Meghan Walbert’s lower back problems began near the onset of her adult life. As a writer, being hunched over a laptop or a computer didn’t help matters.
Then last fall, after receiving a new contract that put her on fulltime assignment, leaning over her small laptop on her dining room table, the spine issues inched their way to her upper back and neck area.
“It was getting to the point where a different part of my back was hurting every time I woke up,” the 36-year-old mother from Bethlehem said. “I was sitting more and more often to work at my dining room table on a dining room chair that wasn’t ergonomically helpful. My husband Mike kept pushing me to call the St. Luke’s Comprehensive Spine program. He really pushed me to do it, to at least give it a shot.”
St. Luke’s Comprehensive Spine program is a groundbreaking program to help people suffering from back, neck and spine pain. Instead of going through a family physician and potential multiple tests, prospective patients call a special phone number at 1-866-STLUKES where trained nurses triage them through a series of questions and then set up an appointment with a nearby Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s location.
Meghan met with Eric Kennedy, a doctor of physical therapy, who asked her questions about her pain and then worked with her one-on-one while prescribing at-home exercises to treat her ailments.
“On the first day, I do a thorough orthopedic assessment,” Kennedy said. “I look for quality of movement, any deviation from normal, and assess strength, range of motion, functional activities, balance, joint mobility, and use that to determine what structure is damaged and how to best address the problem.”
Kennedy found that Meghan exhibited instability in her spine. That lack of control produced extra movement, which was the root cause of her pain. He implemented a plan of care that included stretching, joint mobilizations, therapeutic laser treatment to decrease inflammation, and strengthening exercises for the stabilizing muscles that support the spine so that she could do her everyday routine as close to pain-free as possible.
“In 20 minutes or less, he knew completely what the problem was,” Meghan marveled. “He started right away with the exercises. I remember telling my husband that this guy’s job was amazing, that with no scans and just a couple of questions and stretches, he could tell what was wrong with me.”
Meghan saw Kennedy twice that first week, and then once a week for the next three weeks, all the while adhering to the at-home program he prescribed.
On her fourth visit, she woke up in terrible pain, however. Kennedy examined her and determined she had a locked vertebra. He pressed on her spine to reposition the vertebra and had Meghan twist as far as she could. At the end of her range, Kennedy applied an additional stretch. After 10 repetitions, the pain was gone and Meghan had full motion.
“Not only that, he gave me a stretching band and showed me how to do it at home,” Meghan said. “I’ve done it since then and it works! Not only did he help me in that moment, but he gave me the tools to fix it in my own home. He was not only making me physically better, but mentally making me better.”
Her husband Mike had been having an ankle issue that had bothered him since playing basketball in high school 20 years ago. He also made an appointment with Kennedy, and again, within 20 minutes. Kennedy identified and prescribed an appropriate rehabilitation program consisting of stretching, strengthening, balance and gait retraining. After three visits, Mike reported a 90 percent reduction in pain and had the tools to continue to improve at home.”
“We call him ‘our guy Eric,’ and we refer others to him,” Meghan said.
“We were able to educate Meghan and her husband about the cause of their pain and gave them the appropriate exercises they needed to continue the progress they had made in PT at home,” Kennedy said. “This is what separates Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s from other providers. We not only address the limitations and impairments, but we give our patients the tools they need to continue so that they can stay pain free.”