For many years, I have massaged people in the workplace and in my private practice. A common question is, “What can I do about my sore back, neck or shoulders?” Another one is, "How can I be permanently pain free?"
Quite often, people are resigned that pain in this area is part of their life and forever will be so! However this is not true. With a clear programme and good therapy, pain can be greatly reduced, if not banished, from the body. In my experience, it takes an applied strategy using a combination of techniques, over a period of time, to shift pain out of the body. Here is what I suggest:
1. Proper treatment. Some people go to their GP, physiotherapist, osteopath, a remedial massage therapist (specialising in muscular problems), a chiropractor or a Bowan Therapist. (This is not a complete list). We all have to start somewhere and find out what’s going on with our body. An experienced therapist can assess your posture and tell whether your issue is muscular, a bone misalignment or something else. You need to find out, and have regular sessions for a few weeks. From my experience, sessions need to be at least weekly, initially twice weekly in severe cases. This is because a therapist needs a chance to release tension and reset old patterns. If there is a long period between sessions, the body reverts back to its old posture. Whomever you find, make sure they are professional and experienced. They should be able to explain what’s going on in your body, give you the appropriate treatment or refer you to the correct person who can help you. Depending on how bad your condition is, you should feel benefit from the session, although sometimes there is some discomfort after your first visit. As the body starts to loosen, lactic acid is released, causing some temporary pain. If the body's bones are out of alignment, usually massage is used as a compliment to, or the main part of the treatment. Once the muscles are relaxed, the bones can come into place.
2. Prescribed exercises. Self help is just as important as proper treatment. Ask your therapist for exercises to support the treatment. Alternatively you could go to a gym and have a postural assessment. Ask a gym instructor for gentle exercises to help with alignment - provided it does not contra-indicate with your treatments. Then it’s your job to do them! Every day.
Here’s a success story. I used to have a sore neck. I joined a gym and noticed there was an osteopath working there. I was so tired of the neck pain I booked an appointment with him. He assessed me and said my pain was related to an old pelvic injury. Because my pelvis was out of alignment, my whole posture was incorrect, and most of the pain was in my neck, which was compensating for the imbalance. After the treatment, he took me into the gym and gave me an exercise programme to tone muscles in my legs, pelvis and torso. I had a few more sessions with him and diligently did the exercises. After three months, all the pain was gone.
A client of mine had pain in her upper back and neck. She was a secretary and worked all day at a computer. Her shoulders were rounded forward and chin stuck out. I gave her deep tissue massage around her shoulders, upper back, chest and neck. She began swimming, which toned her muscles. She also did a few specialised exercises and used a hot water jet in the spa to relax the muscles in her shoulders. Gradually, the muscles began to work as a team again, the chin tucked in, her shoulders came back and the chest opened. She still has the occasional maintenance massage, but keeps in good shape.
3. Assess your work area or find the causes of postural misalignment. It could be that your work station is positioned incorrectly (neck and shoulder problems), a heavy handbag (shoulder problems), the way you get in and out of the car (hip problems), the way you lift heavy boxes (low back), holding the phone handset to your ear with your shoulder (neck problems) or typing without a break or stretches (RSI). Ask someone independent to watch you work and give you feedback. Look up information on the OSH website. Make adjustments for a better life!
4. There are definitely natural remedies which help our muscles and joints. They can be relaxants, nervines, anti-oxidents, anti-inflammatories or natural pain relievers. I often recommend people also use Aromatherapy blends or creams to rub onto the sore area. That way you have the remedies working on an internal level and also externally through the skin direct into the muscles.
5. Relaxation. Very often our muscular tension has been accumulated after years of ongoing stress and tension. When was the last time you really wound down? Chilled out? You know what I mean. Well, if it’s been awhile, then it’s time to do it again. A couple of times a year I prescribe myself a chill out programme. For example, going away for a stress free weekend, walking in nature, swimming, sunbathing,having a relaxation massage, finding a comfortable couch and listening to my favourite relaxing music for 20 - 60 minutes every day for a week, meditating, doing some deep breathing, employing someone in to cook meals and do the dishes so you can take a break, doing a gentle yoga class, walking on the beach daily, making a point of taking it easy every day for a week. Relaxing does not mean reading an emotionally stressful book, watching TV programmes, the news or stressful movies – these are all very stimulating and activate the adrenal glands. Click here for more ideas on how to relax.
6. Heat. First, if you have an inflammatory condition - where the affected area feels hot and burns - don’t use heat. If this is not the case, then heat is a wonderful healer. Put a wheat bag under your neck and shoulders when you are in bed, or have hot baths. Your local swimming pool might have a spa with jets - use them. Some people use infra red heat lamps. They are very effective. Have saunas. Heat brings blood to the affected area and enables healing to take place.
7. Emotional component. Very often muscular pain is associated with emotional tension. Perhaps you don't like your job, or a person in your life is causing you stress. This makes our muscles tense up. For example, if we feel "not good enough" we tend to round our shoulders and curve our back. If we feel confident we open our shoulders out, hold our head high and straighten the back. Often we live from the past and don't even know it, its like background noise that we just get used to. By attending to our emotions and learning new skills to deal with difficult situations, the body relaxes and moves into a new posture.
Case study. I had a client visit me several years ago in tears. She told me she had just been diagnosed with a serious back problem and would have to take pain killers for the rest of her life. She was in her late fifties and was concerned about the effect of the long term use of drugs. I gave her a massage, and as we discussed her options, she started to relax. I then recommended she see a colleague of mine who was a Bowan Therapist and a Herbalist. He gave her herbal pain killers and anti-inflammatories. He looked at her xrays which showed there was wear on the bones which caused pain in the lower back. He explained that if the muscles were in the correct position and working properly, they would be able to hold the bones in the correct place, which would reduce the pain and reduce the wear on the bones. He then gave her a Bowan Therapy session to help the muscles relax and work together correctly. She came back to me delighted with the results. She hadn’t needed to take any
drugs, using the herbal remedies for pain and inflammation instead. I then gave her a BodyTalk session to help her body “remember” the Bowan session. We also worked on the emotional component to her back pain. She visited the Bowan Therapist a few more times, eventually only visiting when the pain came back.
Often clients ask, “How long does it take to get better?” There are variables. Generally, the longer you have had the condition, the longer it will take to heal. This is because you are retraining your body into a new posture. You are creating a new habit in your body. However, if you apply yourself to doing what it takes to get better, then benefits are felt fairly quickly. It just depends on how badly you want to be pain free, to be motivated.
To put a few weeks into yourself can have huge long term benefits to your personal comfort and health. All you have to do is clear your diary of any unnecessary activities for a few weeks and put yourself in there instead. You have nothing to lose by trying these different methods, there will always be some gains.
Elayne is running a special offer for the month of February 2013 - $50 for a one hour massage/consultation (usually valued at $70). For advice on a treatment plan for muscular pain or to book a massage contact Elayne.
Elayne Lane is an instructor of the Universal Healing Tao. She has been teaching and doing bodywork in excess of 20 years.