Tag Archives: pain management

Massage and Headaches

Woman with headache screaming
Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash

“This project is such a headache!”

They’re so common that the term has become synonymous with an annoyance, but what are headaches, really? And can massage therapy really help?

Different types, different causes.

Headaches are pretty easily defined, and we all know one when we feel it: it’s a pain in the head. But not all headaches are created equal:

  • Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, with pain occurring on both sides of the head without other symptoms. The pain can range from very mild to severe.
  • Migraine headaches are often pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and hallucinations. Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an almost daily basis.
  • Cluster headaches are less common, and are generally experienced as severe pain around one eye. “Cluster periods,” during which many headaches occur during a period of time, are interspersed with longer periods without any symptoms.

Secondary headaches are not conditions themselves, but are symptoms of other conditions. These conditions can be as everyday as a sinus infection or conjunctivitis (pink-eye), or more serious, like traumatic brain injury, or meningitis. While the pain from secondary headaches can be managed, it’s important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for the underlying condition.

Headaches and Massage

The good:

Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to massage therapy. Not only does massage seem to reduce pain in the moment, but regular massage therapy also appears to increase the amount of time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis. This could be a result of helping to manage stress or underlying mechanical issues that can result in headaches, but there’s no solid science yet on precisely why massage helps, only that it does.

More good news!

It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that folks who experience regular headaches are also more likely to experience high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have found that massage can help with these issues, not just in the general population, but also specifically in people who live with chronic headaches.

Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit from massage. People with fibromyalgia, for example, who often experience headaches as part of their condition, can experience both pain and stress relief with regular massage therapy. While massage during a flare-up of symptoms may need to be modified to be more gentle, some people find that it can provide relief both for headache as well as for pain throughout the body.

The bad:

Massage therapy is wonderful and often helpful, but it’s not a cure for headaches. While some people just need a bit of rest or a drink of water (dehydration is a surprisingly common headache cause), other people continue to experience headaches all their lives. While people who experience headaches caused by stress or muscular tension can absolutely benefit from massage, migraines triggered by things like foods or hormonal changes probably won’t see an impact.

The ugly:

There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches. Fevers, as an example, often cause headaches as well as achy joints that could lead someone to want to receive massage, but this not only risks overly stressing a body that’s already fighting off an infection, it also has the possibility of spreading the illness to the massage therapist and anyone else they come into contact with. Headaches resulting from a recent head, neck, or back injury could also be made worse by a well-meaning massage therapist.

When there is the possibility of pain being caused by an illness or injury, it’s always best to seek out a physician’s opinion first. They can provide or recommend appropriate care for the issue causing the headache in the first place, and at that point you can ask them about whether it would be a good idea to receive a massage. Safe is always better than sorry!

Headaches can be a real, well, headache. But there’s help.

Sometimes a little change of environment is all that’s needed. If you have a headache and have been hunched over a computer for hours, try a stretch. A quick walk outside or a brief nap can help with a headache caused by eye strain. If you haven’t eaten or drunk anything all day, do that. It’s easy to get caught up in the business of our lives and forget to take care of our own basic needs.

For those who can take them, over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin can be helpful in treating a headache. Sometimes caffeine is recommended as well. For stronger headaches, medications prescribed by a physician can be a lifesaver to many people, enabling them to function at work and with their families when they might otherwise have been left incapacitated.

And then there’s massage therapy, of course. It’s not a magical cure-all, but for many people, it really does help manage the pain and stress of headaches. Are you one of them? Schedule your next massage, and let’s find out together.

How Much Should My Massage Hurt?

low back massage, massage therapist using elbowFolks seek out massage for many different reasons, including relaxation, stress relief, and pain relief. Right off the top, if you’re looking to relax or de-stress, a painful or uncomfortable massage is not the way to go.

Many of of our customers come in for massage looking for relief from muscle aches and pains. Often folks think that, to achieve this, the massage has gotta hurt. A lot. No pain, no gain! Right? We’ve all heard it, but is more pain the way to relieve pain? And if so, how much pain?

What do we mean by “hurt”?

Sometimes, when getting a massage, folks describe feeling a “good pain” or a “good hurt.” It’s an intense sensation, but it feels right. Like sweet relief. So pain isn’t maybe the right word to use to describe this sensation.

But sometimes, pain is just pain. And if you tune into your body, you may find yourself holding your breath, or clenching your jaw, tensing your muscles in an effort to avoid the pain.

Is pain helpful for relieving pain?

There is a difference between an intense or vigorous massage and a painful one. An intense feeling of “good pain” can be therapeutic. But a painful massage that causes you to tense your muscles in an effort to avoid the pain? Not so much.

So, how much should your massage hurt?

Not at all.

You may feel an intense sensation that many describe as “good pain” for lack of a better phrase. And that is perfectly normal and helpful.

But if you’re just feeling plain ol’ pain, if you’re holding your breath or clenching your fists, that’s no good. Tell your massage therapist if it hurts, or if you need less pressure in that area (or for the whole massage), or even if an area is too painful to be touched at all. We’re here to help you feel better, not worse.

Ready to schedule your massage? Book here.

 

Simple Shoulder Exercise for Less Pain

Got nagging pain in between your shoulder blades from working on the computer, texting, or doing yard work? Sure, massage can help, but we don’t always have a massage therapist handy when we need one!

I discovered this exercise this past week and I’m amazed by the pain relief after practicing just a few minutes:

You can read her article here: How to Get Great Shoulders!

So next time you have shoulder pain and your massage is too far away, try “The Quasimodo.” Don’t have a scheduled massage? Book one here.

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What is Ashiatsu?

Known as the “Deepest Most Luxurious Massage on the Planet,” Ashiatsu is a  profoundly relaxing massage that can be modified for light pressure to very deep. Basically, it’s a massage performed smoothly with my feet while overhead parallel wooden bars provide balance as I work.

You use your feet!?

Yes!  No worries though! I clean my feet before and after every massage and I take care to keep my feet smooth and soft.

So…you’re walking on people?…

I actually leave one foot on the massage table for balance and stability, while using the other foot to massage. By shifting my weight from one foot to the other I can easily adjust the amount of pressure to your comfort. Ashiatsu is not a “No Pain, No Gain” massage — your safety and well-being are my top concern.

Should I get an Ashiatsu Massage? 

Are you looking to relax or relieve stress? The slow, flowing strokes of an Ashiatsu massage make for a deeply relaxing experience.

Do you like firm pressure? The foot provides a more comfortable pressure, as opposed to pointy thumbs and elbows. Barefoot massage allows me to provide a deeper pressure than is possible using my hands.

Are you looking to relieve muscles aches and pains? The broad, consistent pressure of Ashiatsu is the perfect match for sore muscles.

Ashiatsu isn’t the right massage for everybody. And in some cases, massage altogether may not be right for you.  If you have any concerns, please discuss them with your therapist prior to scheduling a massage.

Some reasons you should not receive Ashiatsu:

  • You are pregnant or trying to conceive. (You’ll want to contact a prenatal massage therapist instead.)
  • You have had any type of implants in the last 9 months
  • You have osteoporosis or fragile bones
  • You are on blood thinning medication (including high doses of aspirin)
  • You are in cancer treatment or recovery (See more about oncology massage here.)

Again, if you have any concerns about whether Ashiatsu is right for you, please discuss them with your massage therapist. In most cases, even if you can not receive Ashiatsu, massage may be modified so it is appropriate for you.

 

 

The Importance of Touch

What have you touched today? Your alarm clock, a toothbrush, a doorknob?

We touch countless objects everyday. Can you remember the last time you touched another person? Was it today? Last week?

Do you feel anxious even thinking about touching someone? We aren’t a high touch society.  We don’t touch strangers and we may even feel weird touching our friends and family. Touch is often associated with sexuality. Maybe you worry about sending the wrong message.

Are we missing out by shying away from touch?

Why touch?

Touch can speak volumes when words fail us. We humans can communicate surprisingly well through touch. In one study, participants were able to communicate anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, sympathy, happiness, and sadness rather well.

Touch can help us feel more connected to others. It decreases stress, helps build trust, and improves our overall well being.

It is the best way to comfort someone.

Tips for touch

I’m not suggesting that you go out and hug a bunch of strangers. Context matters and some people don’t like to be touched. You may want to ask permission, but you know your relationships the best. Here are some ways you can reap the benefits of touch.

  • Hold hands with a loved one, give them a hug, or give them a hand massage. You can’t touch someone without being touched. Research suggests that the person giving a massage or a hug experiences the same reduction in stress as the person being touched.
  • Touch yourself.  You may be surprised how much you do this already. If you bang your knee, your first reaction is probably to rub it. If you have a headache, you probably massage your forehead. So go ahead, and give yourself a hug.
  • Cuddle up with your pet. Yep, petting your cat can decrease your stress.
  • Get a professional massage. We massage therapists are masters at communication through touch. Massage has a reputation for digging into to your muscles and “breaking up knots.” Sounds pretty aggressive, but massage is wonderful at comforting, soothing anxiety, and easing stress. Words fail to describe how great a professional massage is at telling your body it’s okay to relax and just be. You’ll just have to try it for yourself.

So don’t be afraid to reach out and touch someone!

5 Tips for Neck and Shoulder Care Between Massage Appointments

People with neck and shoulder issues often have their pain return before their next massage appointment. Work, play, and children all make demands on your body. A dull ache can quickly turn into a burning pain especially while working on the computer, doing yard work, folding laundry, or any of the other million things you do.

What can you do between professional massage appointments to take the edge off neck and shoulder pain? Here are some ideas.

Take a Break

Doing the same thing, like sitting at a desk, for long periods of time is hard on your body.  Try taking frequent, short breaks. It’s great if you can you can get up and move around a bit. But even if you’re chained to the desk, you can rock out a little Deskercise to stay loose (and entertain your co-workers).

Get the kids into it

Have a short yoga break together! There are plenty of videos made especially for kids, and they’re great for you too.

Heat it

Just 10-15 minutes of heat on your shoulders can make a huge difference in how your tissue moves and feels. You don’t need a fancy heating pad, you can DIY that. If you’re not the DIY type, I have some awesome microwaveable heat packs in the office that are perfect for this.


Self-massage

Give yourself a massage!  Just grab a tennis ball or a red rubber ball and check out these techniques.


Choose the right pillow

You spend about a third of your time in bed, be sure it’s cozy for your neck. Trust me, it makes a big difference. The right pillow at night can help you all day.


Little changes done consistently can make a huge difference in how you feel. See you at your next appointment!

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Got Pain from Sitting at a Desk?

Got Pain from Sitting at a Desk-

“Don’t your hands hurt?” I get asked this pretty often. But they don’t. Not really. If they start to hurt, I change how I’m doing things.

You want to know when my hands (and my neck, and my back) really hurt?  When I had a desk job. 8-hour days working at a computer, hunching, doing mostly data entry. Being so “busy” I worked through breaks and ignored my pain. Until it got really bad. Learn from my mistakes. Pain is your body’s way of saying “pay attention.”

Change it up

As much as you can, change up the way you do things. Stand up while you’re talking on the phone. Get a headset for your phone, so your neck isn’t in a weird position all the time. Raise your computer monitor (or set it on top of some phone books) so you don’t have to hunch over to see it. Starting to use my mouse left-handed made a huge difference for me. Sure it was difficult at first, but it gets easier if you keep it up.

Move your body

Get up and take a walk around the office. Do some neck stretches while you’re talking on the phone.

I remember feeling really silly, but I started doing yoga at my desk. At first, I would wait until the person across the hall from me got up to make copies. But then I didn’t really care. I would rather feel silly than be in pain! Or, get your coworkers involved. Take your “coffee” break together and do yoga instead.

Here are some of my favorite yoga videos to get you started. They come from YogaDownload.com*. The site offers several free 20 minute classes, classes you can  download for a few bucks, or monthly and yearly subscriptions. I love the variety and the convenience of being able to “take yoga anywhere.”

Case of the Mondays: This free class is a series of standing and seated yoga poses. What I really love about this one is that they demonstrate doing yoga in office attire.

Neck and Shoulder Relief: This class is free as well. You can do the entire sequence while sitting at your desk.

Therapeutic Yoga for Wrists, Shoulders and Neck: This is my current favorite class. It’s very thorough and all done while sitting.

Remember to put yourself first

What you do is hard work. It may seem easy, but sitting at a desk all day is difficult. On top of that, your job is probably stressful. Take care of yourself first.

Take frequent breaks, move your body, and get regular massage.

Your body will thank you!

*The links to yogadownload classes are affiliate links. Be assured, I only recommend products and services I actually use and value.

 

 

How Often Should I Get a Massage?

That depends on the reason you are getting massage. Are you pampering yourself? That’s awesome! Get a massage however often you feel like it!

Lots of people think massage is just a luxury, but is it more than pampering? Massage research can be tricky. One type of well-respected research is double-blinded, meaning that neither the participants or providers know who is receiving the experimental treatment and who is receiving the control (no treatment or a placebo treatment.) Massage does not lend itself to this type of experiment. Research on massage is in its early stages and often shows mixed results. But research suggests that massage can help with things like stress and pain management, anxiety, and depression. It’s no substitute for medical care, and it’s always a good idea to discuss complementary treatments for any medical condition with your doctor.  Massage can be a great complement to conventional medical treatments.

Are you using massage to help improve your health? Stress and pain are serious things that can affect the quality of your life. I don’t know about you, but stress and pain make me cranky. Anything I can do to relieve them makes me happier so I can enjoy life and generally be a nicer person to be around. Getting a massage on a regular basis can help. Sure, one massage is great, but I know from experience that it won’t make my stress or that pain in my shoulders developed from years of hunching over a computer magically disappear for good.  Just because the results are short-term doesn’t mean they aren’t worth it. You brush your teeth twice a day, right? I find getting massage on a more regular schedule (for me, that’s at least twice a month) beneficial.

Whatever you decide: once a week, once a month, once a quarter. You deserve it! If you don’t take care of yourself, who will?

4 Great Reasons to Add Aromatherapy to Your Next Massage

Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils (aromatic substances distilled from plants). Essential oils are commonly blended into massage oil or used in room diffusers. Here are a few reasons to add aromatherapy to your next massage:

  1. Massage can reduce stress, help with anxiety and depression, alleviate pain, and enhance the quality of sleep. All good things. Aromatherapy is often used to help with these same things. Some  research suggests that aromatherapy may enhance the positive effects of massage.
  2. They smell good. ‘Nuff said.
  3. The aroma can affect your mood.  There is a direct connection between the scent receptors in your nose and the part of the brain that controls your emotional responses. I know whenever I smell Bergamot (which gives Earl Grey tea its lovely aroma) it calms me.
  4. You know how your nose gets all stuffy when you get a massage? A drop of Eucalyptus or Peppermint essential oil on a cotton ball placed under the face cradle can help with that!