We also took Touch for Health Level 1 in massage school as the owner of the now closed Whole You School of Massage and Bodywork, Cheryl Shew, believed it was one of the best classes to prepare us for the massage exam. It is based on TCM and applied kinesiology and is an incredibly effective method for balancing meridians and toning muscles.
After I finished massage school, I took the Levels, 2, 3, and 4 Touch for Health classes, and my teachers, Larry and Arlene Green, offer refreshers and online “get together” frequently. When I began the Unwinding Meridians class, I suspected my TFH books and charts might come in handy, I was right. Much of the material I had previously learned was applicable to the new technique.
I realized I needed to brush up on things though, and it actually got me excited. The more something in the class triggered previous knowledge, the more confident I felt that this is a modality I can use.
So what is it that got me so pumped? Well first of all, I could actually feel the craniosacral rhythm/energy movement when I put my fingers on the acupuncture points. As with traditional craniosacral therapy, the touch is light and less like acupressure or Shiatsu massage.
Before I tried the work on a client, I made sure to look up the acupuncture points for a problem I know she has. I could feel the rhythm shifting and changing even more strongly, maybe because I was working on a real problem. She shared my excitement.
Using craniosacral therapy to unwind the meridians can help with the emotions as well. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each meridian is associated with organs, emotions, seasons, colors, and a whole wealth of other correspondences. If a client has several points that need to unwind along the same meridian, you can sometime discover old trauma that is the source of chronic pain that seems to have no cause by asking questions related to the meridian correspondences. The inner physician knows and will often lead you to the truth you may be avoiding.
Unwinding the Meridians with Craniosacral Therapy is now a tool in my toolbox. I hope the more that I use it, the better I will get at help clients become pain-free and enjoy life more.
One of my favorite and most frequently used oils is tea tree oil. It’s been called a first-aid kit in a bottle, and I’ve certainly found it to be true.
The melaleuca alternafloria plant is found in New South Wales, Australia, and it yeilds beautiful flowers like the pink and white ones above. However, it is the leaves that contain the healing oils.
The indigenous Aborigines of the area use the leaves of the plant for healing. One way they do so is to crush the leaves and inhale the odor to relieve coughs and sinus stuffiness. Inhalation is the way I most often use tea tree oil myself although I use the distilled essential oil rather than the leaves.
Another way the Aborigines used the plant was to make an infusion from the leaves, which they drank. In fact, that is how the plant got its name. Captain James Cook observed the natives drinking the infusion and gave the plant the name tea tree. You should avoid drinking the essential oil, however.
Research done in the 1920’s found that essential oil from the melaleuca plant was eleven times more potent than the leading antimicrobial of the time. That means it is still powerful antiseptic, a good thing to know in these days of super-bugs tat are resistant to antibiotics. Plus, tea tree oil doesn’t contain the toxicity of manufactured antiseptics.
Tea tree oil can be used to treat cuts and scrapes, burns, blisters, cankers and cold sores, and a variety of skin conditions such as dandruff, acne, athlete’s foot, and Candidiasis.
It is often found in cleaning solutions such as household cleaners, soaps, hand sanitizers, shampoos, toothpastes and mouthwashes; in antibacterial and antifungal ointments; in baby wipes; and in makeup and skin care products. It has even been used to treat the bacterial and fungal infections of pet fish!
It is good for keeping insects away. It makes a great natural mosquito repellent. One of my clients recommends it for treatment of lice. It is much safer than the OTC remedies, and it works.
One of my favorite uses is in the inhalation oil recipe below. It is relatively inexpensive and is an oil no medicine chest or first-aid kit should be without.
Safety caution: Tea Tree oil is generally used externally. You may need to dilute it with a carrier oil if you have sensitive skin. Furthermore, you should not put it on your pets. If they lick it, it could make them sick. It has been reported to be fatal for cats.
Recipes using tea tree oil
Chief Two-Trees Infusion Oils for Sinus Congestion and Headaches
• 3 drops Eucalyptus EO
• 3 drops Peppermint EO
• 3 drops Tea Tree EO
Boil a cup of water and remove it from the stove. While it is still steaming, add the oils. Immediately cover the cup and head with a towel and inhale for 3 minutes. Keep your eyes closed.
• 4 tsps. apple cider vinegar
• 1/8 C. distilled water
• 6 drops tea tree EO
• 10 drops lavender EO
Mix well and apply to nails with a polish brush or cotton. Store in a glass bottle.
Disinfectant/Spray for Mold
• 2 tsps. tea tree EO
• 2 C. distilled water
Put in spray bottle and spray on problem area. Do not rinse.
Skin Care/Vaginal Ointment
• 1 T. aloe vera gel
• 6 drops tea tree
Mix tea tree and aloe vera gel together. Apply to affected area
If you’ve found yourself barely able to walk upon arising from bed or after sitting for a time because of pain in the heel that feels like walking on sharp stones, you may have plantar fasciitis or its more serious cousin, heel spurs.
Plantar fasciitis is the most common form of heel pain and affects almost two million people in the United States per year. It occurs when the connective tissue of the plantar ligament stretches irregularly and then tears. The result is inflammation in the long plantar ligament that transverses the bottom of the foot from toes to heel. The burning, stabbing or aching pain usually occurs at the attachment to the heel bone, called the calcaneus, and gets worse with both disuse or prolonged use as the ligament either relaxes or becomes overly stressed. You can reproduce the pain by dorsiflexing (pulling up) the toes.
The good news is that plantar fasciitis rarely requires surgery to correct. The bad news is that ligament tears heal slowly and that the situation that caused the initial tear, if continued or repeated, can slow down the healing process.
Improper gait and genetic foot problems like flat feet, very high arches, pronation and supination can cause plantar fasciitis as can certain repetitive activities. Athletes and folks taking up a new physical activity are particularly prone to plantar ligament tears. Proper exercise shoes and good form are a must to prevent injury. In fact, good shoes that support your feet are your number one defense. See a professional who can help you choose the best brand or insert for your particular gait. You will likely need to change the insert before the outer sole is worn out. Innersoles have a woefully short life in relation to their cost.
Age and age-related illness are also a factor in developing plantar fasciitis. Arthritis sufferers are prone to heel pain, and those with diabetes not only get plantar fasciitis more frequently but may not heal as quickly from micro-tears in the ligaments. Being overweight can also damage the plantar ligament, no matter what your age, and pregnant women are prone to the ailment both because of the weight-gain and because hormones during pregnancy cause the connective tissue to relax in preparation for the stretching of the pelvis during the birth process.
The first treatment for heel pain is rest, ice, and elevation. Many folks say rolling the foot across a plastic bottle filled with frozen water is a great relief. OTC pain relievers can also help. If you think your foot gear may be the cause, buy new, better supporting shoes. In fact, spending a little extra on good foot support now may prevent your ever getting plantar fasciitis. Ask anyone who suffers from it if good shoes are worth the money.
Massage can help stretch the plantar ligament, and your massage therapist has been trained to gently stretch the ligament without tearing it further. If your therapist can do Medicupping, that may help gently release the tendons. Many chiropractors can perform adjustments to the feet that relieve the pressure. Obviously, if first-aid treatments and manipulation by your massage therapist and chiropractor do not work, you need to see a doctor or podiatrist who may prescribe orthotics to take the pressure off the ligament. Failing that, they may prescribe corticosteroid injections or a new sonar treatment called extracorporeal shock wave therapy. The most extreme treatment is surgery.
Heel spurs are bony fragments that extend fromt he calcaneus into the soft tissue of the heel. They often occur when plantar fasciitis is untreated, causing prolonged pulling of the inflammed ligament on the bone. However, bone spurs can occur on their own. Early treatment is the same as for plantar fasciitis, but surgery is sometimes the only option to remove a bone spur.
Preventing plantar fasciitis in the first place should be a part of your self-care practice. First, keep your weight down to reduce tension on the plantar fascia. Second, wear shoes that cushion and support the heel, ball, and arch of your foot, and replace old-worn-out shoes that have lost their support as they may actually be the cause of the irregular plantar stretching and tears. You should wear shoes on hard surfaces rather than going barefoot or wearing cheap flip-flops. Watch repetitive activities and build up your endurance in new sports. Finally, stretch the calf muscles, your Achilles tendons and your feet regularly and before any exercise to keep them flexible and pain-free. Have your massage therapist work your feet and calves more fully if you feel a problem developing.
Have you noticed that many chiropractors are hiring massage therapists? Has your chiropractor suggested massage may help? Many clients are finding that combining massage and chiropractic adjustments can speed recovery from injuries or limited mobility.
The musculoskeletal system is a marvel of cooperation and support. Bones provide strength, protection and structure, and muscles and fascia provide movement. Muscles are attached to the bones by tendons. When muscles become shortened or tight, they increase the tension on their attachment points and can actually pull the bone from its natural position.
Similarly, spinal misalignments can create pain patterns that cause a compensatory adjustment in posture that results in contracted muscles when they should be relaxed. Trigger points form. Before you know it, you have a vicious cycle of misalignment and pain.
Sitting at a computer, driving for long periods, and digging in the garden are just a few activities that can cause poor posture and muscle strain. For example, if you work at a desk or computer terminal all day, your trapezius muscles could shorten. This in turn could cause your cervical spine to misalign and cause pressure on disks and nerves. The postural problems become cyclical. The shortened muscles compress the spine and the spinal misalignment causes the muscles to splint in order to avoid additional injury. This is one instance both massage and chiropractic can help.
Massage supports chiropractic. Adjustments last longer because it releases muscle tension that might otherwise pull your joints into misalignment again, and it helps the adjustment to proceed with less discomfort when the soft tissues have been relaxed. It helps you recover more quickly by stimulating the circulation and thus bringing healing blood and nutrients to the pain site. Finally, it can help you relax before your chiropractic adjustment.
Similarly, chiropractic supports massage. Joint mobilization received during an adjustment can help relax the deepest layers of soft tissue that are sometimes difficult to comfortably reach during a massage, and the tissues around and misalignment often heal quickly once they are not longer trying to splint a misaligned joint. Finally, a chiropractor can use other diagnostic tools like x-rays to rule out other causes of pain.
As more and more clients discover the benefits of complimentary medicine, they are touting the combined benefits of massage and chiropractic. These natural therapies focus on treating the cause of pain rather than the symptoms and emphasize preventative care as well as pain relief. They are holistic therapies that are safe and effective and can work as alternatives to drugs or on conjunction with more traditional, allopathic treatments. Used together, they can help you achieve your optimum health and wellness goals.
Massage cupping is an exciting modality with a wide range of benefits.
If you get acupuncture, you’ve probably been cupped as a part of your Traditional Chinese Medicine treatment. Massage cupping is a bit different in that the vacuum in the cup is created with a pump rather than with fire. Likewise, the cup is moved around on the body instead of being parked for a long period of time as it is in TCM.
There are many benefits to cupping. The pressure on the tissues pulls them up rather than pressing them down toward the bone as in regular massage. This is called reverse pressure. Cupping clears stagnation, drains and moves lymph and other fluids, relieves inflammation, expels congestion, and sedates the nervous system. It enables the therapist to do deep work with less discomfort to the client.
Cupping is helpful for a variety of conditions, including fibromyalgia, neuralgia, sciatica, edema, respiratory congestion, headache, sluggish colon, anxiety, insomnia, and scarring, to name a few. It can usually be added to your normal massage with no additional cost.
On the other hand, massage cupping can be a stand-alone treatment and is especially popular when combined with aromatherapy in a treatment called the Aromatherapy Cocoon Bodywrap. When done in a series of eight treatments over four weeks, the Aromatherapy Cocoon Bodywrap has been helpful in treating smoking cessation and weight reduction. The oils chosen for the sessions are very specific and therapeutic in their effect on the body.
Another popular treatment is the facelift massage, which can be combined with the Bodywrap or with the Bellanina Honeylift product. The negative pressure on the face and neck can bring nourishing circulation to the skin surface, stimulate collagen and elastin production, smooth fine lines, release tight facial muscles, and drain stagnant lymph that causes puffiness. A similar therapy can help the sinuses to drain more effectively although this should not be done if there is active infection in the sinuses. However, clients should understand that this is a massage treatment, not a facial.
If you are interested in the benefits of massage cupping, please speak to your therapist. Call Suzanne Eller at 828-310-0161.
According to WebMD, “The piriformis muscle is a flat, band-like muscle located in the buttocks near the top of the hip joint. This muscle is important in lower body movement because it stabilizes the hip joint and lifts and rotates the thigh away from the body. This enables us to walk, shift our weight from one foot to another, and maintain balance. It is also used in sports that involve lifting and rotating the thighs – in short, in almost every motion of the hips and legs.”
The piriformis is prone to trigger points, and if it becomes taut enough, it can press on the sciatic nerve, which usually runs underneath it but sometimes can run through it. Trigger points in the piriformis or an entrapped sciatic nerve can refer pain all the way down the leg. A tight piriformis may also torque the low back causing lumbar area pain as well. It’s a small muscle, but it can cause tremendous problems if it becomes taut or irritated.
Any number of things can cause the piriformis to become taut. Chief among these is sitting in one position for too long. If you have a job that requires sitting at a desk all day, chances are you know what a tight piriformis feels like. Likewise, activities that require climbing or repetitive motions like running, especially over uneven ground, can cause piriformis pain.
Massage is one of the best cures for piriformis pain, especially if you don’t wait until it becomes chronic. You can also use self-care strategies like rolling and pressing a tennis ball over the site or using a SacroWedgy®.
There a a number of good stretches for the piriformis as well. One is to lie on your back and to bend the knees. Cross the right leg over the left at the knee. Clasp your hands behind the bottom knee and pull both legs toward the chest. You should feel the stretch in the buttocks of the crossed leg. Repeat on the other side.
A variation of the above stretch is to sit in an chair, crossing your legs with one ankle over the knee of the other leg. Keeping your back straight, lean forward until you feel the stretch.
Another stretch is to kneel on the floor on hands and knees. Tuck the right knee under the body so that knee is in line with the left shoulder and straighten the left leg. Press the hips to the right until a gentle pull is felt in the right buttock. Repeat on the other side.
You don’t have to suffer with piriformis pain. Massage and self-care can keep you moving and help you avoid more serious problems like sciatic nerve entrapment.
It is sometimes easy to emphasize the physical benefits of massage and forget the mental health benefits of regular bodywork. The physical benefits are more immediately recognizable, but the mental benefits can be more lasting.
Numerous clinical trials have evaluated the effects of massage on mental and emotional health, and the results are impressive. For example, studies indicate that massage and psychotherapy given to women suffering from postpartum depression had significantly greater improvement in both depression and anxiety than did groups who received only psychotherapy.
Similar results were found for individuals other than new mothers suffering from depression and anxiety. Other studies indicate that massage may help people who suffer from ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, and bipolar disorder, to name a few.
Jacqueline Young, author of Complementary Medicine For Dummies, (London: Wiley Publishing, 2007) gives evidence for the efficacy of massage in treating those with eating disorders. She says more and more clinics treating anorexia and bulimia are finding that massage helps clients reduce anxiety about their appearance and improve their body image.
Massage reduces levels of stress hormones, especially cortisol (which, by the way, can make you fat!) It increases the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) and decreases the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”). Improved parasympathetic response means greater availability of brain chemicals like serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins (natural painkillers).
Another benefit of massage is to meet our need for safe, human touch. Human beings can literally die without human touch, and studies have shown the devastating lack of emotional development in babies who are not adequately held and cuddled. Still, we live in a world where those who touch inappropriately have caused all of us to be a little suspect of too much touching. When there is a lack of touch in a person’s life, massage can fill the void and create peace-of-mind. Overall well-being is enhanced.
Massage provides the following mental health benefits:
Increases mental alertness and improves concentration and memory.
Reduces anxiety and increases sense of overall well-being and self-confidence.
Reduces stress hormone levels and increases production of mood-enhancing brain chemicals.
Provides an overall calming effect and lowers irritability.
Lowers brain wave activity to the alpha state, which provides a feeling of relaxation and increases creativity and organizational ability.
Calms the nervous system and improves synaptic response.
Relieves fatigue and renews energy levels.
There is also a relationship between mental health and physical ailments. Many of us carry stress in our bodies. Idioms like “he’s a pain in my neck” and “my job’s a headache” reflect physical responses to stress-causing people and situations. Massage can help relieve the stress before it manifests as a physical symptom.
I received an email this week from a new client who has been suffering from a headache lasting a week. I remembered reading a series in Massage and Bodywork Magazine, a publication of the Associated Massage and Bodywork Professionals (AMBP)), by Til Luchau. I pulled them out and reread them. Then I did a little more research online.
Luchau divides headaches into two broad categories: tension and musculoskeletal headaches in one category and migraine and other vascular headaches in the other. I’d add a third category: sinus headache. TMJ headaches might be a fourth category, and the general protocols for TMJ jaw pain often relieve the headaches as well. However, these headaches might be better categorized as a subset of TMJ dysfunction.
Luchau provides a chart for musculoskeletal/tension and migraine/vascular symptoms in his first article. My other research differs a bit on some points, but is in general consistent with Luchau. Understanding the symptoms is important because slightly different massage techniques are used for each type of headache. The image below offers a capsule version with hunger and eyestrain headaches omitted in the discussion that follows.
Tension headaches often arise when the muscles on the shoulders, back of the neck, under the occiput (posterior inferior cranium), and scalp become tight and pull on the scalp and the lining (dura mater) under the skull. Clenching the teeth is also a tension response and can cause headache even if TMJ dysfunction is not present.
Usually, tension headaches occur on both sides of the head, but if the musculature on one side of the body is tighter than the other, the pain may be worse on that side. It may also be worse in the back of the head, but depending on which muscles are hypertonic, it can be located almost anywhere. The pain is often a dull ache, but it may be more severe. It sometimes feels like squeezing or tightness in the head. Physical activity usually does not exacerbate it.
According to Luchau, the hands-on goal of working with tension headaches is to reduce the myofascial tension.
Sinus headaches are caused when the mucous membranes that line the four air-filled sinus cavities become irritated and swollen. The sinuses produce more mucus as a response, and the mucus that normally serves to moisten the air and soothe the sinuses becomes thicker and adds congestion that further blocks the sinus passages often creating a vacuum within them.
The pain is usually felt as pressure and/or tenderness just behind the eyes, cheeks, and forehead or near the upper teeth or temple regions. The pain may worsen if you lie down although lying down may reduce the pain of tension and migraine headaches. Bending over usually makes sinus headache worse. Your face may be noticeably swollen from a sinus headache.
If the cause of a sinus headache is infection, massage is contraindicated, and you should see a doctor immediately. Otherwise, massage with a hands-on goal of stimulating lymphatic drainage and relieving blocks caused by swelling and congestion may help.
Migraines are believed to be caused when the blood vessels inside the head dilate. Many migraine remedies include vasoconstrictors for this reason. However, according to Lachau, new research may point to another cause.
“Recent research suggests that migraines start as waves of nerve cell hyperactivity sweeping across the brain; the spreading waves in turn activate pain-signaling neurons in the brain stem. The root cause of these neuro-electrical ‘brain storms’ of abnormally increased activity is unknown. The hyperactivity is followed by inhibited nerve cell excitability; the cells seem to be worn out, and this exhaustion may explain difficulty speaking or thinking clearly after migraines” (Luchau, Sept./Oct. 2010).
The pounding or throbbing, sometimes stabbing, pain of a migraine is usually focused on one side of the head. It is frequently preceded by an “aura” or visual disturbance and is accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light, sound, and odors. Physical activity can make it worse.
Most migraine sufferers have ideas about the triggers that cause their headaches and the symptoms that signal one is starting. They may also know that the massage protocols that work on tensions headaches often have little lasting effect on a migraine. Luchau’s hands-on goal of migraine massage is to reduce cranial compression, and I would agree that even if the migraine is initially triggered by muscular tension or sinus blockage, by the time it is a full-blown migraine, work on the cranium and the cranial fascia is necessary to relieve it.
Sometimes it is hard to tell what kind of headache it is. Generally, a look at the location and quality of the pain and at the response to activity and sensory input can help identify the type of headache you have. However, if you have a sudden, severe headache with no history of migraine headache or a dull headache that will not respond to treatment, you need to see your doctor immediately. Headaches can be a symptom of severe and even life-threatening conditions, stroke for example, and should not be ignored.
The massage protocol for a tension headache will include release of tight neck, shoulder and chest muscles and general relaxation strokes. Luchau’s first article emphasized release of the superficial and deep fascia of the scalp and a concentration of the suboccipital regions. I would add trigger point therapy of specific muscles likely to contribute to headache pain. Indeed, numerous research studies have cited the efficacy of massage, including specific pain-relieving modalities and more general relaxation type massage which tends to improve overall structural alignment and release endorphins into the body, as greatly relieving symptoms of tension headaches and even preventing headache recurrence when massage is received regularly.
Sinus massage with use of lymphatic drainage therapy is effective for relieving the pressure in the sinuses. (See my recent newsletter article on Sinus Massage.) The Lymph Drainage Therapy technique is slow and precise, and it uses feather-light strokes to move the lymph out of the head and into the nodes. It may also include the use of aromatherapy to further open the sinus passages.
Migraine headaches respond well to Craniosacral Therapy, especially intraoral work. CST allows the therapist to decompress the bones of the cranium and balance the blood flow. It also allows for structural realignment. Luchau’s technique uses a little more pressure than CST, but it is similar. (Trigger point therapy is often not as effective on migraines and on tension headaches.)
According to Luchau, the effect of this cranial work may be to reduce the pressure on the trigeminal nerve or to affect the hypothalamus and pituitary glands which may be responsible for the “brainstorm” of nerve cell hyperactivity mentioned in the quote above (Luchau, Nov./Dec. 2010).
Regular massage may also increase serotonin levels in migraine sufferers and thus prevent recurrence. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and low serotonin levels have been indicated in migraine sufferers. Low serotonin also causes depression, seasonal affective disorder, addictions and eating disorders.
Two other modalities that seem to reduce headache pain are Myofascial Release and Reiki. Myofascial Release used gentle, light traction and stretching to release the fascia, which is a single sheath of connective tissue that covers the muscles, bones, organs, and even the cells (everything!) inside your body. Craniosacral therapy and lymph drainage therapy always incorporate myofascial release as do other modalities, but it can be used as a “stand-alone” modality. Reiki is one of a number of energy modalities that can be used to work on the subtle energy body. In many cases, this gentle therapy alone can relieve the headache.
Massage has been proven in study after study to decrease the severity and frequency of headaches. When you see your therapist, be sure to tell her the following to help her determine the best therapy protocol for your specific needs:
Where your pain is located
How long you’ve had the pain and if it comes and goes
How often you have headaches in general
If you’ve seen a physician and if so, what is the diagnosis
What precipitated the headache if you know
What is the quality of the pain (dull, throbbing, stabbing)
How movement and sensory stimulus affect the pain levels
What you have done to relieve it, such as taking pain relievers or using cold compresses, before coming to her
Headaches do not have to be a fact of life. Self-care and regular massage can be of great help in preventing them and relieving them when they do occur.
One of my personal goals is to learn something new about massage and bodywork each day. Sometimes that is a new technique, and sometimes it is new information about a pathology or condition presented by one of my clients.
One of my regular, weekly clients has mild Type II diabetes. She also suffers from being overweight and from arthritis, and although very active in her life, her range of motion is impaired by her ailments. Massage and regular chiropractic appointments make her feel better and help improve her ability to do the things she enjoys with greater ease of movement.
I’ve been trying to discover the reason for her toe cramps for a while now. Other massage therapists have suggested that these might be caused by mineral deficiencies (potassium, magnesium, and calcium primarily), dehydration or by the massage releasing a muscle and thus causing the antagonist areas go into spasm. My client has tried many of the suggested remedies, plus homeopathic quinine and switching to lite potassium chloride salt. She even put a cork under her pillow although that folk remedy didn’t work.
My client’s regular doctor suggested, however, that the cramps might be related to her diabetes. That led me to do more research, and I’ve learned a good bit in the last week about diabetes and massage.
First, I learned that if the cramping is related to the diabetes, it may be coming from the drug she is using to control her sugar levels. The cramping may also be a complication of Type II diabetes itself though it is not as well-known as neuropathy or even the skin hardening that may precede neuropathy. Ulcerated skin is one of the worst of these related complications, so while I advise using the mineral supplements with the doctor’s approval, I also want my client to be vigilant for any decrease in feeling in her feet and toes.
I also learned some general things about diabetes and massage. In general, massage is beneficial for people who have diabetes. Massage helps the client relax and release endorphins which in turn helps blood sugar levels balance to healthy levels. Similarly, massage improves circulation, which in turn improves cellular insulin uptake. Finally, regular massage improves the elasticity of the connective tissue and makes movement easier.
This last benefit got me thinking about how often the superficial tissue of my diabetic clients seems stretched unusually taut and how often even light pressure seems to cause an unusual pain response. So I began to do more digging. What I discovered is that increased blood sugars cause connective tissues to thicken and even harden. The is true of the superficial fascia and also of the deeper fascia that surrounds the muscles, muscle fibers and the organs themselves. The thickening also causes swelling because lymph flow is restricted and further inhibits the range of motion. The skin itself can become dry, calloused and cracked. No wonder my client hurts!
I always work slowly, releasing the superficial connective tissue before working individual muscles. This is the way I was taught and is also an intuitive response as I palpate the tissues. Working slowly and broadly with long strokes, myofascial stretching and energy techniques first relaxes and releases the dense connective tissue before I begin using more specific deep tissue pressure and trigger point therapy on individual muscles.
I remember this same client telling me that her previous massage therapist often made her hurt for several days before she felt better. I suspect the MT went into the trigger points too quickly and caused damage to the connective tissue by not warming and melting it first. Now that I know about the effect of diabetes on the cellular density of the tissue, I will be even more careful to warm the tissue and proceed slowly to the deeper layers.
Another thing I learned is both a benefit and a caution. Massage can cause the blood sugar levels to drop as much as 20-40 points. Overall, this is a good thing, but if the client’s blood sugar levels drop too much while on the table or just after the massage, it could cause hypoglycemia and be dangerous. That defeats all the potential benefits of the relaxing massage.
Symptoms of a dangerous drop in blood sugar levels include:
Excessive sweating or clammy skin
Faintness or headache
Inability to awaken
Certain “spaced-out” tendencies, such as slow speech or clumsiness
That’s why I went out to the store and bought some fruit juice boxes to have on hand in case I have a client on the table whose sugar drops too much. However, if you are diabetic and receive massage, you should have a snack in your purse or car and always tell the therapist if you need to stop the massage and take care of your blood sugar needs. I assure you, the therapist will be thankful. You also need to check your blood sugar levels for several hours after you leave the massage office because the effects of blood sugar lowering can continue for several hours.
Be sure to update your therapist about what medications you are taking, especially if you are taking insulin shots. The injection sites are particularly sensitive to massage, and although the tissue there may feel especially dense (causing the therapist to work there more), studies have shown that massage on injection sites can increase the rate at which the insulin enters the blood stream and further lower your blood sugar.
Finally, be sure you eat before the massage and that you are hydrated both before and after the massage. If you feel unusual, after the massage, don’t drive until you feel normal.
The beneficial effects of massage for diabetics seem to outweigh the contraindications. However, it is a must that you and your massage therapist communicate effectively. Share you needs and concerns, and realize that honest feedback allows you and your massage therapist to learn from each other and develop a supportive rapport.
I incorporated Touch for Health into a Swedish massage today. It is the second time I’ve done so for this client. It is so easy to balance muscles with Touch for Health, and for the second time the muscle testing affirmed what I was feeling and intuiting about which muscles needed specific work.
My client is from out west and tells me that many therapists, chiropractors and alternative/complementary health providers out there use muscle testing. Not so here in the South.
I am gratified that this client called me and asked about TFH. I offered to incorporate TFH into her massage sessions free so that I could practice working with anatomical order rather than meridian order and also could practice with a client on the table rather than standing. I’m am more convinced than ever to use TFH on my clients who have chronic pain issues. I don’t use it as often as I would like because some of the tests are difficult to perform on a draped client. Getting to practice helps me to discover the best ways to keep the client comfortable while I check to muscle.
I am fortuante to have so many regular clients who don’t mind letting me try new techniques or different ways of solving their issues. I invite comments from anyone else who uses muscle testing with their clients on the table.