After the Fall

Recently a new client, Susie M., booked a four-session package sight unseen. “When I read about your ankle, I knew you were the one for me,” she said.

Susie sprained, and possibly broke, her right ankle four years ago. There was some confusion as to whether there was a bone chip floating around in there or not; what was certain was that she hadn’t been able to work out since. The ankle was chronically swollen and painful even after four years of treatment, including physical therapy and six months of myofascial release. Doctors had given her steroid injections to ease the swelling, but these did nothing but cause burn marks at the injection site.

As soon as I started work, I noticed that the anatomy train leading from her swollen ankle, up the right peroneal compartment, threading through her hip, and crossing the body to her left shoulder was bunched, knotted and compressed. There were so many adhesions in her right peroneals that I suspected the swelling was almost entirely a result of impaired circulation. Muscles and fascia don’t operate independently of the circulatory system; if they are compressed, they’re compressing everything around them.

After her first session, Susie declared, “I think you released more in one session than happened in six months of myofascial release.” She reported sharp pains in her left leg, hip and groin during the next few days, but on her next visit the swelling in the right ankle was 80% gone. She kept coming regularly as things unwound, and every week there was a different issue to confront, but ankle pain was not one of them. After four years, she was able to go back to the gym.

This re-confirms a long-held observation – that if one part of your body is injured, the trauma doesn’t just stay in one place. The body quickly redistributes strain to deal with it, but once the original injury heals, your body is still out of balance. This imbalance can then create a whole host of other problems unless it is addressed.

(“Confusion,” oil on linen, 36″x 48″, 2008 by Stephanie Lee Jackson,

The Mechanics of Miracles

After twelve years of practice, I’m finally getting around to reading Anatomy Trains, by Tom Myers. It’s blowing my mind–not so much because it’s giving me new information, but because it’s describing why my way of doing bodywork has the results it does.

For example, it’s a common thing for a client to come in complaining of neck pain, and wonder why I spend so much time working on their feet. Actually, they don’t wonder; they say things like, “wow, I can feel that all the way up to the top of my head.” They go away thinking I did magic.

But I’m not a magician; neither do I have an encyclopedic knowledge of anatomy (though I’m working to remedy that.) My hands know how to seek the areas of strain in your body, and I don’t assume I know where all of them are. If you have a pain in your hip, I’ll work your hip, but I’ll also work every area that connects to your hip in any direction, which means your whole body.

Because the human body is not built like a brick warehouse. It’s not a pile of units that stack linearly on top of one other from the ground up, dependent upon gravity to keep them stable. It’s more like a knot of Tinker Toys held together by rubber bands; it’s flexible, resilient, and held together by all-over tension. This kind of structure is called tensegrity.


Edward Villella: not a brick warehouse.

What this means in practice is that when one area of your body comes under strain, the whole structure adjusts to distribute that strain. This means that you are capable of absorbing considerably more shock per square inch than a brick warehouse. It also means that your whole body is only as strong as its weakest link. If you’re putting inordinate strain on your right arm over a long period of time, it’s quite possible for this to manifest as chronic failure of your left ankle. (It happened to me.)

One of the phrases in the book that I loved was, “The victim screams, not the thug.” Just because you’re hurting in one place doesn’t mean that spot is the source of the problem. Particularly if you’ve been in pain for more than a day or two, and particularly if the pain isn’t resulting from an obvious, sudden injury, it’s much more likely to be a result of compensatory strain.

Recently I had a client–a dancer–declare, “when I cough, I get an agonizing pain in my piriformis.” I worked her piriformis, of course, but didn’t find any significant adhesions, certainly nothing that would cause ‘agonizing pain.’ So in addition to my regular sequence of back, hips, legs, feet, arms and neck, I worked her rib cage. She said, “that’s interesting, nobody has done this before. Feels amazing.”

While she was dressing, I heard experimental coughing sounds coming from the treatment room. She emerged to report, “I can cough without crippling myself!” Further experiments will continue.