Patient, Heal Thyself
It’s nothing short of a miracle. Pressure points, aka trigger points – have you heard of them? I could not tell you what the underlying physiology is. But I learned about them in practice from a good friend of mine, who is a masseur and also the creator of a line of simple tools for self-massage. When a number of years ago I began noticing that sign of exceeding the normal lifespan of Homo erectus, namely, lower back pain, Allan gave me a squash ball to place between my back and the wall and then roll across. The aim was to discover a pressure point which was somehow responsible for the “referred pain” in my back.
After some experimenting I found a spot on one side of my
spine, seeming to be in a cord that ran up and down the side of my back
parallel to the spine (there being another cord on the other side as well). How
did I know it was “the” spot? Because it hurt sharply when the ball rolled over
Not gone forever. But now whenever the pain comes back, which is not too often, I just grab the ball, roll on it, and in two or three seconds, the back pain is gone for that day and beyond.
(Note: It is very important, I have discovered empirically, not to overdo this technique. First of all, do not expect the pain at the location of the pressure point to go away from application of the ball. The referred pain will disappear even though the pressure point pain remains. Eventually the pressure point pain will go away of its own accord; and in any case it’s not a problem, because you only feel it when you are applying pressure, as with the ball. If you try to get the pressure point pain to go away by continuing to rub it with the ball, you are asking for severe trouble. Later in the day the area will hurt like the blazes, and could even be crippling.)
This has changed my life, for the better, obviously. It has also led to my becoming experimental with my body. Now whenever I have a new pain (which happens with alarming frequency as age advances), my first resort is to look for a pressure point. This strategy has led to remarkable successes.
A couple of months ago a new back pain came out of the blue that was so debilitating I found myself walking bent forward. Using the ball technique I was not able to find a pressure point. However, under further direction by Allan, I was able to locate one, first by swinging my arm behind me and exploring with my knuckles, and then quite simply with a finger. Another miracle ensued. Simply by pressing and kneading the point with my finger for two or three seconds, the back pain vanished and I was an upright man again. It was as if I were a robot with a console on the back and had only to push a button on it to change my posture (and feelings if robots have any).
The most recent episode has been a dreary ache when I bend my elbow. This seemed to have settled in for the duration. It was also spreading ominously into my hand. I could not imagine where a pressure point might be. But again the spirit of experiment (and the desire for pain relief) chipped in. I Googled for some stretches to try. One of them involved bending one hand back or forward with the other hand. This seemed to help. So I kept at it. Then one day while out for a walk I decided to fiddle around with my hands and, lo and behold, I discovered an exquisitely painful spot near the base of my fourth finger. I rubbed it with a finger of my other hand for two or three seconds. Bingo! The elbow pain vanished … and for the rest of the day!
So this has all got me thinking that there must be a whole world of therapy out there that doctors (and medical researchers) in the Western tradition seem mostly to ignore or be ignorant of and could even find threatening. I would expect the vast majority of them would prescribe pain meds to deal with these pains, perhaps also physical therapy, but never think to suggest hunting for pressure points.
Although I must also acknowledge that my own doctor did take an unconventional approach when I came to him with dizzy spells a few years ago. He gave me a quick checkup to determine that there was nothing “wrong” with me. Then he suggested that I Google “Epley Maneuver.” There I found some written instructions, which seemed a tad complicated; so I typed the name into YouTube and watched a few videos that showed how to do it. These varied widely in quality and also in how big a deal the therapy had to be, one even suggesting wearing a neck brace. But in short order I discovered one by Peter Johns that made it simple and easy. I tried it. It took just a couple of minutes. No more dizzy spell. Miraculous!
That was not, however, a permanent fix, but only an intervention when the spells returned. And as I age the spells have been coming more frequently, and the Epley Maneuver does not always work. So I began to search for something preventive. Since the spells were brought on by particles becoming dislodged in the inner ear, I reasoned that there might be something about my head movements that called for correcting. Thereupon I noticed that when I stood up from a supine position after doing my daily stretching on the floor, my head was facing downward as my body turned. So I tried keeping my head looking up instead. Voilà: No more dizzy spells!
Also not to be neglected are changes of lifestyle, which can likewise serve a preventive and not only paliative purpose. Thus, not only have I found pressure points to help me with my back and elbow and hand pains and stiffness, but I’ve also been experimenting with my keyboard habits, beginning with monitoring and cutting down the hours, introducing regular breaks, setting up my work station so that I have the option of standing or kneeling and not always sitting at the computer, minimizing repetitive actions with the mouse by learning keyboard shortcuts, etc. All have had dramatic effects for the better.Could all of our ills be amenable to analogous treatments? Could we close the hospitals and put the doctors and researchers out of business? Dr. David L. Katz maintains that we could eliminate 80 percent of our major medical ills by simple lifestyle changes, namely, eat right, exercise, and don’t smoke. But probably, here, as everywhere, what is called for is a balance. But clearly too there is no end to improving one’s well-being by simple and readily available means.