Boosting Power

The Rossiter System's powerful stretches are new tools for PT

By Sue MacDonald

Richard Rossiter wants physical therapists to think differently about their work. He wants them to see it in a new light—then work with a new perspective. That new perspective is rooted in a powerful two-person stretching system that he developed as a result of his own encounters with chronic pain—an approach that actively involves the therapist and patient in recovery, healing and enhanced performance. After spending more than a decade in the United States as a workplace health consultant specializing in reducing overuse and repetitive stress injuries, Rossiter is now bringing his two-person stretching program, The Rossiter System, to the physical therapy community throughout the United States."In today's health care environment, every physical therapist and clinic is under pressure to work harder and smarter, to produce better results at a lower cost in less time," said Rossiter, a connective tissue specialist. "The real strength of The Rossiter System approach to pain relief is that is accomplishes all three of those goals. It helps therapists get profound results quicker, with active participation by the patient or client. For many people, it's a whole new way of thinking about maintaining and helping the body recover. It requires an open mind, but the results speak for themselves."

Branching Out to PTs

In late 2002 and early 2003, Rossiter's workshops have been approved as a continuing education provider for American Physical Therapy

Association affiliates in five states: Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Illinois and New York.

His goal is to help physical therapists and physical therapist assistants learn The Rossiter System techniques so that they canachieve the same results in their practices that he's been able to realize in U.S. factories since the late 1980sfewer injuries, quicker recovery from injury, a team approach to injury prevention and reversal, and quick, cost-saving approaches to relief and recovery.

In many cases, workers' compensation costs dropped by 50 percent within the first year in factories that implemented The Rossiter System, and injuries and costs remained low while the program was in effect. "For me, the beauty of the system is that it also saves wear and tear on the therapist's body, helping professionals continue to pursue the careers they love without worrying about their own bodies wearing out over time," said Rossiter.

He should know. In the 1970s, when Rossiter was in his 20s, he began looking for nonpharmacological and nonsurgical approaches to relieve chronic shoulder pain that nearly cut short his career as a commercial helicopter pilot.

Eventually, he found relief from Rolfing, a deep-tissue, fascial technique taught at the Rolf Institute in Boulder, CO. Based on his own recovery, he enrolled at the institute and became a certified advanced Rolfer, setting up a private Rolfing practice in Little Rock, AR. Eventually, Rossiter worked with a neurosurgeon to develop powerful two-person stretches to prevent and alleviate chronic pain in patients with chronic repetitive—use problems.

Team Approach

Unlike static or passive one-person stretches, the Rossiter System involves two-person stretches that change the nature of the body's head-to-toe connective tissue system.The therapist and patient each have a role in a typical Rossiter System workout. The therapist is called the coach, or the trainer/facilitator, who understands how to stretch connective tissue to relieve pain and who directs each workout with specific instructions, guidance andencouragement. The patient is the person in charge (PIC) of his own pain, an active participant who knows where pain resides and who must work hard to move and stretch, with the coach's guidance, to relieve it. During a typical Rossiter workout, the coach/therapist uses his foot to add weight at specific areas of a patient's body, while the patient executes a set series of directed stretches and movements. Each technique targets an area of connective tissue. The therapist's foot adds weight and warmth to the area, providing the necessary resistance and warmth to make the underlying tissue pliable, flexible and precisely ready to be stretched under the body's optimum conditionsunder the patient's control, with each technique having a set time limit and predetermined number of repetitions.The patient's specific and directed stretches elongate entire areas of tissue and increases necessary blood flow, unpinching nerves and bringing the necessary "space" to joints, so that they can move more freely and without resistance or difficulty.

The Rossiter System's 100-plus individual techniques have names such as Elbow Torque, Hole in the Shoulder, Knee Wave and Rocking Ham, and they're showcased in Rossiter's book, Overcoming Repetitive Motion Injuries the Rossiter Way (1999, New Harbinger Publications). Rossiter points out that his training and background exposed him to many of the same concepts and anatomical teachings as physical therapists, but he's simply given those ideas a new thrust and focus. In his own private Rolfing practice, he and his patients achieved much greater success in a short time by working together. Pain resolved quickly. People went back to work without undergoing unnecessary or risky medical treatments. And, with Rossiter System knowledge under their belt, they had a way to prevent future injuries, Rossiter said.

Foot Power: A Breakthrough

When he moved his program into the U.S. workplace, Rossiter saw similar results and the added benefit of employees involved in and responsible for their own recovery and healing. The breakthrough came when he began using his foot as the source of power, weight and resistance for his two-person stretches.

"As traditional therapists and bodyworkers, our current 'tools' are our elbows, our fingers, our thumbs, arms and shoulders. We learn 'touch'through our hands," Rossiter pointed out. "But as tools, they're often too small for the tasks we're given, and the machines that help us out aren't able to accomplish the work fully or sense the same things that we can feel with our hands. "The Rossiter System teaches you how to 'touch' by using your feet," he said. "The foot is intrinsically more powerful and easier for you to use as a therapeutic tool."

Using the foot has added benefits, Rossiter said. First, it reduces the physical demands of the work of a therapist, helping to prolong careers by avoiding and reducing the incidence of sore hands, achy shoulders, stiff necks, elbow pain, low back problems and other overuse injuries in therapists. Secondly, the use of the foot directly monitors the progress and anatomy of the patient—something a machine cannot do.

"In a relatively short amount of time, the foot becomes a very powerful tool and sensor," he said. "Not only can you monitor the area of tissue being worked on, you can tell when the tissue is 'done' by the way it feels and moves. This is a huge advantage over other approaches or techniques commonly used to assess progress and results."

Wide-Ranging Results

Remarkable in their immediacy, the techniques can target common types of overuse injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, low back pain, elbow tendonitis, trigger finger, rotator cuff problems, tenosynovitis, epicondylitis, reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome, fibromyalgia, thoracic outlet syndrome, hamstring pulls, sprains and strains, knee pain, shoulder/neck pain, range-of-motion limitations and more.

To date, most of Rossiter's outreach to the bodyworker community has been targeted to fellow Rolfers, but he's now expanding his workshops to a variety of other health care professionals, including PTs, occupational therapists, athletic trainers, sports and occupational medicine specialists and others.

One former athlete who began using the techniques is Craig Swan, a former pitcher for the New York Mets (1972-1985) and a certified Rolfer since 1985. "All athletes know the importance of stretching," said Swan, whose private practice is in Stamford, CT. "The Rossiter techniques provide better, quicker results than standard stretches because two people work together to loosen and lengthen a huge volume of connective tissues—far more effective than what an athlete, trainer or physical therapist can do alone."

"The Rossiter System provides incredible tools that help relieve chronic pain that (other approaches) can't seem to relieve, release or reach, and that's what I've been looking for," said Vickie Cashman, a Rolfer in Colorado who took Rossiter's four-day workshop in the fall of 2002. "The Rossiter techniques, in a very short period of time, get between the bones, around the bones, and deep under the joints—the kind of places you can't reach with your hands."

Connective Tissue's Role

Rossiter preaches the importance of maintaining and stretching the body's connective tissue, because of the role it plays in aiding and providing what he calls the four constants to the bodycommunication, nutrition, movement and space. "You'll know your pain is connective-tissue related if it leaves immediately after these simple stretches and techniques," said Rossiter. "If your pain moves, or if it changes, you're dealing with trauma to the body's connective tissue. As professionals, I think we often overlook the importance of connective tissue, not only as a cause of chronic pain but also as a major source of recovery and improvement."

Rossiter's workshops also hold CEU approval by the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) and the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB).

Thinking Outside the Box

Rossiter acknowledged that his approach to pain relief and patient recovery is a bit unconventional, but he's seen results for more than a decade, both to his own body and to thousands of factory workers who continue to use the Rossiter techniques daily in their own offices and factories.

"Some of the most satisfying experiences I've had involve seeing people of all walks of life, with all types of pain, working hard to solvetheir own problems—with nothing more than my assistance," he said. "After we've completed a successful workout together, I can shake the person's hand, look them in the eye and truthfully say, 'Way to go, you did a good job.' Each client becomes an active participant in pain relief and recovery. It's like that popular saying—I'm not just feeding patients, I'm teaching them to fish."

Richard Rossiter, a certified advanced Rolfer, is founder and CEO of Rossiter & Associates Inc. (, a health care consulting company that specializes in programs to reverse and reduce pain, cost and disability associated with overuse injuries. He is based in Cincinnati, OH.

Sue MacDonald is a freelance health writer in Cincinnati, OH.

Copyright ©2003 Merion Publications, 2900 Horizon Drive, King of Prussia, PA 19406 • 800-355-5627, Publishers of ADVANCE Newsmagazines

Originally published in: Advance for PT, Vol. 14 •Issue 14 • Page 35 (June 23, 2003)

Republished on this website with permission of the author.