Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds discusses living with spondylitis with army veteran and pain management specialist Dr. Rob Overbaugh.
Dan: Welcome to This AS Life Live, which brings together people with AS to share our stories and inspire each other to live our best lives. Today, I’m meeting with Dr. Rob Overbaugh, an Army veteran and physician who specializes in pain management and lives with AS. We’re gonna talk about managing the pain and flares that many of us with AS face and hear Rob’s unique perspective. Let’s go meet him. Well, Rob, thank you for meeting with us today.
Rob: Thank you for having me.
Dan: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Rob: So, I was born in uh, Hawaii during the Vietnam War. My dad was uh, serving in Vietnam and my mom moved out to live in Hawaii to be closer to him.
And then, moved to Great Britain. And then, my dad did international finance so we moved back to the States. Then went to college at Notre Dame and got commissioned in the Army.
Dan: So, what do you specialize in as a doctor?
Rob: Uh, anesthesiology but sub-specializing in pain management.
Dan: So, I see all these pins on the table. So, tell me a little bit about your Army career.
Rob: Yeah, I got commissioned through uh, ROTC. So, right when I graduated from uh, college, uh, you become a second lieutenant. And so, the second lieutenant bar is a gold bar. When I was commissioned, I was going to be an infantry officer. I’d gone to my commanding officer and I asked, you know, “Can I go to graduate school?” And he says, “You could go to medical school.” I’m like, “Well, that’s kinda close. I like science and stuff.” So, they put me on inactive reserve. I went to medical school.
Rob: And that’s where I did my- my training, my residency.
Dan: So, when was the first time that you felt the first symptoms of AS?
Rob: I thought I had conjunctivitis. I went to the um, emergency room at my medical school and the doctor says, “You have iritis.” Fast forward it a few years, I was working with um, Special Forces groups. I had to train how to um, do something called fast roping out of a helicopter. And me, not being you know a- a Special Forces type guy, slid down a little bit too fast. And I landed and my head went forward and my head went back and I heard a big crack. And I get flown back to the States and found out I had a neck injury, a neck fracture. And it was the neurosurgeon who said, “You know, something’s not right with your neck. You know, you need to get worked up for ankylosing spondylitis.” Which I was later diagnosed with.
Dan: So, how does it manifest itself?
Rob: For me, you know it’s…for me, it’s a lot of uh, fatigue. I’d been so athletic and energetic when I was younger. I just didn’t understand why I was slowing down. I’d feel like I was achy, my knees would hurt, my back would hurt. Um, my sacroiliac joints would just really ache from standing. For me now, mostly, it’s- it’s probably the stiffness in the morning that really, that really affects me, you know. Nights are often difficult for me, too. I have difficulty sleeping ’cause I can’t get comfortable and I wake up and pace a little bit.
Dan: What are specific tips you give to your patients-
Dan: … that you would give to me?
Rob: Keep moving. It’s almost like the tin man, you get lubricated in the morning. So, when you move with the spondyloarthropathies it often relieves a lot of discomfort that you’re gonna have. So, uh, movement, warm shower. People will often will say, kinda gets the body, the blood pumping, and- and it gets you kinda moving a lot. Watch what you eat. We didn’t used to look to diet um, as much as we do nowadays. But we know that you know, starches and- and you know, low inflammatory diets can be very helpful for people. And then, you know, be consistent with your medication regimen. You’ve really gotta be persistent and- and stay to that. It’s- It’s a lifestyle change.
Take care of your mind, too, because so much of what we can do with our mind to control our own pain. Our breathing, our thoughts, they really play into our physical uh, feelings.
Some of my patients we do biofeedback or we do some other type of things with them in which they can use their own breathing techniques, relaxation techniques that- that actually is- is been shown to be soothing for them.
Dan: So, when you have patients come to you and they’re in pain, what advice do you give to patients when they say, “Hey, I’m having a flare”?
Rob: So, usually, I ask patients is, “What can’t you do that you could do? How is this affecting your daily activity?” Talk to them about what have they been doing lately. Why… Seek to find out what’s causing their flare. “Have you not slept for the past week?” Or um, “How’s your exercise been this week?” “Oh, I’ve kinda laid off that.” Things like that. So, you know, uh, you really gotta take the situation individual for each patient.
The one thing in medicine and- and because I’m a pain doctor- I always wanna make sure that there’s nothing else bad going on. So, is a flare because you have an infection? Is it a flare…you know, so, I wanna ask them what they’ve been doing, how they’re feeling, are they having fevers, chills, things like that. Rule out the bad things first. Make sure you talk to your rheumatologist.
Dan: So, Rob, what do you recommend to AS patients as a place to go for information?
Rob: I recommend they go where I went, the Spondylitis Association of America. And they have great publications, one of them is called Straight Talk and it gives different tips about exercising, it talks about what the disease is, it talks about family members, things like that. So, they also have a tremendous website and a lot of support for patients and their families. And I think that’s a great place to start.
Dan: Rob, it was a pleasure.
Rob: Awesome, thank you.
Dan: I hope Rob’s advice and some of these tips we’ve talked about today, can help you manage your pain and flares. Everyone experiences AS differently so, I urge you to visit your rheumatologist if you’re in pain. He or she will be able to make recommendations that are specifically for you.
As always, I encourage you to visit ThisASLife.com for other episodes and share them on social media. Take care.
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