Andre Riopel is an interesting guy.
Well-known locally for being passionate, talkative and humorous about his profession of physiotherapy, bicycling, non-motorized recreational trails and environmentalism, he established Back in Motion Physiotherapy in 1994.
Including Andre, there are six registered physiotherapists on the Back in Motion team, along with one rehabilitation assistant, three massage therapists and three administrative assistants.
“We’ve got a busy clinic here,” Andre told us, Back in Motion the subject of this week’s Mid-Week Mugging.
“All my colleagues are experts who have their own niche, their own area of expertise, like acupuncture...we work with industry for pre-employment screening, we’re the only outpatient clinic in town that treats people with spinal cord injuries, we have specialized equipment for people in wheelchairs and are attuned to their needs...these are all things that connect well for us here.”
Interested in truly healing people, Andre said “we’re a drugless practice.”
“In the 1980s big pharma and the medical world basically stated they had won the war on pain with all these new drugs. We now know that opioids are not effective in treating chronic pain...and now we’ve got a crisis (with opioids) in this town,” Andre said.
“So now, as physiotherapists, we have become the ‘go to’ people in pain management, along with other health professionals.”
Andre and his team, apart from hands on treatment, also attempt to establish new ways of thinking in their patients when it comes to areas such as non-traumatic back pain, including:
- I can trust my back
- It is safe, not dangerous, to bend
- Back pain needs movement and graduated load, not resting
- Fun activities are not unsafe, but best
- If it hurts, relax, breathe and move normally, don’t get tense, ‘protect’ and avoid certain activities
- Lifestyle factors are important in dealing with back pain
- Movement and loading is not dangerous, but makes backs strong and healthy
“We’re changing the conversation about pain...you need exercise, you don’t always need a knee replacement,” Andre said.
“Hospitals and the government of Ontario are now recognizing our expertise and physiotherapists are now working in emergency departments,” Andre stated, adding he believes more funding should be directed toward physiotherapy, believing its approach to pain management actually saves, rather than costs, the healthcare system in the long run.
“We’re continuing to lobby (for more government funding).”
Andre, a native of Iroquois Falls, Ontario, studied physiotherapy at the University of Western Ontario, graduating in 1981 before coming to the Sault, going to work at the Group Health Centre (GHC).
“I distinctly remember coming here because I rode my bike from London to here in May, and I ended up sleeping under a picnic table in Blind River because the camp ground wasn’t open and there was snow on the ground,” he laughed.
“I was only here as a three month locum (at GHC) but I fell in love with this community because it’s such a great place for cyclists.”
Andre worked with the Soo Greyhounds in a sports medicine capacity, then landed a job with Canada’s national cycling team, travelling with the team for a year preparing for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games, before returning to the Sault permanently, marrying and starting a family.
He upgraded his professional skills at a top notch school in New Zealand before starting up Back in Motion in 1994.
“I really enjoy the work I do. I like working with people.”
Always expanding his knowledge and skills, and an inventor of new physiotherapy equipment, Andre developed an interest in treating health problems related to the inner ear when setting up his clinic in the 1990s.
“At the time there was no one really doing that in Sault Ste. Marie. I did some specialized training in the U.S., then I came back to the Sault and started to utilize what, at the time, were very novel techniques to treat people with vertigo,” Andre said, later sharing that knowledge with other therapists and emergency room doctors locally and across Ontario (the only therapist qualified to do so at that time).
Always busy, Andre opened Velorution, a well known Sault bicycle shop, in 2006, and invented the Viscus unit a physiotherapy device designed to help people get their legs moving, specifically those who need therapy after joint replacement, stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, kidney failure, peripheral vascular disease and diabetes.
Viscus units have been sold or rented, in use at Sault Area Hospital’s rehab unit, Extendicare Maple View, Extendicare Van Daele, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and by a few local patients in their own homes.
“I’ve been a busy guy,” smiled Andre, who sold Velorution in 2014 to free up some of his time.
“This is a job where we get a lot of thank yous. We’re in a position where we see people in distress and we help most of our patients, some of them dramatically. They come and say ‘thank you.' You can’t get a better job than that.”