When patients with chronic back pain present with poor body awareness, high stress levels, catastrophic thinking and fear-avoidance behaviors, physical therapists need biopsychosocial treatment interventions in addition to standard practices based on structural impairment to achieve pain relief and functional improvement.
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Neurodynamics or neural mobilisation is an intervention aimed at restoring the altered homeostasis in and around the nervous system (Coppieters and Nee 2015).
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Resilience in the face of pain   October 31st, 2017
Readers of this blogpost are all aware of the huge impact that chronic pain has on both personal lives and society as a whole. The numbers speak for themselves and point to the urgent need for improvements in the ways we conceptualize pain in our theoretical frameworks and how this works out in clinical practice.
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The effect of exercise therapy has been extensively studied in health and disease. While it is broadly agreed that a program of exercises is beneficial, the same cannot be said for a single session. Symptoms worsening following exercise is indeed a common feature in people with chronic pain.
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Since the Cartesian model and the understanding of ‘a nervous system’, there has been a dualistic approach of pain. Especially in Western societies, a strong focus on ‘the bodily part’ of pain still exists today, as many (Western) healthcare professionals are of the opinion that pain needs a bodily onset.
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Patient’s pain and disability improvement is an everyday challenge for physiotherapists.
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On October 3rd 2016 a (Dutch) blog post was published on our website concerning a study comparing ‘back school’ and ‘brain school’ in patients undergoing surgery for lumbar radiculopathy, titled “Rugschool of pijneducatie bij chirurgie voor lage rug- en beenpijn”.
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Temporomandibular Disorders (TMD) and orofacial pain are conditions that have been drawing more attention from Physical Therapists (PTs) in the recent years.
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In Belgium nearly every hospital has a specialized pain center to treat patients with chronic and/or debilitating pain. These pain centers developed and evolved over the years and became multidisciplinary teams.
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In this blogpost, the most important elements of this systematic review and meta-analysis are highlighted.
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Shoulder complaints are common in physiotherapy practice and consist of pain and functional limitations.
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Pain neuroscience has taught us that pain can be present without tissue damage, is often disproportionate to tissue damage, and that tissue damage (and nociception) does not necessarily result in the feeling of pain.
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Traditionally the clinical manifestation of entrapment neuropathies (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical and lumbar radiculopathy) is considered to be driven by local mechanisms and signs and symptoms should follow a clear anatomical pattern limited to the structures innervated by the affected peripheral nerve, or restricted to the corresponding dermatome, myotome and sclerotome.
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In the new edition of ‘Pain: Clinical Updates’ we published in connection with the ‘2016 IASP Global Year Against Pain in the Joints’ an overview paper to help clinicians prescribing/developing exercise programs for patients with chronic joint pain.
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​One important aspect of dealing with patients with central pain syndromes is that no two patients are the same. Patients with persistent pain differ in their complaints and pain characteristics. Besides their pain related symptomatology, also their coping-style is different.
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I once was told by a former colleague that I would most definitely get back pain if I didn’t stop slumping in my L1 vertebra. Of course today I am still ‘slumping in my L1 vertebra’ and no, I don’t believe that it will ever cause me back pain.
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Manchikanti and colleagues (2011) make in their paper entitled ‘placebo and nocebo in interventional pain management: a friend or a foe – or simply foes?’ an argument for a revaluation of placebo effects in clinical practice. They make the claim that clinicians should not try to avoid the placebo effect, but should try to potentiate it, as this effect isn’t just unethical and mythical but must seen as a very real phenomenon, which can be understood from a vast body of both psychological and neurophysiological research.
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Conventional rehabilitation for people with chronic pain is often unsuccessful and frustrating for clinicians. What it is becoming clear more and more is that new therapeutic approaches are needed in view of current understanding of neural mechanisms underpinning chronic pain. In this regard, three papers aiming to summarize the role of central sensitization in chronic musculoskeletal pain and looking for guide clinicians in the rehabilitation of patients with chronic pain have been recently published.
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​Postmenopausal women with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer receive hormone therapy as part of their cancer treatment. One of the most frequently used and evidence-based hormone treatments are aromatase inhibitors (= inhibitors of the enzyme aromatase) that inhibit the conversion of androgens to estrogens. This results in decreased availability of estrogens and slowed progression of breast cancer.
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​Remembering an event reactivates at least part of the cortical and subcortical regions that were engaged during the original experience of that event. This is termed “reinstatement” of brain activity during memory retrieval. German and UK researchers have conducted a fascinating study showing reinstatement of pain-related brain activation during viewing of neural images that had previously been paired with heat pain.
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​People with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) may be limited in activity performance and role fulfilment to a large extent. A lot of them enter a vicious circle of inactivity, leading to increased levels of fatigue. It is therefore important to break this negative process. One of the approaches is to facilitate people with CFS in self-managing their daily activity levels.
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​Some months ago I came across a novel study by Harvie and colleagues (2015); they used virtual reality to investigate the effect of overstated or understated visual information on cervical rotation in patients with neck pain. This empirical study shows that we might need to reconsider how we interpret diagnostic provocation tests in daily care, e.g. that it is not a solid measurement for primary nociceptive information or tissue provocation.
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​In a very recent review and clinical guideline of Heather Kroll, a nice overview is given about how exercise affects pain. But besides listing possible mechanisms of exercise induced analgesia, she reviews the therapeutic modalities and benefits for a wide variety of chronic pain diagnoses.
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​Even though a total knee replacement is an effective surgical treatment for end-stage knee osteoarthritis and the majority of patients report significant pain relief and functional improvement post-surgical, literature shows that up to 20% of patients undergoing a total knee replacement are dissatisfied and complain of persisting pain, functional disability and poor QoL ( Scott et al. 2010).
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​During the last decade there has been much discussion about pain and its manifestations, their presence and, naturally, their absence. As physiotherapists and health care professionals we have taken tools from other disciplines to advance in our own; we adopted neuroscience (for understanding the functioning of our nervous system) and philosophy (for understanding how the mind works). In theory everything is clear to us, but in reality our knowledge does not always correlate with clinical outcomes.
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​This is short case study with observations from the clinic which may raise interesting research questions.
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​Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee has long time been considered as a structural pathology with a clear nociceptive explanation, resulting from joint degeneration. Nevertheless, recently awareness is growing for the involvement of the central nervous system in the amplification of pain in OA. This may explain why many patients still suffer chronic pain after surgery, long time after removal of the source of nociception.
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​Chronic musculoskeletal pain is a complex problem and has significant psychological, physical, social and economic implications. There is inevitable pressure for hospitals to reduce waiting times and improve treatment outcomes. Given the significant burden upon the individual, society and the economy, it is important to identify more effective management strategies.
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The awareness is growing that neurotrophic factors, like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), have a cardinal role in initiating and/or sustaining the hyperexcitability of central neurons in chronic pain patients. For example, microglial-derived BDNF contributes significantly to neuropathic pain. Therefore, potential pharmacological or conservative (e.g. exercise) treatment of neurotrophic factors like BDNF provides important new treatment avenues.
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Trait anxiety is an enduring (i.e. relatively stable) personality trait, or characteristic, indicative of differences in an individual's proneness to reactions of state anxiety when faced with a perceived psychological threat. (Compare this with state anxiety which is transient, in the present.)
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Clinically it is important to distinguish between the three main pain mechanisms that may present with our patients experiencing chronic pain (Nijs et al 2014). Here I describe my clinical findings in two chronic low back pain patients, one with chronic nociceptive pain and the other with chronic central pain mechanisms.
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The concept of myofascial trigger points keeps on inspiring researchers and clinicians. With the recent publication of an interesting review article in Rheumatology, the concept is really challenged.
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Research has suggested that exercise is effective in the treatment of chronic low back pain (CLBP), regardless the characteristics of the exercise selected. Although it’s effective, exercise as intervention alone does not seem to take into consideration the maladaptive pain cognitions and illness behavioural characteristics frequently identified in CLBP patients.
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A new fascinating study from the Harvard Medical School (Boston, U.S.A.) adds to the evidence that conservative interventions can retrain the brain (ref. 1). Laura Simons and her colleagues reported marked differences in functional brain connectivity between pediatric complex regional pain syndrome patients and age-sex matched control subjects, but also normalization of such differences following in-house rehabilitation.
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There is strong evidence that patients with chronic pain show decreased cognitive task performance, including decreased sustained selective attention, processing speed and memory. Pain in Motion recently reported on Kelly Ickmans’ PhD findings, showing that in patients with various central sensitization pain disorders (fibromyalgia, chronic whiplash associated disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome), cognitive performance is closely related to physical activity levels and endogenous analgesia.
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The internet is nowadays a popular information source for the general public when it comes to medical advice. It is an easy to use and very cheap source of information, which may lead to less medical consults. On the other hand, it can have several negative effects, like an overload of information, increased anxiety, distress, and compulsive search for medical information. Recently, this phenomenon has been referred to as “Cyberchondria”.
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Hyperexcitability of the central nervous system, or central sensitization, is considered to be a maladaptive type of neuroplasticity often seen in patients with chronic pain. Central sensitization is frequently seen in patients with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, whiplash, neuropathic pain and chronic fatigue syndrome. Up to recently, shoulder pain was considered to be a pure ‘local’ problem. Tissues that are frequently linked to shoulder pain include (rotator cuff) muscles, ligaments, subacromial bursa and joint capsules.
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Therapeutic pain neuroscience education (TPNE) is becoming increasingly popular as (part of) the treatment of (chronic) pain and aims at altering the patient’s thoughts and beliefs about pain. Previous research has demonstrated the efficacy of TPNE in the treatment of chronic pain. TPNE is mostly given in one-on-one sessions, which has limitations, as it is time intensive, cost intensive and limited to patients in remote areas. Pain in Motion previously showed that written TPNE does little to alter pain, pain cognitions or illness perceptions in patients with fibromyalgia.
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Interpreting scientific results in clinical practice can be, to say at least, challenging. Especially when it is somewhat contradictory to what you have heard during all those years of extensive training in both physiotherapy education and other courses. As one of my friends recently put it this way: ‘The more I learn about pain, the less I know and the more confused I get.’
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A recent article by Lance M. Mc Cracken and Stephen Morley published in the Journal of Pain addresses the place of theory and models in psychological research and treatment development in chronic pain. It argued that such models are not merely an academic issue but are highly practical. Such models ought to integrate current findings, precisely guide research and treatment development, and create progress. The dominant psychological approach to chronic pain is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
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The study by Schabrun et al. published in Brain Stimulation 2014 is one of the most interesting papers I have read last year. This might be due to the fact that I am not at all an expert in neuromodulation, but even so the study is highly innovative and has amazing findings. The paper reports a placebo-controlled cross-over study investigating the effect of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) combined with peripheral electrical stimulation (PES) treatment on pain, cortical organization, sensitization and sensory function in 16 patients with chronic low back pain. It was found that a combined tDCS/PES intervention is more effective for improving not only chronic low back pain symptoms, but also for improving the mechanisms of cortical organization and central sensitization than either intervention applied alone or a sham control.
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Stress is often a powerful pain killer. Stress activates several brain-orchestrated pain inhibitory actions, including the activation of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA-axis) resulting in the release of cortisol. The latter is often regarded as the major stress hormone in the human body, and besides its powerful anti-inflammatory action it also exerts endogenous analgesia.
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Based on a literature study on the effects of relaxation on symptoms and daily functioning in patients with FM, the authors concluded that:
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A systematic literature review recently showed that approximately 30% of patients with osteoarthritis have central sensitization pain, implying that their pain is dominated by central factors (i.e. the increased hyperexcitability of the central nervous system) rather than peripheral (i.e. joint) factors.
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In 2011, Pain in Motion published a paper explaining to clinicians the various options we have for treating the mechanisms involved in central sensitization.
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Even though nociceptive pathology has often long subsided, the brain of patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain has typically acquired a protective (movement-related) pain memory. Exercise therapy for patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain is often hampered by such pain memories.
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