It all started with a tooth ache. Which subsided, thankfully. I headed into the dentist to explore the subsided pain. After some careful investigation, the very nice dentist, gently, suggested I might be experiencing something else. Pain. Hypertoned muscles in the neck, head and face. And perhaps I clench my teeth when I’m working hard to help other people relax.
True confession. I could hide this little story; I’m sure none of you would know. But I think it’s really instructive of what I see quite often. With me as the “patient” I can offer you insights of what I’ll be doing to help decrease my pain and muscle tension. Hopefully there might be something that you can glean from my confession.
- Use heat & ice. Heat the neck & shoulders to bring fresh blood to these fatigued muscles. If I massage the muscles, using heat is a great first step. A muscle pumped full of blood through dilated blood vessels is much more receptive to massage. Ice constricts blood vessels and soothes muscles, especially after deep massage. Used together heat & cold can manually flush lots of blood through a troublesome muscle group.
- Get massage – quick! I had a session scheduled last week that had to move to next week. I scheduled another one on Friday with a friend I trade with. 2 in 1 week! Yes, when things get really tight you can gain more from frequent massage, even if it’s 2 shorter sessions. Sounds decadent, but to me it’s just smart. If I can get back on top of this tension, I can go back to my regularly scheduled massages. Sometimes a quick chair massage at Whole Foods can do wonders.
- Self-massage. I have lots of tricks to get at the muscles that are complaining. For the average person, having a visual picture of where the muscle is can help you massage it more accurately. Short and frequent self-massage is a good strategy. The muscles I’ll be targeting are: suboccipitals, temporalis, masseter, SCMs and trapezius. It’s hard to describe self-massage techniques in writing. It’s very easy to show. If you’re curious, please ask me and I’ll be more than happy to show you some neat (and free!) tricks.
- Ease up at work. Although I often joke that I should be magically immune from muscle tension, I’m not. With a job where I bend over people for an hour at a time, I have the particular challenge of combating a forward-head posture. I’ve recently heard that for every inch you carry your head forward of mid-line, you need to exert an extra 5 lbs. of strength. This work falls to the muscles on the back of the head, neck and upper back. So…I think a lighter workload for a couple of weeks would be a good idea.
- Pay attention! The dentist asked if I grind my teeth while I sleep. I don’t believe I do. He than asked if I might clench my teeth while I work – working hard to muscle into someone else’s tight muscles. Now that’s something to consider. Since his suggestion, I have been paying attention while I work to how tight my jaw feels. I think this might be an area where I could improve. As I have noticed tightness in my jaw or face, I have closed my eyes, opened my jaw wide like in a yawn, and moved my jaw side to side. At each of these 3 steps I feel tension drain out of my face. Then I can draw my attention to my shoulders or other areas that are “trying to hard.”
Sometimes it can be hard to receive the same advice you give. But in this case, I was more amused than anything else. How ironic! And kudos to Dr. Kanda for delivering the news in such a gentle, easy-to-respond kind of way.