Celebrating No Headaches!

One of my greatest joys as a massage therapist is helping people reduce or eliminate pain through a body-mind-spirit approach. When a client tells me that she hasn’t had any headaches since her two appointment two weeks ago, I get excited. When she tells me that it’s very rare for her to go that long without a migraine, let alone a “regular” headache, I’m practically jumping for joy.

smiling woman wearing black jacket and pants jumping in brown open field
Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

Lately I’m seeing more and more clients for headache relief, many of whom have tried all sorts of medications, various therapies, or dietary changes. This particularly client is getting Botox injections, which help but don’t eliminate her pain, and wear off weeks before her insurance company is willing to pay for the next round. Massage seems to be bridging that gap without contributing any unwanted side effects.

The best part of this story is that I’m using good ole-fashioned Swedish massage. No fancy techniques. No deep tissue. No discomfort whatsoever during a session. My goal is to activate the relaxation response, in which the body’s internal feel-good pharmacy gets triggered. Digestion and nutrient assimilation are enhanced, the immune and lymphatic systems are supported, the cardiovascular system calms, and the endocrine system is supported.

Swedish massage manually promotes the relaxation of muscles and encourages circulation and the elimination of cellular waste and toxins. It’s rather like wringing out a dirty sponge, then running it under fresh hot water. As the body adjusts to its new, less-constricted state, internal mechanisms are nudged to promote balance from within. The combination of the relaxation response and the manual “wringing out” therapy is a two-pronged strategy for reducing headaches.

Many of my clients are able to reduce frequency, duration, and/or intensity of chronic headaches with one or two massages each month. For them bodywork is a form of alternative care which prevents them from seeking medical intervention. Many others are less than satisfied with the results of their medical intervention, and get great relief from massage as a complementary therapy.

You don’t need to give up modern medicine to enjoy the benefits of massage. It might just be the key that allows you to celebrate a fortnight free of headaches. And a fortnight after that. And another and another. Why not give it a try?

The problem I have with massage…

“The problem I have with massage…” is not exactly the phrase I wanted to hear from a new client! (Yikes! What have I gotten myself into?!) “…is that I’m unable to verbalize when the pressure is too deep.”

“Aaaah… I can total relate! I’ve experienced this frequently myself.” (I sigh with both relief and empathy!) She went on to explain that even when the therapist invites her to speak up, she just can’t do it and ends up feeling sore for days afterward.

Many of us were not raised in an environment that supported us voicing our needs and desires. Sometimes it wasn’t safe to do so. Programming begins at a very young age, and when we receive the message that our preferences don’t matter, we might adapt by shutting down to protect ourselves. Children might learn to keep their requests quiet out of fear of upsetting the adult in charge, and choose instead a strategy of remaining silent in order to be accepted. Heartbreakingly, we might internalize the message that we don’t deserve to be comfortable or nurtured or that nobody cares what we need.

This cycle can be broken if we intervene, but many of our childhood coping mechanisms run on auto-pilot until challenged. Massage is already a tricky situation because the receiver is in a vulnerable position, both physically and emotionally. Once the relaxation response kicks in, our rational thought and speech centers are subdued. It’s easy to feel that the therapist is the authority who holds all the power, and to slip into the erroneous belief that they know what is best. We’re certainly trained to think this way by the western medicine model.

You are the authority on your body! Please remember this!

I commended this woman for her awareness and for having the courage not only to show up, but to share this with me. Given that I use a gentle pressure and am able to tune in to the nervous system’s response, I felt confident that we could successfully work together. We negotiated a new strategy in which I would ask if she’d like less pressure because she said it felt easy for her to answer “yes” if that were the case.

For the same reason, I ask if a client is feeling chilly rather than if they’re warm enough. I’ve witnessed again and again that someone will say they’re fine only to discover goose bumps moments later. Sometimes the reply is that they don’t want me to go to any trouble or to interrupt the flow. Please believe me when I say that any qualified, caring massage therapist does not want you shivering or flinching on the table!

We can all learn to be more sensitive to one anther’s needs and recognize the difficulty that many people have asking for what they want. Posing a question so that they may respond with “yes” will be helpful for those with a people pleaser coping mechanism. (There’s a lot of us out there!) I find that slowing down, listening deeply without intent to formulate a reply, and tuning in to body language is beneficial.

We can also learn to express our concerns upfront and ask for help when we have difficulty. This can be a stretch from our comfort zone for sure, but if you believe your massage therapist will not respond supportively, it’s probably a hint to find one that will. Speaking to the therapist before booking a session can shed some light on their listening skills and activating intuition can serve as a filtering process.

Massage shouldn’t hurt! (Not unless you want it to, and even then it’s debatable. That’s a discussion for another day.) I’m here to advocate for everyone everywhere to speak up for themselves and ask for what they need. If you find words are elusive in a session, try a simple “Ouch!” And if that is not respected, “STOP”. There is absolutely no need to suffer in silence on the table. Life is painful enough as it is, there’s no reason to endure more at the hands (or elbows) of a hired professional.

Will One Session Help?

I get this question a lot. People want definitive answers before committing to a session. My short answer is, yes. Every session helps. Each step we make towards improving our health and wellness counts. 98% of my clients leave each and every session feeling better than when they arrived.

And… it’s really not quite that simple. I liken healing to getting out of debt. Will one payment help reduce your credit card balance? Sure. Will it eliminate the deficit that has been accruing for decades? Maybe, but probably not.

It’s the same with massage and Reiki treatments. The results depend on so many factors that it’s impossible for me to predict with absolute accuracy how long it will take for any particular issue to be resolved. The intensity and duration of any discomfort is an important consideration as well as lifestyle choices. Activities, thoughts, and behaviors that add to or detract from the underlying imbalance most definitely play a roll. Willingness to let go and embrace change will certainly enhance the efficacy of every treatment, as will efforts to cultivate and preserve the body’s physiological relaxation response.

Consider the goal of being debt free. The degree of debt, income, spending habits, savings and gifts must all be calculated. It’s much the same in healing. Are you making more deposits into your health and wellness account than withdrawals? Are you reducing your harmful spending habits? Are you willing to take on extra work to boost your healing income?

These are all investments beyond the scope of any one treatment. So while yes, one session will help, it’s ultimately your participation in the process that will speed your arrival at the finish line. I’ve seen clients experience tremendous progress through making healthier choices on a daily basis as well as clients who remain stuck on a plateau if receiving bi-monthly treatments is their only contribution.

There’s no right or wrong  here. I’m happy to help clients maintain their health when seeing me is the only effort they are able or willing to make, and I enjoy supporting those who wish to take more active roles and rely less on my efforts. There’s a place for everyone in my practice. But if you want to get better faster, you’ll need to get involved and start making frequent deposits into your health account.

Massage for Chronic Pain

“This is the first time I really understood what it means to be kind to my body.”

A client said this to me after a massage. We might have been sitting, but I was totally jumping for joy on the inside. Also the Hallelujah Chorus was playing in my head.

sunset beach people sunrise

Before the session, we had discussed my kinder, gentler approach to bodywork. I had explained how my goal is to activate the physiological relaxation response that triggers all the feel-good body chemistry and can help break the pain cycle. She understood that I planned to use a moderate pressure to coax the muscles into releasing tension while stimulating circulation, detoxification, and dare I say? Pleasure.

She knew that was the plan, but had no idea how very healing this approach could be. “But you didn’t even attack the knots!” No, I certainly did not! There is no benefit from attacking. Those knots are a symptom of imbalance. I’m much more interested in relieving the root cause of the imbalance, which so very often is… stress. Treating the stress lessens tension and often knots evaporate on their own.

Relaxation is a remedy for stress and pain. Creating more pain through aggressive massage is not a recipe for relaxation. Even intense work that falls just short of pain can stimulate the fight, flight, or freeze response which then triggers… muscle tension. Just like you can’t get carrots by planting cucumber seeds, you cannot cultivate relaxation through pain.

She left feeling considerable relief from the chronic pain that had been plaguing her almost constantly. The next week she reported that she’d had much less discomfort following her treatment, and that it was the first time massage had ever had any noticeable effect. What a victory! I have a feeling this new perspective on being kind to her body will continue to have helpful results as well.

I could have brushed off my hands right there and then and retired happily.

But of course I didn’t because I love my work and there’s so much more of it to be done.

Onwards!

 

 

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.

snow woman winter snowflakes
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.

 

 

 

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.