What kind of 'bodywork' therapies can you recommend?
April 16, 2009 3:46 PM   Subscribe

What's the scoop on 'bodywork'? What kind of bodywork can you recommend for helping me address general muscle tension and related pain issues? And even just for the heck of it? This would include, but not be limited to stuff like alexander technique and structural integration. I'm not too familiar with these kinds of therapies and I don't know anyone who has experience with them. I want to hear about your experiences / endorsements.

Like most people, I hold a lot of tension in my body. For me, it's mainly concentrated in my hands, my neck and my jaw. I'm sure it's due to a combination of both stress and poor posture / body alignment / body awareness issues. Problematically, when I focus on trying to expel tension from one part of my body, it inevitably seems to set up shop in another part (has anyone else experienced this?). Hence, simple relaxation hasn't worked.

I'm looking to try some kind of bodywork to make my body a happier body. What might you suggest? What have you tried? What interesting things do you happen to know about bodies and movement and carriage?

PS. I'm already aware of the benefits of excercise, yoga, pilates, stretching and therapy. There's no need to preach to the converted (but thanks) and I'm mainly interested in alternative therapies anyhow.
posted by kitcat to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Massage is wonderful and varies widely depending on the skill of the practitioner. And it's not just "woo woo"-- we're a touch-starved country and deep tissue massage releases oxytocin and all kinds of good brain chemicals. My advice is just try things and stick with what you like-- people give all kinds of crazy explanations and tout various techniques, but as long as you are being massaged deeply, in a rhythm that works for you and it feels good (sometimes really deep stuff will hurt a bit, but it shouldn't be really painful), especially afterwards, it's going to relieve stress.

I personally regularly see a Chinese Tui Na practitioner, but that's mainly because she's good, cheap and convenient. I'm sure there are all kinds of "alignment" things people do-- but I'm a skeptic on those and just think the main benefit is from being touched with a healing intent.
posted by Maias at 4:32 PM on April 16, 2009

I've tried various types of bodywork, and my experience is that the person doing the massage (or whatever) is much more important than the official name of the technique (or the justification for it).

A regular old massage therapist could certainly help you deal with the physical tension. My massage therapist teaches me about anatomy during our sessions: I ask him, "What's that muscle that feels so tight when you poke it?", and he tells me the muscle, what it does, what it's attached to, and which of my daily activities are probably messing it up. He also suggests stretches and other exercises for me to do at home to help the issue.

I think you could get the same mix of hands-on benefits, education, and exercises with other named techniques like neuromuscular therapy, rolfing, shiatsu, etc. But I think finding a person you're comfortable with and whom you trust matters more.

In my experience asking around for recommendations from friends and colleagues works well.
posted by medusa at 4:57 PM on April 16, 2009

I'm a massage therapist and I've been the happy and willing recipient of lots of bodywork. The thing is, what works for you is going to be subjective. Some people love Reiki; I don't get Reiki. Some people (me) love Rolfing; other people find that's the opposite of what they need. Then of course, there are bodyworkers, and then there are bodyworkers, you know? I moved to a new city last summer and it's taken me this long to find the right massage therapist for me (and yay he likes my work too, so I get to trade with him!)

In addition to whatever bodywork you get, I cannot overemphasize the benefits of listening to a deep relaxation/guided meditation recording before you go to sleep. I have one recorded by a friend, it starts at my toes and ends at the top of my head, and it's great for becoming aware of and releasing the tension throughout my body. I hardly ever make it to the end of the recording anymore before falling asleep, and it's a much more restful sleep than I used to have. The cumulative effects are noticeable. Bonus: you can do it every night, and it won't break the bank!
posted by headnsouth at 6:02 PM on April 16, 2009

Most of what you'll see that is referred to specifically as "body work", as opposed to other types of named massages, is some variant of Rolfing. Basically, the practitioner manipulates your muscles and connective tissue in a way that purportedly breaks down some of the fascia tissue in an attempt to release stress and also to prevent tension from recurring. This kind of work generally isn't cheap, and probably not covered by medical insurance, so choose your practitioner carefully.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:55 PM on April 16, 2009

When I was twenty and studying acting I did intensive alexander technique work for a year. It changed my life. Alexander was a singer who kept losing his voice and so developed techniques to address this. The Alexander Technique differs form most body work (though I am told Feldencrist (sp?) is similar) in that it is a mostly non-manipulative approach. I still remember how amazing it was to stand from a seated position while being talked through it. It seemed to take no effort. Lots of imagery as to how to use your body as it's design dictates.

What was most powerful for me was the seeming connection between the tension I held in my body and different emotional issues. As this was a somatic approach I can't intellectualize what the emotions were but I can tell you I would experience an emotional release while I was retraining my body's movements.

Powerful stuff.
posted by pointilist at 10:24 PM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I prefer active release practitioners for treating my ailments, I have found they are well educated, have excellent technique and provide the most improvement in my condition per treatment.

I first saught treatment after injuring my shoulder in highschool, after seeing a physical therapist and performing the standard rehab it was clear my shoulder was not even 90% and I continued to reinjure it for several months. I started researching and the most interesting information reading about professional athletes recovery methods and techniques. This ancedote by charles poliquin piqued my interest, and I saw an active release practitioner in boston who on the day of treatment significantly improved my range of motion. A few more treatments allowed me to progress to heavy enough weights in my rehab to keep my shoulder healthy while I am active in sports.

Subsequently I've seen several different soft tissue therapists trained in myofascial release, trigger point, deep tissue, rolfing and the graston technique to address my hand and formarm issues from too much computer work and rock climbing, and my ACL repair rehab.

I have found active release practitioners the most effective because they are adept at finding the scar tissue and know specific techniques for "releasing" each muscle depending on the location of the tissue (origin or insertion of the muscle). To illustrate, I have numbness and tingling in my index and middle fingers of my right hand, and palpable knots in my forearm flexors (flexor digitorum profundus and flexor digitorum superficialis). When I go get active release, I start with my fingers curled into my palm and arm flexed, and the practitioner starts at the base of the muscles towards the wrist and presses along the muscle belly while I extend my arm and uncurl my fingers. This application of force on the muscle belly while it is elongating is painful (very much so sometimes), but you can almost feel the scar tissue and knots being removed. I also have a similiar technique performed on brachioradialis and subscapularis.

I find the alexander technique, feldenkrais method and other structural integration approaches (CHEK method?) fascinating, but I fail to see how they would be effective in removing the scar tissue and other physiological responses you have experienced that is causing this pain.

Technique and ability among practitioners of soft tissue work vary dramatically in my experience, the number one thing I look for is someone with outrageously powerful hands and phenominal forearm development. While elbows and knuckles can be effective, nothing beats the precision of some monstrously strong hands to manipulate the soft tissue that needs work. Something else to look for is people who have a gift for assessing posture and biomechanics. Some of the physical therapists I've seen have amazed me with how much they can infer about my condition by watching me walk and how my shoulder girdle rests.

You can also do a lot of assessment on your own, one thing I found valuable was to take a picture of myself without a shirt on standing up, and then mirror one half of my body on the other half in photoshop to see how my shoulders and arms were aligned. I found that my right clavical and shoulder consistently sits about half an inch below my left, and my right arm is internally rotated more than my left, and does not swing as much when I walk at a casual pace.

Also, as you have hand/wrist/forearm pain you should have palpable knots or sore areas along your forearms that you can find, perhaps massage on your own, and certainly ask for specific soft tissue work on. Poke around the base of your elbow on the underside of your forearm, it is where all the forearm flexors insert and often has scar tissue. On the other side of the elbow on top of the arm is brachioradialis and the forearm extensors which also often have scar tissue. This wikipedia page should link you to good gray's anatomy images of the forearm muscle as a place to start poking.

One last thing, of all the literature on soft tissue work and healing injuries I've read, I found anatomy trains - myofascial meridians one of the most enlightening.
posted by zentrification at 4:02 AM on April 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

You might also try Muscle Activation, especially if you have specific trouble areas.

For just generally all around goodness, Thai massage is great. It combines massage with a deep assisted stretch. You can get it done at many massage studios.
posted by dzot at 6:42 AM on April 17, 2009

I did some limited Feldenkrais work a while ago and was oddly impressed. Oddly because while it did not feel like it was doing anything, it resulted in some very significant long-lasting changes. It primarily consists of focusing on how you hold varoius parts of your body and becoming aware of how you can move them. You may spend an hour doing nothing but doing many variartions of lifting your leg and bending your knee.
For example, I had some bursa on my second toes that podiatirst said could only be fixed by having the joint removed. They weren't a big deal, but I would rather not have them. A couple of hours of Feldenkrais work got rid of them completely. It also significantly helped my lower back pain.
posted by rtimmel at 7:54 AM on April 17, 2009

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