As a caregiver, Stephanie Moniuk is extremely empathetic. “I hate seeing people in pain, which I suppose is ironic since I also punch people in the face.” It’s with this paradox that Moniuk runs her business, Knockout Wellness, which offers sports cupping therapy and pain coaching services in two locations, Woburn and Lowell. She’s also a competitive boxer.
The small business owner treats a variety of people but specializes in working with athletes who want to move better without pain. And just like her opening line, Moniuk’s story is anything but ordinary.
When she was in her twenties, Moniuk suffered from degenerative disc disease, multiple disc herniations, spinal stenosis, and arthritis, leaving her with chronic and debilitating back pain. As a last resort she sought surgery, but her doctor denied her request, explaining that surgery would only be a band aide that would need to be repeated over and over again to keep up with the progressive nature of her condition. Unwilling to live with chronic back pain, Moniuk turned to medical journals and research, which led her to better understand the science of pain and the mind-body connection.
“I learned that there are a whole bunch of people out there who experience physical pain in response to unconscious emotions (commonly referred to as a mind body disorder),” says Moniuk. “Once I discovered I was one of them, I was hell bent on not staying one. That research informs all of my work as a pain coach today.”
As part of this work, Moniuk helps people with chronic pain transform their lives by gaining insight into how the mind affects the body. “As a former chronic back pain sufferer, my coaching work is very personal to me,” she explains. “Aside from the pain, what I most remember is how lost, alone, and overwhelmed I felt. Once I found my way out I committed myself to helping others do the same.”
Moniuk not only relates to her patients from her personal experience with chronic pain, but also from the perspective of an athlete. Conquering her battle with chronic back pain wasn’t enough for Moniuk; she needed to conquer her battle with fear—of being judged, of failing, and even of succeeding. So, in 2015, she started training for competitive boxing. Just one year later, in 2016, Moniuk won her first amateur boxing fight (at age 45). Then, in 2019, she won the Rude Dog Master’s Division World Championship (at age 48).
“Fighting is the antidote to fear. I trust my coach implicitly,” she says. “He’s able to see things that I’m not and help me correct them. He has earned that trust and I know he has my best interests at heart. I always want my patients to have that level of trust in me.”
Moniuk also offers sports cupping, an ancient form of therapy that involves applying suction to the body to help treat injuries and heal stubborn musculoskeletal conditions. Cupping therapy is a sports recovery tool that improves mobility (the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion with control) and pliability (having soft tissue supple enough to move freely and repeatedly without injury).
“The sports cupping treatments I’ve developed are rooted in traditional anatomy and physiology but focus on the fascial connections between the parts of the body involved in sports-specific movement,” says Moniuk.
If you Google “cupping therapy,” endless pictures and videos abound showing marks left on the skin indicative of having suction applied. These marks can appear alarming at first, oftentimes looking like a significant bruise or deep reddening of the skin. But it’s not actually a bruise at all, and as with any form of alternative medicine, it’s important to get your information from a reliable source to accurately understand the practice at hand.
Moniuk explains that the suction produced by cupping pulls apart any stuck tissue in the problem area. “The blood vessels in the area widen, so the area is flooded with blood, interstitial fluids, and lymph. This healing bath helps both to heal the injuries and remove any cellular debris, which is responsible for the telltale marks you see on the skin. The lymphatic system removes the waste that’s been pulled up, allowing for more space and freedom of movement in the soft tissue. And a fun fact: cupping can affect tissue up to four inches deep in the body!”
The suction provides negative pressure (think the opposite of a massage, where pressure is being put in) but you still get the feeling of the muscle and tissue being pulled, manipulated, and opened up. This description of Moniuk’s therapy at work seems a fitting way to portray her own escape from pain and fear through education, caregiving, and boxing.
“My experience with chronic pain is what started me in this business,” she says. “I’m constantly thinking about what I wished for when I was going through my experience and using that insight to drive my decisions. I feel like I can talk the talk because I’ve walked the walk, and now I have a whole new relationship with fear.”
To learn more about Moniuk’s services or get in touch with her, visit her website, gameontherapeutix.com.