Food As External Medicine

One of my favorite quotations of all time is from a movie which I, sadly, cannot remember. “Eat your food as medicine, or you will surely eat medicine as your food.” I learned later that it is a version of a similar statement attributed to the famous physician Hippocrates, who is also responsible for the Hippocratic Oath. Natural health trends nowadays strongly emphasize eating diets that are minimally processed, as natural as possible, and any number of other labels (keto, paleo, raw, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, etc.). However, I find that many people have a psychological barrier to overcome when they first start looking at food as medicinal in nature, especially when it is to be used in an external fashion.

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Muscle Spotlight: Erector Spinae

In a previous blog post, I highlighted the quadratus lumborum, its function in the body, and why it is a frequent culprit for low back pain. In this post, I’ll be discussing its cousins, the erector spinae. The erectors are actually a group of three muscles which extend from several attachment points along the pelvic girdle to the cervical vertebrae, and even to the occipital bone at the base of the skull. The three muscles are the iliocostalis, the longissimus, and the spinalis, each of which is divided into several portions, based off of where they originate and insert along the spine and other bones. As you can see below, they have multiple of these attachment points all up and down the back.

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As their name implies, the erectors act as important postural muscles meant to keep the spine erect and the core of the body stabilized. However, they frequently become overstretched due to such things as poor posture while sitting for lengthy periods of time. This causes them to become fatigued, sore, and tight, which in turn can lead to backaches and headaches. In addition to this problem, weakened erectors may end up causing back injury when they are unable to do their share of the work from being overfatigued. The erectors and quadratus lumborum work together to straighten the back from a bent-over position, as discussed in a previous post. If the erectors are weak, they will not be able to take on the burden that they are designed for and the quadratus lumborum will end up taking on more than it is designed to handle in an attempt to compensate. This means that low back pain is a frequent accompaniment to tight, fatigued erector spinae.

Headaches are another common symptom of tight erectors, as the spinalis extends up to the base of the skull. If that muscle is tight, it can cause the infamous tension headache from which so many suffer. Because the spinalis is so intertwined with other muscles around the neck and base of the skull, massaging all of the muscles in the area will likely bring major – sometimes instantaneous – relief.

 Here we can see the relation of the erector spinae to the other muscles that help support the head and back and contribute to their motion.

Here we can see the relation of the erector spinae to the other muscles that help support the head and back and contribute to their motion.

Fortunately, despite being “deep” back muscles located under several other layers, the erectors are rather easy to locate, due to their proximity to the spine. That, and the fact that they are easy to palpate from being so tight, means that massage therapists, physical therapists, and other bodyworkers usually have an easy time locating and treating these muscles. In combination with treating the other postural muscles that are in close proximity to the erectors and work in concert with them, such as the multifidi and rotatores, most people find relief from their back pain and headaches.

Massage Is Preventive Medicine

Imagine, if you will, a scenario. Two women, both of the same age, similar physical characteristics, and similar lifestyles. They both have rather intense careers in similar fields and find that stress builds up in their lives on a daily basis to the extent that it begins to impact their health. One woman simply grits her teeth and muscles her way through each day. She won’t let anything slow her down, and as a result, she starts to notice that little health concerns tend to grow into much larger ones. Her blood pressure had been mildly high before, but now, she needs to go on medication to keep it under control. Her body seems to be constantly running down and getting sick, even when it’s not cold and flu season. Added to that, she keeps getting fierce tension headaches and is dismayed to discover that they often affect her ability to do her work properly because they are so distracting. She finds that her determination to not let anything slow her down is being constantly overridden by her ever-present issues. It’s almost as though her body is hitting the brakes to try and slow her down despite her determination! She continues to grit her teeth and push on, however, now with good doses of blood pressure and headache medication. Eventually, her body can’t take it anymore and something fairly major happens that lands her in the hospital, where she must spend several days recovering. There, even though her insurance covers most of the care, she still racks up a decent bill as well as several uncomfortable nights in the hospital ward and several even more uncomfortable tests.

The second woman, in quite the opposite fashion of her counterpart, decides as soon as she feels stress starting to detrimentally affect her life that it is high time that she gets a massage and promptly schedules an appointment with a highly-recommended therapist. While she takes a brief hour on the massage table under the caring touch of her therapist, she is able to let go of her stresses and just enjoy. Her blood pressure goes down due to the profound relaxation she is experiencing. That pesky tightness in her neck and shoulder muscles which was leading to so many headaches and bad nights’ sleep is also being carefully worked out, and the relief it brings to feel flexibility and blood flow in that area once more is so wonderful! By the time the massage is over, her whole body feels totally relaxed as well as refreshed. Both mentally and physically, she feels light years better than she did, and she happily schedules another appointment with the therapist to continue the very pleasant activity that helps her feel in top shape. This woman notices, as she makes massage a consistent part of her monthly schedule, that she is able to perform better at work, she sleeps more soundly and with improved quality, and she has very few health problems. Those that she does have remain minor in nature and she is able to live a generally healthy, pain-free life even while maintaining her demanding career.

Now, I can guess which of these two scenarios those of you who happen to read this post would choose if the choice were given to you. No one wants to have to spend several hours or days of their time in doctors’ offices, getting uncomfortable tests performed; or paying for expensive prescriptions and having to take mouthfuls of pills. Massage therapy is infinitely preferable to that, and the fact is that it can truly help many conditions from exacerbating to the point where an individual might need intensive medical attention.

Some people argue that at least the healthcare is covered by insurance, whereas massage therapy rarely is unless it is considered “medical” in nature. However, an important question to ask yourself is this. Would you rather spend a slightly smaller amount of money (based off of whatever the insurance agrees to cover) to sit in doctors’ offices and hospitals trying to diagnose and treat your ailments which have gotten somewhat out of hand? Or would you rather spend a little bit more to take the prophylactic measure of seeing a massage therapist who can give you an hour of bliss and a huge dose of preventive care to keep your minor ailments from becoming major ones? I know which one I would choose. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and that is rarely more true than when you are considering steps to maintain your health.

Muscle Spotlight: Quadratus Lumborum

One of the most common muscles that many massage therapists see causing low-back pain issues is the quadratus lumborum (or QL, as it’s commonly abbreviated). This fairly small, but powerful muscle has its origin at the anterior border of the iliac crest and its insertions on the inferior border of the 12th rib and the transverse processes of the L1-L4 vertebrae. In layman’s terms, it extends from the top rear of your hip bone up to the bottom of your first floating rib and over just next to your spine, as can be seen in the image below.

The quadratus lumborum has several important functions. First of all, it is an important core postural muscle, helping maintain stability for the midsection of the body. When the muscles contract bilaterally (at the same time), they are responsible for helping you straighten up from a bent-over position. If each muscle contracts separately, they are responsible for lateral flexion of the vertebral column (i.e. bending from side-to-side), as pictured below. As you can see, the left quadratus lumborum is being stretched whereas the right one is being contracted to provide the right lateral flexion of the torso.

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So why is it that the quadratus lumborum is so frequently a cause of low back pain? One key reason has to do with the muscles sitting directly on top of them:  the erector spinae. The erectors, which extend from the top of the iliac crest all the way up the back to the base of the skull, are also core postural muscles primarily responsible for keeping the spine straight as well as straightening it from a bent-over position. However, most people – especially those who work at computers or sit for long periods of time – have erectors that are weak or overstretched due to all-too-common bad desk posture. When you sit at a desk and aren’t keen on paying attention to your posture, it is very common for the shoulders to slope forwards and the entire back to curve.

 Does this posture look familiar to you? It is probably a major cause of your back pain, shoulder/neck pain, and headaches!

Does this posture look familiar to you? It is probably a major cause of your back pain, shoulder/neck pain, and headaches!

This poor posture overstretches and weakens both the erector spinae as well as the quadratus lumborum while concurrently overtightening their antagonists in the front of the body such as the abdominals and psoas. (More on those in later blog posts!) With the erectors weakened, the quadratus lumborum usually ends up picking up the slack, as it were, and attempts to do more work than it can handle, causing the muscle to strain. Hence, when someone attempts to straighten up from being bent over, they may feel that unpleasant twinge or spasm in their low back which signals that the quadratus lumborum has just strained itself. This is also why people who do not use their legs to lift heavy items end up with lower back muscle strains from bending over and attempting to use their low backs to lift.

The quadratus lumborum muscles are also a few layers deep, sitting below both the latissimus dorsi as well as the erector spinae. This can make it a challenge to effectively work on the quadratus lumborum, especially if the other two muscles sitting on top of it are tight as well. Fortunately, there are excellent massage techniques to gradually work through the other muscle layers as well as specific angles at which the belly of the quadratus lumborum is easier to access, meaning that sufferers from low back pain caused by a tight quadratus lumborum do not have to fear that they will suffer from it forever.

Other helpful exercises for the quadratus lumborum include stretching (such as in the picture above showing a side stretch) as well as keeping good posture when working at a computer or in another occupation where sitting for lengthy periods is common. If the issue happens to originate from a misalignment of the lower spine, then a visit to a chiropractor might also be in order. With a little care and forethought to your posture and movement habits, your quadratus lumborum should serve you faithfully for years to come with little, if any, discomfort or pain.

Company Spotlight: Eden's Garden Essential Oils

About five years ago, I discovered an essential oil company that was still quite new. I don’t even remember how I stumbled across their website, but in giving it a quick perusal, I liked what I saw. In fact, I liked it a lot. A company that seemed more focused on the safety and health of their consumers than about adding them to the sales force. A company that used ethical sourcing and strove to provide the highest quality oils possible without charging exorbitant prices for them.

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Do Essential Oils Expire?

I remember when I first started getting into essential oils in early high school, I used peppermint in a blend and was pleased to feel that distinctive hot-cold tingle on my skin. I used the same bottle (a 1 oz. size) on occasion for several years, and gradually, that tingle disappeared. I thought it was just my body acclimating to the peppermint every time that I used it, but imagine my surprise when, after purchasing a new bottle of peppermint oil, the tingling sensation returned! What had happened?

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I'm Getting Married! (And Moving to Texas...)

This may not be a blog post properly speaking, but in addition to the email announcement I sent out to my clients, I figured this was a pretty effective way to spread the word.

I am overjoyed to announce that on May 5th, the love of my life proposed to me and I said yes! This is both wonderful news and bittersweet news for me to pass on to you. On the one hand, I am going to be marrying the man of my dreams, and am immensely looking forward to starting my new life with him. On the other hand, this means that I will be moving to Texas after the wedding at the end of October and will have to say farewell to all of my wonderful clients in California. I truly could not have made A Touch of Tranquility a success without you, and you will certainly be missed.

I also wanted to take the time to assure all of my clients that I will be actively trying to help you find new massage therapists before I leave. I have several colleagues and trade partners to recommend to you based off of your individual needs and which style I think you would most enjoy and benefit from. It is my pleasure to help you find someone else to help you feel at your best before I move on to this next chapter of my life. And of course you are more than welcome to keep seeing me until I close my doors! Following is a brief rundown of five therapists that I have personally seen and recommend.

For those of my clients who prefer light to medium pressure Swedish massage, I can recommend Lori Bartolomei, who also works in the same building as me. Having trained at Healing Arts Institute like myself, Lori has similar techniques and a very calming, healing style. Plus, she does amazing hot stone massages which I strongly encourage you to try! You can either leave a message with me when you come see me next or contact her directly at 916-207-6222.

For those who prefer medium to heavy pressure with some additional focus on problem areas, I can recommend Tasha Standridge, who is the owner/operator of Gold Country Massage Therapy and my valued trade partner. Tasha has a style very similar to my own (her Signature Massage is a blend of Swedish and some deep tissue techniques to work out any tight spots she finds and leave you totally relaxed), and she is only a little further down the road in Roseville. You can either book online at her website http://goldcountry.massagetherapy.com/ (and make sure you've selected Tasha as your therapist at the top!) or call her directly at 916-547-3730.

A wonderful all-around massage therapist who simply excels at both Swedish and deep tissue massage is Danny Klinger, a former teacher of mine from Healing Arts Institute and a dear friend. If you don't mind having a male therapist, I absolutely encourage you to go to Danny for a caring, customized massage that will address your problem areas and leave you feeling like new. Be sure to book with him in advance! He is quite popular amongst his regular clients and his schedule can fill up quickly. His number is 916-521-1291. Danny also works part-time at some of the Massage Envy franchises in the Rocklin and Roseville area, so be sure to look him up there if you are interested in joining a Massage Envy!

Finally, for those of my clients who need strictly deep tissue, I can recommend two therapists, both of whom are former teachers of mine and whom I encourage you to try in order to determine which one best fulfills your goals for your massage session. The first is Marylisa Correia, owner of the Blue Door Salon and Spa and Massage by Marylisa just a few buildings down from mine on Taylor Road. Marylisa does great deep tissue and as a personal trainer also has intimate knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Her phone number is 916-660-6798. The second therapist I can recommend is Johannes Jilesen. Johannes is an orthopedic massage therapist and neurokinetic therapist. Utilizing deep tissue techniques as well as specialized release techniqes and assessment tests, he can often pinpoint and bring relief to even the most stubborn problems. He can be reached at 530-770-1315.

Lastly, I would like to encourage all gift certificate holders to please use your gift certificates before the end of September. I will be closing my doors shortly thereafter in order to allow myself enough time to finish wedding preparations and will be unable to redeem your gift certificates once I have done so. If I have not redeemed your gift certificates by the middle of September, please expect to receive an email or phone call from me. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

If you have any questions at all or need assistance finding a therapist that I have not listed, please do not hesitate to ask me, as I am more than happy to help in any way that I can. And, if you ever are out in Texas, don't hesitate to look me up!

I wish you all wellness and peace!

Julia Shelton (soon to be Wilson!)

The Therapist's Touch

What separates an amazing therapist from a good therapist, or even from a bad therapist? Undoubtedly, certain characteristics come to mind. Someone who really cares. Someone who shows you the kind of respect that you deserve as a human being. Someone with the energy level and professionalism that helps keep you calm and relaxed. Someone with the intuition that helps them pinpoint and treat your problem effectively. Someone who takes the time to really listen to you and attend to your needs.

While these characteristics, as well as many others that I did not list, are applicable to any therapist, they are especially important for the massage therapist because we work with the body in such a unique way. When you go to any other therapist to sit with them and talk about your issues, they may give you a friendly pat on the shoulder, a sympathetic squeeze of the hand, or even a hug; but massage therapists have a license to touch. It is a sacred trust and one that most of us take very seriously. You are entrusting us with not just your bodies, but with your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. The therapist's touch can heal or harm in untold ways.

It is because of this profound effect that clients should be careful selecting a massage therapist. While it is true that most of us take the obligation we have been given with all seriousness and respect, there are some out there who practice massage therapy with other ends in mind – from desiring only to make a large amount of money to receiving sexual gratification from their sessions, at the client's expense.

When you go to a massage therapist for the first time, listen to your instincts. Do they seem as though they are interested in listening to your needs, or are they just interested in getting you on (and back off) the table as quickly as possible? Do they take the time to go over your intake with you and offer to answer any questions you may have? If you express concerns over having certain areas worked on, do they really listen to your concerns and either offer to avoid those areas completely or work on them in a way in which you are comfortable? Do their actions towards you make you feel as though they are flirting with you or attempting to sexualize the therapist-client relationship? You must be comfortable in order for your massage session to be effective, so if something is making you feel off kilter, first ask the therapist to adjust or fix it. If they refuse to do so, you have every right to end the massage session, whether you have already started receiving work or not.

The therapist's touch is powerful. It can bring tremendous relief, tranquility, and healing; or it can bring suffering, turbulence, and damage. Be sure that you are going to someone who will truly treat you as the amazing person that you are.