By Constance Garcia-Barrio
During a rehearsal of the Nutcracker Ballet in 2003, some Pennsylvania Ballet dancers stretched, others did “pliés,” and still others beelined to the massage table of Mt. Airy resident Paul Millwood.
“There’s a short time between acts, so you have to work fast,” said Millwood, 51, a member of the American Massage Therapy Association and owner of Restorative Muscle Therapy. “When the principal dancer told me she wasn’t hitting her arabesques, I worked on her for about 10 minutes and released restriction in the muscles surrounding the hip.” When she returned to the rehearsal, she could do the position that had eluded her.
Whether Millwood works with dancers, athletes or people recovering from injuries, he relies on touch. “I don’t deny the value of MRI’s and CAT Scans, but palpation, the art of diagnosing by touch, is being lost,” he said. “A well trained hand in assessment mode sees as if it had eyes. For example, it discerns different qualities of temperature, such as heat from inflammation or coolness from poor circulation.”
Millwood graduated from the Utah College of Massage Therapy and passed the National Board Certification exam, but restoring by touch seems to have come to him as a birthright. A fourth-generation healer, he was born in Jamaica in St. Andrew Parish on the western edge of Kingston. In childhood, he worked under the tutelage of his grandmother, Adrianna Louise Millwood, a traditional Jamaican healer. “Someone in the community would refer you to her when you really needed help,” he said. “You moved in for a few days, sometimes because of a physical ailment, sometimes because of a nervous breakdown. My grandmother also made protective talismans for people, and she was instrumental in bringing telephone service and electrical lines to the community. She used to say, ‘I’m a well-beknownst woman.’”
Mrs. Millwood would gather herbs to make ointments and liniments, and then have Paul rub them on her patients. “This task, done hundreds of times, taught me the nuances and value of therapeutic touch,” he said.
By 1971, economic opportunity had brought the four Millwood brothers, including Paul, and their parents to Germantown. He attended St. Francis of Assissi School. “My first vivid memory is of snow,” he said. “On the way home from school one day my brother Calvin and I played with fresh snow with our bare hands. When I got home, my fingers were burning. For years I thought of snow as burning like fire.”
St. Francis made Millwood feel welcome and provided a stepping-stone to George Washington High School. After graduating in 1979, he enlisted in the Marines, where he repaired military vehicles. He made a smooth transition to civilian life four years later working as a mechanic at Fred’s Cycle Shop near Broad and Hunting Park.
Millwood not only faced the challenges of mechanics but those of life head on. He married, later divorced and reared his son, Patrick, who attended Henry School in Mt. Airy. Once Patrick was grown, Millwood entered the Utah College of Massage Therapy. The yearlong program renewed and deepened his childhood knowledge of therapeutic touch, and he enjoyed the rigorous curriculum.
The program called for more than hours of doing massage. “We got to watch med students prepare and examine bodies at the university’s cadaver lab,” Millwood said. “We learned the body layer by layer.”
In 2002, a scant two years after graduating, Millwood had a revelation while treating a member of the United States Ski Team just before the Olympics. “He was a first-time client, and I was working on him cautiously, but he wanted aggressive stretching of his adductors, the muscles that pull the legs closed. He said, ‘Please understand that I ski at speeds of more than 60 miles an hour, and if I catch an edge at that speed, only my adductors can save me.’ That conversation helped me realize that high-performance athletes must address small problems fast to avoid injury,” said Millwood, who likes to ski, swim, bike and play tennis and soccer. “Prevention comes first.”
Some clients arrive with chronic pain, like the stellar lacrosse player had suffered a blow to the back 15 years earlier. “She lived in pain and could barely walk. I worked on her with hot compresses and an alcohol-based liniment I formulated myself. A week later, she was doing fine.”
Millwood attributes his success to a gift. “I try to be a good steward of the gift of touch, to reach to the point where the body trusts my touch. Knowing anatomy and physiology is just part of good stewardship of the gift.
“When a structure is ready to be healed, it presents itself to me,” said Millwood, who has worked with the New York City Ballet and at Philadelphia Sports Clubs. “It may be five or six layers deep in the body, but there’s a moment when that structure comes right to the surface of the skin. I stop the session and check with the client to be sure that I’m working on the problem area.”
Some people who come to Millwood hope to gain more mobility. One such man, who had knee replacements scheduled, decided to try Millwood first. “I did a detailed assessment of all of the muscles crossing his knee for this patient, who’s almost 70. Some were weak or tight, and had almost no pliability. Seven sessions brought him back to 80 percent of function.”
Millwood has just begun as a volunteer with Work to Ride, a nonprofit organization that provides activities centered on horsemanship for disadvantaged urban youth from ages 7 to 19. He gives massages to riders, and sometimes to horses in pain. Millwood’s specialties range from Russian Sport Massage to prenatal massage, yet his success goes back to his roots. “Whenever I work,” he said, “I feel my grandmother standing with me.”
For more information, email email@example.com, visit www.ibkinetcis.com (a website that’s being rebuilt) or call 215-867-9425 to learn more about the free knee care clinic the on second Saturday of the month.