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The art of self-massage: Relieving body pain on your own

People with muscle tension took the self-massage class at OSU Integrative Medicine Clinic. Credit: Xiaohan Wu | Lantern Reporter

A group of people who dealt with muscle stiffness placed their lower backs on foam rollers and adjusted body positions to meet their tender points, accompanied by movements back and forth with their feet in an effort to relieve physical pain.

These people weren’t in a classroom for conventional exercise. Starting this semester, people with muscle stiffness gather at Ohio State Integrative Medicine Clinic on the second Thursday of every month, to learn self-massage skills from Cheryl Boschert, a licensed massage therapist at the clinic.

Boschert said the modern sedentary lifestyle links to people’s muscle strain in the neck and back. The self-massage class teaches ways to relax the body with easy-to-grab and affordable devices, as substitute for a professional massages, which typically costs $72 per hour, according to the American Massage Therapy Association.

“In America specifically, we are not kind to the body and this is a way of just being very kind to your body and healing the body from all stresses and things that we have,” Boschert said.

To avoid injury during a self-therapy session, Boschert placed three layers of padding on the floor for each student: a yoga mat and two blankets. Next to the mats were chairs, massage balls and foam rollers of different densities.

Class started with preliminary stretching, followed by foam rolling designed to target pain in muscle groups such as the upper back and glute. It ended with a hand or foot self-massage using a massage ball.

Ray Stokes, who has attended this self-therapy session for five years, said his favorite exercise he learned in the class is one using the foam roller.

“The little things they teach are you can do massage by yourself. I think more openly about my body now. I think about my body and am more aware of things that may be tight,” Stokes said. “And I learned more than [to] relax; it helped me relax my own life.”

Boschert handed out a paper with instructions elaborating on how to alleviate points of pain, which helps students review and practice after class.

“You can massage yourself without having to make an appointment,” Boschert said. “You can do it in your living room and in front of your TV while you are watching TV. You can also do it in a hotel room when you’re traveling.”

Stokes said when he feels muscle tension, he applies techniques he learned in the class to ease body stiffness, no matter if he is at home or by a desk.

For Stokes, finding tender spots even without a therapist’s instruction is not difficult.

“I can feel it. I just get used to doing that and plus I work out a lot,” Stokes said.

Boschert said once students find tenderness in spots of pain, what she calls “sweet discomfort,” they focus on those spots and add pressure and movement into the massage.

“After your [conventional] exercise, if you get sore and tight, a massage is like a healing exercise and going to relieve those sore and tight muscles afterward. So you need both of them — a healing exercise and [conventional] exercise to strengthen and lengthen the muscle,” Boschert said.

The self-massage class welcomes anyone regardless of experience.

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