The discomfort in your back that keeps you awake at night might very well be directly related to the limp-inducing pain in your knee. According to Dr. Heather Lambert, the key to making those aches and pains go away permanently is changing the way you walk, stand and sit and playing an active role in your own personal health and well-being.
“If you are looking for a magic pill to get rid of pain, we’re not the place,” said Dr. Lambert of Atlantic Coast Physical Medicine, where functional medicine, a comprehensive strategy that doesn’t include surgery or drugs, is the preferred method of relieving pain.
The journey from painful to pain-free begins with an assessment by the Atlantic Coast Physical Medicine team, based on a physical examination, X-rays, the patient’s health history and an evaluation of the patient’s range of motion.
“We believe pain symptoms are a weak diagnostic tool. We’re more interested in function – not if it hurts, but how far you can walk,” explained Atlantic Coast Physician Liaison Josh Cheuvront. “It’s important to get a picture of what the patient can do.”
The next step is to teach the patient to walk correctly, “to retrain their gait” and put their posture back on track. Dr. Lambert explained that two muscle groups are responsible for the stability of joints, gait and posture: the large phasic muscles that handle major chores and the postural muscles that line the spine. When the postural muscles don’t do their job, the phasic muscles try to take over – usually without real success.
“They have no idea how to do the job,” Dr. Lambert said. The result is misalignment of the spine and all the pain that goes along with it – and, according to Dr. Lambert, “tech neck,” a condition caused by leaning forward toward a computer screen eight or 10 hours a day or constantly looking down to work on or play with your phone. She said dentists, oral hygienists and orthodontists suffer from this issue because they are constantly craning their neck to look into people’s mouths.
Dr. Lambert said that three distinct types of stress add to the gradual erosion of a person’s gait, posture and general health: chemical, physical and emotional.
Functional medicine is a method of easing the pain over a period of time by realigning and strengthening the muscles and “teaching them to do their job.”
She pointed out that most people are exposed to 87,000 chemicals a week in the food they eat and the water they drink. Physically, people are affected by the everyday bumps and bruises that occur throughout a lifetime: automobile accidents, lifting large objects the wrong way, repetitive action on an assembly line and even simply falling off a bicycle. Getting the proper nutrition, she said, is an excellent way to deal with emotional stress such as hormone imbalances.
“Over time, you change your gait pattern and posture,” Dr. Lambert said. “These are things you don’t realize until the pain actually hits. By the time they find our office, most people are tired of taking drugs to be able to function.”
By function, she means doing the things you enjoy doing. Whether it’s walking from store to store in a mall or taking in a day of fishing at the lake, the goal at Atlantic Coast Physical Medicine is to give their patients the flexibility and stamina to live life to the fullest. And, over time, to do that without debilitating pain.
Dr. Lambert emphasized, however, that the patient must be a willing participant in the plan to make the pain a thing of the past.
“It’s an active treatment. You have to be a part of it,” she said. “You have to want to be better. We’re a perfect fit for some. We’re an imperfect fit for others. It all depends on your health care goals.”