“The problem with wanting to help so much you miss some science”

During the past year I have seen and experienced frightening downward spirals in mobility and temporary loss of vision, balance and hearing following application of scraping techniques, which is a form of stimulating the nervous system that we do not fully understand yet.

With tool assisted massage you could be forgiven for thinking that the only risk involved for your client is possible bruising if you fail to apply a sufficiently light touch. However, had you been fortunate enough to read the research, you’d have grasped that the temporary help you give might be overloading the brain as it attempts to deal with bigger issues.

Working with clients suffering from Cerebral Palsy, I currently train a guy who is 22 years old, wheelchair bound, although he can walk short distances between chair and bed, chair and other side of room etc. His knees remain permanently flexed, and his hip mobility very poor. Our agreed goals are to maintain mobility, possibly achieve more mobility. In our first session together I used a tool assisted massage technique with a desire to help him, as I thought it would be a technique he had not been subjected to, and would get him the desired effect, and me a new client.

CP sufferers typically have spasticity in their limbs, and there is anecdotal evidence of good results with spasticity and tool assisted massage. Therapists I respect in the industry have reported success stories with spasticity. However, it is not a foregone conclusion, and the devastating aspect is that tool assisted massage, as well as other forms of stimulating the nervous system, can produce serious damage.

I cannot even reassure you that the damage is reversible. It might not be, and it would also depend on the client’s readiness to try further treatments, research their situation and try again. Some clients will dig in their heels at this point and turn away from further intervention. In that case, the trainer or therapist has left them seriously compromised.

With my client, who signed on the back of a great session using a tool to stimulate the nervous system, we started to get remarkable results. Using lunges and squats to stay functional, the results were such that we were talking with high performance sports coaches from the CP Games.

After a while of seeing great success, we had a session that caused pain and problems, where my technique was still light and focused. We did not take any further chances, but took a break from scraping. My client experienced bouts of pain and incapacitation and even now he is regularly experiencing this. Further reading on the subject suggests that stimulating the nervous system in this way is something that could have brought this problem on.

Meanwhile, my own post stroke mobility had also seen fantastic and joyful recovery. I scraped my foot every day, and by the summer I was running 6-10k every day. It was an unbelievably happy time. By the end of the summer I was experiencing a few difficulties with my foot: it wasn’t always responding to scraping now, and the response was becoming increasingly short lived. I was having to scrape morning and evening. It was affecting my ability to walk, and I had stopped running by September.

In August/September I experienced a swallow/gag reflex failure, which brought me near to choking, and a loss of consciousness on a number of occasions. I can’t tell if this is in any way related to the other reactions I was dealing with, I am just trying to be clear with you.

In October, the first of what I now refer to as “lockdowns” occurred. I keep thinking back to the day the first lockdown started, and how my weaker foot clawed up. As it happened, we were at an event and my mate decided to scrape my foot for me, so I could get on with participating in the workshop. It was very kind, and I appreciated that. As he started, someone else, meaning of course to be helpful, grabbed my good foot and scraped that at the same time. That specifically was when lockdown started. Everything went beserk then, vision, hearing, balance (even though I was on the floor by then, I still felt dizzy, like I might fall). I am now convinced it was an overload thing.

These two results are not enough to make a study and surely could be put down to coincidence, however on further reading I am convinced my success and my desire to share my success short term using a nervous stimulation, and in my case tool assisted massage, may have caused some more long term effects for me and my client that I need to understand better.

I am not necessarily advising melt your tools, leave clients alone, stop using trigger points or massage, but I am saying make sure you really understand the long term as well as the short term effects of using these techniques. Make sure you are fully qualified, make sure you have the experience to refer for diagnosis and you do not just jump in with a technique.

Currently I spend my time trying to understand neuro plasticity, reading and talking to people who know far more than I on the subject, in the hope of finding real and permanent solutions. Below is a list of books you should consider reading before jumping in with your tool, so to speak. Also I suggest you spend time learning this technique properly, and so www.FAKTR.com would be the best place to go for this.

The Brain that Changes Itself, Norman Doidge, Penguin Books (2007)

The Body Has A Mind of Its Own, Sandra Blakeslee & Matthew Blakeslee, Random House, (2007)

Phantoms In The Brain, Sandra Blakeslee & V.S. Ramachandran, Harper Perennial (1998)

Rewire Your Brain, John B. Arden, PhD., John Wiley & Sons Inc. (2010)

Textbook of Pain, Wall and Melzack (2005)

Also look at the work of Louis Gifford MAppSc. BSc. FCSP (Fellow of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy) and the website of Neuro Orthopedic Institute.