How the Center for Pain and Spine treats chronic pain

Woman holding medicine ball

Buckets of ice cream sat on the table, ready to scoop. They had been purchased for a patient by Jessica Senna, BFA, coordinator for the Functional Restoration Program (FRP) at the Center for Pain and Spine.

Why ice cream, and why so much of it?

Senna says the patient owns an ice cream shop, but he has difficulty operating it because of chronic neck, right-shoulder and low-back pain. To help him regain the function he needed, Senna and her team, including occupational therapist Olivia Franceschelli, OTR/L, used the buckets of ice cream (and whipped cream and cookies) to set up a simulated ice cream shop.  

“That way he could practice real-life movements,” says Franceschelli, who came up with the idea. “He experienced the most difficulty with scooping ice cream, being in a slightly bent-forward position, and while lifting and carrying ice cream tubs up the stairs.”

She says being able to practice real-life movements sheds light on all of the body mechanics that are affected when completing a task. It also fosters a sense of confidence as patients learn to trust their bodies again, rather than avoid the movements that created pain.

It’s not just ice cream shop owners that get individualized treatment in the 4-week, Monday-through-Friday outpatient FRP program. 

“We simulate goals for all our patients,” Franceschelli says. “It may not be to this extent, but we use items around the gym to simulate the movement required for a specific goal, such as carrying packages up the stairs for UPS or USPS workers, shoveling, or getting into awkward positions under sinks for plumbers.” 

The overall goal of the program, which is one of just a handful in the country and the only one in the Northeast, is to improve the quality of life for patients with chronic pain. 

Senna says, “We offer tools, home plans, resources and support so that patients can be less reliant on medical intervention and instead manage their chronic pain experience on their own.”

She adds, “Ultimately, these meaningful goals are what make patients so invested in this treatment. They have to want to put in the work, and although they are the one doing the work, the group shows them that they are not alone. The patient’s goals become the staff’s goals as well. The reason why our program is so successful is because of our wonderful team who come in each day thinking of new ideas, working together, and putting our patients first.”

So what do you do with those buckets of ice cream when the simulated shop closes? “It was a perk for the rest of the group and the staff on site that day,” Senna says. 

This piece first appeared under the title "Getting the Scoop on Pain" in the March edition of Connections Magazine.