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Hands-On Healing: Why Women are Turning to Manual Therapy

Elle Magazine—June 1, 2010

Your average orthopedist tends to see muscle and joint pain as coming in two flavors: not so serious (take a couple Advil or a prescription muscle relaxant and deal with it) and serious (time to book the OR). But between Advil and surgery lies a universe of hands-on muscle therapies that are beginning to alter the way mainstream medicine deals with chronic, nagging problems such as neck, lower-back, and hip-related muscle pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome—conditions that the vast majority of women in this country have experienced at one time or another and that tend to affect women more than men.

“Often, patients are shocked by how quickly they recover with the help of manual therapy,” says Jennifer Solomon, MD, a specialist in rehabilitative medicine at Manhattan’s Hospital for Special Surgery, the nation’s leading orthopedic hospital.

For the most part, therapists agree that after any injury affecting the muscles, the muscle fibers shorten and tighten, or “shut down.” The practitioner pushes and prods against them in certain ways to attain a “release,” making the affected muscles relax. The blood flow to this now less congested area begins to return to normal, speeding up the body’s repair mechanisms. Net effect: less pain, increased range of joint motion, happier campers.

Eight years ago, I met Rob DeStefano, a chiropractor who trades patients back and forth with some of the star doctors at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Last year, I collaborated with DeStefano and Hospital for Special Surgery orthopedic surgeon Bryan Kelly, MD, on a book, Muscle Medicine: The Revolutionary Approach to Maintaining, Strengthening, and Repairing Your Muscles and Joints, which delivers the principles of muscle therapy in self-help form.

During my year in the musculoskeletal trenches, I learned that, in some cases, women stand to benefit the most from these nonsurgical therapies. For instance, women are more likely than men to develop carpal tunnel syndrome and its trademark weakness and tingling in the hand and fingers. DeStefano and Solomon have found that many patients who complain of CTS symptoms don’t even have the condition. A few sessions of therapy to ease tight, overstressed forearm muscles—which can press against the median nerve above the wrist, causing the same symptoms—is often enough to do the trick.

When I ask Solomon whether, when she sends patients to manual therapy, she gets funny looks from the famously tough-minded Hospital for Special Surgery orthopedists, she’s matter-of-fact: “Not anymore.”

This article originally appeared at elle.com.


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