Dr DeMayo shares latest rehabilitation findings from the US

Technical difficulties didn’t stop the show when US-based Dr DeMayo, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation spoke to a full house for Polio SA in Glenunga on Sunday 18th September.

The event preceded his keynote talk at the 2016 Australasia Pacific Post-Polio Conference in Sydney on 20th to 22ndSeptember. After he spoke, Dr DeMayo was joined by Dr Nigel Quadros from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for a Q&A session.

Working without the aid of his PowerPoint presentation, Dr DeMayo’s information about pain management and rehabilitation was not what some might have expected – his holistic, multidisciplinary approach involves very little in the way of narcotics use.

In fact, he’s much more interested in trying to get to the root cause of a problem to prevent the need for drugs, as opposed to masking the symptoms. And he also encourages clients not to underestimate the power of spirituality and optimism during the rehabilitation journey.

 Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – build on what works

Dr DeMayo talked about how he sees a lot of clients starting one rehabilitation modality and then stopping it, in favour of another – a practice he thinks is unwise.

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” he urged, meaning that it’s important to build on rehabilitation work that has been useful in other areas then combine it with advice from another.

Dr DeMayo’s own multidisciplinary approach is very individualised. It builds on, and compliments, other approaches and experiences. In his practice he works with physiotherapists, nurses, orthotists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and exercise therapists to tailor solutions for his clients.

He encourages people with post-polio syndrome to never stop trying to find ways to manage the condition through medical, alternative and complimentary medicines like aromatherapy, massage, yoga, water massage.

In recent years, yoga is an exercise form he has been really impressed with in with his clients. “Yoga in post-polio is non-fatiguing, and stress lowering,” he said.

He warned, however, it’s important that the yoga instructor has an understanding of modifying poses to suit an individual’s ability and pain threshold.

Tap into your own brand of spirituality

One of the points Dr DeMayo spoke at length about, was the importance of spirituality and optimism in an individual’s rehabilitation.

It doesn’t matter what you believe in, he just encourages you to tap into it because he sees greater results in pain management and rehabilitation with individuals who do.

“It’s a mistake not to include spirituality –  or whatever puts you in touch with a higher power -when dealing with sleep problems, stress and pain,” he said.

Similarly, he advises individuals to pay attention to their thoughts and words. “Saying ‘I can’t’ is extremely disabling. Quoting the wise words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right,” he said.

And Dr DeMayo says it’s the same with post-polio syndrome. Words like “I need to”, “I have to” and “I should” leave us stuck in the corner feeling guilty when they can’t be achieved, leading to further stress or sleep problems.

He suggests, instead, replacing this thinking with “I want…” or “I’ve got a difficult choice”.

He adds that insomnia, stress, anxiety and lack of peace, make the cycle of pain much worse, in the way that gasoline feeds a fire. So it’s important to use whatever techniques are available to help keep these aggravating factors at bay – another reason why he believes spirituality and optimism to be so crucial.

Set goals and know your limits

Self-empowerment and limit setting are critical, according to DeMayo. It’s important that individuals ask themselves what they can do to relieve their pain or increase their function.

This is because here’s a limit to how much activity each individual can achieve and it is impeded by inactivity, over-activity and age.

He said it’s important to listen to the body and modify activity based on how you feel during and afterwards activity. You don’t want a life that revolves around activity and depletes you any more than a life as a couch potato. There’s a middle ground and it can shift if your activity is in the right zone.

“Many folks with post-polio overdo it. We want people to work at capacity, not over. So in order to do that we have to cross the line slightly to work out where it is…but not by much,” he said.

And once you regularly reach your limit, you’ll find that it shifts, and you can do more.