January 2010 - A Better Swedish Massage
December 2009 - Overreacting to a Cold
November 2009 - Water vs. Fluids
October 2009 - Listen to Your Body
September 2009 - When the Pain Starts For No Apparent Reason
August 2009 - Stretching, the Good and the Bad
July 2009 - Focusing Your Attention
June 2009 - Hello


January 2010 - A Better Swedish Massage

Cherry air freshener. Yes, definitely cherry air freshener. The kind you might hang from a rear-view mirror. This was a client, new to me. And just a few minutes into the Swedish massage, the unmistakable scent of cherry was coming from her skin.

Why would this be?

One effect of massage is to "shake loose" the waste products that are lingering in the cells and the inter-cellular spaces, so that they can be eliminated by the body. The four channels of elimination are the kidneys, the colon, the lungs and the skin. In the case of my new client, she was dumping the synthetic chemicals from the air freshener so quickly that I could smell it coming off her skin. The proof was in the nose: Her massage was doing something. It was having a physiological effect.

In fact, the physiological effects were the reason that Swedish massage was developed in the first place - specifically, to help patients overcome pain and dysfunction. (Pehr Ling, a Swedish physiologist whose writings were influential to the field, is called the father of Swedish massage AND the father of physical therapy.)

Massage has evolved over the years, and today "Swedish massage" is generally taken to mean a relaxing session that uses mainly light gliding strokes. Many people - clients and therapists alike - justify the cost of massage on grounds of the health benefits.

The irony is that light gliding strokes have no health benefits.

The Touch Research Institute of the University of Miami School of Medicine has conducted over 100 studies on the effects of massage on various conditions. Early on they discovered that a firmer pressure is needed in order for the massage to be effective. Light pressure has no effect, so they use it as a control. Meaning the control group gets the exact same massage as the study group, except with light pressure. And the study group gets results, the control group doesn’t.1

(To be clear, I’m not discounting the various bodywork specialties that use light touch, such as craniosacral work. We’re just talking Swedish massage here.)

The next time you get a Swedish massage, be sure to ask for a moderately firm pressure. Yes, it’s relaxing and feels wonderful. And you also get the health benefits. As a bonus, instead of feeling good for an hour, you’ll probably feel good for days.

By the way, my new client had been getting Swedish massage every two weeks for several years. But it had been with light pressure. I continued to smell the cherry scent for the first four massages I did for her, and then it was gone. Her body had cleared its backlog of toxins. The firmer-pressure Swedish massage had done the trick.

1Field, Tiffany. Massage Therapy Research. Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2006, p. 4.


December 2009 - Overreacting to a Cold

When I was a child, I remember seeing a commercial for a cold medicine that showed people going to work in spite of having a cold. The characters were paramedics, the implication being that people could die if you stayed home to get well.

The message must have settled into our collective consciousness, because people now routinely work when they have a cold. I did that myself for many years.

It would always start as a sore throat the first day I turned on the heat for the winter. I would go to work anyway. The next day, sneezing. I would go to work. (I had a desk job then - just so you know I wasn’t sneezing on clients.) A day or two later, nasal congestion. I would go to work. A day or two later, face hurting. I would go to work. At about 10 days, the severe body aches would start, and the headaches, and the mouth breathing, and the not sleeping - and I would finally stay home in complete misery. And after three days of that, I would be well. Three days of missed work, two weeks of a cold.

Eventually, I discovered that if I stayed home and took care of myself as soon as the nasal congestion settled in, the cold would clear up in three days without all the misery. Sure I felt like a slacker, but the time lost at work was exactly the same - three days - and then I was well.

A couple of years ago, I wondered what would happen if I completely overreacted and stayed home and took rest and fluids and vitamin C and zinc at the very first hint of a sore throat - even though I was still feeling fine. Answer: the sore throat cleared up in a few hours and no other symptoms appeared at all. And the next day, I was well. Time lost at work: one day.

I concluded that my choice is, be a complete slacker and miss one day of work, or be an uber-dedicated employee and miss three days.

Now I routinely overreact to a cold, and I hardly ever miss work. I think I’m on to something.


November 2009 - Water vs. Fluids

"How much water are you drinking?" I asked her.

"None today." Pause. "And none yesterday."

Okay, well that could explain why she’s not feeling better.

Have you ever mopped a floor that hadn’t been cleaned for years? After a few minutes the mop water is black, and all you’re doing is pushing the same dirt around on the floor. To make progress you have to dump the dirty water and continue with clean water. In fact, you’ll have to change the water several times. The payoff is, you’ll have a sparkling clean floor when you’re done.

In our bodies, the "dirt" is the waste products of normal cellular metabolism. Lactic acid is a famous one, and there are many others as well. As they accumulate in the tissues, they irritate the nerves, causing tenderness and contributing to chronic muscle spasm.

The physical manipulation of the muscles by neuromuscular therapy sweeps the waste products from the cells and inter-cellular spaces into the bloodstream. The kidneys filter the waste products from the blood, and they are excreted in the urine.

The urine is the dirty mop water. You’ll have to change the water repeatedly in order to clean the waste products from your body. That is, you need to drink enough fresh water for the kidneys to be effective in cleaning your body from the inside.

Do coffee, tea, and soda count toward your water intake? The answer from conventional medicine is Yes, they do. However, we need to realize that they are considering fluid volume only. If you let out more fluids than you’re taking in, you can dehydrate to the point you die. Serious business. So, yes, coffee can keep you from dying, and that’s important.

We, on the other hand, are talking about sweeping the waste products from your body in order to feel your best. One of my regular clients had had a nagging deep ache all over for a long time. She started drinking water just to shut me up. She was surprised - and delighted - that the deep ache went away. Clean water is the key, not simply fluids.

A simple way to incorporate water into your daily routine is to fill a 2-liter bottle in the morning and sip it all day long. Once it becomes a habit it’s no big deal. And it’s one of the simplest things you can do for your health. Make it a point to start today.


October 2009 - Listen to Your Body

He was skeptical. At 85 years old, with raging arthritis and pain for years, he didn’t think I could help him. Fortunately though, as with most people, his pain was mainly coming from muscles, and it cleared easily. An hour later he announced incredulously, "I feel great!"

So great, in fact, that he went home and rearranged his living room furniture. I had advised him to not overdo it but he must have forgotten. The next day it caught up with him. When I called to ask how he was feeling, he said, "You made it worse!" I reminded him that he had moved furniture. He didn’t see the connection.

I’m glad our work gives such dramatic relief to so many people. But the healing process has only gotten started during the session. The body needs time afterward to rest and repair itself. Thinking you can instantly resume your prior activities is like thinking you can have more productive hours in a day if you never slept. If only it worked that way!

I caution my clients to ease back into their normal activities a little at a time. If you feel okay the next day, then you can add a little more. The more you pay attention to the cause-and-effect relationship between your activities and how your body feels afterward, the better choices you can make, and the more you can move toward having a body that feels great all the time.

In fact, that’s good advice even if you’re not overcoming pain: Let your own body be your guide.


September 2009 - When the Pain Starts For No Apparent Reason

He called me from Arizona. "It moved," he said.

"It" was extreme sciatic pain that had been in his right hip, shooting all the way down his leg to his ankle. And we had cleared it, with three neuromuscular sessions, a few weeks before. Now it was back, he said, on the other leg.

Except that sciatic pain doesn’t move from one leg to the other. It was an interesting case.

When he got back in town, I examined his left hip, and sure enough, there were active trigger points there. I would press on various spots in his left glute muscles, and the pain would go down his leg, reproducing his symptoms. So I cleared the trigger points and the pain cleared up.

Here’s the thing: those trigger points had been building gradually over a long period of time, getting incrementally worse from the wear-and-tear of daily life - but not showing any symptoms - until one more little bit of mechanical stress pushed them over their threshold and then they suddenly flared up, causing intense pain.

It’s like adding water to a glass, then some more and more and more, and then suddenly it spills over. Trigger points are funny that way. For him, it was sitting in a cramped seat for a five-hour flight that pushed the trigger points over the edge. For some people, it could be something as simple as drying off with a towel. (That actually happened to me.)

Here’s the good news: the trigger points in his right hip took the plane ride with no problems at all. We had cleared them the previous month, and they were in great shape. So he was an inadvertent case study of trigger points before neuromuscular therapy and after.

Now, when someone comes to me with pain on one side that started for no apparent reason, I always check the other side too. More often than not, we find trigger points developing there too that the person didn’t even know about, and we clear them before they start causing trouble. Because why be in pain when you can prevent it altogether?

Check back next month when we’ll talk about giving your body time to rest and repair itself after a session. See you then.



August 2009 - Stretching, the Good and the Bad

There I was, twisted like a pretzel. Legs tangled together. Arms wrapped around torso. Hand reaching as far back behind me as it would go. Then a little more. Then a little more. Then ... OUCH! The fascia tore at the place where muscle meets tendon at my elbow. I had discovered a bad way to stretch.

Stretching is very beneficial to the body, provided you follow certain basic guidelines:

1 - Slowly. No sudden moves. And that means no bouncing, either.

2 - Gently. Just until you feel the aaahhhhh. If it starts to feel strained, you’ve gone too far.

3 - After the tissues are warm.

If you violate these guidelines, the tissues can tear.

Try this experiment. Stand up. Keeping your knees straight, bend forward to touch your toes. Don’t strain. Just see how far gravity takes you. Now walk around at a moderate pace for five minutes. Repeat the toe-touching. Did you go farther? That’s because your muscles are warm now. Warm muscles stretch. Cold muscles tear.

Even when the tissues are warm, you can still do damage if you try to force it. Here’s why. Each muscle has a normal resting length. The biceps, for example, is at its normal resting length when the elbow is slightly bent. Straighten the elbow and the biceps is stretched. Bend the elbow all the way and the biceps is contracted.

A healthy muscle will go easily from fully contracted to fully stretched. Suppose, though, that you have a thick mass of scar tissue somewhere in the muscle. Scar tissue doesn’t stretch much. So when you straighten the elbow, the section invaded by scar tissue won’t stretch, and the rest of the biceps will overstretch to make up the difference.

Muscles don’t like to overstretch, and the body warns you by giving you the sensation of strain. When you feel it, back off.

The same thing happens when you have a hidden trigger point in the muscle. We’ll talk about trigger points another time. For now, let’s just say the section containing the trigger point won’t stretch, and the rest of the muscle will overstretch. And you don’t want that.

The good news is, both scar tissue and trigger points can be easily cleared with Neuromuscular Therapy and we can restore the muscle’s normal function. In the meantime, if you stretch slowly, gently, and when the tissues are warm, you’ll do fine.

Check back next month when we’ll look at why your back can suddenly seize up for no apparent reason. See you then.



July 2009 - Focusing Your Attention

It was the darnedest thing I ever saw.

My instructor, wanting to make a point, had picked two people from class, the first with normal neck movement, the second with restricted movement. He sat them side by side, and each of us lined up to feel the motion with our own hands. The first one, I turned her head to the right and tilted her ear toward her chest. Normal. The second one, I turned her head to the right and tried to tilt her ear toward her chest. It wouldn’t go. We all tried it.

Then the instructor placed the restricted one’s finger on the normal one’s neck, on the spot that corresponded to where her own muscle was restricted. And he said, you look right here. Then he began doing the same movement on the normal neck: turn head to right, tilt ear toward chest. Turn, tilt. Turn, tilt. Over and over, while he was talking to us. The restricted person was listening intently, so she began watching his face. And he said again, you look right here, putting his finger on the normal neck. And he kept doing the motion. Turn, tilt. Turn, tilt.

After about two minutes, he went to the restricted person. Turn, tilt. And now her ear went easily toward her chest.

And we all had the same thought: what just happened? We all saw it. He had cleared the restriction in her neck by working on someone else.

What happened was, the brain figured out that it needed to reset the muscle tone based on watching a normal movement. Not based on listening to the instructor’s words -- that’s too abstract -- but on focusing intently on a normal movement. The brain controls the body, and your attention controls the brain. To improve something, put your attention there.

Years ago, my physical therapist cleared my low back pain by straightening my pelvis. But the muscles were programmed for me to walk lop-sided, so they kept pulling it crooked again. So I bought myself an elliptical trainer and ran 30 minutes a day on it. Not listening to music. Not watching TV. Projecting my attention into the muscles. Feeling the movement. Letting my brain soak up what a healthy, balanced movement felt like. And the brain learned. Consequently I began walking with balanced movement without having to think about it. And I don’t need the physical therapy any more.

You can use this principle the next time you’re working with a therapist to clear a problem, whether it’s simple muscle tension in the neck, or rehab from a serious injury. Put your attention there. Let the brain figure it out. Then follow through, using your body in a new way. And see how much better you feel.

Check back next time when we talk about stretching … when it helps, and when it causes more harm. See you then.



June 2009 - Hello

Hi, and welcome to my blog.  This first post will be an introduction … who I am, what I’m about, what I hope to accomplish with this blog.  The useful stuff will come in future posts.  I just like to get acquainted first.  So let’s get started …

I always considered myself healthy because I never had any significant medical conditions.  I had my appendix out as a teenager, but no big deal.  However, I should mention I had chronic headaches my whole life.  Not migraines, thankfully, but pretty intense nonetheless.  As in, 4 Tylenol plus 4 aspirin would knock it out if I caught it early enough.  But once it got going strong, nothing would touch it, and I just had to wait it out, sometimes for days.  I don’t get them any more.  I also had low back pain my whole life.  It was more of a nuisance than a problem most of the time, but there was one five-month period where it was intense enough that I stopped doing housework for a while.  My back doesn’t hurt any more.  And I probably had fibromyalgia my whole life, too.  Never diagnosed, but the symptoms were clear enough:  generalized muscle pain and weakness, no stamina, chronic insomnia, pain temporarily relieved by stretching.  I don’t have fibromyalgia any more.  Besides the fibro, I had a second type of generalized muscle pain, too, which I only noticed after the fibro was gone.  The pain had a different feel, and stretching aggravated it rather than relieving it.  I don’t have that any more, either.

So I’m familiar with pain.

But more importantly, I’m familiar with getting over it.

I won’t take the time now to describe the process of discovery that led me to a pain-free life, but I will tell you the key:  I took charge of my own health and well-being.  I figured out which things were not working for me and I got rid of them.  I figured out which things were working well, and I did more of them.  And as a result, I’m thriving in my body today … healthy, active, doing something important with my life, and not taking a day of it for granted.

Enough about me.  My clients are going through a similar quest in finding their own health and well-being.  And they want information on how to take good care of their bodies.  The problem is, there is way too much advice out there, some of it conflicting, and no good way to sort through it to determine what really applies to their own situation.  I see it all the time in my practice:  I’ll take the time to explain how something works, they get that aha look on their face, and they say that makes sense.  And once it makes sense, it’s no longer part of the jungle of conflicting advice, now it’s part of their own  body of knowledge, part of their own internal user’s manual on how to care for their bodies.

So that’s the purpose of this blog … a user manual of sorts.  To repeat the explanations I find myself giving over and over to the clients in my office.  Because most pain is not necessary.  We can clear it once we understand what’s happening.

So check back every month and we’ll look at a different aspect of your body’s internal workings.  And prepare to make a few changes.  You’ll either feel the difference or you won’t.  Either way, you’ll become more adept at reading your own body’s signals.  Because this is your quest for health and well-being.  I’m just here to assist.

Check back next time when we’ll talk about how I watched my instructor clear a muscle restriction in one student by working on someone else.  See you then.


© 2009 Terry Kahn



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