Dizzy? Physical Therapy can help with Dizziness and Unsteadiness!

By Andy Parsons, PT, DPT, Board-Certified Orthopedic Specialist, Vestibular Rehab Certified


When you look up into the cupboard, wash your hair, roll over in bed, or bend to look into a low cupboard does your world spin around you?   Do you feel more unsteady with walking, or do you feel like you're being pushed over? Is it difficult for you to walk down the aisle of the supermarket? Do you feel like you're intoxicated even though you haven't had any alcohol?   If you had any or some of these experiences, then you might be suffering from an inner ear problem. Dizziness often comes from a portion of the inner ear called the vestibular system. Issues in this area of the ear can cause the above symptoms or many other problems.

In fact, 35% of people forty and older have experienced a vestibular problem at some point in their lives.  Luckily, there are good treatment options for folks that are having inner ear dysfunction. The most common type of inner ear dizziness called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) creates a sensation of spinning when moving from sitting to lying, rolling over, or looking up for example. Some people complain of unsteadiness with this condition as well. One out of ten people 75 years and older have this problem. The gold standard treatment for this condition is a series of specific physical positions that reposition loose calcium particles in the inner ear.  Studies report success rates between 75-90% for this type of treatment. Medication is not generally helpful for this condition. This treatment is supported by the American Neurotology Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Physical Therapy Association among others. Physical therapists with additional training often perform these positioning treatments for people with dizziness. This is generally accomplished in between 2-4 sessions.

Alternatively, the inner ear system can lose function from a variety of issues like infections, viruses, or diseases specific to the inner ear. People with these class of conditions may complain of increased unsteadiness, bouncing vision, falls, and slower walking. Vestibular rehabilitation can be very effective for these people to increase balance and stability with walking by training the brain to compensate for the inner ear problem. Guidelines recommend around 6-8 weeks of treatment for this type of vestibular problem.

Dizziness is a complex subject. Not all dizziness comes from the inner ear.  Lightheadedness is the most common issue that is generally not responsive to physical therapy.  Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about whether or not this type of treatment would be appropriate for you.

Andy Parsons is a physical therapist at ProMedica Defiance Total Rehab at ProMedica Defiance Regional Hospital. He is certified in Vestibular Rehabilitation and has nearly 9 years of experience working with “dizzy” patients. You can call 419-783-6943 for more information.


  1. BPPV: Experts Update Best Practices for Diagnosis and Treatment. Am. Academy of Otolaryngolgy- Head and Neck Surgery. https://www.entnet.org/content/bppv-experts-update-best-practices-diagnosis-and-treatment

  2. Vestibular.org

  3. Image source: Pixabay via Kalhh. https://pixabay.com/photos/trees-away-nature-eddy-turn-dizzy-358418/

Temporomandibular Disorder: A Bite Size Intro to Management and Classification

By Andy Parsons, PT, DPT, OCS

Originally published on MedBridgeEdcuation.com


Temporomandibular Disorder is defined by the American Dental Association as any pathology that affects the temporomandibular joint, masticatory muscles, or other closely related structures.1 Local jaw pain, limitations in mastication, clicking/popping when opening the mouth, and mandibular deviations are all signs and symptoms of TMD. TMD prevalence in adults has been reported between 25-52%,and as high as 16% in children and adolescents.3 However, only 5-10% of the symptomatic populations require or seek treatment for TMD.4

Physical therapists are part of the interdisciplinary team that manages and treats TMD. Recently Anne Harrison, PT, Phd adapted the American Academy of Orofacial Pain’s diagnostic classification scheme in the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy to help manage this population.5 Below is a brief overview of this classification system and some basic management ideas for TMD.



  • Pain in preauricular area

  • Pain with end-range movements like jaw opening and lateral excursion

  • Pain with joint compression or biting on a tongue depression opposite to the site of compression

Disc displacement with reduction

  • Clicking with jaw opening and closing during at least 1 of 3 repetitions, or…

  • Clicking during lateral excursion or protrusion during 1 of 3 repetitions

Disc displacement without reduction

  • History of jaw locking or catching, but without current joint clicks or crepitus

  • Range of motion with opening less than 40mm

Capsular adhesions of a single joint

  • Possible limited mouth opening of less than 40mm

  • Limited contralateral lateral excursion, protrusion with the jaw deflecting towards the affected joint


  • Suspect if arthralgia and crepitus are present

Masticatory Muscle Disorder

  • Exhibits pain to palpation of masseter or temporalis

  • Pain with mouth opening or biting

  • May be limited to less than 40mm or less of mouth opening

  • Opening range of motion can be normal as well

Basic Management Principles

Further study by the reader is required to understand and treat this condition. Some basic ideas are useful for any skill level of clinician. Depending on classification, some basic treatment options are available:

  • Behavior modification

    • Teeth should only touch when talking or chewing. A good subjective interview will identify bruxism or habitual grinding during the day. Habitual retraining may be necessary to avoid clenching. A good cue is “teeth apart and breath.”

    • Diet modification (start a soft diet)

  • Stress management

  • Pain education and neuropsychological pain management

  • Joint mobilizations increase Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction (TMJ) motion

  • Sleep hygiene


Exercise should be prescribed to address the impairments noted during evaluation. It’s important to note that most exercise evidence and trials are low quality and at high risk for bias. Higher quality studies need to be performed to increase certainty that exercise is effective for TMD.6

That being said, the most well-known group of TMD exercises are the Rocabado Six.7

  1. Resting tongue position maintained after making “cluck” sound

  2. Scapular retraction

  3. Stabilized neck flexion – grasp hands around back of neck and flex neck

  4. Axial extension of neck – nod head into OA flexion and retract neck

  5. Controlled opening of TMJ – tongue in position one, open jaw slowly with control, palpate in preauricular area with index fingers

  6. Rhythmic stabilization of slightly open jaw

    • Tongue in correct position per first exercise

    • Maintain jaw positions with resistance into opening, closing, right, and left

Individualized TMD Treatment Plans

Dr. Harrison and colleagues have adapted this useful classification scheme for identifying and management TMD. Clinicians should be aware of competing diagnoses, such as primary headache, secondary headache, cranial neuralgias, CNS lesions, and central sensitization, to ensure an informed differential diagnosis. Thus, TMD is a more nuanced diagnosis and treatment than previously described in the literature. Behavior change, manual therapy, exercise, and pain science education are all options for individualized TMD treatment plans.

Image source: Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body. Revised by Warren H. Lewis. 20th Edition. Plate 995.


  1. Griffiths, Robert H. "Report of the president’s conference on the examination, diagnosis, and management of temporomandibular disorders." The Journal of the American Dental Association (1983): 75-77.

  2. de Godoi, Daniela Aparecida, et al. "Symptoms of temporomandibular disorders in the population: an epidemiological study." CEP 14801 (2009): 903.

  3. da Silva, Cristhiani Giane, et al. "Prevalence of clinical signs of intra-articular temporomandibular disorders in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis." The Journal of the American Dental Association1 (2016): 10-18.

  4. Okeson, Jeffrey P. Management of temporomandibular disorders and occlusion. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2014.

  5. Harrison, Anne L., Jacob N. Thorp, and Pamela D. Ritzline. "A proposed diagnostic classification of patients with temporomandibular disorders: implications for physical therapists." journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy3 (2014): 182-197.

  6. Armijo-Olivo, Susan, et al. "Effectiveness of manual therapy and therapeutic exercise for temporomandibular disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis." Physical therapy1 (2016): 9.

  7. Mulet, Mariona, et al. "A randomized clinical trial assessing the efficacy of adding 6 x 6 exercises to self-care for the treatment of masticatory myofascial pain." Journal of orofacial pain4 (2007): 318.

Is Surgery Necessary for an ACL Tear? New Findings in ACL Management


By Andy Parsons, PT, DPT, OCS

In 2016, A cochrane systematic review compared conservative management after ACL tear to ACL reconstruction (ACLR).1 The review concluded that ACLR did not show superior outcomes compared to conservative management up to five years after the initial injury.1,2 Prior practice standards indicated ACLR based on age and activity level; younger patients generally had ACLR, and older individuals might forego the procedure. This could be the beginning of a paradigm shift for management of ACL lesions because some active individuals seem to perform well with conservative care alone.

Copers and Non-copers

The new paradigm is based on a subset of individuals with an ACL deficient knee that “cope” without the inherent ligamentous stability of the ACL. The “coper” group likely gets their knee stability “dynamically” from the muscle groups surrounding the knee as neuromuscular activation patterns change to provide stability to the ACL deficient knee. Non-copers do not function well without the passive restraints of the ACL, and surgery would be indicated in this group.

Once a Coper Always a Coper?

The literature is still trying to answer many questions regarding the feasibility of conservative management in this population. Even though we might be able to classify a patient as a coper or non-coper, there is no guarantee that the individual will remain in one discrete group.

In the primary study of conservatively managed ACL ruptures, 39% opted for ACLR by two years and 51% opted for surgery by five years due to knee instability (these groups were randomized and diagnostically selected for surgical or conservative care). However, in another study, 70% of subjects initially classified as non-copers were functioning well without ACLR at one year following non-operative treatment.3

A Shift Towards a New Paradigm?

Proposed criteria for classifying patients as a coper:3

  • Hop test of >80% for timed 6m hop test comparing contralaterally

  • KOS-ADLS score >80%

  • Global rating of function >80

  • No more than one episode of knee giving way since injury


A new version of management would include early referral to PT after ACL tear with treatment for about 10 weeks. During that time, the medical team would attempt to classify the patient as a coper or non-coper. Ultimately, If the patient does need ACLR, he/she would potentially improve post-surgical outcome by completing “prehab”.



Interesting, OA rates are actually higher in subjects that had surgery than those who did not.1 There was no difference in rates of meniscus surgery between the ACLR group and the conservative care at five years.2The biggest risk in the “coper” group is opting for ACLR at a later date.


Non-operative management of highly active individuals remains controversial. The science is “young” on this question. The conservative treatment findings are based on one RCT. Further replication study needs to be completed before we can confirm if a group of “copers” really exist and what complications might arise with opting out of ACLR. Admittedly, Monk et al. describe the current evidence as weak that finds no difference between conservative management and ACLR. The ability to prospectively identify individuals as true copers or non-copers is fairly poor currently.3 One could argue there is significant waste of time, resources and thus potential harm to the patient if incorrect categorization occurs.

The Future of ACL Management

We may be in the middle of a paradigm shift in which a subgroup of active people with ACL ruptures can be managed as effectively with conservative care as they can with ACL reconstruction. Consistently identifying this subgroup is proving problematic, however.3 Categorization is likely fluid and an individual can move groups after initial categorization. Depending on patient goals, a trial of conservative care for the ACL deficient may be warranted.1-4


  1. Monk, A. Paul, et al. “Surgical versus conservative interventions for treating anterior cruciate ligament injuries.” The Cochrane Library (2016).

  2. Frobell, Richard B., et al. “Treatment for acute anterior cruciate ligament tear: five year outcome of randomised trial.” Bmj 346 (2013): f232.

  3. Moksnes, Håvard, Lynn Snyder-Mackler, and May Arna Risberg. “Individuals with an anterior cruciate ligament-deficient knee classified as noncopers may be candidates for nonsurgical rehabilitation.” journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy 38.10 (2008): 586-595.

  4. Snyder-Mackler, Lynn, and May Arna Risberg. “Who needs ACL surgery? An open question.” (2011): 706-707.

Myth Busting - Running and Joint Health

The common popular opinion is running is bad for your knees and hips.  A recent systematic review from JOSPT shows the is opposite may be true.  This large observational studies shows lower rates of OA in recreational runners.



Alentorn-Geli, Eduard, et al. "The Association of Recreational and Competitive Running With Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis." journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy 0 (2017): 1-36. 

Are Ankle Sprains the "Common Cold" of Musculoskeletal Injuries?

The following article was written for Medbridge- an online, video based continuing education based company.

The inversion ankle sprain is one of the most common musculoskeletal injuries, with an incidence of 7.2/1000 people age 15 to 19.1 People participating in basketball, football, and soccer are at particularly high risk for an ankle sprain. The ankle sprain has been reported to account for up to 34% of all sport-related injuries.2

Ankle Instability

Likely due to the common nature of these injuries, the common vernacular in response to this injury is, “you’re fine; just walk it off.” Because of the common “laissez-faire” attitude related to lateral ankle sprains, they have been likened to the common cold which is the most prominent example of a self-limiting medical condition. Despite this popular belief, ankle sprains can potentially lead to serious long-term disability and dysfunction. Chronic ankle instability and injury are common sequelae following just one sprain.

In fact, people who do not perform ankle proprioceptive/balance exercises after a sprain are more likely to develop ankle instability.3 The reinjury rate following the first-time sprain ranges from 17-73%.3 High-risk sports like basketball report the highest rates of reinjury. Up to 33% of patients have pain or instability at one year and 25% are still experiencing problems at three years post sprain.4

Effective Interventions

As therapists, we have an opportunity to make sure this population receives the care they need to maximize return to prior activity/sport and prevent long-term disability and instability.

Clinicians should address impairments in strength, joint mobility, and proprioception to reduce chronic instability. Specifically, balance/proprioceptive training with sport-specific activity training should be a focus in order to limit recurrence of ankle sprains. Therapists should recognize that patients who fail to use external lace-up supports (especially in high-risk sports) are at higher risk for a lateral ankle sprain.5,6 Therapists should maximize optimal dorsiflexion to decrease ankle sprain and chronic instability.3

Here’s an example of a dynamic proprioceptive activity from the MedBridge Home Exercise library:


And, here is an example of a self talocrural mobilization to increase dorsiflexion:


Advocates for Proper Care

There is a common perception among the public and many medical providers that sprains are self limiting.  Ankle reinjury and disability rates suggest this is not the case.  Therapists are positioned to advocate for proper intervention like balance/proprioception training to limit recurrence and disability related to lateral ankle sprain.



  1. Waterman, Brian R., et al. "Epidemiology of ankle sprain at the United States Military Academy." The American journal of sports medicine 38.4 (2010): 797-803.

  2. Fong, Daniel Tik-Pui, et al. "A systematic review on ankle injury and ankle sprain in sports." Sports medicine 37.1 (2007): 73-94.

  3. Martin, Robroy L., et al. "Ankle stability and movement coordination impairments: ankle ligament sprains." Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (2013).

  4. van Rijn, Rogier M., et al. "What is the clinical course of acute ankle sprains? A systematic literature review." The American journal of medicine 121.4 (2008): 324-331.

  5. Aaltonen, Sari, et al. "Prevention of sports injuries: systematic review of randomized controlled trials." Archives of internal medicine 167.15 (2007): 1585-1592.

  6. Dizon, Janine Margarita R., and Josephine Joy B. Reyes. "A systematic review on the effectiveness of external ankle supports in the prevention of inversion ankle sprains among elite and recreational players." Journal of science and medicine in sport 13.3 (2010): 309-317.

CSM 2017 - The Highlights


The Journey

by: Andy Parsons, PT, DPT, OCS

No rest for the wicked. My 8:05 PM EST flight was delayed and my touch down in Texas was about 1230 EST but my head didn't touch down to the pillow until 2am.  I woke from the dead at 5am ready to go. After all, this is #APTACSM folks. Go big or go home... everything is bigger in Texas... ***Please continue other random cliches in your head***

The Sessions

Integrating A “PT First” Approach in Emerging Healthcare Models

This session focused predominantly on an ATI group led by Charles Thigpen and Thomas Denninger in Greenville, SC that has changed the route of delivery for LBP and neck pain. 70% of the caseload was direct access the 1st year. They were able to show 45-60% reductions in disability and reduced costs for care routed through PT.

The take home:  It's a slow process that has been ongoing for 6 years. Don't expect change overnight. Interdiscipline collaboration is needed. 

Learning from each other: Sports and Neurology Sections Discuss Motor Learning

  • Remember sports/ortho PTs do more than strength and ROM. Everybody has a nervous system!

  • Motor learning = repetition matters...A LOT. intrinsic learning > extrinsic learner. Talk less, let the patient learn more.

  • "Talk less, listen more" get pt's input on success of the motor task to encourage intrinsic learning.

Talking Points: An Oxford-Style Debate on Dry Needling

This one was PACKED.  Online presence? Yep… the #NeedleorNot hashtag was #1 in my tailored trends at one point.

@MarkMilligan @Kvenere @Dr_Ridge_DPT & Kali Aucoin, DPT had a cordial yet subtly heated debate about the merits or lack there of regarding dry needling. I have to admit, I learned something from both sides. The Women's Health section will be posting the video of the whole session.  I recommend you watch and decide for yourself. I will post the link here when it goes live.  Here are a couple #NeedleOrNot highlights.

Best Treatment Approach for Subacromial Impingement syndrome

The diagnosis itself is evolving and the simple definition by morphology of the hooked acromion process has lost ground. A multifactorial cause is a likely cause; intrinsic tendon pathology near the articular surface of the GH joint is one new suspect. Chad Cook reminded us that many of our special tests don't perform well in isolation. His biggest pet peeve test...


Chad also noted the path of delivery of care matters in terms of type of care delivered for SIS and many MSK disorders.  Overall, conservative exercise management of SIS performed as well as surgery in this population.


Pain is pain: Treat the patient NOT the label

Adriaan Louw gave a spirited lecture about the state of pain and many chronic conditions.  He postulated that these chronic conditions are the same variations of each other (I.e Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, complex regional pain syndrome, chronic lime disease, etc.)  Regardless of label, persistent pain can be treated with the same 4 pillars:

  1. paced neuroscience education of pain

  2. aerobic exercise

  3. sleep hygiene

  4. patient goal setting.

(R)evolution: PTs in Prevention and Population Health

Innovations from @MikeEisenhart (Eisenstat for those of you in attendance...HA) @ChrisHinzePT @SunsOpeningBand

  • PTs absolutely have a role in population health. We are often stuck at the individual level of care, but if we think more broadly we can help so many more. Community design is one are we can have a voice. Contact your city planners and advocated for

  • In the end, do you want to constantly be saving people from drowning in the water, or do you want to be part of the solution, and put up a guardrail to keep people from falling into the water in the first place?

Innovations in Health Reform: Practice Redesign in a Health System

@EricRobertson and his colleagues presented a model for decreasing variability, improving outcomes, and optimizing rehab services at Kaiser Permanente.  Ultimately, Eric pointed out the sub-optimal care costs the system more. Keys:

  • Rehab services needs to be the key drivers in managing change within the system not other physician groups.

  • Front line clinicians should be involved in task forces to drive clinical pathways and implementation of guidelines.

  • Our group has been working on a similar undertaking at ProMedica Total Rehab. Read the associated PT in Motion article click >>>>HERE<<<< (must be an APTA Member)

Twitter: #APTACM

Was is just me or was this the best twitter presence for #APTACSM ?  The highlights:

This is just a tiny sample.  Go check out the #APTACSM hashtag for yourself.  I’m still digging through the knowledge...


The Sites

Finally, here a few of the sites I was able to soak in while in San Antonio.



Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion

The Alamo

The Alamo

La Villita

La Villita

Pioneer Flour Mills

Pioneer Flour Mills

Tower of the Americas

Tower of the Americas

In the end, #APTACSM will cause much reflection...