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.
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.
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.
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:
Figure out what’s doing too much and too little (Buzzword: Compensation Pattern)
Turn down the volume on the overachiever
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.
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.
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 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!?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 therapyhere 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
That’s a lot of time sitting on your duff at your desk.
No wonder I hear a lot of complaints about sore necks, shoulders, and upper backs.
Inlast week’s blog post I laid the foundation for understanding and identifying Upper-crossed patterns (affectionately referred to as UCP moving forward) in the body.
To review, UCP is observed with a collapse through the chest and ribcage, an increased C-shaped curvature though the upper back and neck, with the upper arm bones rotated inward.
Discomfort is classically felt in the upper back, between the shoulder blades, the neck, and the shoulder joints.
It’s also not uncommon to feel pain and tingling down the arm, into the hands, as well as experience frequent headaches.
UCP is commonly seen in people who spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer.
I also mentioned the one thing most people like to do.
When I chat with my clients about what they do with their upper back pain, most people show me they try to manage their discomfort by further rounding their upper back or stretching their arms across their body.
I won’t discount the fact that it feels good to do this.
Now, I’m not the Posture Police, but I am of the opinion that this is the go-to not because it’s therapeutically corrective, but because you just spent a few hours pretending to be a statue in your cubicle and a little movement through the spine feels extra nice.
It’s not the “right” stretch, but movement rules the road, so get it in however and whenever you can!
Without further ado, I’d like to launch into some workplace solutions for your upper back and neck pain.
The workplace ideas are different than the home solutions, seeing as crawling under your desk to stretch may be frowned upon in certain corporate environments.
Sit Less. Move More.
We are designed to move. Your body is home to 360 joints and 640 skeletal muscles.When it comes to your body, the old adage rings true, “use it or lose it”.
Think about it: you park you’re ass in your desk chair, and with the exception of lunch, a few pee breaks, and a trip or two to the copier, you’re pretty much stuck in a stagnant posture for the majority of your 9.4 hour workday.
It’s like when you were a kid and would make funny faces at other kids and grandma would threaten you that if you kept making lewd faces you would freeze like that.
Grandma was smart. When you park-and-hold your body, it actually adapts to what you ask it to do.
Solution: ask it to do something else!
Warning: doing something different will feel strange and maybe slightly uncomfortable at first. Your body is freaking out because it’s been out to lunch. It’s common. It passes. It gets bettah (said in your favorite Monty Python voice)
What does this look like in your workday?
Your smartphone is for more than checking Facebook. Use apps to help remind you to unlock your joints and get them juicy with movement.
It’s recommended that you get up for a few minutes of moving every half hour.
When you get rolling on your work, it’s easy to forget.
There are even ones to remind you to switch your focus farther away than your computer screen; yep, there are also muscles in your eye! Set that timer and get off your duff. Take a stair break and a stare break.
Adopt a Dynamic Workstation
It’s been said sitting is the new smoking and increases your risk for obesity, many diseases, and aches and pains.
I typically switch from sitting at my desk to standing at the kitchen counter, or even popping a squat on the floor to do some computer work.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of not moving. We can get our “stretch on” while at work, which also doesn’t mean you need to go to yoga class.
Remember our Movement Reframe; quality movement doesn’t require a change of clothing, nor does it take an hour out of your day.
Stretching/moving is merely a way to pay attention an move into your stuck spots.
When it comes to UCP, it’s really easy to move the area that is feisty and aching.
An area in need of attention is in the chest and abdomen.
Following are a few strategic movements you can easily perform while at your desk:
Reach for Heaven
You’ve been slumping it forward for hours; get your arms up in the air.
This helps open your chest and abdomen, loosens your shoulders, aides in circulation and fluid balance, and gently activates the muscles in your back. Don’t forget to take a deep breath here; fill your lungs all the way up!
Hands Behind Your Head + Look Up
Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down your back as you open your elbows to the side.
Don’t pull your head forward.
You may feel a stretch in your chest.
Next, bring your elbows back together and slowly extend through back through your spine so your elbows point to the ceiling. This stretches your front as well as brings some movement to the thoracic spine, which has been stuck in a C-shape for awhile.
There’s the Door
Use the doorframe of your office or your cubicle to help you move, release tension, and restore your posture.
Place your hands, shoulder height, on each side of the frame. Try to keep the tops of your arms parallel to the floor. (I didn’t to that; don’t be like me here. I’ll fix the photo someday)
Keeping your abs strong, gently move forward through the opening by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down your back.
You can also put your hand on the doorframe, shoulder height, and slowly rotate away from your hand.
Both movements stretch your front, and activate the muscles on the back of your body.
Do these movements throughout the day to loosen up, release tension, and play with your posture. Your body will thank you and movement helps your mind operate at its greatest potential.
Opening your chest and bringing strength back into your back muscles should help you sit up straighter, breathe a bit easier, and feel more relaxed all day long.
It’s incredibly easy to be strategic with your body while at work. Start today and be amazed at the improvement you feel in your body.
Stay tuned for next week’s third installment: What you can do at home or the gym when you have the ability to get on the floor, use some bands or weights, and have more time to dive deeper into your body to restore your posture and efficient function.
Need more help? Feel free to contact me with questions, or schedule an assessment for yourself to receive individualized instruction and care for your aching, stressed out body.