Child’s Play

X marks the spot
Follow the dotted line
Two more steps, and squeeze!

-popular children’s rhyme

One of my regular clients saw me last week for a Swedish massage. The session was about one-third over, and I briefly worked on his head and neck to transition to the other side of his back. His voice blissful, he joked, “Someday I’d like to have my scalp worked on the entire time.” I suggested that we devote more time to scalp work during that session. With the excitement of a child sleeping over at a friend’s house, he requested 30 additional minutes on his posterior scalp and neck.

For a glancing moment, I wondered if I had enough in my newish repertoire to complete 30 minutes on his scalp. Beyond Swedish moves and my creativity, I only have shallow knowledge of the meridians of Eastern-based bodywork; it could have been a targeted session had I known more. But this client had made it clear in the past that he loved scalp work, plain and simple. So I riffed on what I’d done before, and then it became child’s play. Success! He soon fell asleep.

Amidst my client’s peaceful snoring and with my task well underway, I found myself drifting into memories of games I’d play as a little girl with my friends and neighbors, like when we’d pretend to crack eggs on the top of each other’s heads by using our pinched-together and spreading-apart fingers and exaggerated sound effects.

Wow. We were “cracking” on a major pressure point (found in modalities like acupressure and shiatsu), I then realized. I learned in massage school that applying firm, steady pressure to Governing Vessel (GV) 20 is like hitting a reset button on the nervous system. It is believed that depressive symptoms can be lessened with compression there, and there are numerous other reported benefits. EFT/tapping also focuses on that spot to help break through emotional holding patterns and much more.

So, that little trick we’d play was a potentially powerful healer. 

We goofy kids were on to something.

Come to think of it, a lot of little games and tricks we’d play on each other involved touch. Remember giving each other “Indian burn”? (Sorry, I’m not sure there’s a PC term for that.) We’d place both hands on a friend’s (frenemy’s?) forearm and repeatedly wring in opposite directions, causing redness, an alarming amout of heat and an indignant protest from the unsuspecting victim. It was myofascial release that we were doing (albeit a very painful version of it), “melting” the connective tissue on their forearm with friction and the warmth of our hands.

A similar principle could be applied to the “rose garden” we’d plant on each other’s forearms. Digging, plucking, raking and other irritating actions done with our hands and nails evoked the red “roses,” AKA inflammation and vasodilation. And maybe “noogies” also apply. (Yipes, in retrospect, we were a bunch of mean kids!) Little did we know we were performing actions that are connected to powerful healing modalities.

Considering that ouchy “garden” and that sore, scrubbed scalp now leads my mind to deep-tissue frictioning and even Graston Technique®, a series of quick, forceful little strokes with a hard plastic or metal device to break up scar tissue, induce inflammation and promote healing — although probably not applied to the top of one’s head. (I don’t practice GT, as I’d have to be certified. But I’ve had it done to eliminate plantar fasciitis. In a word, OWIE. But it worked!)

Oh! Remember this?

Crisscross, applesauce
Spiders crawling up your back
Tight squeeze
Cool breeze
Now you’ve got the chills!

That little poem was accompanied by a flourish of thumps, X’s, squiggles and squeezes performed on the friend’s back and shoulders. Barring the awful “breeze” (blowing on the friend’s ear), we were giving our first chair massage, incorporating basic Swedish techniques like tapotement, effleurage and petrissage.

I’m sure there are other little tricks we’d play that are buried in my memory. (If you can think of any, feel free to comment; maybe we can figure out health benefits together!)

That young age, around 7-10, was a time of discovery, including learning the effects certain stimuli have on our skin. It was ok to touch each other back then as part of play. It makes me sad that in the media touch is often associated with sex or violence. As mammals we crave touch, we need it…so humans pay for massage and bodywork. If only we adults could remember those discoveries made in our formative years…despite even our cruelest intentions, we made amazing massage therapists.

A PSA on Back Pain

Oh, Canada. I don’t know much about you, but stumbling upon this informative video about low back pain that was funded by the government of Ontario gives me the sense that you care about your people. I wish I’d found the video sooner….

Back in early February I “threw out” my low back, a debilitating and scary event for anyone, and even more so for someone who depends on her body to earn a living (yipes, I mean as a massage therapist!). Fear moved into my heart, and it squeezed out most of my knowledge from massage school about acute low back pain.

At the end of the month, I blew out my back again at work and was forced to take a month’s leave to repair, rehabilitate and rest. David Bowie’s mournful “Space Oddity” became my soundtrack as I floated in a bubble of fear and uncertainty. It’s amazing how irrelevant I can feel when I’m not working, and how lost I become when out of contact with friends and coworkers.

Things started to get better. And then they didn’t. When my back went out a third time in the middle of March, my doctor ordered an MRI, which I’d been curious about for a while. The imaging center sent me home with a CD of raw images and the promise to get the written report to my doctor soon.

And then there was radio silence. Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Something I’ve learned is that uncertainty can breed insanity. I called and called my doctor, but he said the report still hadn’t arrived. A week after the scan, I was bored. I was curious. Nobody was telling me what was going on, so I popped the CD into my computer and started clicking.

And this is what I learned: if you’re untrained in medical imaging and you have the chance to see a scan of your body with nobody there to interpret it, please don’t take that chance. I compared my images against what I found online (another no-no) and found a bulging disc. What was even more alarming was the dramatic curve of my L-4, L-5 and sacral bones. There it was, the confirmation that I was a hot mess. Holy beans, I had scoliosis all these years and never knew it. No wonder things are so messed up for me now. 

A crazed weekend and more phone calls to the doctor got me nowhere. Finally, I brought the CD to my physical therapist. She explained that the imaging specialist may have positioned me crookedly on the table, and that the spine is meant to be that mobile. As for the bulging disc (actually two), she told me that they may or may not be the reason for the pain.

She showed me an article with an enlightening graph. A study was done on a number of symptom-free subjects of all ages. Even in their 20s, around 35% had some signs of disc deterioration. That percentage takes a leap to 70% in the 40s. And these people were walking around, feeling fine and whatnot.

This led me to do my own research and find the video that the good people of Ontario funded. It advises against getting an MRI unless absolutely necessary. And I now understand why. This stuff messes with our heads. It can lead to psychosomatic symptoms and further dysfunction. And here’s even more proof.

For some, ignorance truly is bliss. I wonder what happened to those asymptomatic people in the MRI study once they caught a glimpse of their images. Did they feel a little stiffer, a little achier the following morning? Yep, I thought so.

The mind is a powerful, wondrous thing. As for me, I got the official word from my doctor that I was just overcoming back strain. He told me not to worry about the bulging discs and to keep strengthening my core. Motion is lotion, so all we can do is keep moving, through back pain and in life.