Saturday, July 09, 2011

Letter to a biomechanically - minded therapist

A new member at SomaSimple wrote:
I am still trying to get a grasp on everything I have been reading on this site. I would like to hear the rationale from an Ectodermalist of why I had success this patient.

Patient: 39 y/o female presenting with c/o left lateral knee pain while jogging. No reproduction of symptoms with AROM, joint mobility, palpation, special tests. Onset of symptoms after approx 3 minutes of jogging on treadmill. Patient described symptoms as "deep in the joint" and "sharp". Other objective findings: weak L hip ERs, L midfoot pronation.
Video analysis of running mechanics: excessive L DF and close to full L knee extension at heel strike.
Treatment: decreased patient's stride length by increasing number of steps per minute with use of a metronome; exercise for L hip ERs
Results: patient ran 10 minutes pain free with decreased step length at same visit
Rationale: decreased stride length will decrease ankle DF and increase L knee flexion at heel strike in order to decrease ground reaction force at L knee joint

Name deleted
I wrote back.
Inevitably I missed saying a few things that are probably important for clarity, so this blog post will be an elaboration of that response.

First of all, congratulations on having interacted with, and helped abate, a problem a patient was having with movement and pain. The question you seem to silently be asking sounds like, "because I used biomechanics and biomechanical analysis to help solve the problem, why should I bother trying to learn how to see things ectodermally?" 
This always seems to be the first question people ask. The second one is, how is what you do different from myofascial release? Which used to drive me batty, but doesn't anymore, because it's been so long since I extracted my own brain from entanglement with all the flawed ideas inherent in myofascial release as a treatment concept, But now, back to the letter:

I think that is a fair question. I really do.

I wrote a bit about the focal length of treatment a little while ago. Here is a link; Operator/Interactor.
So, it boils down to biomechanics and biomechanical analysis being a good example of "patternicity", fraught with Type I and Type II error, or pareidolia (seeing the virgin Mary in a piece of toast) or apophenia ("experience of seeing meaningful patterns or connections in random or meaningless data").
Manual therapy is full of pattern seeking and finding, and so is any sort of therapy, really. Psychotherapy is full of this too. A practitioner sees a certain kind of pattern, or sees a pattern a certain way, and starts to explain how he or she sees it, then other people (suggestible as we all are) start to see what he or she means, it all makes sense, and voila, a new institute is born!
 So was medicine for a very long time, and still is to a great extent, burdened by patternicity-seeking.

One of the biggest irritations I still have, actually, is the enormous influence still wielded by the Biggest Mesodermalists of Them All, Orthopods and Physiatrists, over the thinking processes of therapists of the physical persuasion. Why do they persist in knowing nothing about neuroscience? Because they are making a fine living from injecting joints and needling imaginary things called trigger points that they decided arbitrarily are located in muscle somewhere/somehow, and teaching new generations of keeners to think the same way they do about pain problems.

Last summer I sat and fumed for an hour, listening to Jay Shah talk about trigger points and needling them. He admitted upon questioning by Neil Pearson (then chair of CPA's Pain Science Division) in the audience that day, that no one has ever actually found trigger points to exist, but he had gone on for an hour before that, showing zippy video-embeds of naked muscles (skin removed) and needles put into them this way and that, leaving every brain in the room with the overwhelming impression that he was showing us real, anatomical, mesodermal entities that were "pain" generators. Way to mess with peoples' minds, Jay Shah. Way to not help anyone understand pain or the nervous system better. Way to reinforce Cartesian ideas about "pain" (not just nociception) being carried on pain strings inside the body up to the brain. That model is really not that clinically useful anymore. For any of us who don't like needling, for sure. Way to keep allied health professionals separated from a longer conceptual focal length and perhaps wider angle conceptual view of pain and its common persistence. Way to keep us in the dark. Way to reinforce mesodermalism.

But now, back to the letter:
Now, about your patient: You used a very well-established patternicity model to help your patient. There is nothing wrong with helping patients any way you can. However, there is a great deal of information in the last 30 years or so about the brain, about how the body and brain interact, about pain, about how the brain both creates and responds to a pain experience.

This forum, if it is about anything, is about exploring how to connect all that to what we all, in one way or another, do for a living, which in my opinion is human primate social grooming. Human primate social grooming (HPSG), to me, boils down to a wordless kind of interactive, kinesthetic support, fully accessing every affective and afferent channel in that patient that is therapeutically available to us, to help them. Them. Them. 
This is uppermost on my mind this weekend, because of a recurring fight I always end up in with chiropractors. The latest battle was on Facebook last week. This could be a whole separate blogpost, but briefly, I posted a video of Alannah Myles and immediately had my throat jumped down by a chiropractor who accused her of lying. Yes, lying. About her own experience of being in a body, taking it to see someone she thought would be able to help her, but hurt her instead. I documented the exchange here. To my mind, any profession that doesn't put the patient and his or her well-being, front and center, but instead reinforces victimhood by placing itself first and foremost in the mind of the practitioners it trains, is the exact opposite of what a healthcare profession or professional should be. I consider that to be an unconscionable juxtaposition, completely indefensible, although chiros really really try, reflexively, to defend themselves before any other thought crosses their minds, and end up weeing all over themselves and their (so-called) profession in the process. And they never, ever seem to get how ludicrous they are/it is when they do that.

But I digress. Back to the letter:
What the problem is, with patternicity, is that conceptualizations can interfere with our own brains. Several problems can emerge if we aren't really careful to always keep the patient first and foremost. A few examples, randomly, in no particular order:

1. We can become way too reliant on the tool, instead of what it is we are supposed to be doing with it. There will always be a patient who comes along who doesn't fit your tool/concept. Then what?
2. We can end up being tool collectors which can lead to a lot of confusion.
3. It's really, really hard to study therapy from a patternicity standpoint, because of there being nothing objective to measure, just a pattern in a head that feels real but isn't, because it isn't an object, it's an objectification.
Treating a set of ideas we cart around in our heads in a basket might overlap a good deal of the time with actually managing to help patients, but it can't always, and if we rely on conceptual baskets of ideas only, we will lose the paddle far up the creek on a regular basis.

Back to the letter:
Instead, what some of us old fogies have come to realize, is that we might have saved ourselves a lot of $ and frustration if we hadn't combed carefully through all those patterns, gurus, and institutes out there that are patternicities based on mesodermally-derived tissue. What is mesodermally derived tissue? It's the 98% of the body that is not nervous system (i.e., bones, joints, muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments, etc.) Instead, we wish we had stuck with key principles.

In this post, Ian Stevens nails the essence of the problem we all face whether we are currently practitioners of one kind or another, or are people in pain (and I can pretty much guarantee that we all will be one day like it or not); ian s, paraphrased:
"..illness Pain is not (only and always) a mechanical process. Illness Pain is always multifactorial. That’s part of the nature of complex systems – they aren’t simple! The thrust of the argument is that it’s whole people who get ill pain, body and mind, inextricably interfunctioning, and not only that, but it’s whole people, embedded within the environments of their lives who get ill pain. I use the plural there deliberately. We are embedded in multiple environments, not just physical ones, but also social, cultural and narrative ones. We are meaning-seeking creatures."
I just loved Ian's depiction of nested problems, nested in contexts, several simultaneous human contexts, inextricable from them, rather like the way manual therapists find themselves inextricably bound inside the conceptual worlds they build and pay to have built around their/our own brains. Man oh man, we had better start building in some cognitive nimbleness to avoid being screwed in the left ear by hucksters from our own human primate social grooming troops, and/or in the right ear by 'submission to authority' in the form of actual medical doctors, like Shah (see above), who should be helping HPSGs find a way out of the mesodermal concept quicksand instead of deeper into it. 

Back to the letter:

To sum up, as long as we are putting the patient first, ahead of ourselves, ahead of our professional pride, ahead of being attached to results, ahead of being attached to our favorite patterns, or methods, or anything else, we'll probably do just fine in the long run and work our way out of the conceptual maze and realize that all we can ever know is just how to be just and ever and only one step ahead of our patient. Which is fine, because as their therapist you don't ever want to be any farther ahead than that, or they might lose track of you and you of them. It's only one step, but as long as it's the right step, you'll always go places, and be able to help them, and never hurt them. 

The Expert Mind.
The Patient's Brain: The neuroscience behind the doctor-patient relationship

All the best.

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