Did you know that touch is the first sense to develop in the infant? Through touch an infant is able to make sense of their world. Without touch an infant fails to thrive. UNICEF has stated that for every three months spent in an orphanage, one month of growth and development is lost. The children rescued from Romanian orphanages who are now adults look like 10 year olds. 20 minutes of touch a day – just moving their limbs – is all that is needed to restimulate an infant or child’s development and set them on a healthy track.
Similarly, a study with baby chimpanzees showed how touch affected growth. Two baby chimps were separated from their mother – one chimp was given a plastic teat to suckle from and the other was given the mother’s teat through a wall to suckle from. Both were given the same amount of time to suckle. Over a period of six weeks, the baby chimp suckling from their mother’s teat gained weight normally and thrived but the other one failed to gain weight and withered. Both these situations really demonstrate the importance of touch to our growth and development.
As we get older we tend to touch and be touched less and less. It’s a pity because touch is so good for our health and wellbeing. Nurturing touch causes the release of Human Growth Hormone – essential for injury repair, bone mineralisation, increased muscle mass, protein synthesis, immune function etc – and also the release of the hormone oxytocin which not only makes us feel happier but is so good for our cardiovascular health. So you see touch isn’t just good for babies. We all need to be touched – in a nurturing way through hugs or massage – because it’s good for our bodies and it makes us feel better too.
In our society, feelings of loneliness and isolation are common particularly amongst the elderly. Giving someone a hug or a friendly stroke of the arm can do them a power of good by boosting their mood and feeling of connectedness. So, if you haven’t already, give someone a hug today. It’ll make them feel better and you too.
I hear this almost every week from new clients looking for relief from the pain they have been suffering for weeks, months and, sometimes, years. Pain hijacks your life and stops you doing the things you want. It doesn’t have to be that way.
So what do I do that is different from what these people have already experienced in their search to resolve their pain? Quite simply, I touch them. Touch is my trade and I’ve been doing it for over a decade. I assess through touch and I treat using touch therapies. I usually know within 5 minutes where you are hurting and whether I can help you. 98% of the time I can and when I can’t, I refer you to the person that I think will.
The relief on people’s faces when they realise there is a reason for their pain that can be explained, that they’re not alone, and, crucially, that something can be done about it, is beautiful to see. And as they walk out the door after their first session already feeling some improvement, I’ve noticed how much lighter and taller they look as if a weight has been lifted off their shoulders. I just wish more people knew that there is help out there after they have been signed off by their consultant.
I work with the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia) and, in my opinion, they are the first place to begin investigations into pain. It’s the most obvious place to start as they are accessible and easy to treat. If nothing is revealed there then move on to bones, joints, nerves, medical issues. But at least, eliminate the soft tissues first. In my experience, they are where the problem often lies and we can quickly nip it in the bud.
I’m looking forward to my annual visit from my favourite client. Last year, despite his workload, Santa was in reasonable shape. It transpired that he’d religiously been doing the back mobility exercises I’d given him. He’d had the odd twinge now and then but nothing of any major concern. In fact he was looking rather svelt for Santa Claus and he happily told me that he’d taken my advice and started a regular Pilates class. All of this was helping to get him in shape and keep him in his usual jolly humour. I was delighted when he told me he’d been spreading the word and that a number of letters had come in from people wanting to give gift vouchers as Xmas presents for friends and family. The great thing about a voucher, he said, is that it doesn’t require a trip to the shops or storage afterwards and it gives a loved one the opportunity to benefit from professional, experienced hands that can help them enjoy pain free flexibility so they can easily bend down to put the turkey in the oven and reach up to put the angel on the Xmas tree. Santa himself has ordered several vouchers this year for Mrs Claus to help her relax after the busy Xmas period. Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Xmas.
My favourite client has been in for his usual pre-Christmas maintenance. He’s been spending a lot of time bent over his work bench making toys and his neck, shoulders and upper back were feeling stiff and achy, he had a sharp, stabby feeling between his shoulder blades and was getting pins and needles in his hands when driving his sleigh. After testing, I decided to use Emmett technique and applied gentle, direct finger pressure on specific points in the affected muscles. Afterwards he said his neck felt freer, he could turn further and lifting his arm was easier. Second session, the stabbing pain had gone, the pins and needles had decreased significantly and would I look at his poor old knees as climbing up and down chimneys was getting harder. He had difficulty fully bending his knees and ankles so I treated thigh, shin and calf muscles and helped his core and foot balance. Shortly after, I received the sweetest note saying he was feeling more like his old youthful jolly self and was so impressed with the Emmett technique he’d like to book on the next Emm-tech day on Sunday 29th January so he could learn to help himself and Mrs Claus too. I can’t wait!! Merry Xmas all.
People often bring reports of MRI scans and x-rays detailing problems with wear and tear, bulging or narrowed discs, impingement or compression of nerves which purportedly explain the pain they are experiencing. However, similar problems have been found in dissections of cadavers where no complaint of back pain was made during that lifetime. More studies show that there are people walking around with the same signs and with no pain. An example of this is the 22 week pregnant woman who had no idea she had a grade 4 spondylolisthesis (lumbar detachment). So how come the same pathological signs can cause pain in one person and not in another? Are some people more susceptible to pain than others and if so why? We await further research with eager anticipation. What is becoming clear is that the body is capable of functioning pain free within a wide range of what is considered “normal”. It remains to be discovered whether those people with signs and pain can continue to have the signs without pain. If that’s possible then surely this will revolutionise musculoskeletal medicine as we know it and the sky will truly be the limit.
Massage helps to release a brain chemical called oxytocin, otherwise known as “the moral molecule”. Rigorous research carried out in 2004 by neuroscientist Dr Paul J Zak discovered that oxytocin allows us to determine whom to trust. Also an economist, Professor Zak believes trust is the single most important factor in whether a society flourishes or declines. He asked the question “Why do human beings, instinctively prefer to trust others and why does trusting someone elicit trust back?” The answer is oxytocin -“ the moral molecule”. Oxytocin generates the empathy that drives moral behaviour which inspires trust. This in turn causes more oxytocin to be released, more empathy, more trust and, presumably, a happier society
One way of stimulating oxytocin is through touch. Here in the UK, we’re still a bit shy about touching and being touched whereas on the Continent, hugs and kisses are freely exchanged with all and sundry. I’m passionate about the power of touch and believe that nurturing touch reaches parts of us that words can’t. If you need convincing check out this website http://www.freehugscampaign.org/. So next time you’re feeling down, hug someone, pet a dog, give a massage and be happy!
We’ve been acquired by next door’s kitten. We call her ‘Ninja’ on account of her antics and acrobatics which cause us no end of amusement. Thankfully she is learning that lying in the middle of the road waiting for a passing car to rub her belly is not a good idea. Her favourite game is ‘chase the stick’ which involves bombing round the settee and doing high fives. The rest of the time, when she’s not napping or visiting home, she’s out hunting. Rodents beware! Watching her hunt is like watching an Olympian gymnast, high jumper, 100 metre sprinter and tight rope walker all rolled into one – no training needed. Her litheness, natural balance and rebound is refreshing to watch as is her ability to completely surrender her body when curled up on her cushion. I was like that once.
So were you. Toddlers naturally use their bottoms as ballast, their heads as periscopes, give up their bodies at the end of the day and wake up full of beans. So what happened? Life – in all it’s glory. Or to be more particular, I should say our response to life and its challenges. In Britain we think suppressing our emotions is strong and brave. But it’s got to go somewhere – if not out then in. To our bodies. So we clamp down and lock the emotion in. Eventually, by the time you’ve got to my sort of age, poise and grace is something you appreciate in other animals, toddlers or tribal natives!
So, how to regain that natural balance and ease of movement? Start by chucking out the trash you’ve put in. Recognise and weed out the habits, attitudes and reactions that are compromising your natural flow. And as you enjoy your new found lightness of being in your bod remember to kick a few cans every now and then.
Space comes at a premium these days and, like everything, more space means more money. It’s nice to have space to move around in comfortably however when we don’t have it we adapt and downsize to suit the smaller dimensions. And so it is with our bodies. Constant gravitational pressure coupled with muscular tension creates compressive forces within the body and effectively makes us smaller and squidges everything together.
One of the first principles of massage I was taught was to create space in the body. Loosening compacted, adhered muscle fibre and shortened connective tissue and remodelling scar tissue to be more flexible allows the soft tissues to relax and soften. This helps the bones to move apart and decompress the joints giving more ease, fluidity and range of movement. It also reduces the load on articular cartilage and possibly the potential for unnecessary wear and tear. Pressure on nerves and blood vessels is released allowing for freer brain to muscle communication and better circulation. As we upsize into a more spacious body we walk taller and step a little lighter.
Massage tends to come under the category of an indulgent treat. Clients often say they feel guilty when telling others they are coming for a massage and quickly follow it up with “…but it’s much more than a massage!” That’s why I’m on a mission to rebrand the work I do as Soft Tissue Therapy and was delighted when Soft Tissue Therapists were listed amongst those thanked by several Olympic athletes in 2012. So, what is Soft Tissue Therapy and what are the soft tissues?
Put crudely, the soft tissues are the squidgy bits! From the outside in that includes skin, fat, connective tissues (tendons, joint capsules, fascia) and muscles. Wikipedia defines Soft Tissue Therapy as “the assessment, treatment and management of soft tissue injury, pain and dysfunction primarily of the neuromusculoskeletal system.” Our bodies are 70% soft tissue and the therapist with excellent anatomy and palpation skills can pinpoint problem areas caused by occupational or sporting injuries, tension and stress. Deep massage, stretching, mobilising and realignment techniques used in concert work to reduce pain, optimise function, posture and performance, prevent re-injury and flush out underlying causes.
So next time you’re coming, tell your friends it’s Soft Tissue therapy and it’s a necessity not an indulgence.