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  • Mark Austin

Sometimes the Diagnosis Does Not Matter as Much as the Why


This is an important point for those conditions that seem to come on gradually over time rather than the result of a single traumatic event like a fall or collision.


If you've been gradually getting pain in your shoulder, and an ultrasound ordered by your family doctor reveals inflammation and bursitis, he will likely prescribe you anti-inflammatories and send you on your way. In many cases, this doesn't offer more than temporary relief. That's because this inflammation is just a symptom of something else going on.


Maybe you have a stiff shoulder from sitting at a desk all day, but then you've decided to pick up basketball or rock climbing without getting some mobility back first.


Maybe you've developed a lot of stress-related tension in your upper back and shoulders over the past few weeks, and now when you try to clean or work out, the tension irritates your shoulder. Tennis elbow? Maybe you can try shockwave, PRP, or prolotherapy to see if it will help the injured tendon remodel and heal. That said, if you continue to overdo it, or have a mechanical issue in your wrist, neck, or shoulder that places extra stress on your elbow when you're busy at work or when playing sports, you might find that tennis elbow flaring up again in the near future.

Jaw pain? A splint to wear at night won't help either (beyond protecting your teeth from the effects of grinding) if you are so high strung during the day that you clench your jaw through the night. I could go on with example after example of why strategies that only treat the symptoms don't always help for the long term. Rotator cuff tears, tendonitis and tendinopathies, back pain, neck pain, plantar fasciitis are all conditions that benefit from us diffing deeper. In physiotherapy-- and in medicine in general-- we often become focused on treating the symptoms, rather than first figuring out the cause of the problem. We get a cortisone shot for our arthritic knee rather than working on gaining strength and mobility in our leg. We take medication for our high blood pressure before we think about modifying our diet and lifestyle. We opt for a sleeping pill rather than learning strategies to help our mind and body relax before bedtime.

Sometimes medications, injections, and whatnot serve as great adjuncts to your treatment plan. However, without ever addressing the factors that underlie your condition, whether they are mechanical issues in your muscles or joints, a general lack of activity, a build-up of stress in your life, or something even bigger-- you might find yourself running in costly and expensive circles. Find a healthcare professional who can work with you to dig deep and uncover exactly why you're feeling the way you're feeling, rather than putting a bandaid on your symptoms. Find a healthcare professional who will collaborate with you and encourage you along the way. Like I've said before, the real shortcut to getting better is in just doing the hard work now.


Looking for physiotherapy in Calgary that gets down to the root cause of your problem, rather than just the symptoms? Get in touch at mark@physiobox.ca or book online by clicking here.

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