Tag Archives: myofascial release therapy

Tying a bow on my birthday present

I’ve now been taking treatment from Howard Rontal for a month now, currently with a frequency of once a week for 60 minutes. As a birthday present to myself (turned 62 yesterday), I took an 90-minute session in which Howard gave me his “ligament treatment” — basically going progressively from soles to neck and stretching out all the muscles and assorted fascia, with special attention to places that were seriously compromised (in my case, hips, sacrum, lower back, neck — Howard was much more specific in naming muscles and ligaments).

A full 48 hours later, I am still feeling the impact of this body readjustment, a different kind of experience than what I had experienced in previous sessions. Rather than just relieving symptoms like numbness, tension, or pain (which I did on Tuesday), I’ve felt as if I’ve been put thorough boot camp. I’ve gone to bed feeling exhausted and sore, and woken up feeling fatigued and sore, especially in my hips, thighs, shoulders, arms, forearms. I almost felt as if I had flu symptoms — or something had gone wrong with the treatment. Obviously, something different is happening; it’s no longer just the “happy talk” of relieving tension and pain. Because of the work done on my core, I am using muscles differently, in new ways, with new lines of tensile stress. I’ve only done one Hatha yoga class (Tuesday evening) and my evening yin yoga sessions, so I’ve not be overexerting myself in a more traditional way (as if I’d gone to the gym for weight lifting for the first time in years). Rather, I am carrying myself (body frame and muscles) in a different way. So the very process of holding myself upright, walking, bending over is more physical exertion for me.

Howard told me that giving me a massage is like stroking a tree trunk: my muscles and fibers are thick, dense, hardened, inelastic, stiff, some more than others.  It takes an enormous amount of energy on his part to get a response, but eventually my body does respond. There’s not a lot of give in my fibers.

I don’t look like someone wound too tightly. I’ve always been slender, un-athletic, and relatively lightly built. At around 40, I put on 25 pounds; when I quit smoking the first time, I added another 10 pounds; and by the time I finished my MS degree, I had added another 15 pounds, pushing me over 210 pounds. So I’ve bulked up over a relatively wiry, tight frame, adding layer over layer.  And for the past seven years, I’ve been trying to reverse that tightness while reducing my weight, with moderate success since I can do a yoga class without looking like a complete klutz. I half joked with Howard that he’s lucky he did not have to work with me when I started yoga.

So what Howard did on Tuesday (and probably in a less concentrated form previously) is to start stretching out some of those sinews, freeing them to movement. Which means that instead of relying on rigidity to hold together and mobilize my body, my muscles are having to work. To use a metaphor, instead of using wooden struts to prop myself up, I am using the tensile strength of wire that has to be adjusted continuously to keep me upright. I may have felt it less before because we’ve tended to focus on a single area (feet and calves, core, shoulders and chest, neck and back). This time we were more ambitious in treatment scope.

Howard explained to me that the model for understanding the body is based on geometric principles — called Tensegrity:  rather than thinking of “flesh hanging off of bones,” it’s better to think in terms of a dynamic tension in which the bones are suspended by the fascia much like a suspension bridge. The concept is fascinating, but right now I am dealing with the discomfort of the transition to being a more embodied form of plasticity from a wooden prototype.

Happy birthday to me

I see the time and money that I now am investing in this treatment as more than just pain relief or injury repair, but as a down payment on future well being in my “seniorhood.” This past year, with my parents’ deaths and all the upheaval and disruption in my personal life, I let my personal care slip and saw a dramatic drop-off in my well-being as my peripheral neuropathy and other symptoms worsened dramatically. With the myofascial release massage, I feel a renewed interest in my yoga practice.

What is really surprising is that the therapy seems to have more than transitory effect (relieving pain or loosening up muscles). You would think that “moving around muscles and ligaments” would eventually mean that they fall back in place. I suspect that if I might slip back into old patterns if I did not do yoga (or exercise or stretching) to lock in the new range of movement.

Healing the body with expert hands

Drawing of a left human footI have to apologize for how I left my previous entry hanging ominously on the diagnosis of having idiopathic peripheral neuropathy and my doctors’ seeming inability to determine the cause or prescript a treatment that could relieve my pain. I already knew that I had more options for treatment and even the prospect of  a happy ending.

After I meet with my neurologist, I had already lined up an appointment with Howard Rontal who practices myofascial release therapy. He is a certified Hellerwork practitioner, a  Certified Myoskeletal Therapist, a Certified Structural Integrator SM, and am licensed as a massage therapist by the Board of Chiropractic Examiners, State of Maryland. More importantly, he’s been at this vocation for more than 20 years, and currently teaches around the country.

Drawing of the humna leg musculature
And the foot in intrecately bound to the calves, the knee, and the hip.-- and so on

I had contacted Howard because I wanted to work with an experienced bodyworker who is aware of yoga, comes out of the currents of  structural integrators that include Ida Rolf, Joseph Heller, Moshe FeldenkraisTom Myers and others. It’s safe to say that Howard is not just a massage therapist. I told him that I had multiple problems that included plantar fasciitis, peripheral neuropathy and assorted body tightness. Howard was very honest up front and said that he could not guarantee anything in terms of the neuropathy, but he could certainly help my plantar fasciitis. Another reason that I picked Howard is that he is located about 15 minutes from my house and could treat me in the morning.

I’ve now had six sessions of bodywork, one hour each, with Howard, and the results have been jaw-dropping. As just an initial example, the first two sessions focused exclusively on my feet, ankles and calves. Howard does intense stretches of the plantar ligaments (soles of the feet) that are sheer torture.  In the first session, I could just barely tolerate the pain on my right foot; I could not feel anything on my left foot. It was as if a local anesthetic had been applied to my left foot.  On the second day, I could actually feel the ligaments on my left foot being stretched. By the end of the session, the sensation of relief in my lower legs was overwhelming, but was even more surprising was that it seemed to ripple up my whole body. I could tell that I was in the right hands and was on track to managing the pain and even healing my body.

Over the next four sessions, I found that even working on another part of my body (say, shoulders and neck) could end up relieving the tension in my lower limbs. The pin pricks that had been keeping me from sleep at night are much less intense, and only distract me at times. Other symptoms, like numbness or blunted feeling, do tend to come back gradually between sessions, but each time with less intensity. It might even be a case of new circuits of sensation that I am feeling and interpreting as being symptoms, but are actually a new phenomenon.

The bodywork has also changed my yoga practice as I find that my body is pulsing with more sensory feedback and awareness in muscles that I had not been able to access fully. In one session, Howard dramatically freed up my diaphragm and made my breathing smoother and fuller. The experience has made clear to me that any mature adult (45 or older) who starts doing yoga should also seriously considering using a structural integrator because there are so many issues that have been “baked into the muscles” (bad posture, trauma) over the decades. In the past, I’ve frequently felt as if I’ve been fighting against myself, and now I know I have been struggling against some real resistance.

This treatment has been eye-opening for me, and there are so many lessons in it that I could not possibly give a full account in one sitting. I am going to come back to this facet of my mind-body experience because of its transformative power.