A Patient’s Journey
Columbia Daily Tribune – June 5, 1998
by BRENDAN GILL of the Tribune’s staff
The first time Dora Hein met Mark Starr, her back was bent over like a horseshoe.
The 88-year-old from Boonville was suffering from lower back pain that was crippling her, and she had tried four other doctors before coming to Starr. The other doctors told her that back surgery was imminent.
“I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t stand, I couldn’t sleep,” Hein said. “I was taking so many pain pills that I thought it would kill me…. I was practically in a wheelchair.”
Starr thought she might have a hormonal deficiency, judging from her brittle fingernails and dry skin. After examining her, the doctor’s suspicions were confirmed, and he diagnosed her as having hypothyroidism, a hormone deficiency.
It took three months of correcting her hormonal output before Starr “needled’ her muscles. He inserted needles in her lower back to increase the blood flow and break up scar tissue and tight muscles. He also prescribed a regimen of stretching and limbering exercises.
After six months of treatment with Starr, her back was straighter and her life fuller. She’s back at work in her garden and doing polkas, waltzes and two-steps at dances. She’s able to do all this after considering using a walker only six months ago.
“I have no idea what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t met” Starr, Hein said. “I think I would have been a nursing home patient. Now, I have full range of motion.”
Starr’s methods are not used at many hospitals, but the doctor hopes that medical schools will begin paying attention to his success. His healing techniques, which cost $200 on an average visit, are not used at University Hospital, but assistant professor of anesthesiology Bob Fisher thinks Starr’s procedures are sound medicine. “There is a lot of theory and experimental evidence to back up what he does,” Fisher said.
According to Starr there are four different types of muscle pain. They include pain from muscle spasm, muscle tension, muscle deficiency and trigger points. Trigger points are small hard modules in muscles that can cause pain and spasm if stimulated.
These four kinds of pain were originally discovered by Hans Kraus, the famous orthopedist who founded modern sports medicine, popularized rock climbing and treated President John Kennedy’s back problems. Starr is a Kraus disciple, having studied under him in New York City before the revolutionary physician died in 1996.
Kraus stressed the importance of working with the muscles rather than going through painful and expensive surgeries. Today, Starr believes, like Kraus did, that 80 percent of all muscle injuries do not require going under the knife. The doctor, who graduated from the MU medical school, emphasizes movement and stretching for treating muscle pain.
“Bed rest was an anathema to Kraus,” Starr said. “He also said that muscles are like horses — they have to move. If you immobilize them, they atrophy, they shrink…. Mobilization is the key to healing.”
Another key to healing is the use of ethyl chloride, which is basically a cold spray that numbs a strained or sprained muscle, allowing it to move again. It also helps to reduce swelling.
Phil Stelzer, a 56-year-old mortgage broker, heard about Starr’s methods from his friends. Stelzer had suffered a lifetime of muscle injuries that led to four knee surgeries, some of which left him unable to walk up steps.
In June of 1997, he tore ligaments in his left leg and injured his lower back in a fall off a loading dock that required him to go to the hospital on a stretcher. Osteopathy doctors were encouraging him to get a knee replacement. He resisted the notion of having plastic replace his knee joints, so he decided to try Starr’s treatment.
Starr needled his injured muscles and Stelzer felt immediate relief. It came at a price, though. The pain from the injections was terrible. “You’ve got to get a good hold on the table and know it’s not like going to the prom,” Stelzer said. “If you want to go back to the ballet, you’ve got to pay the piper.”