St. Luke Hospital offers soft tissue treatment

Alex Brooks demonstrates the Astym treatment, a new soft tissue mobilization treatment available at the St. Luke Hospital Therapy Department in Marion. Astym uses special instruments to perform a series of strokes to break up scar tissue.A new soft tissue mobilization treatment is now available at the St. Luke Hospital Therapy Department in Marion.

The Astym treatment focuses on the restoration of soft tissues in the body, including muscles and tendons. Special instruments are used to perform a series of strokes to the targeted area to break up scar tissue.

According to physical therapist and rehab director Alex Brooks, who treats patients at St. Luke, the process is similar to kneading dough.

“It causes almost like a micro-inflammatory response, so the body is stimulated to heal rather than just going in the same chronic cycle,” he said. “It hits the reset button and starts the regeneration process over. The immediate effects are improved blood-flow—blood-flow brings nutrients, nutrients heal. It’s almost an immediate increase in the range of motion and strength.”

Brooks said scar tissue can develop from any kind of overuse.

“If I’m doing overhead presses with a barbell three days a week, I’m going to lay down extra tissue. I’m going to cause damage to the shoulder,” he said. “The shoulder is going to compensate by reinforcing itself. It’s going to get tight. It’s going to limit my mobility.”

Kristen Herzet, a 2016 graduate of Marion High School, underwent Astym treatment during the 2015-16 basketball season after receiving a medical diagnosis of plantar fasciitis.

“Probably mid-basketball season, I started feeling a lot of pain in my feet,” Herzet said. “It was unusual because I’ve never had pain in my feet before. A lot of our concern was leading up to track season, throwing and everything.”

Herzet placed fifth in the discus at state the year before and as a strong preseason contender to finish with another medal, Herzet sought treatment because a majority of her throwing form involves footwork.

Because plantar fasciitis involves scar tissue buildup, Brooks gave her stretches to perform and recommended Astym treatment. He said changes in workout surfaces and shoes were factors to consider, adding that Herzet’s “exceptionally flat feet” were also a factor.

“Going from a volleyball shoe even to a basketball shoe to a track spike, your feet are going to become accustomed to whatever support that they have, so changes in running surface, changes in shoes, changes in activity,” he said. “She went to playing on her toes, always being in a plantar-flexed position, which increases the tension in the calf, which pulls on your Achilles, which tightens your plantar fascia.”

Herzet began coming in for Astym treatment twice a week, which was eventually lowered to once a week, then once every other.

Brooks said the number of Astym treatments needed typically range from six to 10 over the course of 10 weeks or more, depending on the affected body area and the amount of rest achieved. He added that Astym does not require cessation of activity.

“The nice thing about Astym is that they don’t really preach that you can’t do anything,” Brooks said. “Once you have the treatment, you need to be exercising, you need to be stretching, you need to be active, but do it the right way.”

A signature of Astym is treating a limb as a unit instead of isolating body parts. In Herzet’s case, that meant treating her entire leg.

“(The) bottom of her foot hurt, (but) we still went clear up to her calf, sometimes her knees, sometimes the quads,” Brooks said. “You treat the whole limb as one unit rather than just picking and choosing little pieces.”

Herzet said she began to see improvement after her first session and eventually was able to play an entire basketball game without experiencing pain.

“It’s like the benefits of a deep-tissue massage, but located to where it hurts,” Herzet said. “And it helps.”

When track season began, Herzet said her feet hurt as they became accustomed to the concrete discus ring, but added that treatment made it possible for her to participate.

“I wouldn’t have been able to throw without this,” she said. “That’s what discus is, it’s from your feet to your knees to your hips on upwards, and if you can’t even start at your feet then you can’t throw.”

Brooks estimated that 3,000 therapists perform Astym treatment, adding that Kansas locations using the treatment, in addition to Marion, include Newton, McPherson, Hutchinson and Wichita.

“If you think about all the PT clinics, that’s really not a whole lot,” he said. “So it is relatively unique, especially to a small town.”

Those interested in the treatment are encouraged to call St. Luke’s therapy department to explore the option. A doctor’s referral is not necessary.

During treatment, Brooks said he stays away from varicose veins, acute fracture sites and surgical scar tissue. He recommends drinking water before and after treatment to reduce soreness, adding that bruising is normal.

Brooks, who uses Astym on a majority of his patients, said the modality was initially invented to treat tendinosis and has expanded from there, and can be used on children with spastic cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, as well as pregnant women.

Brooks said his use of Astym is largely orthopedic in nature, pertaining to muscles, tendons and joints.

“Because I think that it works, I’ll try to do it on basically anybody orthopedic,” he said. “It’s the only cookie cutter thing that I go to, and that sounds bad, but it’s really not. That’s in conjunction with specific exercise, stretching, (and) any other modalities for pain that we use, but it’s appropriate all the time.”

But he cautioned that Astym is not a cure-all. Patients have to embrace the entire therapy system.

“You have to be willing to exercise,” he said. “You have to be willing to stretch. You have to be willing to do the right joint mobilizations on yourself. (It) just kind of lights the fire and makes everything else burn a little easier, rather than forcing your way through it.”

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