a combination of treatments are available to help manage your symptoms. RA is the 2nd most common form of arthritis after osteoarthritis and is known to affect 1–2% of New Zealand’s population.

 

 

Signs and Symptoms

RA may develop very quickly or gradually over time, with its signs and symptoms, as well as the severity varying from one person to another. This condition is associated with episodes of remission and flare ups, with or without apparent triggers.

Other symptoms may include

 

  • Swollen, tender joints- (often accompanied by warmth and redness)
  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness which worsens in the mornings and after a period of inactivity
  • Fever, loss of appetite weakness, and fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Changes to the skin and nails

In the early stages of RA, you may notice its impact on your smaller joints- especially in your toes and fingers. And as this condition develops, your symptoms typically branch out to the bigger joints- your shoulders, ankles, knees, wrists, hips and elbows. Symptoms are likely to affect your joints bilaterally. Over time, RA also causes joints to deform and shift out of place.

Because RA is a systemic condition, it is estimated that approximately 40% of the RA population may experience symptoms and signs other body systems than the joints. These may include:

  • Kidneys, lungs, heart
  • Skin, eyes, mouth
  • Bone marrow
  • Nerves and blood vessels

 

 

Causes and Risk Factors

Your immune system is designed to help protect your body from infection and disease. However, in RA, changes occur in your immune system that (for poorly understood reasons), causes it to mistakenly attack the healthy soft-tissues of joints resulting in pain, swelling and inflammation. Because of this ongoing process, over time damages to the lining of your joints and other soft-tissues may lead to bone erosion and joint deformity. It can also have an impact on your heart, lungs, nerves, eyes and skin.

One can get RA at any age, although it is more probable to develop in those in the age bracket of 25-50 years old. Though rare, under 16s may also develop Juvenile RA or Still’s disease.

Risk factors for the development of RA include:

  • Family history of RA
  • Age bracket of 25-50 years old
  • Smoking
  • Women are more likely to develop RA than men
  • Obesity

 

 

 

Diagnosis

 

At present there is no single test to confirm a clinical RA diagnosis. It is often difficult to differentiate this condition in its initial stages from other forms of connective tissue inflammation (fibromyalgia, lupus, gout etc.).

Your doctor will get your full medical history (as well as any familial history of RA), discuss your signs and symptoms, undertake a physical assessment- particularly of your joints, and refer you on for imaging and blood tests. X-rays may help evaluate RA progression in your joints over time, whilst MRI and ultrasound imaging may help evaluate the severity of RA in your body. The blood test will evaluate your level of anti-bodies and proteins (including the rheumatoid factor protein that is present in approximately eighty percent of the RA population), and markers of inflammation.

 

 

Management

At present, though there is no cure for RA, a range of treatments are available which may help slow its’ progression and reduce pain and inflammation, minimise and/or prevent joint damage and maximise joint movement.

A combination of prescribed medication as advised by your doctor and other treatment options as noted below are recommended:

  • Cease smoking if you are smoker
  • Physiotherapy will help improve and maintain your joint range of motion, increase your muscle strength, and decrease your pain. Additionally, your physiotherapist or occupational therapist will be able to teach you ways of using your body efficiently to reduce stress on your joints
  • Finding a balance between rest and activity
  • Use of heat and cold packs to help ease pain and inflammation
  • The use of splints or braces for joint support as needed
  • Hydrotherapy- exercising in water reduces the pressure on your joints, whilst the warmth of the water will relax your muscles and help lessen your pain.
  • Seeking regular medical advice and check-ups to monitor your RA symptoms and the progression of the condition
  • Adopting a healthy and active lifestyle

Dealing with De Quervain’s

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is categorised as an overuse disorder which affects the tendons in your wrist that you use to straighten your thumb. It is associated with swelling in the two tendons around the base of your thumb, which then causes the sheaths encompassing these tendons to become inflamed. This results in increased pressure on surrounding nerves as well, resulting in symptoms such as numbness, tenderness and pain. You are likely to have these symptoms when making a fist, gripping or grasping something, pinching, twisting your wrist, and/or laterally bending your thumb.

Symptoms

The key distinguishing symptom of De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is tenderness and/or pain at the base of your thumb. You can experience pain referring up or down your forearm. You may notice the pain gradually develop or appear suddenly, and worsen when using your wrist, thumb and hand. Painful movements include making a fist, gripping or grasping something, twisting your wrist, pinching, and/or laterally bending your thumb.

Other key symptoms include:

  • Swelling at the base of your thumb
  • Experience numbness along the back of your index finger and thumb
  • ‘Snapping’ or ‘catching’ sensation experienced when you move your thumb

Causes

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis is typically associated with the chronic overuse of your thumb, hand and wrist. When undertaking movements like gripping, grasping, clenching, pinching, or wringing items in your hand, the two tendons in your lower thumb and wrist usually glide in a smooth manner via the small tunnel which attaches them to the base of your thumb. However, when you repeat a certain movement day in day out, it irritates the sheath around these two tendons, resulting in swelling and thickening which restrict their movements.

Factors which may increase your risk of developing this condition are:

  • Being in the age bracket of 30 to 50 years old
  • Pregnancy
  • Found more commonly in women.
  • Baby care: Lifting, carrying and/or holding your child repetitively with using your thumbs as leverage.
  • Hobbies or occupations which involve repetitive wrist and hand movements

Diagnosis

Your doctor or physiotherapist will discuss your medical and occupational history, and carry out a physical assessment of your wrist and hand.

The physical examination will include palpation for pain when pressure is applied to the thumb side of the wrist, as well as clinical test called the Finkelstein test. This test requires you to bend your thumb across the palm of your hand and bend your fingers down over your thumb. You will then bend your wrist towards your little finger. If this causes pain on the thumb side of your wrist, you are likely to have this condition.

Whilst X-rays are usually not needed for the diagnosis, however, you may be referred on for ultrasound imaging.

Management

The aim of the management for this condition is to reduce pain caused by the irritation and inflammation of the tendons, preserve movement in the wrist and thumb, and prevent its reoccurrence. If treatment is commenced early, the symptoms should subside in 4-6 weeks. If your symptoms arise during pregnancy, they may settle around the end of the pregnancy or post the breast-feeding stage.

  • Splints may be utilised to immobilise and rest your wrist and thumb
  • Ice application to the affected area
  • Your doctor may recommend the use of anti-inflammatory medication to ease swelling and decrease pain
  • Avoiding pinching with your thumb when moving your wrist from side to side
  • Avoidance of aggravating repetitive movements and activities
  • Administration of corticosteroid injection into the tendon sheath can ease pain and decrease swelling if recommended by your GP
  • Physiotherapy: Your physiotherapist will examine how you use your wrist and provide suggestions on how to make technique modifications to relieve stress on your wrists. They will teach you strengthening exercises for your wrist, hand and arm to help decrease pain and limit tendon irritation
  • Surgery may be recommended by your specialist in more severe cases and if conservative management fails

Managing Your Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis impacts millions of people worldwide and is typically known as the most common form of arthritis. It is associated with the wear and tear of the protective cartilage which cushions the ends of your bones in your joints over time. Though this condition may cause damage to any joint in the body, osteoarthritis primarily impacts the joints in your spine, hands, hips, and knees.

 

Causes and Risk factors

Over time, the gradual deterioration of the cartilage which cushions the ends of your bones in your joints causes arthritis. Cartilage is a solid slippery tissue which allows almost frictionless joint movement. As the cartilage wears down, bone will eventually rub on bone.

This condition is typically characterized as a wear and tear degenerative disorder. However, in addition to the breakdown of the cartilage, it also impacts the joint as a whole. Osteoarthritis triggers alterations in the bone and damages connective tissue which holds the joint together and attaches your muscles to your bones. Inflammation of the lining of the joint is also triggered.

Factors which may put you at higher risk of developing osteoarthritis include but are not limited to:

  • Your age- the risk increases with getting older
  • Gender- though unclear why, but women are more perceptible to developing osteoarthritis
  • Bony deformities- those with abnormal joints or defective cartilage
  • Sustaining bony or joint injuries like those which take place during sport or from an accident.
  • The risk increases with obesity- the more you weigh, the greater your risk, as it adds more stress to your weight-bearing joints (particularly hips and knees)
  • Your occupation or a sport that you play which puts repetitive and excessive stress/loading on the joints, can eventually lead to the development of osteoarthritis.
  • Certain co-morbidities such as diabetes

 

Common symptoms

Below are some common examples of symptoms you may experience with arthritis. These may develop and worsen gradually over time

  • Pain: Your joints may hurt before and/or after undertaking an activity
  • Loss of joint range of motion– loss of overall joint flexibility and movement
  • Tenderness felt on applying light pressure to the joint
  • Joint stiffness that is most noticeable on waking up first thing in the morning or after a prolonged period of inactivity
  • Noticeable changes in joint pain with changes in the weather- particularly colder weathers
  • Sensations of grating and grinding// sounds of clicking and popping (crepitus) when you use the joint
  • You may notice swelling and redness around the joint, which may be triggered by soft tissue inflammation
  • Bony spurs that feel like hard bumps may develop around the impacted joint

 

How will I be diagnosed?

Osteoarthritis is typically diagnosed based on your medical and occupation history and a physical examination undertaken by your doctor. During the physical examination, your doctor will assess your affected joint(s) for swelling, tenderness, redness, and stiffness. X-rays may be recommended to reveal cartilage loss (the narrowing of the space between the bones of your joints), changes in bone, and bony spurs around the joint. Blood tests may be used to rule out other causes of joint pains like rheumatoid arthritis. Joint fluid analyses may also be used to test for inflammation to ascertain if the pain is triggered by an infection or gout instead of osteoarthritis.

 

Management

Though there isn’t a cure for osteoarthritis, various treatments which can help relieve symptoms of pain and disability are available.

Lifestyle modifications: Changes to your daily life may protect your joints and slow the progression of osteoarthritis.  Minimising activities which exacerbate your symptoms such as climbing stairs, squatting. Swapping high-impact activities like running and jogging to lower-impact activities such as cycling or hydrotherapy will decrease the stress on your joints. Weight-loss reduces the stress and loading on your joints, which then results in less pain with increased function.

Assistive aids: Using assistive aids like a stick/cane, wearing proper shoes w orthotics and supportive braces/sleeves may improve your stability and support your functional capabilities.

Physiotherapy: Targeted exercises may help improve your flexibility as well as build strength in your muscles. Your physiotherapist will develop a personalised active rehabilitation program which is safe and will meet your requirements and lifestyles.

Medications: Various kinds of medication (such as paracetamol and NSAIDs) maybe helpful in treating and controlling the symptoms of osteoarthritis. As everyone responds differently to medications, your doctor will prescribe medicines (type and dosage), which is safe and will work best for you.

Cortisones: Strong anti-inflammatory agents which is injected into the affected joint to give pain relieve and decrease inflammation for a short period of time. Due to potential side-effects, it may be recommended to restrict the number of injections to 2-3 per year.

Other: Heat and ice applications, self-massaging with pain-relieving creams/ointments and/or wearing elastic supports may provide some relief from your pain and give you support.

Surgery: Surgery may be recommended if there is considerable degeneration in your joints and/or if your osteoarthritic pain causes disability that is not relieved with conservative management. Your doctor or specialist will discuss your options with you.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – What is it?

Have you been experiencing pain, pins and needles or numbness in your wrist and hands, especially after using the keyboard, chopping up a few veges, reading a book, using your mobile phone or with driving?

If you answered yes – then you are most likely to have Carpal tunnel syndrome.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common condition in the arm. It is caused by compression of one of the three major nerves in the forearm – the median nerve, which travels through the wrist into the hand and fingers. Entrapment of the median nerve usually due to inflammation, occurs in the wrist commonly resulting in tingling of the wrist and hand (in some cases forearm), numbness, pain and weakness of the hand.

Signs and Symptoms

Often unrelated to a specific incident or an injury, symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome usually develop gradually overtime. Symptoms may be worse in the morning and night. Many people find that the frequency and duration of symptoms increase as the conditions worsen.

Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Tingling, numbness or burning sensation of the thumb, index, middle and ¾ of ring fingers of the hand
  • Electric shock like radiating pain through the hand into thumb, index, middle and ¾ of ring finger
  • Weakened grip, loss of dexterity and fine movements such as picking up a hair pin, buttoning clothes.
  • Hypersensitivity or in other cases lessened sensation of hand to pressure, heat or cold temperatures
  • Swollen wrist

Let’s take a closer look at the anatomy!

As its name suggests – a group of small bones aka carpal bones form a tunnel like passageway in the wrist (palmar view). This unique architectural design allows for the tendons of the forearm muscles and the all-important median nerve to pass through the narrow tunnel through the wrist and into the hand and fingers, supplying sensation and motor function.

Causes

Common causes and risk factors that increase the likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome include:

  • Repetitive wrist & hands movements – during work related tasks or leisure activities may irritate the tendons in the wrist, resulting in inflammation that irritates the nerve.
  • Wrist or hand injury – recurring sprains, swelling and reduced wrist movements reduces the space in the carpal tunnel
  • Pregnancy and menopause – hormonal changes can increase fluid retention in body increasing pressure in the carpal tunnel compressing the median nerve
  • Genetic history – petite
  • Medical conditions (rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, hyperthyroidism)

Interesting facts about carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Women are 3 times more susceptible to develop carpal tunnel syndrome than men. This can be due to hormonal changes during pregnancy or menopause and also because women tend to have smaller carpal tunnels.
  • Not all fingers are affected. Median nerve supplies movement and sensation in the thumb, all fingers except the little finger.
  • Computers/keyboard are not the only reasons to blame – repetitive nature of any work related or leisure word increases risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome

Diagnosis

Carpal tunnel syndrome is fairly easily diagnosed by your physiotherapy, doctor or a hand therapist.

Your health practitioner will gather information on your general health, history and nature of your symptoms. They will then carefully conduct a thorough clinical assessment to assess the movements of your hand and wrist, strength and use a collection of tests in effort diagnose your symptoms. In some cases, your therapist may examine your neck, shoulders and arms to rule out other potential causes.

You may often hear the physiotherapist or hand therapist mention that they want to conduct a functional assessment – A functional assessment is activity specific, where the therapist will watch you perform the activity that aggravates your symptoms the fastest. For example, if using a keyboard is generally when you feel your symptoms start – the therapist may observe you performing the very task to examine your overall posture.

Referral to scans or nerve conduction tests may be arranged by your doctor or therapist depending on the severity or complexity of your symptoms.

Scans

Referral to scans or nerve conduction tests may be arranged by your doctor or therapist depending on the severity or complexity of your symptoms.

  • Xray – provides key information on bone health, when dealing with a potential injury, or arthritis
  • Ultrasound – can examine potential soft tissue injury or inflammation compressing the median nerve
  • MRI – this advanced imaging provides in depth review of your wrist and hand. Usually arranged by your doctor or a specialist
  • Nerve conduction study – studies the electrical activity of the median nerve. This test will help you doctor examine the severity of your problem.

Treatment

In most cases, carpal tunnel syndrome will progressively worsen overtime. So, the key is early intervention!

Conservative management

Mild symptoms can be easily managed with a conservative approach.

  • Wearing splints or braces – keeps your wrist straight to prevent repetitive use of hands, thus reducing pressure or inflammation in the carpal tunnel.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications – such as celecoxib and ibuprofen as prescribed by your doctor may decompress the median nerve by reducing the inflammation in your body and wrist.
  • Activity modification: your physiotherapist will play an important role in providing you with advice around to modifying your activities to reduce your symptoms. They will also prescribe you with effective stretches and exercises to help manage your symptoms while safely aiding your recovery.
  • Steroid injections: your physiotherapist or doctor may recommend a ‘cortisone’, also known as a ‘corticosteroid’ injection to control your symptoms. It contains an anti-inflammatory substance that is injected into your carpal tunnel. The effects of the steroid injection may be temporary and can vary person to person depending on many factors (cause of symptoms, stage of your condition).

In mild to moderate cases, the effects of injection may last between 3-6months.

Surgical intervention

If non-surgical approaches have failed to relieve your symptoms, surgery may be required.

By this stage you would have consulted an orthopaedic surgeon. Your surgeon will thoroughly examine your overall health, symptoms, results from the scans and the nerve conduction study to help you decide on the best treatment approach.

If you decide to undergo surgery – the surgical procedure your surgeon will perform is called ‘carpal tunnel release’.

Recovery and outcomes

  • After your surgery you may be given a splint or a brace for a period of time specified by your surgeon. While in the splint or brace you will be encouraged to move your fingers to prevent stiffness and swelling.
  • Expect to experience minor pain, stiffness and swelling for a couple of weeks to months after your surgery. Pain medications provided by your surgeon must be taken as prescribed.
  • You may be encouraged to see your physiotherapist, who will work closely with your surgeon to help meet post-operative outcomes.
  • You will have regular 6-8 weekly follow ups with your surgeon as required to assess your healing and discuss gradual return to light activities and return to work.
  • If you have underlying medical conditions such as arthritis, except that your recovery may be slower than otherwise expected. It is important that you follow post-operative protocols your surgeon, doctor and physiotherapist recommend.

Meet Your Body Parts!

Here are definitions of common terms for body parts you may hear your doctor or physio use!

 

Ligaments

Ligaments are cordlike extensions that serve to connect ends of two bones to form a joint. They are made up of strong, durable, slightly elastic bandlike structures comprised of collagen fibres. The structural make up of ligaments is advantageous providing joint stability by limiting excessive movement.

What are Ligaments? (with pictures)

Tendons

Similar to ligaments, tendons contain densely packed bundles of tough collagen fibres that hold muscles together to the bone. They are located at the ends of every muscle in the human body. Bound together in tight sheaths they are made to withstand tension and transmit forces exerted by the muscle to the bone to cause movement.

 

10 Facts About Tendons | Physio Direct - Rural Physio at Your Doorstep

Muscles

Human body is made up of over 600 muscles categorised into three different types – cardiac, smooth and skeletal muscle.

  • Cardiac muscle – is only found in the walls of the heart. Its contractions help propel blood through the blood vessels to all part of the body.
  • Smooth muscle – is found mainly in the lining of internal organs (except the heart) including digestive and uninary tract organs, blood vessels. Smooth muscle works to transport substances through the organs by alternately contracting and relaxing.
  • Skeletal muscles – Skeletal muscles are the most abundant type of muscles that form the flesh of the body. They are attached to bones of the skeleton by tendons. They are responsible for voluntary movements of body. Facial expression, mobility, postural control and breathing are some of the movements we observe when skeletal muscles are subjected to voluntary control.

 

Muscle types — Science Learning Hub

Bones

Skeletal system of the human body is made up of 206 bones. Bones are most involved in providing an architectural framework by providing body shape, support and protection of vital organs and for locomotion. Besides these functions, bone is a reservoir for mineral and fats as a source of stored energy and formation of blood cells. Bones are classified by their shape as long, short, flat and irregular. They are connected by ligaments to form joints.

Let's learn about bones | Science News for Students

Cartilage

There are three different types of cartilage found in the human body – hyaline, elastic and fibrocartilage. Hyaline cartilage is the most common cartilage in the human body. It covers the ends of most bones at movable joints, connects ribs to the breastbone, forms the voice-box and nasal passages. It  consists of high water content that provides resilience to withstand great compressive forces found predominantly in joints.

 

What Is Cartilage?