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Your Friendly Neighborhood Functional Health PT

Apr 06, 2023
Nick Sienkiewicz functional health Salisbury, MA

By: Nick Sienkiewicz, DPT, CSCS

Physical Therapist Turned Functional Health Mentor

Most of you already know me, but allow me to re-introduce myself. My name is Nick. I am a physical therapist, strength coach, and probably the face of ProForm at this point. Let’s face it, Chad may own the place, Tayler runs the show, and K-Dawg is a fan favorite, but I rose to the title of ProForm poster-child with my elite dancing performance on our Instagram “Movee Mondays” a few years back (if you haven’t seen any Movee Mondays, I highly recommend you open IG right now and go back to check them out!). Anyway, I wanted to use this blog to re-introduce my self to the community, as I’ve been undergoing a character evolution in the past two years. Human movement has been a passion of mine for a while now, but I’ve more recently become engulfed in the world of functional medicine. This is a growing field that many people are turning toward, as it strives to target the underlying root cause of many modern health issues, whereas our conventional healthcare system gets caught up in chasing symptoms. Last year, I completed a functional health mentorship, and have continued the ongoing process of learning in the world of functional medicine. Not only is it fascinating to me, but I firmly believe combining my two worlds of physical therapy and functional medicine can supercharge our ability to help our patients and clients here at ProForm! I am happy to say that I’ll be the neighborhood’s functional health physical therapist, aiming to help you trouble shoot any health concerns that you have been dealing with that have been persistent despite being “treated” by the modern medical system. 

So let me tell you why I even dove head first into this rabbit hole in the first place. All of my adolescent life, I dealt with asthma and allergies 365 days of the year. I took my daily steroid inhaler and antihistamine, which helped reduce my symptoms, but I still did not feel right. I also had a condition, known as eosinophilic esophagitis, where my throat would swell up and make it difficult to swallow certain foods (Don’t worry, my esophagus would swell, not my trachea, so I could still breathe!). This one was really just a nuisance, and something that both my father and brother dealt with too. We were told it was genetic and there was nothing we could do, other than take certain medications, like proton pump inhibitors. Now, I’m not anti-medication. I mean I was taking my daily asthma and allergy medication, but for some reason, taking omeprazole everyday didn’t seem right to me. I carried on with life through my adolescent years and just knew I could never eat anything without a drink close by. Fast forward a few years, and I began to learn more about how the body functions, mainly from a human movement and rehab perspective in PT school. I took a continuing education course and learned about the often overlooked importance of breathing. I heard many stories about people weaning off of asthma medication with particular breathing exercises, so I learned as much as I could on this topic and began immediately. After a few weeks of practice, I began to notice considerable improvements. At my next appointment with the pulmonologist, I told the doctor I wanted to get off of my inhaled steroid for asthma, and he told me that “it’s not possible and I’d have to be on it for the rest of my life.” I listened and carried on because “the doctor was the expert.” Later that year, I developed high blood pressure. I was a college athlete. Yeah sure, I also had the nutrition of a typical college student, a very inconsistent sleep schedule, and probably more stress than a 21 year old should have, but high blood pressure still didn’t make sense to me. Come to find out, high blood pressure was one of the side effects  of my inhaled steroid asthma medication. Now, I knew for sure I wanted to come off of it, so I took matters into my own hands. I began weaning myself off very slowly, and along the way noticed no changes in my respiration. When I returned to my pulmonologist, I told him what I was doing and he told me “you can’t do that.” Needless to say, that was the last time I saw that pulmonologist. 

As I continued to restore my functional health, my next step was to figure out my swallowing issues, as this was really the most impactful to my daily life. I learned about which foods seemed to be most problematic, so I modified my diet, which definitely helped to a degree. With these small wins, I sought treatment from a gastroenterologist. When we met, I told him that I researched the topic thoroughly and knew there were conservative ways to manage the condition via nutrition and lifestyle. I told the doctor that I was really just seeking guidance from a specialist on how to best achieve that process. The provider looked me in the eyes and said, “well that way is just really hard, so I think medication is the best route.” I was deflated. First, I felt like the doctor was removing all hope of managing this issue without medication. Secondly, it sounded like he was not willing to support me through some hard work, nor put in any extra effort himself. Nonetheless, I responded by taking matters into my own hands again. I continued on my journey to learn more about the human body and the world of functional medicine. 

Through my functional health mentorship, all of the studying on my own, reading research and books, listening to podcasts, I have been able to remove the need for daily asthma medication, tame my swallowing issues (I can now eat without a drink in sight if needed!), and get off chronic antihistamines. Do I ever get allergies, have issues breathing, or difficulty swallowing now? Sure! But when I do, I know what to do. I learned that all three of these health issues were actually much more connected than I thought because these bodily reactions acutely are a normal response from the body. However, my chronic allergies, respiratory issues and swallowing restrictions meant my body was out of homeostasis, which is just a fancy word for balance. My immune system was unbalanced and overly responsive. Something was triggering that, and once I was able to dive deeper and resolve the root cause, my body restored its state of equilibrium. When I feel those symptoms coming on, I know the system is becoming unstable again, which means I need to intervene in order to restore balance. This sounds simple, but it can be a complex interaction of a variety of factors and dependent on each individual’s unique situation. 

Through my first few years as a physical therapist, I’ve had a blast helping people reduce their pain and get back to doing the things they love and enjoy. However, I’ve noticed that most individuals are dealing with way more in their lives than just orthopedic pain. PTs are fortunate providers in that they typically get more one-on-one time with patients, even in the insurance-based model. During this extra time spent together, it often allows a deeper rapport to develop, where individuals open up more about their health, lifestyle, and other conditions they may be dealing with at any given time. I had so many patients tell me about their gut issues, autoimmune conditions, and other bodily conditions. Not only was I left not knowing how to respond at times, but I also felt a sense of helplessness, as I wanted to provide some hope and assistance to these individuals in this regard. However, I had been trained that those conditions were outside of my scope. And yes, to an extent they are, but as I learned more, I began to realize how intimately intertwined these issues were to their orthopedic pain. I knew I could do more. So that’s what I’ve been on a deep dive into these past two years. My goal is to combine these two fields to help individuals maximize their health outcomes! I will be offering functional health coaching at ProForm going forward. If my story sounds at all like anything you’ve been experiencing, please reach out to us at ProForm. I’d love to sit down with you so we can navigate your health obstacles together!! 

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