Soft touch -- new Rolfers arrive

Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2008

Kelsey Cusack and Lissa Cristiano were both active in sports and extracurriculars throughout their years as Soldotna High School students, both were plagued by reoccurring injuries that no form of treatment could fully cure, and both had their lives changed by the same practice -- Rolfing.

Photo By Mike Nesper
Photo By Mike Nesper
Mattson Rolfing Clinic's newest Rolfers, Lissa Cristiano (left) and Kelsey Cusack (right) stand with owner Andrew Mattson in their new office located in the Merit Plaza in Kenai on Tuesday.

"Rolfing is a form of body work that works on realigning your joints and bones through soft tissue manipulation," Cristiano said. "The idea is every part of your body is related to another part of your body. Just because your neck is hurting there could be things going on in your back or your hips that's causing your neck to hurt."

Cristiano and Cusack are recent certified Rolfers and have moved back to the Kenai Peninsula to join Andrew Mattson's practice, Mattson Rolfing Clinic.

For the both women, Rolfing was instrumental in helping them continue the activities they love. "Rolfing was the only thing that kept us active," Cusack said. "It was inspiring for us to follow and help other people with their pain."

"When you've been through something like that and something has helped you so much, you really want to do the same for other people," Cristiano said. "I think both of us wanted to give back what had been given to us."

Cristiano came back to the peninsula at the end of May and Cusack followed a couple months later. The two were roommates while they attended the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado.

"A lot of people think, 'Oh, Rolfing, that's a deep tissue massage, right?' No," Cristiano said. "If somebody came in for a massage and said their neck hurts, the masseuse would work directly on their neck. With Rolfing, we look at you sitting, standing and look at the different strain patterns on your muscles ... and see what is causing your neck to hurt," she said.

Rolfers don't just rely on their hands as their only healing tool. New developments such as cold level lasers and percussors are now used for better patient care and to reduce strain on the Rolfer's hands. "A cold level laser induces cellular reproduction for healing," Mattson said. "It also causes a reaction in the body that we can actually get nerve firing patterns to happen correctly.

"A percussor is a vibration-based unit that has specific frequencies that we use for different types of tissue, to manipulate tissue, remove different structures in the body and that takes a lot of pressure off of our hands.

"We're highly involved in forging the forefront of this laser usage," he said. "It's a really fun time to be in this practice and career."

Mattson too, like Cusack and Cristiano, suffered a sports injury in high school. After sustaining a football injury to his left shoulder, Mattson was in and out of various doctors' offices all with the same prognosis -- that he would never again regain full strength in his arm. Mattson then turned to Soldotna Rolfer Mark Hutton. "By the next football season I had greater strength in my left arm than I ever had," Mattson said. "I had two injury-free seasons to end my football career and that led me to wanting to go on to school and hopefully help other people the same way. It changed my life.

"I don't know a Rolfer that has developed a career and a practice that did not have a major life-changing event that got them into Rolfing," Mattson said.

Mattson, who grew up in Kenai, moved back to the peninsula in 2003 and set up his own practice in Old Towne Kenai. On July 1, Mattson expanded and moved his office to suite 14 of the Merit Plaza in Kenai.

"I enjoy working with people on an individual basis such as this," Cusack said. "Every session is different and you get to meet all kinds of interesting people and do different kinds of work every day. No day's the same."

"It's a really rewarding job," Cristiano said. "When you're in pain, your emotional health suffers, your physical health is suffering, and to be able to help somebody to get out of that sort of pain is a really rewarding thing."

According to Mattson, Rolfing focuses on muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and viscera. "The soft tissues is where we focus."

Mattson, Cristiano and Cusack also give their clients information about exercises that can be done out of the office. For example, a baseball pitcher, who is having shoulder and/or arm pain, may have learned to throw a ball only using their arm. A Rolfer can teach the pitcher to utilize their core, stabilizing muscles when throwing a ball. This will reduce the risk of injury the next time the pitcher steps out on the mound, Mattson said.

Rolfing is no secret to central peninsula residents. "Everybody here knows what Rolfing is and everyone is really well educated about what we do and that really means a lot," Cristiano said. "Such a small population can be so affected by our profession."

"We're just another approach to try and help people in their greater health," Mattson said. "We're just one part of the puzzle. In reality, what change our lives, personally, was that we got Rolfed."

Mike Nesper can be reached at

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