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

Monday, September 8, 2014

Benefits of a Deep Tissue Massage

I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of Swedish Massage. I prefer a firmer, “heavy handed” touch. This is especially true whenever I am experiencing joint stiffness, muscle tension, or any time I find myself “knotted” up by stress.

It seems most of my clients feel the same way, too. Muscular overuse, trauma and repetitive stress can cause muscles to form a band of rigid inflexible tissues called adhesions (known colloquially as “knots”).

While most adhesions are seldom dangerous (they’re mostly painful annoyances), I know that extreme cases can sometimes hinder blood circulation, limit movement and flexibility, and be extremely painful. Often, the only way to address these adhesions is through deep tissue massage treatments.

Adhesions, tension and stiffness can be related to a range of chronic conditions, and I have found that using a combination of techniques with particular emphasis on the use of deep tissue massage to be particularly effective in easing client pain from:

  • Chronic muscle tension, pain, spasm or stiffness
  • TMJ
  • Limited range of motion
  • Sciatica
  • Muscle, tendon and ligament injuries
  • High levels of stress

Each of these conditions is improved by releasing the corresponding “knots” (muscular adhesions and tension), thereby increasing blood flow, and promoting healthy movement in the area.

While deep tissue massage is helpful for a variety of conditions, and may seem like a cure-all for muscular pain, it should most definitely be avoided in cases where you have:

  • Inflamed skin or a rash
  • Bruising of any kind
  • Suffered a recent fracture or hernia

And although I probably don’t need to mention it, deep tissue massage is also off limits to those who may be pregnant...

Now while my personal preference leans toward deep tissue massage, the technique may not suit everyone. My advice: If you think deep tissue massage may be able to help you recuperate from pain or improve physical performance, make sure you check with your doctor first.

Oh, and don’t just think you can just get a “friend” to just press “really hard” on the affected area! Plenty can go wrong in this scenario that can exacerbate the problem (from creating bone fractures, to muscular tears and nerve damage).

So never —I repeat, NEVER— let anyone who is not qualified give you a deep tissue massage do so!
Oh, and when you DO find the licensed massage therapist that is right for you, don’t forget to examine his/her reviews and qualifications, too.

Listen to Your Body,

John Aaron Villarreal
massage therapist | heath coach