A Dissertation on the Benefits of Myotherapy In Conjunction with Uechi-ryu Karate
By Bruce Witherell
I have been studying and practicing Uechi-Ryu Karate since January of 1971. Like most students who practice the arts, we get involved for the physical aspect of the art. Some of the qualities which attract students to this physical aspect are self-defense, agility, speed, power, weight control, endurance, and aerobic benefits. At this point in my career, like most martial artists, the intellectual and spiritual sides of karate were barely considered.
After just a couple of years of study we come to understand that there is an internal strength that we begin to develop. We begin to build our Chi, we develop self confidence, self control, we start to understand body mechanics, physiology, and applied physics.
Like many who came before me, and many who will come after, I developed my physical self to a level I couldn’t conceive of before I started Uechi-Ryu. With my new understanding of how the body works, and my new self confidence, I wanted to pass this new phenomenon on to others. I wanted to absorb more and more information and pass it on to others. I took a tremendous amount of pride in being able to bang with the best of them, and pride in turning out students who could do the same. I was proud of developing teachers who carried on my philosophies, and the traditions of Uechi-Ryu.
I believed I had it all. I was intellectual about my art, physically powerful, possessed the spirit to keep improving, the ability to hold the mind and body together, and the passion to pass these attributes onto others. The circle was complete, or was it?
After so many years of teaching people how they could hurt others, and how they could, to the best of their abilities, keep themselves from being injured, I began to think that something was missing. What if the student did become injured? What if they injured someone else? Wasn’t it my responsibility to help these people heal?
If we know how to inflict pain it also has to be our responsibility to cure it!
Traditional Western medicine takes years to develop. Besides, we already have the finest doctors in the world right here in New England. Chiropractors are now being accepted, and common place, someone to help us with bone manipulation. But what about the muscles? Doctors give us muscle relaxer to mask the pain. They tell us to take several days of rest to let the pain go away. But that takes time away from our day to day activity, it costs us time away from work, and the minute you push that muscle the process starts all over again.
We can seek the help of a physical therapist. They will manipulate the muscle, manually relax the muscle and improve blood flow. I think they are on the right track but it seems to take months. There must be a quicker relief. We’re Americans, we want everything instantly, we demand quick relief, but does it exist? YES.
Besides being a martial arts teacher, I also own and operate “Aries Entertainment Management and Booking”, a company which primarily works as a broker for booking entertainment for clubs, weddings, conferences and other private functions. In the mid 1980’s, I was contacted by the Bonnie Prudden Institute in Stockbridge, MA to provide entertainment for one of their functions. I had on a number of occasions heard of Bonnie, seen her on television, read about her in magazines. I though she was just another exercise guru like Richard Simmons.
I went to the institute and spoke with a couple of the staff involved in the party and out of curiosity asked them exactly what goes on there. I found out at the institute that they taught myotherapy, a natural, simple technique that can be taught at home.
Myotherapy is a revolutionary breakthrough in pain relief involving trigger points-tender areas where muscles have been damaged from falls, accidents, childhood ailments, poor posture, and the stresses of daily life.
Upon completing my job at the institute, and in appreciation of the work I had done, they gave me a copy of Bonnie Prudden’s best seller “Pain Erasure The Bonnie Prudden Way”. Not having reached my age of enlightenment, I went home and placed it in my bookcase where it gathered dust until 1994.
When I matured enough in my Karate, that I needed to seek more, I dusted of f the book given to me several years earlier. I contacted a couple of friends of mine from the music business, Bruce and Tracy Marianni, who had been studying myotherapy for about ten years. Bruce told me just about all the answers I was looking for were in Bonnie’s book.
I had told my children during the years they were in school how important reading was. I told them if you can read you can learn to do anything. It was time to practice what I preached.
The big question-1″Why do so many people hurt in so many odd places that don’t seem convincingly explicable by current anatomical and physiological mechanisms, and that don’t seem to be predictably relieved by standard medical and physiotherapeutic methods, and what can be done to improve the situation?”
As I mentioned previously, myotherapy involves an entity known in medical circles as a trigger point. These trigger points are found in muscles that have been damaged. The trigger points can remain dormant for years, so you cannot always pinpoint exactly what is causing your present discomfort. When the climate is right, which is usually physical or emotional stress, the muscle in which they reside tightens.
When we are young we are able to mask pain, to tolerate it and recover more quickly from surface pain. As we start to age, it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back, we seem to hurt everywhere. If we can cure these trigger points at a young age they won’t accumulate into middle and old age.
I have a good friend of mine, Dr. Phil Grover, a chiropractor, who gave his son a spinal manipulation a week after he was born. He said birth is so traumatic that he wasn’t going to let the possible spinal damage show up in his son 30 years later. The same should be done for muscles.
For all practical purposes, there are two kinds of pain, chronic and acute. Acute pain is understandable, is valuable and has a foreseeable end. While acute pain is a warning, chronic pain mayor not have an observable cause.
Most chronic pain is caused by a condition in the muscles. Disease is responsible for some of it; but just plain living is the cause of far more.
Let’s start with a simple statement. Pain killers don’t kill pain, they only raise pain threshold so you are not aware of the pain. What we are going to do is identify trigger points and how to eliminate them. First let’s identify the major causes of trigger points. Birth, accidents, sports, occupation, disease and the formula that causes pain. Trigger points + stress + triggering mechanism = chronic pain.
Next we need to understand spasm-pain-spasm cycle. 2 “When the spasm sent by the nervous system reaches the designated area, it further tightens the spasm already present. That hurts! Another pain message shoots back to headquarters predictably followed by yet more spasm. This phenomenon is called “splinting”. We now have a spasm-pain-spasm cycle in effect, and until it is broken the pain will continue unabated, and as the pain continues, so will the splinting. This shortens the muscles and holds them in a foreshortened condition, which not only causes pain, but interferes with function, posture and balance. If the cycle is maintained long enough, the muscles may remain permanently shortened.
The technique used in myotherapy is simply denying the trigger point oxygen. Most trigger points seem to relax with seven seconds of pressure placed directly on the tender spot in the muscle, except for those in the face and head, only five seconds is necessary. To search out trigger points you will use your fingers, knuckles, elbows and a bodo (wooden dowels attached to wooden handles). Fingers and knuckles are good for working on most arm and leg muscles. Bodos are good for working on hands and feet, and elbows in areas where considerable force is required.
When working on a patient, let them know that they are the ones who need to tell you where the pain is centered. You can tell by their groans, grimaces, hollering or twisting, but their input is invaluable. Explain too, that while trigger points do hurt when unearthed, the object is to extinguish them, not the patient.
You will use 5 to 6 pounds of pressure on the face, 15 to 20 pounds on the average arm, 20 to 30 pounds on the leg and as much as 60 pounds on the gluteal. If the painful muscle does not give up the spasm, press a little harder. If the subject can’t take the pain use less. Remember tomorrow is another day. To understand how much pressure to exert practice on a bathroom scale. Be sure your patient knows that they can tell you to stop at anytime. Too much pressure can cause nearby muscles to tense. Ask your subject to use a scale of 1-10 to keep you informed of their pain threshold.
It is helpful to make a map of your subject, blue X’s or dots for the first session, red for the second, yellow for the third. Two sessions is usually enough to help most subjects, but the map will tell you where the spasms are and where they are being eliminated from.
Stretching exercises are a must for the affected muscle during and after each session and even daily at home if possible. Remember we are dealing with muscles that have been shortened due to spasm.
It is also important to do a simple fitness test on your subject to check for any deficiencies in the key posture muscles, the abdominal, back, psoas and the hamstrings. This test will be covered later as well as the stretching exercises.
Knowing your subject’s history is important:
1) Where do you hurt?
2) What is or what were your sports?
3) Have you been in any accidents?
4) Have you had any operations?
5) Have you had children?
6) What medications are you on?
7) What were your occupations?
8) When was the first time you had pain and what happened?
9) What muscles are involved in each event?
10) Where do these muscles attach?
Just to go back a bit, after working on trigger points use a fluoric-methane coolant spray or the corner of ice cubes to speed the anti-pain process. The way the coolant works is that cold travels along nerve pathways faster than does pain. Press the corner of the ice cube on the trigger point and the autonomic nervous system doesn’t get the pain message signaling the need for spasm. It is also used while stretching the affected muscle and augments relaxation. 3″Chronic muscle deficiency is curable with exercise.
Chronic muscle strain is preventable by building a better body. Ninety-five percent of chronic pain is reversible with myotherapy, exercise, good nutrition and real physical education.”
Earlier I spoke about splinting, the shortening of the muscle into spasms in an attempt to guard against pain. Another bad habit muscles have is substitution. This occurs when a muscle is hurt and cannot function as it was meant to, so it substitutes other muscles not designated for the job, or not capable of handling two jobs into injuring itself. A good example is a person with a sprained foot, who changes their normal way of walking; next the knee begins to ache, then the hip, next the back.
I would like at this time, to take a shot at doctors who prescribe medication for everything. Medications do relieve pain, but the body can absorb just so much before it becomes sick in other ways. All things in moderation.
Massage is an essential part of myotherapy. It can be used either before or after trigger point therapy.
When you are moving along a muscle in massage, the patient can tell you where there is an area that hurts. There is most likely a trigger point there. Erase it immediately and move on. Massage is relaxing the muscle before it gets to the point of spasm. This brings me to stretching muscles. Isn’t a spasm a shortening of a muscle that has been stressed or injured? A good program of stretching 2 or 3 times a week can help muscles tremendously. Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles, it lessens the possibility of spasm and it improves posture. Most people who stoop with age just aren’t fighting muscles that start to shorten and pull at the skeleton. The increased blood flow that comes with stretching also helps maintain strength in that muscle.
At this time I would like to talk about pain related to pregnancy and birth, and help for mother and child.
The problems with the birthing process today stems from the lack of exercise, proliferation of drugs in our society, and laziness of doctors. A strong, healthy woman is rare in America today. Think back to our mothers and grandmothers who worked in factories, farmed the land, women who were used to physical labor. Birth for them was almost always natural. Today, from the moment a woman finds out she is pregnant, she is pampered and given drugs throughout her pregnancy to keep her comfortable. By delivery day she is bombarded with drugs for the doctors convenience as well as hers. The position the doctors deliver babies in is not natural, the drugs they use to induce labor is also passed on to the fetus, as well as the pain killers. How many doctors induce labor hours, or even days in advance to fit their schedule? All these things can cause trauma to both the mother and child. Cesarean delivery has risen from 5% in 1968 to 13% today. And then there are forceps to create future headaches, shoulder problems, facial and neck pain, and TMJD. All of these things put down trigger points in mother and baby. Also, while we’re on the subject, exercise, stretching and moderate sports are recommended during pregnancy. 4 “One study made of 729 female athletes showed that 87% had faster deliveries than non-athletes, and the time spent in the second stage of labor was half the norm. Also the mother’s exercise improved the baby’s circulation which is vital to the baby’s growth and muscle tone.”
So many babies arrive with trigger points. Pre-mature birth, hurried birth, babies born with bruises, yanked on, pulled and tugged. If adults can get trigger points from simple trauma, how easily a little baby can accumulate them from the trauma of birth. So many babies cry for no reason (really?) or from colic. Easing trigger points in babies is very helpful.
One case study conducted by Bonnie Prudden with a baby named Mike, took a baby who screamed almost all the time and banged his head most of the time. She taught the mother to relieve pressure points in the face area. The baby relaxed and slept after treatment. While feeding he started to scream again. She then relaxed the jaw muscles and he ate without incident. The baby’s nurse familiar with Mike was astounded and said “Teach me”.
Another baby Alyssa was way overdue to stand and start walking. Everytime her mother stood her up she would scream until she sat down again. She was brought to a doctor, who sent her to an orthopedist, who sent her to a neurologist who decided that Alyssa should be fitted for braces. The day her mother brought he to the hospital for braces, Bonnie was working on a pain erasure clinic. she asked the mother if she could try something. She pressed on the adductor muscle. Alyssa screamed, and was sobbing by the time Bonnie reached the muscle above the knee.
Bonnie taught the mother how to find trigger points in the leg, and how to erase them. In two weeks the bay was standing normally and shortly after that walking like a normal baby.
It is important to start your baby on an exercise program. The same stretching and flexibility exercises that we covered earlier for adults can be used for the babies, but only for about 5 minutes at a time. This will allow the baby to develop its own proprioception. (Proprioception is the reception of stimuli within muscles and tendons; it determines how we handle ourselves in space.)
It is also important to use myotherapy for the aging. The so-called deterioration of people as they grow older is not because of age. The older people are the more time to they’ve had to lay down the causes of pain. Myotherapy is very important to people over the age of fifty. The elimination of trigger points and the encouraging of an active lifestyle and a modest exercise program will vastly improve the physical and mental condition of people entering golden age. The next subject I want to cover is “How To Survive a Hospital”. When people are preparing to enter the hospital, two things are already happening. One there is a medical problem which has laid down pain in the body. The stress of the upcoming operation is also laying down trigger points in the muscles. A good massage and trigger point elimination in the muscles is very beneficial before surgery. After surgery, there are trigger points all over the affected area. Stay away from the incision, but around it there are many trigger points. The elimination of these trigger points can both speed up recovery time, and ease much of the pain. With the help of a partner, a post operative massage, stretching and flexibility can go a long way toward eliminating the possibility of the formation of trigger points in the immobile patient.
I would like to quote Dr. Desmond R. Tivy (Noted British Physiotherapist). “In essence, myotherapy works on, and only on, disorders of function. The medical profession is good at treating disorders of structure, but has always been weak on function.”
In conclusion, Uechi-Ryu Karate is a very physical art. Muscles are pushed to the maximum in kata, and are injured in pounding exercises, Kumite and free-style sparring.
If I can in some small way introduce myotherapy to the karate world, I feel it could become an integral part of our art. Pain is one of the major roadblocks to training. If we can eliminate some of the pain, we can train harder and extend our careers by years.