As I have continued the forward momentum of Birch Tree Wellness, I have been learning about the kinds of things my clients are looking for out of massage. The thing I see the most is chronic pain of one sort or another. For many people it’s stress related. It may be unforgiving jobs, family or life stress. Sometimes the chronic pain comes from physical activity or the lack thereof, as in demanding desk jobs. Other times, it’s chronic pain associated with mental or emotional distress.
All of this has led me to become interested in specializing in chronic pain. Going forward, I’ll be looking into continuing education related to chronic pain, new muscle release techniques, and the effects of psychology on the human body. Some of the modalities I’ll be adding in the future include Spontaneous Muscle Release Therapy (SMRT) – a positional release modality that interrupts pain signals in the body quickly and painlessly, and CranioSacral Therapy (CST) – a form of bodywork using gentle touch release restrictions in the soft tissues that surround the central nervous system.
Here is some information about the programs I’m looking at, if you would like to learn more:
In the process of brainstorming all of these ideas, one of the things I’ve done is streamlined the scheduling process. In my opinion, all massage is “therapeutic” whether you just need to relax, or you really need some deep tissue work and stretching. So, now when you schedule, whether it’s online or in person, you won’t have so many types of appointments to choose from. In the scheduling system, you just choose “Therapeutic Massage” and how long you want the massage to be, and we’ll chat about what exactly you’re looking for. No more decision fatigue!
The extras are still there! You can schedule a hot stone massage, add on a mini hot stone massage, aromatherapy, or a foot scrub. In addition, you can still schedule specialized appointments like Pregnancy Massage, Intuitive Bodywork, Relaxation Training, or Massage & Reiki together. The Monday Special and Ultimate Study Break are also still available at this time.
For everyone who has been coming to Birch Tree Wellness over the last couple of years, essentially the only thing that has really changed is the name of the appointment you’re scheduling. We’ll continue with the same awesome massage therapy you’ve been getting, and as I learn new tricks, we’ll apply them where appropriate! If you have chronic pain, we’ll continue working on your chronic pain. If you are experiencing emotional or mental distress – with or without chronic pain – we’ll continue working with whatever combination of massage, Reiki, and other modalities are helping you.
If you learn about a type of massage or other bodywork or healing modality you think I’d be interested in, feel free to send along the information! If you have more questions about any of the changes, don’t hesitate to ask them. As always, my massage practice is about all of you, my awesome clients, and what kind of wellness magic we can work together!
“This project is such a headache!”
They’re so common that the term has become synonymous with an annoyance, but what are headaches, really? And can massage therapy really help?
Headaches are pretty easily defined, and we all know one when we feel it: it’s a pain in the head. But not all headaches are created equal.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, with pain occurring on both sides of the head without other symptoms. The pain can range from very mild to severe.
Migraine headaches are often pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and hallucinations. Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an almost daily basis.
Cluster headaches are less common, and are generally experienced as severe pain around one eye. “Cluster periods,” during which many headaches occur during a period of time, are interspersed with longer periods without any symptoms.
Secondary headaches are not conditions themselves, but are symptoms of other conditions. These conditions can be as everyday as a sinus infection or conjunctivitis (pink-eye), or more serious, like traumatic brain injury or meningitis. While the pain from secondary headaches can be managed, it’s important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for the underlying condition.
The Good News: Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to massage therapy. Not only does massage seem to reduce pain in the moment, but regular massage therapy also appears to increase the amount of time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis. This could be a result of helping to manage stress or underlying mechanical issues that can result in headaches, but there’s no solid science yet on precisely why massage helps, only that it does.
More Good News: It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that folks who experience regular headaches are also more likely to experience high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have found that massage can help with these issues not just in the general population, but also specifically in people who live with chronic headaches.
Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit from massage. People with fibromyalgia, for example, who often experience headaches as part of their condition, can experience both pain and stress relief with regular massage therapy. While massage during a flare-up of symptoms may need to be modified to be more gentle, some people find that it can provide relief both for headache as well as for pain throughout the body.
The Bad News: Massage therapy is wonderful and often helpful, but it’s not a cure for headaches. While some people just need a bit of rest or a drink of water (dehydration is a surprisingly common headache cause), other people continue to experience headaches all their lives. While people who experience headaches caused by stress or muscular tension can absolutely benefit from massage, migraines triggered by things like foods or hormonal changes probably won’t see an impact.
The Worse News: There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches. Fevers, as an example, often cause headaches as well as achy joints that could lead someone to want to receive massage, but this not only risks overly stressing a body that’s already fighting off an infection, it also has the possibility of spreading the illness to the massage therapist and anyone else they come into contact with. Headaches resulting from a recent head, neck, or back injury could also be made worse by a well-meaning massage therapist.
When there is the possibility of pain being caused by an illness or injury, it’s always best to seek out a physician’s opinion first. They can provide or recommend appropriate care for the issue causing the headache in the first place, and at that point you can ask them about whether it would be a good idea to receive a massage. Safe is always better than sorry!
Sometimes a little change of environment is all that’s needed. If you have a headache and have been hunched over a computer for hours, try a stretch. A quick walk outside or a brief nap can help with a headache caused by eye strain. If you haven’t eaten or drunk anything all day, do that. It’s easy to get caught up in the business of our lives and forget to take care of our own basic needs.
For those who can take them, over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin can be helpful in treating a headache. Sometimes caffeine is recommended as well. For stronger headaches, medications prescribed by a physician can be a lifesaver to many people, enabling them to function at work and with their families when they might otherwise have been left incapacitated.
And then there’s massage therapy, of course. It’s not a magical cure-all, but for many people, it really does help manage the pain and stress of headaches. Are you one of them? Schedule your next massage, and let’s find out together.
There is no doubt that massage is wonderful. It has many positive health and wellness benefits. It’s relaxing, it feels great when you’re feeling not so great. That being said, there is also no doubt that people sometimes overlook/underestimate the risks of massage in certain situations.
The main culprit that can make massage a contraindication is its effects on the circulatory system. Pick a spot on your arm or hand where you can maybe see some good veins, then rub your hand down your arm towards that vein with about the pressure your massage therapist does. You’ll probably notice that it stands out more as you push, this is because you’re pushing the blood through that vein at a higher rate than normal.
When you’re getting a massage, we’re not just pushing muscle around, we’re pushing around all the things connected to those muscles. This includes the blood pumping around your veins, the fluids in your lymphatic system, and the other various hormones and chemicals floating around in your body.
It especially means that if your veins or circulatory system are compromised, massage could be a bad idea. We need to know if your bones are brittle, joint replacements, you have immune system problems, or you have herniated discs or spinal issues. In addition, serious infections, active illness such as the flu, and any disease with serious complications are a definite red flag when it comes to massage.
This is why it is necessary that you fill out the health history form before you begin your session. If you schedule online, the system has a great form that you can fill out right then to give me a heads up on any major health concerns. When you call for your appointment, I will ask you some general health questions to rule out any outright contraindications to massage.
I realize that it can feel awkward to share your health information with someone other than your doctor, especially if it’s someone you don’t know very well. However, it’s important to realize that while massage may seem like (and generally is) a pretty safe therapy, there really are cases where it can do more harm than good. Rest assured that I follow health information privacy guidance, and do not share your health information with anyone. The online form is HIPAA compliant, and I keep your intake forms locked up when unattended.
If you are under a doctor’s care, I will likely ask that you receive a written recommendation for massage. I like to make sure that they understand that massage is improving circulation and lymph flow, and that massage is not just purely for relaxation. I may ask you to talk to your cardiologist, endocrinologist, obstetrician, or other specialist you may be working with.
While it may seem awkward or annoying to have to answer these questions and communicate between your doctor and your massage therapist, it’s ultimately all about keeping you safe and healthy, as well as relaxed and pain free. If your doctor does not recommend massage, there are other options that may help you, include Reiki therapy, which does not physically manipulate the muscles or circulatory system
As with any wellness regimen, it’s important that all of your healthcare providers work together to ensure that you are receiving safe, effective care. If you have any concerns about privacy or your health issues related to massage, you can always contact me to discuss them!
Why get a massage? According to a survey conducted by the American Massage Therapy Association, 28% of Americans who get a massage do so for relaxation and stress reduction. That’s a lot of people in the US who feel pretty good about how massage helps them manage their stress. But warm fuzzies aside, what exactly do we know about massage and how it relates to stress and anxiety? And what does the research have to say about that?
Stress is your body’s response to demanding circumstances. Working long hours? You’re probably stressed. Studying for a big exam? Definitely stressful. Toddler throwing a tantrum? Probably stressful for both of you.
When you’re stressed, your blood pressure goes up, your breathing and heart rate increase, and you may feel agitated and distracted. This is useful if you’re a prey animal that needs to flee for its life. Not so much if your stress is caused by a loved one in need of patience and comfort. When we are exposed to occasional stress, we can usually diffuse it and recover relatively quickly. When stress becomes a chronic condition, health problems can result.
Anxiety, on the other hand, isn’t necessarily a reaction to circumstances. Most often, it’s related to anticipated future or potential stress. As with stress, anxiety isn’t necessarily an immediate health problem, although it’s unpleasant. Feeling a bit anxious about an upcoming exam, the imminent birth of a baby, or the quality of a presentation can give you a push to prepare as best you can.
But anxiety becomes unhelpful when it is overwhelming, requiring you to focus all your energy on surviving your immediate feelings rather than addressing their roots. Pacing, nail biting, trembling, and vomiting are signs that anxiety is veering into unhelpful territory. Test anxiety, social anxiety, and decision anxiety are all common forms of anxiety.
Anxiety disorder is the general name given to chronic, excessive anxiety in response to everyday situations. Anxiety disorders include:
Many people discover that they have more than one type of anxiety disorder, or deal with anxiety combined with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, eating disorders, alcoholism, or substance abuse. While stress and anxiety are more general terms that you can probably identify in yourself, anxiety disorders can only be diagnosed by a physician.
Stress: While stress levels are largely subjective, studies focused on pain, sleep, and other outcomes often find that patients report decreased stress levels as one of the major benefits they receive from massage therapy treatments. In one study on pain in acute care settings, more than half of the patients mentioned relaxation in their survey responses. One described the experience of receiving massage as “very helpful, soothing, comforting, and relaxing,” which is notable considering how stressful being hospitalized is. Improved emotional well-being and sleep were also mentioned by many patients and nurses, both of which are good indicators of stress reduction.
Anxiety: Most studies done on massage and anxiety have focused on specific populations. One study found significant improvement in both state (long term) and trait (immediate) anxiety in children with cancer and blood diseases who received Swedish massage. Another measured the physiological responses to stress (blood pressure and pulse) in hospitalized children and found similar results. Cardiac care patients were the focus of another study. Again, massage was shown to be helpful at reducing anxiety. Still, larger and broader studies on the matter still need to be done.
Anxiety disorders: There have been relatively few studies on massage therapy for anxiety disorders specifically, and those that have been done have been small and generally lacking good control groups. One randomized controlled trial found that massage therapy was significantly helpful for people with generalized anxiety disorder, but no more so than thermotherapy (relaxing with hot towels placed in different locations on the body) or being in a special relaxation room with no additional treatment. This study only measured improvement over multiple weeks, and not feelings of anxiety in the short term, before and after treatments. Because this study didn’t have a no-treatment control group, they weren’t able to state whether all three were equally effective or equally ineffective.
People regularly feel that massage helps reduce their stress and anxiety. There are also other techniques, such as Reiki, that seem to be helpful to varying degrees, depending on the situation and the person. This is helpful to know, because not everyone enjoys massage. For some, touch itself can be a source of stress and anxiety, so it’s helpful to know that there are other complementary therapies available that also create positive results.
Stress and anxiety are closely tied to pain, sleep, and other factors. Reducing pain reduces stress levels. Reducing stress levels can also reduce pain. Improving sleep can impact both pain and stress, and vice versa. Does massage therapy work primarily through either pain or stress reduction, or does it impact both equally? This is an area for further study.
Massage therapy is a fairly safe way to manage stress and anxiety. With relatively few drug interactions and a very low chance for injury, massage therapy can be helpful to a wide variety of people dealing with stress and anxiety in different situations. From the smallest infants to athletes to people in hospice, there are few who could not benefit from massage therapy.
There is a lot more to learn. While there is a lot of research on massage for pain, massage for anxiety (and especially massage for anxiety disorders) has less research to back it up. It will take time and money before a large body of knowledge has been built up.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, massage therapy is worth trying. The evidence is still rolling in, but what we have is promising. Are you ready to give it a try? Book your next massage today. Click HERE to book now.
You finally took the time to schedule yourself a massage. Now you’re feeling all mellow, and your aches and pains have eased. Maybe you’re kind of dreading heading out into the “real world” again. What can you do to keep that post-massage zen going just a little bit longer?
If possible, schedule your massage on a day when you can take it easy afterwards, or at least give yourself an hour or so to enjoy the zen. Heading right back to work or running home to do house or yard work is definitely a good way to let that tension seep right back into your muscles. Just as you allowed yourself the opportunity for relaxation, you owe yourself the chance to enjoy that relaxation for a little while afterwards.
Get yourself in the zone before the massage even starts. Tone down your music, avoid stressful phone calls, maybe drink a little herbal tea. Arrive a little early so that you don’t feel rushed. Make sure before you shut off your car you either turn off your radio, turn it down, or set it to something that relaxes you. Take a little time to make sure you’re fully back in your head before getting on the road!
Stretch out the relaxed feeling even longer with a nice soak in the tub or hot tub, or warming shower. Use a favorite essential oil in the tub or a natural soap in the shower. Epsom salts are a great additive to continue easing tight muscles, especially if you’ve had a lot of deep tissue work during your appointment.
If you have the time to take another few minutes to yourself, you can take your mind back to the twilight state, that sort of not asleep, not awake sensation you may experience during a massage. This is a great starting point for some reflective or centering and grounding meditation.
Plan a trip to your favorite bookstore, or take a book to a cozy cafe and read with a cup of tea. Go to a museum or for a quiet walk in nature. Just pick a favorite short (or long) activity that makes you happy or soothes your soul!
Essentially, just about anything that makes you happy, relaxes you, and keeps those positive hormones flowing. That means if going home to energetic children or cooking dinner for your family is what makes you happy, go for it! You might discover it’s pretty easy to find ways to stretch out the positive vibes from your massage appointment!
Is there any time of year more obsessed with health habits than the New Year? Even spring bikini season panic doesn’t reach this level of hype. Everywhere you go, someone is trying to get you to try a class, a supplement, a shake, a piece of equipment, a diet, a lifestyle… and it can be exhausting trying to figure out what’s real and what’s a load of hooey. It’s perfectly normal to look forward to a fresh start in January (or not!), but here’s a little guidance on whether to put money down on that hot new habit after the holidays.
If whatever you’re thinking of trying *SWEARS* you’ll get the desired result in no time at all—you can be pretty sure you’re entering into scam territory. The human body is based on homeostasis. It can change, and it does, but most of those changes occur over time. There’s a reason why most things that cause fast changes in the body (like surgery and drugs) require a physician to administer them; they can be dangerous if not used carefully. If you’ve been out of shape for five years, don’t expect to get back in shape in five weeks. That’s just not how the body works.
There are diets that can help you lose weight. There are exercise routines that can help you gain muscle and strength. There are massages that can help you relax and manage your stress levels. (Might want to get on that one soon!) But if someone is selling One Amazing Thing that will evaporate your fat, increase your happiness, straighten your posture, whiten your teeth, cure your cancer, and send your sex drive through the roof? You can be pretty sure it’s not worth your money. Don’t pay a Magical Thinking Tax for exaggerated claims.
Conspiracies can be fun to read about, but if the main selling point is that “doctors hate it” or “Big Pharma doesn’t want you to know about this,” it’s probably not the best addition to your life. Why? Because you and your physician (and your dentist, your massage therapist, your counselor, your personal trainer, your nutritionist…) are part of your health and wellness team. If any one of them refuses to be a team player, they’re not doing what’s best for you.
When the Magic Cure’s only big selling point is how much someone else hates it… definitely not cool. If you haven’t heard much else about said Magic Cure, it’s probably not because your health team is trying desperately to hide it from you. It’s much more likely that it just doesn’t work at all. I recommend researching it further, or asking those members of your wellness team what their thoughts on it REALLY are.
If yes, then this is something worth looking into, whether it’s a gym membership, a cookbook of heart-healthy meals, or a habit tracking app. Ultimately, we try things out and see how they work for us over the long haul. Not everything will be a perfect fit, but at least we can weed out some of the resolutionist marketing malarkey and move forward with our best efforts into the new year.
Heyy! I did another drawing of a muscle! Actually, I did it some time ago, and then kept forgetting to write a post to go with it. Here we have what a few clients have referred to as their “nemesis”—the levator scapula.
You might be able to figure out what it does by its name… namely, it elevates the scapula (shoulder blade). If you ask someone where their scapula is, and they *shrug* and say “I don’t know”—they’re using their levator scapula!
I see a fair number of agitated levator scapulae (plural!) in stressed out people, and in particular during the frigid cold weather we’ve had this winter in Maine. When we’re stressed or cold, we have a tendency to shrug our shoulders up around our ears out of tension or an attempt to stay warm. As you can imagine, the levator scapula wasn’t really designed to hold our shoulder blades up ALL. THE. TIME. So, like any muscle getting over used, it can get stuck that way, leaving your neck feeling tight and painful.
The levator scapula also contributes to your ability to flex your head towards your shoulder, as well as rotating your head from left to right. This means that quite often that “crick in your neck” that makes it hard to turn your head, is probably the result of an angry levator scapula. You might feel it as a muscle spasm that runs from the side of your neck, where it attaches to the transverse processes (“sticky-outy” parts) of your cervical (neck) vertebrae, all the way down to the upper inside edge of your shoulder blade. Sometimes there’s a good “knot” right at the curve where your neck and shoulder meet.
You can often do a little self-care at home to ease the muscle “crick” or spasm, especially since this is a muscle you can reach on your own. You can try a little liniment or a product like Biofreeze® to temporarily relieve the spasm. Heat from a rice bag or heating pad may also help. You can massage the muscle a little bit on your own, however I recommend keeping your pressure relatively light, since you are getting into an area where there are a lot of nerves and large blood vessels present.
The good news is, this is one of my favorite muscles to work on. It’s so often the cause of pain for my clients, that it’s quite gratifying to grab hold of that cranky little muscle and teach it how to relax again. It’s even more gratifying to see that client leave the office being able to move their head and neck with no pain!
I like to apply a little heat with a hot stone massage tool to get it warmed up and improve the circulation to the muscle. Once it’s good and warmed up, I will typically work on both ends of the muscle where it attaches to the bones of your shoulder blade and neck, as well as any “knots” along the length of the muscle itself. With a little bit of time and patience, we can convince the muscle to soften and lengthen again, and remind it how it’s supposed to contract and relax, not just contract!
Even more good news! If you wake up in the morning with that “crick” in your neck that just won’t go away, but you don’t think massage is in your budget, I can still help you! When you call or book online, just choose the “30 Minute Back & Neck Express” special, which is only $25. Or just talk to me about what you can afford, and sometimes just a few minutes in my massage chair can get things loosened up and significantly reduce your pain! Feel free to contact me to talk about your neck pain!