Balance Blog

Jan 24th

Learning to Touch

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We all know that touch is good medicine. The benefits of positive touch have been well-documented for decades. When we hold and caress our babies, we are providing them with an irreplaceable building block in their proper development. What we’re less likely to acknowledge is that we need touch throughout our lives – that during all life stages, touch is absolutely vital to well-being and maintenance of life. Cutaneous deprivation, or lack of touch, leads to serious mental, emotional and physical health problems in people of all ages.

In Western societies, we’ve deprived ourselves of healthy, loving touch for generations upon generations. Imagine what havoc a century of cutaneous deprivation has wreaked on our families, communities and cultures! When I went to college for my BA, I spent a lot of time studying the effects of touch (and lack of touch), from many viewpoints – through research into the psychology of touch, through movement analysis and experiments in group dance, through study of anatomy and physiology. As a result of that eye-opening experience, I committed myself to helping bring touch back to people.

You don’t have to take classes and become a touch therapist to help heal the societal disease of touch deprivation. Here are a few simple ways to make a difference, for yourself and others:

Hug somebody.
Yes, they’ve researched hugging. I’ll leave out the clinical details, but suffice to say that hugging does some amazing things to you physiologically. Opinions vary as to how many hugs you actually need in a day to stay healthy. Personally, I like about a hundred. My recipe: start with one, and keep going til you feel good. As with any touch, make sure your hug-receiver is open to the experience.

Hold hands.
With your sweetheart, your kids, your parents and friends (yes, grown-up people can hold hands too!). Obviously this requires a certain level of intimacy and ease with someone. Among other effects, simple hand-holding has been shown to reduce pain and fear.

Love on your pets.
Petting your cat or dog (or parrot? or ferret?) can reduce loneliness, depression, anxiety, unhappiness, emotional disorders, the list goes on … and it works is positive effects on both you and your pet.

Give a massage.
Wait, give a massage? Yes, learning and sharing massage is a gift to both the people you touch, and to yourself. You may not be a massage therapist, but you can still share the benefits of massage with others – your spouse or sweetie, your kids, your friends, your pets, even your co-workers – who would turn down a shoulder rub in the middle of hunching over the computer? Non-credit, starter massage classes are available in Louisville, and elsewhere.

You don’t have to have the perfect technique or learn the most cutting-edge modalities. The most important aspect of massage to learn is the right quality of touch. For example, when you just grab hold and start digging in, your receiver’s nervous system will probably immediately go into “lockdown” – tensing the muscles, on an instinctive level preparing for physical attack. This is a wall that goes up between many a massage therapist and client, if the therapist is not aware of (or is disregarding) the nervous system response, and being insensitive to the client’s state of vulnerability. Using simple centering techniques – standing still, closing the eyes, taking some deep breaths, connecting in with the sensations in your own body – you can practice an approach that calms both you and your receiver, and allows for a good-feeling and beneficial massage experience.

With massage, you have the opportunity to place your consciousness into your hands. Massage allows you to tap into your innate physical awareness, and to share this awareness with another (through touch) is a very primal means of communication. What a great way to bring positive touch to someone you care about. And take it from me – it’s fun!

What better time than now to help bring back the healing gift of touch – to give a hug, hold a hand, pet your dog, rub some tired shoulders? Whatever your approach, lets get out there and spread the love!

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Oct 18th

Massage Therapy and the Immune System

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Here in Louisville, we’re nearing flu season, and many of us are preparing by stocking up on vitamin C and other immune-boosting supplements.  Maybe you already receive massage, for relaxation or pain issues; you can also consider massage a vitamin shot for your immune system!  Are you or someone you care about concerned with a weakened immune system? Studies show that massage therapy may help.  It’s long been known that stress suppresses immune function and increases inflammation.  It’s also been proven that massage therapy can measurably decrease stress, allowing for a strengthened immune system.

In addition to its effect on the stress that suppresses immune function, it appears that massage therapy has a direct effect on the immune system as well.   A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine found that in preliminary testing, a single session of Swedish massage appears to enhance immune function, and that massage therapy may help in managing autoimmune and inflammatory conditions.  Three studies by the Touch Research Center of Miami involved HIV positive men, healthy women with no major medical issues, and women living with breast cancer.  These studies found that among these different groups, massage therapy helped to build the immune system.

Many of us who are concerned with a weakened immune system, from preparing for the flu season to dealing with autoimmune disorders, can benefit from the biological and psychological effects of massage therapy.  When looking for “your” Louisville massage therapist, make sure she or he uses techniques that relax you, as well as get to the source of the pain.  This will ensure that along with all the other benefits of massage therapy, you’ll get a good boost for your immune system, as well.

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Oct 11th

Massage Therapy and Cancer Pain

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A diagnosis of cancer can be life changing. Many people living with the disease face changes in their routines, relationships, work, finances, and how they look and feel.   Mood problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression can take over.  Pain from cancer can become a serious problem.

Cancer pain can be caused by medical tests, spinal cord compression or pain from a tumor.  Treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, can also cause pain.

Treating cancer pain begins with an attempt to remove the source of the pain, which involves removing the cancer itself when possible.  When this is not possible, pain medications are often the next step.    Medications range from over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, to strong prescriptions such as morphine.  In some cases nerve blocks may be used.

More doctors are recommending alternative therapies in conjunction with medications for pain.  Acupuncture, physical therapy, meditation and massage therapy may help.

Studies suggest that massage therapy can actually decrease some of the problems associated with a diagnosis of cancer, including pain, insomnia, fatigue, depression, anxiety and stress.  “Many health care professionals recognize massage as a useful, noninvasive addition to standard medical treatment.”  [American Cancer Society]  Since stress and anxiety can cause pain, or worsen pain that you already have, massage therapy can be a very helpful complementary therapy.

It’s been said by people living with cancer that due to the nature of the disease, and the treatments for it, it can feel as if your body is at war with you.  These people report that massage therapy can bring back a sense of well-being, a positive connection with your body that can be lost during the course of the disease and its treatment.

For more information:

American Cancer Society
Cancer.org 
The Mayo Clinic, cancer pain

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Sep 24th

Massage Therapy is Changing – What Does it Mean for You?

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Statistics show that the number of people receiving massage therapy is on the rise in the U.S.  You may be one of the people who have experienced the benefits of massage – relaxation, pain relief and emotional balance, among others.  Massage therapy can help heal many aspects of our selves – physical, emotional, mental, and often energetic or spiritual.

Here in Louisville, our clients who have had massage for pain and injuries already understand the benefits of therapeutic massage and how well it can complement Western medicine.  Sometimes, a skilled massage therapist can even help a person avoid medical interventions such as surgery.  Clients and massage therapists have long known of the profound healing benefits of touch; getting the Western medical establishment on board has proven to be more challenging.

Some Louisville insurance companies will pay for massage therapy, but typically only if it’s been prescribed by a doctor.  Growing the number of doctors who support this type of bodywork would help grow the number of insurance companies that would be willing to cover it, allowing more and more people access to the healing benefits of skilled touch.

The massage profession has changed direction dramatically in recent years, veering away from the approach less likely to gain mainstream acceptance –  holistic and energetic approaches, components that may have in the past tagged massage therapists

as “new age”.  In order to gain acceptance in the mainstream, the profession overall has veered away from the more holistic approach, focusing more on “research-based” massage.

Allowing more people, especially those who may otherwise not be able to afford bodywork, access to massage through their insurance is a worthy cause.  However, this shift in focus toward “medical” massage tends to lead massage therapists to let go of the aspect of our work that so many of our clients need – the touch of kindness, the message that this is a whole person, not simply a body to be “fixed”.  The nervous system responds best to kindness  – to hands that can quietly respond to the body’s subtle messages, finding just the right pressure and speed, allowing deeper relaxation – and it’s in that deeply relaxed state that a person is able to best receive the full benefit of massage therapy.  Massage meditation?  Exactly.

When looking for a massage therapist, consider someone who combines excellent technical training and research with a holistic approach.  During your session, try becoming quiet, breathing deeply and slowly and allowing yourself to sink into the experience.   You may be surprised by what a difference this can make in your healing.

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Sep 14th

Post Massage Self Care

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Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your massage session:

Remember to drink plenty of water in the few days after your massage. Tight muscles store toxins that are released through massage; staying hydrated helps flush those toxins out of your body, helping to reduce soreness after a massage.  Drink water to help your body continue the cleansing and healing process that massage introduces.

Some post-massage muscle soreness is common, especially the day after your session.  However, if you feel any amount of pain you consider to be above average, please DO NOT HESITATE to contact your therapist to discuss what might be occurring with your body.

Treat yourself kindly and gently for several days after your session, so you can fully absorb the benefits of the massage.  Try some gentle stretching, a quiet walk, a cup of tea.  Enjoy that feeling of relaxation, and stretch it out as long as you can!

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Jun 12th

Swedish Massage and Arthritis

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June is National Arthritis Month.  For the many people who suffer from this painful disease, this month is a way to raise awareness, be in community with other arthritis sufferers, and to learn about new methods for dealing with the pain of arthritis, such as medications, herbal remedies, yoga and massage therapy.

Swedish massage can be a powerful addition to an arthritis sufferer’s treatment plan.  According to researchers at the Yale Prevention Research Center, massage therapy is a safe and effective way to reduce pain and improve function in adults with osteoarthritis of the knee.    Osteoarthritis is a chronic condition that affects 21 million Americans and causes more physical limitation than lung disease, heart disease and diabetes mellitus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Massage is free of any known side effects and according to our results, clearly shows therapeutic promise,” said senior investigator of the study David L. Katz, M.D., associate adjunct professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Public Health at Yale School of Medicine and director of Yale’s Prevention Research Center. “So-called ‘alternative’ treatments like massage are most important when conventional treatments are far from ideal. Currently available non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often not well-tolerated by older adults with osteoarthritis. Cox-II inhibitors like Vioxx were developed as substitutes for traditional anti-inflammatory drugs, but pose highly-publicized toxicity problems of their own.”

“Our results suggest that massage therapy can be used in conjunction with conventional treatment for osteoarthritis,” said Perlman. “Ultimately, massage may be shown to lessen a patient’s reliance on medications and decrease health care costs.”

Since deep tissue massage is contraindicated for certain types of arthritis during flare ups, Swedish massage is the modality most often used to help ease arthritis pain. Swedish massage utilizes five basic strokes: long, slow strokes (effleurage), kneading (petrissage), a tapping stroke called tapotement, friction, and vibration or rocking.  Swedish massage can be done with a variety of pressures, but generally addresses the joints and surface layers of muscles, as opposed to deep tissue massage, which reaches the deeper tissues.  For arthritis sufferers, Swedish massage is beneficial not only for pain, but also for the anxiety and depression that can result from living with chronic pain.

During this National Arthritis Month, treat yourself or someone you know who lives with arthritis to something healthy and rewarding: a yoga class, a gentle walk, or a relaxing, pain-reducing massage.  When we treat our bodies lovingly, like a friend, chronic pain can become easier to live with.

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May 30th

Stress is a Pain in the Neck!

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There are many different reasons for neck pain. Some are medical, while some are caused by plain old stress.  Excessive noise, financial worries, and even what to fix for dinner can add to the stress of your day. For many, this stress lives in the neck, causing discomfort or outright pain due to tight muscles.  Daily stress can wear on your posture, including misalignment of the cervical vertebrae – your neck bones.  That’s what we call a pain in the neck.  

In today’s world of technological dependence, many new stressors add to stress-related neck pain. Poor posture while playing such games as X-Box or Playstation is one such factor. The hours many of us spend hunched over a computer at work or using a smartphone is also a culprit.  The ever increasing pace of society brings more stress every day, as a multitude of demands are made of us.  As a result, people often find themselves progressing more into “forward head” posture – bringing the head and shoulders forward, as if carrying a heavy load.  For each inch that the head is brought forward from its normal neutral position, more weight is added for the neck to handle.  “For every inch of Forward Head Posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional 10 pounds.” -Kapandji, Physiology of Joints, Vol. 3

We’ve all heard about how to resolve stress in our lives (daily meditation, yoga, deep breathing, gentle exercise and massage are often recommended), but what can we do about this neck pain? The first step is to find out what could be causing the pain.  It could be that changing something simple can help, such as how you carry a child, switching up how you hold a purse, or changing where you position your phone when texting.  If it’s an old injury, such as whiplash, massage can often help work out the built-up scar tissue and adhesions that cause chronic pain.  A massage therapist skilled in assessment will also take your history, look at your structure and posture, and make suggestions for home care as part of a plan to help alleviate the pain.  In some cases, such as a possible bulging or herniated disc, your massage therapist may suggest that a call to the doctor is in order.

Whatever the case, don’t give up on getting rid of that stress and pain in the neck.

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May 16th

Deep Pressure: Does Massage Have to be Painful to be Effective?

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One of the most popular forms of massage is deep tissue massage.  In my practice, I’ve encountered a large number of massage clients who have learned that in order for it to be effective; a deep tissue massage must be painful.  Fortunately, this is not the case!

Deep Massage is a modality developed by David Lauterstein, writer, massage therapist and owner of the Lauterstein-Conway Massage School in Austin, Texas.  David writes, “The idea is there are many ways to deeply affect a person—heavy pressure is just one way—not necessarily the best. The key is to find the best way to touch the person in order have a deep, positive, and long-lasting therapeutic benefit.” (downeastschoolofmassage.net)

The most effective way to address pain due to old injuries, accidents, surgeries, etc, is for the muscles to be relaxed during the massage.  I’ve also encountered the belief that by using heavy pressure, a massage therapist can force tight muscles to relax.  In reality, relaxing the muscles is the job of the nervous system. Heavy, painful pressure can engage the client’s sympathetic nervous system – the body’s response to pain and danger.  Everything gets ready for fight or flight, including tensing of the muscles.  Imagine your fingers passing through sand to find a shell.  Now imagine trying to pass your hands through a brick wall.  Sand = relaxed nervous system; brick wall = fight or flight, too much pressure.   When a client is able to enter into a trusting, relaxed state, the muscles release.  The body allows the therapist entrance.   Heavy pressure on a brick wall is simply not therapeutic!

Deep pressure does have its place in massage. When the muscles are relaxed and good connection and communication is established between client and therapist, pressure can be added gradually.  The goal here is for the therapist and client to find the pressure that comes just up against your tolerance – maybe, in some cases, uncomfortable pressure, but not beyond what you can handle.   This is the key: does the pressure being used engage your fight or flight response?  Here’s another way to gauge it: is it painful enough for your fists to clench, for you to have to hold your breath to get through it, for the muscles being manipulated to tighten up reflexively?  If the answer is yes, the pressure is too deep. If you can breathe through the discomfort and maintain relaxed muscles, this is the best possible place for the deepest healing to happen for injuries and other chronic pain in soft tissues.

Here’s a final word from David Lauterstein on the benefit of the Deep Massage method:  “Deep tissue works from outside in and therefore may be more temporary in its effect. Deep Massage works from inside out, stimulating the nervous system’s ability to relax. Therefore it usually results in more thorough, longer-lasting relaxation as well as deeper pain relief, and postural benefit.”

To learn more about David Lauterstein and Deep Massage, click here .  You can also purchase David’s book, the Deep Massage Book, here.

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May 4th

Massage for Children With ADHD

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is on the rise in the U.S.  A Center for Disease Control survey of parents found that approximately 9.5%, or 5.4 million children between the ages of four and seventeen have been diagnosed with ADHD. The symptoms of ADHD, mainly inattention, impulsive behavior and hyperactivity, can last into adulthood.  Often a child with ADHD has difficulty in school, in peer and family relationships.

Mary in Louisville writes, “I think the most challenging part about ADHD for my son is that he wants to please, but very often behaves in ways that frustrate the adults in his life.  He knows he should ‘do better’, but often does not have the capacity to think before he acts. “

According to researchers at the University of Miami Touch Research Institute, ADHD in kids can be treated effectively by receiving regular massage therapy.  In one study, children ages 7-18 received massage for twenty minutes, twice a week. These kids experienced immediate improvement in their moods, and their classroom behavior improved over the long term.

In another study by the Touch Research Institute, adolescent boys with ADHD received ten fifteen-minute massages daily.  Their teachers observed these children to be able to focus more readily on their schoolwork, and were able to sit quietly with less fidgeting.

In both studies, the kids themselves reported feeling happier, and among the 7-18 year olds, their teachers found them to be more attentive in school.

Massage reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, helping to calm the massage receiver and stave off the fight-or-flight response.  Massage has been shown to help with academic performance, alertness, and focus.  Massage can help depressive and anxiety disorders, which may help some children struggling with ADHD.

Because children with ADHD can have difficulty staying still for long periods, they may better tolerate shorter massage sessions.  The therapist may start out with thirty minutes, and shorten or lengthen the following session based on the child’s reaction.  The child may receive massage fully clothed if she or he desires, may choose to wear just shorts, or shorts and tank top.  Generally a child with ADHD will benefit from massage to the back, neck, head, arms and legs.  The child can be massaged lying on a massage table, or if fully clothed, may feel more comfortable seated on a massage chair.

For parents and caregivers interested in doing the massage themselves, some massage practitioners may offer training either in their office, or in your home.  Parents can then choose to give the massages themselves, or to alternate sessions with a licensed massage therapist.  Creating a routine time for massage can be a special bonding time for parents and caregivers and their children to look forward to and enjoy.

C.A. in Louisville writes, “I really dislike the term ‘Attention Deficit DISORDER.’ Because my brain is different and faster than most doesn’t mean I am defective.”  Chuck in Colorado agrees: “In retrospect, as a child and an adult with ADHD, I’ve had to deal with not only the special way my brain works, but also the non-acceptance of ADHD by society.”  He goes on, “I think the name ADHD is an observer’s perspective and not a true description of what the condition is. I don’t have a deficit of attention, I have an excess of it.”

Understanding the needs of a child with ADHD can help the massage practitioner, parents and all caregivers provide the best care possible.  Massage therapy can be a powerful tool to help ADHD children develop self-confidence, inner organization, physical grounding in the world, and overall healthy balance.

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Apr 27th

The Benefits of Sports Massage for Children

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The Benefits of Sports Massage for Children

It’s estimated that nearly 250,000 children get injured each year playing sports.  Often an injured child  will have to sit out for several weeks or months to allow the body time to heal. Sitting out for a season can be frustrating and upsetting.  Massage can help the recovery process go a little smoother. Some benefits of sports massage are:

Faster recovery time

Most children are anxious to get back on the field after an injury. Sports massage can shorten the length of time needed for recovery by stimulating the flow of oxygen and healing nutrients to the muscles.  It can also reduce scar tissue and relieve stress on the injured joints and connective tissues.

Increases flexibility and range of motion

Sports massage can improve the elasticity of tissues, helping to increase flexibility and range of motion. Children who are more flexible and have a wider range of motion are less likely to suffer a second injury.

Helps eliminate lactic acid

Lactic acid is a substance that builds up in the muscles after an intense workout. Lactic acid and other muscular waste products can irritate the muscles and cause soreness. A massage can help alleviate soreness by helping the body remove excess waste products, replacing them with the oxygen-rich blood muscles need for healthy function.

Can help boost performance

Many children fear that their performance will suffer if they sit out for too long. The improved flexibility and range of motion that massage offers can help enhance a child’s athletic performance, after an injury or at any time during the playing season.

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