Archive for Stress Relief

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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Why Vampires Like Massage Therapists. . .

I found this online and had to 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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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.

Conclusion

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: flickr.com CCL – user: paul posadas

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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: Flickr.com CCL – User Alex E Proimos

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Get More from your Massage: Breathing

How would you like to learn a simple technique that will take your experience of your massage up a notch – inducing greater relaxation, stress-relief and pain relief? Breathing is the key. It’s one of the simplest things you can do to increase the effectiveness of your massage, and can be used at any time during the day to relieve stress and tension in the body and mind.

In any given moment it’s highly likely that you’re breathing shallow. Think about your breathing right now. Without changing how you’re breathing this moment, evaluate your breath. Are you breathing shallow, pulling air only a little into the lungs? Do you primarily feel your rib cage expanding and collapsing with each breath or do you feel your abdomen expand each time you breathe?

The deeper you breathe into your lungs, the more relaxation you’ll feel. Deep breathing lowers heart rate and blood pressure and elicits a relaxation response in the body. It stretches out the diaphragm, the muscle beneath your lungs that pulls down on the lungs, increasing their size and drawing air down into them.  Relaxed, deep breathing can calm the mind, center your thoughts and help you focus as well.

Deep breathing, like yawning, is contagious. While you’re sitting next to a child, a spouse or loved one, take a deep breath. Take a long time to inhale and exhale out in a very relaxed manner. Chances are the person you’re next to will take a deep breath. If it doesn’t work with one deep breath, try three or four. I use this in sessions all the time.  I don’t often verbally encourage my clients to breath. Instead, I take a deep breath while I’m working on a client, and usually, that elicits a deep breath from the client.

Deep breathing suggestions:

  1. During the inhale, try to pull the air down into the lowest part of the lungs. Expand your belly and push it out as your lungs fill with air. If it helps, place your hand on your belly and try to push it out with your breath.
  2. Pause for a few moments before you start your exhale.
  3. To exhale, open your mouth and breathe out. During the exhale, try to push all of the air out of your lungs. Bring the belly back in and keep exhaling until your lungs are empty.
  4. Wait a moment, then repeat.

If you start feeling light-headed take a break for a few minutes. If you’re in a massage, take 5-10 deep breaths several times during the session. I do this every time the therapist starts to work on a new part of the body. When she starts work on the back, I take 5 deep breaths. As she starts work on each arm, I breathe deeply again, and so on.  If you do better watching videos, I found a short, easy video on webmd: http://www.webmd.com/video/farrell-relaxation-breathing

Deep, relaxed breathing doesn’t just slow down the body, it has the potential to slow down your mind and keep you focused and centered. Most meditation and spiritual practices include focus on the breath. The power of conscious breathing – full of awareness for the present moment – can be both relaxing and refreshing.

“Advanced Breathing”

To take yourself deeper into relaxation/meditation with this exercise that combines breathing and body awareness.

  1. Take a deep breath in as before, pulling the air down into the bottom of your lungs. Check in with the muscles of your scalp, head and face. See if any feel tight, restricted or tense.
  2. Pause for a moment.
  3. On the exhale, let your muscles in your scalp and face relax. Feel the tension of your forehead, your eyes, your cheeks, your jaw all go out of your body with the exhale.
  4. Take another deep breath, this time let the tension fall away from your scalp, head, face and now the shoulders. Continue the deep breaths, slowly releasing tension as your work your way down the body. Let your arms relax, your chest, your abdomen, your pelvis, your back, your lower back, your hips, your legs and even your feet relax as you work down the body.

Deep breathing is an easy way to talk the body into relaxing. Even when you’re in the middle of a huge rush or stressful issues, a few deep breaths will make all the difference. It makes an amazing difference when used to melt into the table while getting a massage. The results can make your next massage your best one yet.

Photo credit – Flickr.com CCL User: AlicePopkorn

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Put Away the Ambien and Get Into the Hammock

Hammock

Did you need another excuse to spend a lazy day in the hammock this summer? If you did, I’ve got the research study for you. A study out recently showed that adults who napped in a bed that rocked back and forth fell asleep faster and fell asleep deeper than the adults who slept in stationary beds:

The gentle rocking motion makes people fall asleep faster, and they sleep deeper. Those changes in brain activity may inspire new ways to help insomniacs, the researchers say.Neuroscientists at the University of Geneva rigged up a bed so it would sway gently from side to side every four seconds, considerably slower than the pendulum on a cuckoo clock. “This rocking is very gentle, very smooth, oscillating every four seconds,” Sophie Schwartz, a professor of neurology who led the study, told Shots. “It’s not like rocking like you would see some mothers rocking their babies, it’s more gentle.”

via Why Hammocks Make Sleep Easier, Deeper : Shots – Health Blog : NPR.

What’s interesting to me is that the rocking motion was so slow – a four second period. That’s considerably slower than my hammock, and reminds me more of drifting down the beach in a raft, another very easy way to fall asleep. If you click through to the blog article, you’ll find that the surprise for the researchers was the type of sleep and the quality of the sleep state that the rocking naps created. This might be promising for those with insomnia, but also those with brain injuries such as stroke which use these types of sleep periods to heal and restore the brain.

I’d love to see a study done on people sleeping during a massage when the client is gently rocked or moved in a slow fashion as described above.  Massage itself is relaxing, but perhaps part of that sleepiness that happens during a massage has to do with the slow, rocking movement of receiving a massage. I often have clients waken at the end of a session after sleeping for a good portion of the massage. And I have to confess, many of my best naps were on my massage therapists’ tables.

If you don’t have a hammock, or don’t like the heat, call your massage therapist for some gentle rocking and relaxation.

Photo Credit from Flickr.com CCL user: rosemilkinabottle

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Find Out When a Migraine’s Going to Strike

woman holding head

Did you need another reminder about why listening to your body is important? I just found a fantastic article on the Wall Street Journal’s website about migraines. It highlights the pre-migraine symptoms (called the premonitory stage of migraines) that clue people in to the fact that they are about to get a migraine. Migraines are painful and very debilitating, but taking a little time to become aware of the common “hints” that you may be about to experience one puts you more in touch with your body, and allows you to make changes to your schedule or plans that might prevent the migraine from hitting.

The WSJ.com describes the cues that come before a migraine as follows:

Yet, a few hours or days before the dreaded headache sets in, subtle symptoms emerge: Some people feel unusually fatigued, cranky or anxious. Some have yawning jags. Others have food cravings or excessive thirst.If migraine sufferers can learn to identify their particular warning signs, they may be able to head off the headache pain with medication or lifestyle changes before it begins, experts say.

via Stopping a Migraine Before It Starts – WSJ.com.

I work  with many clients who experience migraines and for many, the “hints” become very apparent. But the full list of all the things that could be considered pre-cursors is wide ranging.  From the same article:

Warning Signs

Premonitory symptoms that can occur days before a migraine:

  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Food cravings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yawning
  • Increased urination
  • Muscle stiffness

Triggers

Over 100 have been identified, among the most common:

  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Aged cheese
  • Red wine
  • Hormonal changes
  • Stress
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Weather changes

Treatments

The list keeps growing and there are no cures:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories
  • Triptans
  • Beta blockers
  • Antiseizure drugs
  • Antidepressants
  • Botox
  • Acupuncture, massage, biofeedback

Obviously, I would add massage to the list of treatments because many times stress is a major trigger for migraines, and massage is a wonderful stress-reducer.  I wanted to share this article with you because it really helped me understand more about how listening to your body can be a wonderful exercise, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be all about listening to your muscles. Noticing patterns between activities, emotional states, behaviors and physiological changes gives you more power to treat issues and problems before they become full-blown medical issues. It can also assist your primary care physician as you work on diagnosing problems.  If you’d like to know more about listening to your body, you can try this exercise here: BodyScan – Find Where It Hurts

Photo credit flickr.com CCL user: SashaW

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Feeling plugged? Abdominal Massage Can Get Things Moving

plunger

Recent studies suggest that abdominal massage and acupressure/meridian massage improve bowel function.  In a study designed to test the efficacy of massage on constipation and stress, a set of college students were given either abdominal massage with aromatherapy or acupressure/meridian massage and tracked for four weeks. Over the course of the study, the students who either of the abdominal massages reported positive effects:

“Both abdominal massages relieved constipation and stress,” the researchers noted. “Resorting to either type of massage will contribute to the reduction of use of stool softeners, suppositories or enemas.”

via Abdominal and Meridian Massage Both Relieve Constipation.

Click through to the link to find the details on the study.

Not many people request abdominal massage, but it’s a tremendous benefit to the digestive system and the immune system.  Think about requesting abdominal massage when you’re looking for massage therapy in Louisville or Nashville, especially if you’re having issues keeping your digestive tract moving or suffer constipation. I can also show you an easy abdominal massage to you to keep things moving.

Photo credit: sxc.hu user: nulus

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Squeeze the Feet to Kill the Headache

foot massage

Sounds a little crazy, huh? Press on my feet and affect an unrelated part of the body? Clear my sinuses? Relieve my headache? Crazytalk!

It may seem like hocuspocus, but there is a long tradition of reflexology which does just that. It associates certain parts of the foot with very specific parts of the body, and massage to the foot location (the reflex) affects changes throughout the entire body. I didn’t think much of reflexology until I saw it work on me and my clients.

Physiologically, it’s not clear what mechanism connects reflex points on the feet to various organs and areas of the body, but reflexologists build a career out of treating people through work on their feet, hands or ears (which also have reflexes much like the feet). I’ve seen it relieve sinus pressure and clear the head, help with headaches and migraines, relieve constipation, reduce bladder issues, help digestion, ease stomach cramps, and help with allergies. Reflexology may seem a little “out there,” but for a lot of people, its an easy and effective way to use self-massage to improve health and wellness.

So what are some good spots to know for working on the head and neck?

Reflexes Mirrored on the Toes

The pads of the toes are thought to represent the head while the necks of the toes are thought to mirror the body’s neck. Specific reflexology techniques are applied to all sides of the toes including the toenails.

Focus work on the toes would encourage a relaxed mind, release muscle tension in the neck and reduce discomfort in the face and scalp.

  • Toenails – are stimulated for the back of the head which includes the scalp.
  • Tips of the toes – are stimulated for sinus congestion.
  • Pads of the toes – are stimulated for the mouth – the teeth, gums, and jaw.
  • Pad of the great toes – are stimulated for the brain including the Hypothalamus and Pituitary gland reflexes.
  • Necks of the toes – are stimulated for the neck, throat, breathing airway or trachea.

via Cranial and Neck Reflex Areas in Reflexology | Suite101.com.

Head over to the above link for more information, and if you’d like to try a little reflexology, give me a heads up before your next massage in Louisville or Nashville.  I can save time during the session and make sure to work the reflexes most effective for your issues.

photo credit: sxc.hu user dcarson924

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