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The following was a treatment plan submitted during our clinical training at the Swedish Institute in NYC. It provides detailed, step-by-step instruction on a western style, medical massage approach for clients dealing with severe rheumatoid arthritis. While it might be more on the technical side, it should underscore the amount of consideration taken in a clinical setting where massage is administered every week, for a 6-8 week period.

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Goals for treatment should include: increasing flexibility and range of motion (ROM); relieving aches and pains related to muscle stiffness; increasing circulation – especially in clients with cardiovascular issues; reducing inflammation and joint pain during chronic flare ups/remissions; reducing contractures and adhesions; reducing anxiety and depression related to RA.

Bolstering to the knees, hip/lower back, and cervical spine may aid in relieving undue stress at these joints. Staying within a client’s pain threshold and using care to not apply overpressure when performing ROM, should also be observed. Some clients may develop osteoporosis, so caution should be taken with the amount of pressure used during a session.

Starting in supine, so as to better perform ROM and stretching techniques, we would begin at the arms. Moving the shoulder joint through coronal abduction/adduction, flexion/extension, medial/lateral rotation several times in order to warm up the joints and increase ROM. Moving down to the elbow and performing flexion/extension, supination/pronation, and finally the wrist with flexion/extension, radial/ulnar deviation, and circumduction. Taking the client through these gentle movements is invaluable in breaking up any fibrotic changes that may have taken place.

Applying myofascial release with passive stretching to the wrist flexors, biceps at the forearm, and pectoralis major at the shoulder, is a great way to promote length along these potentially hypertonic muscles. Resisted isometric tests (RIT) to the clavicular and sternal fibers of pectoralis major, followed by circular friction, will help to open up the chest and promote deeper breathing in this restricted area. Trigger point work, especially to the flexors of the wrist, may help to break up adhesions and promote blood flow to the area. Passive extension of the digits of the hand along the MP & DIP joints will promote lengthening in flexor digitorum superficialis and flexor digitorum profundus, respectively. Care should be taken with any ROM techniques at the wrist and fingers, since arthritic flare-ups and local osteoporosis are very common in these areas.

At the knees and ankles, gentle ROM would be performed. Cross fiber friction along the patellar ligament and muscle stripping of the quadriceps would promote length in these muscles. Mobilization of the patella itself, if not too painful for the client, would help to break up any fibrotic adhesions related to joint degeneration. Muscle stripping the tendons of the plantar-flexors and peroneals, would promote length and increase ROM. Cross fiber friction to the tendons would help to realign any scar tissue that may be present. Deep effleurage and petrissage to the foot will help to relax the client and increase blood flow to the extrinsic muscles of the foot.

In prone, vibration up the paraspinal muscles, followed by some myofascial release, would promote a deep state of relaxation and provide a nice warm-up of the area. Circular friction along the attachments for levator scapulae and upper trapezius would help to separate and realign its fibers. Muscle stripping and cross fiber friction to the erector spinae would help to release any adhesions related to muscle imbalance. At the hip, deep petrissage and circular friction along the fibers of quadratus lumborum would help to increase circulation and alleviate any pain resulting from contracture of this hip hiker muscle. Finally, RIT to the Hamstrings followed by myofascial release along its fibers would increase inhibition and allow for a deeper stretch of the fascia and its fibers.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease which causes chronic inflammation of the joints of the body. Systemic by nature, it can also affect surrounding structures such as muscles, tendons/ligaments, blood vessels, and organs. The most commonly affected sights, however, include the small joints of the hands and feet, elbows, ankles, and knees. Women are three times more likely to be affected and its onset commonly occurs between the ages of 40 and 60.

RA often impacts multiple joints in an insidious, bilateral fashion (that is, if the right wrist is affected, the left will be as well). Sufferers often experience episodic flare-ups followed by remissions, which can last weeks to years. During flare ups, symptoms can range from fever, chills, fatigue, muscle pain, loss of appetite, to joint inflammation (redness and heat) and joint stiffness – which in most cases gets progressively worse.

In extreme cases, the condition can lead to gnarled and distorted deformities of the joint, loss of range of motion (ROM), and chronic pain. Inflammation of organs such as the heart and lungs can cause serious cardiovascular disorders and invariably results in organ failure. It has also been known to cause a condition called Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels), which if not treated properly, can lead to necrosis of tissue. Since RA is a degenerative joint disease, it is not uncommon for suffers to eventually develop some form of muscular atrophy and local osteoporosis surrounding the affected joints.

The causes of RA are unknown, although it is thought to be a genetically inherited condition. Triggers such as streptococcus infections, viral and other bacterial infections, as well as smoking in some cases, are all believed to play a part. For some unknown reason, the body’s immune system attacks the synovial membranes of the body. Antibodies (RA factor) and inflammatory mediators produced by lymphocytes and white blood cells are produced and proliferated throughout the joint spaces and synovial linings. An inflammation response ensues, causing the synovial lining to thicken and swell. A substance called “Pannus”, which is produced by the cells of the lining, slowly erodes away the joint capsule, the articular cartilage, and eventually the bone. As a result, scar tissue develops and forms an ankylosis. Whether it be a fibrotic ankylosis restricting the ROM of a joint, or a bony ankylosis which fuses the bones together, the results can be debilitating.

The emotional and psychological implications of the condition are commonly fraught with chronic pain and daily limitations. During flare-ups, sufferers often experience pain in the morning and after prolonged periods of inactivity. This fact makes getting up in the morning and facing the day a particularly daunting task. As a result, sufferers tend to group their errands and tasks into as few activities as possible – so planning and forethought is of major importance. Socially, people with RA tend to curtail their interactions and engagements with others out of sheer necessity. Dancing, playing sports, or even going for a stroll, take on a whole new meaning. Emotionally speaking, this decrease in contact with others can take its toll on some.

Common treatments for RA can include taking aspirin and cortisone to reduce inflammation to anti-biotics and physical therapy for long-term sufferers. Immunosuppressants such as methotrexate have become popular in preventing further joint degeneration. NSAIDS, gold salt injections, and various other anti-inflammatory drugs have been used to alleviate pain. And as we will see, a treatment plan during periods of remission to help increase circulation, ROM, and decrease stiffness and pain at the affected joints.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

In some cases, the affects of heel pain may have a different source. As previously mentioned, tight calf muscles can often predispose you to developing plantar fasciitis. A byproduct of this are trigger points. Trigger points are tiny contractions in the muscle fiber which form as a result of over-use, strain, trauma, or shortened and tight muscles. Trigger points refer pain to other areas of the body. In the case of the lower leg, there are several muscles which could be referring pain to the heel and long arch of the foot – the same area where plantar fasciitis pain occurs. Let’s take a look at the first image below.

Soleus TP

This image depicts a trigger point in the middle of the soleus muscle. The soleus is a large calf muscle that plays a major role in plantar flexing your foot. The muscle is accessible half way down your lower leg and attaches itself to the foot via the Achilles tendon. If the muscle is tight, it will keep your foot plantar flexed (toes pointing down) and limit the amount of dorsiflexion (toes pointing up) available. This limitation will invariably put a strain on the muscles and fascia of the foot.

Quadratus Plantae TP

This second image shows a trigger point in the quadratus plantae muscle — a deep intrinsic foot muscle. Pain from a trigger point in this muscle can be a sharp, stabbing pain preventing you from putting your full weight down on your heel.

Gastrocnemius TP

And lastly, another common site of plantar fasciitis pain is along the medial arch of the foot. A trigger point in the medial head of the gastrconemius muscle can often refer pain to this area. Your gastrocnemius muscles are the superficial muscles found on the upper part of the lower leg. These muscles are very strong, powerful muscles which also attach to the foot via the Achilles tendon. They are often recruited in activities such as sprinting and jumping due to their capacity to lift your entire body weight.

It’s important to remember that while true plantar fascitiis takes time to heal, the effects of trigger points in these muscles could perpetuate pain in the area long after the condition has resolved itself. Along with treating the symptoms of referred pain, trigger point therapy has the added benefit of addressing tight calf muscles, which could be contributing to the condition. So whether you’ve been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis or are dealing with foot pain of some kind, in addition to your conventional treatments, trigger point therapy in combination with reflexology should be a part of your recovery plan.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

We rely on our feet to take us just about everywhere. So if heel pain is causing you to curtail your daily activities, this can be a huge problem. In the first half of this article, we’ll look at the most common form of heel pain — plantar fasciitis.  In the second half, we’ll consider how the effects of trigger points in the lower leg muscles can be a contributing factor and/or the cause of your heel pain!

Plantar fasciitis is a fairly common condition that causes pain and inflammation in the fascia which cover the bottoms of your feet. These tough bands of connective tissue run from your heel bone to your metatarsals and provide a good amount of arch support. Micro-ruptures can form due to repeated pulling, stress, and/or trauma to the area. If not treated properly, the condition can become chronic and lead to the formation of a heel spur, which can then cause further irritation and pain.

Plantar fasciitis typically affects those who have relatively: high arches (pes cavus), flat feet (pes planus), tight calf muscles, or tight, ill-fitting shoes. It can also occur in people who spend most of their day on their feet, those who are overweight, and runners who suddenly increase their activity level. Excessive pronation of the foot, running on sand or uneven surfaces, and inadequate arch support from worn out shoes can also be contributing factors.

The major signs and symptoms include:

– Pain at the heel when weight bearing

– Morning stiffness and pain that decreases with activity

– Tenderness along the medial arch when pressure is applied

– Pain when standing on your toes and /or walking on your heels

– Numbness along the outside of the foot

– Occasional swelling over the heel

– X-rays that reveal bone spurs where the fascia attaches on the heel bone

If you’ve been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, chances are that most conservative methods should help alleviate the condition in a majority of cases. Such remedies may include:

– Rest, along with an over the counter NSAID to help with pain and inflammation

– Ice and myofascial massage to the affected area

– Orthotics and/or new shoes with good arch support

– Stretches for lower leg and foot muscles

– Night splints

In severe cases when the condition is particularly chronic and debilitating, your doctor may prescribe cortisone shots. While the shots may help to manage the condition, they are not a cure. It is crucial to be proactive and stave off any possible long-term effects by doing your homework. This will help speed up the recovery time significantly.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist,  ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

What is considered good posture? According to the Physical Therapy Dictionary, good posture is defined as “the state of muscular and skeletal balance which protects the supporting structures of the body against injury or progressive deformity irrespective of the attitude (erect, lying, squatting, stooping) in which the structures are working or resting. Under such conditions the muscles will function most efficiently and the optimum positions are afforded the thoracic and abdominal organs.” By contrast, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons defines poor posture as “a faulty relationship of the various parts of the body which produces increased strain on the supporting structures and in which there is less efficient balance of the body over its base of support.”

To better understand the implications of this, let us consider how the position of the head can have an effect on the muscles of the neck and shoulders. The average human head is said to weigh approximately 10-11lbs. When it rests squarely upon the neck and shoulders, the weight is translated down the spine placing little to no strain on the muscles of the head and neck. According to physiatrist Rene Cailliet, MD, the weight of the head is effectively increased by a factor of ten for every inch of displacement. If your head pitches forward by 2 inches for example, you’re essentially adding an extra 20lbs of pressure to the surrounding structures! Doing so places the muscles of the neck and shoulders under tremendous strain. Research has shown that faulty postures can lead to bone and soft tissue changes, which in turn can create a whole host of other issues — such as chronic neck & shoulder tension and headaches.

The spine is made up of 33 individual vertebrae. Nine of these vertebrae fuse together through a process known as ossification by the time we reach adulthood – 5 in the Sacrum (S1-S5), and 4 (sometimes 3-5) in the Coccyx or tailbone. That leaves 24 moveable vertebrae: 5 – cervical, 12 – thoracic, and 5 –lumbar. The spine has what is known as primary and secondary curves. Primary curves are the curves in the spine that we’re born with; namely the thoracic and sacral curves. These curves are formed in the developing fetus and are structural in nature. Secondary curves on the other hand are formed in response to muscle strengthening and develop a little bit later. The cervical curve for example takes shape as the newborn learns to lift his/her head. The lumbar curve develops after this as the child begins to sit up. Because of the nature of secondary curves, they are more susceptible to being over and underdeveloped, and as a result can lead to faulty postures. Let’s take a look at some examples.

The first image in the diagram below depicts what is considered “good posture.” The plum line suspended along side the lateral view of the body serves a reference point for the head, shoulders, hips and feet. As you can see in the first image, the head sits squarely on the shoulders so that the ear is in front of the line. The shoulders are then evenly aligned with the plum line so that they don’t round too far back or too far forward. Make note of the gentle curves in the spine in relation to the faulty postures. When we get down to the hips, we see a natural tilt that is approximately 30 degrees. This is considered normal. An anterior pelvic tilt will show an increase of more than 30 degrees and posterior pelvic tilt will show a decrease of less than 30 degrees. As the line continues down to the feet, we can see that the anklebone sits just behind the plum line.

Faulty Postures

As we move on to the various types of faulty postures, we must first consider the degrees to which these deformities take shape. There are three classifications of postural deformities.

1st degree deformities: Also known as postural or functional deformities. These variations in posture are a result of muscle imbalances. There are no structural or boney changes and the person can self correct.

2nd degree deformities: Also known as transitional deformities. These are also due to muscle imbalances formed from soft tissue contractures. There are no structural or boney changes, but because these have become so entrenched, the person cannot self correct.

3rd degree deformities: These deformities are structural in nature. There are definite boney changes, which are congenital in nature or born out of degenerative changes. A person cannot self correct.

Faulty Postures

A) Here we see a relaxed faulty posture. Notice the increased angle of the pelvis. This is considered a 1st degree deformity and through strengthening of key muscle groups and postural re-education, this type of posture can be corrected.

B) A kyphosis is the result of an exaggerated, posterior curve of the thoracic spine. There are two different types:

  1. Kyphosis Arcuata: This considered a 1st degree deformity. Both the shoulders and the upper back are rounded forward. The front of the shoulders are rolled inward and the head and neck pitched forward. Poor postural habits as well as psychogenic causes (i.e. emotional and psychological) can lead to this muscle imbalance of the upper body.
  2. Kyphosis Angularis: This is considered a 3rd degree deformity. Also known as a “hunchback” deformity. This exaggerated posterior curve of the thoracic spine is often caused by osteoporosis or Pott’s disease – a tuberculosis of the spine.

The counterpart to a kyphosis is a lordosis. A lordosis is an increased or exaggerated anterior curve of the lumbar spine. This means that the forward tilt of the pelvis is greater than 30 degrees. This is considered in most cases a 1st degree deformity. Some common causes could include obesity, pregnancy, or some form of muscle imbalance due to poor postural habits.

C) A sway back posture occurs when the angle of the pelvis is greater than 30 degrees and there is a forward shift of the pelvis, forcing the hip joint into hyperextension. As a result, a long kyphosis of the thoracic and upper lumbar spine develops. Considered a 1st degree deformity, this posture is usually the result of a muscle imbalance due to poor postural habits.

D) A flat back is the result of a posterior pelvic tilt (less than 30 degrees) which flattens out the normal curve of the lumbar spine. If not addressed properly this first-degree deformity, caused by a muscle imbalance and poor postural habits, can lead to a flattening of the thoracic spine.

E) A round back posture can either be a result of a kyphosis arcuata or a kyphosis angularis. In this representation, a flat back in the lumbar spine accompanies a kyphosis of the upper back. The angle of the pelvis is less than 30 degrees creating a roundness to the back. Notice the angle of the upper back in relation to the kyphosis represented in B. Notice also how the knees and lower legs are hyper extended.

Scoliosis: Another deformity of the spine not represented in the diagram is what’s known as a side bending or lateral curve of the spine – a scoliosis. A scoliosis can develop in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar segments of the spines. If the scoliosis occurs in only one part of the spine, it’s referred to as a “simple curve” or “C curve.” On occasion it can develop in several parts of the spine creating a “double/compound curve” or “S curve.”

There are two primary types of scoliosis. A postural scoliosis is considered a 1st degree deformity and is often the result of a muscle imbalance. An idiopathic scoliosis has no known cause, is considered a 3rd degree structural deformity, and is the most common form.

Developing good posture

For most of us, developing good postural habits can be a bit of a challenge. Some habits have become so entrenched and so much a part of who we are, that changing them will require some work. But the benefits are well worth the price.

Tight, contracted muscles have a way of restricting oxygen and nutrient rich blood flow to our cells. As a result, metabolic waste can accumulate in the tissue creating pain and imbalance. Chronically contracted muscles also burn up more energy and place an undue strain on the joints of the body. Over time these conditions can lead to illness, fatigue, and arthritis. Let’s not forget the psychological effects our posture plays in our lives. Walking around with our shoulders and our heads hanging low may initially be a way of coping with social anxiety or poor self esteem, but over time these postural habits can actually influence our state of mind. On the other hand, walking with our shoulders back and our heads held high has a way of creating and conveying confidence.

It all starts with awareness. Developing a certain amount of body awareness is crucial for any kind of change to occur. How many of us walk around stiff as a board and completely tense…without realizing it?! Check in with yourself a couple of times a day. Doing so will train your mind to catch moments of tension and contraction in the body before they set in below the level of awareness. Taking a break from the computer or office desk to get up and move around is a great way of doing this.

Exercise is the great equalizer. Whether it’s a full blown work out at the gym or a 20min walk in the park, getting your heart rate up and your body moving is a great way of breaking up stagnant energy and increasing blow flow to your muscles. And the powerful practices of yoga, tai chi, and Pilates can all help strengthen and stretch key muscle groups and create balance in our bodies.

Here are a few other tips to keep in mind.

When standing:

  • Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart
  • Keep the weight of your body on the soles of your feet
  • Keep your shoulders square with your body
  • Pull your head back and tuck in your chin
  • Stand so that your spine is erect, your head rests comfortably on your shoulders and your arms hang loosely by your side

When sitting:

  • Sit up straight with small of your back pressed up against the back of your chair (doing so will help prevent slouching)
  • Adjust the armrests on your chair so that your arms rest comfortably at an angle of 75-90 degrees
  • Both feet should rest on the floor so that your knees are bent at approx a 90 degree angle
  • If you’re in front of a computer, make sure the monitor is placed at comfortable viewing distance to prevent eye fatigue and neck strain. Avoid angles that force your head to pitch up or down or crane to the side. Using ergonomically designed keyboards and chairs are a great way to start.

With the advent of social media and mobile devices, we now have a tendency to constantly be looking down at our phones and tablets to check emails, update our facebook page, send texts and tweets, etc… This is creating unprecedented amounts of head, neck, and shoulder issues. To avoid making this potentially harmful and rudimentary mistake, always make sure to hold your device UP so that it’s at eye level. And don’t forget to breathe….


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Myofascial release is a form of bodywork that helps to relieve soft tissue restrictions by engaging the layers of fascia within the body. The work usually involves slow, broad, deep strokes, with the use of little to no oil. The purpose of this is to create a certain amount of “drag” and resistance within the tissue, which can then be used to slowly release trigger points and other fascial adhesions. Some people find myofascial release very relaxing and highly effective. But in order to understand why, there are a few things we need to know about fascia.

The term “myofascial,” was first used by Dr. Janet Travell in the 1940’s in her work with trigger points. If we break down the word, myo means muscle and fascia means elastic band. In actuality, fascia is a thin layer of connective tissue that covers all the organs and muscles in the body. Think of it as a continuous web of tissue that connects all your muscles, organs, bones, blood vessels and nerves together. There are three layers of fascia within the body. The first layer is called “superficial fascia.” This topmost layer lies directly below the skin and subcutaneous tissue. The second layer, known as “deep fascia,” surrounds and is interwoven into the muscles, bones, blood vessels and nerves. The third and final layer is called “deepest fascia.” This layer is found within the dura of the cranium. If we stop to consider the fact that all three layers are connected to one another, then it’s easier to see how a myofascial stretch applied in one area of the body (i.e. the foot) has the potential to affect a very different area of the body (i.e the head).  In reality, releasing fascial adhesions in one area will affect tension within the whole fascial system.

Fascia is made up of collagen fibers suspended in a ground substance. Normal, healthy tissue will have a certain amount of extensibility and elasticity due to something known as “critical interfiber distance.” Collagen fibers must maintain a certain distance from one another or they begin to stick together and eventually form fascial adhesions. The ground substance, which holds these collagen fibers apart, does this by retaining water. Therefore the more hydrated it is, the better it is at maintaining this distance.

Another element of fascia, and the one that makes myofascial release effective, is something known as thixotropy. Thixotropy is a property of fluids and gels that allows them to become less viscous (less stiff) and more fluid when stress is applied. In the context of a massage, the depth and direction of the stroke is the stress which melts the fascial adhesion and makes the surrounding fascia more fluid. There are many factors which can affect the thixotropic nature of fascia. Injury, stress, and inactivity are just a few of the most common. Damage to the ground substance can lead to fluid depletion and a build up of metabolic waste, which can eventually lead to soft tissue restrictions.

Another important aspect of fascia is that, within this continuous system of connective tissue, are meridians or “trains” of fascia than run in very specific directions. In his book “Anatomy Trains,” Thomas Myers describes several meridians that run at various lengths throughout body, stopping at boney landmarks along the way. Myers lists 11 distinct meridians that criss-cross the body from different angles. But for the sake of this article, we’ll take a look at two.

The image below is depicts the “superficial back line” or SBL. The “tracks” run from the plantar surface of the feet, up the back of the legs, into the glutes, along the spinal muscles, and around the top of the head to your forehead. The “stations” are the boney prominences the fascia runs over. In this case it’s the heel bone, sitzs bones, sacrum, skull, and brow ridge.

SBL_0001

This second image shows the “superficial front line” or SFL. See how it runs from the tops of the feet to the backs of the ears.

SFL_0001

These meridians clearly illustrate how a muscle strain or adhesion in one area of the body can create tension all along that fascial line. Myofascial release endeavors to meet that restriction and stretch it past its barrier to create a release. It’s normal for certain areas to be more tender or sore than others depending on how bound the tissue is. This can also be a sign of a trigger point, which can at times relay it pain signals along this fascial network. Freeing up trigger points and adhesions along these meridians can have a dramatic affect on the whole “train.”

One final note on this fascial network should help to underscore the continuity of the body as a whole. From a classical anatomy perspective, muscles and bones are given separate names and functions. Bones act as the struts and levers, and the muscles, tendons and ligaments as pulleys and stabilizers. However, due to the presence of this fascial network, the body act more like a “tensegrity” structure than anything else. The word tensegrity is a combination of the words “tension” and “integrity.” It describes a structural unit whereby its integrity is created by an even distribution of tensional forces throughout the system. So your skeletal bones are no longer viewed as the framework your whole body rests upon, but rather, as “spacers” “floating” within the body. This radical perspective is more in line with how the body truly acts than the conventional machine-like paradigm we’ve grown accustomed to. So this means that tension (whether traumatic or therapeutic) applied to an area of the body will be absorbed and distributed throughout the whole body. It kind of makes you wonder what’s really causing that headache or pain in your foot…


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Chances are we’ve all experienced the painful effects of a muscle cramp. Some can be mild and annoying and others can stop us dead in our tracks. Whether we’re out for a jog in the morning, sitting at our desks at work, or sound asleep in the middle of the night, muscle cramps can strike suddenly and without warning. So what exactly causes a muscle cramp? What are some of the risk factors that predispose us to cramps? And what can be done to break a cramp when it occurs?

A cramp is an involuntary and sustained muscle contraction that can last anywhere from a few seconds to a couple of minutes. Commonly referred to as a “Charley Horse,” these sudden and painful spasms cause a noticeable hardening and bulging of the affected muscle(s), and can at times leave some residual soreness once they’ve passed. It’s not uncommon for a cramp to strike multiple times before it’s completely resolved. Let’s take a look at the different types of cramps and what’s behind them.

Types and Causes

Muscle cramps can occur anywhere in the body. True cramps, as differentiated from tetany, dystonic cramps, or even smooth muscle cramps (i.e. menstrual cramps), are cramps that affect voluntary skeletal muscles. Some commonly affected areas include the hands, ribcage, abdomen, thighs, calves, and foot muscles.

Cramping that occurs during or after exercise or physical activity is considered a fairly normal occurrence. Muscle fatigue and over-exertion, such as in writer’s cramp or long distance running, are the likely culprits in cases such as these. But more often than not, the exact cause may be hard to identify since there are so many contributing factors. Here are some other leading causes:

  • Chronic muscle tension
  • Poor circulation
  • Dehydration
  • Overuse
  • Injury
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Drug side effects
  • An overly facilitated nervous system
  • Myofascial trigger points
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Insufficient stretching before or after exercise
  • Increased levels of lactic acids and metabolites
  • Medical conditions such as: diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, thyroid disorders, kidney disease, MS

A muscle spasm can develop in any of the voluntary muscle groups as a protective mechanism against further injury.

Repetitive use of certain muscles can lead to muscle fatigue, which in turn can cause cramping.

Resting cramps, such as those that occur while we’re sitting or lying down in awkward positions, are more likely to occur as we age.

Dehydration, either from a lack of proper hydration or excessive perspiration, can increase the chances of cramping due to sodium depletion; so can diuretics, which are medications that promote urination.

Severe vitamin deficiencies have also been associated with muscle cramping. B1, B5, B6, magnesium, potassium, and calcium are all important for proper muscle functioning.

Leg Cramps

Leg cramps, such those that affect the front and back of the thigh, as well as the calf and foot muscles, are usually at the top of the list of afflicted areas. Cramps that occur while walking or running can be the result of poor circulation caused by muscle tension in the lower leg. The gastroc/soleus complex, the two prominent muscles of the lower leg, is an integral part of the venous return to the heart. The soleus muscle in particular has the unique distinction of being called the “body’s second heart.” The reason for this is that the soleus contracts both while shortening and lengthening, making it very efficient at pumping blood back to the heart. If the muscle is chronically tight and shortened due to trigger points or poor conditioning, it can impede blood flow and therefore be an indirect cause of calf cramps.

Muscle tension on the top of the foot, whether due to tight footwear or trigger points in the interosseus muscles, can cause numbness, swelling and cramps on the top of the foot. The poor circulation resulting from this is likely to promote trigger points in the area.

Nocturnal leg cramps can also be the result of trigger points in the lower leg muscles. Vitamin deficiencies, such as magnesium and potassium, can be a significant factor in such cases. Calf cramps that occur in the later stages of pregnancy may be considered normal to some, but can often be the result of a calcium deficiency.

Poor circulation can lead to decreased levels of oxygen to the muscles. In some cases a condition known as claudication, which causes pain and/or cramping in the lower leg or thigh, is a result of inadequate blood flow to the leg. The pain is typically felt while walking or running, when oxygen is needed the most. It subsides while at rest and is sometimes referred to as “intermittent claudication” for that reason. Claudication can be a symptom of a more serious condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD). Atherosclerosis, which is hardening of the arteries due to high cholesterol and an accumulation of plaque in the arteries, often begins in the arteries furthest from the heart. The pain associated with claudication however does not necessarily come from a muscle cramp, but from an accumulation of lactic acid and other chemical byproducts held in the tissue.

Cramp Relief

There are a few things that can be done when we’re in the throes of a cramp. Most of us will gently massage and/or stretch the affected muscle until the cramp subsides. This is an instinctual reaction to an acute attack of pain. And for most of us, is all that it takes. Here are some alternate ways of breaking a cramp.

Sustained compression: Hold the cramped muscle with steady pressure until it subsides. This is an especially good technique when dealing with multiple cramps.

Ice/Heat Application: The numbness caused by icing a cramped muscle will inhibit nerve impulses and help to break the cramp. Although it may take longer, it will aid in reducing post cramp soreness and may be a good option when a muscle cramps multiple times. Heat is also a great way of soothing and relaxing cramped muscles. A twenty-minute soak in a warm bath with Epsom salt or applying moist heat compresses should suffice.

Reciprocal Inhibition: Muscles work in opposition to each other. In order for one muscle group to contract, the opposing muscle group must relax. For example, in order for the calf muscles to flex, the shin muscles must relax and give to a certain degreee. This neuromuscular technique uses the inhibition naturally created in the opposing muscle group to stop the cramp. If the cramp occurs in the calf muscles, place the opposite (non-cramping) foot on top of the cramping foot to provide resistance, and try to lift your toes against the resistance. Flexing the shin muscles of the cramping leg against resistance will create reciprocal inhibition in the calf muscles. Although this technique is a bit more involved and requires some forethought, the relief it provides is often immediate and well worth the practice.

Muscle Spindle Approximation: This other neuromuscular technique uses a set of proprioceptive cells found in the belly of a muscle to provide relief. This technique is ideally suited for large, graspable muscles such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and abdominals. Grasp either end of the cramping muscle and squeeze the ends together. If the quadriceps are cramping, grasp just above the knee with one hand and just below the pelvis with the other hand and bring the ends together.

Stretching: Although stretching is one of the most common ways of breaking a cramp, caution should be used as stretching during a severe cramp can make it worse. For lower leg/calf cramps, gently point the toes up and down until the cramp subsides. Stretching before and after exercise is an excellent way of reducing your chances of getting a cramp. For those who suffer from nighttime cramps, some gentle stretches before going to bed should be part of your routine.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Sciatica is commonly referred to as pain that affects the low back, hips, buttocks, and backs of the legs due to compression and irritation of the sciatic nerve. An injury or impingement of the sciatic nerve can lead to a neuritis (inflammation of the nerve), neuralgia (pain along the course of the nerve), or a radiculopathy (nerve root involvement). Although sciatica can sometimes be the result of a herniated disc, there are other causes and contributing factors that can cause or mimic symptoms of sciatica. Such factors may include postural deviations, piriformis entrapment, and trigger points in the gluteal muscles, all of which are fairly common causes of sciatic pain.

The sciatic nerve is considered the largest nerve in the human body. Segments of the nerve are formed between L4 & S3 in the sacral plexus. The nerve, which is actually comprised of two divisions — the peroneal and tibial, travels through the greater sciatic foramen of the pelvis, under the piriformis muscle, and down the back of the leg to the foot. The peroneal branch and the tibial branch travel down the back of the thigh together until they reach the back of the knee. At this point, the peroneal branch splits from the tibial branch and travels down the back of the lower leg, around the inner ankle to the bottom of the foot. The tibial branch, once at the back of the knee, will wrap around the fibula bone and bifurcate once again into two other branches – the deep peroneal nerve (DPN) and the superficial peroneal nerve (SPN). The DPN travels down the front of the lower leg between the shin muscles and the tibia to the top of the foot. The SPN will travel down the lateral or outside part of the lower leg.

Piriformis

With the exception of the front and inner parts of the thigh, the sciatic nerve innervates all the other muscles of the leg. This includes the hamstrings and all the lower leg and foot muscles. The femoral nerve operates the hip flexors, namely the quadriceps, and the obturator nerve controls the adductor muscles. Due to the sciatic nerve’s origin and wide distribution, it can cause pain and discomfort in the low back, sacro-iliac joint, buttock, hip, back of the leg, and foot.

Signs & Symptoms:

  • Symptoms may be insidious or have a sudden onset
  • Unilateral in presentation
  • Radiating pain that can extend from the low back and buttock area, down the back of the leg, and into the foot
  • Paresthesias (i.e. burning, pins and needles, numbness), weakness, and muscle spasms anywhere along the course of the nerve
  • Pain can be a constant, dull ache or a shooting pain down the back of the leg
  • Pain may increase while sitting and diminish while standing or lying down
  • Coughing or laughing may exacerbate the pain
  • Standing in antalgic position: Depending on the site of the irritation, a person suffering from sciatic pain may hunch over and to the side to help alleviate pressure on the nerve

Causes:

  • A disk lesion, such as a protrusion or herniation at L4-L5 or L5-S1. The disk pushes into the nerve root and sacral plexus causing a radiculopathy
  • Stenosis: a narrowing of the vertebral canal in which the nerve passes through
  • Postural deviations: An anterior pelvic tilt, such as one that occurs during pregnancy, can decrease the space in the sciatic notch through which the nerve passes through. A posterior pelvic tilt can shorten the muscles the sciatic nerve must travel under
  • Piriformis syndrome: When this hip muscle shortens and begins to spasm, it can put direct pressure over the nerve
  • Sitting for extended periods of time with an object in your rear pocket, such as a wallet, can put direct pressure on the nerve. This is known as “back pocket sciatica”
  • Trigger points in one of the gluteal muscles can mimic sciatic pain
  • Joint dysfunction of the lumbo-sacral area
  • Inflammation of the nerve due to an infection or tumor

Another predisposing factor in the development of sciatica is the course the nerve takes once it exits out of the greater sciatic foramen in the pelvis. This congenital variance may explain why some people are more susceptible to developing sciatica than others.

In a majority of the population, the two branches of the sciatic nerve will exit out of the pelvis, through the greater sciatic foramen, and under the piriformis. This is true in about 85% of people. In approximately 10% of the population, one branch of the nerve passes through the piriformis, and the other underneath. In yet another small percentage, approximately 3%, one branch passes over the piriformis, and the other underneath. And finally, in less than 1% of people, both branches pass through the piriformis.

If the sciatica is a result of piriformis involvement or trigger points in the gluteal muscles, the pain may be more conscribed and only reach as far down as the knee. In a vertebral impingement the pain may be more widespread, radiating into the back and all the way down to the foot in severe cases.

Glute Medius TP

Diagnosis:

A history of unilateral low back pain that extends down the back of the leg is usually the defining symptom. A CT scan or MRI may show a disc herniation in the lumbar spine if one is present. The straight leg raise test, also known as Lasegue’s Sign, can be performed to determine the origin of the pain. On occasion, the pain may be due to a glute or hamstring strain. Other times, the pain may be due to some pathology of the lumbar spine or sacroiliac joint. While lying flat on your back, one leg is passively raised until the pain is elicited. Sciatic pain usually presents itself between 35 – 70 degrees of hip flexion.

Treatments:

If the sciatica is a result of a disk herniation, infection, or tumor, you should consult a doctor as to the appropriate form of treatment.

Mild cases of sciatica will often resolve themselves over time. Ice and heat applications are a great way of addressing the inflammation and muscle spasms associated with sciatica.

Anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants may be prescribed by your doctor to help manage the pain. And if the pain is particularly acute, steroid injections may provide relief for a period of time.

Women who develop sciatica during pregnancy as a result of an excessive anterior pelvic tilt, will find that their symptoms abate once they deliver and the pelvis returns to normal.

Those suffering from sciatica resulting from obesity or faulty postures, will find that losing the extra weight and strengthening key muscle groups in the low back and abdominals will help correct pelvic imbalances.

Sciatica caused from prolonged periods of sitting and/or back pocket sciatica is easily addressed and typically of short duration.

Those with piriformis syndrome and/or trigger points in the glute muscles can greatly benefit from direct massage to the muscles of the low back and hips. Trigger points in the piriformis can shorten and irritate this key muscle. These changes can cause the piriformis to place direct pressure over the sciatica nerve, which runs underneath it. Trigger points found in other gluteal muscles can often mimic sciatic pain. And although these muscles may not be directly over the sciatic nerve, their pain pattern is very similar to that of an entrapment – such as the one created by the piriformis. Targeted stretches in combination with massage will help to restore extensibility and length to these muscles and help alleviate the pressure over the nerve.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Frozen shoulder (FS) or adhesive capsulitis is a clinically diagnosed syndrome which affects the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint), causing pain and a progressive loss of movement. Tissue changes and a low-grade inflammatory response can lead to a shrinking of the joint capsule, joint stiffness and immobility. The condition is self-limiting and in a majority of cases will resolve over a period of time.

Causes:

There are two primary forms of FS:

Primary FS: The most common type. This form of FS is idiopathic (of unknown origin) and is often caused by some unidentified stimulus.

Secondary FS: Often the result of some previous injury affecting the shoulder joint. Some common examples could include: direct trauma, fractures, surgery, arthritis, or infection. The disuse of the shoulder predisposes it to the pathological changes associated with the condition.

Incidence:

FS has been known to affect a certain demographic of the population:

  •  It primarily occurs between 40-70 years of age
  •  It usually affects the non-dominant arm
  •  Women are affected more often than men at a 2:1 ratio
  •  It’s most prevalent in insulin dependent diabetics

Pathological Changes:

1) With the disuse of the shoulder, the shoulder capsule shrinks; the synovial lining and surrounding tendons shorten and become inflamed.

2) Adhesions form in the capsule and in the surrounding rotator cuff muscles.

3) Eventually the humerus is drawn tightly into the thickened joint capsule and becomes attached to the bone.

4) The surrounding muscles become stiff and inelastic, preventing normal range of motion.

Signs & Symptoms:

  •  The onset is usually gradual
  •  Joint stiffness and immobility
  •  Pain is dull, constant, and aching
  •  Pain with movement of the shoulder (active or passive), most acute in midrange
  •  Pain is usually worse at night, especially if sleeping on the affected side
  •  Limited range of motion of the shoulder, especially external rotation. Activities such as brushing your teeth, combing your hair, or getting dressed become painful and     difficult
  •  Shoulder is usually held in a fixed position (internally rotated & adducted, w/ the elbow flexed)

Progression of the condition:

There are three stages to FS, each lasting approximately 6 months.

Freezing Stage: A painful, inflammatory stage characterized by constant shoulder pain and muscle spasms. During this stage the fibrosis of the joint is just forming. Limited ROM is mostly due to inflammation and spasms.

Frozen Stage: Pain is no longer constant at this stage. Resting pain begins to decrease and a dull ache is present during movement. There is however an increase in joint stiffness and a progressive loss of shoulder movement.

Thawing Stage: There is a gradual restoration of movement and a decrease in pain and discomfort during this stage. Functional activities return. ROM increases but some residual restrictions could remain.

Treatment:

During the freezing stage:

  • NSAIDS and analgesics are often used to manage the pain. In some cases, corticosteroids are used when pain is unmanageable
  • Pendulum exercises may be used to help traction the joint and aid in continued movement of the shoulder
  • Passive and active ROM exercises are used to help with the pain and prevention of adhesion formation
  • Massage around the joint capsule and rotator cuff muscles to help decrease muscle stiffness and pain

During the frozen & thawing stages:

  • Moist heat applications
  • Massage to hypertonic muscles and friction to adhesions in rotator cuff muscles
  • Gentle tractioning of the joint along with ice massage to rotator cuff tendons
  • Trigger point work and myofascial release to cervical, thoracic, and shoulder girdle muscles
  • Passive ROM along with gentle stretches

Due to the pathological changes in and around the joint capsule, it’s important to keep the shoulder muscles – especially the rotator cuff muscles – as flexible as possible. This includes doing passive and active ROM exercises, gentle stretches, ice & heat applications, and trigger point work to the surrounding muscles. Doing so can have a significant impact on pain management, mobility, and ultimately the expediency of  the condition. Towards the end of the thawing stage, physical therapy along with isometrics and other muscle strengthening exercises may be helpful in restoring the shoulder to full capacity.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

In this third installment on headaches, we’ll be discussing how massage and trigger point therapy to key muscles in the neck and face can help diminish the effects of a headache.

Massage

If you consider the fact that 90% of all headaches are tension related in some way, then reducing tension levels, whether it be physical or psychological, should provide relief for a vast majority of people. Even those suffering from chronic migraines, cluster headaches, and new daily persistent type headaches are greatly affected by excessive tension in the muscles of the head and neck. It’s no secret that maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet, plenty of exercise and sleep will go a long way in reducing stress levels. There may however be other factors at play that could be contributing to your headache. Factors such as postural imbalances, repetitive movements, strained sleeping positions, cervical arthritis, or even whiplash – all of which could be at the root of tight muscles. The one thing all these factors have in common though, are trigger points. Trigger points develop in strained or chronically tight muscles and are often the hidden and undetected cause of most headaches. There are close to 26 pairs of individual muscles in the neck and over 30 pairs of muscles in the face, all of which could be harboring trigger points! The work of Travell & Simons has shown that trigger points are the ‘operational element’ in most headaches stemming from physical trauma and emotional tension. The irony however, is that most headaches arise from trigger points found in the jaw, neck and upper back muscles! Knowing this saves a lot time and energy, but it also allows for a more focused and effective treatment plan. Now, let’s take a look at the key players.

There are four primary muscles in the head and neck that refer pain to the temples, forehead and jaw, and play a significant role in the development of headaches. The first two muscles, the trapezius and the sternocleidomasoid (SCM), are considered neck muscles (segments of the trapezius are also considered upper back and shoulder muscles). The other two, masseter and temporalis, are jaw muscles and are located on the face and head.

Trapezius:

Trapezius Trgr PtThe trapezius is a flat, broad upper back muscle that functions to move the neck and shoulders. It also helps to support the weight of the head and is therefore particularly susceptible to postural imbalances, which can put undue strain on the muscle. A trigger point in the upper part of the trapezius is one of the primary causes of temporal headaches. The referral pattern of this trigger point includes the back of the head, sides of the temple, and angle of the jaw. It’s also been known to setup up satellite trigger points in these areas, which can lead to a deep pain behind the eye, toothaches, and TMJ. Stress and emotional tension can often keep this muscle constantly contracted and elevated on some people — as can wearing a heavy backpack or purse, a forward head posture, or tight pectoral muscles. Trigger points in the middle and lower half of the traps will often refer pain to the back of the neck.

Sternocleidomastoid (SCM):

SCM Trgr PtsThe sternocleidomastoid muscle, or SCM for short, derives its name from its points of attachment. The two branches of the muscle attach on the sternum, clavicle, and mastoid process — which is located behind the ear. Although these muscles rarely hurt themselves, trigger points found in the SCMs are usually at the root of frontal headaches and pain located on the face. This muscle serves several purposes. Much like the upper traps, it functions to rotate and laterally flex the head to the side, and is an accessory breathing muscle — helping to elevate the ribcage during inhalation. Its very functions however, make it susceptible to postural imbalances such as, a forward head posture, and shallow upper respiratory breathing arising from emotional and/or psychological tension. Triggers points in the SCM can also be a leading cause of a painless, stiff neck; a deep pain behind the eye, ear, and back of the head; tongue pain when swallowing; and a contributing factor in TMJ pain. Unfortunately these muscles are rarely worked on, despite their wide and primary effects.

The other two muscles are located on the head and face. Masseter is a chewing muscle found along the angle of the jaw, which provides the jaw with most of its power. Trigger points in masseter can restrict the opening of the jaw and lead to pan in the upper and lower teeth. It’s also one of the leading factors in the development of TMJ. Its referral pattern includes many points on the face such as, the cheek, above the eyebrow, along the jaw, deep in the ear, and can on occasion mimic the symptoms of sinusitis. Pain arising from masseter trigger points can be an underlying cause of frontal headaches. Temporalis, like masseter, is a chewing muscle. This flat muscle is located on the sides of the head just above the ears. Trigger points in temporalis refer pain to the area above the eyes and upper lips. They contribute to the formation frontal and temporal headaches and can sometimes lead to hypersensitivity in the upper teeth.  

Another set of muscles worth mentioning are the suboccipitals. These two pairs of four, short, individually named muscles are located at the base of the head and the very top of the neck. Pain from trigger points in the suboccipitals can feel like a band of tightness inside the head, starting at the back of the head and leading to the eye and forehead. This type of pain is commonly associated with migraine headaches. The suboccipitals are particularly vulnerable to emotional tension, as well as the effects of satellite trigger points coming from the trapezius. Research has discovered that one of these short muscles not only attaches to the occiput, but to the dura mater – the connective tissue that covers the brain. In light of this connection, it’s speculated that increased tension in this muscle can disrupt the normal fluctuations of cerebrospinal fluid and lead to headaches.

In some cases, focused work on these key muscles alone can have the added benefit of deactivating satellite trigger points that fall in their referral patterns. However, this is not always the case, especially in the more severe and long-term cases. The cascading effects of trigger points are one of the main reasons why some of them are so persistent and easy to miss. But once they are systematically treated and deactivated, relief is usually not far behind.

In the next and final post, we’ll see how reflexology to particular reflexes found in the hands and feet can help with headaches.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

Now let’s take a look at cluster headaches and new daily persistent headaches. Although relatively rare by comparison, they are nevertheless considered primary headaches.

Cluster Headaches (CH):

Cluster headaches are unilateral, vascular headaches of short duration that occur over a period of time. The pain is usually centered behind one eye (although it can also be felt in the temple, ear, neck or face) and is often described as an intense, burning, or piercing (not throbbing) pain. Cluster headaches have a sudden onset and can be extremely painful, often leading to watery eyes, a runny nose, and reddening of the skin on the affected side of the face. They can last anywhere between 10 minutes to 2 hours and reoccur 2-3 times a day for a period of 5-6 weeks (cluster). Attacks can occur at the same time, every day and are very common at night leaving you feeling restless. A person may have a pain-free period of weeks, months, or even years in some cases, before the next cluster occurs.

Causes:

There are no known causes for cluster headaches, but research has speculated that they may be due to a sudden release of histamine and serotonin in the brain. Abnormalities have also been detected in the hypothalamus during a cluster headache. Some perpetuating factors may include stress, overwork, and emotional trauma. In some cases medical intervention may be necessary as a means of managing the pain and stress of these reoccurring headaches.

Incidence:

Although cluster headaches are relatively rare, affecting 1 in 1000 people, they are most prevalent in men ages 20-50. They affect men more than women at a ratio of 8:1

New Daily Persistent Headache (NDPH):

Another form of primary headache worth mentioning is the “new daily persistent headache” or NDPH for short. Although relatively rare, occurring in 1 out of every 3500 people between the ages of 30-44, it is considered a primary headache syndrome with no underlying cause. NDPHs are classified as a form of chronic daily headache which is present for more than 15 days a month and for as least 3 consecutive months. It has an acute onset and typically occurs in people with no past history of headaches. The pain can be a dull, pressure-like sensation that affects both sides of the head but can also be unilateral in its presentation — being localized to one particular area of the head. The pain can fluctuate in intensity but is usually unremittant and daily.

NDPHs can be mistaken for other forms of chronic daily headaches (CDH) such as, chronic migraines (CM) and chronic tension-type headaches (CTTH) and can share similar symptoms. There are however a few key features that set them apart. Onset is usually abrupt and acute. People who suffer from CMs and CTTHs have a history of headaches and can often tell when a headache is about to come on, NDPH sufferers cannot. NDPH sufferers however can tell you the exact day their headache started. This is a signature sign of NDPHs. The pain begins acutely and reaches its peak within 3 days. The pain is not usually aggravated by routine physical activity,  although it can get worse throughout the day.

Diagnosis of NDPHs can be difficult and must first rule out secondary causes which could mimic its symptoms. Such secondary causes may include a cerebrospinal fluid leak, cerebral venous sinus thrombosis or minor head trauma. An MRI or CAT scan can rule out these conditions.

Causes:

As previously mentioned, NDPHs have no underlying cause but have been known to coincide with viral infections (i.e. Epstein-Barr, Lyme Disease, Herpes Simplex), flu-like illnesses, sinusitis, stressful life events, or minor head traumas, just to name a few. They have also been associated with medication over-use, which often leads to an analgesic rebound and a resultant headache. NDPH sufferers are particularly vulnerable to medication over-use as they try to manage the pain of their daily headaches.

Incidence:

NDPHs occur 2.5 more times in women than they do in men.

Conclusion:

Conventional treatments such as over the counter medications (OTC) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may include: aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and naproxen (Aleve). These are most commonly prescribed for tension-type headaches and some mild forms of migraine. Triptans and Ergots have been prescribed for those with severe, chronic forms of migraine. They constrict blood vessels and block pain pathways in the brain, but are not without their precautions and side effects. Most migraine sufferers learn to avoid triggers, such as stress, scents, loud noise, bright lights and certain foods that might set off a migraine. Cluster headaches are often treated with vasoconstrictors, oxygen inhalers and corticosteroids. NDPH sufferers have had successful treatments with Neurontin (gabapentin) and Topomax (topiramate) in cases that have lasted more than a few months.

Although these treatments may provide symptom relief and in some cases may be essential in managing the pain of a severe headache, caution should be used when using any drug or medication over a long period of time. Medication overuse headaches (MOH), commonly referred to as rebound headaches, can be a byproduct of an over-reliance on pain medication. The liver and kidneys are particularly susceptible to the effects of medication overuse. If you suffer from chronic headaches of any form, you may be well advised to consult your doctor. Keeping a ‘headache journal’ may be helpful in detecting patterns or triggers. Eliminating certain stressors, foods, or activities may go a long way in preventing your next headache.

 In the third post of this series, we’ll begin to discuss the benefits of an holistic approach to headache relief — namely massage and trigger point therapy.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

We’ve all suffered through a headache at some point in our lives. Some may get the occasional headache as a result of stress, illness, lack of sleep, or even caffeine withdrawal. Others may experience much more severe and episodic headaches that can be excruciating and extremely debilitating. Headache disorders are considered the most common disorder of the nervous system. Headaches are so common in fact, that the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that nearly half to three quarters of adults (18-65) worldwide have experienced a headache in the past year. In this four part series on headaches we’ll discuss the three main classifications of a headache, four different types of headache, and finally how massage and reflexology can help.

According to the International Headache Society, headaches are classified into three categories: primary headaches, secondary headaches, and cranial neuralgia/facial pain and other headaches.

Primary Headaches such as tension-type heaches (TTH) and migraines are among the most widely reported forms of headache. Cluster headaches (CH) and  new daily persistent headaches (NDPH) although less prevalent, are also considered primary in nature. These headaches typically exist independent of any medical condition or underlying cause.

Secondary Headaches are usually the result of some underlying cause or condition. Secondary headaches can be a symptom of things such as caffeine withdrawal, smoking, and alcohol consumption (hangover). Some common types include, sinus headaches and medication overuse headaches (MOH). They can on occasion be a symptom of a much more serious nature, such as a stroke or concussion.

Cranial neuralgia/facial pain and other headaches are the result of irritation or inflammation of one of the 12 cranial nerves that supply the head and neck. The most frequent example is trigeminal neuralgia, which affects the 5th cranial nerve.

Now that we’ve familiarized ourselves with these classifications, let’s take a closer look at  four different types of primary headache.

Tension-Type Headaches (TTH):

Also known as muscle tension or fibrositic headaches, tension-type headaches are by far the most common type of headache and account for nearly 90% of all headaches. The pain is usually bilateral, starting at the back of the head and neck then spreading to the temples and forehead. The pain can be a dull, persistent ache and feel like a band of tightness encircling the head. TTH are not usually debilitating but can be worse in the evening.

Causes:

-Chronic muscle tension

-TMJ Syndrome

-Neck/Jaw trigger points

-Psychological or physical stress

-Irritation of the cervical spine

-Sleep deprivation

-Grinding of the teeth (Bruxism)

-Injury to the coccyx or sacrum

 -Hunger

Other contributing factors:

-Mental or visual strain

-Holding your head in a fixed position

-Bright lights

-Strained sleeping position

-Noise

-Prolonged exposure to cold

Incidence:

80% of women and 67% of men are affected

Migraine Headaches:

The second most common form of headache, migraines are exceedingly painful events often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and hypersensitivity to light and noise. The pain is often described as a throbbing (not burning or piercing) type of pain that affects one side of the face. Some may experience pain bilaterally or behind one eye. Migraines are classified as a neurovascular disorder but their true cause is unknown. Some possible theories include, ‘leaky’ blood vessels, decreased serotonin levels, and involvement of the extra cranial nerves.

There are two main types of migraines: Classic migraines and Common migraines. They both share similar symptoms, however the classic migraine is accompanied by an aura.

There are four phases to a migraine. The first phase is known as the prodromal phase. This phase can occur hours or days before the onset of the migraine. Irritability, depression, fatigue, stiff muscles are some common precursors. The second phase, known as the aura phase (not present in common type migraines), immediately precedes the headache. Changes in vision such as flashing lights, dark spots, and double vision are often reported. The feeling of ‘pins and needles’ across the hand, arm and face followed by numbness is not uncommon. A person may experience confusion, trouble concentrating or may have difficulty communicating. In the third phase, the attack phase, the pain commences and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.  During this phase of the migraine, a person may be unusually sensitive to lights, sounds, and smells and for this reason may choose a quiet, dark, distraction-free environment to rest. Physical activity can often make the pain worse. The pain may be so intense as to cause light-headedness, nausea and vomiting in some. The postdromal phase is the final phase and can last a couple of days after the headache has subsided. A person may be left feeling sore, tired, weak or moody.

Causes:

Although there no known causes, there are some possible triggers for migraines:

-Hormonal or chemical triggers that occur during puberty, menses, and menopause

-Foods containing tyramine such as in wine, beer, and cheese

-Emotional and physical tension

-Allergic hypersensitivity

-Viral infections

-A family history

Incidence:

Migraines affect nearly 8 million people in the U.S.

18% of women and 6% of men are affected

In the next post we’ll discuss cluster headaches and new daily persistent headaches, as well as some conventional forms of relief.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

The effects of trigger points and their referred pain have been well documented. Muscles with active trigger points will often refer pain to other areas of the body. But did you know that your internal organs, known as viscera, can do the same? Could the pain in your left shoulder actually be referred pain coming from your lungs and diaphragm? In this article we’ll take a closer look at the effects of visceral pain, as well as underscore the importance of staying on top of your health and going for regular check ups.

Very little is known about visceral pain and the mechanisms behind its manifestations. Apart from the occasional abdominal pain, which be could the result of indigestion or cramping for example, we give very little thought to what its true source may be. The most common example of referred visceral pain comes in the form of cardiac pain. Ischemic compression of the heart, whether it’s angina or the beginnings of a heart attack, could manifest as pain along the sternum, the left side of your chest, down the inside of your left arm, and up into your left jaw. This is a very specific and unique referral pattern and one that most of us would be alarmed by. But some visceral pain can be as insidious and commonplace as an ache or pain in your shoulder. This makes determining its root cause all the more difficult.

One of the many theories behind visceral referred pain is known as ‘viscero-somatic convergence.’ Surprisingly, there is a lack of dedicated sensory pathways linking your internal organs with your brain. Nociceptors, the sensory neurons that detect pain, in the viscera will often converge with signals coming from the sensory pathways of your skin and muscles. When this happens, the brain will perceive the pain as coming from a different area of the body. Let’s take a look at some of the most common referral sites for visceral pain and dysfunction:

Right neck and shoulder:

-Liver and gallbladder

Left neck and shoulder:

-Lungs and diaphragm

Sternum, left chest, inside of left arm, left jaw:

-Heart

Right lower abdomen:

-Appendix

Mid-back along the spine & just below your scapulas:

-Stomach

Right side of ribcage just below your pectoral muscle:

-Liver and gallbladder

Left side of abdomen just below sternum:

-Pancreas

Abdominals above navel:

-Small Intestines

Abdominals below navel:

-Colon

Lower back & abdominals, inner & outer sides of thighs:

-Kidneys

Pubis:

-Urinary bladder

Visceral_Pains

It’s important to remember that not all of your internal organs have pain receptors. The hollow organs such as the stomach, intestines, bladder, and uterus for example, are some of the ones that do. All of your organs however, have receptors that can detect pressure, ischemia, inflammation, and noxious chemicals. So in most cases, visceral dysfunction will often manifest first through the autonomic nervous system as a dull, diffuse, and hard to locate form of discomfort or pain.

So how does one determine whether the source of the pain is visceral or muscular? Without a yearly physical or regular checks up with your doctor, it can be difficult to determine. If the pain and discomfort is long-term and unremitting despite your best efforts to address it, whether it be massage, rest, or some other means, then it may be time to speak to your doctor.


joe-azevedo2Joe Azevedo is a New York State/NCBTMB Licensed Massage Therapist, ARCB Certified Reflexologist, and an Advanced Reiki Practitioner. He is a graduate of the Swedish Institute and is the owner and founder of Brooklyn Reflexology.

By Appointment Only

917-514-3175

Location

116 Clinton St, Brooklyn Heights
May 2020
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