resourcesABOUT MT AUTHOR GUIDELINES CLASSIFIEDS EDITORIAL CALENDAR MEDIA GUIDE MASSAGE MART SCHOOLS & EDUCATION FEEDBACK
We Get Letters & Email
Our Country Needs Us Between Elections, Too; Continuing Care: We Aren't There Yet; Our Associations Need to Do More.
The Case Report: A Valuable Tool
Case reports are a valuable form of descriptive research. The most basic form of practice-based research, a case report is a detailed account of the history, presenting symptoms, assessment, observations, treatment and follow-up of an individual patient, discussed in the context of prior and potential future research.
Scar Reduction With Acupuncture & Microneedling (Part 2)
Protocols & treatment Timing
Crow Like the Rooster
As we welcome in the Year of the Rooster, we look at some of its major characteristics: confidence and communication, which suits the image we have of the Rooster...strutting in the farmyard, crowing to the others that it's time to wake up.
True Practice Mobility for the Chiropractic Profession
When natural disasters occur, chiropractors can literally travel to the other side of the world to offer humanitarian relief in less than a day. The chiropractor's license to legally practice, however, can't make it past the state line.
Flirting With Alternative Therapies
There are about as many adjunct therapies being marketed to acupuncturists as there are acupuncturists. While some may remain purist in their application of traditional Chinese medicine, others choose to explore new horizons of treatment.
A Conversation With Dr. Betty Edmond
This month's column is an exclusive interview with Betty Edmond MD, newly elected CEO/President of the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine in Austin, Texas.
Low Back Pain in Running Athletes
After 7 million years of adapting to upright postures, the lumbar spine and pelvis have become remarkably adept at managing ground-reactive forces associated with running.
Anti-Aging With Dr. Ping Zhang
Jennifer Waters, TCM practitioner and writer of the Acupuncture Today column, "Talking With the Masters" sat down with Dr. Ping Zhang to discuss aniti-aging with acupuncture.
The Acupuncture Channel System (Part 1)
The earliest Chinese reference to channels is in the Mawangdui Medical Manuscripts,1 which are dated to the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty (475 BC-221 AD). The text presents 11 channels. There are no acupuncture points listed in those channels.
News in Brief
Updated Neck Pain & Whiplash Guideline; Attention, IHS DCs; New VP of Institutional Advancement At Palmer; N.J. DC Interns At U.S. Olympic Training Center; Chiropractic Society Of R.I. On The Front Lines.
Prepare for the End, From the Beginning: Wealth Building and Retirement with the Tao
Yin and yang flow into and out from one another continually. Beginnings become endings and endings become beginnings again. Wholeness and cycles are the nature of Tao.
An Opportunity & a Responsibility
Nearly 80 Americans die from an opioid-related overdose every day, and spine-related pain is one of the principle drivers of opioid use. This unfortunate situation creates both an opportunity and a responsibility.
Five Branches University Has First Hospital TCM Residency
Established in 1984, Five Branches University (FBU) has campuses in Santa Cruz and San Jose, Calif., which serve the communities of Santa Cruz, the Monterey Bay, and Silicon Valley.
The winter season is upon us and offers unique challenges for the clinician and patient alike. To effectively navigate through the winter season there are two main TCM medicinals, Huang Qi and Gan Jiang, to consider, as well as two important formulas which feature these two TCM treasures.
A New Year and Vision for the ACA
Inadequate pain management coupled with the epidemic of prescription opioid overuse and abuse has taken a severe toll on the lives of millions of people in the United States. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in the ER for misusing prescription opioids.
An Education in Gluten Sensitivity
A relatively new syndrome officially documented as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or gluten sensitivity (GS) was officially recognized and published in the new list of gluten-related disorders in 2012.
Nutrition for Menopause: Front-Line Therapy for All Phases
Of all the changes women experience during their reproductive life, there is no doubt the most dreaded are the three phases of menopause. This is not surprising since all of the symptoms associated with menopause are replete with unpleasantness.
Let's Clear Up the Collection Confusion
This is an often-misunderstood practice swirling with misinformation. First, a few basics: Insurance is a contract between the patient and the insurance company. The insurance company is simply making a payment for services or care on behalf of the patient.
Qigong for Substance Abuse
It is commonly believed that substance abuse, in addition to harming one’s physiological state, hurts the spirit. There is also a belief that one’s spirit does not weaken due to substance abuse, but rather, the person finds solace in addiction due to an already weak spirit.
Another Step Forward for Chiropractic
Chiropractic is now available to 86,000-plus Latter-Day Saints missionaries and you are invited to become a provider. LDS membership in not required; our only concern is that our missionaries get the best quality care available.
Shoulder Rehab: Start With the Scapula
The scapula is an incredible display of elegance and movement within the biomechanics of human motion. It's evolved for mobility and stability in the scapulo-thoracic region, giving us the ability to do things that are uniquely human, such as throwing with accuracy.
January, 2016, Vol. 16, Issue 01
Congestion is What Steals Our Quality of Life
By Dale G. Alexander, LMT, MA, PhD
All of us have experienced the sponginess of edema in a client's ankle or foot. All of us have felt the extra weight of a client's cranium who comes in with sinus troubles or chronic headache patterns.All of us have noticed the difference between the heaviness of one extremity vs. the other. These are "hands on" examples of congestion.
This article begins to describes how, in 35 years of clinical practice, I have come to understand and experience my clients' varying states of "congestion" and why I believe that addressing it is such a key concern in assisting clients with chronic somatic dysfunction to regain their functional capacity and vitality for life. The focus here will include my anatomical interpretations of congestion which occurs below the diaphragm and to some degree within the thorax.
In an previous article, I identified that a conceptual triad of compression, congestion, and dis-coordination of the nervous system provides us with simple specific language to describe the intention and beneficial outcomes of therapeutic massage and bodywork.1 I now see that being able understand and describe the far ranging effects of congestion and how it occurs furthers this ability and conveys your competence as a practitioner.
Describing the "Sacs and Tubes Theory of Stress" is a useful construct to set the stage for prospective clients. Our human physiological response to stress can be described as a process in which the internal "sacs around our major organs cringe, while the tubes which comprise our visceral organs and the tubes between them shorten, narrow, and sometimes even twist."2
Imagine the human body as a whole experiencing significant stress: cringing, shortening, narrowing toward the center and even sometimes twisting, thus producing enormous contraction of the external somatic tissues, pushing juxtaposed bones to the limits of their normal range within their joint capsules and potentiating the protective response that our soft tissues are dedicated to - protecting our joints. Internally, this cringing, shortening, narrowing and twisting adds resistance to the delivery and return of the blood supply. Together, these internal and external effects of stress are the causative factors of congestion and the predominant reasons that clients seek us out.
My definition of congestion is the slowed, sluggish, or stopped movement of blood toward its normal outflows. Places of congestion in our bodies are where I believe toxins accumulate. Places where their pressures build. Congestion is the source of much of our somatic pain as inflammatory cycles are spawned as vessels become distended. And, congestion is definitely a primary co-conspirator in the perpetuation of chronic somatic difficulties.
To better comprehend how congestion occurs, let's build a simple model of our vast and complex vascular system. The heart is responsible for pumping our blood, filled with oxygen, nutrients, and hormones, across an enormous journey of 60,000 miles. Wow! That estimated distance alone, over two times around the equator, from leaving the heart to returning to the heart/lung complex is truly astounding!3
Previously, I have proposed that the autonomic nervous system has three cards to play to assist this arterial flow when impeded: make the heart work harder, narrow the vessels of the arterial and venous system, or simply divert blood flow, thereby increasing it to certain areas while decreasing it to others.4 Is this allocation of resources truly equal, or is there an innate hierarchy that the body follows in which some tissues get more increased blood flow and other tissues less?
I propose that when we reduce the degree to which the body is congested, we are assisting the body to more effectively reallocate its most precious healing resource: blood. Working with this proposition has stimulated the understanding and experience of my newest clinical axiom, "for a part of the body to heal, the system as a whole must function more efficiently." This translates into assisting the flow of both the arterial and the venous and lymphatic return systems.
So, how do we as massage therapists, go about relieving congestion and increasing systemic function? By reducing resistances to heart and the lungs expansion. Throughout my career, enhancing the capacity and efficiency of cardiac output has been my Number One priority in each session with every client. This is at the center of how we may assist our clients to reduce congestion and regain and maintain their quality of life.
I believe that increasing and enhancing the flow of raw blood products back to the heart/lung complex is also a necessary component of how cardiac output efficiency is maintained. It is an equally compelling priority of physiology. It is my perception that one cannot really separate these two priorities. In common sense there needs to be the timely volume of returned/used blood and lymph available in order for newly generated blood to be pumped out.
This leads us to the logical, but unanswered question of what happens when raw blood products are lagging in the timeliness of their return? Does the body ramp up additional red cell production in the marrow of the ribs or does it tap the reserves within the spleen? Two simple and logical possibilities have occurred to me. Other possibilities, I pray, exist. I recently asked this question of an exceptionally gifted cardiologist and they encouraged me to seek the answer from a hematologist.
We have created endless theories of how supply and demand function in the external and financial worlds yet, this simple construct of fluid dynamics is missing in how it applies within our biology as viewed by current medical science. This lack of consideration to the importance of return blood flow to cardiac health leaves several critical questions unanswered: How may it influence our systemic health as we age or, how is it a probable stepping stone in progression toward the tipping point of where stress related dysfunctions becomes disease? This is what makes understanding the many dimensions of congestion of our bodily fluids so crucial to improving the systemic health of our clients.
Another interesting and important anatomical feature relating to fluid congestion: I find the fact that the heart and diaphragm are Siamese twins, meaning that they would literally have to be cut apart to be completely separate anatomical entities. It is not an accident that during the time of their embryological development they begin together at C2.
The primary pump of arterial blood, the heart, sits directly upon the primary pump of the venous and lymphatic fluids, the diaphragm. Is there a kinesthetic feedback mechanism between them? Might there be a way that their congenital organization serves us we have yet to discover?
The heart beats 100,000 time a day while the inferior movement of the diaphragm occurs 25,000 to 27,000 times a day. I sense an inherent rhythm between these numbers, approximately a 1:4 ratio, that is not an accident. What happens to one's systemic health when this ratio becomes skewed or is disrupted over time or, even for a short time? Might this be related to anxiety or panic attacks?
What we do know for certain is that the inferior and caudal movements of the diaphragm during respiratory inhalation is what creates the primary diffusion gradient that draws raw blood products back into the heart. It is my postulation that the diaphragm cannot, and does not, do the job all by itself. The body has multiple pumps and inherent relationships innately designed to assist the heart and the diaphragm in this very important return flow process.
An Osteopathic construct introduced to me by Dr. Richard MacDonald in 1988, postulates that the foot/ankle complex functions as the body's second heart.5 That the combined actions of dorsiflexion and plantar flexion initiated by the powerful gastrocnemius and soleus muscles with each and every step we take is what creates the seminal push that provides the momentum of flow upward against gravity, and in coordination with the intrinsic flipper valves within the veinous and lymph vessels, is the process which propels these fluids to at least reach the pelvic floor, or further proximally.
Does this underscore the importance of exercise, walking, Ti Chi or Yoga as health enhancing? I certainly believe so! The vascular system's efficiency is obviously dependent upon movement. And/or in the face of being unable to ambulate some additional means of manually or mechanically pumping these fluids is really important to substitute.
Now, what happens once these fluids reach the pelvic floor? Are we to imagine that the diaphragm's earlier described movements and the pressure gradient it stimulates are enough to draw these fluids further upward and to complete the journey back to the heart or are there other factors at work to assist their flow?
In 1986, Dr. Jean Pierre Barral, DO, galvanized my thinking about how the human body really works in this regard when he stated simply, "that, normal circulation is dependent upon the pressure within the thoracic cavity being ‘less' than that of either the abdominal pelvic cavity, or that of the cranial cavity."6 This leads us to many significant therapeutic implications regarding how this pressure differential becomes skewed and how we might restore this relationship. Yet, the first step is to recognize just how important this idea is to our work with clients. Fluids do freely move from an area of higher concentration to one of a lower concentration naturally when they are not restricted or blocked from doing so.
What I have discovered is that as one reduces the resistances to the heart and lungs expansion you get a "two for one effect" because these same intentions are achieved by whatever means of technique, reduces the pressure within the chest cavity consistently. And, one can kinesthetically verify this by feeling the pressure within the chest decrease as the tissues become softer and more distensible. A therapeutic response is indicated when the thorax depresses more easily when we compress it after treatment.
It has taken me decades to fully comprehend the implications of how frequent it is for raw blood products to build up within the abdomen and pelvis and how this relates to so many of the somatic complaints of our clients. Low back pain is just the tip of the iceberg, yet it is the most frequent complaint registered above all others and the reason for the most days of lost work in our society.7 I have never read in any scientific journal that congestion is a primary variable in its perpetuation; yet, deductive reasoning suggests that it is.
What are the most common areas where congestion occurs? Image the vascular tree descending below the diaphragm. Conceive of it as two rivers, one flowing inferiorly from the heart while the other flows superiorly back to the heart/lung complex. My experience has been that congestion builds in either or both of these rivers within the abdomen, pelvis, and within the thorax.
The naturally low pressure systems of the venous and lymphatic vessels are acutely vulnerable to their rate of flow being slowed by cringing of the peritoneal sac and by the shortening, narrowing, and twisting tendencies of the small and large bowel within the abdomen. The same tendency to restrict venous and lymphatic flow is caused by the shortening and narrowing of the esophagus and the cringing of the pericardium and pleural sacs in the thorax.
The internal arrangement of our organs is exceptionally compact. Any shift from normal positioning may encroach upon these vascular rivers, thus negatively affecting their rate of flow. Whether venous or arterial, we take it for granted that both sides flow without difficulty but, in fact, their respective flow is often impeded. My experience is that when we are able to restore the sliding and gliding between the sacs and tubes, thus re-establishing the normal spatial relationships within the abdomen, pelvis and thoracic cavity, the body as a whole begins to function more efficiently. Scar tissue and adhesions from a host of possible sources are probable co-conspirators here.
What my clients have taught me is that the body's most common plumbing problem occurs where the common bile duct enters into the small intestine through the Sphincter of Oddi. When the fluids of bile, pancreatic enzymes and juices do not reach the duodenum, then resistance to the flow of these fluids often provokes inflammation within the pancreas, gall bladder or liver.
All of these organs sit directly on top of the inferior vena cava and the collecting duct for the lymph, the Cisterni Chyli. Within the small intestine, if these fluids designed to help break down what we eat are insufficient in quantity, the small intestine's only recourse is to swell, thus using surface area as its last resort toward completing its task of absorption. The common result is the experience of gas and bloating so many of our clients report to us.8
Another location of frequent congestion is within the chest. The thoracic duct which carries the lymph further upward against gravity to its outflow into the left subclavian vein is often challenged as well. In a peculiar inelegance of design, this duct crosses from right to left across the front of the spine leaving itself that much more vulnerable to the cringing of the pericardium and the pleural sacs, as well as the shortening and narrowing of the esophagus.
When clients present with pain between their scapulae, it is the congestion of this duct that is often at the root of their problem. And allow me to hastily add that often a vertebra or rib head will often have subluxed as well. Ostensibly this subluxation is the first layer of what has provoked their pain; yet, beneath it is the congestion within the thoracic duct that is the real culprit. I suspect that persistent congestion here in such close proximity to the heart/lung complex may contribute to the progression of cardiovascular disease.
As soft tissue therapists, we are initially trained to feel tension in the superficial tissues. We are rarely educated as to how this reflects internal states of congestion. I respectfully propose that our initial orientation to how the body really works was simply incomplete. Consider that from this moment forward when you feel tension in tissues that it infers congestion, whether local or systemic, and it may also infer joint subluxation... another causative factor in stimulating congestion and another subject for future exploration in this column.
Click here for more information about Dale G. Alexander, LMT, MA, PhD.
Join the conversation
Comments are encouraged, but you must follow our User Agreementcomments powered by Disqus
Keep it civil and stay on topic. No profanity, vulgar, racist or hateful comments or personal attacks. Anyone who chooses to exercise poor judgement will be blocked. By posting your comment, you agree to allow MPA Media the right to republish your name and comment in additional MPA Media publications without any notification or payment.