Being a massage therapist means answering a lot of questions that start with “Can massage help with…?” In between “rotator cuff injury” and “back pain from lifting heavy things” sometimes I get lesser known and more nuanced health issues like “Peripheral Neuropathy”.
Peripheral Neuropathy refers to damage to the nerves and nervous system outside of the brain and spine. While it can cause issues with some organ function and digestion, it is most commonly characterized by feelings of numbness, tingling, or pain in the hands and feet. At least, that’s what most people who come to a massage therapist for relief are experiencing.
But let’s back up a bit and learn about the causes of Peripheral Neuropathy (PN).
With PN, nerve signaling can be disrupted in three ways. There could be a loss of signal entirely, like when your toe just doesn’t get the message that it should wiggle. There could be an unexpected signal when there should not be any signal at all, like if your toe started wiggling when you didn’t tell it to. Or there could be a distorted message, like if you want your toe to grip onto that flip flop but it just clenches a bit and doesn’t finish the job.
PN can be caused by injury, a health issue like diabetes or autoimmune disorders, medications or chemotherapy, and we’re now seeing cases of PN in people who had COVID-19.
PN can be mild and merely annoying or can be quite painful and disabling. The symptoms can vary depending on the severity of damage and the type of nerves involved (motor, sensory, or autonomic). Some cases of PN resolve on their own and others won’t resolve even with intervention.
So yes, there’s a huge variety in causes and presentations of Peripheral Neuropathy cases and diagnosing and treating can be complex. It is helpful to keep in mind that PN is most often a symptom of some other issue, so it can be most effective to treat that primary issue and then treat the PN secondarily.
Can massage help?
Maybe, depending on the cause of the PN.
If neuropathy is the result of an injury and the nerves are being squished and traumatized by tight muscles and swollen soft tissue, massage may help ease that muscle tension and lymphatic massage techniques may help reduce swelling.
In a body that has been less-than-active, massage and gentle range of motion techniques may improve the circulation and promote healing of the nerves and tissues.
Moreover, we know that massage is extremely beneficial for anxiety and depression, and people in pain are disproportionately faced with anxiety and depression. Pain is exhausting, and defeating, and did I mention exhausting? Skilled touch can provide a period of pain relief that allows the client a respite and even a reduced pain level that allows for a little more compliance with a structured rehab plan.
Massage, specifically for Peripheral Neuropathy or otherwise, is a beautiful companion to other pain management efforts. If you would like to connect about treating your PN, please reach out.
If you have just found out you are pregnant, congratulations! I want to assure you that massage is safe at any point during a healthy pregnancy. I know that finding a massage therapist that will massage pregnant people can be challenging.
Many massage therapists are simply not trained (kudos to them for not practicing outside of their scope of education). But even with proper training, many clinics and therapists choose to not see people in their 1st trimester. This is not because massage is unsafe. This happens because a business may be concerned about liability issues. If a miscarriage is going to occur, it will most likely happen in the 1st trimester, and some businesses do not want to risk being connected to an issue in pregnancy.
Pregnant people have been safely receiving massage in the first trimester, often before they even know they are pregnant, for years and years. In the hands of an experienced massage therapist with extra training in prenatal massage, it is doubly safe. I have extensive continuing education in pregnancy shiatsu and massage and Maya Abdominal Therapy during pregnancy through continuing education, apprenticeship and certification in birth assistance work.
All of these benefits are helpful to a pregnant body.
Unless your medical provider says otherwise, if you can exercise, have sex, and do most normal activities, there is no reason to think massage is unsafe. (And there is no science to support that it is unsafe.) Massage during your 1st trimester (and the following trimesters) would focus on stress-reduction and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
Massage may change throughout your pregnancy in regards to pressure, positioning, and areas we focus on. Your prenatal massage will grow and change with you!
Please reach out to me with any questions during your pregnancy journey!
FREE Self-Massage Tools That Get Results
Yes, you can massage yourself at home. No, it won’t be as great as booking an appointment with me (obviously!). But the same way that brushing and flossing between dentist visits keeps your teeth and gums healthier for longer, self-massage can prolong the benefits of your sessions and help keep pain and stiffness at bay.
Self-massage can (literally) be awkward as you contort your body to reach pain points. It can also cause pain and discomfort in your hands when you aren’t properly trained. While there are certainly many self-massage tools that you can buy online, there are a few common household objects you can put to use RIGHT NOW, no shipping required.
Self-massage tools from around the houseTennis ballSkip the one covered in dog drool and go dig a clean one out of that bin in the garage. If you don’t have a tennis ball, a racquetball or handball also works.
You can use a harder, smaller ball, like a golf ball, to massage tight areas, but take care not to be too aggressive here. This is no time for “no pain, no gain.” You want to work up to the point of discomfort and gently test that line, but not go too far. Be gentle with yourself! It's better to be conservative and mindful so you don't aggravate an area that’s already inflamed.
Avoid chasing your tennis ball all over the place while trying to use it for massage by sticking it inside of a sock. If you put two or three inside a sock and tie the end closed, you now have a roller that’s particularly nice to use on your quads.
Neck pain? My personal favorite sock-tennis ball combo is to put two tennis balls into a sock. Now lie on your back and put the sock across the back of your neck with one ball behind each ear. Let your head be heavy and feel the glorious release of tension from the muscles at the base of your head.
TowelA foam roller is a great self-massage tool and usually one of the first things I recommend clients buy. However, they can be bulky and awkward to store and not everyone has the space to use one effectively. And if you can get similar results for free, why not do that?
TechniquesRoll up a large towel (like beach towel) into a cylindrical shape and place it on the floor. Lie along its length so your tush is at one end and your head is at the other end (the towel is along your spine). Then move your arms as if you are making snow angels. This gives a wonderful stretch through the chest and helps with upper back pain after a long day sitting at a desk.
Now take that same towel and rotate it 90 degrees. Lie back down with the towel horizontal at the base of your shoulder blades. Your upper torso should now be slightly arched backwards over the towel roll. This posture is a useful to counterbalance the all-to-common hunched forward posture.
If one towel isn’t firm enough, use two together, or combine a towel and a yoga mat to give a bit more support.
Frozen water bottleFill a plastic bottle with water and freeze it. Once frozen, roll it over sore areas. This is an efficient way to massage and apply ice all at once. This technique is most often recommended for plantar fasciitis, but you can also use it on your calves, quads, forearms, and neck.
Rolling pinMassage stick rollers can cost $30 or more! Instead, use a rolling pin to massage your quads, hamstrings, and calves. Granted, it’s not as versatile as a foam roller, but it gets the job done effectively.
A wall is available anytime anywhere. Use your tennis ball up against a wall rather than lying on the ground to massage your shoulders, hip flexors, glutes, and pecs.
To improve your upper spine mobility, wall angels are tough but effective.
No propsTraveling or stuck at work with no props, but desperately need a massage? No problem! You can still get the benefits of self-massage through joint mobility, which can be very effective at reducing muscle tension. Consider these movements:
Progressive muscle relaxation is massage and meditation all in one. Regularly incorporating this into your self-massage routine will help you feel grounded, relaxed, and free in your body until you can get back on my massage table.
ConclusionSelf-massage between massage sessions with me helps to maximize the benefits of your regular massageappointments and keep your body pain-free for as long as possible.
Let me know which of these self-massage techniques worked best for you. I look forward to seeing you on my table again!
Common Myths About Back Pain
There are dozens upon dozens of myths out there about what leads to back pain, what you should do to prevent back pain, and what kinds of treatments may solve your back pain troubles.
Today, I am here to tell you that you should think again about what may be causing your aches and pains and urge you to think twice about your course of treatment.
My goal as a massage therapist is to help relieve your pain. But what if many of the commonly suggested treatment solutions are ineffective at best? Throw out everything you know about back pain, and let’s take a look at some of these claims to see whether or not they stand up to science.
Have You Made Any of These Frequent Misconceptions About Posture and Pain? You probably have heard that poor posture causes back pain. In fact, it’s likely that you heard it frequently from your parents when you were growing up as they were encouraging you to stand up straight.
And chances are you’ll find lots of experts claiming this to be true on the internet as well: chiropractors and doctors, physical therapists and personal trainers, and yes, massage therapists, all telling you the importance of posture if you’re looking to avoid or alleviate back pain.
Are all these claims really supported by facts and by experience? Should you spend time working to improve your posture if your only concern is avoiding pain and discomfort?
Take a look at this study: In examining teenagers who had sunken chests, overly arched lower backs in their younger years, one elevated hip or a deviation of the spine from the midline of the body, none of these parameters were found to be associated with lower back pain, mid-back pain or neck pain in their later years.
Perhaps you’ve heard that an increase in the arch of the lower back during pregnancy is the cause of many women’s discomfort while expecting. However, an in-depth analysis measuring the arch of the lower back in 12 healthy women during their first and third trimesters of pregnancy was conducted in order to discover if there was any truth to this myth by monitoring changes in the curvature of the spine.
The point of this study was to locate any direct correlation between postural changes and back pain. While back pain is a common occurrence for many women in pregnancy, these postural changes were not found to be the cause of back pain at all.
Overall, there is little truth to the idea that poor posture can lead to back pain, just as there is no evidence to show that we can cure back pain by changing our posture.
What You Might Not Know About Bulging Discs: Are You Aware?Herniated discs and degenerative disc disease are both common problems that will show up on MRIs, but these structural changes may not be the actual cause of your back pain.
While many may start to consider surgery to alleviate pain, fixing these abnormalities by going under the knife actually may not give you the reprieve you’re hoping for.
Just how frequently is pain associated with bulging or degenerated discs? In one well-known study of 98 people with no back pain symptoms, 52 percent had a herniated or bulging disc at one or more levels, the rate of which increased with age. But they did not have pain symptoms that would indicate a problem or structural change in their back.
Why? Because “the discovery by MRI of bulges or protrusions in people with low back pain may frequently be coincidental.”
In fact, if you examine many major joints in the body, you are bound to find something wrong with them, pain or no pain. Whether that pain be located in the pelvis and hips or in the knees, operable joint issues may not actually be the issues.
Of course, this does not mean that herniated discs or disc degeneration don’t cause pain in some people. But just remember that many people living their lives without back pain also have bulging discs.
Working with a massage therapist to alleviate pain may be a viable option to treat your pain effectively.
Is There a Correlation Between Core Strength and Back Pain?Another common misconception about back pain is that having a strong core is essential to having a pain-free, healthy back. But what evidence is there to support this claim?
Numerous studies have been conducted to examine whether core strengthening exercises are the solution to lower back pain. Take a look at this study, though, which found that in individuals with little abdominal muscle strength, there was no statistically significant difference between the group that was performing core strengthening exercise and back education and the group that relied on back education alone.
This study divided participants into two groups: a group of people with chronic lower back pain who received muscle control therapy and a second control group that received placebo-like treatment. The first group received outpatient physical therapy over the course of 12 weeks, with exercises designed to improve the function of specific muscles in the lower back. The second group receiving the placebo treatment had de-tuned ultrasonic therapy.
The results? This motor-control-focused exercise did help with muscle recovery but did nothing for back pain.
What we can learn from this is that while exercise is generally good for us, current evidence shows us that strengthening our core is not a magic cure-all that will free us from back pain.
So What Exactly Causes Back Pain?If posture, bulging discs and poor abdominal strength are not the causes of back pain, then what is? If you suffer from chronic back pain, it might be frustrating to hear that these perceived causes might not be the root of your back pain woes at all.
So just what is causing your back pain? Here are a few causes that might be leading you to feel pain and discomfort in your back:
There are more serious causes of back pain, too. Some kinds of cancer may present as back pain and it can also be a symptom of fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis.
When should you see a doctor about your back pain?There are a handful of red flags in regards to back pain. See your doctor right away if
Also, if you’ve had the pain for more than 3-4 weeks, it’s spreading or getting worse, or it’s affecting how you sleep, get checked out.
Back pain is no joke. You feel it with every move, and it affects your life in all kinds of ways.
With an accurate medical diagnosis from your healthcare provider, together we can create a healing, therapeutic massage plan to relieve your pain and get your life back on track. Ready to see how regular sessions with a massage therapist can alleviate your back pain? Let’s get in touch today so you take the first step towards a healthier, happier spine.
Most people have a love/hate relationship with their foam roller.
Rolling can help the body feel more mobile and fluid after just a minute or two of rolling just the right spots. At the same time, rolling can be uncomfortable if you aren’t sure what you’re doing or ignore your body for a long time.
Foam rolling can be helpful in extending the benefits of massage, so it’s worth learning a little more to determine if it’s a useful technique for you.
What’s a foam roller?
Foam rollers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with bumps and nubs and some even vibrate.
A cylindrical log shaped roller is probably what most associate with foam rolling. They can be made from everything from dense styrofoam to PVC pipes wrapped in foam padding but you can use any one of a variety of tools like a foam rolling stick, a cane with knobs on the end and even different sized balls ranging from golf balls to balls the size of a cantaloupe.
The popularity of foam rolling is also increased by the fact that you can do it practically anywhere: the gym, the living room floor, your hotel room while traveling, even at your desk.
And while everyone can benefit from foam rolling, if you have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis, foam rolling is usually contraindicated.
Does it really work?
There is a lot of conflicting information about foam rolling and that misinformation gets passed from one person to the next with little or no inquiry about whether or not it’s actually true.
There have been very few studies done on foam rolling (like massage). Much of what we thought foam rollers did, has turned out to be false..
The prevailing myth about foam rolling, also sometimes referred to as self myofascial release, is that it breaks up adhesive tissue fibers and melts fascia like butter. The truth is that “melting” fascia is impossible from a manual therapy perspective.
There has been some debate as to whether we should continue to call it “myofascial release” since the fascia isn’t actually being released.
The fact is fascia has the tensile strength of steel and is so deep and interconnected that it would be impossible to affect the entire “web.”
In actuality, foam rolling activates your parasympathetic nervous system and deactivates the pain signal from your brain causing your muscles to release their contraction/ relax.
Some other benefits of foam rolling include
Another popular myth about foam rolling is the harder the roller, the more beneficial it is. Wrong.
Just like using a drill to hammer a nail doesn’t work, using a hard object such as a lacrosse ball will not necessarily yield better results than a softer tennis ball. Remember the point is to reduce pain, not inflict it. And you could end up with muscle or nerve damage if done incorrectly.
Start with a softer object or roller with no knobs or bumps and work your way up. If it is uncomfortable, but bearable, and you feel relief after only 30-60 seconds, that’s a good sign.
A good, targeted foam rolling session should take no more than 5 to 10 minutes. Also, like stretching, you have to know if the muscle is over or underactive. Foam rolling an underactive muscle has little effect on decreased tension or increased flexibility. And rolling back and forth on an overactive muscle just causes hyper-irritability which will eventually lead to more pain.
FOAM ROLLING 101
Now that we know a little more about foam rolling let’s talk about some key areas you can foam roll and how to get the most benefit from it.
Knowing which areas to foam roll begins with knowing what the goal is.
If you’re trying to relieve tension, a static pressure for about 30-60 seconds is most beneficial. If you’re over 65, studies have shown that up to 90 seconds of foam rolling is most beneficial.
If you sit for long periods of time at a desk or have difficulty squatting at the gym some key muscles you want to target might be
If you wear high heels for work you might want to target
If you do a lot of work where your arms are above your head--carpenters, mechanics, construction workers you might want to target
If the goal is to gain flexibility or temporarily increase range of motion a more traditional method of rolling up and down the length of the muscle is better.
To getting the most out of this type of foam rolling session:
Slow your roll - Slowing down your movements to about 1 inch per second. Rolling faster does nothing for the muscle because it does not allow enough time to engage your parasympathetic nervous system.
Break it up - for larger muscles such as the quads or hamstrings, start at the bottom of the muscle and roll half way up then roll from the halfway point to the other end of the muscle. This helps to slow you down and also not overwhelm your nervous system with too much stimuli.
Whichever goal you are trying to achieve, always remember to use good posture. Keep your core engaged, spine straight and joints aligned. This will keep you from developing back, shoulder or hip problems from foam rolling.
If you’re ever confused about how to use your foam roller, bring it in on your next visit and I’d be happy to give you some pointers.
Remember, your foam roller won’t replace your regular massage, but it can be a great tool to use between sessions.
Here are my top 3 favorite rollers!
Basic High Density (paid referral link)
Foam Roller for Deep Tissue (paid referral link)
Foam Roller for Travel (paid referral link)
I am excited to share that I have recently invested in a PEMF, Far Infrared heat and Photon Light Therapy mat!