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Allentown therapist stretches to help clients, students feel better

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 10:39 a.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Tasso Spanos of Pittsburgh talks about stretching to alleviate headaches during a 'Feeling Better' stretch class inside St. Stephen's Church Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Spanos started the class more than 30 years ago as a way to help people reduce pain.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Peggy Adams of Leet takes part in a 'Feeling Better' stretch class inside St. Stephen's Church Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. The class was started more than 30 years ago as a way to help people reduce pain.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Eleanor Thomson of Edgeworth stretches her back during a 'Feeling Better' stretch class inside St. Stephen's Church Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. The class was started more than 30 years ago as a way to help people reduce pain.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Hartley Walker of Edgeworth and other attendees stretch during a 'Feeling Better' stretch class inside St. Stephen's Church Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. The class was started more than 30 years ago as a way to help people reduce pain.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Deb Erb-White stretches while holding her 7-month-old daughter Emily during a 'Feeling Better' stretch class inside St. Stephen's Church Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. The class was started more than 30 years ago as a way to help people reduce pain.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Eleanor Thomson of Edgeworth and other attendees stretch their necks during a 'Feeling Better' stretch class inside St. Stephen's Church Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. The class was started more than 30 years ago as a way to help people reduce pain.

Tasso Spanos is 81 years old, but he said he can't retire, be sick or die.

“Too many people depend on me,” he said after teaching a “Feeling Better” stretching class last week in St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley.

A certified myofascial trigger point myotherapist, Spanos has been teaching the class for more than 30 years, based on techniques he learned from Dr. Janet Travell, former personal physician for the late President John F. Kennedy, and Bonnie Prudden, one of the first exercise instructors on television in the 1950s and '60s and author of many pain reduction, myotherapy and fitness books.

Spanos of Allentown, formerly of Glen Osborne, said the techniques, which involve manipulating muscle (myo) trigger points and connecting tissues (fascial), as well as specific stretches, helped him, too.

He was able to bounce back more quickly than doctors thought possible from a nearly fatal heat stroke in Greece 20 years ago, where he watched others die of the same ailment right in front of him, he said.

The techniques helped him again after he suffered a stroke two years ago while working on a patient.

At one point, he went to stretch class as a student in his walker and kept working on the stretches until he was again able to teach the class himself.

The techniques have helped his wife, the Rev. Becky Spanos, 75, a semi-retired Anglican minister who suffers from fibromyalgia, which causes long-term, body-wide pain and tenderness in the joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues.

It was Spanos' desire to help her that got him interested in the therapy after seeing Prudden on tour with her book, “Pain Erasure: The Bonnie Prudden Way.”

Sue Neff of Glen Osborne has been attending Spanos' classes for more than 20 years. She said the moves — featuring more than 100 stretches in a chair, standing up and on the floor — keep her moving and help control her Parkinson's disease.

Spanos said with the trigger point therapy, he can make people feel better in as little as 2 minutes, and they will continue to feel better if they keep doing the stretches after. The stretches alone will help, he said, but it takes longer to feel relief.

Jane Miller of Avalon, who teaches the class every Friday, said Spanos has helped her to avoid surgery and recover from several injuries.

“After less than 5 minutes of pressing the muscles of the neck and shoulders with his fingertips, I could actually turn my head far enough to see him sitting behind me,” she said.

Spanos said his St. Stephen's students are among more than 7,000 people he has helped over the years in his office in the city's South Side neighborhood; through more than 500 home visits in and around Sewickley; summer classes in Chautauqua Institute in New York; and at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. He has treated more than 30 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tasso, who grew up in Braddock, contributed to the book “Clinical Mastery in the Treatment of Myofasical Pain,” by editors Lucy Whyte Ferguson and Dr. Robert Gerwin; made a “Feeling Better” stretching video and several YouTube stretching videos; and has presented lectures all over the country.

Once the owner of Opus One, former audio store he ran on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh for 30 years, Spanos has shown his techniques on local television shows.

He and Richard Finn of Penn Hills co-founded the former Pittsburgh School of Pain Management, which is now included in the Institute of Medical Careers in Penn Hills. Spanos said his main goal with his patients is to help “fix ‘em up,” and “do it quickly.”

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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