Rachel Richards

licensed massage therapist

east village, nyc

News: April 2013

Get your loose ligaments to toughen up!

There are many myths surrounding neck and back pain. I've taken five of the most common myths and am debunking them one newsletter at a time. (If you've missed the first 4 myths, check them out here). My hope is that this information will offer you new insight into the actual causes of and best treatment approaches for your own pain.

Common myth #5: Once ligaments have become weak, stretched, and distended, they cannot be re-strengthened or tightened up again.

If you've ever sprained your ankle, this myth may come as a surprise. You may know that once you sprain your ankle, your ligaments get stretched and your ankle becomes wobbly and unstable, setting you up for repeated sprains. But as common myth #5 suggests, it doesn't have to be that way.

The purpose of ligaments is to hold bones together. They need to be tight and strong in order to prevent unwanted movement, such as hyperextension of the knee joint. Like muscles, ligaments will weaken with restricted use. This might occur with low back pain. If it hurts you to bend over to pick something up, or to twist to the side, you will probably avoid these movements. In restricting your movement, ligaments grow weaker and vulnerable. Over time, even more ligaments and other tissues in the same area also get injured due to misuse or disuse.

Generally, if ligament laxity is mild, as it might be from a minor injury (ie twisting your ankle rather than spraining it), and you return to your normal activities soon after the injury occurs, the ligaments will go back to normal. But if there is disuse over an extended period of time, say months, the ligaments can only be treated through intervention.

A massage technique known as friction therapy can help strengthen ligaments by irritating the tissue, causing mild inflammation which will bathe the ligament in blood and other healing factors. This work is usually uncomfortable, but can be very effective.

Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) places repeated tension on ligaments and is another great way to strengthen them. Most of my clients are very familiar with AIS exercises, as they are greatly beneficial both during a massage session and as a self-care routine. Click here to learn more about AIS.

It is possible for ligament damage to be irreparable by body work or exercise. In this case, the ligament has probably been overstretched in an accident or by deterioration over time. It is also possible that a person is simply born with long ligaments - ever watch cirque du soleil performers? In these cases the only remedy known thus far is proliferant injections. Very few physicians are skilled at using this method. These injections irritate the ligaments, causing them to grow new, similar tissues that are stronger and tighter.

Congratulations! You now know more than most people about neck and back pain! We've debunked 5 of the most common myths, and you can use this knowledge to become more aware of your body, more attuned to the signals your body gives you, more knowledgeable about pain symptoms and treatments, more interested in self-care, and a more active participant in your health care.

Source: Dr. Ben Benjamin, World Massage Conference

Stress is a headache ... literally

Tension headaches have many different causes, but stress is the most frequent trigger. If you suffer from tension headaches, try taking steps to manage your stress level. Getting massage therapy on a regular basis is excellent for reducing stress, as well as headache pain. Other tactics for lowering stress levels include:

Letting it go. Try to accept the things you can't control. Instead of allowing train delays or the long line at the post office to frustrate you, perhaps take advantage of the wait time by taking some deep, meditative breaths, listening to music, or reading a good book.

Sleep! You need to be well-rested in order to have the energy to deal with stress in the first place. See my newsletter article No Time for Sleep for more on the importance of sleep, and the consequences of sleep-deprivation.

Eat well. Headaches can be triggered or exacerbated by hunger or thirst. Eat a well-balanced diet and eat regularly, making sure to get plenty of hydration.

Get creative. Try new ways to relax your body and mind. In addition to massage, you can try yoga, meditation, dancing, singing (no joke - studies have shown that singing reduces stress, and lowers blood pressure and heart rate), and various forms of exercise.

So instead of reaching for the Advil for a short-term fix for your headache, try reducing your stress for long-lasting pain relief!

Source: Massage Magazine

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