Monday, December 13, 2004

Muscle therapist improves performance, cuts injuries

Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) is a therapy that helps people recover from various injuries or illnesses and prevents injuries, according to Patty Bennett and other MAT therapists. It looks like a massage but it’s not. This story, written in December 2004 for the Aspen Daily News, looks at the history of MAT, from its origins in the NFL to its growing popularity. Yet it is still relatively unknown.

It looks like a massage but it’s not. Patty Bennett palpates the neck of a man lying on a table with his eyes closed as aquarium tank bubbles and soft relaxation music blend in harmony. It’s here, in a downstairs room of her Aspen home, filled with a pair of small trampolines, a stationary bike, a Stairmaster, a treadmill, a life-size human skeleton, and a shelf of small dumbbells that Bennett is one of 91 therapists in the world that performs a rather new and growing treatment – muscle activation techniques or MAT.

“How do you feel normally at your job at this time?” she asks.

“I’m normally about to quit,” he says. “I’m serious. But now I’m enjoying work.”

At work Mike Shaw, of Glenwood Springs, sits on a green John Deere tractor, controlling it and the eight-foot mower by reaching up for the levers with his right hand. He bounces and sways as the rubber tires roll over small rocks and holes on Buttermilk Mountain. He mows all day.

Years ago, Shaw broke three toes on his right foot and had a neck injury when his raft flipped in the Grand Canyon. Repeatedly reaching for the tractor levers and the foot pedals has added more pain in his neck and back. He couldn’t move his toes. He went to a chiropractor and massage therapist. Nothing helped. He’d often miss work, recuperating at home.

On Aug. 27, he had his first MAT session with Bennett. A few sessions later, Shaw was able to move his toes up and down, saying, “Wow, I’ve got feet again.”

History of Muscle Activation Techniques

At age 19, Greg Roskopf fractured his vertebrae. He developed chronic back pain as well as hip, knee and sacroiliac joint problems, which persisted despite treatment from various specialists. However, his ingenuity and educational background helped him recover. Roskopf earned his master’s in exercise physiology from Fresno State and worked as a strength coach there in the late 1980s. At the same time, he wondered why certain college athletes performed at their peak while others could not.

Because of his and other athletes’ issues, he wanted to get to the root of the problems. His solution was a new therapy called MAT, using it on the Fresno State players. Roskopf modified Dr. Alan Beardall’s (a leader in clinical kinesiology) method for testing muscles. With this systematic approach, Roskopf could tell which muscles were activated or working and the ones that were not. He learned the muscles that worked compensated for muscles that didn’t work. This compensation pattern, he says, leads to stressed muscles and joints, and even injuries.

By palpating or rubbing certain spots on a patient’s body, a MAT therapist activates weak muscles in seconds. An activated muscle is able to contract. But MAT is not massage.

“Massage actually works on the muscle belly and is designed to stretch or release adhesions in the tissue,” Roskopf said via e-mail. “The (MAT) therapist will actually apply cross friction pressure where the tendons attach to the bone. Since MAT is designed to stimulate weak muscles rather than release tight muscles, it is a completely opposite approach.”

Although MAT deals with bio-mechanics and neurophysiology and muscle compensation, its essence can be expressed by two questions: Does the muscle function? And does the muscle respond when you tell it to?

Since MAT began with athletes and improving performance, it is not used just for people who have suffered injuries or who have soreness or tightness. MAT helps improve performance and prevent injury, says Bennett, who often uses an analogy to make her point: “Do you take care of your car only when it’s broken down on the side of the road? Or do you do intermitted maintenance on it to keep it going?”

“The great thing about MAT is that regardless of the age or functional capabilities of the client, the rules of the body are the same and anyone can benefit from MAT treatment,” Roskopf said.

Former Denver Bronco linebacker Bill Romanowski sought his treatment in California, and later introduced Roskopf to head coach Mike Shanahan. In 1997, Roskopf moved to Denver to work full-time with the Broncos. His clientele has spread to other professional teams and patients of various backgrounds.

A Surprising Discovery

Her life was at a low point. It was August 2002. Bennett’s fingers tingled in both hands. She had trouble sleeping and often woke up feeling miserable. She had tried seven different practitioners, from a chiropractor to an orthopedic, each claiming she had carpal tunnel syndrome. They said her best solution was surgery, and she was about to schedule it when a friend recommended MAT.

Feeling frustrated and not wanting surgery, Bennett saw a MAT therapist. One hour after her first session, she knew she wanted to continue it, but not just as a client. She wanted to be a MAT therapist as well, registering for a year-long course in Denver with Roskopf.

It made perfect sense. After all, she had a background in fitness and education.

There was one problem though. Her clients (mostly baby-boomers) were getting old. Her dilemma: attract younger patrons or find a new profession. Bennett had suffered whiplash in a car crash in 2000, which had felt like a bad skiing fall, no worse. But based on her MAT knowledge, her body had been compensating for the stresses of the crash and prior sporting accidents, hence the worsening effect of tingly fingers and lack of sleep. By 2002, menopause and anxiety about her job added more stress to her already weakened body. That’s when her friend advised MAT.

“What I found I was doing as a fitness trainer was strengthening the strong muscles, the weak muscles stayed weak, and I reenforced the compensation pattern,” she said.

The problem, a MAT therapist discovered, was not in her fingers or wrist. The whiplash years earlier had injured her neck, causing a muscle imbalance around her spine. And it surfaced when menopause hit.

That September she began classes with Roskopf and after seeing a local MAT therapist for four months, she went to Roskopf, in Denver, for treatment. Her sleep pattern and hand problem improved. Within four days after her second session with Roskopf, the tingling disappeared. By June 2003, she graduated as a MAT therapist, one of 34 in the world. She now has 200 clients, including Casey Ward, of Aspen, who is training for the 2006 U.S. cross-country Olympic team.

Looking Ahead

Although there is a growing number of therapists, there are many skeptics, which Roskopf says is natural with any new therapy introduced into the medical world. He often responds by saying, “The proof is in the pudding.”

“I’m still skeptical,” Bennett said. “It’s two years into it but I get to retest it every hour and it keeps following the way it was said to go.”

This article first appeared on the front page of the Aspen Daily News on Dec. 12, 2004.


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