“I don’t have an injury or anything, I just feel tight”
I hear this phrase a lot with my corporate clients when I provide massage therapy as part of their wellness program.
To be quite honest, this is one of the most superficial pieces of feedback you could ever give me.
Your “tightness” is what you are feeling.
Feelings are fickle.
They come and go.
What you feel is also really important.
It’s a good starting point.
It’s the entrance to the rabbit hole.
If I succeeded well enough at contradicting myself, I’ve piqued your interest.
The sensation of tension you are feeling is quite real. Anyone who tries to deny it is a jerk.
It’s superficial in the sense that nobody has probably asked you WHY you are feeling tense.
Your musculoskeletal system relies on tension to get you through the day.
Without it, you wouldn’t be able to stand up from sitting, climb stairs, or raise your coffee cup to your mouth.
You wouldn’t be able to smile without tension. Or laugh.
Without tension, you are powerless. You can’t move.
Why is your alarm system alerting you to an excess of tension in a localized area of your body?
Figuring out the WHY behind the WHAT will provide you with the best success at not only feeling better but also being able to carry out your daily tasks with improved focus, speed, and efficiency.
Bottom line: addressing WHY you are tight and tense increases your bottom line.
If you would like consult with me and work through my evaluation process to figure out WHY you are feeling tense, tight, and generally not your best, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free consultation to see if working together is a good fit.
If you are always feeling stiff, tight, “out”, and your knots keep coming back despite your best efforts, you may be missing vital pieces of information that will help you feel your best.
My Facebook feed is full of back-to-school photos today.
It’s so cute seeing all the Littles in their First Day outfits, eager to make good first impressions.
And while I don’t have kids of my own, I can’t help but feel a tug at my heartstrings of seeing my niece, backpack slung over her shoulders, eagerly getting on the bus and head into 1st grade like the superstar she is.
Makes me want to buy some crayons.
Imagine my surprise to also see a ton of stuff on my Facebook feed saying how this time honored tradition and right of passage of slinging a backpack over the shoulders wrecks a kid’s body.
[Insert “Say what, now?” face]
Stuff like, “don’t forget to get your child’s posture evaluated”, showing an elementary school age kid standing in front of a grid wall with before/after photos of what wearing and not wearing a backpack looks like to his posture.
Words like “health risk” and “danger” are being paired with “backpack”.
These articles and studies I’ve read keep mentioning loads and posture, which is such a loaded concept.
They talk about loads and posture as if it’s a fixed, unchangeable point.
Worst and Best.
Lawful good vs. chaotic evil.
Back-To-School Mode: UNLOCKED.
To say backpacks (or any bag for that matter) wrecks our kids’ (or our own) posture and leads to this-or-that musculoskeletal issue or structural diagnosis is kind of a dull, low-level understanding of how the body functions as a whole, dynamic entity.
It’s fine and dandy to stand in front of a grid wall to evaluate posture, but it’s only a snapshot because posture is always adapting.
It adapts to forces we carry (a force would be any weighted object we could carry; I.e. backpack, briefcase, toddler, grocery bag, coffee cup), loading joints as we go and moving through our environment.
How a joint loads differs on what, how, and where we are carrying all of the stuffs.
If we are on flat, uneven, hard, or squishy surfaces, let alone up hill or down hill (or stairs) makes a difference.
We adapt to the amount of the weight and what body part we are primarily relying on to carry that weight.
There are a ton of variables in our equation.
When did Homo sapiens become a bunch of wussies who aren’t able to move without aches and pains while carrying stuff?
I’m thinking it’s when we stopped carrying stuff and moving around.
Not the Enemy
Bags and backpacks aren’t the enemy; there’s nothing wrong with using them when we need to.
They make it convenient to carry larger, unruly amounts of stuff.
In less trips, and hands free.
And since most people don’t do much lifting and carrying heavy things these days, usually the loads in the center of the body are more comfortable than on our arms, hands, and shoulders.
Like I said, convenience. And comfort.
What happens when center mass can’t handle the forces anymore and now you feel an ache in some body part or other from carrying around your bag?
Your body is now poorly managing the forces placed on your body, muscles can be overworking or underperforming, and the joints being loaded aren’t responding with adaptable ease.
You are experiencing dysfunction.
Those parts are ill equipped, for whatever reason, to carry the weight.
Maybe they are tired.
Maybe there was a tweaky injury in there once-upon-a-time and now there’s some compensation patterns built up as your brain tries to figure out how to get the job done and avoid pain at the same time.
Don’t throw the backpack out with the bathwater just yet.
Loads are simply the experience of the thing.
Experiences can change.
If the complaint is the backpack makes for sore shoulders or low backs, switch how the backpack is carried.
Create some new habits. Load your joints in new and novel ways.
Switch when you start to fatigue because hey (!) you’re building strength and adaptations in new places now.
The only wrong answer is continuing to load your joints in painful ways when one method to carry out the task becomes cumbersome or excessively uncomfortable.
I think that’s the crux of the issue; we only do a small handful of activities with no variations on the theme.
Give the area you excessively work a recovery break by using another area you negligently use in your regular and daily habits.
The Great Posture Debate is really kind of dull.
It’s so yes/no these days.
The human body is too brilliantly complex and dynamic to distill it’s function down to a rigid set of “do this, not that” principals.
Remember, you have lots of different parts you can use to get the job done.
Do: move more of your body more frequently. Get creative. Explore.
Don’t: limit yourself. Or be afraid.
[bell rings] Class dismissed.
Do you feel aches and pains and limitations within your movement abilities?
It may be time to have those properly looked at.
If you would like to improve on your movement and postural potential, address any old (or new) injuries that never completely went away on their own, or explore possible compensation patterns that could be contributing to the “stress” you feel in your body, you can schedule a session here for a full evaluation and assessment.
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.
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.