The skinny on Detox treatments

On almost every spa menu you encounter, there is at least one or more treatments offered that promise to detox the body. Often these treatments are also listed as “slimming.”  They run the gamut of simple to downright high tech in their descriptions and promises. In order to really understand how these treatments work, or don’t in some cases, it’s important to clearly define what toxicity is and how our bodies naturally deal with it.

The lymphatic system is your body’s sewage drainage system. It’s a complicated network of small vessels that run alongside your veins, ferrying fluid laden with cellular waste products and toxins into nodes that filter the fluid and eventually dumping into an enormous vessel that brings everything back into the heart for re-use. Any part of this network goes awry and your body gets backed up in its own toilet water. The physical repercussions of minor back ups are bloating and swelling in the extremities, usually caused by diet and lifestyle (i.e. too much salt and sitting). Major back ups can manifest in a condition known as lymphedema, most commonly occurring when lymph nodes have been removed or blocked by infection. The system fails in such a way that the extremity swells to incredible proportions. Often the skin around the area will begin to break down and get infected if the lymph fluid is not manually moved by highly trained professionals specializing in a form of massage called MLD . Really scary. Really toxic. See below for a tame example:

A typical case of Lymphedema

Detoxification treatments deal with the minor backups. In Chinese medicine, the skin is referred to as the third Lung, as it is a living breathing organ, drawing in Qi (energy) from the air through its pores. Issues with one’s skin were often indicators of a systemic condition that would be treated with tonifying, detoxifying herbs and heat. In keeping with this theory of outside manifests inside, detoxification treatments are applied to the skin in order to draw out internal toxicity. The application of “sea” mud or clay is used to assist in this process. What is interesting about these mineral rich organic compounds is that they have a negative charge. To spare you all the chemistry lesson on the quick, toxins including viruses and other impurities have a positive ionic charge. The negative attracts the positive up to the surface. When they meet, a reaction takes place that neutralizes the toxin. Tingling of the skin and warmth are byproducts of this reaction. Apparently the medicinal property of clay/mud has been known since the time of the ancient Egyptians and even prior. Clay was used by the ancients as an anti-inflammatory/anti-septic both topically and internally, where it had a laxative affect on the GI tract. It was also found that the presence of clay chokes the air out of Candida (yeast infections) and dries out boils, acne and other skin eruptions. Most spa treatments involving a mud or clay application are followed by a wrap in some kind of heat sealing foil, which promotes sweating. Sweat combined with the ionic neutralization of toxins really double teams the release of impurities for what can be a more thorough detox through the skin. There is a nominal amount of water weight lost from the detox wrap, which is where the “slimming” effect comes into play, but you will need to hydrate in order to replace lost electrolytes after the treatment. Will your skin feel taut and brighter? Yes, temporarily. Will you need to do this every week? Depends on your lifestyle. I believe a clay/mud wrap detox can be done once every 6 weeks, much like a facial, to help eliminate impurities if you actively upkeep your system between treatments. Hydration, exercise and a diet rich with enzymes from fresh fruits and vegetables are what I would suggest to keep things on track. If you know you are the type that is prone to excess (too much of anything is never a good thing), perhaps the detox should be done more often; however the more you do on your own to restore balance to your body and keep the drainage system working well, the more effective these treatments will be for you.

Here are the things to be wary of when choosing a Detox or Slimming Treatment:

  • Promises of ridding your body of fat/cellulite: You are born with a certain amount of fat cells that can get bigger if you gain weight or shrink in size when you lose. They can pucker close to the surface of the skin, which is what we call cellulite, with the loss of collagen associated with age and/or lack of muscle tone. Only liposuction, an invasive treatment performed by a surgeon, removes fat cells. At best, the look of the puckering might be smoothed out by the drawing up and out of fluids in the spaces between the cells. Also, there may be a small reduction in weight, which we know is water loss, that can make the client feel lighter and tighter, but only temporarily….
  • Promises of  permanence: Any loss of inches, weight and/or tightness of the body is only temporary. Once you drink or eat anything post treatment, the “weight” will be back on. Diet, proper hydration and exercise can build up muscle tone  and shrink fat cells for a permanent result, if maintained.
  • Any detox treatment that encourages the purchase of supplements and/or diet packs: There is a commercial incentive here. They are selling the product more so than the detox. There are plenty of dubious supplements on the market that are not subject to FDA regulation for fat burning, weight loss and detoxification. If you have such an interest in the internal detox, consult a nutritionist or Chinese herbalist who will assess your diet and lifestyle in order to recommend what is best for your individual systemic needs.
  • Detox treatments that involve anything other than a clay/mud application: Some places will advertise applications of coffee, chocolate, honey and herbs, etc. None of these have the ionic relationship that the mineral clay/mud has with impurities; therefore, scientifically speaking, how can they effectively detox? They may feel nice, even luxurious, when rubbed onto the skin, but actually pulling toxins and water out? Not so good.

Petitioning for an “UnHappy Ending”

In my first few weeks working as a massage professional, I encountered what no development class could ever prepare me for. I was bombarded with one after another uncomfortable situation involved a client who expected a “happy ending” at some point during or after massage. Almost every massage therapist, male and female alike although women definitely get it more than men, have encountered at least one such situation in their careers, but even one is too many. I have had my share of male friends cracking jokes over the stereotypical “release” I should be giving my clients to which I always respond with a hammer fisted punch to the side of their heads. It’s incredibly frustrating to spend so much money and time on obtaining a legitimate degree for a legitimate health oriented profession and have to deal with such ignorance and nonsense. Of course, the truth is, so long as sensual massage parlors exist so will the stereotypical expectation. The attitude often is, “well, if they do it, why can’t you?”

Here to add to this ridiculous stereotype is a new program from the Women’s network that is Lifetime Television. It’s called “The Client List” and stars a buxom Jennifer Love Hewitt playing the role of a single mom who, as the synopsis states”…has taken a job at a seemingly traditional day spa, but soon realizes that the parlor offers a little more than just massage therapy. It’s not the happy ending she was expecting but it does open her eyes to a world she’s never seen before. The series follows Riley balancing these two worlds – one that revolves around her kids and family – and the other that revolves around the massage parlor and it’s special clientele. These two worlds couldn’t be farther apart, yet she’s totally comfortable in both. Keeping them separate … now that’s the tricky part as she discovers she’s not the only one with secrets.”

Um…no. This is not an example of what massage therapy is, nor a good example for single mothers in dire straits all over America looking for work to support their families. A Massage Therapist in NY requires 1000 contact hours of training done at a state accredited program ($20,000 plus for the 16 month Associates Degree I earned) on top of a licensing exam that costs a couple hundred dollars to take and once passed, a continuing education requirement that has to be completed every 3 years when your license is up for renewal that can cost thousands of dollars.  What is Lifetime thinking??? I suppose a series about Massage Therapy premised like “ER” (which was a pretty exciting medical drama if I recall) would not be nearly as thrilling as watching the illicit world of day spa sex and unlicensed massage. Right. Good job, oh women’s network for promoting this idea of the female massage therapist and for encouraging Mr. Pervy McPerv to come into the spa and boldly ask for his “happy ending.” I’ll know who to thank when his business comes my way.

What your typical massage therapist DOESN’T look like!

Thankfully, a petition was created and has been circulating via FACEBOOK to address this giant step backwards for my profession. Take a minute to read it and then sign in to your Facebook account to add your support for this.

http://www.change.org/petitions/lifetime-television-111-8th-avenue-new-york-ny-1001-do-not-air-the-client-list#

Trigger Points – the baggage our muscles hide!

Is this your back?

If the above image gives you the impression that a group of assassins  are ready to fire on you, stay with that feeling.  No one is immune. They hide in your muscles and sinews waiting for something or someone to activate them. Some gather in groups while others migrate to new territory, but more often than not they refer their pain elsewhere to trick you. They are trigger points.

A trigger point is defined as a hyper irritable spot within a taut band of skeletal muscle that elicits pain locally when compressed, but can also refer it elsewhere or be accompanied by muscle spasm. When touched, these spots can feel like hard nodules ( i.e. the “knots” we so often refer to in our backs and other body parts). It was Dr. Janet Travel, physician to the late president John F. Kennedy, that first came up with the term when she noticed that these points of pain tended to happen in predictable patterns that could be mapped out on the body. Her maps can be found in the 2 Volume book she wrote with David G. Simons, “Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual.”

How do you know if you have one or more of these bad boys lurking in your tissues? There are a few characteristic symptoms which include sensitivity to pressure in a muscle, stiffness accompanied sometimes with a pulling sensation emanating from a particular point in the muscle, pain that refers from the point compressed to another area of the body and pain that has a dull, aching or burning quality to it.  Other symptoms sometimes experienced are various autonomic phenomena like dizziness, sweating and fever as well as headaches, numbness, loss of range of motion and dysfunction of the muscle involved. While the cause of trigger points remains a much disputed medical topic, it is safe to say that they most commonly occur when muscles are chronically overloaded, as in the case with occupational and exercise overuse, injury and poor posture. Also, chilling of a muscle (i.e. catching a draft or having an air-conditioner blow on you) and the position in which you sleep can also create these points. Sometimes these points are even triggered by emotional and stress related events.

Any qualified massage therapist (ME!) possesses the skills needed to deactivate these points and treat the surrounding tissues. In my opinion, your first course of action should be massage therapy. Thereafter, if the points do not resolve within a few treatment sessions, you should be referred to a chiropractor, osteopath or physical therapist, all of whom employ more aggressive treatment measures. The protocol used to address trigger points via massage is a combination of sustained compression of the point followed by cross fiber friction and deep strokes in the direction of the muscle fibers to clear out metabolic wastes and encourage the flow of blood into the affected area. I am a huge fan of a myofascial technique known as skin rolling. It literally involves me picking up your skin and rolling it along different angles between my fingers, almost like cookie dough. This is an important diagnostic tool for me to find these stuck points, especially if a client is unsure of the location of their discomfort. The sustained compression of these points temporarily stops the pain signal coming from the brain and the flow of blood to the area, so that when it is released, blood literally floods the point and washes wastes away. The first compression is always the worst because the pain level will be greatest then. It is super important to breathe through the 8-10 second count, as the point is held. On a scale of 1 to 10, the pain/discomfort should be around an 8. With each subsequent sustained compression (about 4 in total) the pain level will dissipate while the force of compression stays about the same. During these compressions, many clients will break into a sweat or become hyperemic (flushed) in the area of the trigger point. Sometimes there are twitches in the muscle or surrounding tissues near the point being worked on. Even stranger, the point can move while I am compressing and I literally have to chase it through its migratory path until I shut it down. Once the compressions are finished, the point is rubbed vigorously in a cross fiber pattern between 1 to 5 minutes and then all the fibers of the muscle get treated to a nice and slow, deep rub down. I like to then apply a bit of heat in the form of a heated dry towel (no more than 10-15 mins on) or a topical irritant like Tiger Balm.

Best case scenario, trigger points will get resolved in one intense session, but more often than not, multiple sessions are needed to deactivate years of evil. It’s extremely important to assess what is going on or has happened in your life, both physically and emotionally that, although your brain might have dismissed, your muscles and tissues beg you to notice. This awareness will help you focus your attention back onto yourself and deal with the baggage at hand because trust me, your muscles have better, more productive things to do than carry the weight of the world in their nooks and crannies.

Additional reference available at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trigger_point

NOTE **Read personal trainer, running coach and kayak instructor, Jeanne Andrus’s post about her experience with Trigger Points. I think it to be a helpful read:

Trigger Points

Give like a Rubberband

Within the lyrics of my favorite Kate Bush song, “Rubberband Girl” is the following statement:

“If I could learn to give like a rubberband, I’d be back on my feet…”

While we can’t all be Gumbi, the flexibility that we are born with can be conditioned further through exercise and a wonderful thing called stretching. Your joints are designed to move through space with the help of your muscles, tendons and ligaments (we all have these parts). The ability to take your joints through their entire range of movement and maintaining this range is an important part of injury prevention. Measured in degrees, flexibility diminishes with the passage of time and the amount of wear and tear on our joints and tissues that comes with aging.

That being said, there are very right and very wrong ways to stretch. The best route to go is to have a stretching program designed for you, much like a fitness program, that is based on detailed analysis of the activity/sport/conditioning that you engage in, your medical history and your injury risk factors. As a licensed massage therapist, prescribing stretches to my clients as part of their aftercare is within my scope of practice, but to design a stretching program I would consult with a personal trainer and physical therapist for input in tailoring the stretches to my client’s needs. Ideally, it is amazing to be able to work with these fitness and medical professionals as a team, much like you see in any professional athlete’s training entourage, to improve the performance and recovery time of the client.

Professional that I am, I am guilty of stretching incorrectly. I realized my folly after an especially intense set of yoga classes. I felt incredibly long and leaned out after each class, partly because visualization is a key part of really settling into the practice. I pictured my limbs extending beyond me to the front and back walls of the room, pulling my extremities ever further from each other like a yogic “rack” of sorts. At the same time, I was also working with my trainer twice a week doing a combination of weight training and Thai kickboxing. I believed that my leg strength would improve with my yoga practice. Yes, I could definitely kick my leg up to my face, but what I felt was a surprising weakness in my quads. The plyometric squats that I once could do 3 sets of 20 holding 15 pounders in each hand became impossible. My thighs shivered after only ten reps. After consulting with one of my professors, I realized that by overstretching my Quad muscles, I had made it a lot harder for them to contract. The demand I made on these muscles to perform the way I was used to in training was too much in this over-lengthened state. Even scarier than weakness, muscle fibers that are over stretched can sometimes rip, also known as a strain or “pull” which thankfully did not happen to me. Usually PAIN when stretching beyond the limit will indicate something has gone awry in there. I took a couple weeks off of yoga and within 2 to 3 training sessions, was right back at the level I had been prior to the overstretching. The experience was a cautionary one.

When designing a stretching program there are two types of stretching techniques to take into consideration – static and dynamic. A static stretch is when you take the muscle being stretched to the point where you feel tension (not PAIN) and hold it there. After a certain period of time (under 30 seconds) the hold tricks the brain into telling your tendons to let go, thus lengthening the muscle further and increasing your flexibility. Holding the stretch for more than 30 seconds was noted by researchers to have a negative affect on athletic performance, as it undermined explosiveness and power. Dynamic stretches take the muscle through its range of movement slowly and deliberately, gradually increasing the speed of the movement over a period of time.  Therefore, a combination of short term static stretches and dynamic stretches that mimic the movements of my sport have proven to be the most effective way for me to prepare and repair my muscles. Coupled with massage, my stretching program has rendered me injury free for sometime now (knock on some wood, please). Learn to properly let your body give like a rubberband, as Ms. Bush sang, and not only will you be back on your feet, but ready for action!