Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe
Lisa Carter had just opened her own personal training company when back pain threatened her career. “It wasn’t just a little muscle pull,” says Lisa Carter, 45, recalling the pain that kept her from doing her job just over a year ago. Carter ultimately learned that she had a bilateral fracture on her vertebrae, a herniated disc, and sciatic nerve issues.
Before that, however, “I had seen another doctor and had physical therapy at another facility, but my back was only getting worse,” Carter says. “Fear set in; I wondered if I would have to close my business.”
Several of Carter’s friends suggested she go to The Iowa Clinic Spine Center. Convinced that the Spine Center offered expertise as well as conservative approaches to dealing with back pain, she made an appointment with Amy Lynch, D.O., a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist (also called physiatrist). “That was the turning point; it was huge,” recalls Carter. “Dr. Lynch gave me hope, a clear direction, and calmed my fears. Her bedside manner was fantastic.” Following Dr. Lynch’s advice, Carter began physical therapy with Mallory Swenson at The Iowa Clinic’s Ankeny location.
“Within three months, I was fully recovered, my back was fine, and I was back doing my passion,” says Carter. “Mallory really knows what she is doing. She watches your form, makes sure you’re doing everything correctly, and—because she sees patients one-on-one rather than as a group — she’s not distracted with other patients.”
Swenson says many of her patients come in with problems similar to Carter’s. “Their problems can usually be resolved with physical therapy, which is a conservative alternative to surgery. We work on teaching them better strenthening and better body mechanics,” Swenson says.
Carter adds, “I love the Spine Center. I teach fitness classes for seniors throughout Des Moines. I’m constantly referring my clients to the Spine Center because of the results I received there.”
“I’m constantly referring my clients to the Spine Center because of the results I received there.“
— Lisa Carter,
personal fitness trainer
Mallory Swenson is one of eight Physical Therapists with The Iowa Clinic who helps patients strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility throughout the spine and hips. Specific exercises target improving biomechanics and function of the spine and surrounding joints.
“We see good results; a lot of patients are able to manage their symptoms to a level they can either delay surgery or avoid it altogether,” Swenson says.
Swenson and the other Physical Therapists also see patients after surgery to help with core strengthening, which helps stabilize the spine and prevent injury from reoccurring. Additionally, “We work on flexibility to help patients get back their range of motion and mobility, such as to bend to put on their socks and shoes or pick up items from the floor,” she says.
Another important aspect of physical therapy is pain control, which may be addressed with use of modalities (ice, heat, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation), massage, and/or manual stretching. Often, Swenson’s patients come in with overuse or posture-related issues.
“They may have had a lifetime of heavy lifting, such as with factory work, firefighting, and nursing. We also see people who work at their desk all day and have bad posture.
“These patients have been hard on their back for many years. It’s often some little movement — maybe bending over to pick up a pen — that finally gets the best of them,” she says.
But with physical therapy, most patients find relief in just four to eight weeks. During this time, they may visit with a Physical Therapist twice a week in the beginning, and less as they improve by doing prescribed exercises at home.
Swenson adds, “Our job is to teach patients how to properly build strength. Our goal is to help them get back to doing everything they want to do.”