Monday, January 20, 2014

12 Steps to Defeat Depression: Manual Therapy

            And behold, a leper came and worshipped [Jesus], saying, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”
         Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am wiling; be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
                                                                         ~ Matthew 8:2-3
            Reread the above verses. Can you imagine it? Having leprosy? Being grossly disfigured and outcast from your friends, your family, from all of society?  
            Can you imagine not being touched for years, because it wasn’t allowed; and because—being afraid they’d contract the disease from you—no one wanted to touch you? To tenderly pat your back, lovingly stroke your arm. Wrap their arms around you in a hug?
            Since touch is one of my primary love languages of communication, I can’t imagine not being touched by my husband, my children, my family, my friends. I honestly think I’d shrivel up and die if I couldn’t experience the touch of another person.
            Reread the passage again, and notice what Jesus does. In other leper healings recounted in Scripture, He simply speaks and the lepers are healed. But in this situation, Jesus touches. He violates the rules and lays His hand upon this desperate, dying person.
            Can you imagine what being touched felt like to this man who probably hadn’t felt another human being's warm gentle hand in weeks, months, possibly years?
            Jesus always meets us where we are, providing our greatest needs. And in this situation, Jesus knows that this emotionally and physically starved man needed to be touched.
            Maybe that’s exactly what you need today: a loving touch, a hands-on therapy.
            Manual therapies, like massage and muscle manipulation, have been around for thousands of years, and they are some of the most commonly used group of treatments in the world today. There’s just nothing quite like what we always referred to as “the laying on of hands.”
            Whether it’s the sensation one feels when touched, the warmth of the touch, the tenderness of it, or the actual detoxification and healing one receives after a good massage, I believe manual therapy is one of the best ways to increase blood flow to the tissues, lift one’s spirit, and produce healing in the body and mind.
             People often asked me if manual therapy or massage works. My response was always, “Well, I think it does, but even if we can’t actually get solid data proving that it does, as long as it doesn’t cause the patient harm, and they think it’s beneficial, then I’m all for it!” There’s just something beneficial to the brain when you believe the treatment you’re receiving is working.

What is Manual Therapy?
            Physical forces applied to the body define hands-on treatments—otherwise referred to as manual therapies. They can include massage, manipulation and mobilization. The most common side effect is local tenderness, which usually resolves itself rapidly after the treatment, unless your therapist has been especially vigorous and overdone it.
            Here are some of the most popular therapies available:

Alexander Technique:
Named for an Australian-English actor, this technique teaches you to become more aware of your posture and body movements and is used to relieve pain improve body function and prevent injury. Its effectiveness has not been well-documented, but if your depression stems from physical issues, then you might do some research on it, find a practitioner in your area, and give it try.

Feldenkrais Method:
This treatment was actually coming into vogue 24 years ago, when I was still doing clinic work. It uses gentle movements and body awareness exercises (some of which are difficult only to the extent that they’re hard to get used to and require a lot of body awareness to perform correctly) to develop increased flexibility and coordination. I’m not sure about the increased flexibility, but it does increase your coordination by increasing your body awareness and quality of movement. It does that through continual body feedback during your exercises you perform with a trained therapist. The exercises are done sitting, lying down or standing and progress in range and complexity. It has been used to treat anxiety and depression, and may be successful in these areas because of the attention it gives to body awareness and control.

I can’t say enough good things about massage therapy, but you must have someone who is trained in it in order to reap the benefits. During massage, the therapist manipulates the body’s soft tissues—gently or vigorously—using either their fingertips, hands or fists. (Yes, fists.) They may even do some patting, pounding, pulling, or pinching, depending upon the type of massage.

A massage may make you feel relaxed, but it can also get your blood flowing vigorously and liven you up. Swimmers—who have been some of the frontrunner athletes in using massage in their training and competition—have used it for years to get them loose and charged for a race. Be careful, though. Vigorous massage can hurt you, so make sure your therapist knows exactly what your physical and mental issues are so they can massage accordingly.

A not-so-funny story about an experience I had right out of grad school in my first job highlights my caution. 

The physical therapists I worked for had just attended a conference where they learned a brand new, wonder therapy. Well, they had what we call an “in service” event, where the staff gathered to learn this new, must-know treatment. And guess who they selected as the guinea pig? You got it! Moi. Me; the newbie.

Anyway, the therapist (my boss) demonstrating got real vigorous with the myofascial release and Rolfing (deep tissue massage ) technique he’d just learned, that he was demonstrating on my sternocleidomastoid muscle (the big one that runs from your collarbone and breastbone, and then up and around your neck to the base of your skull). As he pulled, stretched and attempted to separate the muscle from the "tight" connective tissue (or loosen its connection, which, in turn was to give me, the "patient," more flexibility and range of head and neck motion), my neck started getting pretty sore. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough guts to tell my boss to lighten up, but I should have. Upon awakening the following morning, my muscle was so swollen that it put pressure on my airway and caused me considerable breathing difficulty. My lymph glands were swollen to the size of grapes, and my throat was sore and nearly closed.

So, find someone who’s had experience with the different techniques, and don’t hesitate to alert your therapist if they’re causing you pain. It doesn’t always have to be painful to provide effective healing. (Although sometimes rehabilitation can and does cause a patient considerable discomfort.) Most often though, the guideline is for gentle manipulation.

Massage is highly effective for people suffering from stress, anxiety and depression, regardless of the cause. So it’s way up there on my list of favorite therapies. And it has also been shown to increase the strength of the immune system, which means your body is more likely to be able to defend itself against viral and cancer cells.

That wraps up manual therapies. You can probably think of others to add to this list, but I’ve concentrated on those treatments most likely to help you in your battle with depression, grief-driven or otherwise. You may have some you would like to share with all of the readers. Please leave a response so we can add them to the list!


NEXT WEEK: We’ll be wrapping up this series on depression with cognitive behavioral
therapy and some additional spirit and mood-lifting activities! Then I’ll return to my story, which also covers high-risk pregnancies and premature infants. You’ll be both encouraged and amazed.

So, until next week,

Thanks for joining me!