Tendinopathy TOP TEN By Jill Cook PhD
Tendon pain and dysfunction are the presenting clinical features of tendinopathy. Research has investigated many treatment options, but consistent, positive, clinical outcomes remain elusive. We know that treatment should be active (eg, exercise-based), and that a consistent and ongoing investment in rehabilitation is required. It is important to maximise this investment by understanding (and conveying to patients) treatments that do not help. The following 10 points high- light treatment approaches to avoid as they do not improve lower limb tendinopathy.
1. Don’t rest completely.
Rest decreases the load tolerance of tendon, and complete rest decreases tendon stiffness within 2 weeks.1 It also decreases strength and power in the muscle attached to the tendon and the function of the kinetic chain,2 and likely changes the motor cortex, leaving the person less able to tolerate load at multiple levels. Treatment should initially reduce painful, high tendon load (point 2) and intro- duce beneficial loads (eg, isometrics3). Once pain is low and stable (consistent on a loading test each day), load can be increased slowly to improve the capacity of the tendon.4
2. Don’t prescribe incorrect exercise.
Understanding load is essential for correct exercise prescription. High tendon load occurs when it is used like a spring, such as in jumping, changing direction and sprinting.5 Tendon springs must be loaded quickly to be effective, so slow exercises even with weights are not high tendon load and can be used early in rehabilitation. However, exercising at a longer muscle tendon length can compress the tendon at its insertion.6 This adds substantial load and should be avoided, even slowly, early in rehabilitation.
3. Don’t rely on passive treatments.
Passive treatments are not helpful in the long term as they promote the patient as a passive recipient of care and do not increase the load tolerance of tendon.Treatments like electrotherapy and ice temporarily ameliorate pain only for it to return when the tendon is loaded.7
4. Avoid injection therapies.
Injections of substances into a tendon have been shown to be no more effective than placebo in good clinical trials.8 Clinicians who support injection therapies incorrectly suggest they will return a pathological tendon to normal. There is little need to intervene in the pathology as
there is evidence that the tendonadapts to the pathology and has plenty of tendon tissue capable of tolerating high load.9 Injections may change pain in the short term as they may affect the nerves, but should only be considered if the tendon has not responded to a good exercise-based programme.
5. Don’t ignore tendon pain. Pain usually increases 24 hours afterexcess tendon load. An increase in pain of 2 or more (out of 10) on a daily loading test should initiate a reduction in the aspects of training that are overloading the tendon (point 2). The overload is likely to be due to excessive spring-like movements such as jumping, running and changing direction.
6. Don’t stretch the tendon.
Aside from the load on a tendon in sport, there are compressive loads on the bone-tendon junction when it is at its longest length. Stretching only serves to add compressive loads that are detrimental to the tendon.10
7. Don’t use friction massage.
A painful tendon is overloaded and irritated (reactive tendon pathology). Massaging or frictioning the tendon can increase pain and will not help pathology.7 An effect on local nerves may reduce pain in the short term only for it to return with high tendon loads.
8. Don’t use tendon images for diagnosis, prognosis or as an outcome measure.
Abnormal tendon images (ultrasound and MRI) in isolation do not support a diagnosis of tendon pain as asymptom- atic pathology is prevalent. There are also no aspects of imaging, such as vascu- larity and ‘tears’, that allow a clinician to determine outcome.11 Pathology on imaging is usually very stable and does not change with treatment and reductionin pain, so images are not a good outcome measure.12
9. Don’t be worried about rupture.
Pain is protective as it causes unloading of a tendon. In fact most people who rupture a tendon have never had pain and do not present clinically, despite the tendon having substantial pathology.13
10. Don’t rush rehabilitation.
Tendon needs time to build its strength and capacity. So does the muscle, the kinetic chain and the brain. Although this can be a substantial time (3 months or more), the long-term outcomes are good if the correct rehabilitation is completed.14
The above 10 treatment approaches take valuable resources and focus away from the best treatment for tendon pain—exer- cise-based rehabilitation. A progressive programme that starts with a muscle strength programme and then progresses through to more spring-like exercises and including endurance aspects will load the tendon correctly and give the best long- term results.
Okay. So you’ve decided to embark on a fitness regime in order to shed some kilo’s, get fit or just for fun. New gym membership. Check. New sparkling runners. Check. Gym gear (a bit tight at the moment). Check. Alright, let me at that treadmill/rower/crosstrainer/zumba class!
“Hold on a second – what about your warm-up!”
“Warm-up” you scoff, “you’ve got to be kidding. No time to waste on that”.
Sorry folks, but the warm-up is an important part of your exercise routine and plays a crucial role in preparing your body for exercise. Skimp on the warm-up and you run the risk of injury during exercise or sport, as well as reduced performance levels.
“But what’s so important about doing a few stretches?” I hear you ask.
A proper warm-up involves more than just standing around stretching and talking. It prepares your body for the exercise/sport it is about to undertake and should simulate the actions involved.
The benefits of a warm-up are:
1) Increase in core body temperature
2) Preparation of muscles, tendons and joints for the stresses/strains of activity
3) Increase in nerve impulse conduction to muscles
4) Increase in blood flow to muscles
5) Increase in respiratory (breathing) rate
Let’s have a closer look at each of these benefits.
1. Increased core body temperature – this is important as it prepares the body for the change in activity level from being sedentary to exercising and gets the body into a ‘ready’ state. This also results in an increase in muscle temperature which makes them more pliable, supple and loose.
2. Prepares muscles, tendons and joints for activity – each sporting activity stresses the body in different ways so it is vital to prepare in a way that simulates these activities. For example, if you are a basketballer you need to include in your warm-up the jumping, running and change of direction that occurs during the game. If you pump weights at the gym, it is vital to perform a warm-up set of each exercise at a lower weight to allow your body to adjust to each specific movement.
3. Increased nerve conduction – muscles that are in a ready or aroused state react quicker and more efficiently than muscles that aren’t prepared for activity.
4. Increased blood flow to muscles – through increased blood flow there is an increase in oxygen flow to muscles as well as nutrient flow. This increased flow allows for improved performance
5. Increased respiratory rate – prepares the lungs for an increase in activity level and improves oxygenation of the blood flowing to the muscles.
Okay, so now that we know why we are performing a warm-up, what should it involve?
One common misconception out there these days is the importance of stretching as part of a warm-up. Note I said part of a warm-up.
Stretching on its own does not constitute a warm-up – rather it forms a critical part of one.
An effective warm-up has a number of very important key elements, which work together to minimize the likelihood of sports injury and prepare the individual for physical activity.
These key elements are:
1) The general warm-up
2) Static stretching
3) Sport specific warm-up
4) Dynamic stretching
1. The general warm-up
This consists of light physical activity such as walking, jogging, easy swimming, stationary bike, skipping or easy aerobics. The intensity and duration of the general warm-up is dictated by the fitness level of the participating athlete. For the average person, this part of the warm-up should last between 5 and 10 minutes and result in a light sweat.
2. Static stretching
Yes! Static stretching. This is a very safe and effective form of basic stretching. There is a limited threat of injury and is beneficial for overall flexibility. All the major muscle groups should be included for a period of 5 to 10 minutes.
Debate has raged about whether static stretching should be part of a warm-up and some studies have shown that static stretching can have an adverse effect on muscle contraction speed and therefore performance. It is for this reason that static stretching is performed early in the warm-up and always followed by sports specific drills and dynamic stretching. It is important these first two elements are completed properly as it allows the more vigorous and specific activities of elements three and four to then be performed.
3. Sport specific warm-up
In this part, you are specifically preparing the body for the demands of your particular sport or activity. During this part of the warm-up, more vigorous activities should be employed. Activities should reflect the type of movements and actions which will be required during the activity.
4. Dynamic stretching
Finally the warm-up should finish with a series of dynamic stretches. Caution should be taken with this form of stretching as it involves controlled, soft bouncing or swinging motions to take a particular body part past it’s normal range of motion. The force or the bounce of the swing is gradually increased but should never become radical or uncontrolled. These exercises should also be specific to the sport or activity.
Another important factor to keep in mind when undertaking any new exercise regime, is the time it takes for the body to adapt to training. If you have had a period of time away from sport or activity, then your body won’t be used to the stresses and strains put on it from exercise. It can take up to 4 to 6 weeks for your muscles, tendons and joints to become adjusted to the movements involved in your sport or activity.
During this period it is advisable to start with low to moderate intensity exercise which gradually builds over time. Heading straight up the red or blue arrow as your first exercise session in 3 or 4 months isn’t a great idea. Starting out with flat walks or jogging and gradually increasing time and intensity is a better way to start. After 4 to 6 weeks you will be at the stage where you can tackle more intense sessions.
The same goes for weight training. Starting with lighter weights and more repetitions will allow your tendons and joints in particular, to adapt to lifting load. Going too heavy too soon can lead to tendon injuries or severe muscle and joint soreness.
Dry needling involves the application of very fine sterilised acupuncture needles into muscle and surrounding tissues to assist in the release of myofascial trigger points, reduce tightness and spasm, improve muscle function and relieve pain. It is commonly used as an adjunct to physiotherapy and myotherapy techniques to improve treatment outcomes.
There are two types of Dry Needling, the first called Superficial Dry Needling (SDN) works by inserting the needle only 5-10mm under the skin. Secondarily is Deep Dry Needling (DDN) where the needle is inserted to the depth required to penetrate the targeted myofascial trigger point.
How does it work?
Myofascial trigger points are hyper-irritable, taut bands within muscles, which are painful to touch and can contribute to muscle shortening, weakness and pain (both locally and referred). They often develop following muscle, joint or nerve injury and sometimes persist well after the initial tissue injured has healed. This leads to persistent pain and discomfort.
Dry needling releases these trigger points by encouraging local blood flow to the trigger point and by modulating nerve pathways that erroneously cause them to persist. The needling also stimulates your body’s own endorphin system to provide pain relief and help allow the muscle to relax.
Dry needling can be extremely effective in the treatment of:
Needles used in dry needling are much thinner than those you receive when you see your GP for an injection and so usually cause much less discomfort. This does vary depending on what techniques your therapist uses. You may also experience the very satisfying response of the muscle twanging and releasing quickly. A sure sign of a successful trigger point release.
The initial treatment is conservative to determine the patient’s response. This varies from person to person. It is expected that there will be some post treatment soreness during the first 24-48hrs and sometimes minor bruising is experienced.
What sorts of conditions can Dry Needling be beneficial for?
Dry needling can produce excellent results as an adjunct to standard physiotherapy and manual therapy treatment. It can be used in both acute and chronic painful conditions.
Dry needling can be extremely effective in the treatment of:
Back, neck and shoulder pain
Hand and wrist pain
Tendinopathy pathologies i.e. Tennis elbow, Achilles pain
Many other musculoskeletal injuries (You can discuss dry needling with your therapist to see if it may be useful for your condition)
What is the difference between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?
Dry needling revolves around Western Medicine philosophy and involves inserting needles into muscular trigger points palpated by your therapist and consistent with your area of pain.
Acupuncture is based on ancient Eastern Medicine, with needle placement over specific points along meridian lines or ‘energy’ lines which are thought to associate with particular illness and disease.
As your cold-weather footwear makes the seasonal migration from the back of your closet to replace summer’s flip flops and bare feet, don’t underestimate the benefits of padding around naked from the ankles down.
Barefoot activities can greatly improve balance and posture and prevent common injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, bursitis, and tendonitis in the Achilles tendon, according to Patrick McKeon, a professor in Ithaca College’s School of Health Sciences and Human Performance.
The small, often overlooked muscles in the feet that play a vital but underappreciated role in movement and stability. Their role is similar to that of the core muscles in the abdomen.
“If you say ‘core stability,’ everyone sucks in their bellybutton,” he said. Part of the reason why is about appearance, but it’s also because a strong core is associated with good fitness. The comparison between feet and abs is intentional on McKeon’s part; he wants people to take the health of their “foot core” just as seriously.
The foot core feedback loop
McKeon describes a feedback cycle between the larger “extrinsic” muscles of the foot and leg, the smaller “intrinsic” muscles of the foot, and the neural connections that send information from those muscle sets to the brain.
“Those interactions become a very powerful tool for us,” he said. When that feedback loop is broken, though, it can lead to the overuse injuries that plague many an athlete and weekend warrior alike.
Shoes are the chief culprit of that breakdown, according to McKeon. “When you put a big sole underneath, you put a big dampening effect on that information. There’s a missing link that connects the body with the environment,” he said.
Muscles serve as the primary absorbers of force for the body. Without the nuanced information provided by the small muscles of the foot, the larger muscles over-compensate and over-exert past the point of exhaustion and the natural ability to repair. When the extrinsic muscles are no longer able to absorb the forces of activity, those forces are instead transferred to the bones, tendons, and ligaments, which leads to overuse injuries.
It’s not that McKeon is opposed to footwear. “Some shoes are very good, from the standpoint of providing support. But the consequence of that support, about losing information from the foot, is what we see the effects of [in overuse injuries].”
Strengthening the foot core
The simplest way to reintroduce the feedback provided by the small muscles of the foot is to shed footwear when possible. McKeon says activities like Pilates, yoga, martial arts, some types of dance, etc. are especially beneficial.
“Anything that has to deal with changing postures and using the forces that derive from the interaction with the body and the ground [is great for developing foot core strength],” he said.
McKeon also described the short-foot exercise, which targets the small muscles by squeezing the ball of the foot back toward the heel. It’s a subtle motion, and the toes shouldn’t curl when performing it. The exercise can be done anywhere while seated or standing, though he recommends first working with an athletic trainer or physical therapist to get familiar with the movement.
He notes the exercise seems to have especially positive results for patients suffering from ankle sprain, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis. It’s even been shown to improve the strain suffered by individuals with flat feet.
The payoff could be more than just physical, as there could be financial savings. With strong feet, McKeon suggests that — depending on the activity — consumers may not need to invest hundreds of dollars in slick, well-marketed athletic sneakers (though he doesn’t recommend going for the cheapest of cheap sneakers, either). People with a strong foot core can actively rely on the foot to provide proper support, rather than passively relying on the shoes alone.
“You might be able to get a $50 pair of basketball shoes that don’t have the typical support that you’d expect. Because you have strong feet, you’re just using the shoes to protect the feet and grip the ground,” he said.
The easiest way to get started on strengthening the small muscles of the foot, though, is to kick off your shoes in indoor environments.
“The more people can go barefoot, such as at home or the office, is a really good thing,” McKeon said.
Ithaca College. “Going barefoot: Strong ‘foot core’ could prevent plantar fasciitis, shin splints, and other common injuries.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 November 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151117181929