The First 4-5 Months Postpartum Are Crucial to Your Body’s Recovery

If you are currently expecting, plan to be or know someone who may at some time be, then listen up! In other words, this information is for everyone.

This is one of those pearls of wisdom that hardly anyone talks about but that is so important. EVERYONE should know.

Hormonal Changes During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman’s body produces elevated levels of multiple hormones to support gestation and delivery. One of these important hormones is called Relaxin. Descriptive of its name, this hormone “relaxes” everything from the lining of the uterus to the membranes surrounding the fetus which causes a softening of the cervix and vagina in preparation for childbirth.

Additionally, Relaxin makes the ligaments stretchy in the front of the pelvis to ease the delivery of the baby. Relaxin is released, like many hormones, into the bloodstream from the pituitary gland. Though the target organs and structures are in the pelvis there is a systemic “relaxing” effect on ALL the joints of the body.

It can take up to 5 months after birth for the ligaments to get back into their original positions and stabilize.

How do Hormones During Pregnancy Effect Postpartum Health?

Why does any of this matter? Because this postpartum window provides a priceless opportunity with the elasticity of the body to realign, rehab and reset the structural integrity of the body from not only the trauma of pregnancy and delivery but imbalances or injury from child/young adulthood.

Beg, borrow or steal (well maybe not steal) every postpartum woman should make a concerted and concentrated effort to get the care she needs to restore herself to her former glory!

The ideal therapies for this restoration are a combination of massage and chiropractic care. Making the time and effort to invest in herself during this crucial healing period can yield a lifetime of benefits. There is no other comparable “reset” opportunity for a woman’s body.

Post-Pregnancy Health

As a woman who had carried and birthed six children, I can personally attest to the difference.

I did not know any of this until after the birth of my second child. Not receiving any massage or chiropractic care after my first resulted in a miserable and agonizing pregnancy for #2 with pseudo sciatica and the worst structural aches and pains of any of my pregnancies. Even pregnancy #6 was a walk in the park comparatively. This I ABSOLUTELY attribute to the difference in the postpartum self-care that I practiced from babies two through six.

Don’t be a victim of ignorance. Please share this information with everyone you know.

Common Tension Headache Trigger Points

Headaches are about as common an ailment as anything these days. When these headaches are caused by stress or tension the ideal solution is pinpointing the source of this tension and working out the soft tissue to relieve your pain.

Admittedly it is always better to have someone else (ideally a professional) work these points than to do try and do it yourself. But sometimes you gotta do the best you can with what you’ve got.

Trigger points are tight spots within the muscles or fascia that cause pain locally or to other referred areas. So before you reach for the painkillers, give rubbing these trigger points a chance:

Suboccipital Trigger Point

The suboccipitals work to keep the head balanced on top of the spine. The sub-occipital muscles are antagonized by the jaw muscles. The jaw muscles, while they don’t affect spinal joints, do have a push-pull relationship with the suboccipitals. Both of these muscle groups routinely harbor trigger points that cause headaches and together are the source of most tension headaches. 

Temporalis Trigger Points

The temporalis trigger point is located just above the ears on the sides of the head. The temporalis should be considered in tension headaches. Pain in the upper or lower teeth and gums is the most common pain pattern with this muscle.

Some causes in temporalis pain patterns include chewing gum, tooth grinding, prolonged dental work, stress, emotional tension, jaw/bite alignment, nail-biting, and thumb-sucking.

Obicularis Oculi Trigger Point

The obicularis oculi muscles are found around the eyes. They control movements such as blinking, squinting, and closing the eye. Eyestrain and poor eyesight can cause problems with this muscle.

To treat trigger points of the obicularis oculi muscle, rub just under each eye and just above the cheekbone.  Be careful to avoid the eye socket.

Thenar Web Trigger Point

Relieving a tension headache by massaging the trigger point found in the thenar web can be done with simple finger pressure. Locate the fleshy part of the thumb and pinch from both sides of the web. Direct pressure to this area is one of the most simple and effective methods. Press and hold this point until the pain subsides and you feel the muscles relax.

Scalenes and Pectoral Trigger Points

The scalenes are often found in tension headaches and neck problems. Interestingly, pain in the scalenes is often felt in other areas than the scalenes themselves. When rubbing the trigger point within the scalene it is important to not massage this area vigorously or use tools.

The trigger point within the pecs is easy to find by touch. It is on the edge of a hollow directly underneath your collarbone. It is a soft spot between the deltoid and the pectoralis major. It can be rubbed with thumb pressure.  If that is inadequate, use the knuckles.

When this trigger point is relieved it tends to relieve a sense of constriction in the chest. You may feel that you have more space to breath in.

Remember: Before you go reaching for medicine, give rubbing these trigger points a chance!

Happy Trigger Pointing!

The Lazy Man’s Exercise

Most people know that both regular exercise and massage are great for your health. But a little-known fact about both is that they are nearly identical and their health benefits.

Both increase circulation, promote the flow of lymph throughout the body, tone the muscles, release endorphins, reduce stress and yes, burn calories! It is very common for one’s stomach to start rumbling unexpectedly during a massage. Burning calories can make you very hungry!

There is, of course, one major difference.

There is no cardiovascular benefit to massage like there is with exercise. In other words, it will not raise your heart rate which is an important benefit of exercise.

So the next time you don’t feel like working out but want to get all the same benefits (minus one) schedule yourself a nice long therapeutic or relaxing, depending on what you prefer, MASSAGE!

4 Natural Immune Boosters Simplified

It’s that time of year again (finally!) when the air cools down and the germs they start a-spreadin’.

With six kids all over the place, there’s not much that doesn’t walk through our door. Remarkably, we hardly ever get sick and when we do it is short lived and quickly kicked out by our immune systems. While genetics may certainly play a role in this, I also believe that 14 years of parenting experience and intuition have helped me find an immunity “sweet spot” that yields these kinds of results.

Certainly, adjustments will need to made to allow for individual circumstances. I do not profess to have found the all the answers but these are four things that have really worked for us.

No.1  Limit Processed Sugars

Processed foods are not healthy

It is common knowledge that processed sugars are toxic and lower our immunity. Aside from the junk foods we all know we should limit we have to be careful of how remarkably skilled the food manufacturers have become at hiding these processed sugars in things like condiments, cereals, dairy products and even pickles! Read the labels and look for anything that ends in -ose (fructose, sucrose, dextrose, etc.) as well as filler sugar substitutes like maltodextrin (it’s everywhere!)

No. 2  Learn to Use Essential Oils

Like anything powerful, essential oils must be used with skill and wisdom to ensure safety and efficacy. Educate yourself on whatever method you see fit as there are many. Also, use high-quality reputable oils from companies like doTERRA, Rocky Mountain, and Young Living. Investing in quality essential oils will make all the difference. Learning to properly use essential oils has truly empowered me as a mother and saved me countless trips to the doctor and even the ER on occasion.

No. 3  Skip the Flu Shot

I am a big believer in the idea that the human body and the earth can do things far better than we ever could synthetically. While there is certainly a time and a place for those with severely compromised immunity, the flu shot introduces more risk than benefits for those with reasonably functioning immune systems. Avoiding a common, ever-evolving illness like the flu is far less important than building a solid personal immunity.

No. 4  Avoid Chemically “Antibacterial” Substances

There are SO many products out there that “sanitize”, “disinfect” and “clean” by using chemically “antibacterial” synthetics like triclosan and bleach.

The problem, especially when it comes to hand sanitizers (which I avoid at all costs) is that they kill EVERYTHING both good and bad. Yes, there is healthy, good bacteria that we need on our skin and our digestive tract for healthy function. 

When we kill it all there begins to be an “imbalance in the Force” (for your Star Wars fans) between the microorganisms that inhabit our bodies. Fewer bacteria means more yeast (which is a fungus) which leads to different kinds of infections and problems. So if you see the word “antibacterial” or the phrase “kills 99.9% of germs” opt for a more natural soap, cleaners or hand sanitizer.

Pure Haven is easily the best company I have found out there for this because they skip the toxic chemicals altogether and are very effective.

What’s Causing My Back Pain?

One of the most common complaints that walks through my door is a client suffering from “low back pain”.

What’s Causing My Low Back Pain?

There are several different muscle groups that can be the culprit of this ailment. Unless the pain is coming from the quadratus lumborum (which is your lift-with-your-back-and-not-with-your-legs muscle) the solution to finding relief does not come from rubbing the back at all.

So… My Back Hurts, But That’s Not Where The Problem Is?

Instead, it comes from focusing on the anterior (or front) and lateral/medial (or side) muscles of the body. Now there’s no one protocol to solve all low back problems.

However, in my experience, the key is focusing on lengthening out the constricted shorter muscles of the front and sides results in the relief of pressure and pulling on the back or posterior muscles. The simple fact of the matter is that gravity is our nemesis when it comes to good posture.

If It Isn’t My Back, What Is It?

Typical culprits of that low back pain include but are not limited to the adductors, obliques, abductors, TFL (Tensor Fasciae Latae), quads, psoas, abs, serratus anterior, etc.Don’t worry if you don’t know any of these muscle groups, your therapist will. And if they don’t, then it’s time to find another therapist. At Blue Heron Massage all our therapists understand the dynamic of anterior pull and posterior weakness as well as how to work through these imbalances.

Muscle Specific Self Care: Piriformis

Photo: 3D Atlas of Anatomy
Catfish Animation Studio

The largest of the deep hip rotators, the piriformis can be responsible for the common ailment of pseudo-sciatica or piriformis syndrome.It is important to note the difference between pseudo-sciatica and true sciatica.

What is Sciatica?

True sciatica involves the compression of the sciatic nerve due to a slipped or herniated disc.This is more of a structural problem that requires the attention of either a chiropractor or surgeon depending on the severity.

What is Pseudo-Sciatica

Pseudo-sciatica or piriformis syndrome has the same symptoms but is caused by an impingement on the sciatic nerve due to binding or tightness in the soft tissue that can be released through massage techniques and/or stretching.While the symptoms and severity may vary, pseudo-sciatica usually involves pain, tingling or numbness in the buttocks and can include shooting sharp pains down the leg as far down as the knee or the ankle.

How Can I Alleviate Piriformis Pain?

One of the things you can do to alleviate and avoid this condition is regularly stretching this muscle with the following techniques shown in the infographic below:

Tennis Balls Aren’t Just For Tennis

Additionally, you can self-care the piriformis by rolling and massaging the muscle with a tennis ball. After stretching the piriformis muscle take a tennis ball, place it under your piriformis and lay on it. This will work out a trigger point, or a knot within the muscle. Lay on the ball for 30 seconds. Relax for one minute. Repeat the process four to five times.

While we encourage self-care as much as a dentist encourages brushing one’s teeth, these techniques are not designed to replace professional massage maintenance any more than regular brushing and flossing can replace regular dental checkups.

Learn from our other Muscle Specific Self Care articles:

Pair Theory: The Three to Five Day Rule

Often times when clients come to me they are in dire straits.

Their pain is so debilitating that they are unable to work, sleep or function normally. This tends to stem from long-term chronic holding patterns and neglect. Usually, when you are at this degree of dysfunction multiple subsequent sessions are required to retrain the body out of this cycle of chronic pain.

When retraining the body. It can get worse before it gets better.

In my experience, retraining the body is like retraining a toddler. It gets worse before it gets better. One of the keys in this retraining is appropriate repetition inside an optimal window.

After the initial session of unwinding and retraining the muscles, it is my experience that the client will feel significant or noticeable relief for the first one to two days. In between days 3 to 5 the symptoms will begin to return as the body reverts back to its old habits. It is most effective to receive a second session in this window between days 3 and 5 to reinforce the new habits of muscle release from the first session. Depending on the severity of the client’s pain, repetitive pair treatments may be required until the body embraces the new pain-free habits over the old chronically painful ones. We schedule these sessions one at a time based on the individual progress of each client.

How long will it take for my body to respond to massage therapy?

There is no way to know how quickly each person will respond because everybody is different. As always, I encourage my clients to listen to their body and book an additional massage session when they feel like they need it.

Occasionally I encounter a skeptic. They may question why I recommend that they come in so often or why they are not getting results as quickly as they hoped.

My response to them is usually this: give me as many months of regular massage treatments as you did years of neglecting your body and THEN tell me that what we’re doing is not working. All things considered, that is a relatively quick reversal of habitually chronic pain.

Types of Massage Explained: Swedish Massage

Swedish massage is one of the most common massage modalities, particularly in the United States.

Before we dive into the Swedish Massage, let’s tackle a term you will be hearing from me quite frequently –modality.  ‘Type of massage’ or ‘massage type’ is often used by the layman where they should be using the term ‘modality.’ The term modality does refer to a method used, however, it more specifically points to a specific method of touch to physically treat a problem.

The defining characteristics of a Swedish Massage are long smooth strokes that focus on moving blood and lymph in the direction of the heart. This type of massage is designed to be more relaxing. It focuses on increasing oxygen, decreasing toxins, and improving circulation all while easing tension. 

Techniques Used in Swedish Massage

Most massages incorporate some level of Swedish techniques which include effleurage, petrissage, vibration, friction, and tapotement.

Effleurage is the smooth long superficial strokes typically used to warm up the tissues.

Petrissage involves “milking” the muscles by pulling them away from the bone and then afterward compressing towards the bone repetitively.

Vibration is relatively self-explanatory as we use rapid vibrating motions to break up adhesions and promote circulation.

Friction involves muscular cross fiber motions also intended for breaking up adhesions or knots.

Tapotement is a rapid tapping, hacking or slapping of the body to stimulate and increase circulation.

While these techniques could be used in deeper therapeutic modalities as well, Swedish massage focuses more superficially (the layers of muscle right beneath the skin).

The thing to be careful of when requesting this modality is a lazy therapist who uses the superficiality of the modality as an excuse to perform a mediocre massage.

Some therapists do little more than rub lotion into the skin and call it a Swedish massage which is a gross misrepresentation of this important modality.

What is Myofascial Release?

We hear a lot about fascia these days but most people don’t even know what it is.

First, let’s talk about fascia.

Fascia is the connective tissue in the body that encapsulates every muscle and organ gently holding it in place. It is very flexible and allows for a tremendous amount of give when it comes to the many ways we move and sometimes injure our bodies.

If you’ve ever cleaned or skinned chicken there is a translucent, slimy film that slides along the surface of the meat that can be peeled off. This is fascia.

Fascia is what allows us to eat an enormous meal that weighs five or six pounds without the weight of that food impinging on the function of our lower organs like the intestines or bladder.

It’s what allows a woman to grow an enormous load in her abdomen, otherwise known as a new human being, without dysfunctionally crushing all the organs around it.

If you’ve ever known anyone who has had to have exploratory intestinal surgery, you know that there is a crippling amount of pain involved in the recovery because all the fascia of the intestines was broken up during surgery and the weight of the intestines themselves impinge on the natural and necessary flow of fluids and gases through these ducts which causes tremendous pain and discomfort until those fascial layers can reconstitute and support the organ properly.

In short, the fascia is the pantyhose stocking of the body that supports and lifts while enabling an impressive range of motion. When the fascia is not moving properly it, in turn, impinges on the ability of the muscle to enjoy a full range of motion.

So what is myofascial release then? The prefix myo- means muscle so myofascial means the fascia surrounding the muscles.

Over time fascia can lose its elasticity as adhesions accumulate. These adhesions can be caused by dehydration, toxins in our diet or environment, waste byproducts of the body and/or a sedentary lifestyle.

Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is the working of the fascial plans in the body to break up these adhesions and promote regenerative healing to the fascia. They call it myofascial release but I’m going to level with you right quick; the term “release” is just a euphemism for tearing.

When long hair becomes tangled and you are brushing it out there’s a certain degree of tearing of the hair fibers that naturally occurs. Similarly, when you are working out the fascial layers of the body there is a degree of tearing that will happen. This can sometimes cause superficial bruising which is perfectly normal. Releasing or tearing the fascia promotes blood flow and healing to an otherwise stagnant area.

It may not be a very pleasurable experience (my clients have often described it as an intense burning sensation) but it is very effective in restoring range of motion and stimulating the natural healing processes of the body.

“You Want to Massage Where?”

Massage therapy in the pelvic region is essential to achieving results for a variety of ailments.

Many people may initially feel uncomfortable with bodywork in these areas and even question the legality of such therapy. For those with such concerns, allow me to quote directly from the Rules and Regulations of the North Carolina Board of Massage & Bodywork Therapy; Section .0506 (4) Draping Requirements states:

Ensure that the following areas are draped during treatment: the gluteal and genital areas for male and female clients, and the breast area for female clients. With the voluntary and informed consent of the client, the gluteal and breast drapes maybe temporarily moved in order to perform therapeutic treatment to structures in those areas.

While each state may have its own specific wording, the principle is consistent that gluteal and groin work is not only legal but recommended for a variety of conditions as long as the genitals remain draped and untouched.

For those uncomfortable with direct skin contact in this area, bodywork can also be offered through the sheets on these important muscle groups and attachment sites. What is most important in performing this part of Massage Therapy is that the lines of communication between client and therapist remain open and free-flowing.

The pelvis is the literal hinge of the body and affects both upper and lower body wellness. It is imperative as we work with our clients that we find a way inside each individual’s comfort level to adequately work this region.

For those skeptical about the ability of your therapist to work the pelvis inside your comfort level, I would encourage you to find a Massage Therapist who is confident and competent in this area to experience the difference that comprehensive pelvic work brings to your quality of life.