FAIR LAWN, N.J. — Eugene Katsnelson of Fair Lawn says the greatest weapon against chronic pain is understanding it.
"Pain comes from the brain — that's been proven in many different studies," said Katsnelson, 35, who opened Precision Physical Therapy on Pollitt Drive earlier this year.
"Education is one of the most powerful things I can give my patients."
The Fair Lawn High School graduate specializes in chronic pain and sports injuries.
He says he's lucky that he never had an injury that required physical therapy, but volunteering at a local clinic in high school is when he realized he wanted to go into the field.
Katsnelson spent the last 12 years working for other physical therapists before opening a practice of his own inside of FitU, a gym that also recently opened in the Pollitt Road warehouse.
He sees a lot of back injuries and chronic pain, but will treat any type of pain — even balance and vestibular disorders.
The first step to treatment for Katsnelson is helping his clients understand their current situation.
"Sometimes we can explain pain," he said.
"But pain is not always dependent on tissue damage. A lot of other factors can effect pain, one of them being past experiences."
Sitting on a shelf in his office is a book by Lorimer Mosely , a clinical scientist who maintains that the biology of pain is not straightforward, even when it appears to be.
That's why Katsnelson takes a biopsychosocial approach to treatment, evaluating many different factors at play.
"If you watch someone in the Super Bowl sprain their ankle they might keep playing because it's a big game," the physical therapist said. "Then take someone who doesn't like their job and steps on something at work.
"They're tired, they hate being there and they're overworked. That person is going to get a much different pain response than [the football player], whose brain puts pain on a different level of importance."
If you visit Katsnelson for an injury he may ask you how you feel about the pain, and explore what social factors are contributing to it.
For example, if your knee hurts and you remember that your mother went through a lot of knee pain, you might put yourself on that same path, Katsnelson explained.
But if your knee hurts and you remember your mom also had knee problems but ended up being okay, that also influences how you may perceive the level of pain, he said.
"Sometimes we're chasing pain," Katsnelson said. "But once you address outside factors, a person will feel better, and you might not even have to touch the patient."
Katsnelson says his practice is unique in that each client receives one-on-one care, as opposed to other practices where one therapist rotates between several clients at a time.
Seeing athletes working out at FitU is often a motivator for Katsnelson's clients, he said.
"I like getting people beyond what they were prior to their injury," he said. "Some people underestimate their ability. We put ourselves in these barriers and guard ourselves based on what we see and believe.
"We hold back. I want to push people past what they think they can do when they're out of pain and still protecting themselves."