By: 2 February 2023
Physician in focus Q&A with Joanne Borg-Stein

Joanne Borg-Stein is a physician from Massachusetts General Brigham healthcare system.

She is associate professor and Chief of Sports Medicine for the Harvard Department of PM&R.  She recently presented her research at the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation assembly, looking at understanding the structure, biomechanics and injury patterns of the shoulder. 


OPN: What drove you to choose physical medicine as a career – and rehabilitation in particular? 

JBS:  Between the 1st and 2nd years of medical school, I spent the summer in the PM&R department of my medical school.  I was drawn to the holistic, comprehensive, functionally oriented approach of the field in general.  My strong personal interest in sports, anatomy, and fitness informed and influenced my choice of subspecialization in Sports and Musculoskeletal Medicine. 


OPN: It is clear that the healthcare industry has been greatly impacted by the pandemic, what has been the greatest impact for you within your research and industry? 

JBS: During the pandemic, fitness patterns, sports participation, exercise transformed.  Health clubs closed.  Some People became sedentary and overweight and missed the social aspects of sport and fitness.  This led to exacerbation of many underlying musculoskeletal conditions.  

On the other end of the spectrum, some took up distance outdoor sports such as running, cycling, hiking and did these to extremes that they were not physically prepared for.   

All of these impacted our approach and injury pattern. 

In addition, early on, we were challenged to create a treatment program for survivors of COVID with long-term sequelae.   


OPN: What’s the best part of your job? 

JBS: Taking care of patients, and connecting with them and their family members over many years.  I also enjoy solving clinically complex cases and giving patients and their loved ones hope.  


OPN: … and the worst? 

JBS: The administrative burdens of practice take away from its inherent pleasure. There is little satisfaction in filling out paperwork or obtaining prior authorizations.  


OPN: What has been the highlight of your career so far? 

JBS: Starting and growing the Harvard/Spaulding PM&R Sports and Musculoskeletal division.  The joy of mentorship is profound, and this has been my major contribution to our specialty.  I was the first member of our Sports Medicine division, and now we have 26 faculty members,  all of whom are wonderful.  


OPN: You recently spoke at the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation assembly about understanding the opportunities and limitations to available treatment and rehabilitation options for the shoulder. Could you tell us more about your research and findings. 

JBS: I have been using regenerative techniques for shoulder and other musculoskeletal issues, and have been impressed with the results. I am engaged in ongoing efforts to build our research program to provide a better understanding of the mechanisms of these treatments, and to expand our evidence base.   


OPN: How important is educating providers and their patients to ensure preventative care is encouraged to improve overall good health care? How can this be managed? 

JBS: Lifestyle lies at the heart of many musculoskeletal and other health issues. Regular exercise, proper nutrition, adequate rest and stress management are all important issues that are often neglected in our society.  


OPN: Do you currently work with any emerging technologies and how can they affect the patient experience? 

JBS: We are examining the use of shockwave therapy in conjunction with orthobiologic treatments as a novel approach that will hopefully improve patient outcomes.  


OPN: Are you planning to attend any orthopaedic events this year? 

JBS: Yes. American Medical Society for Sports Medicine,  Biologics Association annual symposium, and Co-director of the Harvard Sports Medicine course 2023. 


OPN: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be? 

JBS: Likely a Spanish teacher and women’s sports coach 


OPN: What would you tell your 21-year-old self? 

JBS: You are on the right path.  Follow your passion and cherish each day of the journey. 


OPN: If you were Health Minister for the day, what changes would you implement? 

JBS: Give physicians and health care systems the resources they need to allow each patient to be cared for without rushing, with attention to detail, and treating all as if they were a family member. 


OPN: Away from the clinic and operating theatre – what do you do to relax? 

JBS: Hiking, cycling, walking, swimming, cross country ski, snow shoe, pickleball, singing in my choir, and spend time with my husband, children, grandchildren, and other dear family and best friend.  


OPN: How do you think the future looks in the field of orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation and what are your predictions for 2023 and the next decade? 

JBS: I believe the array of less invasive therapies will continue to expand, and allow us to treat patients with osteoarthritis with effective therapies that do not require major surgery. While total joint arthroplasties will remain an essential option for many patients, we can hopefully offer patients with less severe joint damage effective treatment earlier in their course.