By Teresa Eisenlohr
I have lived with chronic pain for over 30 years. It sucks. It’s also what led me to massage, though. Although I have seen a chiropractor regularly since I sailed down a whole flight of icy metal steps on my tailbone at age 20, I thought massage was something rich ladies of leisure do as part of spa beauty rituals. Not until I saw a chiropractor who is also a massage therapist did I come to understand that massage is not a luxury, but a therapy vital for the management of chronic pain. (Thank you, Dr. Beatriz Hoyos!)
Serious scientific studies like this one consistently show that massage doesn’t just help with the acute pain of an injury; it also helps manage chronic pain. Of course massage works with our muscles and joints to get them functioning better, and this lessens the pain as we reeducate our muscles and reset the normal tonicity so that they're not in spasm. But massage also changes our bodies at a cellular level. It does this by regulating various substances in our body that can cause chronic problems. For instance, massage decreases cortisol, a stress hormone that causes fat storage in the event of some kind of perceived threat of a hunger apocalypse. Chronic inflammation, a culprit contributing to heart disease, cancer, dementia, as well as chronic pain, is associated with an excess of cytokines, a protein that massage reduces in our bloodstream in as little as 45 minutes on the massage table. At the same time, massage also increases the number of lymphocytes in our immune system, which respond to a specific threat, such as a virus or bacterial infection that can be a hidden cause of chronic pain.
Of course, most of us don’t need a scientist to tell us what those of us who get regular massage know: it helps us feel better. Especially those of us who live with chronic pain.
There's another less obvious benefit of massage for those in chronic pain. It helps us get reconnected with our bodies. Paradoxically, pain can cause us to lose touch with our bodies. In order to make it through the day, those in pain dissociate from bodily sensations, subconsciously make physical compensations, and distract our minds with other things so that we’re not thinking about the pain. While a necessary strategy at times, unfortunately, this can result in more body abuse and more pain. The compensating muscles can get overworked and spasm, too, adding to the pain. Without being mindful of their body, those whose joints are hypermobile may stretch to do things beyond what is good for them simply because they can. The resultant micro-tears to muscle and fascia that are beyond what can be repaired as we sleep (which is spotty when you live in pain), result in more pain. Eventually, we’re no longer able to ignore the increasing pain, and we seek help. By that time, more extreme measures are often prescribed. Getting a massage and paying attention to what hurts and what makes it better helps us get in touch with what’s going on in our bodies so that we can mindfully manage the pain rather than having it manage us by eventually bringing our lives to a standstill.
So if you live with pain, consider getting regular massage to help you manage it better, if not relieve you of it altogether.
By Teresa Eisenlohr
When you hurt and go get a massage, you just want someone to make the pain go away. The last thing you want is more pain! Sometimes, though, on the way to healing, that’s what you get. When pain stuck in one place is released, it can reveal a greater pain lodged deeper within our body’s structure. This is discouraging for both you and the massage therapist. If we can be patient when this happens, the healing relief can be greater in the long run. And if we can get ahead of that pain instead of just following it with maintenance massages that keep you going, in the long run you’ll have less pain and have to have less massage. In the meantime, more frequent massage for a couple months and Epsom salt baths, along with other natural measures, can help you through the pain of a healing transition.
Sometimes the additional pain that arises during a massage is an emotional one. It can be surprising when we suddenly burst into tears on the table. Years after I’d buried my first husband, I got a massage and found myself sobbing great gobs of snot on someone else’s table. Not given to emotional displays of grief that I thought was as resolved as grief ever gets, I was embarrassed by my perplexing tears.
I now know that this is a rather common reaction. Our emotional memories are just not stored somewhere in our brains, but throughout the nerve centers in our bodies. Our nervous and muscular systems permeate one another, so it’s no wonder that the release of chronically tight muscle can also release concomitant memories and emotions we didn't even know were an issue. When this emotional release happens, there’s no need to be embarrassed. It doesn’t mean you’re falling apart. It just means you’re human.
So if you start crying or laughing with a release of muscular tightness, just know that it’s perfectly natural, and just let it go. Ask for a tissue when you need one. We’ll help you hold the emotional heaviness until it lightens up, just like we do with your head for an atlas-occipital release. We're a compassionate witness of your pain. If you want to talk about it, you can. Though we’re not psychological therapists, we’re pretty good listeners. If you don’t want to talk about it, we'll honor that and follow your lead. When someone’s having an emotional release, I simply hold them in the Light as I gently continue massage--after handing them a tissue, if needed.
All good massage therapists try to follow and honor your body’s wisdom about what is best for your healing by not only giving you the best massage tailored for your body, but also by holding healing space open for you to release whatever pain is holding you back from being your best self.
You’ll notice from our website that aromatherapy is a part of your massage unless otherwise requested. We have a diffuser with essential oils in it mixed for your massage.
Essential oils are not just room perfume. Of course, there are some mixtures that you can buy for little money that are labeled “essential oil,” but this is misleading; they really are room perfume with as many chemicals in them as an air freshener, if you read the label.
Good essential oils are therapeutic. Before modern pharmaceuticals, people relied upon the medicinal properties of various plants to heal them. Some of these ancient remedies are so potent that they kill MRSA, a deadly bacterial disease resistant to modern antibiotics. During the plague that decimated medieval Europe, the town of Bucklersbury was curiously spared, and researchers have determined that it was because of lavender they grew and processed for export. In fact, thieves from a perfumery town rubbed themselves down with various essential oils in a suspension of vinegar and garlic and proceeded to pilfer from those who died from the plague without ever contracting the disease. When caught and called before their frightened king eager to know how to protect himself against the plague, they revealed their recipe. Today, researches have discovered that these ancient combinations of oils protect against all kinds of diseases, including typhoid and cholera.
Because essential oils are the concentrated essence of the plant, it’s important that the plants from which they come are grown without toxic chemicals in order for them to be truly therapeutic. That’s why you need to consider the plant sources of your essential oils. That’s also why they’re expensive. In fact, of the gifts the magi brought the baby Jesus, the myrrh and frankincense were more valuable than the gold. The reason why is the same reason why good perfume is so expensive: it takes a lot of the best plants, responsibly grown, to make just one 5 ml bottle of an essential oil, which is about the size of your thumb. The parts of the plants that are used to create the oils are steam distilled or, in the case of citrus oils, cold pressed. It takes many, many plants to produce just a little essential oil. For example, it takes 8,000-10,000 roses to produce a 5 ml bottle of essential rose oil. If you buy this oil from a company that works with local growers who do not use a toxic soup of pesticides or fertilizers (which means fewer, smaller plants that are totally natural) and pay them a living wage under good working conditions, http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/13/us/behind-roses-beauty-poor-and-ill-workers.html you will pay almost $250 for that little bottle of oil. In addition, a good essential oil company tests the quality of its products using an independent third party beyond that of the growers and company. This is important because anyone can slap a label on almost any oil and call it natural and/or organic according to FDA standards. Companies committed to rigorous purity standards, though, produce essential oils that can be ingested, as well as diffused, so that they can be used as the powerful medicines that they are. Essential oils can also be used directly on the body, usually with a carrier oil, to for a more therapeutic effect, which is why we sometimes use them in your massage. Indeed, essential oils have molecules so small and refined that, unlike most medicines, they pass through the blood brain barrier.
Essential oils are powerful healing agents, and that’s why we use only the best,. We’re committed to giving you the best, most natural way for your body to heal. If you’re interested in learning how to use essential oils for yourself , give Teresa a call at 412-818-2333.
by Teresa Eisenlohr
For those of us who live with chronic pain, we’ve seen doctor after specialist after doctor only to be told that it’s all in our head. I know; I’ve traveled this road, got fed up, and finally figured out that I was going to have to learn what I needed to know in order to find my own healing. That’s how I eventually ended up in massage school and am now sharing what I’ve learned as a licensed massage therapist. What I’ve learned in studying anatomy is that for some of us, muscular pain may really be all in our heads—our brains, that is—because our muscles aren't getting the benefit of the brain's oversight on resting muscle tension.
Within each muscle there are neurological centers called muscle spindles that constantly monitor muscle tension. These spindles are what set our resting or normal muscle tension in a brilliant system of electrical and chemical impulses. They are constantly sending reports up to our brains about what the situation is with each muscle, and the brain sends its orders back to the muscle. If a muscle is too taut (contracted), the brain sends signals to have the muscle spindle/monitor loosen the tension. If it’s too stretched, the brain sends the signal to take up the slack with tighter tension.
The muscle spindle/monitors are very good at their jobs. Sometimes too good. Were we to personify them, we’d name them Irving, give them bad hair cuts, white dress shirts with pocket protectors, and black glasses held together with white tape. Their socks might be sucked down into their shoes. (I know; we’re getting carried away here, but I want you to get how conscientious and anal retentive muscle spindles are.)
Muscle spindles that monitor muscle tension are Type A personalities who can cite all regulations by paragraph section in the policy manual they were given on their first day of employment, which, of course, they memorized. They are alert to any infraction and eager to report it back to the home office. They never go on vacation, and they are always at their post on watch like an overzealous hall monitor. The problem is that that’s about all they can do—monitor and send reports. They cannot think for themselves and lack the oversight that the central nervous system has on the overall situation. It's the central nervous system that determines what the regulations should be. Muscle Spindle Irving is stuck in the muscular basement monitoring tension like someone at a nuclear reactor plant assiduously watches gauges and monitors to make sure his reactor/muscle doesn't melt down or blow sky high. His is a serious job, and he takes it very seriously.
Sometimes the message from the brain can’t get through the tangled mess of reports that our over-zealous muscle spindle/monitor named Irving keeps sending. Our muscles get stuck in bureaucratic snafus, so to speak. This situation can happen when we’re under stress, for instance, when adrenaline and cortisol come in from HQ and tell Irving that our muscles need to be ready to spring into action on a moment’s notice. Ever compliant, Irving is only too happy to tighten up the ship, so to speak. So our muscles tense and become taut.
During long periods of stress, though, the managers don’t get the message from the brain to cut our muscles some slack. They don’t relax. Irving still clings white-knuckled to his monitor, ever vigilant and ready to spring into action. It’s as though the constant release of the stress chemicals adrenaline and cortisol have rusted the doors that need to open to release the relaxation chemical reactions. Irving either won’t or can’t get the muscle tension to relax, if he’s even getting the message from the central nervous system to lighten up. Consequently, the muscle under his watch stays on alert, taut. Its supple responsiveness becomes concretized, and this becomes our new normal.
This is why outside intervention is necessary. You're not imagining things; you really can't relax your muscles because Irving won't let go. A massage therapist who knows her stuff can override this system by negotiating with Irving and, over time, get our bodies to accept a new, more relaxed and supple muscle tension as normal.
How? Partly by working with these muscles’ managers. When pressed (literally!), muscle spindles like Irving respond in one of two ways. If our systems are not faulty, the manager reads the pressure as threatening the muscular system and sends the report to our nervous system that things are too tight. The brain then sends the order to loosen things up with the release of the appropriate chemicals that relax the muscle. Irving welcomes these chemicals, opens the release valve, and all is good. This is how trigger point therapy works. By pressing the muscle spindles 30-90 seconds, you increase the perceived tension, causing the brain to send the signal to relax the muscle fibers in that area.
But what if our system is faulty and Irving is a testy control freak? Here is where positional release therapy and ortho-bionomy is helpful. If our system is faulty, these muscle-spindle managers are stressed. They are doing the best they can, but it’s not enough. If you lightly hold the area and move the body more into the position in which it is going—in other words, if you help Irving do what he’s already doing—it’s as though the manager feels supported and he can live and let live a little. He quits sending frantic SOS messages to the brain that’s learned to treat them as Chicken Little reports and not respond to them anymore, if they can even get past all the tangled mess Irving has created. With the massage therapist’s intervention, the nervous system starts to calm down so that relaxation chemicals are released and accepted by Irving into the system. It’s as though the muscle spindle/monitor doesn’t feel so alone in trying to hold everything together that he can now welcome the chemicals that open the rusty door to the relaxation room. The special elixir of relaxation chemicals is released. A general cheer arises. Irving starts thinking about buying a Hawaiian shirt and going on vacation. There’s talk of piña coladas with little umbrellas. The muscle relaxes. The fascia surrounding the muscle fiber is also released from its tension at the same time. More oxygen can then flood into the area, bringing nutritional support for the cells. Cellular waste that’s been stuck in the tight tangle of muscle fibers finally gets out of traffic and on to the kidney landfill for processing. This whole process takes 90 seconds or more in just one little area, and that's if Irving trusts you. It can take as much as 15 minutes to get one little muscle to relax.
In a dysfunctional system, if you press too hard, the monitor just keeps doing what dysfunctional folks do in a dysfunctional system: he does the same thing harder and stronger than before. With too much pressure, the muscle may tighten up even more. This is why a strong massage or fascial rolling is ineffective for many in chronic pain and may make matters worse. Yes, there are times when a tight muscle may need to be wrangled into submissive relaxation by waling on it, but generally this just pisses Irving off, and his anal retentiveness kicks in to tighten the tension after he's been forced to relax it temporarily. He gets passive aggressive when we're not looking and tightens things up again with a sly smile that says he's not letting anyone take over his controls, by golly!
Good massage therapists respect Irving’s work. We don’t want to make Irving mad; this is counterproductive. Instead, we work with the neuromuscular system, trusting its brilliance. When a body's system has gone awry, we work our massage therapy magic partly by gently bribing Irving with gifts of Hawaiian shirts and piña colada umbrellas. Generally compliant, Irving then helps instead of hurts. He gets commendations, and you get pain relief.
We see so much neck and back pain because of posture; specifically your head being too far forward from stretching to read those text messages, working on computers, driving, sleeping in an awkward position. There are simple stretches to do to help this ever growing condition. And they really help. Here are a few of our "go to" stretches!
Come visit us for a full assessment from the arches of your feet up. Are your arches flat? Hips rotated? Poor posture? Let's get you checked out!
by Melly Imm
CranioSacral therapy involves the cranium (skull) and the sacrum (tailbone area), the spinal cord, and all attached bones, membranes, and fluid. The massage therapist uses their hands in an exceedingly gentle manner, to feel for the subtle pulse of this system, looking for restrictions. Restrictions can affect the quality of the flow of the craniosacral rhythym, which can affect physical and emotional well being.
CranioSacral therapy enhances the function of the Autonomic Nervous System, which consists in part, of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. You've heard of "fight or flight," right? That's your sympathetic system. Thanks to the stresses in our lives, long work hours, improper sleep, exercise and diet, injury, chronic pain, etc., our sympathetic system is always "on," therefore always in a fight or flight stage. We don't hear nearly as much about the parasympathetic system, the "rest and digest" system. When your parasympathetic system is activated, your heart rate decreases, your muscles relax, you make more saliva, and other secretions that aid in digestion, and self-healing can take place. And guess what? CranioSacral gets that parasympathetic system activated.
During a CranioSacral Therapy appointment, your therapist will first perform some assessments. You will then lie down on your back, fully clothed. Your therapist will gently place their hands on you and you will feel a very light touch. After your session, you will feel more relaxed and comfortable. You may feel energized. You may continue to see and feel improvement over the next few days. You will sleep better.
According to Massage Today, (an MPA media production) "CranioSacral therapy has been shown to help the autistic individual find greater ease, both within themselves and in the world around them, by decreasing structural stress on the central nervous system." Along with being beneficial to people with Autism, CranioSacral therapy can help the following conditions: headaches, migraines, chronic neck and back pain, brain and spinal cord injuries, whiplash, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, TMJ disorder, scoliosis, sleep disorders, learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD, PTSD.
But there are other, more surprising benefits of massage, including
For pregnant mothers, the beneficial effects are perhaps more astounding, including
For those with ADD/ADHD 30-minute massage sessions can improve concentration. Massage is an effective therapy for children with autism, too.
Massage can also be helpful for those who've experienced some kind of trauma, as our emotional memories are not just laid down in our brains, but throughout our bodies, as neuroscientist Candace Pert proved.
While massage is contraindicated for those with a fever or who've been drinking or taking recreational drugs, there are few conditions that massage therapy doesn't help improve in some way.