September 26, 2011

Who Is Tougher? Big Bruisers or Delicate Dynamos

Lots of massage therapists enjoy working with athletes so much they make a specialty of it, which is to say they look for people whose routine is extreme. I’m not one of those people, though I have to admit when I get one pro hockey player on my schedule, it naturally tends to fill up with a few more players referred by their friends.

I found myself actually watching games as this happened, largely because I was trying to match up the mayhem I ran into on the table with the events that created them.

Hockey apparently is exciting to watch, but this was lost on me. I couldn’t see the tiny object of the game as it whipped by, and I watched in horror as people dressed in what looked like fat suits charged at each other at 50 miles per hour. The saving grace of this game, it appeared, is that people collided on ice, keeping the momentum going instead of stopping into the corpus delecti.

“Hockey guys are the toughest people in the world,” I thought as I watched what would later end up on my table as separated shoulders, massive bone bruises and protracted hamstrings.

Then she came in.

Swan Lake was playing down the street at the big theater and this lady was one of the swans. All 94 pounds of her.

“I am so sore,” she said. “And I have two shows tomorrow.”

She was, of course, hyper mobile, but she had spots of neck and lumbar tension that reminded me of steel-bound cables, like the ones that hold up the Golden Gate Bridge. Then I saw the bruises. Huge, purple, gold, yellow and green, going up each leg and one the serratusi.

“How did this happen?” I asked, thinking this was from some violent encounter.

“Well, when the guys catch you in the air, if they don’t catch you right, they just grab hard,” she said. “They try to do it right, but if they don’t, they can’t just drop you. We have to make it look like everything is perfect.”

Wow. Dancers, especially ballerinas, have to make it look good even when it isn’t. At least the hockey guys get to grunt and scream and even get an icepack before going back to the game. There are no corner guys in Swan Lake.

“Ballerinas are the toughest people in the world,” I concluded.

September 19, 2011

Good Intentions and Messy Manifestations

Working with clients who have had early interventions for muscle-skeletal problems has proven quite interesting. Along with all the reasons to have a massage, these clients have an extra agenda: They want to feel good about areas of their bodies that have been identified early on as not being quite right.

For some people the area that has not been right has a special meaning to their whole. If knock-kneed or pigeon-toed, legs are often restricted by braces, leaving the child locked down while others their age are learning to run and play. A good amount of senescence, the sense that the body is in balance and harmonious with gravity, is lost unlearned and unavailable.

One response to bracing is the good-sport carry-on persistence that leads the child to ignore pain and awkwardness in an attempt to keep up and fit in. In adults, I have noticed this is big trouble when it comes to recognizing the difference between signs of injury and simple fatigue. The attitude is that no matter what, they will finish the task – even if it is an impossible distance for someone with rotated hips.

Iron Man had managed to complete nine of the Hawaiian endurance races, despite having pigeon-toes corrected forcibly with heavy braces when he was an infant. During his last run season he had developed a deep joint infection and inflammation in his hip, yet he had pulled off the training and races.

I met him five years later, when he was long past his Iron Man ambitions and found himself limping and in pain. I had hopes it was soft tissue hardening, but a visit to the orthopedist showed a fully necrotic trochanter and femoral shaft, leading to the conclusion he must have run with a massive infection. During that infection, the vein supplying blood to the bone had been destroyed.

Part of his recovery included a hip implant and a new attitude toward pain. Yet how do you establish pain boundaries when a person is used to ignoring the pain? I found that massage helped him somewhat with his recovery from surgery, but the big issues really were the purview of another type of therapy.

Another client had struggled with sciatica for several years. As a youngster her pigeoned toes had been over-corrected with braces. I was able to suggest early on that she avoid walking through pain, and her hip responded to massage therapy.

As she recovered, however, she kept firing her personal trainers for not being challenging enough. About a year later she had another bout of sciatica. I asked how she would handle hip pain in the midst of one of her favorite activities, walking the dog.

“Just keep going until the pain goes away,” she said.

I fought the urge to bang my head on the massage table.

September 12, 2011

Body Speech

Inevitably, there is some time some where in the course of doing massages, in which one could swear the tissues are talking. Well, not talking like disembodied voices or anything, but definitely communicating something of importance to the therapist.

Before ya’ll run for the exits, let me explain.

It might be a little nuance, a clue or just some straight-out twitching, but sometimes the body seems to have its own communication, its own language, and we, the massage therapists are the witnesses. I can’t say it is Charlton Heston on the mount, it is more like the body presents with “now you know what I know, and that sharing is going to make things much better from now on.”

I think that is pretty strange, but every so often it is there. The stuck part softens, opens up, drops whatever it was that it was holding onto that was interfering with its normal function. Is it the classic “melting?” Well yes, and more. It’s a sharing, a release and a bit of a revival.

So I’m not sure what is going on, but I can sense some good things happening in an area that has needed help. I don’t see auras or outlines or movie time reels or that stuff, but I suspect I am feeling the client’s feelings that were buried there.

Not exactly spooky or anything, but just kind of there. Contact.

Free Water, Anyone?

I observed what I find to be a bizarre phenomenon at the Edmonds Classic Car Show this past weekend. This is the second event we've participated in this summer where we have a booth and offer chair massage, gift certificates, raffle tickets, etc. As per usual, we also handed out free samples of Biofreeze, especially at the beginning and end of the event when things were slow. What generally happens when one of us asks a passing stranger, "Would you like a sample of Biofreeze, a natural anti-inflammatory?" is one of four things. The person responds:

1. "Oh, wow, that is great stuff! Can I have two?" Then they keep going.

2. "Uh, I don't know. Does it really work?" We assure them that it does (duh, no, we give out useless crap for fun), so they accept it, eye it suspiciously and keep going.

3. "No, I don't want it/don't want to carry it ('cause, boy, it is heavy)/don't have any aches or pains (yeah, right)/etc." Then they keep going.

4. They say nothing at all and either refuse to make eye contact or stare at us as if we had two heads and just offered them tickets to a nude freak show.

I find responses 2-4 odd. It's not like there's a catch to accepting a free sample of Biofreeze. It does have our name and number printed on the front so that they know how to locate more, but other than that . . .

Now at the end of the event, we had a lot of leftover bottled water, which we normally only give to those people who buy a chair massage. So instead of hauling it all back to our office, we gave it away, as a gesture of goodwill. And it is amazing to see how differently people behave if you first offer them a free bottle of water, as opposed to a free sample of Biofreeze. They smile and make eye contact and offer amazed thanks. At that point, they will not only happily accept a free sample of Biofreeze, they will ask how it works, they will ask about massage, they will ask for our cards . . . all because of a little bottle of free water. "Unbelievable," I said to my partner. "that something about being the giver of free liquid refreshment makes you immediately a Person to Be Trusted, while offering a free packet of anti-inflammatory gets you worse looks than a dope dealer offering dime bags to preschoolers."

I highly recommend, therefore, free water as a sort of quasi-marketing tool for encouraging folks to get massage. Unless your event is sponsored by Coca Cola, and Coke is selling water. That's a possible assasination offense, but also another story . . .

September 8, 2011

Alternative Therapists and Cancer

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September 6, 2011

Welcome to Lumbarville

Low back pain probably costs about a billion bucks a year in lost productivity, treatments and aggravation. What makes it even more unbearable is that people who have never had back pain can wake up one day and wonder what is wrong with them.

Wrong is a hard place to be for people who usually bounce back from injuries, giving themselves some time to stretch and soak and that little sore spot goes away.

So I had sympathy for the young man who limped into my office a few weeks ago, protecting his right side, unable to sit or stand or do anything for very long.

This fellow was tall, thin, a former track star, an athletic person who could not believe that his back had betrayed him. “I can’t move. I can’t lay still. I can’t sit. I’m hurting!”

The look of agony on his face was shocking to me, and I’ve been massaging bad backs, necks, etc. for years.

“Let’s see what we can do.”

The lumbar area was screaming as he tried to get on the table. I used hip bumpers to soften the stretch and tried a few effleurages to calm him down. As he started to relax during the massage, he told me what he had been doing lately.

He is the junior manager at a restaurant, so I asked him if he had gotten the crappy chair. Yep, and he got the crappy desk and a schedule that led him to bop up and down all day, helping with everything from reports to deliveries.

What about exercise?

“I get plenty of that at work,” he said. “I’m tired when I get home. I watch TV for a while and fall asleep.”

Uhuh. What are you driving?

“A Camaro.”

Well, those stressed flexors had crinkled up like pretzels under hot lights at the Bijou. I gave him some advice. Ask for a better chair. Stand for a minute when you get up from your desk before you start walking. Stay off the couch. Stretch gradually and get a daily walk. Sit in the car before you swing your legs in.

That really went over well, I must say. He looked at me like I had just gone over directions to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the Batcave.

It made me remember my own back problems. I was short, stocky and stressed. The p.t. who was evaluating me suggested I lose weight, exercise daily and ice. I didn’t want to do any of that.

I wanted to be fixed. And I felt a bit judged.

I’m glad I remembered that.

“If you can make a couple of little changes at your desk and take a few seconds to lengthen your flexors before you walk, it will help make the massage more effective, and you will get better faster,” I said.

“Nothing like this has ever happened to me before,” he said.

“It is very scary,” I said. “But you will feel better. Can I get you a glass of water?”