Monday, June 19, 2006

Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment in Action: Helping Athletes

Oilers' Murray makes amazing comeback

Associated Press

EDMONTON, Alberta - Rem Murray's head shook and twitched as he recounted his long, hard journey from forced retirement to the Stanley Cup finals.

Those involuntary movements aren't ideal for an elite hockey player, but they stand as a major improvement over the condition the veteran NHL forward was in two years ago.

Back then, Murray could no longer hide a worsening condition that bothered him for a few months and finally landed him in an emergency room in Toronto. His neck locked into a frozen position against his left shoulder and couldn't be moved.

Now with the help of Botox injections and loyalty from the Edmonton Oilers, Murray and the club he broke in with are enjoying a spring no one will soon forget.

"There were several days where I felt like throwing my head through a wall," said Murray, who rejoined the Oilers in March in time for their unexpected run to the finals. "I never really got to the point where I said, 'Why me?' or things like that. I tried to keep as positive as I can and look for answers."

Murray began feeling his head start to lean uncontrollably to the left in the fall of October 2003. He was in his first full season with the Nashville Predators and decided to play through it.

As he did, he also kept what he was feeling a secret. He was 31 and enjoying the prime of his career.

"It's scary because you don't know what's going on with your body and you can't control it," Murray said. "I continued to play and it continued to progress to the point where it was really affecting the way I was playing."

He had gotten off to a good start, scoring eight goals and adding nine assists in 39 games. But all was not right.

Not only was his performance on the ice starting to slip, suddenly everyday activities were becoming more difficult.

"It was pretty low," he said. "It was something that was very painful. Just doing any menial task like reading a newspaper or anything like that was impossible. I was fortunate enough to have two little kids at the time to take my mind off of it quite a bit."

That changed shortly after.

Following a 6-0 loss at Detroit in early January 2004, Murray was giving a postgame interview - describing how Curtis Joseph stopped his scoring chance in the second period. That wasn't the most important thing on his mind because as he talked he found he couldn't keep his head still.

"I figured at that point I'd better tell someone," he said. "We played in Toronto the next night. I went to the emergency room and I was lucky - extremely lucky - that there was a neurologist on call that night who diagnosed me immediately."

Murray was told he had an incurable neurological movement disorder called cervical dystonia. The lucky part was a quick and accurate diagnosis - something that often eludes those afflicted.

He returned to Nashville and saw two other neurologists who prescribed Botox to relieve the tightening of the muscles.

"It was obviously devastating," said Ryan Smyth, who has been with the Oilers since the 1994-95 season. "He didn't know if he was ever going to play again. To be where he's at right now is awesome. He's a great teammate, he's a great person. He has a lot of respect within this locker room and other locker rooms."

After trying several methods including acupuncture and other natural procedures, Murray settled on the Botox injections which were helpful but didn't immediately offer a promise of a return to NHL status.

Murray filed his retirement papers and began collecting disability insurance.

The injections were given every three months, and combined with manual osteopathic treatment got Murray thinking about a return to hockey. Even if it wasn't the NHL, he wanted to give it a shot.
"I was trying to do everything I could to try to get back and play," he said amid the excitement of the Oilers dressing room.

It worked.

The intense physical therapy and the Botox improved Murray's condition made him fit enough to join Houston of the AHL. His play there got the attention of Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, who had him for two previous seasons.

On March 5, Murray was back in Edmonton, back in the NHL, and back where he never thought he'd be again.

"He's playing the type of hockey that he played before," MacTavish said. "Couldn't be happier for him. We like to in a lot of ways base our philosophy largely on loyalty. He's a guy that we have a great deal of loyalty to from the way that he played here."

Murray wasn't lured back to the NHL by money, and he isn't playing for much. His deal with the Oilers is worth only $450,000 but Murray has to return the $1 million disability insurance payout he received in 2004.

"He's playing for peanuts. He's not playing for anything but the love of the game," Smyth said. "There's a lot of negative things that were going on with him. It was a matter of him trying to find a way out of it. He did, but it was still a shocker to get back to this level and the inspiration that he had to want to play again."

All that drive made him the Oilers' nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given to a player that shows perseverance, dedication while overcoming great lengths to play.

Murray started slow upon his return to the NHL but finished the regular season with a goal and assist in nine games. He got stronger along with the rest of his teammates and played every game of the postseason - with increasing playing time - against Detroit, San Jose, and Anaheim en route to his first appearance in the finals.

"To come here and play in the NHL again after I thought I never would was huge for me," he said. "It was so much fun, and being able to be on this ride, it's almost surreal."


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