Helping you find the off switch

If relaxing was easy no-one would suffer from tension, but the reality is that when we get stressed, our body is tight and our brain won’t stop. Being able to relax can seem a million miles away.

Laura (not her real name) was suffering stress at work that she couldn’t let go of. Thouhts were going round in her head at night – trying to find solutions and blaming herself for not being able to sort it out. Her shoulders were stiff and sore, she was starting to get headaches and she had a week off work due to stress.

Making the decision to come for massage was a turning point – recognising that she wasn’t coping well and opening to receiving help.

Laura’s first session established a direction. Her therapist explored her needs and suggested approaches.

They agreed her massage should focus on two areas. Firstly, working with the tightness in her body. Not trying to force out the knots, but to help connect her physical tightness with the part of her brain that’s triggering it – sending the signal back that it’s okay to let go. Secondly, the treatment helped Laura support her relationship with herself by finding ways for her to bring her attention to her body.

She left feeling calmer with a little more space in her body and her mind. She also had a sense of what it feels like to relax to take away with her and an experience of connecting with her self that will help her find her own direction through a difficult situation, helping her direct her energy away form criticising herself and into caring for herself.

I didn’t expect it to hurt there

Following lines of tension finds the areas that really need massage.

It’s quite common for people to feel pain at a specific point, but following investigation we often find that the painful spot is part of a wider band of tension. A typical example is lower back pain which can result in sharp, painful twinges often triggered by a particular movement. There’s probably tension down into the hips and up into the back.

In this case I explain that I’ll work at the point where the pain occurs, but also explore a wider area. What I want to do is uncover the whole chain of tension and work along that chain so that the whole problem is reduced. I’m using my sense of touch to check the condition of the tissues – muscles and tendons – and locate the tension. Healthy muscle is soft and flexible. Muscles which feel tough aren’t able to release properly. The associated tendons, which connect the muscle to bone, feel like taught ropes.

Once I massage into these areas clients can be surprised that they are tender, but welcome the relief. It’s taking the pressure off the painful area.

The pain is often due to muscle damage so I will work carefully in that area. Pain causes more tension and that’s counter productive. People know what feels right for them so I just ask.

Once the treatment is over the pain should be eased and the client feels more relaxed. We also have a better understanding of how their body is behaving. We might talk about possible causes and explore possible solutions such as stretches or movements they can do themselves or changes they can make to their environment or activity patterns to help.

One massage can often be a turning point and indicate the next step towards recovery.

Focus on… shoulder pain

The shoulder is complex. There is the movement of the shoulder itself plus the movement of the arm. It’s easy to confuse the two.

Shoulder movement
When you let your arm hang loosely you should be able to move your shoulder upwards, downwards, forwards and backwards. You should also be able to make forward and backward circles with your shoulders. When you let your shoulders drop you shouldn’t feel pain or tension in your neck or the top of the shoulder.

Shoulder movement is controlled by six muscles which attach to the shoulder blade and/or collar bone. If there is pain or restricted movement these are the places to check.

Arm movement
Holding the shoulder in a neutral position you should be able to move the arm in all directions and make full circles.

Muscular pain sometimes feels like it is in the shoulder joint when the cause lies in one of the muscles that connect across the joint. Particularly the group known as the rotator cuff that also hold the upper arm into the shoulder socket.

Other muscles such as pectoralis major (pecs) and latissimus dorsi (lats) are important in arm movement.

Treatment
Identifying the cause of the pain is important. In my work I’m dealing with problems which relate to muscles and tendons, which is probably the majority of shoulder problems.

I’m able to tell the state of muscles by touch and help my clients understand what they need. It could be massage, rest, gentle exercise, stretching or a combination of these.

See also Deep tissue massage

Massaging to the extremes

Two treatments this week seemed to reflect opposite ends of the spectrum.

The first was a woman who is having regular treatments to help ease mental and emotional stress that builds up in her body. On her first visit she was worried that the massage would make her feel painful afterwards. I was careful to make sure it didn’t. We’ve since built a deeper relationship. She is currently experiencing a number of symptoms related to hormonal changes. The massage is a bit more physical now, but with sensitivity.

In contrast I treated a man who comes periodically with accumulated muscle tension – knots and clunks in his shoulders and neck. I found myself using the most directed pressure I’ve ever used in a treatment. I had the majority of my body weight directed through my elbow into his shoulder. This type of treatment also requires sensitivity. It’s so important the person’s comfortable with the pressure and obviously needs to be applied in exactly the right spots. For him, it works and he leaves relaxed, looser and happier back to his family.

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