How a Coroner Inspired My Career as a Massage Therapist

One of my early inspirations to become a massage therapist was, strangely, a coroner.

Carl McVey was the coroner of White County and my hometown of Carmi for over 30 years. He held the position up until he was 80, and passed away a few months after he retired.

He came and gave a talk to my high school journalism class. He told us the most difficult part of his job was often being the one who knocked on someone’s door and breaking the news a loved one had unexpectedly passed away. One of my classmates asked, “What can you possibly say to comfort someone in that situation?"

“I’ve always believed that when all words fail,” he said, "there is incredible power in appropriate, caring touch.” He explained that could be a hug, or simply a hand on a shoulder, or the offer to hold someone’s hand.

***

That stuck with me through the years. My own siblings and I are not necessarily affectionate or good with speaking with one another. But when our dad passed away a few years later, and our mom six years after that, it was frequent hugs that became our way of communicating and relieving each other’s sadness. Before the difficult public events - breakfasts, the wakes, the funerals - we would gravitate to each other for a group hug, a way to fortify each other before facing everyone else. During the rehearsal for my first wedding, just two months after Dad passed away, there was one moment when the weight that he wasn’t there hit us all at once, and we knew it without even looking at one another. A few minutes later, my sisters and my mom were crying in a group hug together in the lobby of the church.

***

Another powerful moment during that time: The day after my dad passed, a long-time neighbor - someone closer to my own age, and someone who had lost his own wife, a classmate of mine, just a couple of years before - came over to pay his respects. When he came to face to face with my mom in our front yard, there was a moment of silence between them and he simply said, “I don’t have the words.” My mom said, “There are no words,” and they hugged for a several moments. 

***

I’m reflecting more on my dad and mom’s passing of late. They both passed away in March, sixteen and ten years ago, respectively. I enrolled in massage therapy school six months after my mom’s passing. The reasoning I gave myself and others then is that I wanted to get out of the Monday-Friday office trap, and to do something in general that made a bigger difference in people’s lives than working as a marketing assistant at a commercial real estate company to pay the bills while I did theater and improv on nights and weekends. I knew little about massage therapy, and had not even received a professional massage before. Reflecting on this recently, it occurred to me that without necessarily consciously articulating it even in my own mind, I was being drawn to a field where I might be able to provide the caring touch that had profoundly helped my family and me get through the tough times of the last few years.

***

My training and my massage work does tend to focus more on the clinical aspect, addressing specific muscle issues and chronic conditions. But there is a much deeper and more human element included in even that kind of massage therapy, and I hope I’m getting better and better at addressing that even in the most clinically-focused of sessions, because feeling nourished and comfortable in your own skin is a basic and often overlooked aspect of addressing issues in the physical body.

***

When Carl McVey retired, a local newspaper did a lengthly retrospective of his life and career in White County, which included also being a nurse, an anesthesiologist, and one term as a city councilman. I was a little surprised, but shouldn’t have been, that in his interview, he noted his belief in the power of appropriate, caring touch. I only had a few interactions with Mr. McVey over the years that I recall, but he always knew me by name, and one on of those types to seem to know everyone by name. He left a legacy behind in his community that touched a lot of people’s lives. Here’s to striving to do the same. 

 

What a Pain the Butt - Piriformis and Piriformis Syndrome

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The piriformis is a small muscle in the gluteal region - small, yes, but can be plagued with a number of issues causing pain and discomfort - it is literally a pain in the butt.

The piriformis attaches at the anterior sacrum, running diagonally to the greater trochanter, a location near the top of the femur. It is deep the gluteus maximus - or, you know, the butt muscle. Given it’s width at the sacrum, and narrowing as it runs to the femur, it can have the appearance of a pear, hence its name. In Latin, “piriformis” more or less means “pear-shaped.” 

The primary reason it can cause a number of issues is its location in relation to the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. It begins in the lower back, and runs down through the pelvic structure, down the back of the leg. On its way, it passes underneath the piriformis. In some people, the nerve actually passes through the muscle. 

This means when the piriformis is tight, it can compress the nerve, causing radiating pain and numbness down the back of the leg. You’ve probably heard of Sciatica. Sciatica is an impingement of the nerve in the lower back, usually by a herniated disc. When the nerve is compressed by the piriformis, it is known as Piriformis Syndrome, also sometimes called “false Sciatica.” This condition can be exacerbated by such things as sitting for long periods of time, especially with a wallet in the back pants pocket that further compresses the nerve.

Because of the muscle's attachments at the anterior portion of the sacrum, and the greater trochanter near the posterior aspect of the femur, tight piriformis muscles of varying degrees on either side of the body can pull the sacroiliac joint out of alignment, causing further pain and imbalance.

How Massage Can Help Piriformis Syndrome

Firstly, there are a few tests that can be done prior to massage work to assess and determine whether the client is experiencing a compression of the sciatic nerve in the lower back, or at the piriformis. This involves running the client through a series of stretches and positions in order to briefly recreate symptoms felt in the client’s day-to-day life. 

Once it’s determined the issue is at the piriformis (more on Sciatica and treatment for it in a later post), massage can help loosen the muscle and return it to its proper length, relieving pressure on the sciatic nerve. This process may be uncomfortable during the session itself, but bring great relief after. Massage should also be applied to the surrounding gluteal area, hamstrings and calves, to relieve any lingering nerve pain. Self-care stretches and corrective exercises done between sessions can maintain effects of massage work.

 

What Others Think of You

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During my senior year in high school, I wrote a stereotypically high school emo essay I’m glad were for my eyes only in my private journal. Stripping away all the emo emo-ness of it, the piece was a reflection on how I had been teased mercilessly by many of classmates in grade school and middle school, but even after having come much more into my own as a person in high school, a generally well-liked student, if far from one of the cool kids, I still saw myself as the person I had been before, and showed up to school everyday expecting my classmates to begin treating me that way again. “Nice try, Fruitmire. We remember who you really are."

The truth, I conceded in the piece, is that I rationally knew my classmates actually didn’t think much about the person I used to be, or even the person I was at present; they probably were too wrapped up in their own lives, not to mention their own insecurities, to spend much time thinking of me at all. 

Nevertheless, I let my imaginings of what they thought of me partly dictate how I felt day to day. I compared it to being in a prison cell that the guards had long ago unlocked and walked away from, but I remained because I had been there so long, I felt I belonged there. 

OH, THAT PIECE WAS SO DAMN EMO.

This journal entry crossed my mind for the first time in years the other day. I’ve long ago left concerns about my high school classmates' opinion of me behind, but I still too often dwell on other's opinions of me, something that's not helped at all by social media. (Man, I'm glad social media wasn't a thing when I was a kid.)

A reminder I occasionally need: People aren't often concerning themselves with what I'm doing, and if they are, well, that's more a reflection on them than me. 

In case you need this reminder today as well...

Dennis

 

Muscle Mondays - The Rotator Cuff

We often refer to the rotator cuff structure as one muscle, but it is actually comprised of four muscles:

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- Supraspinatus

- Infraspinatus

- Teres Minor

- Subscapularis

Together, they work to stabilize the shoulder, and hold the head of the humerus inside the fossa (a small indentation) of the scapula. The head of the humerus adjoining with the scapula is known as a “ball and socket” joint, which allows for the most range of motion out of all the types of joints there are in the body. But this also means the joint is more susceptible to injury.

Rotator cuff injuries are common for people who have occupations or play sports that include repetitive motion in the shoulder, particularly overhead. Office and desk workers are also prone to injuries and pain due to rounding and slumping of the shoulders. A rotator cuff injury will result in a dull ache in the shoulder, perhaps made worse by sleeping on it. In some cases, the rotator cuff can be injured in a single accident, sometimes resulting in a tear in one or more of the tendons or muscles. In that case, immediate medical care is needed to treat the injury.

How Massage Can Treat Rotator Cuff Injuries:

Rotator cuff injuries can lead to limited range of motion in the shoulder, impingement of nerves and other structures in the area, and in some cases, strains and tears. Massage can help alleviate the pain, and also help stretch and elongate muscles. Posture analysis and self-care exercises can also be provided to reduce risk of future re-injury or aggravation. 

Unwind. Let go.

  Image courtesy of Massage World

Image courtesy of Massage World

 

Self-care is not a luxury. 

Yesterday, a client told me what they needed from the session we were about to begin. "I just need to let go. I try to control everything. I just need to let go of everything for a couple of hours, and feel okay with that." 

***

Later, another client talked to me about how he looked forward to returning to jiu jitsu training once he rehabilitate from his recent surgery. Running drills, being in a choke hold, trying to figure out how to get out of it, or deciding whether you need to tap out, he said, gets you out of your head for a while, and makes the high stress of his job matter much less for a short time.

***

Last week, a personal trainer shared with me she has had only one massage in her life, and while it was a perfectly good session, she couldn't relax. All she could think about was the more worthwhile things she could be doing instead of getting a massage.

***

I know yet another person who feels that way - someone who becomes an odd mix of anxious-bored about halfway though an hour massage, dwelling on what else he could and should be doing, and his eagerness to get to that once the massage is over.

That guy would be, the guy writing this post,  a massage therapist.

***

Being able to let go and unwind is hard. Even for bodywork and wellness practitioners who should know better than anyone the importance of it. Sometime recently I read something to the effect of, "If you think you don't have 10 minutes to meditate, you actually probably need 20 minutes."

Meditation, massage, exercise, whatever type of self-care helps you let go of the rest of the world for a while - when you feel like you simply don't have the time for it, that's probably when you need it most.

There are articles and blog posts ad nauseum giving tips and tricks and quotes about finding the time for yourself, and I won't assume here to add anything more of note to the echo chamber, other than a simple reminder that taking time for yourself to recharge, to unwind, to let go is important. 

Self-care is not a luxury. Without regular self-care, no one does their best, and they eventually burn out. I would even argue that a lack of self-care is, in a way, an act of selfishness and maybe even a little narcissistic - how important do you think you or your work is that the world can't spare you for a half-hour to an hour every day, a few hours every week, while you tend to your own mental and physical state? By taking care of yourself, you set yourself up to give your best self to the important people in your life.

Keep this in mind as the new year begins, and remember if nothing else these two things: Self-care is not a luxury, and when you feel like you don't have the time for it, that's probably when you need it most. 

 

A Few Tips for Keeping Your New Years Resolution

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A new year is about to begin, and with that, many are contemplating new resolutions. Here are a few tips for helping to stick to your goals for 2018:

Keep It Simple

Self-help guru and professional dilettante, Tim Ferriss, on taking on new goals, suggests asking this question: “What would this look like if this were simple?"

In other words, how can you make the logistics of sticking to your resolution as simple as possible, lessening the chance you’ll abandon it after a couple of weeks?

A personal example: For the month of this December this past year (2017), I decided I was going to post a Vlog (video log) a day on social media. I had started doing this back in November, and fizzled out after a couple of days. I had done this previously back in 2016, and I made it all the way through the month, but I didn’t feel like I had gotten much out of it. For December, I made some adjustments, kept it simple, and I stuck with it. 

- I began almost every video recording the same three things - me weighing myself in the morning, pouring my first glass of water, and popping a vitamin in my mouth. None of these are particularly noteworthy, but having three activities to film without much thought gave me a start every day and got the ball rolling. 

- I recorded many of my videos while giving my dog, Jessica Jones (a jet black whippet / lab mix with big eyes and floppy ears), her morning walk, and I made that part of the deal. While I often had something to say, I wasn’t necessarily the most articulate, and I didn’t look my best either. I didn’t have to; these were just musings during my morning dog walk. Less pressure. 

- I edited on iMovie - a simple, uncomplicated app on my phone. Aside from the longer days, like Christmas day with my family (my son’s first Christmas), it never took me longer than 5-10 minutes to edit together a Vlog of the day.

I’m not suggesting anyone else do a Vlog a day, but again, this is how I stuck to it: I kept things as simple as possible, and put some items (the first three activities I filmed every morning) on almost automatic so I didn’t have to give much thought to them every day. 

Take a look at your resolution and ask yourself, “What would this look like if it were simple?"

Keep Yourself Accountable

You can accomplish this in whatever helps keep you motivated. If posting pictures and status updates on social media helps you, by all means, go for it, and don’t let anyone shame you for it. (I’ve seen some friends comment online they had stopped posting their exercise and diet updates after being mocked for them, and have even seen the argument that such posts are a form of fat-shaming others who are struggling with their own diet and weight. As long as you’re posting with good intentions and focusing on your own journey, it’s your wall. Tell your story.)

Another option is to put daily reminders in your phone or on your calendar, and tick them off every day once you’ve accomplished them. (I do this for my daily language lessons on Duolingo.) 

You can also enroll the help of a friend to keep you on track (the dad joking-loving side of me loves the term “accountabili-buddy”), or there are even a number of accountability apps that work in a financial incentive/penalty.

Remember: Falling Off the Wagon Doesn’t Mean Staying Off the Wagon

This is a tough one I’ve had to learn over and over: If you backslide - If you miss a couple of work outs, have a few days of bad eating, go a few days without practicing that musical instrument, that’s not a failure. It’s a set back. Perhaps take some time re-evaluate, figure out how you can better keep yourself on track, and start again. 

Don’t Start on January 1

The first day, and even the first week of a new year is a bit of a mess, what with recovering from the holidays, New Year’s Eve celebrations, and possibly returning and getting settled back in to the regular work week. Wait a few days, and add that change to your life when everything else is as close to normal as possible.

Best of luck in 2018, and thanks for reading!

Dennis

 

5 Reasons You Should Get Massage Regularly

Listen: I know how difficult it can be to make time for a massage. I typically treat myself only once a month or so. As I’m booking my session, I question whether or not I really need it, could I be spending that money on something else, etc. And you know the horrible thing about this? I’m a massage therapist myself.

So I get why you might not get massaged as often as you should. But the thing is, I never regret it afterwards, and consider it money well spent. There’s a new study coming out every few weeks or months now it seems, scientifically confirming what we’ve known intuitively for literally hundreds of years: Massage shouldn’t be treated so much as a luxury, but as a part of one’s wellness plan, right alongside exercise and proper nutrition.

With that said, here’s five vital reasons you should book your next bodywork session in the near future:

1. Massage Reduces Anxiety and Stress

It’s said that the vast majority of diseases and their complications are brought on by anxiety and stress. Massage has been proven to lower cortisol levels in the body while increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine, thus helping to alleviate the stress we suffer from day to day, and promoting perspective and clarity.

2. Massage Addresses Low Back Pain

Massage addresses a number of musculoskeletal issues, but let’s single out the leading cause of disability in the U.S. (according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010). Thirty-one million Americans are suffering low back pain at any given time, with over $50 million dollars spent every year spent on traditional medical treatment, worker’s compensation, and lost time from work. A 2011 study found that regular massage to the lower back can help alleviate pain, and it didn’t even matter whether it was deep tissue or lighter Swedish massage – bodywork in general to the low back is helpful.

3. Massage Enhances Immunity

Swedish and deep tissue massage promotes the movement of lymph, the body’s natural defense system.

4. Massage Reduces the Effects of Long Hours of Desk-Sitting and Driving

The most common responses I get when I ask clients what causes them the most pain are these two things. The average American worker sits 8-9 hour a day either at a computer or behind the wheel, causing shoulders to become pulled forward and rounded, upper and lower back muscles to become overstretched and weak, and that’s just what happens to the upper half of your body. Coupled with a regular exercise routine, massage can help alleviate pain, and keep those postural deviations in check.

5. Massage Helps Athletes Prepare and Recover from Events

Many of us aren’t just exercising regularly these days, but challenging ourselves with athletic events such as marathons and Iron Man competitions, and events like Tough Mudder. Massage to help recover from these events is great, but even better is incorporating it into your wellness program leading up to the big event. It will help reduce muscle soreness and tightness, and keep joints mobile and flexible.

Bonus Item!

6. Giving Massage Can Provide Just as Much Benefit and Receiving It

While I certainly do like job security, I also hate to hear when a client comes to me (and it’s almost always a female in this scenario) and complains that her spouse or boyfriend won’t give her a massage, or if he will, it’s a half-hearted five-minute one at best. Aside from the chance of bonding it provides for a couple, giving massage has been proven to lower cortisol and raise serotonin and dopamine levels in the giver as well. The most frequent excuse I hear when the guy is called out right in front of me (and yes, that happens more often than you might think) is “I’m horrible at it”. You’re probably not as horrible as you think. And if you really want some bonus points, there are a number of classes offered showing couples how to give the gift of massage to each other.

But, you know, you should still make time to see your massage professional.

This article was originally published on The Shiny Side by Melanie Bolen on Chicago Now