In the News: Relief of Back Pain

‘I can’t put it into words:’ Clinic source of relief to patients with back pain (The Ottawa Citizen)

Last October, Lynne Miles was hit with excruciating back pain — to the point she couldn’t even sit down. After months of searching for help, she was finally referred to the Inter-professional Spine Assessment and Education Centre (ISAEC) at The Ottawa Hospital.

Months later, the memory of the pain is still knife-sharp for patient Lynne Miles. “It ran down my left leg. I had no sensation in my left foot. I couldn’t bend over. I couldn’t sit. The pain was affecting me psychologically,” she said.

“I truly was at the end of my ability to cope. I felt I could not go on in that situation.”

Miles is grateful the severe pain is mostly a memory now. That, she says, is thanks to the speedy care she received at a special clinic at The Ottawa Hospital for patients with back pain.

The Inter-professional Spine Assessment and Education Clinic (ISAEC) at the Civic campus is part of a province-wide effort to improve treatment of low back pain and outcomes for patients. The clinic is the first of its kind in the region.

Low back pain can change the lives of patients, but it is also serious for society as a whole.

It is the No. 1 reason people miss work and the No. 2 reason patients visit a family doctor, says Dr. Eugene Wai, head of spinal surgery at TOH and clinical sponsor of the program.

The aim of the clinic, which works with various health-care professionals to treat and manage low-back pain, is rapid access for patients so they can get help and return to normal life. The Ottawa Hospital clinic is the hub for the program, which will have locations across the Champlain LHIN region.

Not only does low back pain have a big impact on society, it is not well treated, said Wai. The aim of the inter-professional clinics, that began in Toronto, Hamilton and Thunder Bay, is to change that.

Its emphasis is on preventative treatment by getting patients moving, giving them physiotherapy and acupuncture in some cases and pain relief.

Surgery is an option in some cases. But Wai said the emphasis is on treatment and education upstream. “As a surgeon, I treat people downstream.”

Among the benefits of the quick access clinics has been that MRI referrals for low-back pain have been reduced by 70 per cent in Champlain region. The money saved by reducing inappropriate MRIs is helping to support the clinics, said Wai.

He believes lack of activity is one of the major causes of the epidemic of lower back pain. “I see lifestyle as the biggest problem.”

The clinic can help prevent ongoing and future problems in patients and also prevent patients using opioids to cope with pain, said Wai.

Miles had been prescribed painkillers that were “barely working” before her initial visit to the clinic.

After an assessment by a nurse-practitioner in consultation with a surgeon, she was prescribed higher doses of a drug to reduce nerve inflammation and irritation. That allowed her to reduce pain medication and to be more successful with physiotherapy.

There will be another visit in a few weeks in which she might be given epidural injections in the spine and then her condition will be further assessed.

Miles’s issues have not disappeared, but they are now manageable.

“I can’t even put it into words. I am back to my normal mental and emotional state. I still can’t bend over, but I can sit. It is day and night compared to what it was like.”


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