Pain Prevention

A good deep tissue massage can address a variety of muscular pain conditions, however, unless the source of the pain problem is identified, the pain will very likely return. Western medicine is often criticised for it’s approach of simply giving out pills to alleviate symptoms without looking for causes. However body work practitioners can sometimes  offer a never ending regime of treatments, without attempting to find the source of the problems in a similar manner. It is surprising how often people who are asked the question of “What do you think causes the problem?” intuitively know the answer but are conditioned into going for help elsewhere.

Some very common examples of everyday issues causing pain can be sleeping positions – too many pillows; sleeping on your front; too hard or too soft a mattress. Everyday habits of computer use and posture; sitting positions; leaning forward to looking at a screen; holding a phone under the chin; sitting down with a wallet in the back pocket.

A few good deep tissue massages can help to get everything moving again in a pain free manner, then people can empower themselves by taking responsibility for their habits and posture, and making improvements to their conditions, and avoid future repeats of returning pain patterns.

 

 

Pain and Posture

The spine naturally is made up of  a series of curves, which are essential to us as  shock absorbers.

They transform the spine from a straight, inflexible rod to a spring, which is able to bend and flex in response to the stress caused by the impact of walking, running, and other daily activities. If the spine was completely straight, all of the stress would go straight through the bones, leading to increased wear and tear on the vertebrae and intervertebral discs.

Now have a look at these diagrams of common postural positions people tend to adopt at work:

The figure on the left is sitting straight, all curves in place, and the only issue from this posture over a long period of time would be slightly squashed hamstrings and tightened hip flexor muscles, which with a good stretch, can be alleviated.

The figure in the middle, peering up at possibly a screen, is adopting the ‘forward head posture’, resulting in neck and shoulder pain. Strain all along the spine by leaning forwards on a desk, which over time, can lead to tightened back muscles pulling on the vertebrae, allowing discs to bulge out through the resulting gaps, causing pain and possible nerve problems. The hamstrings are squashed by increased weight thrown onto them from the upper body’s position, hip flexors shortened and resulting in lower back and hip pain.

The third figure on the right hand side is also reducing the curves of the body by the slumped position in the chair, once again putting similar stress on the back muscles and vertebrae. The head is also thrust forward to counter balance the lean of the shoulders against the chair back, causing neck and shoulder pain. Although the body of the hamstrings are not squashed in this position, there is an extreme amount of weight pushing down on the top ends of the hamstrings, when the tendons attach on to the pelvis, which will tighten with this added stress, causing possible lower back pain. Any attempt to use a computer from this position is also likely to cause pain in the arm.

The best pain-free way to sit is on a stool, so you are not tempted to lean up against a chair back, feet flat on the floor, chin tucked in, elbows resting at you sides. As long as you are sitting on top of your sitting bones in this position, you cant go wrong!

 

Do you get hip pain?

I have had several clients recently showing similar patterns of tight muscles and resulting hip pain, which seems to come from a common problem. Take a look at this diagram of our ankle joints….

Do you see how many muscles span across the front of the ankle? Now imagine these muscles in a tight and shortened state, the ankle would not be able to move back and forth very easily. When this happens, we are unable to do big bouncy strides, bouncing off the balls of our feet and leaping forward. Instead, the foot is locked into a more static position and our stride is shortened with a flat pronated foot.

This then sets up a chain of events where the whole leg movement is strained on to the hamstrings, which in turn tighten and can pin the pelvis down, causing hip pain. The flattened (pronated) foot movement also then sets up a chain of events where, in order to stay upright, the knee takes an inward (medial) dive, putting strain on external rotator muscles at the top of the leg, which then also cause hip pain. If the person is a runner, they end up with a running gait a bit like ‘Rachel’ from Friends, if you remember that funny episode.

So the key to avoiding all this is quite simple. The anterior muscles of the ankle joint need to stay flexible and the joint needs to be able to move freely back and forth (flexion and extension). A deep tissue massage focusing on this area, especially if you do regular exercise, will be a great preventative measure to ensure pain free good performance.

 

So to move

Sore Shoulders, hump back

Many people come to me for treatment with sore shoulders. In the vast majority of cases, it is very obvious from the moment I open the door to them, that they are holding themselves in what is commonly known as a ‘forward head posture’. 

When habitually leaning forward with your chin stuck out, the weight of the head is thrown on to neck muscles which are not designed to take this extra 5 Kg of weight. This leads to pain across the top of the shoulders, tightened chest, and in extreme cases, the appearance of a hump back.

A deep tissue massage will address the resulting trigger points the stressed muscles from this posture creates. To avoid future pain in the shoulders, you must be aware to keep your chin tucked in and the top of your head nice and tall. It is very easy to stick the chin forward when busy looking at a screen, driving, rushing to get somewhere, but if you stop and tuck it in, this will soon become normal posture and you will no longer have the associated shoulder pain.

 

Neck Pain

 

Neck pain, headaches or difficulties in turning your head are often just down to muscle tension in the neck. Precise and focused deep tissue massage can be extremely helpful with these problems, however it is also very important to look at what you think may have caused the problem in the first place.Fascia painting

Sleeping habits could be a major factor – do you sleep on your front? A prone sleeping position will be straining those muscles all night long. Your choice of pillows could also be a factor – are you allowing your spine to keep as straight as possible? Everyday habits such as the tilt of car seats, telephone and computer position all create habitual strains on the muscles.  Are you always in a rush to get somewhere? As soon as we rush, our chin posture tends to alter, is thrust into forward head posture, in turn straining the muscles of our neck.

A combination of recognising possible contributing factors, along with some deep tissue massage treatments would go a long way to changing any problem neck pain.

Tensegrity in the Body

Our skeletons are held up by the soft tissue in our bodies, in tension, so as the bones do not actually touch one another. This enables a wide range of free movement between the joints in the body.

This sculpture that I came across whilst attending an Open Day at Canterbury University recently shows this concept really well.

tensegrity-at-canterbury-uni-campusThe poles in the sculpture do not touch (like the bones).They are held taught by the wires (like the soft tissue, ie fascia, tendons, ligaments, muscles). If someone was to tug on one part of the sculpture, the resulting movement of the poles would create an effect further along the sculpture.

This is also what happens within the body. Tight soft tissue at one end will have repercussions further along a line throughout the body, resulting in the bones being pulled out of alignment slightly which in turn can cause pain and restricted movement.

Regular deep tissue massage can prevent this from becoming a problem and enabling you to use your body to its optimum ability.

Muscle Pain which keeps Returning

 

massage logoMuscle pain is caused by’ trigger points’ within the muscle. These trigger points can be treated by deep tissue massage techniques to eliminate them, but sometimes they just keep coming back!

Pain caused by one-time events can be obvious, and the resulting trigger points do not usually return. A one-time episode of overloading the muscle, an occasional heavy lifting,  ambitious exercise when out of condition, or a sudden enthusiastic burst of different activity can all create mischievous trigger points.

However if muscles are put into a chronic overloading situation, such as in an everyday work situation, or a postural stance which strains the muscle repeatedly, then unless you are able to change the conditions which cause the problem, the trigger points and hence the pain, will keep returning.

A good massage therapist should also be able to advise you on changing any postural problems you may have or work-related changes which may be needed, to try and prevent returning trigger points becoming a problem.

 

Pain Free Travel

Many people have to sit for long periods of time to travel, whether its by car, train or plane. To be aware of your sitting posture can make the world of difference to being pain-free at your destination.

drawingThe crucial point to think about is to be able to sit on TOP of the sitting bones of your pelvis, and not to roll behind them. The vast majority of seats are not designed with this in mind and it is very difficult to sit correctly. A good supply of wedges are essential for a long journey to enable you to sit on top of the sitting bones. If you place your hands underneath your bottom whilst sitting, you can feel the bones with which you need to sit up on. Once sitting correctly, you should not need a back rest, as your spine is designed to be comfortably upright above your pelvis. If you rely on a backrest, then the chances are that you are not sitting correctly to begin with. Your knees need to be slightly below your hip level, and your feet on the ground.

I often take a small hard cushion with me when travelling, and also find a coat is very useful to ball up and stick between my lower back and the seat upright, even if just sitting down at the cinema.

The second point to think about is to keep the chin tucked in, which is especially an issue if you are driving. It is an easy tendency to stick the chin forward, to display a ‘forward head posture’ which in turn compresses the back of the neck. With the chin tucked in, the back of the neck stays nice and long, and this way can avoid associated shoulder pain.

If you already have existing back/neck/shoulder pain, don’t despair!  This can be addressed with some deep tissue massage to set you on your way and with a bit of  postural knowledge, future pain from this can be avoided.

What are Trigger Points?

Trigger points can develop in any muscle in the body and can last as long as life if left untreated. The pain created by trigger points is an enormous cause of disability and time off work. They can accumulate over a lifetime and appear to be the main cause of joint stiffness and loss of mobility in old age. The constant muscle tension imposed by trigger points over stresses muscle attachments and can damage the joints. But what are trigger points?drawing

Trigger points are areas within muscles which have a localized spot of tenderness in a palpable taut band of muscle tissue. It feels like a hard ‘nodule’ and when pressed firmly will hurt and often refer pain to another site, often near to a joint, which in turn makes people modify their movements. By exerting pressure on these trigger points, the blood flow is rapidly increased to the area which helps to ‘release’ these taught bands and allow the muscle to function properly again.

Regular deep tissue massages can detect  these trigger points and eliminate them, allowing you to have as best pain free mobility as possible, well into old age.

Back Pain and Sitting Down

If we have to sit for long periods of time during the day, whether for a job or in the car, the constant pressure of the seat edge against the backs of our thighs can cut off circulation to a certain extent, which can promote trigger points in the hamstring muscles. These trigger points will tighten and shorten the muscles, which in turn can then pull down on the back of the pelvis to which they are attached. The resulting abnormal posture of a posterior tilt and flattening of the lower back curve distorts how the muscles in this area work, often resulting in chronic lower back pain.

If trigger points are already causing mischief within these muscles, then some good deep tissue massages can eliminate them, which followed by regular stretching of your hamstrings, will go a long way to preventing this happening.