By Gina Calderone, PT, DPT
More than 20 years ago, I started in a traditional physical therapy setting primarily treating a high volume of patients with musculoskeletal pain in a busy orthopedic clinic. I’ll never forget the moment; I asked a male patient when his right shoulder pain started. The volume of his voice amplified and my ears tuned in so I could listen to a vital message.
“When my dad died…” he said. That’s all I remember. I can’t recall the physical mishap he believed caused the pain, I only heard his father died and instinctively understood he stored heartbreak. His chest had contracted and wrenched his shoulder inward radiating the sudden puzzling shoulder pain. It seems sudden because we are not trained in connecting our life experiences with our physical pain. But, our bodies contain the pain we are not ready to feel. From that moment, this truth revealed itself to me over and over.
I recognized that the feelings and memories of pain experienced by my patients outweighed their diagnoses. When I used massage and hands-on soft-tissue mobilization to unravel their tense muscles, stories of unresolved trauma and grief came up. Their body stories showed me, people in physical pain are in emotional pain.
I became deft at unraveling, listening, and deducing the true roots of pain. In health care, we fail to ask the right questions to lead us to the source of the pain. Instead we are stuck in old models of trying to silence the symptoms with prescription medications. These outdated practices have led us into this pain-demic.
For me, the body in pain became an emotional map to healing heartbreak and childhood trauma tragically repeated generation after generation. I followed the signals like a GPS to the invisible wound, the emotional and generational root of pain and disease. This is where real healing and rehabilitation occurs at the intersection of physical and emotional pain.
People with chronic pain kept walking through my door. They had been through the merry-go-round of failed pain medications, pain management procedures, and surgeries. They were tired. I had to do something different. The busy orthopedic clinic no longer felt like the right place for healing.
I hung up my white coat.
At the time, I was teaching Pilates privately outside of the clinic. I noticed how people were more interested in taking the time to do the work to restore their bodies instead of a fix-me attitude pervasive in the clinic. I sensed unearthing emotional pain in the body would require a different atmosphere, attitude and touch. I listened to my gut and took a leap of faith starting a cash-pay physical therapy practice, Centripetal Force Studio, inside a private health club in Southern California.
When I opened the doors to my studio, I dove headfirst into becoming the body detective connecting a constellation of clues to solve and heal mysterious chronic pain, diseases, and disorders. Looking back, I can see that the studio became a healing center and my research lab where I explored how life experiences deposited into the body.
I delved into the emotional system of the body—energy anatomy and energy medicine that involves hands-on treatment to balance heightened or depleted frequencies and patterns of pain and disease in the body. Together, my patients and I collaborated on untangling the past life experiences triggering physical pain and disease in their bodies. They, like me, were intrigued with how their memories of past trauma invaded the muscles and joints with constant signals of threat and danger that activated the body to tighten inward in a closed-fetal stance and movements to protect itself. This is when I began to tune into the autonomic nervous system (ANS) driving the fight-flight-freeze response in the body. Using a combination of physical therapy and energy anatomy, I could reboot the ANS in constant survival mode to rest-digest and repair to enable the body’s healing mode. As the pain ceased, my patients could sleep better, make healthy choices in eating and exercise. They shed the extra weight as their health improved. The impulsive survival way of life waned, and they could see the big picture finding purpose and love again in life instead of focusing on the endless loop of pain and depression. The ANS controls heart rate, breathing rate, body temperature, digestion, disposal, urinary, musculoskeletal, hormonal and sexual function. Once the ANS is reset, we could rebuild the body with Pilates and Gyrotonic focused on core strength and creating new neuromuscular pathways. I realized the time had come to go beyond musculoskeletal pain.
I became the person people call when they’ve exhausted the traditional healthcare medical model as well as dabbled in the alternative therapy world with little to no success healing the pain in their body. The initial conversation is typically about how they’ve done physical therapy, seen multiple doctors, tried acupuncture, injections cease to work, and they refuse to take pain medication and avoid surgery. They’re exhausted because they don’t sleep well, gained weight from a lack of exercise, and talked to a therapist for years. Unfortunately, they feel like they are falling apart, and they are confused why a friend has referred them to another physical therapist.
“She’s different,” they were told.
I explain to them “I am a physical therapist with a twist!” I have a completely different approach to treating pain in the body.
I help people understand the emotional root underlying their physical pain. We go through a person’s life experiences as well as their generational history that has most likely altered the physiology of their body. This is when they tell me that their mother just passed away, they got divorced last year, or deeper wounds such as past physical or sexual abuse. These are heavy burdens that we carry in the body and trigger the survival mode that must be felt, processed and rebooted. Or this unresolved trauma and toxic grief in the body manifests into physical pain, illness, and disease.
I’ve spent years conditioning a new generation to find value in understanding your feelings and how to express your emotions in your body while teaching adults the importance of releasing toxic stress from childhood or after a divorce or death of a parent. Spiritual chaos is a diagnosis I use often in my practice. When we can center ourselves and plug into the power of our emotions and our body, we will find ourselves feeling good and loving our lives. Pain vanishes because the body has no reason to signal crisis anymore, it doesn’t have to hide in your body any longer. You’re free!
Physical therapists go to school to learn how to treat pain in the body. If you really pay attention to your client, they will always tell you what’s troubling them, you just have to listen. I am more than a healthcare professional; I became a healer, and we need more healers in the healthcare system.
I welcome complex and mystery patient cases. I don’t believe in pain management; I deeply feel we are all meant to heal in this lifetime. Our body will expose what our mind can’t process, and it builds patterns originated from negative emotions and energy, which manifest into accidents, physical symptoms, pain, illness, and disease. Many of these patterns, I observed, are in the bloodlines and behaviors are learned causing many of the same diagnoses in our children and the generations after. If we choose to numb instead of healing our pain, it’s passed on to our children and they are responsible for sifting back through the generational lines to investigate the legacy of traumas and hurts to pave a path forward to health.
Today, as a physical and energetic therapist and founder of the Empowered Health Foundation, my work has touched and healed hundreds of children, adults, and families with multiple diseases and disorders that are deep-seated in childhood trauma. My research in uncovering how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) manifest in the body led to inventing Physioenergetic Therapy™, a unique solution that combines intensive investigation of life experiences and physical rehabilitation to restore the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and biomechanics disrupted by the unresolved trauma and toxic grief stored in the body. The ACEs are stressful or traumatic events experienced by children before age 18 that involve violence at home, neglect, physical or sexual abuse, divorce or having a parent with mental illness, incarceration, or substance dependence. These experiences hijack the body into behaving as if the trauma and crisis is still occurring. The goal of treatment is to restore the body to feel safe to heal.
I’m proud that I pioneered a path for people to heal using Physical + Energetic Therapy. My body can rest now knowing that people have a place to go and heal after their bodies have been sexually violated, neglected, physically and emotionally abused. There is a place and team of people who believe children with autism are our emotional compasses, the child with ADHD is actually the shock absorber of the family and most of all that we can heal cancer and addiction when we eliminate the antiquated fix-them mentality to instead focus on healing the root cause of unresolved trauma and work to transform the body in crisis for not just the patient, but the entire family and their home. You cannot heal in the house where you became sick. The only way out of this paindemic is to first heal our bodies and our families, repair our homes, rebuild our communities to elevate our world.
With this in mind, I’m focusing on building a research center that will join an integrative team practicing an innovative method of physical therapy to reverse the physiological effects of ACEs at the root of skeletal fractures, chronic pain, ADHD, depression, addiction, autoimmune disorders, and more life-threatening diseases such as cancer. This new method, Physioenergetic Therapy™, combines physical therapy to rehabilitate the traumatized body with measuring and restoring the energetic frequency of emotion that can be hyperactive or deficient. The goal of the research center is to establish a central hub for children, adults, and families to receive a multi-dimensional approach to treat physical and emotional pain to re-energize health, balance, and purpose.
My hope is this center will serve as a beacon of evidence-based research to power a new future for health care through clinical research, education, and outreach training of healthcare practitioners, school/extracurricular educators, and justice system advocates on the frontlines of childhood trauma recovery.
It’s going to take a major shift in healthcare to integrate emotional experiences into restoring the physical body in academia, hospitals, medical offices, and clinicians. However, I’m hopeful and believe the wiser and younger generations are ready for this transformation and mission.10