Osteopathic treatment makes patient a believer

Maria Fernandez cleans houses for a living. So when her thumb started to hurt, she didn’t think too much about it at first. The pain will go away, she thought. But over the course of a few months, it became more and more difficult to bend – until one day it got stuck.

“I couldn’t use it. I couldn’t even grab a cup of water or pull my zipper up,” she said. “I had to work harder to do even the simplest things.”

To make matters worse, her back was also bothering her. And she was being treated for breast cancer.

Because of the pain, Fernandez had to take time off from work – a luxury she couldn’t afford. So she sought help at Venice Family Clinic, where she was referred to Dr. Nancy Kakoyannis, who leads osteopathy in the Clinic’s chronic pain program.

“Every day we have hard-working people coming through the Clinic that do very manual jobs, such as housekeepers and gardeners, who are using their body a lot and tend to get injuries that develop into chronic issues,” Kakoyannis said.

The Clinic’s Integrative Medicine program brings together Western medicine with Eastern medicine and alternative therapies, including acupuncture, chiropractic, yoga therapy, and osteopathy, in an effort to treat our patients’ ailments holistically. Once considered unproven and unscientific, these modalities are now much more accepted by the medical establishment, though they’re often thought to be “elite” services reserved for the wealthy.

“It’s pretty unique to have an Integrative Medicine program in a community clinic, and it’s hugely important in taking care of these patients,” she said. “If somebody goes to a DO elsewhere, they could pay $300 for that visit. But we believe every person deserves to be cared for in a holistic way, whether they have money or not. I feel really blessed that the Clinic is so supportive of me doing this, too.”

Getting hands-on

Kakoyannis sees her patients for 30 minutes at a time, longer than a regular doctor’s visit, so she can perform the necessary treatments as well as write up the visit. She dedicates eight osteopathic sessions to each patient referred to her.

For patient Fernandez, Kakoyannis began treating her two weeks after she had received an injection to treat the pain from her trigger thumb, a condition in which the joint clicks when it bends. While the pain had subsided from the injection, the clicking, or getting “stuck” part, was still an issue for Fernandez. She suffered from compression in her thumb’s fascia (the tough tissues that wrap, connect, and support muscles), so Kakoyannis performed myofascial release techniques, as well as a craniosacral treatment targeting her head, lower back, and spinal column.

“She improved after one treatment. The healing capacity in Maria’s body is really good – she was very accepting of the treatment right away,” Kakoyannis said. “The clicking went away for several weeks. Maria then asked me to treat her chronic low back pain, which she said she had for 30 years, and that improved, too.”

Fernandez has since asked Kakoyannis to be her primary care physician.

“Before I went to the therapy session, I thought I would be given exercises to do on my own,” Fernandez said. “But it was magical when the doctor did therapy on me. It felt like energy that had built up was being removed from my thumb. I was wowed by the results.”

Kakoyannis credited her Venice Family Clinic colleagues with recognizing the value in the Integrative Medicine program.

“Pain can affect everything, including psychological well-being, ability to sleep, and ability to cope with other chronic illnesses, so addressing pain is huge. I’m grateful that our providers are open to using whatever modalities will help our patients,” she said.

For Fernandez, osteopathy has changed how she views her medical care.

“I’m amazed that at a community clinic they are able to offer different types of therapies like this,” she said. “The therapy has helped fix everything that’s wrong with me in some way. It’s good to have an open mind.”