resourcesABOUT MT AUTHOR GUIDELINES CLASSIFIEDS EDITORIAL CALENDAR MEDIA GUIDE MASSAGE MART SCHOOLS & EDUCATION FEEDBACK
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."
Lime Jello on Morphine
Taste is in the eyes... actually the mouth... of the beholder. My food preferences have changed, lightening from the food of my youth. My parents loved heavy eastern European cuisine and I loved it as a child. Now I enjoy leaner, healthier whole foods.
AOMA Strengthens Leadership Team
AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine, a leading college of acupuncture & herbal medicine, announced the appointment of Donna LaPoint Hurta, MBA as the new VP of Finance & Operations this Fall.
The Tao of Gender
If you think gender is as simple as having a new client check off the "male" or "female" box on your intake form, we hope this article will expand your understanding and thus the reach of your health care.
Transparency and Accountability: Q&A With the CCE
Every profession needs an organization dedicated to upholding the quality and integrity of its degree programs and educational institutions.
Managing Today's Fertility Patient
I recently received an email from one of my fertility patients: "Got my lab results back. FSH is 11, AMH is 0.7. My doctor said these numbers aren't good. I guess I'm infertile. Just as a thought. Just set up an appointment to speak with an adoption agency."
Pulse Diagnosis: What We Know
I am still finding pearls of wisdom from the books and papers that I inherited from my pulse diagnosis mentor Jim Ramholz.
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.
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.
Web Marketing: Content Is King
Google's sweeping updates to its search algorithms over the past few years have brought a paradigm shift in how you can optimize your chiropractic website to gain maximum marketing leverage.
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?."
Help Patients Achieve Optimal Vitamin D Levels
Much research has been done on vitamin D levels and their impact on health; optimal levels have been correlated with a reduced risk of developing numerous conditions.
Saying No to Medicine
An interesting article recently appeared in Men's Journal titled "When to Say No to Your Doctor." The article begins with the summary statement above and effectively arms readers with information that will help them "take more responsibility for your own health care, because you can't be sure anyone else is.
Understanding and Identifying Pediatric Growth-Plate Fractures
In general, fractures in children heal well with little intervention as long as the alignment is good. Fractures involving the growth plate, however, are a different issue. In fact, growth-plate injuries are the primary reason for the subspecialty of pediatric orthopedics.
The Heart Protector
On the physical level, the Pericardium is a double-layered sac of fibrous tissue that envelops the Heart. The space between the layers is filled with serous fluid that protects the Heart from external shock or trauma and lubricates to allow for normal Heart movement.
Calcium Helps Prevent Colorectal Cancer
Over the past 25 to 30 years, studies have suggested calcium may confer protection against colorectal cancer.
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.
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.
Healing With TCM at San Quentin State Prison
For the prisoners at San Quentin State Prison, life-sentences are the reality of every day life. It is not often that prisoners get the opportunity to use alternative medicine to deal with common ailments they encounter behind bars such as, depression, anxiety and pain.
Talking to Patients About Healthy Aging
I've noticed that a particular category of patients seems to make up more and more of my practice – they work out, but still experience lots of degenerative joint disease (DJD) issues.
Simple Ways To Find True Happiness
Patients in our clinics are always seeking happiness. As their health advocate, we need to ensure we inform them that in order to find happiness, they have to make sure to identify what makes them happy in the first place.
March, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 03
Evaluating Neurological Symptoms
By Whitney Lowe, LMT
In massage therapy, the tendency is to focus on the role of muscles in pain or injury, sometimes to the exclusion of other soft tissues. Nerves are one of these often forgotten tissues, yet they play a critical role in many pain complaints. Neglecting these tissues can lead to inadequate treatment and the development of chronic pain conditions.
With all the work we perform on soft tissues throughout the body, the absence of knowledge of nerve-tissue disorders is serious. Massage can be an exceptional treatment approach for numerous nerve pathologies because soft-tissue therapy can successfully address nerve compression and tension disorders. Effective treatment of these disorders must begin with accurate evaluation of the client's primary problem. When performed effectively, simple manual examination is one of the most effective tools for evaluating nerve system function.
One might be inclined to think evaluation of nerve-tissue disorders should be left to primary care professionals who have access to MRI, EMG and nerve-conduction testing. However, while high-tech diagnostic studies are effective in certain circumstances, they are not always accurate. For example, median nerve compression does not always show up in nerve-conduction tests for carpal tunnel syndrome.1,2 While no single testing method is always correct, manual neurological examination has a high degree of reliability and should always be a part of a comprehensive evaluation.3,4
Structure, Function and Pathology
The motor versus sensory fiber make-up of peripheral nerves is an important characteristic to note when evaluating neurological symptoms. Most major nerve pathologies affect the peripheral nerves. Peripheral nerves have a dorsal root that carries sensory information and a ventral root that carries motor signals (See Figure 1). The nerve roots blend together shortly after leaving the spinal cord, converging to create the major trunks of the peripheral nerves. These nerves then course through the upper and lower extremities as well as other regions of the body. Most peripheral nerves carry both motor and sensory fibers, but a few carry one or the other almost exclusively.
Compression pathologies are the most common type of nerve injury. Compression can occur anywhere along the length of the nerve from the nerve root all the way to the distal end of the nerve. Pressure on a nerve root is called a radiculopathy. Examples include herniated intervertebral discs, spinal tumors, bone spurs and spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the intervertebral foramen where the nerve root exits the spine (See Figure 2).
When pressure is applied to a nerve further along its length in the upper or lower extremity, it is called a peripheral neuropathy. Common examples of peripheral neuropathies include carpal tunnel, thoracic outlet and piriformis syndromes. In a peripheral neuropathy, the nerve can be compressed by muscle, fibrous bands, bone, tendon, local inflammation or other factors. Treatment focuses on reducing compression on the affected nerve, so the practitioner must distinguish where that adverse compression is occurring.
Evaluating for the location and type of nerve pathology is necessary for selecting the most appropriate treatment strategies. Evaluation seeks detailed information on the client's symptoms. Acquire as much detailed information from the client as possible through the history and physical evaluation.
Most of the large peripheral nerves carry both motor and sensory fibers, which have different symptom patterns. Consequently, when there is damage to the nerve, there may be motor and sensory symptoms. However, some nerves carry a much larger percentage of either motor or sensory fibers. In these cases, it is more common to see one type of symptom pattern than another.
For example, if the piriformis muscle is entrapping the posterior femoral cutaneous nerve in the gluteal region (See Figure 3), symptoms are most likely to be pain or paresthesia in the posterior thigh because this nerve is predominantly a sensory nerve innervating the posterior thigh. If the piriformis is compressing the superior gluteal nerve, the most common symptom is weakness in the hip abductor muscles because the superior gluteal nerve is mostly a motor nerve supplying the hip abductor muscles.
The most common sensory symptoms from nerve compression are pain, paresthesia (pins and needles), numbness, burning or electrical-type sensations. Sensory symptoms from nerve compression usually are felt distal to the site of compression. There are exceptions to this guideline, but it generally holds true.
The symptom pattern for compression on a nerve root usually is different from compression on a peripheral nerve. This distinction has important ramifications for treatment. When pressure is applied to a nerve root, the symptoms might be felt anywhere within a specific dermatome. A dermatome is an area of skin supplied by a single nerve root. Figure 4 shows the C8 dermatome, which is the area of skin supplied by fibers that originate from the C8 nerve root (between the C7 and T1 vertebrae). Dermatome maps such as the one in Figure 4 are common in anatomy books. However, these are not absolute, nor is every person exactly the same. There can be slight variations in the dermatome due to anatomical anomalies. In some cases, nerve-root compression symptoms are only felt in a portion of the dermatome, which makes it challenging to pinpoint the problem.
The symptom pattern for compression on a peripheral nerve occurs in regions that overlap the dermatome. Each peripheral nerve supplies sensory innervation to a particular area of skin in the extremity; this is called that nerve's cutaneous innervation. For example, the cutaneous innervation of the ulnar nerve is limited to the ulnar side of the hand as shown in Figure 5. Recognition of nerve symptom patterns requires knowledge of each peripheral nerve's cutaneous innervation or each nerve root's dermatome. Clearly there is overlap between the cutaneous innervation of the ulnar nerve in our example and the C8 dermatome. Such overlap makes clinical analysis more challenging. So, how do you figure out where the symptoms are originating?
The best way to determine the site of compression is through accurate assessment. In general though, if symptoms exist throughout a complete dermatome, then you likely have a nerve root issue (radiculopathy). Choosing tests that further evaluate that nerve root would be the next step. If the symptoms are confined to one nerve's cutaneous innervation, then a peripheral neuropathy is likely. However, because nerve-root compression symptoms can occur in only a portion of the dermatome, further testing would be warranted to rule out nerve-root involvement.
For instance, if a client presented symptoms along the medial side of the arm and forearm extending into the hand, involving the C8 dermatome, it would indicate a C8 nerve-root pathology. If the symptoms were felt only on the ulnar side of the hand, the problem would likely be due to pressure somewhere along the ulnar nerve distal to the nerve root. But, due to dermatome and cutaneous innervation overlap, further testing would be warranted. In addition, further testing would be needed to determine the location of that compression along the path of the ulnar nerve. Treatment could then be directed to the most appropriate location.
When evaluating neurological symptoms, do not assume there is always a mechanical compression or tension problem. Numerous systemic disorders such as multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis or diabetes can also produce peripheral neurological symptoms, as could myofascial trigger points from distant muscles. These other pathologies should always be considered as a possibility, and referral is suggested.
Nerve pathologies affect motor function when motor-nerve fibers are involved. The most common symptom from motor-nerve compression is weakness or atrophy in the muscle(s) supplied by the affected nerve. Numerous anatomical references show where motor branches depart from major nerve trunks to supply innervation to muscles. As with sensory symptoms, the affected muscles are distal to the site of compression. Consequently, the more distal the compression site, the fewer muscles will be affected. Figure 6 shows a schematic for compression at two different locations along a nerve and how it affects the muscles innervated by that nerve.
Muscle weakness and atrophy are the most apparent symptoms from motor-nerve compression. However, in some cases pathologies develop from altered biomechanical patterns resulting from muscle weakness induced by nerve injury. Most of our movements involve complex coordination patterns of multiple muscles to accomplish a task. Weakness or atrophy from nerve compression in one of these muscles can cause resultant problems that might not seem related.
Here's an example of motor weakness contributing to a different pathology. The long thoracic nerve innervates the serratus anterior muscle, which is crucial for moving the scapula properly during shoulder abduction. Tightness in the scalene muscles can compress the long thoracic nerve and cause weakness in the serratus anterior muscle. Carrying a backpack, book bag or other heavy item with a shoulder strap could also compress this nerve. When the serratus anterior is weak, the coordination of movement between the scapula and humerus in abduction no longer functions properly and can lead to shoulder impingement syndrome. You might not think of nerve compression as a primary cause in this condition, but muscle weakness from nerve compression is at the root of the problem.
More massage therapists today are working in clinical environments and with clients who have a wide variety of pain and injury conditions. It is crucial that practitioners understand how the symptoms of nerve conditions might present. In some cases, the client should be sent to another health professional for further evaluation, especially when the problem is out of the practitioner's scope of practice or experience level. In other situations, massage can be an extremely important part of the treatment process because few other approaches treat the soft tissues with the degree of specificity of massage therapy. In future columns we'll explore treatment strategies that can be used to address various nerve pathologies.
Any practitioner who wants to address the full gamut of soft-tissue disorders is strongly advised to learn more about function and pathology in the nervous system. Understanding nerve structure and function will aid in treating these conditions. Applying quality clinical reasoning and evaluation skills is part of this process and can greatly improve the outcomes for clients.
Click here for more information about Whitney Lowe, LMT.
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