Voiding the Warranty

Often people come to my Orange County massage therapy office because they did something that seemed like a good idea at the time, but it just didn’t “work out.”

For example…

The info-commercial for ab workouts showed a very buff looking man doing oblique crunches on a tilted bench. Head tilted down. Seemingly effortlessly he did about 10 oblique crunches while a narrator said, “Get the body you have always wanted in just 10 minutes a day.…”

Well, people who can do oblique crunches upside down – Olympic gymnasts and professional fitness models doing infomercials – don’t need the machine. When the rest of us try that to get rid of our love handles we are mostly likely to pull the muscle until it screams.

Pulling an oblique muscle – an abdominal muscle that runs diagonally between the rib cage and the hip – creates a lot of pain and stiffness.

It is debilitating in that we use this muscle to pick up things, turn over in bed, pick up a child seat, reach for a file, etc. This muscle tends to feel painful from the rib cage down into the crotch area and quickly sends people to the doctor thinking something else must be terribly wrong.

In massages I use gentle, soothing strokes to calm down the inflammation and tension in the oblique. Some massage is intended to stimulate other muscles to support the oblique while it heals. I also massage the low back and hips to release stiffness and balance the two sides.

- Sue Peterson


What is a Migraine?

Good question. I have treated a lot of people with migraines, and I have had them myself. As a massage therapist, I have learned that the answer to the big question is not a simple explanation.

The good news is that migraines usually respond to massage therapy. Generally, massage works by treating trigger points in the pattern of the migraine and by using Swedish massage techniques to soothe the irritated area and restore circulation.

Generally, migraines are headaches that create a disabling pattern of pain and fatigue around the back, sides and front of the head. Most people with a headache can take a pain remedy such as aspirin and continue on with their activities. Migraines create such feelings of fatigue the person has to withdraw, away from light and noise and they have to rest to either relieve the migraine or simply wait quietly for it to pass.

As a massage therapist, I have often noted that people with migraines have usually had a whiplash or neck strain in the past. Sometimes these injuries have not seemed serious at the time and have not been treated.

Years pass, and especially when the person undergoes stress, the migraine patterns appear and become stronger. Many people with migraines used to play sports or have had car accidents, and later, as they develop their careers in front of a computer screen, they develop migraine patterns.

Massages slowly unwind these patterns and restore function to small stuck muscles in the neck, back and scalp. Learning ways to avoid muscle strain at work and leisure helps keep the patterns from coming back.

Here are the general hallmarks of migraines:

  • Sensitivity to light, sound, or sudden changes in light and sound.
  • Sudden fatigue when one should feel rested.
  • An arc pattern of stiffness beginning at the back of the head and up over the ear to the forehead. As the migraines develop, the stiffness becomes painful.
  • Irritability.
  • Funny films or hazes in vision during the migraine.
  • A pointy sore spot on the top of the shoulder blade.
  • Inability to easily turn the head left or right.
  • Inability to look up at a ceiling or do any work above arm level.
  • A history or neck whiplash or strain from sports, accidents, dance, prolonged stress while working.

- Sue Peterson


Living with Challenges

I have been doing massage therapy now for 17 years and some of my most rewarding experiences have been working with people who have health challenges.

As a massage therapist I spend a lot of time thinking about the body holistically and about wellness, but what about illness?

Massage works with the mind, body and the systems that help us relax and work at our best. Often we need our strength and reserves to overcome illness and massage comes in handy.

It is a great help to people who are trying to cope with an illness such as breast cancer, or Crohn’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, etc.

Will massage fix a health condition? I don’t think so. There are other avenues for that. I think we do know that massage helps people cope with stress. It gives them a chance to meet many challenges in their lives - and achieve their best.

- Sue Peterson


Epsom Salt Lotions and Home Brew

istock_000013895887_extrasmallI have often recommended Epsom salt lotion to folks who have aches and pains. The lotion is easier to use, especially for people who do not like to soak in the tub, and it is very effective in loosening spastic muscles.

The lotion is so good; I even recommended it by the store that sells it, CVS, as a good buy. Then CVS made a change. It stopped carrying the lotion and I have had many people call or email as to where they can find it.

I made my own investigation into this, courtesy of Google, and found two other brands I can recommend. The first is “Epsom-It” and the second is Kirkman’s Epsom Lotion, an organic more natural formula. Both are available online through lots of vendors. But shucky-darn, they are more expensive than the CVS version, which was $10.

Lots of folks have sent emails to CVS urging the store return it to their shelves, and I encourage users to do the same. If they hear from enough people, it may re-appear. It’s always nice to be able to find something this good at a chain store, so you do not have to worry about if you can find some on a trip or vacation.

Also as part of my Internet searches, I found several recipes for home-brew Epsom lotion. Basically you use a blender to crush or grind up the Epsom salts into a finer powder and blend in a hand or body lotion.

My first attempts at this brew yielded a great lotion, and a great mess in my kitchen. Then a few days later my brew turned into a sort-of quickset grout. The commercial lotions seem to be better equipped to keep the Epsom from separating.

Now I’m using old jelly jars with a wide-mouth top so I can brew some small batches and stir them well when I need them, adding a bit of lotion here and there to loosen the mixture. The hint of grape and strawberry in them adds to the ambiance.

Epsom salts have a long history of relieving sore and tired muscles, and we have no reason to deny ourselves with a bit of a batch at home. Just don’t make as much as I did. CVS, I hope your folks are reading this…

- Sue Peterson


Stiff Jaws, Cotton-Stuffed Ears, Headaches, Oh My!

Some times folks who come in for a massage report that they feel as if their teeth hurt even though the dentist can’t find anything wrong. Or that they have trouble opening their mouths, or their jaw clicks when they move it. Worst is when they tell me it feels as if they have cotton stuffed in their ears, or they can’t turn the head.

Whatever the description, this is no fun. When muscles are so tight in the neck, jaw and head that they cause headaches and fatigue it’s time to check in for a massage to loosen and relax the muscles.

I like to use a combination of gentle scalp and neck massage followed by a pack of warm, moist towels to release these trouble zones. I dubbed it the “Mother Teresa” treatment because when these areas are wrapped up, well, you look like Mother Teresa.

Giving these muscles a chance to relax often gives them the idea that they can operate without so much tension. As the tissue unwinds, we can look at other influences such as activity and posture that might be trying to bring the pain back.

I have had these problems myself, most from going over the handlebars of my bike, and then working too many hours with my neck bent like a computer golem. Many people who have this type of discomfort have a history of whiplash accidents, but not all.

As I note often, these days people are being asked to do more for less and without a lot of thank-you. When you feel like you are banging your head on the wall at work, it can get to you.

These types of problems are in a family of tension disorders that doctors call tempo-mandibular disorder, TMD, which is a fancy way of saying these muscles are so tense they are causing trouble. As a massage therapist, I look for clusters of tension and try to interrupt these patterns, giving people relief not only from the symptoms but also reducing how often the symptoms occur. Left to themselves, tense muscles tend to pass on and recruit other muscles to imitate their tension, leading to more frequent and more severe attacks.

I like to give some home remedies:

  • Moist heat: Run two facecloths under hot water and use them as hot compresses, placed on either side of the head for about 30 seconds. Make sure they are not so hot you can’t handle them.

  • Moist heat at the base of the neck near the hairline helps. Use a hand towel, folded and rolled up like sushi, either run under hot faucet water or micro waved for about 30 seconds. Again, not so hot you can’t hold it. Lie down with the towel behind your head, half on the neck and half on the hairline. These last for about 20 minutes of moist heat. My massage clients like to call this “neck sushi” for how the towel is rolled up.

  • If you are on the go, buy a cold soda in a can and put it on the back of the neck at the hairline. After about 20-30 seconds, the cold may help reduce the headache.

If you are like me, these tips will make a good bit of sense after you come in for a massage and I show you how to do this. I also have neck and jaw stretches that do not hurt and can help tons when you are under stress and on the go.

Most of all, keep the faith! Tension can be unwound!

More Articles...
Facebook Image
Professional Member

Professional Member of American Massage Therapy Association

American Massage
Therapy Association

Professional Certifications

National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork

National Certification Board for
Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork



Certification Number: CMT #1039