Patient engagement is at the core of a patient-centered approach to spine care. Spine professionals engage with their patients with different tools. We all use language but to enhance it, very often a physical model can support the words chosen to educate.

In the past, models have been static, so it made it very difficult to connect patient’s back and neck pain to the specific movements that cause the pain. At Dynamic Disc Designs, we have developed models to help the practitioner engage in a mechanical way through a better rendering of a motion segment. We have created a dynamic disc with the ability of the models to bulge or herniate. We have integrated a dynamic nucleus pulposus and a stiffer annulus fibrosus as well as added features of the ligamentum flavum to show how the facets are inter-related to one another.

Explore how a dynamic model can enhance the language one uses in a clinical setting of a musculoskeletal practice.

 

patient educational tools

Recent studies12 on the effects of patient education in reducing stress and promoting long-term positive patient outcomes indicate that providing literature and visual aids that clearly describe or demonstrate the patient’s condition can help relieve anxiety and encourage a positive psychological state that fosters better health outcomes. Examples of patient educational tools include illustrated pamphlets, photographs, radiograph images, charts, and finely detailed dynamic design models to provide an overall contextual effect in framing treatment and health expectations.

Reframe Treatment Expectations by Providing Context

Clinicians, chiropractors, and physical therapists who are prepared with effective aids to answer their patients’ questions about disc herniation, bulging discs, disc degeneration, annular fissure, osteoarthritis, stability, hypermobility, nerve pain, sheer instability, neutral loading, recumbency, facet or disc pain, disc height changes with static loads, diurnal changes, and other spinal conditions can look forward to a better patient-practitioner experience, more patient cooperation,  and a better long-term treatment outcome for their patients than those who rely on simple diagnosis and treatment procedures without effective patient education.

Empower Patients with Biopsychosocial Approach

By providing patients with a better understanding of their condition through the use of dynamic models or other visual devices, practitioners improve patient-clinician treatment collaboration and empower patients to take a more active role in their own healing agenda. This biopsychosocial approach to treatment has been shown in studies to generate more positive, long-lasting treatment outcomes and improve relationships between patients and practitioners, fostering trust, communication, and respect.

When practitioners take the time to help patients understand their condition, the patient feels more supported and engaged in the healing process and report being generally happier with their treatment plan. Using a person-centered approach to healing, the practitioner is concerned not only with a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, but is also concerned about the patient’s perception of his diagnosis and treatment experience. This perception, according to studies, is more positive and empowering when the practitioner takes the time to fully address the patient’s concerns and questions and uses visual aids, images, charts, literature, dynamic designs, and other tools to demonstrate what the patient is experiencing and how the treatment will work.

Keywords: dynamic models and other tools in patient education, use of dynamic models or other visual devices, finely detailed dynamic design models, patient educational tools, biopsychosocial approach to treatment, disc herniation, bulging discs, disc degeneration, annular fissure, osteoarthritis, stability, hypermobility, nerve pain, sheer instability, neutral loading, recumbency, facet or disc pain, disc height changes with static loads, diurnal changes

A cross-sectional study 1of the multifidus muscles (MM) and erector spinae muscles of 68 women and 42 men found significantly higher levels of muscles in subjects without disc herniation than in the disc herniation group, indicating that chronic pressure on the root of the spinal nerve may cause degeneration and atrophy of the MM and erector spinae muscles groups.

 

Single-Level Disc Herniation

Model of Single-Level Disc Herniation.

 

The Study

110 LBP patients with an average age of 40 were analyzed and divided into two groups—those with single-level disc degeneration, and those without disc degeneration. Subjects with multilevel degeneration were excluded, as were those with deformities of the spine or a history of spinal surgeries. Both groups were radiographed via MRI at the lumbar levels, and the imaging results were compared to examine the paravertebral muscles, disc heights, and perpendicular distances between the laminae and MM. Statistical analysis using software compared the variables using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test to investigate data distribution.

Results

The LBP patients without lumbar disc herniation had clinically-significant greater MM and erector spinae muscles than those with radiographically-confirmed disc degeneration. No significant differences existed, however, in the disc heights, perpendicular distances between the MM and the laminae, or the psoas major cross-sectional areas of the two study groups.

Discussion

The MM stabilizes the lumbar spine and, when negatively impacted, contributes to LBP. The muscle group create more force over a smaller range than the longer spine muscle groups, which helps to stabilize movement. The dorsal rami of the spinal nerves stimulates the MM and erector spinae, but the psoas major is stimulated by ventral rami lumbar spinal branches, prior to their joining the lumbar plexus. The medial paraspinal muscles are stimulated from one nerve root, but the iliocostalis and longissimus muscles receives stimulation from many roots. Indications of muscle degeneration include decreased muscle size and increased fat deposits in the area.

Because the MM and erector spinae are stimulated by the dorsal root stemming from a singular level, the chronic and long-lasting pressure on the root due to disc herniation contributes to the degeneration and atrophy of these muscles. This atrophy is not evident in the psoas muscle because it is stimulated by the nerves of many different levels, rather than a singular source. In order for muscle atrophy to occur, there must be at least six weeks of compression, according to this study’s authors.

Conclusion

Evidence of increased fatty deposits and decreased muscle in a cross-sectional lumbar image indicates the existence of muscle degeneration in LBP patients, assuming there has been at least six weeks of compression on the MM or erector spinae muscle groups, which are stimulated by a single nerve root.

 

KEYWORDS: Muscle Degeneration in LBP Patients with Single-Level Disc Herniation, single-level disc degeneration, paravertebral muscles, disc heights, and perpendicular distances between the laminae and MM, pressure on the root due to disc herniation contributes to the degeneration and atrophy of these muscles

  1. Volumetric Muscle Measurements Indicate Significant Muscle Degeneration in Single-Level Disc Herniation Patients
lower back pain

A data review of how education of patients suffering from lower back pain (LBP) in a primary care setting affects their psychological state found moderate-to-high evidence that when primary care physicians provided information on the condition, their patients were reassured and experienced long-term healthy and psychological benefits.

patient education

Although it has been long-established that reassurance from a medical practitioner improves patient outcomes, it is also true that reassuring non-specific illness patients without educating them about their condition can contribute to stress, which can precipitate chronic pain and expensive, recurring health care costs.

Because LBP patients are often discouraged from receiving costly diagnostic imaging tests, they may not experience the reassurance that comes from understanding the source of their pain. Though only 25 percent of physicians in the UK currently order imaging as a matter of course, the number is increasing as the benefits of patient reassurance become more evident.

Another means of patient reassurance involves preplanned educational materials that explain the condition in understandable language. Booklets, diagrams, and dynamic devices that clearly demonstrate the health problem and how it can be treated may have beneficial health and psychological effects on LBP in a clinical setting, but there have been few studies to validate the effectiveness of these intervention methods. The purpose of this systematic review was to examine how patient education would increase reassurance in LBP patients and to determine which method of intervention was most effective.

Methods

A literature review of identified, eligible studies was conducted in November of 2013 and repeated in June of 2014. The studies reviewed involved LBP patient education, advice, reassurance, information, counselling, and consultation in clinical trial settings. Eligibility included LBP adult patients with acute or subacute conditions in clinical trials where more than 70 percent of the patients reported symptoms and where the interventions were conducted in a primary care setting, with at least one patient education element, either written or verbal, that provided reassurance.

Results

The data analysis of the review suggested, with moderate-to-high quality evidence, that patients with LBP are reassured when they receive education about their condition from their primary care provider and that the positive effects of the intervention are still evident at a one-year follow-up consultation. The evidence also showed that receiving education about their LBP during their initial primary care visit reduced the amount of LBP health-care visits over a one-year period. A sub-group review also determined that patients were more reassured when they received education about their condition directly from their physician, rather than from a nurse of a physiotherapist.

Discussion

The results of this review indicate that physicians who can provide their LBP patients with structured, understandable educational materials about their condition are more successful in reassuring their patients, who continue to have lasting health and psychological benefits for up to a year after their initial consultation. Because patients with LBP typically endure numerous costly treatments and may suffer from chronic pain and stress, it would be beneficial for primary care physicians to prepare educational materials that could lead to a more successful treatment outcome and reduced financial burden for their patients.

spine models, patient education, anatomy models

Dynamic spine models – Patient Education for Spine

KEYWORDS: educating lower back pain patients, patients suffering from lower back pain, patient reassurance, patient education, diagnostic imaging tests, psychological effects of LBP

Physician-Patient Communication

A qualitative phenomenological study of 15 musculoskeletal patients and their physiotherapists found that patients were better able to express their concerns and outcome expectations when their practitioners utilized a patient-centric, communicative approach during their initial healthcare consultation. When practitioners were well-versed in contemporary pain and pathology theories, they were better able to anticipate and elicit feedback about their patients’ concerns, leading to a more positive dialogue and better patient satisfaction. Practitioners who have developed systems and approaches to encourage proactive communication from their patients about their health concerns were more likely to have positive patient outcomes than those who relied only upon their prior medical expertise in diagnosing and treating their patients.

Purpose of the Study

Recent healthcare approaches have trended away from the strictly traditional biomedical paradigm to include the biopsychosocial approach to patient consultation and treatment. The newer model recognizes the importance of communication in empowering patients to take an active role in their own treatment and encourages them to consider and express their own health agendas, allowing their clinicians to more fully understand and attend to their specific healthcare needs. To develop a true partnership with their patients, healthcare practitioners must be willing to abandon the “doctor knows best” attitude and develop better communication skills that will allow for a patient-clinician treatment collaboration. This study proposed to investigate the relationship between a clinician’s communication technique and skills and how well the patient was able to express healthcare concerns during an initial consultation.

Methods

15 musculoskeletal patients and their physiotherapists were interviewed after an initial consultation encounter of between 15 and 20 minutes, which was recorded and later analyzed, utilizing predetermined topic guides, including: presenting problems and symptoms; understanding diagnosis theories, how the patients reacted to referrals, the behavior of the clinician during the consultation, desirable and undesirable treatment activities, fears, concerns, and emotional or social issues related to the patient’s treatment or diagnosis.

Findings

Each of the patients involved in the study presented with a range of two to five topics they wanted to discuss with their clinician. The data determined three main themes when it came to important topics of patient-clinician communication during consultations:

Clarity of the patient’s agenda

The first theme identified was how clear or unstructured a patient’s agenda was during their consultation. Some patients had very clear health agendas and were able to communicate their expectations and needs effectively to their clinician. Others were more passive and had more difficulty in communicating their expectations. These patients would have likely benefitted from a practitioner who was better able to create an atmosphere of trust and confidence, which would encourage the patient to discuss their needs.

The need for information and understanding

Patients who had more information about and better understood their health concerns were better at identifying and expressing their expectations and needs during their consultation. The subjects reported being more satisfied with and reassured by their consultation when their clinician took the time to explain and discuss the healthcare issue with them, rather than simply offering a diagnosis and treatment plan. When the clinicians offered evidence-based information regarding their diagnosis and reassurance that their health problem was not due to a serious underlying condition or likely to create too much disruption in their lives, they felt more satisfied with their experience. They were also happier about their consultation when their clinician was able to illicit further information regarding their symptoms and concerns, especially when the patients had neglected to mention these concerns, either through forgetfulness or reluctance to communicate their fears.

Developing Collaboration

Patients in the study reported feeling more supported and engaged when their healthcare provider used a person-centered approach during the interview at their initial consultation. They were better able to trust and have confidence in providers that projected a sense of partnership and were concerned with the social, emotional and physical condition of their patients, rather than treating their dysfunction as a stand-alone concern.

The results of this study emphasize the need for clinicians to create an atmosphere of trust, collaboration, and communication in their patient consultations, rather than relying exclusively on their medical expertise during diagnosis and treatment. By encouraging their patients to more effectively communicate their healthcare concerns, and by creating an atmosphere of collaboration between themselves and their patients, healthcare providers can empower and reassure their patients, which may improve diagnosis, treatment, and healthcare outcomes.

 

KEYWORDS: Importance of Physician-to-Patient Communication, patient-centric, communicative approach, clinician’s communication technique and skills, desirable and undesirable treatment activities, fears, concerns, emotional or social issues related to the patient’s treatment or diagnosis

intervertebral disc degeneration, model

Mechanobiology Research

Low back pain is a huge burden on our limited resources with limited knowledge of its pathophysiology. It is widely known that intervertebral disc degeneration (IDD) is intimately related, with the degree of degeneration associated with the severity of low back pain. The characteristics of intervertebral disc degeneration include disc height loss, proteoglycan loss, loss of water, annular fissures, and end plate calcification.

The degenerative process of the intervertebral disc has been seen as a phenotype change within the cells. This anabolic to catabolic shift seems to occur to the cells deep within the disc. One branch of research that studies the influence of mechanical forces on the biology is called Mechanobiology. In other words, can physical stressors on discs influence the process of degeneration? Can moving the disc is a certain way change the outcome of degeneration?



The Study

In this open access study, researchers were the first to investigate this kind of cyclical mechanical tension on the nucleus pulposus cell’s changing behaviour.  They extracted disc cells from caudal spines of (3-month-old) male Sprague-Dawley rats and conducted the mechanical testing using a device after the cells were cultured and prepared. They used this device to apply mechanical force on the cells of the nucleus pulposus (the centre of the disc) to see how the cells behaved under specific loading conditions.

Disc cell senescence involves telomere shortening,  free radical stress, DNA breakdown and cytokine proliferation. Mechanical loading conditions in the upright posture have been found to promote disc cell changes towards intervertebral disc degeneration in rats.  Studying the role of mechanical stress and the influence on disc health will benefit our understanding of disc pathogenesis. 

The results of this study showed a direct relationship of prolonged mechanical cyclic stress towards the catabolic shift of the cells in the nucleus pulposus. They concluded that unphysiological mechanical stress could push a disc into the degenerative cascade. They believe that eventually, too much mechanical stress can influence a cell’s behaviour and suggested that research continue searching the optimal mechanical environment for intervertebral disc cells.

At Dynamic Disc Designs, we work to bring dynamic models to the practitioner to help in the discussions related to motion and the spine.

 



Lumbar Foramen

 An in vivo study of cross-sectional lumbar foramen dimensions during a weight-lifting activity showed that all levels of the lumbar intervertebral foramen (LIVF) area decreased, except for the L5-S1 segment during lumbar extension, which had consistent measurements of the foramen, height, and width throughout the activity. The results of the study could provide insight into ways to improve the diagnosis or treatment of lumbar foramen stenosis.

Purpose of the Study

Radiculopathy caused by nerve root compression is a common symptom of LIVF stenosis and is often treated surgically, through the implantation of an interspinous device or decompression. Because the LIVF is surrounded by mobile facet joints, its shape undergoes changes during typical daily movement. As it changes shape, it may put pressure on nerve roots or other structures that may cause pain. Complications arising from the changing dynamic anatomy of the LIVF during activity can lead to failed back surgery syndrome, so understanding how movement and weight-bearing affects the LIVF is important to effective treatment and maintenance of back pain.

The Study

An MRI study of 10 healthy subjects (five male, five female) in supine, relaxed positions was conducted, and 3D spine models were constructed based upon the results of the scans. The lumbar spines of the subjects were then imaged during lumbar extension postures of 45 degrees to a maximally-extended position, while the subjects were holding an 8-pound dumbbell in both hands. These scans were also used to create 3D vertebral models of the in-vivo dimensions during activity, and a data analytic design was created to determine the area, height, and width of the L2-S1 vertebral levels during the activity for 45-degree flexion, upright position, and maximal extension.

Results

Researchers found that the LIVF area in L2-L3, L3-L4, and L4-L5 decreased during weight-lifting activity. The LIVF widths also showed a similar decrease, but the heights remained throughout the extension activity. However, the foramen area, height, and width at L5-S1 did not change during the weight-lifting. Overall, the data for all other areas demonstrated a change of approximately 10 percent from 45 degrees flexion to an upright standing posture, and again from upright standing to maximal extension. This information underscores how patients with LIVF stenosis may experience nerve root impingement pain during extension postures and feel relief from that pain during flexion. Understanding the in vivo dynamics of the functioning lumbar spine may help practitioners in the treatment and diagnosis of lumbar foramen stenosis.

 

lumbar spinal stenosis, spinal canal narrowing

A superior view of our Lumbar spinal stenosis model with a dynamic disc bulge and dynamic ligamentum flavum.

KEYWORDS: Lumbar Foramen Dimensions During Activity, in vivo study of cross-sectional lumbar foramen dimensions during a weight-lifting activity, insight into ways to improve the diagnosis or treatment of lumbar foramen stenosis, Radiculopathy caused by nerve root compression, Complications arising from the changing dynamic anatomy of the LIVF during activity, nerve root impingement pain during extension postures

Post-Treatment Interviews, LBP patients

A phenomonenographic study of post-treatment interviews of lower back pain (LBP) patients’ conceptions regarding their clinical experience revealed common themes that correlated to negative or positive treatment efficacy and suggests practitioner approaches that may empower and create a therapeutic alliance between patients and their health care providers (HCP).

Effective Treatment Involves Holistic Approach

LBP is a worldwide phenomenon that affects adults of all ages. It is a leading cause of lost work and wages and may require long-term treatment with a variety of practitioners. Managing LBP can be challenging, especially when one’s HCP limits treatment or discourse to strictly biomedical or physiological causations. To more effectively address patients’ needs, a holistic, psychosocial approach to understanding LBP and creating effective treatments may be more conducive to patient empowerment and satisfaction with treatment outcomes. The study of post-treatment interviews sought to determine common themes in patients’ conception of their treatment and suggests models that might encourage better, more satisfying care.

Study Design and Data Collection and Analysis

To better understand and describe the full contextual nature of patient experiences with their HCP and treatments, researchers utilized the phenomenographic study design method and created a hierarchical structure of categorized themes derived from the data sets. The study authors were concerned with patients’ conceptions of their practitioner visits, rather than mere opinions. The 17 volunteers (five men and 12 women with a mean age of 46 years) were chosen from LBP patients who were undergoing treatment for episodic or chronic conditions and were categorized as “high risk” on the Keele STarT Back Screening Tool, indicating high levels of psychological risk factors in their daily lives. All of the volunteers agreed to participation in the study and were asked to view videos of their HCP encounters and respond to interview questions regarding their physiotherapy consultation and treatment experience. The experience of viewing and discussing the video prompted many of the subjects to reflect upon their overall healthcare journey. The researchers asked the subjects to talk about who they were and how they ended up in LBP treatment. Further questions queried the patients about the experience of being treated, examined, and the explanations they received from their HCP about their LBP, as well as how aligned they felt with the process of therapy and their HCP.

Categorizing Data

The conceptions of LBP patients were categorized into themes that included: convincing care, lifestyle change, participation, reciprocity, and the ethicality of their encounters. Each of the themes was then broken down into four categories: “non-encounters,” seeking support, empowering cooperation, and autonomic agency.

Invalid “Non-Encounters” Left Patients Frustrated

Patients that described their encounters as “non-encounters” felt that their HCP experience was invalidated by not being listened to or receiving the level of care they had expected during treatment. They complained that their treatment was inconsistent or that the explanations they received during their encounter was inadequate, which left them frustrated, afraid, or filled with anxiety. Some of these patients abandoned therapy altogether and resigned themselves to a life filled with pain. Others opted for more treatments or sought a clearer diagnosis—requesting imaging or surgery to explain or alleviate their symptoms. When their condition was not clearly explained or cured, they felt that treatment was ineffective or that they had been patronized. Those living with long-term pain discussed how their condition had inhibited them in social and work life when they did not get the support they needed. They felt helpless when it came to their own care and were disheartened as they moved from provider to provider seeking out appropriate care. They reported having to wait for long periods of time to receive care and said they felt tired from work and lacked the energy or resources to enjoy leisure activities. They complained that their HCP seemed not to hear them or were dismissive about their own thoughts when it came to their LBP. They were given information that replicated what they already knew or were talked down to with medical jargon that was unhelpful because they did not understand its meaning. They felt their practitioners were disinterested in them and rushed them through an impersonal therapy routine. Some patients felt blamed by their HCP for their pain or received unnecessary treatments that “robbed” them of their time and money, without benefit.

Seeking Support from Care Providers

Patients that sought support in understanding their LBP and treatment options were sometimes frustrated in their efforts to receive a confident examination and interview with a qualified professional who treated them with respect. These patients reported wanting clear explanations of their LBP, delivered in language that was understandable to them. They were most satisfied when their HCP took the time to give a thorough examination and helped them to find reasons for their symptoms. By interviewing patients thoroughly, HCP’s were better able to discern their patients’ life circumstances and give them the type of support needed, including teaching them to recognize and deal with stress in their bodies. Attentive practitioners were best able to be empathetic and supportive to their patients’ needs.

Cooperation and Support Empowered Patients

Patients reported feeling empowered when their HCP gave them the opportunity to take an active part in their own treatment plan. They were best able to do this when the provider gave them understandable explanations about their condition and how treatment techniques and lifestyle changes would benefit their recovery. Having sensible, written treatment plans—rather than merely verbal explanations, which they might forget—made the patients feel more secure and involved in their care. Physiotherapists who were able to demonstrate how the patients’ everyday activities affected their spinal health gave the patients a renewed sense of familiarity with their bodies and helped them to make better choices during normal activities that would reduce strain and injury to their spines. This newfound mind/body connection created a sense of confidence and balance that was beneficial to the patients’ overall well-being and treatment outcome. By learning to associate their LBP with their own physical and psychosocial health, patients gained insight and were likely to make lifestyle changes—including getting adequate rest and relaxation—that benefited them overall. Building a therapeutic, cooperative relationship with their HCP involved reciprocal understanding, good listening skills, and an attitude of respect. When a provider was able to repeat in their own words what their patient had said to them, the patients knew they were truly being heard.

The Development of Autonomic Agency

The group of patients who were best able to transform from patients to active participants in their own care felt the most empowered and reported that their treatment therapy extended beyond office visits and into their lives, work, and homes. Having a clear plan for their future—even when regular physiotherapy was needed—and knowing they could contact their providers with questions or concerns about their health empowered the patients to utilize the instructions and information they had received from their HCP’s and see steady, lasting improvement in their symptoms.

These patients had learned from their care providers about the importance of a family and friend support system and that it was necessary to relax and find a centered calm in life. They learned that strenuous exercise was not necessary to physical well-being and that less taxing types of exercise were sufficient to improve fitness and reduce daily stresses. Overall, they reported better moods due to their lifestyle changes and improved relationships with their loved ones and peers. They accredited many of these changes to the ability of their HCP’s to listen to them and introduce the idea of how psychosocial issues in their lives affected their overall health. They felt confident with their providers because their concerns and goals were discussed and considered when developing a plan of long-term treatment.

Conclusion

Post-treatment interviews in this study indicate the need for HCP’s to develop a patient-centric approach in to therapy that involves listening, cooperation, clear, written instructions, and an overall respect for the patient. When practitioners involve their patients in the process of healing and wellness, and when they see the patient as a whole person whose psychosocial involvements are integral to their physiological health, they are able to inspire confidence and empower their patients to effectively participate in their own acute and long-term LBP management.

 

KEYWORDS: how conceptions about care affect outcomes in LBP patients, empower and create a therapeutic alliance between patients and their health care providers, a holistic, psychosocial approach to understanding LBP, patients’ conceptions of their practitioner visits, understanding their LBP and treatment options, the importance of a family and friend support system