The story of how a cycling accident turned into a journey of 30+ years dedicated to helping others and showing the benefits of microstretching. It was a fateful day on January 25th, 1989, when I was training with my cycling coach in Stanley Park, in Vancouver BC Canada. We had just finished our second lap of the short course in the park and we were half-way into the third were everything changed for me. It was before dusk around 5:10 pm when being committed to making a legal left hand turn a car ran a stop sign and clipped my left pedal spinning me inwards. My head hit the side of the curve and my helmet cracked in half and I remained motionless for approximately five minutes (I only found about this later). When I became conscious, I immediately got up whereupon my coach, who saw the whole accident, for he was behind me, shouted for me to lie While lying down I immediately was aware of the sensation of pins and needles radiating down both my upper arms. Next thing I know I was put on a spinal board by the ambulance and rushed off to the hospital. I was admitted and remained there for several days and then discharged. I wish I could say that, that was the end of it but my journey with my new companions: chronic pain, mental depression, and numerous frustrations was just beginning.
Things got worse before they got better
After several months of convalescing, I was able to return to my bike, for my drive to be able to compete at an Olympic Games (1992 Barcelona) was still burning. I was heavily medicated on my new candy of choice, Voltaren. I was willing to try anything to continue to compete, however I now realize that although this drive was a good thing, in truth it was my downfall. Several years of focused training, followed by several setbacks, again recovering and starting over again was a pattern that I began to know very well. However, in 1991 this pattern came to a complete stop for my left arm went completely numb. There was no neural impulse to my left arm. A subsequent MRI revealed that the dis between C5 & C6 was pressure inwards against the spinal cord. This is quite rare since most disk material is either below the spinal cord or protrudes away from it, obstructing nerves in the adjacent areas of the neck. I was scheduled for surgery to perform a spinal fusion in the C5-C6 area. After surgery I was put into a cervical spine immobilizer. I was supposed to wear this anytime I was vertical. This brace I had to wear for 6 to 8 weeks ensuring that the bone chip removed from my right pelvis and placed where my C5-C6 disc used would fuse both the C5-C6 vertebrae.
The birth of "Stretch Therapy" - A pioneer in the field
The surgery happened with my eldest daughter being 3 months old. After the allotted time for spinal fusion to happen I started rehabilitation. It was during this phase of my recovery that Stretch Therapy had its origin. Although every therapy has its place in health, I was not getting any relief from constant tension and some discomfort. Having graduated from the Physical and Health program at the University of Toronto with an emphasis in Sports Medicine, and being an elite athlete (rower and track cyclist), I was very much in tune with my body. Realizing early that “the no pain no gain” has not place within the realm of rehabilitation, I began to experiment with both gentle and supported stretching. This was my “eureka” moment, and the foundation of Stretch Therapy and its technique known as microStretching which continue to be the main pillars. At the time of its development the most common forms of stretching used during rehabilitation were both aggressive static and PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation).
Gentle stretching started to showcase its power - A Paradigm Shift
Armed with the idea that the “greatest gain is made with no pain”, I began to challenge the dogma of “no pain, no gain” and its place within rehabilitation, but more importantly within recovery and regeneration, for I believed that athletes, both able bodied and Paralympians needed to be treated with gentle supported stretching as a means of not only preparing them for their activities but as well as helping them to heal from their injuries. Stretch Therapy and microStretching was not limited to athletes, but was used to treat many individuals suffering from various musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions (i.e., chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis, low-back and neck pain MVAs. etc.), and those suffering mental emotional issues associated with a condition such as HIV/AIDS. What followed was years and years of anecdotal evidence, with every treatment further supporting the “power” of being gentle and supporting the body during stretching. The phrase “Stretch Therapy” and its technique microStretching was first documented in articles dating back to the mid 1990’s. Since then, the original technique has been mentioned in books and articles worldwide.
If gentle stretching works, where is the proof?
Throughout the late 1990’s and 2000’s I lectured worldwide with sports federations and academic organizations. I was a consultant and therapist with professional sports teams in the best leagues in the world. Even though I knew what I was doing worked, the question I always got asked was “Where is your proof?” This sparked the next chapter of my journey to find evidence. In 2012, I moved to the United Kingdom to pursue my PhD (Muscle Physiology and Inflammation), which focused on investigating stretch intensity and its effect on inflammation. This thesis was later published as a textbook by Springer-Nature entitled: Stretch Intensity and The Inflammatory Response-A Paradigm Shift. My thesis provided the evidence that gentle supported stretching plays a huge role in rehabilitation, as well as recovery and regeneration.