The healing power of touch
It seems odd at first thought that touching someone who has widespread pain would be anything but a disaster. However, let’s take a look at it and see just how it might, in fact, be amazingly beneficial on several levels.
I discovered over a decade ago that massage not only helped my RA from a physical standpoint but also relieves stress and calms the emotions. I remember being quite skeptical since when I am flaring often the slightest movement or flexion of a joint is excruciating. Still I decided to check it out after getting the green light from my rheumatologist who believes if done correctly, carefully and by a practitioner who is adept at therapeutic touch, massage can be a wonderful addition to the treatment protocol for RA.
I have to say that from the moment I entered the peaceful, lovely, warm and inviting room I was almost immediately on board. I still had my reservations but I decided to open myself up to this new and potentially amazing experience and I have never looked back!
The therapist immediately put me at ease by just sitting and chatting with me about my personal circumstances physically. She patiently listened and occasionally asked clarifying questions. That made me feel more confident from the start! Next she went over the various types of massage she offered. There are many and it is smart to research it before you even go which I did. There is Deep Tissue, Swedish (traditional), Hot Stone, Thai, Reflexology, Shiatsu, Trigger Point, and the list goes on. I determined that I wanted the traditional massage with hot stones and that has worked for me perfectly. I also instructed the therapist to avoid undo flexion or pressure on the actual joint since that could lead to pain and could intensify a flare.
It is important to have clear and open communication with the massage therapist. I once went to someone who just did not understand what I was saying and the touch was so light it verged on being annoying. Worst of all she never checked in during the massage and I was not comfortable speaking up and so the entire hour was miserable!
I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to be very clear on what type and intensity of touch you want. And if you are not sure, tell him/her that so that they will check in throughout the massage.
Anytime I have a new therapist doing a massage I ask that they check in with me during the massage to ensure that I am comfortable and content with the level of touch.
I also recommend seeing the same therapist as much as possible. Once I found the person I see now, I knew she was perfect and I did not want to switch. There are several advantages to this for those of us with “special needs” when it comes to massage.
First of all, you don’t need to have to tell your “health story” over and over. As most of us with RA know that gets old and tiresome and we sure don’t want to do it anymore than necessary. Going over our RA story is often stress inducing in itself and so it somewhat defeats the relaxing aspect of massage if you have to do it over and over.
Secondly, my therapist know my body, my joints, my pain, etc. and she has a keen sense after so many years just what I need during any given session. She starts every session with the question “What do I need to know about your body today?” which gives me the opportunity to share with her any special problem areas or flaring joints to particularly avoid.
Thirdly, they are aware that my needs may very well change from session to session. One time I may well need more work on my neck and another time my shoulders. She is very in tune to the changing needs of someone with a chronic, painful disease like RA.
Finally she is very sensitive to the emotional and mental stress that having a disease like RA entails. Her calming nature and having a setting that is soothing and quiet lends itself to my needs.
Family members or a trusted friend or partner can offer touch therapy too! I love it when my husband rubs my legs or back. Just having that connection brings me comfort, both emotionally and physically. And don’t forget hugs! I have to say that due to the pain I experienced I found myself shying away from contact to some degree. It was easier to just not touch than to have to explain that I needed a “gentle” hug or handshake. But, over time I realized that I was missing that touch and truly needed it in my life. So if it meant I needed to offer an explanation then so be it. It is a small price to pay in all honesty.
Remember that touch therapy, whether through formal massage or contact with a caring person is a great “supplement” to your treatment not a substitute. Yet, tapping into various coping strategies is exactly how we successfully navigate a chronic disease like RA. Try it and see for yourself the amazing benefit of touch.