resourcesABOUT MT AUTHOR GUIDELINES CLASSIFIEDS EDITORIAL CALENDAR MEDIA GUIDE MASSAGE MART SCHOOLS & EDUCATION FEEDBACK
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I am still finding pearls of wisdom from the books and papers that I inherited from my pulse diagnosis mentor Jim Ramholz.
Help Patients Achieve Optimal Vitamin D Levels
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Calcium Helps Prevent Colorectal Cancer
Over the past 25 to 30 years, studies have suggested calcium may confer protection against colorectal cancer.
5 Ways to Occupy Occupational Health
Despite the progress that has been made to better protect workers, occupational health and safety remains a priority area for many national governmental organizations due to the widespread problem of occupationally related morbidity and mortality.
Jingei Diagnosis: An Effective and Powerful Diagnostic
I graduated from the Kotatama Institute under the direction of Drs. Masahilo and Katsuharu Nakazono in 1984. As a student, I was exposed to the practice of most of the various theories and modalites of Oriental Medicine.
Transparency and Accountability: Q&A With the CCE
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AOMA Strengthens Leadership Team
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Understanding and Identifying Pediatric Growth-Plate Fractures
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Managing Today's Fertility Patient
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Healing With TCM at San Quentin State Prison
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Talking to Patients About Healthy Aging
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Simple Ways To Find True Happiness
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The X Factor in Clinical Research: The Patient
It was the great baseball legend, former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra – he of countless aphorisms, each with a mind-bending twist – who once declared, "You can observe a lot by watching."
The Tao of Gender
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Blaming the Gluteus Medius, Overlooking the Deltoid
The gluteus medius (Gmed) is commonly written about, strengthened and blamed for many conditions, and rightfully so. After all, the Gmed plays a role in pelvic stability, hip motor control and lower-quarter dynamic movements.
Web Marketing: Content Is King
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Saying No to Medicine
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To The Finish Line With the Help of TCM
When acupuncturist Eddy De Smedt pursued a career in Traditional Chinese Medicine, he knew he wanted to make a difference.
The Wonders of Light Therapy: An Interview with Wes Burwell
I first met Wes Burwell in 2011 when he was teaching a class on light. Since then, every time I hear him speak, his understanding of the benefits, function and capacity of light has evolved.
Managing Patient Expectations About Acupuncture
Last year, I attended the Pacific Symposium in San Diego for the first time in six or seven years. It was the 25th anniversary of this event, and on one evening there was a panel discussion with the title; "What is Qi?."
January, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 01
Solving a Client Puzzle
How To Know Whether It's Tennis Elbow Or Nerve Entrapment
By Whitney Lowe, LMT
Suppose a client comes to see you complaining of lateral elbow pain. She reports that the pain has been going on for quite some time despite efforts to treat it. A first consideration might be that the client has lateral epicondylitis, commonly known as tennis elbow; not an unreasonable assumption since lateral epicondylitis is a common problem. However, it's also entirely possible that the client's complaint derives from another condition called radial tunnel syndrome.
The most effective results occur when you choose treatment techniques whose physiological effects best address the client's existing complaint. Conditions and treatment techniques both have physiological effects, which are the specific ways in which tissues respond either to the pain/injury or the intervention. Treating a client suffering from radial tunnel syndrome with techniques appropriate for someone suffering from lateral epicondylitis would aggravate the problem rather than help it. So, let's take a look at these two problems and explore how one might mistake radial tunnel syndrome for lateral epicondylitis.
Exploring the Conditions
Most people are aware that lateral epicondylitis is a chronic overuse condition affecting the common extensor tendons where they attach at the lateral epicondyle of the humerus. Despite the implication from its name, because it ends in –itis, epicondylitis is rarely an inflammatory problem and is not caused by the common explanation of torn tendon fibers. Instead, it is caused by collagen degeneration in the extensor tendons. Pain is most pronounced where the tendons attach at the lateral epicondyle of the humerus.
Epicondylitis presents several clear signs and symptoms that can be picked up during the evaluation process. There is likely to be pain with palpation of the extensor tendons and it is likely to be particularly tender where they attach at the lateral epicondyle. It is also common for pain to be reproduced when stretching the extensor tendons by moving the wrist into full flexion. Resisted wrist extension also reproduces the client's pain, especially if the affected tendons are palpated during the resisted wrist movement. (See Figure 1)
Unlike lateral epicondylitis, radial tunnel syndrome is not as common. However, when present, it can easily be confused with epicondylitis. Radial tunnel syndrome is frequently called resistant tennis elbow, because the symptoms are very similar to tennis elbow and they persist even after attempts at treatment (usually for lateral epicondylitis).
In the elbow region, the radial nerve divides into a superficial sensory branch and a deep motor branch. The primary problem in radial tunnel syndrome is compression of these branches as they course through fibro-osseous tunnels created by surrounding muscles, ligaments and bones. The deep motor branch innervates the wrist extensor muscles and is called the posterior interosseous nerve (PIN). Compression of the PIN most commonly causes weakness or atrophy in the wrist extensors because the PIN contains motor fibers almost exclusively. However, pain similar to lateral epicondylitis is possible because the superficial sensory branch of the radial nerve may also be compressed in this region. (See Figure 2)
Nerve compression occurs in radial tunnel syndrome where the PIN courses under the supinator muscle. The archway created by the edge of the supinator muscle under which the PIN passes is called the Arcade of Frohse. (See Figure 3) The Arcade of Frohse often has fibrous bands that compress the nerve causing the tunnel compression syndrome. These fibrous bands are small and deep under the extensor muscle mass, so they are challenging to palpate.
Although radial tunnel syndrome and lateral epicondylitis may initially present with similar symptoms, there are some key aspects of assessment that will help differentiate the problems. Lateral epicondylitis is most likely to cause pain during resisted wrist extension. Radial tunnel syndrome, on the other hand, is more likely to present with less pain but significant weakness during resisted wrist extension because it is the PIN motor fibers that are most affected.
Pain can be reproduced during palpation with both these conditions. However, when palpating the lateral elbow region, radial tunnel syndrome pain is more likely to be felt somewhat distal to the epicondyle in the soft tissues. Epicondylitis pain is predominantly in the extensor tendons and right at the epicondyle. In addition, pain arising from nerve compression in radial tunnel syndrome is likely to be less specific and extend into the forearm. Epicondylitis pain is usually far more local right at the proximal extensor tendon group and their attachments.
Based on her initial symptoms, our client could have either one of these conditions. This is a great illustration of why it is so important to perform a thorough assessment and not immediately jump to conclusions. Assuming she has lateral epicondylitis, the most likely treatment approach would include deep transverse friction of the common extensor tendons. The physiological effects of this treatment technique (stimulation of fibroblast activity which encourages collagen rebuilding) would match the physiology of the tissue injury (collagen degeneration). The friction technique would be valuable in addressing the chronic tendon degeneration of epicondylitis.
However, if the primary problem is radial tunnel syndrome, applying deep friction could significantly aggravate the problem by placing adverse pressure on the nerve. For radial tunnel syndrome it would be far more important to address muscular hypertonicity throughout the wrist extensors and the supinator muscle so they don't further compress the nerve. In addition, neural mobilization techniques for the radial nerve would encourage full freedom of movement of the nerve and eventually reduce symptoms. Neural mobilization engages gentle pulling actions during certain motions of the upper extremity that encourage smooth and free gliding of the nerve near any adjacent structures.
This case illustrates two very important points that will make your treatments more successful. It is valuable to know about soft-tissue pathologies in order to be able to distinguish between conditions. In addition, in cases like this, it is possible to make treatment errors that make a client's condition worse. Performing accurate assessment and considering the physiological effects of the treatment on the specific tissues being treated will make your treatments far more effective and successful.
Click here for more information about Whitney Lowe, LMT.
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