Category Archives: Pain

Got Chronic Pain? Treat Yourself Like an Athlete

I tell people that I’m pain-free, but that is, of course, a lie. “Yep, I’ve got feet flatter than a geometric plane, but no pain here!” I say this to encourage people to think differently about their personal body weirdness, but I’m covering up a terrible secret: Everybody hurts sometimes.

Hell, being a massage therapist is a game of “what weird new injury can I acquire this week?” It might be a funky shoulder, a thumb that doesn’t like it when you open jars, an ankle that doesn’t… you know, work.

This game might sound familiar to the athletes among us. Pushing yourself physically often results in weird little things going wrong, or sometimes weird big things. This happens to athletes all the time, but they tend to be little bumps in the road as they continue on toward their goal.

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Got Chronic Pain? It’s Time to Think Differently

I’m not here to say that your pain is all in your head… but it is literally, 100%, with no embellishment, all in your head. There’s no way around it. Everything is “just in your head.” That incredible three dimensional landscape in front of you? Constructed entirely in your head based upon the input of two tiny sheets of light-sensitive retina. All of those distinct objects that are so clear to you, like your computer monitor, or that oncoming car, or your dear mother’s face? All fabricated in post-processing by your team of faithful visual nuclei, all working together to make sense of the mishmash of light that smashes into our eyes (our ability to distinguish objects is an incredibly complex trick of the brain).

I’ve Got Some Upsetting News For You…

The rich green of the grass outside of your window, my friend, isn’t even fucking there. There is no “green.” We create color after we’ve processed the scene in front of us, giving different visual flavors to the wavelengths of light striking our eyes. Unable to distinguish between different wavelengths? Your brain fills in colors anyway, because your brain is incredible. I’m color deficient (“color blind”), but I never really notice it unless I pick the wrong crayon when coloring and people proceed to make fun of me. Hell, for all I know, my blue might be your chartreuse.

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Got Chronic Pain? It’s Time to Move Differently

If you’re in chronic pain, it’s easy to get frustrated with your own body. There are a lot of unanswered “whys,” like “why is this flaring up now? Why is this painful if there’s no new damage? Why is this ruining my life?” As weird as it may sound, the answer to most of these questions is that your body means well.

Imagine being a low back. Your purpose in life is to basically exist so that other, more important body parts can do their thing. You accept heavy loads for hours a day, you flex and extend for 30 minutes straight when your boss decides it wants to do “the thousand crunch challenge” (please tell me this doesn’t actually exist), and you generally just do your best.

The low back doesn’t have eyes or ears, and it doesn’t know much about the purpose behind your activities. It does, however, have a huge amount of nervous tissue (nerve endings and spinal cord sections devoted just to it). What does it do with all of that processing power? It listens.

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My Massage Therapist Hurt Me

It’s 4:00 in the morning. After tossing and turning all night, I’ve decided to just get up. My hips ache. My shoulder isn’t working right. My low back feels like someone took a brick to it. Hell, I even feel a little sick.

As some of you may know, I’m a massage therapist of 8 years. I’ve written rants about how massage shouldn’t hurt, and about how massage therapists who try to “fix” you are dumb. Yet there I lay, teeth gritted, as I got slowly tenderized. To be honest, I feel kind of embarrassed about letting it happen. I should have spoken up more. Hell, I should have stopped the massage. Sad thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve been through this.

“I Guess It’s Supposed to Feel This Way”

Being a patient is a scary thing. You’re in a room with an expert, they’ve got years of practiced dialogue about how you should be treated and why, and all you’ve got is a vague sense of what’s wrong. When they say, with supreme confidence, that “you need this,” who are you to argue?

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Lies Massage Therapists Tell: “It has to hurt for it to work!”

This one is rarely said quite so bluntly. It’s usually delivered implicitly: “Breathe through the pain.” “This is going to hurt, but we need to work this knot out” (Don’t get me started on “knots”). “If it hurts, it needs work!”

Fine. You know what? I’ll give you that last one, straw-man massage therapist. If a muscle, joint, or tendon is tender to the touch, it could likely use some work. You know what it probably doesn’t need? Your thumbs sunk deep into its inflamed fibers, stimulating pain receptors and causing local release of pro-inflammatory chemicals. You know what the person doesn’t need? More pain in their lives.

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[Source: Pierre Willemin, CC BY-ND 2.0, via flickr]

“No pain, no gain!”

“No pain, no gain.” Ugh. How tired I am of that toxic little idiom. While it has certainly been used by the timid to overcome fear, and by the sick to conquer disease, it’s usually used as justification for us to abuse ourselves and others. Think of how you’ve used it on yourself: Was it while you were training, pushing through signals that your body desperately wanted a break? Was it during a work week, where you were ignoring sleep/nutrition/family so that you could manage your workload? During school, when you were so stressed that faking a seizure started to look awfully attractive?

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