Healing Touch

By Diana Lund

You can’t fully imagine how bad it was. After I was in a car crash, my continual pulse of thoughts stopped dead. The only time I could generate an idea was in reaction to an event, such as when a person asked me a question, or when I tripped and fell. Otherwise, I lived in internal silence. But one day while getting a massage, in my fifth year of recovery, fluidity of thought returned! Now, in my tenth year of massage treatments, I recall my introduction to therapeutic massage and its role in my revitalization.

In a makeshift room of curtain walls, a month after the four-car collision had taken away my mental and physical prowess, a physical therapist evaluated my body. After moving my arms, legs, and head every which way, as much as tension and pain would allow, she told me, “I can’t work with you.” “I’m permanently damaged?” I wondered. “Your body is so stiff, my only choice is to send you to massage. For about a month.”

I’d been in a neck brace the first three days after the accident, and when it came off, I’d lost several degrees of neck rotation. The only way I could back up a car was by using mirrors. My right leg was a little shorter than my left leg, and my right arm couldn’t reach a glass on a shelf at eye level. In the third week, as my body shock began to wear off, an all-consuming, muscle-wrenching, eye-watering pain commenced.

At the rehabilitation clinic, the physical therapist handed me off to Cathy, an amiable, relaxed massage therapist. Soon, I was lying on my back, Cathy’s hands kneading my neck, shoulder, and upper back.

While she worked, Cathy reported, “Neck muscles—tight. Shoulder blades—tight. Trapezius—very tight.” Unlike other massages I’d had over the years—I’d been a recreational soccer forward who’d occasionally had massages to soothe overworked muscles—this one didn’t approach nirvana.

Instead, my soft tissue responded like a giant knot in an evenly-matched tug of war. It didn’t have much give. It fought manipulation. Even though Cathy touched me carefully, I winced from the contact and yipped repeatedly. Sweat soaked the underlying sheet. Experiencing more pain than pleasure, I willed the session to end. I didn’t want to skip the massage. I just wanted its end results faster. When the half-hour was up, my body seemed a little looser.

That day, my physical therapist recorded: “Goals: pain-free cervical range of motion . . . [and] pain-free . . . shoulders, neck, lower back . . . at rest. Was involved in an MVA [motor vehicle accident]. Had concussion. Communication is strained due to cognitive/memory difficulty.”

I must have arrived late to my next appointment because I could no longer track time, and instead depended on chance that I would glance at my schedule around the time I was supposed to leave. Having lost the ability to spontaneously think about the future, I didn’t feel any apprehension upon arrival at the clinic. When Cathy greeted me, I didn’t recognize her, but I probably pretended to know her. The manipulation mirrored my previous one—painful.

Each session repeated until I eventually remembered Cathy, the pain, the relief from pain. Soon, physical therapy began in conjunction with massage. Over months of appointments, I saw many physiotherapists. Like an opening flower, my body’s tension unwound and my brain’s functioning improved.

After two years, my home exercise regimen was sufficient and I didn’t need to go to physical therapy anymore. But I continued on with another massage therapist, Wes, an amazing rejuvenator. He introduced me to craniosacral therapy, a rhythmic scalp massage and gentle pulling of the hair. Afterward, I sensed a freeness to my brain, like it had been lubed and my neurons’ signals flowed better.

It was in the middle of one of Wes’s sessions that fluidity of thought returned to me. On another breakthrough day, after an hour’s session, my night vision suddenly improved and I could drive during darkness again! And Wes also finished what my physical therapist had started. He got my right arm to extend above my head—something a doctor initially told me I would never regain.

Massage brings pleasure again and I owe the massage therapy community a debt of gratitude for their part in my condition’s improvement, and for accelerating the return of keen thought required to write. Thank you for staying with me for a decade, performing miracles I’d not dreamt possible.

Diana Lund is a freelance writer living in the Chicago area. She is author of the memoir Remind Me Why I'm Here: Sifting through Sudden Loss of Memory and Judgment. To read more about her work, visit www.dianalundwriter.com.

This article was originally printed in the AMTA Newsletter, Member Edition Vol. 7, No. 11 November 2006. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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