Austin, Massage, News

Everything You Need to Know About Rolfing

January 4, 2016

“It is gravity that is the tool; it is gravity that is the therapist.”

— Dr. Ida Rolf

What is Rolfing?


Rolfing is sophisticated system of manual therapy and movement education that — over a series of sessions — help restore and improve structural alignment and functional movement. From this treatment, clients enjoy improved uprightness and range of motion. Many have reported that they experience an increase in energy, ease, and lightness within the body. In a way, it’s a life hack to better performance and quality of life.

Is Rolfing painful?

Rolfing can and does get more intense; though, many usually described it as a “good” pain. It’s important that the Rolfing massage therapist know how much intensity the client’s nervous system can accommodate in order for this treatment to remain safe and effective. Some Rolfers are known for the white-light pain they cause. I am not that kind of Rolfer, but I do understand that this may be what some clients want and expect. Regardless, the experience differs quite a bit from massage, but still feels good for the most part. Furthermore, every intervention has a purpose — structurally or relationally — it’s not random.

How does a Rolfing series work ?


Most Rolfers model sessions to follow one another in a progressive and thorough series. Traditional Rolfers tailor a Ten Series to meet their client’s needs. Each session may have its own goal, but this series will ultimately aim to align your body vertically within gravity. Many of us believe that it is gravity and its effect on our structure and nervous system that produces the incredible effects of Rolfing.

Dr. Who?

The story of Rolfing is inseparable from its founder. In the 1920s, Dr. Ida P. Rolf began working as an associate in the chemistry labs at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City. There, she first began to study fascia. Fascia is the archetypical representation of our bodies’ connective tissue and is the basis of Dr. Rolf’s work.

Later in life, she began remarking on body’s plastic nature, its ubiquity, and its tensile strength. During her study, she found she could elicit astounding changes in posture, function, and stress. During the 1960s, Dr. Rolf was invited to demonstrate her work at Esalen Institute, where she codified her work into a teachable body of craft that she called Structural Integration. Her students and clients called it ‘Rolfing.’ In 1971, she left Esalen and established the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado where students could learn to become Rolfers.

What are the benefits of Rolfing?

Rolfing is good for people too healthy to receive a diagnosis from a doctor, but not quite as vital as they would desire. It can delay surgeries and it can help people recover faster from surgery. It makes an excellent support for people making a fresh start, people beginning a new fitness regime, or even a new commitment to mental health. It is good for feeling a little younger — for personal “spring cleaning.” It simply helps people to realign themselves in gravity. Obstacles dissolve and people discover what they need when gravity can flow through them in a healthy manner.

News, Wellness

How Are Those New Year Resolutions Coming Along?

March 3, 2014

Written by guest editor and milk + honey licensed massage therapist, Matt W.

New Year's Resolutions

Hi everyone. I  wanted to check in and see how those New Year Resolutions were coming along.

I know, New Year Resolutions were so three months ago, but if life got in the way, and we didn’t follow through, we may just forget that we wanted something different for ourselves in the first place. Don’t wilt if your “New Me” hasn’t completely hatched yet. Often we begin things without realizing there’s also a middle and an end to them. These things take time, about three weeks according to some, or a life time according to others.

Changing often requires a lot of hard work, faith, and support. In the beginning, it can be difficult. In the end, it will ideally be second nature. Yet we are constantly changing in between those two poles. We can change what we habitually do, and by doing so, we can change, at the very least, our experience of ourselves. There’s some science behind this for sure, and a lot of it is very exciting.

As the mechanisms for brain change become better understood, the implications seem to grow. The enormous generalization I would like to make here is that the things you do in your daily life change you. I would add that the way you do things in your daily life also changes you. We can all take advantage of the brain’s adaptability in creating new habits by, well, doing new things. Every activity you undertake affects the physiology of your brain, the neural networks, and the body. The more you do a thing, the easier it is to do it. This goes for habits of mental action and feelings as well as for physical action.

The double edged sword inherent to the brain’s nature for change and engraining will conjure arguments for free will, and this is where you’ll find the best results. Frustration and one’s ability to tolerate frustration seems to play a key roll. Something about just barely succeeding (or failing) sends all kinds of urgency cues to your brain that you really want to improve your skill, or your effort, or your will power right here specifically.

Weightlifting provides the obvious analogy whereby the weight you almost cannot lift is the very weight that will increase your strength the most. You can fine tune and take advantage of other components of the equation to get the most out of your efforts.  Collectives of individuals striving for the same excellence, expert coaching, goal affirming environmental cues all contribute to this phenomenon. I find it interesting that, under the right circumstances, you can change your habits of thoughts and feelings as well.

If you have a strong sense concerning what you want to change, and why, you can get some great advice on classic goal setting and accomplishment. You can change your basic behavior and there are some great tools to help you with that. Take advantage of a service like HabitForge or simply follow the wholesome and common sense advice available regarding goal setting.

Humans are complex, no doubt, and this brings me to the paradox of self-initiated change. We are who we are. Not liking who we are can provide enormous motivation for change, but ultimately provides your inner saboteur its greatest monkey wrench. It is what Buddhist nun Pema Chodron describes as “self-aggression.” We all have pieces of ourselves we’d rather not see, let alone show to others, and yet these are the very aspects of our being that require the most love. Change that ignores this, or skips over this step, will only provide incomplete results.

Working with this habit, the habit of seeing oneself as not good enough, or the habit of seeing success and failure in absolute terms, can be pretty interesting. Working in this way requires a new habit, and that habit is compassion, for yourself and others. So you didn’t make it to the gym today, and aren’t going to. Maybe tonight you give yourself some love in a different way, and support yourself for going back tomorrow. Cut yourself some slack.

Now, you have a couple of options. You can agree to forget, or agree to remember that you made your resolutions. Should you agree to remember, then you can notice where you fail. You can be gentle with yourself when you do. You can gently but firmly pull yourself back up, and put yourself back on that horse. Good luck, and enjoy the rest of 2014.


Focusing on Your Head, Hands, and Feet

December 11, 2012

Matt is one of our fantastic massage therapists at milk + honey 2nd Street District.

There really isn’t anything like a proper back rub. A quick session on the shoulders and neck at any given time does wonders, too. Some people really do keep all of their stress there, but what about the neglected head, hands, and feet?

After all, these three features all but define our humanity, if not our human form. Only humans have feet shaped to accommodate bipedal motion for long periods of time. Our hands, sensitive and dextrous, allowed our ancestors to shape our environment to our purposes. Over time camp sites became villages, and villages became cities. With these hands we carried and cared for our young, for much longer periods of time than other mammals. Human children require longer periods of dependence on their parents than other mammals, thanks to the size of their brains. We have huge heads relative to our bodies. Starting from within, the eyes are the windows of the soul. Our face carries our past while, to some, our palms describe our future. Many of us never consider these unsung heroes, but they have allowed us to accomplish all that we have, and define us as individuals.

The more poetic expressions of medical practice intuited and explored the importance of our head, hands, and feet, most famously, the doctors of traditional Chinese medicine. They understood the head, hands, and feet are doorways through which they could gain entry to the rest of our body. Here the ears symbolize and relate the fetal body, and acupuncture treatments can focus solely on this area. Furthermore the eyes, tongue, face, and pulse all inform a TCM practitioner’s diagnosis. The aruvedic traditions of India privileged the hands and feet with special importance. They understood that the minor chakras embedded in the hands bore a special relationship to the heart, and those of the feet related to the root chackra, almost like ambassadors. Other wellness practices, such as reflexology, have grown from a similar synecdoche. Reflexologists treat the entire body, focusing on major body structures and organs, by manually manipulating the feet and hands.

Relying on a more direct connection, Rolfers and structural integrationalists target the hands and feet for some of their most significant fascial interventions. These body workers avail themselves of the collagenous network that forms the warp and weft of our body, connecting us from tip to stern. The arches of our feet contain fibers that connect, blend, and piggy back all of the way into the reaches of our diaphragm, our pericardium, and the inside of our heads. The hands too, share a fascia that stretches inward, relating wrist to elbow to shoulder before diving inward toward the torso.

One of the strongest connections these extraneous structures have with the rest of the body resides in our brain itself. Our bodies show an enormous degree of enervation and sensory intelligence in our head, hands, and feet, disproportionate to the rest of the body. Nervous tissue arranges in a series of one way streets, motor neurons travel from the central nervous system and sensory neurons travel toward it. Sensory input goes back into the brain, the greater detail of which, is the greater effect. Therapeutic, supportive, and sympathetic touch in these areas will go far to calm the mind, and thus the body.

The common image of the sensory homonuculus anthropomorphizes the sensory motor cortex, basically correlating the devoted sensory cortical space of our brain to the size in those structures in the human body to the homonuculus. Photo by Beth Scupham

In short, one cannot avoid affecting the entirety of the body when only working the head, hands, or feet.

Often we neglect these in practice and in memory. I find that most people are unaware as to how much tension they hold in their hands, feet, jaw, scalp, and so on, until another human works those areas.

I find it intriguing that, regardless of whether one favors a physical, structural relationship, or a more poetic and energetic one, that the very structures of our bodies that help us relate to and alter the outside world, in turn have the richest relationships to the core of our being … our hearts and minds.

If you find your curiosity piqued, or simply want to verify or deny my ramblings, know that milk + honey offers the distinct service of focusing on the head, hands, and feet. You can also request your therapist to spend more time in these areas yourself, wherever you enjoy massage.



Feel Good Health

June 3, 2012

Matt is one of our fantastic massage therapists at milk + honey spa 2nd Street District.

When speaking with my clients concerning their goals for our session, many of them specify distinct musculoskeletal concerns they would like me to address, while others simply shrug and answer with,  “I just wanna relax and feel good.” Almost inevitably they wind up getting a little of both.

I have a definite scope of practice as a massage therapist that focuses on stress relief and relief from myofascial dysfunction.  I cannot avoid working with individual’s health and fitness goals. As such my clients consistently expose me to new practices related to those goals. I’m a curious person and I do my own research too.

Should you poke around in cyberspace for answers to your health or fitness goals, you will inevitably encounter marketing motivating you to take up behavior XYZ for the sake of health, happiness, and feeling good. I think the underlying narrative suggests that if you’re not healthy you won’t feel good, but what about the other way around? Does feeling good promote health?

Photo courtesy of Colin Gray

The short answer, turns out, is yes.

Surely you’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine. According to laughter boosts immunity, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes muscles and is even good for your heart. It’s like a whole body internal massage. Of course laughter also improves mood. Similarly, behavioral psychologists have famously experimented with and confirmed the relationship between acts such as smiling and the mental and emotional state of their subjects. Many have measured their results in the relative abundance or absence of stress-hormones and neurotransmitter levels. They advocate a certain fake it ’till you make it approach.

Laughing with friends is even better because it engenders those feelings of safety, connection, and community that allow us to step away from our stress triggers. Leisure, and respite from routine also allows us to normalize our stress levels. Sun on the skin (protected by a high SPF of course) elevates moods and increases vitamin D production. Hearing the gentler sounds of nature, breezes through the trees, and the soft lap of water on the shores lowers the heart rate and connects us with something bigger than our problems. Touch produces the feel good hormone oxytocin, so even spending time at the petting zoo can be rewarding. Hearing your favorite music produces all kinds of feel good neurotransmitters and activates ecstatic centers in the brain. In fact, preemie babies have shown to thrive when their care takers play soothing music.

So is this really news to you? In this day and age we all know that the body and mind influence one another. Though stress effects allow an organism to overcome extreme threat, the correlation between prolonged stress and illness, including myofascial dysfunction, are well documented. We all know that the effects of stress correlate positively with disease. Feeling good promotes health, and it does so primarily because it combats the effects of prolonged extreme stress.

I constantly hear people in our culture defend their behaviors of overwork. They delay their private time and feel-good time, citing obstacles and goals. People brag about how much they’ve done and how little they’ve slept, or how much time they don’t have. I do it too. It’s a feature of our culture. We feel we must continue our efforts even when our physical and emotional well being suffer. Truly, life without challenge would feel empty. But there’s another side of the story that describes an optimal balance for health, and even productivity. has an article about this called “Bring Back the 40-Hour Work Week.” That balance requires the phenomenon of making sure you feel good.


Love is in the Touch

February 9, 2012

Matt is one of our fantastic massage therapists at milk + honey spa 2nd Street District.

Valentine’s Day is upon us. Whether you prefer to ignore the holiday or embrace your romantic side, love is all around us, especially in the touch.

Lover CatsStandard descriptions of our holiday describe a cloudy syncretism of historical figures (all martyrs for love), Catholicism, and pagan rituals Click here for’s take on Valentine’s Day. Historians often reach back to 270-300 A.D. to initiate this romantic drama. Mother nature on the other hand seems to have reached back beyond man, beyond monkey, maybe all the way to the vole.

Have you ever heard of oxytocin? I first heard about this hormone when I was in massage school, but it has since emerged into popular discourse as well. It seems to be present in every mammal on the planet. Human physiology text books echo the initial clinical scrutiny of this nine amino acid chain as a hormone produced by the sex organs for the purpose of letting down milk and contracting the uterus, but subsequent research has revealed a more utilitarian and ubiquitous character to this powerful protein.

First let me kill the suspense, yes oxytocin floods your system before, during, and after all of your sexual experiences. Likewise, laboring mothers experience a massive download of the stuff during and following labor and delivery. The experience of maternal love at first sight, and the amnesia of child bearing pain that sets in when a mother first holds her child, are both moments undoubtedly framed in the pink hazy frill of oxytocin.

I reckon it satisfies some pretty obvious reward systems that perpetuate any species with fur on their bodies, but what is it? A cursory web search describes oxytocin as a wonder molecule that increases feelings of trust and intimacy but it goes deeper than that. Dr Ray Sahelian dryly details a more clinical side to oxytocin on his own forum. He describes a powerful neurohormone and modulator that the hypothatlamic and supraoptic nuclei of the brain, as well as peripheral tissues of the heart and sex organs, produce. The hormone acts on those tissues, as well as the kidney, thymus, and pancreas, resulting in a body-wide response.

As it turns out oxytocin reduces the effects associated with stress and anxiety. It helps reduce blood pressure and cortisol levels, increases our pain threshold and directly affects the amgdyla in tempering our anxiety level. In short, everything you need for your loved ones to announce that “both mother and child are well” can be provided by this brilliant bio-character.

Oxytocin has a more humanitarian and platonic side to it as well. In addition to combating stress, pain and fear, oxytocin stimulates positive social interaction and promotes growth and healing as well. Furthermore, it just makes you feel good, content, dreamy. Put one way, it’s what makes little kids like puppies and makes puppies like little kids. It’s why cats purr. It probably plays a role in pack identity. In his brilliant collection of essays “The Scientification of Love,” French obstetrician Michel Odent extends these implications and explores the role of oxytocin in promoting healthier civilizations in general.

In this light, oxytocin is quite simply the peptide that binds. Since it feels good and is good for you, you may want to up your dose. Given its immense utility, it comes as no surprise that other stimuli outside the range of coupling and mating also trigger its release. Though supported by less rigorous literature visual and olfactory sensations will trigger it. Eating with friends and family trigger it as well.

Call it dinner and a movie … plus a spa day. Increasingly it seems that basic well-intentioned touch and warmth trigger oxytocin as well. Massage in all its forms release oxytocin, though the lighter kinds associated with true Swedish massage and facials probably release more. A few years ago journalist Roni Caryn Rabin reported for the New York Times on the subject, click here to read. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles who found that massage increased levels of oxytocin (and decreased stress hormones such as cortisol), and that a single session produced biological changes. That post-massage, wet noodle feeling of contentment where all you need is a nap is in part due to oxytocin.

So basically anytime you get that warm fuzzy feeling inside, oxytocin is probably lurking in the background, marshaling biological changes that promote your health. As our understanding about it increases, it seems to do nothing other than confirm our biological bias for falling in love, for starting families, to look after each other, to live with pets, and to build community. You are built to experience love, connection, and bonding, and that is good for you.


Letting Go of the Hold

January 25, 2012

Massage is about knowing when to let go and when to hold on. Photo by TechSavi

Matt is one of our fantastic massage therapists at milk + honey spa 2nd Street District.

Have you ever been on the massage table, and your therapist scoops up one of your limbs, cradling it in the palms of her hands, and suddenly she says, “OK, just let it go”? This seems incongruent. You thought you already were relaxed. Let go of what?

Well, let go of your arm, your leg, or your head, of course. To be fair, “let go” is one of those countless phrases that often assumes more than it communicates. Its utterance assumes awareness and understanding, at the precise moment of its opposite’s presentation. The opposite of letting go is, of course, holding on.

In my opinion, due to its vagueness, telling someone to “let it go” or “let go” is about as useful as telling them, “NASA found water on Mars,” and yet I myself am tempted to use this phrase. Usually the therapist attempts to take a limb through a range of motion and/or to reposition the client to gain access to a work area. The client unconsciously halts the action. They either directly resist it or try to help the therapist, which is unnecessary. From the therapist’s point of view, the client really is fighting the movement. From the client’s point of view, they’re probably thinking, “Dinner could be any number of things, the kids need picking up, and that feels pretty good … Oh, wait? Let go of what?”

Once we figure out what “letting go” means, we may see its worth. I advocate it as a worthy enterprise of practice and development. Holding takes place in the muscles and mind. If we could let go of our holding, we would gain an enormous measure of peace, and also get more out of our massages. We want to develop the skill of letting go, because letting go is indicated when holding on inhibits therapeutic or otherwise positive development. As therapists, we want to avoid triggering the “hold on” response.

I argue that both the fault and the solution lies within both the practitioner’s and client’s realm of control. In studying this phenomenon after a while, I discovered at least a few theories, and a few ideas for dealing with it. From my observations I believe the clashing of movement at the massage table results from specific client and therapist modes.

The client doesn’t have the awareness or skills to let go. It may also be that they don’t trust their therapist, have let their attention go elsewhere, or are under too much stress. In short, they haven’t done their homework. The therapist on the other hand has triggered unconscious alarms in the client’s body. Basically the client is either too “switched off” or too sensitive, and/or the therapist is too abrupt, checked out, or is using an ineffective posture.

First, let’s take a look at our physiology. Proprioception is one of our hidden senses. It refers to awareness of our body in space. It’s kind of like a cross between touch and equilibrium, and is what allows you to know where your arm is when you raise it over your head, even though you can’t see it. Specialized cells called proprioceptors, mostly located around the joints, provide this service for you, but you can develop this sense if you want to. Other specialized cells like stretch and pressure receptors, tell us the relative tension of the tendons and ligaments. Finally our nervous system interprets and scales any change of sensory input, such as touch, change of position, sound, or lighting.

The inclination to resist movement must partially relate to our deeply ingrained fear of falling. Usually you stop yourself from even beginning to fall, and the experience almost always resides below consciousness. We also have another unconscious desire to inhibit any movement that overly challenges our joints. I don’t think it provides the same level of fear, but it factors in. Relegating the management of a change in environment, as communicated by a change in senses, to an unconscious level makes sense from a survival perspective as well. If those changes challenge the individual’s survival needs, a reaction is appropriate.

I suspect these biological conditions provide our venue for client/therapist failure. Both of us must work to inhibit these responses.

If I might overstep my scope, I think therapists must know how to create a space of safety. For a massage therapist this means we communicate. We don’t engage the fear of falling or the resistance to joint torque. We must provide the base that supports any manipulation we do. Deep horse stances and T-stances that support our physical center are necessary when we stand beneath the client’s limb. In this manner, we lend our clients a center of balance for movement to occur in their body, and no sense of falling. Secondly, we can expand our attention to encompass the full joint and limbs in our movement. If we approach transitions gently, and manage to minimize our own physical stress and efforts, we could probably defuse most resistance at the table.

Now for the client. It isn’t your fault that you unconsciously don’t want to be controlled by another individual. In fact, the pervasiveness of this habit suggests it’s a universal survival utility. Getting a massage shouldn’t be one of those times when survival instincts are firing though. In my experience, massage is a “co-creative” process. In other words, to the extent that a client is prepared to receive the massage, is the extent to which he or she will derive benefit from massage. Client and therapist should always be on the same side of a goal and the approach to that goal.

Client preparation may include physical, behavioral, and mental preparation. This may mean showing up to session early, taking a shower, stretching, reading, or agreeing to rest your worries on the floor as you receive. If I had to guess, being prepared to let go of your personal narratives would help the most. Write down your to-do lists if you must, but don’t bring them to the table. It may require a deeper practice and mind set.

You can physically learn how to let go by raising your arms and letting them drop of their own accord. You may need to convince yourself that it’s OK to take time off for your own care and maintenance. Knowing what you want from your massage and being able to communicate that will defuse quite a bit of anxiety. Of course in the extreme, no massage therapist worth their salt will violate boundaries by working the breasts or genitalia (we don’t consider the glutes to be a no-touch zone), but you should set boundaries ahead of time for yourself anyway. I think it’s a lot easier to relax if you’ve already decided what constitutes a deal-breaking breech of comfort. It feels empowering to take responsibility for your own sense of safety.

At the heart of this exchange is the relative ability to relinquish control as a client, and provide a safe place as a therapist. It requires practice, communication, a benefit of the doubt, and a little risk, to step out of our habitual holding and controlling, but in my opinion it’s worth it.

Massage, Wellness

Finding the Balance With Your Massage Therapist

November 14, 2011

Matt is one of our fantastic massage therapists at the downtown milk + honey spa. In this article, he discusses the benefits of finding a balance with your massage therapist.

Finding the Balance With Your Massage Therapist

When it comes to massage, it really does come down to different strokes for different folks. The give and take inherent in any bodywork exchange reminds me a lot of a dining experience. The menu outlines your options, for which you have a provider, and you mostly understand what to expect. But the entire exchange is predicated on those expectations. Generally speaking, a successful exchange occurs when a chef’s expectations match or exceed that of the diner.

Have you ever gone to dinner with a friend, ordered the same thing as one another, and had totally different reactions to the experience? How did that happen? Presumably the same hand is behind the creation of both dishes, presumably creating from the same ingredients under the same conditions of production.

I bring it up because something similar plays out throughout the entire duration of any service at the spa. I do not mean to suggest there is no such thing as objective standards in the realm of massage, or facials, or dining, but I would like to point out that the energies playing out during any service in the spa is subject to the influence of both the personal preferences and expectations of the client and the practitioner.

Basically, though it would be pretty rare and represents an extreme case of the phenomenon, you could have a wonderful service and thoroughly hate it at the same time. The case of harmonizing expectations or assumptions is a constant factor for any exchange between a client and a provider. You and a given therapist may never really click, but an intelligent consumer of services may be able to control the quality of the service they receive to the extent that they can identify this constant.

I only bring this up because of how it enable diplomacy. I think most people live their lives based on assumptions. We have to base our actions on assumptions because we would never get anything done if we didn’t.

If we begin at the most convenient case, it would be a case where two people have mutual goals for the exchange. In this case let us assume that the practitioner and client both want the client to receive a great massage. The practitioner assumes a great massage satisfies certain requirements, and the client does as well. Those assumptions may or may not match, and that will create an experience of harmony or disharmony.

Different Strokes for Different Elefolks courtesy of w00kie

What the two parties are selecting for their wish and action could be as separate as day and night. Some of this is inherent in the vagueness of the language. Take a client that “just wants to relax.” If I work on them the way my body would need to be worked, they may not be happy. I cannot relax if someone is just petting me like a cat and talking my ear off. I want quiet, variety, medium deep pressure, and if I’m honest, I want some knots worked. Swedish isn’t relaxing to me, but I find conservative deep tissue massage extremely relaxing, while too much is … simply too much.  I also do not think it is that relaxing to have an overly clinical massage that doesn’t have any art in it. I like a little yin with my yang, and I feel like a good massage leaves me feeling better for the week, not just the day.

Not all of my clients agree. Some of my clients want to be worked briskly and lightly, others want to feel like they are stepping down from a raft that has been gently bobbing up and down when they’re done, and on occasion my clients cannot relax unless I bury my knee in their back.

Practitioners can vary the speed, depth, rhythm, approach, priorities, and techniques in a given session. They can even change the music or temperature of the room. Most of them cannot read your mind, and even your body language may be hard to read.

The client on the other hand, may be rightly concerned about hurting the therapist’s feelings, which contributes to the quality of work they do. So, what should be done if their expectations fail to harmonize?

If it is in the beginning of the session, you can wait and see. I have seen many therapists change their “tone” for lack of a better word, based off what they feel. Personally, I will not go deep into muscle tissue without trying to warm it up a bit first. If the session is not meeting your expectations, identify what it is you would rather not experience, and then lie about it.  No really, “That feels good, but…” Then reveal the truth in the form of a question, “Can you slow it down?” Basically what you will be doing by adopting this approach is building rapport with your therapist in such a way that it builds harmony. I mean, if you’re nice about it.

You are allowed to reiterate or clarify your goals, “I appreciate the attention to that area, but it’s a little overwhelming, and I really just want to zone out.” You are also allowed to change your mind about what you want, and you can redirect your therapist based off of what you have felt so far. “It feels really good when you work that area like that, will you hang out there?”

Actually, you are also allowed to be really abrupt, abrasive, or obnoxious about it, and a good therapist will try to comply. Let’s face it though, honey’s better than vinegar.

I know it can be tough catching the therapist at the right moment, but I think it is worth the effort to get what you want. There will probably be a small period of adjustment, but if you make the assumption that your therapist wants you to enjoy this, and is talented enough to adjust what they are doing, you may better approximate your experience at the table so that you won’t have to complain about it later.


What is a Muscle Knot and How to Get Rid of It

November 8, 2011

Today, one of our expert 2nd Street District massage therapists discusses what is a “knot.”

What is a muscle knot?

muscle knot

“What is that thing, anyway?”

I’m always getting asked this question. I’m a massage therapist, and “that sore, crunchy thing” is a muscle knot. But what actually is a “knot”?

Muscle knots are small bumps that commonly appear on the back, neck, or shoulders and usually feel tender or sore when touched. They are comprised of muscle fibers and bands, which form a bump or “knot” when tightened under stress or tension. While knots are the commonly used term among the general public, medical experts refer to these spots as myofascial trigger points, which are classified as either active or latent.

If a trigger point is classified as latent, you’ll only feel pain when the area is pressed. On the other hand, active trigger points can produce random feelings of pain even without being touched. 

It’s important to note that muscle knots/trigger points can also cause pain to radiate to surrounding muscle tissue and even other areas of the body in some cases. For example, a trigger point in your trap muscles (upper back) may radiate pain into your lower back, and it could even lead to pain in a completely different area of the body such as the calves.

What does a muscle knot feel like?

As noted, muscle knots are small bumps that feel painful to the touch. Knots can vary significantly in size, from the size of a pea up to a golf ball or larger. In most cases, you will not be able to see a muscle knot but will be able to feel it when touching the area. Muscle knots will feel swollen and tense compared to the surrounding area. When feeling around to find muscle knots, it’s important to be gentle because aggravating them can lead to more inflammation and discomfort. 

Where do muscle knots occur?

Muscle knots can occur anywhere in the body where there is muscle or fascia (connective tissue). However, the most common places we see muscle knots develop are:

  • Neck (typically on the sides)
  • Shoulders
  • Back (upper and lower)
  • Buttocks
  • Legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, and thighs)
  • Upper arms

photo by woodleywonderworks

What causes muscle knots?

It would probably be more accurate for me to say that no one really agrees on every aspect of what constitutes a knot, how you get knots, and how to get rid of them. However everyone agrees that a knot forms in muscle tissue. This includes connective tissue such as fascia and tendons. Blood almost certainly plays a role, as does our nervous system. They are raised from the rest of the surface, and sometimes they are tender.

The most common causes of muscle knots are:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Overexertion (such as overdoing it while exercising)
  • Poor posture
  • Sitting for too long
  • Unhealthy eating
  • Dehydration

As noted, knots tend to form in stressed or damaged muscle. Overdoing it in the gym or on the trail will certainly aid this, but most massage therapists I work with are more inclined to find knots in muscles associated with desk work. These associate with the commute and compute postural distresses of holding your head and arms away from your body for too long.

Knots, as we vaguely understand them, are also likely to form in individuals who are stressed or have high anxiety. I don’t mean to overstep my scope of practice here, but I will simply observe that people undergoing emotional stress due to family, career, or other life events may be more likely to develop knots as a result of the physical manifestation of that stress in the muscles. I’m constantly hearing, “Oh I keep all my stress in my neck and shoulders.” And I often find knots up there.

If you frequently deal with muscle knots, examine the causes above and see if there are any lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent knots from forming in the future.

What are muscle knots that crunch with massage?

Some knots seem to invest more than one muscle tissue. Comprised of inflamed myofascial layers, and almost always including a concentrated degree of connective tissue, these knots feel gristly, and their size does not predict sensitivity to pressure. These knots tend to sound and feel “crunchy.” I’ve heard this crunchiness comes from either connective tissue build up or from calcium crystal build up.

Essentially, muscle knots have reduced blood flow and circulation, which means toxins can become trapped in these areas. Over time, trapped toxins will solidify in the muscle knot if not dealt with, resulting in hard, crunchy bumps. To get rid of crunchy muscles, you’ll need to break up these deposits by gently massaging the area and encouraging circulation.

How to get rid of muscle knots?

Keeping in mind that muscle knots seem to form in relation to how we use our bodies, I would first suggest taking the time to assess your lifestyle and how you inhabit your body throughout the day. You may be able to change a habit or arrangement so that you don’t form the knots as quickly in the first place.

If you find that lifestyle changes aren’t helping to the degree that you need relief, massage can help get rid of muscle knots.

Most therapists will treat knots of any variety with localized pressure delivered directly to the knot. More sophisticated practitioners, whether from training or experience, will undoubtedly apply different techniques to your knots based on what they feel. Generally speaking, true trigger points respond better to direct pressure than the more gristly “adhesion” knots. Releasing trigger points in this way can relax the entire muscle. Adhesive knots seem to respond better to being “ironed” or “combed” out of the tissue. Sometimes separating one muscle from the other through movement can deal with those types of knots.

If you’re dealing with muscle knots and seeking relief, book a massage with our experienced massage therapists. Massage therapy helps treat knots by increasing circulation and improving blood flow, which loosens stiff muscles and relieves tension. Choose from several types of massages and get a thorough consultation with your massage therapist to address specific pain points. Book now or give someone else the gift of relaxation with a gift certificate.


Massage for Happier Healthier Life

September 28, 2011

Matt is one of our fantastic massage therapists at the downtown milk + honey spa. In this article, he discusses the benefits of massage, that have been around for a long, long time.

Massage for Happier, Healthier Life

I frequently encounter the perception that massage exists solely as a pursuit of idle luxury. Often even well-educated clients only “treat” themselves a few times a year, but anyone remotely interested in overall health ought to investigate the beneficial effects of massage first hand.

Many writings from our ancient civilizations describe the healing benefits of intentional touch. In our modern world you can still observe other social mammals, like dogs and cats, pack and cuddle up together. Our children come running to us for healing and a consoling touch after any playground insult or injury. For me, it deepens the impression that perhaps we have been using massage for as long as we’ve had hands with which to touch.

Judging from the sheer ubiquity, vintage, and variation of the massage craft now, I’m tempted to argue that there has been a style of massage for any given culture at any given epoch. Within our society countless forms of massage speak to very specific needs. That being said, the results are remarkably similar when one person touches another for the purpose of support and healing, no matter the external manifestation … the client leaves feeling better.

It is a misconception to think massage is only about your muscles, it addresses your entire body.

The most basic styles, such as Swedish, at the very least “feel good” and “get things moving,” and kind of “squeegee” out the gunk that makes your muscles tight and sore. This is because massage enhances circulation, decreases nervous system activity, promotes digestion, and even aids immunity functions. The traditional Chinese medicine theory asserts it moves our life force energy through sluggish and stopped-up areas, toning the whole of the system. Of course, directly working the muscles also relieves and rebalances the musculoskeletal body, that body you inhabit at work, at home, and at play, so as to safeguard you from overuse and stress. This is the sweet spot of massage: receiving therapy at the most basic, direct, one-sided, and lived-in level possible.

It seems those who receive massage regularly probably live with less pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia and blood pressure. They enjoy a greater sense of well being, greater flexibility and range of motion, and a relaxed state that is simultaneously revitalized. They probably get sick or injured less often. If you do not receive massages, you may not die of touch starvation but you probably will live longer, and might enjoy a higher quality of life, if you incorporate massage into your lifestyle. People have been doing it forever.


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