Sunday, March 1, 2015

"My Upper Back and Shoulders Hurt..."

by Kate Lancour

So many of our daily activities engage us in a forward focused posture - working at the computer, driving, using our smart phones, preparing meals - our arms extended, shoulders rounded in, neck and head craning forward, locking us into a slouched postural position for multiple hours of the day. It's no wonder we feel that familiar ache in the upper back, between the shoulder blades, at the top of the shoulders, a little bit up the neck; our bodies are trying to bring us back into balance and straining those muscles in the process.

 It is important to work on these areas of discomfort during a massage, to break up knots and adhesions, improve circulation of blood and fluids to dehydrated and ischemic tissues, return mobility to hardened connective tissue, and release painful trigger and tender points. But it is also important to work on the muscles opposite to the symptomatic areas, the ones in front that have tightened and locked into a shortened position, in effect keeping the painful back muscles in a prolonged contraction while they are stretched out too long, like a rubber band pulled to its maximum length and held there. Most of the time these short muscles do not register as painful, although they can be tender to the touch once they start to receive massage.

In lengthening these shortened muscles through the upper chest, front of the shoulders, and front and sides of the neck, the ones in the back that hurt are able to get some slack and return to a more comfortable and functional length, easing pain and tension. It may take more than one massage within a short period of time to break through all of the knots, stuck tissue, and layers of tension that have built up over time, and to help stretch out chronically short muscles to more functional resting lengths. Once the muscles and connective tissues are sufficiently normalized, massages can be spaced further apart as a component of a regular maintenance routine.

In order to keep the same scenario from playing out once we return to our daily activities, it is important to keep the muscles in the front from tightening back up and pulling the back muscles into overstretched and painful positions. One of the ways this can be done is through periodic stretch breaks. When engaging in those behaviors that put us into a forward focused position, set a reminder alarm to ring every 2 or 3 hours. When it does, take a pause to stretch and open up the chest, shoulders, and neck, and then drink a glass of water to help keep the tissues hydrated and mobile. Also, be mindful of posture and ergonomics when working at a desk or on a laptop computer. Adjust chair and monitor heights so that wherever the body bends, right angles are formed - at the knees, waist and elbows - and make sure the screen is at eye level.

 Keeping the body balanced and stretched, in addition to regular massage, helps prevent the dysfunctional postures that can lead to chronic pain in the upper back, shoulders, and neck.

Monday, January 5, 2015


by Kate Lancour

As we move into the new year, many of us are looking for ways to improve our health & our mood. After the indulgences & harried pace of the holiday season, our bodies & spirits could use some extra care. In addition to the usual resolutions of exercise regimens, regular massage, yoga practice, healthier diet & more time for sleep, consider adding aromatherapy to your self-care program.

Aromatherapy treats a wide variety of physical & mental imbalances through the inhalation, external application & in some cases, ingestion of essential oils. Essential oils are a concentrated extraction of the complex chemical components that make up the heart & soul of the plant - the substance that deters bugs from eating the leaves, the compound that repels diseases, the essence that attracts pollinators.

Organic essential oils are superior to conventional oils for a number of reasons. Organically grown plants have stronger medicinal properties, as their immune systems have to produce more of the substances that make up the active components of essential oils in order to fight off diseases & pests, whereas conventional crops use harmful pesticides & herbicides so the plant does not produce as many volatile compounds. The concentration of these pesticides & herbicides in conventional oils is also quite undesirable. It takes 5.5 million freshly picked roses to make 32 ounces of rose essential oil, so anything sprayed on the roses would be condensed as well. At Rhea Healing Essentials, we carry Veriditas Botanicals essential oils & blends, the only 100 percent certified organic essential oil company on the US retail market.

There are many ways to bring aromatherapy into your wellness regimen. The most obvious is through inhalation, where the oils enter through the nose & proceed from the olfactory nerves to the limbic system of the brain (which affects memory, emotion, & intellectual processes). Inhaled oils are useful in treating mental & emotional imbalances such as depression, anxiety, mental fatigue & insomnia. You can purchase an aromatic diffuser, which breaks up the drops of essential oil into a micro-fine mist that hangs in the room for hours, or make a spray bottle of a single or blended scent for a simpler & less lingering option. Veriditas Botanicals shares this recipe for an "Uplifting" Air Mist.

Pour 1 oz. of vinegar or vodka into a 4 oz. spray bottle, Add 30 drops grapefruit oil, 12 drops bergamot oil, 12 drops geranium oil & 12 drops lemon oil, fill the rest of the way with distilled water, shake & spray.

External application of essential oils works on physical imbalances, as the oils work their way through the skin, muscles & circulatory system, which in turn carries them throughout the rest of the body's physical systems. This method can help with sore muscles, skin conditions, body odor & a host of other issues. For the aching muscles that can accompany an overenthusiastic start to a new exercise program, Veridatas Botanicals has an effective pain-relief formula with a convenient roll on applicator, or try 15 drops of lavender oil in 1 1/2 oz. of epsom salt, then added to bath water for a relaxing analgesic soak.

Certain organic essential oils may be taken internally, working their way through the digestive system to the rest of the body. Lemon oil is alkalizing, detoxifying & energizing -  Veriditas Botanicals suggests starting with one drop in 2 oz. of water/juice, 1 teaspoon honey or on a sugar cube, or use to flavor plain yogurt sweetened with honey. A drop of peppermint oil, in the same carriers as above, freshens the breath as well as helping decrease nausea, flatulence & the effects of jet lag. Some essential oils are NOT recommended for internal use, so always check with an aromatherapist before ingesting an essential oil.

In addition to use on your person, essential oils can be used to help clean & spruce up your home. Veridital Botanicals shares this Basic Cleaner Formula.

Mix the following oils in 1 teaspoon all purpose liquid soap: 35 drops lemon, 7-8 drops clove, 7-8 drops cinnamon leaf, & 5 drops eucalyptus, OR 45 drops of Good Samaritan Blend. Add soap & oil mixture to a 16 oz. spray bottle containing a blend of all purpose liquid soap & water, shake & use.

You can add several drops of your favorite scent to a clean, dry rag & add it to your laundry before drying for an all natural scent in your clothes.

The applications for essential oils are virtually limitless, & a powerful way to bring nature's healing into your life. So add aromatherapy to your list of resolutions for health & happiness in the coming year.

Bibliography & Further Reading:

The Aromatherapy Book by Jeanne Rose

The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy by Valeria Ann Worwood