The Case of The Nasty Neck

The Case of The Nasty Neck

A pain in the neck, that’s what I had. A real one, not a metaphorical one.

Have you ever had a neck ache so bad it wouldn’t go away no matter what you tried to relieve the pressure and tension?

Massage, stretching, cracking, heat or ice, a dose of something out of a bottle of various sorts; nothing helps.

After a week of doing a lot of reading in bed where I was propped up by pillows in a variety of wonky positions, my neck was yelling and screaming at me.

The tension, despite my best expert efforts, continued to build until I felt a spillover of crankiness in my jaw and a headache building on the horizon.

I could feel a lovely [sarcasm font] knot on the lower right portion of the back of my neck.

As any quality massage therapist worth their salt would do, I zeroed in on that right-sided knot and spent some time coaxing it to relax.

It did nothing for my neck and jaw junk.

 

Fast Forward

 

A few days later I was on the teaching staff for the next round of Neurokinetic Therapy in Chicago.

I found myself in a room full of highly achieved manual and movement therapists from a wide array of disciplines who needed to practice their manual muscle testing. I had some muscles in need of testing. Can’t do it myself, so, why not?

I took one for the team [wink].

 

I Had It All Wrong

 

The case of my Naughty Neck was not even close to what I expected it to be.

Most days in clinic, I find people have a lot of overwork happening in the muscles in the back of their neck.

These guys (neck extensors for the kinesiologically literate) like to work overtime, usually because of a history of car accidents/whiplash, and lots of hours logged sitting with slumpy posture over a computer keyboard, handheld device, or steering wheel.

Also, because of a lack of core strength, but that is a story left for another day.

There are muscles encircling your neck that function to move your head and sustain your posture. The human head weighs roughly 12 pounds.

I see a lot of only half of those muscles actually doing their job to hold and move the head.

Neck ache ensues, and left unchecked over decades, it can really wear out the hardware in your neck (read: joint changes that limit your ability to move your head around and maybe cause discomfort).

 

Quit Guessing

 

Here I was, massaging that knot on the lower part of my neck.

Remember, this wasn’t helping even a little. It was completely ineffective at relieving the ache that was building daily.

When I had another practitioner test out the neurological function of my neck muscles, we found I had it 100% backwards.

I assumed.

I guessed.

My guess was incorrect.

In my case, the knot on the back wasn’t forming because those tissues were overworking, but because they were underperforming.

The tight muscle was on the front of my neck, where it didn’t hurt, and the backside guys had no chance of keeping up.

I released the correct muscle on the front of my neck, and the painful spot on the back of my neck went away all on it’s own.

So did my jaw tension.

I could have sworn I heard it sigh with relief.

Oh wait….that was me.

 

This is another great example why we can’t assume and guess we know what’s going on.

When you feel pain, tightness, or tension in your body, it’s always for a reason.

It’s trying to communicate something with you about how your body is functioning.

Too often practitioners only look at the painful spot you point to, but that painful spot is only a fraction of the story.

Without actually looking at what the tissue function looks like, you are left with a guess, and like me, that guess could be wrong.

Wrong guesses keep you from feeling your best.


If you feel like you aren’t firing on all cylinders and have an ache or pain that is really cramping your style, make sure to get it checked out! 

I’m currently accepting new clients and have time to do some evaluations and super sleuthing to see if what I do can help you out.

You deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Aches are a Smoke Signal

Your Aches are a Smoke Signal

How to get to some real solutions to eliminate tightness and discomfort versus chasing the pain with no long-lasting, permanent results. Yep, there is a better way.

 

It’s incredibly common to schedule yourself a massage when you are feeling sore, tired, and cranky.

Photo: micagoto

That familiar burn behind your shoulder blades after a long day at the office. A crabby neck from falling asleep on the couch during the nightly Netflix numb-out. Maybe your knees and low back are shot after your lunchtime run.

If you have any experience receiving massage therapy, how often does the LMT zero in on your painful spot you point to, grounding, pounding, and chiseling away to only have the exact painful spot return?

If you’re lucky you get a small handful of relief for a few days. More often than not you only experience a few hours respite from the nagging discomfort you walked in with.

 

What gives?

Are we doomed to wasting precious time and money on a therapy that, at best, is temporary, or at worst, does diddly-squat for those issues you feel in your tissues?

 

Here’s the Insider, Expert Level, Scoop:

Where you think it is…it ain’t

(Thanks, Ida Rolf, for the sound bite)

 

That sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy thing you feel going on is merely a smoke signal; it’s informing you something is going on, but it doesn’t tell you exactly what it is.

 

Like a smoke signal, you need to be curious about it before it gives up the details.

From a manual therapy perspective, soft-tissues are often neurologically overworking or neurologically underperforming.

Ideally everything would be working effortlessly and seamlessly in concert together.

When you’re hurting, they likely aren’t.

Both the overwork/underperform states can leave you feeling sore, tight, and likely with some level of discomfort in various movements or activities that call on those muscle groups.

 

To simplify and restate:

  • An overworking muscle can feel tight and painful.
  • An underworking muscle can feel tight and painful.

 

Greeeeat! So which is it?

Million dollar question right here and one that will determine your success at feeling and moving better without a hitch in your giddyup.

In my massage therapy practice, I use an evaluation and muscle testing process that provides us with the information we need to determine what’s what.

If we find a muscle is neurologically amped up, then heck yeah (!), let’s release it. I will gladly press on it for you.

However, if a muscle isn’t properly utilized by your brain in a particular movement pattern, let’s call it “weak” for generalized simplicity’s sake, and not performing at it’s potential, all the deep tissue massage, stretching, cracking, and foam rolling isn’t going to do jack toward helping you recover and restore your ability to dynamically move without pain.

 

The process is quite simple:

  1. Figure out what’s doing too much and too little (Buzzword: Compensation Pattern)
  2. Turn down the volume on the overachiever
  3. Get the slacker back in the game

 

What you experience is better, smoother, effortless movement with a happy and welcomed side effect of a less sore/crabby/cranky/pissy/tight/pinchy body.

Bonus side effect: you cut down on the potential for injury and tissue damage, as well as prevent possible wear and tear on the “hardware” of your body, ‘cause nobody got time for that.

Bonus bonus side effect: you have the ability and energy to show up in deeper, more profound, and effective ways for the people you love and the communities you serve.

Trifecta.

 

 

 

Getting Better With Age

Getting Better With Age

Over the Hill.

A phrase typically thrown around during the middle-aged period of life where we feel like we are reaching the apex and it’s all downhill from there.

The rigors of chronology and physiology intersect as we mourn the passing of our youth, lament how this getting older thing sucks, and begin to see life as a cascade of downward spirals into the grave.

We may not be dead yet but we’re working on it, and we have the aches and pains to prove it.

I call BS on the whole thing.

The Smoky Mountains called. I answered.

This was my first trip in 6 years.

There’s something about spring in the mountains.

The weather is still cool, and the streams are strong after the snowmelt.

The birds are active, the bears are waking up, and the flowers explode all over the place.

The Hubs and I, along with good friends, rented a cabin in Gatlinburg, TN so we could be at the doorstep of the national park.

We aren’t interested in the touristy stuff that brings most people to the area, but 100% occupied with our big goals to hike.

 

 

Mountain trails are in a different league than the forest preserve trails at home.

The trails are uneven ground, full of rocks, roots, and mud.

There are log bridges over quickly running rivers, and sometimes you have to creek-hop your way across on rocks.

There are critters you may stumble upon that you need to know what to do about, because black bear are no joke.

You won’t likely see fitness enthusiasts with their step trackers and Couch-to-5k programs.

It can be life or death out there.

Take your time, take lots of water, and take some food for the trip. Learn how to pee in the woods, and check for snakes first.

You’ll take home with you a profound sense of accomplishment, likely some blisters, maybe some sore muscles, and definitely some new perspectives.

The mountains are great in humbling us and making us feel small.

 

When I hiked the Smokies 6 years ago I had a rough time with it.

The amount of soreness and fatigue I’d feel in my muscles and the stiffness I’d feel in my joints would lay me up for days.

 

This time was different.

I’ve been working on correcting my alignment, strengthening weak, overly mobile areas, and building more movement into my day as a categorical concept instead of just making sure I got my “workout” in.

I look at movement as something natural, healthy, and something we humans are designed to do more of.

 

Working on my Natural Movement made all the difference.

6 years older and 6 years wiser, I hiked more miles in consecutive days than I have ever in my entire life.

There were definitely moments where I had to dig deep.

There were times, when the fatigue would really set in, where my mind told me I wasn’t going to make it. My body, however, is way more capable than my mind gives credit. This isn’t a situation where I can just call it quits on the side of a mountain and call it a day.

You reach your limit, then learn that the actual limit is just beyond your perceived comfort zone.

I’d often feel an ache creep up somewhere, but the alignment and awareness work I’ve been working on for the past few years helped me key in on what was going on in my body.

Is something working too hard? Why? What is slacking? Adjust accordingly.

My new found whole-body awareness allows me to fire up my body in more effective and efficient ways and aches and pains would go away within seconds.

I moved in ways I wasn’t able to when I was younger and in, what I thought, better shape.

 

6 years older I move much better than I did when I was 6 years younger.

I experienced and enjoyed my body in a more positive way, which allowed me to experience and enjoy nature in a more positive way too.

 

Getting older chronologically doesn’t have to mean we suffer pathological aging.

Notice I say it doesn’t have to mean this.

For many it does. Why?

It’s not so much that you peaked too soon in your 20-somethings as you have now spent days-to-decades not moving like in your youthful days.

Think about it: You felt great “back in the day”; what were you doing? What physical activities were you participating in regularly? How many hours of sitting did you accomplish’’’’ in any given day? Was your ratio of being active versus sedentary different than it is now?

Probably.

Blame that, not your age.

 

It’s not your age’s fault for the creaking, cracking, groaning, and grunting you experience in your body.

You’re adapted.

Your body is performing in a manner to the exact activities you are asking it to perform on a regular basis.

Stepping out of that regular routine, your body will tell you about it.

Not age. Adaptation. Often dysfunctional adaptation.

While we don’t have the power to “turn back the clock”, we are capable of changing up our routine and adapting to something different than whatever our “normal” is right now.

 

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

I’ve spent the last 2 ½ years working to adapt my body to something different because I was not enjoying how my body was feeling on it’s path to 40.

As my body nears the “Over the Hill” Birthday in a year, I choose to walk over actual hills and erase almost 4 decades of moving through life in less than ideal, often dysfunctional and compensatory, ways.

I’m covered a lot of ground and I still have quite a ways to go. The road to Mastery is steep, long, and well worth the effort for those curious enough to explore. Dust off your grit and get to steppin’.

Don’t buy the black birthday balloons for me quite yet.

You’ll never hear me blame my age for anything, and if I hear you try, be warned: I’ll probably call you out on it.

Then I’ll invite you hiking with me.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Get Stuck In A Box.

Don’t Get Stuck In A Box.

My least favorite place to be is “in a box”.

Life feels like the movie Groundhog Day; every minute of everyday is the same old thing.

The Daily Grind (not the coffee type) has me feeling unmotivated, uninspired, unsuccessful, and ultimately unhappy.

Coffee can’t fix the lackluster energy, though I’ve tried.

When I sometimes spend more time working than I do at home, to be unsatisfied and unhappy with said work, to not feel ignited and inspired by it, it creates an almost crippling amount of intellectual stress for me.

kitty-in-a-box
Box are good for cats, not for me. Photo credit: Greg Willis

When a client proclaimed, “This isn’t spa music” regarding the Pandora station I had playing as background noise, I died a bit inside.

“I.am.not.a.masseusse!” I screamed in my head.

 

I don’t work in a spa.

(though there is nothing inherently wrong with spas, I just wouldn’t go to one for my creaky joints and aches and pains.)

I don’t do poorly executed deep tissue work.

(don’t get me started on deep tissue work! So much education needs to be done with this one…ok, maybe DO get me started on deep tissue work.)

I admit humility is something I struggle with, however, my ego is just big enough to not believe untruths about myself and my methodology, so I’m ok calling myself and other people out on it. Lovingly, of course.

To not embrace my personal preferences in regards to life, which work is a big part of, and downplaying and underutilizing my strengths and skills,  also a form or arrogance, is to spit in the face of the God-given perspectives and skills I have been gifted with.

 

Wait. What am I supposed to do?

Oh man; not only has everyone else’s preconceived notions about manual therapy put me in a box, but I was feeling so uninspired and unmotivated enough, I managed to put myself in one too.

I didn’t realize I got comfortable being uncomfortable and wasn’t doing that-thing-I-do anymore.

I was completely not honoring my passions, preferences, and perspectives, and as such, I suffered at work spiritually and intellectually.

This, of course, leads to lackluster professional performance.

 

What I do is highly effective rehabilitation work.

Whenever I discover myself boxed in, I immediately flex my guns and get to work.

Let’s be real, I crack open the books and get to work.

There is some flexing going on, but it’s pretty nerdy, and there are no guns involved.

I prefer my longbow. Anywho…

 

I devote tremendous amounts of time to learning new skills and fine-tuning my assessment and evaluation tools.

It’s part of my never-ending quest for knowledge, efficiency, and effectiveness.

When I saw a Level 1 class for NeuroKinetic Therapy was being offered this fall, I grabbed the Discover card and registered post haste.

NKT is a body of work that I have been stalking for quite some time and many of my mentors practice it. They talk about it all of the time, and I just had to know more about it.

I was incredibly excited to learn something new. To challenge myself and gain deeper knowledge and understanding of the human body and it’s amazing potential.

 

Good thing too!

NKT is like nothing I’ve ever studied before. I’m challenged. I’m lit up like a candle. I’m feeling more motivated than I have in longer than I can remember, and the RESULTS!?

Wowza.

I am blown away by the results I have seen in the short time since I sat in on the class.

Even with my Newbie, 20-Minute Understanding of this material, I feel like I found a Golden Ticket to something really special.

This Golden Ticket is also the missing piece of the puzzle to a lot of junk stories I hear from clients and the general public at large.

Things about getting older, orthotics, not being able to “hold” their adjustments, and trying every therapy under the sun and not experiencing any long term results.

I hear a lot of, “you’re my only hope!” Naturally, Princess Leia is saying it.

Because she gets the job done, with a little help from friends. Photo credit: Jose M. Izquierdo Galiot
Because she gets the job done, with a little help from friends. Photo credit: Jose M. Izquierdo Galiot

 

People feel like they are out of options.

They think they’ve tried everything.

Pretty sure you haven’t tried everything.

We sure can talk ourselves in an out of anything. We can easily become complacent and accept the discomfort as “normal”. It’s not.

I challenge you to not hold onto your preconceived notions too tightly. Doing so can be very demotivating. Trust me, I know.

 

Moving Forward. Not staying stuck.

It’s been about 5 weeks since I went to the Level 1 workshop, and the neat results I’m seeing truly blow me away.

I love how the more I learn, the more I realize I have yet to learn!

 

Learning the NKT material has breathed new life into my manual therapy practice and I am so eager to learn more and see it breathe new life into the lives of the people I am privileged to work with.

Mixing it in with my already established body of work and techniques I have at my disposal are bringing great outcomes to the people on my table, as well as making work fun again.

 

I’m out of the box.

I’m challenging the status quo.

I’m not settling for how things are and I take responsibility for the stresses I experience as part of my personal narrative.

That’s exactly the place I want to be.

 

If you’re up for the challenge, come on over and join me.

Let’s all bust out of our confining boxes and shatter the stories we tell ourselves.

Maybe there is a better way.

I trusted there was and I found one as it related to the discomfort I was feeling.

Maybe your discomfort isn’t spiritual or intellectual as mine has been; maybe it’s physical and social.  There are many avenues stress and discomfort show up in a person’s life.

How about you? Where are you feeling the discomfort?

 

Massage Therapy Is Sometimes The Most Effective Choice

Massage Therapy Is Sometimes The Most Effective Choice

I believe manual therapy is one of the most underutilized therapeutic interventions in our current healthcare paradigm.

 

Musculoskeletal stress and injury is the leading cause of sickness related workplace absenteeism, and the most diagnosed condition during doctor’s office visits.

In a study of global disease in December 2012, it was found that musculoskeletal disease is the second leading cause of disability and has the fourth greatest impact on global health and longevity.

 

The population at large is really missing out on something very effective and useful.IMG_3388cmyk

Wikipedia defines Manual Therapy as, “Manual therapy, or manipulative therapy, is a physical treatment primarily used by massage therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, and osteopathic physicians to treat musculoskeletal pain and disability; it most commonly includes kneading and manipulation of muscles, joint mobilization and joint manipulation.”

For the sake of Scope of Practice issues, I will only comment on the value of manual therapy from the perspective of a massage therapist, to which I humbly profess my professional allegiance, in context with my own education and experience.

In other words, as a massage therapist with oodles of training, my scope of practice does differ than say, a fresh graduate.

I claim Doctors of Sports Medicine, Osteopathic Physicians, Physical Therapists, Biomechanists and Chiropractors amongst my teachers.

This gives me a little more insight and perspective into the issues with your tissues, and provides me with a more comprehensive approach to assessing and addressing your aches, pains, and injury complaints.

 

No, I will not crack your back for you.

Yes, I can manipulate and mobilize soft tissues to free up movement and provide for greater, more effective movement economy.

 

I also shamelessly do a victory dance when research studies assert the efficacy of what I provide my clients.

For instance, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found among the leading manual therapy resources of massage therapy, spinal manipulation, and acupuncture, massage therapy outperformed the other therapies.

Another nod to the efficacy of massage therapy comes from the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). In this study, participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups, 1) comprehensive manual therapy, which included soft tissue manipulation, remedial exercise and posture reeducation, 2) manual therapy only, 3) remedial exercise with posture reeducation only, and 4) placebo treatment of sham laser therapy.

 

Of the four groups, the comprehensive massage group showed statistically significant improvements in improved function, less intense pain, and a decrease in the quality of pain.

 

Furthermore, at the 1-month follow-up, the comprehensive massage group reported no pain in 63% of it’s subjects versus 27% of the soft-tissue manipulation group, 14% of the remedial exercises and 0% improvement of the sham laser therapy users.

If you need more information to justify calling a well-trained massage therapist for your aches and pains, and so I can do some more victory dancing, you can find more support for massage therapy here and here.

A good Google Scholar query will also provide numerous studies supporting acupuncture and spinal manipulation, either chiropractic or osteopathic (yes, they can be different), and movement based physical therapy programs.

 

Different strokes for different folks, and all that.

Like I said, I claim allegiance to my profession and I do see greater need for all of us manual therapists to work together instead of back-biting and ego-driven in-fighting.

Yeah, there’s a lot of school yard shenanigans amongst us manual cowboys and cowgirls.

 

[shrug]

 

I think it does the most disservice to you, dear reader who-has-aches-and-pains-and-would-just-like-some-relief.

No wonder the medical community-at-large roll their eyes and shake their heads at us sometimes.

I shake my head at us too.

And no wonder, despite ample evidence supporting it’s effectiveness, why manual therapy is so often disregarded as a viable and useful option in your recovery program.

At the end of the day, you shake your head at us as well.

 

 

 

Biggest Myth About Massage Therapy

Biggest Myth About Massage Therapy

I’ve got a bone to pick.

This makes me mad as Hell, and I can’t just keep quiet about it anymore.

What’s got my feathers ruffled, you ask?

I’m sick and tired of hearing people tell terrible stories about how they went for massage therapy and the therapist beat the shit out of them.

Here’s someone who took time out of their busy life and spent good money in the hopes of feeling better in their own body, but what actually happened is another sad case of misinformation on the part of the client and the professional.

What we got is someone looking for pain relief, and got a heaping dose of hurt shoved on them.

 

So, who’s at fault?

As a 17 year veteran, I think I have a leg to stand on when it comes to my opinion on this topic.

I’ve logged in hundreds of thousands of hours laying my hands on human bodies, as well as collecting stories from the people whom entrust their body’s well-being (quite literally) into my hands.

And if there is one myth, misrepresentation, and piece of misinformation still circulating in the massage and bodywork profession it’s this:

 

MYTH: for massage therapy to be effective, it has to be painful.

 

Wrong!

Hate to break it to you, but this is as false as it gets!

The human body doesn’t respond favorably to aggressive, noxious stimuli.

In fact, the part of your brain hardwired for survival reads painful stimuli as a threat and a stressor.

A cascade of chemical and hormonal responses begins.  In 8th grade science class, it’s called the Fight-or-Flight response.

Eat, or be eaten!

And guess what….we don’t heal in that state.  Like, 0%.

 

Riddle me this

Know what the difference is between a knife fight and surgery?  One is socially acceptable.

The brain reads it the same way. Stress.

That’s why big time drugs are used during surgery; to paralyze your body and turn pain receptors and memory centers off in your brain.

Why do you think you need a breathing tube during surgery?  Because your body shuts off enough that you can’t do it yourself anymore.

So, you wanting to be painfully ironed out during your very poorly executed deep tissue massage actually has diminishing returns.

 

Deep is a geographical term.  It has nothing to do with how hard a massage therapist presses into your tissues.

 

Then Why Do I Still Hurt?

Probably a couple of reasons.

  1. Your brain is juiced! On stress.  It can’t come down. We know (re:science) that chronic mental stress makes our bodies inflamed and pained.
  2. The wrong areas were addressed.

If your brain is amped up, all of the time, relaxing is going to be tough for you. It’s not going to be like flipping a light switch.

 

Stress resilience is a skill set. You can learn it.

 

Relaxation does not come from a single massage performed once a month, only on vacation, or for your Mother’s Day or Christmas gift certificate.

 

Wait…Did you say wrong area?

Yes, I did. Good catch!

In the words of one of my favorite teachers, Ida Rolf, “Where you think the pain is, it ain’t.”

Too often, well-intentioned but under-educated massage therapists will only look at the area that you tell them is hurting.

And, to be fair, it makes sense……well, no, it doesn’t make sense to me at all, knowing what I know.

Just because your traps hurt doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with your traps. Yet most massage therapists will massage holes into that thing because you say you’re tight there.

Maybe your traps hurt and are knotted up because your posture at work, where you sit way too much during the course of the day, has left that area angry and weak.

Not actually tight at all!

 

Everything has a cause and effect relationship.

It’s our job as professionally trained massage therapists to collect the information you present, ask the right questions to get the bigger picture, and then use our glorious and wonderfully trained brains to figure it out.

You know you got a great massage session when the therapist has taken the time to get to know you, takes a closer look at your individual situation, zeros in on the exact causes, and gives you some recommendations to play around with on your own time.

You feel relief, not like you were beaten with a baseball bat.

You shouldn’t have to recover because of your massage session. The massage is supposed to be a part of your recovery.

 

How about you?

Have you ever experienced a terrible massage?  (I have!  I could tell you stories)

Have found an incredibly gifted massage therapist?  What is it about them that keeps you coming back for continued care?

Share your stories below in the comments; I would love to hear what your experiences are!