Lending a hand to comfort pain

Eric Steibl arrived in New York from Montreal in 1985, working as the quintessential actor-singer-dancer-waiter before going to the Swedish Institute on West 26th Street to study massage therapy. Photo: Carol Sessler
Chiropractor and massage therapist Eric Steibl offers a variety of techniques to treat back and neck troubles

When Eric Steibl arrived in New York in 1985, he was working as the quintessential actor-singer-dancer-waiter and would frequently get massages. As a result, the Montreal native, who already had a bachelor’s degree in physiology, became interested in learning more about massage therapy. In 1989, he enrolled in the Swedish Institute on West 26th Street and his career of aiding people in pain began.

The 59-year-old has been practicing for close to 30 years and has earned over 50 certifications in soft-tissue techniques such as foot reflexology, trigger point therapy, neuromuscular therapy and muscle activation techniques. In 2009, Steibl decided to add chiropractic to his ever-growing list of specialties, and graduated as the valedictorian of his class at Cleveland Chiropractic College. When asked what kind of injuries he treats, he said primarily those that involve the neck and low back, and issues like plantar fasciitis, sprained ankles, whiplash and herniated discs.

What was it like when you first got to New York?

I had just finished doing Summer Stock in New Jersey and one of my castmates lived in Manhattan and offered me a place to stay until I could find a place of my own. It was tough, all I had was what I could fit in my 1983 Toyota Tercel. I grew up in Montreal and had always dreamed of living in New York, so finally moving here was a dream come true. New York in 1985 was very vibrant and exciting. It was so unusual for me to live in a city where you could find something to do 24 hours a day. New York at that time also had a dangerous side to it, which gave it its own level of excitement. You tended not to go west of Ninth Avenue in the evenings for fear of being mugged. It was not uncommon to see prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts and petty thieves hanging out on the side streets. Pretty soon after I arrived, I found an apartment share in Woodside, Queens and a waiter’s job at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square which had just opened. I worked as a waiter at the View Restaurant at the Marriott for five years — as far as I know the only revolving restaurant in the city. Between waiting on tables I found gigs working Off-Broadway as a performer and doing some soap opera work. I left Queens and moved to Hell’s Kitchen in 1990, which has been my home ever since.

Out of all your services, what is the most popular?

Of everything I do, I would say Muscle Activation Techniques [MAT] is now the most popular. It has been getting a lot of press in the last few years. A lot of high-level athletes use MAT to give them optimal performance or help them recover quicker from injuries. Peyton Manning, the retired football star, credits MAT with helping him recover from a serious neck injury and helping him win the Super Bowl last year. Prior to MAT coming onto the scene, I would say rolfing, a form of bodywork that reorganizes the connective tissues called fascia that permeate the entire body, was the most popular. I now use MAT more than any other modality I’ve studied in the last 30 years.

How can you explain MAT?

MAT is entirely different than any other soft-tissue modality I’ve studied. Every other form of bodywork looks for the tightness in the muscles or tissues. MAT, on the other hand, searches for the muscles that are weak and not contracting optimally, thereby causing other muscles to compensate and get tight. It is a revolutionary approach to the assessment and correction of muscular imbalances, joint instability and limitations in range of motion within the human body. MAT helps to optimize the function and maximum efficiency of the muscles. Typically with a new patient, you do a range of motion assessment to see which ranges are limited. You then work within that range by testing and treating the muscles you find are weak. Greg Roskopf, the founder of MAT, discovered that by stimulating the two ends of the muscle, you can turn that muscle on. My patients are always amazed when I do some MAT on them — they feel their muscles are suddenly stronger and they can hold a position that they couldn’t before. They are also surprised to find they move and walk with a lot more ease after a MAT session.

Tell us a success story about a patient you’ve helped.

I had a new patient recently who was going home to Argentina to get married. He told me he wanted to be able to dance at his wedding, which was happening in a month. I knew I had my work cut out for me. He had been suffering from debilitating low back pain for the last few years and had tried months of physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, and ART [Active Release Techniques]. He saw quite a few practitioners and got no relief. I treated him primarily using MAT. By discovering which muscles in his low back were consistently showing up weak, I was able prescribe specific rehab exercises for him to do on his own outside of his treatments. He was free of pain within two weeks and was beside himself with joy. He recently got married and danced at his wedding.

What do you tell people who don’t believe in using chiropractors?

I was never a big believer in chiropractic before I went to chiropractic school. But since studying chiropractic and offering chiropractic as a modality now for the last five years, I have seen some pretty incredible results. It’s not enough to have muscles working optimally, you also need optimal movement of all the joints in the body. Joints that become fixated — which is very common in the spine [back and neck] — can eventually become fibrotic and lose their ability to function. These unmovable joints cause neighboring joints to compensate and have too much movement leading to arthritis. By the age of 50, one-hundred percent of the population already has some form of arthritis. Wouldn’t it be great to help prevent that? I have some patients that absolutely refuse chiropractic and I respect that. I do tell them about the benefits of chiropractic, and if they still refuse, I know I have at my disposal a lot of other techniques I can use on them.

To learn more, visit www.deep-tissue.com