Love at First Touch – Massaging Pain Away with the Hendrickson Method

I never expected a simple trip to buy vegetables to change my life, but it did. I met Maria at the Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market where she was offering five-minute massages.

My body hurt that day, as it always did. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I stood in line, then when it was my turn, climbed on to her table.

The instant Maria’s hands touched my body, I relaxed. When my allotted five minutes were up, I didn’t want her to stop, so I asked her to explain what she was doing. That’s when she told me about the Hendrickson method.

I’d been to many chiropractors and massage therapists, but I’d never heard of this method before.

When I looked it up online, the official website described it as “an advanced system of massage and manual therapy that is profoundly relaxing to receive, effortless to perform, and an efficient and effective treatment for acute and chronic pain.”

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Acute and chronic pain. Yup, that’s me. Since age 40, I’ve lived with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammatory disorder which causes a painful swelling in my joints that leads to bone erosion and deformity.

RA is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues. My condition was relatively well-managed with a weekly dose of methotrexate, a very old remedy.

I would wake up stiff in the morning, with aching wrists, elbows, and shoulders, but by 10 or 11 a.m. I usually functioned pretty well.

Polymyalgia Rheumatica

Or, I did, until I was also hit by PMR, Polymyalgia Rheumatica. This is another immune disorder that causes muscle pain and stiffness, especially in the shoulders and hips. PMR attacks older people, usually those over 65. It hurts. A lot.

PMR restricted my movements to the point where I was unable to raise my arms to turn off the alarm in the morning, or to brush my hair or teeth. The pain in my hips was so severe I had to stop attending my exercise class. I couldn’t even walk around the block.

Physicians typically prescribe corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation and pain caused by PMR. I had been taking prednisone for two years when I met Maria. Side effects of prednisone include weight gain, thinning skin leading to bruising, low blood pressure, and difficulty sleeping. I’d experienced all of them.

I had been trying for months to taper off the drug, but it wasn’t going well. As soon as I reduced the dose, I experienced withdrawal symptoms – joint and muscle pain, fatigue, headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

In addition to the smorgasbord of withdrawal symptoms, the PMR would flare up, and I’d be in pain from that too. It was so frustrating. Each time I managed to reduce the prednisone by a milligram or two, the pain would slam into me, and I would give up and increase the dosage again.

I had been trying to get from 15 milligrams to 0 for six months, and was about to give up. I felt like a drug addict.

Maria and the Hendrickson Method

This is where I was when I met Maria. After our brief session, when she said she thought she could help with my joint pain and muscle soreness, I felt a flicker of hope.

I decided to give Maria’s Hendrickson method a try. After our first one-hour session, she told me she would help me reduce my prednisone dosage by working on withdrawal symptoms and flare-ups as they came. We began with weekly sessions, then every two weeks, then once a month.

Maria studied both of my conditions, talked with me about diet and exercise, and attended workshops to find new therapies to incorporate into her bodywork practice. We worked as a team.

Before the Covid pandemic, Maria began each session by taking out her notes from previous sessions and asking me how I had been feeling in the previous week or two. She kept track of all the analgesics I was taking, as well as my current prednisone dose. She was compassionate and kind and never rushed me.

Sometimes she asked me to stand or walk and studied my posture and gait. Then she helped me onto the table and laid her hands on my back for a few moments. She began her treatment with a gentle massage stroke called wave mobilization, based on essential Tai Chi principles of energy healing.

As she moved from one quadrant of my body to another, I would feel my muscles relax, my pain lose its grip, and my general well-being return. I would often be surprised that where pain was present before, there was none after Maria had worked her fingers over it.

A year later, I was down to two milligrams of prednisone and my monthly visits to Maria were the highlight of my life.

An Improvement I’d Not Anticipated

Before I met Maria, I hadn’t even heard of the Hendrickson method. But they have transformed my life. Even now, when we are both confined to our homes, my pain levels are lower than they have been in years, and I’ve worked down to one milligram of prednisone.

I look forward to resuming our sessions, but meanwhile, I am still reaping the benefits of a skilled Hendrickson therapist and this unique therapy.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor to get specific medical advice for your situation.

Does an injury or chronic pain interfere with your sleep, the enjoyment of your life, or your ability to work? Are you using analgesics or stronger pain medications to cope? Please share your experience with medical and alternative therapies and let’s have a conversation.