Pat Ryan (left) and her physical therapist Jennifer Belu, PT, who helped Ryan rehabilitate after her spinal surgery. Thanks to the team at the Comprehensive Spine Center, Ryan is now pain-free.
Pat Ryan suffered from lumbar stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal containing the nerves supplying sensation and strength to the legs. Spinal stenosis can cause pain and numbness in the back and/or legs. It is usually worsened with prolonged standing and walking and relieved by rest.
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In many ways, back and neck pain are chronic diseases much like diabetes or heart disease; once you have it, you tend to have it for life. However, with proper medical care and lifestyle choices, spine problems can be managed.
Take Pat Ryan of Columbus, for example. This retired social worker's life didn't slow down after retirement. With six grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, an active social calendar and gardening to be done, back pain was the last thing she needed. "In 2007, I just woke up one day with pain starting in my lower back and radiating down my leg," explains Ryan. "I even had trouble walking. Eventually, I was frustrated that I couldn't make any plans, since I couldn't predict how I would feel each day."
Ryan's family doctor referred her to the OSU Comprehensive Spine Center, located at the Martha Morehouse Medical Plaza Tower. "At the Spine Center, we are creating a 'one-stop-shopping' center," says Carole Miller, MD, director of the Center. "We integrate a patient's initial evaluation with the goals of getting timely diagnoses, offering patient education along with the appropriate treatment and returning people to function as soon as possible."
Under One Roof
At the Spine Center, the doctors and medical professionals who offer treatments such as physical therapy, pain management and surgery are together on one floor. This makes referrals among the specialists faster and easier and the process more convenient for patients.
"First, I saw Dr. Miller, who then sent me to Dr. Lindsey for pain management. However, when it was clear that I'd need surgery, I saw Dr. Rea, who performed my surgery. I was grateful that all my care was coordinated in one office," Ryan recalls.
Ryan was diagnosed with lumbar stenosis, a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord within the vertebrae (the bones in the back). "Pat had classic lumbar stenosis symptoms," says Gary Rea, MD, PhD, a neurosurgeon at the Spine Center. "She had instability of her vertebrae and pressure on her nerves, which interfered with walking. So, we stabilized her spine and relieved the pressure by fusing the vertebrae and inserting screws and rods."
Dr. Rea notes that many people delay seeking medical help for their back because they're afraid of having back surgery. "However, Pat's story is one that very few people with spine problems share. Only three percent of these patients need surgery, and most people get better with nonsurgical treatments," he explains. "We always pursue less aggressive treatment options before we consider surgery."
Personalized Path to Recovery
Physical therapy was next for Ryan. As they do with all patients, the physical therapists at the Spine Center coordinated Ryan's treatment with her physicians and developed a plan to support her personal goals, such as exercising at her community gym and returning to gardening.
"We started Pat in a therapeutic pool," explains Jennifer Belu, PT, rehab team leader at the Spine Center. "Then she transitioned to the land-based program, where we focused on strengthening, stretching and returning to functional activities, including gardening and gym workouts."
"The surgery and the therapy were a godsend," says Ryan. "I don't have any of the pain that I had before the surgery, and I would do it all over again. Now, I'm looking forward to getting out there again and living the rest of my life."
Thanks to the guidance of his doctor and physical therapist at Ohio State's Spine Center, 72-year-old Glen Chesnut was able to gain the strength he needed to travel to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Trek of a Lifetime
International travel is nothing new for 72-year-old Glen Chesnut of Mount Vernon. He's visited more than 40 countries and lived in China for a decade. When he set his sights on a three-month backpack trip across South America--including a visit to Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca ruins set high in the mountains of Peru--he wasn't going to let neck and back pain get in the way.
"I was diagnosed with some degeneration in my spine and referred to Ohio State's Spine Center for physical therapy," says Chesnut. There, Chesnut first met with physical medicine and rehabilitation physician Francine Pulver, MD.
"Patients who have back pain like Glen start their care with one of our orthopaedists," says Dr. Pulver. "We evaluate their condition, order imaging tests and then prescribe a treatment plan and coordinate most of their care." Dr. Pulver prescribed physical therapy for Chesnut, who then began working with physical therapist Jason Moore.
"Glen came in very motivated to get healthy so he could make his trek to Machu Picchu," recalls Moore. "We had four appointments together where we started him on an exercise program he could work on at home and in his local fitness center."
Chesnut's program included a combination of full body exercises to improve his core strength and walking to improve his endurance. When the weather turned cold, Chesnut kept up with his daily walks by walking inside his local Wal-Mart for an hour each day.
All of his hard work paid off when he was able to enjoy his vacation pain-free. The highlight was a four-day journey following the ancient Inca trail to Machu Picchu. His tour group traveled 32 miles during those four days, reaching an altitude of 13,769 feet. Chesnut shared his accomplishment with Dr. Pulver and Moore by sending them postcards from the summit.
"Dr. Pulver and Jason were both very supportive and encouraging of my goal to visit Machu Picchu. I wanted to share my triumph with them," says Chesnut.
Ask Your Advocate
Q. When should I see a doctor for my back pain?
A. Most cases of back pain can typically be remedied by reducing activities, taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines and using ice for the first 48 hours and then ice or heat. See a doctor if the pain persists longer than one to two weeks or if the pain is accompanied by neurological symptoms such as numbness, weakness or searing pain radiating down the leg past the knee.
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