Empowering patients through improved physical function with minimal medical intervention
Dr. Alexis Tracy, a physiatrist, specializes physical medicine and rehabilitation at Steamboat Orthopaedic & Spine Institute
Brought to you by Steamboat Orthopaedic & Spine Institute
Dr. Alexis Tracy was drawn to physical medicine and rehabilitation because she considers herself an optimist who never gives up hope on improving quality of life.
“I, myself, had chronic neck and thoracic pain as a young woman after a mountain-biking accident,” said Dr. Tracy, a physiatrist at Steamboat Orthopaedic and Spine Institute (SOSI). “It is difficult to express the helplessness and desperation one feels when they are in the depths of unrelenting daily pain.”
A physiatrist is specially trained in physical medicine and rehabilitation, a specialty that focuses on improving functional ability for patients. The goal for Dr. Tracy, who focuses on spine and nerve issues, is to correctly identify the source of a patient’s physical barrier through a physical exam, imaging, nerve testing or diagnostic blocks.
“Many of my patients report pain as being their main source of dysfunction, and therefore we look for the cause of the pain,” she said.
Dr. Tracy said pain can be caused by postural or musculoskeletal imbalance related to work activities or sports activities. Pain can also be related to degenerative joint or spine problems, acute disc herniations in the spine, or nerve compression.
“Once we find the cause of the problem, we may offer non-operative treatment such as physical therapy, medications, needle intervention (in the spine or joints), or surgical evaluation if necessary,” she said.
Many of Dr. Tracy’s patients are looking for alternatives to invasive treatments, but she said some patients clearly benefit from spine or orthopaedic surgery, especially when progressive weakness or loss of function can be prevented.
Out of pain, a passion for medicine is born
After Dr. Tracy’s mountain-biking accident, she was never offered opioid pain medications or unnecessary interventions during her years of chronic pain. She’s grateful she had the help of a knowledgeable physician and physical therapist who helped her develop a home-exercise program. She has continued this exercise program for more than 20 years.
“My aim is to empower my patients, as I was empowered, to understand the cause of their pain, arm them with the tools to improve physical function and pain, and avoid unnecessary medical intervention,” Dr. Tracy said.
Some cases are straightforward, such as a disc herniation that causes nerve pain, but typically there’s more than what lies on the surface.
“The person experiencing this event may have concomitant issues such as hip osteoarthritis, polio as a child, post-traumatic stress or cancer,” she said.
Patients face many variables that influence their choice of treatment options.
“Consider experiencing an acute disc herniation and nerve pain during a divorce or after the loss of a child. Consider losing your job due to chronic back pain. Imagine losing medical insurance or having a $7,500 deductible that you cannot afford,” she said.
Dr. Tracy said these variables also affect a patient’s prognosis. Good physiatrists are aware of these variables and are sensitive to how they can serve patients based on their unique needs.
A personal field of medicine
Dr. Tracy said physiatrists, rather than “fixing” patients with medical technology or interventional procedures, help patients fully understand their diagnosis and help manage their symptoms and limitations in creative ways.
“Physiatrists must be in tune with how disability and pain affect people mentally, emotionally, spiritually and even economically,” she said. “For this reason, I tend to spend a significant amount of time getting to know my patients on a personal level. … My job is challenging, intellectually stimulating and extremely inspiring. I cannot wait to wake up every morning to explore each mystery that walks through the clinic door.”
Dr. Tracy attended undergraduate school at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and has a bachelor of arts degree in literature and a bachelor of science degree in biology. She did research in molecular genetics, specifically in RNA, during her undergraduate years. She attended medical school at West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine, where she did an extra year teaching, doing research and in-depth study of osteopathic manipulation technique (manual medicine) for pain. She did her transitional internship through Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, and her physical medicine and rehabilitation residency training at the University of Wisconsin in Madison
Dr. Tracy’s expertise is in the areas of spine-imaging interpretation, interventional spine procedures, exercise science, electrodiagnostics such as EMG and nerve conduction studies, and clinical skills. Her role is to provide nonoperative spine care for patients who do not require surgery and to refer patients for spine surgery when necessary.
For more information about Dr. Tracy or to make an appointment, visit steamboatorthopaedicandspineinstitute.com or call 970-879-6663.
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