Depression: Mental, Emotional and Biological

Mental illness is a condition that remains full of misunderstanding, stigma and mystery. Although the exact cause of many mental illnesses remains unknown, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination of psychological, biological and environmental factors. But the aspect that currently interests me most is the biological. Is depression a symptom that results from chemical or structural changes in the brain and body, as a physical response to the outside world (stress, trauma), a genetic dysfunction?  But like a lot of other physical conditions, the emotional, social consequences of the stigma, the feelings of isolation, and helplessness when you are caught in an illness are often that hardest aspect to face.

Over the years, mental illness has had many unfortunate stigmas.  Moral weakness, self-destructive choices, personal failure, insanity, or lack self control; these are the attitudes that are brought against people who are struggling.  And these attitudes are actively harmful to the people who face them.  If it remains “mental”, how can it be legitimized as a real illness?  How can treatment ever be more than stating “It’s all in your head.  Just get over it.”?

A Physical Condition

What I find important in the dispelling of stigma is the reminder that depression remains a physical condition.  Hormone levels can be shown to be skewed, brain scans can show changes in the structures of certain components of the brain such as the amygdala, pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus.  Depression may be an illness or a symptom but it is still real, it exists and it has biological causes that we may not yet fully understand.  And living with depression creates a host of symptoms in a response the the stress the sufferer feels, regardless of what is causing it.


So how can massage help?  Potentially, massage is just symptom management but I have faith in the body’s ability to heal itself.  Give a person the tools and they have a better chance of overcoming mental illness.

Touch is important.  Nonsexual, nurturing touch is a huge benefit for maintaining a healthy stress response.  A massage provider aims to put a person into parasympathetic mode – where the body relaxes and allows resources to be channeled into healing, growth and stabilizing.  Increases in oxytocin and seratonin and decreases in cortisol and adrenaline create a temporary feeling of well being, of calm and of bonding.  Because depression often comes with difficulty in normal sleep and digestion patterns, massage can help the body recalibrate.

Some recent studies link depression and chronic inflammation.  If this theory proves to have validity, massage becomes a very effective treatment for depressive symptoms.  Manual therapies release chronic tension in muscles and flush out toxins that are the byproduct of cellular metabolism.  It breaks into the positive feedback loop of inflammation=pain=tension=inflammation and so on.  That alone can be a huge benefit for people suffering symptoms of depression.

On June 25th, 2017, Kamloops is taking part in the 5th annual Ride Don’t Hide event for Canadian Mental Health Association.  If you or someone you know if suffering from a mental health issue, this is a great way to raise awareness and funds for the treatment of mental health conditions.  If this is something that interests you, check out the local website or Facebook page.

On actively receiving Tx

When learning the defensive properties of karate, the practitioner is instructed in a variety of techniques referred to collectively as “Uke”. It is also a term used to refer to the person who will be the defender when working with a partner. Though English speakers usually call these techniques blocks, the significance of “Uke” is receiving. When a punch or kick is made, they are methods for receiving them. We often think of receiving as a passive action, and in many contexts it can be, but in the context of karate it is necessary to receive actively (the alternative being getting hit).
Massage straddles this world of receiving passively or actively. If you are looking for an experience where you are merely lying on the table, half asleep, while a therapist does their work, what you want is “Relaxation Massage”. It is a valuable service for generalized muscular tightness, poor circulation, and frayed nerves, and the client’s role is largely (but not totally) passive. If however, you come to see an MT about a problem specific to posture or difficulty moving, you will need to be a much more active participant.
Treatment massage should include an assessment in order to determine the source of dysfunction, and the client needs to be engaged in following a therapist’s instructions throughout these tests. A good treatment tends to include aftercare instructions involving stretching and strengthening exercises, suggestions for altering activities for daily living, or even instruction for self-massage. The application of the massage only makes up a portion of the actual treatment. Even the most talented MT can only assist the client up to a certain point, which has value by itself, but without the client’s communication and participation, therapy cannot take them further.

Yes, a gardener is an athlete

I find it amusing that when I ask people if they participate in any strenuous activities or sports, they often will say no, yet later in a session, they may mention soreness due to gardening.

A quick breakdown of the activities involved in gardening reveals a very athletic activity: pushing, pulling or lifting heavy equipment such as lawn mowers, weed wackers and rototillers; carrying bags of soil, garden tools and bedding plants; digging up weeds and harvesting plants which involves not only heavy lifting but likely doing so while in awkward positions.

Common issues include pain and tension in the back, shoulders, arms and neck, leading to muscle strains, joint sprains, headaches and susceptibility to injury in other activities of daily living.

Before starting on gardening tasks, particularly early in the season, try a quick warm-up routine involving back and shoulder stretches, lunges and forearm stretching.  When lifting or pushing equipment and tugging weeds, try to use body weight rather than jerky muscle movements  Work with good body mechanics and a straight back when possible.  Rather than bending excessively, sit or kneel when possible and use a cushion or pad for your knees to lessen pressure.  If you ache after a good gardening session, using warm or cool packs on your back, neck or shoulders can help loosen tight muscles.

Massage is beneficial to find tight spots that develop and can pull joints out of alignment.  This lessens the chance of them causing more serious problems in the future.  Addressing postural imbalance during a treatment and going over stretches after a session can help you stay healthy while gardening.

Why are my hands tingling?

So you work in an office, doing lots of mousing and keyboarding.  You start noticing that you wake up at night with aching or tingling hands, like you’ve slept on them wrong.  You start worrying that you may be developing carpal tunnel syndrome and are dreading the thought of surgery.


It is possible you have thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition caused by the compression of the nerves or blood vessels that feed your arms due to muscle tightness.  Oftentimes, this can be corrected with releasing the muscles in your neck and upper chest.

I have seen many clients come in because of tingling or a dull ache in their hands, especially felt at night.  These symptoms can be carpal tunnel syndrome which is a compression of the median nerve as it passes across the wrist.  However, symptoms are generally felt only in the thumb, index and middle fingers or up the arm to the elbow.  It is a good idea to rule out muscle tightness first because it is much simpler and less invasive than surgery.


A massage provider should do a few muscle movement tests to rule out carpal tunnel syndrome and confirm which muscles may be contributing to the key symptoms.  If muscle tightness is found, the treatment involves releasing muscles in the neck, upper chest and shoulders.  Stretches are given at the end to allow you to continue improving on your own.  It is likely you will need a few treatments to sort out the adhesions and trigger points that may be present.  Afterwards, with regular stretching and possible posture correction, symptoms usually go away entirely.

The “Impact” of Massage Therapy on the martial artist

My mother-in-law once asked me why it was necessary to spend so much time practicing my karate and taichi and why I couldn’t utilize visualization as a means of learning my arts without putting my body through such tremendous strain.

Visualization is a key component to understanding any martial art. It is a means of mapping out actions in your brain in order to augment the development of skills, and if the martial arts were more similar to learning something like playing the piano (which my mother-in-law teaches), it could take on an even more profound role in the training. But the martial arts tend to involve significant physiological changes to the body and this isn’t achieved through visualization.

Bone and muscle both need to become denser and many nerves need to be desensitized in order for the martial artist to withstand the forces they will be subjected to. This is achieved through repeated and gradually increasing impact with hard surfaces. The human body doesn’t like being hurt, and so when it is injured, it attempts to make bones and muscle stronger and nerves less sensitive so that in the future the same impact won’t be a problem. Through consistent training a martial artist is causing the kind of micro fractures and tears that achieve these desired results.

But do not think for a second that this process comes at no cost, and careful attention to one’s health becomes necessary.

Hypertonicity of muscles can lead to any number of postural problems. Many people only see bad posture as a problem for looking good or proper in public, but it is far more significant than that. Tight muscles can pinch off nerves and blood flow so badly that you can lose a portion of a limb’s strength and function. A messed up posture can result in headaches and a reduction in the performance of our digestive and cardiovascular function. If these issues are not addressed they can worsen and become a serious impediment to quality of life.

The process of “conditioning” the body for martial arts is a significant cause of inflammation in the body. And while inflammation is a natural physiological response to certain situations, our bodies do not thrive when it is chronic and it doesn’t lead to a particularly long or comfortable lifetime.

And here is where I make a shameless plug for massage therapy. Massage treatments are very effective at easing tight muscles, correcting posture, and mitigating the effects of inflammation resulting from my frequently overdone training. A postural assessment can help identify specific problem areas so that treatments can be focused to the areas that are actually causing the problems.

I’ve written about this from my perspective as a martial artist, but my lifestyle is not necessarily unique. Any activity or career can result in physiological changes to our bodies; it is how we adapt to the things we do. Lifestyle will affect how our bodies develop, grow, and function, and sometimes a little care is needed in order to deal with the complications that can be a result of those changes. Therapies abound and I’m no stranger to making use of other modalities, but regular massage for me has been one of the more effective ways of dealing with them.

Sciatica Symptoms: Bone degeneration or muscle tightness?

You’ve been experiencing back pain for awhile but something has changed.  You’re developing a dull achiness in the buttock and a shooting pain down the back of the leg.  It’s worse when you stand up after you’ve been sitting for awhile and it flares up when you’re walking.  Currently, the only thing that makes it feel better is lying down on your back.  You mention it at work and a co-worker declares that you have sciatica and goes on to give you details of the debilitating pain and surgery that a family member with the condition had to endure.

A little online research can give you one explanation.  Sciatica is an irritation of a particular nerve root as it exits the spine.  It can be caused by herniated discs, narrowing of the canal that holds the spinal cord or degeneration of the vertebrae surrounding the area the nerve root exits the spine.  You start worrying  that surgery may be in your future.


There are other conditions that can cause sciatic-like symptoms and a few of them relate to the piriformis – a muscle that runs from your sacrum to the top of your leg bone.  When it tightens excessively on one side, it can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve as it runs above, below or through the muscle.  Tight muscles can develop adhesions and tight spots called ‘trigger points’ that refer pain from the tight spot to the surrounding area.  The most common referral pattern of a trigger point in piriformis is down the back of the leg.


The condition is easily treated with massage and stretching.  A therapist will loosen up the muscles of the low back and gluteal area, looking for especially sensitive tight spots that cause the referral pattern.  The muscle is stretched and lengthened and tender spots may be held with sustained pressure until they release.  The recommendation for homecare includes stretching the hip muscles and heating the surrounding area to prevent any recurring symptoms.

New hours

Clinic hours have changed.  We are now open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 11 am to 8 pm.  If additional hours are ever available, I will note it on my Facebook page.