Muscle Medicine: The Revolutionary Approach to Maintaining, Strengthening, and Repairing Your Muscles and Joints

(Fireside) by Rob DeStefano, D.C. with Bryan Kelly, M.D. and Joseph Hooper

You don’t expect a book with a subtitle touting a “revolutionary approach” to be modest. But amidst a sea of books promising that their particular brand of body therapy is the greatest thing since the invention of the theraband, what’s truly revolutionary about this book is its intellectual honesty. Although the book’s primary author, Rob DeStefano, is a sports chiropractor who uses a particular muscle therapy, ART, to address a wide range of common body problems, Muscle Medicine is a user-friendly synthesis of everything that he and his orthopedist co-author Bryan Kelly (they both consult for the New York Giants football team) know about why bodies break down and how they can be put to right. The big idea here is that muscle damage, which we usually experience as tightness and soreness, underlies most common musculoskeletal problems (lower-back pain, achy wrist, etc.). Even when damage to cartilage and ligaments inside the joint is the primary bad actor, it’s the health of the muscles, which should be addressed in surgical “pre-hab” and rehab, that mostly determines whether the patient returns to full function.

A lot of healers in the body business would agree with that general assessment. But the books and web material they produce tend to be manifestos for their chosen school of muscle therapy: ART (Active Release Techniques), Trigger Point Therapy, Graston Technique, and all the rest. That may be fine for readers who already know which aisle they plan to shop. For everyone else, Muscle Medicine is the clearest layperson’s exposition of the musculoskeletal big picture I’ve yet seen. It guides the reader from the basic physiology of muscle, joint, bone and nerve to the disease processes that undermine them to an easy-to-follow discussion of the most common problems that crop up in the body’s “hot spots” (neck, shoulder, lower-back, etc.). The theory chapters are scrupulous about the limits of what we know and don’t know about muscle therapies. (Thanks to the medical-industrial complex’s near monopoly on research money, there’s no proof that one therapy is “better” than another; therapies with totally different rationales, like ART and acupuncture, can be productively combined.) The “hot spot” spot chapters are mercifully short on medical jargon and long on useful patient case histories. One example: the typist who discovers that her case of carpal tunnel syndrome, like so many other misdiagnosed CTS cases, is really a matter of an overstressed muscle in the forearm, the pronator teres, which can usually be brought back to health with a few sessions of muscle tension-releasing therapy.

Along the way, the authors provide three very nice background chapters on the relevant lifestyle issues:  mind-body, nutrition and general fitness. Again, the emphasis is on “news you can use,” no long-winded digressions or overly chatty tone. And yes, as with most any “revolutionary” health book, there is what looks to be a very thoughtful self-treatment program, modeled mostly on ART. But whether the reader chooses to follow that particular path or not, he or she will come away with the tools to find their own way through the maze of competing body therapies, even the “newbie” who only just suspects that downing Advils may not be the best way to deal with that chronically achy knee.

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