PT Weekly: Dr. Michelle Neff

Dr. Michelle Neff is a doctor of physical therapy, a graduate of Oakland University School of Health Sciences, Michigan, BSc. Human Biology from Michigan State University in Detroit, Michigan. Over 6 years professional experience, including time setting-up physical therapy clinics in Detroit, Michigan and rural Illinois (outside of Chicago) and teaching students in Physical Therapy. 

She is Physio Centers of Africa’s Executive Director of Clinical Excellence and specialises in orthopedics, neurology and home care, with additional training in pediatrics and acute care.

I’ll start it with some information about us and what sort of topics we will be discussing here. Our team is made up of 5 therapists and all of us have different special interests. So, we will all be writing about what we know and what we think it will benefit you to learn.

In Nigeria there are many conditions that go untreated simply because no one knew there were options like physiotherapy that could provide a solution. There are also many conditions that should be treated early but aren’t referred to a physiotherapist until they are so severe that treatment options are limited. For now, I will start with the most common one we see in our clinic, low back pain.

Many people are aware that back pain is something you can see a physiotherapist for, but most think it’s something to seek treatment for once the condition has become unmanageable. Every day in Lagos I talk to people who tell me “oh, I don’t have any problems like that”. So then if I ask them do they really not have any pain at all? The response is usually “Well yeah but just in the car somedays when I sit in traffic or when I sit at my desk too long” or “only when I do my workouts or try to bend over too far”.

I read a study recently that showed 88% of a group of Nigerians over 60 years old have had low back pain, and at least 35% of those cases developed a chronic problem. Those numbers indicate that there are a lot of people in this country who aren’t receiving proper treatment for their pain. Most aren’t aware that these pains that come and go are your body trying to tell you there is a problem, the painkillers you take are just masking the problem and the longer you wait to do something about it, the more difficult and costly the treatment process becomes.

In the US I used to see cases every day of low back pain that just developed when someone tried to pick up their toddler the wrong way or got injured playing tennis or golf on the weekend. For these people, they go through about 4 weeks of treatment and they are in no more pain. They also walk away with a better knowledge and understanding of their bodies and how to prevent these problems in the future.

Here in Nigeria, the average case of low back pain I see has been going on, or on and off, for over a decade. Usually with symptoms going into the legs, causing issues with balance, numbness, cramps and weakness as well. In cases like these permanent changes have already set In and treatment becomes longer, more painful and more difficult. Although progress can be made, some people never fully recover and then surgery may even become necessary. So as a society we need to start stressing the importance of paying attention when our bodies are saying something isn’t right.

If you have been experiencing these symptoms you should go see a physio for an evaluation. The therapist will assess your posture and movement patterns, strengths and weaknesses or muscle imbalances and flexibility issues, as well as the condition of the joints in your spine. Then they will advise you on movement patterns to change and positions to avoid, as well as exercises to do to relieve the pain and prevent it from returning. Therapists can also use massage, mobilizations and other treatment modalities to reduce pain in an acute flare-up.

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