Dr. Howard Liss, a well-known local physiatrist and co-founder of The PM&R (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation) Center, and an attending physician at both Columbia Presbyterian Hospital and Englewood Hospital, is opening a new office in Riverdale, where he grew up.
Dr. Liss, who began his residency at Columbia in 1981, has since pioneered the concept of a medical office combining the practice of physiatry with a fully attuned, integrated staff of physical therapists, who work interactively and in tandem to improve the health of their patients. In his new practice, there is a renewed focus on this approach, with a cornerstone of the practice being close communication about every patient, on a regular basis, among Dr. Liss and all of his patients’ other clinicians, including therapists, and surgeons and other physicians.
Sitting down with Dr. Liss was an opportunity to hear from “one of the greats” about the fascinating practice of physiatry (physical medicine, also known as regenerative and rehabilitation medicine), and hear his unique perspective as both an accomplished interdisciplinarian and as a patient with an acute understanding of pain and its sources, due to his having sought his own rehabilitation for sports injuries.
As a resident and young physician, Dr. Liss took the opportunity to do rotations in rheumatology; neurology; sports medicine clinics; multiple orthopedics clinics focusing on hand, shoulder, knee and pediatric foot issues; and also in a pain practice focused on myofascial (chronic or referred) pain that was headed by Dr. Hans Kraus, who was the first personal physician to President John F. Kennedy, who famously suffered from myofascial lumbar pain. Dr. Kraus was “the father of the trigger point injection and made a great contribution to the field of pain medicine,” said Dr. Liss.
“I am trained to focus on the details on nonoperative care,” said Dr. Liss, noting that most myofascial pain has an underlying cause and is not an entity in and of itself. “Muscles develop trigger points when a knot forms in the muscle fibers, causing blood flow restriction and pain. We must address both the pain caused by the trigger points, and the reasons underlying their development,” he said.
Truly a local boy, Dr. Liss grew up in Briar Hill on 246th Street and returned to Riverdale after attending medical school at the University of Michigan, though he moved across the bridge to New Jersey at age 33. “My children were 8 and 4 before we moved to Bergen County. Jason attended SAR and Stephanie was in nursery school,” he said.
Dr. Liss, who stands approximately 6-4, has been an avid sportsman his whole life. “I lived on the basketball courts at PS 24 and JHS 141. I played tennis in the summer in a program at Horace Mann,” he recalled. He was bar mitzvah’d at the Riverdale Jewish Center and added that he played basketball on the Riverdale Jewish Center team and on the Riverdale Jewish Center team in the kosher softball league, where he also coached. With this in mind, Dr. Liss comes to his patients with an understanding of pain and the type of stress that sports injuries place on the body.
Today, he has retired from basketball but is still able to enjoy golf and “gentle” doubles tennis, and appreciates the social and health benefits of being physically active. “I just came from my workout at the JCC,” he joked.
Dr. Liss, now a resident of Fort Lee and a member of the Young Israel of Fort Lee, noted that the importance of good health hit him at a very young age, obliquely referencing health issues endured by his family members. “I treat my patients like they are my close relatives. I remain passionate about helping people,” he said.
In addition to having been active in the Wellness Department of the Kaplen JCC, Dr. Liss helped found the Softball League at Yavneh, where he has also conducted basketball and soccer clinics for both boys and girls. He has served on the boards of Congregation Beth Tefillah, the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, the UJA and Yavneh Academy’s board of directors and board of education. He has co-chaired events for the UJA at Montammy, the golf club in Alpine, and served on the Physician’s Cabinet at the UJA. He was also the chairman of the medical committee for the 2003 Maccabi Games at the JCC.
Dr. Liss is the founder and director of Englewood Hospital Rehabilitation Grand Rounds and the Northern Valley Rehabilitation Society. He has also been the chairman of courses on physical diagnosis at the annual meeting of the American Academy of PM&R and national courses on lumbar disc and rotator cuff disorders, and has authored medical textbook chapters on lumbar disc disease. He has been an invited lecturer at both Columbia and Englewood Hospitals in such departments as rehabilitation, orthopedics, neurology, neurosurgery, pediatrics, oncology, OB-GYN and general surgery.
“The main initial concern of the physiatrist is the diagnosis. We hope it’s not serious and can be treated nonoperatively, but the breadth of the pathology that comes through the doors of a physiatrist’s office is very broad.” He noted that many of his patients also come to him post-surgery or post-procedure, or if they have struggled to find an effective treatment plan that supports their underlying diagnosis.
Most of all, however, Dr. Liss explained that the details of a patient’s history are incredibly important to him when forming a diagnosis and a treatment plan. “The treatment must fit with the clinical picture,” he said. “So many people have told me they have had physical therapy in the past but it failed. The question is, why did the therapy fail? Was it because the diagnosis was wrong, or because the treatment did not effectively address the underlying issue? I always aim to hone in on the right diagnosis and communicate regularly with the physical therapist to ensure the therapy is successful.”
Likewise, Dr. Liss advised that injections can offer diagnostic information as well as being therapeutic, but they must be planned and administered with precision based on a patient’s clinical presentation. Dr. Liss will consult with and recommend physicians that will provide pain management procedures that he will not be providing in his office. Although Dr. Liss is an expert in nonoperative care, he recognizes that surgery is the appropriate option for some patients even when he first sees them. It is essential that this alternative be promptly explained, when it is the advisable avenue to pursue.
Dr. Howard Liss is currently accepting new patients at his practice at 3333 Henry Hudson Parkway, Suite 1L, Riverdale, NY 10463 (718-873-6362). His other offices are located at 177 North Dean Street, in Englewood (201-390-9200) as well as at 2150 Center Avenue, Suite 1B, in Fort Lee (201-829-7610).
Visit his website at www.lissrehab.com.
By Elizabeth Kratz