News & Features


Research Briefs

In the News

Contact Us

Advertising Rates






BU Bridge Logo

Week of 22 January 1999

Vol. II, No. 20

Feature Article

Taking pains

For sore back or damaged digit, campus clinic spells R-E-L-I-E-F

By Hope Green

An avid runner, Jonathan Fine was determined to compete in the New York Marathon just once in his lifetime. His knees had a different idea. The chronic joint pain, which Fine had kept under control for two years, acted up last spring, just before he was to start training for the fall 1998 event.

"It would hurt when I'd perform everyday activities like climbing stairs," Fine (SAR'00) says. "My orthopedic surgeon in New Jersey had told me the pain was caused by all the running I had done in the past." It was a condition known as patellafemoral pain syndrome. Last April, Fine, a graduate student at Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, found help just minutes away from his lecture halls. In a clinic on SAR's sixth floor, physical therapist Darryl Elliott worked with Fine to bring down the swelling in the joints and prescribed a new exercise regimen to strengthen the surrounding muscle tissue.

Fine followed the routine diligently and began his training. On November 1, he completed the New York Marathon in 3 hours, 20 minutes, 39 seconds, and placed 2,502 out of more than 30,000 competitors. "While I was in it, I was constantly thinking to myself, When is that knee pain going to come? but it never did," Fine says. "It was only my feet that were sore."

Almost every waking hour, someone at BU is subjecting spine, ligament, or limb to stresses nature never intended. And five days a week, Elliott and his colleagues at Boston University Rehabilitation Services see the consequences: an office worker's back muscles begin to pinch. A tennis player's elbow starts to throb. A doctor develops a disabling ache in his thumb during flu-shot season.

"We can basically treat any little nagging pains and aches through physical therapy," says Elliott, supervisor of the BURS Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy Center. "Problems that you let go over a period of time usually worsen, and you stop doing activities you enjoy. That's where we come in."

While the clinic is open to the general public, the majority of its clientele consists of students, faculty members, and Univer sity staff, according to William Pesanelli, BURS director. On hand are three full-time PTs, as well as three members of the Sargent faculty. BURS also provides occupational therapy and runs an academic speech clinic.

Darryl Elliott, a physical therapist at Boston University Rehabilitation Services, works with Norma Degel, a Sargent College financial administrator who suffers from bone spurs in her neck. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Total clinic visits now top 5,500 annually, Pesanelli says, representing a 20 percent growth in clientele during the past three years. Most referrals come from Student Health Services and the Commonwealth Medical Group, although he is attempting to spread the word to doctors in surrounding cities and towns.

Pesanelli cites numerous advantages for BURS clients. Many clinics, he says, employ aides with minimal training, whereas therapists here include faculty who have been in the field for up to 20 years. In addition, the Sargent facility provides cardiovascular and dietary screenings for $50 per session, services that normally cost $400. And unlike hospitals and HMOs, which often have waiting lists for therapy, BURS can schedule an appointment within 24 hours of a client's call. "The quicker people get their rehab going the better, because then the pain won't become chronic," Pesanelli says. "If you let the pain linger, there will be more inflammation, and the problem becomes cyclical."

Sidelined sportsmen
A good many of the clients are student athletes and leisure-sports enthusiasts. Snowboarder Phillip Chung (ENG'00), who has dislocated his right shoulder twice in the last two years, has worked with Elliott before and will return following corrective surgery earlier this month. "Since it only takes me 5 or 10 minutes to get there, I can sometimes fit in my appointments between classes," Chung says. He is confident that he'll be back on the Vermont slopes next season.

Lawrence Elswit, a BU associate general counsel, also found relief at the Sargent clinic. With physical therapy and exercise, he overcame back problems and restored strength to an elbow he broke in 1997. This June, the mountain climber plans to scale Mount McKinley. "Initially I went to Sargent because it was convenient," Elswit says, "but later it was because of the confidence I had in Darryl Elliott's skills and judgment. He understands how to motivate people, and he tuned in to my own desire to get aggressive treatment."

Elliott cautions new clients to begin therapy with a realistic attitude. "I don't want people to think they're going to come in and get either a solid, heavy workout or a complete massage session. It's somewhere in the middle, and it depends on the individual. Patients do come in more frequently in the beginning for guidance," he adds, "but you will eventually have to remember to do your exercises at home."

The BURS Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy Center, 635 Commonwealth Ave., sixth floor, is open Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. It can coordinate payment through most major health insurance plans. For further information, call 617-353-8383.