Try the pain solution at your fingertips: DIY massage
Aah, that feels better! Theres no need to suffer in silence, or reach automatically for a painkiller. Touch-based therapies can help melt away everyday aches and pains. By Sally Brown
Tension, stress, pain Wouldnt it be great if there was a way to ease everyday aches any time, anywhere? We think weve found the answer DIY self-massage techniques are simplicity itself, and they really do work. According to a University of Miami study, massaging yourself at work reduces stress and boosts job performance. It can also help you get to sleep and start your day feeling calm, clear-headed and energised.
The great thing about self-massage is you can personalise it pinpoint the exact area of pain and apply exactly the right amount of pressure. You can also act fast and nip a headache in the bud before it builds up, explains reflexologist and aromatherapist Mary Atkinson (www.maryatkinson.com). What could be more empowering than being able to soothe pain, without the need for pills, no matter where you happen to be?
Here are eight of Marys simple techniques that combine massage, acupressure and reflexology. The only caveats are: its okay to massage sore areas, but never recent injuries or open wounds; stop massaging if it creates more pain rather than soothing; and check with your doctor if pain is severe or ongoing.
Problem: tension headache
Heres the perfect antidote to a day spent hunched over a laptop. Place the pads of your fingertips on the sides of your forehead, then move them in small circular motions clockwise or anticlockwise. For best results, place one drop of lavender essential oil on the first fingers of both hands before massaging. Finish with slow, comforting strokes across your forehead, from the centre to your ears, keeping the pressure gentle. Or, for an instant soother when you feel a headache starting, massage the fleshy bit at the tip of your thumb. In reflexology, this area relates to the brain, and massaging it can often be enough to ward off a headache.
Problem: aching shoulders
Lean one elbow and forearm on a table, then use your other hand to reach across your chest and massage the fleshy area of your back above the shoulder blades. Use deep kneading movements to relieve pressure. Alternatively, knead shoulders in the shower using shower gel as a lubricant, or use a wooden rolling ball-type massager (try the Twin Ball Massager, £6, The Body Shop) while watching TV. Then relax with a microwave lavender heatpack, if you have one, across your shoulders (for a selection, visit www.wheatybags.co.uk).
Problem: upset stomach
To relieve indigestion, wind or constipation, use the thumb and first finger of one hand to pinch a point on the opposite hand found at the highest point of the fleshy web between the thumb and first finger (an acupoint called the Great Eliminator). Hold for 20-30 seconds, then release and repeat as necessary. Avoid massaging this point if youre pregnant, however, as it can also stimulate the uterus.
Problem: stiff neck
The neck area can be extremely sensitive, so take extra care when massaging it. If youre flagging, this exercise will also improve blood circulation to the brain. Use the fingertips of both hands to press into the muscles at the back of the neck on either side of the spinal column at the base of the skull (an acupoint called the Heavenly Pillar). Hold for one minute as you breathe deeply. Next, move your hands to rest lightly on the back of your head, place your thumbs at the base of the skull, then slowly tilt your head back so your thumbs feel as if theyre pressing up and under the skull (points known as the Gates of Consciousness). Finally, close your eyes and breathe deeply for two minutes.
Problem: earache or blocked ears
Open your mouth, then place your first and second fingers in the slight depression created in front of your ears. Apply pressure toward your ears and hold for 20-30 seconds. Release and repeat as needed. This is also good for clearing blocked ears after a flight.
Problem: sinus pain
Press the tips of your first and second fingers into the small hollows immediately below the inner edge of each eyebrow. Press upward. Hold for a count of five and release. Then place both first fingers on either side of the bridge of your nose. Press inwards and make gentle circles with the pads of your fingers. Release, and move to a spot a little further down your nose. Continue making these circles down the sides of your nose towards your nostrils. Repeat three times. Finally, use the pads of both first fingers to apply pressure at points all along the lower line of the cheekbones. Push the flesh firmly up and under the ridge of the bones. Press, hold for a count of three, release and move to the next spot. Return to the starting position and repeat three times. This also helps relieve congestion when you have a cold.
For DIY relief until you can see the dentist, place one hand palm down on a table, then caterpillar crawl with your other hand (using the pads of your first and middle fingers to walk with baby steps) down each finger and the thumb from the tip to the base (these acupoints relate to the teeth and gums). Swap hands and repeat. You can also do this on your toes, resting one foot on your opposite knee.
Problem: general aches, pains and tiredness
Youll need a tennis ball for this. Take off your shoes, then simply roll your feet over the tennis ball to stimulate acupoints that relate to the whole body. Tilt your feet to work the instep and relieve pressure on your spine
Painkillers stop working if you take them too often
You wont develop a tolerance to everyday painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, but you can develop a tolerance to opioid (codeine-containing) painkillers very quickly, says our GP, Dr Sarah Jarvis. But taking any painkiller too often for headaches can actually make them worse by causing withdrawal headaches. Avoid taking any painkiller for more than 15 days, or codeine-containing tablets on more than 10 days in a month for headaches.
You shouldn't drink on painkillers
The liver is very forgiving, says Dr Austin Leach, spokesperson for the British Pain Society. Youre unlikely to do any damage if you have a glass of wine after talking ibuprofen or paracetamol. But you may feel drowsy if you have a glass of wine after taking a codeine-based painkiller (such as Nurofen Plus).
Pain is a sign that something is wrong
Not always, says Dr Leach. Sometimes false pain signals can be sent, as when people still feel pain in a limb thats been removed. And MRI scans may pick up no tissue damage even if strong back pain is experienced.