As a lifelong athlete, I’ve heard the admonition “practice makes perfect” over and over again, and I believed it. I practiced volleyball every day, and I got better. I ran every day and improved. I worked on weight training consistently, and I got stronger. So, it’s seemingly obvious that the idea of practicing something, or repeating a process, is a surefire way to get what you want. However, this correlation didn’t become clear to me until I sustained a neck injury that I could not seem to get rid of.
Through a combination of running an increased mile count per week and weight training on my off days, I was putting my body through an obvious amount of strain. I stretched the muscles I knew I was using the most, but I neglected my upper back, shoulders, and neck muscles. After a few weeks of this, I knew something was wrong. It started as a twinge on the right side of my neck, most noticeable right after weight training. The twinge spread, and soon I was feeling tension down the side of my neck, into my shoulders, and down the right side of my back. The breaking point came during one of my runs, when a simple propelling movement of my arm sent a flash of pain, spreading like dominos from my back, up to my shoulder, and culminating in a muscle twinge of epic proportions in my neck.
Admittedly, I’m a little afraid of doctors. If I’m in pain, I get paranoid, and I worry that if I go to a doctor, he’ll tell me that my pain is far more serious than I thought. So, I try at-home remedies. When my neck pain was at its most intense, I tried everything I could think of to help. I alternated icing and heating the muscle; I rested on a heating pad every night before falling asleep, but to no avail. I rested my neck and shoulders, omitting weight training and any other intense exercise from my daily routine. In addition, I started stretching my neck and upper back in the mornings and before bed in the evening. When that didn’t work, I even went so far as to buy a pillow, specifically meant to help relieve neck pain.
After weeks of trying to treat my neck on my own, I still felt a knot the size of a grape whenever I used those muscles for a short period of time. So, I decided to get a massage. I scheduled a 30 minute upper body massage, and it hurt. I knew there was going to be pain; this wasn’t my first massage, and I knew that I had a real pain to be worked through. The pressure seemed like too much, though, so half-way through I asked my therapist to go a little lighter, and that helped immensely.
So, after almost a month of living with this terrible neck pain, I was really hopeful after my massage. I figured that after trying everything I could do myself at home, getting a massage would provide ultimate healing. But I was wrong. And I was wrong, because I made the mistake of forgetting the piece of wisdom I knew all along: practice makes perfect. I didn’t make massage a practice. I didn’t incorporate it into my routine of healing and fitness. I went to a massage therapist one time, and I thought that would be a miracle massage. My massage therapist recommended that I come back in every week or two after the first massage, but I brushed that advice off at first. However, when I wasn’t completely better after just one massage, I finally realized that I needed to dedicate more time, and help, in order to heal.
My neck pain eventually went away, and the lesson I learned from my experience was just how powerful massage can be. Just as eating well, staying hydrated, stretching properly, and resting appropriately are all integral components to a successful fitness plan, getting regular massages can also benefit your fitness greatly, if you can incorporate it into your schedule.