Physical therapy class addresses participants’ painful issues

**This is the first of a two-part series about new ways to control pain.

Kari White said she’s an introvert because of chronic pain from fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, restless leg syndrome, and Renaud’s Syndrome, but a new physical therapy class in Lebanon is helping her deal with the pain and break out of her shell.

Explaining that her struggle with chronic pain “chips away” at her, White, of Sweet Home, said some days she can’t even tolerate a hug, but techniques from the class are teaching her how to breathe through each moment.

The Movement, Mindfulness and Pain Science program through Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital’s physical therapy department includes a variety of physical and mental strategies to aid in pain control, perception and healing.

Physical therapists Veronica Moresi and Sharna Prasad lead the MMAPS program on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

Moresi joined the program when it was in the beginning phases, she said. She incorporates mindfulness-based techniques during the class, making sure participants stay focused and listen to their bodies.

“A lot of times, especially with chronic pain, people ignore the signals their bodies are giving them. They either push too far, or they don’t push enough,” she said.

Prasad had been working as a physical therapist in Corvallis for almost 20 years when Robert Long, rehabilitation services manager at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, asked her to help him develop the program.

“Let’s just start it and we’ll figure it out later,” she told him.

Four years later, they now have two full classes and a waiting list, and Prasad said many of their patients are off opioids.

She said there are three components to pain: biology, psychology and social structure. She and Long incorporated movement, pain education and mindfulness to help their patients manage chronic pain.

“There is more emphasis now on encouraging patients to move, to test their barriers, and to realize it is safe for them to test these barriers with the goal for them to progress in community-based wellness programs and a healthy more independent life style,” Long said.

White, who’s re-taking the class this year, says she likes the program because it gives patients all the basic tools they need to deal with their pain.

She learned that pain is just a signal from her brain, and the class gives her skills to manage the pain and move a little better, she said. Before joining the class last year, White had tried several pain pills that either didn’t work or had miserable side effects. 

“I decided that’s not the way I was going to go about it. I was going to try to find some help in some other category, and start trying to do some light exercise to try to help myself through it,” White said.

The class incorporates a variety of physical and mental strategies, including Tai Chi, soft yoga, walking, breathing, stretching and chair yoga, as well as work stations that address more specific needs, such as balance and coordination. 

White loves the exercise, but also appreciates the social interaction she gets from the class.

One student, who didn’t want to give his name, has taken the class three times now.

One concept from the class that helps him is to pace himself, he said. He grew up being taught to “get the job done” and relax after, but that would cause him to push himself too far.

“A lot of it is good, common sense concepts, but this class helps bring it to the forefront and helps you keep thinking about it,” he said. “They’re trying to give you tools so you can function better and improve the quality of your life.”

Him and White act as mentors for the other patients in the class.

It helps to be around people who are going through the same basic problems, White said, and she believes she’s come out of her shell a bit more because of the friends she’s made there.

“It’s something to look forward to when you’re not a person that can go out and go dancing, or do things other people can typically do a lot of,” she said.

White doesn’t dance or run anymore, at one time two of her favorite activities, but she did enjoy a camping trip this summer with her three grandchildren, and she credits the pain management class for that.

So while the program doesn’t do anything to numb or mask the pain, it does help her get through it.

“Before, the only thing you could do was drugs, medication. Now we’re learning that you can probably control a lot of it yourself by the way you think,” she said.

Even on medication a year and a half ago, White doesn’t believe she’d have been able to make the camping trip with her grandkids.

“So I think I’ve gained quite a bit out of the class. I’ve decided I can live life with some pain, and deal with things.”

Those wanting to join the class must get a referral from their primary care provider and obtain a physical therapy evaluation first. For more information about the class, call (541) 451-7125.

**Part two will look at how some physicians are addressing new ways to battle chronic pain and the opioid crisis.