Treating Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a difficult and frustrating syndrome involving generalized chronic pain, fatigue, and mood and memory issues. Treatment focuses on managing these symptoms, and bodywork and massage are especially helpful for this. Developing a self-care relationship with your body through classes like Yoga for All Levels and MELT Method also helps bring long term relief.

Bodywork and massage treatments for fibromyalgia use integrative techniques to best address the sensitivity of a body dealing with fibro. Gentle stretches, rocking motions, and long strokes help release muscle tension, increase circulation, and bring deep relaxation. Because every body is unique, it is especially important to communicate with your therapist about your treatment, and to let them know if it ever feels too intense.

Multiple scientific studies have looked at the effectiveness of bodywork treatments for fibromyalgia, and the proven benefits include:

  • Higher serotonin levels
  • Decreased stress hormones
  • Improved sleep
  • Lower pain levels, especially at tender points
  • Improved overall sense of well-being

In addition to bodywork, developing a self-care relationship with your body can lay the foundations for long term relief of fibromyalgia symptoms. This is a process of learning to listen and be in relationship with your most physical self, and does not come easily to everyone. Regular practice is key, and self care classes like yoga and MELT method are very helpful in this process.

Fibromyalgia and related pain syndromes can make basic activities difficult. Treatment through bodywork and self-care can offer better sleep, less pain, and an overall sense of well-being. Regular massage sessions and classes have a cumulative effect, building on each other to make day to day living less painful and more enjoyable.

Cooling, Receptive, Restorative Yoga

Restorative Yoga is a different experience from most yoga classes. It is designed to bring deep relaxation and rest in order to create healing in the body. We all need to take a break, especially if we live with a lot of time pressure and stress. That kind of stress can break down the body if we don’t learn to regularly let it go.

The benefits of Restorative Yoga far outweigh downtime at home. A lot of us can’t rest in our own homes, because there is always a to do list, or a project list, or meal prep that comes next and draws our energy away from rest. Rest and restoration require dedicated attention.

Coming to a beautiful space that is completely dedicated to healing can really assist a Restorative practice. It uses a lot of props like blankets, bolster pillows, and blocks to create poses you can relax into, allowing gravity to do the work and your body to release. A lot of us don’t even realize we aren’t relaxing until we engage in a practice like this, and then we can feel the tension melt away, releasing in waves.

Restorative Yoga is also a cooling practice, and can help take the edge off high blood pressure and deepen the healing for other health issues, especially inflammation, pressure, and other issues that are about too much heat in the body. It is gentle enough to work for most people regardless of injuries, surgeries, age, or fitness.

Receptive and cooling, Restorative yoga is not about doing, but about being. It meets you wherever you are in your body and offers an opportunity for deep wellness.

The Process of Healing

The body is a marvellous machine, able to repair and heal itself. This process of healing happens in stages, and understanding these phases can help ease the frustration and fear of dealing with an injury. There are three main steps of tissue healing: Inflammation, Repair, and Remodeling.

Inflammation: The body immediately begins healing a traumatic injury with inflammation. The injured tissues release chemical signals that dilate blood vessels to bring extra blood flow, white blood cells, and nutrients to help clean up and wall off the injured area. This also serves to limit the function of the injured area, to prevent additional tissue damage. The swelling and pain, as uncomfortable as they are, are a protective process. Bodywork can support this phase by working on associated structures while avoiding the injured tissues. It also will help shift the nervous system out of fight or flight mode into relaxation and repair mode through stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows more of the body’s resources to focus on the healing process.

Repair: Once the injured area is walled off and cleaned up, inflammation subsides and construction begins to replace or repair the injured tissue. Temporary blood vessels grow in order to supply the nutrients needed for healing, and special cells called fibroblasts begin producing a fragile form of scar tissue called granulation tissue to fill in the gaps left after the damaged structures were cleaned out by the body. This is when it is easiest to reinjure the tissues, as pain levels have gone down but the repairs are not yet strong enough for full use. Bodywork can begin to gently address the injured areas, being careful of the fragile granulation tissue, and can continue to work on associated structures to maintain function, minimize compensation, and increase circulation.

Remodeling: Once enough granulation tissue is produced, the construction of permanent tissue can begin, usually as strong scar tissue made from a dense network of collagen fibers. At first, the collagen fibers are arranged in all directions, and they adjust according to how the body moves as it heals. Some fibers are reinforced to provide more strength, as others are destroyed to provide more flexibility. This process is best done with a gradual return to functional activities, followed by time for the tissue to adapt. At this point, bodywork treatment can work much more directly on the affected area, focusing on breaking up scar tissue and increasing range of motion, even as it continues to address compensating movement patterns.

There is no specific time frame for each phase of healing, so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of each part of the process in order to treat them effectively. Remodeling in particular can take months or even years, and supporting the body as it finds its best function as it heals can do a lot to help reduce chronic dysfunction and discomfort. Bodywork and self-care are effective ways to support this process, helping us stay in conversation with our bodies and respond to their needs.

Travel Tips for Your Body

The keys to taking care of your body while traveling are hydration, warding off insomnia, and body comfort. Biochemical processes don’t move as fast as cars and airplanes, so the body needs support in catching up. Here are some ways to practice self-care as you go:

1. Help reset your sleep cycle with exposure to natural sun for at least 20 min. Using a natural sleep aid such as melatonin or CBD oil can also help.

2. Balance the hips and release the neck and shoulders because those can get compacted during travel.

3. Stay more hydrated than usual. Coconut water and bottled spring water are especially good.

4. Diet-wise, eat bananas and maybe some nuts. Avoid fatty foods, spicy foods, dairy, and caffeine.

5. Take an epsom salt bath with a little lavender or something in it that rejuvenates to help with travel weariness.

6. Practice gentle forward fold pose: put your sitting bones against a wall, with your feet 12-18 inches from the wall and fold forward along your thighs. Relax into the pose and breathe into your back.

7. Take a twist: Doing gentle twists can release back tension and help relieve nausea and constipation.

8. Allow yourself a couple of days after your travel to recalibrate and settle back in.

9. Tell your stories to someone who can really listen. Trips can rearrange us a little, and we often return a little different from who we are when we left. Connecting with our people when we return can relieve emotional tension that otherwise could be held in the body.

On the Psychology of Muscle

Your muscles take on the shape that they are accustomed to being in for hours every day. Any one thing, any repetitive motion, will shape the muscle and shape the fascia that surrounds it. The body responds so that the form follows the function, or that the function will make the form. What we want, then, is for our bodies to assume variable positions and activities throughout the day and throughout our life.

Changing positions can be challenging, though. It takes more than stretching to release a muscle, and we can’t force ourselves into a position when our body isn’t ready. Muscle fibers require a neurological signal in the form of a chemical messenger in order to release, and even though that signal comes from the brain, we don’t necessarily decide if our brain will send that signal. We can’t just tell our hamstrings to be less tight. What needs to happen is that the brain needs to feel that it is safe enough for that muscle to release.

So don’t over-stretch yourself into being over-burdened and over-committed. Dive into a conversation with yourself, befriend yourself, and gain an understanding of what your end stretch is and how much you can take on. There are times when we can take on a whole lot, and life circumstances change and we can take on even more. But nothing is constant, everything ebbs and flows, and it is our responsibility to listen to that ebb and flow and know if we need to back off or engage. What you did last summer may be very different from what you can do this summer, but if we go in with hearts wide open we can find opportunity.

Stay buoyant and responsive to where you and your body are in the process of holding and changing positions. We can’t force these processes, but we can work with them by knowing the parts of ourselves.

Emotional Healing that Starts in the Body

Emotional and physical healing are intertwined. Physical issues can have emotional consequences like depression or anxiety, and the opposite is also true. Strong emotions can become stored in the body, often as tension, pain, or dysfunction.

When you receive bodywork and massage or engage in a self-care practice like yoga, the release of stress and muscle tension can also bring an emotional release. Often, but not always, this release brings up negative feelings that you may have pushed back, like fear, sadness, or anger. This can be a shifting point in your healing process! Even though it is painful to experience old emotions, this can be what you need to get to the other side.

Teachers and bodyworkers are not trained or licensed to provide the therapeutic processing that a mental health counselor could, but they can do a lot to create an opportunity for deep emotional healing. They may slow down or stop the physical process of your session or class in order to let the full emotional release move through. Taking full deep breaths will also help your body release the stored energy on its own, and so they may remind you to breathe. Usually you will calm down after a few minutes, and then be able to rejoin the class or return to the flow of your bodywork treatment.

There is true wisdom in saying, “I need support.” Emotional energy is a factor in our health and our healing process, and feeling safe to release emotional energy can help in so many ways. Having someone just be present and supportive by your side can be exactly what you need.

Be Savvy with your Self-Care

The fundamentals of taking care of yourself are sleeping, eating, and practicing self care. Getting enough sleep is crucial for vitality, mental sharpness, and emotional regulation. Eating well fuels the body for activity, supports healthy organ function, and also helps with emotional regulation. Self-care is just as important as sleeping and eating well. It is how we cultivate health, by listening to the body’s needs and responding appropriately.

What are your self-care mechanisms and are they working for you? These might include meditation or mindfulness practice, exercise routine and activity level, quiet time, quality time with loved ones, receiving bodywork and massage, and any of the other hundreds of things we do to support our mental, emotional, and physical health.

Being savvy with your self-care includes regularly checking in with yourself, and then being proactive about taking action. This means that when you need bodywork and massage, or acupuncture, or a class, you know where to go. You are able to tell when you need it, you know how often you need it, and you probably already have it scheduled, maybe with a standing appointment every 2 or 4 weeks.

What do you need from your self-care? You might need to cultivate a clear, calm mind, or more time to relax and recharge. You might also need a higher activity level, or bodywork to support the activity level you already maintain. Perhaps you need acupuncture to manage pain or reduce stress. Begin with how you feel and how you would like to feel, and then figure out how to make that transition.

Savvy self-care does not wait until we are so uncomfortable that we have to stop our lives to make a change, but instead listens to the smaller discomforts and takes care of them in order to maintain a sense of vitality. It’s about being daring enough to put your self-care first and foremost, in order to be more comfortable in your body. 

 

Cultivating Healthy Posture

Posture is one of the foundations of our overall health, and cultivating healthy posture is particularly important for our sense of wellbeing. The body’s ability to heal comes through movement, and every movement informs our posture, even as our posture informs our movement. The building blocks of healthy posture include ease and economy of motion, coordination, body-mind integration, and a balance between stability and mobility.

Postural issues can get locked into chronic holding patterns in the muscles of the body, causing ongoing muscle tension and discomfort. However, there is always a need for a certain baseline of healthy muscle tension to hold us upright and stable against the pull of gravity. This means that cultivating healthy posture is a complex process of supporting the tonic “anti-gravity” muscles even as we work to ease and release the dysfunctional chronic tension.

When we have pain, it signifies that we have dryness in the tissue, which means that the fibers have become rigid. We need to shift it back to being supple and juicy. One way is to learn to control those core and intrinsic muscles that help hold you upright. You can learn to engage the right muscles in the right order for certain movements, and to then relax any extra muscles that your body is trying to use instead of using its core. You can also use something called sensorimotor awareness, where you pay attention to certain parts of the body and how they move, and then adjust them as needed. Imagery can help you find the right alignments.

Working on healthy posture is progressive. The more you can learn to engage the right muscles and relax the extra ones who are trying to “help”, the better your posture will be. It is fundamentally a process of cultivating awareness, and can have tremendous benefits for overall health and wellbeing.

Treating Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is foot pain, often in the form of a stabbing pain at the heel, and can be worst in the mornings. The pain comes from the plantar fascia, which is a band of connective tissue that connects the heel to the toes along the bottom of the foot. The arch of the foot is an important part of how the foot absorbs the force of the body against the ground (which can be 3-4 times your body weight with each step while running), and the plantar fascia is an important part of maintaining the right tension in the arch, so that it is neither too loose nor too tight.

The pain of Plantar Fasciitis usually comes from biomechanical issues like imbalanced posture, how you walk, or the shoes you wear. Though plantar fasciitis has traditionally been treated as an inflammatory problem, recent research indicates that it is not inflammation so much as collagen degeneration in the fascia. Treatment, then, needs to focus on the biomechanical dysfunction of the foot and how it relates to the rest of the body.

Bodywork like massage and myofascial release are especially effective at addressing these kinds of issues. There are fascial connections that run all the way from the bottom of the foot, along the back of the calf and thigh, and continue up the back and neck to the head. Tightness anywhere along these connections can then tighten the plantar fascia and cause pain. This means that releasing tight back muscles can relieve foot pain! Working with the body as an interconnected system helps address the dysfunction that is causing the plantar fasciitis in the first place.

The other key to addressing plantar fasciitis is blood and fluid flow. Fascia needs to be hydrated in order to stay healthy, and many shoes constrict circulation in the feet, even as they misalign or stress natural foot structures through raised heels, raised toes, and/or narrowing the toes in a pointed shape. Changing shoes and stimulating the nourishing flow of blood and fluid in the feet can help the fascia repair and rebuild its collagen. Massage, therapy balls, and gua sha are all effective for this kind of stimulation.
Plantar Fasciitis is a symptom, indicating a larger problem in how the body is standing, walking,  and/or running in general. Effective treatment needs to address much more of the body than just the feet and should be customized to the specific needs of each client. Bodywork and massage is especially effective at addressing the body in this way, and at HaLe’, we know how to treat the whole person in order to ease the pain and address the dysfunction of plantar fasciitis.

PreNatal Massage for All 3 Trimesters

Pregnancy involves dramatic physical changes, and Prenatal massage is a form of therapeutic bodywork designed to support and ease the pregnant body through those changes. It provides a wide range of physical, emotional, and mental benefits, and is careful to use special bolsters, pillows, and positions to keep you as comfortable and safe as possible.

Prenatal massage assists with many of the common discomforts of pregnancy, including aches and pains in joints and muscles, headaches, leg cramps, swelling, and constipation. The pregnant body is transitioning to add weight, change the center of gravity, and squish internal organs out of the way. Massage is able to support these transitions by easing muscular discomfort and other distress.

Circulation is also key to pregnancy, and prenatal massage helps to stimulate blood and lymph flow, which nourishes both mother and fetus and helps to remove toxins and increase immunity. It also eases the load on the heart and helps to keep blood pressure in normal ranges. During pregnancy, blood volume may increase up to 60%, and massage is a good way to support blood flow back to the heart.

Also, prenatal massage helps to stabilize hormone levels and the depression or anxiety that hormonal changes can cause, as well as soothing the nervous system into better relaxation and healthier sleep. It also offers drug-free pain relief, and the deep emotional support of nurturing touch.

Prenatal massage is recommended as often as every 2 weeks throughout the pregnancy, increasing to once a week in the third trimester. As your body changes, the specific focus of the sessions will adjust, but the overall goal of every session is to provide healthy support and ease through this time of dramatic change.

 

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