When we are injured, our soft tissue heals it lays down a fibrous connective tissue called scar tissue. The good, bad and ugly of scar tissue is it’s ability to stick to everything……everything! Not only the soft tissue it’s intended to knit back together. It sticks to skin, fascia, old injury sites, surgical sites, organs, nerves and blood vessels. It is not uncommon for scar tissue to constrict nerve pathways, restrict circulatory or lymphatic flow, and reduce range of motion. Also due to the reduction of circulation, it can trap metabolic debris within the injury site creating more pain and dysfunction. If the scar tissue is left untreated it can create adhesions to the healthy tissue around it, creating an additional layer of dysfunction.
The more superficial fascia and soft tissue respond well to almost all therapies (heat, manual therapy, etc). The deep fascia does not. In order to restore function, the dehydrated scar tissue needs to be rehydrated, separated from the surrounding structures and realigned with the muscle fibers. This is especially important in the deep postural muscles. Manual therapy (like massage) can elicit changes, cupping therapy has been shown to be effective up to 4 inches deep! When the tissue is separated, hydration floods the tissue and beneficial blood flow is increased. This allows the body to bring fresh oxygenated blood to the soft tissue and remove any biproducts of metabolic activity. When the tissue layers are separated, the manual therapist can now go in and help realign the fibers and improve function. The most benefits are seen within the first 18 months of healing but cupping therapy is still very effective for more mature scars.
Myofascial cupping is a soft tissue therapy that encourages healing by creating a negative pressure or suction on the skin using plastic or glass cups that pull up underlying tissues, blood, and other fluids close to the surface of the skin.
While many assume that cupping originated in China with traditional Chinese medicine, the earliest records of cupping date back to Egypt in 1550 BC, where it was mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus. Egyptians are believed to have introduced it to the Greeks around 400 BC. The earliest recorded use of cupping in Asian medical systems dates back to a Taoist alchemist and herbalist who lived from 281 to 341 AD. Eventually, cupping was spread to the Americas and to Europe. Cupping has increased in popularity and is used as an integrative therapy in modern medicine. Myofascial cupping is often incorporated into other manual therapy techniques such as massage therapy, myofascial release, trigger point therapy, and other injury rehabilitation techniques.
A myofascial cupping treatment uses a combination of massage strokes and negative pressure to lift, separate, and stretch underlying soft tissues. Cupping is typically applied on the neck, shoulders, back, sacrum, hip, abdomen, thigh, calves, and upper arms. Areas of musculoskeletal tension or congestion are located using massage techniques, and cups may be applied on an affected area and moved over the surface in a gliding motion, or possibly put on a fascial adhesion or trigger point for a short time to reduce or eliminate it. I will be using silicone cups. These methods avoid the danger of using heat and fire to depressurize the cups. Cupping procedures may leave light to dark red marks on the skin that disappear in 5 to 10 days.
Myofascial cupping can help treat soft tissue conditions and musculoskeletal tension, pain, and common sporting injuries. It can also create relaxation by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
Massage and Knee Injuries
Ouch! What did I do to my knee?
If you’re experiencing knee pain, you’re not alone. Most Americans will have knee pain sometime in their life, whether from an accident, overuse, or general wear and tear as they age. Besides being uncomfortable, it’s often debilitating and holds you back from doing the activities you enjoy most. That’s why it’s important to seek prompt treatment.
There’s as many different types of treatment for knee pain as there are types of knee pain, and in many cases the best treatment is surgery. It’s ironic, however, that while surgery is meant to cure the cause of your knee pain, recovery from the procedure will itself be painful. So what do you do with the pain that comes from fixing your pain?
For many people the answer is massage therapy. This is an all-natural and proven method of pain management that more and more knee surgery patients are seeking. And when you see the benefits, it’s no wonder why.
Let’s look closer at why knee pain happens and how massage therapy can aid your recovery and help you get back on your knees, er, feet, and doing your normal activities again.
What’s wrong with my knees?As part of your legs, your knees are pretty important. Without them you can’t walk or run, kneel to pet a cute dog, kick a ball with the kids, climb into bed after a long day, or embarrass your friends with your dance moves. So when they start giving you pain, it can be debilitating and frustrating.
Pain is your knees’ way of communicating that they are injured. Knee injuries may come from an isolated event like an accident that tears a ligament or breaks a bone, or as a result of wear and tear if you play a sport a lot or participate in other frequent, repetitive physical activities. Wear and tear may also be a result of age. It’s just a fact of life that our bodies weaken over time and our tissues become more fragile.
Additionally, some medical conditions may also cause knee pain and affect mobility. The most common of these are:
Fixing the knee painSo now you’re at the doctor and you have a diagnoses. What comes next? Treatment. The cause and severity of your knee pain will determine the treatment you receive.
Minor strain and injuries will probably just require rest at home. You may be advised to reduce swelling by icing your knee, wrapping it in compression bandages, or keeping it elevated. Minor aches and pains can be controlled with over-the-counter pain medication, or your doctor may prescribe something stronger for more intense pain.
Some knee injuries will require some sort of physical therapy. This may be stretching and strengthening exercises you can do on your own at home, or you may be required to see a physical therapist.
The most severe knee injuries will require surgery, but not all knee surgeries are equal. Some are more invasive than others. These require a longer, more arduous recovery. Here’s a few examples of the most common knee surgeries:
You probably already know that a professional massage feels good. Even when it’s just for fun, massage loosens your muscles, leaving your body feeling calm and relaxed. This is exactly what your body needs after undergoing invasive surgery.
Knee surgery requires cutting into the muscles and tendons around your knee joint. This kind of trauma causes painful inflammation and muscle spasms. A deep tissue massage focusing on the quadricep and hamstring muscles in your thigh, however, can relieve the tension that causes spasms and reduce inflammation. Ahhh...
Sound good? Well it is.
Massage in post-operative care is good for you and has benefits beyond just pain relief. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science about the effects of massage therapy on pain, swelling, and range of motion after total knee replacement surgery found massage to be a comparable alternative to physical therapy in post-operative recovery.
Immediately following any operation, your tissues are basically freaking out and it is common to have swelling and inflammation. Massage has long been recognized as an effective treatment for swelling, as it provides counter pressure that forces the body’s fluids back into the blood vessels where it belongs.
For long-term recovery, a massage therapist can help improve alignment and train all the parts of your knee to work together effectively after surgery and prevent future pain. This is especially important in reconstructive or knee replacement surgeries. Physical therapy will help you learn to use and control your newly repaired knee, but no amount of strengthening exercises will help if things are out of alignment. A massage therapist can make sure everything stays in their places as you recover and that each is practiced in its own small movements. This will prevent long-term pain and improve range of motion and overall function so you can go back to regular life.
Massage is also used in scar tissue therapy. After surgery, scar tissue forms at the incision, including in the cut muscles and tendons around the knee. However, this scar tissue can be more rigid than the mobile tissues around it, so it needs to be “remodeled” or worked over and moved around to train it to tolerate the stress and forces endured by the body. A massage therapist has the training to do this for you, further improving knee function after surgery.
It’s not just about pain reliefDon’t get us wrong, pain relief is a great reason in and of itself to receive post-operative massage therapy, but it’s also proven to improve your entire recovery experience. No surgery recovery will be complete unless you can regain a reasonable, if not full, amount of prior mobility and function of your knee. Massage therapy can help you get just that by reducing side effects of surgery and preparing your knee to be a fully working part of your body again so you can go back to chasing your dog, dancing with friends, or kicking your feet up and relaxing with no discomfort..
If knee pain is getting you down, talk to your doctor soon about treatment. And if surgery is the prescribed treatment, ask about implementing the magic of massage therapy into your post-operative plan so you can make the most out of recovery and quickly go back to making the most out of life.
Continuing our healthy sweet treat alternatives, is a recipe for my favorite indulgence. This version of nutella tastes just like the original but much healthier.
2 cups hazelnuts
1/4 cup cacoa powder (or unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
4 Tbsp. Agave
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 pinches unrefined salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place hazelnuts on baking sheet and roast for 12-15 minutes until nuts are fragrant and slightly brown. Remove from oven. To peel off skins, place roasted nuts into the fold of a kitchen towel and gently massage until most of the skin comes off. Place peeled hazelnuts into food processor and process until creamy smooth (about 8-10 minutes). Be sure to scrape sides a few times. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. This may take a couple of minutes. Adjust consistency with extra coconut milk if too thick. Store in airtight glass container for about a week.
Massage and Headaches
“This project is such a headache!”
They’re so common that the term has become synonymous with an annoyance, but what are headaches, really? And can massage therapy really help?
Different types, different causes.Headaches are pretty easily defined, and we all know one when we feel it: it’s a pain in the head. But not all headaches are created equal.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, with pain occurring on both sides of the head without other symptoms. The pain can range from very mild to severe.
Migraine headaches are often pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and hallucinations. Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an almost daily basis.
Cluster headaches are less common, and are generally experienced as severe pain around one eye. “Cluster periods,” during which many headaches occur during a period of time, are interspersed with longer periods without any symptoms.
Secondary headaches are not conditions themselves, but are symptoms of other conditions. These conditions can be as everyday as a sinus infection or conjunctivitis (pink-eye), or more serious, like traumatic brain injury or meningitis. While the pain from secondary headaches can be managed, it’s important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for the underlying condition.
Headaches and massageThe good:
Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to massage therapy. Not only does massage seem to reduce pain in the moment, but regular massage therapy also appears to increase the amount of time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis. This could be a result of helping to manage stress or underlying mechanical issues that can result in headaches, but there’s no solid science yet on precisely why massage helps, only that it does.
More good news! It probably doesn’t surprise anyone that folks who experience regular headaches are also more likely to experience high levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Studies have found that massage can help with these issues not just in the general population, but also specifically in people who live with chronic headaches.
Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit from massage. People with fibromyalgia, for example, who often experience headaches as part of their condition, can experience both pain and stress relief with regular massage therapy. While massage during a flare-up of symptoms may need to be modified to be more gentle, some people find that it can provide relief both for headache as well as for pain throughout the body.
Massage therapy is wonderful and often helpful, but it’s not a cure for headaches. While some people just need a bit of rest or a drink of water (dehydration is a surprisingly common headache cause), other people continue to experience headaches all their lives. While people who experience headaches caused by stress or muscular tension can absolutely benefit from massage, migraines triggered by things like foods or hormonal changes probably won’t see an impact.
There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches. Fevers, as an example, often cause headaches as well as achy joints that could lead someone to want to receive massage, but this not only risks overly stressing a body that’s already fighting off an infection, it also has the possibility of spreading the illness to the massage therapist and anyone else they come into contact with. Headaches resulting from a recent head, neck, or back injury could also be made worse by a well-meaning massage therapist.
When there is the possibility of pain being caused by an illness or injury, it’s always best to seek out a physician’s opinion first. They can provide or recommend appropriate care for the issue causing the headache in the first place, and at that point you can ask them about whether it would be a good idea to receive a massage. Safe is always better than sorry!
Headaches can be a real, well, headache. But there’s help.Sometimes a little change of environment is all that’s needed. If you have a headache and have been hunched over a computer for hours, try a stretch. A quick walk outside or a brief nap can help with a headache caused by eye strain. If you haven’t eaten or drunk anything all day, do that. It’s easy to get caught up in the business of our lives and forget to take care of our own basic needs.
For those who can take them, over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin can be helpful in treating a headache. Sometimes caffeine is recommended as well. For stronger headaches, medications prescribed by a physician can be a lifesaver to many people, enabling them to function at work and with their families when they might otherwise have been left incapacitated.
And then there’s massage therapy, of course. It’s not a magical cure-all, but for many people, it really does help manage the pain and stress of headaches. Are you one of them? Schedule your next massage, and let’s find out together.