In the spring of 2001, I developed a repetitive strain injury in my right wrist. I had been working as a graphic designer for almost three years in an old office building, which meant I was spending eight hours a day, 5 days a week, clicking a computer mouse at an outdated workstation that was anything but ergonomic. Combined with my already poor postural habits, this made it impossible for me to practice healthy body mechanics. The damage happened slowly, the pain progressively making its way down from a sore neck and shoulders to a sore arm, until it eventually settled in one excruciatingly painful spot on the thumb-side of my right wrist.
At its peak, the injury hurt 24/7, often keeping me awake at night. I remembered having heard my grandmother talk about knee pain that bothered her constantly and having thought that she must be exaggerating, that it couldn’t possibly hurt all the time, that no human being can live that way. But I quickly learned what she had meant. I started getting regular massage, which gave me partial relief that was always far too temporary. I began using my clumsy left hand to click the mouse at work, and eventually started doing everything left-handed because my right wrist was so weak and injured that it would give out even if I tried to pick up something as light as a spoon to eat with. I also began wearing a metal-reinforced wrist brace night and day to provide strength and stability to my wrist, but, even with it on, the simplest of tasks were a painful challenge for me.
It didn’t take long before I quit my job as a graphic designer and found work that didn’t require me to spend much time at a computer. The intensity of my repetitive strain injury gradually subsided just from resting it, but the pain invariably and immediately returned any time I spent so much as 5 minutes on a computer. I also developed other meandering aches and pains in my hips and lower back.
In the spring of 2005, I was working as the receptionist at High Desert Healthcare & Massage. I had seen plenty of Rolfing® clients come into our office in obvious pain and leave without it after a few sessions. I started to think that Rolfing® might be just the thing for me, so I talked it over with my boss, Jill Gerber, who is also a Certified Advanced Rolfer, and I decided to try a Rolfing® 10-series.
The only Rolfing® session I remember specifically is my first one, during which Jill worked on the fascia around my ribcage, diaphragm and lungs. I walked out of that treatment feeling like I could get a full breath for the first time in 25 years, and that wasn’t even one of the problems I had wanted help with. At the beginning of each session, Jill would ask me to undress down to my bra and underwear like it was the most natural thing in the world, and then she would look at my posture from the front, back, left and right sides. She would ask me to lift an arm or bend a knee or walk a few paces around the massage table so she could see how my body was moving, where the restrictions were and where I was compensating for those restrictions, where the strain was originating that was causing the pain. She would then work on, it seemed, everything except the places that actually hurt. But, as if by magic, it worked. When she would ask me after our sessions how I was feeling, I always had the mental image that I was made of Legos and that she had taken me apart and put me back together better, or that I’d had a tune-up and all my joints and hinges had been lubricated. My body felt more efficient each time.
Ultimately, Jill traced the source of my wrist pain back to an injury I had sustained ten years earlier, when I had fallen down a flight of stairs on my tailbone and lumbar vertebrae. She hypothesized that the strain had migrated up my back, to my shoulders, and then down to my wrist. This is, in fact, what I had experienced, except that it had happened so gradually, and I had been so unaware of my own body, that I hadn’t even noticed. Jill spent a lot of time working on my lower back and legs, which helped me find new stability and balance. Between sessions, there were times when old pain resurfaced or moved around to parts of my body that didn’t usually hurt. But Jill told me this was normal, so I patiently observed my body’s process of readjusting and I didn’t take the aches too seriously, thinking of them more as “growing pains.”
I had heard that Rolfing® could be quite painful, and, to be honest, there were times when it definitely was. But I didn’t take that too seriously, either. I knew that I could ask Jill to let up at any time and I also knew that the pain I experienced during Rolfing® sessions was the kind of pain I could just breathe through; it was the kind of pain that was momentary and concentrated, and that would help take away the constant pain I already lived with.
Since my Rolfing® 10-series, I have gone back to Jill for four additional sessions over a period of four years when I’ve needed a little “tweaking.” But, for the most part, I live without pain and I can even use a computer without any negative consequences. My relationship with my own body has changed, as well as the relationship between the different parts of my body; I hold myself up, move and walk more efficiently.
I’ve also discovered that my body is fluid and always changing. With the Rolfing® 10-series four years ago, Jill helped to remedy an imbalance that I had spent 29 years creating. But as I continue living my life, falling off my bike, bumping into things, dancing, sitting in uncomfortable chairs or sleeping on an old mattress, I will sustain lesser or greater injuries. My body will compensate for those injuries and create new imbalances. When those imbalances become apparent, Jill, or any Rolfer, will be able to see where my fascia is restricted or strained, and, now that I have a healthy foundation, will be able to help me rebuild my relationship with my own body again with relatively little effort, so that I, too, can move through this world that way.
by Rain Mateevici