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.

forward-head-posture

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 Madness

Here we go again! Thanksgiving is still over a week away and already I’m seeing Christmas decorations in some local stores. This season can be overwhelming and super-stressful for so many of us. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the busy-ness of holiday traditions and seemingly endless to-do lists. It’s no coincidence that it’s also a season of colds and flus as we run ourselves ragged.

I encourage people to evaluate their intentions before overcommitting. Learning to say “no” is often one of the healthiest and empowering actions we can take when an activity is not aligned with our goals. Allowing time for rest and restoration is important all year long, but invaluable in the colder months of long, , dark nights. Choosing to stay home and recalibrate rather than overeating, overdrinking, overgiving, or overspending can be so supportive of health and well-being.

For those who are determined to push through and do it all, I highly recommend scheduling some healing support. Why wait till things go wrong, till the immune system crashes, the headaches descend or the low back gives out? Prepare yourself and prevent the aftermath of overdoing by making time for a massage, Reiki or acupuncture treatment, a trip to the chiropractor or hot baths, extra yoga or dance classes, or whatever you favorite mode of relaxation may be.

Make it a priority now and get it on the calendar! Save yourself the misery of getting sick or injured or suffering from stress and tension. Having two jobs, my own business, plans to travel to the Michigan tundra for a family Thanksgiving, an upcoming move to a different home, and all the other ordinary everyday stuff I’m loading up on self-care practices; including eliminating all inflammatory thoughts and foods, boosting my immune system with plant medicine, and receiving treatments from my awesome team of holistic health providers. Seriously, I don’t mess around!

If you’re wondering if a session with me would be helpful, let’s schedule a complimentary 15 minute phone consultation. Even if you’re not in the Philadelphia area, long-distance Reiki is an excellent option to stress relief, recharging batteries, and keeping life-force energy flowing and balanced. If we’re neighbors, let’s get you on the table for a therapeutic massage or Reiki treatment! Check out my website for details or contact me to schedule.

Ki is Key for Healthy Aging :)

I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion with other holistic health care providers on the topic of healthy aging. I’ve decided to write a series of blogs to gather my thoughts in preparation, as well as to share my knowledge on this universally relevant subject with you all. As my passion and primary source of health care is Reiki, focusing on Ki (life-force energy) seems like the obvious starting point.

Keeping my Ki balanced and flowing is my plan for aging gracefully. Just as a flashlight begins to dim as the battery fades, my own energy diminishes over time unless I make an effort to replenish it. This doesn’t mean that my body is doomed to fall apart gradually; I merely need to care of it properly and recharge frequently.

There are countless ways to top off our tanks. Fresh air, deep rest, natural foods, adequate hydration, and being in nature are all essential ingredients for nurturing ourselves. Activities which bring us joy (dancing, painting, gardening, making music, etc.- you know what works for you!) are excellent ways to energize ourselves. The key to success here is in prioritizing these activities and carving out time in our busy schedules. Furthermore, we must protect this valuable time fiercely as there will always be dozens of reasons to choose busyness over self-care and joy.

Reiki is a holistic energy healing technique that super-charges our batteries. It can help clear out any blockages, reestablish balance and flow, and flood the recipient with universal life-force energy. This supports the body’s ability to remove toxins and ensures that all organs and glands are supported with Ki and can function more effectively. The immune system is thus enhanced and our resistance to disease is boosted. Perhaps most importantly, stress is released, rerouting precious energy back to necessary functions and facilitating our bodies’ innate healing ability.

While gray hair, bifocals, and a slower pace might be an expected outcome of passing years, there is absolutely no reason to assume that we are incapable of enjoying health and productivity. Just as a flashlight’s brightness can be restored with fresh batteries, our vitality and well-being can be restored by practices that connect us with Ki, which is abundantly available. Choosing to recharge our batteries on a daily basis is an invaluable habit that will serve us well as we age.

Seeking support from a Reiki practitioner or teacher can amplify the process even further. It matters not what route you take; just that you start on the journey. Ki is key in maintaining vitality and wellness over time. Nourish yourself from within and reap the rewards both now and in your later years.

If you’re interested in scheduling a Reiki session, please visit my website for more information. As energy is not limited by time or space, Reiki can be sent remotely through the practitioner’s intention, with the aid of Reiki symbols, to anywhere a recipient may be. We call this powerful technique Long-Distance Reiki, and it is a service I am delighted to offer. Check it out!

 

Don’t Just Do Something- Sit There!

Over the years of practicing mindfulness, I’ve come to recognize the warning bells of my mind whirling uncontrollably. It’s a sign that I need to stop everything and Just Be. Just for a few minutes, until I get realigned with my peaceful, harmonious nature. Otherwise I’m prone to accidents, mistakes, and attracting unpleasant people and situations.

Been there, done that. No need to repeat those lessons, thank you very much!

So I forced myself to sit on the couch for five full minutes and sip a cup of tea before I left for work. Man, was it uncomfortable!

I didn’t respond to a potential student’s inquiry about studying Reiki considering her religious beliefs. I didn’t craft an email to another student who wishes to apprentice with me about forming a student clinic. Both are exciting projects and dear to my heart. They can wait, however, till I’m more centered and grounded.

I took several deep breaths and a sip of my tea. I ignored the dust in my bedroom that is such a nuisance and soooo not a priority. I fought the urge to make a shopping list to prepare for the lunch I will serve my parents in a few days when they visit or a list about what to pack for an upcoming trip.

A few more breaths and several sips later and I felt my shoulders relax. I did not engage in calculating the edits I need to make for the article I’m writing for my neighborhood food co-op or to my website. I absolutely did not allow myself to second guess my decision to go out to dinner and the theater last night for some much needed fun that kept me out late. And I certainly didn’t make notes about this blog and the ideas I wanted to share here.

I just sat there, drinking my tea, and focusing on my breath. It didn’t matter that I had already meditated, practiced yoga, and flooded myself with Reiki healing energy. I needed an emergency intervention to keep myself from spinning out into an anxious mess.

All of the above tasks are important to me and clearly need to be accomplished in the very near future. Except for the dusting. Seriously, I can’t seem to give a hoot about that! Yet none of them are more important than my peace of mind or well-being. So forcing myself to be still was a valuable remedy.

It was mental torture for about 4 1/2 minutes. Then I was able to sink in and let go and the last 30 seconds got me ready to face the world. I’m feeling much more like myself and prepared to give my clients excellent service. I’d say that was five minutes well invested! Knowing that the rewards will ripple out and benefit everyone who crosses my path makes me doubly sure that this is true.

Less is the New More

Lately I’ve been attempting to talk to my clients about doing less. Ironically, I seem to be triggering the fight or flight reflex  when I suggest resting or doing activities to calm their frazzled nerves. The more I learn about stress, the more certain I am that is the root of much of the pain and discomfort I see in my practice. Yet the mere mention of managing stress or making lifestyle changes to subvert inflammation (a symptom of stress) seems to create more of it!

The inner-detective in me is now on the job. Solving this mystery could benefit most of us. I don’t have the answers yet, but here are some of the questions I’m asking. I’m keeping the inquiry personal, because I can’t answer for anyone else. But I do believe it could be expanded to include any other curious seekers. After all, we share the same basic needs.

  • What would happen if I did less and allowed myself to “just be” more often?
  • Who would I be without my to-do list, my accomplishments, or my aspirations?
  • Why am I so resistant to slowing down?
  • What am I worried about feeling/sensing/thinking if I do slow down?
  • What if I have created my circumstances by thinking that if I do more, I’m a better person?
  • What if my constant striving has led to an unhealthy adrenaline-fueled lifestyle?
  • What if my thinking created the lifestyle, which created the stress, that created the inflammation, that created the pain I experience on a daily basis?
  • Why would I want to continue thinking in the same ways that lead to suffering?
  • Why would I resist retraining my mind to think in newer, healthier ways that support a peaceful lifestyle with less stress?
  • Am I willing to re-examine my values, thoughts, and lifestyle choices to support optimal health and well-being?

My preliminary conclusion is that I often feel stress because society expects me to behave in certain ways that are in conflict with my core values. While my ancestors were dependent on the approval of others for their survival;  I am not. As I get clear about my truth, my unique path in this world, and my soul’s mission; I become painfully aware that catering to the status quo is not only interfering with my sense of self, it is making me ill. As I find the courage to make baby steps to follow my own heart and my own dreams, I feel a sense of empowerment and vitality that is motivating in and of itself.

When it seems like the whole world is swimming against the current, it’s scary to imagine what would happen if I just stop struggling and float with the current. It’s uncomfortable to imagine losing the companionship of all the familiar swimmers around me. It’s upsetting to imagine that I’ve been pushing so hard my entire life to go nowhere I want to go. But what if simply releasing this struggle and facing the discomfort, the unfamiliar, the change of direction is the answer I’ve been searching for but couldn’t see? What if I’m the one creating all the stress and pain in my life?

 

Prehab

Last night I was reading an article in a massage therapy magazine about sports massage. College athletes who were trying out for professional teams were receiving daily massage during their training. The result was fewer overall injuries and quicker recovery from the injuries that did occur. This really isn’t news to anyone in the business of bodywork. We know that lengthening the soft tissue creates a greater range of movement and flexibility that helps protect the body. What really struck me about this article was the use of the word “prehab”.

I had an insightful flash that prehab isn’t just for athletes. We can all benefit from noticing our weaknesses and restrictions and preparing ourselves for challenging situations. We can prevent the need to rehab from injuries by being proactive and taking charge of our health.

In the same way that I like to “pre-hydrate” before a hike, I can prehab for a long car ride or a conference that involves sitting in an uncomfortable chair for several days. I can prehab for a stressful situation like a court date, an exam, or a holiday dinner with the in-laws. I think everyone is aware of the upcoming stressful events in their lives- they are those entries on our calendars that make us cringe or reach for chips or chocolate or vodka. I’d like to propose a more effective and healthier alternative: stress management.

Reducing our overall stress level allows us to better deal with acute situations that activate our fight or flight mode. Strengthening the relaxation response in preparation for difficulties ahead does not guarantee it will all be rainbows and roses, but will certainly reduce the impact on our state of mind. Practicing stress management helps prevent injury (including melt downs or blow ups) and helps us recovery more quickly.

Rather than being a victim to circumstances, we could invest our resources into prehab. Let’s face it, stress happens. Sometimes more than others. There’s no reason to be caught off guard when it does. Taking responsibility for our physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being demands that we take action. The cost of rehab is generally higher and includes more pain than preventative measures. I’m all for anything that removes extraneous suffering from my world. Prehab has just become an important part of my self-care regime. Starting now.

“I Had a Great Month!”

Such glorious words to hear from a client! It’s pretty common for people to show up for their first appointment with me in pretty rough shape. Pain is a powerful motivator, and is often what drives people to seek help from the healing arts. While the vast majority of people feel better after one treatment, the effects begin to fade over time as stress once again drains their  wellness reserves. I endeavor to find the rhythm that supports people to stay ahead of that stress. For many, this is mean scheduling a treatment once or twice per month.

I have observed that when people begin to actively manage their stress (through meditation, yoga, tai chi, massage, Reiki, acupuncture, diet, etc.) that many of their chronic pains begin to disappear. I have four clients that I currently work with who are learning to avoid debilitating headaches. One was even able to reduce the headache prevention medication that made her forgetful and feel foggy-headed. True, headaches are not a life-threatening illness, but anyone who has ever suffered from frequent bouts understands that one’s quality of life is greatly diminished.

It seems we all have a threshold of stress that our individual bodies can tolerate. When we cross that threshold, the body sends us messages, sometimes in the form of pain, to get out attention. These painful signals are cries for help. When we heed them and seek balance, very often the pain disappears as it is no longer necessary; just like the fuel warning light on the dashboard of a car disappears when we fill the tank with gasoline.

When we give the body what it needs (adequate rest, oxygen, nutrients, hydration, movement, pleasure, and expression) it is able to function more smoothly and can often heal itself. Ideally this would be our normal state. However, we live in a world that is faster and busier than suits most nervous systems. This ongoing stress takes its toll on our body chemistry and eventually our muscles, joints, organs, and glands. It seems we have three choices: move to a tropical island, suffer from chronic pain, or support our wellness by managing stress. I, for one, have happily chosen the third option, and delight in reporting to my support system, “I had a great month!”