Leading pain doctors are now prescribing movement as medicine
Physician Heidi Prather is the director of the Orthopaedic Spine Center at Washington University Hospital in St. Louis, MO, and the founder of a new program called The Living Well Center, which focuses on providing true interdisciplinary care for people with chronic conditions, including back and joint pain.
Prather notes that for many years, employees seeking workers’ compensation related to an on-the-job injury would be reassigned to sedentary jobs, on doctor’s orders. This was standard operating procedure, and instead of leading to recovery, it often led to more disability. She'll no longer write such orders, Prather says, because these "work-related" injuries, especially those that result in back pain, are more frequently the result of deconditioning than they are of any specific trauma. There are accidents, of course—a box could fall on you or a front-loader could run you down—but typically, weak, degenerated muscles are the culprit, rather than a skeletal failure.
“So many ailments could be avoided if people moved consistently,” Prather said.
Prather now asks the employer to allow the “injured” patient to wear sneakers to work, and to leave her desk every fifteen minutes to take a spin around the building or a trip up and down the stairs. Prescribing movement instead of medicine or surgery reflects a major shift in how we understand health and fitness, says Prather, who expects to offer continuing medical education at the Living Well Center to other providers who are interested in changing the status quo.
But, seriously—you’re not going to do lunges or squats in the office, and neither am I. So how can we stay physically active and still get the work done?