Friday, November 1, 2013

My Upper Body Self Care Regimen

As many of you already know, I have my own history of chronic pain that got me interested in helping others in pain.  Between self care, doing yoga and seeing my massage therapist every 2 weeks, I do pretty well most of the time.  However, anyone else who experiences chronic pain knows all those occasional bad days or a bad week.  I want to share with you my upper body routine that I do when staying well and when bouncing back from a hard week.

I take my body through the phase of tissue healing that I learned in school.  In a nutshell, that's knowing when to use cold and when to use heat and massage. Between being a musician and a massage therapist, I get flare ups every now and then and take time off of rehearsal and work in order to allow the inflammation phase to pass.  For the first 2-3 days, I use only cold.  A few times a day or more, I run my hands, wrists and forearms under running cold water for about a minute or until it know longer feels tingly.  As night before going to bed, I have different Young Living essential oils that I like as a topical analgesic.  My favorite so far is the combination of lavender and peppermint together. 

After a few days, when the inflammation has a chance to pass, that's when I introduce heat, stretching and self massage.  I have a paraffin bath that I love.  The first thing I do, is stretch the fascia, the soft tissue that surrounds the muscles.  I refer to the fascia as our saran wrap.  If your saran wrap is tight, it won't matter what else you do.  You need to release your saran wrap.  I have a book, "Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome" by Sharon Butler.  It's not just for carpal tunnel.  It's all upper body myofascial stretching.  She has the book laid out so that you can either pick by hobby or vocation or by where you feel the pain.  Very user friendly.

The next thing that I do is use my paraffin bath.  This is heated wax that provides deep heat for the hands.

After that, I do self massage and stretching of the muscles.  My favorite for that is a DVD that I own called, "Health Hands, Wrists and Forearms".

I save strengthening for a day or so after the stretching.  I have a squeeze ball as well as a device called, "The Handisizer".  The Handisizer comes with different strengths of rubber bands so that you can decide how much resistance that you want and it comes with a booklet of suggested exercises.

I do this in the order that I do for two reasons.  1) To allow the proper phase of tissue healing.  2) Because exercising tissue that is already tight, makes it tighter and weaker.  It needs to be massaged.  My routine is in addition to seeing my massage therapist every two weeks.  It's important to combine self care with professional care since problems can be coming from other areas of the body other than where we feel them and that where a professional comes in.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Specialties - What to look for in a therapist.

What are your goals for massage therapy?  Are you looking for something specific, or just general relaxation?  Did you know that massage is like other healthcare professions when it comes to specialties?  So, how do you know when it's OK to see a general practitioner and when it's appropriate to see a specialist?  I can give you some general guidelines.

Not all therapists practice general massage.  Some therapists offer general massage in addition to their specialties, but not all of them do.  If you have a health history that would put you into a special category such as pregnancy, cancer, recent stroke, etc, you need to see a specialist that is trained in your special condition.  Many of these special conditions have precautions that only someone trained in that area would know.  Do you have pain complaints that are just general in nature such as repetitive stress injuries or nursing wounds from a car accident?  Then it is important to find someone who specializes in pain relief and postural correction.  I realize that massage is a very personal experience and it is very tempting to want someone you already know, regardless of their back ground.  That puts your friend or family member in a very awkward position.  If they say yes, that's fine.  If they say they need to refer you out, listen to them. 

Now here is the hard part.  How do you find a specialist?  Well, many of them either have their own office space or do home visits or both.  If you can find one at a spa or a massage franchise, you're lucky since that's not very common.  It's also tempting to go the therapist at your chiropractor's office.  Make sure they specialize in what you need.  Many chiropractors, spas and massage franchises hire new grads straight out of school, but there are exceptions and some of them have veteran therapists.  Word of mouth and the internet are two ways of finding a specialist.  I have many specialist friends who don't have websites, which can make finding them online tricky.  Ask around if anyone does it or knows someone who does.  Be specific in your online searches. 

There are many of us who practice other alternative forms of body work in addition to massage.  Your special condition could end up needing something a little different than what you think you bargained for.  Massage feels good, but if the therapist you contact suggests something a little different, hear them out.  I do postural corrective manual therapy.  Some pain complaints will require that in order for me to meet their needs.  It's not a massage and it's not soothing, but it can sometimes help pain complaints that are causes by tight soft tissue.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

When joints are out of alignment

One of the most common reasons that I see people who are in pain, their joints are usually misaligned more often than not.  This doesn't cause minor pain, the pain is usually excruciating.  It's more common in our population than not and it is generally not noticed until it is too late.  What do you do when you are in pain due to misaligned joints?  It's more simple than you think if you catch the problem early enough.

Bone is a slave of the muscles.  Without the muscles, the bones cannot move.  If you have muscle that is tight on one side, it pulls the joint out of alignment, making the muscle on the other side too loose.  Ouch!  In order for the joints to go back into proper alignment and stay there, the muscles must be put back into balance.  The answer to this problem is manual therapy.  Manual therapy is different from a regular relaxation yummy massage.  Therapists who are skilled in manual therapy will know by looking at your posture exactly what muscles need to be loosened up in order to get your joints back into proper alignment.

If you are under the care of a chiropractor, it is important to also incorporate manual therapy into your care in order for the adjustments to stay in place.  Remember, bone is the slave of muscle.  It is important to make sure that the therapist is trained in manual therapy.  Manual therapy is NOT the same thing as a deep tissue massage.  Check out different therapists in your area.  Check out their websites.  Call them or e-mail them to ask them questions about how they work.

Many of the common complaints that can benefit from manual therapy are arthritis, foot and ankle pain, back and neck pain, nerve pain and uneven hips.  Did you know that the problem usually starts out as a soft tissue problem more often than not?  If you catch it early enough, it can often be reversible. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

TMJ - Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

TMJ is when the joints that allow us to chew, talk or yawn become misaligned. Anytime any joint anywhere in your body is not where it is supposed to be, it can cause many problems with pain.  Some of the common reasons for TMJ are oral surgery, teeth grinding and playing a wind musical instrument that requires biting down such as reed instruments.  However, any trauma to our body, no matter where it is, can affect us in other areas of our body, making finding a cause tricky.  Did you know that if your hips are out of alignment, that can effect the other joints in your body as well?  Think about it.  The hips are your core.  If you have ever fallen down hard, had any accidents, had any babies, etc., this is one thing to keep in mind.  Think of core and hips as a foundation to a house.  If you do not have proper foundation for your house, how will the rest of the house be supported?  It's a lucky thing for us that our bodies are more adaptable than a house that would fall apart and crumble to the ground. The fact that our bodies are made to adapt is where chronic pain can come in.  If our bodies weren't able to adapt, then we would be unable to move after the slightest little injury.  Our bodies adapt by going out of alignment instead of crumbling to the ground.  Check out someone with scoliosis sometime in order to get a visual of what that means.  The spine is crooked, so the head is off to one side, while the hips are off to the other side.  The person adapts by bringing their head back to the center in order to be able to look forward.  But at what cost to their neck in order to be able to look forward?  The muscles and joints have to adapt to a new position somehow.  They are usually still able to walk by adapting to one leg shorter than the other at the risk of hip and back pain, but they are still able to move.

Some natural treatment options for TMJ can include massage and craniosacral therapy.  Both address posture if the problem is coming from the hips like I mentioned earlier, but they also address the problem at the site of the TMJ.  Massage can be used to manually correct any postural problem that is caused by tight soft tissue.  It can also be used inside the mouth in order to release tight tissue that can be impinging the nerves and bringing the jaw out of alignment.  Ohio law requires written permission from a physician, dentist or chiropractor in order for a massage therapist to work out the muscles that are inside the mouth.  Craniosacral therapy helps the body to self correct on its own with the use of very gentle pressure no heavier than the weight of a nickel.  It can sometimes help the bones and joints to reset into proper alignment on their own.  Craniosacral therapy can help to realign the cranial bones (the skull bones) from both the head and inside the mouth.  

Monday, September 9, 2013


Inflammation can be our friend when an injury first occurs.  It's our body's response to aid in healing.  When something is hurt, it is supposed to be nurtured back to health before returning to normal activities.  One of the many reasons for unexplained pain is when the inflammation is still there long after the injury has had time to heal.  If the injury is repetitive stress in nature, then the injury can return when we go back to our normal activities.  So, what's it going to be?  Do something, or never return to your normal activities again?  I learned the hard way long before becoming a massage therapist that not returning to normal activity does not get rid of the pain.  When what's wrong isn't fixed, I still hurt A LOT!  So, I am going to talk about natural ways of helping the inflammation process along in a way that decreases pain.  The answer is cold.  It sounds more simple than it really is since there are correct and incorrect ways to use cold.  If you're not careful, you can cause permanent tissue damage, same as with heat.  If you use a cold pack or ice, when the area starts to feel numb is when you remove it.  You can go back to putting it back on later on, but never too long at once.  If any of you have had your wisdom teeth removed, your doctor may have given 30 minutes on, 30 minutes off instructions or something similar.  Heat dilates the blood vessels and cold constricts them.  When cold is left on too long, it actually dilates them instead.  This can cause tissue damage!  The combo of heat and cold actually helps to flush out the pain causing toxins.  If you have ever heard of a contrast bath, that where you have 2 tubs of water, one as hot as you can stand it and one as cold as you can stand it.  You alternate 1 minute cold and 3 minutes hot and keep alternating back and forth for 20-30 minutes.  After a while, you'll feel an effect that feels like tingling.   You can do the same thing with your shower water if an area is too big for small tubs, or if you're lazy like me :)  Heat should never be used on a brand new injury, not even a contrast bath or shower.  Another trick I like to use is running my hands and forearms under cold running water for about 30 seconds to a minute, or until numb, about 2-3 times a day.  Between being a massage therapist and a musician, this really helps me a lot.  I also have topical analgesics that I put on just before bed.  Do not combine topical analgesics with heat or cold, only one or the other.  I use essential oils that double as topical analgesics such as wintergreen and peppermint since they are more natural.  Wintergreen needs to be used with caution since it has the same properties as aspirin.  Peppermint needs to be used with caution since it raises blood pressure.  This helps with inflammation, but does not substitute the need for soft tissue therapy.   Many of us need both.

Disclaimer: Christine Baker, LMT is not responsible for injuries inured from the use the contents in this post.  This is for information purposes only and does not substitute medical care.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Head Trauma, Oral Surgery or Orthodontia - Misaligned Cranial Bones

Many of us have had falls and/or oral surgery or braces.  When this happens, our cranial bones can become misaligned.  The fall doesn't necessarily have to happen on the head.  If you fall down on your behind, what happens at the pelvis affects the head as well.  When cranial bones become misaligned it can affect a number of things from focus and concentration to hip and back pain.  It can mimic learning problems and headaches.  One thing that can help improve this is craniosacral therapy.  Many people who have had concussions, traumatic brain injury, etc. can really benefit from craniosacral therapy.  People who play wind instruments also need to have their cranial bones adjusted, especially from inside of the mouth. Craniosacral therapy is a light touch manual modality that uses pressure no heavier than the weight of a nickel to affect change.  One of the many things that craniosacral therapy can do is gently realign the cranial bones.  When I do craniosacral therapy, I listen to your body and help your body to re correct on its own.  Our bodies have a craniosacral rhythm that is as equally important as the heart rate and respiratory rate.  I tune into this rhythm, which is how I help the body to self correct on its own.   When I receive craniosacral therapy, I do notice a big difference in focus and concentration and it also relieves my migraines.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Client Stories - The Amazing Effects of Massage, Reiki and Craniosacral Therapy

I have 3 amazing client stories that I am going to share with you today.  One is for massage, more specifically manual therapy for postural correction, one for reiki and one for craniosacral therapy.

Manual Therapy Client Story: I had a woman come see me for foot pain.  Her podiatrist had told her that surgery would be inevitable, but she still wanted to see what massage therapy could do for her.  She had mentioned feeling like she compensates at her hip and that her hips feel like they are misaligned.  I looked at her posture and noticed that her hips and back were misaligned.  Since I look for the source of the problem, I never once went anywhere near her foot during this treatment.  I knew right away, that the deep core muscles were the cause of what she came to see me for. The deep core muscles can make the hips become misaligned when they are tight, often mimicking a leg length difference among other problems.  I spent her session working on different muscles of her abdomen.  Many of the spots that were tight, the client mentioned feeling it radiate to the part of her foot that hurt.  After her session, she mentioned her alignment feeling straight and she looked straight too.  I also gave her some information about a restorative exercise program designed by a foot specialist.  When the client saw me again at a later time for a regular massage, she told me that she was able to tell her podiatrist that her foot no longer hurts.  She had been using this restorative foot program that I told her about in addition to my treatment.

Reiki Client Story: I had a woman come see me because she was experiencing 4 different types of headaches simultaneously for the past week.  Even though that can sometimes be muscular, the areas that she said were hurting her didn't not make sense to what I know about the muscles.  I  recommended that we try reiki.  Reiki is a light energy work modality that goes to the source of an issue.  It can bring up old emotions and memories.  She went back to a traumatic incident that happened when she was 4 years old. The reiki not only got rid of her headaches that never returned, but she noticed a difference in her personality too.  Her parents told her that up until she was 4, she was the outgoing type who would take to anyone.  After that, she became quite shy.  She reported to me later that she no longer felt shy anymore.

Craniosacral Therapy Client Story: I had a man come to me because he had been experiencing a pain in his thigh that he described as feeling like a bee sting.  He was very concerned as this very same symptom happened to his mother and she gradually had gotten to the point that she could no longer walk.  He suspected that he needed something that works directly with the nervous system, which craniosacral therapy does.  He reported to me afterward that the pain was 80% gone and his hips and back had felt significantly straighter as if he had an adjustment and his mood was much brighter.  He kept telling me that craniosacral therapy is not marketed enough.  He's right.  It's not.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Are you in touch with your body?

When was the last time you called your body and had a chat?  How do you handle pain when it arises?  I am not only talking about physical pain, but mental and emotional pain too.  Do you deal with it when it arises, or do you stuff it down thinking that ignoring it will make it go away?  Well, I have news for you.  Ignoring it does NOT make it go away.  If anything, it grows like a tumor.  The less in touch you are with your body, the less likely you are to notice until the pain becomes debilitating. 

Did you know that once muscle becomes tight enough for you to feel physical pain, that the injury has been there for months or years?  That's right!  It takes a long time for muscle to become tight enough to impinge the nerves if the problem is repetitive stress.  Repetitive stress is both repetitive motions and repetitive posture.  This can include the way that you sleep.  I have had many clients come see me last minute because they slept wrong and had pain from the night before.  When I work on them, it becomes obvious to me that the problem is long term and chronic and they were not aware of it.  I can tell how old an injury is by how tight the muscles are.  If they feel like concrete to me, we have some major work to do.  Some things you can do for yourself can include, but not limited to: yoga, water aerobics, walking, hiking, strength training and cardiovascular exercise.  I don't recommend anything high impact since our joints will pay the price for it later on.

If you are having a hard time getting rid of pain no matter what you do to work it out, think back to how you felt emotionally when the problem first happened.  We often think that we had gotten over something a long time ago and they be embedded in our cellular memory.  Some things you can do for yourself can include, but are not limited to: emotional freedom technique, guided meditations and energy work like reiki.

I have noticed for myself, as well as clients, that taking care of myself through meditation, exercise, eating right and receiving regualr body work, that I am very in touch with my body to the point of knowing immediately when something is wrong.  Since I always book my next body work session after being worked on, before leaving, I never have to stress out about anything that I am unable to work out on myself because I know that I already have my next session pre booked.

If you start to feel worse as a result of self care, there are two possibilities.  One possibility could be that you may have picked an exercise that is making the problem worse, or you could be doing it with an improper posture or doing too much too soon.  Another possibility that is rarely acknowledged, is that you are becoming more in touch with your body.  Once you get out of pain you have had for years, you'll notice it immediately as soon as it starts to come back.  Problems that are years old do not go away over night.  Have patience and nurture your soul by doing something that makes your heart sing.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When Pain Becomes Chronic

There are many different reason why pain can become chronic.  I am going to talk about chronic pain from the point of view of stored emotions and energy work.  I find that clients who are open to energy work, in addition to massage, seem to have some pretty profound results.  From an energy work perspective, we can have stored emotions from a long time ago from events that we think we may have forgotten about. 

From the Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view, here is a simple break down of how emotions affect different organs of our body:  Some emotions associated with the heart and small intestine can include hate, cruelty and impatience.  Liver, eyes and gallbladder can include anger, frustration, jealousy and envy.  Kidney, ears and bladder can include fear.  Spleen, stomach and pancreas can include worry, anxiety and mistrust.  Lungs, skin and large intestine can include sadness and depression.  As you can see, these emotions are not independent of each since we usually experience more than one of them simultaneously.  Therefore, it would make sense that the organs do not work independently of each other and actually depend on each other.

Chakras are energy centers located in our body.  The root chakra is located at the base of the spine and can represent safety and security.  The sacral chakra is located on the lower navel and can represent sexuality and creativity.  The solar plexus chakra in located in the solar plexus and can represent power and self esteem.  The heart chakra is located at the center of the chest and can represent love and emotions.  The throat chakra is located at the throat and can represent our voice.  The third eye chakra in located between the brows and represents intuition.  The crown chakra is located at the crown of the head and represents our connection to the divine.  Our chakras also represent emotions and the organs.

I like to include the discussion of emotions when discussing pain because this is what has worked for me.  Massage helped, but reiki and craniosacral therapy took things deeper to the source of pain and helped get rid of it for good instead of helping.  Reiki helps on an energetic level with the chakras and emotions.  Craniosacral therapy is a form of manual therapy and is light and gentle enough to take the tissues back to the source of pain to help release the memory associated with the pain.

There are self help things you can do from home in between your body work sessions.  My favorite authors for both books and guided meditation CDs are Louise Hay and Doreen Virtue.  There are also books out about emotional freedom technique or EFT for short that teach you how to tap on acupuncture points for the purpose of working out fears, phobias, pain, etc.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thoracic Outlet - Often confused with Carpal Tunnel

There is carpal tunnel syndrome and there is thoracic outlet syndrome.  This post is not meant to diagnose, but for informational purposes only.  Everyone experiences different symptoms for each and need a diagnoses from a doctor in order to know for sure what is going on.  Both have some nerve impingement going on.  That can often be caused by tight soft tissues.  Try a massage and see if you experience relief from your symptoms.  When nerves remain impinged, they can become permanently damaged because impinging is the same thing as choking.  They need room to "breathe". 

If you're experiencing a cold feeling on one hand in particular, that could possibly be thoracic outlet symptoms.  There is true thoracic outlet syndrome and there are thoracic outlet symptoms.  True thoracic outlet syndrome can only be diagnosed by a doctor by x ray.  True thoracic outlet syndrome means there is an extra rib and the only thing that can be done about it is surgery to remove the rib.  It is possible to have thoracic outlet symptoms without the extra rib.  If the hand is feeling cold in addition to pain, your circulation is being choked off in addition to some nerves.  This can sometimes be caused by tight soft tissue if there isn't an additional rib.  Try a massage and see if you get relief in your symptoms.

It is important not to ignore symptoms due to the possibility of damage becoming permanent.  A friend of mine who works in physical therapy had a man show up to the clinic that she works at with thoracic outlet.  I don't know if he had the extra rib or not.  Anyway, he waited so long to come in, that they had to turn him away and send him to the surgeon across the hall from the clinic.  Early intervention is vital!

One of my favorite self help tools is a book of stretches by Sharon Butler called:
Product Details

Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries: A Self-Care Program by Sharon J. Butler (Apr 1, 1996)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Purses, Backpacks and Wallets - Nerve Impingment

There are many different everyday lifestyle choices that can lead to pain, nerve impingement and postural distortion.  In the last post, I talked about proper ergonomics, especially when using a computer.  If you haven't read that one yet, here is your opportunity.  Today, I am going to talk about how purses, backpacks and wallets can contribute to nerve impingement and postural distortion.

Purses: Anytime we wear something on one shoulder, especially if it's heavy, can lead to shoulder impingement.  This applies to anything that we wear on one shoulder, so moms and dads, this applies to baby bags as well.  If you're like me, you like to make sure that your purse has enough room in it to fit everything in it that you like to keep handy.  Take a look through your purse.  How much of the stuff that in there do you really need to carry around with you everywhere?  I know when I take the time to look through mine, I find stuff I forgot that I have and don't need.  If you have pain in your neck and shoulder on the same side of your body as your purse, pay attention.  Back pack purses are best.  Even then, you want to watch how much stuff you are carrying around.  This evenly distributes everything on both shoulders.  When you where something on one shoulder, those muscles have to stay in place somehow and they do it by compensating.  Instead of staying in proper alignment, we naturally hunch that shoulder up, otherwise the purse will fall.  Try alternating which shoulder you carry your purse on.  Also, laying the shoulder strap on one shoulder and having the purse hang off of the opposite hip can be less strenuous as well.  Try different positions and see which one works best for you.

Backpacks:  This can apply to kids as well as adult students.  Watch the weight of your backpack.  Do you really need every single book from every subject that you are taking in that backpack at once?  This is tricky for the kids since we all know they have plenty of time to go to their lockers in between classes (sarcasm).  If they have at least one class that is close to their locker, then maybe they can plan ahead by visiting their locker after that class to load and unload.  I have heard parents say that schools don't allow backpacks on wheels, which makes sense for safety purposes.  There is only so much room in those hallways in between classes.  Adult students: We all know that the more advanced the course work, the thicker the books.  Colleges do allow back packs on wheels, so that is one option to consider.  You also have the trunks of your cars if you don't want to carry around all of those books at once.  Last, but not least, make sure that the back pack is worn on both shoulders.  When I was in college, I made the mistake of carrying the whole thing on one shoulder and that caused me a lot of problems.  I can no longer use the lightest bags even with just one book in them.  Same for light purses.  I now use a back pack purse and a back pack on wheels.  Don't be me :)

Wallets: These should be worn in the front pocket.  Yes, you read that correctly.  But what if it's too tight to where it there?  Get pants that fit you better.  Seriously!  Sitting on a wallet in your back pocket over time causes one hip bone to become higher than the other.  You are also sitting on your sciatic nerve.  Look through your wallets.  Do you still need everything that's in there.  Wallets can get pretty thick over a short period of time.  Having one hip higher than the other can cause a leg length different and a lot of pain over time.  The sciatic nerve starts in your rear end, but all of the nerves that go down your legs and into your feet are all connected to the sciatic nerve.  Pain can stay in the hip or it can radiate down the legs and feet.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Proper Ergonomics - A Key to Pain and Injury Prevention

The majority of my pain and injury cases that I see at the office are people who sit at a desk most of their day and/or do several hours of driving during a day or week.  There are different reasons why that is, but I also see very common things among most people that are an easy fix if you take inventory of your ergonomics, posture and alignment. 

Take a look around your work and home environment.  When you are sitting at your computer, is your monitor directly in front of you, or off to the side?  Sit at your computer:  Are you looking at the monitor straight ahead of you, or do you have to turn or cock your head to look at the screen?  Make sure that your monitor is directly in front of your face so that you are looking at it straight on without the need to move your neck.  Also, make sure it is at a height that does not require you to look up or down.

When you type, read the computer screen or read out of a book, where is your head positioned?  Is it stacked on top of your shoulders or are you leaning forward?  The majority of neck injuries that I see are as a result of a head forward posture.  Our heads are the same weight as a bowling ball.  When you stick your head out forward, the weight of that bowling ball (your head) is creating stress on your spine.  The head should be positioned on top of the shoulders with your ear in alignment with your shoulders.  Obviously, you can't tell on yourself whether or not the ears are perfectly lined up, but you get my point about what to aim for.  One exercise to help you figure out where your head is, is to put your thumb on the notch in between your collar bones and your index finger under your chin.  That is how straight your head needs to be in order to not induce injury causing stress.

When you are working the computer, the mouse or are stressed in general, where are your shoulders?  Are relaxed or are you wearing them like earrings?  Most of us like our shoulder earrings :)  Well, not really.  Taking a deep breath is one way of getting those shoulders to relax without having to think about it.  Also, when working the mouse, remember to keep that shoulder relaxed.  I have seen a lot of injuries just from working the mouse.  Also, are your shoulders blades stacked directly on your back, or are your shoulders rolled forward?  Shoulders generally roll forward when our neck is in that head forward posture.  The shoulders should be relaxed, not up to your ears and shoulders blades stacked directly on your back.  Letting them roll forward is a common cause of upper back pain because your chest muscles become tight and your upper back muscles become overstretched.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Massage Therapy, Physical Therapy and/or Chiropractic - How do you know what you need!

I am going to talk about some of the difference between massage therapy, physical therapy and chiropractic.  This is for information purposes only and not to be taken as advice.  The first of course knowing which treatments you need is a referral from your primary care physician.  My experiences with each is this:  I was in a 2 year physical therapist assistant program for a year and a half before changing over to massage therapy.  My knowledge of chiropractic is what I have learned from my own research.

Chiropractors adjust the bones and joints to correct alignment and reduce pain.  There are many styles of chiropractic out there.  Everyone knows about the high thrusting style of manipulation.  What many people don't know, is that's not the only style out there.  Every chiropractor adjusts differently, just like no two PTs or LMTs are the same.  There are gentle styles of chiropractic available as well that do not involve high thrusting manipulation.

Physical therapy is of course, therapeutic exercises.  Physical therapy can also sometimes involve the use of heat, ice, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and manual manipulations.  No two PTs are the same, so this is in general.  Some PTs believe in some things and not others.

Massage therapy.  There are really two tiers of massage therapists.  Those who only offer relaxation and spa services and those you specialize in soft tissue manual therapy for pain relief and postural correction.  Some therapists offer relaxation and pain relief services.

So, how do you know what you need in addition to the recommendation of your doctor.  Everyone should do their own research about their health before embarking.  Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind.  This is stuff I have learned over the years through research, as well as what has worked and hasn't worked in my own chronic pain from repetitive stress injuries.  Many postural and alignment problems can be soft tissue related.  When muscle becomes tight, it pulls the joints out of proper alignment and impinges on nerves.  When not treated properly and right away, permanent damage can result.  If you're going to get your bones adjusted, make sure the problem isn't tight muscle first.  Set the foundation of your house before you build it.  Many chiropractors will tell you this too.  They refer their patients out for massage therapy for this very reason.  Now, let's talk about when to seek therapeutic exercise.  What I learned about any massage or manual therapy techniques while studying physical therapy consisted of one 3 hour lab.  I spent an entire quarter in massage school learning how to give a basic relaxation massage and another quarter learning how to do manual therapy for pain relief and postural correction.  I also learned while studying massage that exercising muscle that is already tight, makes it tighter and weaker.  I also noticed this to be true in my own experience.  When considering exercise for the relief of pain and other problems, make sure that the problem isn't tight muscle.  This was not taught to me while studying physical therapy. 

Now, how to pick the right chiropractor, PT or LMT.  I would say do your own homework and ask for referrals.  No two health care providers provide the same treatments.  Sometimes it can also be trial and error.  Sometimes you need more than one treatment to decide.  I have seen people make their decisions based on who takes their insurance and who doesn't.  I have seen a lot of client dissatisfaction happen as a result of this.  Cash or insurance, pick who can help.  Whomever can help you is going to get you well faster and save you the most money.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bunions, Calluses and Plantar Fasciitis, On My!

Did you know that many of the problems that we have in our body start at the feet?  Pain and postural problems start at our feet.  We live in a shoe wearing society.  Wearing shoes prevents the small muscles inside of our feet from doing their job.  When picking out a pair of shoes, the flatter, the better.  Also, make sure that your toes have plenty of room to spread.  Not having enough room to spread the toes is one of the mechanical reasons for bunions.  High heeled shoes force your posture to overcompensate.  Stand on your tip toes for a minute and observe how your posture compensates in order for you to stand upright without falling forward.  Your spine is unable to stay in proper alignment on your tip toes.  Another thing to observe when standing and walking is your foot alignment.  Stand up and look down at your feet and see where they naturally want to be planted.  Are they straight forward, or are they off to the side.  If they are off to the side, that is common among most of the population.  Straight forward is proper alignment.  What does this have to do with anything?  Well, a lot.  One of the most common reasons for chronic pain is misalignment.  When your foot is off to the side instead of straight forward, that effects the alignment of your hips.  It is also another mechanical reason for bunions and calluses.  Your entire hip has to turn in order for your feet to be turned.  If turning your feet forward is easier said than done and makes you unable to keep your balance, don't despair.  It took years for you to get to that point, so the problem will not go away over night.  Part of retraining our body means retraining our brain.  Our body has what is called proprioception. Proprioception is how your body feels in space.  When I realized I was turning my right foot outwardly, that felt normal to me.  When I made the effort to keep it straight, I constantly had to look down to make sure that I wasn't pigeon toed because my brain and propioception were trained to think that having my foot outward was normal.  I was not pigeon toed at all, it just felt like it.  The only thing that I could do about it was to remain consciously aware until I had my brain and proprioception trained to the new normal.  The reason I went through the effort to do this is because I have right hip problems and a right bunion starting.  I am all about prevention.  I once saw a woman who came to see me because she had left foot pain.  Her podiatrist told her surgery was inevitable.  She told me that she felt like it was coming from her hips and she could feel some compensation going on that was causing her foot pain.  I looked at her posture and knew that the problem was not coming from her foot.  I worked in her pelvic area to correct the alignment problem that I noticed was going on.  As I was working on her, she could feel what I was doing radiating to her foot that hurt.  After I worked on her, I gave her information about a biomechanist, Katy Bowman, who specializes in feet.  She bought Katy's book, starting doing the exercises in her book and taking the advice from her book.  When she came in to see me again for something else, she told me that she was able to tell her podiatrist that she no longer has any pain.  Everyone's source of pain is different, so this is just one person's experience.

As always, I am ending this post with some self help information.  The book that I mentioned in the post is called, "Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief - The New Science of Healthy Feet" by Katy Bowman.  Katy's book can be bought on Amazon or her website.  Katy also has two websites: and

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Massage for Arthritis

This is for you accurate meteorologists out there :)  When we think of arthritis, we immediately think of the joints.  The joints are where the pain is felt and there is there is usually some degeneration going on to explain the pain.  What causes arthritis and what helps with the symptoms may vary from person to person.  I am going to talk about possible causes and treatments from the perspective of the muscles.  We can often get what is called "referred pain", meaning that the pain can sometimes come from a different location other than where we are feeling it.  One thing that can happen when muscle becomes tight and stays that way for a long period of time, is that it impinges the nerves and pulls on the bones and joints, therefore causing a problem with the alignment.  The reason that proper alignment is so important is because there is more wear and tear to the joints when the bones are not properly aligned.  So, is arthritis caused by muscles being in a chronic shortened state, or do they get in a chronic shortened state due to problems from the joint?  The answer to this question can vary from person to person.  A traumatic injury such as a car accident can cause immediate damage.  The way that we walk, sleep and sit can sneak up on us over a long period of time due to repetitive motion. 

Some self care tips are regular massage and exercise that is right your your current situation.  Yoga and tai chi are great land based exercises and many people have really felt the benefits of aqua aerobics.  Getting into the water is very good for you and doesn't put too much impact on your joints.  If you get massaged regularly and enjoy the benefits of heat, some massage therapists do offer heated alternatives that can be added to your massage session.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Unexplained Pain

There can be many reasons why someone can have pain without knowing why or what they may have done.  I'm going to talk about the kind of pain that is caused by repetitive motion or being in one position for a long period of time.  First of all, these things take time to manifest as pain.  Nothing happens over night just because the pain is new and just started.  If there isn't a direct cause from a traumatic injury, chances are that the problem as been cooking for a while even though you are just now feeling it.  If you're suddenly having pain without knowing why and can't recall a specific event, back track your daily life.  How do you sleep, work or play?  I often get people coming in to see me because the slept wrong the night before, didn't feel the pain until the next day and they honestly believe that it's new pain.  When I go to work on the muscles, they are like concrete.  Muscles do not get that tight over night.  The reason why you wouldn't know about it or feel it because of how tight the muscle has to get in order for you to feel the pain.  It takes months to years for the muscles to become tight enough to impinge on the nerve.  Tight muscle can also pull on the bone hard enough to pull the joints out of proper alignment causing even more pain.  When you sit at a desk, how are you positioned.  Are you leaning back or forward?  Do you lean on an elbow?  Do you tilt your head when you talk on the phone, or do you have a head set?  Is the monitor directly in front of you or are you turning your head to look at the screen?I recently worked on someone who had range of motion problems and pain in his left rotator cuff.  He had no idea why or what he did, but he was in a lot of pain and couldn't move his shoulder comfortably.  I looked at his intake form and noticed that he is a college professor.  I asked him about the long hours of grading papers and whether or not it's done on a computer or on paper.  As it turns out, he leans on his left elbow as he is relying on his right hand to move the mouse.  By doing that, he was out of proper alignment and impinging on some major nerve supply.  Also, pay attention to your sleeping position and what position you find yourself waking up in.  Stomach sleepers tend to have neck problems from having their heads tilted for 8 hours straight pinching off some important arteries.  That can also put pressure on your hips and low back.  Side sleepers sometimes tend to lay on an arm and pinch off some major nerve supply that they end up feeling in their shoulder, arm or elbow.  If you lay on your back, pay attention to whether or not you keep your head straight or bent off to the side.  People who wake up with it bent off to the side are pinching nerves, arteries and pulling on some of the smaller and more delicate muscles of the neck that attach to the ribs and affect alignment of the neck and shoulders. 

Some self care tips are proper ergonomics, whether it be your work station, the way that you drive or special pillows for sleeping.  This is number one in order for anything else to work.  Regular massage and exercise will help to support your change in proper ergonomics.  Body mechanics mean head straight on top of your shoulders and shoulders blades directly on your back and not slouched forward.  Our heads are the weight of a bowling ball and have that kind of impact on our spine when we're letting our head sink forward.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Migraine Headaches-Part 2

In the first post about migraine headaches, I talked about some of the possible causing and how massage can help if it's muscular, craniosacral therapy can help if it's nervous system related and reiki can help if it's energetic and sometimes it can be due to hormonal imbalance.  If any of you have suffered from a migraine headache or love someone who does, you know that there can be many reasons why someone could be getting them and it can take a lot of research if you've already tried what you know without the desired results.  I used to get them until I got my hormones balanced out.  My husband recently starting getting them, which spurred me into further research since my last post about migraine headaches.  Other possible reasons for them that I have researched are poor digestion, liver and gallbladder issues, poor diet and lack of exercise.  Since my husband ate a lot of junk and didn't exercise regularly, I decided to look at this from the inside out.  I decided to look at nutrition in addition to the acupuncture meridians through the use of Qigong, acupressure and craniosacral therapy for unwinding the acupuncture meridians.  I also stopped just buying him anything he wants at the grocery store and replacing it with more fruit, vegetables and nuts.  What do you do for exercise for someone who hates exercise?  Well, we enjoy going for walks together, but it's the time of the year when it's dark and cold out by the time he gets home from work.  Qigong is gentle and not hard for those who hate exercise and it also works on your acupuncture meridians and increasing what is called "chi" energy.  So we are doing Qigong DVDs together.  He'll only do what we do together, he won't exercise on his own.  I had also read that the liver meridian manifests at the nails.  He has had toe nail fungus for years.  I'm also using essential oils through Young Living to address the fungus, digestion and cleansing the digestion and liver.  It's too soon to know what the long term results will be since healing holistically can take some time, but I do know that the stuff I read applies to him and he needs to make some lifestyle changes now in order to nor have more problems later on down the road.  I have made some changes to supplements for him too.  All the changes are changes are realistic for someone who is not really into taking good care of themselves.  I have to do these things for him, but he complies :)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome has become a common diagnosis with more jobs being at a desk, working a computer.  Carpal tunnel symptoms can often be caused by tight muscle and surrounding soft tissue.  When we sit at a computer, we often have the tendency to stick our neck out forward and hunch our shoulders forward.  Over time, that can impinge the brachial plexus.  When the muscles of the neck and chest become tight, they impinge the brachial plexus.  I like to think of the brachial plexus as a tree trunk and the nerves that go down the arms, hands and wrists as branches off of that tree trunk.  This can manifest as carpal tunnel symptoms, thoracic outlet symptoms (cold feeling in the hands), tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, headaches (both tension and migraine) and among various other pain conditions.  Some people receive a diagnosis and a recommendation for pills or surgery by their doctor's and others turn to more alternative therapies such as massage, reiki, craniosacral therapy and acupuncture among other things.  I usually recommend being on a regular schedule for body work instead of a sporadic schedule in order to make an informed decision about more aggressive treatments.  Thoracic outlet syndrome is another common diagnosis.  If it is caused by an extra rib, then surgery is the only thing that can be done about it.  However, tight muscles can cause thoracic outlet symptoms without the additional rib being present. 

Some self care techniques include watching your posture when you're at the computer, driving or doing other activities.  Head stacked on top of the shoulders with the shoulder blades directly on your back.  Make sure that your computer monitor is centered in front of you without the need to turn or cock your head.  One of my favorite self care books is:  Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries by Sharon J. Butler.  The book shows how to stretch the fascia that surrounds the muscles.  You can look up the stretches by hobby or occupation or by the area of the body that hurts.  I also like to use a hand strengthening device called the "Handisizer".  This device comes with different strength bands.  I like that it's versatile to change the strength since there are other hand strengthening devices out there that are one strength only, making you purchase more if you get stronger and need a heavier strength.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Migraine Headaches

I have been seeing and hearing people talk about experiencing migraine headaches lately.  There are many reasons why people experience migraine headaches, so what works and what doesn't can vary from person to person.  Today, I'm going to talk about the types of treatments that I am familiar with that can help.  One common source of migraines is obviously stress.  When the muscles of the neck and shoulders become tight, they can radiate migraine symptoms.  Using massage therapy can address this type of migraine headache in addition to partaking in activities that help eliminate stress from your body such as hobbies, yoga, tai chi, qigong.  Another common treatment that can sometimes help migraine headaches is craniosacral therapy.  If you have had oral surgery, orthodontia or any kind of trauma to the head, you'll have some misalignment to your cranial bones (the bones of the skull).   Craniosacral therapy gently releases the soft tissues that become tight, therefore releasing the cranial bones so they can self correct back to their original position.  Craniosacral therapy also addresses the central nervous system.  I find craniosacral therapy to be more relaxing than a massage due to how deep in goes into the central nervous system. Migraines can sometimes be neurological in nature and can benefit from craniosacral therapy.  If you're experiencing a migraine, essential oils can sometimes stop a migraine in it's tracks.  Which oils work can vary from person to person with peppermint and lavender combined together being the most common.  Last, but not least, hormonal imbalance can be another cause.  Women tend to experience migraines more often than men.  If you're noticing a correlation between when you have a migraine and your cycle, I would recommend getting your hormones checked and go from there.  Sometimes, balancing out our energy (chi) can be effective in any kind of pain relief which is why I mentioned the tai chi and qigong.