With my training as a Massage Therapist, I know what works to relax muscles and why. I know that regular massage is helpful for me as someone who spends a lot of time sitting, as well as moving. Very often I am unable to get a massage because of cost or time. It wasn’t until recent that I discovered the difference of when getting a massage is a beneficial investment in myself and when it would be a frivolous expense for me.
Yes, sometimes I think massage can weigh out to be an unnecessary expense. Other times, it is absolutely imperative for me to get a massage to continue living my life in a healthful manner. Although that tends to be a relaxation session, something I cannot effectively provide myself in the same way I can help a pain problem in my body.
Very often, my going to massage for a pain problem is similar to a tradesman hiring another skilled professional for a project they themselves can skillfully handle.
But unlike building a deck, muscle care does not require power tools, measuring twice, and everything else that I have no clue to think of because I’ve never ventured to build a deck, yet.
You don’t need to learn everything about muscles and the human body to learn how to take care of yourself. That’s like a huge part of my job is learning about that stuff so you don’t have to.
I also have been on a personally lead self-care learning crash course of life. I’m getting the hang of how best to support myself with preventive and coping strategies. Through this journey I’ve applied what I know about muscles to help me in times I was in pain and couldn’t manage to get a massage.
5 Things I Have Done to Help Muscle Pain and Tension
Sometimes when my back feels a little stiff or my bones are achy, I love resting with my heating pad. A bath or hot shower helps. Or a flax seed neck warmer thing you throw in the microwave. Heat brings blood in to the tissues and helps bring nutrients and oxygen to the area via the blood.
That being said, sometimes it is easy to over do it with heat. It is super comforting in general and so it is easy to hang out with heat for longer than necessary. Sometimes using heat on inflamed muscles can exacerbate or prolong the achy pain.
Most minor tension can be helped with about 20 minutes of heat. More chronic or deeper feeling aches can benefit with longer time. At most, limit your time with heat to under 2 hours. Most heating pads come with an auto shut off now. I tend to use that auto shut off to take a rest from the heat and give my tissues time to return to neutral blood flow levels.
If you feel that the pain isn’t really responding positively to the heat, it may not be what you need.
2. Ice compress or Cold submersion
When heat doesn’t feel like it is helping, it could be beneficial to go the other way by applying cold.
Cold helps bring blood away from the tissues – reducing inflammation and carrying waste away from the painful area. Athletes use it to recover from intense workouts and competition to reduce inflammation from the explosive actions of movement in sports.
It isn’t necessary to do a cold plunge, either. A quick rinse of colder than your warm shower water can be beneficial if you are sensitive to temperature changes. Over time, the water can get colder as you get used to it.
You can also use a cold face cloth, or ice pack wrapped in a towel. When cold face cloths turn warm, I like to whip ’em around like a helicopter to cool them off again. Very effective.
Sometimes when a muscle or limb is achy from over use, very typical for the legs and feet walking on concrete all day, you may not even feel the cold, only relief.
When I spend all day walking on concrete and my legs can’t rest, it is absolutely effective to rinse my legs with cold water. I did it all the time when I was working in restaurants and my legs/ feet would be on fire after a long shift.
Because we are drawing blood away from the area and effectively chilling the tissues, it is important to be careful when applying ice or anything that remains freezing longer than 5 minutes.
The stages of sensation when applying anything freezing are -pain, burning, and then numb. Once the tissues are numb, you’ve reached the max therapeutic benefit. Anything longer puts you at risk of tissue damage and/or frost bite. Most often 2 minutes is plenty of time for ice.
3. Alternate heat and cold
It can be beneficial to alternate heat and cold when healing from injury or a demanding workout that has a muscle burning days after. Alternating heat and cold accelerates the healing process by bringing blood to the area for nutrients and carrying the blood away with waste.
Alternation sessions are best done 5 minutes of heat and 2 minutes (or until numb) of cold for maybe 3-5 times. Always end with cold as the purpose is to promote a clearing out of waste to promote muscle healing.
4. I Feel In To the Pain
This one I lean on a lot. I’m not quiet sure when I started utilizing this mind-body connection technique or even why. But it helps me more often than not. It helps when I’m doing something that I cannot stop the movement or muscle engagement in the moment. It helps me connect with my body when I feel a tightness or pain while resting. It’s more of a mind-with-matter approach vs. the mind-over-matter we are often familiar with.
It is particularly useful for sudden muscle pains that may be connected with a chronic pain area. Like my left shoulder is a common crier. I may not be doing anything with my shoulders or arms. Just sitting or standing, living life. And then -ting- that pain in my shoulder and neck starts coming up again.
I used to kind of build up about it. I’d worry “oh no, how long is this going to last this time and how bad will it be?” and the chronic pain would flair up. Now, it can tend to quiet down if I turn my attention inwards towards the feeling and let it be. If just for a little while until I can better address it.
The trick is really, instead of shying away or shutting out the pain, but instead to be curious and investigate what the pain is. Feel it. Try to feel it through the length and area of the muscle. Feel how the other muscles and tissues around it feel. Turn it in to a body scan from there. Feel and try to use adjectives to describe the pain to yourself. Any words that come up are ok. There are no rules to describe feeling.
This is about pain being a signal from your body for attention. Because it is an internal investigation, you can take note at any time in any place. You can spare even a minute of undivided conscious attention to take note from the pain.
Very often for myself, simply feeling in to all of the nooks and crannies of the pain sensation helps relax the tension in the area and at least dulls the pain until I can do something more effective, or stop the offending actions that’s causing the pain.
Sometimes when consciously connecting with the pain, the pain would blossom with extended attention before it subsides. Or I’ll feel it move along the muscle to the bone and subside. Or it quietly fades out as soon as I start feeling in to it.
Of course, I still react to a pain with an initial tensing “oh no”. I try my best to then switch to respond and be open to receive the message. I even say thank you to myself sometimes for letting me know my muscle isn’t happy. More and more it becomes easier to react with being open and curious.
This self relationship helps me know and understand when a pain could turn in to a problem, is a threat to my safety, or just a passing feeling.
5. Self- Massage
This one is absolutely more akin to knowing how to build a deck.
I know safe ways to self-massage for certain problems like carpal tunnel symptoms, chronic hip, foot, neck, and shoulder pain. Very often it doesn’t require any tools, just using the body to help itself while applying pressure in a particular way. I consider myself lucky to know how to approach and explore self-massage for pain.
Self-massage coaching is one way I support my clients who are working with me for chronic pain issues. Calming tension between massage appointments helps us gain traction towards your healing goals even faster. And you learn self-care skills you carry with you for the rest of your life.
To learn how to use these methods even more effectively for your chronic pain problem, schedule a massage appointment with me.
Even just to see if massage is the way to help yourself feel less pain.