Many of us are all too familiar with chronic pain. The nagging kind that makes it hard to get up out of bed in the morning—to enjoy playing with the grandkids, run like we used to or even unload the groceries out of the car. For those who have hit middle age and beyond, it is tempting to believe chronic pain is a normal part of aging—that the bad shoulder, sore hip, or bum knee is just one of the many consequences of getting older. Physical Therapist Mary Gorman begs to differ. She started her practice, The Movement Studio in Talent, in 2006 and has been successfully treating people suffering from chronic pain due to injury or trauma for over 27 years. Mary’s whole-body approach to healing is not typical and her clients are often surprised at the results. We caught up with Mary between appointments recently to learn more about why her physical therapy model can bring relief to so many people who assumed they’d always live with chronic pain.
Hi Mary, thanks so much for speaking with us today. Let’s start with something you tell clients often, “Pain is not normal.”
I am so glad to have a chance to set the record straight because this belief is the foundation of my work. So many people come to me believing that the pain they are experiencing is just a fact of life. I love showing my clients that pain is 100% fixable once we get to the root cause. Pain comes from inflammation often caused by injury which on the most basic level, can heal with adequate rest. However, many of us experience pain due to years and years of misalignments, imbalances, and small muscular compensations that persist if left unaddressed. The body is a very complex system which is why my work considers the body as a whole. Many of my clients are surprised when I need to work on their left hip to address pain in their right knee, for example.
Chronic pain is very sneaky and doesn’t always present in a way we expect. My specialty is following the rabbit trails each client case presents. We’re all different. How we stand, sit, move, even how we breathe and how much stress we carry are completely different. Which is why each case is never the same. Once we identify the underlying cause of the pain, we have a much greater chance of eliminating it. The goal in my mind is always for my clients to get their lives back and live pain-free.
Gosh, so much has changed, honestly. When I first started out, I worked in a very hectic environment. It was an outpatient physical therapy office and it was not uncommon for me to see 25 patients per day. It was truly insane. Not only did I not have enough time with each patient to accurately assess and address their issues, and I was also completely stressed out, which is not ideal for anyone, let alone for someone in a healing profession. When things got really bad, I really thought I would have to quit. It honestly seemed like the only solution. I had been a Licensed Massage Therapist for years so I figured I’d switch gears and focus on massage instead.
I took a year off and did some training at the Rolfing Institute in Colorado. On my way west to Oregon shortly after, I realized it was possible to practice physical therapy in a much more sustainable and holistic way. I’m a bodyworker at heart integrating yoga, Pilates, postural alignment, Rolfing, and nervous system work into my practice made perfect sense. And from this place of intuition, knowledge, and experience, The Movement Studio was born.
So how does it work? What can people expect when they come to The Movement Studio to work with you?
Pretty much without exception, three areas need to be addressed to get to the root of the problem. Physical pain usually indicates the body is not in neutral alignment. When you’re not in neutral, anything you do such as sitting, walking, doing yoga, or lifting works against your body which is what can cause pain. Learning to move ergonomically (in neutral) is what eliminates the pain.
After doing a comprehensive evaluation of the musculoskeletal system I will thoroughly assess your postural and movement patterns. From there I create a customized plan which usually includes manual physical therapy and bodywork, specific movement re-education exercises, and an action plan for creating more supportive movement at home and work. I also create an individualized exercise and fitness program for strength, balance, and lasting results. The therapeutic exercise I use is inspired by the Postural Restoration Institute® (PRI) and Pilates. The bodywork I do is informed by my Rolfing® structural integration training as well as Primal Reflex Release Technique™ (PRRT) and more subtle forms of release work. In the midst of all this, I also teach my clients how to downregulate their autonomic nervous systems so the body can heal more easily.
The autonomic nervous system is responsible for regulating bodily functions such as heart rate and digestion. It is also responsible for your body’s response to stress. Most people know this as the fight or flight reflex. When you experience something stressful, the autonomic nervous system kicks in. It’s what helps a deer run away from a cougar or a mother to save a kid who runs out into traffic. The issue is this system is designed to trigger and then release. It is not designed to stay engaged for extended periods. In modern society, many of us live in fight or flight. Which is very taxing on our autonomic nervous system. Overstimulation of these stress reflexes triggers movement patterns that create tension. Over time, this tension leads to chronic pain. It manifests in any number of ways. My goal is to find the restriction and release it. And then to teach my clients how to release this stress and trauma themselves as often as they need it.
How does teaching people to downregulate help them get better?
So many people get caught up in doing more. Whether it’s exercise or work, or even play and fun, when your nervous system is in a state of tension, what is needed is to let go. There is very little to be gained in pushing through. Upregulated patterns cause pain. Even if we fix your posture or alignment, if your nervous system isn’t relaxed, you’ll continue to experience pain. Doing more, pushing more doesn’t allow the healing to come. I teach a series of Primary Release Techniques so clients can learn to downregulate on their own. I also hold TRE® (Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercise) classes each month. It’s a great way to learn simple, gentle, and effective ways of letting go of deeply stored tension. Classes are limited to 6 people and readers can sign up on my website. Once we take care of this tension, we can experience the benefits of healthy movement and exercise.
Many of your most successful clients are aging adults who have active lifestyles but have lived with chronic pain. Many have believed that getting older equals pain. In many cases, you can prove otherwise. Tell us more about these folks.
I find working with active adults to be so satisfying. They are so wise, motivated, and determined to do the work. They also tend to have decades of patternings and misalignments that need adjusting. It is so exciting when changes start to happen—to connect with them, helping them understand healing is totally possible. These folks are so healthy and active in so many ways and yet it can be so frustrating when pain slows them down. I love being able to show them that they don’t have to live in pain, that they can enjoy playing tennis or caring for their grandkids once again. It’s all about improving quality of life. There is no reason to live with chronic pain.
You’ve got some really exciting additions coming soon to The Movement Studio. Can you tell us about some of the new offerings you’re working on?
For sure! In addition to one on one work with me, I also offer group classes. You can learn more about them on our website or Facebook page. I’m also working with two very talented Pilates instructors to create options for clients who are interested in regular classes. The idea is to create membership opportunities for those looking for instruction in a private boutique studio setting. I’m really excited to be expanding our services and will have more information to share this fall. Be sure to like our page on Facebook for the latest developments. I also encourage readers suffering from back pain to visit my website and download my free booklet called “7 Commonly Overlooked Causes of Lower Back Pain.” It’s a great resource and a good first step in addressing chronic pain.
Without a doubt, I would have to say it is the belief that aging comes with pain. So many people feel like the day they turn 60, they need to be in pain. I say it all the time and I’ll say it again. Being in pain is not normal. Don’t wait until the patterns are too deep to resolve. Healing is possible. You don’t have to suffer.
Your clients really do heal. Can you please share a few testimonials with us?
“My pain is so much better and I’m able to do the exercise that I like to do and be an active person, which has made all the difference.”
- Julie T.
“Love, love, love the healing bodywork I’ve been able to do with Mary! Thank you, Mary, for bringing your presence to this community. You’ve really made a difference in my life for the better”
- Becky D.
“Mary helped me through a lot of pain and worked on the tendonitis in my hands until I could function again. She is a visionary healer and Physical Therapist.”
- Ara J.
What should readers do if they’d like to learn more?
I highly recommend people visit my website. It’s a great first step. There are several free resources available including videos, blog articles, and more. When you’re ready to get started, call for a consultation. Don’t wait! Healing can happen now!
The Movement Studio Inc
309 S. Pacific Hwy, Talent, OR