Me and massage

It was the fall of my sophomore year of college, and I had been pushing hard to prepare for a competition. Every day I spent 3 ½ to 4 hours in a practice room, plus 2-3 hours in orchestra and wind ensembles. (Good heavens, did I really ever play that much? It’s another life!)

And then, one day, I suddenly realized how stiff my hands were, how much they hurt, how hard it was to make them move—and worse, how long it had been going on before it registered.

I saw an orthopedic surgeon, who handed me samples of anti-inflammatories and warned that surgery was the next step. I consulted a physical therapist, who helped me to understand how bad my posture was. As the weeks dragged on and I saw no improvement, I could feel my dream of a career as a flute performer swirling down the drain.

At this critical moment, I met Esteban. He came highly recommended from a fellow flutist who had struggled with hand troubles. He did sports massage, at that time in conjunction with a chiropractor. I began working with him twice a week.

How can I describe the experience of a clinical sports massage? It is not what you envisioned when I said the word “massage.” It was painful. Very painful. Esteban went for pressure points in my shoulders, neck, arms and torso that I didn’t even know were there; he found spots where a gentle pressure could render me unable to speak—and to make the muscles release, he had to go in deep. So deep that he couldn’t do it all in one day; the muscles were locked up too tight.

Why did I put myself through this? Because by fifteen minutes into the first session, I could tell it worked. Hard muscles that screamed in protest under his thumbs suddenly went whoosh and released into soft, pliable tissue. I felt it happen again and again. My head turned freely, my fingers moved, my body felt foreign in its lightness.

It always reverted to its locked-up state, but as time passed, the knots grew more compliant, less resistant. Esteban found new pressure points to work, gently prying the layers of knots away. And in between sessions, I worked. I did stretches twice a day—arms, neck, shoulders, traps, pecs, fingers. I played my flute.

Those who don’t care for all this alternative, crunchy stuff suspect that chiropractors and massage therapists make themselves indispensable, so you have to keep coming back. But Esteban doesn’t need my business; he’s full up a month ahead of time. His goal was to fix the problem and send me on my way with strategies to keep it at bay. It took a long time, but we got there. By the time I graduated, I had gone from twice a week to once a week to an occasional fix.

In the decade since then, he’s helped me with my recurring tendinitis and carpal tunnel, but also with pregnancy and recovery issues. (You have no idea what havoc three C sections in 4 years can wreak on a body. I’ve stopped saying C-sections are no big deal. But that’s another post.) It’s on my mind now because my right wrist is doing the Mouse Hand thing, feeling pretty carpal-tunnel-y. I can’t open a jar of applesauce (not a good sign). So next week I’m headed Esteban’s way again.

If it wasn’t for Esteban and his healing hands, my life would have looked a lot different. If you have musculo-skeletal problems, don’t assume a doctor is your only, or even your best, bet. Find a good sports massage therapist, and prepare to be amazed.