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Chronic Pain Specialist Matthew Lister and Align Studios

12/28/2018 11:00AM ● By Richard DuPertuis

Get in Align

January 2019
Story and Photos by Richard DuPertuis 

THEY SAY if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Orland resident Matthew Lister, a chronic pain specialist, knows how that feels. After he closed his fitness studio in Chico, scores of aching former Redding clients lit up his phone.

“They were clamoring for us to get up here,” he recalls with a grin. “When you keep people out of pain, they notice when you’re not there.”

Today, Lister and his staff manage pain and general health for men, women and children in gyms at two locations, Redding and Chico. Touting a holistic approach, they guide their clients to relief through corrections in posture, flexibility, strength and nutrition. All services are offered under the apt, simple business name, Align.

Lister says he opened a fitness studio because he saw a lack of leadership in the health field. “Specialized medicine is great for acute problems, but it leaves chronic pain sufferers out in the cold,” he says. “The experts say replace joints, cut cartilage, take medication, but what they don’t do is look at you as a whole person.”

He speaks from experience, beginning when he was 17 years old. Due to what he sees as poor supervision in high school, he shouldered a barbell and attempted to squat press 430 pounds. He succeeded for five of eight planned squats. Then he heard a snap, as three vertebrae in his lower back fractured.

“I felt a searing pain in my back,” he says. “Fortunately, the weights got caught by the safety bar when I fell. I lay there for 10 minutes, checking my body, before trying to get up. I couldn’t do it.”

Lister entered a life of pain. He had a three-level fusion in his lower back, and had to walk with a cane. He had planned to play football for UC Davis after high school, but that was over. “I was a very kinesthetic learner, very active, and now my identity had to change,” he says. “It’s like all the activities that you’re passionate about get ripped away from you.”

He turned to physical therapy studies at Chico State University, already thinking of ways to help others as he learned how to help himself. While still healing and still learning, he and a business partner opened a fitness studio in Chico. Today he is the sole owner of Align.

Step into the Align gym in Redding and right away you see something different. Sure, along the windowed wall there’s a row of familiar exercise machines, stationary cycles and treadmills, and up ahead a graying gent deadlifts an impressive barbell with audible effort. But most of the people here seem to be taking it easy, lying on their backs on the floor, knees up with their feet resting on a wall.

The weightlifter takes a break. Don Erb of Belle Vista, nodding at the group at the wall, says he started that way. “Honestly, when I first came here, I thought, ‘This is dumb,’” he says. “But I went with it. Then things started getting better and better. I had less pain at work.”

By better, he means coming from a broken back decades ago, telling a story that mirrors Lister’s. Today, he graduated to a straight barbell, deadlifting 95 pounds. He proudly calls out to an approaching coach, “This is the first time!”

The coach, Sam Barber of Chico, explains that the group at the wall is actually performing an exercise called the belt press. Each member holds a rubber pad between the knees, on which they exert a timed squeeze. Then there’s another timed exertion outward, against the belt strapped around their thighs. Toning gained from this counters muscle atrophy from sitting for long periods at a time.

Finished with her static back work, Karen Hafenstein of Redding stretches out on a table. “I exercised all my life, but incorrectly, which caused problems,” she says. 

“Align was the missing ingredient in my life,” she continues. “They focus on muscle balance on all four sides of the body.”

Mollie Flack of Palo Cedro has been coming to Align for about four months. “I want to walk without pain. I want to be in better shape, to go shopping, to play with my grandkids,” she says. “I was with a trainer for five years, but I overdid it. I kept getting injured.”

She credits Lister for keeping her from re-injuring herself, and she is already seeing positive results from treatment. “I’m starting to feel stronger,” she says. “I can stay on my feet longer. I have more energy.”

When it comes to energy, Lister is an inspiration. His manner is quick, upbeat and positive. Jokes fly often at Align, and he is first to laugh. He walks smoothly, balanced and strong. He can hit the floor in an instant for planking, and pop right back up to his feet.

It’s hard to believe he was ever so severely injured.

Align Redding just underwent renovation, removing a wall that allowed the gym floor to open to some 5,000 square feet. Lister plans to add a cutting edge computer lab with 3D imaging equipment to help his clients better understand their bodies and their needs, as well as help him better understand his own.

Asked if there’s still more for him to learn, he answers with a bright smile, “Always.” •

Align Redding • 1615 Placer St., Redding

Align Chico • 1188 E. Lassen Ave., Chico 

(530) 961-3983 •