Massaging the upper traps

I’m going to begin sharing some thoughts from doing massage…

The trapezius is an interesting muscle. It’s big, shaped like a kite (a trapezoid), covers a large area of the back from T12 up and out to the shoulders, and then attaches to the back of the skull.

Unlike a bicep, the belly of the trapezius is not in the middle of the muscle. The belly is in the soft part of the shoulder, between the shoulder joint and the neck. This part is nicknamed the upper trap. The rest of the muscle is rather flat.

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The upper traps hold a lot of tension on most people’s bodies. It’s rare to work on someone who doesn’t have tightness there. Often the upper trap is overdeveloped or unevenly developed. Usually one side is worse than the other (and it’s often but not always related to handedness).

Now, I could be wrong about this, but it seems to me that a lot of why this muscle is such a problem is because many of us work with our hands out in front of our torsos, and that muscle supports those lifted arms. I notice it on people who use a keyboard a lot. Also hairdressers, chefs, pianists, an interpreter for the deaf. Hands out in front, right?

Oh, yeah, and massage therapists.

When I do Swedish massage, I love working on the shoulders. My favorite part is the testing I do when I finish working on the first shoulder. I give both upper traps a gentle squeeze. I can really tell the difference between the shoulder that’s been massaged and the one that hasn’t. The upper trap that’s been massaged has tissue that feels lean and pliable, like a racehorse ready for a race. It seems to sparkle with energy.

The upper trap not worked on feels stiffer, more swollen, and congested.

That’s the difference that massage makes.

When I do Ashiatsu barefoot massage, I do a lot of work on the shoulders with my feet, both seated behind the client’s head and standing on the table. It makes a big difference. If you haven’t had Ashiatsu, you might be amazed at how I can work the shoulders with my feet. Loosening the shoulder blade, working the between-the-shoulder-blade area, pressing into the upper trap…

If a client needs extra attention to their shoulders (and we have time for it), after I finish the Ashiatsu, I manually work on the shoulders. Kneading is something I can do with my hands that I can’t do with my feet. Sometimes that’s the main thing the upper trap needs, to be kneaded repeatedly to really get the blood flowing throughout the upper traps. It’s that squeezing out of stale blood so it can be replaced by fresh blood bringing oxygen that changes the quality of the muscle tissue, at least in my understanding.

Wondering what to do about upper trap pain in between massages? One remedy available for office workers is to sit in a chair with arm rests that support your forearms comfortably while you use your keyboard. If you don’t use the existing armrests, then it’s not comfortable. Find out if you can adjust them to become comfortable.

That will take some of the load off the upper traps.

Also, even though putting heat on sore muscles feels good, ice is better. Too much heat for too long makes the tissue feel sluggish. If you feel like you just gotta use heat, alternate heat and cold, doing no more than 5 minutes of each. That will get your circulation going.

Don’t forget, there’s always arnica and epsom salt!

Coming soon: the levator scapula. Many people with upper trap issues also have levator scapula issues.

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Touch: Louder Than Words? | Psychology Today

Check out this article in Psychology Today about the power of touch. I just learned something new:

Field’s research has revealed that a person giving a massage experiences as great a reduction in stress hormones as the person on the receiving end.

It makes sense.

via Touch: Louder Than Words? | Psychology Today.

Gift certificates and referrals

A massage makes a great gift. We all know someone who would be incredibly grateful to receive one.

If you’d like to give the gift of massage, you can purchase gift certificates from me in any denomination (and you can also buy a package and give some or all of the sessions as gifts).

If you refer someone to me who then receives a full-price massage, you get 30 extra minutes of table time whenever you’d like to use it! I love it when you tell your friends, co-workers, neighbors, and family members about the great massage you received from me.

Your satisfaction and positive word of mouth are the best possible ways to build my business.

To return to the home page for The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin, click here.

Massage outcalls

I do outcalls only for established clients with whom I feel comfortable who have a massage table set up in their homes. There’s a fee for my travel time, usually $25 in the Austin area.

Having a massage therapist come to your home is a great luxury. You can really savor the refreshment and relaxation after your massage without having to deal with the stress of driving. You can relax in your own home, prolonging the benefit.

One great way to take advantage of this service is to schedule 2-4 people (household members, friends, relations) to receive consecutive massages, splitting the travel fee.

At this time, I am only offering integrative massage on outcalls.

If you’re interested but don’t yet have a table, you can buy massage tables in person at the Morningstar Trading Company in Austin or online from many places.

To return to the home page for The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin, click here.

Pay-what-you-wish days and massage email list

I occasionally offer pay-what-you-wish Ashiatsu days. If you haven’t experienced pay-what-you-wish bodywork, you balance what you can afford with the value you receive.

This allows people with irregular income or suffering a temporary financial setback to get the attention they need when they need it — and often the increase in well-being receiving bodywork helps the money energy start flowing favorably again.

I do appreciate your positive word-of-mouth, glowing written testimonials ;-), and referrals as forms of reciprocity. And if you can afford to pay extra to help subsidize someone else, fantastic. Otherwise, you can pay it forward.

Pay-what-you-wish sessions average about $50 per hour, if you’re curious about that, and they’ve ranged from $20 to $100 per hour.

And if the whole idea disturbs you, you can always pay my regular rate of $65 per hour.

To find out when I schedule pay-what-you-wish days, please send me an email request (mareynolds27 at gmail dot com) to be added to my massage email list. I send no more than one email per month.

For more about The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin, see my home page.

Time, money, and massage packages

At The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin, I always give you the full time you pay for, and if I run over a few minutes, it’s on me.

You can take your time getting off the table and getting dressed afterward, because I don’t book sessions back to back. I schedule in some recentering and renewal time for myself between massages because it’s important to me to be rested, fresh, and present with each person I work on.

My regular rate is $75 per hour. 

Getting regular massage is beneficial for great health and well-being. To that end, I offer packages with discounts, which you can view on my online booking site.

I take cash, checks, and Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover cards. I can also process payments via HSA (health savings account) cards — your plan may require your doctor’s approval first. 

Gratuities are always welcome, of course! 

For more about The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin, see my home page.

What clients say about integrative massage

One recipient of an integrative massage (which combines Swedish massage, Lauterstein deep massage, acupressure points, foot reflexology, body mobilization techniques, muscle testing, stretching, trigger point therapy, and craniosacral work, as needed and desired) wrote afterwards:

Just a note to say I really enjoyed our conversation and my massage. The massage you gave me has allowed me to sleep soundly two nights in a row. My stress level also feels much lower than usual. Thank you for enhancing my life with your friendship and magical/healing massages! Sending happiness & blessings & love your way.

Here’s a testimonial for an integrative massage I gave to a dear friend suffering from insomnia.

I sit here at my computer after the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I am so deeply grateful for your loving energy yesterday. Your integrity, touch, and presence were exactly what I needed to break open the clogged dam of emotions that’s been keeping me from sleep.

All throughout the massage, I could feel and take in your love and healing energy which is abundantly transferred through your hands. When you said ‘How you feel matters,’ my soul got the message that you cared enough to hear, see, and touch me.

When you did the cranial-sacral hold, I felt like I was being cradled by my mother.

You had asked the question, “What happened three weeks ago?” … My insomnia has been “waking me up” to the fact of unfinished business….

Your work allowed me to dive through the opening and swim the turbulent waters on top of a still well. I’m not quite at the still well yet, but I have faith that I’ll get there.

Another client wrote to say:

MaryAnn has a special gift to connect with you and gently nurture your entire being. She is unique in that she offers unconditional love so freely. I highly recommend her massage therapy. ❤

For more about The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin, see my home page.

Who just loves Ashiatsu?

When I first learned Ashiatsu, I thought that really large men who like a lot of pressure and can’t get it any other way would seek it out. That is definitely one type of Ashi fan! Men with big muscles tend to really like it.

But that is a stereotype. I’ve also worked on small women who love the deep pressure. I’ve even worked on a couple of women smaller than I am, using carefully controlled pressure to their liking. Larger-breasted women find that deep pressure on their backs can feel more comfortable by using my breast pillow.

Ashiatsu is a favorite massage modality of many athletes. Runners like the firm pressure on their leg muscles — every runner I’ve worked on has loved it, both pre-event and post-event. (They hate/love the work on the IT band.) Cyclists like the work on the shoulders, back, and legs. Swimmers tend to love the shoulder work.

I’ve had other health-oriented people including professional dancers and dance teachers, yogis and yoga teachers, massage therapists, acupuncturists, martial artists, and people who work out regularly request Ashiatsu sessions.

But many seek Ashiatsu for the stress relief it provides. I’ve worked on airline pilots, chefs, coaches, college students, day traders, dentists, engineers, executives, firemen, government employees of all kinds, investors, judges, musicians, nurses, police, private eyes, many clients working for technology companies, teachers, trainers, waitstaff, and writers (so far, and I’ll keep adding to this list as I work on more professions!).

Also, massage therapists who learn Ashiatsu love it because delivering deep pressure with your feet is w-a-a-a-y less stressful on your body than using your hands. You let gravity work for you, avoiding repetitive strain injuries. You can work more hours with less wear and tear on your body while giving a deeply satisfying massage. That sure put the fun back into giving massage!

If you want to learn more, check out my home page for The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin.

What Ashiatsu clients say about it

Here’s what my clients are saying about Ashiatsu:

“Just got a great ashiatsu session from MaryAnn Reynolds in her cozy office on W. 12th Street. She was able to deliver bodywork with deep and responsive pressure, and my sore calves (hiking in vibrams anyone?) feel much looser & less painful now. Would highly recommend her bodywork as well as her deep personal knowledge of the body itself. Thanks!”

“I don’t know what you did to my shoulders last time, but afterwards they were so loose it felt like my hands were dragging on the ground.”

“That was the best massage I’ve ever had.”

“One Ashi session is the equivalent of three regular massages. It saves time and money and really gets the stress out. I feel great afterwards.”

“Ashiatsu is good medicine.”

“Great pressure and contact. Felt safe and cared for. MaryAnn knows her anatomy!”

“I loved this! It was very different, but I enjoyed experiencing these long, deep strokesVery refreshing experience. Thank you so much!!!”

“I really relaxed and felt better afterwards.”

Reiki at the end — great job — thank you!”

“I enjoyed her intuition and perception of my needs! Her ability to adjust and incorporate different strokes to better meet a particular need in my body. Thank you!”

My home page has more about The Well Ashiatsu Barefoot Massage Austin!

Body self-care tools: the spine aligner and a workbook on trigger points

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My two best self-care friends right now in my career as a bodyworker are a tool and a book that anyone can use. One of them provides daily relief from tight, achy back muscles caused by bending over slightly to massage clients. (I do Swedish and integrative massage, along with Ashiatsu and the biodynamic craniosacral therapy practice sessions I’m doing.)

Ma Roller (aka the spine aligner)

I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, and it bears mentioning again: daily use of a spine aligner keeps my back in shape. (Along with yoga, of course — even just a couple of sun salutations a day). I use it in bed, placing the center knobs between two vertebrae, somewhere between my shoulder blades, and lying back on it. When the muscles between those two vertebrae feel stretched and released, I move it down my spine one vertebrae at a time, all the way down to my sacrum.

spine aligner

My back feels so much better when I do this in the morning than when I don’t that I’m motivated to do it nearly every day, especially on days when I’ve got a lot of work.

I hesitate to lend my spine aligner out because once people try it, they want to keep it for themselves!

Plus, it tickles me that the first tool of this type is called the “Ma Roller”. That somehow gives it a worshipful quality to my mind. Ma Roller truly is a divine tool for keeping backs feeling good and flexible. (There are simpler versions without the foot ridges and single end knobs that mine has. You can Google and order the one you prefer online. )

Trigger point therapy

The other bosom buddy, a new one, is a book, The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, by Clair Davies with Amber Davies, second edition.

Studying trigger points was not part of my massage school curriculum. (I understand they’re adding it now.) I really didn’t know much about trigger point massage. It’s one of the two techniques (the other being myofascial release) that are considered “deep tissue massage” — commonly considered the kind of massage that “hurts so good” or “hurts now, feels good after the bruises go away”.

After I started giving several massages a day, several days a week, I did know pain: muscle pain, painful tendons, achiness, burning, tightness, a thick hard ropy quality to muscles like I find on clients. And sometimes self-massaging those muscles felt good but didn’t last. The sore places became chronic.

I was traveling with a friend who’s a massage therapist and educator who explained trigger points to me and helped me find one in my neck so I could experience referral: press into a tender Point A and hold it, and pain arises in Point B, often surprisingly distant. (Although some trigger points are just painful at Point A.)

Eventually I got the workbook and started checking my muscles for trigger points. Then a colleague offered to give me a session so I could learn how she does it (and get some relief), and then she had me work on her trigger points. I actually bruised her butt, which she was okay with because she felt so much better.

If you didn’t know, a trigger point is a small knot in the muscle fibers that might even be microscopic. Sometimes a massage therapist — or you — can feel the knot. Experienced practitioners say when no knot is palpable, they can feel a change in muscle density.

The other way of finding them is to systematically press deeply into the muscle, sliding your fingers slowly along the skin, until you — or the client — identifies a tender spot. Then press into it while breathing deeply three times (sometimes the knot releases before then), and then rub the area to increase circulation and carry off toxins.

Now I add trigger point work on request to the Swedish and integrative massages I do. I don’t do sessions that are entirely deep tissue so far. Applying that much pressure is strenuous on my body, and my clients so far don’t want a whole hour of trigger point work.

I’ve ordered a small spiral book of images of muscles, trigger points, and referred pain areas that I can easily use at work in lieu of posters, since I work in multiple locations. It’s The Trail Guide to the Body — Trigger Points.

But back to me! I found dozens of trigger points in my sternocleidomastoid (the long muscle that pops out on the side of your neck when you turn your head) and scalenes (three shorter, entwined muscles on the side of the neck that attach to several cervical vertebrae, like guitar strings). The scalenes flex the neck to the same side.

Trigger points on these muscles produced referred pain at areas on my head, arms, hands, and between my shoulder blades. Finding and releasing these trigger points has made a world of difference. My body feels lighter, looser, freer, more flexible — and I’m already flexible.

I imagine that using the spine aligner regularly releases trigger points in the various layers of spinal muscles. My back is definitely less tender than when I first used the spine aligner. Use it in bed or on a sofa at first. Later you will be able to do it on the floor.

I have a hunch that if I could release all my trigger points, my body would feel like it did when I was 5 years old again. And that would be something I’d like to experience. The wisdom of age plus the energy of youth!

Trigger points do tend to come back but are not as painful, and sometimes they can require repeated work before they fully release. Every 2-3 days, I check those neck muscles and release any trigger points that are still tender. I’ll move onto my shoulder, arm, and upper back muscles next.

Whether you are a bodyworker or a recipient, if you are serious about moving away from muscle pain and toward more ease and lightness in your body, I recommend these tools for self-care.