Massage therapy may be the answer to pain

By Leah Bray Nichols

I found out the hard way that trying to do everything all at once can come with a price. Living in a state of stress leads not only to short-term tension, but it can also create long-term pain.

My constant anxiety as a 32-year-old undergraduate student led to chronic pain that kept me irritable during the day and sleepless at night.

It started as neck tension and by the time it spread down my right arm and into my hand, it was full-on pain. I tried physical therapy, yoga—you name it. I was sure that I could make it go away on my own if I just tried hard enough to make it go away.

But relief did not come. I’ve since learned that “forcing” yourself to relax is an oxymoron.

Finally, after complaining to enough friends about my stress and pain, one friend slipped his massage therapist’s card into my backpack.

I’d always considered massage to be for ladies who lunch or for those with too much time on their hands. As a full-time student, the thought of spending money to have someone rub me for an hour seemed extravagant to me.

Another pain-filled, sleep-deprived night made me desperate enough to call the massage therapist to see if she could help. As it turns out, massage was exactly what I needed.

I was so knotted up that the therapist said it would take at least three sessions to address my current condition. I skeptically scheduled the remaining two appointments. And the night after my first massage, I went home and slept like a baby.

After three appointments, I was pain-free. A massage or a yoga class would help temporarily, but a few weeks later, the pain was back. It turns out I had created a pattern of tension in the muscles that I could not release on my own.

The therapist told me it’s common for a person to need regular treatments so the body and mind can “learn” new ways of working. So, maybe I couldn’t force myself to relax, but massage could help me create the conditions for relaxation.

Monthly massage was a substantial time investment for me and had to be worked into my budget. But it seemed worth it if it could eliminate the pain that left me sleepless and prevent future pain.

Licensed Massage Therapist Lorrie Garcia says it’s common for people to wait until they’re in pain before making an appointment.

“I often act as something of a detective looking for clues about the source of knotted muscles and pain. People don’t always realize that a car accident from twenty years ago or a sports injury they sustained in high school may be affecting them today.”

I had lived with discomfort for so long, I thought I had no choice. I thought my body was just “like that.”

But just because you have had chronic back, neck, or shoulder tension, your whole life doesn’t mean it can’t be changed, Garcia tells me.

“Small postural distortions can have a huge impact over time,” Garcia says. “Eventually these distortions become the body’s neurological set-point.”

In other words, the tension I held in my neck and back gradually began to be my new “normal” posture. My contorted body had become a default position that I would live in. My body had organized the nerves, muscles, and fascia around this chronically misaligned posture.

“A skilled massage therapist loosens these restricted muscles and connective tissue (fascia). As these restrictions relax, a person can create new muscle ‘memories.’”

“Massage therapists help unlock the tight spots that have led to pain. This often takes re-training the muscles, fascia, nerves, and the mind through regular massage appointments.”

Garcia says it can take various approaches for a person to discover what works best for him or her. And, as with any other health care professional, you may want to try a few massage therapists until you find the right match.

“Therapeutic massage is not really about rubbing and petting,” Garcia says. “It is a method self-healing.”

Lorrie Garcia, LMT, is a longtime yoga practitioner and is skilled at helping people with patterns of pain, gripping, and holding in the body. She is also on the faculty of the Memphis Institute of Massage, where she teaches theory and technique to student massage therapists.

Contact her by email at lorrie@evergreenyogamemphis.com or phone at 901-496-2881.

Leah Bray Nichols is a yoga teacher. Her studio, Evergreen Yoga Center, is located in Midtown’s Evergreen neighborhood. Evergreen Yoga offers intelligent yoga classes for people of all shapes, sizes, colors, ages, backgrounds, religions, and political persuasions

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