Oh, My Aching Back!

  • November 02, 2012
  • Newsroom, Americares Free Clinics, Norwalk

Many of our patients are employed in back-breaking manual labor jobs that require frequent bending and heavy lifting, wreaking havoc on their knees and backs. Over time, the wear and tear on their joints and muscles leaves them wincing in pain. If it becomes so debilitating that it prevents patients from earning money to pay rent and buy groceries, their entire family feels the hurt, too.

Since the uninsured have few treatment options and often face lengthy waiting lists to get orthopedic care, we have been expanding services to better help patients experiencing muscle and joint pain. The result: We now have monthly orthopedic clinics in Norwalk and Bridgeport, as well as physical therapy services. Combined with on-site rheumatology and physiatry consultations performed by volunteer doctors Barbara Roach and Randy Trowbridge, we have provided more than $200,000 in orthopedic services to 232 patients.

Volunteer orthopedist Dr. Thomas Rodda said he treats many construction workers, housekeepers and nannies in their 20s and 30s who lead hard lives that exacerbate the pain.

“They live in walk-up apartments that put strain on their knees, they lift heavy bricks at work, or they lug around heavy vacuums,” he said.

Susan Cavanaugh, a volunteer physical therapist who treats our patients at the Norwalk clinic and in her office, said patients without insurance are usually diligent about doing their assigned exercises.

“They are really grateful, really appreciative and they follow through because they know it’s their only shot to get better,” she said.

Joint and muscle pain is such a common complaint among free clinic patients that AmeriCares Free Clinics Executive Director Karen Gottlieb will address the topic during the upcoming American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation annual meeting in November.

The good news for AmeriCares patients, Dr. Rodda said, is that local hospitals donate diagnostic services including MRIs, CT scans and X-rays that help pinpoint the source of the pain. While the majority of patients see improvement with physical therapy alone, a handful of patients every year require surgery.

“We persist until we get a result,” he said.