Between office visits
Helping patients learn to help themselves
Dr. Michael Cohen teaches NHL players to release myofascial and joint contractions at an elite player training camp.
Massage therapists frequently provide progressive care, addressing acute spasm/strain and pain (and the anxiousness which accompanies these symptoms) to improve function and provide a sense of well-being. Our eventual goal is to instill agency in our patients, providing self-care techniques they can apply themselves to ameliorate symptoms.
But what if a person suffers acute muscular pain when they are between office visits? What if onset is sudden, perhaps in the middle of the night? The common recommendation is pharmaceutical, which comes with possible side effects, doesn’t address the mechanism of pain or retrain pain-generating habits. As practitioners, we can provide our patients with tools to foster body awareness, a sense of control over pain and suffering, that can be self-applied at any time of day, and improve pliability of soft-tissues until the day we do get our hands on them again. Patients need a self-applied method that addresses muscular pain and stiffness in between office visits.
Dr. Michael A. Cohen, a chiropractor and acupuncturist in Toronto, was looking for a way to teach patients how to intervene in their pain and suffering. He wanted patients to reduce their dependence on him for immediate relief, while teaching them to explore and affect their own bodies when pain arises.
Cohen initially experimented with tennis and golf balls, but they had inherent limitations. This led his to eventually develop the acuBall - a firm but compressible baseball-sized object with nibs to penetrate tight muscles, and heat-ability to quickly release tight body areas with minimal discomfort. The acuBall contains water at its core, and when heated in a microwave for 60 seconds it provides firm compression and penetrating heat.
The acuBall helped him with another inherent problem – running late for appointments. “I typically took too long treating, and that made me late getting to other patients,” Cohen says. “Patients would sit in my waiting room, expressing annoyance to my poor receptionist. (My receptionist) decided to put patients in treatment rooms early, and provide them heated acuBalls.” Patients were not instructed how to use the acuBall in the session room, they were simply told to “go play.”
When Cohen arrived to provide care, he noticed patients were already loosened up, responding faster to his interventions. “Patients self-identified their chief areas of complaint and had begun the process of working it out, before I even laid my hands on them. I now use acuBall as a diagnostic tool.”
Cohen wanted a tool specifically designed for the curves and structure of the human body. After his invention of the acuBall, Cohen went on to design the acuBall mini for small, specific areas like the hands and feet, the roller-type acuBack – which incorporates a groove for the spine – and the oval, flat-shaped acuPad to influence sitting posture. These products are transportable and durable, and when heated in a microwave or boiling water they retain heat for a considerable time.
The acuBall has yielded quite a following, including converts from Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs, Blue Jays, Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers, Washington Nationals, National Ballet of Canada, and over 1,000 practitioner clinics. Cohen reports, “We have a wide range of users from Air Canada pilots to Richard Branson. Who doesn’t need self-care?”
Cohen provides instructional videos online and a smartphone app for acuBall users. “Practitioners love the app,” Cohen laughs, “because they don’t need to train patients – patients train themselves.”
Cohen believes we’ve underestimated people in their ability to incorporate self-healing methods. “Patient self-explorations with acuProducts generate information that is important diagnostically, providing the practitioner with clues to issues she may have missed in the initial examination. Using acuProducts on the table during treatment relaxes and releases tight areas, saving the practitioner’s hands while teaching patients how to use the tools – a valuable take home!”
Cohen mentions the facility of the app again, “Over many years of experience I developed proprietary approaches to self-healing which are featured in the app. For instance, we guide patients through relieving their low-back pain by working on six specific areas, including the symphysis pubis while lying prone.”
I asked Cohen if any patient populations have difficulty incorporating the AcuBall at first. “People with high pain levels understandably don’t want to induce additional discomfort, so they need to be gently guided through the first 30 seconds of use. This is when the initial tissue resistance is highest as it may be more painful. I use simple deep breathing techniques to get patients to relax through the process. Other than that, it’s quite easy to get people ‘acuBalling’.”
I asked Cohen about the business model. Can the acuBall be effective for patients, and financially viable for the practitioner? Practitioners can become distributors and, “Busy therapists sell 25 to 30 units per month generating $500 to $600 in profit,” Cohen reports. Patients are quite receptive to using the acuBall themselves, and in his experience, a third of them will purchase acuProducts after directly experiencing their use in the treatment room.
Cohen states he has learned a lot from the practitioners that incorporate acuProducts. “We had a Yoga therapist who came up with a technique using the acuBack for calf release. We now teach that very same technique to health professionals worldwide.”
Cohen provides training to practitioners who wish to infuse the acuBall into their practice operations. There are two trainings available: an inexpensive one hour online course and a more intensive five-hour certification course that covers the best uses of acuProducts.
Common conditions treated include plantar fasciitis, rotator cuff syndrome, neck pain, upper and lower back pain. “Massage therapists, as you can imagine, love the trainings because it teaches them how to save their hands, get better treatment outcomes and earn a revenue stream,” Cohen reports.
Donald Quinn Dillon, RMT is a practitioner, speaker and practice coach. Find him at DonDillon-RMT.com.
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MTAM Annual Conference
May 3-5, 2019
Remedial Massage Therapists Association AGM and Conference
September 13, 2019