My low back hurts, so I treat it, but then my shoulder hurts, and then my neck. What’s going on? While not an exact quote, this describes the experience of many clients. Sometimes, a self-treatment session can feel like a game of tag, in which we treat and stretch and loosen one painful area, only to feel an ache spring up somewhere else.
If you’ve ever asked one of the therapists at NBT a question similar to this one, you’ve probably heard us reply with some variation of the following: “Treat the symptom, look elsewhere for the cause”. But what does that really mean, and how can you incorporate that into your self-care at home?
As we often describe it to our patients, the fascial system is like a cling-wrap spiderweb, wrapping and weaving over and around every structure in our bodies, connecting and separating our organs, bones, and muscles. Because there are no dividing lines in that web, a restriction or snag in one area can limit movement or affect pain-sensitive structures in very different locations: from front to back, left to right, or top to bottom. Although there usually is something going on in the location where we feel symptoms, a lot of the time the painful area is the end of a chain of restriction that begins elsewhere.
So, how might this concept change how you self-treat at home?
First, rethink your body scan (or perhaps we should say, re-feel your body scan). Many of us focus primarily on what hurts, and then treat that area. While this isn’t harmful, sometimes it only brings short-term benefits. Try to broaden your focus: make note of the painful areas, but also tune in to what might feel shortened, or rotated, or compressed. Treat one of those areas instead, and see how that affects your symptoms.
Second, go for the opposite. If no other key areas are drawing your attention, try treating the opposite side of your body from the symptom. That might mean stretching the front to open up the back, or treating the left to ease the right.
Third, schedule a session with one of our therapists with the focus being on self-care. This will allow you a greater understanding of self-treatment, give you a wide range of techniques to use while at home, and are a wonderful complement to your MFR treatments. Clients that learn self-care and are utilizing the techniques at home are making a positive impact on their symptoms and have been able to decrease the frequency of their sessions.
Fourth, stick with it. Rather than switching from spot to spot, ‘chasing’ the sensations around your body, remain a little longer in the area you initially started treating.
Remember, the fascia doesn’t even begin to release until after at least two minutes of gentle sustained treatment, and the best results come after five minutes. If you feel symptoms in other areas, make note of them, but keep your focus where you started. Many times, those other regions will soften reflexively as we continue treating.
Instead of getting caught up wild-goose-chasing your symptoms, try changing up your self-treatment to ‘look elsewhere for the cause’.