Doctor consulting with patient Back problems

With the UPMC Program for Spine Health expanding to a second location, we sat down with Christopher Standaert, MD, program director, to learn more about his expertise, what makes this program special, and why the expansion is important.

The program began in 2019 as a home for patients who had difficulty finding relief from back pain that was affecting their quality of life. With a focus on empowerment through education and lifestyle improvement, Dr. Standaert and his team help patients get back to fulfilling lives.

Here’s what he shared with us about the program:

Q: What is the UPMC Program for Spine Health?

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A: Our program offers comprehensive nonsurgical care for individuals with low back pain and other spine issues. Through evaluation, communication, support, and treatment, we empower our patients and help them find their purpose. Once we understand the nature of their problem, we promote meaningful activity and movement that can help alleviate pain, improve function, and improve their overall health and well-being.

Q: Which aspects of patient care do you focus on?

A: Our patient-centered approach means that we take the entire patient into account — considering physical discomfort, emotional health, sleep habits, nutrition and exercise, social engagement, and overall lifestyle and passions. Pain is sometimes the only issue addressed in traditional back care. We find the most effective approach to managing pain is to address the needs and health of the whole person.

Q: What types of care are available through the program?

A: We offer comprehensive care including specialty medical care, physical therapy, psychological and nutritional counseling, and personal coaching to improve overall quality of life. Our experienced team has developed an approach that doesn’t just focus on pain, but puts health first and equips patients with the tools to improve beyond our program to get back to their lives.

Q: Who is on your care team?

A: Our team of experts includes nurse coordinators, primary spine providers (physical therapists with advanced spine training), physiatrists (physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors who specialize in nonoperative spine care), dietitians, health coaches, and pain psychologists. Collaboration among our team makes the transition from one provider to another seamless and effective.

Q: What should patients expect when they’re referred to you?

A: Once a doctor or surgeon refers a patient to us, one of our nurse coordinators contact them, ask a few questions about their condition and experience, and create a care plan tailored to their individual needs. We work together to set goals to improve quality of life by decreasing pain and increasing mobility.

Q: What is the care pathway for most patients?

A: While every care experience is different and personalized to the individual’s needs, most patients will first see one of our primary spine providers. Patients who need further evaluation, who are not improving with physical therapy, or who need a different approach to their condition see a doctor with extensive experience in spine care. Behavioral health therapists can assist with strategies to improve function, address mental health, and enhance the benefits of exercise and physical therapy. Dietitians and health coaches can help implement desirable behaviors and nutrition choices. Other UPMC specialists are available, if needed. The goal of our care team is to give patients the tools to help them manage their condition and build a healthier life.

Q: Is the program expanding?

A: Using the capacity of UPMC, we developed an approach to low back and spine care that really helps people who don’t improve with standard care or who need a better path forward. We enjoy working with the community at the UPMC Outpatient Center in Hampton. We are excited to see patients at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex to support residents in the Cranberry Township area. We are actively exploring how to use telemedicine to reach even more people within UPMC, partnering with our network of primary spine providers and other clinicians across our region, and hoping to expand to more clinics. We look forward to being a resource for people with low back and other spinal issues.

To learn more about the UPMC Program for Spine Health, visit our website or call 412-219-0386 to schedule an appointment.

About Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

The UPMC Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, we strive to improve your function after injury or illness. We treat functional, pain-related, and neurological conditions, helping with both physical and emotional disorders. We provide inpatient therapy at the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, and we also operate several outpatient clinics throughout western Pennsylvania. We also are a leader in research to develop new technologies and tools for the highest quality care.