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A Poor Choice for Pain Relief
Acetaminophen is the most popular pain reliever in the U.S., accounting for an estimated 27 billion annual doses as of 2009. With 100,000-plus hospital visits a year by users, it's also the most likely to be taken inappropriately.
Green Tea Improves Cognitive Function in Elderly Subjects
Publishing their results in the journal Nutrients, in May 2014, researchers showed that drinking the equivalent of 2 to 4 cups of brewed green tea (or bottled tea) daily improved cognitive function or reduced the progression of cognitive dysfunction in elderly subjects.
Reducing the Autogenic Inhibition Reflex: Making Weak Muscles Strong
The autogenic inhibition (AI) reflex is a sudden relaxation of a muscle in response to excess tension.
Calculating Billable Units
I recently learned of an office that was audited based on the number of acupuncture sessions performed in one day. Is there a maximum number of sessions that can be performed in one day?
We Get Letters & Email
A House Divided? (May 1 issue) provoked significant response from readers. Here are several of the surprisingly similar comments we received.
What Does Success Mean to You?
Recently, I was asked to speak to young, budding businesswomen about running a successful business — and at first I thought, "Me? You want me to speak to others about success?!"
Breath: The Movement of Oxygen and Energy
I remember with surprising clarity the first time a patient started crying during an acupuncture treatment I was giving. This is now quite a long time ago, back in 1999, when I was a student.
How One Little Symbol (#) Gets You More Patients
Are you struggling to get more fans or followers for your acupuncture practice? Or are looking for ways to simply connect with your patients? Or do you just want to know how to keep them engaged (comments, retweeting, liking and sharing)?
ACA or ICA: Which Best Represents You?
Last June, I was honored to represent Texas ICA members as their representative assemblyman at the ICA Annual Meeting in Kansas City.
Our Biggest Challenges to Compete in Wellness Care
In the first article in this four-article series [May 1 DC], I made the case that chiropractors should either embrace offering lifestyle wellness in their practices or face the possibility of losing their place in the wellness care marketplace.
Marijuana, Apathy and Chinese Medicine, Part 2
A talented young woman presented herself with emotional mood swings, which included being nervous, anxious and jittery.
Rethinking Musculoskeletal Pain – A Public Health Perspective
The American Public Health Association (APHA) is the world's oldest and largest association of its kind, founded more than 140 years ago and boasting over 25,000 members.
Green Tea Improves Cognitive Function in Elderly Subjects
Publishing their results in the journal Nutrients in May 2014, researchers showed that drinking the equivalent of 2-4 cups of brewed green tea (or bottled tea) daily improved cognitive function or reduced the progression of cognitive dysfunction in elderly subjects.
The Source-Luo Point Combination
The luo collaterals are part of the acupuncture channel system presented in the Su Wen and the Ling Shu (The Nei Jing). The function and clinical application of the luo mai are primarily presented in chapter 10 of the Ling Shu, however, they are also found in others chapters in the Su Wen and the Ling Shu.
Use Technology to Gain New Patients and Improve Efficiency
From the smartphone in your pocket to your microwave oven, advancements in technology have made almost every aspect of our lives easier.
The Year to Make Things Happen
It is hard to believe that the Year of the Ram – 2015 is half over. Time seems to be moving especially fast. This is the year for things to happen for the acupuncture profession.
Giving Vets the Care They Deserve
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers the largest integrated health care system in the United States.
Spieth Thanks His Chiropractor After Historic Masters Win
Jordan Spieth didn't just capture the hearts of golf enthusiasts worldwide with his record-setting, wire-to-wire victory at the 79th Masters Tournament.
First Do No Harm?
There's no questioning the frightening nature of breast cancer, which strikes one in eight women in the U.S. – eclipsed only by skin cancer in terms of prevalence.
Acupuncture and the Pulse
In 1991, I attended a martial arts workshop hosted coincidentally by Sung Baek, a martial artist and the head of his lineage as a Korean trained acupuncturist. I was enamored by the details Sung could attain from the pulse, as told to me by some of his apprentices.
The Nectar of Plants: Essential Oils and Chinese Medicine
Essential oils are a very hot topic these days, especially with the likes of the Ebola virus and the resurgence of measles lurking in our awareness, but when I first became interested in Chinese medicine, essential oils weren't on the radar screen for acupuncturists.
The Modern Acupuncturist
You studied ancient Chinese medicine, but I'll bet you don't practice it! Contrary to popular belief, our medicine has evolved A LOT over the years. Let's take a brief walk through history and discover the differences between ancient and modern acupuncturists.
Acupuncture in the U.K. Today: A Personal View
When asked to write a short piece on the current state of the U.K. acupuncture profession, my first response was to say it has all been relatively quiet.
Leg-Length Inequality and Pelvic Fixation: A New Approach to the Negative Derifield (Part 2)
As we noted in our previous article, with a positive Derifield (+D), the doctor observes the reactive (shorter) leg in the prone position that becomes longer or "crosses over" in the flexed position.
TMF 2015 Scholarships
The Trudy McAlister Foundation (TMF), a nonprofit organization established to support students who are on track to make contributions either to clinical practice and/or to the understanding of the role of Traditional Oriental Medicine, has announced the 2015 scholarship recipients.
July, 2013, Vol. 13, Issue 07
Allostasis: A New View of Stress and How it Affects the Body
By Nicole Nelson
Stress is often blamed for all biological mayhem. This is really an unfair characterization, as stress can elicit many positive health outcomes. Along these same lines, massage therapy is often touted as a great reliever of stress.In most cases, this is true. There are times, however, where massage produces some undesirable results and can aptly be named a stressor in and of itself. This article will discuss the concepts of stress and adaptation and will explore allostasis as a model of stress regulation.
Homeostasis and Allostasis
There are several models to describe the ways in which we adapt to our environment. Homeostasis probably comes to mind for most of you; however, there are some limitations to homeostatic theory. Homeostasis implies adaptation in order to maintain a set point. It suggests an ideal set of conditions for maintenance of the internal environment. As we now know, there are many occasions where systems are forced to deviate from set points in order to maintain health. The stressors of enduring cold or extreme heat, gestation and lactation, seasonal variations of sunlight exposure, traveling through different time zones all require the body's systems to adapt beyond set points described by homeostasis (Power 2004).
Along these same lines, homeostasis doesn't account for the wide-ranging stress responses among people. For instance, why are certain individuals more susceptible to addiction and anxiety disorders? Why do some respond positively to intensive physical training, while others seem to breakdown? And most notably for us, why do some clients feel flu-like after a massage, while others hop of the table, feeling terrific? In the early 1980s, Bruce McEwen and others set out to broaden the scope of homeostasis; the expanded theory was coined allostasis.
Allostasis has been defined as the ability to achieve stability through change. Allostasis takes a holistic view of stress adaptation as it considers the unique history and make-up of each individual. This suggests our stress responses are an expression of many things including genetics, socio-economic status, inter-personal relationships, nutrition, childhood abuse/neglect and current health status. Likewise, these same variables dictate how resilient we are when encountering stress. It stands to reason that an individual that has suffered a type of childhood trauma (i.e. abuse or neglect) might have a very different stress response than a person that had no such experience. Likewise, an individual that grew up in poverty will have a unique stress response to someone that grew up in an affluent family. It is important to recognize that our experiences and genetics cannot be separated, as each influence each other while regulating stress system development. (Gillespie et al 2009)
The Central Organ Of Stress Regulation
Allostasis suggests the body will adapt in ways that are most suitable and cost efficient for the given moment (Goldsteinn & McEwen 2001). In a healthy body, the brain orchestrates the activities of the autonomic nervous system, the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, the cardiovascular system, immune system and metabolism in order to effectively respond to internal and external stress. In large part, the coordination of these systems depends upon the nature of the stress, the length of time we are under stress and how well we cope with it. Allostatic load describes the wear-and-tear on the body and brain that results from chronic dyregulation of the mediators of allostasis.
McEwen presents four potential scenarios for allostatic loading:
According to McEwen, the brain can be "the target as well as the initiator of the stress response" (McEwen 2002). In other words, the very regions of the brain that manage our stress responses are vulnerable to physiological changes if too much stress is imposed (allostatic loading). If these changes occur, we become more sensitive and/or less resilient to stress. (Ganzel et al 2010)
Is Stress Bad?
Hans Selye, also known as the father of stress research, developed the theory that chronic stress causes an increase in the activity of the HPA axis and results in long-term chemical changes. We can probably all agree that "stress" is a pretty vague term and is often used with a negative connotation. This is indicated by an often-sited quote by Selye: "Every stress leaves an indelible scar and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older."
Selye's mis-step may have been in the notion that we have a finite capacity to cope with stress. In the right dose and circumstance, however, stress can be extremely beneficial and can make you more resilient to future exposures. Regular physical exercise is a prime example. Is exercise a stressor? Absolutely, but when it is dosed appropriately (not too much, but enough trigger adaptive strength/endurance improvements) we get stronger, faster and most notably it can reverse stress-induced changes to the brain etc. (Marques et al 2010, Stranahan & Mattson 2012)
This is adaptation at its best: we endure a stressor, we take time to recover (provided we are healthy enough) and we end up on the other side, better than we were before. As "stress" is such an abstract and subjective concept, the allostatic model proposes a continuum to describe responses to environmental and psychosocial situations. The model suggests that individuals under stress/load position themselves along a spectrum of allostatic regulation; somewhere between allostasis (i.e. regaining physiological balance) and allostatic overload (i.e. toward physiological collapse and illness/pain). (Iribarren 2005, McEwen 1998)
In sum, our coping skills, feelings of isolation, healthy behaviors (i.e. smoking, exercise), genetics, previous trauma or abuse; coupled with the length of time we are under stress and type of stress, will determine if we adapt and get stronger or if we slide toward allostatic overload. So, is stress bad? This question may not be relevant. Perhaps points to ponder are: Where do we (or our clients) sit on the allostatic spectrum when we encounter stress (resilience) and is the brain interpreting the stress as a major threat?
Implications for Massage Therapists
Now, how do we apply what we know of allostasis to our clients? When delivered appropriately, massage has the potential to pull clients back from allostatic overload and can permit the client's own self-reparative mechanisms to resume efficient function. We know from a physical standpoint, appropriate soft tissue work can address soft tissue problems and improve neural and mechanical function. These factors can decrease the drive on the allostatic mechanisms. This means we are in a great position to induce positive changes on the general state of wellness of our clients. That being said, we must be ready to evaluate the current health, mindset and readiness of our clients before administering bodywork. We must also expect that our clients may respond to our treatments differently at different times.
Let's go back to the question posed earlier, why do some clients feel flu-like after a massage, while others feel great? Massage, even though delivered with the best of intentions, is a stressor, particularly when clients present with poor health resulting from stress and exhaustion. According to allostatic theory, this is not due to the often claimed "flushing of toxins," rather their systems do not have the capacity to process the effects of the bodywork. In other words, the resources needed to receive bodywork have already been allocated to coping with existing stress. As stated by Leon Chaitow in his book, Fibromyalgia Syndrome-A Practitioner's Guide to Treatment, "When people are very ill, as in FMS/CFS, where adaptive functions have been stretched to their limits, any treatment (however gentle) represents an additional demand for adaptation." The brain will protect the body and inflict some negative consequences when it perceives a threat is looming. So the headaches, muscle soreness, flu-like sensations that sometimes result from massage may be the brain saying, "Sorry to do this, but I will trigger responses that will make you feel a little icky in order to protect my systems and prevent you from imposing demands that I can't handle."
The Right Tool and The Right Dose
Clients that have an existing illness or that are under a good deal of allostatic load are at risk for being overwhelmed by certain kinds of bodywork. In addition to your traditional assessments/intake, I recommend asking the following three questions when developing your massage plans:
Your own assessment and the answers to these questions will certainly point you in the right direction in determining massage dosage and which tools (i.e. aromatherapy, energy work, gentle rocking, myofascial release, trigger point therapy etc.) to use. If a client is on the allostatic overload end, more massage and/or aggressive treatments will not necessarily yield positive results. Let's take two different cases, with similar physical manifestations, but two different treatment approaches.
Case 1: Joe is 25-years-old, has a great job and is training for the MS 150 bike ride. He has received weekly bodywork from you for several months. He is also working with a nutritionist to ensure he is eating the right foods and getting the right amount of fuel. He comes to you in great spirits but complains of neck stiffness and is unable to turn his head without pain. He has increased his training volume on the bike, which means increased time spent in suspect thoracic and cervical postures.
Case 2: Mary is 40-years-old and has chronic hypertension. She has never received a massage, but one of her co-workers recommends you. She comes to your office and complains of upper back and neck pain. Her face is flushed and she is gripping her smart phone as if she is waiting for the call that tells her the world is going to end. After chatting, you discover that Mary is going through a divorce and is taking care of her sick mother. Mary can't turn her head without provoking the pain.
From a mechanistic standpoint, both Joe and Mary probably need some work on their respective pecs, levators, scalenes, SCMs and upper traps. It would also be helpful to spend some time addressing the importance of optimal posture. Now, let's consider these two painful scenarios within the context of the allostasis model: Joe = Allostasis and Mary = Allostatic overload.
In Mary's case, the seizing of these muscles is probably not a physical/mechanical problem, but a manifestation of severe, unrelenting emotional stress. The fact that she is not in control of this stress makes it even worse. This is her first session; the novelty of bodywork will heighten the stress response. Mary is sitting on the dysfunctional end of the allostatic continuum; therefore, we should question if her body has the capacity to accept any more outside loading. Her bodywork session should be paired accordingly; perhaps including energy work and spending time on improving her breathing patterns.
Although Joe is enduring some physical stress, it is buffered by good nutrition, recovery and adequate sleep. The stress is intermittent and dosed so he can reap the rewards of physical adaptation to exercise. He also feels as though he is in total control of his stress. Bodywork is not new for him, so Joe is probably healthy enough to receive and benefit from a mechanistic and deeper approach to bodywork. Mary, on the other hand, lacks any significant escape from stress. Until Mary's environment changes, the ultimate therapy is the one that calms her.
Keep in mind, resilience and good health indicates successful allostasis. Generally speaking, when clients come to us stressed and exhausted, our primary responsibility is to induce as much relaxation as possible and allow a reset of allostatic mechanisms.
A better understanding of the stress response and allostatic theory will improve your clinical reasoning skills and undoubtedly make you a better therapist. Stress is not the devil- especially when encountered in the right dose and if the brain perceives it as non-threatening. It may be more accurate to say that stress does not cause disease/pain outright, but it sure can exacerbate bad situations. The clients that are bombarded by stress and feel they have no control over it, are at risk for being overwhelmed by certain types of bodywork. This places a significant responsibility on you, as a therapist, to tailor your massage to the specific needs of your clients. To finish up, I'd just like to offer you some suggested readings on this intriguing topic: The End of Stress as We Know It, by Bruce McEwen and Allostasis, Homeostasis, and the Costs of Physiological Adaptation, by Jay Schulkin.
Nicole Nelson a licensed massage therapist in Jacksonville, Fla. She has a masters degree in Health Science from the University of North Florida and is a certified Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist through ACE.
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