Archive for September, 2011

Look Ma, No Hands Massage: Corner Massage for the Upper Back and Glutes

Ever wanted to get a massage while you were in a meeting? You’re in luck. If you can stand near the door during the meeting, you can give yourself a massage and no one in the room is any wiser. Unless you start drooling.

Here’s the scenario: you work all day at an office, and by the time you come home your shoulders are sore, your neck is tense and your lower back is cranky. A few minutes of self-massage during the day can affect the way you feel at the end of the day. I’m designating this another “Look Ma, no hands” technique since it does not require any use of your arms or hands. All you need is a door frame.

You can adjust this technique to work almost any part of the body readily available and easy to move with lateral shifting of the torso.  It works best for large muscles and muscles groups rather than on fine muscles, such as those in the foot and hand. You can also try this against cabinet corners or appliances, but make sure what you’re pressing against is soundly fastened to the wall. When using this, you’ll be using your legs to press back against the door frame/cabinet/etc and it’d be best if you and the item didn’t go flying across the room.

Please note you should never work directly on bone. This means you should not work directly on the spine or on sacrum when you perform this technique. Instead, focus on areas of the body where muscle covers bone and you’ll be able to press the muscle against the interior skeleton to massage from the inside out.

As always consult your physician before starting any self-massage routines. And be careful with the pressure you use, you don’t want to go so deep you can’t move for a day. Start out a little lighter and work up to the deeper work after a short duration at the lighter depths.


A Doctor’s Touch: TED Talk on Touch in the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Since I’m a massage therapist, my whole work day revolves around the sense of touch and palpation of the human body. Doctors, although they are dealing with a patient, at times seem to rely more on scans, test results and medical records than actually examining and touching a patient. In a way, I think it’s become almost old-fashioned to deal with patients through physical touch. I’m a big TED fan, and recently found a talk given by a physician who talks about the power of touch and the way it can inform and solidify the doctor-patient relationship.

While it’s not specifically about massage or alternative medicine, I thought it was an important message about the health care system and wanted to post it for colleagues and friends in the healthcare profession.


Chronic Pain: How a Feather Can Feel Like a Torch

Earlier this month I posted a link to a video with information about chronic pain. The mystery of pain is one that physicians and scientists continue to study and unravel. In the previous post, one of the key points in the video was the fact that it is the brain that turns the sensation into the perception of pain.

The exact ways in which sensory input gets perceived as pain, and how that perception of pain can become overstimulated by the brain is still mystery. But, a TED talk I found recently talks about a specific example in which a young girl’s sprained wrist turned into a serious chronic pain issue. It also talks a little about the ways in which the sensory perceptions get tuned to pain and discomfort and the ways in which those patterns can be disrupted enough to bring sensations back into a normal neural response.

This is another post you may want to share with family and friends who may be dealing with chronic pain issues. And this is a helpful message, because in many ways we are at the threshold of being able to understand pain and rehabilitate the body through various means to retrain perception of sensory input to a normal level.

Photo credit: CCL; User: xlibber


Lessons from the Table: Sometimes You Have to Cut Your Losses and Move On.

Junked Car


Sometimes the risk doesn’t pan out. The plan fails. Your goals remain unmet. You have taught me that while striving for new accomplishments and new goals can be a reward worth the risk, true wisdom also acknowledges when it’s time to stop trying. It can be a painful decision, and one that makes you ache deep inside, but knowing when to walk away from an endeavor is a lesson that is hard won and bittersweet.

Life includes loss, failures and mistakes. Sometimes the hardest choice is the best one. Take a new path, remedy a mistake, and move on to the next challenge.


When to Head to the Doctor for Muscle Pain and Discomfort


Clients come in with muscle pain all the time. My active clients come in with soreness and aches related to their exercise schedule or new activities. Sedentary clients come in with muscle pain from inactivity or from starting a new exercise or hobby. In either case, the discomfort of muscles is something massage can address. Often, resting the muscles for a few days, using ice and elevation, self-massage and slowing reintroducing a normal range of motion over the affected joint will be enough to get the healing going. But, the duration of the discomfort along with accompanying symptoms can signal something more serious that needs to be addressed by your primary care physician.

I turned to one of my favorite medical sites, to find some guidelines for you on when to take your muscle pain to the doctor.

Schedule an office visit if you have:

  • Muscle pain that lasts longer than a week
  • Signs of infection, such as redness and swelling, around a sore muscle
  • Poor circulation and muscle pain in your legs

via Muscle pain: When to see a doctor –

For more serious symptoms that might be signs of a more serious injury or a drug interaction, you’ll need to contact your doctor right away.

Call your doctor right away if you:

  • Have sudden, severe muscle pain that doesn’t go away or that recurs every time you exercise
  • Think you have a serious muscle strain or rupture
  • Have a tick bite or rash
  • Experience muscle pain after you start taking or increase the dosage of a medication — especially a statin

via Muscle pain: When to see a doctor –

And in combination with some very serious symptoms, muscle pain can be association with stroke or heart attack. In these cases, seek medical care immediately.

Get immediate medical care if you have muscle pain with:

  • Trouble breathing or dizziness
  • Extreme muscle weakness
  • A high fever and stiff neck

via Muscle pain: When to see a doctor –

Most of the time muscle pain can be healed without a trip to the doctor’s office, but knowing when to be concerned and when to get to the doctor right away can keep you and your family healthy. So keep these guidelines in mind and take some of the following information in when you see your primary care physician:

  • When did the pain start?
  • How long has it been bothering you?
  • Did it start after an injury?
  • Does any particular movement make it worse?
  • Does lack of movement (i.e. sitting or lying down) for long periods of time make it worse?
  • What is the most comfortable position for you?
  • What kinds of exercise/activity did you do the day of or the day before the injury?
  • Did you feel a pop or thump in your muscle or joint?
  • How has your daily activity been affected?
  • Have you noticed other areas of the body becoming sore, tight or tired because of injury?
  • Has it made a difference in your sleeping patterns? Is it worse at night?
  • Has this area of the body been compromised by an earlier injury or surgery?

Giving your medical practitioner this information can help the both of you figure out the underlying cause and how to treat the symptoms. For serious strains and pulls that don’t get better in a week or two, I always recommend clients go to a physician and ask if physical therapy might be a good treatment. In many cases of soft-tissue disorder, physical therapy is a great alternative to medication and surgery.

photo credit: CCL – User: a.drian


Test Driving a New Massage Therapist

steering wheel

I’ve recently started “test driving” some new massage therapists in the Louisville area in order to find a good match between what I need and the styles the massage therapists I try use. It’s rough trying out a new massage therapist. For those of you in Nashville trying out Andrea Mindigo or Margo Coppinger (or for those of you getting massage in Louisville trying ME out), here’s some advice on your first session or two with a new massage therapist.

Before I start, a note on semantics. You can only get a good massage if you’re ready to receive one. In fact, I thought about titling this post “How to Receive a Good Massage from a New Therapist.” You may be in the mourning process, in denial that your previous massage therapist is unavailable, or disappointed in other massage therapists you’ve tried because you’re looking for something very specific. You may know that you need a massage but not yet be ready to face facts that you’ve got to really commit to massage for a period of time in order to make a true difference in the physical issues you’re having.

Don’t Expect the Same Massage You’ve had from Other Massage Therapists

I admit I do this. I get on the table, and immediately have the tendency to compare the massage I’m receiving with the massage I got from other therapists. I try to let go and receive the massage that I’m being given. But that can be a challenge.

No two massage therapists are alike. And even going to the same massage therapist you may never receive the same massage twice. I couldn’t do two massages exactly the same if I tried. I depend too much upon feedback from the body and what I palpate while I’m working. I may start out thinking I know the issue, only to find while working that the problem is stemming from another location, or requires a different type of massage than I had planned.

Here’s what you should do: expect a different massage than you’ve had before. Be open to the differences in flow, technique and personality. Instead of thinking, “This isn’t how Heather does it,” try, “That’s different, let me see how this feels.” Instead of being quiet, communicate any immediate needs in pressure or comfort. Suggest things you know that help you when you’ve received other massages. A good massage therapist will welcome the feedback and input.

Expect a Different Level of Communication

The interaction I have with a new client is different than that of a client who has been coming to see me for years. The first time I see someone, s/he’s usually a stranger. I know the information on the intake form, and maybe some details from the initial intake interview, but I don’t know the details of the situation.

Oftentimes, what makes me comfortable with new massage therapists is the level of familiarity that comes from a few sessions and some sharing of personal information. I tell a few interesting stories, ask the therapists a little about themselves and their lives. By building that basic level of familiarity, I am more comfortable on the table.

And, if I’m the therapist, I’m more comfortable working with the client. Just remember, your last massage therapist was probably a stranger when you first met him/her, and it took time to develop a rapport.

Here’s what you should do: Share some basics about your personality, how you communicate, things important to you, hobbies, jobs, family, etc. to give the massage therapist a feel for you. Ask the massage therapist a few questions about her style, communication and background so you can become more comfortable with her.

Turn Off the Inner Dialogue

Here’s a little of the inner dialogue I have when I try a new therapist: “Margo doesn’t start me out face up. . . Oh, that’s way too light. . . No, no, too deep. . .  Andrea didn’t work my feet when I was face down. . . I like this music. . . Should I say something, that one spot is really tender? . . .  Waaaaay too much lotion. . . .  Oh, my god, that’s way to deep. Don’t hit the therapist. Don’t hit the therapist. . . What is s/he using? Thumbs, elbows, knuckles? . . . I wanted some stretching too, but s/he’s already moved on to the next body part.” You get the idea (If I’m honest there’s a little bit of, “I’m totally stealing that move. That rocks!”)

If I let myself, I have that running dialogue the whole massage. It’s not conducive to receiving a good massage. Instead of being in your body while you’re receiving the massage, you’re spending your massage caught up in your head, talking to yourself. One of the primary benefits of a massage is creating a fluid sense of embodied self. If you stay in your head, conversing with yourself about the massage, you’re not able to bring your focus to the work on the body. By moving your awareness to your body and quieting the mind, you are better able to receive the massage you’re being given. Which bring us to -

Be Aware During the Massage

The best compliment you can give a massage therapist is to bring your attention and focus to what you’re working on at the massage table. Put yourself in your skin and pointedly feel the sensation of the work you are receiving. Stop talking to yourself. Stop grading the therapist. Just be. Breathe.

In fact, an easy way to bring your focus back to the massage is to time your breath with the strokes of the therapist. For example, if the massage therapist is working along the spine, take a deep breath, and exhale during the long glide down your back. If the therapist is working the arm or the leg, focus your breath on the long, gliding motions often used during massage. If the therapist is doing still work, practice deep breathing once she settles in a place or while she’s holding a particular spot. Use your breath to focus on your massage rather than what’s distracting you in your mind. Remind yourself to do this each time the therapist starts work on a new part of the body.

And, if something feels fantastic, tell the therapist so s/he can keep doing it for a little longer! If something doesn’t feel good, let the therapist know right away. Once you bring your focus in to the sensation of receiving your massage, communication on things to make the massage better or make you more comfortable are excellent ways to build that rapport with your new therapist.

Expect and Embrace the Differences

No matter how much or how little experience this massage therapist has, chances are s/he’s bringing something unique to the table. Now, what s/he brings may or may not be what expected, but chances are, there will be a couple of things you enjoy and a few differences you might relish with a new massage therapist. At the end of the day, the massage therapist may not be a good match for you, but being open to a different type of massage or therapist may bring you an unexpected gift or moment. If the massage therapist isn’t a good match, be honest. Many times, a therapist will be able to help clients find a better match – either someone closer to their location or someone that has more experience in a particular style they want to receive.

Here’s what you should do: set your expectations before the massage. Here’s what I try to say to myself before receiving a massage from a new client (generally once I’m on the table, but before the therapist enters the room): “I know this massage will not be X’s massage, but if I communicate with him/her, and am open to something new, I will have a good experience.” And honestly, that really helps.


Maybe I’ve been able to give you a few pointers on how to test drive a new massage therapist. I hope so. The important thing to remember is that part of what makes a massage therapist a good match is not just the style of massage she performs, but also communication with her, and that takes time to build. It also has a lot to do with personality. Many people stay with massage therapists for years once they find one they like, so give yourself some time to find the right person. I like to give therapists a few sessions if they meet my basic needs to see if it’s going to be a good long term match.  And it may take some time to find the right match, but keep looking, and ask the massage therapists you know for recommendations.

photo credit: CCL – user: paul posadas

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Lessons from the Table: Search for What Makes You Happy

Rubber Ducks

One of the things I like best about working with people is finding out more about hobbies and crafts and all sorts of things people love to do in their spare time.

I’ve watched people learn about knitting, leathework, pottery, coin collecting, equestrian, felting, jewelry making, beading, painting, cooking, baking, home improvement, wood carving and a hundred other skills. I listen to you talk about challenges, frustrations, educational moments, mistakes and best of all, funny stories about your new hobbies.

You’ve taught me that the process of learning and discovery doesn’t stop when you find a career or job you enjoy. Often, it’s the hobby that’s your true passion, and the job is something that allows you time for your hobby.

When you find something you love, you’re drawn to it.

And sometimes you keep looking. For some of us, it’s the process of searching, learning and trying something new that is the hobby. Bouncing from one hobby to the next isn’t a bad thing, it just means you’re curious, inquisitive and love to experiment.

Photo credit: CCL, user: krikit


What you Need to Know about Chronic Pain: Found Video

Man in pain


For as common as it is, pain is still a mystery to scientists and researchers, let alone the rest of us. One of the hardest concepts to explain is that pain is not a specific message that gets sent from the body to the brain via nerves. Rather, the brain interprets the sensory data coming in from the body as pain. In this way, dealing with chronic pain is about more than just healing the body.

Often, as I work with clients dealing with chronic pain, it feels like we’re chasing something that’s one step ahead. When the body suffers from chronic pain, it’s as if the filter in the brain that catches sensory input and data from the world becomes too sensitive, and in a way overreacts to the input. That doesn’t mean that the pain doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t mean that the pain is in the brain. It means that pain is much more complex than we ever imagined.

Recovering from chronic pain – pain that’s lasted 6 months or more – can be a long, complicated process. We’re just now beginning to understand that chronic pain is affected by mental health, diet, and exercise in addition to many other factors. Pain centers across the country often recruit doctors and specialists in many different fields in order to treat chronic pain and help the nervous system retrain itself back to a normal sensitivity level.

This video gives a wonderful and accessible explanation of pain and its interconnection to the body and the mind. If you deal with chronic pain, or know someone who does, please share this blog post with them. I know from personal experience chronic pain makes you feel helpless and out of control. But this video gives me an excellent resource to share with clients dealing with chronic pain and it helps me remember what it takes to stay well, too.

Photo credit: CCL – User Alex E Proimos

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