Welcome back to the Healing Pain Podcast with Dr. Carolyn Dolan: The Integration of Nutrition into Physical Therapy Practice, with Dr. Carolyn Dolan.
I am your host, Dr. Joe Tatta. It’s great to be here with you for another episode where we talk to both clinicians and patients about chronic pain, chronic disease and how we can heal it naturally, how we can heal your chronic pain and how we can heal our sick health care system.
On the podcast today, I have Dr. Carolyn Dolan. She is a traditionally trained physical therapist. After her health struggles, she returned to get a degree in Holistic Nutrition to further help others recover from injury and chronic disease so they can soar.
You can find her blog post at RenoSoar.com where she inspires and empowers parents and clinicians with information to inspire their lives. When she’s in blogging or treating patients, she can be found chasing kids, dogs and chickens, which makes me jealous because I love chickens and I would love to have my own. She has a great book, it’s called Soar into Health. You can find it on Amazon or you can find it on her website at RenoSoar.com.
About Dr. Carolyn Dolan
Dr. Carolyn Dolan, PT, DPT, Cert MDT is a traditionally trained physical therapist. After her own health struggles, she returned to get a Masters of Science in Holistic Nutrition to further help others optimize their life and recovery. When she isn’t blogging, writing, researching or treating clients, she can be found chasing kids, dogs and chickens.
The Integration of Nutrition into PT Practice, with Dr. Carolyn Dolan
Dr. Carolyn Dolan, welcome to the Healing Pain Podcast. It’s great to have you here.
Thank you very much, Joe. It’s great to be here.
I’m really excited to talk to you because you are a doctor of physical therapy and you wrote a great book called Soar into Health. As well as having a doctorate, you have started to venture off and bring other types of things into your life and into your practice, which I think is great. I love bringing integrated clinicians onto the podcast to talk about it. Tell me what inspired you to start bringing in some of the lifestyle medicine into your life and into your practice.
First, I went on my own personal journey of seeking health after having my third child and struggling with weight loss and postpartum depression. I started with exercise, committing to some movement because I wasn’t exercising very much. Then I started changing my diet. We went strict Paleo for a period of time. My husband is also a traditionally trained orthopedic surgeon. As we started our journey, I was doing tons of research to try to validate that this was safe because everyone in the allopathic healthcare community was telling us we were going to die of heart attacks tomorrow because we ate bacon. I was just doing my own personal research. As I was noticing the improvements not only of myself, I noticed improvements of my husband and of all of my children, things that I really thought were normal because everybody had certain problems, really started to improve.
The more I did the research into the science of it, the more I realized that this really needs to be a part of my practice. In my book, I discussed some cases that I had been working with that were having some of these pretty dramatic turnarounds that I had never seen clinically before when they changed how they ate. With those few things that happened both with my family, with myself and with some patients, I realized that this is an important piece that we’ve been missing, the missing link as far as rehabilitation specialists, trying to help people improve their function.
You mentioned Paleo, which a lot of people have heard that word, they’re familiar with it. There are some different versions of the Paleo Diet. Which one did you follow? It sounds like your entire family followed it, which is awesome.
We did a huge transition. I had read Robb Wolf‘s book and Loren Cordain‘s work and then followed up with Practical Paleo and The Paleo Mom and just following all of their work and looking at their books. Again, going back to the basic science of it and the research. Where I evolved in the end was I tell people, because when you say the word Paleo, people get very resistant of it. I said, “It’s just a strict elimination diet and then over time, we got to figure out where our personal sensitivities were.” I call ourselves naturally gluten free wholefoods inspired. We’re not perfect but there are certain things that we really try to be better about. That’s where we ended up and that’s where we remain.
You mentioned your husband is an orthopedic surgeon, which is really interesting. You have children you said as well.
If not for my kids, I might not have been so dedicated.
Let me ask you about that. Because so many times when I work with patients and we’re talking about nutrition, they often say, “I can do this, I can do anything. But the challenge is, when I get home, I’ve got my kids and I’ve got my husband.” Which of course for some people, that is a challenge. How did that fit in to your whole dynamic?
Having my husband in orthopedic surgery made me more dedicated to the research piece of it, of the science, to defend why we were doing it. I had this conversation with my husband just before we started and I threw everything away. I took all the processed foods, because we were a cereal and pasta family. We were the standard American diet. I had to throw it out. I said, “Listen, I can do one dinner. I can’t do something different for you and different for the kids while we figure it out. We’re going to all eat wholefoods and real food.”
I talked to the kids about it. My daughter, we’ve more recently struggled with having her explore some things at school. We had to do a little bit more education because she wasn’t quite old enough to get the information to understand the why we’re doing things differently. My older boys were old enough that they started to see their own changes and understood that this is why it was happening. When we eat too much sugar, this is what happens to our bodies. We’ve done a lot of education, but I really stuck to sustain this as a family. Everyone had to be on board or I wasn’t going to be able to manage it.
How young were your children when the changes happened?
We’re close to five years now. My older boys were five and six, my daughter was one or two. She is now six and a half. She notices that we do things differently. She’s much more drawn to what socially her friends are doing. We’ve had to have some more conversations about, “This is why we’re not eating cereal and milk for breakfast. This is why we eat this way.” We talk about their brain a lot, which is really important to healing disease or preventing disease and recovering from injury, as you know. I talk to them about it.
Your husband, being an orthopedic surgeon, went through a very allopathic training, has a wonderful specialty that people need. As a DPT, we’re trained to look for the science. You’re bringing the first evidence case study to him, you say, “Look, I found this study from this DPT guy.” Does he initially pick it up and say, “This is really interesting.” Or does he say, “There’s a lot of studies on gluten.”
I certainly can’t speak to him because I shared a lot of information and I know that he was just starting out his practice here in town and building his practice. He didn’t have the luxury of time, where I did where I was only working part time. I think he was a little bit resistant at first because it did go against so much of what we were taught growing up and how he was raised that it made him hesitate, but he understood. As my partner, he was very supportive of me trying to improve myself and improve our health as a family. He totally went along with it.
Because he had to eat at the hospital and spending so much time in the hospital, he wasn’t quite as good about his diet I think initially, but he started to notice over time, he made his own connections and then he realized, “Yeah …” We have enough other health care provider, physicians in town that have also made some changes. We got resistance from some that were telling him he was going to die of a heart attack tomorrow and then others that were starting to be supportive and noticing that this really makes sense, they’ve done their own research. I think just over time, it makes more sense. Now, trying to incorporate it, I’ve really entirely changed where I practice clinically now so that I can incorporate this. I think there’s a few more restrictions on him about how to bring that into the surgical realm.
Let’s talk about that. Were you in the same practice when you first started making those changes? How did it change your practice as a physical therapist? Was that overnight or was there a transition period that you went through where you said, “Maybe I should do this?” How did that play out for you?
I’ve generally worked for hospital based systems, outpatient orthopedics, most of my career until we made this change. I’m still in the outpatient orthopedic system. We’re almost like our own little private practice there. Three of the four of us had made the change, I call it, where we had started to notice this. I was asked to participate in writing a section of a chapter in a rehabilitation book, neuromuscular rehab and specifically in orthopedic strain injury recovery. I knew I needed time to spend and focus on the research because I’m also a parent. That was my main impetus for leaving the hospital. I had to stop practicing for a period of time to focus on this project that I thought was really important. It was one of the first times that, in a traditional physical therapy educational text, there will be some information in there about nutrition. More is to come, I’m sure. I wanted to take advantage of that opportunity because I thought the information was so important. You and I didn’t get this information when we were getting our training.
It’s true. We had a smattering of it. Like yourself, when I wrote my book, Heal Your Pain Now, I’m like, “There needs to be a solid nutrition section in here to really educate people about the options that exist for not only healing chronic pain, but also healing pretty much every single chronic disease there is. I think that you did it, it’s great. Tell me how you went from a chapter in a textbook to your own book.
At that same time, I still love the patient care. I’d never thought of myself as a private practice person or owning my own business, but I knew practically, raising children and living this new lifestyle helped incorporate it and continue. I was starting my own practice and that’s when I started blogging. As I started blogging, I just started collecting all this information and I was really researching a lot. Prompted by a fellow friend of mine who’s a physical therapist, she really encouraged me, she’s like, “You should put this in a book.” I thought, “Maybe.” My whole focus when I was talking to patients, you and I have a lot of that scientific background and there’s so many different diets out there that people get confused. It’s hard to put it into real life for patients sometimes because sometimes they’re overwhelmed. I really wanted to put some simple principles.
I said, “These are the things you need for health and wellness, you just think about eating real food. If it’s not a real food and it doesn’t come from the earth,” just like a simple statement. Let’s just think about that, whether it’s Paleo or not or South Beach or Atkins. Let’s just think, “Is it a real food or not?” The book was born. I started collecting all these blogs and expanding on them. I also wanted patients to be able to read something simply and have it make sense so they could feel like they could actually apply it because there are so much science and data out there. Even for me, I have to stop sometimes because it’s too much and bring it back down to earth, so to speak. That was my impetus for the book.
Even, like you mentioned, parents, let’s just come back to the basics for a minute. Here’s a book about just the basics, how do you make a basic decision. A bag of carrots is going to be an easy decision compared to a bag of chips, the time it takes to grab the two of them. That’s really why the book was born, was try to bring it down back to earth for a majority of the population and the patients I was dealing with.
You do a lot of work with families, of course moms and children. Is the book written for, let’s say, a busy mom? Can she pick it up and say, “There’s a lot of good information that I can institute to my family and make them …”
I would say that it’s a quick read because I specifically wrote it so that it would have easy flow and the segments are short enough that, in a few nights, you could have it done pretty quickly. I have been toying with the idea of trying to get it on a book on tape or on audio for moms because apparently, moms are having a difficult time sitting down and reading. It was written so that it could be read rather quickly. I have found a fair number of fathers who have found it very useful, which was a little bit surprising. That works too. They’re still involved in raising children. I wrote it so it could be simple, easy to read and not so burdensome. You get enough information to validate the principles but not overwhelmed with the information that you couldn’t practically apply it to your life.
Excellent. It sounds like a quick easy read that people can really read and implement into their life. Tell me from the practitioner perspective, having your private practice and working in private practice and doing probably still “traditional” physical therapy, how do you implement some of the nutritional lifestyle? Is it its own separate session? Is it in every session? How have you figured to sneak it in the way you do?
I’m primarily orthopedic based. I’ve got my certification in McKenzie. Neck pain, back pain and shoulder pain, you name it. The primary thing that I do now that I encourage other therapists and other practitioners, it doesn’t really matter what your specialty is, is that part of you history, when you’re starting to talk about, “What medications do you take? Why are you taking them? What’s your past medical history is? What is a day of eating look like for you?” I include that with every patient. Once I get that information, and then I always ask them to elaborate. “I eat really healthy.” “What that does mean? What does breakfast, lunch and dinner look like?” Because you will get so much information very quickly as to whether or not that’s a component or a limiting factor to their recovery or contributing to being able to understand their problem.
Now, I actually get a lot of clients who have already made the change. They’ve already done the handwork, they’ve changed how they eat, they eat really well wholefoods and they really understand their body from a nutritional perspective. All of a sudden, they still have pain and their mechanical pain problem makes so much more sense. It’s easier to treat and understand. It’s basically in the history. It’s one of the last questions I ask that I make sure I ask everyone, “What does a day of eating look like for you?” Depending on what they say, I will then follow-up with, “Do you mind if I give you some recommendations?”
How do you find most people respond to that question?
At first, people were like, “What?” I had a handful of people that actually didn’t come back to see me because I started talking about how soda is very inflammatory and you might want to consider our options to cutback and it can affect your painful state. Some people didn’t want to hear that. They weren’t ready. I had to learn that strategy of that counseling part of where and when to place that. I still ask the question and then I gauge them, “Are you ready for it?” Sometimes it takes a couple of visits where they have faith in me that I’m making some changes and then we start to have that conversation.
You’ve laid the seeds in your initial evaluation and sometimes if someone is ready and they’re ready for that change, they’ll pick it up right away. If not, there’s a rapport that you’re building over time. With that rapport, they say, “Not only does my knee feel better from a couple exercises, but maybe she’s right. Maybe I should lose a couple of pounds or maybe I shouldn’t have four sodas with lunch.”
One of the things actually is the operative patients. I’ve developed some educational materials that my husband does happen to hand out to his patients, especially with elective procedures, that we need to eat real food and start to incorporate things potentially like bone broths and drinking plenty of water and sunshine or Vitamin D, depending on where we’re at, and adequate sleep. All of those things have an impact on recovery. He also starts to plant that seed so people are just starting to pay attention. They’ve totally lost connection to the fact that how we eat can affect all of these things. It’s been a process in learning that. Now, with my practice over time, there are people who are seeking me out because they’re already in tune with some of that stuff, like I said. Then I can still focus on the mechanical piece.
Do you have people coming to you just for nutrition?
I do. Right now, I’m finishing up my masters in Holistic Nutrition. I still have all those cases that I’m working on for that degree. I intend to offer those services more readily once I get that completed.
Great. Excellent. That’s great. We wish you luck of course, finishing up your masters, not that you necessarily need one because you already have a doctorate and you’ve done tons of research on your own.
As you know, having that extra education in the allopathic community, when you start to do education, it holds more.
It can. I think it depends on who you’re talking to. I think if it’s someone who really is just in an allopathic mindset then yes, they’re going to look for that degree. Although, what I find a little bit more is if you’re doing, one, from the heart, and then two, following up with some of the evidence, eventually it starts to break down some of those barriers. Can you tell our listeners where they can find out more about you and where they can find your book?
You can find out more about me on my website, www.RenoSoar.com. There’s a link for my book. Amazon has it available in paperback as well as Kindle version. Please read on and share with folks that are either needing it for their life or family, looking to make some positive lifestyle changes.
Excellent. I want to thank Dr. Carolyn Dolan for being on the Healing Pain Podcast. She’s a doctor of physical therapy and a nutritionist. She has a book called Soar into Health. You could find it at RenoSoar.com, as well as information about her and her practice. Make sure you stay connected each week to the Healing Pain Podcast at DrJoeTatta.com/Podcast. Make sure to check out my brand new book, Heal Your Pain Now available on Amazon and in stores near you. We’ll see you on the next podcasts.
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