Hormones and Pain

Even though this post does appear to be targeted to women, I hope that the men will read it too, because we are all affected by hormones, and far too many of us, both women and men, are affected by chronic pain.

What prompted me to start reading up on this topic was that many women I know have told me that their pain (joint pain, back pain, neck pain, basically ANY pain) was worse at certain times of the month and they felt that it was hormone related. Beyond that, every one of these women, myself included, have experienced the frustration of having a doctor be dismissive of the idea that hormonal fluctuations may increase pain in all areas of the body (not just in the female organs).

What IS a hormone anyway? A hormone is a substance produced in the body that stimulates cells or tissue to act. They are powerful.  Off the top of your head, can you guess how many hormones there are roaming around your body? A quick search on the internet will tell you that there are about 50 different hormones in the body…so yeah, hormones are kind of a big deal.

After reading many articles on this topic, I found that the consensus seems to be that hormones may very well play a big role in chronic pain. So, ladies: it is NOT all in your head! Here are just a few examples of the articles out there:

  • This article indicates that fluctuations in women’s hormonal cycles appear to be associated with changes in the response to pain: Click Here.
  • This article suggests that when estrogen levels are high, more endorphins are released and when estrogen levels are low, less endorphins are released: Click Here . Endorphins help us to feel less pain.
  • Even though estrogen and progesterone seem to be the biggest players in this game, there are other hormones that also participate. According to this site: Article_Chronic_Pain_And_Hormones, low levels of Vitamin D, cortisol, testosterone, thyroid and DHEA can all be connected to chronic pain.

If you would like to read more about hormones and their relation to pain, there are lots of articles here: www.hormonesandpaincare.com

In defense of Flip-Flops

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE my flip-flops! So it causes me a bit of anxiety when I hear people talking about about how bad they are for your feet! I’ve read many articles on why it’s considered a bad idea to wear flip-flops. After “researching” the reasons why, there do seem to be some legitimate concerns, however I do not agree with the blanket statement that “flip-flops are bad for your feet”.

The most legitimate concern, in my opinion, is the potential for an overuse injury. With the standard flip-flop, your toes are forced to grip the bottom of the footwear in a way that is not normal for your feet. And it has to do it more often than is desirable, which could lead to an overuse injury. BUT, this is a problem that can be alleviated by simply wearing a flip flop of a different design…one in which a strap comes over the top of the foot and is nearer to the front of the ankle. This way, the toes will not be forced into an unnatural, repetitive action.  (http://www.naturalhealthmag.com/expert-advice/are-flip-flops-bad-your-feet)

The second concern which I felt had some merit, was that the arch of your foot would lack support. However, it seems to me that if you have weak arches, you are plenty aware that you might be better off with more supportive shoes, so you already KNOW that you wouldn’t want to wear flip-flops.  AND if you do still want to wear flip-flops, there is such a huge variety of flip-flops nowadays that you won’t have any trouble finding flip-flops that have arch supports.

On the flip side of that argument (pun intended ;) ), there is plenty of controversy out there over whether arch supports are a good thing or a bad thing. I personally believe that going barefoot and wearing flat shoes (or nearly flat shoes) are the way to go. If you never wear arch supports, then your arches will be strong and won’t fall. If you start wearing arch supports, you’re letting the shoe do all the work for you, and your foot muscles become weaker and weaker and you become even more reliant on the arch support in order to keep you from having foot pain.

*Here’s the disclaimer you’ve been waiting for:  If you currently suffer from flat feet, and want to build your foot strength, please do it gradually. And consult a doctor about these issues. I’m not a medical professional. I’m just a person with an opinion. (A bare-footer who has never felt the need for arch supports ;) ).

There are other concerns that people have cited in their arguments against wearing flip flops, but it seems to me that these are all issues that common sense plays a part in:

  • injuries to the foot from doing yard work in flip-flops
  • sunburn on the tops of the feet
  • snake bites and bug bites, ticks
  • ankle injuries from hiking in flip-flops or playing sports in flip-flops
  • risk of flip-flops interfering with the pedals while driving

To all of these “risks”, I would just recommend using common sense. I’m sure no one that I know of is ignorant to the risk we take when we participate in ANY activity while wearing flip-flops. And flip-flops are not the only culprit in the shoe world.  So, just take the necessary precautions that you would take whenEVER you take part in these activities, regardless of the type of shoes you are wearing.

And don’t pick on my precious flip-flops ;) !

 

The importance of keeping your neck warm!

My sister (who owns Island Yarn Company) tells me that cowls are all the rage this year, which makes me quite happy. But why would I be writing about it on my massage website?

Close your eyes for a minute and think about being outside in that frigid air, with no protection around your neck. Think about what happens to your posture. You hike your shoulders up to your ears. You roll your shoulders in. You push your head forward. All those upper back and neck muscles tense up.Your neck is not designed to hold your head in that position. Your upper back has trouble balancing the strong force of your chest muscles pulling your shoulders in.  It’s painful just thinking about it!  Now…stop thinking about that! Yeesh! That was a cruel activity for me to inflict upon you!

B-R-R-R-ing me a NECK WARMER!

B-R-R-R-ing me a NECK WARMER!

 

Do this instead: Think about what it’s like to go out in that same frigid air, but with a nice, thick, warm neck warmer protecting you! Can you feel your shoulders relaxing? See how your head goes back into a more natural position? Doesn’t that feel better?

Look Ma! No hunched shoulders!

Look Ma! No hunched shoulders!

Here’s an assignment for you. Dig it out of your closet, buy it from a store, borrow it from your friend, make it yourself…do whatever it takes to get a scarf, neck warmer or cowl around that aching neck. (Well, don’t mug anybody for it, but you get my drift of snowbrain thoughts). And while you’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to throw a hat on your lovely head too :)

BONUS:  There’s also an Accupressure point, at the top of the shoulder blades, called Bearing Support, which helps to strengthen the immune system. It is particularly helpful with resisting colds and flus. I’ve been told that keeping this point warm during the winter season is very helpful in resistance to colds and flus. If your neck warming device is thick enough, I’m quite sure it will keep that accupressure point warm!

And as a thank you to my sister for keeping me updated on these things, I’m going to blatantly plug her store. You can buy gorgeous (and I mean GORGEOUS), hand-dyed yarn from her to make your neck warmers, cowls, and scarves. (The hat and cowl in the above picture are made from that GORGEOUS yarn). Go check out her website if you are, or know, a knitter or crocheter… Island Yarn Company.

 

 

Neck Pain Management

It would be great if just getting massage would keep your neck pain away, but I’m not going to pretend that massage alone is some kind of magical cure.  Managing chronic pain of any kind takes diligence. As a sufferer of chronic neck pain, I’d like to tell you some of the things that I do to manage the pain. These are not prescriptions, just some ideas of things that you might try to help yourself at home between massage appointments (and I don’t get any compensation for any products I recommend).

Move EVERY day. If you’ve been following my blog at all, you’ve heard it before. If you missed it, click here.

Stretch. Especially the chest muscles. If you’ve been to my office for neck pain, chances are good that I’ve shown you the doorway stretch. If not, give me a call, and we’ll arrange something! One of these years I will get some pictures or videos of some good stretches posted.

For those of you who might like to venture into yoga, but don’t want to take a class, I highly recommend DVDs by Sara Ivanhoe. Her technique is very gentle and she usually has modifications for all different levels.

Along with the stretches, consider doing some strengthening exercises for the upper back and neck. Ask your favorite personal trainer for specific suggestions.

Create a goal to REALLY focus on better posture. Find ways to remind yourself. Put a note by your computer! Ask a buddy to give you a little nudge when they see you slouching. And be patient with yourself…bad habits are hard to break, but you can do it!

Heat packs. Or alternating hot and cold packs. Great for circulation!

Press on the knots. Your body instictively knows where to press. There are tools for the hard to reach places.

Try various shapes and densities of balls…tennis, bouncy rubber balls, lacrosse balls. I recommend sticking the ball in a long sock and draping the sock over the shoulder to reach spots on the upper back. Then stand against a wall to apply the pressure.

You might like a Backnobber or a Theracane, if a ball is not your cup of tea.  If you’d like to see how it works, just ask next time you are at my office!

Remember: don’t press so hard that it’s a “bad” kind of hurt. Don’t bruise yourself. Be gentle. Whenever you have a kink in your shoulder, be sure to work gently on the spot a few times a day for about a minute at a time.

TENS machines. I don’t even think you need a prescription for these any more, and I believe the over-the-counter ones are reasonably priced. Be sure to ask your doctor or physical therapist how to use these units.

Traction machines. I think you probably have to go to a physical therapist to get one of these. All I know is that my physical therapist made it possible for me to get one paid for by my insurance company, so it never hurts to ask.

Last, but certainly not least…get yourself on a regular (at least monthly) massage schedule. You knew that was coming…it wouldn’t be a proper massage therapy site without a plug for regular massage, now would it?