Some reflections on concussion from the author below. We can help if you do have concussion.
A Carolina Panthers player left the Super Bowl and was found to have a concussion.
By David L. Katz
Fortunately for me and the others gathered at the Katz home, we enjoyed a fabulous, Cuisinicity.com meal for the Big Game. No surprise there; my wife is the culinary genius behind the site.
Thank goodness for the wonderful dinner, because the game itself was rather disappointing. There was, I trust my fellow spectators will agree, an unusual bumper crop of penalties, some egregiously bad calls by the referees, some truly strange mistakes by players and a disquieting bounty of poor sportsmanship into the bargain. Congratulations to the Broncos and Peyton just the same, but seriously, weird game.
Alas, it also featured an announcement all fans of the game should now know is a reason for a collective wince: concussion protocol. Corey Brown, of the Carolina Panthers, left the game after a head injury, underwent neurological evaluation and was found to have a concussion.
I trust everyone now knows the ominous implications of that kind of injury if repeated periodically over the course of a career. The media attention to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, is considerable and rising. The movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, raises the profile further. I highly recommend the movie if you haven’t seen it, by the way. It is very well done, and beautifully acted, and entertaining even as it educates.
I have no particular expertise in CTE beyond any doctor’s basic understanding of it, and others have said plenty already. If you are interested, as every football fan should be, and certainly as every parent of a child inclined to play football must be, the relevant information is readily available. I will take the opportunity to make a different point, about the cultural malleability of “normal,” and thus, “acceptable.”
While I have no claim to the football-fan hall of fame, I like the game as much as the next guy. I am wondering more and more, though, if my entertainment is worth the price the players are paying.
Football is part of our culture, and thus normal. We might thus think that if it has occasional consequences, those, too, are normal. That may make them seem acceptable. But that’s the real danger here: complacency. We can perhaps only see it looking across cultures, rather than from corner to corner within the box that is our own.
Consider, for instance, the Gladiatorial Games of Roman times. Those were, infamously, contests to the death, whether between people, or people and wild, half-starved animals. The only vague approximations of any such barbaric entertainment in the modern world are, so far as I know, bull fighting, and the generally illegal contests between fighting dogs or roosters. There is no longer any mainstream interest in watching bloody death for entertainment.
But that’s simply because sensibilities and culture have evolved. The Romans were people just like us. Their society, too, was made up of mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. They, too, knew love and compassion. But they cheered while watching young men, literally, kill one another. In their culture, it was normal, and thus acceptable; but I trust we agree history has reached a different verdict.
I happen to be a fan of both the late Heath Ledger, and Paul Bettany, and was thus predisposed to love the movie “A Knight’s Tale.” I’m no movie critic – I can’t say whether or not it’s a great movie – I can only say I like it.
The movie is especially noteworthy for how it handles anachronism. More than once, it features period elements, like music, and then transitions them to the modern analog, such as a rousing rendition of “The Boys Are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy. More memorable still is a scene at a dance. Heath Ledger’s character is dancing with his love interest in the stylized manner of medieval folk dance. The music then transitions to the late, great David Bowie – “Golden Years,” to be exact – and the dancing keeps pace, morphing into what one would expect, more or less, in any given club on any given Saturday.
The director, I think, was telling us something important: The old-fashioned music and dance of medieval times would not have felt old-fashioned then. It was, simply, the music and dance of its day. It was normal. Showing medieval folk dancing to a modern audience says: this was an old-fashioned party. The director substituted “current” music and dance to show us how it felt to the participants. It was current and normal then, and no matter how it feels to us now, that’s how it would have felt to them.
That’s relevant to football. We are not willing to entertain ourselves by watching young men bash one another’s heads in with maces, as the Romans did. But we do entertain ourselves as young men bash their helmeted heads into one another repeatedly over a span of years, with all-too-often calamitous consequences.
Our gridiron heroes are latter-day gladiators. And their house – the house of football – inspires almost religious devotion in our culture. But that may be only because it is part of our culture. Imagine if football did not yet exist, and we were thinking of introducing it, and knew about CTE from the start. Would we add such a game and such a liability to our cultural entertainments?
The one-time editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and later Medscape, Dr. George Lundberg, reflected along similar lines in the New York Times recently. He discusses cultural evolution over a much shorter period than the Middle Ages to now, noting a marked change in his personal – and our societal – enthusiasm for the brutalities of boxing. Both the sport and its following have changed dramatically in recent years, and he conjectures that football is in that same queue.
My principal mission here is to point out the inevitability of culturally induced blindness to the unacceptable elements of what is currently normal. We live in a time of epidemic obesity and its complications in our children, yet continue to market multicolored marshmallows to them as “part of a complete breakfast.” This is absurd, and history will judge us accordingly, but it’s normal now – and so we overlook the hypocrisy. Cultures around the world justify practices as heinous as female genital mutilation. What passes for “normal” is self-defining, and to some extent, self-perpetuating.
Until, that is, we evolve beyond it. Looking back, what was normal yesterday often proves repulsive and contemptible today.
We speak routinely about “thinking outside the box,” but when the box is culture, that is much easier said than done. Everything we know is inside the box, as are we. The contents of the box at any given time are normal.
History turns the years into a ladder. Out of the box we all climb, into a bigger box presumably, as we gain the perspective of altitude, and roll our eyes at the mess we’ve left behind.
I love watching football. The Romans presumably loved their gladiatorial games. Both are normal in context. That doesn’t guarantee that either is right.
For the sake of today’s players, and our sons inclined to take their places, I hope we reform the game of football sooner than later. It’s a great game, but not when paid for with brains scrambled, and lives cut short.
In general, we need to recognize how readily we follow the gospel of any given culture telling us what’s normal. We need to recognize that normal is simply what we do now, and that it isn’t necessarily right. Perhaps the true measure of cultural enlightenment is how ably we judge ourselves in real time as history is sure to do in the fullness of time.
Some common spinal injuries and conditions we treat:
Acute lower back (lumbar) pain due to spinal disc and/or facet joint injuries
Chronic low back (lumbar) pain
Sciatica – referred pain and symptoms into the lower limb
Pelvic dysfunction syndromes . Often diagnosed in patients who feel ‘out’.
Childbirth related instability and acute pain syndromes of the lower back and pelvis.
Spondylolisthesis (forward slip of one vertebrae on the vertebrae directly below it)
Spondylosis (disc space narrowing combined with degenerative changes in the facet joints common with age)
Acute neck pain due to facet joint and/or spinal disc injury
Chronic neck pain
Brachialgia-referred pain and symptoms into the arm, ‘pinched nerve’ pain and/or pins and needles/numbness (known as paraesthesia)
Mid-back (thoracic) and rib (costovertebral joint) pain (which, in some cases, refer pain around the chest wall)
Acute/chronic (myofascial) trigger point conditions. (These are tender and hypersensitive coin sized zones within the muscle tissue that can cause local pain and tightness and can also refer to distant sites.)
Muscle and joint stiffness
Causes of Spinal Pain
Acute and chronic spinal pain is experienced due to the stimulation, via mechanical or chemical irritation, of small nerve endings, nerve root or spinal cord sheaths, nerve cords, complex pain mechanisms in the central nervous system or a combination of the above.
Acute Spinal Pain
This can involve findings of bulging disc, disc protrusion or disc prolapse/rupture. Disc problems are very common in the lower back (lumbar spine). They are often associated with episodes of bending, bend with twist or prolonged sitting /driving which distorts the rim of the disc causing acute pain. In addition it can produce pressure on the spinal nerves in the lower back which produce symptoms known as sciatica. This is felt as pain, pins and needles sensation, numbness and/or weakness in the leg(s). In the neck (cervical spine), disc injuries can cause debilitating pain into the neck and commonly severe pain into the arm called brachialgia due to compression of the spinal nerves in the neck. This is commonly referred to as ‘pinched nerve’.
These joints are small joints which flank the disc on either side and behind the spinal discs. They are like a finger joint in their structure and when injured swell and inflame and cause acute pain and restriction of movement. They can be sprained in an injury or activities involving twisting, arching and reaching upward movements. In the neck they can become overstrained by an awkward night’s sleep leading to a condition known as ‘Acute Wry Neck’. They can cause local pain and also refer pain to neighbouring and even distant sites.
The joints of the pelvis can suffer acute injuries through high force trauma such as motor vehicle/bicycle accidents, contact sports, slips and falls on to the ground/floor, landing from a height, or when the female pelvis is vulnerable before and after childbirth. Injury and acute instability syndromes can occur which involve the sacroiliac and pubic joints. Lumbo-pelvic dysfunction conditions are common in the sporting population. Muscle imbalance, asymmetrical posture and structural alignment, as well as poor activation and stabilising strength (core control) can create syndromes such as chronic back pain, Osteitis Pubis (OP), recurrent hamstring strains, and contribute to a range of soft tissue injuries/conditions in the lower body.
This refers to the soft tissue layer involving the muscles, tendons and fascial tissues. This can be injured acutely and cause local pain at the site of injury but can also be responsible for ache and pain at distant sites. Myofascial pain is often associated with damage to deeper joint structures, namely disc and facet joints as either a primary (injured tissue) and/or secondary (protective spasm) component of the acute injury.
Our spinal columns are made of twenty four vertebrae stacked one above another on the pelvis. They are joined together at the front by discs and at the back by facet joints. When we bend forward, the vertebra above tilts and slides forward, compressing the disc and stretching the facet joints at the back of the vertebrae. When we bend backward, the disc compression is reduced at the front and the facet joints are compressed at the back. In the upper neck and thoracic areas we tend to have more facet joint strains and in the lower cervical spine and lumbar spine areas, disc injuries are more frequent. This is because our upper spine joints allow us to turn our heads to see, hear and smell, so they need mobility but do not support much weight. Our lumbar spine bears around half our body weight and as we move and sit, there are huge, sustained, compressive loads on our discs.
CAUSES OF BACK PAIN
Disc injuries are the most common cause of low back pain and can range in severity from a mild intermittent ache, to a severe pain where people cannot move. Disc injuries occur mainly during sudden loading such as when lifting, or during repetitive or prolonged bending forces such as when slouching, rowing, hockey and while cycling. They are often aggravated by coughing and running. A flexed posture during slouching, bending or lifting is a frequent cause of disc damage because of the huge leverage and compression forces caused by gravity pulling down on the mass of the upper body.
It is important to understand that damage from small disc injuries is cumulative if discs are damaged at a faster rate than they can heal and the damage will eventually increase until it becomes painful. Pain sensing nerves are only on the outside of the disc, so by the time there is even small pain of disc origin, the disc is already significantly damaged internally where there are no nerve endings to feel pain with.
There may be a previous history of pain coming and going as the damaged area has become inflamed, perhaps was rested or treated, settled for a while but as the underlying problem was not fixed, the pain has flared up repeatedly since. This type of disc injury responds very well to Physiotherapy treatment.
A marked disc injury causes the outer disc to bulge, stretching the outer disc nerves. In a more serious injury, the central disc gel known as the nucleus, can break through the outer disc and is known as a disc bulge, prolapse or extrusion.
Spinal muscles are often blamed as the cause of spinal pain but this is rarely the cause of the pain. Muscle pain may develop as the muscles contract to prevent further damage as they protect the primary underlying painful structures. This muscle pain is secondary to the underlying pathology and when the muscles are massaged, given acupuncture etc, there is temporary relief but the pain will often come back, as the muscles resume their protective bracing. Treatment must improve the structure and function in the tissues which the muscles are trying to protect. The most common sources of primary pain are the discs, facet joints and their ligaments.
There are four facet joints at the back of each vertebra, two attaching to the vertebra above and two attaching to the vertebra below. A facet joint strain is much like an ankle sprain and the joints can be strained by excessive stretching or compressive forces. The joint ligaments, joint lining and even the joint surfaces can be damaged and will then produce pain.
Facet joint sprains can occur during excessive bending but typically occur with backward, lifting or twisting movements. Trauma such as during a car accident or during repetitive or prolonged forces such as when slouching or bowling at cricket.
There are many other sources of back pain including arthritis, crush fractures and various disease processes. Your Physiotherapist will examine your back and advise you should further investigation be necessary.
SYMPTOMS OF BACK PAIN
Symptoms of structural back pain are always affected by movement. This is important to understand. Symptoms, usually pain but perhaps tingling and pins and needles, are often intense and may be sudden in onset but also may be mild and of gradual onset. There are other conditions which can produce back pain such as abdominal problems, ovarian cysts and intestinal issues. If you have symptoms in these areas which are not affected by movement, you must consult with your doctor. If you have chest, jaw or upper limb pain which is unaffected by movement, you must attend your doctor or hospital immediately.
Facet joints, discs, muscles and other structures are affected by our positions and movements. More minor problems produce central low back pain. With more damage, the pain may spread to both sides and with nerve irritation, the pain may spread down into the thigh or leg. As a general rule, disc pain is worse with bending, lifting and slouching and facet joint strains are worse twisting and bending backward or sideways. A severe disc problem is often worse with coughing or sneezing and on waking in the morning.
DIAGNOSIS OF BACK PAIN
Diagnosis of back injuries is complex and requires a full understanding of the onset history and a comprehensive physical examination. It is important for your Physiotherapist to establish a specific and accurate diagnosis to direct the choice of treatment. In some cases, the pain may arise from several tissues known as co-existing pathologies and each of these are treated as they are identified. Where the Physiotherapist requires further information or the management may require injections or surgery, the appropriate x-rays, scans and a referral will be arranged.
UPPER BACK AND LOWER BACK PAIN RELIEF
Eighty percent of adults will experience severe spinal pain at some time in their life. Much of this pain is called non-specific low back pain and is treated with generic non-specific treatment. This type of treatment often fails to provide lasting relief. However, Musculoskeletal Physiotherapists have developed specific diagnostic skills and specific treatment techniques, targeted to specific structures. We identify the structure and cause of the pain producing damage and develop specific advice and strategies to prevent further damage and promote healing.
Specific techniques are chosen to correct the structural and mechanical problems. Among many choices, treatment may include joint mobilisation, stretching, ice, strengthening and education. As normal tissue structure and function returns, there is a reduction in the inflammation and the pain will subside.
When normal movement has been achieved, the inflammation has settled and the structures have healed, your new strategies will reduce the possibility of the problem recurring. We use this specific approach to reduce or stop chronic pain.
While we have the choice to manipulate, adjust or click joints, patients with ongoing pain will seldom benefit from repeating these techniques. This is because our tissues are elastic and the benefit of the quick stretch of manipulation is lost, as the elastic tissues tighten and shorten again. Adjustments of this type have little long term benefit and often lead to an unhealthy dependence on the provider. Your Physiotherapist will choose a safer and more appropriate treatment for you.
PROGNOSIS OF BACK PAIN
Physiotherapy for back pain can provide outstanding results but it is a process, not magic. The damage which produces pain in a back takes time to develop and also time to repair and heal. You will understand there are often several interacting factors to deal with and patient compliance is necessary.
“Tension headaches” are often talked about and we see a lot of patients with these headaches. In our diagnosis of these conditions, about eighty five percent of all headaches arise from the neck, or cervical spine, which refers pain into the head through the nerves which go to both areas. Neck problems cause head pain because some of the nerves which come from the spinal cord have branches which go to the upper neck joints and other branches which spread over the back of the head, with still others going to the front of the head. When one area is sore the brain interprets the pain as coming from all the areas the nerve branches go to.
CAUSES OF TENSION HEADACHES
Patients who have “Tension Headaches” or “stress headaches’’, are often very busy and have work related problems, a tough boss, urgent deadlines, problems with managing work flow and they often have trouble sleeping because of work problems and their worries. This causes the patient to be mentally and emotionally stressed and their relationships at work and with their families suffer.
They develop a headache which they cannot shake and they feel helpless, tired, tense, anxious and in pain. We have seen many cases where the headaches have continued for weeks and frequently kept recurring, sometimes over many years.
It is important to understand that a Tension Headache is due to “physical tension” in the tissues, often from a poor working position and the damage it has caused, not the other mental “tensions” listed above. Once full neck movement has been restored with treatment, the tissues have healed and the postural strains have been removed, patients often cope better with the other aspects of their lives. This is where Physiotherapy can help by breaking the vicious “Physical Tension” cycle. It is better to think of these as “structural headaches”.
Our neck is made of seven vertebrae stacked one above another. They support the head and they are joined together at the front by discs and at the back by facet joints. When we bend forward, the vertebra above tilts and slides forward, compressing the disc and stretching the facet joints which join the back of the vertebrae. When we bend backward, the disc compression is reduced at the front and the facet joints are compressed at the back. The junction of the first vertebra and the head does not have a disc and the joints there are particularly susceptible to leaning forward which causes the weight of the head to strain the joints, ligaments and muscles as gravity causes a shearing force as the head slides downward.
The neck muscles are often blamed as the cause of pain but this is rarely the whole story. Muscle pain often develops as the muscles contract to prevent further damage, as they protect the primary underlying structures. This pain is secondary to the underlying pathology and when the muscles are massaged, given acupuncture, etc, there is temporary relief but the pain will always comes back as the muscles resume their protective bracing. The most common sources of primary pain are the facet joints and their ligaments in the upper neck and the discs in the lower levels of the neck.
A facet joint strain is much like an ankle sprain, strained by excessive stretching or compressive forces. The joint ligaments, joint lining and even the joint surfaces can be damaged.
In the upper neck, facet joint strains typically occur during excessive bending or twisting movements and may follow trauma such as a car accident causing whiplash but generally, Tension Headaches occur with prolonged forces such as slouching, keying and reading.
There is often a previous history of pain coming and going as the damaged area became inflamed, was treated and settled for a while but as the underlying problem still remained, the pain flared up repeatedly every time it was strained. This type of injury, although often chronic, responds very well to specific Physiotherapy treatment.
There are many other sources of headaches and neck pain including arthritis, crush fractures and various disease processes. Your Physiotherapist will advise you should a more serious condition be suspected.
SYMPTOMS OF TENSION HEADACHES
Symptoms of “Tension Headaches” arising in the neck, are always affected by movement of the head and neck. This is important to understand. Symptoms are sometimes severe and may be sudden in onset but also may be mild and of gradual onset. There are other serious conditions which can produce headaches. If you have severe headache symptoms which are not affected by movement and a recent history of fever or nausea, you must consult a doctor urgently.
Facet joints, discs, muscles and other structures are affected by our neck positions and movements and when damaged, will respond very well to Physiotherapy treatment.
DIAGNOSIS OF TENSION HEADACHES
“Tension Headaches” often appear complex and require a full understanding of the history and a comprehensive physical examination. It is important for your Physiotherapist to establish a specific and accurate diagnosis to direct the choice of treatment. In some cases, the pain may arise from several tissues and these coexisting pathologies are treated individually as each is identified. Where the Physiotherapist requires further information or management may require injections or surgery, the appropriate x-rays, scans and a referral will be arranged.
TENSION HEADACHE RELIEF
Some of these cases will temporarily respond to a general non-specific treatment such as bed rest, ice and anti-inflammatories, however Musculoskeletal Physiotherapists have developed diagnostic skills and treatment techniques, targeted to stopping “Tension Headaches”. We will identify the reasons for the development of the pain and advise strategies to promote healing and to prevent further damage.
Specific techniques are chosen to correct the structural and mechanical problems. Among many choices, treatment may include joint mobilisation, stretching, ice, strengthening and education.
When normal function has been achieved, the inflammation and pain has settled and the structures have healed, using your new strategies will reduce the possibility of the headaches ever recurring. We use this approach to reduce or stop chronic pain. While we have the choice to manipulate or “click” joints, those with ongoing pain will seldom benefit from repeated “adjustment”. This is because our tissues are elastic and the benefit of the quick stretch of manipulation is lost as the tissues tighten up again. Potentially dangerous “adjustments” of this type have little long term benefit and can lead to an unhealthy dependence on the provider. Your Physiotherapist will choose a safe and appropriate treatment for you.
PROGNOSIS OF TENSION HEADACHES
Physiotherapy for “Tension Headaches” can provide outstanding results but it is a process, not magic. The damage which produces “Tension Headaches” takes time to develop and time to repair and heal. You will understand there are often several interacting factors to deal with and your compliance is necessary.