After a car accident in July 2018, lower back pain made normal tasks unbearable for Emy Chrisman.
“I had pain 24/7. It didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, I had pain. It affected every part of my life,” Emy says.
Before her accident, Emy was a busy, happy mother of five who thrived on taking care of her family and finding time for her favorite activity: running.
But after the accident, she struggled to do even the most ordinary things, like pick up her 2 year old, get in and out of the car or sit cross-legged on the floor. And running was out of the question. Some days, Emy couldn’t do anything but lie on her bed. After several months of dealing with the pain, she began feeling depressed. She was no longer the kind of mother she wanted to be, and she felt bad that her husband, Jake, always had to pick up the slack.
Unfortunately, Emy’s story is not uncommon. Back pain is the No. 1 disability worldwide, the No. 1 reason why people miss work and the No. 2 reason why they go to the doctor.
For Emy, trips to the doctor became the new normal. She consulted with at least a dozen different medical professionals, ping-ponging between her primary care physician, chiropractors, orthopedists, pain doctors and physical therapists. They offered a variety of treatment plans, from pain medications to injections to back exercises. Each one promised that given enough time and continued treatments, Emy would feel better. But she didn’t.
The medications made her groggy, and she couldn’t take care of her children. The injections and back exercises didn’t provide any relief.
Emy worried the doctors would think she was just a drug seeker. But she didn’t want the drugs. She wanted to get better.
“I would tell them, ‘These things you’re giving me — they’re just band-aids,’” she says. “They don’t fix the problem. I’m not here to get drugs. I want to fix my back.”
One day, a physical therapist suggested she talk to a Utah Valley neurosurgeon, Dr. John Edwards. He instructed to do whatever she could to get an appointment. So Emy placed a phone call to the Utah Neurological Clinic in Provo.
When Emy came to her appointment and described her frustrations to Dr. Edwards, he said he knew exactly what to do. To Emy’s surprise, he didn’t default to surgery. He told Emy he was determined to find the root cause of her problem, by sending her to the best spine diagnostician he knew, Dr. Eric Lee, a spine-credentialed chiropractor.
After her first visit with Dr. Lee, Emy called her mother on the verge of grateful tears, telling her that she had never had a doctor be so interested in her health and ask such comprehensive questions. Emy left the office feeling hopeful that she might finally be on the road to recovery.
“I see patients like Emy all the time,” Dr. Lee says. “They’ve seen several different professionals who’ve given the treatment their specialty provides. Everybody is trying to treat the pain, but nobody’s looking at the root cause. And that’s what I do. I spend a lot of time trying to piece together the whole story. Pain is an alarm system in the body — meant to alert us that something’s not right. I want to know what’s not right. What’s actually causing the pain? Usually, it’s a mechanical or structural problem that is only masked by traditional treatments.”
A New Solution
The traditional treatments for back pain aren’t necessarily helping people get better. Even worse, the tendency toward treating it with narcotics has fueled the opioid epidemic.
Back pain is an old problem in need of a new solution, which is why Mountain Point Medical Center created the Pain and Spine Center.
Dr. Lee and Dr. Edwards saw the need for more comprehensive treatment options for patients just like Emy. An alliance between a chiropractor and a neurosurgeon is far from the norm. Traditionally, medical doctors and chiropractors haven’t seen eye-to-eye — in fact, they have vastly different approaches to spine care. But Dr. Lee and Dr. Edwards believe it’s a strength and have embraced those differences as a way to offer more options and better outcomes to their patients. Working together, they’ve created a system that gets to the root cause of the problem, and enlists the help of other specialists when needed. As a result, their patients get better.
Treating the Cause
And that’s what happened to Emy. As the “quarterback” of Emy’s case, Dr. Lee began with a comprehensive patient history. When he was finished with the appropriate imaging and workups, he pulled Dr. Edwards back in. In Emy’s case, he also consulted with Dr. Richard Jackson II, a neuroradiologist. Together the three discovered the root cause of Emy’s problem. She had Bertolotti’s Syndrome, a congenital condition of the lower vertebrae. Emy was unaware of her condition because it never caused her pain until the car accident severely irritated it.
On July 30th, 2019 — just over a year after the accident — Dr. Edwards performed surgery on Emy’s back.
“I feel amazing! I know that sounds crazy when I just had surgery three and a half weeks ago. But honestly, for the first time in months, I don’t have any pain. I have my life back,” Emy says.
Collaborating and Improving
Dr. Edwards is quick to point out that historically patients in Utah Valley have relied on many good clinics and practitioners, but have not been able to go to a single comprehensive treatment center — until now.
The Pain and Spine Center at Mountain Point Medical Center in Lehi takes a collaborative approach to provide the comprehensive treatment their patients need.
“Think of us as the quarterback on a team of spinal health professionals,” Dr. Edwards says. “Working with a patient’s primary care physician, we pull in the right sub-specialty doctors to treat the root cause of the problem. The kind of care that Emy received is available at our clinic because we have more options than a single-specialty clinic.”
When patients come to the Pain and Spine Center at Mountain Point Medical Center, they first see Dr. Lee of Vista Spine and Injury, whose expertise is in diagnosing the patient’s problem, providing mechanical treatment and directing care to other specialists. Those specialists include:
- Dry Creek Physical Therapy, which has an office in Mountain Point Medical Center
- Dr. Kendall Grose and Dr. Brandon Green from Steward Neuroscience and Rehabilitation Center, who specialize in physical medicine, rehabilitation and pain care
- Neurosurgeons from the Utah Neurological Clinic, including Doctors Howard Reichman, Lynn Gaufin, Paul Gardner, David Smith and John Edwards — who provide surgical treatment when necessary
Emy is walking a couple of miles each day now and can’t wait to start running again. To others suffering with back pain, she advises, “Keep fighting. Keep doing everything you can to find the right doctors to help you. They’re out there.”
For more information, contact Vista Spine & Injury at 801-756-7800.