What Really Works for Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor, and there are new guidelines on how to treat it. Researchers analyzed more than 150 studies to understand what really works and what doesn’t. The conclusion: instead of medication, try yoga, massage, or mindfulness.

These guidelines, published by the American College of Physicians on Feb 13, 2017, say to use techniques that speed up the healing process to relax muscles, joints and tendons. This can be done through massage, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation, as well as mind-body therapies like yoga, tai chi, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.

This new recommendation is in alignment with the new CDC & FDA guidelines for the usage of opiods, which are now known to be inappropriate for chronic pain management. It instead recommends trying massage, yoga, and mindfulness first, then NSAIDS like ibuprofen and naproxen to reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen is not recommended, since it does not reduce pain or inflammation.

Low back pain is common, and the way it is currently treated in medical settings is a good example of low value health care: expensive tests and therapies that don’t fix the problem. Moving to more effective treatments for both acute and chronic conditions by recommending yoga, massage, and mindfulness will help reduce suffering in patients and frustration in those who treat them.

At HaLe’, our manual medicine therapists and our self-care class instructors are experienced in treating low back pain. For regular aches and injuries, we recommend you come to class or make an appointment. For more severe conditions, please talk with us so we can guide you to the right treatment plan for your body.

 

Cranium to Sacrum Connections

The connection of our head to our tail dramatically affects our sense of ourselves in our own bodies. When healthy, it supports the function of our nervous system and our ability to move easily through space with coordination and balance.

The head and the tail are the cranium and the sacrum. The sacrum, located at the end of the spine in the pelvis, is important to the proper function of our spine and our ability to know where our body is in space, called proprioception. If our pelvic proprioceptors are not sending information up the spine to the brain, our cranial proprioceptors will compensate, especially in the jaw. Grinding teeth becomes the body’s strategy for regaining some lost balance and coordination, and for moving fluid through the central nervous system.

Going the other way, jaw issues get reflected in the pelvis and jaw tension can cause pelvic tension. Dental surgery, head and jaw injuries, and orthodontia can all have echoing effects on pelvic health, as dysfunction or instability on the one end will cause similar issues on the other end.

There are several techniques to help the head and the tail stay coordinated and healthy. Tension and dysfunction often cause twisting and shortening. This can be released through work that stretches, lengthens, and supports the tissues to help restore them to their healthy functions.

A good place to begin balancing your head with your tail is to come to yoga or other self-care classes. They will help with the stretching and elongating that can be so effective.  Complement your classes with massage and bodywork sessions that will be tailored to exactly where your body is holding tension and directly address your specific dysfunctions. Bringing your cranium and your sacrum into harmony can have a profound effect on your overall health and sense of wellbeing.

What is Fascia?

Fascia is connective tissue made primarily of collagen that connects every part of the body, and often serves as a storage medium for fat and water, and as a passageway for lymph, nerve, and blood vessels. It also surrounds organs, glands, and individual muscles, and suspends the organs within their cavities. It is a complex system that literally connects every part of the body with every other part and can have a profound effect on health.

The full roll of fascia in the body and its relation to health is just now being explored because imaging technology has only recently been able to show us how the living fascia looks and acts. Problems with the fascia happen when it loses its stiffness, becomes too stiff, or isn’t otherwise able to move the way it needs to move. When it is too loose it can lead to organ prolapse, and when it is too tight, it can cause organ dysfunction and muscle pain. Fascia is also probably a crucial part of our ability to sense where our bodies are in space, to sense pain, and to feel internal sensations.

Lengthening and hydrating are the key ways to support the health of our fascia systems. Fascia does not stretch, and so lengthening happens through certain kinds of slow, steady applied pressure. Hydrating is not a matter of drinking liquids, but instead of activating and moving the water and other fluids already stored in the fascia.

At HaLe’, we offer both therapies and classes to support the health of the fascia. Our classes are great generalized treatments, especially our MELT Method and Girls with Balls classes, and so make a wonderful foundation for a strong self-care practice. For more acute or chronic conditions, we offer bodywork and massage to address the fascia in ways only a trained therapist can provide. Our myofascial release and Rolf Therapy offerings work specifically with the fascia to reduce pain and muscular dysfunction, and our Ashiatsu massage therapists use slow, applied foot pressure to very precisely and effectively lengthen and hydrate fascia.

Hygge is another word for WellBeing

Hygge (hoo-gah) is a Danish word that is hard to translate but easy to feel. It is a lifestyle dedicated to coziness in its broadest sense, where you are relaxed and feeling as at-home as possible. It is about being kind to yourself with small, delightful things like warm drinks, candlelight, good company, and comforting food.

At its core, hygge is about self-care. It is about indulging a little so that you are not punishing or denying yourself anything, but being kinder to yourself. Winter is especially the season of hygge, when the dark and the cold send us searching for warmth and light. The word itself is probably related to the English word “hug”, and they both speak of feeling comforted and secure.

HaLe’ is a form of hygge. Attend our classes and come for massage and other therapies in order to cherish yourself through a sometimes difficult season. Self-care of the body mind addresses aches and pains, relieves tension and stress, helps prevent injury, and improves digestion and sleep. In other words, it helps you feel more comfortable in your own skin, bringing that sense of comfort and ease that is hygge.

Managing Pain from Injury, Activity, and Aging

HaLe’ can help you manage your pain. Things like repetitive motion, poor posture, highly active lifestyles, and accidental injuries can cause long or short term pain issues for everyone. We can help.

Injury: Recovering from an injury is sometimes a long and frustrating process. Classes based on mindful movement help you to support your healing process and relieve the tension in the other parts of your body that are compensating while the injury heals. Bodywork and massage therapies can go a little deeper to help reduce inflammation, nourish the injury with blood and nutrients, and reduce pain signals.

Athletic Performance: Highly active lifestyles like running, rock climbing, and kayaking all come with their own sets of challenges. Pushing your body to higher levels of performance and fun requires additional recovery and maintenance in order to prevent serious injury. Classes to support full relaxation, rebalancing, and core strength are a wonderful counterpoint to always being on the go, as they help the body recover and nourish itself. Therapies like massage and cupping therapy improve recovery time and can increase athletic performance.

Aging: Getting older also sees an increase in pain levels as the results of various repetitive motions, posture habits, and old injuries make themselves felt. As the body ages it can become rigid and brittle, and movement classes can do a lot to reinvigorate and reactivate the body. This improves muscle tone, balance, and the ability to get up and down. Small imbalances accumulate into aches and pains, and they can be corrected through awareness and practice in the classes, especially when complemented with massage to address deeper levels of dysfunction at the same time.

Therapies and classes at HaLe’ are designed to increase your sense of wellbeing. All healing is self-healing, and HaLe’ is excited to partner with you in order to help manage pain and create health together.

Where to Begin

Begin with the body. Begin by dropping down into the body, taking a deep breath, and noticing where your body touches the floor. How are your shoulders? Your hips? Where is your breath? Is your breath more in your chest or your belly? Let it deepen. Let your body fill with your breath and notice.

Our bodies are made to move, and so movement can bring us back into a state of balance and health. Classes at HaLe’ are treatments for the body, based on movement. They reconnect us to ourselves, opening up places that are tight, stuck, or full of stress. They lengthen and strengthen and rehydrate tissues, bringing an overall sense of wellbeing.

If you can only do one thing, come to class. Begin with the goal of coming once a week, and more often if you can. Most of our classes will probably work for your body, so choose what fits your schedule and come. Talk with your instructor about how your body is feeling, so they can help adjust the class to your body instead of your body struggling to fit the class.

Support your class practice with our massage and other therapies, especially if you are in pain, very active, or have specific health challenges. A good goal is to receive body care at least once a month, and more often if there is something that needs more attention. We have a wide range of therapies available and they can do a lot to address pain and congestion, improve athletic performance, and restore balance in the body and mind.

Finally, talk to us. Tell us about what is going on with you, what challenges you are addressing, and where you feel stuck. We have an incredible collaborative team of therapists and instructors, so let us be a resource for you as you learn more about self-care and creating health.

Emotional Benefits of Yoga and Massage

Profound emotional release and calm can come through massage, bodywork, yoga, and gentle movement. Here is what some of our team members have to say about this process from their own experience and practices:

I’ve heard it said that the body never lies, and also that the body is faster than the mind. If this is true, we must honor our bodies and allow them to speak truth to us because they will know in their cells faster than we do in our minds. Yoga and body work provide safe environments in which we can be fully vulnerable, face our fears, and come to know our true selves. And our true selves can never be annihilated, they are infinite and eternal and we can rest easily when we remember and feel this. -Erin Law, Massage and Cupping Therapist

Stress, fear, anger, and other negative emotions stimulate our sympathetic nervous system, which is our fight or flight response. This causes our muscles to tense, and we have a higher respiration rate and higher heart rate than normal. Massage, bodywork, deep breathing, and gentle motion stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our repose system. This counteracts the effects that come from thoughts of the future being different from what we anticipated. Also, positive touch and things that feel good stimulate the brain chemistry to bring deeper sleep, clearer thoughts, and movement toward a better emotional space. -Adie Grey MacKenzie, Massage Therapist

Yoga is considered by researchers to be the best evidence-based movement for stress reduction.  As we thoughtfully, intentionally, powerfully and beautifully move through the poses and the moving meditation that yoga provides, we move energy within and around us.  As we send breath, self-compassion, and strength during yoga to those places in us that are feeling unease or suffering, we create calm and quiet.  Our physical systems slow down and experience increased calm, our minds quiet, and we are better able to discern with wisdom and clarity what we need to do for ourselves and for others. Practicing yoga in community often creates comfort and a sense of belonging with others who are like-minded and like-spirited.  -Janice Glasscock, LCSW Psychotherapist

The practice of yoga is about finding equanimity and balance regardless of what is occurring around you.  Through an asana practice, one develops a stillness in one’s state of mind throughout the activity.  Just by doing the practice – the benefits of this ease and stillness awaits you. -Nancy Kirkland, Yoga Instructor

During this time of societal change, which may create turbulent and tumultuous feelings of uncertainty, yoga can be grounding and centering, and massage can support our emotional equilibrium.

Rolf Therapy for Low Back Pain

from Will Ravenel

Lower back pain is the second most common complaint people bring to their doctors. Often chronic pain is structural in origin, and if it is structural, it is best treated through myofascial release. The structure of the body is determined by the fascia, which is connective tissue that surrounds and connects all muscles and systems of the body.

If the fascia is healthy, then the body is organized. If the structure is unhealthy, then the body is constantly fighting to achieve structural integrity. By working with the fascia, we can organize the body and restore its natural structural balance.

A body that has gone out of structural alignment won’t be fixed by chiropractic, because chiropractic focuses on realigning the skeleton and the skeleton is not what determines structure. The fascia determines structure. If fascial thickening is the cause of pain, only moving fascia will change the quality of the fascia. Stretching, Pilates, and yoga do not move fascia. Neither does Swedish massage nor using a foam roller.

Will Ravenel is the Myofascial Release and Structural Integration therapist at Ha.Le’, offering both single sessions and the full 10 Series of Rolf Therapy. In his extensive experience, low back pain is almost always caused by fascia issues.

Structural Integration as a treatment for chronic pain is not just about the bodywork sessions themselves. It is a collaboration between the therapist and the client. Will can teach an individual a more appropriate way of walking, sitting, and standing more efficiently within gravity, and more efficient movement means less energy expended and more balanced alignment. The client has to be open to learning a new way of living within gravity to do that. Once the sessions are over, the client can continue to achieve structural balance on their own.

Pain relief in general for structural issues like low back pain is best treated with myofascial release generally and with Structural Integration specifically.

5 Ways to Cleanse with the Changing Seasons

by the HaLe’ Team

The change of seasons can shake things up in a body and affect the balance of health. The roots of our systems, rhythms, and routines loosen. New order is about to be established, but hopefully not before a good cleansing. Here are several simple ways to support your body through the seasonal shift:

Massage & Bodywork: The changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature affect the lymphatic system and its ability to clear out the body. This especially true for people with damaged lymphatic systems, but a lot of people will begin to feel bloated and icky, and generally not great. The lymphatic support of massage helps the body complete its cleansing process and move body fluids. Any kind of massage will help with this, though if deep, vigorous massage doesn’t sound good to you, consider trying a gentler technique like lymphatic massage or relaxation massage.     -Adie Grey MacKenzie, LMT

Cupping Therapy: These cups use negative pressure (suction) to literally create space in the body. This allows the old stagnated blood to be broken up and moved out. The body’s response is to heal and restore the area that received the cupping, which brings a sense of lighter, cleaner space in the body, a free flow of energy, and room for new possibilities. -Erin Law, LMT

Yoga: The onset of Fall is a powerful time to use our yoga practice as a means to re-balance the body. Big exhales, deep twists, and gentle forward folds help to prepare us for the onset of brisk weather. Winter is soon approaching. We want to shake out our bodies and flush away the unnecessary holding so that we can comfortably turn inward and nestle into ourselves during the darker months of Winter.     -Jane House, RYT

Ayurveda: Support other cleansing practices with tongue scraping. Do it every morning, back to front. Cleanses build up ama, or toxins, which are described as a sticky waste. Scraping these from the tongue keeps the toxins from being redirected back into the body, and reduces bad breath. Also make sure to take extra time to rest, and try to plan your cleanse during a time when you can take it easy.     -Summer Leniger, Ayurveda Wellness Counselor

Mental Cleansing Meditation: Visualize the mind space as rooms in your house. With eyes closed and body upright, awake, and alert, travel from room to room repeating these cleansing phrases:

  • Entry hall / front door: “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”
  • Great room / main living area: “Being here, Being now.”
  • Kitchen: “Letting go of worry, Letting be this moment.”
  • Bedroom: “Calming the mind, Releasing the tension.”
  • Bathroom: “I can have peace any moment,I have peace in this moment.”
  • Attic / crawl space / basement: “Nowhere to go, No one to be, Just being.”      -Elmo Shade, Mindfulness Coach

5 Things You Should Always Do at Your Desk

from the HaLe’ Team

Sitting at a desk is hard on the body. Here are several ways to easily reduce the knots and tension:

1. Start with Right Angles. Adjust your workspace so that your feet, hips, and arms are at right angles to the floor. Your screen should be directly in front of your eyes so that your neck remains neutral, neither craned up or hunched down. Your keyboard should be in easy reach with your arms parallel to the floor. No need to strain to keep a straight back; use a pillow to bring the chair back closer to you. You can also use a small stool to bring the floor up to your feet and stacks of books to adjust the height of the computer and keyboard.

2. Engage the Core. A lot of pain that comes from sitting is caused by a weak core, since sitting allows the belly to soften. Try a sneaky seated crunch: Put both hands on your thighs, then try to curl your chest down toward your legs while resisting the movement with the arms. Hold this for 10 seconds and then release. This can especially help with low back pain and sometimes neck pain as well.

3. Rest the Eyes. Cup your palms over your eyes, with the heels of your hands resting on the cheekbones. It is hard on our eyes to stay at one focal distance for an extended period of time, like staring at a computer screen, and palming the eyes every so often helps to change that distance. The eyes affect our entire nervous system, and so releasing eye strain helps our entire body relax.

4. Stretch the Pecs. Use a door frame or clasp your hands behind your back to stretch your pecs every time you get up. The pecs are the root of a lot of upper back and shoulder tension, and even some neck tension. The shoulders roll forward and inward when sitting at a computer, which tightens the pecs and stretches the upper back beyond what it can support for prolonged periods of time. Stretching the pecs regularly during your workday helps offset this process.

5. Stand Up Every 30 min. Stand up and maybe walk around a little every 30 minutes, and it will do wonders for how you feel at the end of your workday. Our bodies are designed to be hunter gatherers and stay active throughout the day, so getting out of that sitting and concentrating position really makes a difference. Just standing up for a moment helps, but try to walk a little, take three deep belly breaths where you blow all the air out each time, twist your trunk back forth, and do some stretches like 8 Ways to Do Yoga at Your Desk.

 

These tips courtesy of HaLe’ Body Care Specialists Erin Law, Adie MacKenzie, Will Ravenel, and Katherine Correa.

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