Thursday 13 December 2018

There's the rub: For years of back pain

Esti Errazquin had years of back pain after she was knocked over by a freak wave at the beach. She tells Joy Orpen how the Rolfing massage technique finally ended her agony

When an attractive young Spanish woman suffered a debilitating back injury a decade ago, little did she know that it would take her years to find relief from her pain. She might also have been surprised to learn that her pain would only be healed in Ireland using a little-known technique, which was developed in the 1950s, called Rolfing.

Estabaliz Errazquin, 35, was born in the Basque country in northern Spain.

One lovely summer's day, Esti, as she is known, went swimming at a lovely beach near her Spanish home. She spent a long time standing in the water talking to a friend.

Then, as she began to wade back to the shore through waist-high water, she was hit full-on by a huge wave. "It knocked me from behind and crashed me on to the sea bed," she says. "Then I was on my knees and I just couldn't breathe and I could hardly move."

Esti's brother saw the anguished expression on his sister's face and ran to her assistance. "He and a friend took me under the arms and put me lying flat on a towel -- only then was I able to start breathing again," she recalls.

She says, in retrospect, she should have sought medical assistance immediately, but she believes her youth and the fact that she has a high pain threshold prevented her from doing so.

"We talked about going to the doctor, but it was Saturday so we decided to wait and see what happened," she says.

On the journey home from the beach, Esti found walking so painful she had to tie some of her clothes around her waist to support her aching body.

Two days later, she was still suffering, so she went to the doctor who sent her for X-rays. These showed that two of her vertebrae had been damaged by the freak accident.

"They said because I could tolerate pain I should wear a belt and let the body heal itself," Esti recalls.

Esti also had physiotherapy three times a week and she was given information on correct posture and on ways to sleep more comfortably.

Fortunately, as she was not working at the time, she was able to spend much of the following month resting.

Then she came to Ireland. "I wanted to experience living a different way," she says. And, as luck would have it, she got more than she bargained for.

"I met an Irish man named Eoin Connolly and, although I think I would have stayed anyway, he was certainly part of my decision to remain in Ireland."

Throughout this time, Esti lived with her back problems on a daily basis. "The pain was there all the time. I'd find it really hard to get comfortable -- that could take ages -- and I had to take painkillers, which I didn't like," she says.

Nonetheless, Esti got on with a masters degree in ethnic and racial studies at Trinity College Dublin.

With a mother from southern Spain and a father who is Basque by birth, she learned from an early age to keep an open mind.

"I was always curious about emigration experiences and about belonging or not belonging," says Esti. "Pro-Basque people want independence. Most people are involved in one side or the other -- everyone has an opinion. The issue is constantly in the newspapers, while people often see similarities between the Basque story and the North of Ireland."

Esti says both sides of the divide face discrimination; the Basques because of their strong accents, and the blow-ins to the region because they are perceived as foreign.

So, perhaps because of her experiences growing up in a society where opinion was divided, Esti was able to keep an open mind when it was suggested she might try Rolfing, a little-known therapy, to help her back problems.

She had struggled for nearly a decade following her seaside accident. Her back was always sore, and any additional exertion would cause even more discomfort.

"You learn to live with the pain," she says, but it wasn't easy.

Her friends were so conscious of her problem they would give her gift tokens for massage sessions. Then, in 2008, Tony Walsh, one of Eoin's friends, said Esti might benefit from Rolfing, a deep-tissue technique he practised.

He describes Rolfing as "a systematic, hands-on approach to balance the body around posture, alignment and movement. Its goal is to create functional and structural changes within the body that help free the body from limitations, injury and pain."

So Esti decided to give it a go as she had recently become pregnant and had been warned that the pain could get worse as the pregnancy advanced.

She signed on for a course of 10 treatments. "The first three sessions Tony works around the tissue that surrounds the muscle. Then he goes deeper for the next six treatments," she explains. "He also works on other parts of the body -- the idea is to work with all the muscles."

Esti says it's not the usual passive form of massage, but one in which the individual client's needs are addressed.

She says it's not painful, although a good deal of pressure may be applied.

"It's very different to any massage I've ever had. He made me very aware of the connection that exists between all the muscles. For example, when he worked on the hip area I could feel pain being released in my back. I experienced that sense of everything being connected when he was Rolfing."

Esti is certain the treatment was successful. "At the end of it all I was pain-free," she says. "One day, not so long after the sessions had ended, Eoin turned to me and said I hadn't asked him to rub my back in a long while. And that was true; I was quite surprised."

As the pregnancy progressed Esti took additional care of herself by doing yoga and Pilates. After the birth of her son, Iefan Connolly, in July 2009, she had three more sessions of Rolfing and is now pain-free again.

"The odd time I have a small twinge, but that is not pain," Esti says. "These days I am also very aware of my posture. You feel so much better if you have good posture -- you have so much more energy. We should teach our children about good posture at school."

As she heads out into the bustle of Grafton Street I can see she has learned her lessons well: this attractive, raven-haired mother glides along with a straight back and her head held high -- and she looks happy.


Tony Walsh, tel: (087) 913-0981, or see

Sunday Independent

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