In the old times, a rebèilleur or local healer was always present in the mountain villages. There were no schools to learn this art that was transmitted from father to son or from a rebèilleur to those in the village who seemed willing to undertake this activity. In Cogne for several generations this figure was carried on by the Bérard family of Epinel: Prospero, Riccardo and Santino were always available and very good.
In Valle d’Aosta there were several rèbèilleurs and still today there are some. The most famous and sought after was certainly Rolando di Valpelline: every day, in front of his door, a long queue formed of people who “put themselves in his big hands”. Often he was also called to go and heal people at the hospital.
What did rebèilleurs mainly do?
The best were able to reduce dislocations and even very complex fractures, furthermore they treated back pain with almost miraculous manipulations. It was generally said that there were nerves out of place. After fractions with arnica potions, grappa or marmot fat, the rebèilleur gave relief to patients with the use of a bandage.
Now we know that the nerves do not go out of place, but certainly the rebèilleurs placed tendons and muscles effectively. Not all the rebèilleurs had the gift of gentleness: in the waiting room (kitchen or corridor) you could hear screams so acute that made someone turn his or her heels and go home.
The doctors of that time trusted and esteemed some of these characters so as to send the needy patients to them.
When I was a child, my father often took me to the rebèilleurs Riccardo, Rolando and Notto. When I was thirteen, I spent a spring with Notto Bonadé from Charvensod helping him in his work as a breeder. Many people used to come and see him every evening and I was deeply attracted and interested by his work.
They surely weren’t learnt and they didn’t go to school as it is required nowadays, but with their passion and their open heart they were able to alleviate pain and suffering and to win the esteem of the whole country and beyond.
Rodolfo, driven by the desire to analyse the advantages and sometimes the disadvantages of the manipulative techniques of the rebèilleurs, was lucky enough to meet and attend the courses of prof. Ivano Colombo on fibrolysis.
Professor Colombo (graduated and specialized in neurology and physiatrics) was for many years the head of the department of Rehabilitation physiotherapy at the Niguarda hospital in Milan. He also worked extensivly for the Milan football players. He is currently more than 80 years old and continues to treat through fibrolysis.
He developed this technique together with the Swedish physiotherapist Kurt Hegman: with special underwire, tendons and muscle bands are hooked, unstitched and placed in their correct seats.
After traumas on certain tendons and muscles, fibrotic nodules and adhesions may be created which hinder the flow of the affected tissues, blocking their lubrication and movements. This causes acute pains which, if left untreated, in time tend to become chronic. The detachment through the massage and the use of appropriate underwires is a very interesting form of healing.
This is probably a scientific approach to the work that our rèbeilleurs have played over the centuries.
Rodolfo, with interest and passion, has tried to study the old rebèilleurs approach and to update on new post-traumatic techniques such as Fibrolysis and modern Taping bandages.