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Practising a Fusion of East and West

Simon Crittenden, Remedial Massage Therapist, Massage Works Dandenong Ranges

It was only after ten years practice as a Remedial Massage Therapist that the significance of my accumulated clinical observations struck me and I began promoting myself as "Providing a fusion of Eastern and Western assessment and treatment." Underlying this is more than the simple act of using assorted Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) techniques like Cupping, Gua Sha or Needling in conjunction with the science of physical therapy. 

Raised as a youth in the Orient and the son of an engineer, I was surrounded by and immersed in science. Ironically, the paradigm reversed in early adulthood when disoriented by culture shock being thrust back into the West after an 18 year absence, I received guidance from a Grandmaster martial artist and Chinese medical practitioner, Professor Wong Lun AO, 9th dan Tang So Do. He brought a semblance of balance to the disturbed young man. Years of martial and meditative training imparted an intellectual but also directly physical and palpable insight to the underpinnings of Eastern philosophy.

Later exposed to the fundamentals of Physiotherapy through the diploma of Remedial Massage at Swinburne University, it became apparent the concept of energy, known as Qi in Chinese, relates directly to a vast array of poorly understood symptoms of pain and suffering sighted in clinical practice. Simply put, if energy flow is blocked for any reason, thickening and tightening occurs through the connective tissue leading to pain and dysfunction at both the point of blockage and remotely at sites which you can think of as being down stream in the energetic flow. Blockage can be caused by injury, overuse, poor posture, weather, emotional trauma or internal health conditions. While the nature of the energy affected is similar to that treated by TCM practitioners applying acupuncture along the 12 bilateral and 2 central meridians, my observations and work relates more to energy flow through musculature and over the bones akin to fascial meridians described by Rolfing practitioners.

Clearing blockages to energy flow requires a knowledge of the underlying cause. Merely massaging tightness can be ineffective as evidenced, for instance, by the multitudes of long term sufferers of Plantar Fasciitis in the foot or Repetitive Strain Injury to the forearm. Foot/calf or forearm/wrist treatments give limited short term relief but rarely provide longer term resolution. Focusing on correcting postural anomalies and releasing unconscious holding patterns and tightness at the hip, shoulder and/or torso can be the missing key to a successful treatment outcome. Results can be dramatic and virtually immediate in cases where symptoms have not yet degenerated to overt physical damage. Clearing the blockage and promoting the smooth flow of energy immediately releases tightness and clears the inflammation like thickening...pain is eliminated.

Similarly, upperback and neck musculature corded and as hard as steel cable causing stabbing pain between the shoulder blades frequently does not respond to massage, trigger pointing, stretching or joint manipulation. I have seen numerous cases that were in constant pain for not even bothering to mention it, now believing there was no hope of relief. The underlying cause can be excessive heat in the body (liver fire) affecting tendons and connective tissue through the musculature down to the bone and can be aggravated by attacking wind/weather. The internal heat can be reduced by dietary change in a matter of months, TCM herbal treatment within several weeks, or topically by Gua Sha (scraping or spooning) treatment within minutes...the latter providing immediate relief from tightness and pain.

We are aware stress makes us tight but how emotion affects our physicality can be described more specifically. TCM philosophy associates emotions to organs of the body. The heart is about joy and happiness, the liver is affected by anger, the kidneys...fear (if we experience deep prolongued feaf it affects the kidneys, if we have weak kidneys we will be fearful), the lungs...grief and the stomach...pensiveness or worry.

We are subject to the human condition...we all have ups and down. Everyone is affected to some degree on the left side of the chest, causing tightness through the shoulder, neck and side of the head on the left side. We may be anxious about money issues, worried about our children, affected by stress at work or missing a loved one. These cause unhappiness and block the flow of heart energy causing thickening and tightness through the soft tissue directly over the heart, midway between the sternum and nipple. I used to think it was me when massaging the front of neck and shoulders...I could work the right side well, gliding smoothly but could not even get my hand in on the left...I thought it was me being uncoordinated. It was several years before I realised it was not me, they were all tight on the left side. Performing Craniosacral Therapy, I now find the left side of every head I place my hands on is rigid in comparison to the right side. While these effects are not ideal, usually it is of no great consequence and we manage to cope. However, occasionally this can be the primary cause of crippling pain and suffering, affecting musculature in ways that have medico's scratching their heads. Scans reveal no damage. Scans do not reveal a broken heart.

The "Pelvic Block" has a direct impact on mobility and internal health in the digestive and reproductive organs and kidneys. Should there be a structural leg length discrepancy, look to the pelvis for tilt and distortion accommodating the difference. The chronic strain generated in the soft tissue blocks energetic Qi flow in the organ channels travelling to the lower limbs and inhibits vitality of the Chakra energy centres in the abdomen. A structurally short right leg is a dominant genetic trait and in the presence of acute symptoms must be considered in treatment.

Photo credit Bob Wong - The Art of Acupuncture

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