Relieving Upper Back, Neck, and Shoulder Pain

Probably the top complaint I hear from clients is that of chronic and intense discomfort in their upper backs, necks, and shoulders. You’re probably familiar with the nagging sensation, usually beyond reach, often between the shoulder blades. You know, that spot that occupies way too much of your attention and won’t go away no matter how you try to work it out.

The reason that pushing on the spot that hurts (with your own fingers, a friend’s elbow, or a massage tool) doesn’t resolve the pain is that the pain is often a symptom of imbalanced posture in the upper body. Treating the symptom might feel good and bring temporary relief (hey, there’s nothing wrong with that!) but until the root cause is addressed, it won’t be very effective. It’s rather like running around putting out fires rather than taking the matches away from the toddler.

In today’s society, many conditions can cause the head to drift forward of the body.

  • The near-constant rushing and stress that has become common in our culture, and the physiological tightening of muscles that results.
  • The time spent with arms forward of the body: typing, driving, sewing, drawing, holding and nursing babies, etc
  • The long hours spent looking at screens
  • The tendency to be mentally inhabiting the next moment and the next place rather than being present here and now
  • The desire to energetically protect one’s heart
  • Feeling unsafe and wishing to hide emotionally
  • Every other scenario that induces slouching or hunching

Ideally the ears should hover over the shoulders, allowing the vertebrae to support the weight of the head. When the head is chronically positioned forward of the torso, those tired and achy muscles of the upper back are working overtime to hold the head up. Muscles on the front of the neck and shoulders become shortened over time, and those on the back become overstretched.

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This image comes courtesy of Erik Dalton, a world renowned bodyworker, educator, and creator of Myoskeletal Alignment Techniques. It shows the simple physics of how the weight of a 12 pound head increases to 42 pounds when it is held 3 inches forward. Those muscles are cramped and fatigued because they’re overworked and overextended! Pummeling and poking them is not the answer.

The remedy is in returning the head to a more neutral position. The work of the massage therapist is primarily in releasing the tight anterior neck, chest, and shoulder muscles. Some therapists would argue that working on the muscles of the upper back only make the problem worse! I personally believe that this is an extreme view, and that some soothing Swedish massage of the back can help by releasing trigger points and encouraging circulation. The most important step, however, is one of awareness and continuously correcting posture throughout the day.

I’ve helped clients to overcome this chronic problem that had plagued them for decades. Through a combination of managing posture and stress, targeted stretching on a daily basis, and receiving a maintenance massage once or twice each month, they’re able to experience freedom from near-debilitating pain. Once they stopped treating the symptom and began working with the cause, the results came quickly.

If you’re frustrated that your valiant efforts are not producing desired effects, consider that you might not be treating the source of the problem. Put down the fire extinguisher and gently but firmly remove the matches from the hands of the pyromaniac toddler.

Holiday Special

We have officially entered holiday season. Here in Philadelphia, the weather has turned quite cold and people are bundling up. ‘Tis the season for stress and busy-ness, colds and the flu. More than ever it’s important to make time to rest and restore one’s balance to promote good health and mental well-being.

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Photo by Kristin Vogt on Pexels.com

Getting sucked into a whirlwind of constant activity is exhausting. I encourage people to literally block out time on their calendars for self-care. Then when you’re invited to do something, you can consult your agenda and truthfully say, “I have a previous commitment at that time.” Many of us, myself included, find saying “no” difficult, but this little trick works wonders.

My mission is to support and cheer others on as they uncover the wholeness, worthiness, and wellness at the center of their being. In the hopes of making this easier during what can be a challenging time, I’m offering a special on packages of five sessions.

These packages are each valid for one person for one year from date of purchase. It’s possible to mix and match treatments, so there’s no need to decide up front if you desire Reiki and/or massage. This special is available till the end of 2018. Convenient PayPal payments are an option, as are cash, check, or card if you prefer to stop by my office. 

Five sessions for the price of four. That’s a 20% savings!

Five 60 minute sessions = $320 ($80 savings!)

Five 75 minute sessions = $400 ($100 savings!)

Five 90 minute sessions = $480 ($120 savings!)

Five long-distance Reiki sessions = $220 ($55 savings!)

If you’re feeling inspired to spread the peace and joy, you could even use the savings to purchase a gift card for a friend.

Contact me for details or to arrange payment. Or schedule an appointment in the month of December, and we’ll get you set up then.

 

 

 

Healer, Heal Thyself Update

It’s been nearly two months since I posted about my journey of using alternative, holistic medicine to heal a knee injury. I am being super careful about keeping the joint aligned (twisting is that action that hurts), but otherwise not really applying myself to using all the tools in my arsenal. I suppose you could say I’ve fallen into complacent acceptance. I altered my behavior to avoid pain and went about my business.

I’ve learned to modify my home yoga practice to avoid deep flexion of the knee (alas, that includes child’s pose, one of my all-time favorites!) and several other postures that aggravated the injury, and now allow myself plenty of time to get where I’m going so I don’t add the stress of rushing to my compromised state. I continue to get lots of bodywork and have been massaging my own calves with a softball several times each week.

This probably could have gone on indefinitely as I rarely had pain and the occasional twinge served as a reminder to be more mindful. But then… I went hiking. How could I not? Spring in the northeast is gloriously beautiful and soon enough the heat and humidity will be oppressive and I will be hiding inside. Unfortunately the rocky terrain led to twisting movements in the knee joint. I will also confess to consuming an excess amount of sugar over the past few weeks, which I know causes inflammation and irritates my joints, even those in the healthiest state. Not a brilliant combination at all. 😦

 

 

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Next time I’ll just go sit by the water and enjoy the vibes without re-injuring myself!

So I’m applying the motivation to prevent further discomfort and my recent learning to my new healing plan. Coming up soon will be a full on 4 week cleanse based on the book “Clean” by Dr. Alejandro Junger to eliminate inflammation. I’ve done this twice before and recognize that the rewards are spectacular. I notice an improvement in digestion, sleep, mood, skin, and mobility that is simply incomparable.

I’ve started formally applying the knowledge I gained from “The Intention Experiment” every morning, by actively visualizing the enjoyable activities I will explore once I am fully healed. If you’re skeptical about the healing power of the mind, this book goes heavily into documented experiments- quantum physics and such. It was a bit too science-y for me, but as a believer I’m not in need of proof . If you’re questioning the validity of the potency of intention, I suspect this book will change your mind.

And my newest, and perhaps funnest toy: sound healing. I took a class last week about the amazing effects of vibrations on our molecular structure. “The 7 Secrets of Sound Healing” by Jonathan Goldman is an amazing resource, and completely accessible to beginners. I’ve always known that music has a healing quality, but I have a much greater appreciation for it now. I’ve discovered YouTube videos with specific frequencies for healing knees! I’m listening to one now.

The great thing about holistic medicine is the absence of harmful side effects. Some people might be rolling their eyes at the seeming lack of action that I’m taking in the healing process, but it’s impossible to suggest that there will be any dangerous repercussions to my plan. Shamans and healers have been using these tools for thousands of years with incredible benefits. That gives me great hope. Knowing there will be no damage done (to body, mind, or spirit) gives me tremendous relief. Together, this provides the inspiration I need to keep up with my practices. Onwards!

Living Pain Free Summit

I’ve spent the past 34 years exploring strategies to avoid pain. Over time I’ve come to recognize that the debilitating back pain I experienced for the first time in eighth grade was a blessing as it led me down the path of holistic wellness, alternative and complementary medicine, and body-mind-spirit healing. I’ve learned how to prevent discomfort in my own body and have spent 15 years helping my clients do the same. All without relying on numbing symptoms with pharmaceuticals.

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Last month I took a workshop, Positional Release for Chronic Pain, with Lee Albert. His teachings are very much aligned with my own beliefs and experiences. In fact, he didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know; rather he validated many vague concepts that had yet to been given shape and structure in my mind. I’m thrilled to have some new tools both for myself and for my clients.

Today I received an email that Lee is going to be participating in a NO cost online series of 20 experts in the field of holistic healing. “Isn’t it time to find out what options are available so you can get your quality of life back and start living the life you deserve?” is the invitation from his newsletter. If you want to experience something different than what you currently are experiencing, it’s necessary to DO something different. Perhaps one of these speakers will have the key that fits your lock.

The summit begins May 14. You can register here. Pain is a message that something is out of balance. Learning to decode the message and correct the imbalance is very often possible with the help of alternative, holistic therapies. I’ve found tremendous relief through yoga, meditation, prayer, contemplation, nutrition, plant medicine, Swedish massage, and Reiki. When I stick to my regime, the chronic back pain that plagued me throughout my youth is but a memory. If there’s a chance that yours could be too, wouldn’t you want to find out?

Getting the Most out of My Massage

Today it’s my turn to get on the table and receive a nurturing, nourishing massage. Yay!!! I’m so enamored with the benefits of gentle, healing touch that I aim to get at least two every month. Massage is a huge part of my mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health care plan. It’s my goal to use holistic, alternative, and complementary medicine to cultivate the optimal health available to me.

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In order to get the most out of my session, I want to arrive in the most relaxed state that I possibly can. That way I can sink even deeper into my treatment, reaping the most rewards available to me, and experiencing the greatest peace and relaxation. Some days, the most relaxed state that I’m able to conjure up is, well, loosely described as a hot mess. And that’s just perfect. If I’m upset or agitated, there’s no greater cure than healing touch. I leave feeling like I’ve been restored to my essential, loving self.

However, when grace allows and I begin my treatment from the maximum state of relaxation I can achieve on my own, the therapist helps me arrive at a whole new level. So I take the time to meditate and clear my mind. While this is obviously not necessary and most people enjoy a massage without preparing for it with meditation, I’ve noticed that when I don’t, I spend the first 20-30 minutes just settling into my session. When I’ve meditated beforehand, I settle almost instantly, allowing myself to sink deeper quicker. For the same reason, I like to do some gentle yoga in preparation as well.

Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that late morning seems to be a really good time for me. I’ve eaten a hearty breakfast earlier and it’s mostly digested by then but keeps my blood sugar stable; I’ve hydrated quite well and don’t need to worry about a full bladder disrupting my treatment. I like to dry brush, so that I’m more able to absorb all the healing qualities of the natural oil being slathered on my skin.

Because I’m aware of the value of treating the muscles of the face, scalp, and upper neck that attach to the skull, I prioritize these benefits over my appearance. I don’t mind walking home with massage hair, and I imagine what people notice most about me is my calm presence and radiant glow. On the rare occasion that I have somewhere fancy to go, I let my therapist know to avoid my head and I protect my locks by tying them up out of the way.

Naturally I don’t want to feel rushed and I want to receive every minute of massage bliss, so I allow plenty of time for getting there calmly. It’s a beautiful day outside, and I’m blessed to have a gifted therapist within walking distance of my home, so I make time for a leisurely stroll there and back. Hurrying to or from a massage is a great way to eradicate most of the benefits by triggering stress hormones. No thank you! I make space in case I encounter every single red light, a long lost friend who wants to say hello, or an adorable puppy.

Perhaps the most essential strategy for getting the most out of my holistic health care via massage is to communicate my desires and needs clearly at the beginning of my session. I tell my therapist two or three things I’d like to focus on, as well as anything I’d like to avoid. Because I’m healing a torn meniscus in my knee, range of motion or stretching makes me nervous, which is the exact opposite of relaxation, and to be avoided for now. I have some tension in my neck that needs some therapy, so I mention that as well.

Now my work is done. I get to lie back, relax, and receive. I enjoy the greatest rewards when I turn off my thinking and let the therapist do the job for which s/he has been highly trained. Micromanaging is a sure way to interrupt the flow and interfere with my ability to release stress. Assuming that I know the best course of action discounts the therapist’s skill, experience, and intuition. Generally, I have a blind spot when it comes to my own tension patterns as I can’t see the bigger picture. Unless something is painful, or I’m uncomfortable in any way, I get the most out of my massage by allowing myself to receive the gift that is being offered to me.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve probably been the recipient of over 400 session! I’ve only had a handful of what I would call “bad” massages, several mediocre massages, and loads of really wonderful massages. As I’ve been perfecting my receiving technique, I’ve noticed that much of the responsibility for experiencing a great massage is mine. Practicing the above strategies makes a huge difference for me, and I hope it will for you too.

 

Healer, Heal Thyself Part 4: Massage

I am a firm believer in the power of healing touch. So it seems only natural to me to get as much massage as I can to support the healing of the torn meniscus in my knee. For some, it might seem like a far stretch that massaging the soft tissue can help with an internal cartilage injury. Over the past 15 years of giving approximately 10,000 massages, I’ve witnessed time and time again my clients experiencing pain relief from a wide variety of issues. My respect for this holistic modality continues to deepen each time I observe it stimulating the body’s innate healing ability.

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Swedish massage is my favorite! The soothing nature of the strokes stimulates the relaxation response and releases the happy chemicals in my brain. You know; serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine. It’s quite magical! When I’m on the massage table, I feel like everything is going to be just fine, and I find myself breathing deeply, and while my muscles simply melt.

Stimulating circulation is another important factor in the healing process. Unlike muscles, connective tissue isn’t particularly vascular and this can lengthen the duration of cartilage injuries. The manual manipulation of tissues around the knee increases circulation to the area, which supports the removal of any cellular waste and toxins as well as brings oxygen to the area. This provides the body with the conditions it needs to repair the damage from the inside out.

Perhaps most importantly, the muscles supporting an injured joint and those on the opposite side that must compensate for limited range of motion get tense, stiff, and achy. This contributes to a cycle of pain, more tension, less circulation, more pain… Massage helps to break this cycle and encourages muscles to lengthen and relax. Triggering the relaxation response also reduces the secretion of  the stress hormone, cortisol, which has been shown to contribute to inflammation.

Over time, feeling relaxed and the resulting physiological and neurochemical responses, along with increased circulation, and decreased inflammatory response will speed the healing on most any injury. Given that the side effects of massage include a good mood, nourished skin, and a sense of body-mind connection, I’m delighted to be able to include it in my recovery program. As with most, if not all, holistic and alternative treatments, massage promotes overall health and wellness without the dangers of more invasive procedures. Sign me up!

Healer, Heal Thyself Part 1

So. I injured my knee. Much of the time it doesn’t hurt at all. Until it does. And sometimes it really freakin’ does! My chiropractor did an orthopedic test (specific movements with joints held in specific positions) and it appears I have a torn meniscus. Crap. Although… it is a wonderful opportunity to practice what I preach about self-care and alternative medicine.

Let me begin by saying I’m not a doctor. I’m not offering medical advice. I have no idea what you should do about your knee injury. I’m certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t seek medical attention simply because I’m not. However, you might like to include some complementary methods with whatever treatment you are receiving. Legal disclaimer over.

I’m exploring a wide range of holistic techniques to heal my knee. I’m quite certain that the problem is not the lack of a pharmaceutical drug, and surgery or other invasive procedures will only be considered if all other, and I mean ALL other, plans fail.

I believe in the power of body-mind-spirit healing, and listening to the messages the body provides.

I believe in the healing power of Reiki, bodywork, and compassionate touch.

I believe in using plants and food as medicine.

I believe that minimizing stress and inflammation supports optimal health and healing.

I believe in using mindfulness and breath as tools of integration.

I believe in the ancient sciences of yoga and Ayurveda.

I believe healing comes from the inside out and that my body knows what it needs if I only slow down enough to listen.

I believe I am the ultimate authority when it comes to my health, and while I will research techniques and therapies and consult with other holistic health practitioners, my treatment must align with my beliefs.

This is the beginning of a series in which I explore the journey of healing my knee using holistic, energy, plant, and spiritual medicine. And a magnetic knee brace, which I was gifted today. Because I also believe in synchronicity and kindness and hey, it certainly can’t hurt!

Up next: body-mind-spirit healing for a meniscus tear.