For 20 years, Robert "Bob" Kies of Easthampton lived with chronic pain in his lower back.
Bob's a maintenance man at the Northampton Senior Center, and sometimes it was his work duties that would create the tinge that he knew would soon enough turn into pain so severe he wouldn't be able to stand upright. Sometimes, all it took was a cough to set him off.
Certain that a physician would recommend surgery, Bob never sought help for the problem. "I didn't know what to do," he says.
Then last May, doubled over after a particularly painful bout, Bob called his physician, Dr. Shawki Kanazi in Easthampton, who ordered X-rays and referred Bob for physical therapy at Cooley Dickinson's Rehabilitation satellite location in Easthampton.
In five, 45-minutes sessions, Physical Therapist Joann Berns eliminated Bob's pain and gave him the tools he needed to stay pain free. That was seven months ago, and Bob, 58, has not had pain in his back since.
"I learned so much from her in the five sessions we had," he says. "I haven't had a problem flare up badly since. It works. It's astonishing. It really is."
In addition to offering skilled manual mobilizations and helping to realign Bob's back, Joann taught Bob stretches and exercises that would strengthen his lower back, abdominals and safely increase his hip flexibility. She taught him how to lift and bend safely, and she helped him craft a workout routine that is much safer than the routine he had put together himself.
Bob's an early riser. He gets up at 4 a.m. to get ready for the start of his work day at 7 a.m., and his morning has always included a workout period. Before he met Joann, the routine consisted of push-ups, sit-ups and a series of toe touches, which he executed with his legs straight.
Bob was particularly proud of the latter skill, which he thought was a testament to his flexibility, but when he demonstrated for Joann, she taught him an alternative stretch that would protect his lower back.
Now, after his five sessions with Joann, which all began at 6:30 a.m., Bob still does a 20-minute workout every morning, but the push-ups are the only exercise he's kept from his original routine. He now does modified sit-ups and a series of strengthening exercises that Joann taught him. He is also teaching himself yoga positions and practicing them daily.
Joann didn't just help Bob improve his exercise regime though; she also taught him skills he can use on the job, like how to bend and lift more safely, thus protecting his back.
Now, when Bob feels a twinge of that old back pain, he quickly stretches and exercises, and the pain dissolves. "I've never been this confident about staving it off," he says. "Joann is terrific."
Bob has been married for 39 years to his wife, Kathleen, and together they have two children, Sherri and Michael; a daughter-in-law Amity Perman; and a granddaughter, Jadin Kies.
Bob says Kathleen has long had back pain as well. The two often referred to "throwing their backs out." Bob says Kathleen will soon be asking Dr. Kanazi for a referral to Joann as well.
"I haven't felt better in years," he says.
Cooley Dickinson Hospital • 30 Locust St. (Route 9), Northampton, Mass. • (413) 582-2000
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