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Shared Medical Appointments Help Patient Get Pain, Stress and Diet Under Control

Becky Prince’s life is a whirlwind. She works full-time at Vitamix, frequently traveling for her job in corporate accounts. She has three grown children, and due to a difficult family situation, Becky and her husband assumed custody of their great niece and nephew a few years ago.

“It was a very difficult situation. We’d never had to file charges or deal with the court system,” says Becky. “It took a toll on our family and my health.”

Becky’s blood pressure and blood sugar levels were elevated. Then, at the playground with the now toddlers, she lifted one of them the wrong way and injured her back.

“I was in a lot of pain, but didn’t know how bad the injury was. My regular physician prescribed muscle relaxers and scheduled an MRI. I did some physical therapy but when I saw the surgeon, his first question was ‘when do you want to schedule surgery?’,” says Becky. “I felt the therapy combined with icing, resting and exercising as directed was helping. I was shocked to hear surgery was my only option.”

When she was told that after surgery she’d spend three to four months in a brace, followed by a year of recovery, Becky left the office in tears. Still crying, she made a call to Jim Perko, the chef at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Lyndhurst, who she knows through her work at Vitamix. Jim helped Becky schedule an appointment with Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD, Medical Director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute at the Lyndhurst campus.

“At the very first appointment, they did acupuncture... Before I knew it, I had needles in me! I went home feeling completely drained. I took a nap, which is something I never do. When I got up, I felt like 50 percent of my pain was gone... The pain management SMAs were by far the best medical visits I’ve ever gone to.”

Though Becky had several issues to address – including obesity, diabetes and hypertension – Dr. Golubic felt it was important to get the pain from her back injury under control first. He encouraged Becky to enroll in the Integrative Pain Management Shared Medical Appointments (SMAs) – a group appointment held once a week for eight weeks. During the SMAs, participants learn activities including yoga, acupuncture, meditation and more.

“At the very first appointment, they did acupuncture,” says Becky. “I was worried, but since it was part of the group visits, I just followed along with the group. Before I knew it, I had needles in me! I went home feeling completely drained. I took a nap, which is something I never do. When I got up, I felt like 50 percent of my pain was gone, but I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t think it would last. By the third week, I finally said something about my pain being substantially less, and I’d done nothing but the acupuncture and yoga. The pain management SMAs were by far the best medical visits I’ve ever gone to.”

Once Becky was on board with an anti-inflammatory diet, acupuncture and yoga, Dr. Golubic encouraged her to participate in the Lifestyle Essentials SMAs, where she would learn more about healthy eating via culinary medicine visits in the teaching kitchen, safe and effective ways to increase her physical activity level, and how to recognize stress and incorporate techniques to provide relief from it.

“The appointments are designed to help patients with high blood pressure, sugar, and/or elevated cholesterol adopt lifestyle practices that lead to optimal self-care, something that Becky excels at,” says Dr. Golubic. “By actively participating in her own recovery, Becky was able to be in a better frame of mind, able to do more, and continue to do better.”

Becky is happy with all she’s accomplished. Her diabetes and blood pressure are under control and she decreased her body mass index by more than five points, though the weight loss aspect of her journey continues to be a challenge. She also participated in the Integrative Medical Weight Management SMA called TRIM-LIFE®, group visits designed to help patients develop healthier relationships with foods and increase awareness of sensations of hunger and fullness to manage their weight.

“I certainly know what to do about eating healthy, it’s just hard to find the time to do it. When it’s working for me, I plan and make meals ahead, putting them in individual containers so I can grab and go. But sometimes things get in the way of me doing that,” says Becky.

According to Dr. Golubic, that’s typical of most people living in our current “toxic” environment of constant demands that tax our resilience, limited opportunity for physical activity, and abundance of obesity-promoting foods and refined food-like products. “Life happens, and things could derail you. The next thing you know, the pain is back, blood pressure and/or sugar are up, or you’ve gained a few pounds,” he says. “We try to keep patients under our roof at the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Management. We want them to see us an oasis of health and wellbeing to which they’re always welcome to return if they need help getting back on track.”

Related Institutes: Wellness & Preventive Medicine
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