Some ins and outs of muscles

Collage of varius Gray's muscle pictures by Mi...

(User:Mikael Häggström) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I said a while back that I’d be posting about the long process of healing, and finally I’ve gotten to post #1.

Over the many years of struggling with issues in my muscles I’ve found far more help from alternative health practitioners than from western medicine.  In fact, my experience is that — with the possible exception of sports medicine specialists (no personal encounters there) — doctors trained in western medicine tend to know almost nothing about muscles.

If you’re in an accident of any type, from car accident to a fall in your living room to cracking your head on the corner of a cupboard, etc., your muscles are affected.  You tighten up in the area(s) of impact.  If the pain goes on for a few days you hold that tight pattern.  By the time the pain goes you’re automatically holding that pattern.

Once the pattern is in one area, it starts tugging at muscles nearby, pulling them into tight, off-kilter patterns,  which in turn pull at another.  Over the course of a few years you may have uncomfortably tight patterns all over your body and you may be feeling the most pain in some area(s) other than ground zero, where it all began.

The average doctor, after checking for broken bones and things that need to be stitched, does NOTHING about muscles.  They behave as if the muscles experience no impact and will have no ongoing affect on your health and comfort.

Even with things like sprains, where they at least take an x-ray or two, you should know they don’t routinely x-ray all angles so many things are overlooked.

For instance:

  1. when I was in a car accident some years ago I smashed my ankle.  The ER took pictures from two angles and my doctor saw no need to follow up with anything more.  Ongoing troubles with balance and falling over the years led to discovering one of the ligaments was torn away in that accident, not noted in the two x-rays they took at the time, and short of a surgery that would be elective, there was nothing that could be done to fix it.  Some research revealed that it’s routine to x-ray only one or two angles at the ER or general practitioner level; if you have a problem that can’t be seen from those angles, too bad for you…
  2. When I fell on the ice while racing to the el in Chicago and landed on my hand/wrist, I wound up at the ER to make sure nothing was broken.  They took x-rays from one angle, said it was fine and sent me on my way.  I had ongoing issues for years and found out later a specialist would have taken shots from more angles, probably finding out what really had been injured..  Using the hand portion of my exercises (see below) has largely ended the problem.
  3. Some years later I twisted my other ankle.  I went to the HMO and was told I just had a sprain.  One x-ray.  Six weeks later my ankle was more swollen and black and blue than it had been to begin with.  When I went back the doctor yelled at me for bothering him with something trivial, saying it looked fine.  My acupuncturist/naprapath was upset because she could see by looking something was wrong. She sent me to a podiatrist (which insurance didn’t cover) who took x-rays from several angles and found the torn ligament the HMO doc missed.  Because I’d walked around on it for so long, it took three months in a cast to heal it.

I’ve heard similar stories from others — even when western medicine bothers to take a look, they don’t bother to look at enough angles to know what’s actually going on.  If you can insist on getting sent to a specialist, you may be given a more thorough examination.  They won’t, however, help you deal with the ongoing muscle issues that arise because of the injury. Any time you sprain or twist something, you might want to consider pushing for a specialist and find out if your insurance will cover some therapeutic massage to help keep patterns from settling in.

When I first started struggling with all this, western medicine thought fibromyalgia didn’t exist.  If you had fatigue or muscle issues they directed you to a shrink.  Now that they acknowledge fibromyalgia, they give drugs that mask symptoms but do nothing to deal with the underlying problem.

The long slow process of getting my muscles to the most-of-the-way good condition they’re in has evolved through myofascial massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, St. John’s neuromuscular therapy, Craniosacral, Bodypatterning and more.  I practiced yoga and sporadically used Robert Masters’ Psychophysical method (off-shoot of Feldenkrais) until I developed sets of exercises combining movements from the Psychophysical series with yoga that have helped immensely (and have cleared years-long patterns for some of my students).

Not one iota of getting better has had anything to do with a single western doctor.  Some of the intertwining patterns would not have been there had it not been for the ignorance of doctors about not only how to heal muscles but even the fact that they need to be healed.  If you’ve hurt your muscles or have ongoing tight patterns, you have to advocate for yourself or you’ll not find help.

Trust me when I tell you I KNOW it’s expensive to get alternative therapies but for your long-term health — which is so much more affected by muscles than you probably realize — I highly recommend that you figure out a way.  I’ve often been able to trade for appointments and I know lots of practitioners who will trade for massage or classes or home cooked meals or art work….  The Universe will help you find a way if you truly want to be healed.

Healing Journey Monday: The Time It Takes

The time line in alternative medicine is so different than the time expectations fostered by allopathic medicine that I’ve run into lots of people over the years who have not been able to understand why it often takes so much longer to see results in alternative medicine.  I guess I didn’t question it in part because western doctors just dismissed my health issues and alternative practitioners actually took my complaints seriously, found explanations for my incessant exhaustion and felt they could treat me.  As long as somebody was doing something I didn’t question how long it might take.  

The big difference is that in alternative medicine they’re actually trying to heal the problem and those shots and pills that make you feel miraculously better are designed just to mask or remove symptoms with little or no concern as to whether you’ve healed the problem that created the symptom.  [I realize there are more doctors now who have a holistic view, but they were exceedingly rare when I started the journey — if you note a little bitterness, it’s based on my experience and I’ve never gone back to a medical doctor]  Not surprisingly it takes longer to heal issues than it does to hide a symptom.  

Acupuncture, for instance, works sort of by layers.  If you have the flu the day you show up to complain about a sore shoulder the acupuncturist is going to work on the flu first because the treatment on the shoulder won’t work if  your body is turning all its resources to healing the flu.  I’ve seen people walk away disgusted when the practitioner was actually giving the best treatment because it didn’t address the issue in the expected way.  Takes time to heal all the interrelated layers.  

In chiropractic and body work a good practitioner is also looking at patterns and layers and if something in your hip is contributing to the pain in your shoulder then the therapist will treat your hip.  I’ve also seen people give up in disgust because they couldn’t grasp that their body has interconnected parts.  Sometimes a pattern somewhere else in the body is pulling on the area where you feel the pain and that pattern has to go before the specific area can release.  Takes time.  

Now in my case all of the treatments dragged on long enough that I now realize I should have been looking for a new modality a while back, but I am not dissatisfied with the treatments I received, all of which helped me move to the place of wellness I’ve reached and all of which helped me sometimes to get relief from pain or to have a little more energy.  

For me the slowness of this process seems to have been part of learning about patience.  The detail of this process seems to have been related to learning about my own body and how to treat it not only for healing but for wellness.  I’d rather go slowly but feel certain that my health will have been restored when I come to the end than to go quickly and just hide symptoms without achieving actual good health.  Relax and enjoy the journey seems like the best advice.

Healing Journey Monday: Finding a practitioner

You may have gathered that in 25 years of searching for answers about my health and trying to sort out my muscles I’ve seen a lot of alternative practitioners. While there’s no one piece of advice that can guarantee that you’ll get the best practitioner, I’ve learned a few tips to pass along.

While geography plays a big role (some places have few choices*) the key piece of choosing a practitioner is intuition – both as to being drawn to a particular modality and to being drawn to a particular practitioner. And probably the most important thing about a given practitioner is their ability to tune in to the problem and understand it on more than one level. But those are also the things that are hard to define. Word of mouth really helps on that part but I’ve loathed some practitioners that others loved and vice versa. Credentials give you some guidelines but I learned over the years that there are some things you need to know about credentials.

Most modalities that are widely accepted have some sort of school or program that involves lots and lots of hours of classes and lots of hours (usually somewhere in the hundreds) of clinical practice in order to complete the requirements and become certified. And some of them have more than one level of certification (CranioSacral has something like five levels plus some specialty courses). Many also have week long or weekend workshops in which some piece of the modality is taught. And it turns out that lots of people will take one week or a weekend and start putting “CranioSacral therapist” or “neuromuscular therapist”, etc. on their business cards and other materials. So you have to ask some questions or do some research if you want to know the true qualifications of a practitioner and whether he or she is really certified in the technique you want.

Some schools, like Upledger Institute, have an on line listing of practitioners that also tells you what levels the person has been certified in (although it only works if they’ve gotten all their CranioSacral training at Upledger; anyone who has been trained in some levels or courses by a CranioSacral teacher somewhere else will not have all their credentials shown on that site. Sometimes you can tell by looking at the credentials they’ve put on the wall of the office– generally the only healing modalities in which they’re officially certified will be seen in certificates on the wall.

For me it has always been some mix of what modality I am drawn toward and/or which practitioner seems right and then I’ll look a bit at what the person’s background is and whether they’re certified and, if so, at what level. My advice is really trust your gut and then also do some research. And if, after carefully choosing, you don’t like the person or don’t feel good about the treatment, don’t be afraid to move on.

I’ve been blessed to have some great practitioners from acupuncture to massage to CranioSacral, etc. and their assistance in my healing process has been invaluable. I’ve also here and there gone to someone who just really didn’t suit me or whose “bedside manner” ruined the excellence of their treatments and sometimes I stuck it out too long. Particularly with alternative health practitioners I think you really have to take charge of your own process.

* When I moved to Lexington there were not a lot of practitioners around and for many modalities there was only one choice and yet the people I found here have been some of the best practitioners ever and I’ve had great success with their help, so small numbers doesn’t have to mean that you don’t have a great choice awaiting.