Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Is your posture causing your pain?

Back pain, neck pain, and headaches are the most common complaints my clients have when they come to me. While some of their pain may result from a chronic underlying medical condition that requires a doctors care, other causes of aches and pain can be easily managed by making a few simple adjustments in your every day life.

For example, one of the most effective ways to lessen the amount of pain you experience daily would be to improve your posture. You see, the human body wasn't designed to be slumped over a computer, texting on the phone, or surfing the net on a tablet. Instead, it was designed to move - to be out in a field chasing after our meals (harvesting if you are a vegetarian) or running away from what was about to make us their main course.

However, seeing as it's the 21st century, I can't imagine that our dependence on technology or modern living is going away anytime soon especially when our livelihood depends on it. And although  we may not easily be able to change our career paths, we can easily change the way we sit and move about in our workplaces.

If you are like the average desk jockey, your tend to work while slumped forward, diligently droning away at your desk. However, this position puts a lot of strain on the lumbar spine which can subsequently add to low back pain. The use of a computer mouse usually causes our dominant arm to rest in a forward position, and since we are carefully looking at our computer screens, we also tend to project our head forward as well. (see the above pic)

So how should we be sitting? Well, there really isn't a "perfect" way to do this, but what we can do is strive to maintain a "neutral spine" position as often as possible. Most importantly, you can set up your workstation to prep you for pain-reducing posture. Below are a few tips to help you do this:

  • Avoid working on a laptop whenever possible.

  • Set up your monitor so that you are not looking straight ahead at the screen, but just about 10° down from straight. Hint: you shouldn't be craning your neck forward or rounding your shoulders just to see the screen.

  • Add a foot rest beneath your desk. This realigns your entire lower body, putting more weight on to the hips and butt muscles, thereby placing less stress on your lower back.


Additionally, you should be limiting your time at the desk. Take frequent breaks to stand and stretch. What you should stretch includes your neck, chest, shoulders and back of your legs. Set the timer on your smart phone to remind you to take a few minutes every hour or so to do this. These short breaks will not only be better for your health and help minimize pain, but will also help you be more productive at your job.

Taking the time to manage your pain with these few preventative steps can add years of pain-free movement to your life. While taking these steps may not cure you of chronic pain, it is the combined efforts of these tips plus exercise, massage therapy, meditation, medication and medical care, that does the trick.

Listen to your body,

John Aaron Villarreal

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Low Back Pain: What You Can Do

As an experienced massage therapist, personal trainer, and health coach, I always tell my clients, “Listen to your body.”

If a certain movement or exercise causes pain, by ALL means - stop and pay attention! It amazes me how few of us take the time to do this simple step.

Instead, we choose to suck it up and work through the pain. This is fine when the pain is mild and intermittent, but paying attention and listening to what your body is telling you can make the difference between something you can work through and something that becomes chronic, excruciating and debilitating.

Once that level is reached; it’s time to discuss your symptoms with your doctor or other health care professional.

Of course, the best treatment against lower back pain is always going to be proactive and preventative. Here are a few reminders about what you can do to protect your back:

Rest, but not too much. The temptation may be to stay in bed, but recent research suggests that excessive bed rest (more than a day or two after an acute injury), could actually do more harm than good. If you stay in bed longer than a couple of days, your muscles start to lose strength and their ability to support your back. Stay as active as you can (while continuing to listen to your body).

Sit and stand safely. Whether you’re at work or home, take note of the positions you're in most of day! Are you doing everything you can to protect your low back with good posture? You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: Good posture is critical. Try to catch yourself when you're slouching.

When you’re in pain, here are a few other things to remember:

  • If your back pain is acute, sit and drive as little as possible and avoid sitting on soft, low couches.
  • Make sure your desk and access to work supplies are set at a comfortable height for you.
  • If you aren't lucky enough to have an office chair with good lumbar support, try using a pillow or rolled-up towel to support your lower back. Position your chair at the right height for your task, and rest your feet on a low stool.
  • When getting up from a sitting position, scoot to the edge of your seat, get your feet directly underneath you, and stand. Avoid bending at the waist.
  • When you DO drive, make sure you've got good lumbar support. Take your pillow or rolled up towel with you and be sure to position your seat so that you maintain a curve in your low back and that your hips are lower than your knees.
  • Getting out of a car can pose a real challenge. Whatever you do, do NOT twist your torso to get out. Instead, support your back and swing both legs out. And if you are on a long road trip, make sure you take regular breaks to walk around even if it’s only for a few minutes.


Lift and move safely.
Change positions often. If you have a desk job, for example, be sure to get up, move around, and stretch every hour. Gently arch your back. Need a reminder to move? Set an alarm on your phone or computer. When doing activities like cleaning, weeding, or vacuuming, remember to keep the curve in your lower back as much as you can.

Eight out of 10 Americans will experience debilitating back pain, according to Time.com, but a massage can help. According to a 2011 study, massage helped people in pain feel and function better compared to people who didn't receive any massage treatment.

It is believed that the benefits of massage are about as strong as those reported for other effective treatments such as; medications, acupuncture, exercise and yoga. Massage has also been linked to decreased stiffness and pain, as well as better range of motion in people with osteoarthritis.

So, don’t forget to include regular massage session in your personal tool chest for fighting lower back pain. You’ll be glad you did!

Listen to your body,

John Aaron Villarreal

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Big. The Little. The Balanced.

Our muscular system is a beautiful thing. Wouldn't you agree? It's what holds the body together and gives it a sexy shape.

The bones are just support structures, but muscles; well - they have to constantly adjust length and tension just to make you stand still. It's a muscular symphony to simply kick a ball while playing soccer. Amazing!

All the muscles do their part as the brain conducts: you run, you kick, and you jump - just like Cristiano Ronaldo, or that kid in your neighborhood. ;-)

But what if just one (or more) of the muscles supporting you are not fully neurologically activated? Well, that's when joint's get worn, nerves get compressed and ligaments & tendons get stretched in ways they shouldn't. In short: PAIN is what results.

Deactivated muscles don't hold up their end of the deal!

We need to resuscitate them in order to prevent re-injury. That's where massage can help. Although most massage therapists focus on treating tense, over-worked (hyper-tonic) muscles, a really good one can also focus on reviving inhibited muscles, too.

A good massage therapist has an understanding of human anatomy and holds a set of time-tested techniques he then applies directly on isolated muscles, reconnecting them to the brain, and you end up with a nice, tight, straight-tracking joint - not to mention better posture, too!

So, if you've been "ignoring" an injury or a chronic ache, sit up and pay attention! It's your body's way of saying it needs some good ole TLC...


“Listen to your Body”

John Aaron Villarreal

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Mighty Muscle Turn-Off

One of the most interesting things I've learned in my career as a massage therapist is the phenomenon of a muscle becoming hypo-tonic (turned off). It usually happens as a response to injury. Here the brain recognizes the strain, and dials down the nerves in that muscle in order to protect the body from further injury.

Unfortunately, when this occurs, the muscle does not participate in normal joint movement, and other muscles in the area compensate to take up the slack. This is never perfect because it's a short-term fix. Ideally, that injured muscle heals quickly and gets back into action. The brain restores nerve signals to the muscle and it is again able to support it's correlating joint(s) through full range of motion. In short - you feel better and get back to "roller-disco-dancing" without a hitch. ;-)

Sometimes, however, the body is never able to reactivate the hypo-tonic muscle.

Commonly, it's a case of nutritional shortage. Because the body apportions a majority of its nutrients to the immune system, the liver, and the brain, it can't spare all that is needed to heal the much less important singularly injured muscle, so it heals it "just enough" to get by and leaves it at that.

A small percentage of the time, the brain leaves the injured, hypo-tonic muscle turned off for reasons we do not understand. That's not often, but, with all the injuries you can accumulate in a lifetime, they can add up. Soon, your body's collection of non supportive, hypo-tonic muscles lead to skeletal misalignment, and your posture gets a little cranky and creaky. Then - more injuries followed by more pain ensue, and the cycle is repeated.

So, if you've been "ignoring" an injury or a chronic ache, sit up and pay attention. It's your body's way of saying it needs some good ole TLC...


“Listen to your Body”

John Aaron Villarreal

Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Prepare for Deep Tissue Massage

Since my previous post, I received a few questions from some clients who are new to “deep tissue” massage techniques. So, I thought perhaps writing a follow-up on how to prepare for, and what to expect from, your first deep tissue massage treatment.

First, it’s always a good thing to be well hydrated, and have eaten a small meal (just a little something), to arrive warm from a workout or from stretching. All this can help ensure you get the most out of your deep tissue treatment.

Always let your therapist know all the issues and symptoms you may be facing right up front and before you begin — after all, stiffness and chronic pain can sometimes result from other injuries, poor posture, etc. The more your massage therapist knows, the more he/she can assist you during the session.

Do your best to arrive a bit early for your first appointment. A good and professional therapist will have forms for you to fill out and questions to ask you before beginning your treatment.

The Experience

I usually ask my clients to make themselves comfortable on my massage table and encourage them to breathe deeply, relax and prepare for the massage. My deep tissue treatments tend to consist of longer, deeper, and more intense strokes. Sometimes I may use my elbows, forearms, fingertips and specialized tools to access the deeper layers of muscle where the initial problem may reside.

Because I am massaging the innermost layers of my client’s connective tissues and muscles, there are times when my client may experience a slight increase in pain or discomfort. This is why it is imperative that you take an active role in the session by not dozing off and by continually offering feed-back regarding the levels of pain you may be experiencing. Just note that some level of discomfort is normal as the deeper knots, adhesions and injuries are being addressed.

Although my treatments generally last about 90-minutes for deep tissue therapy, if you massage frequently, the time required will usually shrink to about an hour. This is because the body gradually releases its knots and becomes more quickly receptive to my touch.

What About After a Deep Tissue Massage?

I always council my clients that after receiving a deep tissue massage, they may experience some muscular soreness or stiffness 24 to 48 hours after their session. Typically this doesn’t last more than a day.

Immediately following my client’s session, I offer bottled water and request that they drink plenty of water and to avoid strenuous exercise the day after our massage session in order to help the muscles heal.

If the session was particularly aggressive, or if the pain remains acute, I typically recommend the client ice the areas in question, or that they try a 20-minute, hot bath soak with Epsom salts — depending on the situation.

As for YOUR particular experience and depending on the severity of the issue you’re trying to address, you may find that you feel a whole lot better after just one visit.

Still, if you are attempting to resolve a chronic condition, injury, or a condition such as extreme muscular adhesions, you may have to have a few treatments in succession before you begin to feel well again. So at the end of your session, make sure you ask for your therapist’s recommendations on the need and frequency of any related follow-up visits.

I hope this helped! :-)

Listen to Your Body,

John Aaron Villarreal