Touching Our Pain

Written by Physical Therapist, Deborah Maia

  One experience that clearly demonstrated the healing power of touching my own pain occurred with a bicycle accident. I can remember riding on a beautiful summer day in Cape Cod. I was looking ahead at the ocean feeling strong, happy, and vibrant…The next moment, a warning sign appeared: Speed Bump Ahead. It was too late to slow down. As I hit the bump, I felt myself going up in the air. I landed first on my head, with no helmet, then my belly and finally the bike landed on my legs. I was conscious and everything appeared intact, except I couldn’t move my legs. Several people stopped and tried to help me stand, yet I was unable to bear my weight. An ambulance arrived and the medical staff asked me what had happened. They were a very caring mainstream medicine group, and when I mentioned I was a physical therapist, they gave me more time to move my legs and try to stand again. As I slowly moved my ankles, knees and hips, swelling began along with a deep ache. They quickly applied cold packs and I continued to move slowly. Then I remembered I had a jar of an herbal salve I prepared, used for musculoskeletal injuries, in my pocket. I took it out, rubbed some on my hands and attempted to touch my legs when I was abruptly stopped. “Don’t do that, you mustn’t put ointment on your legs,” they said. So I rubbed it into my hands and when they weren’t looking, touched my knees. It felt calming and definitely right. I started gently massaging my legs in a rhythmic pattern while I continued to move the joints. After several attempts I could walk with the assistance of another person. The rest of the afternoon I massaged my legs with the salve, moved them slowly and applied ice. The following day I was back on my bike, being very mindful of the road in front of me.      Touch is strong medicine. This is apparent in the work I do with people. I am a physical therapist and practice a form of massage I refer to as rhythmic therapeutic massage. It is Swedish oriented with a strong component of slow rhythmic movement, having a relaxant and sedative effect. I emphasize with all my patients the importance of daily self massage in addition to any therapy I may provide. Self massage is a potent self help technique to promote well being and healing, especially with injuries to the musculoskeletal system.      Massage is receiving worthwhile recognition by the medical community and by mainstream people in this country, especially in the past several years. The Touch Research Institute, in Miami is the world’s only scientific center devoted to studying the effects of touch on health. Over 50 studies conducted by TRI have shown touch to have a positive effect on every malady studied. Massage boosts immune function in HIV-positive patients, is muscular relaxant, lowers anxiety and depression, can reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure and stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, therefore reducing pain. With self massage, we can insure our bodies of these effects on a daily basis. Whether we are responding to a physical injury or practicing preventive medicine, self massage for 5-10 minutes daily is a simple, powerful approach to nourishing, healing, and creating an intimacy with our body.      By including herbal infused salves into my practice, the beneficial effects of massage are heightened. One salve I use often for muscular strain, spasm, and joint inflammation contains St. Johnswort flowers, Evergreen bark and Poke root. From my experience for the past 20 years working with physical therapy, therapeutic massage and herbal medicine, those who practice self massage with an herbal infused salve have the shortest recovery time when dealing with a musculoskeletal problem, i.e. tension headaches, spinal disc problems or traumatic arthritis.      I will be teaching rhythmic therapeutic massage as a self help approach, the application of herbal infused salves and additional herbal preparations as they relate to care of the spine and pre-menopause. I close with the comforting thought that healing is really just outside our door, growing from the Earth and at our fingertips.