Have you ever woken up with a crick in your neck? Or put your back out by simply reaching to pick something up off the floor? Do you feel tight and achy upon waking? Feel like you can't get through your day without a pick me up at 3pm? If you want to know why this is happening and what you can do about it, continue reading.
Each and every day each one of us is subjected to stress, whether you recognise it or not modern life is stressful. We wake to the sound of an alarm clock alerting us that our day is starting despite the quality or quantity of sleep we had that night which more often than not is not very adequate in quantity or quality. We then may have to wake and prepare children for the day, which can provide enough stress to last a year. We then have to rush a breakfast down us with a chaser of coffee to kick start our body into green light mode, which can cause internal stress, we burn our toast whilst responding to emails, get stuck in traffic and all before 9am each morning. Not to mention the pressure of work, relationships, finances, the external stress of the economy and world politics and the internal stress put on our body with poor quality food.
Stress is a mechanism to help us deal with life threatening danger, a tiger is chasing us down the road we run or we prepare to fight. In both of these circumstances our muscles get ready to literally run for our lives or fight for our lives, they tense in response to the external stimulus and by running or fighting the charge is released, and our muscles can then return to pre stressful event. Our stress response hasn't evolved to know that our boss at work isn't the tiger chasing us, that the stress we are feeling isn't life threatening, it is how ever having a very real effect on our physiology and the problems arise when that stuck stress isn't released. If your muscles are getting ready to fight or run from danger even just once a day and you are just sat at your desk at work or driving your car you are not allowing the body to discharge that stuck stress from your body's tissues.
Over time that stuck stress accumulates. We have day to day stress, external and internal, we have big stressors such as moving house, bereavement and divorce and one day an seemingly unrelated event will happen where you just pull your back out, or you wake up with a crick in your neck.
Chances are you had some messages from your body previous to the event alerting you to the fact that something wasn't quite right. Perhaps you had some slight aches, pains and niggles, stiffness upon waking, feeling more tired than usual, needing coffee in the morning to get you going, wine in the evening to calm you down, all of these are signs that your body has cellular dehydration, but you chose to ignore these messages and guess what? What started as a whisper from your body gently telling you to pay attention, becomes a mighty roar that you can't ignore anymore.
Like all good fairy tales this blog post is going to end with a happy ending, pain does not have to become chronic and chronic pain does not have to be a life sentence. Cellular dehydration can be reversed with a combination of good quality bodywork addressing the fascial system, good quality variable movement, learning tools and techniques to down regulate the nervous system so it's not fired up all the time and finding ways to self soothe without the use of caffeine and alcohol.
A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending a postgraduate massage training in advanced clinical massage techniques for TMJ, face and jaw pain. It's a course I've been yearning to do for the past few years and it far exceeded my expectations.
The course was developed by a dental nurse who noticed the usual orthodox treatments for TMJ syndrome were ineffective at best, or painful and potentially damaging at worst and therefore created a massage treatment protocol for TMJ patients. Many clients reported a reduction of symptoms from their first treatment and every one of them were either completely resolved or drastically improved within 4-6 treatments.
TMJ syndrome is an umbrella term for pain and dysfunction of the muscles of mastication (the muscles that move the jaw) and the temporomandibular joints (the joints that connect the mandible to the skull).
The common symptoms of TMJ syndrome are wide and varied and include:
Headaches- if you've ever experienced tension headaches when you're stressed it may come as no surprise that tension in the jaw (predominantly the masseter and temporalis muscle) can lead to headaches. We often instinctively massage our temples to help to relieve the pain but the masseter which is our primary chewing muscle often gets neglected.
Bruxism- or teeth grinding. You may only be aware that you grind your teeth if you wake your partner in the night or your dentist may have told you that your teeth are being worn down and has recommended a mouth guard to wear at night. Mouth guards are only a temporary measure however as it doesn't address the cause or the trigger points and tightness that lead to the teeth grinding in the first place.
Earaches and toothaches- trigger points from the masseter and temporalis muscle can amazingly refer pain into teeth and ears, which the pioneers of trigger point therapy Travell and Simons say "can lead to disastrous results for an innocent tooth". Trigger points in the sternocleidomastoid muscle (the thick ropey looking muscle on the side of your neck) can also refer pain into the ear.
Tinnitus- or ringing in the ears. This may be multi factorial but there have been links to TMJ syndrome causing or contributing to tinnitus in some people.
Dizziness- again dizziness may be multi factorial, but in some people dizziness may be due to restrictions in the soft tissue.
Trismus- or difficulty opening mouth normally.
Difficulty swallowing or speaking and sensitivity to light or noise.
The masseter muscle is the strongest muscle in the body and can exert a huge amount of force, this muscle is our primary chewing muscle and rarely receives a break due to eating and talking, add that to grinding and clenching through the day and night and you can clearly see this is a muscle worthy of some TLC. Discomfort in the soft tissue of the neck and shoulders may also be alleviated by treating the muscles of mastication as they often develop secondary trigger points in TMJ syndrome.
If you experience any of the above symptoms then search for someone qualified in manual therapy for TMJ syndrome, jaw and face pain in your area. If you're located near Killarney Massage Therapy Centre then arrange your appointment today on 087-2922851.
DEEP TISSUE v's DEEP PRESSURE
Over the past 12 years of studying and receiving various forms of massage and bodywork I have learnt what works and what feels good for my body. Not only do I devote my time to practicing the art of bodywork I also spend a lot of time studying anatomy and physiology and theoretical principles of massage and bodywork. One of the biggest pet peeves I have with massage/bodywork is the seeming confusion over deep tissue and deep pressure. I love deep tissue massage, deep pressure not so much.....anyone can prod and stick a thumb or elbow into parts of the body and elicit a strong sensation does that mean it's deep tissue? Absolutely not! Deep tissue should aim to reduce and release restrictions and often that takes longer than an hours treatment (but that's for another post).
Deep tissue is generally not something that can be done throughout the whole body (not in an hour anyway) it's a slow and specific process of sinking down through the layers of tissue, feeling a response in the tissues and sinking a little more if the tissues allow. Deep pressure is where the therapist forces the tissue a particular way, as with most things push with enough force and you will meet resistance, which actually then defeats the overall purpose of receiving massage.
Any skilled therapist will tell you that they get much better results by allowing the tissues time to soften and release slowly over time, providing just the right amount of resistance for the release to be felt, which is unique to each client.
Deep tissue is a method of communication and is very much a two way conversation, deep pressure however I liken to a monologue.
As a clinical and sports massage therapist I attract a lot of active and sports people who often have a "no pain, no gain" mentality, which is an old school approach, perpetuated by therapists carrying on treating in a way that is not only NOT the most beneficial way of treating soft tissue but in my opinion ethically wrong, causing bruising, pain, feeling the need to hold the breath, curl the toes and grimacing are all signs that the pressure is too deep.
As many of my clients know I'm continuously updating my skills and looking for the most effective techniques to not only reduce pain and to improve range of motion but techniques that also feel good to the client. I've been on a lot of continuing education courses with world class teachers and not once have I been on a course and had a teacher recommend to go as hard as possible to cause pain, 20 years ago that may have been different however, but we learn and we move on with updated views and ways of working with the body.
That's not to say that when working with trigger points and restrictions and stickiness in fascia that there will be no discomfort felt but on a pain scale of 1-10, (1 being the lowest 10 highest) sensation should never be over a 6-7, often equated to that sweet spot and great results can be made even lower than that.
The next time you are receiving massage or some form of bodywork ask yourself is the therapist having a conversation with your body's tissues or is it a monologue with the therapist imposing unnecessary pressure.
Advanced clinical massage therapist and yoga teacher.