People in Broward County whose quality of life is diminished because of back pain can now see specialists from one of Miami’s top spine centers – without having to make the drive to Miami. According to Ronald Barton Tolchin, D.O., medical director of the Spine Center at Miami Neuroscience Institute, Spine Center physicians are now seeing patients at Baptist Health’s new wellness and medical complex in Plantation.
One of those specialists is Justin Thottam, D.O., an interventional spine physiatrist with Miami Neuroscience Institute who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. As a physiatrist, Dr. Thottam designs comprehensive, patient-centered treatment plans that help maximize patients’ independence in activities of daily living and improve their quality of life.
According to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R), a physiatrist aims to “enhance and restore the functional ability of patients with physical impairments or disabilities affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons.”
For Dr. Thottam, physiatry is a comprehensive specialty, as he typically evaluates a variety of patients who present with musculoskeletal, neurological, rheumatological and other problems. The bulk of his patients, he says, come to him seeking relief from back pain, neck pain, joint pain, arthritis or some other sort of musculoskeletal problems.
There also tends to be a lot of overlap with different conditions and symptoms, Dr. Thottam says, which is why it’s so important to treat the whole patient – not just the particular body part that’s causing a problem. “You’d be amazed how an issue with one part of your body can also manifest in other areas – everything is interconnected. As a physiatrist, I’ve learned that taking a holistic approach to the patient’s health often leads to better outcomes.”
Dr. Thottam says he sees a lot of patients with spine-related pathologies. “Sometimes it’s neck pain, which can radiate down the arm, or sometimes it’s low back pain which can radiate down the nerves into the legs – a condition commonly referred to as sciatica.”
A comprehensive evaluation allows for an accurate diagnosis and a treatment plan tailored to the patient, according to Dr. Thottam. “The first step, however, is to figure out what’s causing the pain. Is it nerve, joint or musculoskeletal?”
Based on a patient’s medical history and assessment of their pain – combined with an evaluation of their strength, reflexes and range of motion – Dr. Thottam can usually tell right away which nerve is being irritated and, therefore, what part of the spine is affected.
“Once we confirm your diagnosis, we develop a treatment plan that may include physical therapy, medications and/or pain injections,” says Dr. Thottam. “If surgery is required, we can refer patients either to Miami Neuroscience Institute in Miami or Marcus Neuroscience Institute in Boca Raton.” Both of those facilities are part of Baptist Health, he says, and are staffed by the region’s top neurosurgeons. “Plus, your electronic medical record is readily available to your surgical team, because you’ve already been seen by us and you’re a part of our Baptist Health ecosystem.”
Any type of back pain that hasn’t resolved after three or four days should be discussed with your primary care physician or with a physiatrist, advises Dr. Thottam. One of the advantages of seeing a specialist at Baptist Health’s Plantation facility, he says, is that so many other health care services are also available there, all under one roof.
“If we need diagnostic imaging, such as an X-ray or MRI, we can get it done quickly, right here,” Dr. Thottam says. “If we recommend physical therapy, you can do that here, and if an injection is needed, I can do the procedure here in our Ambulatory Surgery Center. From the patient’s perspective, that’s a real convenience – especially if you live in Broward. And, if I ever have a concern or need another opinion, I appreciate the fact that I can easily consult with my colleagues. All of our major service lines at Baptist Health are here in Plantation.”
What if it’s an emergency? Dr. Thottam says a quick self-evaluation can help determine if emergency care would be appropriate.
“Are you experiencing weakness of the arms or legs? Loss of control of your bladder or bowels? Inability to urinate? Numbness or tingling on the inside of your thigh? Any type of balance or falling issues?” These, he says, are typically symptoms of something more serious, such as compression of the spinal cord. “For symptoms such as these, we recommend that you seek immediate care at our Spine Center here in Plantation or an emergency room,” Dr. Thottam advises.
Learn more about the new facility here, and look to Resource for upcoming posts on some of the other specialties and services available at Baptist Health in Plantation.