massage therapyOften when we need to tighten our budgets, the first things that go are the ones we enjoy the most-even simple luxuries!  Eating in restaurants, shopping, and massage therapy are all a part of this category.  There are very significant physiological benefits  that are gained for your bodies health that differentiate massage from other treats.  I am using the word massage therapy, but it can be considered a general word in which many forms of bodywork too numerous to mention fall under.  Certain modalities effect certain systems of the body primarily but they can have secondary benefits.  For example Swedish massage therapy which is primarily used to help break up adhesion  in the muscles and connective tissue also effects the circulatory system and lymphatic system such as increasing venous return and boosting the bodies immunological response.  The digestion improves through the stimulation of the “rest and digest” autonomic response and so on.

Four physiological effects massage has on the body.

1. Neuromuscular effect refers to the nervous systems control and responses to the muscular system.  This constant interaction is moderated via proprioceptors (nerve receptors) in the nerves.  “These propriceptors receive and transmit information regarding muscle tension, static tone, degree of stretch, joint position, and speed of movement.  When a group of muscles are tense or in a dysfunctional position there is usually a hyperactivity of proprioceptive response accompanied by a hypoactivity of opposing muscle groups.  “Simply a tight muscle area results in or from a weakened muscle area and vice versa.”  Massage helps muscles by sending more organized messages to the nerve receptors.  Essentially it helps to “reset” the muscles resting length and to re-educate them through lengthening and taking the  joint through  an increased range of motion through stretching them.

2. Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds and protects the muscles, nerves, bones, organs, blood vessels and other structures.  The book entitled, ” The Endless Web”  which in its very title aptly describes what the connective matrix is-an endless web of connective tissue.  This three dimensional tissue supports, protects and is a shock absorber throughout the entire body.  Many vital transmissions of immunological responses happen via the fascia.  At times because of dysfunctional structural integrity and lack of proper circulation adhesion occurs.  An adhesion is  defined as two things stuck together that are not meant to be.  Massage helps to un-stick them by bringing circulation (oxygenated blood and fluids) to an area that is stagnant.  By the use of techniques such as effleurage (stroking), Friction (a back and forth movement), and compression adhesion melts away and the body returns to better structural alignment.

3. Circulatory Systems of the body are all directly effected by massage therapy and other forms of bodywork such as Cranialsacral Therapy and Lymphatic Drainage.   Massage Therapy simulates a pumping action of the muscles which increases venous return of blood flow to the heart.  Lymphatic massage and Cranialsacral Therapy enhance the immunological responses to help you heal faster and prevent illness.  When these systems are functioning at their optimal levels we are better able to prevent illness.  As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention goes a long way.

4. The autonomic( think automatic) Nervous System (ANS)  is best known for the “flight or fight response” and its opposite response, “rest and digest.”  Massage Therapy stimulates the Rest and Digest response.  It improves digestion and sleep.  During the stress response (fight or flight) the endocrine system releases cortisol.  Excessive release of cortisol has been linked to be one of the major causes of  weight gain.  Massage therapy does not make you lose weight but it can help your body to rest and digest better.  Lack of sleep is also a major cause of obesity.  So, stress can lead to lack of sleep and eventually weight gain.  The book, “Why Zebras don’t Get Ulcers” documents the effect of the stress response on each system of the body.

Nerves, Muscles, Connective tissue matrix, all circulatory systems including: arterial flow, venous return flow, lymphatic drainage, respiratory and cerebral spinal fluid are all affected and enhanced for optimal homeostasis by massage therapy.  In addition there is the endocrine system that has an influence on our bodies’ efficient weight management and sleep habits.  The enhancement of the body-mind connection is another elaborate subject  too involved to discuss in its entirety but it deserves mention.

So the next time you think “I can’t afford a pampering massage”,  know that you are really benefiting your body in numerous ways and that those benefits will help you have better health for a long time saving you doctor visits and malaise in the long run.

Please consult your doctor for diagnoses and evaluation before receiving massage therapy as it is not a substitute for medical treatment or medication.


Mosby’s Fundamentals of Therapeutic Massage by Sandy Fritz.

Physician’s Guide to Therapeutic Massage by Dr. John Yates,

The Endless Web: Fascial Anatomy and Physical Reality: R. Louis Schultz, Rosemary Feitis, Diana Salles, Ronald Thompson: Books.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky

ArnicaLike so many flowers and herbs that grow around us, this amazing plant has a powerful healing ability.  Arnica (Arnica Montana) is used and recommended widely by many professionals including Massage, Physical and Occupational Therapists.  Nurse Practitioners and Medical Doctors have also touted its benefits.  It is used for general muscle and joint pain to prevent and treat bruising and soreness.  So what is the “magical” healing power this plant possesses and how and when should it be utilized?

Arnica Montana is a small yellow daisy-like flower that grows primarily in North America and parts of Europe and Asia.  Arnica Montana has been used since the 1500’s.  This article will focus on the topical use of Arnica Montana  in the form of ointments, creams and oils.  Arnica Montana, on the other hand, can be poisonous if taken internally and should one choose to use homeopathic pills it is recommended to consult a reputable homeopath.  Never use Arnica Montana on broken skin because it can cause irritation.  Also, the overly-prolonged use can cause skin irritation so only use for the period of time  needed to relieve acute pain.

Bruising: When you have a bump or an injury the blood capillaries can break and  cause blood cells to leak out and die-eventually turning black and blue.  This is how bruising is caused.  The body then sends white blood cells to the area to “clean it up.”   The white blood cells help to absorb the dead tissue and eventually heal the injured area.  Arnica Montana speeds up the process in that it helps stimulate the area to make this whole process swifter and more effective.  In a sense it also “injures” the area but in a benign way.  Arnica Montana has an effect on the capillaries as a vasodialator.  A vasodialator literally means to vascularize or to open the blood vessels’ walls.  This action brings circulation to the area.  The premise in homeopathy is that “like cures like”. In this sense, Arnica  Montana affects the tissue in the same way a bump or bruise can effect tissue.  Arnica Montana and injuries can both effect the walls of the capillaries.  They both can brings an increased amount of white blood cells to the area.  The white blood cells bring antigens to help heal it by aiding in the dispersing of trapped fluids that can be the result of an injury.  The use of Arnica Montana increases the number of white blood cells to the area.

I called it the “magic” joint and muscle pain solution because it often feels that way when you use it.  When produced by a natural company in a gel or cream form, it will not have any (or very little) smell when it comes out of the tube.  It really seems like nothing at first.  Just like many profound solutions in life the answer is often very simple.  We just need to hear it, see it, or feel it!  Remembering to slow down and listen for the solution is the key.  Then taking action to put it on after a bump or bruise is the other key!  I have found it to be very helpful with repetitive motion injuries such as Carpal Tunnel issues.  Along with the R.I.C.E. method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)  it speeds up the road to recovery on many simple injuries.   Remember, however, that Arnica is meant as a simple health solution on minor injuries.  It is effective as an adjunct in physical therapy for sprains and strains as well as bruising. Consult your doctor for any serious or ongoing issues.

Overall, Arnica Montana is an essential tool to have in any medicine cabinet or first aid kit!  Remember it is not meant for use on broken skin and there are some who may have an allergic reaction to the toxin helenalin, the active ingredient in Arnica Montana.  Discontinue use if a rash appears.  Arnica Montana gels and ointments can be found in health food stores and some pharmacies.  Try to buy it from a natural company such as Boiron.  This way it will not have added chemicals or artificial scents.

Being pro-active in your own healing can keep you strong and better able to meet challenges.  In Chinese Medicine it is believed that our Chi (life force) is weakened by even the smallest injury.

Masseter muscleOne of the main reasons why so many people suffer from a tense or aching jaw is because the muscles of the jaw are innervated by the same nerve that innervates our flight or fight response when we are stressed.  The Temporalis, Masseter, and Pterygoid muscles are used to bite, chew, and swallow.  They are all innervated by the  nerve known as the Trigeminal nerve or fifth cranial nerve.  It has many functions but we are going to focus mainly on its connections to the Jaw and the Reticular Activating System.

The Reticular Activating System or RAS is the system used to filter input as our brain takes it all in.  It helps to sift through what is a normal occurrence and what we need to respond to.  This is the part of the brain that is affected by psychotropic drugs such as LSD.   When we are under a lot of stress and likely not getting a lot of sleep our Trigeminal nerve is getting over-activated.  This then can create a tension in our Jaw muscles.  The muscles being tense create an abnormal pressure on the TMJ joint causing the pain many people suffer from.  To put it simply, stress can cause a tense jaw.

We all hold stress differently.  When it is held by a tight clenching of the Jaw and face muscles it can cause grinding of the teeth at night, TMJ joint dysfunction and can even lead to a syndrome known as “Lock Jaw.”  Lock Jaw is as the name implies when the jaw becomes locked either open or closed and can go on for months or longer.

So, it is  very important to act quickly if you are feeling pain in your jaw, as stated above, if left unattended it can lead to years of pain, rehabilitation and costly medical bills.  Certainly, speak to your dentist or doctor if any pain is felt in the jaw or upon awaking.  It is also important to try to manage your stress that may be causing tension in these areas.  Please see my article on pillows and bolsters as it can be helpful to sleep in good alignment when managing jaw issues.

Dr John Upledger,  who has been a pioneer in Cranial Sacral Therapy(a light touch healing modality) created a self help technique to help manage (along with help from a practitioner) jaw issues.  His International Organization known as the Upledger Institute is an organization dedicated to healing modalities of many kinds for many different ailments.  Cranial Sacral Therapy has been used to help Vietnam Veterans recover from post traumatic stress disorder as well as Autistic Children to have a better quality of life.  Please see related articles.  In this video, Jasetherapy explains and illistrates this simple technique, which can help aleviate tension in the temporal mandibular joint.

Sinus massage techniquesThe strange, erratic weather patterns of extreme cold to spring-like temperatures are a new phenomenon to which our bodies are adjusting.  Unfortunately, our sinuses take the abuse as a result of these temperature shifts. This kind of  weather can be rough for anyone with sinus issues no matter which season it is.  In addition, the changes in temperature in the winter can be extra taxing on our respiratory system as it is constantly dealing with being indoors with dry, hot radiators to the chilly outdoors.

Often these subtle areas of our bodies are more difficult to sense and are unattended to until there is an issue. It is good to care of the sinuses before they feel discomfort.

Regularly stimulating the sinus area can be very beneficial in preventing stagnation and congestion.  The circulation caused by regular massage can help assist the sinuses with  lymphatic flow and a more optimal level of drainage.

Gently take the finger pads of your fingertips and apply light pressure to your sinuses around the orbit of the eyes under the eyebrow.  Do so not too deeply, but just enough so you feel the effect.  Circular movements work well.  Go from the middle(near your nose) to the outer part as it drains better this way.  By simply tracing the bones that circle around the eyes (i.e. the cheekbones and the forehead) you will touch upon many tension-relieving areas in the sinuses as well as some vital acupressure points. You can also try this technique using your thumbs gently. Your fingers should not get too close to the eyes but always make sure your hands are clean to avoid any infection. This technique can help relieve sinus pressure as well as tension headaches.  Getting circulation to these areas will help clear them and bring vitality to an otherwise stagnant area.

As you make your way around the eye you will probably feel areas that feel really good from the pressure you are placing there- feel free to pause and stay there a few moments.  By stopping and resting there you are giving that area some much needed attention.
As with any of these techniques if you feel pain or too much pressure stop.  This is meant as a light touch technique to help increase circulation. It is helpful to do this in the shower or the bath as the steam helps aid in the drainage.

Above is a self-help technique.   I chose this great video from Youtube to demonstrate how you can use sinus massage to help benefit a child.  I particularly agree with the way she checks in with him to see which techniques he likes best and what he may not have enjoyed.  This creates a great trust and dialogue with a child and gives them the ability to make choices in their healing.  It also encourages and fosters an ability for them to become proactive in their own healing and not simply a passive patient.