The Power of Relaxation

Ellen SymonsEllen Symons, RMT is an avid recipient of relaxation massage.

Relaxation is all about softness, right?

Well, kind of. Relaxation is a powerful technique. The repairing and rebuilding that your brain and body do when you’re relaxed are essential to your ability to live a strong and healthy life.

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Take a hike, low back pain!

Muscle of the Month: Quadratus Lumborum – the hip hiker

Low back pain: we’ve all experienced it at least once in our lives. That nagging stiffness, inability to move, and dull ache can put the best of us in a bad mood, or worse, at home in bed. Low back pain can be cause by MANY factors. Muscle, joint, and fascial imbalances all tend to play a large role; one major muscle that can cause low back pain is the quadratus lumborum.

QL - Ottawa massage blogNo, it’s not a Harry Potter magic spell. The quadratus lumborum, or QL, is one of your low back muscles that is tucked very neatly between your hip and the last rib. With one on each side of the spine, the QL, especially when tight, can affect many areas of the body.

Actions: When one QL contracts: laterally flex torso, elevate hip (hip hike).  When both QLs contract: extension of low back (back bend), stabilization of ribs during forced expiration.

Common pain culprit: Sitting for extended periods of time and a hunched back; also prolonged hiking up of the hip.

As we sit, we put the QLs into a constant contraction, since our lower postural muscles (the spinal erectors) are turned off. With constant contraction, the QL begins the vicious cycle of chronic pain: decreased blood flow to muscle, then fascial adhesions, then muscle spasms. Hunching forward further exaggerates this, as it puts an imbalanced load on our postural spinal erectors and increases the need for a contracted QL to support the change in centre of gravity. Low back pain is the outcome of this over-contracted QL.

Elevated right hip

Habitual elevation or “hiking” of the hip can also cause tissue shortness on the elevated side. Daily activities such as carrying a baby can contribute to this type of imbalance.

The fix: Muscle testing to reveal the imbalance. Strengthening of postural muscles. Stretching of QL. Massage and heat for chronic dull pain.

Next time you come in with low back pain, inquire about the QL with your RMT. They can help determine if this is the affected muscle and what you can do for it.


Pain, pain, go away.

Pain, Pain, Pain,

It’s the only thing on your brain.

At work, at home

You just want to be left alone.

Why does the body give us pain?

What does it have to gain?

Pain should be an alarm,

An alarm that you are doing harm.

It could be how you sit or how you jog,

It could be any thing you do that’s odd.

If the body isn’t positioned right,

you could get pain that keeps you up at night.

Give your body good care,

Water, stretches and fresh air.

After all, your body will thank-you,

and give you less pain too!  

For the love of trigger points

Your beautiful body is connected via many, many different chains and pathways. A disruption in one chain can interrupt a number of paths, and cause pain elsewhere in the body. This is seen often with trigger point referral patterns.

What is a trigger point referral pattern, you ask?

It is probably what is causing your pain. It is a precise pattern of pain elicited by an active trigger point. A trigger point is a hyperirritable palpable spot in a taut band of muscle. In other words: a knot. Referral patterns have been documented by Travell and Simons and your massage therapist know them all too well.

Many of these referral patterns span the body, away from the trigger point site. What does this mean to you? It means that your headache might be caused by your back or neck, your back pain from your glutes, or your carpel tunnel pain from your elbow, shoulder or neck!

Take a look at these common patterns.Glute Medius Trigger Point - Ottawa Massage Blog Subscapularis Trigger Point - Ottawa Massage Blog Upper Trap Trigger Point - Ottawa massage blog

An RMT can help determine where the epicentre of pain is, and provide trigger point therapy for relief. When we get muscular pain, we initially think the massage should focus on the precise area of the pain, but it is important to get other areas addressed to pin-point where the dysfunction is. For your first treatment, it is good to get a general treatment as a preliminary scan of which muscles may be causing the pain; then a few follow-up appointments can be used to focus directly on the source of pain.

Discuss trigger points with your therapist at your next massage treatment.

The Gluteals – a pain in the ……

Muscle of the month: The Gluteals

Gluteals, glutes, buttock, rear-end, hiney; these muscles have been given many names over the years, and I’m sure you can think of a few more!  But (pun intended), did you know you have three gluteal muscles on each side? The gluteals consist of the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. Each has its own specific actions and pain pattern, which helps your massage therapist differentiate which glute is the dysfunctional one.

Gluteus Maximus: The big Kahuna

Gluteus maximus - ottawa massage blog

Gluteus maximus (cut) lies over top of all hip muscles

Actions – Extends, laterally rotates, abducts and adducts the hip (moves leg away from or toward the body)

Common pain culprit – Sitting for an extended period of time (underwork), or conversely, excessive hill or stair climbing (overwork)

The gluteus maximus is the largest of the glute muscles, as you can tell by its name. It covers the whole span of one cheek and plays a big role in the appearance of the buttock. When we sit for long periods of time, the glute slowly atrophies, reducing its ability to contract properly for actions such as ascending stairs.

The fix: Get up often from seat, prevent atrophy by hypertrophy (exercising)!

Squats, lunges, and stair climbing are good examples of exercises that engage the gluteus maximus. If you are unsure whether you are performing them correctly, ask your massage therapist, who can help you make the proper adjustments.

Gluteus Medius: The deltoid of the hip

Actions – Abducts, flexes, medially and laterally rotates, and extends hip

Common pain culprit – Standing on one side more than the other, jutting the hip out

Lateral view of Glutues Medius - Ottawa massage blogThe gluteus medius is similar to the big shoulder muscle, the deltoid. This is because of its position and actions: it covers both the front and the back of the hip joint, allowing it to do every movement of the hip (except for adduction, bringing the leg toward the body). This is the same as what the deltoid does for the shoulder joint. Having the hip too far forward or too far back can put this muscle into a shortened position, compromising its ability to contract fully. This can also happen when you place all your weight onto one hip or have even a slight imbalance of weight.

The fix: Share the weight of the hips, and strengthen the gluteus medius with abduction exercises (bringing the leg away from the body)

Gluteus Minimus: Pseudo sciatica

Actions – Abducts, medially rotates, and flexes the hip

Common pain culprit – Getting in and out of car

Gluteus Minimus Trp Referral - Ottawa Massage BlogThis muscle is the deepest of the glute muscles, and can cause some of the most intense pain. The trigger point referral pattern for the gluteus minimus mimics that of sciatic pain. Many clients fear that they have developed sciatica when it is, luckily, only a flare-up of the glute min trigger point. How can you tell? The sensation you feel normally lets you differentiate between a trigger point and sciatica. Sciatica will be a very sharp, shooting, and almost burning pain. Gluteus minimus trigger point will be a dull, achy pain along the same sciatic pathway down the back of the leg. If the trigger point is activated, getting in and out of the car or other hip actions can aggravate it further.

The fix: Massage, heat and stretch.  The best stretch for glute minimus is the Figure 4 stretch, or pigeon pose (depending on your flexibility). Ask your RMT for guidance.

Stay tuned! Next week: How to stretch piriformis, one of the hip’s lateral rotators.

The Trapezius – that pain in your neck!

Monthly Muscle: Trapezius

The trapezius, often known as the “traps”, is a large muscle that occupies 2/3 of your back.  Divided into three parts, the trapezius muscle has a variety of actions that help move your neck, shoulder blade and spine. This muscle has a tendency to be out of balance due to our typical western posture: hunched over a computer for hours a day. Today we will learn about the upper part of the muscle: what it does, why it hurts, how to help it. Check in soon for the next segment on the middle and lower trapezius!

Trapezius - Ottawa massage blog

Upper Trapezius: That pain in your neck.

Actions – Bends head to side, extends head back, rotates head to opposite side.

Common pain culprit – Head forward posture and hiked-up shoulders.

Neck Pain - Ottawa massage blog

Many clients will exclaim that their shoulders are “hard as rocks”. What you are really feeling are the tensed fibers of the upper trapezius muscle that can’t relax back to their normal resting tension. This is primarily caused by overexerting the fibers. You might also experience neck pain or headaches. The headache is caused by the upper trapezius trigger point, which has a referral pattern that wraps behind and above the ear like a question mark.

The fix? Reduce ‘knots’ and correct postural imbalances

Rolling on a ball, self-massage, chin tucks, neck and shoulder stretches

Ask your therapist on your next visit to show you a postural correction routine tailored for your needs.