Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Benefits of Heat?

How many of us like to reach for the heating pad when we are in pain?  There are very good reasons for that.  Heat can help reduce pain because the increased temperature relaxes the muscles and increases circulation.  Adding heat to your self care or massage session can help with old chronic injuries due to increasing the blood flow to help in the healing process of damaged tissues.  Another benefit to heat is that it is very relaxing.  How many of us love the hot tub?  Heat eases a worried mind and slows down breathing.  Another added benefit to heat is that perspiration is good for the lymph system and therefore good for your immune system.

As good as it feels to use heat, there are reasons to NOT use heat if you have low blood pressure or any problems with blood pressure regulation since heat decreases your blood pressure more.  If you are pregnant, hormonal changes can also cause difficulties with blood pressure changes.  Multiple Sclerosis since heat can cause temporary weakness.  Peripheral Arterial Disease because with a compromised circulatory system, blood vessels do not respond in a normal way to temperature changes.  Severe or long term diabetes because of compromised blood vessels.  Inflammation, because heat increases inflammation, this is when it is advised to use cold.  Impaired sensations can make you vulnerable to burning since you won't feel the intensity of the heat.  Certain medications can make you more sensitive to heat.  If you are already wearing a topical analgesic such as icy hot, ben gay, etc. can alter heat sensation.

When deciding on what types of heat to use at home, there is a difference in dry heat and wet heat.  When you shop for a heating pad, you will sometimes see a choice.  Moist heat penetrates deeper than dry heat.  There are also some massage tools that have the option of heat or no heat.  Using heat with massage helps to get deeper into the tissue to break up adhesions.  If you use your hands a lot, running them under warm water while stretching them can get your muscles warmed up before doing any tasks with your hands.  Putting your hands in cold water with ice after your task can decrease the chances of inflammation setting in.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How Often Should I get a Massage?

How often should I get a massage?  The answer to this question is that you want to stay on top of your pain and stress.  If you wait until it comes back, it's too late and will take several treatments to get rid of all that is there.  For example, if you're pain usually comes back in a month, we may want to schedule your massage every 2 weeks at least.  One thing that I have learned about budgeting for massage financially is that staying on top of it actually costs less in the long run than only coming in when you're in pain.  The reason why is because by the time your in pain, the tightness has been there months or years.  It takes a while to feel the pain because muscle is tight for a long time by the time it impinges on the nerves enough for you to feel it.  This can make listening to your body about how often to get worked on tricky.  My clients who see me regularly are paying less than my clients who wait until they are in pain.  The reason why is because it takes more than one session to get rid of the pain, and the treatments have to be close together in order for the old stuff that was previously worked out to not come back before the next treatment..  Also, when deciding how long of a session to book, keep in mind that the tightness that causes the pain can come from more areas of your body than where you feel it.  My clients who book 90 minute sessions are paying less money for massage than my 60 minute clients because they don't need to be seen as often.  If you're wondering how often you should get a massage, ask your massage therapist and listen to your body about what you need to stay on top of it without the pain coming back. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Understanding Chronic Pain

Pain originates in the brain, no matter where we feel it in the body.  Pain that lasts more than a few months is chronic pain.  When pain seems to be persistent long after the tissues have healed and the medical establishment can no longer find anything wrong with you, if you're anything like me, your going to try to keep finding answers to help yourself until that pain is gone.  Let's first talk about the soft tissues of the body.  In the last blog post, we already talked about the role of the connective tissues in myofascial release, so today, we'll talk about trigger points.  Trigger points are knots in the muscles.  If you have ever had a therapeutic massage, you'll know exactly what I am talking about.  If you go to a doctor for pain, trigger points do not show up on any kind of medical imaging exams.  The way to work out these trigger points is professional massage from a therapist who is trained in trigger point therapy, as well as using a golf ball or tennis ball at home if you know where the trigger points are, and use the ball to work them out.

Another area of our body that we store chronic pain is the Central Nervous System or (CNS) for short.  It is possible to store pain memory very deep into our tissues even long after everything else in the physical level has healed.  Craniosacral Therapy works with your CNS to help take your tissues back to the original source of pain. We have talked about craniosacral therapy in more detail in a previous blog post which explains how it works.

One of the most important areas that we need to look at with chronic pain is our emotions.  Think back to how you felt when the problem that caused the pain started.  Those emotions are often stored in our cellular memory years after we thought that we have gotten over an event.  How often have you thought you were over something years ago, just to one day find yourself suddenly crying about it?  Reiki is a gentle energy work that touches every level of your being from physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.  There is also a previous blog post that discusses reiki in more detail.

Integrative body work is several different modalities that are great for addressing several issues such as chronic pain.  Massage, reiki and craniosacral therapy complement each other so well, that they can either be performed separately or combined into an integrative session. There are many modalities out there that are great for addressing chronic pain.  I touched on the three modalities that I use in client sessions and that I have done on myself on a regular basis. 

As always, I like to end each blog post with some self care tips that you can do on your own from home, or with a teacher.  Yoga, qigong, tai chi are all movement therapies that are great for chronic pain and can address your physical, mental and emotional levels all at the same time.  There is one book in particular that is written for the lay person to get rid of your trigger points, it is called: "Trigger Point Therapy Workbook" by Clair Davies.  I love this book and have had it for years.  It is important to know, when using this book, that pain often comes from a different area of the body other than where we are feeling it.  I use this book in conjunction with receiving professional massage therapy.  It works for me for taking the edge off the pain in between sessions, but I still need to be worked on regularly by another person.  Professional massage therapists can find things on us that we can't find on ourselves, even with the use of a good book.

Two good books that I like for exploring the emotional side of pain is called, "Heal Your Body" and "Heal Your Life" by Louise Hay.  The "Heal Your Body" book has common emotions associated with different health conditions and affirmations for each one.  This is not an all inclusive book and not everyone will be able to identify with the cause of their illness, but it is a good place to start.  The "Heal Your Life" book has you exploring your entire life and some inner child healing.  The "Heal Your Life" book has the "Heal Your Body" book included in it, so you only really need to buy one book.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Myofascial Release-stretching the connective tissue

Myofascial release is stretching the connective tissue that surrounds your muscles.  When we go in for massage therapy to address pain, the first thing we think of is muscle.  The connective tissue that surrounds your muscles can also cause some pain and injury problems if not addressed.  Imagine all of your muscles wrapped in saran wrap in order to hold everything together.  When a part of our body becomes injured or stressed, imagine that saran wrap turning into shrink wrap.  The tighter that connective tissue becomes, the more pain and misalignment to the posture can happen.  The connective tissue surrounds your muscles, but is very close to the surface of your skin, which makes access to it in order to be able to stretch it pretty simple.  The way that we stretch the connective tissue is different than how we stretch muscle.  Muscle stretches are usually deep and held for about 30 seconds.  Because the consistency of connective tissue is different than muscle, the way we would approach stretching it is also different.  To stretch the connective tissues in our body, the stretches are gentle and held for a few minutes.  Stretching the connective tissue too aggressively can make the pain and injury worse and lengthen your recovery time.  Tendons and ligaments are among the tissues in our bodies that are considered connective tissue.  Massage therapists who are trained in myofascial release are able to stretch the connective tissue during your therapy session.  It is another wonderful relief of pain, many repetitive stress type pain and injuries are because of tight connective tissue.  Nothing is more effective for me than being stretched by someone else, because the muscle is relaxed and I can be taken into further range of motion than if I used my muscles to stretch myself.  However, there are ways of stretching your own connective tissues in between your therapy sessions.  I have 2 books that I refer to when I do stretches on myself.  One is for lower body and the other is for the upper body.  I don't recommend using these books by themselves without seeking the help of a qualified professional as you can injure yourself if you're not careful.

The book that I like for the upper body is called: "Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries" by Sharon J. Butler.  It is important to follow the instructions in this book about doing the stretches safely.

The book that I like for the lower body is called: "Yin Yoga, Outline of a Quiet Practice" by Paul Grilley.  This is not your usual yoga, it is very slow, gentle and intense.  I recommend finding a live yin yoga class if you're going to use this book so that you are getting supervised help from a teacher.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Who benefits from massage?

Most people who seek massage therapy usually do so for pain relief or relaxation.  When seeking massage therapy for stress relief, a relaxation massage (or swedish massage) can be very relaxing and can release those feel good endorphins.  Relaxation massage is also good for seasonal affective disorder and is good maintenance when you're not experiencing a lot of pain.  Relaxation massage is good prevention and keeps those muscles loose and helps with the immune system.

When seeking massage for pain relief, massage can be used for recent injuries and surgeries once the tissues are no longer inflamed and it can also be used for chronic pain and tightness that has gone on for years.  When dealing with a recent injury or surgery, some of the soft tissues surrounding the area can become tight in order to protect the area from further damage and scar tissue can also develop causing the area to become weak.  Massage therapy can help to release scar tissue as well as loosen up any muscle tightness.  The tightness around the area does not loosen up on it's own once the area has healed.  It will remain tight until it is worked out with massage techniques.  When seeking massage therapy for a recent injury or surgery, it is important to allow it to heal and get clearance from a doctor before getting massaged as massage can make the situation worse if the area has not had proper time to heal.

When seeking massage for chronic conditions, often the pain doesn't show up for months or years, that makes it easy to sometimes not remember everything that happened to cause the pain.  Chronic conditions that can benefit from massage are old injuries and anything repetitive stress.  Remember the car accident 20 years earlier that was only a minor fender bender and you thought you were fine because you walked away scratch free?  Those are the types of problems that can take years to feel in the body, and then it is easy to wonder why the pain is there because it's easy to assume that the pain should be something more recent.  Our bodies never forget trauma no matter how long ago the trauma happened.  The tissues can adapt to the trauma for a while, and then they get to the point where they no longer can.  Other chronic conditions that can benefit from massage is anything repetitive stress.  Sitting at a computer chair with shoulders hunched and your neck forward for long periods of time can impinge the nerves that cause things like carpal tunnel syndrome.  It can also cause permanent change to your posture over time that can impinge more nerves and pull some of the joints out of alignment.  Having chronically tight muscles that never get worked out can cause joints to stress and degenerate over time that is found in osteoarthritis.

Most people do not know how often to get massaged or when and then are surprised at how tight and painful they are when they do get a massage.  By the time you feel pain, the problem has been there months, if not, years.  Those tight muscles don't start to cause pain overnight, they take time.  Putting yourself on a regular massage schedule regardless of how you feel is the best way to stay on top of the pain.  Between having a history of repetitive stress injuries and being a massage therapist, I see my massage therapist every 2 weeks like clock work and still sometimes get worked on more often than that.  I schedule my next session before I leave his office so that I don't have to worry about spots not being available when I need to get in.

There are also things you can do for yourself in between your massage sessions to get the most out of them.  I have a DVD that has stretching, strengthening, self massage and when to use ice for your wrists, hands and forearms that I really like a lot, it is called : 

Healthy Hands Wrists and Forearms The must have for anyone who needs Pain-Free, Fluid, Supple Hands!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Working out tight muscles

When a muscle becomes tight, the first thing that we think to do with it is stretch it out, right?  Not so fast.  Sometimes the amount of tightness in a muscle is much deeper than you realize.  Once a muscle is tight enough to cause pain and restricted range of motion, the tightness has been there for months or years.  I often see clients who didn't have pain until a day or so ago, just for the muscles to feel like concrete.  When it feels like concrete, the problem has been developing for quite some time.  This is also something that I have had to learn the hard way in my own body over the years.  So how do you work out a tight muscle?  The very first thing to do is to have the tightness and knots worked out FIRST.  When a muscle is tight, it becomes weak.  Strengthening and stretching a muscle that's already that tight makes it become more weak.  Have the tightness worked out first, then wait about 24 hours after treatment to try to do any stretching.  Depending on how tight it is, will depend on how many treatments it will take to get it all out of there.  Find a qualified massage therapist who knows how to do trigger point therapy.  General rule of thumb when deciding how often to get worked on, is once a week if you're in a lot of pain.  Every 2 weeks if the pain isn't bad, but you can feel the tightness still there. Once a month is good maintenance after the tightness has been worked out for preventative reasons.  Stretching is good to do 24 hours AFTER being worked on.  You must stretch after the tightness is worked out in order to retrain your muscles.  Strengthening is also good to do after tightness is worked out, especially if the was a range if motion problem.  If your range of motion is off, then the muscles need to be retrained in order to hold the way they are supposed. 

Some good things to do for yourself in between sessions in addition to stretching is self massage.  Tennis balls, golf balls, foam rollers, theracanes, and back buddy all make great self massage tools.  My favorite self massage book is: "Trigger Point Therapy Workbook" by Clair Davies.  Even though this book has a lot of detail about individual muscles, it's written for the lay person to be able to understand.  The author demonstrates the self massage techniques with a tennis ball and with a theracane.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


Reiki is a light and gentle form of body work that works with you on an energetic level.  When you hear people talk about Reiki or energy, they are talking about the chi that flows through us.  Chi is energy.  If you have heard of Qigong or Tai Chi, both of them also work with our chi to keep it flowing freely.  It is quite common to have our chi stuck for various reasons whether it be because of being emotionally upset or because of trauma or illness.  Any areas of our mind, body and spirit can become stagnant.  Reiki is a Japanese laying of hands that was brought over to the United States.  When you get a Reiki session, it is usally done fully clothed, unless combined with massage, on a massage table.  The practitioner just puts their hands lightly on you while the Reiki energy from their hands flows through you is a very deep and healing way.  The best word I can think of that I feel when I receive Reiki is "love".  Reiki is experienced differently from person to person.  Some people have reported a heightened sense of relaxation and pain relief.  The most memorable Reiki session was on someone who was experiencing four different type of headaches at once.  None of the symptoms she described made sense physically, so we decided to try the Reiki to see what would happen.  Since Reiki helps us to heal at the core, she went back to a traumatic event that happened to her when she was four years old.  After the treatment, she reported that all of her headaches were gone and have not been back.  Another time that I had worked on the same person, she said that it got rid of a back pain that she'd had for over a year and it has not returned either.  Everyone's experience will be different, and with any healing modality, not everyone's symptoms are there for the same reason.

Here is a nice FAQ about Reiki: http://www.reiki.org/FAQ/FAQHomepage.html

Here is a nice chart that you can order that shows you what type of emotions effect which organs and which chakras: http://www.robychart.com/

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Craniosacral Therapy-What is it?

What is Craniosacral Therapy?  This is a question that I get asked a lot.  Craniosacral therapy is a very light gentle touch therapy used with pressure no heavier than the weight of a nickel to work with your central nervous system, your craniosacral rhythm, your cerebral spinal fluid and the membranes that surround your brain and spinal cord.  What does this mean for you?  The central nervous system or (CNS) for short effects every other system in our bodies.  The craniosacral system has such a strong impact on the CNS, that if the craniosacral rhythm is out of sync, it can throw off your CNS.  Our bodies remember every stress or trauma that has ever happened in our lives.  The memories of that stress and trauma can throw off our CNS and cause problems in other areas of our bodies.  There is not a single system in our body that is not affected by the craniosacral system.  Craniosacral therapy can help us to heal imbalances physically, mentally and emotionally.  It has helped with pain and injuries, austism, ADHD, migraines and many other conditions.  The first time that I had craniosacral therapy done to me, it realigned my back.  Some craniosacral therapy success stories in my own clients have been remarkable as well.  Some people have said that it realigned their pelvis.  Misaligned pelvis usually means a leg length difference due to one hip being higher than the other, which is very common in most people and can sometimes cause pain in other areas of our body such as low back, shoulder, neck, etc.  One person whose pelvis was reset from craniosacral therapy works in a physical therapy clinic and said that it felt like it was reset by another therapist in her clinic.  Another person with TMJ said that she had less pain, her jaw stopped clicking and that she could feel that the alignment moved for the better despite how gentle the work is.  Craniosacaral therapy works with your body so it can self correct on its own, nothing is ever forced.  Dr. John Upledger first discovered the craniosacral system during surgery and Michigan State University.  He was assisting another physician and his job was to hold down the spinal cord so it wouldn't move, and it would no stop moving no matter what because the craniosacral system is always moving.  What can you expect out of a craniosacral therapy session?  Craniosacral therapy is often done on a massage table fully clothed, or under a blanket if combined with massage.  I generally work between your tailbone and your skull, although some work is also done on the limbs.  When I am assessing your craniosacral system, I am assessing how strong your craniosacral rhythm is and assisting your body in self correcting restrictions throughout your body.  If you have questions about craniosacral therapy, feel free to ask your questions in the comment section of this blog.

People often wonder what self treatments are available from home in between treatment sessions.  I have what is called a craniocradle.  The craniocradle is a green foam device that comes with instructions and is very user friendly.  It can be bought at www.craniocradle.com and the website even has a tutorial video that can be watched about how to use it.  It assists with your craniosacral rhythm as well as relieving tired muscles.  The craniocradle helped me to stop my own migraine headache in its tracks.  A friend of mine borrowed it, within 30 seconds of using it asked me where she could buy one because she could feel her hips relaxing and moving.  No two people's experiences will be the same. It has instructions about how to use it as well as contraindications, who shouldn't use it.  If you have not experienced as craniosacral therapy session for yourself, I highly recommend that you do so that you have an idea about what to expect when using a craniocradle.  This has not replaced my need for full sessions, but nice to have in between sessions.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My own history of pain and injuries

My name is Christine Baker.  This blog is going to be primarily about pain and injury treatment and prevention.  I would like to start out this first post introducing myself and discussing my own history with pain and injuries that led me to my path as a massage therapist.  I majored in music in college receiving a BA in music from Western Michigan University playing the clarinet.  From the time that I started playing in the band at 12 years old, I ate, breathed and slept music.  I practiced a minimum of a couple of hours a day, not because anyone made me, but because I really enjoyed it.  When I entered college to major in music, the practice schedules got longer and I also played in several groups adding rehearsal times onto that.  I started to develop pain in my right hand and wrist from the hours of playing a day, that I eventually got a clarinet neck strap by the end of college.  When I graduated college, most of the jobs I had involved sitting at a desk 8 hours a day in front of the computer.  This made the right wrist and hand situation even worse.  I started to read up on anything that I could find about repetitive stress pain, musicians injuries and computer use injuries.  The more I read up on these topics, I wanted to find out what career options would be available to me to help others who also have pain and injuries in a holistic way that would possibly eliminate the need for anything drastic.  I started out majoring in physical therapy and decided that I prefer to work with people differently than in a physical therapy clinic.  I changed over to massage therapy.  In addition to massage therapy, I also learned reiki and craniosacral therapy based on what has helped me.  The reiki helped me to heal at the core, meaning that any pain that was caused by emotional stress went away with the reiki.  Before the reiki, anything that massage got rid of just came back.  With craniosacral therapy, it is light gentle work used with pressure no heavier than the weight of a nickel.  The first time that I had it done, it realigned the bones in my back.  Craniosacral therapy works with the central nervous system to enhance the cerebral spinal fluid and membranes around the brain and spinal cord.  No two people's experiences with any body work modality will be the same.  I incorporate massage, reiki and craniosacral therapy in treatment sessions.