As part of our continuing series on lower back pain, Tranquility Labs recently met with Michelle Rodriguez MPT, OCS, CMPT, the founder and director of Manhattan Physio Group, a Physical Therapy and Wellness Center based in New York City.
Rodriguez is currently treating one of our Tranquility Labs correspondents after being introduced through a friend who danced in the New York City Ballet for over 17 years.
Rodriguez is a former professional ballerina who moved on to become a standout in the world of orthopedics and biomechanics. With a unique understanding of the body, injury, movement and rehabilitation, she is best described as “The Body Whisper.” Many fellow ballet dancers who were unable to walk due to the pain (especially back pain) found relief with Rodriguez’s help, and were able to return to the stage at the New York City Ballet.
Our correspondent similarly sought relief from extreme back pain and had a healthy degree of skepticism due to the mixed results of past physical therapy before being treated by Rodriguez.
To explain her practice, Rodriguez recently sat down for an interview.
Q & A with Michelle Rodriguez MPT, OCS, CMPT
Q: You became an elite performer at a very young age as a professional ballerina with The School Of American Ballet (The New York City Ballet), and you are now a healthcare professional and world leader in orthopedics and biomechanics. What is the secret to your success?
A: An insatiable desire to always be better and get better at whatever I do. Also, I have an incredible eye for detail and give those little details a lot of importance. Lastly, I love what I do.
Q: Michelle, I have always thought that physical therapy consisted of a series of boring, tedious exercises that you can do on your own or that you were stuck doing in a dingy clinic. But your practice and approach is different. Tell us about it.
A: Unfortunately for my profession, some PT clinics do operate like this. Patients get very little time with the PT, and then they are just asked to do their exercises.
My practice is 100% patient focused. We have a beautiful and inviting space where patients feel comfortable and supported. Our PT sessions are all one-on-one, and our goals include really listening to the patient, doing a thorough and comprehensive assessment, offering a treatment that is specific to the patient’s needs, and developing a plan of care. As specialized orthopedic manual therapists, we have the skills to be able to differentially diagnose the potential root cause of the injury as well as the skills to then mobilize and manipulate the body to restore its proper biomechanics. We then also retrain and strengthen the body to function and perform more optimally.
Q: What’s the difference between a physical therapist and a manual physical therapist?
A: A manual physical therapist has taken additional courses and sat for exams if he/she is certified to develop her hands on skills. Manual PT’s have the following skills and then some.
Myofascial release technique
Cross friction massage
Joint mobilizations + manipulations
Peripheral nerve mobilizations
More advanced understanding of biomechanics
Q: I hear a lot about, but don’t really understand, these new therapies that involve drawing out your blood and then reinjecting it back into your body. Are these just modern day vampires or are these treatments worth exploring?
A:These treatments are definitely worth exploring. The literature is starting to show support for these therapies, but more importantly, what we always see first is anecdotal evidence to support it.
Q: Talk about the importance of diet – is this the root of inflammation?
A: I truly believe that you are what you eat. The food you eat fuels and nourishes your body. The food we eat can also contribute to inflammation in our bodies.
Q: Is there an ideal diet for everyone?
A: I don’t think there is one diet for everyone. I think what is ideal for everyone is having fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. The quality of the food we eat is becoming more and more important because, unfortunately, our food industry does not always have the consumer’s health or best interest in mind.
What is Sciatica? What Causes It?
Q: Let’s discuss my injury in particular. I came to you with what I think is best described as sciatica. I didn’t have back pain, instead the pain was along the top of my glute and shooting down my left leg. What is sciatica and what causes it?
A: You came to me with what you thought was sciatica, but sciatica is truly an entrapment of the sciatic nerve at the posterior hip. It is very confusing for patients because the symptoms present the same, but what you came in with is lumbar radiculopathy. The cause of your leg pain was not because your sciatic nerve was being “squeezed” or was inflamed because of a problem from your posterior hip.
Instead, you had pain down the track of your sciatic nerve because a large disc extrusion and disc material was compressing your L5 nerve root. Your L5 nerve “feeds into” and becomes a part of your sciatic nerve after it has left your lumbar spine and travels into your pelvis/posterior hip. So people very loosely use the term sciatica as a diagnosis, but for me as a PT, these details are very important because the treatment plan is different.
Physical Therapy and Overall Therapy Continuum
Q: Over the course of trying to fix my pain I have seen orthopedic surgeons, physiatrists, chiropractors, personal trainers, and now physical therapists. Can you help position where PT fits into the overall therapy continuum?
A: Physical therapists in the state of NY have direct access, which means that a patient can come see a PT without a doctor’s prescription. So patients can come see us before even seeing a doctor. PT’s work most closely with surgeons and doctors and less closely with chiropractors. The scope of practice of a chiropractor and PT overlap quite a bit, especially a manual physical therapist because we are skilled to perform joint manipulations through the body. I like to make sure to always collaborate with my patient’s trainers so we are all on the same page.
Gyrotonics and Spinal Back Pain Relief
Q: As part of my therapy you also have me working with your senior gyrotonics instructor. Why is that an integral part of my recovery?
A: Gyrotonic is a form of 3D movement that helps to improve the coordination of your breathing with core re-training and also helps to decompress your spine. This is integral to your recovery because we need to improve the axial length of your spine to try and create a little more space between your vertebrae and also to retrain your core. After an acute injury like yours, the core becomes dysfunctional in the presence of pain.
A: There is so much we can do! Medicine has made such incredible advances in the last two decades. In this day and age, I don’t think that people should be complacent and just except not feeling well as the new norm.
Q: Are there root causes of orthopedic pain, particularly lower back pain?
A:Lower back pain is very common. Technology and life’s conveniences have made us much more sedentary than we used to be. When we sit for a prolonged period of time there is a lot of compression in the lumbar spine and this puts a lot of pressure on our discs. Lower back pain is the end result of certain muscles being weak, certain muscles being tight, other muscles being too stretched out, and excessive load going through the joints, ligaments, and discs of the spine. In a nutshell, LBP often results from imbalances in the body.
Q: When is the best time to see a PT after an injury?
A: It’s worth seeing a PT as soon as possible right after an injury.
Q: Is there a way to prevent injury in the first place?
A: I always recommend seeing a PT before you “get back to working out” or pick up a sport you have not played in a long time or just as a regular monthly checkup. We all have areas of our body that could be functioning better, and we’re not aware of them because our body is able to compensate for them. We usually end up getting injured when our body runs out of compensation options.
Q: You work with some of the most elite athletes, performers, actors, and ballet dancers in the world. These people rely on their bodies to function at an extremely high level to earn their living. What can mortals like me learn from their training and work with you to prevent injury and relieve pain?
A: In the case of professional dancers and athletes, their careers and livelihood depend on how well their bodies can perform. So they learn at an age much younger than most to take care of their body. They see, feel and experience the value of preventative PT sessions or weekly massages or gyrotonic for cross-training or regular stretching routines, etc. It’s important for all of us to make time to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to move freely and happily enjoy the activities we love to do.
More Information and Supplemental Relief
To learn more about Michelle Rodriguez and her practice visit, click here. Also, check out how supplements like Tranquility Labs’ Turmeric Curcumin 1000, an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that is formulated for general pain relief, and the omega-3 rich CogniDHA can further your health goals an help relieve back pain.