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Pillars of Optimal Health

The bigger concept of health has been on my mind recently. What does optimal health entail? The following are not in order of importance, nor are they completely independent of the others. They are what I consider VERY important pillars to being in optimal health when it comes to your physical body.  

Preface: These are what I consider important regardless of personal disabilities or physiological uniqueness (hormonal issues, activity level, etc.). If these things ARE in good working order, you’re well on your way to becoming the optimal version of yourself.

Nerve Function – If a muscle or organ does not have healthy, unrestricted nerve signaling, it will not perform optimally. To improve: proper alignment through bodywork (chiropractic, massage, etc.). Self maintenance includes maintaining good posture, muscle balancing through prescriptive exercise, and use of joints/area. 

Blood and lymph flow – If nutrients and waste products cannot enter and exit organs/muscles/etc effectively, optimal function will be impeded. Best addressed through balanced exercise, but bodywork can also assist blood and lymphatic movement.

Mobility – If there is excessive fascial buildup (scar tissue, fascial thickness due to disuse/injury, etc.) surrounding/within a muscle/organ, it will not function optimally. This is usually best addressed initially by a professional in fascial and scar tissue work, and maintained through a personal mobility practice such as yoga or pilates.

Nutrition – If you are unaware of what foods your body can and cannot use, you could be exacerbating inflammatory processes that both tax the body, and decrease performance. Despite what many believe, there is no “one size fits all” diet. What works perfectly for me, might be an inflammatory diet for you. Get some bloodwork done to figure out what foods you should NOT be eating. Ignore your friends to try a magic diet. Send me a message if you’d like references on who you should see, or what you should be looking for.

Emotional State – Our physical body seems to respond to our mental state – if there is excessive mental chatter, or negative self talk/image, it tends to decrease performance. Consider starting a meditation practice, and take time to listen to the voices that go through your head. Are they positive, reassuring voices? Are they self critical? Challenge your inner critic. 
Agree? Disagree? Let me know.

Better Bodywork: Muscle Tug-of-War

TL;DR Version: Know your anatomy, and always know (and carefully check) the antagonist if someone is coming to see you for pain and/or tight muscles. Pain and tension are often symptoms, not the cause of their issue.

KEY: People often feel pain/tension where tissue is overstretched or stretched tightly (often referred to as “locked long”). Think about this for a moment. Really…. think about the implications of digging in and stretching these tight muscles even more. This is often what clients ask us to do. RESIST THE URGE to dig in. Ultimately they want relief, but some clients (and some therapists) think it is to be done by digging into the tight tissue where clients are feeling the pain. This WILL provide temporary relief, but it will exacerbate the problem over time… remember, this tissue is stretched tight.

After seeing thousands of clients (I keep track, so I know that statement is accurate) I’ve seen this pattern again and again to the point where it has completely changed my approach to bodywork, and it is proving to be fast, effective, and unlike anything my clients or medical professionals I work with have seen or experienced before.

The body functions as a dance of opposites. Muscles rarely, if ever, pull in only one direction. In almost all instances when performing a movement, there are the agonists (muscle(s) performing an action), and antagonists (muscle(s) doing the opposite action). Examples of this would be Quadricepts vs. Hamstrings, Forearm Flexors vs. Forearm Extensors, Calves vs. Tibialis Anterior, etc.

This is an example and direct use (and simplified version) of the tensegrity principle, but hopefully one that will help your clients immediately if you aren’t already using it.

Put it to use immediately: Most clients will see a therapist for pain/tension in the shoulders, either on top of the shoulders, or between the scapulae.

Pain/tension at the top of the shoulder blades at the base of the neck: follow that line of tension to the other side of the shoulder blade (inferior lateral), and in about 90% of cases, there will be shortened, bound tissue. When you relieve this, the top of the shoulders relax. Remember: Long/tight is symptom; short/bound/immobile non-local tissue is often the underlying cause.

Pain/tension between the scapulae: AGAIN: RESIST THE URGE TO DIG IN between the blades. First: Check Pectoralis Minor, and release if tight. Second: If the scapulae have drifted laterally, work and release tissue on the lateral border to allow the scapula to move back into a more neutral position, thus relieving tension where the client’s pain area is located (the medial border).

When you address the underlying issue where the tissue is bound/short, get the blood moving through it, and give it an appropriate length, the tight/overstretched tissue should immediately relax/decrease in tension. Palpate to confirm this.
Will this fix the issue long term? Probably not, but the issue will not be exacerbated over time utilizing this style of bodywork.

What WILL fix the problem long term? This style of postural corrective bodywork COMBINED WITH conscious functional/postural improvements on the part of the client. If you stop doing the thing that puts you in compromised posture, longterm results are likely.  If your job or hobbies put you in compromised positions, see a therapist regularly for maintence.

Better Bodywork: How to know you’ve found a great massage therapist

A few months ago, nearly 100 people took my survey on the best and worst experiences of massage therapy. The results of which were great to know, and I’ve passed on to many therapists on how they can make your experience better, based upon your feedback.

Today I’m taking a different approach, a series of questions to ask yourself when receiving bodywork from your massage therapist. These are the criteria that I personally use when seeking a massage therapist for myself.

I am coming from a medical massage/pain relief background. If you receive massage for stress management, and not pain relief/injury recovery/prevention, then some of these may not apply.

So here they are, my top 10 for determining whether you’ve found yourself a massage therapist worth their weight in gold.

  1. How much does my massage therapist know about my health and conditions? Did I fill out a health intake when I first came to see them? Have you taken any since? (I personally ask for a new intake every 6 months for my clients, or if a new injury occurs.)
  2. Does my therapist do a verbal intake before each session (even to just check in.)
  3. Does my therapist do any tests, posture/gait assessment, or palpation prior to working?
  4. Is my therapist charting our sessions so we can determine what works for me, what doesn’t, and how sessions need to change over time? (This is usually done after you leave, so you may not know unless you ask.)
  5. Is my therapist asking for feedback during the session?
  6. Does my therapist focus just where my pain is, or do they take into account structural components to my pain? (Rarely does chronic pain stem from where the pain is. You feel the tired and tight stretch receptors that are chronically overstretched. Working the opposing muscle group will often bring longer-lasting relief.) 
  7. Do I just lie there while the therapist works on me, or am I involved in my healing process? (There is research that suggests that fascial remoldeling only occurs with an awake/aware nervous system.)
  8. Does my therapist stay current and utilize research in bodywork?
  9. Does my therapist further their education regularly to expand their depth of knowledge?
  10. Does my therapist refer me out to other practitioners who might be better suited to my conditions?

I kept this to 10 for succinctness, but another good indicator would be if they give me exercises that will help me over the long haul. Even when I already know certain stretches/exercises that will help, occasionally I need reminders to actually DO them, and I often learn new ways and techniques of doing stretches.

Please Note: These are probably the most important things I personally look for, and your criteria are likely different. That doesn’t mean they are not a good therapist for you. If you love your therapist, I encourage you to go see them!

Are there other questions you’d add? I’d love to hear them. Any you don’t think aren’t good indicators for medical massage? Why or why not?
A note for the massage therapists: Use this guide and see how you rank based upon my criteria. Are you passionate about medical massage? I’d love your feedback on this list and to learn what your criteria are when you receive bodywork. Are you in the Portland, Oregon area and meet these standards on a regular basis? I’d love to network with you, and see you for a session.

Medical practitioners: Are the massage therapists in your office living up to these standards? I’ve been to therapists working in medical centers doing little more than stress relief when the client is coming in for specific pain/ailments. I’ve also been to fantastic independent therapists who are truly top notch. If you’re needing a therapist to refer to, I’d be happy to work with your patients, or refer them to a therapist I trust. 

WeGiveBack November 2014 – Dental Assistants

Dear Dental Professionals,

My name is Nye Walker, a licensed massage therapist in SE Portland, and for the month of November, I’m offering a free 30 minute massage (chair or table) at my office for all Dental Assistants as part of my WeGiveBack program.

Image of Dental AssistantsI understand Dental Assistants make a large positive contribution on our dental experiences, and I’d like to return the favor free of charge.

Due to the volunteer nature of this service, there are a limited number of appointments available. If you or anyone in your office are interested, please sign up soon for a date between November 1st, and November 30th.

As an alternative to the free 30 minute service, or if no more free appointments are available, I would be happy to upgrade to an hour service for half of my regular massage price through the month of November. The 30 minutes is yours, free of charge, with no further obligation.

Please share with any other Dental Assistants that may be interested through the month of November.

Thank you for your service,

-Nye Walker, LMT (Lic. OR# 19821)

WeGiveBack_DentalAssistants P.S. This link is a PDF version of this blog post if you’d like to print and pass around the office, or to a Dental Assistant you know.

Closeup of hand with finger highlighted

Can you feel that?

One of the questions I get asked frequently when I describe what I do is if I can really feel the movement of the organs inside the abdomen, thorax, and skull. Can my sense of touch really be so sensitive to pick up tiny movements in the body as claimed by visceral manipulation?

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 10.12.10 PMAbsolutely…. and science backs that up. There is an article on PubMed entitled Feeling small: exploring the tactile perception limits. which explores just how sensitive the hand can be. The results are nothing short of astonishing. They found that the hand can distinguish textural patterns of only 10 nanometers. To those not familiar with a nanometer, that is about .00001 the size of a millimeter.

In short: The human body is likely the most precise, refined instrument that we can use. Our sense of touch can be highly developed and refined through practice, just as a sommelier can learn to distinguish the nuances of wine.

organ_LGESo can I feel the movement of the organs? Yep. Movement is life, and your organs need to be able to move. There are two types of movement. Mobility (they can move when you twist your body, bend over, etc.) and motility (the motion the organ makes on its own when it is functioning well.) If either one of these types of motions becomes limited, problems can arise, and the organ can’t function as it attempts/needs to.

That is where Visceral Manipulation comes in. As a practitioner, I am trained to locate and evaluate the mobility and motility of your organ system. Even if YOU don’t know where a problem stems from, your body does. We have tests to determine where health issues are stemming from: In short, we locate and treat the underlying physical causes of dysfunction… not always where you feel discomfort/pain.