Archive for Self-Massage

Video: Examples of Lymphedema Exercises

Last week on my Facebook page, I posted an article from a fabulous blog I’d recently found. The author of the blog is Joachim Zuther, a lymphedema specialist who started the first school for lymphedema treatment in the US. Because I have some videos on lymphatic drainage massage techniques you can use on yourself on my blog, I get a lot of questions from people through email, YouTube and Facebook asking for additional resources. To that end, I’ve used the article, “Decongestive and Breathing Exercises for Lymphedema” as a source to demonstrate the techniques he describes in the article.

As always, before doing these techniques, you must consult with your lymphedema specialist and your health care team to determine if these techniques should be a part of your self-care routine. Your specialist can custom design a set of exercises for you based on the area  affected by your lymphedema, other associated symptoms or issues you’re having and other conditions you may have.

These exercises may be only part of what your lymphedema specialist creates for your treatment plan. You may also be asked to do some self-lymphatic massage or some strengthening exercises to create a comprehensive treatment plan.

The most important thing you can do is to add the deep diaphragm breathing to your day. This one technique, breathing deep into the belly, uses the diaphragm muscle to facilitate lymphatic flow in the both torso and the lower half of the body – pulling fluid up into the main lymphatic duct in the abdomen.

For more information, go to www.lymphedemablog.com or head to the Lymphedema Guru Facebook page for some of the best resources I’ve found on the net.

Photo credit: Flickr.com CCL: User: sportsandsocial

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Fast Relief of Jaw Tension

In my last post, “Easy Relief for Eye Strain” I covered a relaxation technique to use for individuals with eye strain. The technique is less a massage technique and more a touch-assisted relaxation technique. In it you use the fingers as a point of focus to relax and open the tissues around the eye. This video will cover how to do the same with the jaw.

Many people come in to see me with jaw issues. Some of been diagnosed with TMJ syndrome, others grind their teeth at night. Still others have problems with tension and pain in the jaw referred from other areas – the back of the skull or the lateral/anterior neck. What’s common in all these cases is that the jaw muscles and the muscles around the mouth become tense and tight over time.

While self-massage of the jaw is an excellent option to treat these issues (see my video about “Acupressure Points for TMJ Syndrome”), another way to relieve tension in the face and jaw is to use this relaxation technique.

Just as we did for eye strain, you’ll place your fingers at different points on the jaw and face, and take a deep breath. As you inhale and exhale become aware of all the tension stored underneath your fingers and let it drain out from under your touch as you exhale.

A very important component to this technique is keeping the tongue relaxed in the mouth. Think about where you tongue is in your mouth right this moment. Glued to the roof of your mouth? Now relax the tongue and pull it away from the top of your mouth. Now, touch just the tip of your tongue to just behind your front teeth and let it rest softly there.

Did if feel like your face melted a bit? Now, while that’s relaxed, take a few moments to try this technique to relearn what “relaxed” feels like to your jaw, mouth and face.

Photo credit: Flick.com CCL:

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Ease Eye Strain with this Easy Relaxation Technique

Who doesn’t have eye strain these days? Whether it’s from hours spent staring at a monitor, or trying to read itty-bitty text on our itty-bitty smartphones, almost everyone has days when their eyes feel tired. For those of you who regularly suffer from eye strain from hours spent staring at small text, or screens or bitty items, I’ve got an easy relaxation technique.

This is not a traditional massage technique. I’ll demonstrate how to use light touch of the fingers around the outside and just inside the eye orbit to release tension in the face. By using the breath as you bring your awareness to where your fingers are, you release the tension held in the tissue. In a way, it feels as if your face is melting. When you let go of the tension around your eyes and face you’ll feel your cheeks drop a little bit, your forehead widen and your jaw loosen.

If you have time to do this while laying down, you’ll get the most benefit from it if your head can be in a relaxed and supported position when you try it. But, even if you do this while sitting at your desk, if you take the time to breathe and focus on releasing the muscles, you’ll feel great relief from eye strain.

If you don’t have time to do the whole exercise, just do this one thing: take a deep breath in, loosen the tongue from the roof of your mouth and place the tip of your tongue just behind the top teeth with the tongue loosened in the mouth. Usually this causes relaxation throughout the eyes and forehead as well as the jaw.

Take some time to try out this technique. It’s easy on the hands, easy to do and very effective as a relaxation exercise.

 

Photo credit: Flickr.com CCL: User Mikleman

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Why ONE Massage Won’t Fix It

A lot of people come get a massage for the first time after hearing friends and family go on and on about how much massage has helped them. In some cases, massage newbies come in expecting that one thirty-, sixty- or ninety-minute massage with fix an issue that’s been lingering for months (or worse, years). Massage is most helpful as part of a routine regimen of self-care.

Many medications people take are taken daily as a means to control issues or symptoms in the body. Would you take cholesterol or diabetes medicine for just one day and expect the problem to be resolved? Of course not! Changing metabolic processes, complex, system-wide chemical/molecular interactions or even neurotransmitter levels throughout the body requires more than one pill. These complex, system-wide issues need daily adjustments, either from medication, through diet or through exercise to be managed well. The neuromuscular system is no different.

Muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia and other connective tissue run through the body. They connect the bones to one another, they hold your organs in place, they work together in complex firing patterns to create smooth and seamless movement. Massage works on loosening these connective tissues, resolving tension in spots that need to be looser, opening areas that are constricted, breaking up adhesions that have grown between layers of injured or compromised muscle and tissue.

Muscles work in groups across joints or flexible areas. One set pulls the limb or body in one directions, and its other members oppose that action. These groups act together in complex patterns whether you’re performing a pirouette, fixing dinner, or working on the computer while talking on the phone.

I often have clients ask me how many massages it will take to “fix” the problem. In order to set realistic expectations in the mind of those new to massage, or new to massage as a therapy for self-care, there are some questions you need to ask yourself:

How long did you spend developing the issue?

Often pain and discomfort develops over months or years of abuse of the body. When clients come in complaining of headaches, neck and shoulder pain, and they tell me they sit for hours at a keyboard in a slouched position, I can get an idea of the severity of the issue. I can work out some tight spots, and release some adhesions, but in addition to my sixty or ninety minutes, I suggest improving posture or ergonomic positioning. Or I give them some simple self-massage or stretching exercises to try.

When clients ask me how many massages it will take to “fix” the issue, I have to set expectations. In most cases of chronic pain and overuse injury, the injured tissues have setup a compensation pattern that redirects force or use away from the compromised areas. When someone with a bad knee limps, he’s favoring that knee, but putting additional work and stress on the opposite leg, and on the core and torso to compensate for the uneven gait and weight-bearing of the two legs. Compensation patterns are what enable us to continue moving and working when we’ve injured part of the body. They allow the injured area to heal by taking away some of the mechanical pressure on the area and passing on the work to other muscles not as compromised or overused.

So, ask yourself how long you’ve had the problem. Some physical therapists will say that for every month you’ve had a problem it will take a week of physical therapy. I see more variance in the response of my clients from physical therapy. But I would admit that the longer you’ve had an issue or injury, the longer it will take you to correct it. And I would add that correcting the issue includes more than receiving massage. It includes self-care, self-massage, stretching and strengthening to rehabilitate the body. Which brings me to my next point:

What are you doing to resolve the issue other than massage?

You’ve heard the quote, “Insanity is doing something same way over and over and expecting a different result.” Your body knows this intimately. Massage can help. Massage does help, but if your issues are overuse- or posture-related injuries and you continue to do things as you’ve done them before, the benefits of the massage will quickly be overcome by the resumption of old patterns and behaviors.

In order to reset the neuromuscular system, you need to include some self-care in your health regimen. This can be something as simple as taking breaks for every 30 or 40 minutes at the keyboard, stretching out your arms and neck every hour, or standing every 30 minutes to stretch out the lower back. It could also include strengthening and stretching exercises throughout the day. It might be meditation, or visualization, yoga or T’ai Chi.

The point is that massage is most effective when combined with daily retraining or refocusing of the body and mind. For people who include stretching, strengthening and other self-care in their routine the effects of massage last much longer, and the recovery time from injury is shorter. Including these changes to your routine constantly reminds the body that there is a more relaxed, efficient and healthy way to move.

Is this something directly related to an activity you can’t or won’t give up?

We all have things we love to do, even when we know it’s hard on our bodies. I have knitters who won’t give up knitting, musicians who keep on playing, and gamers who continue to spend long hours at the keyboard. We all have things we have to do even when we don’t want to – long nights holding kids who won’t sleep, slogging away on a project late into the night, hours at a laptop at a customer site – things that have to get done.

But there’s often a middle path to find. A gentler way to position yourself or perform your hobbies so that you can continue to enjoy them, or a way to make up for the long hours at work or taking care of others by taking care of ourselves. You may have to do a little research or fact-finding, and it may require some modifications, but it may be possible.

Get creative. Talk with other people in your situation. Find those people who seem calm no matter the whirlwind going on around them, the ones who’ve been doing the hobby for decades and tease their modifications or secrets out from them. They’d probably love to tell you how they figured to survive.

There are cases where what you’re doing physically to your body is unsustainable. Sometimes runners reach the point where their knees can no longer carry them. Or individuals who spend long hours sitting or standing have to change their activities. Change is inevitable. But in many cases, you can keep your hobbies or at least enjoy them in a different way.

And finally:

How committed are you to getting better?

It’s no surprise that there are some people who don’t want to change. They may hurt, and ache, and talk constantly about how bad things are, but the bottom line is that they don’t want to change. People have a lot of fear of change. It brings with it the unknown, an uncertainty in how things will turn out. It might make things better, but it might also make things worse, or take you right back to where you started. You may know people like this. This may be you.

But if you are hurting enough, tired enough, or just plain fed up with the way your body feels, you WILL find a way to do it. I’ve seen people make incredible recoveries from chronic pain, from injuries and complex issues to live a normal life. And it wasn’t magic. We didn’t fix it in 30 or 60 minutes on the table, but we were able to work on daily activities, stretching and strengthening. We built a plan that included regular massage, stretching, self-massage, self-care and whatever else was needed to give the body time to heal.

pie missing a piece

Massage therapy is part of a larger whole

Massage works well to improve blood flow, reduce the pain of injuries or duration of healing. But massage is most effective when it’s part of an array of self-care modalities. The muscles don’t exist in a vacuum. Injuries and compensation patterns build up over time. The body requires re-education to heal from long-injuries or chronic pain and illness – regular massage is one piece of the puzzle that can include many modalities and activities -  that teach the body to move toward that more relaxed, healthy, strong state that it belongs in.

Photo credits from Flickr.com CCL from top to bottom: Users – Foxtongue, Jennifer Kumar, oddsock, madmolecule, and pie image from blog.seasonwithspice.com

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Happy, Happy New Year!

The start of a new year always brings with it resolutions. But in reality, all resolutions are about one thing: improving yourself. Whether it’s improving your body, improving your emotional health, improving your career or improving your relationships with others, it’s almost always all about growth.

One easy way to improve your body, your health and your life is self-care. Whether you come to see me for self-care and getting the kinks out to work on chronic issues, or if you use self-massage, stretching or couples massage, start making time in your schedule for you. In as little as 5 minutes a day you can make a noticeable difference in your body and your flexibility and pain levels.

There’s a huge range of problems and issues massage can be used to ease. In fact, I have videos for quite a number of them:

How about getting a handle on that stiff neck? Or, do you want to know a way to clear out your head from colds and allergies? What about issues with insomnia? Getting rid of a headache? Carpal tunnel syndrome issues or forearm and hand pain?

And if part of your resolution concerns your relationship with others, what about using massage as a means to help others in your circle? You could soothe a stressful day with a fantastic foot massage, or give someone a sensational face massage. Something as simple as a scalp massage or forehead/ear massage can make a huge difference to the receiver of the massage.

Massage can be something done every day as a part of your routine to take care of yourself. It’s easy, effective, and keeps the body moving. In the end, isn’t that what we all want for the next year – to keep moving?

Happy New Year!

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TMJ Awareness Month: Massage Resources

I just found out that November is TMJ Awareness month, and I wanted to share a couple of massage resources I have with you. Temperomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ) is a condition in which the TMJ joint (the joint that’s the hinge of your jaw) becomes inflamed. The inflammation, which can be acute or chronic, leads to pain and loss of function in the jaw, mouth, ears and neck. Sometimes, clients report difficulty chewing, or opening their mouth wide. They can also feel pain or fullness in the ears. Clicking and popping sounds from the joint itself can also indicate TMJ symptoms. Migraines, headaches, dizziness and tinnitus can also be a associated with TMJ disorder.

I have a couple of videos that you might want to view. The first is a video that I put together that shows some acupressure points that are helpful for TMJ syndrome. The original is here on a previous blog post: http://blog.massagebyheather.com/jaw-pressure-point-massage/

 

 

Another technique that can also help is lymphatic drainage of the ears. This video can show you how to perform lymphatic drainage on yourself so you can reduce fluid around and in the ears.

 

 

 

And if you can talk your spouse, partner or friend into it, you can add this one to the list:

So, take some time to watch the videos if you or a loved one has issues with TMJ syndrome. Using self-massage gives you a tool to give yourself immediate relief from the pain, and it also gives you another tool to use in your management and treatment of the symptoms.

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Like Pink in October? Reduce Swelling with this Arm Lymphatic Drainage Video

 

Swelling in the arm is a common symptom for breast cancer survivors who have had lymph nodes removed from the arm pit/breast area as part of their treatment. However, there is an easy way to use self-massage to help pull some of that fluid out of the arm and back into the torso. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I wanted to share this information with breast cancer survivors.

This self-massage video will help with fluid retention in the arm, forearm or hand, whether it’s from an injury, surgery or pregnancy. If you’ve had surgical removal of lymph nodes, please contact your surgeon or physician to see if self lymphatic massage is an option for you. If you’re experiencing extreme edema, consult a certified Lymphatic Drainage Massage Therapist before using this routine on yourself.

Below the link to the video is a link to a list of contraindications for Lymphatic Drainage Massage. Please review them before using this on yourself.

Contraindications for Lymphatic Drainage Massage and more information about the lymphatic system is available at my previous blog post here: http://blog.massagebyheather.com/self-lymph-drainage-massage/

Photo credit: flickr.com CCL license. User: SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget

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Acupressure for Repetitive Strain Injuries (Like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome)

How would you like to know the top acupressure spots to use for Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) in the forearm? I ran across this list of applicable acupressure points on About.com. RSI injuries are caused by the wear and tear of a set of motions (like typing, hammering, etc.) on the body. Usually the motions are not physically taxing at first, but over weeks, months and years, muscles shorten, tendons lose their flexibility or become inflamed, and nerves become pinched by the tissue around it.

Many people advocate stretching and physical therapy for RSIs, but alternative treatments may also help. In this case, the article describes a set of acupressure points that can be used to keep the forearms and hands healthy and flexible. So, if you’ve got issues from repetitive strain, take a peek at the article and share it with friends and family whose daily activities include repetitive motions. I’ve included the first three points she describes here:

Try these Acupressure Points:

1. Swamp of the Curve (LI 11)
Bend your arm so your palm faces your chest.  The point is at the outer end of the elbow crease.
2. Third Mile (LI 10)
From LI 11, draw an imaginary line to your thumb. The point is 3 finger widths down this line. Feel the area for the most tender point.
3. Outer Marsh (LU 5)
Make a fist, bending your elbow slightly. The point is at the elbow crease on the outer side of the tendon.

Photo credit: flickr.com CCL user: foxtongue

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Look Ma, No Hands! Fascial Release of the Sacrum

I’m a big proponent of fascial massage. Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles, our organs, our bones, our arteries and veins: pretty much everything. I usually describe it as a Saran Wrap that holds things in place and directs force through the body. It’s incredibly helpful to release fascial restrictions and adhesions from injuries.

But, it can be a challenge to do fascial work on yourself. Many types of fascial work involve holding onto the soft tissue/connective tissue/muscle and moving other tissue in a different direction to create a pull or stretch of the fascia. How exactly do you hold part of your soft tissue still while moving it yourself? Enter the sacrum fascial stretch self-massage.

The sacrum, the triangular bone at the center of the pelvis, sits at the base of the spine. Because of its shape and position, it is responsible translating the vertical effects of gravity from the legs to the torso, and it’s also part of the support structure that keeps you upright and mobile. The sacrum meets the two wings (illium) of the pelvis and connects to the tailbone (coccyx). Since the sacrum has so much to do with balance and movement between the upper and lower half of the body, it’s often a part of the body with restrictions and adhesions leading to lower back problems.

In this case, to stretch the fascial tissue connecting in to the sacrum, we’ll press the sacrum up against the wall and use the pressure of the body to hold the tissue in place while we lean forward, (or to the side or diagonally – whichever feels best) and pull the tissue with a slight forward bend. The details follow in the video below. One thing I didn’t mention in the video is that if you’re having a hard time “tacking” the fascia on the sacrum down so you can get a good stretch, get a small section of rug gripper and put it between you and the wall. That will keep your clothes from sliding so much and give you the friction you need to perform the fascial stretch.

If you’re a massage therapist who enjoys fascial work with your clients, this fascial stretch of the sacrum can be a life-saver for clients suffering from lower back pain and limited range of motion. Plus, it just feels good. Please share!

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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.

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