Sunday, January 3, 2021

"Help! My body hurts! What do I do?"

As students begin learning and practicing bodywork, they begin to notice aches and pains in their own bodies. Remember that we are using our muscles and joints in different and perhaps newly repetitive ways. You are working to gain strength and stamina, and to develop muscle memory. 

Here's the run-down of my usual advice:

- Check-in with your medical providers. I went to a chiropractor for the first time after I graduated from massage school. I had to relearn how to move my newly adjusted body. You may want to discuss aches and pains with your general practitioner, an osteopath, or a physical therapist. If you have an acute injury in Southern Maine, check out OrthoAccess's walk-in clinics.

- Get professional bodywork sessions. Receiving work from classmates and other students is great, in a pinch. Graduates and folks that have been practicing for years may help to target and treat your pain faster and give you better advice for self-care.

- Do other physical activities. You might consider adding strength training, yoga, or other practices to improve your physical health and flexibility.

- Use over-the-counter medications and products as directed by a medical professional. Biofreeze, IcyHot, Tigerbalm, CBD, and arnica-infused products can help with some swelling and pain, and many of them are commercially or locally available.

- Remember the Rule of RICE:
  • Rest: Sometimes the best way to alleviate your aches and pains is to limit or stop doing the activities that triggered them in the first place. That doesn't mean stopping them forever -- it means giving your body time to recover and heal in-between sessions.
  • Ice: One of the best ways to treat inflammation, reduce blood-flow to an area, and reduce nerve impulses. Can use from 10- to 20-minutes at a time; wrap in a towel to prevent frostbite. If your aches and pains are in your arms and hands, run them under cold water for up to a minute.
  • Compression: Braces and wrappings are also helpful for reducing inflammation.
  • Elevation: Keep excess fluids close to your trunk, not in your extremities.  
- Once the acute inflammation is reduced, add heat. Alternating cold-heat-cold therapies helps to create a sort of "pump" through vasoconstriction and vasodilation. This helps with controlling blood-flow to the area and aids in healing.

- Self-massage and other household tools. Grab a tennis or lacrosse ball and lean into it against a wall or the floor. Put it in a tube sock for greater control. Purchase knobbers or find yourself a few good stones to target knots and trigger points in your hands and arms. Foam rollers and other devices can be good for legs, thighs, and spines. 

- Use a combination of the above suggestions. As someone who lives with chronic pain (not related to my career), using only one or two methods usually doesn't cut it. If I fall behind in using two or more of these strategies consistently, it can take a lot of effort to get back out of a pain spiral.

Take it easy on yourself. Don't give up. You will get there!