Posts Tagged ‘Inflammation’

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

People seek massages for a variety of reasons: Stress relief, reducing muscle tension, improving recovery from injury, to enhance athletic performance, and to just pain feel good (versus feel bad or being in pain and tension). If you’ve noticed lately, a new study that links social anxiety to increased inflammatory response has been all over the Internet. So what does this have to do with massage therapy? Plenty.

First off, massage therapy is one of the main complimentary health care approaches for stress relief. Research has shown that massage therapy lowers blood pressure, elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine and reduces levels of cortisol. This new study, conducted by George Slavich, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, and Shelley Taylor, a UCLA professor of psychology,  found that people who have a greater neural sensitivity to social rejection (social anxiety) also have greater increases in inflammatory activity in response to social stress.

A temporary increases in inflammatory response may have been useful for our ancestors when they were confronting a physical threat which may have been triggered by a social threat from a neighboring tribe or another tribe member jockeying for position. Inflammation may be triggered by anticipation of a physical injury.  Proteins that regulate the immune system called, inflammatory cytokines  are released in response to impending (or actual) physical assault because they accelerate wound-healing and reduce the risk of infection. However, chronic inflammation can increase the risk of asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer and depression, according to the UCLA study.


George Slavich, UCLA


Study author George Slavich said that how people react and interpret social situations has an important effect on how people trigger the inflammatory response. For example, some people may view being the enter of attention (such as giving a speech or attending a party), as a welcome challenge. Others may see the same event as extremely uncomfortable or even threatening.

“This is further evidence of how closely our mind and body are connected,” Slavich said according to a UCLA press release about the study. “We have known for a long time that social stress can ‘get under the skin’ to increase risk for disease, but it’s been unclear exactly how these effects occur. To our knowledge, this study is the first to identify the neurocognitive pathways that might be involved in inflammatory responses to acute social stress.”

Potentially anxiety producing situations like job interviews, public speaking, large parties, even award ceremonies can lead some people to feel extreme anxiety.

How can massage therapy help? One way would be to hire your own personal massage therapist to travel around with you and give you a chair massage any time you feel social anxiety. Bob Hope did it. That it, he had his own personal massage therapist for years that gave him a massage every day. I’m not sure that daily massage was to improve Bob’s social anxiety, because I don’t know if he had any! But he did get daily massage for many years. And Bob lived to be 100 years old.

For most of us a daily professional massage not really practical. But how about scheduling a massage the day before or a few hours before or after your big event. The massage may help relax you and flood your body with feel good chemicals. It’s difficult to feel tense and stressed while feeling relaxed at the same time!

Other strategies for coping with social anxiety include working with a cognitive behavioral therapist to help you better manage your thoughts that make your responses to social situations less stressful.

“Although the issue is complex, one solution is to not treat negative thoughts as facts,” Slavich said. “If you think you’re being socially rejected, ask yourself, what’s the evidence? If there is no evidence, then revise your belief. If you were right, then make sure you’re not catastrophizing or making the worst out of the situation.”

The study appears in the current online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

heat/ice packIn my business, I see a lot of injuries. Weekend warriors sit at a desks all week and then push the limits of their bodies in intense weekend sports. Many of my clients sit long hours at computers and then face a long seated commute home. Muscle injuries can occur in both active and inactive people. Even sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours requires you to contract and use your muscles in a repetitive manner. These positions can cause tight neck, shoulder and back muscles. And all sports and exercises, yes, even yoga, can lead to injury if you are not using proper form or if you are overly tired, if you are already injured or if your muscles are cold. When clients tell me they have an injury, one of the first things I ask them is “Did you ice?” Some clients remember to ice. Others say they didn’t know they should ice or that they didn’t have time. but icing an injured muscle or limb is easy!

You can also end up with tight and sore muscles from sitting too long or holding one position for too long. Gardening and yard work can also cause sore muscles. In this case, heat packs, heating pads and hot baths can be helpful.

Like one of the 25 million Americans who report chronic pain, you might seek some simple treatments for relief. But should you use a heating pad or an ice pack? And for how long?

Jonathan Cluett, MD, offers some simple advice in a post at orthopedics.about.com.

Cold Pack

Ice Treatment:

  • Ice treatment is most commonly used for acute injuries.
  • Use ice treatment if you have a recent injury (within the last 48 hours) where swelling is a problem,
  • Ice packs can help minimize swelling around the injury.
  • Ice packs are often used after injuries such as an ankle sprain have occurred.
  • To minimize swelling, apply an ice pack early and often for the first 48 hours. Decreasing swelling around an injury will help to control the pain.
  • Ice treatments may also be used for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries in athletes. In this case, ice the injured area after activity to help control inflammation. Never ice a chronic injury before activity as that can cause it to tighten which is not good before a workout! If you are too injured to workout without icing first, you are likely too injured to workout at all!

Heat Treatment:

  • Heat treatments should be used for chronic conditions to help relax and loosen tissues, and to stimulate blood flow to the area. Use heat treatments for chronic conditions, such as overuse injuries, before participating in activities.
  • Do not use heat treatments after activity
  • Do NOT use heat after an acute injury–it can increase inflammation. Sometimes it feels good when you first add heat to an injured area, but afterward, as the swelling increases the pain may increase as well!
  • You can heat your tight muscles using a heating pad, or even a hot, wet towel.
  • When using heat treatments, be very careful to use a moderate heat for a limited time to avoid burns.
  • Never leave heating pads or towels on for extended periods of time, or while sleeping.

If that’s not simple enough for you, try this simple chart:

Ice or Heat?
Ice Heat
When To Use Use ice after an acute injury, such as an ankle sprain, or after activities that irritate a chronic injury, such as shin splints. Use heat before activities that irritate chronic injuries such as muscle strains. Heat can help loosen tissues and relax injured areas.
How To Do It Read through the information on how to ice an injury. There are several ways to ice an injury. Heating pads or hot wet towels are both excellent methods. Place a washcloth under hot tap water and then apply to the injured area.
For How Long Apply ice treatments for no longer than 20 minutes at a time. Too much ice can do harm, even cause frostbite; more ice application does not mean more relief. It is not necessary to apply a heat treatment for more than about 20 minutes at a time. Never apply heat while sleeping.

How to Apply Ice Treatment to an Injury

1. Make sure the injured area is not bleeding. If it is, wash the wound and seek medical attention.
2. Take an icepack from your freezer. if you do not have an ice pack, put about 4-5 ice cubes in a strong zip lock baggy and seal the baggy. If you have crushed ice you can use about a cup instead of the ice cubes.
3. Place a hand towel over the tissue you want to use. (This can help prevent frostbite. NEVER apply the ice pack directly to your skin. As it cools your tissue, it also numbs your tissue and you won’t realize you are getting frostbite!)
4. Place the ice pack over the towel and hold it in place for approximately 15 minutes. When your tissue stops feeling cold and starts to feels numb it’s time to remove the icepack!
5. After letting your tissue warm up again, after about 2 hours you can reapply ice in the same manner.

Where to Get Ice Packs and Heat Packs

• Techni Ice HDR 4 Ply Reusable Ice & Heat Packs, approx $18.00 at Amazon. Link here.
How to Make a $20 Ice pack for $2
• Instant Ice Pack for $1.50 at Amazon here.
• New Balance Ice/Heat Pack for $12.00 at Amazon here.
• Thermalon Microwave Activated Moist Heat-Cold Neck Wrap for Neck and Shoulder, 21″ about $17.00 from Amazon here.


Note: The information given in this post is not intended to replace advice from your health care provider. Make sure you consult your doctor before using ice or heat on an injury!

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