Curves and Circles

It’s best to hang on to your curves – especially the one in your lumbar, the area at the small of the low back. This area of the back is naturally curved forward and that curve balances the spine and the weight of your upper torso and head.


When this curve flattens out or gets too curvy, your natural balance is disturbed. The muscles in the low back will go into spasm trying to fix the problem. The result is low back pain, pain in the butt and hips, even down the leg and into the neck.

All good reasons to keep your curves!

How do you do that? Well, we sit in chairs staring at computer screens, shop warehouse stores’ cement floors in flip-flops, and drive too much, all things that mess with our curves. Curve revival moves are in order!

My personal favorite curve restoration move is the slow circle, a bit I picked up in my Tai Chi Ch’uan class. I’m sure the Tai Chi folks would want me to share it. Using your hips, move your middle around slowly in a circle, taking care not to move your shoulders or feet as you complete the circle. Standing in front of a mirror helps. The slow circles are done eight times in one direction, then stopped in the middle. Then eight times slowly in the opposite direction.

After this move your back will be more balanced, and most importantly, be able to do the impossible, such as hitting a drive at the golf course or picking a sock off the floor after a hard day at the office.

I’ll be happy to show you this move when you come in for a massage. It reminds me to do my curvy circles!


Stretch Secrets - Shhhh…

stretching secretsWe all share a modern-day problem, inflexibility. Too much sitting, driving, computers, meetings and stress, and at the end of the day we feel more like tin men than people.

Back when I worked in a stressful job and had no idea how to stretch, I thought I was simply getting old. I was never a Gumby, and I felt that any time I took the sage advice to stretch more it seemed I created less flexibility and made the problem worse.

As I learned about massage and how to unlock the stretch response, I realized I had been going after flexibility like Grant took Richmond, and with about as much success.

Basically, there are secrets to make stretching work, and one has to learn and practice them. I’ll give the basic guidelines here, but I have to say if you are as hard-headed and linear as I was, you need a guide.

That’s why when you come in for a massage, I’ll offer to spend some time stretching you and showing you how to get good results from stretches when you are not on the massage table.

Secret Number 1: Slow and Easy
Our muscles and joints have sensors that track movement and speed. Try to stretch too far and too fast, these sensors will actually order the muscles to lock down and tighten.

Secret Number 2: No pain.
Too far and too fast also triggers a pain message.

The nervous system interprets that as a threat and makes muscles shorten even more.

Secret Number 3: Breathe.
Lots of people hold their breath during the whole stretch, blocking the stretch response completely. When we do breathe, the temptation is to huff and puff, over-using lots of neck and back muscles and defeating the stretch response.

Secret Number 4: Most of us are so focused on achieving immediate results we acknowledge and then ignore rules Number 1, 2 and 3.

There are a number of fancy names for different styles of stretching, such as passive, active, dynamic, range of motion, contraction-relaxation and a few more. I mention these to explain why I like to find the ways that works best for each person. If you can’t stretch at all, or you seem to be stuck at a stretch level that never changes, it’s time to learn how to stretch.

Start with a massage. I will help you with the rest.

- Sue


Why We Hurt

By Susan Peterson, CAMTC, NCTMBguy-with-pain-in-the-neck

My web page has tons of practical helpful stuff on it, like how to use ice or heat to feel better. There is, of course more to it than one would think.

In the midst of all this practicality, let me say that the most practical thing I did for a client last week was to explain why we hurt even though “there is nothing wrong.”

I speak of the gulf between how cruddy one can feel even though all systems are functioning and ready to go. This fellow, in particular, is in the process of having every medical test ever invented because he has severe back and neck pain and a few other symptoms I won’t go into.

It is always a good idea to get everything checked, especially when one does not feel well. There are a lot of things that could be going wrong, a big long scary list that the doctor doesn’t need to share with anyone.

Getting a clean bill of health after a once-over, under and in should be good news, of course, but be prepared for that moment when the experts say: “There is nothing wrong.”

Lots of people have trouble with that news because it doesn’t address why they don’t feel better. Well, there may be lots of things wrong, but not anything that is going to kill a person. The pain may be caused by stress, overwork, tension and other issues that don’t translate into a “dis-ease.”

Massage therapists and other kinds of therapists work on a lot of these issues, and the plain fact of the matter is that pain can be pretty severe but simply be pain caused by stress and tension in the neck or back.

This is a tough realization. Let me recommend Dr. John Sarno’s book, “End Back Pain Forever.” Dr. Sarno is a stand-up guy with a bad back and was faced with the prospect that there was no disease-related explanation for why he is in pain. He was, as one might expect, just as hard-headed as the rest of us when it came to pain. The simple explanation – stress – didn’t suit him at all.

Stress had caused him to unconsciously hold his back tight. As the days wore on, the silent tension reduced blood flow into and out of the muscles until hi back got stiff and then started to hurt. That tension leading to pain is a very simple explanation for a major cause of pain in people’s lives. He used mediation, exercise and stretching to help himself back to wellness.

When I was in college I used to get a bad cold every time we had finals. My best friend used to get pneumonia. Another pal got green apple fever so bad that he would put a note on the men’s room door, cautioning folks to use another facility lest they die upon entering. Yes, we were all junior stress-heads and we didn’t know it. We just thought finals sucked.

As I matured, I used massage and Tai-Chi Ch’uan to get rid of my pain. Many of my clients have used massage and yoga to get rid of their pain.

Well, heck, stress can do a lot to the human body. That said, I am, of course, annoyed that Dr. Sarno didn’t get over his back pain with more massage. I think letting someone who understands tension and stress relieve pain through a massage is a great way to get on the road to recovery.

So there. Theory can be practical, at times, if it can make all of us less stressed out over having “nothing wrong.” It’s good for the economy, after all, and one has to figure one is good for another 100,000 miles after everything has been checked under the hood.


Tight Jaws and Soft Landings

couple-sleepingClenching and grinding the teeth at night may be silent – the only sign may be a morning or a tired sensation across the face and sides of the scalp. A dental appliance can protect the teeth and soft palate from damage, but what about the tension that creates the problem?

This is a great opportunity for massage techniques that release trigger points in the jaw muscles and end the tension. By addressing tension in these muscles we address the actual cause of the problem – not just treat the symptoms.

What’s neat about these jaw muscle massages are that they also address common sources of headaches and help improve drainage in the ears by releasing muscles cramps around the ears.

Where are these muscles? The main ones are in the angle of the jaw sideways to the dimples – basically the area that on men are covered by sideburns. Also, the jaw is affected by a large, thin muscle on the side of the scalp above the ear.

Once tension in these areas is addressed, I can show you a few simple tension release tricks to keep these areas free of spasms. I always do these after dental work, or after having dinner with the parents. No one likes to wake up with a headache!

Learn more about my trigger point massage service or give me a call at (949) 251-8907.

Clogged Sinuses or Tension?

Santa Ana winds blow into Orange County at least three times a year, and this massage therapist is used to hearing the question: Is it a sinus headache or tension? Well, yes and yes.

Sinuses are sensitive to excessive dust and pollens, even if a person does not have allergies. Muscles around the scalp and face can react to impurities in the air with a scrunch, leading to a telling side-of-the-head tension pain that we often call sinus headaches.

Neti pots help flush the sinuses, but for people with tension knots in the scalp and neck, standing over the sink and tilting the head to drain water through the sinus can make the tension worse.

My solution is to take a good shower, blowing air out of the nose to clear the sinuses at the end of the shower. And, of course, a therapeutic massage to unravel knots in the neck, above the ear and across the large sinus behind the forehead and cheeks.

I like to call this massage the “brain transplant” as it tends to open up not only clogged sinuses but also all those little problem-solving furrows around the forehead and eyes.

Bon air!

-- Sue 

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