Sunday, June 20, 2021

Are S&C Coaches Or Physiotherapists The Real Exercise Professionals?

This week's post is on an article I read in the blog from the British Journal of Sports Medicine where the author asked whether physiotherapists or strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches are the real pros when it comes to prescribing rehabilitation exercises and getting patients/ athletes to return to sport (RTS).

The author compared physiotherapists and strength and conditioning (S&C) coaches working with athletic populations (in the UK). His view was that the physiotherapist has always been the decision maker or 'top dog' when it comes to managing the injured athlete or any patient that needed exercise to rehabilitate or improve physical function. 

He feels that the physiotherapy profession has not kept up to date with professional developments in exercise science and S&C, even falling behind and out of step in some aspects. This is despite the fact that there has been an increase in demand by physiotherapists in the UK for weekend courses in S&C training to fill in gaps in expertise and knowledge. 

The author thinks these short 2 day courses is "really an insult to those S&C professionals that have devoted time, effort and financial resources to their expertise" as they have studied exercise science, S&C at undergraduate level and gone on to postgraduate study and even advanced professional accreditation to work.

He also feels that the undergraduate training program for physiotherapists in the UK does not provide enough basic grounding in exercise prescription and training science despite claims by the physiotherapy profession that they have a firm grounding in basic clinical sciences so they can circumvent the need for extensive training in S&C.

This has then led to a deficit in rehabilitating athletic populations such that it even slows an athlete's full RTS. The athlete is usually handed to the S&C team or left to their own devices. He concludes that rehabilitation of recreational and professional athletes must be recognized as an advanced practiced skill requiring specialist training. If these gaps/ deficits in both under and post graduate training are not addressed, then physiotherapists will be relegated to technicians in the restoration of the patient/ athlete.

My thoughts? I used to work at the *Singapore Sports Council in the Sports Medicine department (the current Singapore Institute of Sport). The doctors, physiotherapists, S&C coaches and other sports science staff (nutrition, biomechanics, psychology) all have degrees and/ or postgraduate qualifications and definitely had a good working relationship. We had a weekly case discussion where the athletes who were not progressing well after injury were brought up and analyzed.

Other than that sort of setting and perhaps in the Singapore Sports School and Football Association of Singapore, I think that physiotherapists in  hospitals and private practices that treat sporting populations may differ in their ability to enable these patients to RTS. It boils down to the interest and exposure of each physiotherapist. Whether they had any previous sports/ athletic background, how interested they are in sports, and most importantly, their tenacity to want to better themselves. 

There will be S&C coaches, sports and functional trainers, CrossFit coaches and personal trainers who, with their interests and commitment to improve themselves, will be superior to some physiotherapists with regard to rehabilitation and returning patients to sport. Likewise, there will be physiotherapists who can more than hold their own. 

It is, ultimately, up to each individual in their respective line of work to keep themselves up to date, to keep improving to help athletes recover better and faster. And also to recognize when they aren't the best person to return an athlete to sport and refer them out to someone who is.


Blog article from British Journal of Sports Medicine, published on May 2, 2021.

* Thanks to my former colleagues and former S&C coaches Todd Vladich and James Wong (also multiple SEA Games gold medalist and discus throw record holder), whom guided my S&C program when I was still competing. James, a few other colleagues and I used to train at the old KATC gym at the old National Stadium 3 mornings a week at 7:30 am before we started work when we were not traveling or competing. We did this year round, especially in the off season. Those sessions and attending a Level 1 Australian Weightlifting Federation course while working there definitely made me competent at getting patients to return to sport quickly and most importantly, safely.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Evidence For Using Floss Bands

showing Byron, Thiviyan and Megan
Remember the floss band courses we used to teach? We often had participants asking what is the evidence behind increasing joint range of motion (ROM), sporting performances, helping with recovery and decreasing pain. In short, they all wanted to know how it works

I wrote previously that you've got to try it to believe it, well there is now a published *scoping review article for floss bands (Konrad et al, 2021), referenced below.

The review paper summarizes the existing evidence for the effect of floss band treatment on range of motion (ROM), sporting performance (strength or jump performance), recovery (due to DOMS) and pain (due to disease or injuries).

In all, 24 studies met the inclusion criteria with a total of 513 subjects. 15 of the 24 studies investigated the effects of a single floss band application on the ROM of several joints. On the ankle joint, flossing was found to have a significant change of 11.17% in the dorsiflexion ROM.  

4 studies investigated the effects of calf flossing on the ankle, showing a very large increase of 19.95% in dorsiflexion of the ankle.

Similarly 4 studies measured thigh flossing and found a significant increase in knee bending (3.61%), and knee straightening (7.38%). However, another study showed no improvement in hip ROM after flossing the thigh. None of studies showed any decrease in range after flossing.

Of the two studies that investigated the effects of flossing on DOMS, one study reported significantly reduced DOMS 24 and 48 hours post exercise in the study group (in the upper arms) compared to the control group. The other study (on leg muscles) found no difference in the intervention versus control group following 12, 24, 36, 48 60 and 72 hours post exercise.

When comparing flossing to other treatment like dynamic stretching, flossing had a more noticeable effect in increasing hip range of motion and maximal eccentric knee extension (Kaneda et al, 2020b). With regards to static stretching and flossing, rate of force development was more pronounced in the flossing group compared to the static stretching group (Kaneda et al 2020a). Kaneda and colleagues concluded in both studies that flossing should be applied as a warm up rather than as a stretching exercise. This is exactly what my patients who do CrossFit tell me. They normally use a floss band for warm up before they start their easier routines, before the heavy lifting.

I know all athletes are after improved performances. Results from the individual studies showed that 11 of of the 44 performance measures showed a significant improvement (comparing pre and post floss band application, Table 3 in article). There is some evidence that joint flossing (ankle and knee) can increase jump height, although sprint performance (5 to 20 m sprints) seems to be unaffected after ankle flossing. (Personally, I would floss the quads and hamstrings and calf muscles if I wanted to improve sprint times rather than the ankle). 

One study showed improvement in maximal voluntary contraction (strength) in the quadriceps muscle and hamstrings after thigh flossing.

The researchers suggest this is possibly due to hormonal responses related to the flossing. Similar to other occlusion (or blood flow restriction methods), enhanced growth hormone and norepinephrine levels increase may be responsible for increase in performance reported. More importantly, the review concluded that from the involved studies there was no detrimental effects on performance from a single floss band treatment.

Evidence also show that a single floss band treatment is able to increase ROM of the related joint and can positively affect jumping and strength performance. Possible mechanism is suggested to be changed neuromuscular function rather than changed mechanical properties.

after surgery in 2016
After Ronald Susilo (above) ruptured his patella tendon and tore his anterior cruciate ligament at the same time, he came to see me after the surgeon reattached his patella tendon. He did not have the range to even pedal one round on the stationary bike. I definitely increased his knee ROM with a single floss band treatment. He could pedal immediately after a single floss band application. 

Yes, back then it was only one subject (or n=1), however it was a definite improvement. Those of you reading then may be critical and probably not even believe it, but I have since replicated it many times in our clinic. Hence I feel that clinical evidence (what we see in the clinic) is just as good as published evidence (like this scoping review).

There will probably be long term studies about the effects of flossing treatment on joint ROM, sporting performance, whether it helps with recovery and decreasing pain. I am sure there also will be studies that say there are no benefits to it. The question is does it work for you?


Konrad A, Mocnik R and Nakamura M (2021). Effects Of Tissue Flossing On The Healthy And Impaired Musculoskeletal System: A Scoping Review. Front. Physiol. 21 May 2021. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2021.666129

*A scoping review has a broader scope compared to traditional systematic reviews with correspondingly more expansive inclusion criteria.

Let's do the twist

Sunday, June 6, 2021

My Patient Was Told She Has Freiberg's Disease

Dr Domenico Nicoletti rID: 44376 Radiopaedia

A patient came in last week asking for a second opinion for her toe pain. She had seen a doctor at her local polyclinic, gone for an x-ray and was told she might have early signs of Freiberg's disease.

She was subsequently asked to see a foot surgeon by the doctor. Her friends also suggested she see a podiatrist.

Freiberg's infarction or Freiberg's disease as it is commonly known is actually not a disease but microtrauma causing pain in usually the second toe of the foot at the metatarsal head. It can occur in other toes too. 

It is most common among teenage girls during puberty and more common in the second toe. This is especially if the second toe is longer than the big toe as this increases stress on the 2nd metatarsal head while walking, running and during sports. 

The physical stress causes multiple tiny small fractures where the metatarsal meets the growth plate. Pain is commonly felt in the forefoot while pushing off. The affected joint may sometimes be swollen and range of motion is limited there. Due to avascular necrosis (bone tissue dying due to lack of blood supply), the metatarsal head flattens (see picture below). This is usually confirmed by x-ray. 

There is no definitive treatment for Freiberg's, as it is also thought to be related to a stress fracture. Doctors will often get the patient to be non weight bearing to immobilize the foot. Corticosteroid injections may sometimes be given. In less severe cases, a rocker boot may be prescribed. Podiatrists may also prescribe orthotics with metatarsal pads and/ or low heel footwear. Severe cases may require surgery.

As you can see from the x-ray report above, my patient is clearly not an adolescent (although people of all ages can be affected by it). Even the reporting radiologist said it could be a normal variant. She also had been inactive for the past 3 years. 

What did I do? I treated her foot and plantar fascia along her Superficial Back Line and taught her to modify her gait for the time being. She was happy to be pain free after that and even asked if she could run. If she really had Freiberg's disease/ infarction, I would not, in my humble opinion, be able to change her symptoms that much in just one session.


Carter KR, Chambers AR and Dryer MA. Freiberg Infarction. (updated Mar 17, 2021). In: StatPearls (Interbet). Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.

Lin H and Liu AL (2013). Freiberg's Infarction. BMJ. Case Reports: 2013010121. DOI: 10.1136/bcr-2013-010121.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Growing Taller With The Ilizarov Fixator?

Picture from Quora

A friend fractured his arm after falling asleep while driving in the army. He had a huge circular contraption on his arm upon discharge from the hospital. This was when I first came across the Ilizarov fixator back in the 1990's. Of course I did not know what it was or what it was supposed to do back then.

It was only in my second year of physiotherapy school that I studied about it and saw it in the hospital orthopaedic wards, that I remembered my friend had the same thing on his arm. I never imagined that knowledge learnt all those years ago would help me write today's post.

The surgery was first invented by Russian doctor Gavriil Ilizarov to treat bone fractures that did not heal well. Especially those with fractures that did not grow back (non-union), those that had leg length discrepancies after breaking their legs and complex factures. The method and first prototype he designed was actually inspired by a shaft bow harness on a horse carriage using parts of a bicycle.

Picture by Troika Akron

The Ilizarov fixator is a ring-like brace that has a frame applied to the outside of the limb and connected through the unbroken part of the bone inside the limb via Kirschner or K wires. This provides more structural support than other external fixators and allows for early weight bearing.

Pic by Ahmad Zamani 

Many people around the world, obsessed with growing taller, are now resorting to using the Ilizarov fixator to extend their legs in a bid to make themselves taller. These people want to get ahead since they assume that by being taller they may get better chances in job interviews, modelling assignments, showbiz, colleges and even spouses.

You can get the procedure done in the USA, UK, Germany, Pain, Turkey, Italy, South Korea, India and China. Prices range from $USD 75,000-280,000 in the USA, 50,000-56,000 pounds in the UK to $USD 25,000 in India.

For the procedure, the leg bones are first broken in two, holes are then drilled into the bone.  A metal rod is fitted inside and held in place by a number of screws and wires. This rod is slowly and gradually lengthened by up to 1 mm a day. This continues until the patient reaches their desired height and their bones are then allowed to heal.

Several months of daily physiotherapy/ rehabilitation are then required to regain mobility. Yes, the patient has to learn how to walk again. If not done carefully, there are many complications like nerve injuries (since nerves have to stretch to match the lengthened limbs), blood clots and even the possibility of the bones not fusing back together. 

At times, the bones fuse but are not strong enough to bear the patient's body weight. Limbs can also end up being of different lengths, and shape, deforming knee and ankle joints.

Having surgery to grow taller is seen as cosmetic surgery, but there's no doubt it's also done for their self confidence and mental health. My main concern is the patients that prioritize cost over their own welfare. In my opinion, it is important to find a surgeon with a good track record no matter what surgery you may be considering.


Borzunov DY, KolChin S and Malkova TA (2020). Role Of The Non-free Bone Plasty In The Management Of Long Bone Defects And Non-union: Problems solved and Unsolved. World J Ortho. 11(6): 304-318. DOI: 10.5312/wjo.v11.i6.304.

Gubin AV, Borzunov DY and Malkova TA (2013). The Ilizarov Paradigm: Thirty Years With The Ilizarov Method, Current Concerns And Future Research. Int Orthop. 37(8): 1533-1539. DOI: 10.1007/s00264-013-1935-0.

Before vs after by Dr S R Rozbrusch from BBC

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Instead Of Complaining About Wearing Face Masks..

He wore a mask, I didn't - posed lah ;) 
Almost daily during the circuit breaker (CB) period last year, my older boy and I went out to ride our bikes since there were hardly any cars on the road.  Most of the time we had our cloth face masks on. Needless to say, we found riding uphill more difficult when having them on. 

Made it to the top of Mt. Faber
Newly published research backs this up. Researchers had 28 young (18 to 29 years) and healthy participants perform 2 maximal exercise tests on a treadmill. One with and one without a cloth face mask.

Each participant runs to complete exhaustion as the treadmill speed and incline is increased every 3 minutes and the time to exhaustion is recorded. This is used to estimate VO2 max levels. Heart rate, blood pressure, rate of perceived exertion and the participant's perceptions of wearing a face mask while running were also recorded.

Key findings were that cloth face masks reduced run time to exhaustion by 14 percent and VO2 max by 29 percent. With masks on, the participants felt more short of breath and claustrophobic at higher exercise intensities compared to not wearing masks. Blood oxygenation levels (Sp O2 levels) were also lower when cloth face masks were worn. The reduced levels of oxygen in the blood show a definite physiological effect. 

The more effective the mask in filtration capacity (the more protection for the wearer), the more it will affect exercise performance. Take home message is that using a mask during exercise does make it a lot harder. The researchers recommend that exercise time, frequency and especially intensity be modified when wearing a cloth face mask.

The researchers also cautioned that their findings of impaired performance with cloth face masks may be in part due to the perceived discomfort. Meaning, the participants were less motivated to keep running at higher treadmill speed and incline

My racing days are long gone, but if I were still training and competing, I'll probably don a cloth face mask while training (sometimes) to up the intensity a few notches so that when I race without a cloth face mask, I'll be hard to beat. That's just like respiratory muscle training. But that is just me. Please do not take this as training advice! 


Driver S, Reynolds M, Brown K et al (2021). Effects Of Wearing A Cloth Face Mask On Performance, Physiological And Perceptual Responses During a Graded Treadmill Running Exercise Test. BJSM. epub first 13 April 2021. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-103758.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Does Dynamic Stretches Help Running Performance?

Our new physios doing the dynamic stretches

Previously I had written that performing any static stretches before exercise or competition can be detrimental to your athletic performance. Studies have also shown that doing static stretches before competing or exercising is more likely to cause an injury. In fact, performing just one static stretch of 30 seconds can reduce your maximum strength.

Meanwhile, fitness professionals, coaches and other studies have suggested performing dynamic stretches as an alternative warm up to static stretches instead.

Well, this published study had runners do both. An initial assessment was done to get the runners VO2 max levels. The researchers had a group of well trained university runners do a general warm up (GWU) on one day versus doing a general warmup (GWU) plus dynamic stretching (DS) before getting them to run until exhaustion on a treadmill on another day.

The GWU consisted of running on the treadmill at a speed equivalent to 70 percent of each runner's VO2 max for 15 minutes. Each runner then did a standing rest for 5 minutes. This was followed by the run to exhaustion on the treadmill at a speed equivalent to 90 percent of their VO2 max. 

When doing the GWU plus DS, dynamic stretches were done for all the lower limb muscle groups (10 reps each), see picture below. That took 3 min 45 seconds in all. After resting for 1 min 15 seconds, the runners started their run to exhaustion on the treadmill at a speed equivalent to 90 percent of their VO2 max. 

Well, this published study had runners do both. An initial assessment was done to get the runners VO2 max levels. The researchers had a group of well trained university runners do a general warm up (GWU) on one day versus doing a general warmup (GWU) plus dynamic stretching (DS) before getting them to run until exhaustion on a treadmill on another day.

The GWU consisted of running on the treadmill at a speed equivalent to 70 percent of each runner's VO2 max for 15 minutes. Each runner then did a standing rest for 5 minutes. This was followed by the run to exhaustion on the treadmill at a speed equivalent to 90 percent of their VO2 max. 

When doing the GWU plus DS, dynamic stretches were done for all the lower limb muscle groups (10 reps each), see picture at the top. That took 3 min 45 seconds in all. After resting for 1 min 15 seconds, the runners started their run to exhaustion on the treadmill at a speed equivalent to 90 percent of their VO2 max. 

The results showed that the GWU plus DS group lasted significantly shorter (10:40 min)  than the group that just did the GWU (12:40 min). Distance covered was between 2.3 to 5.4 km.

The authors of this study were hypothesizing that performing GWU plus DS may help improve endurance running performance. Unfortunately the results indicated otherwise. 

Another study by the first 3 authors (Yamaguchi et al, 2015) showed that performing the same five DS (10 reps) followed by a rest period of 1 min 23 secs actually prolonged the run time to exhaustion (an extra 18.2 percent) compared to a sit down rest. Run to exhaustion on the treadmill was also done at a speed equivalent to 90 percent of their VO2 max.

What is good about this study was that there was real attention to detail. The testing was done during the off season for the runners so no prior vigorous training was done. The runners were also asked to avoid performing intense exercises or training on each test day and the day prior. 

The runners were also instructed to have similar meals and drinks on the test days and previous day and to finish any meal 2 hours before running. Runners were also asked to avoid alcohol the day before running and caffeine on the test day. Each runner wore the same attire for the test runs and performed the test at the same time of day in consideration to circadian rhythm. The laboratory temperature was kept constant at 20-24 degrees Celsius throughout. In short, the authors tried to keep everything else constant other than the warm up. 

What wasn't as good? Bear in mind that the study only had 8 runners. They are definitely fast runners (looking at their profile), but the sample size is small. The rest period after the dynamic warmup was also extremely short (150 seconds). Fatigue after the DS was attributed by the authors as the cause for worse performance.

When I was competing in events like 1500m - 5000m on the track, I'll do a rather languid jog of 2-3 km to warm up followed by some limbering movements to loosen up. This was followed by repeating some striding (or goal pace running) 5-8 times for 150-200 meters. Then it would be resting and waiting for our event to start. Definitely longer than 1 minute 15 seconds before racing. Definitely did not do any sort of stretching then.

My advice would be to try out dynamic stretches or whatever that is new (shoes, bike, run technique etc) in your off season, not before an important competition, to see if it would be something that might work for your body. Most importantly, do what works for you. Every body is different.


Yamaguchi T, Takizawab K, Keisuke S. (2015). Acute Effect Of Dynamic Stretching On Endurance Running Performance In Well-trained Male Runners. J Strg Cond Resc. 29: 3045-3052. DOI:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000969

Yamaguchi T, Takizawab K, Keisuke S et al (2019). Effect Of General Warm-up plus Dynamic Stretching On Endurance Performance In Well-trained Runners. Res Quart Ex and Sport. 90(4): 527-533. DOI: 10.1080/02701367.2019.1630700.

*thanks to Thiviyan and Rashid Aziz for getting me the articles

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Am I Crazy To Feel Pain In My Knee When My Scans Are Normal?

My patient came in yesterday saying that his knee started clicking even though he didn't feel any pain with the clicking. There were occasional twinges of pain only occasionally. However, he was worried that his knee will get worse. After assessing his knee (which turned out fine) and reassuring him, I told him my own experiences.

After I had my third knee operation (within the space of a year), my right knee started feeling better. Of course I started training again as soon as the surgeon permitted. For a start, I ran almost exclusively on grass (since it was the softest surface I could find), often going multiple rounds, to ensure that I can get my mileage since I was hoping to compete again after my injuries.  

However, I was much more sensitive about my right knee, to the point of being paranoid about every sensation I felt in the knee. Each time I was on the bus or MRT and if someone came close to my right knee, I'd move away and glare at the person for coming too close to me. Does this sound like you?

Well, it turns out this action of pain sensitization is common across other painful knee disorders as well. In patients with knee osteoarthritis, pressure from placing your hands on the knees alone can trigger pain. The good news is that this sensitization for painful knees can be treated.

The following systematic review investigated 52 studies that studied pain sensitization across four different painful knee disorders. The authors found evidence of pain sensitization in people with knee osteoarthritispatellofemoral pain and post meniscectomy patients. They however found conflicting evidence in patients with patella tendinopathy.

The researchers found that the extent of structural joint damage in the observed knee disorders does not correlate to the severity of symptoms. Hence, pain is not necessarily a 'signal' from a joint or area that is damaged.  Meaning x-rays or MRI results does not correlate with pain. Some patients have no 'damage' on x-ray/ MRI but have a lot of pain, while others with lots of damage on film may have no pain.

Many factors play a role to determine if a person will perceive a stimulus as painful or not since pain can be a complex experience that is associated with memories, belief and social context. Anxiety, depression, fear of movement, viewing their condition considerably worse than it actually is may also play a part.

It is suggested that repetitive stimulation may lead to subsequent sensitization of the nervous system. This include loading of the knee joint, ongoing inflammation at the knee joint or related tissues and altered biochemical markers. These factors contribute and maintain the pain sensitization in the knees.

In patients with knee osteoarthritis and patellofemoral joint pain, pain sensitization can be treated through exercise therapy, mobilization, pharmacological (yes, painkillers) and surgical intervention. Correct exercise is recommended for treatment of painful knees. There is the incorrect belief that exercise may harm the joint cartilage in patients with osteoarthritis.

If doctors, surgeons and physiotherapists focus less on x-rays/ MRI's and more on factors (including psychosocial factors mentioned above) relating to each patient's pain and disability, there will be more opportunities for collaboration and improved treatment outcomes.


De Oliveira Silva D, Rathleff MS, Petersen K et al (2019). Manifestations Of Pain Sensitization Across Different Painful Knee Disorders: A Systematic Review Including Meta-analysis And Metaregression. Pain Med. 20(2): 335-358. DOI: 10.1093/pm/pny177.