Dr. Annette Racaniello, DO, is a family practice physician based in Brookhaven, NY. She became an avid runner nearly 50 years ago, even competing in the 1976 Boston Marathon long before the recent running boom made marathoning a mainstream pursuit. But in 1990, Dr. Racaniello suffered a devastating accident while running. This led to a nightmare of 13 surgical procedures and extensive biomechanical dysfunction over the ensuing decades that robbed her of mobility, quality of life, and the ability to pursue her favorite recreational activity. But about two years ago, Dr. Racaniello discovered HawkGrips and the impact was literally life-changing. This Q & A delves further into Dr. Racaniello’s background story and the vital role HawkGrips have played in her recovery.
How would you describe your professional background and education?
I’m a board-certified physician who practices family medicine on Long Island. I attained my board certification in 1986 upon finishing my residency. Prior to medical school, I earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology.
How about your experience as a runner?
I started running in 1968 because it helped my asthma more than anything else. So I ran for years and then in 1990, I was out running when a dog pulled my left leg out from under me, which caused severe damage to both of my legs. I had such extensive soft-tissue injuries that I wasn’t able to run again for a very long time. My legs were just a mess. The original damage also led to many other injuries. For example, I later fractured my right patella when I fell off a porch because I didn’t have sufficient balance. I also fractured my right femur while trying to run on a motorized treadmill when my right foot hit the roller. In addition, my left posterior tibialis tendon eventually needed to be surgically reconstructed, and I’ve had multiple other foot and ankle surgeries while attempting to regain normal function.
What are some of the different therapeutic treatments you received in the past?
After so many surgeries, I was just loaded down with scar tissue. So I went through all the typical exercises and treatments, including physical therapy. Then it dawned on me that I should try extensive soft tissue work on my legs to help alleviate the scar tissue. So I experimented with many of the different options available, including my hands, various massage sticks, and whatever else I could find. Eventually I started reading about instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) and decided to give that a shot. At first, I tried a couple options on the market that were one-unit tools. Those didn’t work, because in my opinion you really need the right instruments for the right parts of the body to mobilize tissues in the right way. With a one-tool-fits-all concept, you can’t really mobilize the soft tissue in the way you need to around a joint without causing damage to that joint.
So I continued to explore different options, and I looked into the Graston tools because those tended to be pretty prominent. But I really didn’t want to take a class to learn how to do IASTM because of the previous training and clinical knowledge I already had. So I initially contacted HawkGrips in part because they allowed clinicians to buy instruments without needing to take a proprietary class. That was approximately two years ago, and once I received the instruments it was obvious to me that I could use them on my own because I understood so much already about soft tissue massage. With the training I had in different kinds of myofascial release and other similar techniques, I just figured out what to do with the instruments by looking at them and determining how I wanted to treat each particular body part.
I immediately became very impressed by the way HawkGrips instruments worked and fit in my hands. I think the cross-hatch grip is their biggest advantage over competing products because even when your hands are a little slippery, HawkGrips won’t fall out of them. Beyond that, when I started using them it was shocking how even after the first day I began getting more motion in my legs than I had in years. I’ve been using HawkGrips on myself almost every day since then, as well as with my patients. When these instruments are applied in the right way to the right indications, you can really help a lot of people regain mobility. But to get the best results, what I’ve found is the instruments should be utilized as a conjunctive therapy. You can’t just use them and avoid doing physical therapy and exercises. Because you have to lengthen a muscle to open up a joint to motion, and then strengthen the muscles around it or you won’t get the intended results.
For what conditions have you utilized HawkGrips with patients?
I use them on quite a few patients with various conditions who have previously tried all the conventional treatments. I’ve treated people with plantar fasciitis and different types of arthritic problems in the hands and feet. I find that treatment with HawkGrips not only works but is gentle. It minimizes the amount of medication I need to prescribe for patients and maximizes the amount of motion they can regain.
What are some physical activities you personally can do now thanks to HawkGrips?
I’m thankfully walking more normally now and the range of motion I’ve regained in my joints gets better every day. Without realizing it, I was probably the perfect candidate for these instruments because of what happened to me. The original and subsequent injuries were so catastrophic that nobody could tell me how to fix them, so that’s why I had to do it myself. I’m almost back to running independently at this point, and am already able to run on a machine that minimizes the stress on my joints. I also just started doing a 10-mile walk every Sunday. So I’m getting back to normal again, as a result of hopefully correcting all the biomechanical problems with my legs.
I had tried so many different treatments over the course of decades and reached a point where I really needed to do something different. That’s why I read everything I could get my hands on, pertaining to any healthcare discipline. What I realized was most treatment plans require a lot more than just what a particular discipline will do. For example, a physical therapist will treat you according to a physical therapy protocol. Every profession has its own take on something. But when you read everybody’s take on a situation, you realize there are more things you could do to help a patient get better. So from all the different disciplines, I try to put together a cohesive package and then determine how to fix a patient by using every method available.
I’ve developed a theory about the biomechanics of perfect balance, based on the idea that everybody has minor structural deviations from normal. These deviations typically won’t have a negative impact if you don’t do anything strenuous. But if you start an endurance exercise, that little imbalance could cause a big problem. The key is to identify the imbalance and then figure out how to minimize it, because typically there are all kinds of options. Then hopefully you can keep the person moving while avoiding any significant problems.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think HawkGrips are designed very efficiently and really enable patients to regain pain-free movement. They also help clinicians or patients who self-treat with the instruments because they don’t fatigue the practitioner. Providing soft-tissue massage without an instrument can really hurt your fingers, wrists and hands, so HawkGrips help prevent that. But it’s important to remember there are times when you’ll need to use your hands and fingers to treat a given body part. The instruments are best utilized in addition to your hands, rather than exclusively, but they’re definitely a great extension of your hands.
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