...elusive dreamer
Apr 5, 2009
Rub Your Pain Away

Simple self-massage techniques provide fast, easy relief for everyday aches.

by Linda Melone (EnergyTimes)
May 2010

If you’ve ever rubbed your temples to ease a headache, you’ve used self-massage. “The human touch itself, fingers on the temples, forehead and back of the neck, increases blood flow and immediately sends signal to the brain to relax,” says Stephanie Whittier, LMT, CST, a New York-based licensed massage therapist.

Whittier blames technology for some of the pain people feel. “Repetitive small hand and arm movements such as typing on a computer for hours or texting information on tiny BlackBerry keys can overstimulate the nervous system,” she says. “Hunching over a keyboard creates tension in the head, neck, shoulders and upper back.” The lower body also suffers. Long-term sitting tightens hamstrings, gluteal muscles and hip flexors, which can result in lower back and hip pain.

You can start a self-massage program in the shower. “As you’re washing, spend some time using deeper strokes, squeezing muscles and releasing,” says Whittier. Try incorporating massage into your routine three to seven days a week for 10 to 15 minutes.

Warm up with some cardiovascular activity, recommends Gail Rush, CMT, LMT, director of spa operations at Nova Medical Group in Ashburn, Virginia. “Walk up and down stairs or do jumping jacks for a few minutes,” she says. Warm your hands under running water before each session. Also warm the muscles you plan to work on. A heating pad can help with most areas, while a warm washcloth draped around the neck will help loosen neck and shoulder muscles. Breathe deeply throughout the massage to help muscles relax.

Aromatherapy can help make massage more effective. Lemongrass is good for aches, rosemary helps with cramps and lavender is soothing for muscular strains. These essential oils should always be diluted in a carrier oil, such as sweet almond or sesame seed. Use 12 drops of essential oil for each fluid ounce of carrier; if you have especially sensitive skin, use fewer drops (always test the results on a small patch of skin before using).

To spare stress on fingers and hands, use tennis balls, golf balls or tools such as the TheraCane, a device that provides deep pressure; aromatherapy massage balls; firm rubber balls; or foam rollers. “Massage balls help you focus on your body versus your own hands, which have a lot of nerve endings,” says Whittier. Never rub to the point of pain.

Try these massages every day or whenever you feel muscle tightness:

Head and neck: Squeeze and release the muscle between your head and shoulder as you shrug or rotate the shoulder. Or use a single finger or the TheraCane to apply pressure to a sore spot for 20 to 30 seconds. Release and repeat until the muscle relaxes.

Between the shoulder blades: Place a tennis ball against the wall (freeze it first, if you prefer cold) and lean your back against it, resting the ball between your shoulder blades. For ease of handling, put the tennis ball in a sock and hold onto the open end as you drop it over your shoulder. Or use two tennis balls in a sock, and tie a knot in the middle and on the end to massage both sides at once.
Squat up and down by bending your knees and pause when you reach a tight spot; breathe deeply until you feel the muscle relax, then move on. This also works in a seated position if you have a high-backed chair: Place the ball behind you, take a deep breath, roll your shoulders and press against the ball to open up the area.

Lower back, hips and glutes: Lie on a tennis ball (for a small area) or foam roller (for a larger area) on a forgiving surface such as a bed or couch. For glutes and hips, roll until you find a tender spot and press against it for 20 to 30 seconds; repeat until you feel the muscle relax. Don’t hold your breath.

Feet: Put marbles in a zip-lock bag, or use a tennis or golf ball, and roll under your feet. To reduce inflammation and soothe hot, tired feet, freeze a water bottle and roll under your foot until you feel relief.

“Massage is basic healthcare,” says Whittier. “It’s simply a way to take care of yourself.”

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