Even before injury, chronic back pain may start in the brain

Research has shown that there are clear differences that distinguish the brains of those with chronic pain from those without such pain. Chronic pain sufferers consistently show reduced volume in the brain’s gray matter, the cortical structures key to perception, movement, memory and reasoning. Researchers have also shown that compared to healthy patients, the brains of chronic pain sufferers are wired differently, in ways that suggest that physical sensations and emotional responses are bound more tightly together.

But are those brain differences a response to chronic pain — the brain’s response to the experience of months or years of physical misery? Or do those differences predate chronic pain — nudging what for another patient would be a short-term experience of discomfort into a lifelong ordeal? The authors of the current study, working under a federal government initiative aimed at consolidating research on pain, devised a series of experiments designed to clarify which came first.

They did so by recruiting 46 subjects who had experienced a first episode of back pain that had already lasted four to 16 weeks, and performing regular brain scans on those subjects for a year. Focusing largely on the bundles of axons that carry nerve impulses across the brain, they found that within two months of recruiting patients, discernible differences in the structure and integrity of that “white matter” could be used to distinguish subjects whose pain persisted from those whose pain was beginning to resolve.

By the 12-month mark, the structural differences in white matter allowed researchers to distinguish — without error — subjects whose pain had disappeared from those whose pain was persistent. Compared to subjects whose pain resolved, subjects whose pain would become chronic also showed differences in the density of connections that lashed their nucleus accumbens — a central structure in the brain rewards, motivation, pleasure and reinforcement learning circuit — together with their medial prefrontal cortex, a switchboard for decision-making, emotional response and long-term memory.

Originally published in the LA Times but you can find more about it here




If you want to try a massage, visit The Ark

£5 off your first treatment for new customers

Share this:

Menses Pain and Excessive Bleeding Treated with Essential Oil Massage

Maternity and gynecology researchers have determined that abdominal massage with essential herbal oils will decrease pain and excessive bleeding in difficult menstruation.

Managing a painful menses with heavy bleeding is a common issue for women – especially when during periods of additional stress, early menstruation, and during pre- and peri-menopausal years. Conventional medicine has provided an array of pain medications to help temporarily alleviate pain – but some of these also come with liver-damaging and other side effects.

The researchers, from the Faculty of Nursing at Egypt’s Mansoura University, studied 95 female nursing students between the ages of 17 and 20 years old. Before the treatments began, the students were randomized and assessed during one complete menstrual cycle.

After the initial assessment, for seven days prior to each student’s menstruation period, the researchers – nursing faculty – gave each student a 10-minute abdominal massage once per day. On one group the researchers used either a blend of essential oils in an almond oil base. On the other group, they used an almond oil base without the essential oils.

The essential oil blend was made up of one-and-a-half parts Cinnamon oil, one-and-a-half part Clove oil, one part Lavender oil and one part Rose oil. These were diluted in sweet Almond oil at a 5% dilution.

The researchers used the standardized VAS-pain scale – VAS = visual analog scale – to assess the pain of each student during menstruation. The VAS uses a 0 to 10 pain scale with 0 signifying no pain. They also timed pain in hours and measured the amount of bleeding by the number of saturated pads. Each student was assessed on the first, second and third day of menstruation bleeding.

After one cycle of massage treatment, the two groups were switched – also called a crossover – and the group given the essential oil massage was given the placebo oil massage and vice versa.

In both treatment series, the researchers found that those given the essential oil massages had significantly less pain and less bleeding than the placebo group.

During the first treatment phase, the essential oil-treated group had 17% less pain than the untreated group on the first day, 20% less pain on the 2nd day, and 28% less pain on the third day tested compared to the group massaged only with almond oil. The crossover treatment phase resulted in similar pain reductions, except that the third day’s pain was 57% less than the pain scale of the placebo group.

Meanwhile the duration of pain in the first phase averaged 23.1 hours for the placebo group and only 18.6 hours for the essential oil-treated group. During the crossover treatment, the pain duration was 24.5 for the placebo group and only 19.3 for the treated group.

During the initial assessment, over a third of the students had excessive menstrual bleeding. The 75% to 95% of the essential oil-treated group that had excessive bleeding initially had average bleeding by the third day.

This study is supported by a previous study from Korea showing similar findings with essential oil massage. Here the researchers – from Wonkwang Public Health College’s School of Nursing – studied 67 female students. This study divided the students into three groups – a treated group, a placebo group and a control group (no treatment). To the treated group they gave short abdominal massages with an essential oil blend of two drops essential Lavender oil, one drop of essential Clary Sage oil, and one drop of essential Rose oil in five cc’s of Almond oil – about 1/6th of an ounce.

This study also found that menstruation pain and severity of bleeding were reduced significantly among those massaged with the essential oils.

Essential oils are extracts of herbs using a distillation method – with steam being one of the better methods used, but alcohol and other solvents sometimes being used to extract the essential oils.

The distillation process retains much of the volatile phyto-compounds contained in the plant – including those that maintain aromas. For this reason, essential herbal oils are often referred to as aromatherapy oils.

However, the terminology of aromatherapy oils can be confusing because the body responds to these essential oils in deeper ways than simply through their aroma. The volatile oils contain many compounds – sometimes hundreds – which can be absorbed through the skin into the body.

Because of this, a person may be sensitive to certain essential oils. For this reason, an essential oil should be carefully skin-tested with a tiny diluted amount prior to a larger application on the skin. And essential oil contact with the mucous membranes (mouth, nose, ears, and so on) should be done only with the advice of ones health professional knowledgeable in the use of essential oils.

Both of the above studies confirm that while massage may be useful, daily massage with carefully selected essential oils can significantly reduce a significant amount of pain and excessive bleeding in menstruation.

And this is why the use of essential oils for menstruation has been utilized for over 4,000 years in Egyptian, Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Because it works.

Written by Case Adams, Naturopath


Marzouk TM, El-Nemer AM, Baraka HN. The effect of aromatherapy abdominal massage on alleviating menstrual pain in nursing students: a prospective randomized cross-over study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:742421.

Han SH, Hur MH, Buckle J, Choi J, Lee MS. Effect of aromatherapy on symptoms of dysmenorrhea in college students: A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Altern Complement Med. 2006 Jul-Aug;12(6):535-41.

Come to The Ark to experience the benefits of a massage from Mike

Share this:

Aromatherapy abdominal massage has a positive effect on alleviating menstrual pain in nursing students.

Dysmenorrhea is a common cause of sickness absenteeism from both classes and work. This study investigated the effect of aromatherapy massage on a group of nursing students who are suffering of primary dysmenorrhea. A randomized blind clinical trial of crossover design was used. In the first treatment phase, group 1 (n = 48) received aromatherapy abdominal massage once daily for seven days prior to menstruation using the essential oils (cinnamon, clove, rose, and lavender in a base of almond oil). Group 2 (n = 47) received the same intervention but with placebo oil (almond oil). In the second treatment phase, the two groups switched to alternate regimen. Level and duration of pain and the amount of menstrual bleeding were evaluated at the baseline and after each treatment phase. During both treatment phases, the level and duration of menstrual pain and the amount of menstrual bleeding were significantly lower in the aromatherapy group than in the placebo group. These results suggests that aromatherapy is effective in alleviating menstrual pain, its duration and excessive menstrual bleeding. Aromatherapy can be provided as a nonpharmacological pain relief measure and as a part of nursing care given to girls suffering of dysmenorrhea, or excessive menstrual bleeding.

Read more

Aromatherapy Massage in Leigh on Sea

Share this:

The Healthy Back | Module One: The Anatomy and Physiology of Low Back Pain

This module focuses upon the anatomy and physiology of the lumbar region, sacrum, pelvis and the importance of the musculature and ligature of these regions are for preventing and reversing pains and weaknesses in these regions. This module reviews some of the research examining conventional medicine’s perspective of low back pain and how it overlooks key elements that allow clarity for the real culprits. Illustrations and diagrams show anatomy and how it relates to back health. This module is required to understand the purpose of the strategies of the following modules.

The Healthy Back for low back pain (Preview) from Realnatural on Vimeo.

Sort out your back pain

Share this:

Indian Head Massage

What is an Indian head massage?

Indian Head Massage is a straightforward method of alternative therapy that you don’t have to undress for, that involves gentle manipulation of the head and upper body.

This massage technique can be used to relieve tension, stress and fix blockages and improve circulation throughout the body leading to a lowering of blood pressure. Indian Head Massage began in Asia a very long time ago but the benefits are still very relevant to today’s busy lifestyles.

Tension in the muscles in the human body can cause much discomfort and an imbalance will lead to poor function and tiredness. An Indian Head Massage can manipulate the body to de-stress and even invigorate people, as well as relieving them of existing aches or twinges in the upper body.

Indian head massage techniques

A head massage has always been part of getting your haircut in India and is known to be very healthy for your hair and the skin underneath. Various vegetable oils are often used such as coconut oil or olive oil to provide nutrition and the whole process it is even said to help with hair growth and colour retention.

Massaging the head in this way helps with circulation and the distribution of oxygen, amongst other nutrients, to the brain.

Your face and head are very responsive parts of the upper body which, along with the shoulders and neck, are especially susceptible to the symptoms of our hectic lifestyles. Therefore an Indian Head Massage is a very successful method of stress release and energy correction.

On an emotional level, an Indian Head Massage can also facilitate the rebalancing of the mind by helping to correct the energetic flow and unblock pathways. In doing so, this will enable the body to better cope with stress, fatigue and feeling low.

An Indian Head Massage normally will last for about half an hour therefore it is a quick method of revival that can be done during at lunchtime and prepare you for the rest of the day.

And most modern-day practices not longer apply any oils so, while you do not have to be concerned about having to wash your hair, it may lose its shape so do keep a comb handy!

Call us to find out how a Indian head massage can help you.

Share this:

Sports Massages in Leigh on Sea

Sports Massages in SouthendThere’s no point trying to beat around the bush – sports massages can be somewhat uncomfortable.

Not all the time – in fact some of it can be very pleasant indeed, especially at the beginning when your therapist is gently kneading the muscles in your body and at the end when they are relaxing and stretching them out after the deep tissue part of the treatment.

However, it’s the bit in between that can be excruciatingly painful. But, as the old adage says – no pain, no gain.

I spend a lot of time hunched over a computer and I don’t do stress very well. These two problems mean that I carry a lot of tension in the muscles where my neck joins my shoulders.

Sometimes they feel rock hard and start to restrict the sideways movement of my head. That’s when I know a visit to Mike for a sports massage is due. But thankfully work related stress can’t defeat my sports massages, which are proven to relieve stress!

Trigger Point Therapy in Sports Massages

Mikes’ sports massages involve a clever trigger point therapy technique to try to trick my brain into releasing the tension it is holding in the muscles. This involves rolling my flesh to isolate the problem area and then sticking his elbow into the recalcitrant muscle. I am informed that some massage therapists use their thumbs, knees and, even feet for the purpose.

The result is that every nerve centre in your brain explodes in complaint and it feels as if a red hot poker is being pushed into the muscle as my eyeballs, simultaneously, try to pop out of my body – even when he’s working on the stress in my glutes!

Trigger points are caused by a build up of lactic acid and other toxins from a contraction in some of a muscle’s fibres which are then unable to disperse through the constricted capillaries.

Each point and the surrounding tissue needs to be identified and resolved through specific massage techniques with very precise levels of intensity and duration to ensure the knot is properly eased without damaging the tissues.

It’s not just a case of applying the elbow with impunity, there are a number of other required elements to the treatment, particularly when it comes to loosening everything off again afterwards.

Sports Massage in SouthendThis is normally the point where I start to drift off to sleep as things become much more relaxing and that’s the part that remains in your mind when you book your next appointment.

I love my sports massages with Mike. More than anything, they are an extraordinarily effective treatment that makes the difference between me being able to continue with my computer-based career… and having to give up.

Now I just need to work on the ergonomic set-up of my office arrangements.

So, there you have it – sports massages, the pain and the pleasure.

If you’re suffering with work related stress, sore neck and shoulder or a sports injury, sports massage WILL SORT OUT your issue! BOOK a massage treatment at the Ark with Mike on 01702 710531

Share this:

Sports Massage Leigh on Sea – easing postural pain and fixing sports injuries

"Sports Massages" Despite what you might think, it’s not just athletes who find Sports Massages extremely beneficial.

A lot of people will ask ‘What’s the difference between a sports massage and a regular massage?

A ‘normal’ massage is for relaxation, aimed purely at soothing tired muscles. Sports massages target the deep tissue and stimulate circulation of blood and lymph fluids. Using trigger point therapy to break down knots in the muscles and increase range of motion, this unique technique will help anyone with chronic pain, injury or range-of-motion issues. Suitable for non-athletes as well as dedicated sporty types!

Sports massage can relax the muscles, reducing tension to make injury less likely. Furthermore it helps to fight fatigue, which allows for quicker recovery after strenuous exercise. It can also relieve any swelling around the joints, improving your flexibility and body strength. By boosting circulation, it can reduce the heart rate and blood pressure, as well as bolstering the immune system so that the body heals more quickly

Originally developed to prepare the bodies of athletes to function optimally during training and therebyboosting performance at the big event, it is also used to prevent and heal injuries to muscles and tendons. Did you know that sports massage is recommended as part of your training plan for the London Marathon?

Sports Massage relieves all sorts of pain!

I’m not an athlete, so sports massage is not for me!

Oh but it is! A sports massage uses deep tissue and remedial techniques that can really help many more ailments than merely sports injuries. A very common complaint from office workers spending long hours on the computer is tension around the shoulders and neck. Sports massage techniques can really help ease the pain away.

Of course, left untreated these aches and pains can develop into chronic conditions. Spending endless hours slumped in front of a PC, then more slouching on the couch add up to a lot of bad posture. This is teaching the body bad habits and producing strain and tension in muscles.

A good sports massage will release the tension and allow the shoulders to relax and the neck to loosen. This easing will then enable a good posture to be held. Ask your sports massage therapist for help with your post, we’re a friendly bunch always happy to help.

If you are suffering from muscle pain or tension anywhere in your body, then a sports massage will help you get back to normal.

For Leigh-on-Sea Sports Massage, Call The Ark on 01702 710531 to arrange an appointment to ease the pain away!

Share this:

Indian Head Massage Techniques

Indian Head Massage is a wonderful ancient massage technique that has evolved over many hundreds of years to encourage healthy hair growth and to relieve muscular and joint tension in the head and upper body.  In India it is normal to have a head massage every time you go to the hairdressers, as they believe that it helps encourage a healthy scalp and hair growth.

Treatments vary in length but are often half an hour long so can easily be incorporated into our hectic lives. It is normal to remain clothed and many therapists do not use oils so you won’t leave the treatment looking a state, although if this is a concern you should check beforehand.

The therapist will massage your head, neck, shoulders, arms, upper back and face in order to increase blood flow, ease muscle tension and strain.

Indian Head Massage Techniques

The therapist will usually start the treatment on the head and use a variety of Indian head massage techniques including long strokes (effleurage) this warms up your head, shoulders and tops of your arms and helps you feel comfortable with the therapist touching you. Then they might do some finger circles all over your head, gentle hair tugging which increases blood flow, finger combing through your hair, and static pressure which is where the therapist will push and release over your head which relaxes and stimulates the nerve endings in the scalp and promotes healthy hair growth.  Then they might do some tapping, squeezing and lifting of the scalp and finally some gently chopping (hacking).

Indian Head Massage Routine

Continue reading Indian Head Massage Techniques

Share this:

Massage Cushion, Beds and Table Covers

Massage Beds

As a masseur, you should spend as much money as possible on a good massage bed. One which has the ability to be raised up and down quietly and easily so as to alleviate any potential for stress on the therapist’s back but also so as to allow the client to climb on without difficulty. It also needs to be able to rise and lower without making a lot of racket which is not good for the end of a relaxing massage.

massage cushion

Massage Cushion

Most beds for massage tend to have some form of depression or hole for your face to fit into. There is nothing more uncomfortable than having a massage with your head tilted to one side – it just ends up giving you a pain where previously there was none.

I have also had treatments on beds that had a sort of plug-in cushioned circle. The problem with those is that the cushioned area applies pressure to the areas of the face that are most likely to lead to blocked sinuses and a bunged up feeling that is extremely uncomfortable and not conducive to relaxation.

You end up stressing parts of your neck, shoulders and upper back as you try to take the strain and relieve the pressure on your face.

So my masseur purchased a special blow up cushion which is almost a complete circle but with a break in it. He slips this under the material of the table cover and then adds a small towel.

This allows sufficient space for my face to be able to look down at the floor but without causing the pressure to my sinuses or the strain in my shoulders, neck and back.

Massage Table Covers

These come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the best ones are made of washable towelling, providing comfort for the client and are easy to clean for the therapist.

Call us to find out how a massage could help you. Call 01702 710531

Share this:

Massage Techniques – Effleurage and Patrissage

I love the start of a massage, when the masseur is warming up the tissue and spreading the oil around. The hands go up and down and round on either side of your spine and I wanted to find out more about this very calming aspect of the massage.

I learned that these two massage techniques are called Effleurage and Patrissage.


These relaxing massage techniques are derived from the French verb ‘effleurer’ meaning “to touch lightly” and the first use of the word effleurage as a massage stroke category is attributed to Dr Johan Georg Mezger who lived in Amsterdam in the middle to late 1800s.

These massage techniques are a soothing, stroking movement used at the beginning and the end of a body massage, as well as being used as a linking move between the different strokes and movements.

Essentially, it is a form of massage involving a circular stroking movement performed using either the padded parts of the finger tips or the palm of the hands and can be firm or light without dragging the skin, which works as a mechanical pump on the body to encourage venous and lymphatic return.

I found a really interesting post on the more technical nature of the technique here.

There are various types massage techniques involved in effleurage:

alternate figure of eight – where the hands are at 180 degrees out of phase, one is going up as the other is coming back and which can be performed on any part of the body: back, lower back, calf, buttock, shoulder, neck;

alternate – where the hands are on either side of the spine up and down going towards each other;

and bilateral are the ones that I am aware of when I am on the table.


This is the sports massage technique that I am not so keen on – especially when it is applied to my calf muscles. Derived from the French verb ‘pétrir’, meaning “to knead”, these kneading, wringing, skin rolling and pick-up-and-squeeze massage movements are applied with pressure and compress the underlying muscles. Kneading, wringing, skin rolling and pick-up-and-squeeze are the slow, rhythmical petrissage movements. They are all performed with the padded part of the palm of the hand, the surface of the finger and also the thumbs.

At first there is longitudinal pressure and then small strokes are applied covering a few inches of flesh at a time working through the whole muscle. There is a pressure point in the middle of the calf muscle on the back of your leg which corresponds to some deep discomfort when attacked during a martial arts lesson. The same sensations can be achieved when your masseur knuckles or kneads that point.

Scissoring can be performed only over a flat area with very little pressure using the index and middle fingers of both hands placed opposite each other and then slowly worked towards each other lifting and releasing as they go.

Get your massage in Leigh on Sea at the Ark

Share this: