Healing Hands: Physical Therapy for function, mobility, and comfort

I  have discovered a unique, highly effective form of physical therapy that combines the best elements of personal training with muscular therapy. Valerie Ruccia Eagan has developed her own brand of physical therapy that uses hands-on techniques, core- strengthening, and flexibility-building exercises, as well as mind-body energetic work. Her method cuts to the root of physical pain and mobility problems to provide deep and lasting healing.

I know this works because I have experienced the benefits of Ruccia Therapy myself. I came to her with years of vise-like pain in my neck and shoulders due to a whiplash injury that prevented me from turning my head to either side or even looking up without excruciating pain. Within a year, she had contributed significantly to eliminating the pain completely, allowing me to drive, do yoga, exercise at the gym, and move my head and neck freely once again. I added acupuncture and massage to her treatments, and she was able to coordinate effectively with the other therapists, which speeded the healing. This coordination was important to me because I believe in the benefits of combining modalities in the treatment of many conditions, especially chronic pain.

I have explored the treatment of pain, both in my writing and personally, because I have an inherited connective tissue disorder called Marfan Syndrome that causes chronic pain in joints throughout the body due to insufficient amounts of a protein called fibrillin that provides the elasticity and “bounce back” to keep the body’s “scaffolding” intact. The resulting inflammation often leads to spasms in muscles and misalignment of joints that can cause daily pain, interfering with walking, sitting for extended periods, working at a computer, and even watching a movie or play that requires turning the head in one direction for a length of time.

Unlike most other physical therapists with whom I have worked over the years, who typically use ultrasound and exercise programs such as leg lifts or back extensions, Valerie Ruccia Eagan adds a more whole-body approach. She integrates life experience, trauma, and emotional stressors into the experience of pain and discomfort. She also recognizes and senses how all parts of the body are interconnected and should not be treated in isolation.

She examines my range of motion while I am lying on a table, determining the exact location of trigger points that prevent movement due to muscle tightness or inflammation. She appears to have an uncanny awareness and sensitivity to which areas of my body are holding tension or in a deep and subtle “lock down.” She then uses deep tissue massage, myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, as well as pressure on trigger points until they release to restore freedom of movement. The sensation of release is often profound, affecting parts of my body that are remote from the area of work: Neck tension, for example, may disappear as she works on the lower leg. She then uses a variety of guided gentle exercise, including movements of joints, neck, or shoulders to “re-educate” the body about the possibilities of pain-free movement.

A graceful focus on the body

I asked Ruccia Eagan to explain the genesis of her technique, which she began to develop at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. This approach has a European influence, which differs from conventional American physical therapy. “My Canadian, Swiss, and European-oriented professors emphasized healing techniques for muscles, ligaments, and tendons, affecting the ways in which the body moves,” says Ruccia Eagan.  “I learned for example, how to hold a limb gracefully and with respect for what the patient is experiencing, moving it in a way that allows it to release into better alignment, the body’s innate wisdom.

Ruccia Eagan became convinced of the effectiveness of such a body-centered approach by observing how it helped patients in rehabilitation settings during her internships. “I had a severe stroke patient who was so rigid that I could barely move his limbs enough to evaluate him. But after my mentor used therapeutic touch, he became so flaccid and relaxed, the rigidity was gone. I was astounded and spent years incorporating the principles of therapeutic touch into my hands-on, mind body approach.”

Awakening body and mind

Ruccia Eagan refined her technique over the decades so that she is able to feel energetic or physical blocks in the patient’s body through her hands, and then pinpoint the location of trigger points that are the source of painful blockages, or the pathways that will release them from elsewhere in the body. “I can sense when a limb is rotated or has a torque and needs to be released from the restrictive physical structures ‘pinning’ the limb in the twisted position,” she explains. “Locating and releasing these restrictions – such as those causing low back pain— sometimes also releases buried memories of trauma or difficult family relationships. Often, the body waits until the person is ready and ‘whole’ enough emotionally to reawaken these memories. And when that happens, not only is the pain relieved, but the person can begin to heal, developing the strength and motivation to make necessary life changes.” Ruccia Eagan’s approach is multi-modal, also combining her own unique small and large ball work, core stabilization, rhythmic relaxation exercises, and aquatic therapy.

My whiplash pain is almost gone, but I am still working with Ruccia Eagan, as she continues to uncover and unravel decades old muscle “lockdowns”, the result of various traumas and injuries. As we all age, our bodies try to adapt to pain and dysfunction. Valerie Ruccia Eagan continues to help me find release, freedom from pain, and a more fully functional life.

Valerie Ruccia Eagan can be reached at: Valerie.eagan@gmail.com. Her office is located in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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Filed under Aging, chronic illness, Chronic Pain, Healing, Marfan Syndrome

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