some thoughts on back pain

I thought I knew a bit about back pain!! And then my back went into spasm and I realised I had no idea how BAD it could feel!! Here are some thoughts on back pain, based on my recent experience…

Woman down!

This was me, part way through teaching a class, when my lower back and glutes locked up. Long story short, several hours of heavy gardening (a few days prior to this) had left the muscles in my lower back, glutes and hamstrings overstretched, weak and vulnerable; I carried on as usual for a few days but at the moment pictured below, my body responded by tightening up the whole of my left hand side, leaving me literally unable to get up!

back pain

I think it helped that I understood what had caused the sudden spasm. It didn’t help that I knew my class were watching on at home, unable to do anything. It also didn’t help that I live alone – it was a scary experience to go through alone…

Once I got over the initial panic, there were a couple of things in my favour:

  1. it was night-time so I gradually got myself sorted and then went to sleep – which gave me 8 hours where my body could relax without any demands being placed upon it
  2. I remembered that I had some medication (prescribed for anxiety but actually a muscle relaxant) in a kitchen drawer (not ideal as I had to work out how to get downstairs, but at least I had access to it from the start)
  3. I have very understanding clients who totally didn’t make a fuss about me cancelling work for the next couple of days

Things that helped me get moving again:

  • diazepam was undoubtedly the first thing! I’m not someone who uses medication often, but I was very happy to have these – they enabled me to get to sleep comfortably for the first two nights
  • lying on my ‘good’ side in bed so that I could very gradually bring my left knee a little bit towards my chest – gently stretching the muscles which had gone into spasm (NB it was a tiny stretch – the smallest amount possible)
  • the next day I could lie on my back in bed – this allowed my spine to regain a gentle, supported, neutral position
  • gentle hip movements on all fours (on my bed because I couldn’t get to the floor) – my main focus was on letting my body guide me where it needed to go: gentle hip circles, some side-to-side hip movement, the very beginnings of a cat/cow stretch, a baby child’s pose position – I did these several times a day for the first to days
  • very gentle rolling using a trigger point ball against the wall – much kinder than working with a ball on the floor; I focused on rolling my glutes & low back, going onto the edges of my pelvis and sacrum where the muscles attach
  • walking (at a snail’s pace to start with and only on even ground and over a short distance) – the dog didn’t enjoy this first walk at all!! The day after my back spasm, walking was very uncomfortable; on the following day it felt easier the longer I walked; on the third day it felt normal again
  • movement rather than staying still – sitting was worst so I didn’t do much of that for 3 days; standing was ok so long as I kept moving gently – lots of hip swaying while waiting in a queue to buy garden pots; by the second day I could weight-bear evenly on both feet; I did some light gardening – not necessarily to be recommended (but luckily I got away with it!); a gentle yoga class on day 3 – I only did the moves which felt ok (limited forward flexion, no holding in position, very gentle rotations)
  • listening to my body – sounds corny but it really helped to tune-in and follow my gut about where and how I needed to move, when I needed to rest, etc
  • believing that this was a short-term, transient state and not somewhere I was going to live for a long time! Initially my head fell into a rabbit-hole of panic – what if my spine was the issue, what if it was cancer (bizarrely that one shot straight to the front of my mind as I was lying on the floor in agony!!), what if I couldn’t work, and then I’d have no income, and then what would I do… blah, blah, blah. Luckily I got back out of that particular rabbit-hole of doom quite quickly. It’s not helpful to think the worst – far better to just do what you can to get moving and then go from there

What to do if you have back pain:

The list above is intended as general guidance only.

If you’ve over-done it in the garden or tried a new type of exercise, this guidance will help you to get moving again – and I think that getting moving is of key importance in this situation. If your muscles have gone into spasm you definitely don’t want to leave them there…

That said, back pain is a broad umbrella term and some issues are more serious and need more urgent attention than others. If you experience sudden or unexplained back pain, or an onset of symptoms such as numbness in the legs or a change in bowel and bladder control, always seek help from a medical professional as soon as you can.

Sorry to end on that note, but it needed saying because I am not a medical professional and this guidance is not intended to take the place of medical advice. This is just my thoughts on back pain from someone who had no idea what back pain felt like until a week ago!

And my final piece of advice is this – if you need bamboo roots digging out of your garden let someone else do it…

Do you have tight quadriceps?

Do you have tight quadriceps muscles which won’t seem to stretch? Do you have tightness or pain around the knee? Do the muscles in the front of your thighs feel ‘switched on’ all the time?

There are lots of reasons why we might have more/less dominant muscles in a particular area of the body (posture, lifestyle, occupation, etc) but for most of us the goal is to create a better balance, as that helps to create more even movement patterns. Typically we will have an imbalance which is left- or right-sided or which is noticed in the front or back of the body, but there will often be a combination of both and/or some rotational imbalance as well.

Of course, it is all relevant to the individual. For an elite golfer, an appropriate ‘imbalance’ will actually be required for them to excel at their sport, but most of us do not fall into that category and we are more concerned about improving every-day functional movement and potentially reducing pain.

I often see clients struggling to get into a position where a quad stretch is effective, and setting aside the debate about whether we actually need to stretch or not, I have recorded a short video showing a simple technique using a trigger point release ball. This technique focuses on releasing tight bands within the muscles fibres, which in turn enables the body to move more freely, which in turn reduces the development of tight bands within the muscle fibres…

This video came about because a client was struggling to move her hips backwards while squatting because the tightness in the front of her thighs was creating excessive pressure (and the most extraordinary noise!) over the knee-caps. It goes without saying that individual assessment and soft tissue work is the optimal approach, but this simple technique might be a useful starting point to get you moving more comfortably.

In the video I am using a dog toy as my trigger point ball – simply because they are affordable, readily available and still effective. If you want to invest in the real deal, I can highly recommend either Yoga Tune-Up balls or YogaBody balls, both of which I have.

Hopefully the video covers everything you need to get you started, but as always:

  • let me know if you have any questions
  • get in touch if you’d like to know more about how I can help you with soft tissue therapy
  • check with your medical professional if you have any doubts about your suitability for trigger point release work

& finally, let me know how you get on…!

massage room hygiene

In light of the current situation, I thought now might be an ideal time to share the hygiene measures that I have in place for the comfort and safety of all clients visiting my massage room.

massage room hygiene

Please find details below of the steps I take to ensure that my massage room operates as a safe and clean space. These measures are not new, but I will continue to review and update to ensure that best practice is followed:

Me:

  • hand washing – I wash my hands before you arrive, and again while you are settling yourself on the table, as well as immediately after your treatment
  • hand sanitiser – I have a bottle of anti-bacterial and anti-viral hand sanitiser in my massage room which I apply to my hands/forearms before and after your treatment. You are welcome to use the hand sanitiser on arrival/before you leave – or bring your own if you prefer
  • massage wax/lotion – the massage medium is removed from the container using a wooden spatula and applied to my arm for use as required; any surplus on my arm at the end of your treatment, is thrown away

Items that you come into contact with:

  • table linens (ie. towels, flannels, table cover, bolster covers, etc) – when you arrive for your massage, the table will have been made up with clean linens; everything that you touch during your treatment is then stripped and replaced at the end of your session. All linens are washed at 60 degrees using a non-bio liquid detergent and an anti-bacterial laundry cleanser; all items are tumble dried. Massage room linens are always washed separately from my household laundry
  • face cradle – disposable face cradle covers are replaced for each client
  • hard surfaces (eg. arm rest, metal parts on the face cradle, side table, door handles, light switch, etc) – all surfaces are wiped with anti-bacterial wipes between clients
  • massage tools – these are cleaned with anti-bacterial wipes between clients and washed in hot soapy water at the end of each day
  • water & drinking glasses – the water carafe & glass are clean for each client; fresh water is provided for each client

My home:

  • massage room – the floor is wiped/swept between clients and hoovered as required (always before the first client each week and then as necessary). I sometimes dust the picture frames!
  • bathroom – the toilet, wash basin, bath & floor are all cleaned before the first client each week; the hand towel is changed before the first client each week and then as required
  • hall, stairs and landing – these areas are also cleaned prior to the first client visit each week

You:

  • illness – if you have any symptoms of illness, please postpone your massage until a later date; this helps to keep my massage room clean and safe for everyone, but it is also better for your body to receive a massage when you are well. If you’re not sure whether you should postpone, please get in touch beforehand
  • hand washing – if you use the bathroom, please wash your hands, and feel free to use the hand gel

Any questions?

Please know that I take massage room hygiene very seriously so that you can enjoy your treatment without any concerns. If you have any questions at all, please let me know.

If you have any questions/concerns specifically about coronavirus (COVID-19) please refer to the CDC website

Find out more about sports and clinical massage

Do your feet cramp when you point your toes?

This is for you if you experience foot cramp when you lie in a prone position (face-down) or when you are in child’s pose. It can happen at any time, but will often be worse when you are doing any exercise that involves these positions.

child's pose

Both of these positions involve lengthening the dorsal surface of the foot (the part where your shoe laces sit) and if there is tension within the tendons running from the front of the ankle to the toes, you may experience cramping when they are held in a lengthened position. Typically if you experience this type of foot cramp, your toes will tend not to lie flat on the floor when standing or they will start to lift as soon as you begin to flex at the ankle. You may also notice that you have ‘hammer toe’ where the toes are bent as if gripping the floor.

How to reduce foot cramp:

In the short term, ie. during your class, a bolster under your ankles can be a really useful preventative measure as it stops the toes making contact with the floor, thereby avoiding the lengthening which is causing the cramp. Your bolster doesn’t need to be fancy – a rolled up bath towel or jumper will do the job just as well.

In the longer term, of course, it is preferable to resolve the issue. Your foot function will improve greatly by reducing restrictions, and improved foot function positively impacts knee and hip function so it is worth investing a little bit of time on a regular basis.

feet

Soft tissue release:

Here’s a short video (starring my right foot!) showing some release work that you can use at home but bear in mind that you will need to address your footwear too! I often find resistance to this one (I’m not sure why?) but clearly if our feet spend long periods of time squeezed into socks and shoes which do not allow sufficient space to move, no amount of release work is going to fully resolve the problem. We need to take a two-pronged approach with any body-work:

  1. resolve the issue using appropriate soft-tissue release and
  2. make changes to any external factors which are contributing to the issue

I’ll leave you to sort out your footwear (hint: you need a far wider toe-box than you might think) but in the meantime you can try this release work. I have tried to give you a few examples of makeshift massage tools that you might find at home but you could also invest in a gua sha tool if you want to get the best results.

(release work for the toe extensors to prevent foot cramp)

The key thing with release work is to give it time. Five minutes will make a difference but it is not going to undo years of wearing potentially restrictive footwear! Be patient, commit to doing it every day for a week and see what you notice…and then carry on doing it every day because your feet will love you for it.

In the video I mention the option of using spacers between the toes and here are two options that I have found helpful, although since switching to barefoot shoes I haven’t used either:

  • correct-toes – this is the main website but you will also find UK suppliers
  • silicone toe separators – for me these are more comfortable because I have very little, little toes which don’t sit so well in the whole-foot type spacers

Please let me know how you get on with this & let me know if you have any questions at all about foot cramp.

If I can help you directly with any soft tissue work, please drop me an email.

Jx

PS even though I don’t have any specific toe extensor issues, I noticed an astonishing difference in the foot I had worked on while filming this…so perhaps you should do it even if you don’t think you have any problems either?!

Sports massage & me

Introduction:

Vulnerability alert!!! As I walked the dog on Sunday morning, I had some real moments of clarity about the work I do and what I offer. I recorded them on my phone so that I didn’t lose them on the way home! Here are my thoughts on massage and what I offer as a sports massage therapist:

I’ve been thinking about what my massage work is to me and the thing that sticks in my mind is something I’ve heard said to me many times – that we should never trust a massage therapist who doesn’t go for massage themselves. Up until now, I’ve always just believed it and felt a bit pathetic because I don’t go for many massages, but a few things came up for me around this today.

I don’t really feel pain:

Firstly, I don’t really feel pain. I really, really don’t recognise pain in my body. But whatever I do feel, I think I can manage it so my thinking is why would I go for a massage if I’m not in pain? To me massage is very much about having help in managing whatever is happening in your body. In the logical part of my brain, I’m reasoning that I don’t really feel pain so I don’t feel the need to go for a massage. [Of course I know that massage is about more than pain management, but these were just my thoughts as I walked]

Massage is an exchange of trust:

Secondly, and this is the big one for me, massage is a real exchange of trust and I haven’t always felt like my body has been heard or respected when I’ve been on a massage couch. Often that’s because I’m in a learning setting and the person working on me is primarily there to learn something and not there to help me, but these experiences have unsettled me and I have pretty high anxiety when I give myself up on a massage table.

I think lots of it comes from way back in my childhood. I’ve been self-sufficient all my life, for as long as I remember and so it’s really unnatural for me to put my trust in someone else. And, whenever I have done, in lots of different situations, I haven’t always felt that I had a good outcome. I’ve learned to trust myself and support myself and it’s really hard for me to undo that.

Recently on a sports massage course, on the first week, someone asked the question ‘do you ever have someone come to you that doesn’t like massage?’ and I put my hand up and said ‘oh that’s me; I really don’t like having a massage’. I probably didn’t say it right because that isn’t true – it’s not that I don’t like having a massage, it just is a very uncomfortable situation for me.

Anyway, in the room there was one guy and when we had to work together later that day he just looked at me and said ‘oh that’s right, you don’t like to be touched, do you’. He made me feel like nothing. He made me feel that he hadn’t heard me, that he hadn’t bothered to listen or tried to understand. I felt he just dismissed me as some freaky person who doesn’t like to be touched (I accept this is how I felt and probably not what he intended at all, but the end result was the same either way). He straight away made me feel on edge – he hadn’t heard me and I didn’t feel that I could trust him – and that never changed over the whole course.  As a result of that early comment, there was nothing within him that I wanted to connect with, and maybe that was my bad, but that’s how he made me feel with those words.

What I offer you:

I think the idea of not putting your trust in someone who doesn’t go for regular massage isn’t really as simple as that. There are a lot of times in my life (nothing to do with massage) when my trust has been betrayed or not reciprocated. I’ve learned to live around that, and some of that means that I don’t always feel safe to make myself vulnerable, but none of that takes away from my skills as a soft tissue therapist.  

I just want to let you know that although I don’t go for regular massage, I do go for massage when I need it and I have some amazing local therapists that I trust implicitly. But I also want you to know that if you come to me for a sports massage, the thing I hope that I always offer is that you can trust me.

I want you to feel safe. I don’t want you to feel vulnerable like I have done. If you are anxious, I hope that I can help you to feel heard, and listened to, and supported, and I hope that you feel that you are definitely in my care while you’re here.

That’s what I offer.

Yes, I can get ‘knots’ out of muscles which are sore; yes I can help you move better; I can help you feel better in your body. But really, truthfully, what I want to offer you is a feeling of being safe and secure, and being listened to and heard.

Massage is about facilitating change in the soft tissues and within the nervous system, and change doesn’t happen when we don’t feel safe.

Please let me know if you would like to discuss how sports massage can help you to move & feel better in your body.

Find out more here

Gift vouchers

I’m not ready Christmas this early in the year, but I have had some questions about gift vouchers so here are the options available in case you like to get organised in advance.

massage therapy

Massage gift vouchers & packages:

Regular massage offers many benefits including reduced pain, improved mobility, stress-reduction, better sleep and a sense of general well-being. Giving the gift of massage will definitely improve your popularity!

I have three options available for sports massage vouchers –

I have created a 4 session package which is great for someone who has an on-going soft tissue concern, where an initial course of several treatments within a shorter space of time will help to reduce symptoms.

This voucher will give the recipient four treatments over the course of 10-weeks, taken at intervals to suit their schedule, and it will earn you a whole lot of brownie points! If you are buying this as a Christmas gift, the voucher can be dated to start from 6th January 2020

I also offer a 10 session package which can be a gift voucher for someone else, or a gift to yourself! I have a special offer available when one of these options is purchased by 29th November, giving 11 sessions instead of 10 at no extra charge.

If you are buying it as a Christmas gift it can be dated to start from 6th January 2020; if you are nearing the end of a current block of 10 sessions, the start date can be amended to follow-on immediately afterwards, so that you can still take advantage of the 11 for 10 price.

I can also set up a gift voucher for any specific amount to be off-set against future treatments. Please get in touch to arrange this bespoke option.

taylor-made fitness

Personal training packages:

I have recently introduced a 10 session package for personal training and this can also be purchased as a gift voucher. Please make sure your recipient will appreciate your gift before purchasing! Please get in touch to discuss and purchase this bespoke option.

Please let me know if you have any questions at all about any of the voucher options or packages available Jx

Sports Massage – special offer

I started my new massage course a few weeks ago and as part of my training I need to record 36 log-book hours of massage treatments by 10th January 2020. I have decided to offer these at the reduced price so that I can hopefully encourage as many different bodies onto my couch as possible (see details below) 

36 for £36:

Each week, I will have three appointments available at this reduced price. There is no difference in the level of treatment you will receive, but you’ll pay £36 instead of the usual price (a saving of up to £29). In return I’ll simply require you to sign my logbook, to confirm you had a treatment with me.

Please let me know if you would like to book one of my 36 for £36 appointments and I’ll let you know how to book.

(t&c: offer is restricted to one reduced price treatment per person; offer available on 60-minute appointments only; there are a maximum of three £36 bookings available per week; offer is open to existing and new massage clients; treatments are based in Cranbrook; I am fully qualified and insured to offer clinical massage)

Also, I made a decision this week to only use unscented massage mediums from now on:

While I was on my course, I had a reaction to one of the essential oils in a massage wax. It made me feel nauseous, disrupted my sleep and triggered some anxiety symptoms in me, even though everyone else in the room loved it.

It served as a reminder that we are all so different in what we like or don’t like, and in how we react to different products. I have since restocked with massage waxes which do not include any essential oils. I now have three solid unscented waxes (all have a beeswax base & no chemical additives, one also has no nut oils), and an organic grapeseed oil (nut-free & vegan) so you have plenty of choice (and no essential oils) when you come for your treatment.

Look forward to seeing you soon – Jx