“It was like I was given a lifeline to be in control”

Photo of patient Beverly Jean Oliver.

Beverly Jean Oliver said her experience at the New Brunswick Inter-Professional Spine Assessment and Education Clinic (NB-ISAEC) has empowered her to take control of her low-back pain.

Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, for close to 40 years Beverly Jean Oliver, who turns 75 this year, worked out three days per week at the YMCA. She is independent and self-sufficient living in her home in Grand-Digue, New Brunswick.

When the pandemic essentially shut everything down, Beverly did what she could to stay active, but she began experiencing hip pain.

“Two years of not exercising, I started to have hip pain, and because I was limping, I started to have back pain,” she said. “I told my doctor, Dr. Brittany Colpitts, the best doctor in the world, that I was worried about my back. It was killing me.”

Dr. Colpitts referred Beverly, first, to a regular physiotherapist which calmed things down a bit, but it wasn’t getting better. She then referred her to the New Brunswick Inter-Professional Spine Assessment and Education Clinic (NB-ISAEC or the spine clinic).

“I’d never heard of such a thing, but the minute she told me that, I felt so relieved. I was so relieved you have no idea,” Beverly said. “She told me they’d do a thorough exam, and this clinic only deals with backs.”

Since its inception in 2018, NB-ISAEC has clinics at Horizon’s The Moncton Hospital (TMH), Saint John Regional Hospital, Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital, and Miramichi Regional Hospital. In addition, there has been partnership with Vitalité Health Network to provide service for the northern part of the province.

Once referred, Beverly said it was just a couple of weeks until her intake assessment, which was done at the clinic at TMH, where there are two specially trained physiotherapists with advanced training in low back pathology.

Beverly’s intake assessment was done by Physiotherapist Andrew Ross, who is also the Clinical Coordinator of the NB-ISAEC program.

“I can’t say enough about Andrew. He took the time to listen to my concerns, and my anxieties and fears about my health,” Beverly said. “He was so respectful and kind, there was absolutely no patronizing.”

Andrew has extensive experience treating patients with low-back pain and related symptoms and has completed numerous post-graduate courses specific to this patient population.

Andrew said often patients with low back pain are referred for costly, and often medically unnecessary, medical imaging, and/or specialist consults. With approximately 75 to 85 % of patients end up being non-surgical candidates.

“Wait times for medical imaging or specialist consults are often lengthy, from 18 to 24 months in some cases,” Andrew said. “Many patients on a surgeon’s wait list are not receiving more appropriate non-operative treatment options while waiting, placing them at greater risk of developing chronic low-back pain.”

Beverly said Andrew did the best physio assessment she’s ever had in her entire life.

“All the neuro and motor possibilities that could be found, and at the end of all of it, he told me if they X-rayed my back, we’d see some disc thinning, but he said I have all the muscles and all the sensations you should have. There was nothing, that he could see, was majorly wrong with my back.”

Andrew said Beverly was a perfect patient for a clinic like this because the goal is to teach the patient how to self-manage their pain and not be so reliant on the therapist.

“Patients need to be willing to participate in their self-management plan, and a big component of that is regularly performing their exercises,” Andrew said. “When you have a patient like Bev, it is easy for me as a therapist as you know she is going to do her homework.”

Andrew provided Beverly with exercises to strengthen around her hip and back.

“He made sure I knew how to do them, and sent me on my way,” she said. “Just a few exercises that worked on the specific muscles, to strengthen the trouble areas.”

Six weeks later, Beverly returned to the clinic for a follow-up appointment with Andrew.

“Time is the great healer, and I’m so much better. I feel so much more in control of my body,” Beverly said. “Andrew looked at the exercises I had been doing, then added a couple more.”

Beverly said her two appointments at the spine clinic were a breath of fresh air, like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

“It was like I was given a lifeline to be in control. For me, it was a terrific experience,” Beverly said. “It put me back in the driver’s seat.”

As a retired occupational therapist, Beverly understands the important role physiotherapy plays in the health care system.

“Often, physio treatment is directed at pain and symptom relief,” Beverly said. “Andrew focuses on education and putting tools in your hand so you can control this yourself.”

Patients are provided with thorough assessment, an evidence-based exercise program, and education in self-management strategies.

“When it’s your own body, you need someone to reinforce what you think – or dispel it,” Beverly said, who’s been retired for 13 years.

Beverly said the disc deterioration hasn’t changed, because at her age, it’s expected, but since visiting the clinic, what’s changed is the muscle strength in her lower back.

“My muscles are much stronger thanks to the exercises, they’re continuing to strengthen,” she said. “This clinic was a Godsend.”

Reducing wait times

An objective in Horizon’s Strategic Plan 2021-2026 is to reduce wait times throughout our system.

A fundamental aspect of providing quality care is ensuring patients and clients have access to the health care services they need within a reasonable timeframe.

The NB-ISAEC physiotherapists are helping patients across the province reduce the amount of time waiting for often unnecessary medical imaging, while providing them with the education and tools needed to get back to their regular activities.

In addition, the NB-ISAEC ensures patients whose signs and symptoms require further medical imaging and specialist consults, are able to access them in a timely way.