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.

 

 

 

Reiki for Root Canal, Part 3

Tomorrow I’m scheduled for a root canal. I’ve been preparing for weeks. (See part 1 and part 2 of this dental journey if you wish.) My motivation is two-fold: for the procedure to go as smoothly as possible, and to avoid having to go through this ever again. I’m enlisting all the holistic tools at my disposal to make this a reality.

I continue to use Reiki daily, both for my teeth and jaws, as well as sending it to the procedure itself. Given what I know about trauma, the body’s fight-flight-freeze mechanism, and its physiological responses; my strategy is to promote calmness. Reiki, breathing practices, and yoga are the techniques that come to mind.

I’m also interested in minimizing inflammation, for which I’m using diet, herbs, and aromatherapy. I have propolis and arnica tablets standing by for after the procedure and ibuprofen as a last resort. Rescue Remedy, a Bach flower essence for stress and trauma, will no doubt be a huge help as well.

I was delighted to discover askthedentist.com during my research of holistic support for a root canal. This sight is devoted to functional dentistry. I didn’t even know such a thing existed! There’s tons of information about how to maximize oral health that extends way beyond brushing, flushing, and trips to the dentist. Nutrition is a prime focus as a preventative measure. I ordered a new electric toothbrush and natural toothpaste based on the thorough product research provided.

I’m feeling quite well prepared. My doctor comes with the highest recommendations and I’m doing everything possible on my end to ensure a positive outcome. Naturally massage, plenty of rest, green smoothies and other soft foods, and several book and video distractions will all have a place in my recovery. Taking an active role in my wellness plan (which now thoroughly includes preventing future invasive dental interventions!) has been an empowering process.

I’m ready for my first and last root canal. Bring it on Dr. Lim!

 

Reiki for Root Canal, Part 2

…update of original post

It seems appropriate that I’m writing this while swishing coconut oil in my mouth as part of my complementary, holistic campaign for maximum dental health. Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic technique with tons of anecdotal support,  but it hasn’t been subjected to rigorous scientific experimentation. I suspect this is because there’s no money to be made from exposing the benefits of simple self-care practices. I’m willing to give it a try as I see no possible harmful effects and have greater trust in folk medicine than western medicine when it comes to promoting wellness.

After 20 minutes, I’ll brush with baking soda and then again with a mostly natural toothpaste, containing flouride. I still believe that flouride is toxic, but I’m using it on a temporary basis, as my intuition is telling me to use all the tools I can right now in this crisis period, and to take extra steps to support detoxification along the way. I should also mention that I’m doing tongue scraping (another revered Ayurvedic recommendation), first thing every morning too.

Yesterday I went in for the root canal. The doctor was very compassionate and took the time to explain the process to me and answer my questions. He was a referral from my dentist, and that referral was independently verified by a client who is also a dentist, so I was feeling quite good about the choices that led me to be reclining in his chair.

chair clean clinic dental care
Photo by Daniel Frank on Pexels.com

I’d been Reiki’ing myself and the procedure for days. I was as prepared as I possibly could have been. But holy hell! Talk about triggering the fight-flight-or-freeze reflex! It was invasive, scary, and I don’t mind sharing- traumatic. I’m not sure how I would have gotten through it without flowing Reiki and deep breathing. While there was very little pain, the threat of it was overpowering and I could feel my body respond physiologically as if I were in actual danger.

As it turns out, he was unable to complete the process and I have to go back in two weeks for the final round! Apparently the alternative was allowing saliva and bacteria to be introduced into the canal, creating the possibility of “big problems” a few years down the line. No thank you! Now that I know what to expect and that I can indeed survive the experience, I’m feeling less anxious. We’ll see if that calm holds when I go in for the next appointment!

I left the office with instructions for aftercare. They did not cover the emotional distress I was feeling, nor the adrenaline that was pumping through me. I felt the familiar compulsion to suppress uncomfortable emotions using the potent distractions of food, drink, and electronics. I resisted, knowing that I needed to release the energy and emotions and not stuff them down inside of myself.

I continued to flood myself with Reiki on the train ride home while practicing deep breathing with extended exhales. I came home and used aromatherapy, yoga, EFT, and meditation to release the excess energy from my system and to engage the relaxation response. I added propolis to the recommended warm water salt rinse. Several hours later, the numbness had worn off and a mild pain kicked in. I took one ibuprofen, thinking that a good night’s sleep was of utmost importance.

Today I’m feeling fine. I already had a Reiki treatment scheduled for myself, and I’ve switched it to a long-distance session so I can stay home and comfortable (it’s cold and rainy here today) and still receive the full benefits of divinely guided life-force energy. I will continue to treat myself frequently, but there is something magical about receiving treatment from another practitioner.

While I’m waiting for the next appointment, along with the extra dental self-care, I’ll explore nutrition for re-mineralizing teeth. My dentist is skeptical, but I personally know someone who succeeded with this approach and avoided multiple fillings. It’s seems obvious that the body needs certain building blocks to maintain healthy teeth and that the food I choose will be able to supply them.

Overall, I’m able to look at this as adventure of exploring the relationship between modern medicine and complementary medicine. The goal is to use all the tools possible to create the greatest, most optimal outcome. I’m the captain on this journey; investigating all the options, receiving advice from various professionals, and making decisions based on my personal value system. While I can’t truthfully say that I’m glad to be here, I’m going to make the best of it, and do my best to prevent booking a return trip.

 

Massage for Postpartum Joint Pain

Recently someone asked if I was familiar with the phenomenon of women experiencing joint pain after the delivery of a baby. I was not. But this conversation certainly got me thinking! Given my model of understanding pain as an indicator of imbalance, then massage could certainly be of benefit in this circumstance. As I’m always on the lookout for new material for this blog, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore and  share.

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It seems quite common for hormones to be imbalanced during this time of major transition. I find Swedish massage to be spectacularly helpful for supporting hormonal health. Manual therapy is a lot like wringing out a sponge. Massage can physically stimulate the removal of cellular waste and other debris from the tissue. The lymphatic system can then “take out the trash”, encouraging the body to return to equilibrium.

Another obvious factor would be the change in structure of a women’s body once the baby is no longer within her. The center of gravity shifts and the hip flexors and extensors negotiate a new relationship. This will have an impact directly on the hips, knees, and back. From here, imbalance can radiate to the entire body. Releasing tension from tired, overworked muscles and stimulating circulation to weak and underused muscles can absolutely assist the body in returning to structural balance.

Never having delivered a baby myself, I don’t have first-hand knowledge of what the experience is like. I do think it’s safe to say that as far as the nervous system is concerned, it is a traumatic event. Regardless of the possible joy of bringing new life into the world, or achieving the important goal of becoming a mother, the physiological response to pain is swift and thorough. From the first contraction, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered, and muscles tense. Massage can help reset the parasympathetic nervous system and nudge the body back into balance through activating the relaxation response. Reiki can be wonderfully helpful in this aspect as well.

Upper body discomfort is common with new mothers as the body adjusts to carrying, holding, or nursing a baby. This is more of a repetitive movement issue as muscles are being asked to behave in new ways for great lengths of time. Massage can indeed provide relief for those achy and exhausted muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and arms.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of deep-tissue massage in most cases. In this particular case, I’d go so far as to say that intense pressure would only cause more tension and create more pain. Deep-tissue work is actually contraindicated if a mother is breastfeeding, but even if she’s not I fail to see any possible benefits. Skillful and mindful work in the hip flexors, lateral rotators, and gluteals might edge on unpleasant, but crossing the border into pain is going to be counterproductive.

As always, it’s important to check with your doctor when experiencing pain. Western medicine is brilliant when it comes to detecting severe health issues. It’s not so great at treating pain, so unless there’s a condition preventing you from receiving treatment, I have no doubt that some TLC for mama could help tremendously.

 

Time Does Not Heal All Wounds

The more I learn about trauma and its devastating effects, the more I realize that the adage “time heals all wounds” is completely wrong. Not matter how long ago one experienced a traumatic event, if the energy generated at that time has not been released and integrated, it remains in the body. It might hibernate or seem dormant, but it lurks beneath the surface, often creating pain or influencing behavior and emotions from the shadows.

“If you are experiencing strange symptoms that no one seems to be able to explain, they could be arising from a traumatic reaction to a past event that you may not even remember. You are not alone. You are not crazy. There is a rational explanation for what is happening to you. You have not been irreversibly damaged, and it is possible to diminish or even eliminate your symptoms.” Peter Levine, Waking the Tiger

I find this quote from one of the world’s leading experts on trauma to be so helpful. Many of my clients suffer from mysterious symptoms that their doctors are unable to explain. Just because western medicine doesn’t have an answer does not automatically mean that there is none; they just haven’t fully understood the affects of trauma or the awesome power of the body-mind-spirit connection.

I was horrified to hear that a neurologist told a woman experiencing hand tremors that she should see a psychologist because there was nothing physically wrong with her. I have nothing against psychological treatment, but this doctor was implying that she suffered from a mental illness because he was unable to find a diagnosis. I wonder if he would have treated a male patient the same way, but that is a topic for another day.

“Traumatic symptoms are not caused by the “triggering” event itself. They stem from the frozen residue of energy that has not been resolved and discharged; this residue remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and spirits. The long-term alarming, debilitating, and often bizarre symptoms of PTSD develop when we cannot complete the process of moving in, through and out of the “immobility” or “freezing” state. However, we can thaw by initiating and encouraging our innate drive to return to a state of dynamic equilibrium.” Again from Waking the Tiger

Clearly I am enamored with this book! I believe it offers valuable wisdom in a form accessible to the layperson. Somatic Experiencing is the therapy that has evolved from Levine’s work. While I am not a practitioner of this modality, I have absorbed and integrated much of its philosophy into my therapeutic massage and Reiki practice. Acknowledging the whole person, compassionate listening, nurturing touch, allowing an organic unwinding of tension patterns, and supporting the process of body-mind-spirit integration is the approach that has benefited so many of my clients.

While I have much to learn about healing, for my own journey and to support my clients, what really stands out to me is that trauma requires some form of intervention to be released. This appears to be a physiological fact, according to Levine. It does not simply go away over time. There is no shame in reaching out for help healing a wound, no matter how old, how seemingly insignificant, or how much we might believe it shouldn’t be affecting us anymore.

Please know that whatever terrible experiences you may have endured, you are not broken. Your spirit remains perfect, whole, and complete. Your body and mind can be healed and the residue of any trauma is treatable. There is hope.

Here’s a link to a directory of Somatic Experiencing practitioners.

If you’re interested in exploring if long-distance Reiki, or in person Reiki or Swedish massage for stress and pain relief through body-mind-spirit integration might be right for you, please do contact me to schedule a complementary 15 minute phone consultation.

 

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!