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

I have a number of corporate clients that come in for short tune up massages on either the chair or massage table each week. Invariably I hear the same complaints: my neck hurts, my shoulders hurt, my head hurts. Then I ask them, aside from computer work, do you have a smart phone? (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, etc.) Often the answer for those with the worst neck pain is: yes.

Megan Bubenyak, offered to let me photograph her in the “bad” iPhone viewing position, then in the modified, more comfortable position I recommend for smart phone viewing on the bus, train or subway.

In the first pic, Megan’s head is leaning too far forward and her arms are doing all the work to hold the phone up to her face.

Poor Smart Phone Ergonomics

In this second pic, Megan has balanced a backpack on her lap and uses it to wedge her elbows in. In this position, she can sit more upright, more comfortably hold her phone in front of her face and her arms and shoulder’s don’t have to do all the work to hold the phone up.

Better Smart Phone viewing position on public trans

If you don’t have a backpack, a purse will do. If you have neither, go ahead and invest in a cheap backpack and a small travel pillow. Stuff the pillow in the backpack and then viola! You have a comfy portable smart phone holder that is lightweight and as a bonus, it holds “stuff” for you too!

Close up of comfy backpack smart phone holder position

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Stretching throughout the workday is essential for good health.

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

If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve been sitting at a computer for an extended period of time.  Did you know that sitting still for a long time can cause serious health damage? OSHA says that maintaining static postures, such as viewing the monitor, for a prolonged period of time without taking a break can fatigue the muscles of the neck and shoulder that support the head. Additionally, OSHA recommends that repetitive tasks or jobs that require long periods of static posture incorporate several, short rest breaks (micro breaks or rest pauses). During these breaks you should stand, stretch, and move around. This provides rest and allows the muscles enough time to recover. Read the excerpt from Susan Seliger”s article “Stretching Exercises at Your Desk: 12 Simple Tips” at WebMD for a few of the stretches you can easily perform in your workplace to keep limber throughout the day.

Stretching Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk

  1. Just stand up and sit down — no hands
    • You might have gotten a gold star in preschool for sitting still, but it just goes to show you (best sellers notwithstanding) that not all of us learned everything we need to know in kindergarten. “If you stand up and sit down (over and over) — without using your hands — it can be a challenge,” says Smith. It’s like doing mini-squats!
  2. Substitute exercise for sitting — while you work
    • Get rid of your desk chair and substitute an exercise ball, suggests Smith. “I used it for a while when I was having low-back problems; it was great,” Smith says. “All day you are engaging all the muscles in the back, legs, butt, everything, to stay balanced.”
  3. Shrug your shoulders — to release the neck and shoulders
    • Inhale deeply and shrug your shoulders, lifting them high up to your ears. Hold. Release and drop. Repeat three times.
    • Shake your head slowly, yes and no.
  4. Loosen the hands with air circles
    • Clench both fists, stretching both hands out in front of you.
    • Make circles in the air, first in one direction, to the count of ten.
    • Then reverse the circles.
    • Shake out the hands.
  5. Point your fingers — good for hands, wrist, and forearms
    • Stretch your left hand out in front of you, pointing fingers toward the floor. Use your right hand to increase the stretch, pushing your fingers down and toward the body. Be gentle.
    • Do the same with the other hand.
    • Now stretch your left hand out straight in front, wrist bent, with fingers pointing skyward. Use your right hand to increase the stretch, pulling the fingers back toward your body.
    • Do the same on the other side.
  6. Release the upper body with a torso twist
    • Inhale and as you exhale, turn to the right and grab the back of your chair with your right hand, and grab the arm of the chair with your left.
    • With eyes level, use your grasp on the chair to help twist your torso around as far to the back of the room as possible. Hold the twist and let your eyes continue the stretch — see how far around the room you can peer.
    • Slowly come back to facing forward.
    • Repeat on the other side.
  7. Do leg extensions — work the abs and legs
    • Grab the seat of your chair to brace yourself and extend your legs straight out in front of you so they are parallel to the floor.
    • Flex and point your toes five times. Release.
    • Repeat.
  8. Stretch your back with a “big hug”
    • Hug your body, placing the right hand on your left shoulder and the left hand on your right shoulder.
    • Breathe in and out, releasing the area between your shoulder blades.
  9. Cross your arms — for the shoulders and upper back
    • Extend one arm out straight in front of you. With the other hand, grab the elbow of the outstretched arm and pull it across your chest, stretching your shoulder and upper back muscles.
    • Hold. Release.
    • Stretch out the other arm in front of you — repeat.
  10. Stretch your back and shoulders with a “leg hug”
    • Sit on the edge of your chair (if it has wheels, wedge the chair against the desk or wall to make sure it does not roll). Put your feet together, flat on the floor.
    • Lean over, chest to knees, letting your arms dangle loosely to the floor. Release your neck.
    • Now bring your hands behind your legs, right hand grasping left wrist, forearm (or elbow if you can reach that far), left hand grasping the right. Feel the stretch in your back, shoulders and neck. Hold.
    • Release your hands to the floor again.
    • Repeat three times or as often as it feels good.
  11. Look up to release upper body
    • Sit up tall in your chair, or stand up. Stretch your arms overhead and interlock your fingers.
    • Turn the palms to the ceiling as you lift your chin up, tilt your head back, and gaze up at the ceiling, too.
    • Inhale, exhale, release.
  12. Substitute walks for email — and don’t eat at your desk
    • Instead of emailing a colleague “and copying 25 people who don’t want to be copied anyway,” Smith says, “walk over to the colleague you really want to talk to.”

    Read the rest of the article at WebMD.

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

I like to think of myself as not only a good massage therapist but also a good judge of massage therapists. I’ve had thousands of massages and given thousands of massages. As the owner of a wellness company, I interview many massage therapists and receive regular massage myself. Often, when clients travel or move out of town, they ask me how to find a good massage therapist.

It’s a question very similar to “how do I find a good dentist or a good doctor”. Since massage is a personal service, my first impulse is to say, ask your friends and coworkers who they go to and start there. But then, we’ve all had referrals to service people that our friends liked that were not a good fit for us. (One person may like a deep massage and you may like a lighter touch or vice versa. One person’s fantastic hair stylist may be great for that person but be unable to cut your style of hair well.)

Before you search out massage therapists, take a minute to think about what you want from a massage experience. Then when you call different therapists or massage centers, ask questions to make sure you get the massage therapist that best fits your needs.

Good questions to consider:

1. Are you going for stress relief or pain relief or both? Swedish massage or “relaxation massage” tends to be best for stress relief. Deep tissue or therapeutic massage tends to be best for pain relief. If you have a specific injury or chronic pain pattern, you will want a massage therapist with skill in relieving muscle pain, not just in relaxation therapy.

2. What’s your budget for massage?
Can you afford a weekly full hour (prices ranging from $65 to $120) or only mini-sessions (like the 15-20 minute $1 per minute chair massages offered at Whole Foods and similar places). If you have a chronic neck and shoulder pain, it’s often more cost effective to get weekly 20-minute massages than a one hour once a month.

3. Do you want someone you can go to regularly or just on a pamper yourself basis?
Spas tend to charge the most for massages and tend to be the place people go for pampering. However, some independent massage therapists may be able to offer you better prices and a really personalized pampering experience. Spas charge the most but they will give you the whole pamper yourself experience. However, if you want a regular massage your best bet is to find a good practitioner that is reasonably priced. If you can’t afford an hour regularly, try chair massage for 15-20 minutes if you want more frequent upper body massages.

4. How much do you care about the quality of the massage?
If you just want someone to pamper you and rub oil on your back while you relax and snooze away your stress, you don’t need someone with extensive experience or medical massage training. If you want someone to help you recover from an injury or deal with a chronic tension issue, you will likely want someone with a good deal of experience and skill working with similar conditions. Make sure you massage therapist meets minimal licensing and certifications standards if you want more than just relaxation massage!

5. Do you want the whole massage enchilada: the robe, slippers, the soothing music and spa environment? Or do you care more about the environment or more about the actual massage?

For the slippers and robe, go to a spa like Urban Oasis or Exhale in Chicago. For a great therapeutic massage, it’s more important to find a good practitioner. Use the locator services below and then speak with the therapist about his or her skill before you commit to the appointment.

Massage Locator Services
My top sources for great massage therapists are massage locator services (versus Google or any other search engine). Massage therapists that register with these services must meet minimum standards of training, normally 500 hours or more and have graduated from an accredited massage school.

One of the best is the Association of Bodywork and Massage Professionals massage practioner site here.

Massage Today also has a great service as well here.

Insider Pages is a review site that provides user comments about massage and spa services.

How Do I know if My Massage Therapist is Qualified?
In the State of Illinois, Licensed Massage Therapists are required by law to have at least 500 hours of training and graduate from an approved school. You can look up your therapists to see if he or she is licensed at this site. This site will also display a Y or N to indicate whether the massage therapist has ever undergone disciplinary action by the state of Illinois’s Department of Financial and Processional Regulation.

Other states vary in requirements. Some states do not require a license at all and allow municipalities to regulate massage. For example, in California, there is no state license. Hours of training required vary depending on the city. So some therapists in Northern California only have 100 hour of actual massage training! The Truth About California Massage Licensing here. However, at the other end of the spectrum is New York State, which requires 1000 hours of training. New York Licensing Requirements here

Still Unsure, Try a Sample Massage
Lastly, if you want to try a sample massage, your best bet is to try a chair massage at Whole Foods Gold Coast or Lincoln Park in Chicago. Or at a local health food store or mall. You can get a few minutes of massage, determine if the therapists fits your needs, then ask for his or her business card to set up a longer massage!

If you have questions about Chicago area massage therapists, feel free to contact Working Well Massage here!

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

Through the years I’ve had a number of massage therapy clients say things like, “I know it has to hurt to be effective,” and “no pain no gain, right?” Actually, massage does not, and should not ,“hurt” to be effective. In fact, if the massage you are receiving is so painful you have to grit your teeth or hold your breath, it likely isn’t going to be very effective.

The idea that we have to experience pain in order to heal is a holdover from the 1980’s when people were “going for the burn” and many bodywork modalities were just starting to take root. Some massage therapy schools of thought held that people were experiencing deep emotional breakthroughs if they cried out or had an emotional “release” during a particularly intense bodywork session. This led to the idea that you HAD to have a deep emotional outburst or had to feel pain to have a really “good” bodywork experience.

Since then, somatic psychology and bodywork has matured. As have bodywork practitioners. Many realize that, especially for people that have already had a physical trauma such as a car accident or injury, the body has already been through deep trauma. Working too deep, giving too much pressure, or expecting clients to have radical transformation from a single session can be retraumatizing.

Some massage therapists still hold to the belief that trigger points need intense compression to release the knot. Sometimes this is true. But holding a trigger point for too long, or pressing too deeply into a sore muscle area can cause more pain and damage than healing. (Trigger points are areas of the muscles that have a cluster of muscular adhesions or “knots” that refer pain elsewhere when compressed.)

Good Pain Versus Bad Pain
Does that mean that massage should be painless? Well herein lies the rub (pun intended). Massage is not painless any more than working out is painless. There can be muscle soreness. When we first press on a sore or extremely tight muscle area, there may be tenderness or soreness. We call this “good pain” similar to the soreness you may experience when you lift weights or do a prolonged cardio session. However, if you are working out and you “pull” a muscle or sprain your ankle, that would be “bad pain.” That type of pain indicates an injury to the tissue and requires medical attention. Muscle soreness during an exercise or massage session is not abnormal and can indicate that healing is occurring.

What About Soreness?
When a tight muscle is massaged, at first you may notice the sensation of soreness or tenderness. Initially you become more aware of that muscle area and that may include an awareness of just how very tight and sore the muscle is. Then as the massage therapist continues to work with the muscle tissue, fresh blood flows into the muscle area as the therapist presses down (as in compressions or gliding strokes). This fresh blood helps “loosen” the muscle tissue and also helps bring nutrients and oxygen into the muscle. At this point, especially in a deep tissue massage, you will likely notice less soreness in the area. If the muscle gets more and more sore, the massage therapist may be overworking the area and it’s best if you tell him or her to stop massaging that area and to move elsewhere!

That all said, after a deep tissue massage, you may feel some muscle soreness a day or two afterwards, just as you may feel sore after a workout. In essence, a deep tissue massage is like having someone else give your body a workout. Soreness or bruising lasting longer than a day or so may indicate the massage was too intense. Let your massage therapist know if this happens so he or she knows to work with less pressure for your next massage. (If you go back to him or her at all!)

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Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

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

Smart phones are common tools for today’s fast-paced business world. And just as computer use has improved our lives AND added a host of new ergonomic issues, “iPod Neck” and “Blackberry Neck” are concerns for many users that hold their phones while looking down.

Smart phones are not heavy. You may think holding them won’t cause muscle tension. They are easy to hold in one hand and type with the other. But holding the phone and looking down at the small screen for long periods of time can cause unwanted muscle pain in the upper back and neck. Those that use their iPod’s as a Kindle reader spend even more time looking down while viewing the device.

Think holding a small phone can’t cause any problems? Try this test yourself.

1. Hold your phone up in front of you and look down at the screen for a full 60 seconds.

2. Notice how your neck and shoulders feel as the clock ticks by.

3. Feel any uncomfortability in your muscles?

4. Now think of how you would feel after holding your phone and looking down for five minutes. Ten minutes. You get the idea.

When you use your phone or media player you are usually focusing your attention on the task at hand, not on your muscle tension. Doing this exercise makes you more aware of how you use your body when typing or viewing your smart phone.

Smart phones need smart accessories. How can you counter the muscle strain you may get while holding your iPod or Blackberry to type?


A few simple suggestions to avoid “iPod Neck.”

1. Whenever possible, rest your elbows on a table or surface so that your arms are propped up to view your smart phone. This takes pressure off your neck and shoulder muscles and let’s you work more easily. Resting your elbows on a flat surface is free! And you can take your elbows with you anywhere you go. Just make sure the table or surface is not so slow you have to slump over to reach it!)

Find this inexpensive, portable stand here

2. Purchase an inexpensive Smart phone holder to use to prop up your device when you are on the go.

Tiko Stand

This Tiko Fold is convenient on planes, trains, at the coffee shop or at a desk. Free your hands and relax while viewing your phone or media player at one of nine adjustable viewing angles.

The Tiko Fold folds flat for slipping into a shirt pocket, backpack, computer bag, or purse. When folded into a stand, the Tiko Fold provides a universal base designed to hold the original iPhone and the iPhone 3G, Sony PSP, and practically any portable video players like your cell phone in both vertical and horizontal orientations. The Tiko Fold also holds the iPod Classic, iPod Touch, iPod Nano, BlackBerry Storm, BlackBerry Bold, most video capable cell phones, the Microsoft Zune, Sony PSP and even some ebook readers.

The Tiko stand retails for about $8.00 and can be purchased here here

3. Another alternative for holding iPods/iPhones is the Incipio Kickstand Leather Case for iPod touch 2G link here for about $24.00

Leather iPod/iPhone case

Note: Apple makes wrist band holders for iPods but the problem with these is that they still require you to bend your arm in an unnatural position to view the phone or iPod.

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

One of the most common problems we see with people that work on computers all day is sore neck and shoulders. Bending forward to see the laptop screen is a big headache (literally!) for students, sales people and anyone that uses a laptop on a frequent basis.

I’ve written Apple and some of the PC makers asking if they would create a laptop with an adjustable monitor that could be height adjustable and articulate to be more comfortable to users to no avail. Likely they have even bigger and better ideas. (I hope.)

For now, though, if you use a laptop frequently and can’t always connect to an external monitor and extended keyboard, there is a simple, inexpensive short term fix: the Portabook.

Sure, it’s sold via a cheesy infomercial. Sure the base model is made of plastic. But it’s durable plastic. And it works. (A metal version is available.) The Portabook is a laptop holder, a textbook or paper holder and it IS portable (and very lightweight.)

Watch the short video from the company here

I have two at home and I even take it with me when I plan on using my laptop away from home for extended periods. It fits right into my backpack along with the laptop! When I read textbooks or any 8.5 x 11 size papers, I also use the Portabook as a reading stand. It’s worth the $20 to save my neck and shoulders from pain and tension.

Note: Neither Working Well resources nor I have any affiliation or make any profits from Portabook. We just like the product!

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