Do I Want a Golf Ball Pressed into My Muscles?

 

Seemingly contradictory: I am in a health care field – I am not 100% perfect with my health. Don’t misunderstand; I definitely look after my health daily, ongoing, and with awareness. I’m just more of an 80/20 rule person. 80% of the time covers eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, and being responsible in general about self-care, even to enjoying the discipline around it. That leaves 20% to cover my love of strong, rich coffee and dark, deep chocolate; chewy chocolate chip cookies with walnuts and the occasional dense, sweet donut; saying yes to more joyous social activities than I can actually do; and inadvertently waxing sometimes too dark and deep, needing to then pull myself back out and up. Yet, as I’ve told students in my massage classes many times before, I’m not a “guru” with all the answers, nor am I seeking to be. I seek to walk my talk and live by example. 

Being in the midst of winter rains storms and subsequent flooding here in the Bay Area, with sharper temperature drops and less daylight, self-care can fall away more quickly. I love having all the tools I use for support near at hand and pulled together. Right beside my tv sits a basket with bands and tubes for muscle resistance and strengthening; two different foam rollers and three different exercise balls for working the muscle tissue open; and a yoga mat and yoga block to support stretching the muscles back out. The visual reminder of this basket of tools, along with all being in one place, makes it hard to ignore, easy to use.

In using any of the aforementioned tools, much can be found on the net, in books, or often in any brief manuals that come with some of these supplies. Because I’m licensed as a massage therapist and focus on opening up and/or resolving soft tissue dysfunction and pain, I focus on the use of the foam roller and sports balls (lacrosse ball, golf ball, tennis ball) when talking to clients about self-care at home and defer to the physical therapists I work with for strength rehabilitation and training. I would say the same here that I tell clients: Know your own musculoskeletal health before going deeply with any of these tools; injuries old or new, the integrity of the skeletal system, any imbalances that may exist, etc.  It’s always good to start small and gentle no matter, so each individual can experience how these things feel and where modifications need to happen either direction (i.e., using a harder tool or a softer tool, which muscles to focus more time on, and so forth). The more you get used to using them, the more information you receive from your body, and the more you learn about your body. Small steps continually taken bring us to our goals well, versus dramatic leaps done in fits and starts. Meaning, try to consistently use one or more of these tools daily. I use the foam roller daily for a broad opening of the muscles, followed by one of the small sports balls for specific work. Stretching afterwards is ideal because the muscles are more open post-use of these tools.

Working the anterior, lateral, and posterior muscles is important as most of us feel discomfort in the posterior muscles from postural over-stretching and will be drawn to focus there. But since life is all about being flexed too far forward, the anterior muscles are often the offenders in tightest-of-the-tight without actually feeling sore; they need addressing. And it can feel great: Easing pressure into a sore, tight muscle – letting it sink in slowly with static pressure, or rolling in small 1/2 inch increments into the tissue, a couple different directions – following where these paths of tightness lead you, exploring your musculature in various areas – breathing with measured stretching after, opening different muscles, feeling how much more room there can be, how much more movement and flexibility. 

Humans are organic, not robotic. We’re all each our own, ongoing process; a garden constantly needing weeding, tilling, watering, and nutrients. It does not stop, it is ever-changing, but it’s rewarding and interesting if you can see it this way. Bodies are also shockingly resilient. That doesn’t mean waste what you have and burn it out, of course, but it does mean keep tending to it. There are ways to feel better. Life has intense, often grievous challenges, yet it also offers gifts, always. Here’s to taking care of ourselves in growing gratitude, which still can, I believe, include some type of “cookies” in there.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2017

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Our Overworking Backs – Our Half Asleep Abdominals..

 

The physical body is quite beautifully complex, working always to maintain a fine balance within its systems and these systems with one another. Analogous to so much in life, keeping the body’s structure and function optimal is crucial. When either are compromised, pain can be a result. Imbalances that develop over time also logically require time to backtrack. Fortunately, along this journey of seeking functional balance, there’s that wonderfully satisfying sensation of “letting go” in a tight muscle which we experience right away via bodywork. It’s a warm, freeing sensation, like hot shower water on sore muscles; as if the tension is flowing off you just as shower water does in streaming down your back. 

A broad canvas of muscles, soreness can be found a variety of places in the back. The spinal muscles near the base of the ribs is an especially great area for over-taxed muscles. Commonly, there are weak abdominal muscles and a postural collapsing of the anterior rib cage to go along with this, since the anterior torso muscles  interplay with and directly affect the back muscles. Postural fatigue, some muscles too tight and some too stretched out, and even just gravity all play a role here. In this curved forward position, back muscles get over-stretched, especially around that posterior bottom rib zone; a recipe for soreness. In gently asking a bound muscle here to open, I really love that sensation of select pressure applied and sustained to a pinpointed area. Sometimes it’s a trigger point, creating a radiating referral pattern from that spot; sometimes it’s simply one of many bullseyes in the hypertonicity asking to be dispersed. Palpating the muscles that are right along the spine near the inferior rib cage, then moving away from the spine, there will be many spots to pinpoint within a trio of spinal muscles:  spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis. Also known as the erector spinae muscles, this group extends along the length of the spine either side and is generally sore on us from helping to maintain erect posture day after day.

It feels good to use the lower aspect of the forearm, supported fingers, and supported thumbs with sustained pinpoint pressure in this aforementioned junction. Alternating these approaches changes what we feel within the tissue while also making it easier on the massage therapist. Focused palpation can help highlight the tightest area within the tight muscle; like seeking the center of a bullseye. It’s good to include massage strokes to the sides of the torso as the abdominals wrap around here and can be addressed to balance out the back. Since a lot of people don’t like their abdomen worked on, sweeping along the sides of the torso while working on the back, then doing some stretching open of the anterior torso once the client is turned, will keep the massage balanced and in alignment with addressing structure and function. 

The weight of gravity, of our thoughts, and of all we carry in life can pull down on us. This is normal for humans; we have to forgive it. But to keep sweeping it off of our frames, lightening the burdens and the soreness, can be a sweet feeling, a warm relief, and fresh start to another new day and a new vision.

 

Copyright © by Lara Stillo 2017