By Robert Chute
Originally published in Body Sense magazine, Autumn/Winter
The short answer is, yes, of course—you need a massage. Who doesn’t? You deal with deadlines, long lines, short tempers, and your dog’s distemper. We’re all at the receiving end of things we would rather not deal with. Massage can be the valve that eases the pressure.
Massage therapy is useful for many conditions, in addition to relaxation and stress relief. See your doctor for a diagnosis first, and then consult your massage therapist.
Relax Your Sore Jaw
Does your jaw make a popping or cracking sound when you chew? Do you clench your jaws without even knowing it? If so, then you may have temperomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD).
Many people are surprised this is something massage therapy can help. However, TMD is a biomechanical problem. It’s muscle that’s doing all that clenching; spasm in those muscles can throw off the proper function of the jaw joints, causing pain and sometimes headaches. Trauma to the mouth or tooth loss can also be contributing factors. Many people experience a popping or clicking in their jaws, but if it isn’t painful, it isn’t considered pathological.
People suffering from TMD find it difficult to open their mouths very wide and activities like brushing their teeth or chewing meat may be too painful. There is a lot you can do to help yourself if you do have TMD. Your massage therapist can show you exercises to relax your jaw, as well as bring down local pain and general stress that lead to all that jaw muscle tension. In these treatments, therapists often work on the muscles inside the mouth. Using a sterile protective glove, therapists will work to release those troublesome trigger points.
If you suspect you have TMD, check with your dentist. He or she can diagnose the problem and may have more solutions to ease the jaw pain. Jaw-clenching can also damage teeth. If you wake with sore jaws or aching teeth, you may be clenching and grinding your teeth in your sleep.
Ease Your Irritable Bowel Syndrome
An estimated 5 million Americans suffer from several variations of spastic colon, a condition that often alternates between constipation and diarrhea. If you develop bloating, abdominal pain, and irregular bowel habits, or if your stool has an unusual appearance, your first stop is to see your doctor to explore these symptoms. Your doctor may want a sample to check for parasites or blood in your stool and may order a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy to rule out serious possibilities. Often the cause is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a benign disorganization in the peristaltic movements of the colon.
The bowels are so nerve-rich that some people refer to the colon as the body’s “second brain.” Its actions are very sensitive to your mental state, so stress management—and massage—are key. As with many other conditions, the less stress you feel, the less pain you feel. Massage releases the power of your body’s inner pharmacy: endorphins. When you receive massage, your autonomic nervous system is affected so pain signals are slowed or stopped. In short, massage calms things down.
After you have a diagnosis, speak with your therapist about your condition. You may benefit from a soothing abdominal massage to aid your digestion. Consider massage as part of a program to reduce IBS symptoms, as well as eliminating certain foods that cause sensitivities. Many IBS sufferers try elimination diets or consult a nutritionist to aid their digestion and figure out which foods make their symptoms worse.
Until just a few years ago, it was thought that a diagnosis of IBS indicated a greater likelihood of colon cancer in the patient’s future. Happily, more recent research indicates that is not so.
Alleviate That Pain In The Neck
In adults, neck pain—clinically known as torticollis—often comes on suddenly as the muscles in one side of your neck become so short that your head is drawn down to one side. Massage therapists are great at lengthening short, tight muscles. After an evaluation of the range of motion in your neck, your therapist will use gentle massage techniques to gradually slow the nerve firing in the painful area. As the tension eases, the therapist may use trigger-point release techniques and various ways of stretching the muscle to regain balance and normalize the muscular function in your neck. Follow-up exercises will keep that tissue supple and healthy.
Several times a summer I will amaze a client suffering torticollis by asking if they slept the night before under the cool breeze of a fan blowing directly over their body. Fast asleep in one position too long, a shortened neck muscle is chilled and painful trigger points result.
Get your therapist on speed dial before next summer’s heat waves hit or prevent the pain by not allowing the air conditioner or fan to blow directly on you all night.
Torticollis limits your neck’s range of motion so you can’t check your blind spots while driving. For everyone’s safety, please let someone else drive you to your appointment.
Get Rid Of Tennis Elbow
You don’t have to play tennis to get this nasty dysfunction: lateral epicondylitis. People who do a lot of work on a keyboard frequently get it, too. It’s a form of tendonitis (an inflammation of a tendon at the outside of the elbow).
If you feel pain at your elbow, speak to your therapist. He or she will help you identify the pain by palpating gently the painful area and may perform range of motion tests or ask you to move your arm in certain ways as he or she resists those motions.
Tennis elbow is a common condition that can be persistent if not treated. Treatment may require general massage above and below the affected joint and specific friction-based techniques. Your therapist will instruct you in the use of ice packs to ease the pain and will reevaluate your progress with each office visit to monitor and document changes.
With tennis elbow it is important for you to take a break from whatever activities make the pain worse. You will also be asked to do some homework with remedial exercises to strengthen the tendon and the surrounding muscle.
You may feel pain on the inside of the elbow. This is a similar problem affecting a different tendon and arises from a different motion. It’s called golfer’s elbow (or medial epicondylitis). Assessment and progress of treatment is similar to tennis elbow.
Quiet Your Headaches
There are several different kinds of headaches, each with different causes. For instance, there are migraines, tension headaches, cluster headaches, and sinus headaches. If you suspect any of the above, see your doctor and then see your massage therapist. People often make their own diagnosis and assume any very painful headache is a migraine. It’s possible, but not necessarily so. Tension or sinus headaches can be exquisitely torturous, too, but the kind of headache you have is not determined by its intensity but by its likely cause.
Migraines affect 23 million Americans a year, typically afflicting women more than men. These headaches are sometimes preceded by a warning phase where you see haloes, auras, or wavy lines around lights. This type of headache is very debilitating. The sufferer will want to retreat to a quiet, dark room.
Migraines have a hormonal basis and may recur even if you eliminate known triggers. Still, it’s best to be aware of these potential triggers. Migraines are often linked to bodily reactions to aspartame, caffeine, cheese, citrus, ice cream, monosodium glutomate, or red wine, and the pain occurs on one side of the head.
Let your doctor make the diagnosis and, if appropriate, let your massage therapist ease the pain.
Many people with migraines find it helpful during the early stages of the headache to plunge their hands and forearms into ice water. This reroutes blood to the extremities and can abort a headache. Some headache sufferers also use biofeedback therapy to stop migraines before they build to full force.
If you wake with headache pain, contact your doctor’s office since this type of head pain may signal the need for medical intervention.
Many people experience headaches only occasionally and often the hidden cause is dehydration. You may just need to drink more water.
Get A Massage For The Joy Of It
Our nervous systems are wired for the flight or fight response. Stress was eased in the old days by the exercise humans got when they successfully eluded hungry bears. However, in modern times, stress and worry tend to hang around.
As long as we’ve been on this planet, massage has been a joyful thing to receive. Our brains and bodies are wired to enjoy it.
Poke an animal with a stick and muscle contracts. In other words, stress makes muscle shorten. Massage—softening and lengthening muscle—counteracts that compressive stress.
Despite these bodily woes, not every massage has to be a treatment of a problem. Massage just feels good and you don’t have to have a problem per se to benefit from it. Some people wait for the stress or pain to build up before they come in for massage, fearing they won’t get as much out of the experience otherwise. Don’t wait for it to build up.
Whether you are receiving massage in a spa or in a clinic, many of the massage manipulations you receive are based on spurring the body’s natural relaxation response. Muscle tension eases. You’re horizontal and you don’t have to do anything but enjoy an hour’s vacation from the mundane routines that propel us in our overstimulated society. Relax. Let go. And go get a massage.