An ode to massages
March 8, 2017
Most 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.