Lend me your ears!
It has been over 2 months since manual therapists had to suspend their services, leaving many people fending for themselves when managing their pain. Here's an easy way that you can be your own therapist!
You might be surprised to learn that the ear is a pathway to relaxation and pain relief.
German Auricular Medicine suggests that the ear holds the map to the entire body and we can thereby treat the entire body by affecting energy pathways and pressure points by doing acupuncture in the ear. Reflexology and Traditional Chinese Medicine both work with a similar approach. And in Craniosacral work, working on the ear is thought to relieve tightness in a fold in the brain that separates the Cerebrum from the Cerebellum. It is believed that this tightness can cause imbalances and impaired blood flow. Since massage therapy is a layering of these Western and Eastern medicines, it too can be used to tap into the ear’s potential for healing.
To better understand the ear’s role in pain and relaxation, it’s important to know that the body and brain are in constant communication: a back and forth of neuronal signals. Nerves in the body are linked to nerve centres in the brain. Similarly, the brain sends signals down the spinal cord, reaching different neurons around the body and affecting the associated body parts. The ear is packed with nerve endings! So, for example, we can have a positive effect on the left-brain and pituitary gland by massaging the right ear lobe. And we can stimulate the right-brain and pineal gland by massaging the left ear lobe. Simply put, massaging the ear lobes can have an overall calming effect on the nervous system, thus promoting relaxation and easing pain sensations.
If we take a very direct anatomical look at the ears, they sit in the middle of the head. The ear is central or adjacent to our facial muscles, jaw muscles, and scalp muscles. And, tucked behind the ear is the mastoid process of the skull, where some noteworthy neck muscles attach (ie: SCM, splenius capitis, longissimus capitis, and digastric). Alleviating muscle tension and congestion around the ear can have a tremendous positive impact on the neighbouring tissues that are often implicated in headaches and jaw pain.
Further, studies have shown that the touch therapy provided by massage can promote the release of endorphins in both the bloodstream and the cerebrospinal fluid, helping with relaxation and a reduced perception of pain. Accessing these benefits through the ear is no different. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get started with this simple ear massage routine.
Remove your glasses and any jewelry from the ear.
Begin by warming up the tissues in the ear with palmar circles to the entire ear. Place your flat palm over the entire ear. Press in towards the head, and then twist your wrists to move the entire ear. Do this 12 times.
Once warmed up, hold the ear between the thumb and forefingers (or whatever grip feels the most natural to you). Begin at the top of your ear and work your way down, gently squeezing and pulling along the outer edge of the ear. Stop at the lobe and massage in circles, or gently squeeze the lobes. Next, move your thumb behind the lobe to where the ear meets the skull. Gently massage the whole line up to the top of the ear. Once at the top, with your middle finger, move to the inner flats of your ear and massage along the cartilage to the very bottom.
Repeat this entire sequence at least 3 times, and do as many more as feels comfortable for you. Use a light to moderate touch to avoid eliciting any pain responses.
Finish your ear massage with a sustained ear pull: grip your ear cartilage between your thumb and your forefinger and gently pull the ear away from the head in any and all directions that feel good. Hold the pull for up to a minute, and continue for as long as you wish. This routine can be used as a mid-day break from computer work, a pre-sleep relaxation routine, to help relieve a nagging headache or jaw tension, or for when you just need a little break. As long as you have your ears and your hands, the possibilities are endless!