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These articles are presented as information with suggestions of resources for further study. They are not—and should not be construed as—medical advice. If you have a medical emergency or suspect that you are ill, your most appropriate action is ALWAYS to consult a physician or go to the closest hospital emergency room.
MASSAGE MYSTERIES SOLVED...Bodywork + Detective Work = Lasting Results JUNE, 2016
Therapeutic massage is mostly detective work. The crucial lasting aspect of treatment is discovering the underlying cause of pain, whether acute or chronic. This sleuthing is as important as releasing stuck, painful muscle fibers.
A recent client whose lower back “never ached like this before,” told me all about his new car as I rubbed his sore lumbar muscles (it’s funny how the truth behind a problem often comes rushing out as soon as I touch a painful part). It seems his back had been hurting for only the last three weeks. When did he get his new car, I asked. Oh, three and a half weeks ago, he answered. I then told him about a wealthy client of mine who owned seven cars: one for each day of the week. The reason for that was a very conscious one: the man understood that each car’s seat was different and placed unique stresses on his body. By changing cars daily—like some people change shoes—his body never got stuck in a chronic painful pattern. But not everyone is rich and the man with the lower back pain certainly wasn’t. I did suggest that he adjust the lumbar support of the new car seat. He emailed two weeks later that his back has been perfect ever since.
It took almost the entire therapeutic hour before I ferreted out the cause of an elderly woman’s sore hip: her seven-month-old granddaughter who she’d begun caring for each Tuesday. Most parents—grand or otherwise—tend to hold a child on one side habitually, usually with the hip and supporting arm of the non-dominant side in order to allow full use of the dominant hand. But in order to hold a child on one hip, we lift that side of the pelvis, both to support the weight and so the child doesn’t slide off. This creates a pelvic torque that strains ligaments, tendons and muscles. My suggestion was that my client remember to keep changing sides whenever she held her grandchild, allowing the stress to be spread more evenly throughout her lumbar and pelvic musculature over the course of her Tuesday.
One of the most common complaints I treat is a stiff neck. The physiological cause is usually spasm, often in the trapezius, a flat triangular muscle covering the surface of the upper back, shoulder and neck. But the underlying problem can be a variety of factors, including:
Stiff necks that are sleep-related can usually be resolved with a new pillow or adjusting the source of a draft. My husband and I have learned that direct air conditioning always gives us either a sore throat or a stiff neck. In summer we cool the bedroom until time to sleep, then put the living room air conditioner on high, shut off the bedroom unit and sleep with the door open and the ceiling fan on to circulate cool air. With central air, changing the position of the bed in relation to the AC duct should help.
Work-related causes are sometimes more difficult to determine and require the cooperation of your employer. But through experimentation—like temporarily raising or lowering the height of screens, keyboards and chairs by using books or other objects lying around, or changing the location of your computer so that you face it squarely instead of at an angle—you can often figure out the major irritant to your neck. Once you’ve determined the cause, you can approach your boss and ask for relief. Remember to remind a resistant employer that happy, healthy workers produce bigger, better results.
The telephone is, in my professional opinion, your neck’s worst enemy. But whether it’s a landline or a cell phone, the smartest choice for too many hours of use is a headset. Today’s technology is so refined you no longer sound like you’re at the bottom of a well when using one. And the headset for your cell phone will allow you to become one of the people who walk down the street seemingly talking to themselves. Remember the days when that was a sure sign of psychoses?
The last major cause of stiff necks is unresolved emotions. One of the ways I approach my detective work for acutely painful neck problems is to ask clients a question:
“When you lie in bed on your back, is your mate to your left or right?”
And because a stiff neck prevents movement in one direction, if the mate happens to sleep on that side, there might be a problem in the relationship that the client is—literally—unable to face. If not, it could be a problem elsewhere in life that is unbearable. Usually, whatever suggestion resonates with the client is the true source of the underlying emotional cause for pain. But I’m no psychologist. I merely point people toward an idea. They choose whether to explore further.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is another frequent complaint these days. New mothers and people who use a computer mouse for many hours a day are often beset by soreness, tenderness and weakness of the thumb and/or wrist. Mothers of young infants are suddenly weight-lifting 10-20 pounds at many different angles, causing pressure on the median nerve at the point where it goes through the carpal tunnel of the wrist. When my son was born, I was the only one of my Mothers’ Group who had no wrist or thumb problems. Years of massage work had strengthened my wrists and hands and prepared me for the burdens of motherhood.
Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and ease inflammation and nerve pressure is the conservative approach to carpal tunnel syndrome. Homeopathic remedies can also be helpful (consult a homeopath if you are not familiar with remedies). Surgery should be a last option.
Those who get carpal tunnel symptoms from high-density computer mouse use can much more easily alleviate their pain. Simply switch the mouse to the other hand. The first hour or so, you’ll feel pretty clumsy, but the brain adapts amazingly quickly. And non-surgical freedom from pain is worth patience and effort. I have artist clients who were forced by pain to change the position of the mouse, and all were quickly able to achieve fine results with their non-dominant hands.
Another easily remedied problem is a chronic sore shoulder. Whether from an old injury or just a sore shoulder for no apparent reason, changing the way one sleeps can make all the difference. At least 90% of the time when I ask a client with a chronic sore shoulder what position they sleep in, the response is “I sleep on my side.” Which side, I then inquire. The answer is almost always that they sleep on the sore shoulder. But changing how one sleeps—especially side-sleeping—depends a lot on what side of the bed you inhabit. If you sleep next to someone, the instinct is almost always to turn away from that person, for oxygen as well as for silence and a space of one’s own. So, in order to successfully change the side you sleep on, you MUST change sides of the bed. This can be extremely stressful for your mate the first night or two, since most people hate change. But after a few nights, new habits are formed and your shoulder feels better. The reason is that when you sleep on your side, the blood flow to the shoulder is diminished by the weight and pressure of your body. And since blood both brings nutrition and removes waste, the injury cannot successfully heal itself with a diminished blood supply. Changing sleep position allows sore shoulders to heal more quickly.
Whenever someone indicates a problem with the hip, knee or foot that is not the result of injury or repetitive stress, I try to detect a life pattern that might be the underlying cause—like the man with the new car and the lumbar pain. But if none can be discovered, I ask the following question:
Are you hesitating to take a step forward in your life?
If the answer is no, then I ask:
Are you going too fast and need to slow down?
A physical problem that is not the result of injury is something the body and mind have determined together to be a viable strategy to get something done. Whether you are hesitating about moving forward in some way or are absolutely doing too much, your hip, knee or foot will sometimes manifest a symptom that is a hint to which you need to pay attention. Often, when this is understood and action taken to re-balance life or march forward without hesitation, the pain disappears.
A good medical massage can almost always alleviate or at least moderate muscular pain. When the true cause of pain is determined, lasting cure is almost certain. A caring massage therapist with a detective’s tenacious curiosity is worth her/his weight in gold!
BRAIN HEALTH EQUALS LONGEVITY DECEMBER, 2014
We are living much longer than our ancestors. Their bodies gave out after short difficult lives or due to simple illness like infection. One of the biggest problems for aging in our lifetime is the health of the brain, the “mainframe computer” that organizes all of our functions.
The following bits of information come mostly from an unauthored article in the March, 2000 issue of USA WEEKEND, entitled “Important News Your Brain Can Use.” The article stated its sources as “groundbreaking research at leading scientific centers, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Harvard, the University of California, Tufts and other facilities worldwide.”
BLUEBERRIES – this food contains an extremely high level of antioxidants--substances that inhibit oxidation and thereby help prevent certain chemical reactions in the body caused by free radicals, unstable molecules that steal electrons from stable ones; antioxidants are helpful in the prevention and treatment of arthritis, glaucoma and macular degeneration, among other illnesses. Eating blueberries dramatically reversed memory loss, restored motor coordination and balance in aging animals (Tufts). Amount in study: equivalent to human consumption of one half cup daily.
VITAMIN B6 – a study involving middle-aged men at Tufts revealed a connection between Vitamin B6 and higher memory scores.
B VITAMINS – University of New Mexico researchers determined that older people taking vitamin supplements—B Vitamins in particular—had higher cognitive performances.
COENZYME Q10 – high doses of this supplement stimulate dopamine activity in nerve cells, leading NIH to launch studies of coQ10 in treating Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.
GINKGO BILOBA– more than 50 different studies find this supplement to be successful in helping aging memories, concentration, forgetfulness, confusion, dizziness and Alzheimer’s disease.
FOLIC ACID – low levels of this component of the Vitamin B Complex family triple the risk of Alzheimer’s (Britain’s Oxford University research). 400 mcg per day can also be of help in treating depression (antidepressant drugs work better with higher folic acid levels—Harvard).
FISH OIL CAPSULES – relieved manic depression in 65% of patients, “often within a couple of weeks,” according to a Harvard study.
AVOID margarine, salad dressings, corn oil and processed foods containing omega-6-type fat. A Dutch study concluded that older men whose diets included such destructive fat were 75% more likely to be intellectually impaired than those who did not consume such fat.
The same article mentioned Vitamin E, which has lately received bad press. But I will share the quote and you may decide for yourselves how to proceed.
“Not a single older person taking daily Vitamin E (about 400IU) or Vitamin C (about 500mg) developed Alzheimer’s during a four-year study at Chicago’s Rush Institute for Healthy Aging. The expected Alzheimer’s rate is 15%.”
When trying to determine how much of these brain-healthy supplements to take, consult the NUTRITION ALMANAC by Lavon J. Dunne. It presents a variety of nutrients and supplements, explains how they function in the body, and presents optimal and toxic doses. The book also contains explanations of many ailments and how nutrition affects prevention and treatment. My favorite section is the extensive Table of Food Composition which takes foods most often consumed and lists, for a given measure, the calories, protein, carbs, fiber, vitamins, minerals, lipids and amino acids they contain.
My second favorite reference book is THE HERBAL DRUGSTORE by Linda B. White, MD and Steven Foster. It gives herb profiles for the most common herbs, lists ailments—including causes—and then presents treatment options, both the pharmaceuticals and herbal alternatives.
ALL DIRT IS NOT INERT NOVEMBER, 2011
...The Amazing Healing Properties of Clay
Many women are familiar with clay face masks, but rarely has anyone experienced the other uses of this ancient healing tool. When I was a child and stepped on a bee, my friend's mom told me to make a wet poultice of mud and place it on my red toe. The mud definitely helped. But if she'd handed me some powdered clay to mix with the water, I probably would have felt even better.
Healing clays come in many colors, though the most easily found are in powdered form either green (from France) or off-white (from the western USA). Many health food stores carry clay these days. To apply clay to a wound, simply add water until a paste forms. The thicker the better. Hot clay has even more powerful healing properties, but be careful not to burn yourself.
When my son was small and needle-resistant, we applied a thick paste of green clay and a bandaid to all splinters. The next morning when the bandaid was removed, the splinter always lay in the middle of the clay-covered gauze. Clay is an ancient “drawing salve.” When I complained to my son recently about a stubborn shard of glass in my hand that wouldn't go away, he suggested green clay. I followed his advice with great success.
Clay also cools and soothes, as women who've had a clay mask can attest. A client came in recently with mosquito bites that had driven him mad for 48 hours. After his massage, I cleaned the skin with alcohol, then applied a thick paste of green clay. He walked out of the office 45 minutes later totally itch-free.
Why does dirt heal? Clay is a particular kind of dirt, containing many minerals (including silica, aluminum, magnesium, titanium, iron and others) but its most interesting property is that it is alive! Tiny microorganisms live in the clay and support the life of small creatures in the wild like the Niphargus shrimp that lives in caves and eats nothing but the damp clay in which it resides.
As author of THE HEALING CLAY, Michael Abehsera states, “Clay then is a live medium which helps generate and maintain life.”
Clay is negatively charged, whereas most toxins are positively charged. Thus, the “drawing salve” qualities as toxins are pulled toward the clay's ions (like my son's splinter). The absorbent and adsorbent qualities of clay have caused it to be used as a purifying agent in industry to deodorize raw materials. It has been used as a neutralizer of poisons as well. A European doctor, Meyer-Camberg reports in Linda Clark's book, THE BEST OF LINDA CLARK, that clay can antidote even arsenic poisoning. One teaspoon in a glass of water each hour for six hours, he says, will clear the problem! When ingested, however, clay can slow the bowels, so be careful with your dosing.
In Abehsera's book an entire chapter is devoted to ancient uses of clay...the Egyptians used it to mummify their dead; it was used to successfully treat cholera at the early part of the 20th century; during WWI Russian soldiers received 200 grams of clay along with their rations; French soldiers used it to stay free of dysentery; in France it was also used to treat first, second and third degree burns. And on and on.
Clay can be used both externally and internally with quite startling and effective healing results. The following are three books on the healing properties of clay. All are available through www.amazon.com. Explore and please share any results you have.
THE CLAY CURE by Ran Knishinsky
THE HEALING CLAY by Michael Abehsera
THE HEALING POWER OF CLAY by Michael Abehsera