The Aspen Sunday News
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Muscle Specialist Improves Performance, Cuts Injuries
By Brett Garamella
It looks like a massage but it’s not.
Patty Bennett palpates the neck of a man lying on a table, with his eyes closed as aquarium tank bubbles and soft relaxation music blend in harmony. It’s here, in a downstairs room of her Aspen home, filled with a pair of small trampolines, a stationary bike, a Stairmaster, a treadmill, a life-size human skeleton and a shelf of small dumbbells, that Bennett performs a new and growing technique – muscle activation techniques or MAT.
“How do you feel normally at your job at this time?” she asks the man.
“I’m normally about to quit,” he says. “I’m serious. But now I’m enjoying work.”
At work during the summer, Mike Shaw of Glenwood Springs, sits on a green John Deere tractor, controlling it and the eight-foot mower by reaching up for the levers with his right hand. He bounces and sways as the rubber tires roll over small rocks and holes on Buttermilk Mountain. He mows all day.
Years ago, Shaw broke three toes on his right foot and had a neck injury when his raft flipped in the Grand Canyon. Repeatedly reaching for the tractor levers and the foot pedals has added more pain in his neck and back. He couldn’t move his toes. He went to a chiropractor and massage therapist. Nothing helped. He’d often miss work, recuperating at home.
On Aug. 27, he had his first MAT session with Bennett. A few sessions later, Shaw was able to move his toes up and down, saying, “Wow, I’ve got feet again.”
At age 19, Greg Roskopf fractured his vertebrae. He developed chronic back pain as well as hip, knee and sacroiliac joint problems, which persisted despite treatment from various specialists. However, his ingenuity and educational background helped him recover. Roskopf earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology from Fresno State and worked as a strength coach there in the late 1980s. At the same time, he wondered why certain college athletes performed at their peak while others could not.
Because of his and other athletes’ issues, he wanted to get to the root of the problems. His solution was a new specialty called MAT, using it on the Fresno State football players. Roskopf modified Dr. Alan Beardall’s (a leader in clinical kinesiology) method for testing muscles. With this systematic approach, Roskopf could tell which muscles were activated or working and the ones that were not. He learned the muscles that worked compensated for muscles that didn’t work. This compensation pattern, he says, leads to stressed muscles and joints, and even injuries.
By palpating or rubbing certain spots on a patient’s body, a MAT Specialist activates weak muscles in seconds. An activated muscle is able to contract. But MAT is not massage.
“Massage actually works on the muscle belly and is designed to stretch or release adhesions in the tissue,” Roskopf said via e-mail. “The (MAT) Specialist will actually apply cross friction pressure where the tendons attach to the bone. Since MAT is designed to stimulate weak muscles rather than release tight muscles, it is a completely opposite approach.”
Although MAT deals with biomechanics, neurophysiology and muscle compensation, its essence can be expressed by two questions: Does the muscle function; does the muscle respond when you tell it to?
Since MAT began with athletes to improve performance, it is not used just for people who have suffered injuries or who have soreness or tightness. MAT helps improve performance and prevent injury, says Bennett, who often uses an analogy to make her point: “Do you take care of your car only when it’s broken down on the side of the road?” Or do you do intermitted maintenance on it to keep it going?”
The great thing about MAT is that regardless of the age or functional capabilities of the client, the rules of the body are the same and anyone can benefit from the MAT process,” Roskopf said.
Former Denver Bronco linebacker Bill Romanowski sought his MAT technique in California, and later introduced Roskopf to head coach Mike Shanahan. In 1997, Roskopf moved to Denver to work full-time with the Broncos.
A surprising discovery
Her life was at a low point. It was August 2002. Bennett’s fingers tingled in both hands. She had trouble sleeping and often woke up feeling miserable. She had tried seven practitioners, from a chiropractor to an orthopedic specialist, each claiming she had carpal tunnel syndrome. They said her best solution was surgery, and she was about to schedule it when a friend recommended MAT.
Feeling frustrated and not wanting surgery, Bennett saw a MAT Specialist. One hour after her first session, she knew she wanted to continue it, but not just as a client. She wanted to be a MAT Specialist as well, registering for a yearlong course in Denver with Roskopf.
It made perfect sense. After all, she had a background in fitness and education.
There was one problem though. Her clients (mostly baby-boomers) were getting old. Her dilemma: attract younger patrons or find a new profession. Bennett had suffered whiplash in a car crash in 2000, which had felt like a bad skiing fall, no worse. But based on her MAT knowledge, her body had been compensating for the stresses of the crash and prior sporting accidents, hence the worsening effect of tingly fingers and lack of sleep. By 2002, menopause and anxiety about her job added more stress to her already weakened body. That’s when her friend advised MAT.
“What I found I was doing as a fitness trainer was strengthening the strong muscles, the weak muscles stayed weak, and I re-enforced the compensation pattern,” she said.
The problem, a MAT Specialist discovered, was not in her fingers or wrist. The whiplash years earlier had injured her neck, causing a muscle imbalance around her spine. And it surfaced when menopause hit.
That September she began classes with Roskopf and after seeing a local MAT Specialist for four months, she went to Roskopf, in Denver, for more relief. Her sleep pattern and hand problem improved. Within four days after her second session with Roskopf, the tingling disappeared. By June 2003, she graduated as a MAT Specialist, one of 34 in the world at the time. She now has 200 clients, including Casey Ward, of Aspen, who is training for the 2006 U.S. cross-country Olympic team.
Although there is a growing number of MAT Specialists, there are many skeptics, which Roskopf says is natural with any new technology introduced to the medical world. He often responds by saying, “The proof is in the pudding.”
“I’m still skeptical,” Bennett said. “It’s two years into it but I get to retest it every hour and it keeps following the way it was said to go.”
The Aspen Times
November 22, 2006
Hallelujah! I Can Walk Again
Slumming by Su Lum
For the past nine months, an entire human gestation period, I have been hobbling around like a cripple – hell, I WAS a cripple! – with herniated discs, things impinging on nerves, osteoarthritis and what was summed up as “degeneration.” “I’m surprised you can walk,” the tech said after my MRI, and I barely could.
Off to weeks of physical therapy, off to Dr. Hahn for four sets of injictions into my spine, off to my back surgeon who suggested injections into the facet pads between the bones, off to Dr. Hahn for two rounds of that and then, “then” being by now early October, back to the back surgeon ready and eager for the ultimate fix of surgery, only to be told that there was so much going on with my back, he hadn’t been able to pinpoint the exact source of the pain and he didn’t dare do anything that might make it worse. Sorry, Charlie.
To me this wasn’t a death sentence, it was a living death sentence. I was going to have to live like this for the rest of my life: Vicodin every four hours, Neurontin every eight hours, hot baths, cold packs, lying flat on my back in bed listening to books on tape, barely managing to get through truncated hours at work, all the time hurting and bored out of my mind.
It took me just a day to stop crying and think, “OK, if the medical profession can’t help, I’d better try something else.” I hadn’t looked into “something else” because the results of my MRI were so specific. When he saw the report, even my chiropractor pretty much threw up his hands and said it was out of his realm.
To shorten a long story, when I started asking around for suggestions, the name Patty Bennett kept coming up. On Oct. 16, I had my first appointment with her and the next day I left my car at Downtown Detail for new winter tires, walked back up to The Aspen Times, and then walked back down to pick up my car. Two days earlier, this would have been an unthinkable hike.
Patty practices MAT, Muscle Activation Techniques™, a fairly new concept that is based on reactivating muscles that have lain dormant while stronger muscles compensate, setting everything awry.
It is an entirely hands-on (and clothes on) technique, difficult to describe. Patty started with my head, jaw and neck, ferreting out weaknesses. “Push your head against my hand, chin down.” I’d push, my head would flop, then a poke poke here and a probe probe there and my head couldn’t be moved. Kind of like kinesiology but more so.
All along Patty would keep up a running description of what she was doing, explaining how all the muscles interact, a muscle version of “the hip bone’s connected to the thigh bone,” while my role was to call out my pain levels.
I had had to do this with Dr. Hahn, identifying my pain on a scale of 1-10. I was never good at it (“Is this a three? Four? Five?” I had been told that 10 was when it hurt so much you couldn’t verbalize the number). “Three,” I’d say tentatively while Patty worked on me. “Six, yikes, EIGHT!”
Nothing ever hurt for long, she was listening to my body talk, over several sessions going down through the ribs, then up from the feet and it is WORKING. I’m weaning off my meds and not taking two steps to go up or down one stair. I sat through three hours of Fiddler on the roof (which was wonderful), something I couldn’t have imagined doing a few weeks ago.
A co-worker said, “It’s so great that the pain has gone out of your eyes.”
Su Lum is a longtime local who is not getting a discount for saying that she urges anyone in physical despair to try this process. She’s in the book. This column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
Mountain Business Journal
October 17, 2007
Business Offers Tune-ups for Your Body
By Damien Williamson
When longtime Aspen resident Patty Bennett started her Muscle Activation Techniques™ business in June of 2003, there were just 34 MAT Specialists in the world. Her clients numbered about five a week and most seemed skeptical of this new “massage-like” approach to addressing muscular imbalances.
Now, just four years after her first client laid on the table in her basement office, there are nearly 300 MAT Specialists across the country, countless training facilities throughout the world that employ the techniques, and Bennett has more than doubled her client base.
“Muscle Activation Techniques™ are all about finding weakness or imbalance in the muscles that cause tightness and pain at the joints,” Bennett says. “The focus of the evaluation process is based upon the understanding that the body will protect itself when it recognizes instability. Therefore, muscles tighten up as a protective measure when instability is recognized.”
But while the description of MAT makes it sound like nothing more than a glorified massage, MAT founder Greg Roskopf, who got his start working on athletes at Fresno State and now works full-time with the Denver Bronco’s, says it’s anything but.
“Massage actually works on the muscle belly and is designed to stretch or release adhesions in the tissue,” Roskopf says. “The (MAT) Specialist will actually apply cross-friction pressure where the tendons attach to the bone. Since MAT is designed to stimulate weak muscles, it is a completely opposite approach. And the great thing about MAT is that regardless of the age or functional capabilities of the client, the rules of the body are the same and anyone can benefit from it.”
For Bennett, the hardest part about MAT techniques is still explaining exactly what it is and how it works.
“It works very opposite of how we normally think,” she says. “Most people are looking at the tightness and the pain being the problem, and it’s probably secondary to what’s really going on. It’s not a medical thing, it’s all biomechanics.”
In 2000 before she started working as an MAT Specialist, Bennett struggled with what chiropractors and orthopedic specialists told her was carpal tunnel syndrome. Before going under the knife she decided to see an MAT Specialist, and after just one one-hour session she was sold – but not just as a client. Already a fitness trainer with decades of experience throughout the valley, she decided to get certified in a yearlong course in Denver with MAT founder Greg Roskopf. She is now one of two female (MAT) Master Specialists in the country, and one of only three MAT Specialists in Colorado.
“The biggest difference between when I started and now is that I don’t have to be the lone pioneer anymore. It’s worked so successfully that people are just telling others around town. And now I see all types of people, from those with chronic pain, high school athletes, ski patrollers and instructors, and people who play tennis and golf. These are all people that don’t want to stop their careers or passion, so they come here as a last resort to see if it’s a muscular issue that’s causing the problem.”
And while Bennett emphasizes that her work is beneficial for competitive athletes trying to maximize their potential, in a town like Aspen, just about everyone can benefit.
“It helps professional athletes, but also those that are athletes in life.”
Greg Roskopf’s Muscle Activation Techniques™ website