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Get to Know: Alison Putnam, Spine and Sports Medicine Physiatrist

Alison Putnam, DO, is a physiatrist (a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician) who specializes in spine care and sports medicine at the Sports Medicine Clinic at Ballard and will soon be at the new Spine Center at Meridian Pavilion.

Let’s Get to Know Her:

What’s your clinical interest? 

In my specialty, I address mostly musculoskeletal issues. I work with people who have hip, neck, back, shoulder or knee pain — anything musculoskeletal, really. I enjoy the management of nonoperative musculoskeletal injuries, back and spine care, musculoskeletal ultrasound, electrodiagnostic testing and interventional lumbar spine procedures. 

What made you want to become a doctor, and in your specialty?

In college I majored in exercise and sports science and became an athletic trainer. I always knew I wanted to be a doctor and felt that the specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation was a great fit for me. After medical school I completed my residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the UW School of Medicine and then went on to do a fellowship in Sports and Spine Medicine at the University of Colorado Denver. 

Why did you decide to come back to UW Medicine?

After my fellowship training I practiced at a few other hospital systems prior to coming back to UW Medicine in 2019. One of the reasons for my return is that there is always teaching and learning going on at UW Medicine. I like listening to spine conferences and participating in the multitude of learning opportunities. There is this continuous learning going on and it’s built into what we do here. 

How do you work with other specialists for patient care?

I work cross-departmentally with neurology, neurosurgery, orthopedics and physical therapy. As a physiatrist, I help make the plan for treating and diagnosing musculoskeletal issues and then a physical therapist does the physical rehabilitation. 

In addition to seeing patients at the Sports Medicine Clinic at Ballard, I’ll start seeing patients at the new Spine Center at Meridian Pavilion. It will be nice to work directly with the surgeons that I refer patients to as it cuts out the extra communication steps when you are able to coordinate side by side. 

What types of injuries do you see the most?

I mostly see spine injuries since I’m part of our spine care program. I’m trained in spine injections and do epidural steroid injections for things like sciatica or pinched nerve pain. 

As a sports medicine specialist, I want to emphasize that our treatments aren’t just for sports injuries — we address any musculoskeletal pain and see many patients with non-sports related issues like arthritis or tendonitis. 

What’s your number one tip for avoiding injury?

Exercise regularly. Maintaining strength and aerobic fitness is going to help you prevent injury. 

What is one of the most important areas in your field that you would like to see move forward in your lifetime?

I’d like to see more ways to manage back pain. The spine community continues to do research on how to manage back pain. It’s complicated though and I think it goes back to exercise and doing that on a regular basis for prevention. 

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?

I grew up in a small town in Alaska and worked on a fishing boat in high school. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

Hiking, mountain biking and running, but I’m not necessarily fast at any of them. I also like camping and spending a lot of time with my husband and dogs.

Do you have any exercise tips for the summer heat?

Exercise early in the day and stay hydrated. 

What do you love most about working with patients?

I love learning about them and their lives in general. Making a connection to the person, not just the condition, is important. 

Also, seeing patients make progress or getting to show patients that they are making progress is really nice. I like to congratulate them on all their hard work and tell them they did a great job because it’s not always easy to do. Bodies take time to heal. Rehabilitation is a process, and it can take more time than you expect.

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