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Walk this way. Or that way. It doesn’t really matter as long as you are moving. That’s the message from Michael Lawson Swank, M.D., orthopedic surgeon with Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.
“Walk daily — that’s the underlying theme,” says Swank, one of Cincinnati’s busiest surgeons who specializes in computer assisted minimally invasive hip and knee surgery. A decade ago, Swank realized that if he could just get people to walk 30 minutes a day, it would be more meaningful than all the knees and hips he could ever fix. Therefore, he trademarked Walk30 initially for postoperative joint replacements because he had a protocol for getting people to walk following surgery.
He then expanded and trademarked Walk30 for walking sticks, fitness trackers and pedometers. The idea is to persuade friends, family and co-workers to walk and, by doing so, counter the obesity epidemic that is currently plaguing our country. Swank even created walking sticks on his own dime, and he distributes them not only to his patients but to anyone he sees out in the community whom he thinks may benefit from using them.
Though Swank has operated on heavier-set patients, he encourages them to lose weight because data shows that the complication rate following joint replacement in obese patients is high. Seeing patients in his office with a body mass index of 40 is commonplace and his Walk30 program will help them.
“Many heavyset patients don’t know where or how to start,” says Swank. That’s why he gives them a referral to a functional medicine doctor and promises to operate on them once they have gotten into better physical shape. He then hands them a pair of his walking sticks and encourages them to walk daily.
“The sticks are symbolic too. They say, ‘We care about you,’” explains Swank.
At Beacon Orthopaedics, they embrace the “spa concept,” which is a leading edge and multifaceted approach to traditional patient care. This means engaging not just surgeons but also therapists and functional medicine doctors to deal with muscular skeletal problems giving them the full “spa” treatment.
“Most people come to see me because they want to be fixed and they think that’s done through surgery,” says Swank. “But we don’t really fix people, per se. We help improve them so they can get on with their lives. What they do, however, is equally important to what I do.”
Swank’s primary purpose is to manage people through how to get back to their life. Though joint replacement is Swank’s strength, his No. 1 priority is getting people to radically change their lifestyle so that they may reengage in their life.
“When you lose your ability to walk — a fundamental human function — you lose a lot of your independence, your self-esteem, and your engagement with other people and the environment.”
Walking is crucial not only for weight management but to stave off arthritis and other ailments. According to Swank, arthritis is accelerating now because people are not active enough.
“Cartilage is a very unique substance. It actually needs activity to be nourished. If it’s not used or moved properly, it ages prematurely and suffers from malnutrition,” says Swank, who likens cartilage to a rubber tire. “If you have one sitting in your garage for a year and a half, it will dry rot, but if you keep it on your car for five years, it won’t. That’s why walking is important.”
Perhaps the one good byproduct of the pandemic has been that it has inspired people to get out and walk more. And that couldn’t make Swank any happier because walking lowers blood pressure, improves respiratory status and, if done outdoors, provides exposure to vitamin D through the sun — all things that help fight COVID-19.
Swank tries to get patients to walk with their families, cross-generationally, to provide motivation and hold one another accountable, thereby maintaining the practice.
“Data shows that there is massive benefit to healing, especially following surgery, when you have someone accompany you,” says Swank, who references the book “In Praise of Walking: A New Scientific Exploration.”
“If you just had a knee replacement and you can get a spouse or friend to walk with you, the positive benefits on your health and recovery are pretty powerful.”
So much of a patient’s ultimate success lies in their hands. Swank tells his knee replacement patients that it’s a 50/50 deal — 50% of the success is on him and 50% is on them.
Swank, who is interested in customization and technology when it comes to implants, maintains that though he believes the field of orthopedics has been good, it hasn’t been as excellent as it should be. He cites Jim Collins’ quote “Good is the enemy of great.”
“You can run a marathon with shoes that don’t fit correctly, but it won’t serve you well,” Swank says. “Our focus is to make implants fit patients’ anatomies as much as they can so they feel less likes foreign objects and more like part of them.
According to Swank, if he can get people engaged in activity, he’s no longer needed and that’s fine by him.
“I had an assistant once who said, ‘Give people what they need and make it what they want,’” says Swank. He likes to say that he’s demoted himself to technical specialist, level 3, calling himself the least important person in the office.
“If done properly, everything else we do is equally or more important than what I do,” he says. “The goal is to try to keep people away from me and engage them with their bodies.”
Beacon Orthopaedics has multiple locations all throughout Ohio. For more information, call 513.354.3700.