Saturday, August 18, 2018

What do we really know about pain?

Pain is one of those “you know it when you feel it” kind of sensations. But it’s also a strange phenomenon, when you think about it. A snowball is cold, and so it feels cold when you touch it. A block of concrete is rough, so it feels rough when you touch it. But a knife isn’t painful on its own. Neither is a pot of boiling water or the leg of a table. We handle these things safely all the time, and experience their mass and temperature and texture. But pain exists only in the body, and even more specifically in our minds. But that doesn’t make it less real! So what exactly is happening when we feel pain, and how do we stop it from negatively impacting our lives?

How does pain work?

There are three primary types of pain, and each of them works a slightly different way.

Nociceptive pain (tissue pain)

There are many different kinds of sense receptors in the body. Some are sensitive to heat or cold, some to touch or pressure. Others, called free nerve endings, aren’t specialized for any one type of stimulus. When a significant stimulus triggers these nerve endings, they send a message through the spinal cord and up to the brain indicating that something potentially dangerous has happened. The brain then decides whether this is something to ignore or brush off or if it seems likely that damage has occurred, and sends this message back down to the affected part of the body.

If the message is “No biggie, ‘tis but a scratch,” then you’ll most likely shake yourself off and forget the incident even happened. If it’s “WHOA, THIS SEEMS LIKE A PROBLEM,” then you experience this as pain.

But brains aren’t always correct when it comes to assessing danger. Lorimer Moseley gives a brilliant example of this in his TEDx talk. What’s the difference between the pain from a scratch on the leg and the pain from a nearly-fatal snake bite? Spoiler alert: it’s whatever your brain is expecting. That’s why you might feel little pain after a bicycle accident, but be in agony when getting the wound stitched up two hours later. Pain is weird.

Neuropathic pain (nerve pain)

This is pain that results from an issue with the nervous system itself, rather than surrounding tissues. If you’ve ever banged your funny bone, you know this feeling well. Common forms of neuropathic pain include:

       Sciatica: pain in the sciatic nerve running through the hip and down into the leg and foot

       Diabetic neuropathy: nerve damage resulting from fluctuating blood sugar levels

       Carpal tunnel syndrome: pain resulting from the compression of the nerves that run through the wrist into the hand

Less common forms include phantom limb pain (pain that feels like it originates in an amputated limb) and postherpetic neuralgia, which occurs as a result of getting shingles.

Neuropathic pain can be especially frustrating because the normal things we do to reduce pain are often useless when it comes to pain originating in the nervous system. Moving or not moving our muscles, applying heat or ice, can have relatively little impact on nerve pain.

What’s more, nerves don’t heal as well as things like muscles and skin do, which makes nerve pain more likely to become chronic pain.

Other kinds of pain

Pain is messy, and a lot of it doesn’t fall into either of the two categories above. Fibromyalgia is a great example of this. Is it pain resulting from tissue damage? Nope. What about nerve damage? Not as far as we can tell. It’s caused by the nervous system malfunctioning, sometimes in horrible ways, but that doesn’t result from actual nerve damage. And the world of medicine is still trying to figure out why.

So how do we alleviate pain?

There are several different options.

       If the pain is caused by some kind of physical injury or stimulus, you can work on fixing that. If your hand is being burned on a lightbulb, you can remove your hand, which will make most of that pain go away. If you’re experiencing a muscle cramp in your foot, you can flex the foot (manually, if necessary). If you’re experiencing pain from sitting in the same position for too long, you can move around and shake out your legs. If the cause of the pain is inflammation, anti-inflammatories and ice can reduce that. This is perhaps the ideal form of pain relief.

       You can block the messages that tell your brain you’re in pain. This is how many painkillers work. Ice also helps to numb nerve endings.

       You can convince your brain that you’re not in any real danger. This is a tough one, because the brain doesn’t just listen when you tell it things. But it’s well documented that fear, stress, and anxiety lead to increased pain perception. And of course, pain leads to stress, which leads to pain … General relaxation techniques—from meditation to light exercise to getting a massage—can all be helpful in turning the brain’s pain alarms down a notch. Physical therapy (practicing certain motions in a way that isn’t painful) can also be useful here too.

How can massage help with pain?

Sometimes the issue is one that massage can help manage on a physical level. But even more often, massage gives the brain a chance to let down its guard and experience something non-painful and even pleasant in the body. And while there’s no silver bullet for pain, that can mean a lot for people whose pain has defied more straightforward treatments and whose injuries or illnesses are already healed.

Feeling the hurt yourself? There’s a massage with your name on it. Book your next one today.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Skin in the game (literally)

Caring for the skin you're in: staying sun safe

Massage therapists see a lot of skin. All colors, all textures. Freckles, scars, stretch marks, moles. Skin with lots of hair and skin with none. Skin doesn’t surprise us.

Except when it does. That brown spot on your shoulder blade? It wasn’t quite that big when you came in a month ago. And it looks less like an oval and a little more like a blob. Maybe you should have that checked out?

Skin, we love. Skin cancer? Not so much. Which is why you’re here on your massage therapist’s website, reading about sun exposure. Because even though I’m not a dermatologist and you’re not going to burn while getting a massage, your skin is a friend I see regularly. And I want to be able to keep working with it for many healthy years to come.

What happens when you get a sunburn?

You’re exposed to the sun and then your skin turns red and itchy, right? Well, yes. But there’s more to it as well. 

When you step out into the sunlight, you’re immediately bombarded by UV radiation. This radiation causes mismatches in the curlicue of your DNA in the nucleus of your skin cells, which is dangerous and can lead to cancer. As soon as this starts to occur, your skin jumps into protective action redistributing melanin, the pigment that causes suntans, and which helps to protect your DNA from further damage.

But if you’re still outside and the damage doesn’t stop (especially if you’re fair skinned and don’t have much melanin to go around), you start to see an inflammatory response. This is the same kind of inflammation that you see when you sprain your ankle, only spread out across your damaged skin. Your blood vessels dilate to get more nutrients and infection-fighting cells to your skin, making the it red and warm to the touch. Itching and pain result, a warning signal from your body that something is wrong. You may feel thirsty and tired as your body works to repair itself.

If the burn is bad enough, you’ll start to see blisters as the plasma leaks from inside cells into the space between the dermis (the bottom layer of skin) and the epidermis (the top layer). These blisters form a cushion of fluid over your damaged tissue. (At this point, your body has already written that top layer of skin off.)

Eventually, even if you didn’t have any blisters, you will get flaking and peeling of the top layer of your skin. Interestingly enough, these skin cells weren’t killed by UV radiation. When skin cells recognize that their DNA has been severely damaged, they deliberately die off rather than risk becoming cancerous. This planned cell death is called apoptosis, and it’s the reason you see massive numbers of skin cells coming loose at once.

So to be clear: all sunburns, no matter how mild, contain the beginning stages of skin cancer. It’s only because our skin kills itself off before these cells go haywire that we see as little skin cancer as we do. Even so, more than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed in the US each year, and 1 in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70. UV radiation will play a role in many of these cases.

How can you protect your skin?

The short answer: Stay away from UV radiation. This means tanning beds as well as sunlight.

The longer answer: Unless you plan to become a vampire, you will probably be exposed to sunlight at least some of the time. The trick is to reduce that exposure to a safe level by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen.

How much sun is safe?

This depends on two main variables: the UV Index and your skin type.

UV Index

The UV Index is a measure of the level of UV radiation in your location at any given point in time. It’s something you can easily look up on your computer or phone before heading out the door. In general, global UV Index recommendations look something like this:

       1-2: Low. Enjoy being outside!

       3-7: Medium. Seek shade at midday, put on a shirt and hat, wear sunscreen.

       8+: High. Stay indoors at midday, seek shade as much as possible, sunscreen is an absolute must.

Skin type

With the exception of people with albinism, everyone has some melanin in their skin. Those with more of the protective pigmentation are less susceptible to DNA damage in their skin cells from UV radiation than those with less.

       Type I: Very pale, burns quickly, never tans.

       Type II: Pale, burns easily, rarely tans

       Type III: Burns moderately, tans over time to light brown

       Type IV: Burns minimally, tans to medium brown

       Type V: Rarely burns, tans to dark brown.

       Type VI: Never burns, rarely tans, deeply pigmented skin.

People with Type I skin can burn after as little as five or ten minutes, while those with Type VI skin can sometimes be outside for an hour without damage.

Note: You might have seen a skin type scale that goes from I-IV, especially if you are looking in an older medical textbook. That’s because the original Fitzpatrick scale was made in the 1970s for white people. This is the same scale, but expanded to include everybody.

Is sunscreen safe?

A 2001 study raised concerns that oxybenzone (the chemical that makes most sunscreens so effective) might impact hormones. In this study, rats fed large doses of oxybenzone developed enlarged uteruses. Studies in humans haven’t been conclusive. What we know for sure is that, if you’re a rat, you shouldn’t drink sunscreen.

Some pediatricians recommend sticking to mineral-based sunscreens for infants and very young children just in case, until long-term studies are concluded over the next twenty or so years. But these are thick and need to be reapplied regularly. If your children are experiencing sunburns with mineral-based sunscreens, they are being put in significantly more danger than any potential hazard from oxybenzone.

What about vitamin D?

Yup, you need vitamin D in your body to stay health. And yes, your skin manufactures vitamin D in response to UV radiation. (People with lighter skin types make more vitamin D with less sun exposure than people with darker skin types.) So shouldn’t you go without sun protection sometimes for the nutritional benefits?

Luckily, there are a number of sources of vitamin D that don’t also cause skin cancer. Fish, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified dairy products are all excellent sources. And if you’re a tremendously picky eater, there are also vitamin D supplements you can take. For the severely deficient (diagnosed with a simple blood test), there are high-dose supplements or injections your physician can prescribe.

Caring about your skin isn’t about vanity.

It’s a critical organ, like any other. In fact, your skin is the largest organ in (on) your body! If you exercise for your heart and quit smoking for your lungs, then preventing sunburns is just another healthy habit.

Massage therapists love skin. We work with it on a daily basis and appreciate all it does to keep your insides in and your outsides out. It keeps you cool, it tells you what’s around you, it prevents infections and repairs itself at a remarkable rate. So take care of it!

And maybe bring it in for a massage.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Dealing with Rotator Cuff Injuries

You’ve been doing Olympic lifting for a while. Or stocking tall shelves. Or cheerleading, throwing your partners overhead. Everything was great! Until suddenly, it wasn’t. Ice and ibuprofen didn’t quite do the trick, so you visited the doctor. And lo and behold, you’ve got a rotator cuff injury and two questions:

How the heck did this happen?


What on earth do I do now?

You and your shoulder: it’s complicated!

Dem bones

Despite it all falling under one general name, the “shoulder” actually consists of four (or maybe five) different joints. The sternoclavicular joint is where your collar bone connects to your breastbone. The acromioclavicular joint (which even doctors just call the AC joint, because nobody has time for all that) is where the very top of your shoulder blade connects to the far end of your collarbone. The glenohumeral joint is where the ball of your humerus fits into the bowl of your shoulder blade. And then there is another joint (or maybe two, depending on who you ask) that is a “false joint” as well.

The meat of the matter

Into this complicated mechanical mess go a host of muscles. There are chest muscles that move the shoulder. There are back muscles that move the shoulder. And there are even muscles of the arm that help move the shoulder, even though that sounds weirdly like trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

But not everything is about movement, which is why you have a rotator cuff. These are the muscles that keep your shoulder stable. These four muscles (Yes, four. I told you it was complicated.) include supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor. If you feel like those all sound like fun spells you might learn at Hogwarts, you’re not alone. If they all sound very sensible to you, optime bene! Write your high school Latin teacher a thank-you note. These four muscles keep your arm from dislocating when you lift it over your head or move it around. Which is kind of magical, if you think about it.

How rotator cuff injuries develop

If you are building strength in the muscles that lift and move your arms at the shoulder, this allows you to lift more. But when this is done in a way that is too fast, or with poor technique, or when already tired, or without a corresponding amount of attention given to strengthening the stabilizers of the shoulder, this puts a lot of extra stress on those rotator cuff muscles. This can cause them to fail in their job, allowing the shoulder capsule to stretch (not good), the head of the humerus to start to migrate out of its spot in the shoulder (kind of bad), or the muscles of the shoulder literally shearing off from their bony attachment (DEFINITELY bad). Other injuries caused by overloaded rotator cuff muscles include tendonitis and nerve impingement. Ouch!

So... I messed up my shoulder.

Go see your doctor

For real. Ice and ibuprofen will get you some relief, but as mentioned earlier, shoulders are incredibly complicated. The chances of your being able to accurately self-diagnose your specific problem as a layperson are slim to none. And if you’ve got a serious tear going on, waiting to have it repaired will only lead to further degradation of the joint. If you don’t have arthritis yet, that’s like begging for it to start. Nobody’s excited about a trip to see their physician, but that’s what adults do. Sorry!

Okay, okay. But then what?

It totally depends on what kind of injury you have going on. It might be the sort of thing that taking a break from Crossfit for a while can fix. You might need injections. You might need surgery. There will probably be physical therapy involved, to strengthen your shoulder stabilizers and correct any outsized range of motion you’ve developed from lifting/gymnastics/swimming/pitching/etc. But regardless, you’ll need to be more mindful of how you use (and abuse) your shoulders in the future.

Actually, it turns out my shoulder is fine. But how can I prevent rotator cuff injuries in the future?

Get serious about form

Yes, if you work out, it’s fun to see if you can do things as quickly as possible (I’m looking at you, Crossfitters), but that’s also the fastest path towards injury. Working with a trainer or coach and really nailing down the details of form before increasing the intensity and speed of your exercise will help keep your shoulders working properly.

If you don’t really need to be reaching overhead, don’t do it

Climb up on a stool when you’re pulling down boxes in the garage. Get a good stepladder when you’re painting your dining room. Reaching overhead is the toughest movement on your shoulder muscles, and adding weight or resistance to that only increases the strain. It only takes a minute to be kinder to your poor shoulder joint.

If you’re working out your arms, make sure to address your shoulder stabilizers too 

Working with a personal trainer (or, if you’re already experiencing problems, a physical therapist) can help you get on the right track with a routine to gradually build up more stability in your shoulders.

Can massage help with rotator cuff injuries?

Well, it’s not going to magically fix your shoulder.

BUT, there is a small but growing body of research that shows massage can help with shoulder pain, especially in conjunction with physical therapy. So if you’re already recovering from your injury, getting a massage can help you to feel better while you regain your range of motion and strength.

If you’re an athlete or work in a field requiring a large amount of physical labor, it’s also natural to feel some degree of anxiety about being injured. This is an area where massage really shines, helping you relax and cope with the stress that comes along with injury.

How do I find a good massage therapist to help me with my shoulder?

Good news: you’ve already found one. Click here to schedule your next appointment, or contact us with questions.

Monday, February 26, 2018

How to Make Self-Care a Priority With Membership Rewards

So we've been talking...

The concept of a massage membership is nothing new.  But unfortunately, that means many people have gotten used to a 50-minute hour, a massage therapist who may be lacking in experience, and up-charges/ extra fees galore.

At Healing Hands, we have two goals for our clients: anxiety/stress reduction and pain/function improvement.  We like to use whatever tools necessary to achieve those goals - YOUR goals - without our clients feeling nickled and dimed.

Here's the idea:

Since we are always telling our clients that massage should be preventative instead of reactionary (meaning, don't wait until you have a problem to come in and see us), imagine a monthly membership where you get to enjoy all the perks you currently do, at a reduced price.  See below to compare our plan to what's out there now...

Those in the membership plan will get monthly access to one 60-minute massage to use in the next 30 days (or it can be given to a family member or friend).  E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G is now included in one low monthly price.

This includes: 
  • Swedish
  • Deep Tissue
  • Prenatal
  • Aromatherapy
  • Heat Packs
  • Himalayan Salt Stones
  • Therapeutic Stretching
  • Cupping

All massages include hot towels and essential oils before and after each session.  Want more than an hour?  We can do that too.

The massages will roll over for a period of 3 months (again, during which time you can either use them or give them to someone else if you are unable to come in).  Conversely, if you’re current on your massages and would like to come in for an extra session, you will always get the member price.  

Are you ready to ensure you are practicing self-care on a regular basis? Why not sign up for a membership today and start collecting your sweet rewards? Sign up today.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Easy Ways To Be Your Best Self and Share a Little Kindness

Did you know that Random Act of Kindness Week is February 11-17?

It's amazing how a few words and deeds can have a profound effect even many decades later.

One digital artist friend I know stopped painting two decades ago because her professor laughed (literally in her face) at her dream of one day studying painting as a graduate student at The Royal College of Art in London.

"Where do you get such high flying ideas?" he scoffed.

Well, I am happy to report that she is doing just fine, went to graduate school in NYC, travels the world, has screened her animations on five continents, and has won multiple awards for her work.

And she (just now) started painting again! But what would have happened if that one snarky comment twenty years ago had been replaced by a kind one instead?

Another friend of mine recently let me know that something as simple as giving away some Halloween candy years ago has stayed with her all these years later.

She writes:

"I don't remember my childhood in fine-grained detail, but I do still remember the year that my father grounded my little sister and I for forgetting to take the trash out to the curb (again) on our way to school on what happened to be Halloween day.  I remember my rage at the ridiculously out of proportion punishment of not being allowed to go trick-or-treating that night. And I remember my gratitude when two girls our age from a family at church brought us a big chunk (probably half)  of their candy the next time we saw them. That was the biggest kindness I can remember anyone paying me as a child. Thank you Anastasia Yecke Gude! And thank your sister for me please."

I had completely forgotten about this and haven’t spoken with her since 1991 or so.

I don’t mention this to toot my own horn by any means, just to demonstrate that it’s possible for a simple act of kindness to be remembered for decades.

Did you know that research backs up that you will boost your own happiness levels for a sustained period of time when you do small "happiness activities" such as listing a few things you are grateful for each day or writing someone in your support network (friends and family) to let them know how much they mean to you?

This being also Valentine's Day, I'd love to introduce you to a cool tool and website that makes all of this even easier. Check out

In particular, they have a Kindness Chain Tool which makes it easy and free to send someone you care about a quick compliment or message of support, delivered right to their email inbox. Start your own here.

I hope that once this "Day of Love" and "Week of Kindness" ends you will consider making random acts of kindness a yearlong habit. And you can always start by being kind to yourself.

If you need a few ideas, come have a look at our pampering services over at Healing Hands. :-)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

How to Get a Massage Without Being Touched by People (-Top 5 Ways)

Hate People? No Problem!

You'll have to excuse me. I'm in a rather silly mood and thought it might be fun to write a post about some of the ways you could get a massage or beauty and relaxation treatments without ever being touched by another human being.

So without further ado, here's my tongue-in-cheek list of...

Your best non-human alternatives for getting a massage or spa treatment

 1.) Cats

While most cat owners have experienced furry paws walking across their backs at one time or another, apparently this spa in Japan has harnessed the natural kneading skills of cats, to offer a back massage from a feline masseuse.

2.) Fish

In many parts of the world, it's the fish, also known as "Doctor Fish" giving the pedicures. These feet fish, who eat your dead skin are some of the weirdest beauty treatment regiments known in the world, originating from Bangkok, Thailand.

Would I ever try it myself? Nope! This practice is banned in many places due to the possibility of spreading disease. The fish also have to be really hungry in order to be coaxed into eating dead skin. I recently wrote a blog post on Why You Should Never Feed Your Feet to the Fishies.

Still, have a look and see these fish in action:

3.) Llamas 

OK. Maybe at this point you don't like people and you don't want animals massaging or eating dead skin off of you.  It could be time to send in the llamas.

Yes, Llama and Alpaca Therapy is gaining in popularity!

The first thing you see when driving up to the Life Center of Nashoba Valley, a nursing home in Massachusetts, is a pair of llamas. Around the country, homes like this are using animals—chickens and llamas as well as dogs and fish—in their therapy programs, brightening up their residents' days. 


But you don't have to wait until you're in the nursing home to kiss and cuddle a llama. Now you can also have llamas take part in your wedding. (Of course, this would be in Portland, Oregon... Where else would this be?)

4.) Robots

OK. I am getting off track now. Let's get back to massage, shall we? So, you don't like people and you also are repelled by animals? All right. It's time for a robot roll-call.

Meet Alex, the massage robot created by Massage Robotics.

5.) Weird Massage Products

Or, as Rhett and Link from Good Mythical Morning like to say, "Why get a massage when you can massage yourself?" Hmm. Why indeed?

Here they test some of the more odd massage devices on the market, with comedic results...


Well, there you have it, -some non-human alternatives to getting a massage or spa treatment.

If you think that people might not be so bad after all, I invite you to come and have an amazing and trans-formative massage experience at Healing Hands in Miami. Come see what our human customers have to say about us!

Then feel free to come on over to our contact page and book your appointment today
See you then!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Celebrating the Life of One of My Favorite Massage Clients, Mary Rife

Written by Healing Hands founder, Anastasia Yecke

Today marks a week since one of my very favorite massage clients, Mary Rife, passed away at the age of 90.

Mary was my very first regular massage client after I graduated massage school in 2010. In the ensuing 8 years, I went to her home every 4-6 weeks to give her massage, and I continued doing so long after opening my own place.

After every session, she would plop down on her sofa with a smile and say, “That was great. You knocked me out!”

I’ve been thinking of how to memorialize her and the amazing life she lived, and…it’s impossible. Mary was truly larger than life. Here are just some of the things she accomplished during her amazing lifetime:

  • Graduated from Berkley in the middle of WWII
  • Moved to Miami from San Diego by herself in the 1950’s
  • Opened her own market research firm in the 1960’s (imagine – in the age of “Mad Men”!)
  • Traveled around the world
    (*One of her many fascinating travel stories involves staying at a luxury 5-star hotel near the Taj Mahal and coming down to the pool in her bikini only to be greeted by several buff guys saying, “There you are, Mary. We’ve been waiting to meet you.” It turns out her trip coincided with a visit to India by President Nixon who was staying in the same hotel, so the Secret Service had already done background checks on all guests...)
  • Sold her company in 2007, less than a year before the Great Recession
  • Enjoyed a fabulous retirement, including multiple trips to Italy and Mexico, two of her favorite countries (mine too!). She and her partner had even booked a Caribbean cruise to celebrate the new year
  • Exercised daily (usually swimming in the Intracoastal Waterway behind her house, or going to the gym and lifting weights)

Mary was lucky to enjoy the finer things in life but she also worked hard to get them.

She was always smiling, with a quick wit and a generous heart for both people and animals. In fact, we met after she won my first-ever massage gift certificate that I donated to a silent auction for The Cat Network.

Through the years I helped her sterilize several cats in her neighborhood, and she in turn gave me advice on my growing company.

Through Mary, I was privileged to meet Wulf Treu, a dynamic modern artist and her partner of 20+ years. I also met their next-door neighbor Ines Doti-Pels, an animal rescue saint who adopted a dog to my friend Gayle Ramsey Marcellini thanks to Mary sharing Ines’ Facebook post. This is just a small sampling of the lives that were bettered thanks to Mary.

About a year ago, as I was leaving her house after a massage, instead of simply saying “Goodbye!” she said, “Goodbye, I love you!” I was pleasantly surprised, and responded with the same sentiment.
From then on, we said that to one another every time. In fact, those were our last words to one another, and I take comfort in that.

To my honorary Miami grandmother, Mary Rife: I deeply admire you, respect you, and love you. When I think of you now, nearly two weeks after your passing, there is still sadness but also envy (of the good kind). What a life you lived! And to have passed away in your sleep, in your own bed at age 90…I hope to be as lucky.

Thank you for your kindness, your generosity, and your wisdom. You will be missed, and I will toast to you every time I enjoy a glass of Bogle merlot…or tequila, your two favorite drinks.