Defeating Pain

One Person's Battle Against Chronic Pain


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Sandalwood, good for just about everything!

Life, is chaotic as usual! I have a lot of sewing projects (a lot) along with a lot (seriously too many) of migraines (so many it took way too long to finish this post). Time to sit and write feels so precious these days, and this post took way longer than I wanted to get out. But, without my writing I don’t feel whole – so I make time! (  >_<)9

The Hubs is growing a beard, seems to be all the rage these days with the male of our species in my age group. He went to get a shave and a haircut at a local place and they put some oil on his beard for conditioning it. He loved it, and I thought it smelled really great! Like cut wood and lovely (he would probably disapprove of that term but who cares 😉 ). So we looked up the ingredients, because I wanted to make it for him – like I love to do, and of course one of the ingredients was sandalwood – the others were pine and cedar wood with some hair friendly carrier oils, (remember rosemary is good for head hair, it is light and won’t weigh it down). Sandalwood had popped up in my saffron post, and I was growing more curious about it after reading some snippets here and there about it. So the dive into research began!

History and Uses of Sandalwood

Wow.Who knew that sandalwood was so cool? Well most of ancient India that is for sure! I love the stories surrounding the Gods and Goddesses of India, Durga, Sarasvati, and Lakshmi are personal favorites. So imagine my happiness when I found out that Sandalwood is sacred to that lovely Goddess Lakshmi! She is thought to reside in the wood itself, as mentioned by the Brahma Vaivarta Purana.

image from www.chitrahandicrafts.com

Lakshmi carving of made of Sandalwood (you can buy these from the site linked…for a pretty penny)

The name Sandalwood comes from a corruption of the sanskrit word Chandam, which then evolved through linguistic corruption into Sandal possibly along the path Chandam → Sandanam → Sandalum → Sandal. Chandam could mean literally “wood for burning incense” or “shining, glowing” from candrah. Most likely the word we use today is from a late Greek word – santalon – which probably influenced Medieval Latin to create sandalum which then led to sandell in Old French and then sandal in modern English.

Sandalwood and some sandalwood powder.

Sandalwood heartwood and some sandalwood powder.

All sandalwoods are what is known as a hemiparasite which Wikipedia defines as –

“a plant that is parasitic under natural conditions and is also photosynthetic to some degree. Hemiparasites may just obtain water and mineral nutrients from the host plant. Many obtain at least part of their organic nutrients from the host as well.”

Sandalwood is very similar, as well as related, to the well known mistletoe. While they do photosynthesize to create their own food, many of the species also have a taproot that seeks out other plants and then feeds from them. Sandalwood has a sad story of destruction and overuse by humans, so it is extremely important to not only check for the species of sandalwood used in an oil, but also that it is sourced in a sustainable and ethical way. Generally the more expensive the sandalwood oil is, the more likely it is of the right species and from a legit harvester that is approved by the Indian government. Since it is so endangered in the wild there are strict harvesting rules and regulations around sandalwood trees. Sandalwoods are very slow growing trees, which makes restoring the wild population difficult when illegal harvesting is happening. And the older the tree the better quality and stronger smelling the oils (and wood will be).

It’s scent is what makes it so alluring, and I know well of this. My parents lived in China right before I was born, and I had a lot of unusual things growing up. One of them was a carved sandalwood fan, it was so delicate and I would take it out of its little protective box to just sit and smell it.

My fan looked much like this sandalwood carved fan

The scent was just so addictive to me even then, and I think this scent is what has drawn humanity to it over the centuries. It is also used in a lot of religious carvings from prayer beads, to statues of gods and goddesses, to even little fans like mine.

Sandalwood has a large part in human history as well as religions. Sandalwood is mentioned in Indian texts for at least 2,000 years and was used for religious practices as well as medical uses for possibly up to 4,000. It is basically a huge part of life in Hindu culture, it is used in birth rituals, marriage ceremonies, and death rituals. It is used in its oil form, and the wood is used in a powdered form and both are used for the aforementioned religious and medicinal reasons – which I briefly mentioned in the saffron post since it is great for skin masks, soaps, and other preparations, and helps treat and reduce acne as well as other skin conditions. It was also very prized for religious carvings, and for other carved wood products since it retains its scent for decades. In Hinduism specifically it is used as a paste, which is mixed with saffron or other herbal pigments, and is called chandan. Chandan is sacred and can only be prepared by those who are ritually pure. The paste is then used by devotees and is put on the forehead, neck or chest in a ritual manner. Chandan can also be mixed with herbs, or other items to create javadhu which is generally used as a perfume or mixed with water to make a paste and used as deodorant.

Typical Javadhu powder you would find in a store

In both Hinduism and Ayurveda sandalwood is a very holy, and thought to bring one closer to the divine (hence its use as a ritual paste) in fact it is one of the most holy elements to Hindu practitioners or followers of the Vedas and sometimes applied before prayers.

In Buddhism it is also mentioned in some of the sutras (or sutta, depending on which flavor of Buddhism you follow), specifically the Pali Canon mentions it. There is even a legend that as the Buddha died, sandalwood powder fell from the heavens. Sandalwood is thought to be of the lotus (padma) group for the Amitabha Buddha, and is considered one of the three main incenses that are integral to Buddhist practice in general. Sandalwood is thought to focus the mind, and keep one alert during meditation, as well as transform “desires.” It is the most popular for offering incense to oneself in Buddhism.

In the Sufi tradition of Islam sandalwood paste is applied to the grave of a saint by devotees, a mark of respect and of devotion – mostly practiced by people in Southern India where Tamil culture has an influence. In Chinese and Japanese local custom it is also a common incense used in worship and other ceremonies. In Zoroastrianism (in which fire is very sacred) the priests, Mobads, that keep the fire offer it sandalwood – but it is not used in home offerings to the sacred lamps kept in the home. Sandalwood purchased in a fire temple is often more expensive than elsewhere since it is a common form of income for the temple and the Mobads.

Why and How it Works

Some of the chemicals you can find in sandalwoods are santalin (which provides the red color for dying), santene (a terpine that is also in pine needles), tannic acid (same stuff you get in wine!) and santalols. The main chemical that is important in sandalwood for medicinal use is santalol.

Alpha-santalol-stickModel

Alpha-Santalol in its chemical format

Beta-Santalol in its chemical format

Beta-Santalol in the same

Which is broken into two different chemicals α-santalol and β-santalol. Alpha seems to be the most common chemical, but seems like the beta version is the most medicinally useful. It is pretty hard to find medicinal journals that speak of trials and uses of santalol in medical tests but there is a mention in a medical journal of pharmacy ….from 1911. Though it is useful since it points out that sandalwood oil is not very pleasant in taste (though I, personally, would not suggest taking this internally). There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that there are antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, slight sedative, and good for the respiratory system, hair, and skin. The German government has approved sandalwood oil as a treatment for urinary tract infections, so there is at least some scientific evidence that it is effective for treating infections, but other than that official scientific studies are very scarce. The most interesting point of the German studies is that the oil needs to be coated so that the oils are not released until it hits the small intestine – or it could cause irritation. For this reason I again – do not advise taking this internally.

There seems to be some evidence of its anti-inflammatory action again no firm scientific trials but there is a ton of folk medicine and word of mouth evidence to back this up. Same with the antispasmodic but, again not nearly enough evidence scientifically to completely back these claims, but 4,000 years of history must have something to it. I have found that its use helps with pain, and spasms – especially when massaged into a painful area (with a carrier oil, this tends to need to be diluted). I have not tried it personally as a sedative, though I find the scent quite soothing. It’s antiseptic properties make it a fantastic addition to deodorant since it helps to kill any bacteria that would be lurking around in your armpits. Its skin properties help with scar treatments (like lavender does) and helps soften and soothe, and helps sooth skin inflammation as well as things like eczema. Its astringent nature as well as its antiseptic, make it also great for treating acne. It also helps soften hair, and moisturize it, so it is great to apply to hair  on your head (like rosemary, though it is not as light as rosemary) or hair on your face (if you’re a guy 🙂 ).

Floral scents like lavender or geranium blend well with sandalwood, as well as clove, bergamot, vetiver, and black pepper.

Sustainability & True Species

Like all things that are expensive – saffron, cinnamon and frankincense are good examples – sandalwood oils can be adulterated or diluted at the cheap end of the spectrum. And the actual stuff is expensive – like Lemon Balm oil level which makes frankincense look cheap! I found that it is actually one of the most highly adulterated oils for sale on the market. That means if you see a 9-13$ bottle – you are probably getting mostly jojoba oil or some other carrier oil – or not even a drop of real sandalwood oil. Real sandalwood oil (Santalum album) is in the 100$+ range, which is really prohibitive for some pockets. So you can purchase the cheaper stuff, and this is the cheapest one I trust using on my skin. If you want to go “whole hog” I would go with this site or this one (which also has powdered sandalwood) since they are sustainably and ethically harvested. As you can see the cheapest one is actually a blend of species, since they are all technically all sandalwood but not the “top” species (though they are all good species in the blend as we will discuss further down).

This is another one of those “you get what you pay for” type things. Like the cinnamon I mentioned – if it is cheap, it probably is cassia. Once you have had true cinnamon, there is nothing like the real thing! But what is the right species of sandalwood? Well you could make a blanket statement like all trees of the Santalum genus are real sandalwoods. Which would mostly…mostly be true.

My husband will be pleased with this. Mostly.

My husband will be pleased with this image. Mostly…

But there are a few main species used for sandalwood that you should be familiar with and are the most commonly used.

Indian Sandalwood – (Santalum album)

Santalum album

Other Common Names – White Sandalwood, East Indian Sandalwood, Chandana, or Chandam

First up is the king of all sandalwood species (or would it be queen?) either way Santalum album is the one that is most commonly used, and is sadly the most threatened of species due to poaching and illegal logging. Also this is the wood that sandalwood is named from since Chandam is the Sanskrit word that led to the modern English word. This species is currently the most vulnerable to extinction in the wild, which you may have heard of due to the exploits of Veerappan, a well known sandalwood smuggler. Often used in religious carvings, and as a powder (then made into a paste) is smeared on devotees or made into incense. It is also used for folk medicine and was used to treat: common colds, bronchitis, skin disorders, heart ailments, general weakness, fever, infection of the urinary tract, inflammation of the mouth and pharynx, liver and gallbladder complaints and other maladies. It is known to be effective (from folk medicine history and some medical trials) in treating analgeisc (specifically calming to nerves), antidepressant, antifungal, antispasmodic, antiviral, astringent (good for acne and skin), sedative and a fantastic scent to add to perfumes, soaps, and deodorants.

Coast Sandalwood – (Santalum ellipticum)

Santalum ellipticum

Santalum ellipticum

Other Common Names – ʻIliahialoʻe, or Hawaiian Sandalwood

Hawai’ians used the heartwood (‘la’au ‘ala) for its oils, and was often exported to China during the years 1790-1840 for production of carved objects, chests, and joss sticks (incense). The natives used the wood to make the decks of their double hulled canoes (wa’a kaulua) and the heartwood was used to make perfumes and sometimes added to kapa cloth possibly for its fragrance. The leaves and bark were used after burning to ash to treat dandruff and head lice. Shavings of the wood in combination with other plants were used to treat some sexually transmitted diseases.

Australian Sandalwood – (Santalum spicatum)

image by http://www.gilbertdashorstart.com/

Santalum spicatum

This is a species that comes from Western Australia, and its export is a major part of their economy. Its oil was first distilled in 1875, and was produced here and there for a few decades until the 1990’s when it experienced a resurgence which increased (and is still increasing) since it is often used in the perfume industry, very popular with aromatherapists, and in chewing tobacco. This is a much less threatened species, and is almost equal in medicinal properties to Santalum album without the worry of using an extremely endangered species. So if you are unable to afford or can not find ethically sourced Santalum album, this is a good (and less costly) alternative. Testing shows pretty strongly, so far, that it has a lot of great antimicrobial properties, as well as all the stuff listed for Santalum album (since they are so closely related their chemical makeup is very similar and makes it a fantastic stand-in for the more expensive sandalwood).

Other Santalum species you may see are: S. acuminatum, S. austrocaledonicum, S. boninense, S. fernandezianum, S. freycinetianum, S. haleakalae, S. lanceolatum, S. macgregorii, S. murrayanum, S. obtusifolium, S. paniculatum, S. yasi. These species you may see pop up in the occasional commercial preparation, but are not commonly used nor are their medicinal properties well known.

The Fakes

These species, while useful in their own rights are not sandalwoods and are occasionally used as an adulterant in real sandalwood oils or preparations. These should be avoided if you are looking for a real sandalwood.

  •  Adenanthera pavonina sometimes called Red Sandalwood, but this is not sandalwood. Its seeds while toxic when eaten raw are safe to eat when cooked and have been used to treat inflammation in folk medicine.
  • Amyris balsamifera – known as Balsam Torchwood this is a common species accepted by a lot of perfumers and aromatherapy blends.
  • Baphia nitida called African Sandalwood Camwood or Barwood, its bark and heartwood make a red dye, it is known as Osun in Yoruba and is a part of a brand of Nigerian black soap called Dudu Osun.
  • Eremophila mitchelli also called False Sandalwood, Sandalbox and Rosewood Belvory as well as other common names. While native to Australia it is considered an invasive species in some areas of Australia and is illegal to plant.
  • Myoporum platycarpum sometimes called Sugarwood, False Sandalwood as well, which is another native of Australia but is mostly toxic and just the sap is edible, but can not be produced by wounding the tree.
  • Myoporum sandwicense another False Sandalwood, or Bastard Sandalwood, Naio in the native Hawai’ian. It was used in making canoes, fishing net spacers and torches for night fishing. It is a very oily wood and was part of the woods exported to China for Joss stick production.
  • Osyris lanceolata known as African Sandalwood as well, but is generally in Southern parts of Africa, it is over logged despite government protection. Its wood is used for utensils and firewood, and in some communities it is used to preserve milk in gourds for long periods of time.
  • Osyris tenuifolia or Osyris lanceolata known as East African Sandalwood or again as False Sandalwood. Not much information is available on this species.

Recipes

Easy Sandalwood Lotion

  • 2 oz Coconut Oil
  • 10-20 drops of Sandalwood oil (or 1/2 teaspoon of Sandalwood powder)

Take the coconut oil, and whip 2 oz of solid at room temperature coconut oil in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, and adding 10-20 drops of the essential oils. You can also use a bit (half a teaspoon to a teapoon depending on how thick or honey-like you want your lotion. Raw honey is good wound healing and for your skin too.

You can also just add a drop or two of Sandalwood essential oil to your regular routine, or just massage a little into problem areas with a carrier oil (Sweet Almond oil is a good alternative if coconut oil makes you break out).

Saffron & Sandalwood Lotion

  • 1/4 cup Whole almonds
  • 1/4 cup Strained Yogurt (or Plain Greek yogurt)
  • 2 teaspoons Lime or Lemon juice
  • pinch of Ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sandalwood
  • pinch of Saffron

First make your strained yogurt, if you don’t know how to do this go here and follow the instructions. Then soak the almonds in a bowl of water overnight, peel the skins off the next morning and grind into a fine paste in a food processor or strong blender. Add in the strained yogurt, lime (or lemon) juice, turmeric, sandalwood, and the saffron threads. Blend again in the food processor or blender until smooth and creamy. This cream can be stored in a clean container in the fridge for about a week, and you should apply it after washing your face at night. Smooth it all over your skin and massage in gently, in the morning wash your face again.

Both of these lotions are good for fighting acne, skin rashes, eczema, sunburns, helps reduce age spots and brighten dull skin. It even does a lot if you massage it into scars, helping to soften them and reduce their visibility, you can even add in a bit of lavender too to help with the redness of scarring if you are treating that. Really it does your skin good and will help just about anything to do with skin 🙂 there is some evidence even that it may help with Rosacea, though it may irritate some skin types that have Rosacea so make sure to do a test patch before you attempt to treat it with sandalwood oil.

Sandalwood Steaming

  • 2-5 drops Sandalwood oil
  • Bowl of hot water, must be steaming
  • Towel

Place a few drops into the bowl of hot water, place towel over your head and allow the steam to bathe the face. This another way to treat skin issues, or to treat very dry skin, or chapped skin.

ProChestColdTip: If you have a chest cold or respiratory issues, or even laryngitis, you can do this with some eucalyptus since there is some evidence that sandalwood can act as an expectorant and has antiviral properties.

ProStressTip: This can also be really good for stress, as the smell is very soothing, and has a mild sedative action, but I would suggest using meditation while inhaling the scent of just the sandalwood oil to reduce stress and bring relaxation.

Woodsy Beard Oil

  • 25 milliliters Carrier oil (this can be straight or a blend, 100 drops = about 5 ml)
  • 2 milliliters (about 50 drops) Sandalwood oil
  • 1 milliliter Cedarwood oil
  • 2 milliliters Pine oil

Mix well and store in a dark bottle, apply a few drops to hands and massage into beard. Comb through with beard brush or beard comb. Trust me guys your ladies will love this

The carrier oil can be anything you like, jojoba is good, vitamin E is great, argan oil is all the rage these days. Grapeseed, hemp, coconut, sweet almond, olive and apricot are all ok as well – it is really up to you on this and what works best with your face and hair and you can combine them and do half and half, or whatever combo you prefer most. Since you will be putting this on your face it will condition and soften your skin (especially with sandalwood oil) and condition and soften your beard hairs. This will make about an ounce, and you can either use a bottle with a dropper or you can use a bottle that has a built in dropper like on most essential oil bottles. You can even re-use some essential oil bottles for this.

ProScentsTip: You can also substitute the pine or cedarwood for lime and rosemary respectively, for a more citrusy smelling oil. You can also check out this site which has some great links for bottles, measuring equipment (if you don’t have anything to measure milliliters with) and some other recipes.

Muscle Spasm Massage Oil

  • 1 ounce Carrier oil
  • 10-20 drops Sandalwood oil (or 1/2 teaspoon Sandalwood powder)
  • 10 drops Wintergreen
  • 10 drops Cardamom

Mix well it is best to use an oil that is liquid at room temperature, if you use coconut oil that is not, you may want to whip this in a stand mixer to make it easier to apply. This is a great oil to massage into painful muscle spasms, or for general muscle pain (especially back pain!). The sandalwood and cardamom will help release the muscles and relax them, and the wintergreen will provide warming (which always helps muscles release) as well as providing a natural aspirin component to alleviate pain further.

Sleeping Sandalwood & Lavender

  • 1-2 drops Lavender oil
  • 1-2 drops Sandalwood oil

Massage into temples and inhale the lovely scents deeply. This is a combination that I find many swear by, and I do like the combination. It isn’t as powerful as hops, but it will definitely send you off to a sweet smelling dreamland.

ProMigraineTip: Since lavender and sandalwood oil are antispasmodics as well as good for treating pain, these are also great to massage into the temples if you are suffering a migraine.

If you suffer from dandruff you can also use sandalwood oil to treat it, and you can use the Best Shampoo Ever Recipe I posted previously as a base for it. Also sandalwood as I mentioned is great as a deodorant, you can add the oils to the Best Deodorant recipes I posted (any of them in the post will work) or you can use sandalwood paste to make your own. Simply take your sandalwood powder, mix with small amounts of water until it forms a paste and apply with the hands to the armpits.

Remember, everyone’s body is different and has different chemistry so always do your own experiments and see what works best for you. Always check sites like WebMD for interactions with any medications you might be taking, and remember check for ethically sourced, and sustainably harvested sandalwood oil. You will pay a little more, but it is worth supporting people who want to make sure this tree is around for future generations. And as always, if you have any doubts whatsoever – ask a professional!

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What is a Radiofrequency Ablation?

Sounds super scary right? And you don’t even know what it is yet. I am inspired to write this after explaining to a lot of people the procedure I had done recently. So why not get some word out on what this is, and how it can help with chronic pain conditions that stem from neurological disorders.

So what is it first of all? A Radiofrequency Ablation (or Radiofrequency Nerve Lesioning) is basically where they take a wire, and insert it down a needle into a part of you (generally along the spine if you are treating pain, other places for other issues) which is then heated up and tissue is ablated. Ablated means they’re removed, cauterized, or destroyed – think of it like one of those chemical peels, the top layer of skin is being ablated. Which sounds horrible and possibly painful just reading that but I swear it isn’t! Usually for pain management it is done to nerves coming from certain points on the spine, and the medial nerves (which sends the pain signal up to the brain) are targeted.

Picture from southlakepainrelief.com

This is a picture of where they are and what things look like in the Cervical section of the spine.

It doesn’t feel really any different than any other injection procedure you might have, though sometimes you may get a muscle twitch when they pass current down the needle to make sure they are hitting the right spot. Once they know they are in the right spot using the current to stimulate and a fluoroscope, they pass a current down the wire that generates radio waves (which also produce heat) to cauterize, or ablate, the nerve. It is actually a pretty easy procedure, and I seem to recover faster than from other types of procedures. Plus I find it helps me a lot more with my pain than a cortisone injection these days.

Since it is easier to be a visual learner most of the time, here is a great video to watch with some animation so you won’t feel too squeamish if blood makes you woozy.

So as you can see it is waaaaay less scary than sticking a needle in you and burning off parts of your nerves sounds. Plus the nerves grow back in a few months and if you are lucky don’t have to repeat the process. If you are like me and do, it has a lot less negative side effects than getting cortisone over long periods of time, and you get to be free of some pain!

Remember all of our bodies are different and yours may react differently than mine, talk to your doctor, or a few doctors (which is best) and make sure you do your own research to make sure this is the right procedure for you and your pain condition. WebMD is a great resource as always for things like this, and definitely ask a professional!


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Massage, It Isn’t Just Some Fluff ‘n Buff Thing

The simple act of human touch is far more important than most realize, and proving to be a larger part of the healing process than thought of in modern medicine. Humans are extremely social animals, and while we are much more domesticated primates now, we still have that primal need for touch. With touch being so healing, it is no surprise massage is so healing as well. The current term massage, comes from French and translates to “friction of kneading,” in Arabic massa means “to touch, feel or handle” and the ancient Latin term for massage was frictio which is obviously close to friction. No matter what the term used for it though, it is a natural reaction to pain. When you injure something, or something just hurts, the natural human reaction is to rub the area. And it is this that has developed through human history into present day massage therapy and medical massage.

Massage is non-invasive as a treatment, and helps to heal damaged muscles, stimulate circulation, stimulate the immune/lymphatic system, reduce pain, relieve spasms & tension, and alleviate stress. Since massage generally puts one into an extremely relaxed state, the body will naturally release more endorphins, which we already know are the body’s natural pain medication. Massage will also reduce levels of hormones that rise during stress, which can be damaging to the body over extended periods of time. I am a firm believer in massage as a large part in chronic pain management, and starting a regular massage routine caused a huge change in my quality of life. My pain was reduced, and range of motion not only increased, but was able to be maintained. I was not always a believer though, after my accident, and even after my surgeries, many of my friends and family told me I should get a massage.

“You should get one, it would really help,” they would say.

I would say “No, that is some silly luxury for Spas, and Cruise ship denizens, I don’t need that.”

But 1,000’s of years of human history can’t be wrong…can it?

Definitely not. In fact they, my family, and friends, were all so very, very right.

Depiction of massage in the “Physician’s Tomb” dated to around 2330 BCE, further proof that everyone enjoys a foot rub.

Massage is a fantastic way to help relieve stress, pain, and generally maintain the health of mind, body, and spirit. Almost every known historical, and modern, cultures have some type of massage for medical or therapeutic use. Most generally use massage to relieve stress, prevent or heal injuries, and assist with pain. Massage is included in the most ancient medical texts and presently has tons of different styles and methods. But even with this variety, almost all of them have the same goal, overall body and mind wellness, and massage has long been considered an integral part of the healing arts. So much so that Hippocrates said –

“The physician must be experienced in many things, but assuredly in rubbing; for things that have the same name have not always the same effects. For rubbing can bind a joint that is too loose and loosen a joint that is too rigid… Hard rubbing binds; soft rubbing loosens; much rubbing causes parts to [loosen]; moderate rubbing makes them grow.'”

And he should know, considering he was the student of Herodicus, who could be considered one of the historical founders of modern sport medicine (though that title has many claimants, and all are highly debatable). Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine have some of the oldest documented writings on massage, and is widely used in their treatments past, and present. The infamous Avicenna of Persia, spoke of analgesics used with massage, and massage’s pain relieving effects when used just on its own. He also mentions that massage should be performed prior to exercise, which only became well known in recent years due to televising during the ’84 Olympic games.

Massage use was well documented in Ancient Greece, athletes were often given massages. Since Rome loves to copy Greece, Roman athletes and Gladiators were treated with massage as well. Julius Caesar was known to regularly receive massage to assist with neuralgia and possibly treat his epileptic seizures. Galen, well known for his own work with Gladiators, and as a Physician, was a supporter of massage, and its ability to treat many ailments. He believed, a good diet, exercise, rest and massage were key to a healthy body. He was also a very strong spokesman against people who would lower the opinion of massage.

No wonder he looks so grumpy!

You heard me, no happy endings!

Which is a frequent problem even now, most of the time when massage is mentioned you inevitably get the “happy ending” jokes. Not all massage is of a sexual nature, though there were some blurring of lines during the 19th century. Where massage was used to treat hysteria, and while it was considered medical, its definitely crossing some lines. This early association in America could be a reason for most modern association of massage with sexual acts. Probably not helped by advertisements…

“I promise it won’t get weird”

And hilarious machines…

Your 19th century lady’s secret in the bottom drawer. So discreet!

Just as Galen was frustrated with these associations in his time, we fair no better in our modern times. Massage is inevitably linked with seedy parlors that offer the infamous “happy ending,” more than a valid medical treatment. Despite all of this though, massage is highly esteemed in some medical circles and is rapidly gaining supporters in the medical community. So hopefully in the future the more healing features of massage will be lauded, rather than the carnal.

It is that effectiveness in treating people that has kept massage alive for centuries, and now modern science is starting to revive the medical community’s interest in it. Some clinical studies have been done, but not enough for modern science to state that yes, it is 100% effective, and they fully understanding of how it all works. Luckily it is a field that is rapidly gaining attention, and research is speeding up on it, so we may be hearing changes of opinion in the medical community in the next decade. In the clinical studies that have been done so far, some as recently as 2008, it has been shown that massage is the best relief for chronic back pain. Much more so than other treatments including acupuncture, medications, and other conventional medical treatments. Some studies have found that anxiety, pain, depression, and stress can all be reduced through massage therapy. Its also been found to help with neck pain, which I can personally vouch for, and thought to alleviate some pain for cancer patients. The American Pain Society and the American College of Physicians recommend that patients with chronic pain should include massage in their pain management regimen. So while modern science is not fully sure why massage works, the evidence is starting pile up, and clearly point to it working. It is just the “whys and the hows” that aren’t completely understood, current theories are that it helps to either block pain signals sent to the brain, or it could be that it causes the release of serotonin, endorphins, or other chemicals the body produces that help deal with pain. It could even be it triggers some other beneficial change in the body that we aren’t even familiar with yet, there is still so much about the body we do not know.

What I can say is from personal experience is that massage can do wonders for neurological pain, back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, tension headaches, muscle pain and spasms. So many times the expert hands of my masseuse have found an area that needed work, that I was in too much pain to pin point, and alleviated more pain than I thought possible. Seeing my masseuse can turn some level 10 pain days right around, changing a horrible day to a great one. Even migraines from spasms can be relieved with massage, and a good neck and shoulder massage has been the reason I have gotten through some horrible migraines. Times when injections or other medications are not option. Massage is, unlike lots of treatments, something you can add to your regimen that is considered mostly safe with little danger in using it frequently. Of course you do want to consult with your doctor if you have special needs, or conditions, but most ailments can benefit from massage.

A massage will generally consist of the manipulation of the skin, muscles and other tissues, done with a body part (hand, feet, elbow, etc) or with tools. Some stretching may be involved, as well as the application of heat, vibration, or other methods. Some massage, like deep tissue, can be mildly painful, but you should never feel you can’t stand the pain. It is important to give feedback to the masseuse, to make sure they are using the right level of pressure for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for more pressure if you need it, or ask them to back off a bit if it hurts too much. It is important you work together, so your body doesn’t take more than it is able to handle. Remember it should “hurt so good,” but never just hurt. As you build your relationship with your masseuse, you will find they know the amount of pressure you like and can take, and they will eventually get to know your body’s needs almost as well as you do.

There is a bit of a lingo that comes with massage, so below are a few basic movements you will hear mentioned. They are:

  • Effleurage – gliding or stroking
  • Friction – rubbing or pressing
  • Petrissage – squeezing or kneading
  • Tapotement – striking, beating or percussion
  • Vibration – oscillations on the skin

These can again be done with a part of the body, or with a tool as said earlier. Sometimes besides heat and vibration, essential oils can be used in combination with massage to assist with pain reduction, ease stress, or aide the release of muscles. I highly recommend locating a masseuse who uses therapeutic grade oils in their massage, as they add a whole new treatment dimension to the massage process. The style of massage practiced doesn’t really matter in general, as long as they are certified in some sort of therapeutic massage techniques. The masseuse you choose should sit and talk with you prior to each session to find out what areas will need focus, if any, and a general idea of your existing issues. This is important as it help’s them, and you, to create a sort of “game plan” for that treatment session.

Aromatherapy, while it still mostly falls into the realms of what most people consider too “out there,” or too “woo woo” as I call it, but there has been studies in smell and the body’s reaction to it. And there is enough evidence for me to consider that they just might be on to something. Certain smells diffused in the air during a massage session can assist with the body and mind’s relaxation, and can even assist with pain relief, since relaxation will make those endorphins release. So aromatherapy, combined with massage and oils, is the best, and possibly most effective way, to treat pain and stress in my humble, non-medical, opinion.

Again, you should do your own research, look into a few styles and find out what will work best for you. Interview a masseuse before going, and make sure you read up on the style they use for treatment to make sure it is right for you. It is always a good idea to talk it over with your doctor before embarking on any new pain treatments, and this way they can inform you of any issues you would need to be mindful about – such as with cancer patients, or pregnant women. Make sure the masseuse is certified, and if their certifications aren’t displayed, make sure you ask to see them. And if you are ever in doubt about anything, always ask a professional.

If you are in the Austin area, I highly recommend AZ Massage.