Sunday, February 26, 2012

Migraines and Massage

A few months ago, one of my regular clients came to see me, complaining that her migraines had been acting up and she’d only been able to get about 2-3 hours of sleep every night for the past couple of weeks. I knew she had TMJ, but since she never mentioned migraines on my health form and we had been focusing on a few other pressing physical issues, it never occurred to me to ask more than just a simple question or two about it in the past that she brushed off as nothing serious.

But now it was serious. And she was shocked to find out that massage might help her.

About 18% of women and 7% of men in the United States suffer from migraines. Believed to be caused by rapid changes in the blood flow to the head, migraines are usually marked by severe headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light and sound. Stress and lack of sleep are common triggers for migraines and aggravate the symptoms once they have set in. Migraines are often debilitating for their duration, which can be anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Sadly, the medications used to treat migraines usually have pretty nasty side effects, including nausea, dizziness, muscle weakness, ulcers and even more headaches known as medication overuse headaches, which are even more difficult to treat than migraines.

So, is there hope? Of course. There’s always hope.

Little research has been done to study the effects of massage and migraines, but what has been done shows that massage therapy can bring about a quieting of the central nervous system by relaxing tight muscles than can trigger migraines, reduce sensations of pain and stress, and possibly improve sleep.

So, give it a shot – either on your own or by a professional massage therapist. Giving yourself a light massage combined with migraine pressure points will give you the greatest relief.

What Is a Migraine Pressure Point?

A migraine pressure point is a point on your body that, when pressed, will lessen the pain in your head. Surprisingly, a migraine pressure point is not necessarily the point that hurts most.

A migraine pressure point may be pressed and released in slow, rhythmical fashion, and deliberately massaged to gain relief. This will release congested energy and blood from the head and ease your pain.

Migraine Pressure Point Technique
Follow these simple steps at each migraine pressure point:
1. Use only the pads of your thumbs or first two fingers -- never the ends -- and keep the pressure light to moderate, depending on how sensitive the point is to your touch.
2. Press hard enough so you can feel hardness or tension under your thumb or fingers, but if a migraine pressure point hurts so much that you can't take a deep breath, apply less pressure on that point.
3. Let your fingers sink into the migraine pressure point as you apply pressure gradually.
4. When your thumb or finger is as deep as you want to go, massage the point with tiny, circular movements.
5. Stay on the migraine pressure point until you feel a movement or change there. It may feel softer or warmer. Counting to 10, slowly, gradually release the migraine pressure point until your thumb or finger leaves the skin.
6. Repeat several times at same point.

Firm but gentle is the key. Insufficient pressure on a migraine pressure point will not be effective and too much pressure will create tension in your surrounding muscles.

Migraine Pressure Points

Different bodies respond differently to pressure points, but these are some of the most common ones and (more or less) self-treatable.

1. Migraine Pressure Point at the Base of Skull
Locate the bony base of your skull in back, called the occiput. Place your thumb pads under the skull's base, each thumb about 1 inch from your spinal column. Holding your thumbs against the two points, tilt your head back slightly. Now press upward gradually, count to 10, and breathe deeply as you do so. Follow the technique stated above.
2. Migraine Pressure Point at Mid-Forehead
This migraine pressure point is located at the middle of your forehead, right between your eyebrows. Using the migraine pressure point technique described above, and your thumbs or one of the first two fingers, press inward gradually, counting to 10, and breathing deeply as you do so until you reach the deepest point.
3. Migraine Pressure Point at Eye Corners
Feel the face at the outer corners of your eyes. Move your fingers away from the eyes until you find the spots just behind the bone. Using the migraine pressure point technique and one or two finger pads, apply pressure gradually inward, counting to 10, and breathing deeply as you do so.
4. Migraine Pressure Point on Hand
Surprisingly, you have a migraine pressure point on each hand. It's the fleshy part between your thumb and index finger. Using the thumb pad and index finger of your opposite hand, gradually squeeze the upper portion of this migraine pressure point, counting to 10 and breathing deeply.
5. Migraine Pressure Point on Foot
Locate the place where the bones come together between your big toe and your second toe. With thumb or finger pads, press downward gradually, counting to 10, and breathing deeply as you do so.

My client and I worked on those pressure points in addition to a few others and, happily, during her next session a few weeks later she reported no further migraines and full nights of sleep. Awesome.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Five Surprising Benefits of Massage

While this list was taken from a Newsweek article written a couple of years ago, I thought it was important to remind us of how important massage really is to overall health. The Chinese have been using massage for all kinds of medical conditions for centuries. Now, Western research is confirming that massage isn't just for muscle pain. This week, The New York Times reported a recent study touting even more benefits. The newest cure-all may be an ancient one: simple touch.

1. Pick Your Spot: You don't have to massage the part of the body that hurts most. If you're shy about letting a friend touch your aching lower back, for instance, she could help by massaging your shoulders instead. This is because massage creates chemical changes that reduce pain and stress throughout the body. One way it does this is by reducing a brain chemical called substance P that is related to pain. In a TRI study, for example, individuals with a form of muscle pain called fibromyalgia showed less substance P in their saliva (and they reported reduced pain) after a month of twice-weekly massages.

2. De-Stress, Stay Healthy: Massage may boost immunity. Several studies have measured the stress hormone called cortisol in subjects' saliva before and after massage sessions, and found dramatic decreases. Cortisol, which is produced when you are stressed, kills cells important for immunity, so when massage reduces your stress levels and hence the cortisol in your body, it may help you avoid getting a cold or another illness while under stress.

3. Blood Pressure Benefits: Massage reduces hypertension, suggests a good deal of research. This may be because it stimulates pressure receptors that prompt action from the vagus nerve, one of the nerves that emerges from the brain. The vagus nerve regulates blood pressure, as well as other functions. In a 2005 study at the University of South Florida, hypertension patients who received 10 massages of 10 minutes each over three weeks showed significant improvements in blood pressure compared to a control group who simply rested in the same environment without any massage.

4. Technique Tactics: There's little evidence to support one kind of massage over another, so don't worry about whether your therapist is schooled in Shiatsu, Swedish or some other technique. The key is pressure firm enough to make a temporary indentation in the skin. If you try massage with a partner, use massage oil, which you can find in a health-food store or pharmacist, but test a little on your skin first to make sure you are not allergic.

5. Self Help: You can massage yourself. Although you don't have to massage the part of the body that hurts to relieve pain, targeting that area does tend to help more. One example is massaging the arms. If you're in danger of developing inflamed nerves in your hands or arms from repetitive movements (like typing on a keyboard, or even gripping a steering wheel for hours at a time) try massaging your arms for 15 minutes a day. Stroke from the wrist to the elbow and back down on both sides of the forehand.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Quick Dinner Idea: Potato, Zucchini, Spinach Bake

My mom went on vacation last week and left me a bag of potatoes. I don't know why -- the potatoes would still be fine when she returned, but these days I just take whatever food she gives me. So I took the potatoes. So now what?

I opened my fridge. I had a couple of zucchinis, some mushrooms and baby spinach. It was time to get creative. And, I have to admit, what I came up with turned out so good that I had to share (and I plan to repeat with modifications suggested by all of you).

This "bake" almost seems like a "buckle" -- you know, the fruit-filled, casserole-like desserts that you just throw together when you've got too many blueberries or peaches. Except this one is savory and the potatoes really make it hearty. It's quick, easy and healthy! Cut it into squares for a party or use as a side dish.


3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and sliced into rounds
2 zucchinis, sliced into rounds
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup shredded cheese (something that melts well and has good flavor)
2 cups white, unbleached flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 eggs
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

Here's what you do:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine all of the vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt. Set aside.

Mix all dry ingredients in one bowl and the eggs, milk, cheese and oil in another. Combine the two bowls to make a batter. It should be thick, but runny (if it's too thick add a little more milk or water). Pour 1/3 of the batter into the bottom of a greased and floured rectangular Pyrex (lasagna-sized). Pour all of the vegetables on top of the bottom layer of batter, making sure the potatoes and zucchini are laying flat. Pour the rest of the batter on top of the vegetables, making sure the batter covers most of it. Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

This is one of those completely modifiable dishes. Add your own blend of vegetables and seasonings and tell me how it turns out.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A New Haven Massage Therapist in a Mad, Mad World

So I'm now a New Haven massage therapist. I started out as a Washington, DC, massage therapist and later a Peruvian massage therapist (well, I was the gringa therapista de masajes when I lived in Cusco), but in August 2011 I returned to the United States to set up my practice back in my home state of Connecticut and reacquaint myself with New England. And, needless to say, it's been an adventure. I came back to the country single (after an American divorce and then a breakup with my Peruvian boyfriend), financially unstable (a first for me), and a desire to build a new massage practice. From scratch. In a crappy economy. I must have been out of my mind.

But never once did I think I was crazy for doing that. I knew it would take a little time, but my practice would grow. I love what I do so much that word of mouth would build my practice the same way it did when I first started out as a massage therapist in DC, right? But it hasn't been as easy. Wallets are tighter, and things people view as "luxuries" aren't even factored into household budgets these days. And, sadly, a massage is still seen as a luxury instead of an important component of stress-free, healthy living.

So as I began to build my practice here in New Haven, I did it with the full intention of keeping my health and happiness a priority. Quality time at the gym, lunches with mom, hikes up Sleeping Giant -- all of these activities gave me the motivation and drive to put myself out there and grow my business. And it's working. I'm doing what I love and I'm doing it well.

So PLEASE stop feeling guilty about taking care of yourself! At least once a week a client asks me if I get regular massages and the answer is "Of course! How could I take care of you if I'm not taking care of me?" And this goes for everyone. Moms, dads, teachers, police officers, baristas, bus drivers, pilots -- we all take care of a lot of people -- and some of us are doing a bang-up job of it. Why? Because when you put yourself first, you can put others first, too.

Valerie Monroe, an author on, explains this concept very well. "Being skilled at taking care of yourself may improve your capacity to care for others; if you're not fulfilled, you're only able to see other people through the filter of your own needs."

So fulfill yourself first. I tell my clients that it's a cocktail of things. For some, a combination of yoga, exercise and massage does it. For others, participating in a book club and a knitting circle (with or without a glass of wine) fits the bill. Just make a point to prioritize yourself and you'll be even better at taking care of everyone else. I promise.

Massage, anyone?