Regenerative Rehabilitation with Dr. Dwight Lin

By Hawai’i Health Travel Staff // Images Courtesy Regenerative Medicine Association of Hawai’i and Dr. Dwight Lin

Honolulu based Dr. Dwight Lin has been practicing surgical care for sports, sciatica, and musculoskeletal injuries in Hawai‘i for over 20-years. 

His philosophy is that compassionate, evidence guided care and patient education will keep Hawai‘i active and healthier. He is a graduate of Cornell University, Hahnemann University School of Medicine and did his residency and specialty training at Harvard Medical School. 

Board certified by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), in 2012 Dr. Lin was the first physician at the Queens Medical Center to focus on PRP (platelet rich plasma) and stem cell technology for arthritis and sports injuries. 

Last year marked Dr. Lin’s 5th consecutive year for being recognized as Honolulu Magazine Top Doctor in the field of Regenerative Medicine & Rehabilitation.

Dr. Lin is a member of the American Academy of PM&R, the North American Spine Society, and is certified by the American Board of Independent Medical Examiners. When he is not in the clinic, Dr. Lin is devoted to his family. As a “snowboarder addicted to surfing,” he also enjoys studying traditional martial arts in his spare time.

Hawai’i Health Travel spoke with Dr. Lin about his love of healing and medicine in Hawai’i. 

Hawai’i Health Travel (HHT): Tell us a bit about your practice.

Dr. Dwight Lin: Regenerative Medicine and Rehabilitation of Honolulu has taken 20 years to develop, and it continues to grow. In 2012, we were the first clinic at the Queens medical center to use advanced Regenerative technologies like PRP (platelets) and stem cells to treat arthritic knees. Over the past 2 decades, one particular adage from my training at Harvard continues to guide the care I provide – in 1997 it was Dr. Frontera (chairman of our department at Harvard at the time) who championed the phrase “Exercise is medicine.”

Since I first opened my clinic doors in 2000, I’ve focused on non-surgical and non-addictive solutions for sports, spine and painful muscles and joints. Back then, patients often referred to me as a pain specialist, because I treat painful conditions like rotator cuff tendinopathy, sciatica and knee sprains. I try to avoid being labeled as a  “pain specialist.”  You see, as a medical doctor, my specialty training and board certification is in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R.) Our medical specialty focuses on optimizing healing and restoring function – and to do that, we go beyond “just treating the pain.”

The patients I treat in clinic are active – they are busy with work, sports and/or caring for their loved ones. Some of them are athletes and others have physically demanding jobs. But all of our patients are looking for treatments that heal, rather than simply mask or hide painful conditions.

I’m a firm believer in a careful history and examination, combined with advanced digital imaging to diagnose and educate patients about their condition. That’s the first step towards recovery and prevention of recurrences – and the most important step for a patient to make an informed choice.

Most patients never had a doctor examine their condition in terms of biomechanics and kinesiology. For example, a painful shoulder may be a symptom of arthritis or rotator cuff injury, and a thorough exam is critical to ensure that a neck, nerve or other affected body part is not ‘masquerading’ as a shoulder problem. One painful joint can impact how other joints, nerves and muscles move and work together. 

After a careful diagnosis, we use biologic injections such as PRP (platelets) or stem cells, to deliver the body’s own healing mechanisms to areas of injured tissue. For procedures like these,live image guidance with digital ultrasound, fluoroscopy, sometimes combined with MRI is essential.

The second phase of treatment is equally (if not more) important: an individualized exercise program for physical rehabilitation and exercise, carefully crafted per each patient’s unique medical history and needs – its essential for symptom relief and prevention of injury recurrence. Our network of specialized physical therapists and athletic trainers carries decades of experience, combined with a youthful passion for evidence guided techniques to assist our patients rehabilitate on a 1:1 basis. 

HHT: Why is Hawai’i ideal to travel to for some of your treatments?

Dr. Dwight Lin: Hawai’i is one of the most beautiful places on our planet. Here in the middle of the blue Pacific ocean, patients can find board certified, American physicians who graduated from the world’s top medical institutions: Harvard, the Mayo Clinic, and Cornell, for example.

Beyond the natural splendor, the Hawaiian islands possess an energy that only nature can bring to the healing process. The power of the islands, the warmth of the sun, the refreshing trade winds, and the purity of the ocean create a unique environment for rest, recovery and rejuvenation. 

We routinely combine cutting edge medical technology with physical rehabilitation, which is uniquely enhanced when traveling patients experience care amidst Hawaii’s abundant natural elements.

HHT: Doctors in the United Kingdom and Canada are taking the lead in moving to “prescribe exercise.” Is that something you see yourself doing with your rehabilitation treatments? 

Dr. Dwight Lin: I’m glad to hear that foreign physicians are finally embracing the importance of exercise.

Most folks don’t know it, but since 1947, our little-known medical specialty of PM&R has been recognized in the US—just like the fields of orthopedic surgery, cardiology, dermatology, etc. After 4 years of college and 4 years of medical school, physicians wanting to specialize can apply to train for another 4 years to specialize in the field of PM&R. After completing a rigorous residency program that prescribes physical medicine and rehabilitation for conditions range from arthritis and orthopedic problems to severe medical conditions such as stroke, spinal cord injury or loss of limb, physicians who are able to pass a grueling 2 day written and oral examination receive board certification in the field of PM&R. 

When it comes to writing exercise prescriptions, PM&R doctors have more expertise than any other healthcare provider. 

Our clinical team routinely prepares dozens on a daily basis, because exercise prescriptions and physiology is what we are all about.

HHT: Combined with your treatments, how does nutrition, diet and  meditation factor in for patient health?

Dr. Dwight Lin: There’s so much more to health than taking a daily multivitamin and going to the gym for a “no-pain-no-gain” type of workout.

Food is fuel for our bodies to repair and recover. A minimally processed,  plant-focused diet is a great way to provide the right anti-oxidant building blocks that we all need. Fortunately Hawai‘i is home to incredibly talented dieticians who help our patients adjust meals to be equally healthy and tasty.

The benefits of mindfulness and meditation cannot be understated. Our team of physiotherapists build neurocognitive strategies into every treatment session.

Based on a holistic assessment of our patient’s medical history, we have been customizing exercise prescriptions, enhanced by non-surgical and non-addictive alternatives.

It’s the perfect blend of science and nature.

HHT: Many medical reports now note that muscles, when exercised, release anti-aging chemicals. What’s your take on this for future ways to get people, especially senior citizens, to exercise more?

Dr. Dwight Lin: Research shows that exercise and physical activity are important to health and longevity. Not just to aid tissue healing and injury recovery, but for the powerful brain physiology and anti-aging benefits of exercise.

Patients come to the clinic seeking answers. Maybe their family doctor told them “its just part of aging” so they stop being active. Or perhaps their orthopedic surgeon said to “call when they are ready for surgery.” So then patients are left wondering and not knowing what to do.

Our first step is to educate patients on their diagnosis and medical conditions that affect how they move and function. How an artist with shoulder pain functions is different from a surfer vs. a plumber vs. a guitarist, for example.

Regenerative medicine is a tool I use to help injured tissues heal, but exercise is essential to restore strength, range of motion, balance and coordination.  Those are things that an injection can’t deliver.

Research shows the benefits of exercise physiology in terms of diabetic control, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol. Remember that our bodies release powerful endorphins (our body’s own anti-pain molecules) that are released when we exercise. These neurotransmitters can also play an important role when it comes to stress, restorative sleep, and assisting the healing process for injured tissues.

Neurology researchers recently identified memory and cognitive benefits associated with daily exercise:  there are areas of enhanced brain function that occur with regular, daily exercise and how  these interact is still being analyzed and understood. We see the emerging research on patients with severely debilitating conditions like paralytic stroke and devastating spinal cord injuries. 

While supportive data is there, most people never had a doctor sit down and explain the different types of exercise that can best help one’s condition, let alone establish reasonable goals and capabilities when it comes to an exercise plan. 

The baby boomers are our most active generation, and our patients continue to lead busy lives. They work, travel and exercise. They golf, play tennis, surf, ski and run. And that’s just some of the activities they love. Our patients  want non-surgical solutions. They want non-pharmacological treatments.  They all understand the benefits of optimizing an anti-oxidant anti-aging diet, and of paying attention to sleep and how to exercise right. They take time for meditation. 

Diet, taking time for exercise, mindful stewardship of our daily lives- they are all important factors that can boost longevity. 

Remember that boosting one’s healthspan starts with a thoughtful discussion with your personal physician. While there are many alternatives, your medical doctor is the best place to start.