By: Revanche

An ode to massages

March 8, 2017

When massage therapy is physical therapy and makes living possibleMost people get massages for relaxation and pampering. I used to, once upon a time. They were a treat to get me from one bad flare up to another. Over time, they became the only effective physical therapy left in my toolbox. I stay active, walking as much as I can every day, stretch, do deep breathing exercises to complement my medication regimen. But that’s not enough.

The gift of fibromyalgia is ever-present pain, waking or sleeping, forever. It might be localized to a couple of areas, or generalized to my entire body, or shift from area to area. The one thing it isn’t, is gone. This may mean radiating muscular pain, shooting pains up my back, or twangs in my shoulders so they permanently attach themselves to my ears. It could mean that on an otherwise pleasant walk with Seamus, my knee gives out with every third step, or that the ball and socket joint of my hip grinds bone against bone. It might also mean that my fingers and toes suddenly swell up, making typing more than awkward, and walking even more so.

It definitely means that whatever twinges, shrieks, and burns, the rest of my body tenses up in response to the assault.

This produces a less than salubrious effect on the rest of my body, transmitting panic and trauma down the spinal cord, sending fight or flight messages to overworked and confused neurons which respond by clenching my jaw tighter than a vise in shop class, my neck muscles lose elasticity and become like steel braided rope. This repeats over and over with every muscle down to my tippy toes, and no amount of stretching will release the tension. Pain breeds stress which breeds tension which breeds pain. It’s a cycle that only a massage therapist can break.

Applying the kind of pressure that could double for an MMA submission hold, my therapist bears down on stubbornly wound-tight muscles, bringing tears to my eyes. I breathe through it as best as I can, until she moves on to the next one, and the next one. An hour feels like three, as the pain I chose forces out the aftereffects of the pain I didn’t choose. By the time it’s over, I’m nearly gasping with relief that it’s stopped. A true bargain!

I pride myself on not actually crying, which would stop the therapist in her tracks, because after it’s over, and I’m laying there, endorphins I can no longer summon through a good hard workout flood my body. And for a few hours or days, I can turn my head, turn at the waist, bend my knees (carefully) and not send a freight train of pain screeching through myself.

The money part

Because there’s always a money part. I could once claim back the cost of the massages from our FSA, with a doctor’s note, but our FSA account is overcommitted now so that’s a savings route we can’t take.

My other way to make them more affordable is to buy SpaFinder gift cards at a 10% discount. Or it was, anyway. My spa stopped accepting them without warning this year, after many years of taking them. I found myself mournfully holding a $250 gift card for the year that I couldn’t use. Thankfully, though it took several days, I finagled a refund.

This means getting fewer massages since only a few therapists can do the kind of bodywork that I need without injuring me – I learned this lesson the very hard and painful way.

With any luck, this should still be better than last year when I was so sick for most of the year that I couldn’t get any massages at all! Savings: not worth it.

:: We all need something to make it through the day, week or month. What do you do for yourself to reduce stress and live better? 

7 Responses to “An ode to massages”

  1. Sense says:

    Ouch. I’m so very sorry you have to go through all that.

    My dad has just been started on fibromyalgia meds for his pain (associated with Agent Orange exposure). It is the only thing in years that has made him feel a tiny bit better–he recently went to the emergency room for his intense pain (and he never complains, so it must have been really, really serious).

    You asked: :: We all need something to make it through the day, week or month. What do you do for yourself to reduce stress and live better?

    I am super stressed out due to my PhD (and other life things), so I instituted a monthly treat regime. Every month, I’m allowed to spend a little $$ on something that makes me happy/healthier: travel, massages, beauty treatments, social activities, med appointments…the hardest part is finding the time for those things!

    • Revanche says:

      @Sense: Your poor dad. It’s pretty intense pain. I’m glad you are making yourself take the time for relaxing in some way.

  2. frances says:

    longtime reader, first time commenter 🙂
    What I do is Alexander Technique (something to maybe look into if you’ve not heard of it already. It’s not for everyone, but I know of some fibromyalgia suffers who benefit from it). I’ve been taking lessons for 7 years(!) and while progress felt glacially slow at times, I finally finally am starting to take real control of my body — I have moments every day when I feel chronic muscle tension arise, and then then am able to release on my own, without anyone’s help! yay! My profile in the mirror is different– I can see a different set to my shoulders and a different angle to my hips. Working at the computer is practically pain free now. And the chronic hip pain from which I suffered for 4 years (and for which I had surgery) is largely gone, and I can see how with more self-work, I can maybe even jog again some day. I do 10-20 minutes every day, in 3 minute intervals. There were definitely periods when I felt like I wasn’t learning/progressing or that the whole thing was impossible, or that *other people* were getting results from their practice that I wasn’t…but finding the right teacher, and perseverance, has given me a gift of self-care that is enormously empowering.

    • Revanche says:

      @frances: Thanks for being a long time reader, and sharing the Alexander Technique. I may have heard of it in the past, it sounds quite familiar. I’m so glad it works for you!

  3. Abigail says:

    You’ve put probably already thought of this, but ask about prepaid massages. If you buy several upfront, the therapist may cut you a break.

    Tim is incredibly lucky to have found an ex-nurse who went into massage. I don’t know what’ll happen when she retires. Let’s hope that’s a couple of decades down the road.
    Abigail recently posted…Dog pics! (And other stuff too)My Profile

    • Revanche says:

      @Abby: It’s something I’ve worked out with my regular therapist but I’m not sure that I can get that with the backup. We’ll see!

      Here’s hoping she passes her art to someone good, when she decides to retire!

    • Anne says:

      Here’s hoping you can – ours does this. We pay for five up front and get six, so the discount is very worthwhile. One of my friends with disabilities that cause has also found that nothing else works like massage and paying for it is a huge problem for her budget!
      On the “give someone advice they didn’t ask for” line, have you ever encountered Intra Muscular Stimulation? It’s sort of like acupuncture and my physiotherapist does it. I find the sensation very similar to a physio doing muscle release massage (aka the painful kind of massage!). It’s horrible for two or three hours afterward, but the next day (I generally go to physio after work), it’s fantastic and loose.
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