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Navigating Pain: Pinpointing the Causes and Effects

The journey to alleviating pain can be a long road if you solely focus on where your pain is rather than determining the actual source of your discomfort. To help you chart a course to a more pain-free lifestyle, Juliette Stuard, massage therapist at Elements West Chester, breaks down the three most common pain areas in the body and provides pointers for finding relief and relaxation. It might surprise you that when using massage to address nagging, painful areas, massage therapists may not necessary focus their efforts on where you feel the pain.

Pain Point: Neck and Shoulders
Sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time, reading books or playing games on electronic devices and commuting for long periods of time each day can wreak havoc on the muscles in your neck and shoulder area. To help minimize the physical stress and strain your neck and shoulder areas experience on a daily basis, Stuard encourages you to put a picture of something you love on the ceiling above your computer desk so that you have a reason to look up and change your body’s position regularly during your workday. She also suggests drinking water continually throughout the day to not only promote healthy hydration, circulation and mental clarity, but also to provide regular opportunities throughout the day to get up out of your seat to go to the bathroom.

Both of these lifestyle habits can help encourage you to take breaks throughout the day, change your posture, stretch and move around to keep muscles loose and limber.

“As we are sitting at the computer all day, we don’t realize how much we are looking down and leaning over, resulting in our shoulders and neck becoming hunched over,” Stuard reflects.

When your neck and shoulder muscles are screaming with pain, though, Stuard’s first instinct isn’t necessarily to massage the pain point. Since the muscles in the body are similar to a pulley system that tugs and pulls, sore muscles in the back of your neck and shoulder blade area can actually be the result of tight pectoral muscles on the front side of your body. Tight pectoral muscles can pull your shoulders and neck into an unfavorable forward position, resulting in tightly fatigued and sore neck and shoulder muscles. By massaging tight and contracted pectoral muscles, you are releasing the tension that may be causing your neck and shoulder pain.

“I first address the cause and then the result,” Stuard said. “You still have to massage the area where the client feels the pain, but only after you address the cause. Some clients are surprised when I have them start a massage lying face up on the table when they are seeing me to help with neck and shoulder pain.”

Pain Point: Lower Back
When you lift a heavy box and feel a spark of pain radiate through your lower back, your first reaction is to grab your back and start massaging the area in pain. The root cause of lower back pain, though, can actually be tight leg muscles in some cases that are pulling on the hips and triggering the pain you feel in your back. To break up this chain reaction of pain, it can be most effective to start with deeply massaging your tight leg muscles, moving up to your hips and finishing off with a gentler, light massage on the lower back muscles.

“If certain areas are really tight, you can use deep tissue or even trigger point massage techniques,” Stuard explains. “But, if someone can’t handle the intensity of deep tissue, then you can use gentler techniques that will focus on massaging over a larger area with less pressure, but for a longer period of time.”

Pain Point: Heel and Foot
A common pain point for active people, especially runners, is in the heel area of the foot. Often referred to as plantar fasciitis, this debilitating heel pain can often sideline runners for extended periods of time, especially if they are focusing solely on healing their foot. Many times, the root cause of foot and heel pain can be tight Achilles tendon and calf muscles that are intensely pulling and shooting pain downward. Consistently stretching your calves, staying active, wearing supportive footwear, and massaging your lower legs, ankles and feet on a regular basis can help put you on the right path to pain-free living.

“I always encourage clients to keep moving after a massage,” Stuard advises. “After a massage, you may be sore or tender and have a tendency to want to be sedentary. But, you need to keep moving to keep from getting more stiff and sore. Your body needs time to adjust to its new way of moving.”

Awareness of your body and the trigger points associated with common areas of pain are critical elements to diagnosing and healing your body’s aches and pains. Combining a healthy and active lifestyle with regular massage therapy sessions can help keep you on the road to living a pain-free and rejuvenated lifestyle.

“If you’re going 24/7 every day, you aren’t going to take the time to slow down, take a breath and become aware of how your body feels,” Stuard explains. “Use massage as an overall tool to give yourself time to rest and focus on where you feel body pain.”

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