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The Rolfer™, the Roller Derby Doctor, and dystonia

It has been a few years since rehabilitation physician Judith Peterson M.D. decided to leave Philadelphia and her work at Jefferson Hospital and the Pennsylvania Ballet. Her husband, a cancer doc, wanted to go back to South Dakota and she went along with him.

Now she is the doctor for the RollerDolls, a Sioux Falls roller derby team, amongst other projects, and has a new book on the health of dancers.
Every now and then something brings her to Philadelphia and we do coffee.
She always has something going in her lifelong learning scheme, and I learn something, sitting with a master autodidactitian.

Years back, the first time I heard of Dr. Peterson, a client who had persistent foot pain was encouraged by me to get some more diagnostics of the medical type; the client chose Judith Peterson, who found that she had an undiagnosed fracture. Six weeks wearing of a boot cured that. I was impressed: not many can diagnose and treat foot issues like this in my experience.

So, over the years, I sent a few folks in who had some mystery ailments, things which did not respond that well to structural and movement work even though they had had medical workups and “nothing was wrong”.

For one violin player, I didn’t even take him on as a client until he got evaluated by
Dr. Peterson. This guy, we’ll call him Bob, couldn’t even play a one octave D major scale because he couldn’t do the finger pattern. (Should be four fingers: I II I,                                                                                                        was four fingers I I I I). He had had a diagonosis of something wrong: dystonia, and was receiving regular botox injections.

He told the story of a violin that didn’t quite fit him, but had a great sound, and he thought he could “get used to it”.

I told him he was pretty far advanced, that he would be wasting his time and money on Rolfing® SI. However, he begged me to take him on, he had tried everything, and really wanted to get better. First I suggested, as I always do, that he take up conducting. No go on that! then I suggested that he see Dr. Peterson with the thought that if she said there was any hope, I would take him on, with her.

I got together for coffee with Dr. Peterson at a South Philadelphia place and we hashed out the issues for Bob. As part of our talk, I told her that I thought the botox doctor (another doctor) had put the injection in the wrong place, a brave move on my part since I got nothing for botox credentials except that I knew that Bob had not enough left arm supination to get turn on his left hand, even with the Botox. I had suggested that Bob receive Botox injections with his arm/hand supinated like in 9th position on the violin. (that did help, btw.)

At our coffee shop meeting, Dr. Peterson grabbed out her smart phone and pulled up a study on Botox injections; she had gone to the trouble to go study with the leading expert on Botox injections for dystonia and had the definitive studies right with her. I was impressed again, she obviously hadn’t just put them in there for our meeting.
She obviously knew her stuff in a difficult field.

She told in a comic book version (so that I could understand it, lol) what dystonia is, and where it lives.

It seems that when we learn complicated manuevers such as playing the violin or other instrument, the brain makes a lot of complicated pathways to execute these maneuvers.

However, if there is repeated pain or other sensation such as numbness, weakness, etc., the brain will just give up and smear over those complicated connections, leaving behind an unworking finger, fingers, or even lip.

I came away with something I have told musicians over and over: DON’T WAIT TOO LONG TO GET SOMETHING FIXED AND YOUR BODY INTEGRATED! After the brain has smeared up the connections, it is long and very very difficult if not impossible to get back.

Just because nothing shows on an MRI doesn’t mean there is not something structural wrong. For example: years ago I fell and hurt my neck. It hurt so badly that I was crying as I was in the MRI machine—-and nothing showed on the MRI.

If there is one (or more) of those symptoms: finger(s) doesn’t quite work right, repeated pain either dull or sharp, numbness, weakness, needles and pins, there is something wrong.

The “wrong” is not in your head because your parents made you practice (Blah blah on the psychological issues). You can do that psychology stuff (and some kinds/people are more helpful for injuries) and I recommend it as an adjunct, but only as an adjunct to good medical attention and Rolfing SI if you are having any of the above symptoms.

Anyway, back to Bob. He got Botox in the right place and did everything Dr. Peterson and I told him. Besides the structural work, there was re-mapping of the smeared areas. Besides the work that I did with his violin playing and other re-mapping, Dr. Peterson suggested he get a beginner Braille reading book and do that with his affected hand, which was quite helpful.

He managed to finish his degree plan and is working, mostly as a teacher. My opinion is that it was a limited success because he did not achieve his former level of playing. —AND—
he is working, living life, and being a musician.

Personally, if I had any of the symptoms mentioned above, I would hot-foot it off to South Dakota and have a consultation with Judith Peterson, and see if she could recommend a physician in my area for followups.

Don’t let it stop you that it is minus 10 degrees out there right now!

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