Walking the “Plank” with core stability prescription

My colleagues are currently taking great pleasure in including “clams” in their exercise programs just to wind me up, so thought it was about time I gave them some new material. (See my thoughts on clams here).

Like “Clams” I have similar opinions on the rational behind including “planks” as part of an exercise prescription for athletes. I will start, and re-iterate later on, that there are times when they are appropriate, providing they have been clinically reasoned. But this is my point, do we throw them into rehab plans / injury prevention plans out of habit or have we individualised the exercise for an athlete?

 

walkingplank

 

What are the benefits?

Performed properly, the Plank is an isometric exercise that crudely speaking, activates the “core”. In doing so, it should encourage a sustained hold of a posterior pelvic tilt and neutral spine for a set duration of time, also working the shoulders and lower limbs to support the torso. Stability provided by the trunk muscles allows for whole body dynamic balance (Anderson & Behm 2005) and as such, these muscles require both strength and endurance.  The deep stabilisers of the lumbar spine display a small cross-sectional area, as such their ability to generate any torque is limited, so their function is to provide local stability and require this endurance component we talked about – perfectly targeted by a well performed plank. In patients with chronic low back pain, isometric exercises had positive effects on increasing the cross-sectional area of the multifidis muscles (Danneels et al 2001).

If we apply the principle of Optimal Loading, then there may be examples of injury where a static exercise is the only way of applying load to an individual. It may be that they are limited with any rotational components of exercise and are pain free in a neutral position. We also understand that isometric contractions can have an analgesic effect on patients (Bernent et al; Huber et al), hence the popularity of adductor squeezes for adductor tendinopathies.

 

..So what is wrong with Planks?

There are undoubtably examples and case studies where the use of a Plank is appropriate for an exercise program. However, un-supervised, there are many compensation patterns that patients can adopt when performing this exercise.

If prescribed as a home exercise, you should have great confidence in the athletes proprioception and ability to self correct. Otherwise you will likely re-enforce the exact reasons why you are treating the athlete in the first place. My biggest gripe with Planks, or Side Planks, or any isometric core exercise is that most people will fixate instead of stabilise. Locking the back into extension (plank) or into side flexion (side plank), or tilting the pelvis anteriorly, or flexing through the thoracic spine are examples of relying on passive structures like ligaments and joint capsules rather than stimulating active structures that should stabilise these joints.

“Don’t replace STABILITY with FIXATION”

Core stability is “the product of motor control and muscular capacity of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex” (Click here for an excellent core stability review by Paul Gamble). The clue in this quote are the the words “stability” and “motor control”. There are very few examples in sport or even in daily living where we need to hold a whole-body isometric contraction for 1 minute or more. Essentially movements in sports occur in multiple directions. Even in events like Skeleton or Luge, the athletes are reacting to perturbations from the track or adjusting their course via small shoulder or lower limb movements, so I’m struggling to think of the cross-over benefits of a plank into sport. The benefits of a strong lumbopelvic region help transfer ground reaction forces to produce movement and integrate the function of the kinetic chain. Weakness or dysfunction of any link in the chain can increase risk of damage to another structure and as such, any one muscle should not be views a more important to another in terms of lumbopelvic stability (Brown 2006).

 

Note the increased Lumbar lordosis due to extension at the head end of the tiger
Note the increased Lumbar lordosis. Also, the stripy athlete underneath is rotated slightly.

 

“Don’t give me problems, give me solutions”

As I said, in principle there are he benefits to core stability, especially in terms of proprioception and limbo-pelvic dissociation. But for me, the trick is to stimulate the core during movement.

Some simple modifications of the Plank can greatly enhance its suitability for athletes.

 

1) Plank with Wall Taps:

Assume the traditional Plank position, you can regress this with bent knees, similar to a press up regression. Position the athlete about 2ft from a wall, facing the wall. Ask them to reach forwards and tap the wall with alternating arms but maintain stability of the pelvis and trunk.

Although a sagital plane movement, the athlete will be working against a transverse plane to stop the pelvis and lower trunk from rotating to the side of the moving arm.

photo 1[4] photo 2[4]

 

2) Plank with Stacking

Again, in a traditional Plank position, but this time set up a stack of 3 x 2.5kg weight discs on one side of the athlete. Ask them to reach over with their opposite hand, pick up a weight and start stacking on the opposite side. Repeat until all weights have transferred sides, then begin with the other arm. In doing so, instruct the athlete to stay as still and controlled in the hips and lumbar spine as possible, the movement should come from the shoulders only.

By reaching across with one hand, you are de-stabilising the torso. Moving the weight from one side to the other adds a transverse element to the exercises, as well as the challenge of moving with and without a weight.

 

photo 3[3] photo 4[1] photo 5[2]

 

 

3) The Side Plank with arm tucks:

Add an element of upper body rotation whilst stabilising the pelvis. Instruct the athlete to keep their hips up (relative hip abduction of the lower leg), tuck their extended top arm underneath themselves (like putting on a seatbelt) but in doing so, don’t let the pelvic twist. Encouraging dissociation of the pelvis and spine to stop them moving as one column.

 

photo 1[3] photo 2[3]

 

There are so many variations that I haven’t included; you can add cables or theraband and ask the athlete to pull  in different directions maintaining the plank position, you can add movements of the lower limb or think of various ways to de-stabilise the more advanced athletes. For those athletes that just “get it”, there are brilliant variations of the Bear Crawl which may be appropriate – for me, a perfect example of “core stability” (averagely demonstrated below)

– Bear crawl core stability exercise

 

Conclusion

Activities during sport require both static and dynamic strength – however in rehabilitation, these should be dynamic exercise with a pause rather than prolonged holds. At times, we may have to regress back to its most simple form in order to educate the athlete on correct positioning or increase proprioception but there should always be a plan to progress into dynamic core stability, rather than progressing the time holding a plank.

When designing rehab programs, we should always consider the individual – what do they need to cope with for their sport / daily life? What physical capabilities do they have at this moment of their program? Am I challenging them appropriately?

I hope this provokes some thought and discussion, please let us know your experiences and opinions

 

Yours in sport,

 

Sam

 

Pitch-side management in sport: a POV from a bucket & sponge man

bucket and sponge

Although it only forms a small percentage of our working week, the thing most people associate with physio’s working in sport is the match day, and the infamous bucket and sponge! When we watch the TV at the weekends, this is the closest we ever get to seeing a physiotherapist working in professional sport. We don’t see all the early morning meetings, assessments, rehab programs, maintenance treatments etc.

I have to admit, rightly or wrongly, it is the least enjoyable bit of my job. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed watching a game of sport whilst I was working. Wincing at every tackle, losing track of the score back in my rugby days because I’m too busy counting the players get up from a ruck and constantly running through scenarios and management in my head. However, it is the money end of the job. The games are all about why we do what we do.

I feel bad for physiotherapists trying to break into sport, I’ve been there and done it, working evenings and weekends covering training matches and weekend games and essentially not doing very many of the skills I’ve been taught at University or on the courses I’ve dished out money for. Essentially, you are a first aider. I try and make our part time work at the club as attractive as possible in other ways, with CPD, shadowing, training clinics etc because I know its not the glamour and jazz that people think when working for a pro club.

Like it or lump it, its a huge part of the job. So, what do we do when we run on mid game? Like all aspects of our job, there should be an element of clinical reasoning behind what we do. What are we actually asking? And why do we ask it?

For the sake of keeping the blog concise and not too heavy reading, I’m going to talk about your more routine injuries, which can sometimes create harder decisions. For the management of cardiac, spinal, airway stuff make sure you go onto a proper trauma course to get your qualifications!

 

Stop ball watching

The first habit I had to break when I got into sport was to leave the armchair fan mindset at home. I started off in rugby before moving to football and was lucky to have a brilliant mentor from the start, Clare Deary, who quickly taught me to look away from the ball. Instead your watching the knees and ankles of the forwards in a line out, or checking the prop gets up after the scrum has collapsed. One of the Maddox questions we ask when we check for head injury is “what is the score?” or “who scored last” – in my early days I was asking this without knowing the answer, so if they spoke coherently that was good enough for me.

It is a little bit easier in football because there are typically only two people involved in the tackle, but still don’t get caught up in the game. It important to watch the movement of players, those with known previous injuries or knocks sustained earlier in the game. Are they worsening or improving?

The run on

Ever consciously changed your walk or run because you think people are watching you and all of a sudden you lose all motor patterns and co-ordination? Well when the game stops for an injury, everyone is watching you. If the player is rolling around on the floor screaming in pain, you already know they are conscious and their airways are well maintained, so don’t worry about your 100m sprint time for these cases. Save that for the motionless players.

Approaching the player

The location of the injury will obviously affect your approach, head or spinal injuries aside, I always approach the feet first so the player can see me and I can continuously assess their level of pain, respiratory rate, shock etc. As well as asking “where does it hurt” always make sure you double check other structures, don’t be lured by the pain. Someone landing on their shoulder could always have a neck or head injury.

“You are not trying to diagnose the problem there and then”

When questioning the player, remember its not a consultation in the clinic. You are trying to determine “is it safe for the player to continue” and “will a labouring player cost the team tactically”. If they are missing tackles that they would usually make, or misplacing passes that they normally wouldn’t you firstly run the risk of putting them into scenarios that could cause another injury as well as potentially costing the team.

BHAFC pitchside

Try to determine the irritability of the pain early on. Has it changed since the game stopped to the point of you arriving at the player? If its worsened, despite not moving, that would suggest a rapid inflammatory problem. In which case you really want to be removing the player from the field of play to reduce the risk of secondary injury. If the pain has settled or gone in the time its taken you to consciously jog perfectly across the pitch without falling over, you can probably proceed with some more vigorous testing.

Providing you’ve excluded any fractures, check what the athlete can do with the injured structures ACTIVELY before you do any passive movements. If they are reluctant or guarded with any movements thats enough of an indication for me not to do any passive movements. Why force them through a range that they consciously don’t want to go through?

Walking the green mile

So you’ve establish that they are alive, there are no fractures, they can actively and passively cope with movement, by this point the referee is probably in your ear to make a call quickly. In football, if you have entered the field of play, the player is expected to leave before kindly being invited back on by the ref. This is a good time to continue your assessment as you the leave pitch.

Can the player get themselves up from the floor unaided? Can they weight bear? Can they walk? Does walking ease the pain or make it worse? If they can walk off, assess their ability to jump / hop / run / jog on the sideline.

By this point, you have to go with your gut instinct. If any of the assessment so far has thrown you into doubt, you probably have a good reason to remove that player from the pitch. Consider the structures involved, the presence of any swelling, the compensatory movement patterns that you may have noticed leaving the pitch. I usually ask myself what I would prefer to manage out of two scenarios:

1) Substituting a player that reports to clinic the next day with no signs or symptoms of injury, but is a little p*ssed off because you wouldn’t let them play (or a peeved coach because you’ve taken their best player off the pitch).

2) Allowing a player to go back on that has given you doubts and they break down in their next sprint / action on the pitch. They walk into clinic the next day and you have to tell them they are out for 6-8 weeks.. Your coach is definitely going to be more peeved today than they would have been pitch side, I can assure you.

Vincent Kompany

This isn’t to say you remove every player from the pitch that has an injury. The mechanism of injury will have a big say in determining your thought process. For example you may be more lenient with an impact injury that is smarting a bit compared to a non-contact mechanism of injury.

Key Points:

So, chances are this has made things a lot less clear about pitch side assessment.. Unfortunately there is no algorithm to determine whether a player should continue or come off. Every individual player is different and every injury is just as individual.

  • Is it safe for the player to continue – consider secondary injuries caused by swelling / decreased proprioception, as well as the initial insult worsening.
  • Will a hampered player on the pitch cost the team tactically.
  • Whats the worst that could happen if you remove them from the pitch. This can be made easier if you are working with younger ages that perhaps have a rolling sub system, giving you more time to assess. Also, consider the implication of the game / event. A once in a lifetime shot an olympic medal may be worth the risk of a secondary injury. A community level tournament in kids rugby might make you a bit more conservative.
  • This is only discussing minor knocks and strains. If you are working pitch side and haven’t done or updated your trauma course, make sure you do! Don’t put others health at risk at the same time as your professional credentials. (lubas medical / AREA or RFU are good courses to check out)

I’d be really keen to hear peoples thoughts and experiences with this topic, I’m sure there will be some disagreement with my thinking and methods. Or perhaps people have seen some incidents of players returning to the field when they shouldn’t (I’m thinking the FIFA world cup 2014 with numerous head injuries, but concussion is a separate blog altogether I think).

 

BHAFC

 

As always, Yours in Sport

 

Sam

Exercise Progression & Rehab Programs

A year or so ago, I put on a CPD evening for our part time staff at the football club discussing exercises and the clinical reasoning behind developing a program (needless to say I got talking about the use of clams for a quite a while – clam blog). In this presentation, I started drawing my reasoning process onto powerpoint using some coloured blocks to help visualise the theory that I was trying to describe.

The theoretical model was recently published in Physical Therapy in Sport and I thought I would use this blog to try and discuss it in a less formal way than the writing style allowed in publication.

 

The model (here) is designed to be fluid and adapted to any individual by any level of clinician. Let me quickly introduce the components:

Model
A theoretical model to describe progressions and regressions for exercise rehabilitation (Blanchard & Glasgow 2014)

 

  • The triangular blocks (1) represent the fundamental exercise, the core ingredient that will remain throughout the progression. The arrows running up the side of the triangles represent an ongoing progression throughout the rehab process such as speed, duration, repetition etc. So basically, something that can’t be affected by the stimuli that are added or removed. If you add an unstable surface to an exercise, you can still progress by increasing the duration.
  • The coloured blocks represent a stimulus that will help the exercise progress. This can be one of two things;
  1. Internal – something that the patient has to focus on intrinsically. A decreased base of support for example, where the patient must focus on the balance element of an exercise.
  2. External – the addition of something to the exercise that takes the patients focus away from the movement or action they are performing – adding a ball to a running drill, or a verbal command that initiates a change in direction.

The blocks are interchangeable and can be added / removed at the clinicians discretion.

  • Adding a new block, which will progress the exercise, is accompanied by a regression of the “gradient” on the blue triangle. Creating a step-like progression across the model. As you progress with an internal or external stimulus, its important to bring the difficulty levels back down, so reducing repetitions or speed or duration. This allows the pateints to adjust to the new stimuli without fear of re-injury or task failure. When teaching a child to ride a bike with stabilisers, you don’t take them off and ask them to cycle at the same speed you did with them on. For that reason, you wouldn’t get someone going from 30 reps of a hamstring bridge straight into 30 reps on a single leg bridge as a progression. You would decrease base support and reduce reps to allow adaptation.
  • Adding a “block” doesn’t mean you have to add something to the exercise. The block represents a step up in their progression. So progressing from two legs to single legs is technically “taking away base of support” but is an addition to the ongoing progression.

 

Lets use an example, recently I started designing a program for a teenage footballer with a proximal adductor strain. New to professional football with no history of conditioning.

In the sub-acute stage, once intial pain had settled, we began looking at his movement patterns and stability and noticed a huge imbalance with his left sided control through sagittal and transverse planes compared to his right. He is left footed, so his plant leg (right) is used to supporting his body weight.

His body awareness and “physical literacy” was so poor we had to regress him right back to basics. The following represents a small proportion of a larger exercise program. I’m not usually an advocate of planks in a multidirectional sport like football, but in this case, his single plane control was so poor that I swallowed my pride and began with basic planks.

imagesCA39QJMI

When I say basic, we reverted to short lever planks with the knees on the floor – this was the only was we could get him to control the relationship between his trunk and pelvis. Looking at the model, this short lever plank would be the singular blue triangle at the start (1). We built up the duration of the hold from 30 seconds to 90 seconds over time. This would be the arrow running up the gradient of the triangle.

 

The addition of the first block (2) was to increase the length of the lever so that he now has to hold a traditional plank. In doing so, we dropped from 90s hold back down to 30 seconds and over time, built up to 90s. (These are just arbitrary times, based on no real evidence).

 

The next block we added was a rotational element (3), but to ensure the progression wasn’t too sharp, I removed the long lever and returned to a short lever position. I then asked the player to move a light 1.25kg weight from his left side, with his right hand and place it on his right side. Then with his left hand etc etc. The purpose of this was to introduce a transverse task to a sagittal plane activity – as the arm moves from the ground and across the body, the player has to control the rotation through his trunk and avoid rotation at the pelvis. Instead of duration, we built up repetitions over time.

 

Now that we were confident he could hold a plank, and control rotation in a short lever plank, we could combine the two blocks as the next progression. Now in a long lever plank with a rotational element.

 

The next progression was to add an unstable surface (4). To do this, the player performed a plank with his thighs on a gym ball. This in itself was quite easy so we instantly added a rotational component with an unstable surface, gym ball pelvic rotations (see video here). So now on the model, we have the basic “plank” triangle at the top, a block underneath to symbolise the long lever, another block to symbolise rotational control and a third block to symbolise an unstable surface.

 

“The length of time required by an individual to master a task has

been described as a linear function that begins quite rapidly with

the introduction of a new task and then plateaus or slows over time

as practice continues (Gentile, 1998).”

 

 

This is a very simplistic example of how the model works, but hopefully it demonstrates the fluidity that is intended with it and how the blocks are interchangeable and can work independently or as part of a more complex progression. Every program you write will be individual and the progressions will be different, therefor every model will look different. Some will continue longer than others, some may be shorter than the one I’ve described here. Some will end up with taller columns due to the number of progressions. The width of one column compared to its neighbour may be different size due to the length of time it takes for the patient to master. And so on and so on. If I continued, hopefully I could have ended up with the player doing this:

imagesCANGK06X
But whats the use of that defending a counter attack?

 

Like many conversations I begin or poor jokes I tell, this may be one of those things that only makes sense in my head, but I would love to hear if it makes sense to others – if you think it works and examples of doing so.

 

Yours in Sport

 

Sam

 

 

Case study: “Bulls Eye Lesion”

Every now and then in clinic you come across an injury that doesn’t quite fit “the norm” in terms of its recovery and management. I know every injury should be considered unique and every individual managed differently, but I thought I would share the management of this particular injury as it did prove tricky, we did fail a couple of times but eventually we got it just right.

 

Background:

This case study revolves around an 18 year old central midfielder, skeletally mature (no increase in height throughout the year / evident secondary sexual features) with a regular playing and training history prior to this injury. The presentation started in the autumn, after a complete pre-season and a good few weeks of competitive season underway. The player was in & out of training with a niggling groin / quad but with nothing substantial showing in assessment (the benefit of hindsight would be a very good money earner for any clinician that could harness it and set up a course!)

Towards the end of an under 21 game, the player was visibly struggling with pain at the top of his thigh, unable to sprint or strike a ball but 3 subs had been made, so he was inevitably staying on the pitch. At the end of the game, there was pain on palpation of the proximal rectus femoris and sartorious region. At this stage, there was nothing more to assess – there was no point, we would only aggravate something without actually learning too much more.  He presented the next morning with visible swelling in a small pocket of proximal thigh, palpable crepitus and pain with straight leg raise at 20 degrees.

 

Review of anatomy

The rectus femoris is a long fusiform muscle with TWO proximal attachments. The Direct Head attaches to the AIIS and Indirect Head attaches to the superior ace tabular ridge and the joint capsule. It has a long musculotendinous junction, as such can execute high velocity shortening as well as coping with significant length changes – remember it is a two joint muscle crossing both the hip and knee, with an action like kicking it must cope with hip extension coupled with knee extension during the pull-back of the kick, so both ends of the muscle are undergoing an eccentric load (Figure 1). The muscle structure itself is made up of mostly type II fibres so this high eccentric load makes the muscle quite prone to injury (Mendiguchia et al 2013 source).

Image
Figure 1: Demonstrating the demands on rectus femoris during a kick

 

“Bulls eye lesion”

The term “Bulls eye lesion” was coined by Hughes (1995 source) following the presentation of injury on MRI (Figure 2). The high signal signs around the tear of proximal injuries. Occasionally this causes a pseudocyst, thought to be the serous fluid in the haematoma.

Image
Figure 2: MRI scans highlighting a “Bulls-eye lesion” presentation

Predisposing factors to a proximal tear include fatigue, insufficient warm up and previous injury. From this case, we know that the pain started at the end of the game with the player in a fatigued state, and there was a history of niggling pain on and off for a couple of weeks.

 

Management:

The initial management of this injury was relatively routine, revolving around the POLICE guidelines (see Cryotherapy Blog). By day 2/3 we were addressing pelvic control exercises & posterior chain assessments. By day 5 we could achieve pain free stretching of the hip flexors and were using “Compex” to achieve isometric contractions of the quad while the player did upper body exercises.  After day 7 we were able to begin loading through a pain free range, working on co-contractions and concentric contractions of the quad.

To Speed up, you must be able to slow down – Bill Knowles

In the early-mid stages of rehab, we began working on movement patterns but at a painfully slow speed. Using the Bill Knowles mantra above, we progressed though different ranges of box step ups at slow pace to elicit a co-contraction of quads, hamstring and glutes (Figure 3). We slowly lowered the player through a Bulgarian split squat (Figure 4) to work on stability through range and we did some bridging variations (anti-rotational core) to encourage isometric control of the pelvis (Figure 5 – excuse the size 11 shoes taking up most of the picture!!).

Figure 6: a) Low box step up with knee drive
Figure 3: a) Low box step up with knee drive

 

 

Figure 6: b) medium box step up
Figure 3: b) medium box step up
Figure 6: c) High box step up
Figure 3: c) High box step up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure4: Bulgarian split squat (a & b) with progressive knee drive added later (c)
Figure4: Bulgarian split squat (a & b) with progressive knee drive added later (c)

 

 

 

Figure 5: Single leg bridge (a) with ipsilateral arm fall out (b) and contralateral arm fall out (c)
Figure 5: Single leg bridge (a) with ipsilateral arm fall out (b) and contralateral arm fall out (c)

 

By adding speed to the high box step up, we were able to switch the demand of the quadriceps to an eccentric action as the hip extends from a flexed position and the pelvis rapidly comes forward. We felt confident adding this eccentric component after we had cleared the player at a decent weight using the cable machine and a jacket to work though some deceleration work on the hip and knee (Figure 6).

 

Figure 6: Cable decelerations. a) start position b) end position with 3 sec hold. c to e) Dead slow step backs with weighted cable pulling posteriorly

 

The Bulgarian split squat was advanced by adding a knee drive at the top the squat, taking the back leg from a position of full hip extension through into hip flexion, a rapid concentric action. Following the model of exercise progression and regression (source) we added weight, removed the concentric component and decreased the speed again before building back up in a now weighted position.

The later stage of rehabilitation saw the player undertake more field based conditioning, working under fatigue whilst completing technical drills and building up his range of passing and shooting, all the while maintaining his gym program to supplement his rehab. This late stage rehab combined the expertise of the physiotherapy department, working alongside the strength and conditioning coach to discuss reps and sets of all drills and help periodise the weeks for the player and design the field based conditioning sessions; the sports science department was able to use GPS for all outdoor drills to help monitor load and provide up to date feedback on key information, in this case monitoring the accelerations and decelerations for the player in a fatigued state.

It was important that the stress elicited in this late stage was in line with the rest of the squad mid-competition. Rob Swire and Stijn Vandenbroucke (source) explain the importance of rehab being harder than the team training. This is because we have control over rehab, but no control of training so we must be confident that player won’t break down again in training!

The player returned just under 8 weeks later. He continued his gym program for another 4 weeks after his return to training and (touch wood) has had no recurrence of this injury since.

 

Conclusion

Knowing what I know now, I would be more cautious of this nondescript pain around the proximal thigh. The indirect head runs quite deep and typically presents as a gradual onset. The niggle the player was displaying a few weeks before was probably a worsening of this small tear, that when fatigued and put under a double eccentric load such as kicking or sprinting, was bound to “give” at some point.

I’m sure that reading this back, it seems pretty obvious that there was something wrong with the player initially. Again, another lesson learnt from this relates to the players age. He had not had a soft tissue injury prior to this, so his subjective history was vague and typically teenager-ish. Its important to remember that young players and professionals don’t necessarily understand their own body. If they play things down, its important that we as clinicians double check everything before we clear them and not just rely on their feedback alone.

 

I hope you find my reflections useful

 

Yours in sport

 

Sam

The Osgood, the bad and the ugly

One of my best sources for recent literature is via a good friend of mine, Mr Jonny King (@Jonny_King_PT). Before he shot off to Doha to have his moment in the sun, he left a multitude of articles on my desk for me to read, one of which was a study looking at that persistent pest in my clinic, Osgoods Schlatters Disease (OSD).

OSD falls under the apophysitis or enthesopathy umbrella along with severs disease and Sinding Larsen Johansen disease amongst others. In our injury audit for the last season, these injuries alone accounted for 20% of our total injuries (u9-18s).

However, with a little bit of education to players, parents and coaches we feel confident that we can manage these numbers even better.

We are very lucky to be part of an in depth, ongoing study with the brilliant and very knowledgable Jenny Strickland at the University of Greenwich. With her guidance and protocol, we are bringing the days spent on the treatment table down considerably, but ideally we want to learn about these conditions to help prevent them in the first place.

What do we think we know?

OSD is a growth related condition, we think it can be attributed to high levels of activity during periods of growth. Unlike an adult presentation of a tendinosis, the condition affects the soft cartilaginous junction between the patella tendon and the immature anterior tibial tuberosity (ATT). (See my previous blog for the BJSM about differences between adult and Paeds injury management here).

20140607-230045-82845066.jpg
Figure 1
Demonstrating the close relationship between the enthesis, the patella tendon, the infra patella fat pad and the physis of the tibia.

Historically OSD has been labelled as “growing pains” (a genuine medical entity, but no clinical similarities to OSD) and sufferers of the condition may well have been told to “just get on with it” or that “you’ll grow out of it”. Unfortunately this attitude still exists amongst some parents and, regrettably, GP’s – we see first hand evidence of this in our academy. When I first started in my role, I was guilty of just sitting a lad on the plinth with some ice, telling him to rest for a few weeks and we’ll see how we go.

OSD can almost certainly be attributed to growth spurts, where high levels of cellular activity in the growth zones of bone can’t be matched by the attaching muscles, resulting in traction on the inherently weak enthesis. Usual subjective presentation is that of an ache during, or more prominently, after activity. Gradually pain has been worsening over a period of days or weeks. Eases with rest. However, occasionally we see examples of players that have been kicked or landed on their knees in acute incidents but will display all the characteristics of OSD. But this doesn’t fit with our understanding of growth and traction…

Sailly et al (2013) looked at symptomatic adolescent male athletes competing in elite sport and using Doppler ultrasound they compared the ATT complex to gauge different stages of maturation. Within these stages of maturation, they could attribute pain scores from symptomatic athletes to determine the more vulnerable stages of growth (figure 2 below). The best descriptions for these stages that I have heard are from Sid Ahamed on his Adolescent Injuries course. He describes the enthesis as a continuum that develops with maturation from a stable state to an increasingly unstable state as the cartilage calcified with age.

20140607-225834-82714316.jpg
Figure 2
Classification system of the maturation status of the ATT from stages 1 to 4. ATT, anterior tibial tuberosity; B, bursa; FP, fat pad; HC, hyaline cartilage; M, metaphysic; O, ossicle; P, physis; PT, patellar.

In Sailly’s study they found that no players reported pain during the “stable” first phase but increasing scores of VAS in stage 2. As the enthesis calcified and unites in stage 3 and 4, the numbers decrease again.
So what is happening in this 2nd stage of maturation? The use of Doppler ultrasound opens some new theories. In these symptomatic stage 2 patients, there was Doppler activity within the pre-patella and deep infra patella bursa, indicating the presence of neo-vessels within these structures. Recently, Seth O’Neil (physio matters podcast) explained that most of these pain inducing neovascular structures are actually present in peritendon & surrounding tissues like the bursa, fat pads and fascia. Maybe the same is true with the adolescent population.
The synovium that surrounds the enthesis is highly prone to compressive forces and as such, prone to inflammation. In the developing ATT, the patellar ligament attaches to the tibial tubercle but also to the physis of the tibial growth plate and to the periosteum of the metaphysis of the tibia (see figure 1 at top) . Sailley et al propose that this anatomical area is not only prone to traction that we normally associate with OSD, but also compression. Perhaps this explains the sudden onset OSD in the clinic alongside those rumbling insidious case loads.

Management:

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As I mentioned, we now follow the Strickland protocol at our club in terms of treatment, but I still believe the key is in prevention rather cure. We regularly discuss loading with our coaches at every age group. If you consider that most of our players at school boy level will also play and train for their school, probably be selected for other sports such as cricket and rugby and will generally tear around everywhere at 100mph. Basically their day consists of sprinting, jumping, bounding and kicking. Consider the load on those immature structures (both compressive and tensile). As part of a warm up, does that player then need to do a series of hurdle drills or jumps? Could they not spend their conditioning sessions doing low impact movement patterns, balance & proprioception, or co-ordination drills for their newly elongated and uncontrollable limbs? Perhaps every now and then having a training session where the lads don’t have to strike a ball? Like basketball maybe, where you teach spacial awareness and evading the opponent? Or placing a technical bias on the session and reducing the pace?
If we can help coaches, players and parents understand that modifying activities and occasionally, resting, is the best thing in the long run for all parties, I think we will continue to see a drop in training / matches missed due to OSD.

Yours in sport
Sam

Don’t clam up over lower limb exercises

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I regularly find myself debating this exercise with students, new staff, and part-time staff all from different clinical backgrounds and I always find myself asking them – “Why is that patient doing clams?”

For those unsure of the terminology, the “Clam” exercise is designed to activate the external rotators of the hip, performed in side lying with limited pelvic / lumbar rotation.

Firstly I’d like to make it clear that this exercise does have a place in some rehab plans and I am not adverse to including it as part of a program where necessary – but I strongly disagree with it being a mainstay in rehabilitation plans. Purely going from anecdotal evidence, people seem to use clams as a way of increasing endurance of the glutes, particularly glute med. Often prescribing high sets and reps to target the endurance component of the muscles. Previous literature has suggested that Maximum Voluntary Contraction (MVC) of greater the 50% is required to produce any strength gains in an individual muscle (Atha 1981). Figure 1 below demonstrates the EMG activation of glute med during 2 clam exercises, at 30 and 60 degrees hip flexion. Its clear from this study that the activation of glute med is below the required level to achieve any strength gains.

Glute med (if it ever did work in isolation, which I don’t think it does) would concentrically abduct the hip, isometrically stabilise the pelvis and lower limb, and eccentrically control adduction and internal rotation. The best types of activity to stimulate these actions are going to be weight bearing exercises (Figure 1); (Krause et al 2009).

There is evidence to suggest that the posterior portion of glute med is deactivated with any degree of hip flexion, with the bias for primary movement coming from gluteus maximus (Delp et al 1999). This said, Di Stefano et al’s (2009) study produced similar glute med activation at 30 and 60 degrees hip flexion. Either way, my argument is the same – clams probably aren’t working the structures you intend to target.

Reference: DiStefano 2009 here

Clinical Reasoning

My question to clinicians who regularly use clams is always “why?”. What is the purpose of this exercise? At the moment, I work with an elite athletic population. How often in their training and/or competition do they have to externally rotate a flexed hip in an open chain from a side lying position? Never. Even in standing, I can only think of them opening up their hip to control a ball in mid-air but then they are mainly using hip flexors to activate that movement – something we strictly instruct them not to do with a clam. So now that we can’t think of a transferable example for this exercise, I would ask “why are we doing high reps and sets of an exercise we don’t need to do?”

Problem solving

We have already said that the best exercises for glute med activation are weight bearing exercises and the reason for that is exactly the reason why we shouldn’t try and isolate glute med… in weight bearing, it will work as one part of a complex and brilliant kinetic chain. This was highlighted in a very interesting study recently by Kendall et al (2013) who used a nerve block on the superior gluteal nerve and then performed the Trendelmberg test. Even with a neural block to the gluteal muscles, patients maintained pelvic alignment through the step test, highlighting that in isolation, the glutes alone do not support the pelvis.

One of my preferred, early stage exercises to improve hip control / stability is a single leg isometric movement (figure 2).

Figure 2: Single leg isometric glutes
Figure 2: Single leg isometric flutes (brilliantly demonstrated by @riarottner)

The patient is instructed to rest the contralateral leg against the wall for balance only. All of the body weight should be through the standing leg. Explain to the patient that their foot is superglued to the floor, but you want them to rotate their thigh out (encourage external rotation). There should be no movement from the upper body, bum should be “tucked in” with text book posture and they should hold this contraction for 10s, repeat 10 times. I promise, it will burn your glutes towards the end. Try this yourself and pay particular attention to what else happens further down the chain. You’ll see activation of the VMO and the medial arch will raise as tibialis posterior activates too. A brilliant example of the kinetic chain in action.

“Providing the patient is able to single leg balance, any exercise targeting hip control should be done unilaterally”

Now, there are examples in the patient populations where this is not an appropriate exercise. For example, early stage ACL injuries due to the torsion this creates through the femur and tibia. Instead I would adapt the exercise to something that we were all taught very early on in our physiotherapy degree – a simple small box step, placing one foot from the floor onto a step and back onto the floor – where the standing leg is the working leg. If you are strict enough with posture and lumbo-pelvic control, this is great early stage exercise for the glutes and easily progressed into a full step up, step downs, lateral steps, greater step heights etc. (For exercise progression, please see my shameless plug for my recent Model of Exercise Progression). Kendalls (2013) paper that we mentioned earlier, supports this simple trendelmberg exercise for patients with marked hip abductor weakness. Krause et al (2009) found an increased activation of glute med with single leg exercises compared to double leg stance, so providing the patient is able to single leg balance, any exercise targeting hip control should be done unilaterally.

For the non-weight bearing patients there is reasoning to perform these open chain exercises. While we have said we may not be increasing strength, we know that there is some activation occurring within the glutes so we limit an atrophy and maintain neuromuscular activation while the patient is NWB. Refer back to figure 1- the top exercise for glute med EMG is straight leg hip abduction so even with these NWB patients there are more appropriate alternatives to the clam.

Conclusion

Two of the core elements of physiotherapy is the ability to clinically reason and to provide effective exercise prescription. I would encourage people who regularly use any exercise, not just clams, as part of their mainstay exercise protocol to consider exactly why they are using them. I personally don’t think there are many examples where the clam is an appropriate exercise for sports medicine populations. The exception being NWB patients who are unable to control long lever exercises like single leg hip abduction. Therefore, there is an argument that the clam may quickly become an extinct creature.

 

Yours in sport

Sam