Rachel Richards

licensed massage therapist

east village, nyc

News: May 2011

The Pain-Spasm-Pain Cycle

Although a muscle spasm can be agonizing, it's one way our bodies try to protect us. A muscle may spasm to splint an injury, like a disc herniation or a broken bone, in order to prevent the unstable structures from worsening. Muscles will spasm when overloaded, such as lifting something too heavy, or when overstretched, like when you get a strain or sprain. The spasms in those cases are to try to prevent muscle tears - the muscles try to resist the undue stress being placed on them. Often, muscles won't relax, but continue to spasm in what's known as the "pain-spasm-pain cycle". In a muscle spasm, the tissue cramps up, preventing blood and oxygen from getting to the injury site - kind of like if you squeezed a sponge as hard as you could while submerging it in water. You'd be squeezing the sponge too tightly to allow any water to be absorbed. This creates ischemia, or lack of blood, which then leads to hypoxia, or lack of oxygen. When our tissues are deprived of oxygen, we have pain. When we have pain, we tighten up our muscles, which further prevents blood flow, and which causes more spasms. This cycle may go on and on if not treated properly.

One remedy is a heat pack. The heat will relax the muscles and encourage blood flow to the area. Even more effective is skilled massage. A massage therapist may try gentle compression. "Now why," I hear you ask, "would I want someone to press on the area of pain?" For the same reason it feels good to press on or rub a sore muscle. Do you ever notice yourself massaging your knee after bumping it into something? Pressure and movement signals travel to the brain faster than pain signals. If we can overload the brain with pressure sensations, it drowns out the pain signals, thus relaxing the muscle spasm and allowing for the fresh flow of blood. If the spasm is too painful to touch, a massage therapist will gently massage surrounding musculature or give a general full body relaxation massage. Pain is stressful, particularly when it is agonizing and relentless. By calming a person in pain, he is able to breathe more deeply, allowing more oxygen to the tissues. Massage also increases endorphins, or "feel-good" hormones, which will further calm the person and, therefore, the spasms. Relaxation is essential for enabling the free flow of oxygen, blood, and nutrients, allowing healing to take place.

So the next time you have a muscle spasm, remember that your body is trying to help you, but that your body also needs a little extra help from a skilled massage therapist. Once the spasm is alleviated, you and your therapist can then figure out why the spasm happened in the first place, and work to continue the healing process and prevent reoccurrence.

Are you ready for spring-cleaning?

I'm not just talking about changing wardrobes, cleaning the windows and going through those old stacks of papers. I'm talking about taking a step back and looking at your life. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you getting proper nutrition? Do you have a healthy balance between work and down-time? Are you taking some time for yourself every day? Are you exercising and stretching regularly? Are you keeping in touch with the people you care about?

Take an objective look at your life, your health, how you feel on a day-to-day basis, and see where you can best focus your spring-cleaning efforts. Start with a list of all the changes you'd like to make in order to benefit your health and make better use of your time. It may feel like a lot all at once, but once you have your list, just take it one task at a time. The best way to follow through on your "spring resolutions" is to put them on your calendar. That way, you've already set aside time for what's important. For example, Wednesday night you can call your friend you've been meaning to catch up with. Thursday morning, exercise and stretch. Sunday evening is "you time". Saturday morning get a massage!

Spring is a great time to reorganize your life into the life you want, so commit to your spring-cleaning project and then take it one day at a time. Recognize what's truly important in your life, practice making time for yourself, and become a happier, healthier you.

What's new with me ...

I reunited with several friends from college, and met my college roommate's 9-month old baby girl, with whom I played a riveting game of peek-a-boo with a paper plate. It was so good to catch up with everyone.

Jesse and I have also been busy unpacking and turning our new apartment into a home. We're loving our new digs!

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American Massage Therapy Association

Swedish InstituteCertified Myoskeletal TherapistNational Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork

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