No one has a normal body. Normal is a construct based on what's most frequently found among a myriad of variations. Yet too often, medical professionals expect us to conform to what they learn is normal. I don’t want to bad-mouth doctors; they heal us. But their education is based on a heuristic norm, a standard that can be taught. Massage therapists are also licensed by the Ohio Medical Board who learn anatomy like medical doctors. We have the anatomical charts that indicate where all the muscles are. Except--when you get your hands on people, you find that no one is exactly like the person in the anatomy charts.
For example, some people have small scapulae (shoulder blades), white others have gigantic ones. This means that the muscles attach a bit differently in all of us. The muscles of a 6’2” construction worker with little scapulae may hurt because they all have trouble attaching to the small surface area of his shoulder blades. He may go to the doctor complaining of neck and shoulder pain or headaches and be referred to a physical therapist who just hands out sheets of exercises to do to strengthen some muscles. These are all good, but they may miss chronically spasmed and shortened muscles that are causing the pain. A doctor may well miss this for several reasons: s/he may have unrefined palpation skills (if they lay hands on you at all), and they only have a set amount of time to diagnose and treat you, so they rely on the norms they learned in order to determine which option among a set of standard protocols to apply to your case. Physical therapists also have to work quickly to diagnose the problem and prescribe what work you need to do for healing.
Often this medical approach works, but too often it doesn’t. Why? Because we’re unique.
My normal body temperature is 97. If my temperature is 99 when I go to the doctor, it’s like I have a temperature of 101, but most medical practitioners don’t think I have a fever. They expect the numbers to hit very specific marks, such as 98.6 when, in fact,anything from 96.8-98.6 is normal. When we don't hit these very specific marks (even within a standard range!), our problems can be overlooked and dismissed.
If you’re in chronic pain, you know how frustrating this expectation that we fit normal is. When our bodies don’t give a textbook response to standard protocol after protocol that doctors use to cure us, we suddenly find that the medical establishment thinks that the real problem is us. It must all be in our heads, we’re just seeking painkillers, or we want attention. When this happens, those of us in chronic pain have a tendency to give up or take matters into our own hands in our search for healing. We learn to live with the pain, thinking that there must be something wrong with us.
There is something wrong: we’re not normal, and that’s not ok. Meaning that it’s not ok that we’re not normal and dismissed due to some standard that doesn’t really exist.
“Ooh, this must really hurt,” I said to a client once when I felt something that was all knotted under my hands as I was giving her a massage. She burst into tears. I was afraid I’d hurt her and apologized. “No,” she said. “Someone can feel that I hurt. I’m not crazy after all.” No, she was just unique, and doctors didn’t know what to do with her to make it better, so they blamed the victim for her own pain when she didn’t fit into their normal box.
Your life experiences have shaped your body in various ways over the years, compensating for injuries or repetitive use or poor posture or various surgeries. As happens, some things have gotten twisted and need attention, or they’ve adhered to other areas and need to be released.
That’s what massage does: it treats the uniqueness of you to help release patterns of pain so that your body can function better as the unique person you are. Massage therapists take the time to listen to what your body is saying it needs and with hands-on care, the healing begins.
Teresa Eisenlohr is a Christian theologian, Presbyterian pastor, and licensed massage therapist. And, no, that's not the start of a joke.
Withamsville / Amelia area of Cincinnati Ohio 45245
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