Rachel Richards

licensed massage therapist

east village, nyc

News: January 2013

The mysterious nature of pain

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. (Click here if you missed common myth #1). 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 #2: Working at the site of pain yields the best results.

If you've been on my massage table, you already know this is not true. Where you feel pain does not necessarily mean that the cause of that pain is in the same area. In fact, the cause is commonly somewhere else entirely.

This is often due to referral pain. As the nervous system develops in utero, different segments of spinal nerves grow out to innervate specific areas of the body. For example, some nerves that exit your spine at the level of the neck are distributed to your shoulder, down your arm, and even into your fingers. That means that you might have pain in your hand, but the source of the pain is in your neck. Massaging your hand might feel nice, but if we don't treat the neck injury, your pain will persist. You can sometimes tell for yourself whether your pain is referred or not. For instance, if you notice that when you move your neck a certain way, you have pain in your wrist, then your wrist pain is the result of an injury in your neck. If, however, you have pain in your wrist only when you move your wrist, the problem may just be in your wrist.

There are a few "rules" when it comes to referral pain. For one, it stays on the same side of the body. The right side of your low back, for instance, may refer pain down the right leg, but not the left. If you feel pain on both the left and right sides of your body, you probably have two separate injuries. Pain also only refers downward, such as from the shoulder to the wrist or the low back to the foot, and not vice versa. In addition, the distance the pain is referred is directly proportional to the severity of the injury. An injury in your neck that refers all the way down to your hand is much more severe than if it referred only to your shoulder. Click here for more info about referral pain.

Another instance in which working only at the site of pain is ineffective is seen in many muscular imbalances. For example, how many of you have upper back pain from working long hours at a computer? If you came to me with "computer posture," back hunched and shoulders rounded forward, it would do little good to simply massage your upper back. In order to alleviate the pain, we have to correct your upper body alignment. In order to correct your alignment, we need to first lengthen all the muscles in the front of the body that have become tight and shortened from pulling your shoulders forward. These muscles are hypertonic, or have too much tone and won't release without some help. The upper back muscles, on the other hand, have become stretched out and weakened from trying to maintain your slouched position and keep you from falling forward. To relieve the strain on your upper back, we work to relax those tight front chest muscles so that the spine can straighten and your shoulder girdle can move back to rest effortlessly on the rib cage. I've done treatment sessions where I never even touched the actual site of pain, but after addressing the root of the problem, my client left pain-free!

So there's common myth #2 debunked. The problem isn't always where you think it is. That would be much too easy.

Tune in next month for common myth #3!

Source: Dr. Ben Benjamin, World Massage Conference

Stand up for your health!

Get up from your desk. Stand while you're on the phone. Walk over to someone to talk rather than e-mailing them. Why? Research has found that sitting for more than three hours a day can shave two years off of your life. This is true even if you exercise. Increasing evidence links sedentary behavior to numerous illnesses. Even worse, you can reduce your life expectancy by another 1.4 years if you watch TV for more than 2 hours a day. So take frequent breaks from your desk. Take a walk. Visit the water cooler. Get on your feet as much as you can, and enjoy a longer, healthier life!

Source: The Wall Street Journal

What's new with me ...

I hope you all had a happy holiday. Jesse and I enjoyed delightful holiday celebrations with our families. Check out the photos. Wishing you a happy, healthy 2013!

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