Updated: Aug 4

Over the last few weeks I've been absorbing Bessel Van der Kolk's insightful book, 'The Body Keeps The Score'.

 

The scope of the book covers human stories, scientific research and his own personal experiences of treating people suffering with trauma to explore the use of talk therapies, drugs and newer approaches such as yoga, massage, neurofeedback and psychomotor therapy to understand how body and brain operate after traumatic experiences and how our stories, emotional scars and histories can be re-shaped and re-observed to live happier and more fulfilled lives.

 

 

 

In the book Van der Kolk notes that mainstream medicine is firmly dedicated to bettering life through chemistry, but with this the fact that we can change our own physiology and inner equilibrium, by means other than drugs, is rarely considered. Within this perspective four fundamental truths are overlooked:

  1. Our capacity to heal one another, as well as restoring relationships and community is central to restoring well-being.

  2. Language is power; being able to communicate our experiences helps us define what we know, helps us find common sense and meaning and therefore helps us change.

  3. We have the ability to regulate our own physiology, including some of the so-called involuntary functions of the body and brain, through simple activities such as breathing, movement and touch.

  4. We can change social conditions and create positive environments in which children and adults can thrive

 

Van der Kolk notes that, "When we ignore these quintessential dimensions of humanity, we deprive people of ways to heal from trauma and restore their autonomy".

 

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the power of mind and body, in addressing traumatic experiences from their own lives and to those working with individuals or groups in any dimension, whether in bodywork, leading workshops, in community projects or providing health treatments. It's a real page turner!

 

Amy Moffat, May 2019

 

Updated: Jan 9

 

The ways in which we use (or don't use) our bodies shapes our physique. Most of us spend a few hours a day at a desk in front of a screen, or peering down at our phones, putting our neck and upper-back muscles to work. Movement comes through the ways in which we commute to work or in short bursts of cardio or weight workouts that we cram into our week, or if we're lucky through mindful movement systems such as Pilates, Gyrotonic or Yoga.

 

Commonly I see limited range of movement (ROM) through the thoracic spine, the twelve vertebrae in the mid-section of our backs, whether through limitations in extension (opening up the chest and bending backwards), lateral flexion (bending to the side), in rotation (twisting through the thoracic) and in flexion (bending forwards).

 

Spinal mobility back painSpinal mobility back pain

 

If we develop stiffness in the upper back, common sense tells us that the areas above and below—the neck and lower back—will have to compensate to achieve functional ROM. This is why pain symptoms in the neck and shoulders, as well as the lower back, benefit from being treated holistically along the spine, not simply spending time on the area of pain but examining where the pain problem initiates.

 

I find in my clinic that improving the ROM in the thoracic spine, through careful soft tissue manipulation —utilising combinations of myofascial release, trigger point therapy and massage— as well as mobility exercises, can really alleviate and improve pain conditions up and down the spinal column, as well as elsewhere in the body.

 

Although the following examples of research I am about to reference are more directed towards orthopaedic manipulation, they show the importance of focusing on releasing the thoracic spine when treating neck and shoulder pain. Based on personal experience I believe this manipulation can be as effective in the form of soft tissues release techniques as mentioned above and/or mobilisation exercises in movement programs such as Pilates. In a 2009 the study, 'The Immediate Effects of Thoracic Spine and Rib Manipulation on Subjects with Primary Complaints of Shoulder Pain' showed that those participating enjoyed post-treatment effects of a 51% reduction in shoulder pain and a corresponding increase in shoulder range of motion after a series of thoracic spinal manipulation techniques.

 

Another 2009 study, 'Thoracic spine manipulation for the management of patients with neck pain: a randomized clinical trial', showed that those with mechanical neck pain who were treated with thoracic spine thrust manipulation once a week for three consecutive weeks experienced greater pain improvement scores at the final treatment session, as well at the two and four week follow-up periods, than those in the comparison group who received electro-thermal therapy for five treatment sessions.

 

This small selection of research gives us an insight into the benefits of improving mobility at this crucial area of the spine when addressing a large group of neck and shoulder complaints.

 

upper back pain shoulderupper back pain shoulder

 

When presented with pain patterns such as carpal tunnel syndrome, piriformis syndrome, TMJ dysfunction (jaw pain), headaches or migraines and more, I always address upper spine mobility to get a sense of how the person moves and attempt to improve any spinal dysfunctions, as well as treat the particular pain region directly.

 

Other important factors to consider when treating the thoracic spine are stress levels and the breath. Our rib cage, and therefore the thoracic spine, will have to work differently in stressful situations compared to non-stressful situations due to the change in breathing in fight or flight mode. Breath work can therefore be another important aspect in improving spinal mobility and therefore a network of other related pain issues as mentioned.

 

So, if you've been to see me with chronic migraines, hip pain or tightness in the jaw you now know why I spend a decent amount of time investigating your spine!

 

Amy Moffat, Nov 2018

 

Updated: Oct 17, 2018

This month the BBC series, 'Trust Me, I'm a Doctor' took a look at the research being done by Professor Fulvio D’Acquisto into the effects of massage on serious immune conditions. One of my lovely clients told me about the programme so I caught up on iPlayer, only to find that the group of therapists involved in the research were from my old massage school, Bodyology! It was only then that I remembered I was in fact invited to be involved, but sadly my schedule wouldn't allow it.

 

Professor D’Acquisto is an immunologist from the University of Roehampton and came across research which found that massage boosted the number of white blood cells in patients suffering from HIV, a disease that causes a reduction in a type of white blood cell known as T Lymphocytes.

 

 

To see if massage might have the same effect in people without serious immune conditions, they invited 7 volunteers in for a massage. Firstly they took blood samples from each participant and analysed it for the number of T Lymphocytes present. This served as a baseline reading.

 

In order to distinguish between the effects of simply laying down and resting, and laying down and receiving a massage they then had the participants lie down and relax for an hour, before taking another blood sample.

 

Finally, participants were able to enjoy an hour’s massage. Immediately after the session, a third and final blood test was taken.

 

 

In comparison to the baseline results, the results from the group after the massage showed a 70 per cent boost in white blood cells. This was also a higher reading than when the volunteers were simply relaxing.

 

The immune system is complex, and we don't fully understand all of the ways in which it functions, but this research is exciting in linking the ancient tradition of massage to the possibilities of improved wellbeing. T-lymphocytes perform a wide array of functions in the body involved with growth and repair, which could explain to some degree why massage has been reported to help with so many conditions throughout it's long history and place within various cultures.

 

Amy Moffat, Oct 2018