Coping, Exercise, Treatment

A Joyous Return to Yoga

Last week I went to my first yoga class in more than a year. It was amazing.

My body felt better. My mind felt better. My head even felt a little better. At home, my practice is always half-hearted and rushed. It is more about getting through what I need to do. What I’ve always loved about yoga is focusing on the good my body can do instead of how my health drags me down. I feel strong and whole. I haven’t found that in my home practice, but I felt it in class.

Maybe because I felt safe with the teacher walking me through everything I had to do. I pushed myself, but gently. My neck and shoulders, already loosened up after a massage on Monday, felt better than they have in a year. Seriously.

Having only a few good hours most days, usually in the morning, has kept me from class. If I devote that time to class, then I don’t get anything else done. Tuesday I went to class, then had a great rest of the day. More energy and strength followed. I got my good hours and then some.

Maybe it was a fluke, but Monday and Tuesday were great days. I felt good physically and mentally. I’d like to attribute it to massage and yoga. Or maybe it was the return to exercise, as not exercising contributes to headaches. (Although I doubt one day made much difference!)

In any case, I’ve planned a new routine. Such plans aren’t usually successful for me, but I think I can do this. Massage at 9:30 a.m. Monday and yoga in that time slot on Tuesday and Thursday.

Just like that I swung from despair to hopefulness. I’m trying to temper my excitement, but it is hard. Not only did I do something I love last week, I think it actually helped my head. *fingers crossed*

Treatment, Triggers

Understanding Fascia and Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is the most effective bodywork therapy I have tried. Yet I’ve never been able to describe it very well. In this guest post, my massage therapist Jenny Eggers explains what fascia is and how myofascial release works.

Demystifying Myofascial Release
By Jenny Eggers, Licensed Massage Practitioner

Perhaps you have heard of myofascial release and you’re caught wondering what is this and what exactly fascia is?

Well I am sure every one of you has taken the step forward onto the step you thought was there and bam! Shock waves transpire up into your leg, your hips, all the way up into your neck. Those waves travel along what some structural integrationists call your fascial net. This fascial net serves as a protective barrier from the outside world against pathogens and transmits immediate feedback to your brain about your surroundings.

Fascia keeps us together in recognizable form. It is a tough, elastic connective tissue made from collagen, elastin and reticulin. It is a gelatinous like substance that provides tension and compression around tissue that would otherwise sag to the floor like a pair of socks that have lost their elasticity. Imagine a grapefruit and the septum the pith forms around and between the meat of the fruit. Just below the skin we have a layer of fascia encasing our body and as we move into deeper structures it weaves in and out of organic tissue encasing individual muscle fibers and organs down to the cellular level.

Other forms of fascia are bones, blood and ligaments to name a few. Bones are designed to reflect and change to accommodate the individual characteristics of each person. The needs of an ultra-marathoner are different in comparison to the needs of a swimmer or an office-worker.

Your body measures the forces applied to the bone and responds accordingly by building or tearing down bone mass. As you apply more forces to your bone your body responds by building up more bone mass. This can be to your disadvantage if there is some sort of imbalance as we see in the cases of bone spurs. On the other hand, if you do not apply force to your bones your body responds by tearing it down.

Fascia, providing us with structure and ease with mobility also causes dis-ease with mobility after years of misuse and/or injury. After trauma or injury it can shrink and harden around and within your body limiting your range of motion or causing pain because your support structure has been altered. What about that pain you have in your shoulder? Possibly caused from the numerous times you sprained your ankle playing kick-ball many years ago.

Once injured your body responds with compensatory patterns. To allow healing, other muscles take over the job of the injured muscles. These patterns are beneficial at the time but if not addressed they become entrapments and your fascia responds accordingly. The fascia is shortened or elongated where once it was in a neutral position and after years of compensation you now have chronic pain with seemingly no cause or relief.

This is where myofascial release comes in to play.
Myofascial release involves very little lubrication and specific force. Applying a sustained dynamic force the practitioner will catch the fascia beneath their fingers and either with your help or without will slowly stretch the fascia in various directions. This is where the burn that some of you might be familiar with in a bodywork session comes in. Slowly stretching the fascia will alter the collagen and soften the viscosity causing greater ease in movement and less pain in your daily existence.

How do you know if myofascial release is right for you?
Ask yourself these questions: Do I have chronic pain? Have I tried numerous remedies to no lasting avail? Do I feel stiff and clumsy? Do I perform the same actions day in and day out? Do I exercise regularly and want greater muscle health? Have I been in a lot of accidents or had my fair share of injury? If you answered yes then perhaps this technique is right for you.

One thing to keep in mind about fascia. . . .
With any deep bodywork there is a potential to release some emotions or memories stored in the tissue. Above I wrote that fascia forms a protective barrier against pathogens. The body doesn’t necessarily have a discriminating eye for what is a cellular pathogen and what is an emotional pathogen.

If one has a lot of emotional stress surrounding them the body will respond in kind. Slumping of the shoulders at one time may have been a protective measure. Maybe another time it is from a car seat that is ill fit. Continuous slumping of the shoulders can become a chronic fascial issue that brings a lot of discomfort. Getting your shoulders released may also release the memory of that emotional pathogen from so long ago.

After a session of myofascial work it is important to honor the emotions you are experiencing. Napping, journaling, counseling, exercising are all very healthy ways to explore and integrate the movement that just occurred in your fascial net.

Jenny specializes in therapeutic massage, injury treatment, deep tissue massage and, of course, myofascial release. If you’re looking for an excellent massage therapist in Seattle, contact her at patcheggers[at]yahoo[dot]com. She’s a delightful person with a true talent for bodywork. I can’t recommend her highly enough.

Exercise, Treatment

Less Neck & Shoulder Pain Equals a Happier Head: The Joys of Massage, Menthol Muscle Rub & Yoga

My neck and shoulders are finally loose enough to reduce my migraines and headaches. (Knock on wood.) After years of trying to treat them with no success, I assumed my neck and shoulders were destined to be tight.

After four months of intense, frequent massage and myofascial release, I feel like a new woman. The benefits have become so evident in the last week because I’m finally doing some regular yoga practices and am smearing my back with menthol muscle rub nightly.

No dibs and dabs for me — this is a heavy-duty layer of sticky, smelly menthol balm. I fight the chills for the first 30 minutes I’m in bed and the smell is migrating from our bedroom to the hall. No matter, I really do feel better.

I had some success with Woodlock Oil a year ago, but backed off when I learned that artificial menthol is made with turpentine. Since then I’ve searched in vain for a product with naturally occurring menthol — not that there’s any way to really tell. Clearly, I’ve given in. (I just realized that I could contact companies directly. I may not learn much, but it will be more than I know now.)

I try to do some chest, neck and shoulder focused yoga stretches each morning and before I go to bed. The stretches are so helpful that fitting them in my day is no longer a chore. The best part? The effects are immediate.

Now I’m looking for a good muscle balm. What do you recommend? I’ve tried:

  • Biofreeze: My favorite so far
  • Sombra: My massage therapist used this yesterday; not greasy or too stinky.
  • Jason Mineral Gel: Doesn’t smell to bad, but smeared like crazy
  • Safeway Generic: Smeared on the side of my face and irritated my eyes all night

Cinnamon muscle balm is a great option if you don’t want to smell like menthol. Just know that I may scream and run the other way if I smell you.

I only have a week of relief under my belt. Who knows if it will continue. Even if my migraines eventually thwart the benefits, my muscles no longer being bound up is at least a blessing to my back.

Many thanks to Linz who recommended myofascial release, my lovely yoga teacher Kelly, and the fabulous acupuncturist and massage therapist I’ve seen. If you’re in the Seattle area and interested in seeing any of my healthcare providers, send me an e-mail for contact information.

Coping, Symptoms, Treatment

What’s Up With Me

I’m still alive! Yesterday was the best day I’ve had in weeks; the weekend was worse in months. I’m all over the place in my symptoms (although nausea is consistently a major problem), emotions and thoughts. Whether I’m depressed has been weighing on me, but I’m almost positive I’m not. I think I am just worn out and discouraged.

On the treatment front, I’m still have myofascial release massages once a week and have also been doing lymphatic drainage treatments. Myofascial release has been a godsend, particularly in relieving active migraines. Lymphatic drainage was a bust. I feel awful after every weekly treatment and am not seeing any longterm improvement. I may try once more, but even the massage therapist doing the work is doubtful.

My internist reminded me that I was supposed to have my thyroid checked almost 18 months ago, to follow up on a lump she found. I’m looking forward to my appointment with the endocrinologist on Tuesday. It seems like any food can trigger a migraine for me — even rice! This is absurd, of course, and I’m thinking that blood sugar may be involved. I have no idea if it’s the case, but maybe, just maybe, an answer will be lurking there.

We’re off to Phoenix for Thanksgiving. I’m worried about my health when I’m there, especially the nausea. Fortunately, everyone we’ll be with encourages me to relax and rest when I need to. I am truly thankful for them.

Have a wonderful, low-headache/migraine holiday!


Manual Lymphatic Drainage Therapy

In the next therapy in my “Why not?” treatments, I had manual lymphatic drainage Friday. The best description I’ve found of lymph drainage is: “The aim of the massage is to stimulate or move the excess fluid away
from the swollen area so that it can drain away normally. Massage also
encourages and improves drainage in the healthy lymphatics. . . .” Several massage therapists have recommended it to me, even though I don’t have swollen lymph nodes or symptoms of lymphedema.

I have no idea how effective lymphatic drainage may be for migraine, headache or any other illness, but I quickly noticed changes in my body. I swallowed a lot during the treatment, which the therapist said is a good sign. Afterward, I was lightheaded and nauseated and could barely keep my eyes open. Following a two hour nap, I was still tired and slightly nauseated and remained that way through the evening. I also swallowed practically nonstop all day.

I have another appointment today and will continue with one appointment a week for a few weeks. It isn’t one of the commonly recommended alternative therapies for migraine, but, as I said, why not try? At least I felt something, even if it didn’t apply to migraine symptoms.