Thursday, January 16, 2020

Nervous About Flexibility

by Jill Jonda, PT
Do you stretch frequently and still seem to feel tight? Are you concerned you can’t touch your toes or can’t get your pecs to loosen up? When this happens, we usually talk about flexibility - the amount of mobility around a joint or multiple joints – but muscle tension isn’t always the cause of the sensation of “tightness:” in fact, neural tissue (tissue which makes up the nervous system) tension can provide a very similar sensation. Let’s take a look at how neurodynamics can affect the body.

According to Dutton, neurodynamics is “the study of the mechanics and physiology of the nervous system.” The nervous system is comprised of the central system (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral system (spinal nerves and cranial nerves). Peripheral nerves, the nerves that trigger parts of the body to work, can get “stuck” and develop dysfunction along their pathways. As these nerves exit the spinal cord and travel to their target tissue, they must be able to adapt to movement in relationship to their surrounding tissue, which would allow for normal neurodynamics.1 If tissue is compromised anywhere along a nerve, such as injury creating adhesions or inflammation, it can produce more stretch on tissue, yielding potential nerve related symptoms (tightness, numbness, tingling, pain, or even muscle spasm).

A diagram of the nervous system. 
It is impossible to move any joint without also moving a nerve
Here are some actions and activities that can result in abnormal neurodynamics:
  • Sustained postures. Holding a position for prolonged periods of time can cause adaptive shortening of connective tissue around nerve. This could include sitting at your desk at work for 6-8hours with rounded shoulders, a forward head, and rounded low back.
  • Direct trauma, such as orthopedic injuries, yielding either primary nerve injury or secondary due to damage of surrounding tissues. For example, if a golfer takes a stroke that hits more of the ground instead of the ball, it might jar the arm and injure muscle around the elbow. The muscle may become inflamed and compress the nerves, which pass through and around the elbow.
  • Extremes in motion, which put excessive traction on the nerve.  An example would be a “stinger,” which places excessive traction on the brachial plexus (a network of nerves which exit the neck).
  • Electrical injury.
  • Compression, such as a disc bulge in the lumbar spine that places compression on nerve as it exits the spine.

In the clinic, we perform different tests and measures to determine whether or not neural tissue is tight or if it’s just muscle tension. Here are 2 tests we use to rule in nerve tension. 

For leg symptoms: Straight Leg Raise
  1. Lying on your back, raise one leg up toward the ceiling.
  2. Pull your toes back and point the opposite direction, pumping your ankle. If this produces tightness in the back of the thigh, it’s a positive test for neural tension, as pulling the toes back puts the nerve on a stretch.
  3. Another way to “sensitize” nerve tissue would be to bend the neck, drawing the chin toward the chest with the leg raised in a neutral position. Pain in the back of the leg produced upon neck flexion would be a positive test for abnormal neurodynamics.

For arm symptoms: Upper Limb Tension Test
  1. Pull your shoulder blades down and back.
  2. Raise one arm out to the side with the elbow bent at a right angle. 
  3. Next, rotate the palm up then begin straightening the elbow, wrist and fingers. The combination of these joint movements places the nerves that exit the spine at the neck on stretch. 
  4. Tilt your head away from the arm being tested to stretch the nerves even more. Tilt the opposite way to put the nerves on “slack.” Slack is placed on the tissue by bending the wrist/fingers. Pain in the arm with neck or wrist motion would indicate the presence of nerve tension.

If you try either of these tests and feel nerve tension after the first few steps, no need to sound alarms quite yet! It’s normal to experience a degree of nerve tension: you’re putting the nerves that pass from your spinal cord down the leg or arm in their most stretched position. This sensation can sometimes be confused with muscle tightness or trigger point tenderness. If you’re experiencing tightness in your limbs and it’s accompanied by other nerve symptoms, specific muscle stretches may not alleviate your discomfort.

If you have nerve symptoms that aren’t going away, consider making an appointment with your physical therapist to help improve your neurodynamics!


1. Dutton, Mark. “Neurodynamic Mobility and Mobilizations: Chapter 11.” Dutton's Orthopedic Examination, Evaluation, and Intervention, edited by Joe Morita and and Brian Kearns 3rd ed., McGraw-Hill, 2012, p. 406.

2. Dutton, Mark. “Improving Range of Motion: Chapter 13.” Dutton's Orthopedic Examination, Evaluation, and Intervention, edited by Joe Morita and and Brian Kearns 3rd ed., McGraw-Hill, 2012, p. 444.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Direct Access = Direct Improvement

by Sally Fansler, PT
Did you know that you can schedule an appointment with a physical therapist...without the need for a referral from your doctor?

As discussed in one of our previous blogs, Illinois is now a direct access state, which allows patients to attend physical therapy without a referral from a doctor. This access allows for greater autonomy for both patients and therapists in our state. Since this legislation is only a little over a year old, however, word travels slowly, and many of our patients are not aware of the choices they have when seeking medical care.  

Prior to this advancement in 2018, restrictions on direct access proved to delay the healing process for patients and increase medical expenses by requiring a separate consultation and often additional testing. Patients would often be delayed weeks in beginning their treatment due to the need to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician, and patients who did not have a primary care physician would have to navigate the process of finding someone and becoming a new patient. By making physical therapy more accessible to patients, direct access allows physical therapists to treat patients immediately, leading to more expedient improvement.

Getting an MRI before physical therapy can cost $4,793 more than getting PT first. Physical therapy = cost savings.

Furthermore, multiple research studies have agreed on the benefits of direct access. A study from Georgetown and Johns Hopkins University found that the total paid averaged $2236 for “physician referral” episodes of physical therapy as compared to $1004 for “direct access” episodes of physical therapy. Additionally, the physician referral episodes were 65% longer in duration than the direct access episodes. A similar study from the Journal of Health Services Research analyzed patients with low back pain. Those who saw a physical therapist at the first point of care had an 89% lower probability of having an opioid prescription and a 28% lower probability of having any advanced imaging services. The pattern is clear - lower cost, quicker improvement, and positive outcomes.

Direct access for physical therapy in Illinois has been a long time in the making, and has only been made possible through the expense, time, energy and effort on the part of physical therapists and physical therapy advocates throughout the finally allow consumers (like you!) prompt access to physical therapy services.  We are confident that, with fewer barriers, our patients will choose P.T. first! 

Call to Action:
Spread the word!  

At Lakeshore Physical Therapy, we are honored when our patients exercise their right to direct access care from our experienced physical therapists that are fully invested in their progress.

Denniger T. et al. (2017). The Influence of Patient Choice of First Provider on Costs and Outcomes: Analysis From a Physical Therapy Patient Registry. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 2017, Volume:48 Issue:2 Pages:63-71 doi: 10.2519/jospt.2018.7423

Mitchell J. (1997). A Comparison of Resource Use and Cost in Direct Access Versus Physician Referral Episodes of Physical Therapy. Physical Therapy, Volume 77, Issue 1, 1 January 1997, Pages 10–18,

Frogner B. (2018). Physical Therapy as the First Point of Care to Treat Low Back Pain: An Instrumental Variables Approach to Estimate Impact on Opioid Prescription, Health Care Utilization, and Costs. Health Services Research, 2018 Dec;53(6):4629-4646. doi: 10.1111/1475-6773.12984. Epub 2018 May 23.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Happy National Physical Therapy Month!

As the weather cools in the fall, it’s tempting to be less physically active. October is the perfect time to stay focused on healthy self-care because we’re celebrating National Physical Therapy Month! Find new ways to get your body moving. Whether you’ve felt intimidated by yoga, you’ve always wanted to play tennis, or you’re finally ready to sign up for that 5K race, this month may be the perfect time to push yourself just a little out of your comfort zone. Your physical therapists at Lakeshore Physical Therapy are here to support you!

Choose more movement. Choose better health. Choose physical therapy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Getting Into a Pickle(ball)

by Sally Fansler, PT
Move over, tennis and golf – here comes pickleball! A new favorite pastime among Baby Boomers, this sport combines elements of badminton, tennis and ping-pong. In recent years, it has become popular with older adults because of the smaller court, lower net, and slower ball speed. The rules are fairly straightforward and easy to learn, so pickleball easily becomes a fun social activity. It can be played indoors or out, in singles or doubles.

Over the past decade, however, the pickleball craze is taking hold at all age levels. Teenagers often play it in their physical education classes, and it is showing up as an intramural sport on college campuses. According to the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), the sport has seen a 650% increase in numbers over the past six years. On-site pickleball courts are now being built not only at many retirement communities, but also as part of community park districts. The equipment – wooden paddles and plastic, whiffle-type balls – is also affordable, making it accessible to be enjoyed by a wide range of people.

Here is the pickleball rule overview:
  • The serve must be underhand and below the waist—and it must be made at least one foot behind the baseline, struck diagonally crosscourt.  Only one serve attempt is allowed.
  • Only the team serving the ball is able to score points, which take place when the opposite side fails to return the ball or commits other faults, such as hitting the ball out of bounds. 
  • When the ball is served, the receiving team must let it bounce before returning, and then the serving team must let it bounce before returning, thus two bounces.
  • After the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, both teams may either volley the ball (hit the ball before it bounces) or play it off a bounce (ground stroke).
  • The two-bounce rule eliminates the serve and volley advantage and extends rallies.
  • With doubles, both players on the serving team have the opportunity to serve and score points until they commit a fault
  • Games normally go to 11 points, with the leading team needing to be 2 points ahead to win
Lakeshore Sport & Fitness in Chicago is planning an intro to pickleball class on Sundays in the fall of 2019. Please contact for more information. The Chicago Park District is also growing their program and information on additional places to play can be found here:


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Sciatica: One Pain, Many Causes

by Constance Taras, PT
Anyone who has ever experienced sciatica knows the feeling: a radiating pain or numbness that runs down the buttock, leg and even as far down as the calf and foot. So named because it is felt along the path of the sciatic nerve, sciatica is not a disorder in and of itself but rather a symptom that can be caused by many different pathologies including a herniated disc (Picture A), stenosis, SI dysfunction, piriformis spasm (Picture B), or core instability. Having the source of your pain be diagnosed is very important for proper treatment as not one size fits all!

         Picture A: Herniated disc                   Picture B: Piriformis spasm
The sciatic nerve is comprised of the nerves that come out of the lower lumbar spine (L4-S3 nerve roots), which group together, run through the buttock (most commonly through the piriformis muscle) and down the back of the leg all the way to the foot. Irritation to this nerve usually takes the form of tingling, numbness, or burning, but sciatica sufferers have also reported sharp or burning pain and weakness. 

For nerves to stay happy, they have to have enough of three main elements: movement, blood flow, and space. Addressing these factors help guide our treatment of nerve pain.

  • Increasing Movement: Nerves don’t really stretch, but we can perform glides to slide them along their track and keep them from adhering to surrounding tissues.
  • Increasing Blood Flow: Heat increases blood flow and is typically a good line of treatment for nerve injuries to promote healing. 
  • Increasing Space: We want to ensure there aren’t any structures compressing the nerve such as a bulging disc, a muscle in spasm, or narrowed vertebral foramen (bony space where the nerve exits the spinal column). A variety of manual techniques and self-stretches and exercises may be prescribed to improve the space around the nerve.

In more chronic or extreme cases, irritation or compression of a nerve can cause weakness to the affected muscle as nerves also innervate (or give “electrical power” to) muscles. The muscles most commonly affected by sciatic nerve injury are the hamstrings (which bend the knee), anterior tibialis (which can result in foot drop), calf, and other ankle/foot muscles. Weakness in any of these groups can result in decreased balance, difficulty with stairs and prolonged walking, and feeling like your leg is going to give out on you.

Understanding where your pain is coming from is the first step to recovery – then having it properly treated by a physical therapist is the next best step. At Lakeshore Physical Therapy we treat these type of injuries and pathologies all of the time. We feel confident that we can identify the source of your sciatica and quickly get you pain-free!

Check out our recent Instagram post @lakeshorephysicaltherapy to see videos of some suggested exercises to treat your nerve pain!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Elbow Pain, Could the Shoulder be to Blame?

by Julia Glick, PT
As therapists in a clinic located inside of a large tennis club, we are seldom surprised when a number of our patients each year present with lateral epicondylitis – or, as it is more commonly known, tennis elbow. Lateral epicondylitis pain usually occurs over the outside of the elbow where many of the forearm muscles attach, an area that experiences a lot of strain in tennis. However, even those of us who aren’t on the courts every week should be aware of it: it is also common in people who spend a lot of time at the computer or perform lots of gripping during their day. 

Despite the fact that lateral epicondylitis pain feels like it is centered in the elbow, it is important to look at the whole arm. Many people who come to us for tennis elbow have unsuccessfully tried exercises on their own that focus on the wrist and elbow, and are surprised when we turn our attention to the shoulder. Most specifically, the muscles that control shoulder blade position, such as the lower trapezius and serratus anterior, are crucial when treating the elbow, as the position of the whole arm is determined by the orientation of the shoulder blade. 

In fact, several research articles have come out in the past few years that focus on the role weakened shoulder blade stabilizers plays in lateral epicondylitis. Lucado et al. and Day et al. found that people with lateral epicondylitis had significantly weaker lower trapezius and serratus anterior musculature than people without any lateral elbow pain. In a case study performed by Bhatt et al., the research team only treated a woman’s shoulder blade stabilizers and were able to resolve her lateral epicondylitis. Essentially, these studies agree that the muscles that help pull the shoulder blade back and keep it stable also control the position of the arm and elbow: when it comes to prevention of elbow pain, shoulder blade strength and position matters.

Interested in finding some exercises that target the lower trapezius and serratus anterior to help maintain the shoulder blade in its optimal back position? I’ve included some below:

Easier Lower Trapezius
Lie on stomach and roll up a small towel under forehead and place hands on back of head/neck. Squeeze shoulder blades back and down toward opposite pants pocket and lift up elbows. Hold for 5 seconds and perform 5-10 repetitions.

Harder Lower Trapezius (Y)
Lie on stomach and roll up a small towel under forehead. Lift your arms up so they make a “Y” shape. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down toward opposite pants pocket and lift your arms. Hold for 5 seconds and perform 5-10 repetitions. 

Serratus Anterior Wall Slides
Put your forearms on the wall and push your shoulder blades apart and into the wall. Keep this pressure into the wall and slide your arms up and down. Perform 5-10 repetitions.

Try these exercises and let us know what you think! If you do have pain that is persistent, please stop by to speak with one of our skilled clinicians, who can help you with your injury.

Bhatt, J., Glaser, R., Chavez, A., & Yung, E. (2013). Middle and Lower Trapezius Strengthening for the Management of Lateral Epicondylalgia: A Case Report. Journal Of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy43(11), 841-847. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2013.4659

Day, J., Bush, H., Nitz, A., & Uhl, T. (2015). Scapular Muscle Performance in Individuals With Lateral Epicondylalgia. Journal Of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy45(5), 414-424. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2015.5290

Lucado, A., Kolber, M., Cheng, M., & Echternach, J. (2012). Upper Extremity Strength Characteristics in Female Recreational Tennis Players With and Without Lateral Epicondylalgia. Journal Of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy42(12), 1025-1031. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2012.4095

Friday, May 3, 2019

Growing Good Body Mechanics in the Garden

by Lauren Sweeney, Office Manager
Of all the places I like to spend time in the late spring and early summer, my garden is one of my favorites. Now that we've braved our last gasp of snow in Chicago (fingers crossed!), I'm ready to uncover my raised beds, turn my compost and get my seedlings started. In all the excitement of getting to grow things, though, it can be easy to forget to be good to our best gardening tools: our bodies. We often don't realize how hard we've worked outside until we're struggling to get out of bed the next morning.

At its core, gardening is no different than any other kind of exercise: it requires movement in multiple planes of motion, and can put strain on the knees and the back. As such, a warmup prior to gardening - a quick walk around the block, some stretches - can help prevent soreness later. As you are gardening, think about how your body is feeling: have you been crouching for a while? Doing a repetitive motion? If you find you're getting sore in one position or during one activity, change your body position or take a break. It can be tempting to plant those last five tomatoes and just be done, but switching to shoveling mulch or taking a water break can give your body the change it needs to get the job done.

Two hands in brightly-patterned gloves using a trowel to plant a red and yellow flower in the dirt

As most gardening is done on the ground, knees can suffer. If you will be spending a while in a kneeling position, consider knee pads or a gardening pad to reduce pressure. If kneeling is difficult, a bucket or low chair can allow you to plant from a seated position. Gardening using raised beds can help reduce strain as well, as they do not require the gardener to get quite as low to the ground, and when shoveling or raking, be sure to keep knees soft (rather than locked).

Many gardening tasks also require a lot of our core and our backs, so it is important to be mindful of them. When moving heavy materials, such as stone or bags of mulch or soil, be sure to use proper lifting mechanics (bending from the hips, turning feet to move loads rather than twisting or lifting). If something is too difficult to lift alone, use a wheelbarrow or ask someone for help. Try not to overload shovels or trowels, and use a hose for watering instead of lugging around a watering can, especially for hanging plants.

When you are done for the day, finish up with some light stretching. And don't forget to take breaks for food and water! It is easy to misjudge the amount of work we have been doing when we are engaged in a task like gardening. If you do experience a new pain working outside, don't hesitate to stop in our office - we'd be happy to help you get back to enjoying your garden.