East Bay Massage: Why Your Shoulders Hurt And What to Do About It

upper cross syndrome x-ray

Our friend here is doing what most of us do at work and at home– updating his status. Take one look at his posture and you can see it for yourself that it’s true… Facebook bums us out. See how he slumps? See the defeat in his shoulders? See the way his neck juts forward and then up a little, like a turtle? See how his shoulder blades creep up his back and around his sides? This is a sad, strange little man. I mean, you could practically rest a drink on that hump.

What hump, you may ask? Well, as profoundly hunkered over as this guy is, the truth is that you probably resemble him more than you realize… or would like to admit.

The truth is that your 45 minute commute to the job where you sit in front of your computer all day isn’t doing your shoulders or neck any favors. The chronic pain between the shoulder blades and that all too familiar ache in your neck is likely due to muscles in the back that have, through the long years of thankless service, become chronically lengthened and basically so stressed out they hardly know what to do with themselves. They have been stretched forward beyond the point of reason; they have been stressed for so long that they are in a cycle of tension that creates pain and discomfort. It’s a signal, people!

And their counterparts in the front, your chest muscles? They’re probably all contracted and shortened, too, from being on the inside edge of that charming little hump.

If you want to know what you can do about your shoulder and neck pain, my first suggestion is to get thee to a massage therapist. This will afford your body some relief and help to break the pain cycle in the short term. But I’ll be honest with you, dear reader. The only way to truly remedy this situation is to change the way your body works. And that’s a long-term solution that takes a lot of time and patience. To that end, I highly recommend two things:

1) Be sure to break up the time you spend slumped over in front of your computer by doing something revolutionary. Stand. Up. And then: roll your shoulders back. Roll them several times. Imagine tucking your shoulder blades into your back pockets. Rotate your neck. Do it frequently– at least several times a day.

2) Start Pilates or Yoga (but be sure your teacher focuses on flexibility AND strength). Seriously, I mean it. Do it. These disciplines will retrain your muscles to behave differently and it will change your posture! 

Continue getting regular bodywork, but truth be told, bodywork alone will not provide you with lasting results. It took your body a lifetime to learn how to be the way it is right now, it’s going to take some time for it to figure out how to be different. Reward it for making the commitment to be healthier with massage, but don’t rely on massage to change your body. Only you can do that.

The good news is that it can be done! You! Can! Do! It!

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!


East Bay Massage: Fibromyalgia and Massage

Fibromyalgia  is diagnosed in about 7 million Americans yearly but still presents a challenge for doctors, health care team members, and patients alike. Massage and other forms of bodywork can play an important role in helping clients manage the condition and generalized pain associated with it.

Fascia is a sheath of tissue that surrounds and encapsulates muscle groups. When healthy, fascia helps muscles glide over one another for effective musculoskeletal function. If you have ever cooked a chicken breast, you are familiar with the white, filmy tissue that covers the meat. That’s fascia.

While experts are still gaining in knowledge about fibromyalgia, many have come to believe that it is a condition that stems from low-grade inflammation of muscle and fascia brought on by chronic hypertonicity associated with prolonged stress-responses. Basically: stress causes people, via the sympathetic nervous system, to contract their muscles almost imperceptibly. It is a function of the “fight or flight response” that gets the body ready to respond to stuff that stresses us out. Nowadays, we are more likely to feel stressed out about our bosses or rush hour traffic and less so about being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger, but there is a part of our brains that does not know the difference. Our bodies respond to stress by getting ready to fight back or to run away, and if we have chronic, low-grade stress in our lives, our bodies may be stuck in a chronic stress-response. Over time, this can cause the muscle tension (hypertonicity), strain, and inflammation that results in the painful condition we see today as fibromyalgia.

When the body is in a constant state of high-alert, the brain is sending messages to the muscles to contract– and this uses up ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate), or the energy that we need to live. Muscles also need to use some ATP to relax, and when the body is depleted of it, the muscles actually become incapable of fully relaxing. This produces an unfortunate cycle in the body– contract! I can’t fully relax! contract! The nervous system becomes overwhelmed and we have seen that over time, this loop produces a decrease in serotonin production– a neurotransmitter necessary to a sense of well-being, but also found in the gut for proper digestion and smooth muscle contraction.

“Tender points” are sometimes used to help diagnose fibromyalgia– discreet spots on the body that are painful and that are generally in the same point from patient to patient. But fibromyalgia is also characterized by many psychological factors, as well. Depression, sleep disturbances, and wicked fatigue are all common in patients with fibromyalgia. Studies show that the decrease in serotonin levels could account for these symptoms.

As you can see, fibromyalgia is a complicated condition. The good news is that massage helps on several fronts. Assisting the muscles and fascia to relax, increasing serotonin production, and guiding the body into a parasympathetic response (the part of the nervous system whose job it is to relax) are all benefits from massage for clients with fibromyalgia.

A final note on the use of pressure with fibromyalgia clients: the first session with a new CMT should employ light to moderate pressure. Pressure is actually quite a subjective concept, so care should be taken to avoid arousing the sympathetic nervous system further by straining the muscles through too much depth of pressure. This doesn’t mean that clients with fibromyalgia cannot enjoy deeper pressure, however! It means that care should be taken to avoid discomfort– not only for the health of the tissues, but to encourage the body out of the stress response. Generally, this means going slow, checking in, and communicating about the client’s experience on the table.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!

Although miscarriage is something that many women experience, it is not something often openly talked about in our culture, even among other women. Sadly, a sense of isolation can develop in addition to mourning the loss of a pregnancy when there is no obvious way for a community to support a woman after miscarriage.

Women may find that the use of therapeutic touch can become an important part of their healing but may have questions as to whether massage is safe after miscarriage.

Massage can be deeply healing in times of grief. It can stimulate the production of beneficial hormones like oxytocin and serotonin. A woman’s hormone levels can fluctuate greatly after pregnancy loss. The comfort of touch can benefit a woman in grief, but it may also help her body produce those hormones which can help her feel better– less isolated– and this can have an emotionally stabilizing effect.

Massage after miscarriage is generally safe for women. If you or someone you love has experienced pregnancy loss and are wondering if massage could help, rest assured that massage is as therapeutic as it is relaxing. Check with a doctor or midwife to be sure that massage is right for you if you are not sure, but massage is generally only contraindicated during the acute phase of the miscarriage.

For further information about massage after miscarriage, see East Bay Massage: Massage After Miscarriage. Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage.


East Bay Massage: Reiki

I have to be honest– I am of two minds when it comes to some of the more ‘esoteric’ practices in the healing arts. You could say that I am in the midst of a paradigm shift– or developing one that can hold two points of view simultaneously. By this I mean holding a critical eye to the ways in which things work, wanting repeatable results and a clear explanation on the one hand, and on the other maintaining the capacity to experience new things and the openness to allow new experiences to simply be as they are, trusting my perceptions and the experience I see my clients having.

Reiki fits into this ‘double-mindedness’ for me.

Loosely speaking, “Reiki” means the ‘free flow of universal life energy.’ In Japanese, Rei means spirit, ghost, or soul. Ki means force (which seems related to concepts of ‘chi’ or ‘prana’ in other traditions).

The story goes that in the 1870’s Dr. Usui, the president of a small Christian University in Japan, was asked by his students how Christ managed such incredible healing feats. Truly, anyone who has read of them in the Bible can appreciate how absolutely improbable and miraculous those stories are. This sent Dr. Usui on a quest to discover the mechanism for healing. Dr. Usui meditated and fasted for several weeks and was given the symbols associated with Reiki energy in a bolt of light on the 21st day. He taught these healing symbols to his friend Dr. Hayashi who opened a Reiki clinic in the early 1900’s in Japan. In the 70’s, a Hawaiian woman by the name of Hawayo Takata was very ill and made a pilgrimage to the clinic in Japan. She experienced the powerful healing property of Reiki, decided to study it, and brought the Reiki tradition back to Hawaii with her in the 1970’s. It subsequently moved with her to California, and since, all over the world.

Reiki is a healing force that moves through the practitioner and through the recipient. In order to become a channel for Reiki, one must become ‘attuned.’ Reiki energy has an intelligence of its own and moves as it needs to. It’s impossible to direct Reiki energy– the practitioner simply allows the force to move, trusting in the healing that will take place.

Now, if all of this sounded a little hard to digest to you, you’re not alone. I *am* a Reiki practitioner, and sometimes I have a hard time coming to terms with the story of it. In my Western-oriented mind, that Newtonian-style thinking comes into play: I want to know HOW it works.  Part of me would like a diagram, with arrows, color coded, and labeled, somehow.

But the truth is this: the way that we come into knowing the benefit of Reiki is not the way described above. There isn’t the kind of map for Reiki that dissects it in a way we might like it to. It has to be said, though, that I have been awestruck consistently by the effectiveness of Reiki.

When I was in training for my Reiki practice, we sat in a circle and our teacher came to each of us to help us become ‘attuned.’ When my teacher came to me, I had a powerful response that seemed to come out of ‘nowhere.’ I started to feel a bit dizzy– I closed my eyes and started taking deep breaths in order to regulate myself. But the sensation got more and more intense. I clung to the sides of my chair for fear of falling off. I had the sense that I was inside a twirling, golden tube that shimmered and moved as though it were alive. After about ten minutes of feeling like I was spinning in circles, the sensation subsided. I was breathless. How do I explain this, I wondered. But my Reiki attunement changed my massage practice.

Sometimes, clients request Reiki specifically. I have heard them describe the sensation as a tingling, a warmth, or like liquid flowing through their bodies. How can I justify their experiences? How do I account for it when Reiki has such an obvious effect on a client? What about the client whose spider bite that had been swollen and infected started to go down and heal after a Reiki session? How do I explain it when a client finds emotional comfort through Reiki after a miscarriage? There isn’t a ‘logical’ explanation, but I see it happening in my practice all the time. It seems to embody that mysterious part of life, that space where potential is open to experience, where wonderful, hard to anticipate things happen.

At the end of the day, Reiki is powerful. Studies have shown that Reiki decreases chronic pain, reduces side effects like fatigue or nausea from chemo treatments, reduces anxiety, and can improve depression symptoms.

I have always experienced Reiki as being like a leaf-blower for the soul– but I am grateful that my clients experience it as a calming, clearing experience. If you have experienced Reiki, you probably know what I mean. If you haven’t, maybe it’s time to?

Just today

Don’t get angry

Don’t worry

Show appreciation

Work hard

Be kind to others

–Dr. Usui

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!

East Bay Massage: Lower Back Pain and Massage

Lower back pain is the number one complaint of clients seeking massage. It is far and away the most disruptive symptom that send people to seek out bodywork. You may be surprised to know that the vast majority of lower back pain is NOT nerve related!

Sitting for extended periods of time stresses the structures of the lower back. Lower back pain is usually due to sacroiliac ligament dysfunction. This structure is the tissue that is located in the depression between the sacrum and the ilium, or between what most consider to be the ‘tail bone’ and the back side portions of the pelvis. There are three layers of ligament at this sacral region: posterior, interosseus, and deep anterior.

The posterior fibers are those ligaments that lay most superficially– closest beneath the skin. They are the chief connection between the sacrum and iliac and are most prone to injury or dysfunction. Pain is often referred from this area distally— meaning that pain originating in the posterior fibers of the sacroiliac ligament will run down the buttocks, leg, and sometimes even as far as the lower leg and foot. The severity of the injury to the ligament is proportional to how far down the leg pain is referred– the farther down the pain, the more severe the injury to the sacroiliac ligaments.

When these structures are inflamed, the response is contagious to surrounding tissues. While ligaments are slow to heal, the entire lower back benefits from massage by improving mobility, increasing range of motion, and helping the body to reintegrate those fluids that linger after swelling no longer serves a purpose. The use of heat, extra bolstering, or stretching can be incorporated to assist the body in regaining movement and reducing discomfort in the lower back. While these considerations often help a client with a tweaky back feel comfortable on the table, the real benefit is to be found after the session is completed and the client is able to walk or sit without discomfort!

It should be mentioned that strengthening and stretching the muscles surrounding the ligaments of the lower back is the best defense against lower back pain. In order for those structures of the lower back to be healthy, they should be both flexible and strong. Make sure to take frequent breaks if you sit all day at work– get up, walk around,  stretch, and receive regular bodywork to maintain lower back health!

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!




East Bay Massage: Whiplash and Massage

Whiplash effects 50-100 million Americans every year. Cervical pain (pain in the neck area) is the second most common source of pain, second only to lower back pain. While we most often associate “whiplash” with that back and forth motion of the neck occurring in auto accidents, whiplash can also occur slowly over time! Over-stretching (think prolonged shoulder stands in yoga), poor posture (with the chin jutting forward), and sitting in front of the computer for too long can all also cause the pain we associate with whiplash. Either the sudden motion of a rear end collision or the more gradual injury to neck ligaments or muscles can cause cervical dysfunction.

‘Whiplash’ is a general term that really describes the action that causes cervical spine symptoms. Injury to the neck can occur to any and all of the structures found there. Most commonly, the supraspinous ligament (that ligament that runs down the center of the back of the neck connecting one vertebrae to the one following) has been injured through over-stretching or tearing. However, any of the muscles in the neck may be strained (the occipital muscles, splenius cervicis and splenius capitis, the SCM, and the scalenes). Very rarely, the discs can be damaged and press into the cervical nerves.

Symptoms of whiplash can include headache, shoulder pain, pain at the edge of the shoulder blade, dizziness, fatigue, jaw pain, arm pain, ringing in the ears, visual disturbances, as well as emotional symptoms. If you have been suffering with neck pain for any length of time, it’s easy to see how unresolved symptoms can become frustrating. Referred pain can complicate the painful symptoms of whiplash. A knowledgeable massage therapist can help you understand referral patterns from the cervical spine.

Massage is helpful in the treatment of whiplash symptoms. Deep friction techniques serve to break up scar tissue in the neck structures that may limit neck mobility. Massage will serve to relax those neck muscles that have contracted and become stiff and painful. While ligaments take a long time to heal and may not recover after over-stretching, much can be done to mitigate the effects of whiplash. Keeping the surrounding muscles both flexible and strong will support the ligaments of the cervical spine.

Your massage therapist may conduct some simple passive and resisted tests to determine if the neck pain you suffer from is whiplash and should be able to recommend some simple exercises to keep your neck muscles flexible and stable.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!



East Bay Massage: Somatic Awareness and Massage

In our high speed culture, it’s not hard to fall out of connection with the internal experience of our bodies. The “soma” is the body as it is experienced from the inside. Even emotions have an important component  of physical sensation– we see this revealed in the language we use to describe feelings. “My heart was singing,” “My blood was boiling,” “He gets under my skin,” “I had a lump in my throat,” and even “It scared the shit out of me” all reveal the physical side of emotions.

Between work, commuting, child care, Facebooking, and any one of the many tasks possible on our smart phones, we are increasingly engaged with things that may pull us away from connection to self. When we are out of connection to self, we may begin to take the view that our bodies are “things” more than our “selves.” We may increasingly find fault with our bodies, feel frustrated in its limitations, or even come into an adversarial stance to our own bodies. Or, we may simply fall out of communication with our bodies– why do we raise up our shoulders to our earlobes? Why do we tense up our neck muscles? Why do we clench our muscles chronically? If we’ve fallen out of contact with our selves, we might a) not even notice when we do these things and b) feel confused as to why we do once we have made that giant leap of noticing in the first place.

Awareness of the soma is something that can be tamped down, sometimes out of necessity. On some level, our bodies and minds may, by way of a coping mechanism, reduce somatic awareness if the sensations inside are unpleasant because of trauma. Yet tapping in to the experience we have on the inside can be profoundly healing if we are supported in safety. A somatic psychotherapist is the best support for this process, as long-silent emotions coupled with a new level of somatic sensation may take us into uncharted territory. A professional trained in how to help others integrate somatic experiences with appropriate interventions will help create an environment that is supportive and safe.

Where can massage fit into the process? Connection with another can help us direct our attention inward if the touch is therapeutic in orientation. When you book your next massage, try making a special note of what sensations or emotions arise in your body as you are touched. You may be surprised to find times when tears seem to float to the surface. You may experience a deep sense of stillness and calm like the deepest waters of the ocean. You might feel jittery and agitated. All of this is helpful information that takes you into a deeper connection to self. Try not to judge your sensations or emotions, but if you do, just notice that. Bringing our awareness to our somatic experience is a practice much like meditation– it may take time. You may find that dropping in to your felt sensations during massage is a gentle invitation to the body to arrive fully in the present moment.

Remember that somatically oriented psychotherapists are trained in helping you to integrate your new found awareness, and that the right massage therapist can support your journey into increased somatic awareness through the application of therapeutic touch.

Thank you for visiting East Bay Massage!


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