A woman I worked with, about a year after she had her second child, hadn’t had her period since and was having horrible low back pain. I worked with her lower abdomen and found scar tissue and worked it out. Her low back pain subsided that day, and one week later, she called me and reported that she had her period. It is amazing work!
Old impact injuries, surgeries and even repetitive strain injuries often leave behind scar tissue. This restricts surrounding blood vessel, nerve, and muscle function often resulting in a lot of pain. It can be real tricky to identify when it is scar tissue that is causing problems.
Very often my clients will come in complaining of low back pain, and upon inquiry and exploration of the tissues, I feel scar tissue and learn that he or she had some sort of injury or surgery (sometimes 20+ years ago.) Hernia repair surgeries and C-sections are the most common source of the scar tissue, but it can be from many other things.
A client of mine came to me because he was having poor circulation in his legs and his balance was decreasing. This was a huge problem because he loves to stand-up paddle board. Upon exploration, I discovered lots of scar tissue, and he told me he had double inguinal hernia repairs 25 years ago. After only 6 sessions, his balance and circulation returned to better than it had been in 10 years. He later told me that he had been having prostate issues, and that had gone away as well.
Massage addresses the scar tissue and adhesions (knots formed in soft tissue), by breaking it up and bringing proper blood flow to the area. Imagine your tissues are stuck together like velcro. Things can’t move or flow in it. Through massage techniques, that stuck tissue is broken up so the tissues can contract and relax with ease again, and so that oxygen and nutrients can return to the area.
Another client I started working with four years ago was sent to me by his physical trainer because he was having a hard time doing much of any exercise. It all just hurt! As it turns out,10 years ago he a major abdominal surgery to replace his pancreas and kidneys then another one to fix a complication with his colon. What I felt in his abdomen was layers upon layers of scar tissue. It took us about a year of working directly on the scar tissue, but he was able to return to exercise, golf (his favorite exercise) and travel with no pain. He reported feeling lighter, more mobile and having better digestion.
If you are having pain, numbness or tingling I recommend getting medical massage to see if you have scar tissue.
When I was a child I noticed how many adults would tell me things I should do and ways I should be, yet their behaviors often contradicted what they said. Many of the same people who preached "godliness" were abusive - mentally, emotionally and physically. I felt outraged about it!
At age 19, I looked around at all the pain and suffering I felt and saw in the world and wondered, what can be done? What can little me do? I am just a drop of water in the lake of humanity. How can I make a difference. I felt discouraged and depressed. Then an idea came to mind. What if I heal myself? What if I take care of my mind, emotions, body and spirit, and what if that rippled out to those around me; my family, my community and eventually the world?
I clung to that idea with grim determination and desperately hoped it would make a difference. For years I dedicated time and money to get all kinds therapy - for mental, emotional and physicals pains. I poured myself into exploring the deep, dark and scary corners of my inner world. Some people called me courageous. I felt it more as desperation because for me, it was do this or die because I refused to allow the abuse of my family lineage continue on through me.
What I found was that the more I prioritized my well-being, the better I treated myself and therefore everyone around me. Different family members became inspired by the changes they saw in me and, of their own accord, started making changes for themselves. My massage clients saw me and were inspired to make changes as well. For some it took years to make those supportive changes, but they did it!
I advocate for people to take excellent care of themselves; to prioritized their health and well-being, but if I don't do it myself, I am a damn liar! In the healthcare field I see so many practitioners burn out because they are so focused on taking care of other people no matter the cost, but they don't take care of themselves; they don't do the very things they are telling their clients and patients to do.
Ghandi says "Be the change you wish to see in the world", and I can't agree more. It is up to us. It is up to you to create a healthy world (if that is the world you want to live in) by taking care of yourself first! For this reason, I believe a culture of self-care can change the world.
So many people I know suffer from low back pain. In fact, about 50% of the clients came to find me due to needing relief from low back pain. Some of my clients couldn't do twisting motions or hinge movements like the dead lift or getting their shoes on and off.
The common cause I find in 95% of people with low back pain is tight hip flexors. That is the muscles in the front of the lower abdomen and down into the upper thigh. Quads and Psoas are main culprits. A lot of people have chronic tension in their diaphragm as well. All of the muscles of the front of the body, when tight and short, strain the back of the body and cause pain and dysfunction there.
The hip flexors are shortened anytime we sit, and since we sit so often in our culture (at school, in the car, at a desk, on the couch, etc) those muscles become chronically short and tight overtime. When this is the case, some seemingly benign movement (slept wrong, twisted weird sweeping the floor, stepping out of the car funny) will send the low back into spasm and pain.
People who come in to have massage for low back pain are often surprised that I don't work on the low back much at all. Instead I work on the front of the body. The thing is, I am looking for and addressing the cause of the pain, and the low back muscles just aren't it, (for most people). When I do work on the front body, the relief my clients feel is immediate!
One of my more recent clients had low back pain so bad that he couldn't exercise, had a real hard time at work, and hated putting on and off clothes because it was so painful. He was skeptical at first when I told him how I would be working with him, but after our first session, he was able to get dressed with a lot more ease, and after several sessions, he was able to get back into the gym. Now, only 3 months later, he has no low back pain.
There are lots of ways to care for your body so that you don't get into a lot of pain, or if you do, you can get out of it. Massage is a great way, especially sports therapy. Stretching and strengthening are other ways. Check out this video for some good tips on self-care for low back by addressing tight hip flexors, and if you do have low back pain, consider getting massage on them as well.
As the holidays approach, and you plan your holiday travel, plan in some time for stretching and strengthening hip flexors and core muscles, and it will be the best gift you will give yourself.
The holidays are coming up and likely full of excitement and likely some stress. One of the best ways to lessen the affects of stress is to take some slow deep breaths down into your belly. Here is why. When you are stressed, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. This is the system that says, "Get ready! We are about to be chased by tigers and lions and bears!!!" When it does, among other things, your muscles tense, your pulse quickens and your breath becomes shallow. This slows digestion and cell regeneration because energy is going elsewhere. Chronic stress leads to all sorts of illness as written in this article;
When you take a deep, slow breath down into you belly and expanding your diaphragm, you are essentially telling your nervous system, "We're good. There is no danger!" Even better, this "therapy" is completely free and accessible to anyone.
When I give people massage, half my job is to get their nervous system to slow down and trust my work. Your tissues are amazing and stronger than you may give it credit. If your nervous system is on guard, your muscles will not relax well no matter how much pressure someone gives you. For this reason, your massage is much more affective when you take deep breaths, especially if a spot feels particularly sore. This is also why I move and talk slowly during a massage, why I keep at least one hand on my client the whole time, why I choose music without words and with a slow tempo, why I take deep breaths while I'm massaging a person and why I use relaxed body language myself. All of this speaks to my client's nervous system and affects the outcome of the massage.
You can do these things as well. Next time you find yourself stressed, check your breathing, check how fast you are walking and notice what speed and volume you are talking. Bring it all down a notch by taking a few deep breaths, and you'll be amazed at the change in stress levels.
This means we work together. It's not about me as your therapist doing work to you. Especially with deep massage work that makes lasting change, it's about your participation. And how does that look because we need you to relax and receive as well.
When you first come in for a massage, we're going to talk about your areas of pain, tension or limitation. We'll talk about what you've tried for it in the past, what has worked and hasn't, what you do that aggravates the problem, what relieves it and what your goals are for your body. Based on that information, we'll come up with a treatment plan for our session and subsequent ones if we decide we are a good fit to work together. I am like a detective. You bring me a problem, and I'm going to find out as much as I can to uncover the cause of that problem. Many therapists address the pain only, but in working with thousands of people, I have learned that when I can find and address the cause of the pain or tension, it changes everything!
During the massage, it is my job to do my utmost to help you feel comfortable, safe and certain. When your mind and your nervous system trusts me, as your therapist, and the work being done, your body; your muscles will relax into the work. It is your job to tell me what you want, when something is uncomfortable and when you want something I am doing changed. You don't have to "put up with" anything! It's your body, and you are ultimately the boss! In this way we create rapport and trust, and the massage work's effectiveness increases exponentially through our session.
The second and very important way we work together is through discovering what behaviors of posture, movement (or lack of movement) are causing the tensions and pain in the first place. Then we discuss what changes in behavior are necessary, and develop a plan for you to slowly and consistently cultivate habits toward those new supportive movement patterns. Then with each massage, part of our check-in is to see how your body is feeling since your last massage, what things you did (your homework), and what changes you notice because of it. In this way we create a cadence of accountability which produces long-term results.
You can go get a relaxing massage and feel good for a little while, and it requires nothing of you but to show up, relax and pay for the session. However, if you are looking for some lasting changes, it does require your participation, and that is what I want if you are to work with me or the other team members here at Lifelong Wellness.
What questions do you have about receiving massage or taking care of your body? Leave a comment here.
Adinah Barlow has been a massage therapist since 2007 and Self-Care Coach since early 2017. She believes that when people prioritize their own well-being, everything else and everyone else in their life becomes exponentially better.