resourcesABOUT MT AUTHOR GUIDELINES CLASSIFIEDS EDITORIAL CALENDAR MEDIA GUIDE MASSAGE MART SCHOOLS & EDUCATION FEEDBACK
When Big Pharma Meets Chinese Medicine
Earlier this year, Bayer made a media splash with their decision to buy the Dihon Pharmaceutical Group Co., a Chinese TCM manufacturer.
The Science Behind Happiness
Are you happy right now? Whether yes or no, there are a myriad of reasons why you feel that way. A whole academic discipline has developed to find out what causes or obstructs happiness, and how to amplify it.
Thoracolumbar Syndrome: The Great Mimic
The thoracolumbar junction is a common area of joint dysfunction. The most obvious cause is dysfunctional breathing or lack of diaphragmatic breathing. Treating this breathing problem will ultimately be the long-term cure for the syndrome.
Help Secure Our Future by Sharing It
The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) conducts one of the most comprehensive surveys of the U.S. chiropractic profession every 4-5 years.
The Truth About Herbs
I appreciate the effort and research put into the article written in the June issue of Acupuncture Today regarding pesticides and Chinese herbs.
A Glimpse Into China's Top Brain Hospital
The sounds of the city pass through the open window are overwhelming the microphone - car horns, construction machinery - and then there's the family at the adjacent bed talking loudly on cell phones, yet you can still hear the faint beep of our patients monitoring equipment.
The Spirit of the Point
After receiving a large amount of positive feedback on my San Zhen Protocols series, I have decided to focus this article on some relevant clinical aspects of acupuncture therapy prior to moving on to San Zhen Protocols III.
A Healthy Dose of Failure is Vital to Your Success
As an acupuncturist I tend to see people after they have already suffered for years and "tried everything." They are so desperate for some relief that they want to know everything about how to get better, right now.
MPA Media Wins Seven Publishing Awards
MPA Media, publisher of Acupuncture Today, among other titles, has been recognized for editorial and design excellence with an unprecendented seven publishing awards by the ASBPE, the nation's largest organization for business-to-business publications.
News in Brief
NBCE Launches Computer-Based Testing Era; California Chiropractors Get Expanded DOT Exam Privileges; New Jeff Hays Documentary.
History of Animal Acupuncture: Part II
In Part I of this article, I had gone back to 1969 and tried to describe the atmosphere and events of that year that engulfed many of the younger generation, some who were all the core members of the National Acupuncture Association.
Improving Our Political Effectiveness
The November 2014 elections are right around the corner; members of Congress, governors and state legislators are all running. Now is a good time to talk frankly about our overall political involvement.
Thoughts to Live By
When speaking to your patients about their health make sure to ponder the following points and have them assess if they are making themselves even more sick by the thoughts they have about life. Are these some of the traits and thoughts that your patients might have?
If You Get a Request for Records, Respond!
In our previous two articles, we discussed two of the main reasons for denial when chiropractic records are reviewed by Medicare contractors.
Let the Patient Tell Their Story
Often when a patient presents with an injury, they want to tell their story. People by nature like to talk about themselves, particularly when they're worried about their health.
Medicalization and Mindfulness
The past several years have seen a veritable explosion of research on mindfulness. Research abstracts we've published in each issue of Health Insights Today under the heading "Mind-Body News" have increasingly reported on studies about mindfulness interventions.
Healing Community Trauma in Israel and Palestine
It's the beginning of August and Israel and Hamas have just agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire after a month of brutal fighting. In the last four weeks, 1,830 Palestinians and 67 Israelis have been killed.
Uncle Sam Needs You
Scrutiny into the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) continues to grow after efforts to reform the DVA by the former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, were deemed "a stunning period of dysfunction" by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The Problem With Prolonged Sitting
We need to constantly talk to our patients about spending less time sitting and about what can go wrong with poor sitting postures. The fact is we sit too long in repetitive malpositions.
A Commonly Missed Spinal Fixation: The Upper Lumbar Spine (Part 1)
When we think of lower back pain, we tend to think in terms of the lower lumbar spine and the SI joint. These joints and their discs are obviously important. However, we tend to miss fixations that occur just above – in the upper lumbar spine. Three questions come to mind: 1) Why is the upper lumbar spine so important? 2) Why do we miss the fixations here? 3) How can we adjust them?
Get Ready For AOM Day
This year, AOM Day 2014 falls on Friday, (October 24th). This is a great opportunity to make your AOM Day celebration or event even bigger by extending it throughout the weekend!
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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