What We Treat

Labor Pains

written by Clare La Plante, May 15, 2015

Flight attendant Tina Costanzo of Kennedy Township, Pennsylvania, was working a routine flight from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis serving drinks and snacks to passengers when the plane ran into “clear turbulence”—swirling air masses that appear without visual cues such as clouds—and dropped suddenly and sharply. Gravity pulled Costanzo into the air.

She landed in a twisted position.

“I was trying to make sure the passengers were OK. I was cleaning up the mess,” she says of her first reaction. “It wasn’t until later in the evening, back in my hotel, that I realized that my back was injured.” At first, she treated the pain like any other ache from her job: She iced the sore area and took Ibuprofen. The next morning, however, she realized her injury was significant enough to prevent her from getting back on the plane.

She filed a workers’ compensation claim. After seeing a company-approved doctor who diagnosed a back sprain, she did the physical therapy prescribed. After that, she sought her own treatment, which was primarily massage therapy with local therapist Renee Swasey, owner of Allegheny Muscle Therapy & Massage, in Imperial, Pennsylvania. For the first time since she was injured, Costanzo found significant relief from her pain.

Labor Pains – Healing from on the job injuries with Acupuncture and Massage

Who Gets Hurt and Why

According to 2013 data collected by the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injury and illness requiring days away from work was approximately 109 cases per 10,000 full-time employees. Overexertion accounted for roughly 35 percent of all cases, with slips, falls and trips 25 percent, and musculoskeletal disorders 33 percent of all injury and illness cases. On average, workers with musculoskeletal disorders required a median of 11 days away from work, compared to eight days for other types of injuries. Construction, manufacturing and health care employees are among the top categories of workers who get injured on the job, as well as office workers.

“What has changed over the years is sitting at the computer,” says Tiffany Field, PhD, director of the Touch Research Institute (TRI) in Miami. In fact, a survey by TRI of University of Miami School of Medicine employees showed neck, back and carpal tunnel syndrome among the most common workplace injuries. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, librarians, who were the most sedentary of the employees surveyed, reported the highest levels of pain.

Also, Beth Burgan, assistant professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University, in Bloomington, Minnesota, often reminds people: “We don’t really listen to our bodies, no matter what we’re doing, whether that’s loading UPS trucks or sitting at desks. We don’t have environments that are conducive to maintaining health. We have poor body mechanics. We don’t have a lot of personal self care education.”

How Massage Can Help

Conventional medicine, such as surgery, medications and physical therapy, may not entirely address the complex physical, emotional and social aspects of workplace injuries, like loss of wages, feeling like you’re no longer competent or good at what you do and, in many instances, the fear of getting injured again. Additionally, many workers need to be educated about ergonomics and self-care.

Enter massage therapy.

The physical. According to Field, one reason that massage therapy plays such an important role in the treatment of workplace injuries is because more and more studies are showing massage can help with the commonly injured areas—like the aforementioned neck, back and carpal tunnel. Also, massage therapy is effective in relieving some of the common side effects of on-the-job injuries, including anxiety, depression and disrupted sleep, for example.

Field points out that massage also decreases substance P, which is a pain transmitter, and can impact sleep quality. In addition, a 2012 study by Crane shows that massage can actually help on a cellular level as well, by reducing inflammation (through production of inflammatory cytokins) and promoting mitochondrial biogenesis—or forming new mitochondria—in exercisedamaged muscle, which may make it a better candidate for muscle injuries than anti-inflammatory medications. These benefits resonate with Costanzo, who said that in her experience, doctors often wanted to just give her medication for her pain. “This didn’t solve the problem,” she says.

Massage therapy might also have an advantage for injured workers in that therapists often spend more time with clients than other health practitioners, and often consider the body more holistically. “We have to treat the whole [system], and not just isolated symptoms,” says Sebastopol, California-based massage therapist Tim Holt. “If I work on a client with forearm or hand issues, I am working the entire spine.” In fact, he says, where the client feels pain is often not the problem area.

Burgan recently treated a man at her school’s clinic, a self-employed welder who was largely unfamiliar with massage therapy and was about to be operated on for carpal tunnel syndrome. “I asked him, ‘What do you do every day?’” she recalls. “He described his routine of opening and shutting clamps.” They did myofascial work on his wrist area to relieve the symptoms of overuse he was experiencing, and the clinic’s chiropractor adjusted his wrist and elbow. The chiropractor gave him tips on what he could do differently at work, and the clinic offered him weekly massage. In the end, he was able to postpone surgery.

The emotional. Massage therapy can also help with the emotional fallout of a workplace injury. A 2013 study by Lin suggests that anxiety can be one of the greatest hindrances to full recovery after job injuries. According to Mark Goulston, MD, author of PTSD for Dummies, getting injured on the job can be traumatic because you often disrupt what he calls the “Three Cs”: competency, confidence and control. “You hum along. Then something throws you for a loop,” he says. “This can be traumatic to our system.”

Remember, too, that along with workplace injury comes the potential for unemployment—at least for a little while. Clients themselves often underestimate the significance of unemployment, and the impact being gone from work will have on their well-being. According to Daniel Gouws, MD and a Vancouver-based occupational health physician, this may be one of the most overlooked factors. “When people are [seriously] injured on the job, they basically become unemployed,” he says. Unemployment, regardless of injury or vocational field, can lead to co-morbidity factors, including depression, anxiety and loss of self-esteem, he adds. Injured workers have—sometimes overnight—lost their structure, support and wages. For many people, work serves as a social forum, a surrogate family system, of sorts.

Re-educating the Client

Part of helping these clients deal with injury, both physically and emotionally, is helping them learn new ways to decrease the potential of reinjury. In other words, helping these clients better understand the importance of self-care. You might, for example, educate clients on better ways to move or sit, depending on the demands of their workplace. Holt encouraged one of his clients who’s an architect to consider using a standing desk, which proved helpful in relieving this client’s low back pain. For office workers who spend a great deal of time at a computer, consider discussing the benefits of ergonomic seating and keyboards. “At least you can point your clients to something that can help them, whether a different keyboard design, wrist support or chair,” says Holt. “Sometimes, it’s an easy fix.”

Additionally, you can suggest self-care exercises to supplement the benefits of getting regular massage. A study by Furlan suggests that massage best benefits lower back pain if accompanied by exercises and education. Holt, for example, gives his clients “homework” that includes stretches, or icing or heat instructions. For some clients, he follows up with an email to check on how they’re doing with self-care, and what’s working and what’s not. “You have to get on a protocol of self-care, or you won’t recover,” he says. In the TRI studies on neck and carpal tunnel pain, Field included simple self-massage techniques for participants to perform in between weekly massage sessions, which can be very effective when combined with regular massage.

Massage therapists should also be willing to be part of a larger referral network. “I send clients to osteopaths, chiropractors, yoga teachers and orthopedic surgeons,” says Holt. He refers only to people he knows, has spoken with or come highly recommended.

Ultimately, when your clients leave your office, you want them to feel confident returning to their jobs, with clear ideas for self-care at work and at home—all of which can be a paradigm shift for some people. “We have a whole group of people being validated by the type of touch that massage therapists provide,” says Burgan. “This [validation] allows them to be the author of their own bodies.”

As for Costanzo, she now receives regular massage, which she considers essential to helping her prevent injury. She’s seeing a shift elsewhere as well. Recently, she went to her doctor for a minor, non work related injury. The doctor said to her: “There’s nothing I can do for you but give you an anti inflammatory, but if you know of a good massage therapist, I recommend you go do that.”


Massage and Stress

Stress is a natural response of the body to the various demands we place upon it. In ancient times, our stress response, also known as our flight or flight response, provided us with energy to preserve life during difficult situations such as an attack or threat by a wild animal. Unfortunately, modern day stress is considerably higher, more frequent and more consistent than what our predecessors experienced. Today, we do not have to look much further than out our windows, or on our computer screens, to view various forms of stressors—everything from prime-time news and road rage, to the forty-hour work week, and cell phones.

However stress is not necessarily always negative. There is a distinction between healthy and unhealthy stress. Healthy stressors are usually short lived and keep us alert and motivated, and support our body’s strength and vitality. Our response to stress can either help or hinder our body’s ability to cope with these various stressors in our lives. Healthy responses to stress include appropriate physical exercise, good eating habits, positive thinking, adequate rest, and reaching out to friends and family for support. Unhealthy responses to stress include negative thinking, overexertion, poor eating habits, lack of sleep, and isolation. These unhealthy responses can cause the body to work harder than it needs to and can trigger physical and mental health issues. Over time, ongoing stress and unhealthy responses to stress can actually be detrimental to our health.

Medical studies have shown that with increased and consistent stress, our white blood cells, which defend our body against viruses, decrease. This results in lower immune resistance, ultimately leading to physical disease and emotional instability.

Even if the stressors are no longer present, the body continues to keep the stress response active. This results in the depletion of our nervous system, lymphatic organs (spleen, thymus, and lymph nodes), kidneys and adrenal glands, which can pave the way for a wide variety of signs and symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of an overactive response to stress:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Depressed Immune System
  • Digestive Disorders
  • Headaches
  • Heart Disease
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Joint Pain
  • Weight Problems

Did you know massage can help to manage stress?

Studies conducted on animals show that a sluggish stress response is directly correlated to lack of touch. Healthy, nurturing touch such as massage can bolster the body’s ability to respond appropriately to stressors. Therefore, a regular dose of massage may be vital for balancing our natural ability to respond to stress in a healthy way.

Human touch is an essential part of human nature. In today’s fast-paced lifestyle, we tend to become so busy that we neglect our natural instincts and deny ourselves of basic human need.

What can you do?

In addition to massage, there are many things that a person can do to combat negative effects of stress:

  • Get adequate sleep. Try for at least eight hours of restful and restorative sleep.
  • Practice meditative exercise. Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Yoga can help create a healthy body-mind awareness and help free your mind of stressful thoughts.
  • Eat a well balanced diet. Maintain a healthy diet with adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits, protein and healthy fats.
  • Have fun! Make time for relaxing activities, enjoyable hobbies and lots of laughter in your life.
  • Breathe. Relaxed, deep breathing is one of the most simple and easy techniques that can be used for reducing stress.
  • Give yourself a regular foot massage at least three times per week to boost your energy and lower your perception of stress.

If you or a loved one are feeling overwhelmed by the negative effects of stress in your life, try some of these self-care techniques and be sure to schedule a regular massage.


J Korean Acad Nurs. Effects of aroma self-foot reflexology massage on stress and immune responses and fatigue in middle-aged women in rural areas2012 Oct;42(5):709-18. doi: 10.4040/jkan.2012.42.5.709.


Massage and Pain

Everyone experiences significant pain at some time in their lives—whether from an injury, illness, or an unknown cause. Pain is a warning signal, an alarm that goes off when your body is trying to tell you that something is wrong and out of balance.

No one should have to live with pain, but which treatment is right for you?

Often times, people suffering from pain take medication to dull the pain. Taking medication is understandable when pain is constant and unbearable. It may be helpful to dull the symptoms for a short period of time, but it will not get at the root of the problem and correct it. It is like hitting the snooze button on an alarm. Unless the cause of the pain is treated, your body will keep sounding the alarm and reminding you that something is wrong.  Because medication masks the pain symptoms, eventually the pain may get worse or become chronic. It is also possible for the medications to cause unwanted side effects and further compromise your health.

Surgery may also be another option. At times, this approach may make sense, but it could be both expensive and risky, and there is no guarantee that it will be effective.

People experience pain differently. Some people have a high tolerance for pain while others are very sensitive to pain. There are two types of pain signals that the brain receives including; fast pain and slow or continuous pain.

Massage therapy typically addresses pain originating from muscle tension and stiffness in the joints due to soft tissue restrictions. Massage therapy is a drug-free natural approach to dealing with this type of pain.

Did you know that massage overrides the pain signal!

According to the “Gate Control Theory,” there are nerve gates in the spinal cord that open and close to allow signals to travel to the brain. There are two types of pain signal nerve fibers 1) First pain or Fast pain fibers send signals that travel at approximately 40 mph, and 2) Slow pain or continuous pain signals that travel at approximately 3 mph.

The reason massage can override pain signals is because touch and pressure activate other sensory fibers that send signals to the brain even faster than the “Fast pain” nerve fibers. When the “gate” opens to allow touch and pressure sensation through, the pain signal is overridden.

In addition to sensory input, massage creates a relaxation response in the brain releasing endorphins—the body’s natural painkillers.

What are the benefits of massage?

The benefits of treating pain using massage therapy have been cited in several studies over the last couple of decades. Some of the many benefits include:

  • Long-lasting relief for patients suffering from chronic low back pain
  • Relief from the perception of pain pain intensity and anxiety in hospitalized cancer patients
  • Demonstrated better results when compared to a cold pack treatment for treating post-traumatic headaches.
  • Reduction in chronic tension headaches.
  • Reduction in pain and muscle spasms in patients
  • When surveyed, the need for medication went down on the days that these patients received massage therapy.
  • Enhances body awareness regarding the pain they were experiencing.
  • Increased sense of connection with treatment due to the power of the human touch.

What types of massage are beneficial for managing pain?

Because the source of pain can vary widely, there are many types of massage that will help individuals manage pain symptoms. They include:

  • Swedish relaxation massage helps to relieve pain related to stress and tension.
  • Neuromuscular therapy addresses specific muscle pain.
  • Reflexology targets the specific body system involved in the pain.
  • Lymphatic drainage treats pain associated with swelling and edema.

If you or someone you love is suffering from pain, find a massage therapist who can tailor a therapeutic massage to meet your specific needs. You don’t have to live in constant pain. Let massage touch your life and help you to ease the pain.



Massage and Headaches

If you suffer from headaches, you are not alone. Over 50 million of us experience some form of a severe headache at some point in our lives. Whether you experience minor head pain or severe migraines, headaches can take valuable time out of your day and your life, and leave you searching for relief.

One way to seek relief is by reaching for drugs and other medications. This may work temporarily and can help you get out of pain fast. There are other methods that you can try. Massage therapy can be an effective drug-free treatment for the relief of tension headaches.

What Causes Headaches?

There are various kinds of headaches: tension, migraine, cluster, and sinus and more.

Tension headaches (also known as muscle contraction headaches) are one of the most common types of headaches.

A tension headache may be caused many factors, a few triggers include:

  • Emotional or mental conflict
  • Contracted neck, face, scalp and jaw muscles
  • Intense work
  • Missed meals
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Too little sleep

A migraine often begins as a dull ache and then develops into a constant, throbbing pain that one may feel at the temples, as well as the front or back of one side of the head. Nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise usually accompanies the pain from a migraine headache.

How Can Massage Therapy Help?

If you are looking for relief from tension headaches, massage therapy helps by:

  • Reducing the frequency of chronic tension headaches
  • Reducing the duration of the headache during the massage treatment
  • Reducing depression and/or anxiety
  • Decreasing perceived pain
  • Decreasing anger status
  • Decreasing tension
  • Reducing intensity
  • Decreasing medication usage
  • Increasing cervical range of motion

What Can You Do?

Below are a few ways that you can participate in your own healing, by making simple lifestyle changes that may help alleviate, or even prevent, head pain:

Track those triggers. Try to keep track of when your headaches start. You may find it especially helpful to keep a diary of symptoms. Certain types of foods and hormonal changes can be possible causes.

Stress relief. Stress can contribute to many types of health concerns, including headaches. Talk to your practitioner about healthy ways to handle stress.

Exercise. Physical activity is an important part of any healthy lifestyle, and it is a great antidote to stress.

Healthy habits. Do your best to eat healthy, organic foods, and to get enough sleep everyday.


Am J Public Health. 2002 October; 92(10): 1657–1661.


What is PMS?

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is a group of physical and emotional symptoms linked to a woman’s menstrual cycle. PMS symptoms
 usually occur during the ten days
 prior to menses, and disappear either
 shortly before or after the start of
 menstrual flow. Symptoms vary from
 woman to woman, but each woman’s individual pattern of symptoms is
 typically predictable.

The exact causes of PMS are not clear, but several factors may be involved. Changes in hormones during
 the menstrual cycle seem to be an important contributor. These changing
 hormone levels may affect some women more than others. Chemical
 changes in the brain may also be involved. Other factors such as stress, a nutritionally inadequate diet, lack of exercise and sleep, and a hectic 
or demanding lifestyle may exacerbate the symptoms. For some women, especially those who exhibit as many as four to ten PMS symptoms, many aspects of their lives may be
 diminished during one to two weeks prior to menstruation. This can include relationships with family and friends, work productivity, mood and emotional stability and the ability to appreciate their own bodies and feminine identity.

Common PMS symptoms & signs:

  • Acne
  • Allergies
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite Changes
  • Backache
  • Bloating
  • Breast Tenderness & Swelling
  • Constipation and/or Diarrhea
  • Cramps
  • Depression
  • Edema
  • Headache/Migraine
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Hives
  • Impaired Memory
  • Irritability & Anger
  • Joint Pain & Swelling
  • Lack of Clear Thinking & Concentration
  • Lack of Libido
  • Lower Abdominal Distension
  • Mood Swings
  • Nausea
  • Night sweats
  • Rhinitis
  • Salt & Carbohydrate Cravings
  • Skin Disorders
  • Sore Throat & Cold Sores
  • Sugar Cravings
  • Vaginitis
  • Water Retention
  • Weight Gain

Women may be at increased risk for PMS if they are:

  • Over 30 years
  • Experiencing significant amounts of stress
  • Partaking in poor nutritional habits
  • Suffering from side effects from birth
 control pills
  • Having difficulty maintaining a stable weight
  • Not exercising enough
  • Pregnant and have

Symptoms can be even more severe if they have had more than one child or have a family history of depression.

Did you know a monthly massage can help?

Whether a woman suffers from PMS symptoms on an occasional or monthly basis, massage therapy can offer a safe and natural approach to alleviating many of these symptoms.

Research studies published by the Touch Research Institute show that massage therapy may be an effective long-term aid for pain reduction and water retention, and a short-term aid for decreasing anxiety and improving mood for women suffering from symptoms of PMS.

Here are some types of massage and the specific PMS symptoms they address:

  • Swedish massage activates the body’s natural relaxation response.
  • Abdominal massage to reduce bloating, water-retention, and pain associated with cramps.
  • Reflexology has a calming effect reducing feelings of stress and anxiety
  • Craniosacral therapy provides some relief for mood swings, irritability and anger
  • Shiatsu stimulates acupressure points for reducing pain such as cramping and back pain

What can you do?

It is always important to practice self-care especially during times when the body is showing signs of an imbalance.

Find a massage therapist who has experience with specific techniques that will help to alleviate PMS symptoms.

In addition to scheduling a regular massage, there are other things you can do to help yourself during this time of the month. Be kind to yourself and nourish your body with a healthy diet to maintain balanced hormone production. It is helpful to take time to exercise to increase the blood flow and circulation, and to help to remove toxins built up in the body.

If you or someone you know experiences a disruption in the quality of life on a monthly basis, try massage today.