Exploring Non-Operative Solutions
with Dr. Tracy Hamblin
Can you tell me about your background and why you chose to pursue Sports Medicine?
I was quite athletic growing up and I did gymnastics for 10+ years. I suffered a few injuries that ultimately took me out of the sport, so I naturally became very interested in how the body works and how to treat injuries. My athletic experience gave me the motivation to go into medicine.
I am a family medicine practitioner by training. Then I did an extra year in Sports Medicine, where I learned general musculoskeletal care for all joints and injuries. I treat issues non-operatively and do not have any surgical training. My treatment plans often include working to change the mechanics of the body, as well as using steroid injections and some exciting new regenerative options.
How does your education in biomedical engineering affect your work?
I focused on biomechanical biomedical engineering, which really helped me understand the mechanics of the body. Surprisingly, most of our overuse injuries are a result of our mechanics. So fixing chronic issues is often a matter of changing our mechanics. Surgeons can change your mechanics by putting in a total knee replacement, etc. I try to do that with your own body movement using your own muscle control.
How can patients improve their body mechanics?
Changing one’s body mechanics mainly involves physical therapy. A lot of people get frustrated and don’t want to do physical therapy or feel that it doesn’t do anything for them. But what we’re really trying to learn in therapy is how to re-strengthen some of these muscles in our body that we may have neglected for several years. As a result, our bodies become deconditioned. Also, as we age, our bodies naturally deteriorate slowly. If we maintain our strength and movement, it prolongs the longevity of our joints and our tendons. Physical therapy is a great way to prevent chronic injuries.
Physical therapy is not the same as going to the gym. It’s about learning stabilizing exercises, which are really not hard. They are pretty low-weight exercises and are mainly done with resistance bands. We don’t encourage heavy lifting to achieve stabilization.
For patients who do not want to go to a physical therapist, I often encourage them to try Pilates. It teaches good strengthening for the core muscles that really stabilize our skeletal system. I don’t feel that it causes a lot of injuries because it is a low impact activity and it accomplishes great things as far as getting people strengthened up.
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Tell me about your interest in regenerative medicine.
I am very interested in treating chronic injuries, such as tendonitis and arthritis, by injecting a patient’s own blood or stem cells to induce a healing process. We’ve previously used steroid injections. They are a really good anti-inflammatory, so they basically calm down the inflammation. But you still have the underlying problem of tendonitis or arthritis.
Our own body can essentially heal tendonitis, but it takes a very long time—from several months to several years. In order to get this more efficient, we have experimented with putting in our own resources, such as growth factors that we find in our blood or stem cells. The goal behind injecting these right into the site of damage is to create a more efficient healing process.
I’m very motivated and optimistic about this approach because I feel like I am treating a problem versus just covering it up. It’s very exciting but it’s still new. It is by no means completely proven through the research that we’ve seen. But just from my own experience doing it for about three years now, I’ve seen some pretty substantial results as far as patients reporting improved function. So I’m definitely optimistic about it!
Tell me about your work with local college athletes.
I have personally worked with SMU for five years. If their athletes have an injury, I try and get them in quickly to assess the severity of the injury and see whether they can keep playing or not. I also volunteer my time to do annual sports physicals for these athletes. I have a really good working relationship with their athletic trainer, who calls on us whenever she has an injured athlete or a question. I do similar work with Capital High School. I go to all of their home football games. I stay on the sidelines, assess injuries, and try to direct where they should go if it is a serious injury.
What are some of your own athletic interests?
Leading up to having children, I liked to do triathlons. I’m a runner, cycler, swimmer, although cycling is probably my strong suit. I’m currently trying to get back into shape since having children, with my youngest being ten months. I just joined Orangetheory, which is a new gym here. It’s a pretty good workout for me. It’s a mix between doing weights on the floor and treadmill work. I might get back into triathlons in the future, but we’ll see how busy life gets!
What can patients expect from their visit with you?
I want patients to know that I don’t want to take people out of being active. A lot of athletes get nervous that if they see a doctor that they will get taken out of their sport. But that is not our main intention. We really want to keep people going as long as possible, as long as it’s safe and they’ll keep getting better. We don’t want patients to be scared to come in and see a provider and explore all of their options.
Of course, if I think that surgery is going to be the best, then I will point them in the right direction. But I really feel there is a good amount of injuries and musculoskeletal injuries that can be treated nonoperatively. Speaking from a non-operative standpoint, Sports Medicine physicians are generalized physicians for all body parts and we do try and treat things very conservatively and non-operatively if that is appropriate.
What is your favorite part of working at OOA?
My favorite part of working here is having the freedom to explore new types of treatments. Currently, I’m trying to do a lot of easy surgical procedures in a minimally invasive way. I also use ultrasound to do a lot of things. There are some procedures that can be done under ultrasound versus putting someone out in a surgical setting. I’m really pushing towards that, and I like that OOA allows me to explore these options. If I worked for a huge corporation, I’d have about a million ladders to climb to try a new option, so it would take two or three years to try something new. I don’t like that! I think it takes the motivations out of the physicians to actually improve our medical care. Working for OOA, I really feel that they give me that freedom to explore new and better options.