Have you ever noticed that an old injury still nags at you from time to time? Even though your injury has been “healed” for some time, you still have some pain or stiffness, or lack full range of motion that you once had. Years ago I was walking down some stairs and my foot slipped from under me and BAM! I landed on my hip pretty hard, bouncing down the last few steps. I had a pretty ugly bruise that lasted for a month. Since that injury, my hip has never felt the same. Yes, four years later, I could still walk, run, and eventually squat more than my body weight, but I often had to get bodywork done to it, stretch it, and even then, I often had a hard time sleeping on it, or it felt achy during the day, but I just dealt with the pain and discomfort. So why was I still feeling pain from an old injury? How do I break the pain cycle? I still have a slight fear and am very caution when I go up or down stairs to this day. The fear of re-injuring my hip is always in the back of my mind.
One of the toughest parts about healing and recovering from an injury is dealing with the pain that is associated with the injury. Not only do you have the physical pain, but there is often a deeper layer that is more psychological as well, that we often do not realize. When we injure a muscle, a memory is created in the body. Your brain remembers what happened, but so does the muscle. Muscles and cells retain memory from past experiences and trauma. Yes, your muscles have a memory. Like tying your shoes or riding a bike, your muscles are taught how to do certain actions and movements. After multiple repetitions of these actions, your muscles remember what they are supposed to do in order to repeat the movement at any time without much thought. If your muscles didn’t remember, then you would have to relearn the movements each and every single day. Our muscle memory is linked to the brain through our nervous system, which allows us to perform these feats from past experience.
Unfortunately, when an injury occurs, the muscles remember a bad or harmful memory. The muscles will contract automatically anytime your body comes close to doing the same action that you had done when the injury occurred. This reaction is often referred to as muscle guarding. When you are injured, your muscles react differently; they want to tighten up to protect themselves so that they won’t get injured again. Sometimes other muscles have to take over the injured muscles work, as the injured muscle will not stretch out. This compensation becomes a habit and a default position is developed. You may notice that your movement is not as fluid as it used to be, your range of motion may be limited, or even your posture may be off because your body is finding ways to keep you moving without causing any more pain or further injury.
So how do we break the pain cycle and retrain our muscle memories? First, you need to allow your injury to heal and recover. Just like your doctor says; rest and do not do any strenuous or physical activities while your body is healing itself. Being patient is no fun, but it is an essential part of becoming pain free. Once you pass that acute stage, you can begin rehabilitation. Massages can help aid in breaking up any adhesions or scar tissues that may have developed from the injury. Physical and movement therapy is also great to start at this point. This is when you can start doing regular, gentle exercises of the injured muscle. If you try to exercise the injury before it has been healed or recovered, you most likely will impede the recovery process and possibly cause further damage and more pain. Remember, retraining the body is not something that is done quickly; it takes time to create new connections and for the brain to remember original pre-trauma neuronal pathways. Start off slowly, allowing the muscle synapses to start firing and promote the blood flow back to the injured muscles. As you find the gentle exercises to have become easier, more fluid, and no longer causes pain, gradually increase the use of the injured muscle. By taking it slowly, you are re-educating your muscles to work and function as they had pre-trauma. Once the muscle memory recalls how to move again in a pain-free way, the pain cycle has been broken and full recovery can be deemed achieved. The mind and body is working again in a cohesive manner, allowing you to be all that you can be.
It took me about five years to realize and grasp this concept. Last September my pain level and lack of motion became so high that the functionality of my hip was severely limited. I decided to readdresses my old hip injury with chiropractic treatment and massage therapy. I also gave myself two full weeks of rest. After that I slowly started to do some movement therapy and very gradually started to work out again, using my hip with low intensity work outs. Ten months later, I am back to feeling as good as I had six years ago, pre-injury. I am still not back up to squatting more than my bodyweight yet, but I am getting there, and I no longer have any pain, no achiness, and can sleep through the night. I have worked hard on retraining the muscle memory of my hips and hence, been able to break my pain cycle that I have been living with for over five years.
Let’s start your road to recovery and living a pain free life.
Over the weekend, I stopped by one of the many Cross Fit Boxes in our area to see some friends compete in an all-day event. I always find them to be fun to check out. I only caught the last event this time, but I have seen many in the past and have even competed in a couple of these events myself. I know the hard work and training the athletes put into prepping for these competitions, and even more so, how physically and mentally draining they can be the day of. All the physical activities and the intense trainings often leads to sore muscles and puts us at a higher risk for injuries. With the summer months in full affect, our activity levels seem to increase. From hitting the trails, to partaking in events, races, or competitions, we tend to put more physical stress and strain on our bodies during this time of year than the rest of the year. I know I am guilty of this myself. Whether it is going on a hike and exploring waterfalls, partaking a in a 5K run/walk, or even a couple of the “mud” obstacle races, I know my friends and I love to get outside and be more active when the weather is nice out.
All this activity takes a toll on our bodies, because physical activity is well, physical. Regardless if it is a weekend warrior event, some fun sightseeing hikes, or a sporting event, you are putting your muscles to work. Feeling too sore, tired, or even in pain after these activities is not the after effect you want. That’s where massage can be extremely beneficial. Incorporating massage as part of your conditioning and maintenance will keep you moving with less stiffness and soreness. Some key components to receiving massages are:
When you go in for your massage, make sure you let your therapist know what muscles are sore, what movements you find difficult to do, and what activities you did that may have promoted these sore or injured areas. A good massage therapist will be able to do some focused work on the key muscle groups to help alleviate your symptoms, and get you back out living your life, at a quicker pace.
You don’t have to be an athlete, to receive the benefits of massage. Any physical activity can cause sore muscles, pain, or discomfort. Let’s get you back in motion. The goal is always to help you regain balance in order to function at your best.
“Massage therapy should be a part of your tool box for recovery. It can help to play a pivotal role in recovering and staying injury free – allowing more training time. There is no bigger annoyance for an athlete than to be out on the treatment couch.” - Blog post from Craig Hardingham, December 5, 2014
The 4th of July and the summer months always seem to put everyone in a better mood, as do massages. As a Massage Therapist, my goal is to give you the best massage experience each and every time. As a client, you want to feel like you got your monies worth and to get off the table and leave feeling like a million bucks. I want to help put you in that better mood and for you to have a top notch massage experience, every time. Here are a handful of tips to help achieve those goals.
1. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your appointment. Sounds simple. When heading out to your appointment, make sure you allow extra time to get there in case of a traffic jam, construction delays, parking issues, or getting lost (if you haven’t been to the location before). Feeling stressed and rushed to get to an appointment ups your anxiety levels and is probably not how you want to start off your massage session. Try to give yourself an extra 10 minutes to your allow for any hiccups in getting to your appointment. If you’re early? Take the time to silence your phone, use the restroom, and mentally get ready to enjoy your massage session. If you are a first time client, always arrive early enough to fill out new client paperwork so it does not cut into your table time.
2. Communicate specifically how you are feeling and what you would like to get out of today’s session. Each time you come in, you may be feeling different (calm, stressed, tired, sore, etc). Also, you may book your appointment out thinking you’ll need/be feeling one way, then come the day of, you realize you have an entirely different focus for your massage. That’s ok. Let me know and we can make any adjustments. Had a bad day at work and just want to relax and unwind? No problem. Competed in an event or race over the weekend and your muscles are so sore it’s hard to move? Let me know which muscles or body parts that are feeling sore and what actions are difficult for you to do because of them. This will help me know exactly what we need to do during your massage session to you get back to feeling well balanced and moving. Want a little of both, working out some painful spots and relaxing? We can definitely do that too. Just let me know.
3. Ask any questions you may have. Whether it is your first massage ever, or your 100th massage, you may have some questions. Please ask them. You may be curious about the other types of massages I offer. What you should or should not wear during your session. If you are feeling pain in one area, you might wonder why I ask to do some focus work on another area to help it. Just ask me. I try to be good about discussing our sessions with you, but if I forget to mention something or find something that might redirect me along the way and you want to know about what I am doing, please say so. It is better to ask before or during a session than to be distracted by it and not be able to fully relax and enjoy the massage because of a fear of an unknown. Massages are to help ease your body and mind. Never hesitate to ask, even after your session if you think of some questions.
4. Give feedback. This is a very important part of your massage experience. Let me know how you are feeling during the session. Check-ins are great. If something feels really good to you, let me know. If I hit “the spot”, say so. If you would like a little bit more pressure or less, let me know and I will always adjust for you. If you feel a tingling sensation or a maybe a release of muscles other than where I am working, that is good information to share. Remember, the massage session is about you and what feels good to you. Whether you like to zone out during your massages or like to talk, giving me feedback is key, even after you get off the table. I can make notes of what you liked and didn’t like for your next session. I do my best to pick up on your physical cues, whether it is from your breathing to any of your flinching or twitching muscles or limbs, during the session. However, I am not a mind reader, so verbal communications is the best and clearest way to make sure you are receiving the best massage session.
5. Knowing your preferences to help you enjoy your massage environment. I try to create an inviting and relaxing atmosphere for you to enjoy your massage sessions. I usually have a table warmer on and use heat packs and hot moist towels throughout the sessions. If you do not like heat or it is too hot, please let me know. What sounds do you like? If the trickling fountain bothers you, we can turn the water feature off. If you want to play different music, have a particular style preference, or a favorite artist that helps calm and soothes you, tell me what it is. I use Pandora and can easily add your favorite relaxing station to have on during your session. Just let me know your preferences beforehand and we can set the right atmosphere for your relaxing needs before you even get on the table. Also, if you would ever like to try some aromatherapy, I have a selection to choose from. Sometimes smells can help calm, soothe, reinvigorate, or help clear up those sinuses.
Let’s make your next appointment the best massage ever!
Courtney Truax, LMT is a graduate of East West College of the Healing Arts in Portland, Oregon. She is licensed through the Oregon Board of Massage Therapy and a member of the American Massage Therapy Association. She has her own studio massage practice in the heart of downtown Lake Oswego, Oregon.