How My Life-Changing Moment Can Change You, Too
This time of year is always full of potential life change, and I’ll be thinking about that a lot as I travel to Danville, Virginia, this weekend for an Instructors Summit at the Headquarters of Functional Movement.
This trip represents a very special experience for me, as it cements the core belief I have developed as to why and how I treat my patients. Next to the birth of my sons and my marriage to Amanda, this belief is the thing that’s most changed my life. Allow me to explain.
The common assumption that the site of your pain is the cause of your pain frustrates me to no end. It’s a mistake that has actually killed people. It’s sad, but so many folks are misdiagnosed or not diagnosed when they have physical pain, causing a cascade of problems. And it doesn’t have to be this way.
Every time I teach a function-fitness class, I share this fable with the physical therapists, chiropractors and orthopods in the room:
Imagine a 41-year-old man (whom we’ll call Steve) who suffers back pain caused by a stiff right hip. Steve goes to his primary-care doctor for help, and ends up with prescriptions for ibuprofen and physical therapy. While therapy puts him on a core-strengthening program, which is often helpful, it never loosens that right hip. So, even after a month of sessions, Steve’s pain never fully resolves. He returns to his MD and says, “I’ve done everything you told me to do, but my back still hurts. I still need help.”
The MD, who truly wants to help, gives Steve a prescription for a muscle relaxer and a low-level painkiller, then sends him to the local chiropractor. After another month of thrice-weekly sessions and copayments, Steve’s low back still hurts, because the chiropractor has been focusing on the painful area.
Steve returns to the MD and says, “I’ve done everything you told me to do, and my back is actually worse. Last week I took batting practice with my 10-year-old son and I ended up in bed for three days. I need help!”
The MD doesn’t believe that Steve is a candidate for surgery, so he refers him to a pain-management physician, who performs an injection at the site of Steve’s pain. Steve feels pretty good for a couple days, then his pain returns. Steve undergoes another injection two weeks later, with similar results.
Now Steve is pretty irritable when returns to his doctor and asks for some serious painkillers. The scary part is that the painkillers aren’t going to fix his problem, and failed use of narcotics and painkillers is an increasing cause of suicide in the U.S. So, here is Steve, a man who has done everything right and is now forced to take narcotics that won’t work. What else is there to do?
I have seen patients like Steve many, many times. And when I hear their story, it follows the same pattern: every medical provider has focused solely on the site of pain. All that needed to occur is a full-body exam, which would lead us to the tight right hip.
That’s why we perform a full-body exam (the SFMA) on every patient who walks through our door, so that nothing gets missed. Misses have a huge impact on people’s lives.
The summit in Virginia is exciting for me because my first experience there as a student got me asking the question “Where is the problem?” instead of “Where does it hurt?” As a result, I’ve been able to help a lot of Steves since then, and this new year, I want to help as many Steves as I can. It starts with asking the right questions and finding the CAUSE of the pain—not the site of pain—with a full exam.
I hope to see you this week in the clinic or the gym. I will be gone Friday for the summit, but I will be available until then.
Yours in health,
Dr. Josh Satterlee, DC
Certified Titleist Performance Institute Medical Provider
Instructor, North American Sports Medicine Institute