scroll to top of page

Back to School

Posted on September 28, 2017

Brian ShupeUT Engineering staffer fights pain in neck with classwork, homework

When Brian Shupe called the Fort Sanders Therapy Center a “school” for herniated discs, he was only half joking.

After  the then 47-year-old armchair quarterback lofted his best Peyton Manning pass to his younger brother, a trip to an orthopedic specialist returned an unexpected diagnosis: a herniated disc in his neck.

Doubtful that the ache deep in his shoulder, numbness in his arm and tingling in his fingertips could have anything to do with his neck, he sought a second opinion from a neurosurgeon. 

“He told me that the herniated disc can cause pain in the shoulder and it can certainly cause the numbness down to the fingertips,” said Shupe, director of development for University of Tennessee’s College of Engineering.

“He said surgery is an option but recommended treating the symptoms with physical therapy because the pain is from the herniated disc. He said I need to learn how to take care of this, and get serious about taking care of it.”

“So I went to Herniated Disc School,” Shupe said with a laugh, adding that he was paired with Erin McCallum, a licensed physical therapist who holds a clinical doctorate in physical therapy as well as being a certified lymphedema therapist.

Twice a week for three weeks, Shupe and McCallum would work 45 minutes to an hour. When he was evaluated on his first visit, Shupe rated his pain level a 7 on the 10-point pain scale. After his last treatment, he assigned his pain a zero on the scale.

McCallum said Shupe’s situation was not that unusual considering his job which, like millions of others, requires long periods of sitting either at a desk, in a car or passenger jet.

“We see many patients with neck pain, especially in people who work desk-type jobs where they are sitting or driving the majority of their work day, like Brian does,” said McCallum. “Posture plays a big role in this, and especially now that many people’s jobs require extended amounts of time sitting at a computer, or looking down at a smart phone.”

The physical therapist’s goal, McCallum said, is simply to determine what functional limitations each patient has, what activities and/or positions cause them to feel worse, and devise a plan that will improve their pain and return them to their prior level of function.

“It wasn’t like I went there and did it all – I had a responsibility to do some work on my own between visits. Then, every time I would come back, there would be another layer of exercises she would add to it. So I’m really equipped with the knowledge to help make this better on my own and at least slow down the degeneration which was really the root cause of all my pain.

“After I started working with Erin, the pain subsided very quickly because of the work we did at the clinic and the exercises she gave me to do on my own, none of which was very time-consuming,” he added. “They are very easy to do on my own, but what has really made a huge difference in my confidence level is the pain relief I get when I keep up my routine. I have had no numbness since I started working with Erin.”

McCallum says Shupe owes much of his success to himself. “Brian was very compliant with both attending his treatments and performing his exercises at home,” she said. “He listened carefully to what I  told him, and really made an effort to take that education back to his workplace, in order to prevent further injury down the road.”

“It was a very good experience. Erin is a great physical therapist. She’s very good at what she does and has a good demeanor about her. We communicate very well and she really knows what she’s doing. I learned a lot about how to take care of myself.  Through my experience with therapy, I actually saw some good results and I have become more aware of symptoms before they get severe. … It was a really good experience at the Herniated Disc School. That is the highest praise I could offer: If I encounter someone who is having a similar issue – and I am sure I will – that if they are looking for some place to go, I would definitely recommend they go see Erin.”

For more information on the Therapy Center at Fort Sanders, call (865) 331-1300.