Moving "massage" from a want to a need


Our bodies don’t always do what we want them to. This is terrifying.

For as long as I can recall, I have carried tension and stress in my neck and shoulders. I remember being 6-years old and going to see a chiropractor – I was complaining about back pain in kindergarten. As I’ve gotten older and my life has been filled with adult responsibilities, questions, and anxiety, the pain has only increased.

I tell myself to relax, to breathe deeply, to roll my head down to my chest and stretch out the muscles, willing myself to let go of the tension. But my body just doesn’t respond – it doesn’t listen. I walk around in a state of permanent rigidity and strain. This pain is exacerbated by repetitive movements that I do daily: typing, playing guitar, holding a phone to my ear. It’s hard to know how to change my lifestyle in order to improve my discomfort.

Recently, the pain has been spreading. I’ve been having headaches, and my jaw feels permanently locked and tense. Again, I tell myself to unwind, loosen up, calm down… but my body refuses to comply. I want to take out my muscles and stretch them like rubber bands, forcing the kinks to be pulled back to a healthy form.

Last night I went to the store to look for muscle relaxants. One time, we gave muscle relaxants to our dog, and she peed all over the big comfy chair – but frankly, this is a risk I was willing to take. I asked the pharmacist if they had anything over the counter, and she looked at me like I had asked for cocaine. “No,” she said. “Those are available by prescription only.” So I found the next best thing – Excedrin Back & Body – and took 2 before bed.

This morning, I still hurt.

How can I force my body into submission? I wish that I could will away the pain, or refuse to let stress take up residence in my muscles. But the body has a mind of its own – and unfortunately, it’s not MY mind. The body and the brain are divided by the Great Wall of China. And it’s a scary thing to feel out of control.


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  1. Emily on September 17, 2008 at 9:43 AM

    Get a massage for sure!

    Have you tried yoga? You can usually find a class that is pretty movement oriented and doesn’t go into all the chants and mantras.

    Or, I really like the Crunch Candlelight Yoga DVD. You can get it really cheap used on Amazon.

  2. Annibelle on September 17, 2008 at 10:19 AM

    Girl, I feel your pain (sort of). I had the most excruciatingly unnerving day yesterday. There is tension in my shoulders, running straight up to my neck and behind my ears. Fortunately for me, the root of my pain and rage is out of the office for a few more hours.

  3. Deborah Barnett on September 17, 2008 at 10:45 AM

    Annie – I have the exact same issue. My shoulders and neck are in a constant state of knotted pain. Many a masseuse has paused as soon as feeling my shoulders saying, “Dang girl! Ok – we have LOTS of work to do”. Nice.

    Anyway, I do have a yoga/pilates video you are welcome to borrow. I have to admit, when I was doing pilates regularly, my pain decreased significantly. Well, that and 2 Aleve before bed. WHy did I quit? Lazy… I’m sure. But now that I’m cycling again, I need to start.

    Let me know if you’d like the video.

  4. Laura on September 17, 2008 at 11:12 AM

    How is your posture? Be sure to use correct ergonomics at work because sitting behind a computer all day can really mess up your back. This may give you a more long term fix than muscle relaxants, which can be habit forming and probably bad for driving ;-) They’ll also slow up your fast and furious typing. Hope you feel better soon!

  5. Mary on September 17, 2008 at 12:10 PM

    Ann, my love. YOGA. I’m not saying it will cure, but it will help. Even a few seated poses in the morning relaxes my (often tight) jaw and neck. If you have more time, do an entire standing sequence. It does wonders for the body and the psyche.

  6. Case and Los on September 17, 2008 at 12:12 PM

    Dude, you wanna hear how bad I AM TOO?! Because of HOW I SLEPT all the the way through college I now have massive TMJ (they even paid to study me at UWMC!) and sometimes I can’t open my jaw in the morning b/c it’s “out of place”, or it pops and hurts like a mother.
    AND b/c of how I slept on my arm, with bent elbow, I NOW have tendonitis that hurts like a bitch from my elbow down into my hand (I think there’s some carpal-tunnel action going on too!) So typing is PAINFUL. I’m going to the doctor Monday and about to write a blog about it too:) Good luck with eradicating your ailments, tell me your cure:)

  7. Kristin on September 17, 2008 at 1:11 PM

    This may sound crazy, but you should see a DENTIST! I had crazy headaches, jaw, and neck/shoulder pain and I went to a chiropractor about it and they told me I was carrying all the tension in my jaw and probably grinding my teeth at night which was causing the neck and shoulder pain. So I went to the dentist and they fitted me for a night guard which prevents teeth grinding and a lot of the pain went away!

  8. Annie Parsons on September 17, 2008 at 1:26 PM

    Kristin, hi!

    I already have a night guard, because yes, I am DEFINITELY a tooth-grinder. But the thing that I don’t understand about a night guard is that… I’m still grinding my teeth. It’s just that there’s a plastic shield between my uppers and lowers, so the teeth don’t actually touch. But still: my jaw is clenched and angrily moving back and forth… so how does that help anything (besides my tooth enamel)?

    Where is Daniel Clader DDS when I need him?

    Also, where is medical insurance when I need it?

    I should definitely try the yoga thing. Can I do it in my living room? Still in my pj’s before work? Can I drink coffee at the same time?

  9. Tad on September 17, 2008 at 1:45 PM

    The drugs won’t help. You definately need to see a masseuse or some sort of specialist. When you’re rich and famous enough to have a health plan, that is.

  10. wrecklessgirl on September 17, 2008 at 2:07 PM

    once again we’re on the same page…i was just rubbing my own shoulders thinking, “now i understand why so many people marry!” haha….seriously tho…what’s with this stress thing? and don’t forget the talking-to-yourself trying to talk yourself out of being overwhelmed…which in itself, is overwhelming. in the sick-to-your-stomach way. i agree that some yoga or pilates definitely helps teach you how to chill. i need to get myself back into that this fall. i feel so unable to carry this weight on my shoulders, and my poor posture is proof of it!

  11. Julianne on September 17, 2008 at 4:51 PM

    Wow, you are getting all kinds of advice. And it seems like lots of people have chronic muscle pain…. me included. I’ve had shoulder and neck pain since high school, and now I get massage therapy covered by my benefits…so I partake…but recently I tried an osteopath. Have I told you this story already? It involved a very odd session where he told me my liver was out of place, along with a bunch of other things…and then he “put them back in place”–is that even possible? I don’t know. But my pain was supposed to go away…and actually, I think it’s been better, though not totally gone. So, maybe your liver is out of place–lol!

  12. Annie Parsons on September 17, 2008 at 7:15 PM

    Julianne, there have been times when I’ve abused my liver. So maybe that IS the problem…?


    Tonight, I’m opting for some simple stretching in my living room. But first, I’m Swiffering the floors.

  13. Sarah Kate on September 17, 2008 at 7:25 PM

    One of my favorite things to do between massages – a MUST, not always a frivilous expense – is lay on a tennis ball. Sounds crazy but your body weight and the tennis ball do WONDERS for those knots I get between my shoulders.
    Plus, if you can somehow get someone to GIVE you one rather than buy a package it’s even better.
    I feel your pain! Right now actually. WHere IS that tennis ball?

  14. Anonymous on September 17, 2008 at 8:43 PM

    Annie, these are all great suggestions, but, honestly, if you have the biggest head in the world, why should you NOT have neck and shoulder pain? I’m feeling very guilty for bringing you into this world with the “big-head” gene pool. But, on the other hand, to be the woman who birthed the largest-headed child, well, that’s an honor that not many can claim!

  15. Anonymous on September 17, 2008 at 8:58 PM

    Seriously, get yourself a massage, and some tennis balls, and start that yoga cd. I’m sorry you are hurting!

  16. Crystal on September 17, 2008 at 9:21 PM

    Two words: Bikram yoga. It’s 90 grueling minutes in a hot and humid room and the whole time you wonder why you are torturing yourself; when you’re done, you feel like you’re a champ and nothing can stop you! Then you also realize that it’s as addictive as cocaine (not that I would know, but one of my teachers calls it yoga crack) and you just feel amazing and say adios to back/neck pain. Being a dental hygienist, I definitely carry my stress in that area as well and the yoga really helps with that.
    So speaking of dentistry…definitely great to wear your night guard! You are exactly right that your jaw still moves but the night guard prevents your teeth from interdigitating which prevents wear on your teeth and strain on your TMJ muscles. If nothing else, go for the “better safe than sorry” idea because I have seen some really wrecked mouths because of grinding.

  17. THE PARSONS on September 17, 2008 at 11:36 PM




  18. Allie, Dearest on September 18, 2008 at 12:46 AM

    I’d say your best bet is to join me in my Pilates class.

    It takes care of “everything.”


  19. Case and Los on September 18, 2008 at 10:47 AM

    All these comments are so amazing, they make me laugh! POWER TO THE PEOPLE WHO WEAR NIGHTGUARDS!!! I do, every night. And I’m still screwed up.

  20. Tim and Krysten on September 21, 2008 at 10:35 AM

    As I was loading the comment form, there was an ad over on the sidebar that said “Magic back pain relief! Never feel back pain again!!!” The link below said nomorebackpain.con. Fitting–.con. Anyway, chiropractors are where the real magic is. And yoga. Straight up magic.

  21. Nicola on November 5, 2008 at 8:26 AM

    You need to find a massage therapist who does medical or neuromuscular massage. You need to release trigger points in your neck and shoulders. Actually you can do this yourself if someone will show you how. I’m a therapist and I help lots of people with this problem. I use a tennis ball often when I’m too busy to get help, it really works. Also never ever hold a telephone in your neck or sleep on your front and stretch as much and as often as possible. Hope this helps, neck pain sucks.

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