Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Other Body Parts

We've all been through the classic spa/gym massage: back, back of the legs, front of the legs, arms, shoulders/neck, done.  But what about the other parts of the body?  Sometimes we forget to spend time on (or forget to tell our therapist to spend time on) other areas that can cause pain and imbalance.

The Feet
For those who aren't already reflexology addicts, ask your therapist to spend some extra time on your feet.  We spend much of our waking lives balancing our entire weight on our feet.  They take the impact of walking, running, jumping.  They work incredibly hard throughout our lives.  The theory of reflexology also teaches that there are points on our feet that correspond to part of the rest of our body.  In fact, a 2010 review of reflexology studies found that reflexology improved quality of life and mood in breast cancer patients (Kim JI, Lee MS, Kang JW, Choi do Y, Ernst E., "Reflexology for the symptomatic treatment of breast cancer: a systematic review." Korea: Kyung Hee University, 2010).  If you are ticklish, there are ways to avoid having you jump up from the table when your feet are touched.  Just tell your therapist.

The Abdomen
This abdomen is probably one of the least addressed parts of the body.  Because it is vulnerable we tend to shy away from it.  Think about how often we cover and protect our abdomen when we speak to others.  But this is where many of us keep our tension, and sometimes pain in iliopsoas (a hip flexor deep in the abdominal cavity) can disguise itself as back pain.  A 2009 study showed that abdominal massage alleviated symptoms of constipation (Lämås K, Lindholm L, Stenlund H, Engström B, Jacobsson C., "Effects of abdominal massage in management of constipation--a randomized controlled trial." Sweden: Umeå University, 2009).  For singers: massage at the attachments of the diaphragm just under the rib cage can be a great way to open up the voice if your breath is feeling tight.

The Hands
Those of you who get manicures know how good the hand massage feels.  Why not have your therapist spend an extra five minutes on your hands?  Like the feet, our hands work incredibly hard all day.  I know!

The Chest
Another vulnerable area, the chest is often omitted in massage.  But think about it: our backs and chests need to be in balance.  We've all seen the guy who only works on building up his chest and neglects his back.  The result is a stooped over posture with lower jaw jutting out.  This is because his his chest is hypertonic and his back is not strong enough to support it.  In massage we tend to focus on the back (with good reason), but the chest also needs release through massage of the pectoral muscles (including pec minor - ouch!) and the intercostals.  For women needing work on the chest muscles, there are simple techniques to avoid exposing or working on breast tissue, so don't hestitate to ask your therapist if you've been hitting the bench press and are in pain.

The Face
Some people do not like their faces to be touched, and that's perfectly fine.  For those who don't mind, however, a gentle facial massage is a relaxing way to end a treatment.  In addition, there are muscles in the face that work hard.  For example, massiter, the chewing muscle (bite down hard and massiter pops out on the sides of your face) is the strongest muscle in the body.  And think of how hard it works, especially with those of us who like to eat and talk!  Don't forget the face if you don't mind its being touched.  It will smile back at you.

These are just some examples of areas that are sometimes omitted in massage but which could be worked on to provide added relief.  In short, tell your therapist what's going on in your body.  No ache or pain is unimportant.

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