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An Orthopedic Approach to Coccyx Pain

Most of us spend our day sitting and do not think about the position of our ilia, sacrum or coccyx during the change from standing to sitting. Weightbearing through a tripod of bilateral ischial tuberosities and a sacrum that should have normalized form closure should be easy and pain free. The coccyx typically has minimal weight bearing in sitting, about 10%, just like the fibula, however, it can be a major pain generator, if the biomechanics of the ilia, sacrum and femoral head positions are not quite right.

Coccydynia and Painful Sitting is a course that can be related to all populations that physical therapists treat. A lot of patients will state “my pain is worse with sitting” which can mean thoracic pain, low back/sacral pain and even lower extremity radicular pain. Women’s health providers treat anything regarding the pelvis, so we are seeing a lot of complicated histories and symptoms.

Scanning the literature for coccyx treatment does not always yield the best results for physical therapists. Most literature states what the medical interventions can be, and physical therapy is never at the forefront. However, as we are musculoskeletal and neuromuscular specialists, this is no different on our thinking patterns relating to coccyx pain or painful sitting.

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Female Athletes: Fit to be Dry

At the peak of my racing career I won awards in all my races from 5k to marathon. While warming up I would scope out my competition, intimidated by muscular females wearing outfits to accentuate their physiques. Many times, appearance out-weighed running capacity. In a similar manner, one strong pelvic floor contraction produced by a female athlete does not always mean she has the endurance to stay dry in the long run.

Brennand et al. (2017) researched urinary leakage during exercise in Canadian women. A summary of their findings concluded that skipping, trampoline, jumping jacks, and running/jogging were most likely to cause leakage. To combat the problem, 93.2% emptied their bladder just before exercise, 62.7% required voiding breaks during exercise, and 37.3% actually restricted their fluid intake to minimize leakage. While 90.3% of women who reported leakage impacted their activity just decreased their intensity, 80.7% avoided the activity entirely. Many women used pads (49.2%). Interest in pelvic floor physiotherapy to improve their UI was high (84.6%), but 63.5% of women still sought pessary or surgical management. Unfortunately, 35.6% of the women had no idea treatment was even an option.

Nygaard & Shaw (2016) reviewed and summarized the cross-sectional studies regarding the association between physical activity and pelvic floor disorders. Trampolinists, especially those in the 3rd tertile of competition, even those who were nulliparous, experienced greater leakage. Competitive athletes in the highest quartile of time exercising were found to have 2.5 times the amount of urinary incontinence (UI) as the lowest inactive quartile; however, 2nd and 3rd quartile recreational athletes had no difference in UI compared to inactive women. Type and dosage of exercise were both factors in UI risk. Various studies showed habitual walking decreased UI in older women, moderate exercise decreased the risk of UI, and no exercise increased the risk of UI. The incidence of UI being related to having performed strenuous exercise early in life has been limited and variable, with one study of Norwegian athletes and US Olympians not having any greater UI later in life, while another showed middle-aged women who used to exercise 7.5 hours per week had a higher incidence of UI. This review also reported athletes had a 20% greater cross sectional area of the levator ani muscle and a greater pubovisceral muscle mean diameter; however, the pelvic floor strength recorded was lower than non-athletes.

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Hip and Pelvis Biomechanics: Assessing Baby’s First “Crib”

You wouldn't place a newborn in a crib without knowing the legs were firmly attached at the right angle to the base. You wouldn't jump on a hammock if the poles or trees were not firmly intact and upright to support the sling. Why would you treat a pregnant woman without checking if her hips were working optimally in proper alignment to support the pelvis, inside which a new life is developing? Let's hope higher level clinicians spend the extra effort to learn about the surrounding areas that affect our specialty, whether it is pelvic floor or spine or sports medicine.

In 2015, Branco et al., published a study entitled, “Three-Dimensional Kinetic Adaptations of Gait throughout Pregnancy and Postpartum.” Eleven pregnant women voluntarily participated in this descriptive longitudinal study. Ground reaction forces (GRF), joint moments of force in the sagittal, frontal, and transverse planes, and joint power in those same 3 planes were measured and assessed during gait over the course of the first, second, and third trimesters as well as 6 months post-partum. The authors found pregnancy does influence the kinetic variables of all the lower extremity joints; however, the hip joint experiences the most notable changes. As pregnancy progressed, a decrease in the mechanical load was found, with a decrease in the GRF and sagittal plane joint moments and joint powers. The vertical GRF showed the peaks of braking propulsion decreases from late pregnancy to the postpartum period. A significant reduction of hip extensor activity during loading response was detected in the sagittal plane. Ultimately, throughout pregnancy, physical activity needs to be performed in order to develop or maintain stability of the body via the lower quarter, particularly the hips.

The same authors, in 2013, studied gait analysis in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Branco et al., performed a 3-dimensional gait analysis of 22 pregnant women and 12 non-pregnant women to discern kinetic differences in the groups. Nineteen dependent variables were measured, and no change was noted between 2nd and 3rd trimesters or the control group for walking speed, stride width, right-/left-step time, cycle time and time of support, or flight phases. Comparing the 2nd versus 3rd trimester, a decrease in stride and right-/left-step lengths decreased. The 2nd and 3rd trimesters both showed a significant decrease in right hip extension and adduction during the stance phase when compared to the control group. In this study, the authors also noted increased left knee flexion and decreased right ankle plantar flexion during gait from the 2nd to the 3rd trimester. The bottom line in this study, just as the more recent one suggests, pregnant women need a higher degree of lower quarter stability to ambulate efficiently throughout pregnancy.

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Evidence-based Therapeutic Interventions for Individuals with Osteoporosis

Nancy Cullinane PT, MHS, WCS is today's guest blogger. Nancy has been practicing pelvic rehabilitation since 1994 and she is eager to share her knowledge with the medical community at large. Thank you, Nancy, for contributing this excellent article!

Clinically valid research on the efficacy and safety of therapeutic exercise and activities for individuals with osteoporosis or vertebral fractures is scarce, posing barriers for health care providers and patients seeking to utilize exercise as a means to improve function or reduce fracture risk1,2. However, what evidence does exist strongly supports the use of exercise for the treatment of low Bone Mineral Density (BMD), thoracic kyphosis, and fall risk reduction, three themes that connect repeatedly in the body of literature addressing osteoporosis intervention.

Sinaki et al3 reported that osteoporotic women who participated in a prone back extensor strength exercise routine for 2 years experienced vertebral compression fracture at a 1% rate, while a control group experienced fracture rates of 4%. Back strength was significantly higher in the exercise group and at 10 years, the exercise group had lost 16% of their baseline strength, while the control group had lost 27%. In another study, Hongo correlated decreased back muscle strength with an increased thoracic kyphosis, which is associated with more fractures and less quality of life. Greater spine strength correlated to greater BMD4. Likewise, Mika reported that kyphosis deformity was more related to muscle weakness than to reduced BMD5. While strength is clearly a priority in choosing therapeutic exercise for this population, fall and fracture prevention is a critical component of treatment for them as well. Liu-Ambrose identified quadricep muscle weakness and balance deficit statistically more likely in an osteoporotic group versus non osteoporotics6. In a different study, Liu-Ambrose demonstrated exercise-induced reductions in fall risk that were maintained in older women following three different types of exercise over a six month timeframe. Fall risk was 43% lower in a resistance-exercise training group; 40% lower in a balance training exercise group, and 37% less in a general stretching exercise group7.

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Physical Therapy & Human Movement: A S.T.E.M. Approach

Dr. Dischiavi is a Herman & Wallace faculty member who authored and teaches Biomechanical Assessment of the Hip & Pelvis: Manual Movement Therapy and the Myofascial Sling System, available this August in Boston, MA.

STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. These fields are deeply intertwined and taking this approach could potentially be a way to facilitate the physical therapist’s appreciation of human movement.

Science: I would bet most physical therapists would agree that science is the cornerstone of our profession. It is time to look across all the landscapes of science to better understand the physical principles that govern movement. Biotensegrity is a great example of how science from a field such as cellular biology can help possibly explain how we maintain an erect posture when the rigid bony structure of our skeleton is only connected from bone to bone by soft tissues [1]. The brain and central nervous system regulates muscle tone, and it is resting muscle tone that give our bodies the ability to be upright. Without resting muscle tone, we would crumple to the ground as a heap of bones within a bag of skin. Since the CNS can either up or down regulate muscle tone, this allows us to create the rigidity we need to accomplish higher level movements such as sport, and then return to a resting state after the movements are performed (see running skeleton picture below). This theory of organismic support was bred within the scientific field of cellular biology, and can potentially be applied effectively to the human organism. As physical therapists, I agree we need to be skeptical of new ideas, but we also need to embrace the idea that the physical sciences have applied to nature for centuries, and it is possible these various scientific fields can help us unlock new ideas and allow us to look at things through a different lens.

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Biomechanics & Dynamic Lower Extremity Valgus

Dr. Steve Dischiavi, MPT, DPT, SCS, ATC, COMT, a Herman & Wallace faculty member, recently co-authored a peer reviewed manuscript which reviewed hip focused exercise programs. Dr. Dischiavi currently teaches a hip related course in the Herman & Wallace curriculum titled “Biomechanical Assessment of the Hip & Pelvis: Dynamic Integration of the Myofascial Sling Systems.”

"An evidence based review of hip focused neuromuscular exercise interventions to address dynamic lower extremity valgus", published in the Journal of Sports Medicine, presents evidence related to current hip focused interventions within the physical therapy profession. We know that there has been an enormous increase in the amount of hip related diagnoses and surgeries, and this calls for better knowledge from the clinicians on how to manage these particular hip related pathologies. The review finds that insufficient research has been done "to identify and understand the mechanistic relationship between optimized biomechanics during sports and hip-focused neuromuscular exercise interventions... improved strength does not always result in changes to important biomechanical variables, and improved biomechanics in sports-related tasks does not necessarily equal improved biomechanical variables in performance of the sport itself".

Biomechanical Assessment of the Hip & Pelvis is an opportunity to explore manual movement therapy with a skilled researcher and practitioner. Dr. Dischiavi has woven a very creative and innovative philosophy to help clinicians design more comprehensive hip focused therapeutic interventions. His in-depth knowledge of the evidence has allowed him to create a program that will challenge clinicians in new ways to look at the hip, pelvis, and lower extremity and how the kinetic chain can be influenced by approaching it using a new lens.

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The Sacroiliac Joint: A persuasive Argument for How We Diagnose and Treat

Herman & Wallace faculty member Eric Dinkins, PT, MS, OCS, Cert. MT, MCTA teaches the Manual Therapy for the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex: Mobilization with Movement and Laser-Guided Feedback for Core Stabilization course for Herman & Wallace. He is one of only 13 practitioners in America credentialed to teach the Mulligan Concept of Manual Therapy, and is a published author. Join him in Arlington, VA on August 20-21, 2016 to learn new joint mobilization, evaluation, and treatment skills.

Much research has been published regarding evaluation and diagnosis of the Sacroiliac Joint (SIJ). Low back pain and pelvic girdle pain is a common complaint with patients in all clinic settings. Laslett (Manual Therapy 2005) gave our profession valuable insight into categorizing a cluster of tests to try to ensure Physical Therapists and Chiropractors know if the SI joint is a pain source of our patients. We now also have several articles reaffirming the validity of the Active Straight Leg Raise (ASLR) and Stork testing for SIJ dysfunction (Manual Therapy 2008; JBMR 2012; PT 2007). However, after talking with clinicians who attend my Mobilization with Movement classes, as well as many colleagues in the outpatient orthopedic setting, there is a definitive lack of understanding how to use this information to translate over to successful treatment. This is understandable considering there have been several articles published regarding the poor validity and consistency between clinicians regarding palpation skills and bony landmarks in the lumbar spine and pelvis (ex: Manual Therapy 2012). But perhaps the fault is not in the clinician proficiency, but rather in the nature that we are attempting to diagnose an SIJ dysfunction?

If you were to consult with experts in body kinematics, gait analysis, and biomechanics regarding the true movement of the SIJ, there will be many different answers depending on the action that they were describing. Particularly when it comes to dysfunction. Disagreements abound when describing conditions such as “upslips”, “inflares”, etc and virtually all back their arguments with clinical anecdotal success rates. These arguments often leave clinicians with inconsistencies in treatment and increased failures.

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How Common Is Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI)?

femoroacetabular impingement

An article appearing this year in Arthroscopy details a systematic review completed to determine if asymptomatic individuals show evidence on imaging of femoroacetabular impingement, or FAI. Cam, pincer, and combined lesions were included in the results. To read some basics about femoroacetabular injury, click here. Over 2100 hips (57% men, 43% women) with a mean age of 25 were studied. (Only seven of the 26 studies reported on labral tears.) The researchers found the following prevalence in this asymptomatic population:

Cam lesion: 37% (55% in athletes versus 23% in general population)

Pincer lesion: 67%

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