Many folks (including some massage therapists) view massage as a way to fix what ails you.
Fixing is something you do to something that is broken. A mechanic fixes your car. A plumber fixes your leaky pipe.
I understand what you mean when you say your back hurts and you want me to get rid of those “knots”, to fix it. But you’re not broken, and thinking that way robs you of your power. The words we use matter.
I’m not here to fix you. You won’t hear me calling myself a healer. My hands (and feet) aren’t magic. It would be nice if I could just push on the right areas and work out those “knots” and you’d be healed! The body is too complex for that, I’m afraid.
You come in and you’re in pain and you want it to stop. I get it. Pain sucks. But I can’t force your body to do anything.
I’m here to support you, to hear you, to see you.
To empower you.
You might think “if you’re not fixing my pain, why the heck am I getting a massage?”
Don’t get me wrong, massage can help you feel better, but I think we can ask a better question.
So often, we focus on how we don’t want to feel. What if we thought about it from a different angle?
What if you started thinking about how you want to feel?
Not less stressed or in less pain. Not running away from something.
Butmoreof something? Moving toward what you want.
I view massage as a conversation between my hands and feet and your nervous system. I’m manipulating your soft tissues as a way to communicate to your nervous system that it’s okay to relax, that you can feel differently. We’re co-creating a new way of feeling, you and I.
We’re creating ease and freedom in your body.
The words we use matter.
What if you challenged your story of your pain? What if that shoulder wasn’t your “bad” shoulder?
You’re in a lot of pain and you think you need someone (your massage therapist, your doctor, your chiropractor) to “fix” you. When you come to me to “fix” something, that’s perpetuating a cycle that ultimately keeps you stuck in your stress or pain.
But what if, instead of running away from your pain, instead of trying to “fix” what isn’t broken, we worked on moving toward something desirable, like creating more freedom in your body?
Pain is one of those “you know it when you feel it” kind of sensations. But it’s also a strange phenomenon, when you think about it. A snowball is cold, and so it feels cold when you touch it. A block of concrete is rough, so it feels rough when you touch it. But a knife isn’t painful on its own. Neither is a pot of boiling water or the leg of a table. We handle these things safely all the time, and experience their mass and temperature and texture.
But pain exists only in the body, and even more specifically (as people who’ve experienced anesthesia know firsthand) in our minds.
But that doesn’t make it less real!
So what exactly is happening when we feel pain, and how do we stop it from negatively impacting our lives?
How does pain work?
There are three primary types of pain, and each of them works in a slightly different way.
Nociceptive pain (tissue pain).
There are many different kinds of sense receptors in the body. Some are sensitive to heat or cold, some to touch or pressure. Others, called free nerve endings, aren’t specialized for any one type of stimulus. When a significant stimulus triggers these nerve endings, they send a message through the spinal cord and up to the brain indicating that something potentially dangerous has happened. The brain then decides (without consulting the part involved in conscious thought, alas) whether this is something to ignore or brush off, or if it seems likely that damage has occurred. This then sends this message back down to the affected part of the body.
If the message is “No biggie, ‘tis but a scratch,” then you’ll most likely shake yourself off and forget the incident even happened. If it’s “WHOA, THIS SEEMS LIKE A PROBLEM,” then you experience this as pain.
This is useful! Just ask someone with CIPA, or congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, a disease that leaves people insensitive to pain. Imagine not noticing a bit of grit in your eye until it damages your cornea, developing stress fractures in your feet because nothing is telling you it’s time to sit down, or ending up with burns in your mouth and throat because you don’t realize your coffee is scalding hot. Pain stops us from trying to walk on a sprained ankle or go for a run when we have a fever. Tissue damage, high temperatures, low pH, and capsaicin (the active ingredient in hot peppers) are all common triggers for this process.
But brains aren’t always correct when it comes to assessing danger. Lorimer Moseley gives a brilliant example of this in his TEDx talk. What’s the difference between the pain from a scratch on the leg and the pain from a nearly-fatal snake bite? Spoiler: it’s whatever your brain is expecting. That’s why you might feel little pain after a bicycle accident, but be in agony when getting the wound stitched up two hours later. Pain is weird.
Neuropathic pain (nerve pain).
This is pain that results from an issue with the nervous system itself, rather than surrounding tissues. If you’ve ever banged your funny bone, you know this feeling well. Common forms of neuropathic pain include:
Sciatica: pain in the sciatic nerve running through the hip and down into the leg and foot
Diabetic neuropathy: nerve damage resulting from fluctuating blood sugar levels
Carpal tunnel syndrome: pain resulting from the compression of the nerves that run through the wrist into the hand
Less common forms include phantom limb pain (pain that feels like it originates in an amputated limb) and postherpetic neuralgia, which occurs as a result of getting shingles.
Neuropathic pain can be especially frustrating because the normal things we do to reduce pain are often useless when it comes to pain originating in the nervous system. Moving or not moving our muscles, applying heat or ice, these can have relatively little impact on nerve pain.
What’s more, nerves don’t heal as well as things like muscles and skin do, which makes nerve pain more likely to become chronic pain.
Other pain. (Yeah, that’s a terrible fake category name.)
Pain is messy, and a lot of it doesn’t fall into either of the two categories above. Fibromyalgia is a great example of this. Is it pain resulting from tissue damage? Nope. What about nerve damage? Not as far as we can tell. It’s caused by the nervous system malfunctioning, sometimes in horrible ways, but that don’t result from actual nerve damage. Often a lot of it. And the world of medicine is still trying to figure out why.
So how do we alleviate pain?
There are several different options.
If the pain is caused by some kind of physical injury or stimulus, you can work on changing that. If your hand is being burned on a lightbulb, you can remove your hand, which will make most of that pain go away. If you’re experiencing a muscle cramp in your foot, you can flex the foot (manually, if necessary). If you’re experiencing pain from sitting in the same position for too long, you can move around and shake out your legs. If the cause of the pain is inflammation, anti-inflammatories and ice can reduce that. This is perhaps the ideal form of pain relief, although it’s not always in the realm of the possible.
You can block the messages that tell your brain you’re in pain. This is how many painkillers work. Ice can also numb nerve endings.
You can convince your brain that you’re not in any real danger. This is a tough one, because the brain doesn’t just listen when you tell it things. But it’s well documented that fear, stress, and anxiety lead to increased pain perception. And of course, pain leads to stress, which leads to pain … General relaxation techniques—from meditation to light exercise to getting a massage—can all be helpful in turning the brain’s pain alarms down a notch. Physical therapy (practicing certain motions in a way that isn’t painful) and talk therapy can also be useful here too.
How can massage help with pain?
Sometimes the issue is one that massage can help manage on a physical level. But even more often, massage gives the brain a chance to let down its guard and experience something non-painful and even pleasant in the body. And while there’s no silver bullet for pain, that can mean a lot for people whose pain has defied more straightforward treatments and whose injuries or illnesses are already healed.
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
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.
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.
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.
Folks 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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
“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.
Thermotherapy is the use of heat for therapeutic purposes. Massage therapy can reduce muscle tension and pain and can increase overall relaxation. Adding heat to your massage session can increase these effects.
A heated massage table and warmed golden flax pillows await you at Restoring Balance. Hot Stone Massage also available.