Massage is my therapy

Water feature at JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, NC
Water feature at JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, NC

I was limping across the parking lot heading for the gym, still lamenting slamming my little toe into the base of the bed Saturday night, when I thought, “At least my neck feels better.” I’ve had ongoing cervical problems for more than a decade, and in part, due to a career change, the last five years have been particularly brutal.

Last week, as the stiffness in my neck and shoulders wound ever tighter, I realized I was overdue for a massage. On Friday, I was introduced to a new (to me, anyway) therapist, and I gave her a quick review of my symptoms: stiff, tight neck and shoulders, complete with lots of knots, which travel around my shoulder blades and down my back. “If you can loosen me up enough,” I told her, “you can do a full body massage. Otherwise, just stick to the areas around my neck.”

Normally, I’ll chat with the therapist for a bit as she concentrates on loosening up my stiff, painful upper body. This time, though, I took advantage of the darkened room, and willed myself to relax, leaving my neck and all its knotted tension in her very capable hands. As is often the case, we only had time for my problem areas before the 60-minute session was up. I felt much better, though, and left with the usual instructions to “drink lots of water.” I was sore the next day, but it was a “good” sore, like the one that follows a successful workout, not the unrelenting ache of clenched muscles I often experience.

I was given my first massage by a woman I interviewed for a feature story for the local paper. She insisted that I accept a gratis massage so I could experience what I was planning on writing about. I knew I was tense – I was going through a divorce – but by the time she was done I felt as pliable and relaxed as melted butter. My only regret was that I had to wake up enough to drive back to the office.

In the years that followed, I developed neck problems and found a massage therapist I visited once or twice a year. I needed therapy more often, but money was tight, so I’d wait until my neck got so stiff I couldn’t take it any more. Eventually that therapist moved away, and I retrained for a new profession.

My neck problems continued, and so did my quest to find relief. I had my neck X-rayed, and went in for an MRI. I saw back specialists, joined a gym, and went to physical therapy. I tried injections, and swallowed pills. Some things helped, other things didn’t, and it finally got to the point where I was hurting just about all the time.

I changed jobs, again, looking for something less strenuous. I kept going to the gym. But, I wondered about massage. It used to work. Maybe it could help me again.

That was last fall, and I’ve scheduled – roughly – a massage a month since that time to try to work out these stubborn kinks. A 2014 study supports my efforts. Research shows that two or more massages a week are the optimum “dose” for relieving neck pain, but that is too pricey for me. I also take medication, and I exercise several times a week.

My own efforts aside, I’ve been “worked on” enough to be able to say that massage, while it may not be a cure for what ails you, can help on so many levels: decreasing muscle tension, relieving stiffness and pain (which can help restore range of motion), and, of course, decreasing stress. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed last year by the American Massage Therapy Association say they tried the modality for stress relief.

Sunset at E. Carroll Joyner Park
Sunset at E. Carroll Joyner Park

I don’t think I’ll ever be free of discomfort from issues surrounding my neck. But I’m certainly glad I found something that will give me some genuine relief. And, since I’ve banged up my toe and can’t indulge in my other favorite form of feel-good therapy – walking – until it heals, it’s good to have something to fall back on. A massage table, I’ve found, does the job nicely.

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