Monthly Archives: December 2008

What can YOU do to help relieve back pain?

There are a few common muscle weaknesses I see on my table with clients coming to my Seattle massage practice. Today we are addressing the ones that contribute to low back pain. These exercise will get you off to a great start. As always, check with your physician before starting any exercise routine. Only do as much as you are comfortable with. It is better to start slow and build.

For those of you who feel you need to start off easy due to lack of activity, I would suggest starting with the *BEGINNING ABS* (first video) exercise and work your way up. Others can start with one excersise from each of these muscle groups: Abdominals, Obliques, Lower Abdominals and Adductors. Those of you feeling more ambitious, fell free to do them all.




1. Abdominal muscles
When these muscles are weak, your back has to do more than its share to keep your body upright and bending. Good exercises for this are:

BIRD DOG: Great for working abs and back. Try and hold each stretch for at least 10-15 seconds.


AB CRUNCHES: Do not do this exercise if you have neck issues.



2. Obliques
Obliques help you twist and bend. When they are strong, your back doesn’t have to work so hard at twisting and bending to the side. Here are two oblique exercises:

SIDE PLANK TWIST: Remember to do both sides.


BICYCLE TWIST: Do not do this exercise if you have neck issues.



3. Lower Abdominals 
Building your lower abs is especially important to support the connection between your pelvis and low back.




4. Adductors
Adductors are important for the stability of the pelvis. Here two to choose from:

SIDE ADDUCTION: Remember to do both sides. To add a challange to this excersise, put a weight on the inner part of the lower leg above the knee.




The last piece of this puzzle is strengthening your pelvic floor. An exercise for that is called Kegels and they are not just for women. Instruction for this excersise will have to come from your Doctor. I think it is important to strengthen the pelvic floor to support your pelvis and internal organs. All of which will support your back. Thanks for reading, PJ Harris LMP,


What is Myofascial Release?

In my Seattle treatment massage practice, one of the modalities I use is Myofascial Release (MFR). What is Myofascial Release you say? Well, myo means muscle and fascia is connective tissue. What is fascia? To know what fascia is, it helps to think of the thin saran wrap type film that covers a precooked chicken breast after you remove the skin. That is fascia. This tissue is located throughout your body. It surrounds and connects all organs, muscles (including individual muscle fibers), and bones. Muscle and fascia form the myofascial system. To release both your muscles and your fascia and the relation between them is Myofascial Release.

When your fascia is healthy, your body moves more fluidly. But your fascia gets gummed up when you have an injury due to an accident, surgery or poor posture. Myofascial release is designed to free up your fascia so that your muscles, organs and bones move more smoothly and with an increased range of motion. Flexibility is just as important to the stability of our bodies as strength.

In a previous post, I spoke about my Treatment Massage philosophy. It is based on an Open, Strengthen, and Release theory. Well, one of the modalities I use in the “Open” phase of treatment, is Myofascial Release. I explore the myofascial system with touch, feeling for areas that need the fibers realigned. This skill is called palpation and is an important part of this work. These areas are often found in muscles that are shorter than would be appropriate for healthy posture. Without lotion, to help get a good grip, I stretch the muscle to loosen all the adhesions. Adhesions are a fibrous band of scar tissue that binds together normally separate fibers. This helps to break up all of that built up scar tissue and brings blood flow and flexibility back to the area.

Another form of myofascial release I use in my practice, is pin and stretch. This is done by pressing on one end of a muscle while stretching it by moving the limb in the opposite direction that the muscle performs. Pin and stretch is great for the chest, forearms and calves. This gives the muscles and fascia a nice stretch to realign those fibers.

I would not recommend applying Myofascial Release to muscles that are elongated past their normal length due to poor posture. It will only add to the overstretching.

After Myofascial Release is applied, suppleness returns to the muscles and fascia and we all live happily ever after, or so the story goes. Thanks for reading, PJ Harris, LMP.


During this busy holiday season and financially troubled time, I know no more effective practice for relaxation than focusing on the breath coming in and out of our lungs.

Some of us forget to breathe when we are anxious. When we hold our breath, it is harder for our muscles to relax and our brains to function efficiently. Many times clients will show up to their massages appointments rushed and out of breath. When they leave, their breathing is nice and even and their anxiety reduced. What do you think the rest of their day will be like walking around relaxed?

Are you in a challenging space right now? Feeling stressed? Are you having a hard time thinking or coming up with a solution to a problem? Here are some suggestions on ways to let breathing help you decompress:

  • In a sitting position, take a deep breath and raise your arms over your head. Let your head drop back behind you and your arms and shoulders follow. Continue to breath and let your chest open for about 20 to 60 seconds.
  • Raise your shoulders while take in a deep breath. Roll your shoulders around and back. With your out breath, let your shoulders drop and let out a nice long sigh at the same time. This is a great way to get your shoulders and chest into proper sitting, standing and breathing posture.
  • Spend a few minutes focusing on your breath.
    How does the air feel entering your lungs?
    Does your chest rise?
    Does you belly rise?
    Is it coming in and out though your nose or your mouth?
    How does your breath sound?
  • Post things with the word breathe on it in obvious places like your computer monitor.

In my Seattle massage practice, I help people relax their breathing muscles to free up their breath and calm their lives or show them how to strengthen the muscles that hold up their rib cages to help support their lungs better. Ask your massage therapist more about this if it sounds like something that could make a difference for you. Thank you, PJ Harris. LMP.

Ergonomics in the Workplace

Many of the clients I see in my Seattle massage practice have pain due to poor ergonomics at their desks. What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics, when applied to sitting at a desk, is the process of the correct placement and alignment of the joints of your body. When your body is supported in its proper alignment you will decrease your risk of injury.

Here are a few basic ergonomic suggestions to keep your body pain free:

  • Feet flat on the floor – Raise or lower your chair or put your feet on something.
  • Knees bent at a 90 degree angle – Adjust your seat height or put your feet on something.
  • Hips at a 90 degree angle – Move hips as close as possible to the seat back.
  • Back supported –  Make sure your seat back supports your back. You could use a little pillow if needed.
  • Elbows at a 90 degree angle – Raise or lower your keyboard shelf or adjust your chair.
  • Shoulders should be relaxed and not hunched up toward ears.
  • Wrists straight – This is yet again a seat height issue
  • Eyes level with the top of the screen of your computer monitor.
  • The monitor should be an arm’s length away and then adjust the distance for your vision.

There are other ways to reduce your likelihood of pain due to sitting at a desk all day. Stay tuned to this blog and I will post those in the future. Thank you PJ Harris, LMP.

What is the most important piece of your healing puzzle?

You!! You are the golden puzzle key to your health.

Better than any doctor or other health practitioner, you know what is best for you. You are the foremost expert on the body you have lived with all of your life. When a health practitioner gives you a diagnoses or health recommendation, take a breath and check in with yourself. Is what they are saying aligned with what you know about your body? Health decisions start with information provided by others. Pass this information through the knowledge of the one who actually wrote the manual on you.

  • The best way to gain the information you need is to ask questions. Some people are under the opinion that this is rude or that they must trust that the doctor knows best. I believe YOU know best. The most effective way to help your doctor is to fully understand what is going on and why you are receiving certain treatments. Your body responds better if you are aligned with the intention of your treatment.
  • Second and third opinions are all great information. When you receive those, check them out with the most important opinion. Yours!
  • Sometimes in the moment we don’t think of questions and later we come up with some important ones. Ask your practitioner if you can you email them questions later. Why e-mail and not telephone your questions? When was the last time you called and reached a Doctor directly?
  • Take notes or record your appointments. When you feel stressed you might forget the details of what your practitioner told you.
  • Have an advocate. Someone you can discuss things over with to get clarity. Another option is to bring them with you to your appointment.
  • If the treatment is not bringing the progress you are looking for, you can ask for a referral for a practitioner that might offer another avenue to explore.
  • Educate yourself about your diagnosis. Wikipedia can be a starting resource. It is written by everyday people not experts. So I can’t attest to the accuracy. That also means the likelihood of an article written by a drug company just wanting you to take their latest pill is lowered. At the bottom of the page, are usually helpful links that can get you on the road to discovery. Other sites to try are:

Family Practice Notebook

National Institute of Health

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

In short, the person who is going to take best take care of your health is you. Thus you taking an active role in your health care is paramount to you living a healthy life. Thanks PJ Harris, LMP