Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hurts So Good!

Photo via

Do you ever notice that some part of your body (neck, shoulder, back, legs, etc) just plain hurts? Lately, for me, I notice it when I’m laying in bed at night, the muscles around my shoulder blades ache and feel like they are playing tug of war which each other. It’s almost as if there’s a rubber band connecting the two across my back and there’s a building pressure, as if they are struggling to keep from being pulled together. The next morning, I usually have specific pain points around my right shoulder blade, neck and near my spine. These knots are the result of “over use,” meaning repetitive motions that (for me) result from working on the computer. I put in long hours at my desk, in hotel rooms, airports and even on the couch at night as I write blog posts or catch up on more work from my “day job.” This has been going on for years and I’d deal with it by finding Bentley’s (my sweet golden retriever and you can see his beautiful face by clicking here) tennis ball, placing it under the knots as I rolled around on the floor in an attempt to “massage out” the pain. Other times, I’d frantically call around my town, trying (mostly in vain) to schedule a last minute massage appointment. Finally, I’ve been able to make regular massage a part of my routine.

Aroma Therapy
Photo via

Within the past two months, I’ve had several massages while on the road. One time it was a very expensive deep tissue massage at a spa attached to a well known, high end hotel and the other was at a beautiful resort in a different state. Both lasted about an hour and really relieved my pain, only to have it recur within a week, as the long hours (and travel) continued. After this six week stint of weekly travel, I decided that I finally had to do something about the situation. Mr. Google helped narrow down my choices for massage and I was amazed how the local landscape had changed since I had last looked for massage services three years before. For the first time, I was able to find companies that made this therapy available to people from all walks of life! Prior to this point, I did not schedule regular massages due to the cost (I’ve paid up to $200 for an hour massage when I was desperate for relief and that’s just not sustainable). Things were definitely looking up! After researching a few firms, I booked a massage at my local Massage Envy.

neck and shoulders
Red arrows point out my problem areas

My first introduction to Massage Envy and my therapist, Calvin, was very impressive. The facility was clean, the staff professional and better still, Calvin proved to be an awesome massage therapist! After spending a good deal of time going over the questionnaire I filled out when I arrived and then listening to my needs, we got to work. Calvin explained that the overuse injury (the knots) I described in my neck and shoulders is very common with people like me. Working on the computer, travel, long hours, etc can really wreak havoc on one’s body. My problem areas included the scalene and sternocleidomastoid muscles in my neck and a whole host of muscles in my back, particularly on the right side (scapular area, rhomboids, traps, etc). Since I signed up for a deep tissue massage, the focus was getting the knots out and Calvin did a great job. I was in bad shape but he changed the pressure as needed and due to his experience, he was literally able to pinpoint the problem areas with a single touch. As I asked, he “dug deep” in those areas (or at least as deep as I could stand) and by the end of the hour, I felt a thousand times better! It literally “hurt so good!” As a result, I signed up for Massage Envy’s package, which includes a low monthly payment on one massage, and then discounts on subsequent massages during the month. Before leaving, I made my next appointment for about a week and a half later.

At the next appointment, my pain points weren't nearly as bad as when I walked in for my first massage. Calvin concentrated on the same areas but this time, he also did more with my fore arms and hands. Wow! It immediately became clear that the muscles in my right hand and arm are much tighter and more strained than the left. Regular massage has definitely been working for me and my neck and back are so much more comfortable now. I’m going about twice a month but will not hesitate to go more if I need to.

Since beginning this process, I’ve also vowed to take better care of myself between massages. Part of that means getting up from the desk regularly and stretching my neck and shoulder muscles so that they don’t get so bound up. I’ve taken some pictures of the routine so I can pass it along to you. Do these stretches and you will go a long way in preventing knots and pain.

Stretch #1
Stand in a doorway, placing  your hand above your head on the door jamb. Lean forward, stretching the upper shoulder. Hold the position for 10-15 seconds.

Stretch 1A

Slide your hand down the door jamb so that your hand is roughly next to your ear. Lean forward to stretch and hold for 10-15 seconds.

Stretch 1B

Slide the elbow back so that it points straight out. Again, lean forward and stretch, holding the position for 10-15 seconds.

Stretch 1C

Slide the hand down the door jamb so that it is roughly straight and below the waist. Stretch forward and hold the position for 10-15 seconds. Repeat entire stretch on the opposite side.

Stretch 1D

Stretch #2
With the palm facing out, bend at the elbow and place the back of the hand along the lower back. If you’re wearing pants, tuck the hand into the waist band.

Stretch 2A

Place the opposite hand on the top of the head and gently pull the head toward the shoulder, stretching out the neck and the muscles in the shoulder blade area. Repeat entire stretch on the opposite side.

Stretch 2B

Stretch #3
Drop the elbow behind the heard, pulling down on the elbow with the opposite hand so that a stretch is felt in the shoulder. Repeat on the opposite side.

Stretch 3A

Stretch #4
Pull the arm across the body and hold with the opposite arm. Stretch. Repeat with the opposite side.

Stretch 4A

These stretches work really well for me between massages. Do you have any tips to reduce knots in the back and shoulders? Do you get regular massages?