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9/13/2018 in Medical Conditions

A tendon is tissue that attaches muscle to bone.  It is flexible, tough, fibrous, and can withstand tension.  Tendons and muscles work together and exert a pulling force.  Tendons and ligaments are tough and fibrous, but they are known as soft tissue because they are soft compared with bone.

When a tendon is inflamed or irritated, it is referred to as Tendinitis.   Symptoms include pain (often described as a dull ache), which is increased when moving the affected joint, tenderness and mild swelling.  Different types of tendinitis affect different parts of the body, but for purposes of this blog we will focus on the upper extremities:

Supraspinatus tendinitis refers to inflammation of the tendon at the top of the shoulder joint causing pain when the arm is moved, especially upwards.  It may be painful to lie on the affected shoulder.  If other tendons in the same area are also affected, the diagnosis may be rotator cuff syndrome.

Tennis elbow otherwise known as lateral epicondylitis refers to pain on the outer side of the elbow which may radiate down towards the wrist. 

Golfer’s elbow, referred to as medial epicondylitis is pain on the inner side of the elbow which is more acute when trying to lift against a force and the pain may radiate down to the wrist.

De Quervain’s stenosing tenosynovitis is an inflammation of the sheath that surrounds the thumb tendons between the thumb and wrist.  The sheath thickens and swells, making it painful to move the thumb.

Trigger finger or thumb results in a clicking when straightening out the finger or thumb and becomes fixed in a bent position because the tendon sheath in the palm of the hand is thickened and inflamed.

Tendinitis of the wrist (or tendinopathy) mostly affects badminton players and production line workers who repeatedly use the same motion of the wrist.  This is a degenerative condition rather than an inflammation.

Tendinitis mostly arises from the repetition of a particular movement over time as opposed to a sudden injury.  For example, an occupation, hobby or sport that involve repetitive motions which puts stress on the tendons.  Age also increases the risk because as people age, their tendons become less flexible and easier to injure.

Most of the time tendinitis can be successfully treated with rest, physical therapy and medications (for pain reduction).  A full recovery can generally be expected within about six weeks.  However, if treatment is not successful and tendon irritation persists for several weeks or months, chronic tendinitis or tendinosis may develop. 

Often tendinosis is mistaken for tendinitis.  Tendinosis is a chronic injury which involves degenerative changes of tendon tissue and may also involve some inflammation.  Tendinosis is a long term chronic condition which can take 3-6 months to heal. 

So, in summary, there are many types of tendonitis which with proper rest and care can heal within about six weeks.  If not taken care of, tendonitis can turn into tendinosis which is chronic in nature and takes anywhere from 3-6 months to heal.

Numerous studies show that the workplace is the major source of stress for American adults.  77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress.  73% regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.  33% feel they are living with extreme stress and 48% feel their stress has increased over the past five years.

We may not be able to control much of what happens in the workplace, but we can control how we respond to it.  Here are a couple of tips for controlling stress at work:

  1. Act Rather than React – Take a step back and realize what you can control about the situation and what you cannot.  You can control your actions and responses. 

  2. Take a Deep Breath – A few minutes of deep breathing clears your head and restores balance. 

  3. Control Interruptions – Train co-workers by answering email during certain windows, setting up office hours to talk in person, or close your door to complete tasks you need to focus on. 

  4. Schedule Breaks – Scheduling breaks throughout the day to walk, stretch at your desk or do breathing exercises lessens stress and rejuvenates.

  5. Eat Right, Sleep Well – Lack of sleep and unhealthy eating habits stresses your system.  Lack of sleep doesn’t allow you to recover from the day’s stresses.
8/23/2018 in Medical Conditions

A physical examination by a physician consists of observation to look for deformities, muscle wasting, and changes in appearance of the damaged shoulder compared to the normal one. 

Palpation, or feeling the bones that make up the shoulder joint as well as the shoulder joint itself.  Further evaluation might include assessment of range of motion of both shoulders, strength testing, pressing on different parts of the shoulder while moving the arm into different positions.  Sensation and blood flow in the arm and hand may be assessed, feeling for pulses and determining if there is normal light touch, pain, and vibration sensation in the extremity.

A variety of tests may be performed to discover which of the four muscles of the rotator cuff is injured or damaged.  Each uses muscle contractions to try to find the weak or painful muscle. The Jobe test for the supraspinatus tendon or the Patte test for the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles, or the Gerber test for subscapularis muscle.

One or more of the following diagnostic tests may be ordered as well: 

X-Rays – A rotator cuff tear won’t show up on an x-ray, but the doctor will be able to see bone spurs or other potential causes for pain.

Ultrasound – Assesses the structures of the shoulder as it moves and allows for a quick comparison of the affected shoulder with the healthy one.

MRI – This provides all structures in the shoulder in great detail.

8/17/2018 in Medical Conditions

De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is an inflammation of tendons and their sheaths on the side of the wrist at the base of the thumb.  It can be brought on by a simple strain injury, but is often the result of repetitive motion injury.  Some causes can be occupational in nature, but also the result of video gaming, lifting young children into car seats, lifting heavy grocery bags by the loops or lifting gardening pots up into place.  De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis can also be caused by a direct blow to the wrist or tendon. 

Risk factors include the following:

  • Age – those between the ages of 30-50 have a higher risk
  • Sex – the condition is more common in women
  • Pregnancy (typically appears 4-6 weeks after delivery)
  • Jobs or hobbies that involve repetitive hand and wrist motions

De Quervain’s tenosynovitis symptoms include a feeling of sharp or dull pain, swelling, and tenderness at the side of the wrist beneath the base of the thumb.  It is typically diagnosed based on typical appearance, location of pain and tenderness.  It can also be diagnosed if pain is experienced when the Finkelstein maneuver is performed.  To do this, bend the thumb down across the palm of the hand and then cover the thumb with the fingers.  Next, bend the wrist toward the little finger.   Lab tests or diagnostic imaging is not required.

Treatment is geared at relieving symptoms such as a splint to stop moving the thumb and wrist, Tylenol or other anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone-type of steroid injection into the tendon compartment.  If these options are not provided relief, surgery to open the tunnel and make more room for the tendons may be considered. 

The results of a recent study suggest in a proportion of participants De Quervain’s tenosynovitis could be secondary to underlying wrist pathology due to previous trauma.  So, if the claimant isn’t reporting a  history of repetitive strain, then the treating physician could be asked to conduct a more thorough assessment to establish if there is any underlying pathology. 

In conclusion, De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis is a temporary condition that generally responds well to treatment.  However, if the condition isn’t treated, it can permanently limit range of motion or cause the tendon sheath to burst.

8/9/2018 in Medical Conditions

Shoulder pain is the second most common type of pain reported by patients in the United States.  The rotator cuff is a complicated structure consisting of four muscle groups that attach to the long bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow. 

The muscles and their functions are as follows: 

Supraspinatus – Holds the humerous in place and keeps upper arm stable.  Also helps with lifting. 

Infraspinatus – Main muscle that controls rotation and extension.

Teres Minor – The slim, narrow muscle in the rotator cuff; it assists with rotating the arm away from the body.

Subscapularis – Holds the upper arm bone to the shoulder blade and helps with rotation, holding the arm straight and out and lowering it

Injuries causing pain are common and these injuries usually fall into the following three categories:     

Rotator cuff tear – often the result of the wear and tear of daily use. 

Tendinitis – an inflammation or irritation of the tendon that attaches to the bone.

Bursitis – irritation of bursa (a small sac filled with fluid that protects the rotator cuff).

Tendinitis and bursitis can get better with nonsurgical treatment. 

However, rotator cuff tears often require surgery if physical therapy and medications do not help.

Unfortunately, traditional rotator cuff repair procedures involve suturing tendon to bone and result in long rehabilitation, significant lifestyle changes, and variable outcomes.  Which is why many people choose to forego surgery until pain is severe and mobility is significantly impaired.  The catch 22 is that as rotator cuff disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to repair.

However, there is a new approach called The Rotation Medical Rotator Cuff System that includes a collagen based bio-inductive implant about the size of a postage stamp.  The implant is placed arthroscopically through a small incision over the location of the rotator cuff tendon that is injured.  It is secured with small staples.  The bio-inductive implant dissolves slowly during the healing process.  As it dissolves, it induces growth of new tendon-like tissue, resulting in thicker tendons and replacement of tissue defects. 

This technology can be used in earlier stages of rotator cuff disease to slow progression.  It can also be used in conjunction with traditional repair procedures to improve tendon biology and decrease the chances of re-tearing the rotator cuff tendon.

The advantages are shorter rehabilitation, faster recovery, potential to prevent or slow down disease progression, and decreased risk of developing a second degenerative tear.


8/2/2018 in Medical Conditions

Brachial plexus injuries are among the most devastating injuries, causing significant loss of function and the ability to perform tasks of daily living and in the workplace.  They often occur as a result of motorcycle accidents, industrial trauma, or a heavy fall with stretching of the neck. 

Early diagnosis and treatment makes a huge difference in eventual outcome.

The brachial plexus is a complex group of nerves that come from the spinal cord in the neck and travel down the arm.  These nerves control the muscles of the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand, and provides feeling in the arms.

These nerves can be damaged by stretching, pressure or cutting.  Stretching can occur when the head and neck are forced away from the shoulder, such as during a car accident or a fall off a ladder at work.  If the force is severe enough, the nerves can tear out of the spinal cord in the neck.  Pressure could occur from the crushing of the brachial plexus between the collarbone and first rib, which can happen during a fracture or dislocation.  Swelling in this area from excessive bleeding or injured soft tissues can also cause an injury.

Minor brachial plexus injuries usually completely heal in several weeks, and other injuries are severe enough that they could cause permanent residuals such a loss of function and chronic pain.  Early intervention and recent advances in microsurgical reconstruction have greatly improved outcomes. 

The more severe injuries or those not caught right away may require reconstructive surgery.  Nerve reconstructive surgery is ideally performed within the first 3-6 months after acute injury to permit optimal recovery, allowing time for the regenerating nerves to connect with paralyzed muscles before dense scarring develops.  In injuries that occurred more than six months ago, new techniques have enabled surgeons to transfer working muscles with their blood and nerve supply from distant parts of the body, enabling lost elbow flexion and shoulder motion to return.

However, the recovery process is slow –measured in months and years rather than weeks and months.  Muscle takes between 6-12 months to recover and then work toward the return of strength and mobility needs to be progressive. State-of-the-art techniques like electric stimulation, biofeedback and pool therapy may be employed to help with the recovery process.

Most brachial plexus injuries are extremely complex because of the myriad of nerves which control function and feeling in the arm.  The outcome is generally dependent upon:

  • Age of the claimant (younger persons generally have better results),
  • Time between injury and surgery (the earlier the better with the first 3 months being optimal),
  • Extent of injury (i.e., partial plexus injuries have superior results, especially upper plexus injuries), and
  • Good rehabilitation programs result in greater functionality and weight tolerance.

Looking at medical developments throughout the last three decades, there have been significant developments in the management of these injuries, which include a better understanding of the anatomy, advances in diagnostic modalities, incorporation of intra-operative nerve stimulation techniques and more liberal use of nerve grafts.  Additionally, current microsurgical techniques have resulted in increased functionality of the upper plexus injuries. As research continues, we can expect to see less pain and disability associated with brachial plexus injuries.

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), the most common entrapment neuropathy, is caused by chronic compression of the median nerve as it enters the carpal tunnel.  In fact, it is thought that between 3%-6% of US adults have or will develop CTS.  It normally develops between the ages of 45-64 years and the prevalence increases with age.  It is more common in women than men.  Carpal Tunnel Syndrome has been around for a long time; reports of CTS date back to the 1800’s.

Interestingly, after all this time there is still no consensus for a treatment plan for mild to moderate CTS.  A 2007 Cochrane review found treating CTS with corticosteroid injections appears to have an unknown affect and effects appear to be temporary with no benefit beyond one month.  This study also found two injections of corticosteroids did not provide any additional benefit over one injection.  More recently research has indicated that the benefit may last up to 10 weeks, some studies showed up to one year, with less chance of surgical intervention at one year.  The problem in studying CTS is it has a tendency to have spontaneous remissions, which may also be partially responsible for a high 20%-34% “Placebo Effect.”   The Placebo Effect is a beneficial effect produced by a fake drug or treatment.

A new procedure using ultrasound-guided perineural injection of 5% dextrose (D5W) showed a significant reduction in pain and disability and improved electrophysiological responses.  The procedure is still in the testing stages, but could prove to be a much more cost-effective approach to treating CTS.  The minimally invasive injections can be performed in a doctor’s office resulting in virtually no recovery period, and a much quicker return to work and other activities of daily living. 


7/20/2018 in Medical Conditions

A study was conducted to find out the prevalence and risk factors of a rotator cuff tear in the general population.  The purpose was to clarify the true occurrence of rotator cuff tears regardless of the presence or absence of symptoms.

Study participants consisted of 683 people; 229 males and 454 females with a mean age of 57.9 years (age range was 22-87).  Background factors were examined, physical examinations and ultrasonographic examinations on both shoulders.

Interestingly, 20.7% of the study participants had a rotator cuff tear and the frequency increased with age.  36% had a rotator cuff tear with symptoms and 16.9% had a rotator cuff tear but were asymptomatic. 

In conclusion, 20.7% of 1,366 shoulders had full thickness rotator cuff tears in the general population.  The risk factors included a history of trauma, dominant arm and age.


The subacromial bursa is a small fluid filled sac located at the top, outer aspect of the shoulder designed to reduce friction between the acromion and the tendon of the supraspinatus muscle.  While elevating the arm, rotating the shoulder, lifting, pushing, pulling or lying on the shoulder forces are placed on the subacromial bursa.  This can also occur with a direct impact or fall onto the point of the shoulder. Irritation and/or inflammation of the bursa can occur over time with repetitious movements or suddenly with a direct blow to the point of the shoulder or a fall onto the shoulder. 

Symptoms include pain at the top, front, back or outer aspect of the shoulder, which can sometimes radiate into the upper arm as far as the elbow.  Less severe cases may experience an ache or stiffness in the shoulder which increases with rest following activities that placed strain on the bursa.  However, as the condition progresses symptoms may increase during the activity or sport.   

Although the condition can be diagnosed through a thorough subjective and objective physical examination, an ultrasound is usually used to confirm the diagnosis.  Further diagnostics such as x-ray, CT or MRI can assist in the diagnosis of other conditions which may be present and assess the severity of the condition.

Generally, Subacromial Bursitis can be treated conservatively beginning with rest to the shoulder and diligently performing exercises.  Physical therapy using ultrasound and cryotherapy to reduce inflammation is also helpful.  If that didn’t provide adequate pain relief, then steroid injections could be tried.  Surgery is a “last resort” type of care in the form of an arthroscope to visualize and repair any damaged structures.

Subacromial bursitis often occurs in conjunction with other shoulder conditions such as rotator cuff tear, tendinopathy, shoulder impingement or shoulder instability.  These are usually of slow onset because the result of repetitive activities at work, but subacromial bursitis can also come about acutely, for example as the result from a direct blow to the shoulder or a fall on the shoulder.

These types of injuries are slow to heal and for that reason can result in high treatment costs and increased employee missed time from work.  Often whether or not the claimant heals completely or at all is subjective and the success of treatment falls strongly on the claimant’s compliance.  This makes surveillance a great option in cases of high suspicion because if you catch your guy in the middle of 18 holes with no apparent shoulder problems, then you really have something!

5/2/2018 in Medical Conditions

Low back pain is an extremely common condition world-wide.  In fact, regardless of cause it is the leading reason for job disability.  One in ten persons experience it and for the majority the pain becomes chronic in nature.  Research published in the journal of Pain Medicine has found that massage may provide lasting relief for chronic low back pain.

The study involved 104 people with chronic back pain who were referred by their doctors to licensed massage therapists.  They attended 10 sessions over a 12 week period and the therapists used techniques customized to the individual, rather than all using the same technique.  At the end of the study, more than 50% of participants reported improvement in their back pain.  In fact, their scores on a standard screening test dropped below the threshold for disability.  For many, their improvements lasted.  More than three months following treatment, 75% reported that they still felt better.

While it is suggested that massage directly reduces inflammation in the muscles, more research is needed to figure out exactly how it works to reduce pain. 

Reference:  Real-World Massage Therapy Produces Meaningful Effectiveness Signal for Primary Care Patients with Chronic Low Back Pain: Results of a Repeated Measures Cohort Study, Pain Medicine, Volume 18, Issue 7, July 2017, Pages 1394-1405.

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