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“IT’S ONLY YOUR AGE”: THE STORY OF MARK

Mark was a man in constant pain. In his 60s with a history of heart attack and stroke, Mark assumed he’d have to deal with some recurrent health issues, but never imagined the pain storm that hit him and continued for nearly 5 years. Here’s his story.

In 2006, Mark was prescribed Lipitor, the cholesterol lowering drug, by his primary physician. Shortly after adding it to his daily regimen, he developed intense pain in the buttocks, thighs and lower back that made even small movements difficult. After doing a little online research, Mark learned that muscle pain was a common side effect of Lipitor (although the Lipitor would later be found to be unrelated). He stopped taking the drug immediately, but the pain continued. Mark had trouble finding a comfortable sleeping position and struggled to get out of bed and in and out of the car. It hurt when he stepped off a curb, turned around, and went from standing to sitting. Even sneezing was a dreaded activity.

Mark saw several doctors in search of relief, but was met with disappointing results. He was told things like “It’s only your age,” “It’s all in your head” and “You’ll just have to learn to live with it.” The doctors suggested exercise, blaming his aging physique and arthritis. An avid fitness buff his entire life, Mark wasn’t buying it.

Trips to various other healthcare practitioners — physical therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists — occasionally produced temporary relief, but the intense pain always returned. Mark relied on daily large doses of aspirin just to function. Unwilling to accept chronic pain, he scheduled more doctor visits in search of a real diagnosis, but was again met with the same resistance. At one point surgery was suggested, but wasn’t a risk he was willing to take. After a chiropractor suggested an MRI, Mark’s doctor talked him out of it, saying the test wouldn’t show anything. Another doctor said the same thing — that his pain was due to wear and tear, an MRI would not help and a solution simply did not exist.

Then one day, a simple trip to the sauna turned everything around. Mark talks about the conversation that changed his life:

One of my sauna acquaintances mentioned a friend who had been helped by something called injection therapy, an orthopedic treatment where a targeted dose of medication is injected into the spine. I asked my doctor about it and lo and behold, he advised against it, said it would be a waste of time. I didn’t accept his theory. I brought up the topic with my daughter; she mentioned she had tried spinal injections after a car accident, and they worked well for her. Had I finally found a way out of living with debilitating pain? At this point I had nothing to lose. I saw Dr. Portner shortly after learning about this treatment. He listened to my stories of pain and considered all of my symptoms. He performed a Sacro-Iliac (SI) joint injection and within a few days, and I felt like a new man. My ‘10’ on the pain scale went down to a ‘4’ and completely disappeared most days. I could finally get a good night’s rest. – Mark

When asked about Mark’s case, Dr. Portner couldn’t stress enough the unfortunate fact that too many doctors fail to perform a proper physical exam and don’t take time to truly listen to their patients. “It’s common for providers to put aging patients in a lump category where ‘aging’ is used as a diagnosis. It is simply unfair to write these patients off or skip steps in the diagnostic process based solely on age.” Between listening to his history and administering the injection, I performed a very methodical physical exam, testing all the structures and joints in the area to determine the precise diagnosis. An accurate diagnosis tells me where to place the needle — otherwise, it’s literally a shot in the dark. In fact, my success in helping people get pain relief is completely dependent on my physical diagnostic skills. Anyone can give a shot, but the effectiveness of the spinal injection is completely based on the doctor’s ability to pinpoint the trouble spot.”

Dr. Portner encourages geriatric patients to trust their instincts and be assertive with doctors who are giving them the run-around. “At Portner Orthopedic Rehabilitation, we believe our patients when they say something is wrong. Building relationships is a two-way street — we trust that they’ll give us the proper clues in the form of symptoms and history, and they trust that we’ll use our diagnostic knowledge to the best of our abilities to help them find a solution.”

Mark expressed immeasurable gratitude for what Dr. Portner and his team did to improve his quality of life:

I was a wellness nut my whole life, working out all the time, and knew my body was trying to tell me something. I figured the medical profession should be able to find the problem and make it better. It was Dr. Portner who listened to my symptoms and examined my body carefully using his hands in order to find a true diagnosis. All of the trauma of living with daily pain, plus all the money and time I spent seeing doctors, could have been eliminated had I gone to someone like Dr. Portner years ago. – Mark

For more information on geriatric orthopedics, please check back next week for Dr. Portner’s blog entitled “Red Flags for Geriatric Patients: How to Get the Most From Your Orthopedic Visit.”

—Lindsey Kesel, Orthopedic Consultant

Ask Dr. Portner your orthopedic questions directly! Tune in to “The Moving Body” Radio Show every Saturday at 7 a.m. on KHVH–AM 830 and call in for straight medical advice.

Not intended as medical advice. Please consult a physician for all medical issues.