New Yew | Transformational Massage Grand Rapids Michigan Transformational Massage Therapy for a New You. Fri, 23 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 39357191 5 Essential Oils You Should Always Have Fri, 23 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000 4 essential oil bottlesI haven’t done a post about aromatherapy for a while. It’s time I remedied that.

I know it’s summer and I know you want to get out and enjoy the 5 minutes of good weather we have each year, and so do I. So, I’m going to keep this short and sweet and tell you the 5 oils I always make sure to have on hand and why.

Lavender Essential Oil

Because it:

  • calms the nerves
  • relaxes the mind
  • helps minor skin burns heal faster
  • soothes menstrual cramps
  • relieves stress
  • relieves tension headaches
  • aids sleep

Eucalyptus Essential Oil

Because it:

  • loosens phlegm
  • reduces coughing
  • helps you breathe when you’re stuffy
  • speeds healing of colds
  • is antiseptic
  • repels insects

Rosemary Essential Oil

Because it:

  • is invigorating
  • is mentally stimulating
  • aids concentration
  • aids memory
  • is antiseptic

Tea Tree Essential Oil

Because it:

  • is anti-viral
  • is anti-bacterial
  • is anti-fungal
  • speeds healing of pimples

Ylang Ylang Essential Oil (Complete or Extra)

Because it:

  • is relaxing
  • is a supposed aphrodisiac
  • aids sleep
  • helps regulate hormones (and aids pre- and perimenopausal symptoms)

That’s it. Two other reasons I’ve chosen these oils is that they’re all readily available online from reputable suppliers and they won’t break the bank.

So… if you’ve wanted to start your own essential oil kit but were a bit overwhelmed by all the possibilities, you’ve now got a good place to start.

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The Massage Client’s Guide to (Not) Shaving Fri, 16 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000 one leg shaved the other hairy

Clients often apologize for not having shaved this or waxed that, but it’s really no big deal.

Hairy Legs

Ladies, this is for you. Shaving our legs is a cultural thing. Here in the U.S. it’s considered normal, and even expected, for a woman to shave her legs. But not all cultures take that view. Some cultures view women who shave their legs as prostitutes.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t shave your legs. I firmly believe it should be your choice if you want to shave your legs or not. You shouldn’t be shamed by society, or even yourself, if you don’t shave them everyday, or even if you don’t shave them at all.

It’s no big deal to work on hairy legs. Really. Most guys don’t shave their legs and we don’t have any problem working on their legs. We won’t have any problem working on yours. But… there’s stubble, you say. So? We massage a lot of 5 o’clock shadow and, believe me, that’s way more coarse and prickly than your legs.

Let me guarantee you that most women do NOT shave their legs every day. My evidence: 15+  years of working on hairy or stubbly legs and hearing, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t shave my legs today,” several times a week.

Hairy Backs

Your turn guys – Newsflash: Having hair on your back is normal. It’s also normal to not have hair on your back. Sure, some people hate hairy backs, but you only need to worry about that if you’re pursing them as a romantic partner (which probably isn’t a great idea, imho), not if you’re looking to get a massage.

Massage therapists work on hairy backs all the time. We also work on naturally hairless backs, backs that have been waxed smooth, and backs that have obviously been waxed but are starting to grow back. It doesn’t really matter to us which it is. The only thing it impacts is which, and how much, lubricant we use on the hairy part.

Hairy Armpits

This last one is for the ladies. We don’t care if they’re shaved or not. Seriously. As long as your pits don’t reek so badly we gag, we don’t care what you do or don’t do with them. Judging by the feedback I get from clients, there are many therapists out there who don’t even work in this area anyway. For those of us who do, the presence of hair doesn’t matter. We work in men’s pits, too, and they don’t shave. It’s no big deal.

So what I’m really saying is this: We don’t care if your don’t shave.

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No, Your Massage Therapist Doesn’t Want to Play “Hide and Seek” Fri, 09 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000 detective with magnifying glassAs a kid, I used to love to play hide and seek. I thrilled to find the perfect hiding spot, which was different depending on who was searching. I also loved being able to figure out each person’s favorite type of hiding spot and finding them with relative ease afterward. Truth be told, I still love a good game of hide and seek, just not in the massage room.

Every massage therapist has had at least one client who has tried to play some version of hide and seek with them. The type of hide and seek that people play in the massage room isn’t the fun game of my childhood.

There are 2 ways to play hide and seek during a massage and most massage therapists have very little patience for either. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m certain that you have never played the first type, but you may have inadvertently played the second type.

Creepy Hide and Seek

The pervs play all sorts of games (both subtle and overt) that result in them uncovering part of all of their junk in the hopes that we’ll “massage it.” All that’ll get them in the office of a legitimate massage therapist is a lecture, a session that ends immediately, and/or a ban from ever returning to that therapist.

This Is Not A Test

The testers either refuse to tell us what’s wrong, saying “You’re the professional. You’ll find it,” or they fail to fill in their health history forms completely. We ask questions before your session to help us devise a treatment plan so you can have the maximum benefit possible from your massage. If you only tell us you have back pain (for example) but won’t narrow down where you’re feeling discomfort you aren’t helping us help you feel better. If you won’t tell us what movements or positions make it better or worse, again, you’re simply complicating and possibly delaying your own pain relief. If you don’t tell us that you’ve had a spinal fusion or a bulging disc, we won’t know that we need to modify the massage to account for that. The back is a large area and the muscles that cause upper back pain probably won’t have much, if any, effect on low back pain. When you *hide* the answers we might spend all session *seeking* the problem you came to see us for. That means you won’t get nearly the amount of relief you could have, had we known what we were actually looking for in the first place and started there instead of ending there.

I understand that you want to get on the table as soon as possible. Really I do. I also understand that you respect our knowledge and skill, but being able to put our knowledge and skill to its best use for you is dependent on knowing the particulars of what’s going on with *your* body.

So the takeaway for today is this: You’ll get a much better massage with greater results if you are willing to take a couple extra minutes to answer a few questions before getting on the massage table.

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What You Need To Know About Pain And Massage Fri, 02 Jun 2017 16:00:00 +0000 No Pain No gain

painful massageI can’t speak to the benefits of “no pain no gain” in relation to sports or weight training, but I can tell you that it doesn’t hold water when it comes to massage. That’s not to say that massage might never be uncomfortable, but it should never be downright painful.

What Is Pain?

For our purposes today, I’m going to define pain as eliciting one or more of these responses:

  • Involuntary gasp, grunt, cry, yell, or scream
  • Involuntary withdrawal or protection of offended body part
  • Holding your breath in response to the sensation
  • Clenching fists, eyes, or toes in response to the sensation
  • Change in breathing in order to tolerate the sensation
  • Change in speech in response to the sensation
  • Marked increase in heart rate

Pain is Never the Right Answer

Pain during a massage could be a sign that your therapist might be fighting your body instead of working with it. This can include working too quickly on an area, working too deeply, or trying to force their way into protected tissue.

Pain is often a sign that something’s wrong. The only protection a muscle has to pain is to contract. When a muscle is trying to protect itself and someone else is trying to get that same muscle to “release” microtears can be created in the muscle. Ouch!

What to do if You Have Pain

As I said, the only thing a muscle in pain can do is contract, and that’s counter to the end goal of a massage session, which is to release or relax muscles that are causing pain. So, if you feel pain from something your massage therapist is doing, please speak up. If you want less pressure, tell them. If you thought the last massage felt fine, but then couldn’t walk for 2 days afterward, tell your therapist (if not by phone, email, or text, then at your next appointment) so they can alter the way they work on you so you don’t have pain.

Remember, too, that your massage therapist is only as human as you are. So… if you tell them what they’re doing is painful and they don’t alter the pressure, speed or location, reword your statement and ask them to slow down, lighten up, or move on to somewhere else. A good massage therapist will be happy to comply. A better therapist will ask questions about the pain to better understand what may have caused it.

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What it Means When a Muscle Feels Tight Fri, 26 May 2017 16:00:00 +0000 I’m sure you’ve felt tight muscles on yourself. Whether you physically touched the muscles with your hands or just felt the sense of tension in your body, there’s a good chance you rubbed those muscles yourself or asked someone else to do it for you. Maybe both.

But what does the term “tight muscle” mean? What makes a muscle feel tight and do you always need or want to release it?

Muscles Can Be Contracted Short

muscle length contracted vs relaxedWhen a muscle feels tight, it could be tight from being shortened or contracted. This is what most people assume whenever they feel a tight muscle… that it’s contracted and needs to be released or relaxed. But that’s not always the case

If the muscle is contracted tight it will feel thicker than normal. (see picture)

Muscles Can Be Stretched Long

But muscles can also feel tight because they’re being pulled or stretched when other muscles that move your body in the opposite direction are contracted. Both sets of muscles can feel tight to the touch, but it’s likely that only one set of muscles will hurt. Often the ones that hurt are the ones being pulled. (Not always, but often.)

My favorite (albeit somewhat oversimplified) example is a kid pulling on your arm to get you to come see or do something with them. If you’re in the middle of doing something, you’ll put them off. If for some reason they were to keep pulling on your arm (and you let them) until you were ready to go with them, your arm would likely begin to hurt. No amount of massage on those arm muscles is going to relieve the pain of the muscle being stretched until the kid stops pulling.

The same thing happens when you have one set of contracted (tight) muscles pulling on another set of muscles that are pulled (or stretched) tight. One set will usually hurt while the other doesn’t.

If the muscle is stretched or pulled tight it will feel thin and taut like a trampoline or army cot.

If you “release” a muscle that’s being stretched tight, you’ll do yourself quite a mischief. That stretched muscle is usually pulling back (or trying to) in an attempt to keep itself from being pulled even farther. In other words, it’s bracing your body against further pain. If you release it, the contracted muscle will be allowed to contract even more and stretch the already stretched muscle even further. If you thought it hurt when the muscle was being pulled before, it’s nothing to how it will feel if the shorted muscle is allowed to pull even harder.

The Long and Short Of It

So… just because you have a muscle that feels tight doesn’t mean you necessarily want someone to release it for you. *Shameless Plug* You want a professional massage therapist to evaluate your body and release the shortened muscles while comforting the stretched ones.

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The Massage Client’s Guide to Taking Off Your Clothes Fri, 19 May 2017 16:00:00 +0000 Knight with plate mail armour

You could wear this and it would be OK.

Exposing the Truth About Getting Undressed (tl;dr version)

Only undress as far as you’re comfortable. Really. Yes, I mean it. No, I really don’t have a preference.

Let’s Cover That A Bit More Thoroughly

Think about it. If you’re feeling a bit “exposed,” despite being covered by a sheet and blanket, you’re going to be holding tension in your muscles. You’ll especially be holding tension in your leg muscles as you attempt to make sure that as little as possible can be accidentally seen or felt. If you’re a woman, you’ll undoubtedly also be holding tension in your arm and chest muscles as you strive to keep your breasts fully covered. If one of your massage goals is to reduce pain and/or muscle tension you’ll be hard pressed to make much headway if you’re holding tension in the very  muscles you’re asking us to release.

Not only that but you’ll be nervous, anxious, and/or fearful, which puts your stress response on red alert. No matter how relaxing the massage is, your constant alarm bells are going to keep you from feeling relaxed, or at least as relaxed as you could be if you’d left a bit more clothing on before getting on the massage table. Add to that the fact that when you’re nervous, anxious, or fearful you simply can’t enjoy anything as much as you otherwise would.

A competent massage therapist will be able to work with any level of dress or undress. This is your session and you’re paying a lot of money for it. All that money will be wasted if you’re not getting the full benefit because you’re “underdressed.”

Let’s Wrap This Up

To recap… when you’re tense because you took off more than you were comfortable with it makes our job harder, reduces your enjoyment, and reduces the benefit you’ll receive from the massage.

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Should You Really Take Your Time Getting Up After A Massage? Fri, 12 May 2017 16:00:00 +0000 massage clock If you’ve ever had a massage, you know that some sort of time warp takes place once you set foot in the massage room. It speeds up, it slows down, you may even start to lose track of what day it is. Or maybe that’s just me.

So much of massage is time-based that we massage therapists tend to pay close attention to time and use a lot of time-based language. Sometimes that language is specific and necessary as in, “I have you scheduled for a 60 minute massage at 3:00pm.” Sometimes, it’s more vague and polite such as when we say, “Take your time getting up.”

Massage Time Part 1: The Quicker Stripper

I’ve had clients take as little as 30 seconds (or less) to take off their clothes, throw them on the chair, get on the table, and cover up. The average time it seems to take my clients is somewhere around 1-2 minutes (I’ve never actually timed it), depending on the time of year and the care they take with their clothes.

This part of the massage is least subject to the time warp I mentioned above. You’re still in your normal multi-tasking, get-things-done mode and you’re excited to be getting on the table. You’re using all of your multi-tasking skills to get on the table as soon as possible so the massage can start.

Massage Time part 2: Table Time

I don’t know about you, but every time I get a massage, it always ends up being the fastest 60 or 90 minutes of my day. Truth be told, it’s often that way when I’m giving massage as well. I’m telling you, there’s some sort of time warp that happens.

This time warp has a lot to do with something I’ll broadly call mindfulness. Your mind may be racing when you first get on the table, but as you start to focus on how good your body feels (or how the pain is subsiding) it starts to calm down and you start to focus only on the bodily sensations. It’s the same thing that happens when you focus solely on a hobby or activity you enjoy… you lose track of time. I could do a whole blog post explaining this mindfulness, but that’s the gist of it.

Massage Time Part 3: Dazed and Confused

Then comes the time that your therapist tells you in a soothing voice that the massage is over and to take your time getting up. You probably don’t want to get up; you’d prefer the massage continue for another hour. Who wouldn’t, right? But getting off the table and coming out of the room isn’t nearly as easy as getting on the table.

The average time it takes my clients to get off the table, put their clothes on, and come out of the room can be anywhere from 3-10 minutes. It makes sense, right? You’re relaxed, warm, and perfectly content… of course you’re going to move more slowly getting off the table than you did when you were enthusiastically anticipating getting a massage. You might even want to stay on the table and take a nap.

What We Really Mean When We Say “Take Your Time”

I’m gonna be honest. When we tell you to take your time getting up we don’t really mean it. Well, we mean it in the sense that we don’t want you rushing around to get dressed and come out of the room because that would undo a good portion, if not all, of the stress relief and lowered muscle tension you may have just experienced. We want you to move at a relaxed pace, but we don’t mean take ALL the time you want. Don’t sit in the room checking your Facebook or Twitter feed, don’t sit in there having a text conversation, and don’t (for the love of all that’s holy) give yourself some extra “pleasure” after the massage; we especially don’t want you doing the last one.

Remember, unless you’re the last client of the day your massage therapist has a client after you. Even if you are the last client of the day, the therapist still has to clean the room to get it ready for the next day. And hey, they may even have an actual life outside the office that they want to go participate in. So throw us a bone, eh? Don’t rush when you’re getting up, but try not to lolligag either.

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The Real Reason to Drink Water After a Massage Fri, 05 May 2017 16:00:00 +0000 drink water

Make sure to drink plenty of water after a massage to flush out all the toxins.

In massage school I was taught that massage worked the trapped lactic acid and other toxins out of your muscles and that we needed to drink lots of water afterward to flush it all out of the body so that we wouldn’t hurt the next day. I was also taught that lactic acid is made by the body when our muscles are running low on oxygen, and that by the time we finish panting after heavy exercise, it’s all been converted back to the basic building blocks from whence it came. For some reason, the impossibility of those two concepts both being true didn’t occur to me until several years after I graduated from massage school.

Lactic Acid Buildup

Ok, this myth is persistent, and it has to stop. Exercise physiologists have known for decades that lactic acid is fuel for the body, not a toxin. When our oxygen supply drops, as it does during strenuous exercise, our body converts glycogen to lactic acid and uses that as an energy or fuel source. Lactic acid doesn’t actually cause muscles to fatigue during exercise or any other time. On the contrary, it actually delays the onset of muscle fatigue which prevents you from hurting as bad as you otherwise would. When you stop exercising, your liver converts any leftover lactic acid back to glycogen.

Say it after me… Lactic acid does not make me hurt. It gives me energy. It does not get trapped in my muscles.

Flush Those Toxins

Have you ever asked someone what toxins are trapped in our muscles? I have. So far, no one’s been able to give me a satisfactory answer. Usually they mumble something about lactic acid (see above) and “other metabolic wastes.” When I ask which metabolic wastes, I get a bunch of non-answers like “all kinds of them.” Really? That’s the best you’ve got for me?

I’m gonna give you a quick anatomy and physiology lesson today. I promise it won’t hurt… Much. This is gonna be the anatomy version of tl;dr (too long; didn’t read).

You have blood vessels running through your entire body. Some are positively huge, like your aorta, others are very small, like your capillaries, and the rest, your arteries and veins for instance, are somewhere in between. Half of your blood vessels bring nutrients to your organs, muscle, and other tissues, and the other half remove the metabolic waste products that are left behind when your body’s done using the nutrients. One of the nutrients they bring around to all parts of your body is oxygen, and one of the waste products they remove is carbon dioxide. Without oxygen, your tissues will die; this includes your muscles. If one your muscles is too tight to allow the blood to flow through it enough to remove carbon dioxide, it’s also too tight to allow the blood to bring in oxygen, and your muscle will die.

Once those metabolic waste products are in your blood, they travel through the body until they get to either the liver or the kidneys, where they are pulled out by one of those organs. If it’s pulled out by your kidneys, it will be eliminated from your body via your urine. If it’s pulled out by the liver, it gets further metabolized and may be converted into something useful. It also may be  converted into something the kidneys deal with, in which case it’s released back into the bloodstream where it’s transported to the kidneys to be eliminated in your urine.

So, if your muscle hasn’t died and your liver and kidneys are in proper working order, you don’t have to worry about toxins building up in your muscles.

Repeat after me… There are no toxins to flush from my muscles unless my liver and kidneys aren’t working the way they should.

Stay Hydrated

The real reason you should drink water after a massage is because muscles work and feel best when they’re fully hydrated. If you’re like the vast majority of Americans, you’re in no danger of accidentally killing yourself via overhydration anytime soon, so it won’t hurt you to drink a little water after your massage… if you want. My doctor once told me that one sure fire way to tell if you need to drink more water is by the color of your urine. If it’s very pale yellow, you’re probably fine; any darker than that, however, and you need to drink more water.

So, to sum up (tl;dr for real): You do not need to drink water after a massage to flush lactic acid or toxins from your body. You should drink it to make sure your muscles are fully hydrated because they feel and work their best when they are.

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How Often Should You Get a Massage? Fri, 28 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000 low back massageOne of the most common questions I get asked, by massage newbies and veterans alike, is some variation of, “How often should I get massage.” I’m gonna sound like a broken record, and you might be tired of hearing it but… It depends. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I lied… I’m not really sorry. #SorryNotSorry

Why Do You Get Massage?

The answer to the “how often” question is going to depend on why you’re getting massage in the first place, and what you do at home that either helps or hinders your cause.

It depends on:

  • what your massage goals are
  • if you have pain or tension
  • how much pain you have
  • how long you’ve had pain
  • if your pain has become intractable
  • how much muscle tension you have
  • how long you’ve had that tension
  • whether you have nerve pain
  • whether you have numbness
  • if you have an injury
  • how much stress you have
  • how well you manage your stress
  • if your range of motion (ROM) is limited
  • how well your body responds to your therapist’s style of massage
  • the results you’re getting (or not getting) from massage
  • if you do (or don’t do) the home care your therapist recommends
  • if you consistently push your body past its limits
  • if you routinely get enough rest
  • if you routinely get enough sleep (NOT the same thing as rest… read this post to find out more about the difference)
  • how much time you have to spend getting massage
  • how much money you have to spend on massage

Ultimately the answer will come from you and shouldn’t be dictated solely by your therapist. That said, it is a good idea to collaborate with your therapist to come up with a treatment plan that, among other things, has a recommended frequency that you both feel comfortable with.

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How Many Massages Will it Take to Fix Your Problem? Fri, 21 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000 Success spelled outNew clients often ask if I have any idea how long it will take to fix their problem and/or relieve their pain. I’m afraid my answer disappoints many of them, at least at first. I tell them, “It depends.”

The Answer to Every Question

When I was in massage school, one of my instructors was fond of saying, “The answer to every question is ‘it depends’.” At first, I rolled my eyes. I mean, I came from a science background where there were definitive answers to every question, even if we didn’t know those answers yet. But when it comes to humans, all that goes out the window.

So, the answer to, “How many massages will it take to get me feeling better?” really is, “It depends.”

It depends…

  • if you do your “homework”
  • how faithfully you do your homework – do you do it perfectly the first day or two and then start to slack off on subsequent days, do you do it every day without fail, or something in between
  • if you regularly push your body past its limits
  • if you’re primarily sedentary
  • If you insist on not giving yourself ample recovery time after injury
  • if you (subconsciously) get some sort of reward for having pain, like coworkers or family helping you in ways they never did before… or just helping period if they never did that before (Before you jump down my throat, I’m not saying this is the case with everyone, but this does happen sometimes. Hell, it happened to me twice… Until I found a way to ask for the help I needed before I was in pain.)
  • if your pain is chronic or acute
  • how severe your problem/pain is
  • how long you’ve had your problem/pain
  • if central sensitization has set in (meaning the entire nervous system has become involved and overly sensitive)
  • how much stress you’ve had in the past
  • how much stress you currently have
  • how much of your stress actually registers as stress (or if you’re so used to it that it seems normal)
  • how well you handle or manage your stress
  • how your body responds to the type(s) of massage your therapist does
  • the skill level of the massage therapist in regards to your problem
  • the knowledge level of the massage therapist in regards to your problem
  • how well your therapist’s style of giving massage matches your style of receiving massage – does your body tense up under their intense pressure, feel a bit irritated with their lack of  pressure, or melt under their perfect pressure
  • how long it takes to either find the right technique or to exhaust the techniques in the therapist’s toolbox if s/he doesn’t find the magic one in the first couple session
  • how amenable your problem is to being resolved by massage – diabetic neuropathy is one pain that immediately comes to mind as not being amenable
  • how well you understand (or your therapist can explain) that pain is not a linear thing

As you can see, there are a LOT of things that can influence the success or effectiveness of massage for your problem/pain. Some people will have nearly miraculous results for their issue after only 1 or 2 massages, while another person with the same problem may need several months of regular treatment to get half the results. At the beginning (or even the end) of your first session with a new therapist, it’s difficult to tell how long it might take. Once you’ve returned for your second session and your therapist has the opportunity to assess how well (or not) you responded to the last massage, it becomes easier to determine a probable timeline.

I know it’s frustrating to hear “it depends,” but I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. I’d also love for you to share this… you know the drill… sharing buttons are conveniently located right below the post.

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Your Heat vs Cold Cheatsheet Fri, 14 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000 cold pack
Several times a week someone asks me whether they should put heat or ice on their painful area. I always tell them it depends. It depends on what’s causing the pain. There’s a tendency for folks to want to default to either heat or cold for all of their pains, but it really depends on what’s going on. When in doubt use this handy cheat sheet.

When to Use (and not use) Heat

  • If it’s muscle, use heat… unless the area’s red, hot, or swollen
  • Use heat on muscle cramps
  • Use heat on muscle spasms
  • Heat will often relax tight neck muscles responsible for tension headaches
  • Sometimes you still need to use heat, even if it doesn’t help when applied to the painful area. In that case, it needs to be applied to a different muscle; usually one that does the opposite action of the painful one.
  • Caution: If you use heat and it feels worse during or after… switch to ice!
  • Never use heat on an area that has inflammation (even if it’s not red, hot, or visibly swollen)… it can make things worse
  • Never use heat for more than 20 minutes at a time unless directed by your doctor

When to Use (and not use) Ice

  • If it’s red, hot, swollen… use ice and avoid heat
  • Caution: if it’s red, hot, and swollen in streaks get to the ER
  • If you need ice, it will not feel too cold, even in the winter. If ice is painfully cold, you don’t need it
  • Use ice on a sprain or other injury only enough to make the pain tolerable. Ice slows down the healing process and should be used sparingly for injuries. FYI: the guy who came up with the acronym RICE for injuries now says that ice (the I in RICE) is not the best therapy for healing.
  • Ice will sometimes dull the pain of migraine headaches

Feel free to save this or print it out so you can use it the next time you wonder whether you need heat or ice.

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Let Your Dreams Drive Your Self-Care Fri, 07 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000 Dreams

It seems like everyone has advice on the self-care you should be doing. I guess I’m no different. But hopefully I’ll have a different take on it than you’re used to… at least this time.

If You Can Dream It

Today I want to talk about your dreams and what you’re going to need to make some of those dreams come true. I’m not talking about money, although you might need that. I’m talking about time and the physical/mental/emotional ability to fulfill your dreams.

What dreams do you have? This is important, because if you don’t know what you want to do, you won’t know what kind of self-care it will take to achieve your dreams.

If you want to travel, the first thing you’re going to need (after money) is time. You might need to be able to physically lift your luggage and move it from place to place. If you plan to fly, you’ll need to be able to physically make it through the airport security line as well emotionally able to deal with possibly aggressive TSA agents. You’re also going to have to be able to sit for long periods of time. Some of your self-care may need to include: meditation, gentle exercise to maintain or improve strength, and yoga, pilates, or other flexibility enhancing activity to help straighten yourself out after lots of sitting.

If you want to knit or crochet afghans for the homeless, you’re going to need to maintain agility in your hands and fingers. You’re going to need to maintain flexibility in your neck and shoulders.
Some of your self-care may include: gentle stretching to work out the kinks from sitting bent over for long periods of time.

If you want to learn to scuba dive, and dive somewhat regularly, you’re going to need to have the strength to be able to swim for long distances with an 30-40 lb air tank on your back. You’ll also need to be able to regulate your breathing so as to not use up your air too quickly. You’re also going to need to be able to remain calm if something goes wrong while you’re underwater.
Some of your self-care may include: strength training, quitting smoking (you can’t scuba dive if you have COPD or difficulty breathing), mindfulness practice, and eating healthy (you don’t want to run out of energy while you’re 80 feet under water).

What Is Self-Care?

Self-care can encompass a lot of things. Some general categories are:

  • Getting enough rest on a regular basis
  • Having and maintaining scheduled downtime
  • Taking part in enjoyable activities on a regular basis
  • Cutting out activities or people who drain your energy
  • Exercising or moving to combat problems brought on by a sedentary lifestyle
  • Eating healthy
  • Meditation or other mindfulness practice
  • Drinking enough water to stay fully hydrated
  • Saying no to anything that isn’t an emphatic yes
  • Putting your needs above other people’s needs – you can’t serve from an empty vessel
  • Strength training
  • Cardio training
  • Stretching
  • So much more depending on what your dreams are

What are your dreams? Will you be able to achieve them with your current level of self-care, or will you need to up your game? Feel free to share your dreams and what self-care you’ll do to make sure you can achieve them in the comments. (And of course, feel free to share this with your social media circles.)

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The Best Posture to Keep You Pain Free Fri, 31 Mar 2017 16:00:00 +0000 bad posturePosture gets a lot of press. Every week I see several articles about it in my email or social media feeds. Most of these articles are different versions of the same story of how your horrible posture is causing all your pain. This is nothing new, it’s been the accepted wisdom for a very long time.

You’re told that the way you sit at a computer is causing your shoulder and wrist pain. Your posture when texting is causing your neck pain. The way you slouch when watching TV is causing your low back pain. Your posture while driving is causing your neck, shoulder, and/or back pain. I could go on and on.

What if I told you, that’s not necessarily true?

Turning Posture On Its Head

I know people who have horrible posture but they’re completely pain free. I know other people who have pretty good posture but they have terrible pain. Clearly, there’s something going on besides body position.

Some of those things include:

  • Stress – believe it or not this one causes a lot more pain than we give it credit for
  • Unnatural tension – this includes holding tension in muscles solely for the purpose of meeting a postural goal
  • Other stuff going on in the body – this could be hundreds of things including inflammation, endocrine system disruption, and nervous system dysfunction
  • Emotional issues – our emotions have a bigger impact on pain than we’d like them to
  • Mental overload – the more things you have on your mind, the worse your pain will be
  • Expectations – when we expect pain, we get it. Our expectation doesn’t have to be conscious for it to manifest
  • Lack of movement – our bodies are made to move and when they don’t move enough, they hurt

The Best Posture

I know many people who spend a lot of time and energy making sure that their posture is as perfect as they can make it, and it doesn’t help their pain; in fact, sometimes it makes it worse. Think about the last time you intentionally stood up straight. To do this, you had to tighten up your back, shoulder, and arm muscles. You had to hold many of these muscles rigid to maintain your “good posture” which led to those same muscles becoming fatigued and sore the longer if you held them too long.

I have a better solution for you. Don’t worry so much about the exact position of your body. Worry instead about how much or little your body’s moving. Rarely is it a good idea to just move one area of your body. Say you’re doing something with your hands. You should also be moving your wrists, forearms, and possibly your elbows and upper arms as well, depending on what you’re doing.

Confession: I have really horrible posture sometimes. When I’m sitting on my stool at work massaging someones shoulders, I’m often leaning forward… far more forward than the posture police will tell you is healthy. Conventional wisdom tells us that this will cause me all sorts of problems, but it doesn’t. When I’m at home on the couch, I often slouch which should cause me all kinds of pain, but it doesn’t.

The key is not just that one of these body positions is the opposite of (and therefore offsets) the other, although that doesn’t hurt. The key is that while I’m sitting on my stool working, I’m moving the rest of my body. I’m not just moving my hands or my arms; I’m also moving my torso, hips, and legs. When I’m at home on my couch, I’m not in constant motion, but neither am I stationary. I change position frequently so that my body isn’t stationary for too long a period of time. Hint: small adjustments are all I make sometimes.

All the things you used to know about posture are probably out-dated. For instance, being able to walk while balancing a book on your head doesn’t help you have great posture. All it does is frustrate you if the top of your head isn’t flat.

Now all of this doesn’t mean that I won’t occasionally recommend a change in posture for you, but it’s probably going to be as a temporary intervention to help relieve pain you already have, not as a cure all. Like the old saying goes, if it hurts when you do that… then don’t do that.

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How Long Should You Wait to Treat Your Pain? Fri, 24 Mar 2017 16:00:00 +0000 pain meterMany people soldier through their pain as though it’ll just go away on it’s own. Some push through as though there’s some sort of badge of honor to be had by not getting it treated until they absolutely can’t take it anymore. Whether you think it’s more manly to work through your pain, are too Type A to let a little thing like pain stop you from being your usual go-getter self, hate doctors, or have some other reason, you do yourself a disservice by ignoring or waiting to treat your pain.

Don’t Wait Until Pain Becomes Intolerable

How long you’ve had the pain/tightness/dysfunction is far more important than how bad it hurts.

I know this flies in the face of what we experience in our daily lives. If we can work through our pain our friends, family, and employers expect us to and we’re penalized in some way if we don’t. If the pain is bad enough that our ability to function is severely and noticeably limited, we’re often given some sympathy, compassion, and a little leeway to indulge ourselves and get treated.

I’m a stoic German, so I know a thing or two about working through pain. I’m also in a healing profession so I can tell you from both personal and professional experience, we’ve got it backwards. We should be encouraging and rewarding people to take care of their pain as soon as it shows up.

When I see someone within a week of pain onset, I can usually relieve their pain in 1, sometimes 2, massage or bodywork sessions. But when someone comes in who’s had pain for months, it takes longer for them to get relief. When it’s been years, it might be months before they get full relief. If they’ve had pain for decades, I recommend coming in as often as possible but caution them that they might never be totally rid of their pain.

When Pain Turns Chronic

Whether your pain is from an injury or from tight muscles caused by stress, your pain can morph from acute (sudden onset) into chronic (long-standing) pain into intractable (hard to control) pain if you don’t get it treated.

I’m not telling you this to scare you or to get you to book a massage and bodywork session with me or any other therapist. But if the shoe fits…

I’m telling you this because I don’t want you to end up in pain for the rest of your life. That may sound dramatic, but pain doesn’t work the way we used to think. Research is showing that pain is not a simple stimulus = pain response.

There can be pain when there’s NO stimulus. There can be NO pain when there’s a massive stimulus. The nervous system can become hypersensitive and behave as though you’re being stabbed with knives when someone is running a feather over your skin. Almost everything we were taught about pain in regards to the hows and whys has been turned on its head by the new field of pain science. We used to think that severity of pain was more important than how long you’d had pain, but now we know it’s completely the opposite.

Remember, this is not the girl or boy scouts… just because you once earned the badge for tolerating pain doesn’t mean you have to leave it on your uniform or continue proving that you earned it the hard way. If you currently wear this badge, let me assure you… I once proudly wore this badge as well. Maybe it’s my stubborn German genes or just a learned behavior from my stubborn German parents. I don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I finally realized that when I treat my pain (and my client’s pain) right away, I (and they) feel better faster. It’ll be the same for you, I promise.

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Have Fun Building Healthy Habits and Getting Stuff Done Fri, 17 Mar 2017 16:00:00 +0000 HabitLet me tell you about a rather fun, and oddly surprising, way to build healthy habits, get rid of bad habits, and be more productive. It’s called Habitica. I wish I could take credit for finding this gem all on my own, but like many of the best things in life, it took a team effort. A friend asked my husband and me (yes, that is grammatically correct) if we’d ever heard of this productivity game. We hadn’t. That was almost the end of the story.

You see, I haven’t had much luck in the past using games to learn new things or be more productive so I didn’t check it out right away. Buuut… the fact that I hadn’t bothered to even look at it was making me feel guilty. So I followed the link she sent.

Lo and behold, it wasn’t like the rest. Yes, you get penalized if you don’t do your stuff, but there’s a way to not get penalized if you’re sick or on vacation! They definitely had my attention with that, because that was my biggest pet peeve with the others… losing points or progress if you missed a day because, heaven forbid, life dealt you crazy hand that day or week.

How the Game Works

The first things you need to know are that Habitica is an RPG/adventure type game, it’s free, and it’s super easy to set up. When you create an account you get to create a character (a warrior – but don’t worry, you can change to another class at 10th level). You also create three task lists: Habits, Dailies, and To-Do’s.

Habits can be bad habits you want to break – you’ll lose points every time you click the minus (-) next to them, or good habits you want to nurture and grow – you’ll gain points every time you click the plus (+) next to them. You can also create habits that have a positive as well as a negative aspect to them. (One of mine is Facebook: (+) if I do a task before checking FB, (-) if I check Facebook instead of doing a task.)

Dailies are things that have to be done on a regular basis. They can be specific or somewhat vague (one of mine is “clean 1 thing”). Dailies is a bit of a misnomer because you can set the days of the week you want to do them. I have a couple tasks that need to be done on work days only, another couple that only get done on weekends, and of course several that have to be done every day. Once you create a Daily, simply edit it to change the days it needs to be done. You get points for each daily you do, and you lose points for each daily you leave undone at the end of the day.

To-Do’s are just what they sound like. They’re things you need to do, but they’re not repeatable on a daily or weekly basis. Many of them will be one offs. Once you create a To-Do, you can edit it and add a due date, a tag (like chore, exercise, creativity, etc.), or add a checklist of smaller tasks that, when done, will mean the task is complete. You get more points for tasks that have checklists, but not every task needs one so only add them when they make sense. You also get points for items that have been on your list longer, but don’t think that gives you a license to procrastinate… that’s not the point of this game.

So that’s the nuts and bolts. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you a little about gameplay. First, I was super impressed by the way they don’t require any distracting actions to further game play. All game play is furthered by your completion of habits, dailies, and To-Dos. Woo Hoo. Second, You will randomly find things like eggs (from which you can hatch a pet), hatching potions, and pet food, but if you don’t do anything with them, that’s OK. There’s an achievement for finding them all, but that’s a long way in the future. If you do decide to hatch some pets it literally takes a few seconds to do that. Same with feeding the pets. The best part about the pets is that they won’t starve if you don’t feed them. Like I said, no distracting actions.

No RPG/adventure game would be complete without quests, and Habitica has a few of its own. Here’s the genius of the game… you get to have more fun and be more productive with friends. Each quest has a goal which is accomplished by checking off good habits, dailies, and To-Dos from their respective lists. The more people in your questing party the quicker the quest is completed. You’ll each have many of the same quests, so you can do everybody’s quests… the more people in your questing party, the more quests, and therefore the more motivation to keep working on your lists to get the quest items you need . It’s like having an accountability partner who’s also your gaming buddy.

If you have no use for games and think having fun is childish, this is obviously NOT the way for you to break bad habits (not that you have any of those… you don’t have time for that sort of nonsense), build healthy habits, and get through your to-do list more easily. Might I suggest good old fashioned will power.

If, however, you believe that all work and no play is boring and will probably cause you to binge on something you shouldn’t (Netflix, junk food, alcohol, etc.) and you have at least one friend who feels the same way, this might your ticket to productivity.

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