Stretched out on a massage table in his Long Island City condominium,fullback Tony Richardson closed his eyes. Over the next hour, he groaned and grimaced and eventually fell asleep, as Lisa Ripi, the traveling acupuncturist, went to work.
Ripi poked and prodded Richardson on a recent Tuesday, using blue and pink needles, until his body resembled a road map marked with 120 destinations. “SportsCenter” provided mood music. Afterward, Richardson said his soreness had mostly vanished.
“They always tell me I’m their little secret,” Ripi said. “I feel like the little mouse who takes the thorns out of their feet.”
Professional football players partake in a violent game, and as the season progresses, they spend more time in training rooms than on practice fields. They visit chiropractors and massage therapists, practice, undergo electronic stimulation and nap in hyperbaric chambers.
Yet relatively few receive, which brings smiles to the faces of Ripi’s clients. They remain fiercely territorial. They fight over Fridays because it is closest to their games. They accuse one another of hogging, or trying to steal her.
All swear by Ripi’s technique, which she described as closer to Japanese-style acupuncture than to traditional Chinese methods. She focuses less on established points and more on sore areas, using needles to increase blood flow, relaxing muscles tightened in the weight room.
Players say her sessions are their most important treatment. They feel more loose, more flexible. Richardson finds acupuncture uncomfortable but said it made an immediate 10 percent difference. For sculptured bodies tuned like racecars, 10 percent constitutes a significant improvement.
As Pittsburgh linebackersaid: “I’m not the same if I don’t have it. It’s like getting the game plan. You can’t go into the week without either one.”