Sarah Ludeman can trace her health issues to one day in 2016. She was a passenger in a car that was rear-ended, and she suffered a traumatic brain injury. Afterward, she couldn’t work or do much of anything else. Her sedentary lifestyle worsened a spine condition that caused nerve pain, and her added weight aggravated the mild arthritis in her knees.
“I went from having a super active lifestyle to basically doing nothing,” Ludeman said. “I was incapable of doing anything, because my brain would fatigue so quickly that I couldn’t even go out and go to the grocery store. I felt like my body was working against me.”
Ludeman can trace her improved outlook to one day in 2019. She had just found out she might need back surgery and was “kind of a mess” when she met with MU Health Care medical rehabilitation psychologist Renée Stucky, PhD, who was helping her recover from the brain injury. Stucky suggested Ludeman join MU Health Care’s new Integrated Joint Health Program.
“I was stuck in a vicious cycle,” said Ludeman, a 48-year-old Columbia resident. “Then, it was like this perfect little program was put together exactly for me.”
The Integrated Joint Health Program is designed to help people with joint pain by taking a big-picture approach that incorporates exercise, nutrition and behavioral health. Participants take part in group exercise classes with a personal trainer three times a week. They also consult at least once a month with a dietitian, a physical therapist and a health behavior psychologist. The initial program lasts at least six months, but people can re-enroll and the joint health team continues to support them long-term.
“It’s a lifestyle change,” personal trainer Meagan Thurman said. “They might not be ready to integrate fitness, nutrition and wellness into their schedule by themselves yet, and it takes about six months to form the good habits we work with them on. Most of our participants choose to continue the program after six months.”
That was the case with Ludeman. She raved about Thurman’s ability to adapt workouts to challenge her while not aggravating her spondylolisthesis — a condition that causes instability in the vertebrae in her lower back — as well as Stucky’s expertise in behavioral counseling.
“Behavioral change is challenging and one of the more difficult aspects of managing our health,” Stucky said. “It does not come easily for most of us. Having integrated health care support and guidance is necessary for many people with chronic health concerns. It is exciting to see people make significant health changes that positively impact their daily lives in meaningful ways.”
Ludeman has strengthened the core muscles that stabilize her spine and now very rarely feels the nerve pain that used to be common. Her body fat percentage has dropped. She is on the path to meet her ultimate goals, which are returning to an active lifestyle and going back to work.
When the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to interrupt her progress, she was relieved the team was able to convert the program to a virtual care approach. Visits with dietitians, physical therapists and psychologists are conducted online through the Zoom video conferencing app. And Thurman records workouts in the guest bedroom of her home, posts them on YouTube and emails the links to the program participants so they can follow along in their own homes. “I love the videos, because it’s her,” Ludeman said of Thurman. “It’s the person I have been with three days a week for the last year, face-to-face, hands-on. Now she’s on my TV. I’m able to continue to do exactly what we’ve been doing.”