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Case Study Issue 112: How Our Emotions Are Connected To Our Muscles

by Geoff Hardy(more info)

listed in case studies, originally published in issue 112 - June 2005


For someone coming for massage because of a back pain, stiff neck, or hip pain, it may seem odd to be asked about mental or emotional attitudes – particularly if it is their first encounter with holistic medicine.

Therefore, I begin a first consultation with a brief summary of my approach: that I am trying to get the fullest picture I can of them, their problem and how they see themselves.

I explain that we live our lives in and through our physical body. That encompasses how we stand, hold ourselves and so on, expresses our view of ourselves, or what we wish others to see. Most of this is unconscious.

Our muscles are part of our fight-flight response. When we think about doing something, we contract a muscle to act upon it. If we then go on to a another thought, then a series of thoughts without letting go, a holding is created. Add to this our attitude towards our life, our 'viewing point', it is easy to see how we create patterns of response and muscular holding. Outside pressures of work, a poorly designed workstation or car seat, compound this.

Case Study: Will

Will, 32, a designer who works mainly at a computer, suffered a cramp, and ache in the right hand and was now experiencing similar problems in the arm and shoulder. This was beginning to occur in the left shoulder, but less so. When asked about his neck he described it as 'stiff' but 'strong'. Most likely the problem was stemming from the neck; the nerve fibres were constricted, either by cervical misalignment or muscle tension.

Discussing work, it became clear that Will went from one idea to another, his forefinger on the mouse ready to click, probably with shoulder raised and neck craned forward.

We talked about concentration and being focused, how we learn to furrow our brows, tense jaws and shoulders when we concentrate. That jaw tension leads to neck tension and so on; that we can focus on a task without doing this. I encouraged him to breathe out, relax his hand more, become more aware of anticipating using the mouse and to look at the tilt of his seat (which should slope slightly towards the desk in order to prevent slumping). To take breaks and walk around.

For cramps I suggested Mag. Phos. Tissue Salts and drinking more water. During the massage (I concentrated on his back and shoulders), Will became aware of tension, particularly around mid-back and shoulders. In order to illustrate this and to enable him to feel his holding, I employed crude vibration passive mobilization): holding his arm, then his neck and moving it in different directions, encouraging him to let go, or feel the inability to do so. This was followed by rhythmical stroking of the neck and massage of the occipital area.

Afterwards he noted how much freer his body, particularly his neck, felt. By the third appointment (we had a contract of four appointments close together after which we would reassess), he reported that his arm felt 'stronger', pains were 'minimal', it no longer hurt at rest. He was more aware of letting go. Whenever aware of holding his neck and shoulders he 'turned up the volume', as I suggested, to see who he was in the holding, before letting go. He was also more aware when using the mouse, taking breaks and watching a tendency to move from task to task, or taking too much on. Will has decided to continue with regular massage, as a learning and awareness tool in his life.

Case Study: Sally

Sally, 48, was referred by her osteopath. She is keen on sport, very fit and strong. Her image was one of strength and capability.

Her neck and back were 'knotted and tight', with occasional spasm, as were her legs. Over time she had had pelvic misalignment (from discus throwing), head injury/concussion and cartilage problems in the left knee.

She described herself as needing to 'keep going', the 'strong arm of the family,' with a tendency to hold in sadness. Over time she became aware of a need to be nurtured: 'always being there for others'.

At work too, she was supporting others, picking up the pieces for everyone. Last year, following the death of her parents, experiencing pressure from family and work, she became depressed and realized that changes had to be made. She changed job, her role in the family and is 're-emerging, coming together, stronger'.

Throughout, massage helped ease muscular tension and spasm, but it was Sally connecting the holding with her self image/protection of sadness, her tendency to 'mother' others (her words), that saw real changes occur. The pattern of holding is breaking down. Touch has enabled her to reconnect with herself and her life. She is now going to train in massage.


Geoff Hardy would like to thank Ron & Jane Rieck and Emaho for their teachings. Also, everyone who has come for massage have helped him to realize just how powerful massage is.


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About Geoff Hardy

Geoff Hardy Dip TM (Diploma in Therapeutic Massage); DHTC (Diploma in Holistic Therapeutic Counselling). He is a member of The Society of Holistic Practitioners and LCSP (Assoc.) (London & Counties Society of Physiologists). Geoff qualified in massage with The College of Holistic Medicine in 1984. He is a Partner at The Natural Health Centre in Shrewsbury, at which he runs his practice. He may be contacted via

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