Abdominal Trunk Muscle Weakness and its Association with Chronic Low Back Pain and Risk of Falling in Older Women

by Bridget Collier, PT, DPT

Chronic low back pain is extremely prevalent in the United States, especially in the adult population. It has been estimated that 80% of adults have experienced at least one occurrence of low back pain in their lifetime. One of the risk factors for low back pain is weakness of abdominal trunk muscles. In the article, “Abdominal Trunk Muscle Weakness and its Association with Chronic Low Back Pain and Risk of Falling in Older Women,” the authors investigated the association of trunk muscle strength with the presence of chronic low back pain in older women.

Trunk muscle strength was tested using an exercise device developed by the authors of the above study that was previously deemed reliable. The device measures general abdominal trunk strength of the diaphragm, abdominal rectus, internal oblique, external oblique, transverse abdominal, and levator ani muscles in combination. The article found that the women who were experiencing chronic low back pain had significantly weaker trunk muscles compared to those with no chronic low back pain. Chronic low back pain was defined as having low back pain of a defined pain intensity (equivalent to ~2/10 pain) for more than 3 months.

The same study then investigated whether women with lower trunk muscle strength were at a higher risk of falling. It was found that abdominal trunk muscle strength was significantly lower in the women who had experienced a fall in the past 12 months, regardless of if back pain was present.

For more information regarding this topic or the research presented, please see the article referenced below. If you’re experiencing low back pain or have experienced a recent fall, the physical therapists here at Physical Therapy First will examine you and develop an individualized rehabilitation plan to help improve your symptoms. Abdominal trunk strength can help to improve spinal stability and will likely be incorporated into your unique program. Give us a call or visit the website to schedule an appointment!


Kato S, Murakami H, Demura S, Yoshioka K, Shinmura K, Yokogawa N, Igarashi T, Yonezawa N, Shimizu T, Tsuchiya H. Abdominal trunk muscle weakness and its association with chronic low back pain and risk of falling in older women. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2019 Jun 3;20(1):273. doi: 10.1186/s12891-019-2655-4. PMID: 31159812; PMCID: PMC6547466.

Exercises to Help Improve Weight Acceptance and Standing Tolerance on the Lower Extremity Following Injury or Surgical Procedure

by Tyler Tice  PT, DPT, ATC

Following an injury or surgical procedure to the hip, knee, or ankle it is often painful and difficult to put weight through the affected leg. Often times, we avoid putting weight through the affected leg due to a large amount of pain and use an assistive device such as a walker or cane to help us offload our weight using our arms. Using an assistive device and limiting weight through the affected leg is beneficial early on, especially for those with weightbearing restrictions, to help promote proper healing. However, when ready and able to, it is good to start practicing putting more weight through the affected limb as early as possible to help your body get used to these stresses. When doing this, please consider your pain and swelling levels as both serve as a great guide to determine the amount one should perform. Also, please take into account your safety and consider practicing weight acceptance exercises with an assistive device or something sturdy nearby to hold onto.

Here is a progression of some common, simple exercises to help improve weight acceptance and standing tolerance for an affected lower extremity. These are great exercises one can perform at home as part of their home exercise program, however discuss proper technique and dosage with your physical therapist before performing independently.

In each picture, my RIGHT leg is the affected side and I am using a cane with my LEFT hand or holding on to a sturdy chair to help offload and balance.

Lateral Weight Shifts: Start standing with equal weight distribution and shift body weight onto affected leg.


Forward Weight Shifts: Start standing with most body weight on non-affected leg with affected leg in front, shift body weight onto affected leg.
Lateral Weight Shifts onto Single Leg Stance with Holding On: Shift body weight onto affected side with picking up foot of non-affected leg off the ground while holding on with hands for support.
Forward Weight Shifts onto Single Leg Stance with Holding On: Shift body weight onto affected side with picking up foot of non-affected leg off the ground while holding on with hands for support


Lateral Weight Shifts onto Single Leg Stance without Holding On: Shift body weight onto affected side with picking up foot of non-affected leg off the ground and do not hold on to accept 100% of body weight.


Forward Weight Shifts onto Single Leg Stance without Holding On: Shift body weight onto affected side with picking up foot of non-affected leg off the ground and do not hold on to accept 100% of body weight.


Single Leg Stance with Opposite Lower Extremity Movements: Great exercise to work on standing tolerance and hip stability. Feel free to perform with or without holding onto a sturdy object depending on the recommendation from your PT.


3 way hip – while standing on the affected limb, move your other leg out in front of you, out to the side, and behind you.



Circles – while standing on the affected limb, move your other leg in small circles in a clockwise and counterclockwise directions.

These exercises above are some of the more common ones I like to prescribe to patients, however there are multiple other variations to challenge our bodies in different ways. Weight acceptance exercises are only one part of a comprehensive physical therapy routine that may benefit you following injury or surgery to a lower extremity. The physical therapists at Physical Therapy First assess each patient on an individual level and determine PT interventions specific to each person’s needs. We spend 1 on 1 time with our patients for a full hour for every PT session.

Is Dry Needling Effective for Pain Relief and Improving Muscle Function?

by Joseph Holmes, PT, DPT, OCS, CDN, FNCP


Trigger point dry needling (TDN) has become an increasingly common way to address the pain and dysfunction that comes from muscle pain. Myofascial trigger points are excessively irritable points in skeletal muscle that are associated with a painful knot in a taut band (2). Myofascial trigger points (MTrPs) are a common source of musculoskeletal pain in people. MTrPs can be found in a variety of conditions. MTrPs are associated with muscle spasms, increased sensitivity, stiffness, muscle weakness, decreased range of motion, fatigue, and autonomic dysfunction (2,3). Trigger points can be defined as being active or latent and either can produce local or referred pain, hyperalgesia, and allodynia (4). Hyperalgesia and allodynia are defined as a high sensitivity and pain to the touch.


The aim of TDN on a MTrPs is to provoke a mechanical tissue stimulation in order to eliminate the MtrP and return the muscle to its normal function (4). Multiple studies have shown that trigger point dry needling immediately increases pain pressure threshold, range of motion, and decreases pain in patients with musculoskeletal disorders (6). The purpose of this systematic analysis (1) is to determine the short-term (0-72 hour), medium-term (1-12 week), and long-term (13-24 week) effectiveness of TDN on MTrPs. 42 studies were included in this meta-analysis after an original review of 102 potential studies that could have been included. The studies included all had to include measurements for pain. The studies were then broken down in to 3 subgroups: TDN versus placebo, TDN versus other therapies, and TDN plus other therapies versus other therapies.


16 of the 42 studies assessed were on neck pain and headaches, 5 on shoulder pain, 5 on knee pain, 3 on lumbar spine pain, 4 on ankle pain, 2 on hip pain, 1 on fibromyalgia, and all others on various musculoskeletal pains.

  • Immediately post DN to 72 hours after treatment: low quality evidence, large effect
  • 1 to 3 weeks post DN: moderate quality evidence, moderate effect
  • 4 to 12 weeks post DN: low quality evidence, large effect
  • 13 to 24 weeks post DN: low quality evidence, large effect


The results of this analysis show that trigger point dry needling produced better results than having no treatment, placebo treatment, sham dry needling, and produces better results than TENS, compression, conventional rehabilitation, massage, stretching, and friction massage. For the time period of immediate to 72 hours post treatment of the application of dry needling, there was a direct correlation between number of sessions of dry needling and trigger points affected creating an increased positive outcome. The best thought at this time as to why dry needling leads to a reduction in pain and improved function is due to an increase in blood flow to the area where the needling was performed, decreased presence of substance P-the bodies pain alerting peptide, and the overloading of the muscle that occurs when the needling creates a muscle twitch, which ultimately improves muscle activation and function similar to that of an intense workout (7,8). At this time the best recommendation for dry needling is 1 session per week to be effective (1).

For the time period of 4-12 weeks post needling, dry needling was again found to be more effective than most or all other therapies performed individually (1). And no specifics are provided for this time frame as to the appropriate number of sessions to be most beneficial, so further evidence is needed. For the time period of 13-24 weeks post TDN, the evidence at this time is extremely limited, so further research must be completed. It was however determined that the sooner a trigger point is treated upon its onset, the longer lasting the results (acute responds faster and longer than chronic) (1).

In summary, low to moderate quality evidence at this time shows a moderate to large effect of trigger point dry needling in reducing overall pain levels and improving muscle function. Further studies of higher quality are needed, but at this time trigger point dry needling is an effective treatment that comes at very little cost in regards to both time and money, and demonstrates nominal negative effects.

TDN is now legal in 36 states to be performed by PTs, the law is silent on PTs performing TDN in 8 states, and is prohibited in 6 states (9). The following infographic best displays the legality by state. TDN is legal to be performed by PTs in the State of Maryland, and Maryland requires the strictest dry needling education and competency requirements of any state in the US (10).
dry needling map

              Image courtesy of the American Physical Therapy Association (9)

Physical Therapy First

The clinical team at Physical Therapy First has more physical therapists certified in trigger point dry needling than anyone else in the Greater Baltimore region. Our team of board certified orthopedic clinical specialists provides you with a one-on-one appointment for one hour with a doctor of physical therapy, at any of our 4 greater Baltimore locations.


This article is a summary from reference #1, cited below.

1. Sánchez-Infante J, Navarro-Santana MJ, Bravo-Sánchez A, Jiménez-Diaz F, Abián-Vicén F. Is Dry Needling Applied by Physical Therapists Effective for Pain in Musculoskeletal Conditions? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PTJ: Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal | Physical Therapy, 2021;101:1–15.

2. Donnelly JM, Fernándezd el as Peñas C, Finnegan M, Freeman JL. Travell, Simons & Simons’ Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA, USA: Wolters Kluwer; 2018.

3. Kamanli A, Kaya A, Ardicoglu O, et al. Comparison of lidocaine injection, botulinum toxin injection, and dry needling to trigger points in myofascial pain syndrome. Rheumatol Int. 2005;25:604–611.

4. Hall ML, Mackie AC, Ribeiro DC. Effects of dry needling trigger point therapy in the shoulder region on patients with upper extremity pain and dysfunction: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Physiotherapy. 2018;104:167–177.

5. Dommerholt J,Mayoral del Moral O, Gröbli C. Trigger point dry needling. J Man Manip Ther. 2006;14:203–201.

6. Gattie E,Cleland JA, Snodgrass S. The effectiveness of trigger point dry needling for musculoskeletal conditions by physical therapists: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2017;47:133–149.

7. Pecos-Martín D,Montañez-Aguilera FJ,Gallego-Izquierdo T, et al. Effectiveness of dry needling on the lower trapezius in patients with mechanical neck pain: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2015;96:775–781.

8. Ibarra JM, Ge HY,Wang C, et al. Latent myofascial trigger points are associated with an increased antagonistic muscle activity during agonist muscle contraction. J Pain. 2011;12:1282–1288.

9. https://www.apta.org/patient-care/interventions/dry-needling/laws-by-state

10. https://health1.maryland.gov/bphte/Pages/dryneedling.aspx

Total Hip Replacement – The Benefits of Fast Track Recovery

by Tyler Tice, PT, DPT, MS, ATC

Article Review:

The First 6 Weeks of Recovery After Primary Total Hip Arthroplasty With Fast Track; a diary study of 94 patients


Fast track protocols have been introduced to help speed up the recovery after total hip arthroplasties (THA), or hip replacements. A faster recovery means less time spent in the hospital and a quicker return to function for the individual. Fast track protocols have shown to reduce the length of stay in hospitals while still being safe as they did not show to cause any increase in complications, re-admission rates, or re-operations. Most studies have researched fast track within the hospital setting, however this study looked more into patient’s recovery for the first 6 weeks after discharge from the hospital in an outpatient or inpatient rehab setting.


This study looked at 100 individuals who underwent a primary THA using an anterior supine intermuscular (ASI) approach (refer to article for complete inclusion and exclusion criteria). The fast track protocol was used for all patients. Here is a summary of what the fast track protocol entails:

Discharge criteria from hospital included: walk 30 meters with crutches/ rollator, climb stairs, dress independently, toilet independently, pain below 3/10 at rest, and proper healing of wound.

Outcome measures: Five questionnaires were used that each patient filled out themselves. The questionnaires were a measurement of function and pain.


94 patients were accepted for final analysis with 42 operated in outpatient and 52 operated in inpatient settings.

Pain and use of pain medications gradually decreased over first 6 weeks

Function and quality of life gradually improved based on questionnaires. 91% of all patients reported better functioning and less pain than pre-operatively.


Using the fast track protocol, patients had an overall decrease in hip pain and had greater functional capabilities within their first 6 weeks after hospital discharge. Most patients were pleased they were able to leave the hospital early and perform their rehab at home. Unfortunately, the demographics of patients between the inpatient rehab groups and outpatient rehab groups were different, therefore these groups are unable to be compared. Another major limitation of this study is that all outcome measures are based on patient reported questionnaires. There were no objective physical exam function measurements used.

Take Home Message:

From this study, it suggests a fast track protocol following hip replacement surgery is beneficial not only for the first couple days following surgery, but also safe and effective for the next 6 weeks. Despite some limitations of this study, the research still suggests less pain and improved functional outcomes when undergoing early mobility following a hip replacement. This is consistent with what I see clinically and I have worked with multiple patients have excellent results with even same day discharge following hip replacements. A common complaint patients have when undergoing hip replacement is hesitation and extra caution to get up and move around. This is totally understandable and I respect people feeling this way. Even though it is smart and necessary to be cautious, I hope this article can re-assure people how beneficial it is to get up and walk around early on and within each person’s tolerance levels. If you are planning on undergoing a hip replacement, the physical therapists here at Physical Therapy First can provide you complete 1 on 1 care to help get you back moving around safely and with confidence!

Article Reference:

Lisette C M Klapwijk, Nina M C Mathijssen, Jeroen C Van Egmond, Bianca M Verbeek & Stephan B W Vehmeijer (2017) The first 6 weeks of recovery after primary total hip arthroplasty with fast track, Acta Orthopaedica, 88:2, 140-144, DOI: 10.1080/17453674.2016.1274865

Neck Pain and Headaches – How can PT help?

by Margaret Blount, SPT

Introduction to Neck Pain and Cervicogenic Headache

Neck pain is a complex and multifaceted issue. A collection of leading physical therapists gathered in 2017 to better define the diagnostic criteria and best treatments for neck pain, published in 2017 as a Clinical Practice Guideline for Neck Pain: Revision 2017. This article will summarize the suggestions of the CPG¹, which defined 4 types of neck pain:

  • with mobility deficits
  • with movement coordination impairments (including whiplash-associated disorder)
  • with radiating pain (radicular)
  • with headaches (cervicogenic headaches).

This review will focus on the definition, diagnosis, and treatment recommendations of neck pain with headache, or cervicogenic headache. Cervicogenic headaches commonly include symptoms of non-continuous, one-sided neck pain with associated headache. Also, the headache is preceded or aggravated by neck movement or sustained postures. Further, symptoms can be defined by time since onset with classifications of acute, sub-acute, or chronic. Knowing when the injury happened and how irritable the tissues are can help the PT determine which treatment strategies are appropriate.

Physical Therapy Evaluation of Cervicogenic Headache

To evaluate if you have cervicogenic headache, a physical therapist will look at various issues relating to your head and neck movement and strength, and possibly some special tests. First, you may fill out a few questionnaires that investigate your pain levels, your ability to function, and/or your thoughts about pain (NDI, TSK/PCS, DHI). Next a therapist will take your medical history, so come prepared to describe the onset, quality, distribution, and intensity of your neck pain and headaches. Then, a PT will take a variety of measures of your neck and head movement, both with you actively and then the PT passively moving your head and neck. The PT may also apply pressure through the muscles and vertebrae in your neck to gauge the degree of muscular tension and quality of motion available at the joints in the neck. One special test the PT may perform is called the Cervical Flexion-Rotation Test which is used to determine the patient’s pain free ROM, with cut off scores of less than 32 degrees or a 10 degree reduction to either side². They will also measure the strength and endurance of various muscles in the neck, upper back, and arms.

According to the CPG¹, cervicogenic headache will present with a cluster of similar findings from these examinations.

  • Cervical Flexion test positive for decreased pain free range of motion.
  • Decrease in overall active range of motion of the neck.
  • Headache reproduced with palpation of the bony segments of the upper cervical spine.
  • Limited mobility of the cervical vertebral segments, meaning that there will be decreased motion between the segments compared to what is normally expected.
  • Deficits in the strength, endurance, and coordination of the neck muscles.

Treatment of Cervicogenic Headache

With the findings of the evaluation and the time frame of the injury in mind, the PT can begin treatment. The 2017 CPG outlines various exercises that are confirmed by high level evidence to be effective for neck pain with headache, depending on the chronicity of the injury¹. For acute cervicogenic headache, they recommend the C1-C2 self-SNAG, which stands for self-sustained natural apophyseal glide, and supervised instruction in active mobility exercises. For subacute patients, the CPG recommends more active exercises as the irritability of the local tissues has decreased. These activities should include cervical manipulation and mobilizations (in the absence of any contraindications) and can also be followed by a self-SNAG exercise. For patients with chronic neck pain with headache, PTs can provide cervical or cervicothoracic manipulations based on clinical judgement. These manipulations should be performed in conjunction with shoulder girdle and neck strengthening, stretching, and endurance exercises.

How Physical Therapy First Can Help You

The Physical Therapists at Physical Therapy First are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of cervicogenic headaches as proposed by the CPG. They can help to put together the puzzle pieces of your symptoms and create a plan for your treatment. Here at PT First you receive an hour one on one with a physical therapist to address your specific needs. We at PT First look forward to working together with you to decrease your pain and increase your quality of life.


  1. Blanpied P R et al. 2017. Neck Pain Revision 2017. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 47(7):A1-A83. doi:10.2519/jospt.2017.0302

Rubio-Ochoa J, Benítez-Martínez J, Lluch E, Santacruz-Zaragozá S, Gómez-Contreras P, Cook CE. Physical examination tests for screening and diagnosis of cervicogenic headache: A systematic review. Man Ther. 2016;21:35-40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.math.2015.09.008