Stress – Taking back control (by Richard Sutton)

Richard Sutton is a member of the International Association of Healthcare Professionals and is a clinically trained neurovascular practitioner, with a background in bio-kinesiology. Thank you for allowing us this article:

Changing perceptions

Stress has become somewhat of a preoccupation. We are exposed to it constantly and it impacts our lives immeasurably.

By definition, it is a state of strain (physical and mental) that results from demanding circumstances. Life is demanding, and bar complete removal from society, stress is and will remain very much part of our daily reality. For us to become more resilient to stress and even harness the positive effects of stress (yes – stress can be very beneficial), we need to consider three things.

Firstly, we need to understand what stress is and how it affects the body. Secondly, we need to change our perception of stress. And lastly, we need to change our behaviour in response to stress.

Research into the effects of stress

For over 70 years, scientists have been studying stress and health outcomes. Time and time again the same conclusions have been drawn – chronic stress negatively impacts health, something we intuitively know.

In 2015, researchers from Harvard and Stanford Universities published a collaborative meta-analysis involving 228 studies on stress and health outcomes. What was interesting about this extensive study was that it was able to determine a direct causal nexus between certain types of stress and premature mortality, as well as declines in mental and physical health. Different stress experiences included family conflict, work conflict, job insecurity, high job demands, as well as lack of control in the workplace and poor social support.

Interestingly, on-going conflict (either in a work or family setting) had one of the more profound effects on health. The study showed that chronic conflict was associated with a 90% probability of developing physical health issues and an even greater likelihood of developing mental health issues.

In particular the meta-analysis showed that job insecurity, high job demands and long working hours dramatically increased the risk of developing major health issues and were associated with significant rises in premature mortality. Of course, longer working hours, extended working weeks and less annual leave are more prevalent in the modern workplace, all of which, according to this study, appear to be having detrimental effects on our health.

In 2015, the ‘Lancet’ Journal published a study on the relationship between long working hours and the impact that it has on our health. The researchers analysed volumes of data from studies involving over 600 000 individuals and found that, when compared with standard working hours (35-40 hours a week), those who worked over 55 hours increased their risk of having a stroke by 33%. There was also a significantly increased risk of developing heart disease in response to long working hours.

On-going stress is typically associated with numerous health ailments, some of which include infertility, depression, cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases, pain syndromes and as we have all experienced at some stage in our lives – lowered immunity.

Scientists find link between stress and genetic damage

Although the abovementioned health conditions appear independent and non-related, Nobel Prize winner Dr Elizabeth Blackburn discovered that there is actually a strong underlying connection. The connection is that they are all associated with genetic (DNA) compromise and damage and that chronic stress is one of the major triggers in this process. Blackburn and her team discovered that chronic stress accelerates the erosion of a very specific unit of DNA, known as a “telomere”. When these segments shorten and erode it creates numerous cell issues that include poor function, abnormalities, possible mutations and even cell death. In fact, erosion of this DNA segment is believed to be one of the primary causes of aging and development of chronic diseases. Knowing this, it makes sense why people looked ‘aged’ in response to compounding life traumas.

Stress can be good – really good!

Yet despite the overwhelming research as to the negative impact that stress has on our health and of course society’s negative perception of ‘big bad stress’, there are many instances in which stress can enhance ones functionality and performance (physical and cognitive). The fundamental difference between the beneficial versus the destructive effects of stress lies with the critical factor – time.

Stress in short bursts (known as acute stress) protects, strengthens and enhances our abilities. It is important to understand that the actual stress response is one of the reasons we have been able to survive the most hostile of environments for thousands of years. The stress response is a strong biological reaction to danger or perceived threat, which is able to integrate the all the major systems of the body (immune, cardiovascular, hormonal and nervous) as a unified force to create powerful defenses – instantly!

In a moment this protective response liberates enormous amounts of energy, increases the availability of oxygen, enhances muscle power, promotes pain resistance, provides mental acuity as well as strong immune defenses. Essentially the whole purpose of such an organized biological force is to help us cope better with change and successfully react to emergencies. We are primed for success in this state.

Adrenaline – the first stress wave

The basic physiology of stress is as follows: stress begins in the brain with the perception of a threatening or more commonly, a disturbing situation. The brain acts by sending signals to the adrenal glands (located on the kidneys), which responsively produce the hormone adrenalin (otherwise known as epinephrine). This powerful hormone causes our heart rate, respiration and blood pressure to increase, improves circulation to the brain and limbs, liberates energy into the blood stream, results in the release of endorphins (molecules that reduce our perception of pain) and mobilizes our immune system into action.

At this point you may be thinking how can this be bad? There is certainly no down side to having more energy, being mentally sharper, physically stronger and feeling no pain? Well, it’s not that simple. The drawback is such that in order to prime the body for action and heightened responsiveness, simultaneously several systems need to be shut down – you can’t have it all.

One of the functions of adrenaline is to redirect blood away from the skin, digestive and reproductive systems. Reproduction and food consumption are unlikely activities in periods of acute stress and consequently these systems are ‘shut down’ in favor of better performance of the brain, cardiovascular and muscular systems.

Have you ever noticed that when you are having a stressful time, you develop issues with your digestive system? A 2011 study by German researchers published in the Journal Physiology and Pharmacology, showed that stress not only reduces blood supply to the gut by 400%, but also affects movement of the intestines, the secretion of enzymes within the digestive system, lowers regional defenses and alters the composition of bacterial colonies that reside in the gut. Although other hormones influence this ‘shut down’, adrenaline is the primary protagonist.

Elevated adrenaline also impairs the body’s regenerative, reparative and growth potential. As an adult with low physical demands, one can get away with this (at least for short periods of time), however the big concern is our children. Chronic stress is becoming increasingly more prevalent in adolescents. Higher demands, greater expectations, technology, information overload and lower activity levels all contribute to impaired growth, weaker physical profile and greater predisposition to pain syndromes and health ailments.

In adults, a big concern with repeated adrenaline surges (a consequence of chronic stress) is the impact on the cardiovascular system (heart, lungs and blood vessels). According to renowned neuroscientist and world authority on stress Dr. Bruce McEwen, these surges result in dramatic increases in blood pressure, which can damage blood vessels within the brain and heart.

Cortisol – The second wave

Following the initial adrenaline surge, centers the in brain (hypothalamus and pituitary gland) produce hormones that signal the adrenal glands to produce yet another hormone known as cortisol.

In the short term, cortisol has a very positive effect on our immune system in that it improves responsiveness and helps to regulate function. This is especially important considering that adrenaline mobilizes the immune system into action and without cortisol to balance this effect, the immune system could become over active and potentially destructive.

As with everything in life, balance is important. Whilst cortisol in the short term regulates immune behaviour, in the long term we see a very different picture. Long-term elevations of cortisol lead to immune system suppression predisposing us to latent viruses and infections, which is why we often get sick after long periods of stress.

There is even more complexity within this biological process. Recent discoveries by Sheldon Cohen and his team from Rockefeller University showed that chronic elevations in cortisol create a resistance of cells and tissues to the actions of cortisol, which has major implications for autoimmune diseases (diseases where our immune system attacks our body).

Essentially prolonged cortisol can either supress our immune system or completely fail to regulate it, both of these scenarios are extremely antagonistic to health.

The general effects of the hormone cortisol are varied. They include increased activity levels (urge to keep ‘busy’), disrupted sleep patterns (especially when cortisol is elevated late in the day), demineralization of our bones, muscle break down, increased gastric acid secretion (reflux), as well as altered brain chemistry.

From an energetic perspective high cortisol increases fat storage. In fact, cortisol can lead to significant weight gain, despite good dietary intensions. It does this through different channels, which include increased appetite, reduced sensitivity of the body’s cells to the insulin (a hormone that lowers sugar levels in the bloodstream) and reduced levels of a youth and vitality promoting hormone called, growth hormone.

Cortisol shrinks the brain

One of the greatest concerns with chronic exposure to stress is cortisol’s effect on the brain. In 2012 researchers from the departments of Psychiatry and Neurology at Yale University published a study which showed that chronic elevations of cortisol are associated with lower brain mass in regions of the brain affecting executive function, complex intellectual behaviour, self-awareness, coordination and even motivation (prefrontal cortex, insular cortex and anterior cingulate).

Interestingly, this was not the first study to show the negative effects of cortisol on brain tissue. Extensive research on animals and humans show that the memory and emotional centres (hippocampus and amygdala) are particularly prone to compromise with regard to structure and functioning.

Although historically the literature shows that elevated cortisol causes brain cell shrinkage and death, neuroscientists at the University of California have discovered another way in which chronically raised cortisol influences the brain. Daniela Kaufer and her team discovered that cortisol could also trigger stem cell malfunction, changing the overall composition of the brain.

The collective effect of brain cell shrinkage, brain cell death and reorganization of brain tissue is dramatic within the behavioural and cognitive space. We have all experienced these neurological changes in some way or another after long periods of stress in that they result in poor focus, impaired memory, low attention span, anxiety, fear as well as general emotional instability.

So what are the biggest drivers of stress in today’s society?

Over the last few decades, the medical community’s attention has been increasingly drawn towards the social determinates of health. Two acclaimed studies performed by Sir Michael Marmot, a Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, have provided extraordinary insights.

Marmot’s ‘Whitehall studies’ monitored 28 000 people over a 40-year period. The studies confirmed that stress in the workplace directly affects employee health and longevity, but more importantly it discovered that the grade of employment i.e. “ranking” within the organization and/or society, also had a profound impact on health (due to higher perceived levels of stress).

Logically one would assume that more senior, high-ranking employees would be more prone to health issues, partly due to increased responsibilities and partly due to seniority in age. However, the studies showed the exact opposite. It was the lower ranking employees within the organization that had the worst health and highest risk of premature death. In fact, those in the lowest ranking positions had a 300% higher risk of mortality when compared to the most senior employees over a 10-year period.

Lack of perceived control is the single biggest determinant of stress and ill health

The Whitehall II study identified that the key differences between the lower and higher-ranking employees included less social support, less variety at work but most importantly an overwhelming sense of ‘lack of control’ within the lower ranking group. What the study clearly showed was that environments where a sense of control was lacking have the highest levels of stress and greatest health compromise.

Supporting this, a 2015 meta-analysis published in Behavioral Science & Policy, Harvard professor Jim Goh and Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer describe a lack of job control to be the leading cause of premature mortality (>40% greater risk) within the framework of stress.

Stress resilience

Albert Einstein once said, ‘Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one’ and when it comes to stress resilience, perception is everything.

A recent study published the ‘Journal of Health Psychology’followed 28 753 adults over 8 years with the objective to determine whether or not the belief that ‘stress is bad’ impacted health outcomes.

The study involved a questionnaire pertaining to the previous 12 months, asking participants how much stress they had experienced over the previous year, and how much has they believed that stress affected their health.

Within the context of premature death and general health outcomes, neither the amount of stress, nor the perception that ‘stress is bad’ independently predicted poor health outcomes. However the study showed that when a stressful event was combined with the perception that stress is bad for ones health, it increased the risk of premature mortality by 43%.Studies by researchers from the department of psychology at Harvard University strongly support the notion that the way we perceive stress has an impact on our health and wellbeing.

This is a powerful message in that we can’t always control the stressors that we are confronted with on a daily basis, but we can control the way in which we perceive them, giving us considerable control over our health.

Our behaviour can create stress resilience

As mentioned earlier, the stress response is associated with the increased production/release of adrenaline and cortisol. Recent evidence now shows that stress also triggers the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone and neuropeptide (a molecule that influences brain function), which has powerful effects on both our psychological and physical wellbeing. Until recently, very little was known about this hormone other than its association with childbirth, human bonding and maternal behaviour.

In 2005, Swedish researchers published a paper on the affects of oxytocin on the body within the context of healing and protection. The paper that appeared in the Journal ‘Psychosomatic medicine and Psychotherapy’ highlighted the powerful influence that oxytocin has on behaviour and perception-of-self. The hormone promotes self-worth, confidence, fearlessness, optimism, a sense of calm, generosity, connectedness, empathy towards others as well as generosity – an ideal profile for success in any endeavour.

From a physical standpoint oxytocin’s effects are profound. Oxytocin is linked to lowered cortisol, lowered heart rate and lowered blood pressure, thereby counteracting the common effects of the stress response. Additionally, oxytocin has anti-inflammatory actions, antioxidant effects and increases the production of serotonin and nerve growth factor (key elements in proper brain functioning).

However, oxytocin loses half its initial effectiveness within 3-5 minutes. For us to derive benefit we require more frequent releases, and this is achieved almost exclusively through our behaviour during times of stress.

Many medical researchers speculate that the sole purpose of the initial burst of oxytocin (in response to stress) directs our behaviour to seek support from others, connect to others and feel empathy for others in times of crisis.

Here’s the amazing thing. When we connect with others, we release more oxytocin, thereby creating considerable physical and psychological resilience to stress.

The physical triggers in oxytocin release include contact with others such as hugging, light touch, massage as well as eye contact. Another mechanism by which we increase oxytocin levels is through prosocial behaviour. Caring for others, giving to others and feeling empathy towards others, all trigger oxytocin release and this release promotes considerable stress resilience!

In 2013, Michael Poulin from the Department of Psychology, at the University of Buffalo and a team of researchers from other institutions published a study entitled; ‘Giving to Others and the Association Between Stress and Mortality. The study monitored 846 individuals over a 5-year period. Participants completed baseline interviews that assessed past-year stressful events and whether the participant had provided tangible assistance to friends and/or family members during this time. Mortality rates were assessed through access to public records.

The study revealed that for every major life event, there was a 30% increase in the likelihood of premature death. However, the study also showed that those who provided care for others had no negative health outcomes following a stressful event. In simple terms, caring for others, giving to others and attending to the needs of others promoted incredible stress resilience – principally through oxytocin pathways. Many other studies have been published since, all supporting these findings.

The power of prayer

According to neuro-economist Dr. Paul Zak, a global authority on the effects of oxytocin within the context of economics and consumer behaviour, one of the most powerful triggers in oxytocin release is prayer! The mere practice of prayer is able to promote optimism, trust, generosity, empathy and self-esteem while at the same time lowering blood pressure, cortisol and heart rate – all through oxytocin pathways.


Medical science has reliably shown that chronic stress has the capacity to dramatically affect our health and the quality of our lives. At the same time it continually highlights that positive perception and prosocial behaviour offer stress protection and immeasurable resilience. Creating control within ones life, daily structure, proper health practices, having a strong sense of community, supporting and connecting to others, caring, giving and empathy all independently protect us from the onslaught of those challenges that we face everyday. By incorporating these elements into our lives, not only are we able to promote stress resilience, but also derive benefit from the powerful stress response.


Lower back pain

Robert whitehead

I have been Ryno’s patient at the Pretoria East Stretching Clinic for the past 24 months.

robert-whiteheadHe has treated my chronic lower back pain with stretch therapy. I suffered from a herniated disc in my L3 and L4 lumber region causing pins and needles in my legs and I also experienced a very tight problematic left SI-Joint, that affected rotation in my hips, that also caused general musculoskeletal problems. He helped me through an intensive Stretch Therapy rehabilitation program and my joint’s range of motion, stability, flexibility, strength and balance improved drastically. I’m so fortunate to have the cause of my problem been taken care of with no pain anymore. I am an avid cyclist and Ryno’s knowledge in the field of rehabilitation and how one should stretch with Active Isolated Stretch Therapy helps me to achieve my personal fitness goals. I have found that Stretch Therapy provides an effective and long-term cure for musculoskeletal injuries. I enjoy engaging in sporting activities, and the knowledge and support I gain from Ryno gives me the confidence to push the limits of my physical abilities without pain.

I would, and often do, recommend Ryno as a Stretch Therapist to anyone complaining of muscular and joint pain. I regard him as the go-to guy in this specialized field.


Robert Whitehead



Different models to pain – Tod Hargrove

There are various models used to understand pain: the neuromatrix model, the biopsychosocial model; Louis Gifford’s Mature Organism Model; the Onion skin model, the biomedical model. And for motor learning and physical training there is the constraints based model, or dynamic system theory, the various Russian sports science models, non-linear pedagogy, etc.

I often see debate as to the relative merit of these models, which is a good thing. But what I think is not such a good thing is when people argue that because a model has a certain flaw or limitation, it is fatally deficient. Or that using this model will always lead to error. Or that existing problems with current models requires a complete and radical revolution in our thinking. These arguments are particularly common in regard to models about the brain because, let’s face it, the brain is pretty hard to model.

The way I look at it, all models are necessarily wrong, at least to some extent. But some models are still useful. We need to be aware of how a particular model might lead us astray, but we also need to appreciate how it can provide insight.

Building models is a fundamental part of trying to understand the world in any systematic or organized way. The world has too many details and complexities to be taken in all at once. In order to really understand a particular phenomenon, we need to focus on certain essential details while ignoring others.

For example, to understand the movement of large objects in response to forces, we focus on the mass and velocity of the object, and the magnitude and direction of the forces applied to it. But we ignore non-essential but very real details like the color of the object, the shape of the object, or even the effects of friction. The result is a model with simple equations like force equals mass times acceleration.

We can test the accuracy of the model by seeing whether it makes accurate predictions. If it does, or leads to better understanding and control over the events we are trying to explain, it is a success. Further progress can be made by noting the limitations of the model, arguing about whether other models are better, making improvements to existing models and so forth.

Although we can improve the accuracy and utility of models, they can never be complete or accurate representations of the world. In order to fully model the world, we would have to build another world! That’s impossible, and it wouldn’t really help anyway. So models are not mirrors of reality, but simplified reflections. They are therefore, to at least some extent, “wrong.” But again, they can be incredibly useful.

Newtonian mechanics allows us to make amazingly accurate predictions about the movement of large objects like planets. But it fails to describe events accurately when objects are very small, or moving near the speed of light. Under these circumstances, we need different models – the theory of general relativity or quantum mechanics. So Newton’s “laws” are not universal, but they remain accurate in the “middle sized” world that is our usual area of concern.

Here’s a relevant quote from Sean Carroll (a very smart physicist) in his new book The Big Picture:

Our best approach to describing the universe is not a single, unified story but an interconnected series of models appropriate at different levels. Each model has a domain in which it is applicable, and the ideas that appear as essential parts of each story have every right to be thought of as “real.” Our task is to assemble an interlocking set of descriptions, based on some fundamental ideas, that fit together to form a stable planet of belief.

. . .

Our fundamental ontology, the best way we have of talking about the world at the deepest level, is extremely sparse. But many concepts that are part of non-fundamental ways we have of talking about the world — useful ideas describing higher-level, macroscopic reality — deserve to be called “real.”

The key word there is “useful.” There are certainly non-useful ways of talking about the world. In scientific contexts, we refer to such non-useful ways as “wrong” or “false.” . . . Every scientific theory is a way of talking about the world. The world is what exists and what happens, but we gain enormous insight by talking about it — telling its story — in different ways.

I agree!

The human body is one of the most complex organizations of matter in the known universe. To understand it, we must build models, use metaphors, and deal in abstractions. This necessarily involves ignoring certain details, creating simplified pictures, and relying on metaphors that have the potential to mislead. But we have no choice! Models and metaphors are indispensable thinking tools to understanding the body. Is the brain a computer? The heart a pump? The kidney a filter? The nerves telephone wires? In some ways yes, and others no.

Each model is a different perspective from which to see the world, with its own unique insights and blindspots. For example, you can look at movement or pain from the perspective of the musculoskeletal system, the nervous system, the metabolic system, the immune system, or the endocrine system. You can take a microscopic view to consider the behavior of individual cells, or zoom out for a big picture of the relationship between larger systems. Some perspectives might be highly informative for a wide variety of purposes, and generally foster an accurate perception of the viewed object. These perspectives are great. Others may get you looking in completely the wrong direction. These perspectives suck. But there is no one perspective that can offer complete understanding of a multi-dimensional phenomenon like pain, movement, or any other event in the human body.

Interview with Aaron Mattes : by Jason Erickson

Aaron MattesAaron Mattes

Up Front with the Founder of Active Isolated Stretching

By Jason Erickson


Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a method of muscle lengthening and fascial release practiced by massage therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, and trainers of all kinds. Olympic and professional athletes have benefited from AIS stretching and strengthening, and the US Olympic sports medicine staff for the 2012 games in London included an AIS practitioner. However, the number of nonathletes who benefit from AIS on a daily basis—from Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) patients, to office workers and children with back and neck pain—is truly impressive.

The development of AIS has been led by one man—Aaron Mattes. Top massage educators, such as Ben Benjamin and James Waslaski, recommend and praise Mattes and his work as a clinician. In this interview, Mattes sheds some light on his career, his work, and the profession today.

Q: You are best known for your development of Active Isolated Stretching (AIS). What inspired you to look for a different way to stretch?

Aaron Mattes (AM): I was stretching myself and working with others; they would experience irritation when holding a stretch, with very little progress, or lack of consistent progress. Electromyography and electroencephalography showed that things were happening because of the stress—holding a stretch caused irritation, took a lot of time, resulted in very little change, and many people just gave up on it. Things weren’t working out very well.

Q: You have said, “AIS begins in the brain.” What happens with the nervous system during regular stretching?

AM: If you look at people stretching, they hold one repetition for a long time. They set off a stretch reflex, causing an isometric contraction, and it becomes a protective mechanism, and on and on. In that scenario, a lot of things aren’t working right in the human body as a result of trying to force things.

Q: What did you do to develop what later became AIS?

AM: As I worked with people, the harder I pushed and the longer I held it, the more aggravation I got and the less progress we made. As we started to hold it less, I started having clients use a piece of rope to help the stretch. When lifting the limb hurt, we stopped. As they kept lifting, it kept improving. It was phenomenal to see how something could improve so much with a short duration and less force. Nothing quite like we do now, but clients were getting more flexible and they weren’t hurting as much afterward.

Q: Who did you first use AIS with?

AM: I had started to use AIS with runners and baseball players at the University of Illinois, and then I started using it with gymnasts. I began using AIS with elite athletes in 1971–72. I probably started calling it Active Isolated Stretching in the early- to mid-1990s.

Q: Over the years, what are some of the significant changes you have made in AIS?

AM: I first published a little green book on stretching in 1980 [Flexibility for Conditioning and Rehabilitation]. Back then, I was only doing a few things with the shoulders and the legs, and some other things. Then I started discovering how to stretch rotary fibers and it became more encompassing. To this day, I’m still coming up with things. It’s an ongoing process, trying to become more perfect and more inclusive.

Q: When did you first start incorporating strengthening protocols into AIS?

AM: I’ve been doing strengthening with stretching all along since 1969. At first, it wasn’t very specific. It was more of just a series of presses. I just kept getting more exacting with the strengthening, and I’m still making changes.

Q: During your 2011 Chicago seminar, you introduced Jeff Haggquist and Roger McNear as master instructors and announced that they were developing a new AIS certification process. Since AIS has never had certification, what led to this?

AM: It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do, but just saying that you took my course and now you’re certified doesn’t mean much. We’re working with people who have various types of education: PhDs, medical doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors, massage therapists with 6–7 month training programs, or personal trainers with a few days to a few weeks of education. We have people from so many different types of backgrounds that it’s difficult to certify people unless everyone receives the same information and can thoroughly learn to do this work. It’s a lot more work than meets the naked eye because it needs to meet the criteria provided by the national certification board. Haggquist and McNear are in charge of the certification development and getting it to the population.

Q: How does it feel to see AIS take this next step? What do you hope to see happen?

AM: It’s been a lifetime. I’ve basically worked on it for more than 40 years. That’s a long time to stay with something, especially as I’m getting older. It’s making it more difficult for me to achieve it, so I need to include more people as best as I can. There were opportunities to do major studies on it, but things fell through for various reasons, so I’ve had some setbacks. We want to get some things proved through research and then give it to the National Institutes of Health or another suitable body. Then AIS will become more of a household name. It’s the recognition of the entire rehabilitation and preventive world that we’re interested in, so we need the right kinds of people involved in all aspects of it.

Q: When learning AIS, how can practitioners progress from first learning the methods and protocols to working more efficiently and effectively with clients?

AM: It takes concentration, it takes a touch, it takes understanding that this work is different from proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation or any other thing that we like to compare it to. It’s more complicated and more exacting. It’s very effective, but you’ve got to learn it, you’ve got to study it, and you’ve got to practice it. You’ve got to do it over and over and you’ve got to do it with somebody who knows what they’re doing.


Seldom do you have exactness unless you get training like we’re doing now through Haggquist and McNear. That will give us more “likeness” about teaching and receiving and going out to do the work. We’ll have certified that they have had the training and do know the work, and even then it’s difficult. You need to study it. You need to look at the anatomy and physiology. When you’re talking about AIS, you need to know these things, the intricacies of the shoulder or the knee, the hip, or whatever we’re talking about. We need to understand how we can make these changes based on the anatomy and how it works.

Q: What does it take to get the best results?

AM: If we can’t be thorough, we’ll just get a partial result. Athletes don’t want to work with you if you don’t get results. If you’re going to work with the back, and you’ve only got an hour, you can only do a partial job. One hour doesn’t quite do it most times, especially early on. You’ve got to attain before you maintain, right? That’s a biggie. And that’s where I put the onus on the practitioner. The real successful people, you look at their work ethic, you look at their education, and you look at how they went a step beyond everybody else. They were more than lucky. People who work on it get unusual results. It’s the ones who put in the time, the dedication, and the effort and keep on doing it. You’ve got to have soul, too. It must be deep inside you, that you really want to help people. Those are the things we need to emphasize, even in our certification. In order to become really good at this, you’ve got to have a desire to change things, develop the skills, and be willing to put in the time and practice. So it’s time, it’s effort, it’s money, and it’s dedication to doing something that you believe in. It’s amazing what you can achieve if you put all this together.

Q: Do you feel science will eventually change how AIS is taught?

AM: Oh yes, I think there’s a long way to go before we have more definitive answers and everyone wants this kind of work. When it starts appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine and other places like that, I think we’ll be on our way.

Q: What are some challenges you think AIS might face in the future, or that you see it facing right now?

AM: I think it needs to be researched more. It needs to be adopted more in the chiropractic, physical therapy, and science worlds. It’s getting there, but rather slowly. I’d like to see it take two years; it will probably take 20. We need to have it in the hands of more qualified people; not just a few, but many of them throughout the world.

Q: Can you describe some of the potential for AIS in the next 5–10 years?

AM: I think AIS could be adopted much more into the hospital scene, into the educational scene at universities, even developing AIS clinics. I’m seeing people who have cancer getting good results, and I look for it to be a lot more involved there. I also see it becoming more of a preventive method. We see how the brain changes with people who have Parkinson’s and ALS. Now people can swallow and chew and do things they haven’t been able to do. One woman with Parkinson’s was supposed to have been dead about four months after I met her. Now, here she is, 12 years later, and if you didn’t know, you’d never guess she has Parkinson’s.

There are all kinds of things that might be done that I can’t imagine. I say, “Here’s the ball. Now what are you going to do with it?” Make it something meaningful that is meaningful for everybody.


We’ve got a 23-year-old girl who hasn’t walked in 20 years, and you should see her now—she’s starting to walk, her clubfeet are straightened out, her legs are working. It’s just amazing how her mind is changing. A doctor said it’s amazing how we get to the brain. We can affect IQ with this work. So, the potential, I don’t know. We got something started and now it’s going to take some people with desire and dedication to take it and run with it.

Q: You developed training and therapy aids such as stabilizing belts and ice cups. How does it feel to see your ideas used?

AM: It shows that we are more exacting, that we get better results by doing some of the simple things in life. A seat belt isn’t very complicated, but how it’s applied helps the exactness because AIS is based on stabilization and isolation. The ice cup is very simple; it’s a paper cup or something with frozen water in it. You massage with it, and it never gets below 37 degrees so you can never freeze any tissue. The swelling goes down immediately, and function improves to a degree. You take a sprained ankle and prepare the tissue so it can move better.


Q: In 2010, Oakworks released the Mattes Chair, and Comfort Craft offers massage tables with an “AIS System” for stretching. Are there any other AIS-related products that you expect to see in the future?

About Aaron Mattes

Aaron Mattes received his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1970 and his master’s degree in kinesiology and kinesiotherapy in 1972. He served as pitching coach for the University of Illinois baseball team, then directed kinesiotherapy clinics there and at the University of Toledo. His experience includes more than 200,000 hours in instruction, rehabilitation, athletic training, adapted physical education, sports medicine, training, and preventive programs. He is a registered kinesiotherapist and certified member of the American Kinesiotherapy Association. He is a licensed massage therapist and owns and directs Aaron L. Mattes Therapy in Sarasota, Florida, where he lives with his wife Judy.

ABOUT JASON: Jason Erickson, NCTMB, CMT. CPT, CES, CAIST, BBA, BA, AA is a nationally certified massage therapist and personal trainer who loves helping his clients regain their wellbeing, improve performance, and enjoy greater success and a better quality of life. A veteran survivor of frequent medical treatments and unhealthy habits, Jason now appreciates the joy and freedom that come with good health.

Stretch strap Exercises to Improve Your Posture

Stretch strap Exercises to Improve Your Posture

 Slouching can cause a plethora of health problems – it plays havoc with your spine alignment and can drain your energy. Plus, you don’t look so good while doing it! Improving your posture will increase energy, prevent future spine problems, and give you a slender, more confident appearance.

And what better way to improve your posture than with some fun stretch strap exercises? These moves are simple, but powerful. Grab your stretch strap and get started!


Begin by wrapping your stretch strap behind you, around the base of your shoulder blades. Pull the belt to the front and place the ends of the straps over each shoulder. Pull the straps across your shoulder blades creating a crisscross on your back. Gently tug both sides of the belt down. You’ll feel your lower trapezius release and your shoulders roll back. Buckle the belt ends at your breastbone. Stay in this position for 2 seconds and repeat 10 to 20 times. Repeat daily until your muscles are retrained and your posture improves.

Shoulder Press

Start in a chair or on the floor, keeping your spine straight. Using both hands, hold a stretch strap at shoulder width. Pull in your stomach while pressing your shoulders and sitting up as straight as you can. Gently extend your shoulders so the strap is straight out in front of you at shoulder height. Holding it in both hands, lift it over your head. Keep your arms straight and lower the belt behind your head as far as possible. Bring the belt back to starting position. Repeat this press 10 to 20 times for two seconds.

Shoulder Stretch

Begin in a standing position – feet together and back straight. Place your stretch strap under the arches of both feet. Bend forward, bringing your torso toward your thighs as far as you can without discomfort. Holding your stretch strap, reach toward your feet, gently pulling the yoga strap. You’ll feel a stretch in your shoulders as well as your lower and upper back. Hold the pose for two seconds and repeat 10 to 20 times.

Forward Fold

Start on the floor in a sitting position. Extend your legs in front of you, and loop your stretch strap around your feet, holding an end in each hand. Pull your abs in toward your lower back. Elongate your spine; sit up tall. Bend forward to your thighs. Gently pull the stretch strap as far as you can, resting your head upon your knees if possible. Hold the stretch for two seconds and repeat 10 to 20 times.