All posts in Clinical Case of the Week

Mechanical Pain versus Muscle Soreness

Sports Injuries require Physical Therapy TreatmentA mistake that people often make is waiting too long to start physical therapy treatment for their aches and pains. This commonly occurs because you may be thinking, “this will go away on its own,” or, “it’s just normal for me to feel like this at my age.” I want to clear up some confusion on mechanical pain versus normal muscle soreness that does not require skilled therapy or treatment.

Muscular Pain:

  • Experienced after a sudden increase in activity or exercise.
    • Running 6 miles when you typically only run 2 miles
    • You increased the intensity or length of time to your typical workout
  • Will be experienced 1-2 days after the increased activity has been performed and will typically begin to dissipate or be gone in 3-5 days after onset.
  • Is typically vague pain or experienced in a general area. The pain will not be sharp or pin-point to a specific area.
  • If you’re educated on what muscles perform which actions, the sore muscles will correlate with what activity you were performing.
  • Does not have increased or decreased pain associated with positions.

Mechanical Pain:

  • May have a sudden onset without explanation of occurrence (you woke up with pain for no apparent reason).
  • Will typically have a loss in range of motion. For example: it may be difficult to stand up straight in the morning or after prolonged sitting or driving.
  • Will have positions that will increase or decrease symptoms. For example: pain increases with sitting, pain is better while lying down.

If you’re experiencing mechanical pain the sooner you seek physical therapy treatment, the better! A good Physical Therapist can determine which exercises will reduce your symptoms and get you back to doing the activities that you love!


Chronic Low Back Pain

A few months ago, I treated a young Portland area woman who was suffering from low back pain. “Beth” had been in a car accident 10 months prior to my evaluation.  She was rating her worst pain as a 9/10 and was moderately limited with walking, sitting, bending and lifting. Because of the pain associated with these activities, Beth was limited with her duties as a student nurse, and somewhat concerned with how her back condition will affect the rest of her life.  Beth had been to a chiropractor and to a different physical therapy clinic, neither of which proved to have any lasting benefits.

Beth’s objective findings included what mechanical therapists call a “Left Shift” in standing.  This means that her shoulders were not centered over her hips, but rather, off to the left side.  We know this as a relevant lateral component and is typically associated with a derangement (something out of alignment or out of place).   Beth also demonstrated limited, painful movements of the spine; primarily in the frontal plane.

The exercise to correct Beth’s shift and reduce her derangement was repeated right side glide in standing.  Beth was able to perform this exercise throughout her day to decrease her pain and by 3 weeks out, she was reporting little to no pain.  Beth was then able to begin core strengthening exercises, after her pain was gone, and get back to her duties as a nursing student.  At our last treatment visit, Beth told me that she was able to work multiple 12 hour shifts as a nurse without any pain!

If the physical therapy treatment you are receiving does not get feeling better within 1 or 2 weeks, find something that works!


Quadriceps Strengthening Exercise Routine Decreases Pain Associated With Osteoarthritis and Meniscus Injury

Quick Answers Are Never a Guarantee

Picture of woman running wearing RinardPT logo

We live in a culture that seeks immediate results and quick answers to solutions. Most of the time, unfortunately, we also want what requires the least amount of effort on our part. In the medical community, this boils down to people deciding to have surgery to fix the problem. Unfortunately, surgery is never a guarantee. Time and time again I treat patients here at Nick Rinard Physical Therapy who were advised to have surgery and, after the procedure was performed, their pain remained. This happens because of both the general public and medical practitioners’ lack of understanding about how the body moves and heals. Recently, there was a man referred to our Portland airport (PDX) clinic by his friend for knee pain. He was scheduled to have knee surgery the next week, but wanted to have a second opinion. My colleague diagnosed him with a very simple problem: knee capsulosis, and he was reporting decreased pain and improved range of motion by his 2nd visit. He cancelled his surgery and is expected to have a great outcome with conservative care.

Regimented Exercise Can Decrease Knee Pain without Surgery

I recently came across a study that found simple regimented exercise routine focusing on quadriceps strengthening and cardiovascular endurance decreases knee pain associated with osteoarthritis. What a great concept: exercise can decrease pain and improve function and avoid surgery! The authors of the study concluded: “Optimal exercise programs for knee OA should have one aim and focus on improving aerobic capacity, quadriceps muscle strength, or lower extremity performance,” the authors concluded. “For best results, the program should be supervised and carried out three times a week. Such programs have a similar effect regardless of patient characteristics, including radiographic severity and baseline pain.”

Physical Inactivity is THE Major Public Health Problem of the 21st Century

I came across a quote that really resonates with these findings: “…most medical schools only allocate a perfunctory hour to the fact that physical activity is medicine. This is a major failing of medical education when physical inactivity is the major public health problem of the 21st century.”


Meta-analysis: Quadriceps exercise best reduces knee OA pain:
Accessed on May 1st, 2014
Mechanotherapy: how physical therapists’ prescription of exercise promotes tissue repair. K M Khan, A Scott. Br J Sports Med 2009;43:247-252


Chronic Shoulder Pain: Treated Successfully in 6 visits

Shoulder Pain was affecting his Job until he came to RinardPTPatient is a 60 y/o male “Mike” with chronic shoulder pain. Mike’s symptoms started in 1994 after falling onto his left shoulder. Overall, his symptoms had been unchanging and severely affecting his job. He has had previous physical therapy and massage therapy to no avail. He was severely limited with lifting, carrying and working out.

During his initial evaluation, it was found that Mike had painful, limited range of all shoulder movements with the exception of lateral rotation. He also had weak/painful resisted tests of shoulder abduction, medial rotation and flexion. His most limited impairment was painful, weak abduction.

It was determined that Mike had chronic dysfunction of the supraspinatus muscle tendon (one of the rotator cuff muscles). Because of the anatomical position of this tendon, it is the most commonly injured and torn of the rotator cuff. Mike began remodeling his tendon with targeted, dosed loading. By the next visit, he was strong, in less pain and had improved range of motion.

Mike continued his remodeling exercises for the next 4 weeks. By his 6th visit to our Portland clinic he had virtually no pain and was no longer limited with his work or life from his shoulder pain. Mike is a classic example of how conservative treatment that targets the root of the problem results in fast, effective results!

Don’t wait 20 years to have your simple problem solved. Have a mechanical evaluation at Nick Rinard Physical Therapy today!


Thoracic Outlet Syndrome – TOS

Recently, I have had 3 physical therapy patients in the clinic with a complicated clinical presentation.  All 3 patients have a different cluster of symptoms and impairments. What they each have in common is that they have upper extremity symptoms that are not of cervical spine (radiculopathy) origin.  Instead, their pathology is a result of tight chest and neck musculature, compressing the bundle of nerves that control the movement and sensation of the arm.  Clinically, this is known as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, or, TOS.

What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

  • Compression of the artery, vein and/or nerves that pass through the thoracic outlet.
  • There are 3 possible locations for the compression to occur:
    • In between your scalene (neck muscles)
    • In between the clavicle and first rib
    • Under the peck minor (chest muscle)
The most common compression is of the nerves.  This results in vague pain of the arm as well as various sensations: itchy, hot, cold, pins and needles, etc.It may be painful to the touch for any of the muscles involved with the compression.

Poor posture as well as decreased flexibility of the thoracic spine are also associated with TOS.

Rarely, an extra rib (cervical rib) is the cause.

Image of muscle and skeletal region affected by TOS


Physical Therapy Treatment for TOS

  • Physical therapy is the first line of treatment for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS).
  • A therapist will teach you how to stretch what needs to be lengthened as well as how to strengthen muscles that will improve posture.
  • Physical therapists also have manual techniques to help you progress your treatment
  • Most people diagnosed with TOS  have a good prognosis and will have complete resolution of symptoms with conservative treatment only.

Pseudo Tennis Elbow: A Commonly Misdiagnosed Mechanical Problem

Lateral epicondylitis, more commonly known as “tennis elbow,” is a pathology that is familiar to physical therapists and the general public. What is lesser known is “pseudo tennis elbow,” a mechanical problem with a very simple solution! Unfortunately, therapists whom are not familiar with the utilization of mechanical diagnosis may unknowingly miss this common elbow derangement. As a therapist practicing the McKenzie method of mechanical diagnosis, I have diagnosed BOTH of my current elbow pain patients as derangements (or pseudo tennis elbow).


Portland area patient presented to physical therapy with intermittent right elbow pain, worsening over the last 3 months. Patient reported difficulty with gripping, lifting, carrying and global limited function of the right arm. Patient described symptoms as “variable” meaning he could perform a task that produced his elbow pain. Then, perform the same task or movement again without experiencing any pain at all! This variability of pain is the hallmark of a derangement and should not be misdiagnosed as a tendonitis (also called tendinitis), which would indicate inflammation (in which case pain would be constant). Patient rated worst elbow pain as a 6/10.


Mobilization with Movement with GripObjective findings included pain with passive elbow flexion and extension as well as pain with active wrist extension and with gripping a tennis ball. Because of my experience as a mechanical therapist, I am familiar with a technique called a mobilization with movement (MWM), developed by Brian Mulligan (a colleague of Robin McKenzie). The mobilization provides a lateral force over the ulna at the elbow joint. While the patient applied this force, he was able to grip the tennis ball PAIN FREE! This same technique was applied for other painful baselines and achieved the same results of ABOLITION OF ALL PAIN! This ability to turn symptoms off with a mobilization indicates an elbow derangement and the MWM is used as the treatment strategy.


The patient was asked to perform the MWM utilizing the lateral glide while gripping a tennis ball to be performed 10-20 times every hour. The theory is that this mobilization is re-positioning the joint in order for it to articulate correctly, resulting in improved range of motion and strength after. The patient returned to the clinic the next day with reports of at least 25% improvement! Objective findings were retested and nearly all baselines had improved in less than 24 hours! The patient returned 1 week later and reported an 85% overall improvement with symptoms.


Don’t be misdiagnosed! Straightforward pathologies which require one exercise to treat are commonly missed with standard treatment. This results in extra physical therapy visits, and more of your time and money. It is worth your time to see if your pain has a MECHANICAL component, otherwise a simple solution may otherwise be missed.

If you are experiencing elbow pain and are living in the Portland/Vancouver metro area, get the best results by calling us today at 503-244-6232 to schedule a physical therapy evaluation.


Chronic Shoulder Pain with a Mechanical Cause

I recently had a follow up appointment with a patient of mine.  “Sam” came to our clinic after having failed attempts of treatment from standard Physical Therapy and chiropractic care.  His past physical therapist had given him generalized stretching with little to no benefit, and by the time I evaluated him, Sam admitted that, “(he) was not impressed with his therapy treatment.”  He had heard about Nick Rinard Physical Therapy, and he was hoping to get the results he desired with us.

During his initial evaluation, Sam presented with limited, painful movements in several motions of the shoulder. The most painful motion was the motion of putting the arm behind him (like he was going to scratch in between his shoulder blades).  Incidentally, this was also the motion which initially caused his pain three months ago.

Shoulder Stretch Exercise from RinardPTI had Sam passively stretch into the painful motion. This was not a random decision. It was a clinical decision based off of his baselines and has been clearly documented and researched by the works of Mark Laslett.  As Sam repeated this movement, the pain dissipated and all of his baselines improved.  Sam continued to perform this exercise until his next visit, at which, he reported 95% improvement.

Sometimes the exercise required to fix the mechanical problem is counterintuitive (moving into the pain).  A trained mechanical therapist is able to recognize these pain patterns and can make a clinical decision as to what exercise should be performed and interpret the results.


Vertigo: A mechanical cause and treatment!

The most common cause of vertigo (dizziness) is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and it is a mechanical disorder. A trained clinician can evaluate and treat this condition based off of the patient’s symptoms. The evaluation consists of moving the head into specific positions. Symptoms of BPPV include vertigo with change in head position, nausea with or without vomiting and disequilibrium (poor balance).


Image of Inner Ear and Vestibular System edited by Dan Yedinak

Vestibular System

BPPV is a curable condition affecting the vestibular system (inner ear). Your inner ear is comprised of 3 semicircular canals (SCC) and 2 otolith organs. These structures detect head movements (acceleration). Crystals called otoconia are embedded in the otolith organs. Sometimes, the crystals can become dislodged and misplace into the semicircular canals. The misplaced crystals result in increased sensitivity to head movements.

Hopes for a Positive Response

I was treating a patient for low back pain when she mentioned that she was experiencing severe episodes of dizziness. I informed her about BPPV and mentioned that the treatment was very simple and effective. She agreed to have an evaluation in hopes for a positive response.

My patient tested positive for BPPV utilizing the Hallpike-Dix test for the left semicircular canals. I also performed a few other tests and exercises to rule out other potential causes for symptoms. Once we had our diagnosis of BPPV, the treatment was very simple.

Improvement in just one week

I took my patient through a series of head movements that reposition the crystals back into the otolith organs (the saccule and ultricule). After performing the repositioning maneuver, baseline symptoms were decreased and she returned the next week without having any severe episodes of vertigo.

BPPV – A Common Vertigo that is Easily Treated

BPPV is the most common cause for vertigo. Luckily, it is very easy to diagnose and treat with a trained therapist. If you or someone you know has vertigo as a result from head movements, have a physical therapist evaluation so that you may start feeling better today!


Ankle pain from the spine?!

By MiKayla Sanocki, SPT

Did you know a back problem can cause symptoms such as pain, decreased strength and decreased sensations into the thigh, calf, ankle or foot? Physical therapists trained in Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) here at Nick Rinard Physical Therapy can determine during the evaluation if any of these lower leg symptoms are coming from your back.

Check out this bizarre clinical presentation we treated at Nick Rinard Physical Therapy:

She did not remember any trauma to the ankle

The patient came to physical therapy for an “ankle sprain” that occurred 3-months earlier.  She stated she woke up unable to put any weight on her right foot. The pain had remained constant in her ankle, so bad at times that she couldn’t walk!  Upon further questioning, the patient revealed what she had been doing the day before: She had driven 2 hours, on her way home from helping clean a house. During the drive she had discomfort in her buttock and hamstring that made her want to pull the car over to stretch.  She did not remember any trauma to the ankle, however, but the ankle pain was the only pain she was experiencing now.

Her ankle pain has caused her to quit running and yoga — two of her favorite activities.

Mechanical Evaluation finds cause in spine

Picture of woman running wearing RinardPT logoDuring the mechanical evaluation we found that certain directions of low back movements decreased the pain in her ankle.  After being sent home with 1 simple exercise to perform every waking hour – which she did perfectly – she returned within 24 hours reporting 90% recovery in pain! Over the next week we were able to progress her exercises and now the patient reports no ankle pain at all. In only 4 visits we were able to abolish her ankle pain, and she is now getting back to running and yoga!

The patient reports, “I now have the tools to prevent the return of my back and ankle pain”.

Treatment at Nick Rinard Physical Therapy vs Traditional PT

In contrast to MDT, traditional PT would not have uncovered the spinal cause of the patient’s ankle pain.  Treatment would have been ineffective since it would have focused only on trying to treat the symptom.

Do you know if your pain in the legs or arms could be coming from the spine?  Come see us at Nick Rinard Physical Therapy and find out! 


Post op shoulder pain was really coming from the neck

Nick Rinard PT ExerciseVery interesting clinical presentation today!  The patient had been treated for neck pain here (Nick Rinard Physical Therapy) in the past with good results.  Later, she developed shoulder pain and consulted her MD, who referred her to an orthopedic surgeon.  There were “findings” on MRI and she ended up getting arthroscopic surgery.  She returned to us for physical therapy to rehabilitate after surgery.

No Surgery Needed

Interestingly, she reported that her surgeon was surprised that her rotator cuff tendons were in “good condition” and did not require a repair – he had noticed that during the surgery procedure itself, apparently.  So, physical therapy should be easy in such cases, right?  No big surgical repair to worry about.  

However, 6 weeks after the operation, her shoulder pain was not subsiding as it should have.  Inflammation normally resolves in that amount of time and she should have been strong enough to resume normal office work duties consisting of keyboard and filing.

Finding the True Cause of the Pain

We had to take a closer look at her neck.  It turned out that her neck was referring pain to the shoulder!  In one neck treatment, the shoulder pain was abolished!  The patient probably had had a recurrence of her old neck problem, it referred pain to her shoulder, and neither she, her MD, nor the orthopedic surgeon considered the true cause of the pain…

This is a frequent occurrence here at Nick Rinard Physical Therapy, where we use the Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) system of evaluation and treatment.  Robin McKenzie started this method and it is the best method – and most supported by research – at getting to the true cause of pain.

Save time, money, and maybe avoid surgery!

If you or someone you know is having any problems that could be mechanical, a thorough mechanical assessment should be performed.  In as little as one visit the problem might be identified and solved, saving a lot of time, money, and suffering!  Plus, the patient might avoid unnecessary surgery!