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Pain can be sneaky. It can take a little detective work to figure out where the source of the pain is coming from. This is because the pain may be a symptom of another underlying issue.
Here's an example we are all familiar with. A 45-year old man stops talking mid-sentence and grabs his left arm in pain. What do you immediately think of? Heart attack?
Of course. Given that we've all been taught that a heart attack can cause symptoms in other places like the left arm or jaw. This is a prime example of the concept of referred pain.
Pain is one way our bodies communicate with us to let us know something is not right. Referred pain, in particular, is the disconnect between the source of the pain and where the pain is actually felt. Symptoms in one part of the body could actually be caused by a problem in another area of the body.
It can be challenging to decipher between the two - the symptom or the cause.
Doctors, physical therapists, and massage therapists know how to ask the right questions. They look for pathways of pain and try to uncover where the origin of the pain is coming from. This is because referred pain can stem from several different sources.
Pain can follow the nerve pathways of an affected area. Nerve pain has many different sensations including stabbing pain, tingling, or burning. An injured nerve can cause pain to radiate anywhere along the pathway of that nerve bundle.
For example, those suffering from sciatica (inflammation of the sciatic nerve in the hips) may feel pain in the back of their thigh or calf. This is because the pathway of the sciatic nerve also runs through those areas. To successfully treat the pain in the leg, the root cause must be addressed in the hips.
Pain can also be referred within a muscle or group of muscles. If a muscle is tight or injured in one area, it may put pressure on the entire muscle group.
In fact, Tom Meyers, author of the book Anatomy Trains suggests that it may not be your muscle at all. It could be your fascia. Fascia is a web of connective tissue that encases all muscles and entwines them together. This is why Meyers is a proponent of treating the whole body. He has an interesting perspective for viewing the muscles.
"While every anatomy lists around 600 separate muscles, it is more accurate to say that there is one muscle poured into six hundred pockets of the fascial webbing."
A common complaint is low back pain, especially in office workers. In fact, it's one of the top musculoskeletal disorders employers face. It's possible that there is an actual injury to the back muscles or disks. But it's also possible that the pain is stemming from somewhere else.
If we consider the biomechanics of sitting, we know that the psoas muscle (one of the hip flexors) shortens when the hips are bent at 90 degrees. Spending too much time like that can cause the psoas muscle to pull on the low back and create pain.
Treating the low back muscles only may not help because the root cause of the pain is not being addressed. However, treating the body as a whole to address muscle imbalances and flexibility, the low back pain may get better.
Another source of pain is compensatory pain. This is when one area in the body is placed under an unusual load or not working as it should. The rest of the body is trying to still get the job done, so it figures out a compensation pattern of movement. While it does work at the moment, it creates a problem in another part of the body that is seemingly unrelated.
For example, imagine that you broke your ankle and have to walk with crutches. Over time, your shoulders and wrists can get sore from the altered movement patterns. If you stop using the crutches, the pain in the shoulders and wrists will improve.
Another example is if you carry a baby on one hip for extended periods of time. Your spine will be out of alignment, and that could cause pain to pop up in your neck and shoulder on the opposite side.
A HOLISTIC APPROACH
No matter the source of the referred pain, the main thing to keep in mind is that everything is interconnected in the body. Treatments need to address the body as a whole so that pain can begin to unravel.
A common way to treat muscle pain is with massage. Even though a person may have a complaint in a specific area, massage therapists work the whole body. This is because muscles are connected via fascia. Releasing one fascia adhesion may very well lead to pain relief in another area.
A neck massage for a sore neck may feel good and temporarily ease pain. But a permanent solution needs to address the root cause. The same is true for mechanical massage chairs. They are becoming popular options for addressing pain at home or at work.
Credible massage chairs act like a physical therapist. They take a holistic approach, working on the entire structure of the body within a single session.
If you choose to go this route, be sure to choose a high-quality massage chair. Find one that has intelligent, intuitive massage choreography. Choreography is the sequence, timing, and location of the massage motions. It should address the whole body, at some level, in all programs. This is what will lead to continued healing and pain relief over time.
So don't let your pain fool you. Seek first to understand where it could be coming from. Then consider a treatment that addresses the body as a whole so you can unravel your source of the pain. #
(This article was also posted on LinkedIN here:
The “no pain no gain” myth has been circulating in the wellness industry for decades. It became popular in the 1980's as one of Jane Fonda's favorite aerobics catchphrases, and it's been causing harm ever since.
"No pain no gain" is the idea that you get greater rewards by engaging in hard or painful work. Another way to express the same sentiment is “go hard or go home,” but I like to refer to it as the “punishment mentality.”
PAIN ISN’T THE PATH TO WELLNESS
It isn't sustainable or effective to punish your body in the name of health. Strict diets, harsh workouts, or cringe-worthy massages may elicit short term change. But the damage it does to the body is a risk that should make us think twice.
Science has proven that low intensity activities produce significant health improvements. Yet our culture continues to embrace the concept. Here are two reasons why.
TWO REASONS WE STILL EMBRACE THIS IDEA
The first reason is because our culture idolizes high level athletes. Athletes push their bodies to the limit in the hopes of dominating their sport. While the end may justify the means for this group of people, the body is in danger of damage or disability.
Most of us aren’t professional athletes. We are trying to stay well and feel good for as long as possible. This idea of pushing our bodies beyond comfort and safety should be re-examined.
The second reason is because many people believe that if a little is good, then more must be better. Have you hear of the Law of Diminishing Returns? It states that there is a point where effort no longer produces the same benefit. There even comes a time when continued effort produces negative returns.
Water is a perfect example of this - too little water leads to dehydration, but too much water leads to drowning. There is a point when you can have too much of a good thing.
It’s time that we toss out the concept of inducing pain in the name of health. Long term wellness comes in the form of respecting the body and listening to science. Let’s explore what this looks like in real life.
We know that movement is good for your body. So, if you want to get healthier, going for a run may sound like a good idea since that’s what the athletes do. But, a run might make your knees hurt or cause muscle pain that leads you to avoid another run like the plague.
What if you committed to going for a walk after dinner everyday? The intensity isn’t as high as running, but the benefits to your body are still significant. Your heart, lungs, and muscles are still working. Plus, you are controlling your blood sugar and boosting “feel good” hormones in your brain. If you make that a regular habit for the rest of your life, the benefits will far outlast the occasional run.
SMART STRESS RELIEF
Something else good for your body is managing stress. Massage is an effective way to relieve stress. Yet, it’s commonplace in my line of work to hear someone say they need a deep tissue massage and nothing else will do. This may be true for some people, but it’s risky to assume that if a gentle massage is good, a deep tissue massage is better.
There is a growing movement to incorporate mechanical massage chair at home and work. When looking at their options, people think they want a chair that has deep tissue capabilities. This is because they’ve heard that deep tissue is better. But, that’s not necessarily the case. If you don’t love strong massage, don’t feel like you have to endure the pain of deep tissue sessions to benefit.
There are so many good things happening inside your body with gentle massage. For example, compression therapy helps move lymphatic fluid. Soft tissue manipulation hydrates the fascia and muscles. Zero gravity body positioning taps into the parasympathetic nervous system.
If you love strong massages, then it’s important to find a company who understands how to do it right. Strong massages in a mechanical chair pose a higher risk of real damage to the spine, joints, or muscles. So pay extra attention to how credible the mechanism and massage choreography are.
The last health habit I will touch on is eating. Diet is a four-letter word in my book. There is no award for enduring the most restrictive, painful diet, yet people tend to act like there is. Eliminating entire food groups and starving yourself, for the sake of a lower number on the scale, is far from healthy.
Instead of embarking on the next fad diet, try making a game of how many superfoods you can get into your meals each day. By filling up on the good stuff, the unhealthy foods will naturally crowd out. Cravings will go away, willpower will be a non-issue, and your energy will spike.
What you eat, how you move, and the way you manage stress should be nourishing, sustainable, and ENJOYABLE for a lifetime. No pain, tons of gain.
If you would like help navigating a healthier life at work and home, please click below to schedule a free consultation.