January 12, 2007
Hands-on therapy eases pain of disabling neurological disorder
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
FLOWOOD, Miss.—Frances Nash couldn’t keep her head on straight.
Sometimes, it tilted so far to the left that her ear nearly touched her shoulder. Other times, it lolled backward like a helpless newborn’s.
All the time, her head and neck hurt so badly that Nash didn’t know if she could bear it. “What I have won’t kill you, but sometimes I wished it would because it was so painful,” said the 70-year-old Pearl resident.
What Nash has is a form of dystonia, a neurological disorder characterized by muscle contractions that cause abnormal movements or postures. According to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, it is the third most common movement disorder and affects more than 300,000 people in North America.
Nash was diagnosed with cervical dystonia in 1989, after seven years of being told her condition was all in her head. It would be another 17 years before her constant agony was assuaged.
After Botox injections provided only limited relief, Nash’s physician prescribed a hands-on therapy known as myofascial release (MFR) in early 2006. The result was life-changing.
“I can move my neck, and I’m feeling like I’m a human being,” she said. “For a long time I just existed, and now I feel like I’m alive.”
Nash credits her turnaround to the ministrations of Teresa Swyers, a physical therapist at Methodist Outpatient Rehabilitation in Flowood who is specially trained in MFR techniques.
Swyers uses her hands to feel out where fascia – a stretchy tissue that encases everything in the body -- has become constricted. Then she applies gentle sustained pressure to relax the areas and restore normal alignment.
“Because fascia is like a spider web, a strain on any one area affects the body’s total alignment,” she said. “It’s a chain reaction.”
Years of holding her body in defensive postures against pain had left Nash “bound up and twisted,” Swyers said. Untangling the tension took some time and a bit of forbearance on Nash’s part. “When I first started, I thought this is awful,” said Nash, who used biofeedback breathing techniques to help her through the initially uncomfortable therapy. “Then one day as I lay there, I could feel my body releasing.”
Nash would leave the MFR sessions shaking, a sign her body was “rewinding itself,” Swyers said. And it wasn’t long before the active senior was holding her head high again.
“I could tell it was helping me,” Nash said. “My mobility was better.”
As part of her therapy, Nash also does a postural strengthening and full body flexibility program at Methodist Outpatient Rehab and at home. “I do my exercises every night and go right to sleep now,” she says. “For seven years, I didn’t know what it was like to sleep.”
On a 1 to 10 scale, Nash used to rate her pain a 10. “I don’t have any pain most days now,” she says. “It has been amazing to me.”
So amazing, that Nash has made it a mission to share her experiences with others she has met with dystonia.
“To be pain-free is wonderful,” she said. “I just wish all who had dystonia could say that. I know there are people out there hurting who don’t know where to go.”
For information on myofascial release therapy at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, call Susan Geiger at 601-936-8888.